On May 18, National Patriots‘ Day in Quebec, celebrations are taking place to mark the 1837-1838 uprising and to honour the memory of the Patriots who gave their lives or were forced into exile in the struggle to end British colonial rule by establishing a Republic of Quebec. Marches, historical exhibitions, conferences and cultural performances of songs and poetry are being held. In Montreal, the March of the Patriots will start from Au-Pied-du-Courant, the corner of Notre-Dame and de Lorimier, where a statue stands honouring the Patriots who were hanged by the British.
Patriots’ Day celebrates the striving of the people to affirm their right to be. Beginning in the spring of 1837, when the British Crown formally rejected the demands of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada included in the 92 Resolutions of 1834, numerous mass meetings broke out across Quebec where the people spoke and demanded their democratic rights.
In the midst of this affirmation of the people’s will, the Patriots proclaimed “by order of the provisional government” an important manifesto, the “Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Lower Canada.” In it they declared the principles and democratic rights of the Republic. Section 3 of the declaration calls for the defence of the rights of all: “Under the free government of Lower Canada, all individuals will enjoy the same rights: the natives will no longer be submitted to any civil disqualification and will enjoy the same rights as all other citizens of Lower Canada.” Section 15 proclaims that the people will author their own constitution: “At the earliest occasion the people must choose delegates according to the present division of the country in counties, cities and boroughs who will form a convention or legislative body to draft a constitution according to the needs of the country, in accordance with the provisions of this Declaration, subject to modification according to the will of the people.”
The 1837-38 uprising was crushed through brutal force, including the suspension of habeas corpus, mass arrests, burning of homes, the hanging of 12 patriots and forcing of 64 others into exile. More than 1,700 were imprisoned following the suspension of habeas corpus. In Montreal alone in 1838, 816 people were arrested out of a population of 30,000, which translates into 40,000 people out of Montreal’s present-day population. Of that number, 108 were court-martialled. Hundreds were forced to flee to the U.S. to escape arrest, including 10 accused of “murder” who faced the death penalty if they ever returned. It marked the suppression of a modern Quebec nation-state whose existence has been denied ever since by depriving the Quebec people, irrespective of their national origin, language or creed, of their right to self-determination as an independent legal entity with the right to form a free and equal union with the rest of Canada if they so decide of their own free will.
The 1837-38 Patriots’ Uprising is an important event in the history of Quebec and Canada whose significance must be grasped in order to understand the present-day situation and not be misled by the blackmail of those establishment forces which claim that affirming Quebec’s sovereignty will lead to the “destruction of Canada.” On the contrary, the establishment of the modern state of Quebec remains necessary to settle the constitutional crisis in a manner which favours the people by ending the stranglehold of the institutions established out of the suppression of the nation-building project the Patriots put forward in 1837-1838. These are the present democratic institutions based on “reasonable accommodations,” the arrangements the British oligarchs found “reasonable” to strengthen British colonial rule after the English defeated the French at the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and Quebec passed from being a French colony to an English colony. The British divided the people on an ethnocultural basis and enshrined this division in the Act of Union of 1840. Ever since then, the line of divide and rule has served first the British and then the Canadian state to impose the dictate of the ruling elite on both the Quebec and the Canadian peoples as well as the First Nations. It is clear that after the rebellion of 1837-1838, all those patriots who refused to conciliate with these so-called reasonable accommodations were either hanged or exiled and with this infamous act, the present democratic institutions of so-called responsible government came into being to keep the people out of the power-sharing arrangements.
The present situation shows that the cause for which the Patriots fought in 1837-1838 today takes the form of the need for the working class to constitute itself the nation and vest sovereignty in the people to make them the decision-makers in all political, economic, social and cultural affairs that concern them and their nation. This need is all the more urgent as the governments of Quebec and Canada intensify the sell-out of the natural and human resources and establish new arrangements to facilitate the political, economic and military annexation of Canada and Quebec to the United States of North American Monopolies and restructure the state in the service of the most powerful monopolies as part of U.S. empire-building. The more they refuse to share power with anyone, the more they talk of “reasonable accommodations.”
As a result of this nation-wrecking agenda, the ruling elites have mired Quebec and Canada in an unprecedented constitutional and political crisis. Their refusal to open society’s path to progress is seen in increasing attempts to push the politics of division based on language, national origin, culture, belief, colour of skin, gender or any other consideration. The people are witnessing the daily spectacle of political factions challenging each other as to who will best represent Quebec values, or reducing the identity of the Quebec people to a linguistic issue, or dividing the people on an ethnocultural basis so as to get away with imposing a new “reasonable accommodation” to suppress their right to be and determine for themselves the kind of arrangements they require to flourish.
On this occasion, TML salutes all those who espouse the cause of the Quebec Patriots, especially those who are determined to elaborate a nation-building project consistent with the demands of the times.
Let the Working Class Constitute Itself the Nation and Vest Sovereignty in the People!
Sovereignty Yes! Annexation No!
Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Lower Canada
WHEREAS the solemn contract established with the people of Lower Canada as recorded in the register of the Statutes of the Kingdom of Britain and Ireland, as Ch. 31 of the Act passed in the 3rd year of the rule of King George III, has been continuously violated by the British government and our rights encroached upon; and whereas our humble petitions, addresses, protests and remonstrances against this prejuicial and unconstitutional behaviour have been in vain;
WHEREAS the British government has disposed of our revenue without the constitutional consent of our local legislature, robbed our treasury, arrested and imprisoned a large number of our fellow citizens, spread across the country a mercenary army whose presence has caused dismay and alarm, whose tracks are red with the blood of our people, which has burned our villages to ashes, desecrated temples and sown terror and desolation throughout the country; and whereas we can no longer suffer the repeated violations of our most sacred rights and patiently endure the numerous outrages and cruelties of the government of Lower Canada;
We, in the name of the people of Lower Canada, acknowledging the decree of divine providence that says we can overthrow a government that has violated the object and intent of its creation to choose the form of government that will restore the use of justice, ensure domestic peace, see to the common defence, elevate the general well-being and guarantee us and our descendants the benefits of civil and religious freedom;
Solemnly declare that:
1. From this day on, the people of Lower Canada is free from allegiance to Britain and the political continuity between Lower Canada and the British rule is broken.
2. A republican form of government best suits the needs of Lower Canada, which is on this day proclaimed a Republic.
3. Under the free government of Lower Canada, all individuals will enjoy the same rights: the natives will no longer be submitted to any civil disqualification and will enjoy the same rights as all other citizens of Lower Canada.
4. All union between the Church and the State is by the present declared dissolved and all persons will have the right to freely practice the religion or belief dictated by his or her conscience.
5. The feudal or seigniorial tenure of the land is by the present abolished, as completely as if such tenure never existed in Canada.
6. Any person who bears arms or otherwise assists Canada in its fight for emancipation is and will be discharged of all real or supposed debts or obligations resulting from arrears of seigniorial rights existing prior to this day.
7. The customary dower is henceforth abolished and prohibited.
8. Imprisonment for debt will no longer take place except in certain cases of fraud which will be specified in an act to be adopted to this end by the Legislature of Lower Canada at a later time.
9. The death penalty will no longer be pronounced nor executed, except in the case of murder.
10. All mortgages on the land will be special and, to be valid, will need to be registered with offices to be created to this end by an act of the Legislature of Lower Canada.
11. The freedom and independence of the press will prevail in all public matters and affairs.
12. Trial by jury is ensured by the people of Lower Canada in its broadest and most liberal sense in all criminal trials and in civil trials beyond a certain amount to be determined by the Legislature of Lower Canada.
13. Since general and public education is necessary and is owed to the people by the government, an act establishing it will be passed as soon as circumstances allow.
14. To ensure electoral enfranchisement, all elections will be through secret ballot.
15. At the earliest occasion the people must choose delegates according to the present division of the country in counties, cities and boroughs who will form a convention or legislative body to draft a constitution according to the needs of the country, in accordance with the provisions of this Declaration, subject to modification according to the will of the people.
16. Every individual of male gender aged 21 and over will have the right to vote as stipulated in the present Declaration for the election of the aforementioned delegates.
17. All the lands of the Crown and those called Reserves of the Clergy as well as those formally belonging to a certain company of landowners in England called “The Company of the Lands of British North America” are rightfully the property of the state of Lower Canada, except for the parts that may be the property of people who own them in good faith, to whom claims will be granted and guaranteed in accordance with an act to be passed which will legalize such possession and give a title to such plots in the townships where such titles do not exist, when such plots are under cultivation or improved.
18. The French and English languages will be used in all public affairs.
And for the realization of this Declaration and in support of the patriotic cause which we have now undertaken with full confidence in the protection of the All-Mighty and in the justice of our action — we solemnly pledge to each other through the present our lives and fortunes and our most sacred honour.
By order of the Provisional Government.
Robert Nelson, President.
Declaration translated from original French by TML. Illustrations: Henri Julien. Historical photos Caldwell’s Manor (NOYAN), February 28, 1838.
Source: TML Weekly, No. May 16, 2015 – No. 20