This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.
The following article is from:
The Morning Chronicle (St. John's)
Monday, December 7, 1868
To the Editor Morning Chronicle:
Sir -- When I recently intruded myself on the public notice in the columns of your Journal, on the subject of Confederation, I did so reluctantly, but was urged thereto by a deep sense of duty, which I felt I owed to the inhabitants of this country -- a country in which I have lived between fifty and sixty years, from many of whose people I have received much kindness, and with whom I have been more or less associated in public, social and commercial relations during that period. Little as this great question can interest myself at my advanced time of life, comparatively with others, and when I am from necessity about to leave the country to spend the few years that are yet to be spared to me free from toil and the anxieties of business, I cannot witness the pending ruin that threatens the future prosperity and happiness of the people without pointing it out to them. For the past few years, as I have previously stated, the Confederates have, under the patronage of the Government, with the use of the public revenues, by dogmatic assertions wholly unfounded in truth, and by every other means in their power, been urging and enforcing on the public the adoption of Confederation, without (down to the present time) having given one single substantial reason, or having pointed out one benefit that the Colony is to derive from entering into that Confederacy.
Since the publication of my former letter, the whole of the Press retained by the Government, (and I regret to say that the number of those not so retained is extremely limited, not exceeding three, or at most four in the whole colony,) have been more or less abusive of me for the part I have taken; and instead of answering my letter and my stubborn facts by fair arguments, are reiterating their old, baseless, and untenable assertions that Confederation is to be a good thing, but omitting to show in what manner. The Express would divert my own, as well as the public attention, from Confederation to subjects altogether apart from it -- namely, the merits and demerits of Responsible Government, and the conflicting disputes between the present Government and the one preceding the introduction of Responsible Government. He adduces a long list of figures to show that Responsible Government, (as he and Mr. Glen call it, but which I call the Irresponsible Government,) has been more economical and better than any preceding Government; but to the correctness of this I take a decided objection, and may, when I am more at leisure, be inclined to show them in other figures that it is not so. On this subject I will, however, on the present occasion limit myself simply by asserting of the fact that the only really Responsible Government that we ever had, in practice, was the Government they are now attempting to vilify -- namely, the one that preceded what is termed the Responsible Government. That Government not only had a check upon the conduct of the House of Assembly, (the majority of which were using every possible means to get rid of it to afford them the opportunity they have since had of feathering their own nests at the public expense,) but they had also the check of the Governor and without the joint consent of these two branches not a sixpence could be spent by those who formed the Government; for had they expended the public money, without it they would have had to pay it back out of their own pockets, and might possibly have lost their places; and gladly would the hostile House of Assembly have availed themselves of the opportunity of so punishing them for the honest and sensible opposition which they had so long offered to the grasping propensities of those who were seeking to establish the present Irresponsible system. It would have been a happy circumstance for this Colony had these gentlemen been permitted to conduct the Government, a work for which they were so thoroughly competent, instead of admitting the worse than imbecile and incompetent men who succeeded to their places. The Colony would thus have saved the salaries of those competent persons who, on vacating their offices, were pensioned for their lives at a large cost, thus entailing on the people a double charge for the expenses of the Executive Government with what profit to the people, the present increased and excessive burdens on them will show. Had these efficient and honest men remained in office, the foregoing unnecessary outlay would not only have been saved, but so would also the enormous debt that afterwards accumulated, in the prodigal and reckless expenditure of the public money, and the consequent heavy taxation that followed, besides the fifty pounds additional taxation on every hundred pounds imposed within the last two years. Now what is the case with the present so-called Responsible Government? The control, by bribery and corruption, the majority in the House of Assembly; and as regards the Governor, who did previously exercise some influence over public affairs, his powers are a nullity, excepting where Imperial interests are concerned. The ministry are paramount, whether for evil or for good; and what do the Government care about the people, so long as they can, through their paid minions, bribe and corrupt (through the power they possess in the Treasury and in patronage) the Electors, and thus retain their places, their salaries, and other emoluments for the greater part unknown to the people? We have witnessed the beginning of this system and its continuance thus far. Within the last two years, as I have before stated, instead of being limited to the heavy tax of one hundred pounds, previously paid, we are now compelled to pay little if anything short of fifty pounds additional on every hundred. These are the blessings and the "advantages" we are deriving from what the Express and Mr. Glen call Responsible Government. Not satisfied with these enormous rates of advance in the taxes, the Government have been contemplating and enunciating through the Press (to prepare the public for it) a still further increase. Will the public, I ask, ever open their eyes and organize themselves to resist the oppression!
The elections are, it is said to come on in May next. It is also reported, and that by a leading Confederate, that before that time the principle of Confederation is to be carried through the House of Assembly, and that a majority of its members are prepared to pass it. If so, there is in my opinion one obstacle only in the way to prevent it -- and that is, the pledge given by our excellent and honorable Premier, who although a strong Confederate, and one of the two delegates who went to Canada, has hitherto resisted the carrying of that measure until he has redeemed the promise which he made -- namely, that he would not allow the measure to pass through the House of Assembly until an appeal had, in the first place, been made to the Electors on the subject at a General Election, and which promise I feel assured he will keep. At that General Election the Electors will have the power in their own hands, and I now caution them against the machinations of those who have so illy [sic] discharged their duties towards them, and to consider what is their own interest in the matter, and who will be fit and proper persons for them to elect to express their views on this all important subject, and to discharge the other responsible duties that may be entrusted to them. The Electors will then have had four years experience of their present members, who, with some exceptions in the patriots that are known to them, have not only been found wanting, but they will have discovered that they have been the real cause of all our present public miseries. Let the people appeal to their own experience -- let them ascertain for themselves what it is that they have to complain of, and whether there be any foundation for complaint, and to what extent their present members have been parties of their grievances. Let them take up the papers, and read what has been written and said on both sides of the question. They will then, I think and feel assured, understand and be convinced that what I assert is true -- that the real meaning of Confederation is the handing over the management of all our public affairs to the Canadian Parliament, more than a thousand miles distant from Newfoundland -- that those Canadians who know little or nothing of the Colony will have the power of governing them, and of taxing them to any extent they may think proper -- that they will have the power also of drafting our young and middle-aged men to serve in their army and navy, and that when ordered to do so they must leave their mothers, sisters, wives and children, their friends, their homes and their native country, and go to Canada, there possibly to contribute to the "bleaching bones" we have heard so much of by leaving their bodies on the field of battle. It would take many sheets of paper were I to enumerate all the sacrifices and vexatious imposts to which the people of this Colony would be subjected. The Confederates, nevertheless, tell the people that Confederation is sure to be a good thing; but have they ever pointed out one single benefit that our people will receive from it? Have they ever told the people all that they will have to suffer from it, and the miseries it will entail? Have they ever told them what nice fat offices the Confederate leaders are permanently to fill if they carry Confederation? Have they every told them what interest they have in the Colony that would be proof against accepting the bribe of office? No! It would not be convenient to their purposes to give the people any such information on any of these subjects. Their great object is to mystify (as lawyers are in the habit of doing) the subject of Confederation, and to keep the people ignorant of its consequences to them. My reason for opposing Confederation is because I believe, and I know, that it is to bring greater wretchedness upon the country than exists here at present, and that that is great is well known to be quite true; and besides which the people must know right well that what is my interest in this question is that their interest, and what is their interest is mine -- our interests are identical and cannot be separated. I am in the same boat with them, struggling for our common safety, with the endeavor to avoid the threatening storm that may otherwise overwhelm us, and therefore I can have no object in deceiving them. The people of this Colony are depending for their subsistence on its fisheries and mining resources, and their interest is to obtain a large reduction in the amount of the taxation which presses so heavily on those industries, and is the cause of the present unhappy state of the Colony; but if the fisheries fail and the taxation be not reduced, what better hope have they for the future if they go into Confederation and be additionally taxed? The failure of the fisheries is only a temporary evil which the next year may remedy, but Confederation with the resulting increase of taxation would be paralyzing curses on the Colony, which no after efforts of the Electors could remove. Let us all then prepare to meet the arch-enemy. Let us organise and be ready for the coming contest, and when the day of battle comes, let us show these few gentlemen of St. John's, who treat the people as though they were blocks of stone, possessing no brains, that there is a power in the country, physical and moral, superior to the power of their arrogance and their scheming, that is able to bring back once more to Newfoundland the prosperity which existed in times of old, before they came into power and made the Colony the wretched desert which it now is.
C. F. Bennett.