Morning Chronicle Sept. 23, 1869
A few brief observations on Confederation its nature and effects
By T. Talbot
I say, there can be no excuse for any man of vote for Confederation now: to go into Confederation is a thing that may be done at any time, if it should be seen, beyond doubt, that it would be of more advantage than disadvantage, to more service than injury, of more honor than shame. There is nothing to be lost by keeping out of it, and watching the course of events, in order to learn its tendencies and results. But the men who would vote for it now would be reckless of all consequences, and wholly indifferent to the interests of his Country. I again repeat, that it is impossible for any man who has thoroughly studied this question, and is competent to understand it in all its bearings, and who is not swayed by personal interests;--it is impossible for him not to know that the Union of Newfoundland with Canada would be attended with the greatest calamity to the people of this Country that has ever befallen or could possibly befall them in any other way. I am well aware that there are some people who do not care what calamity may befall the Country if they only profit by it themselves. I knew this very well; but I am not writing for such people at all. It is for the hardworking, industrious people of the Country, those who have property, no matter how great or small; and those who have to depend upon their honest labour,--those are they for whom I write; and whose lives, liberties, and property I would wish to defend.
Before concluding these Observations, I think it necessary to make a passing remark or two on what the advocates of Confederation are pleased to call arguments in favour of it. To me, I must confess, those so-called arguments appear to be nothing more or less than amusing nonsense.
I have heard, during the last four or five years, from time to time, in the House of Assembly, all that has been said, or that, it seemed, could have been said in favor of this Union; and I must candidly declare that I could never have thought it possible to come to the defence of any measure, no matter how indefensible in itself, with such utter want of reasoning. On those occasions I have always been reminded of the tricks and idle tales of a nursery maid endeavoring to lull children to sleep. Out of this variegated collection of nonsense, I shall select the most prominent and imposing items, for the purpose, if not of serious refutation, at least of passing amusement. The first argument,--for so the Confederate Members of the Assembly were accustomed to call their amusing statements—was, that the Merchants of Newfoundland were very bad Merchants, and ought to be sent adrift to make room for Merchants from Canada, whose generosity would be such that they would give every thing to every body, and make the Country a paradise on earth. Now, it so happens that the Merchants of Canada, or of any other portion of the British Empire, or any part of the world, can come here now, as they could at any time these centuries back, and enjoy all the protection, privileges, and advantages which our present Merchants possess. Yet they do not come; and why? Simply because, in the first place, they do not understand the trade of this Country; and in the second place, even if they did, they would be afraid that they could not make profit wnough on their capital. Of this one thing we may be certain, that the Merchants of Canada, any more than the Merchants of any other part of the world, are not fools; and that they give nothing for nothing. If all the Merchants in Canada came here tomorrow to engage in the commerce of the Country, the people would not be a bit better off than they are now, for they would not give one ounce of food or one yard of blanketing to any one who did not pay for it. There is one universal principle that governs all commercial transactions; and that is, the principle of supply and demand. If the Commerce of this Country were such as to require a greater number of Merchants than at present engaged in it, those Merchants would be forthcoming; and if they had a choice of Government at all, they would prefer the one that resides in London to that which resides at Ottawa. So much for that bit of nonsense.
The next thing they have been telling us is, that we should have an immense quantity of steam if we were in Confederation. Well, steam is a very excellent thing in its way; but like everything else, it is only useful when it is wanted. If Canada would give us steam, she would take very good care to make us pay for it; unless, perhaps, she is a fool, like her merchants, which is not very likely. But the plain truth is this: we have at present nearly all the steam we require for any useful practical people, and when we require more we shall be able to procure it ourselves without taxing the people for it, but simply by the adoption of a reduction of our useless expenditure, or of what is very justly called the “People’s budget.” At present we have direct steam communication with all the other North American Colonies, and with the United States; and through Halifax we have Steam Communication with England and all parts of Europe. We have Steam Communication twice a month for three quarters of the year, and once a month for the other quarter. We have also direct steam communication with England, two or three times a year, which costs us nothing; being, upon the principle of supply and demand, called into existence by the necessities of our Trade. This is the natural and healthy condition of steam communication; as it is of everything else,--the demand furnishes the supply. But suppose it were desirable to have this direct steam communication with England twice as often as we have it now, that is—say six times a year, or every two months; and surely that would be enough for the most enthusiastic lover of steam; this, too, we could provide without taxing the people for it, but by having recourse to the People’s Budget again; for, surely, the additional steam would cost very little. It is true that we require a little more coastal stem; but whose fault is it that we are without it?
We had it in nearly sufficient quantity until the present Government put a stop to it, for some reason which they have never clearly explained, but which their corrupt and lavish expenditure of the public funds may easily account for. This, however, can be remedied by a wiser and more economic Government, which the people have it now in their power to establish. So that the talk about steam is the second bit of nonsense. Again, we have been told that Canadian capitalists would come here, and establish all sorts of Factories, and engage in all sorts of Mining; and this too for the benefit of the people. It is, certainly amazing how suddenly all those Canadian Merchants and Capitalists have sprung up, after a slumber of two or three hundred years; and how unwilling they are to have anything to do with us until they first catch us in their Ottawa trap. How is that they do not venture down to us now? Perhaps they are afraid of the London Government, and would only trust themselves to the protection of that of Ottawa. Well, that is the third bit of nonsense. What comes next? Oh, aye! the Civilization, and Isolation nonsense. Now these are hard words; but the nonsense of them is not excelled by any other nonsensical rubbish that it is possible to think of. They mean that we are nothing but savages, living on an Island; and that the Canadian Government is required to tame us. But, what is the real fact? That there is not a Country in the world so happily circumstanced as is Newfoundland, and so open to the influences of civilization. She is situated between Europe on the one side, and the United States on the other, the two most civilized quarters of the Globe; she is in constant communication, thro’ the medium of her Commerce, with the most advanced portions of these two great and civilized Continents of the world; she lies in the pathway of both, with the full radiance of all their civilization flashing upon her; and while she is thus situated, enjoying all these advantages, she is asked to surrender herself to Canada, a Country placed outside the current of civilization, shut out by natural barriers from the Commerce of the world and [influenced] in her civilization only by her association with the polar bear. So much then for Civilization and Isolation; these are the fourth and fifth bits of nonsense. The remaining absurdities I cannot now recall to my mind; but they are of a similar character to the few I have mentioned—just as sensible, just as reasonable, just as honest. They are all like the nursery maid’s invented and idle stories to coax children to their slumbers, and to trick them into oblivion of their little wrongs. I shall now conclude these Observations with a word of warning.
The elections are now at hand. The people have a last chance of preserving their liberties; or of selling themselves into slavery forever. No other chance will be offered to them. At no time in the history of Newfoundland has there been an Election like this. Every man has to say whether he wills to be a freeman or a slave. His vote must mean either. Every man, woman, and child in Newfoundland have their labour, their property, their liberties, and their lives, staked upon this Election. If they fail in their duty,--and each has his, and her duty to perform,--they will be, each one, accessory to the enslavement of the Country, and to the injury, and degradation, and shame which such enslavement must entail upon it for ever. There can be no halting, no hesitation, no indifference on the part of any. Each one is called upon to act as tho’ the whole success of this battle for freedom depended upon him or her alone. Let every man from the highest to the lowest, from the richest to the poorest, from him whose wealth consists of landed property, of shipping property, of fishing property, of bank and bond property, to him whose whole wealth consists of his health, and right arm, and the roof that covers his head,--let every man act a foreman’s part on this occasion. There is one set of men, who have a particular duty to perform now; I mean those men who, from their experience on the Dominion Railroads last summer, are enable to warn their neighbours of the hardships and dangers that await them, if they are driven from their homes by the sale of their Country. Those men have suffered cruel hardships; the iron of the taskmaster has touched their souls. Many of them will bring the marks of their sufferings, in [broken] spirits and wasted constitutions, to their graves; many of them will remain broken-hearted wanderers over the American Continent till death, in mercy, relieves them from their woes; and many of them will leave their bones in Canadian soil as a landmark and a sign to indicate how Confederation heralded her first approach. These men—such of them as have returned from bondage and suffering—have a duty to perform. they are bound to warn their neighbours and their fellow-countrymen against committing themselves to the slavery that awaits them if once placed under the power of the Canadian Dominion. [Let] those men take care of how they act; let them not be bribed into silence at this last hour of their Country’s stuggle against the power of despotism. They will be tampered with, no doubt; promises, gold, will be held out to them; they may act as they please; they may accept what please; but let them betray their Country at their peril. Of all the traitors that may above the surface in these coming Elections, those traitors will be the blackest, foulest, most detested. But they will stand to their colours, it is hoped;--there will be, however, a close eye upon them. We shall all see bye and bye. But, again, will they, can they act the cowardly traitors’ part towards their companions in suffering? Will they sell the blood of the poor betrayed wanderers on a foreign soil? Enough of this—time alone can bring the honest man and the knave to the full view of the public. Then the honest man, and the nave shall each receive the full measure of his deserts. But the chief danger to be apprehended, during the approaching contest, in each of the electoral districts, will come from the hired slaves of the Government. They will be found moving about in every circle. They will sneak and cringe around the footsteps of the electors. They will be paid for their base services with the people’s money. They will belie and misrepresent the people’s Candidates. They will praise the Canadian Candidates. They will do every thing that meanness, and low villany, and depraved rascality can suggest in order to deceive, beguile, and betray the people. But the people will know them by their acts; and will treat them as they deserve; that is, they will scorn their insinuations, and hoot them from their presence. Then, men of Newfoundland, your duty is plain; the path of that duty lies straight before you. Let there be no wavering, no hesitation, no falling back, Onward is the word. United, you stand, divided, you fall. With one pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether, you will come out victorious from this struggle, and vindicate at one and the same time your own manhood, and the Liberty and Independence of your Country.