Fathers of Confederation

[Federation was adopted as official policy by the new Cartier-Macdonald government, many historians crediting Galt for persuading Cartier to alter his longstanding opposition to constitutional change, especially any change to Lower Canada’s equality of representation with Upper Canada. Cartier, John Ross and Galt proceeded to England that fall as delegates of Canada, pressing the case for federation to the Imperial government in London. The two letters below were written by Galt, and dispatched to British authorities as the substance of Canada’s case for the federation of all British North America, the first made public, the second kept confidential. Galt’s biographer notes that the letters show Galt’s mastery of the subject, and that they contain a detailed division of powers remarkably similar to the B.N.A. Act of 1867. Also noteworthy is the three ministers’ frank acknowledgement that a single government could not represent the diverse constituencies within Canada: “It is our duty to state that very grave difficulties now present themselves in conducting the Government of Canada in such a manner as to show due regard to the wishes of its numerous population.” Though the 1858 federation proposals were stillborn, the letters demonstrate that the initiative for confederation came from Canada itself.]

Sir, -

We have the honour to submit for the consideration of Her Majesty’s Government that the Governor-General of Canada, acting under the advice of his responsible advisors, has been pleased to recommend that the subject of a Federative Union of the Provinces of British North America should form the subject of discussion by Delegates from each Province, to be appointed under the orders of Her Majesty’s Government and we have been instructed to urge the importance of this step as well upon grounds peculiar to Canada as from considerations affecting the interests of the other Colonies and of the whole Empire.

It is our duty to state that very grave difficulties now present themselves in conducting the Government of Canada in such a manner as to show due regard to the wishes of its numerous population. The Union of Lower with Upper Canada was based upon perfect equality being preserved between these provinces, a condition the more necessary from the differences in their respective language, law and religion, and although there is now a large English population in Lower Canada, still these differences exist to an extent which prevents any perfect and complete assimilation of the views of the two sections.

At the time of the Union Act Lower Canada possessed a much larger population than Upper Canada, but this produced no difficulty in the Government of the United Provinces under that Act. Since that period, however, the progress of population has been more rapid in the western section, and claims are now made on behalf of its inhabitants for giving them representation in the Legislature in proportion to their numbers, which claims, involving, it is believed, a most serious interference with the principles upon which the Union was based, have been and are strenuously resisted by Lower Canada. The result is shown by an agitation fraught with great danger to the peaceful and harmonious working of our constitutional system, and consequently detrimental to the progress of the province.

The necessity of providing a remedy for a state of things that is yearly becoming worse, and of allaying feelings that are daily being aggravated by the contention of political parties, has impressed the advisers of Her Majesty’s representatives in Canada with the importance of seeking for such a mode of dealing with these difficulties as may forever remove them. In this view it has appeared to them advisable to consider how far the Union of Lower with Upper Canada could be rendered essentially federative – in combination with the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, together with such other territories as it may be hereafter desirable to incorporate with such confederation from the possessions of the Crown in British North America.

The undersigned are convinced that Her Majesty’s Government will be fully alive to the grave nature of the circumstances referred to which are stated by them under the full responsibility of their position as advisers of the Crown of Canada. They are satisfied that the time has arrived for a constitutional discussion of all means whereby the evils of internal dissension may be avoided in such an important dependency of the Empire, as Canada. But independent of the reasons affecting Canada alone it is respectfully represented that the interests of the several Colonies and of the Empire will be greatly promoted by a more intimate and united Government of the entire British North American Possessions. The population, trade and resources of all these Colonies have so rapidly increased of late years and the removal of Trade restrictions has made them, in so great a degree, self-sustaining, that it appears to the Government of Canada exceedingly important to bind still more closely the ties of their common allegiance to the British Crown, and to obtain for general purposes such an identity in legislation as may serve to consolidate their growing power, thus raising, under the protection of the Empire, an important confederation on the North American Continent.

At present each Colony is totally distinct in its Government, in its customs and trade, and in its general legislation. To each other, no greater facilities are extended than to any Foreign State and the only common tie is that which binds all to the British Crown. This state of things is considered to be neither promotive of the physical prosperity of all, nor of that moral union which ought to be preserved in the presence of the powerful confederation of the United States.

With a population of three and a half millions, with a foreign commerce exceeding Twenty-five million Sterling, and a Commercial Marine inferior in extent only to those of Great Britain and the United States, it is in the power of the Imperial Government, by sanctioning a confederation of these Provinces, to constitute a Dependency of the Empire, valuable in times of peace, and powerful in the event of war – forever removing the fear that these Colonies may ultimately serve to swell the power of another Nation.

In the case of the Australian Colonies the Imperial Government have consented to their discussion of the question of Confederation – although the reasons for it, as relates to the Empire, can scarcely be either so urgent or so important as those which affect British North America.

The Government of Canada do not desire to represent the feelings of the other provinces. Their application is confined to the request that the Imperial Government will be pleased to authorise a meeting of Delegates on behalf of each Colony and of Upper and Lower Canada respectively, for the purpose of considering the subject of a Federative Union, and reporting on the principles on which the same could properly be based.

That such delegates should be appointed by the Executive Government of each Colony, and meet with as little delay as possible.

That the Report of such Delegates should be addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and that a Copy of it as soon as it is prepared, should be placed in the hands of the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor of each Colony, in order that he may lay the same before the Provincial Parliament, with as little delay as possible.

Upon the Report of such Delegates it will be for Her Majesty’s Government to decide whether the interests of the Empire will be promoted by Confederation and to direct the action of the Imperial Parliament thereon – with the concurrence of the Legislatures of the respective colonies.

We have the honour to be,
Your most obedient and humble servants,

G.E. Cartier.
J. Ross
A.T. Galt