Throughout the ages, many colonies of earlier empires have arisen from their colonial status to become their own country. For many of these, such as the United States, French Indochina and many African nations, their was a common culture which served as a base for uniting their population. In Canada however, their were two very different cultures present, the French and the English. These two peoples had originally had many battles to see who would hold dominance over the colony, and now they had to unite if their was any hope of achieving confederation.
The French people of lower Canada and the English people of Upper Canada had many differences, and weren’t extremely trustworthy of each other. The French Canadians were in a tough spot when the call for confederation came around. They were afraid of losing their culture if they joined the Canadian confederacy, but they also didn’t want to get assimilated into the United States. The French Canadian attitudes towards confederation in the eighteen sixty’s, can best be seen through the views of the leading French Canadian politicians of the day.
In French Canada around the period of confederacy, their were two main olitical parties, the bleus and the rouges. In the 1860’s, the leading French Canadian party was the conservative bleu party. This party, had the largest bloc of French Canadian legislative seats in parliament. 1 The leader of this party at the time that confederacy was being debated by leading Canadian politicians was George Etienne Cartier. Cartier was born in 1814,2 and his grandfather had been a member of the Lower Canadian assembly in 1809.
Prior to becoming a French leader in the move towards confederation, Cartier had been involved in the Rebellion of 1837 that was ead by Louis Joseph Papineau. 4 When the question of confederation came up, Cartier was quick to add his support to the movement. At the time, their had been debates whether the current Parliament like assembly should be elected on the basis of representation by population. This was not an idea that any French Canadian would have been in support of, because of the substantial population difference between the English and the French.
This idea of “rep by pop” had many French Canadians worrying about losing their culture because of the lack of governmental representation for their people. Cartier was one of the leading opposition to “Rep by pop” in Canada. He didn’t want to see the French Canadian culture squeezed out of the people because the English were making all of the laws. One of the main problems that many people saw with Canadian confederacy was the differing cultures. No one thought that these cultures would be able to work together in running a country.
The leading English politician of the time, was John A. Macdonald. He and Cartier were long time political allies. 5 When Cartier heard Macdonald’s plan for confederation he was quick to jump on the confederacy bandwagon. Cartier`s opinion was that the local control of provinces under confederacy would be instrumental in the survival of French culture. 6 Cartier thought that a federal union would prove to be very prosperous, and no one culture would come to dominate it, because of the diversity of the nations population.
Also on the subject of differing cultures, Cartier compared the confederation of Canada to the United Kingdom. He said that their are three very different cultures residing in the United Kingdom, and that hasn’t stopped them from prospering, or becoming one of the most powerful nations in the world. Cartier didn’t seem to think that the differing cultures were that much of a problem. He believed that having multiculturalism within the nation would lead to each party involved contributing to the general wealth of the nation and that because of this, prosperity of the new nation would increase.
Another one of Cartier’s concerns for French Canada was if they didn’t join the Canadian confederation, that they would be annexed into the United States and completely lose their French identity. 10 In the end, Cartier’s attitude towards Canadian Confederation can be summed up in one of his peeches in parliament in 1865 when he said “Shall we be content in mere provincial existence, when, by combining together, we could become a great nation”11 All of French Canada’s politicians weren’t as optimistic about confederation as Cartier.
Joseph Perrault a member of Quebec’s Rouge party didn’t share Cartier’s view of a United prosperous Canada. Perrault thought that under the new confederate parliamentary system, French Canada would not have enough representation to hold up their views. 12 Perrault felt that if confederation occurred, French Canada would have to be in onstant defense of their own political rights because of their lack of representation in the new parliament. Perrault’s party shared his pessimistic view of confederation.
They thought that confederation was a threat to the culture of French Canada. 3 One of Perrault and his parties other concerns was that within the new parliamentary system, the two French Canadian parties would have to ban together to get any voice heard, and if they did this, the English parties would ban together and crush the French vote. 14 Another member of Quebec’s rouge party, Antoine Aime Dorion shared Perrault’s view on confederacy. Dorion, leader of the rouge party in 1865, thought that the power given to the federal government under confederation to control the local legislatures was the same as Britain’s veto power that was held over non-confederate canada. 5
This is illustrated in Dorion’s speech at the debates on confederation in 1865 in Quebec when he said “Now, sir, when I look into the provisions of this scheme, I find another most objectionable one. It is that which gives the General Government control over all the acts of the local legislaturesThis power conferred upon the General Government has been compared to the veto ower that exists in England in respect to our legislation”16 The main concern for most French Canadians in respect to Confederation was their lack of representation in the federal parliament causing them to lose their culture and identity.
Dorion believed that all French Canadian voters under confederacy would go to the polls and all vote for the same party just so they could have a chance of a large representation in parliament to protect them from losing the French culture. 17 The opinions on confederation within the political forum in French Canada were vary differing.
Hector Langevin, a member of Quebec’s conservative arty felt that under confederation, French culture would be protected and that English and French cultural interests would remain as they are. 18 Langevin firmly believed that under the new confederate parliamentary system, that the local legislatures would have complete control over everything that goes on within their given province without federal interference.
This is illustrated in Langevin’s speech at the confederation debates in Quebec in 1865 when he said, “I may add that, under confederation, all questions relating to the colonization of our wild lands, and the disposition and sale of those same lands, our civil laws and ll measures of a local nature-infact everything which concerns and affects those interests which are most dear to us as a people, will be reserved for the action of our local legislature. 19 Although Langevin was a firm believer in the confederacy movement, not all of his partymates had the same view as him.
Christopher Dunkin, also a member of Quebec’s conservative party saw confederation a lot differently than Langevin. Dunkin beleived that the English majority Federal government with the power over the local provinces legislature would have clashes of interests and exercise their power to veto legislature. 0 Dunkin, like many in Quebec opposed to confederation disagreed with “rep by pop” and was against the federal governments power over local legislatures. The French Canadian population simply didn’t want to lose their identity under a British dominated Confederation.
Their choices were slim because of the threat of annexation into the U. S if they did not join Canadian Confederation. Another prominent French politician of the time was Sir E. P Tache. Tache, was the French Canadian premier in 1865. 21 Tache did not agree with Dunkin’s views and thought that confederation would allow French culture nd institutions to remain intact because of the provincial legislatures. 22 Tache agreed with Cartier on the point that confederation was the only answer to being annexed into the United states and losing their cultural identity completely. 3
Tache was a firm believer in the Parliamentary system that would be set up under Confederation. He thought that Confederation would save the French culture in Canada, and also save French Canada from being annexed into the United States. French opinion on the Confederation idea throughout the 1860’s was very different depending on who you talked to. Even members of the same party had very differing views on the topic. The whole idea of setting up a parliamentary system that the French knew they would be a minority in didn’t sit well with some.
French Canada had its full of supporters and opponents to Confederation. G. E Cartier, leader of Quebec’s bleu party was a firm believer in confederation and thought that without it, French Canada would surely be annexed into the United States. Also, he believed that French culture would be preserved under confederation. Sir E. P Tache, premier of Quebec around the time of confederation shared his views on both subjects. On the other hand, Joseph Perrault and Antoine Dorion of Quebec’s rouge party saw things a lot differently.
They believed that confederation would mean the demise of French culture and that the parliamentary system would not hold enough French representation. Conservative Christopher Dunkin agreed with the rouge parties arguments while Conservative Hector Langevin agreed with Cartier and Tache. As one can see, the attitudes and opinions of the French Canadians on Confederation in the 1860’s was very different throughout the political forum. No one side held dominance until Confederation was achieved in 1867.