But it was impossible to conceal the fact that while as yet there was no actual rebellion in Upper Canada, there was discontent enough to make it rather unwise for the Home Government to push matters too far. There was, in fact, a growing impatience among the sturdy settlers in Upper Canada, of the system which made them the mere serfs of the Imperial Government and the Imperial Parliament. The Canadians of the Upper Province had near at hand the example of the American Republic, where every State could elect its own officers, as well as its own legislative chambers; and could make what laws it thought fit, so far as merely local affairs were concerned. In plain fact, the population of Upper Canada had outgrown the system of rule which was absurdly imposed upon them. They were too strong, too active, too intelligent, and too far removed from England, to submit to the dictation of a little knot of officials in a room at Westminster. It might have been comparatively easy to keep the people of Lower Canada quiet, if only some little consideration had been shown for their traditions and for their feelings. They might have been content to go on quietly for long enough, if only they were left in peace to pursue their ancient ways. But it is quite certain that every succeeding year would have made the English and Scotch inhabitants of Upper Canada more and more impatient of the system of grotesquely paternal rule, which was insisted upon by the Crown officials at home.
The news of the outbreak of rebellion in Lower Canada created naturally a great sensation in England. Many men of mark and of great popular influence found themselves so far in sympathy with the rebels, that at least they regarded the rebellion as the inevitable result of an indefensible system. The Government had to do something, and fortunately the direction of their policy was in the hands of a real statesman. Lord John Russell introduced on behalf of the Government a Bill which proposed to suspend for a time the Constitution of Lower Canada, pending a full inquiry into the whole circumstances of the crisis, the inquiry to be conducted by a Governor-General and Lord High Commissioner, to be sent out from England armed with full powers to deal with the rebellion; but also armed - and here came in the real point of the measure - with full powers to remodel the Constitution both of Lower and of Upper Canada. There was really nothing better to be done; and though the Government scheme met with opposition of various kinds, yet it was agreed to in the end; the general conviction being, that the whole trouble was too deeply rooted and had spread too far to be dealt with by any recommendation which the ingenuity of the Westminster officials, or even the House of Commons, could devise on the spur of the moment. Everything, it was naturally thought, must depend on the man who was sent out to Canada with the mission of reconstruction.
There was a general feeling of relief and satisfaction when Lord John Russell told the House of Commons who the man was to be; he was John George Lambton, Earl of Durham. Lord Durham has been already mentioned in this history more than once. He was a man of great ability and extraordinary energy; he belonged to one of the oldest families in England, for the Lambtons had lived on their estate in the North in unbroken descent since the days of William the Conqueror. The great wealth of the family was derived chiefly from coal mines which had been growing and growing in importance, and in what a mine-owner would call output, during generations; for the original value of the landed property was, for a long time, not great. John George Lambton, the Lord Durham with whom we are at present dealing, had had a somewhat romantic career. Before he was twenty years of age he had made a runaway marriage at Gretna Green, with a young lady who died three years later; and about a year after her death, he married the eldest daughter of Lord Grey. He had served for a short time in a Hussar regiment; and had been elected to the House of Commons when still very young. He soon made a name for himself, as one of the most advanced and energetic of reformers. He brought out a scheme of reform of his own construction, as early as 1821, a scheme of a thoroughly democratic nature in principle, anticipating many of the changes which the great Reform Bill, passed some ten years later, failed to introduce. He was, undoubtedly, a man of great ability; but of an impulsive temperament, an impatient, passionate nature. We have already mentioned the part he took with Lord Grey and Lord John Russell in preparing the Great Reform Bill; and we know that if he had had his way in that measure, the principle of vote by ballot would have been adopted. He was a difficult man to get on with in office; his colleagues complained of his overbearing manner; and even the stately Lord Grey, unbending to most others, had sometimes to give way to him. He went through the country on more than one occasion, addressing public meetings, just as O'Connell might have done, or John Bright at a later day; and he cared nothing for the notions of society, according to which a man of rank ought to keep his eloquence for Parliament only. Lord Durham was not a man to care much about the conventionalities of social etiquette; and if he wanted to accomplish a purpose, he sought the most ready and direct way of attaining it. He believed that the people were becoming a power with which Parliament would have, henceforth, to reckon; and he gave his faculties of persuasion rather to the people than to the Parliament. He was a man of original character in every sense; and he soon began to be looked up to as the rising hope of the country by the more advanced and especially by the extreme Liberals; and to be dreaded and denounced by slow-going, indolent Liberals, as well as by reactionary Tories.
All those who were really concerned in the welfare of Canada, and knew anything about the subject, were gratified when it became known that the mission of pacification had been entrusted to Durham. If he had not the ability and the courage to evolve order out of that chaos, the impression among such men was that nobody else could be found equal to the task. Lord Durham went out to Canada taking with him as his special advisers, two men well qualified for such work - Mr. Charles Buller and Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Lord Durham took it for granted, as the Canadian colonists themselves did, that he was sent out to Canada in the character of a Dictator, and as a Dictator he acted accordingly. He amazed the slow-going politicians at Westminster by the audacity of his actions. He issued a series of decrees intended to put a stop to the rebellion; and in which, no doubt, he went far outside the limits of constitutional law; but he acted on a principle clearly defined in his own mind. It was plain to him that there was no use in talking of constitutional law in a colony, the constitution of which had already been completely suspended by the authorities at home. Some of his decrees amounted, in substance, to a sentence of perpetual banishment against the leaders of the rebellion who had already escaped from Canada; but as regarded what we may call the rank and file of the rebels, he decreed a very liberal amnesty. He shaped a plan for the future government of the country, in which he was greatly assisted by the intellect and the pre-vision of the gifted and accomplished men, Charles Buller and Edward Wakefield, whom he had brought with him to be his special advisers. That scheme became the foundation, not only of the future government of Canada, but of the system that now prevails in all our Colonies. Lord Durham proposed to set up in Canada a thorough system of municipal institutions; to secure the independence of the judges; to make all provincial officers, except alone the Governor and his Secretary, responsible to the Colonial Legislature; and he proposed to establish that legislature on a thoroughly representative foundation. In the first instance, he arranged that the two provinces, Upper and Lower Canada, should be re-united, politically; and should become one legislative system, containing the representatives of both races and of all districts. Lord Durham's Report also recommended, and this is a most important fact to which attention cannot be too closely directed, that provision should be made by which all, or any, of the other American Colonies might be allowed, on the application of their Legislatures, and with the consent of Canada itself, to be admitted into the Canadian system. Thus, it will be seen, he proposed to make the Canadians self-governing as regards their purely local affairs; and he laid the foundations of that federal system for the Colonies which British North America was so soon to develop.