Editor’s Note: The leading insurrection Robert Nelson wrote the declaration of independence for the breakaway republic of Lower Canada (what is today Quebec) while in exile in the United States, following the rebellion of 1837, an uprising sparked by the lack of political reform. Clearly inspired in part by the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence of the U.S., as well as the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of man and of the Citizen, the uprising for independence may have failed, in the sense that it didn’t lead to an independent nation-state, but it did lead to the creation of Canada and its own government, and reformed the provinces into a unitary system.
Declaration of Independence of Lower Canada
WHEREAS, the solemn covenant made with the people of Lower Canada, and recorded in the Statute Book of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, as the thirty-first chapter of the Act passed in the thirty-first year of the Reign of King George III hath been continually violated by the British Government, and our rights usurped.
And, whereas our humble petitions, addresses, protests, and remonstrances against this injurious and unconstitutional interference have been made in vain.
That the British Government hath disposed of our revenue without the constitutional consent of the local Legislature — pillaged our treasury — arrested great numbers of our citizens, and committed them to prison — distributed through the country a mercenary army, whose presence is accompanied by consternation and alarm — whose track is red with the blood of our people — who have laid our villages in ashes — profaned our temples — and spread terror and waste through the land. And, whereas we can no longer suffer the repeated violations of our dearest rights, and patiently support the multiplied outrages and cruelties of the Government of Lower Canada, we, in the name of the people of Lower Canada, acknowledging the decrees of a Divine Providence, which permits us to put down a Government, which hath abused the object and intention for which it was created, and to make choice of that form of Government which shall re-establish the empire of justice — assure domestic tranquillity — provide for common defence — promote general good, and secure to us and our posterity the advantages of civil and religious liberty,
- That from this day forward, the PEOPLE OF LOWER CANADA are absolved from all allegiance to Great Britain, and that the political connexion between that Power and Lower Canada, is now dissolved.
- That a REPUBLICAN form of Government is best suited to Lower Canada, which is this day declared to be a REPUBLIC.
- That under the Free Government of Lower Canada, all persons shall enjoy the same rights: the Indians shall no longer be under any civil disqualification, but shall enjoy the same rights as all other citizens in Lower Canada.
- That all union between Church and State is hereby declared to be DISSOLVED, and every person shall be at liberty freely to exercise such religion or belief as shall be dictated to him by his conscience.
- That the Feudal or Seignorial Tenure of land is hereby abolished, as completely as if such Tenure had never existed in Canada.
- That each and every person who shall bear arms, or otherwise furnish assistance to the people of Canada, in this contest for emancipation, shall be, and is discharged from all dues or obligations, real or supposed, for arrearages in virtue of Seignorial rights, heretofore existing.
- That the douaire coutumier is for the future abolished and prohibited.
- That imprisonment for debt shall no longer exist, except in such cases of fraud as shall be specified in an Act to be passed hereafter by the Legislature of Lower Canada for this purpose.
- That sentence of death shall no longer be passed nor executed, except in cases of murder.
- That all mortgages on landed estates shall be special, and to be valid, shall be enregistered in offices to be erected for this purpose, by an Act of the Legislature of Lower Canada.
- That the liberty and freedom of the press shall exist in all public matters and affairs.
- That TRIAL BY JURY is guaranteed to the people of Lower Canada in its most extended and liberal sense, in all criminal suits, and in civil suits, above a sum to be fixed by the Legislature of the State of Lower Canada.
- That as general and public education is necessary and due by the Government of the people, an Act to provide for the same shall be passed as soon as the circumstances of the country will permit.
- That to secure the elective franchise, all elections shall be had by BALLOT.
- That with the least possible delay, the people shall choose delegates, according to the present division of the country, into counties, towns, and boroughs, who shall constitute a Convention or Legislative body, to establish a Constitution, according to the wants of the country, and in conformity with the disposition of this declaration, subject to be modified according to the will of tho people.
- That every male person, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, shall have the right of voting, as herein provided, and for the election of the aforesaid delegates.
- That all Crown Lands, also, such as are called Clergy Reserves, and such as are nominally in possession of a certain company of landholders, in England, called the “British North American Land Company,” are of right the property of the State of Lower Canada, except such portions of the aforesaid lands as may be in possession of persons who hold the same in good faith, and to whom titles shall be secured and granted, by virtue of a law which shall be enacted to legalize the possession of, and afford a title for such untitled lots of land in the Townships as are under cultivation or improvement.
- That the French and English languages shall be used in all public affairs; and for the fulfilment of this declaration, and for the support of the patriotic cause in which we are now engaged, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Almighty, and justice of our conduct, WE, by these present, solemnly pledge to each other our lives and fortunes, and our most sacred honour.
By order of the Provisional Government,
A History of the Late Province of Lower Canada, Robert Christie, T. Cary and Company, 1854, p. 45
The Republic of Canada Almost, Patrick Richard Carstens, Timothy L. Sanford, XLIBRIS, 2013