CRAIG, Sir JAMES HENRY, army officer and colonial administrator; b. 1748 at Gibraltar, son of Hew Craig; d. unmarried 12 Jan. 1812 in London, England.
Why do social and economic forces come together in a particular fashion at a specific place and point in time? In this connection historians continue to debate the relative influence of men, structures, and circumstances. These three elements are inextricably intertwined in the destiny of Sir James Henry Craig. He tried to bring about a sharp shift in the evolution of Lower Canadian society at the beginning of the 19th century, at the very moment when a series of transformations was taking place: penetration by the capitalist market under the impetus of the Atlantic trading network; ideological ferment and polarization around the redefinition of power relationships between the actors in society, old and new, following amputation of the commercial empire of the St Lawrence, the arrival of the loyalists, division of the province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada, and introduction of a rudimentary system of parliamentary government into the colony; and economic, demographic, and military pressures from the United States.
The rise of the timber trade after 1807, the year Craig arrived in the colony, combined with sporadic commercialization of agricultural products and the decline of the fur trade to complete the restructuring and modernization of the Lower Canadian socio-economy, through its direct impact and its repercussions. This economic expansion, which from the mid decade brought in its wake a marked movement towards urbanization, an increase in manpower, the creation of an integrated local market, a rationalization of production, a rise in prices and wages, increased consumption, and open speculation in landed property, in brief the penetrative power of the market, disrupted, even in the countryside, the traditional way of life and the old human relationships.
New social groups emerged, including the petite bourgeoisie drawn from the liberal professions, small merchants (often in the country), and the more prosperous craftsmen. These people, for the most part Canadians, articulated in the Canadian party and its newspaper Le Canadien [see Pierre-Stanislas Bédard*; François Blanchet*] an explicit form of nationalism that was linked with democratic concepts and values and with a plan for economic development centred on Lower Canada. They ran up against the recent alliance of great landowners, higher officials, and rich merchants, nearly all British, who by contrast defended aristocratic and British values and advocated economic development on a continental scale. These conflicts, building upon each other, crystallized in the political arena on constitutional, social, ethnic, and economic planes, and were already beginning to paralyse a many-sided polity that included the military apparatus under command of the governor, the Legislative and Executive councils, which were dominated by the British party, and the House of Assembly, which was under the influence of the Canadian party. The obvious favouritism towards the British elements shown by the authorities would accelerate the ossification of political institutions. On the one hand the Canadian party demanded “supremacy of the legislature,” as in Britain, and control of the Executive Council, which they called “the ministry.” On the other hand the British party countered with plans to assimilate the Canadians through British immigration, an aristocratic form of government, development of the Eastern Townships, abolition of the seigneurial system, and abrogation of French civil law, which was considered a nuisance.
Caught between the immediate pressure brought to bear by the Executive Council and the more indirect but no less real pressures from a Canadian bourgeoisie that was considered too democratic, the Catholic Church sought to acquire legal status, stabilize and then increase its numbers, improve the training of its priests, strengthen its presence in education, and more effectively keep in line independent or recalcitrant members of the laity [see Pierre Denaut].
In addition to these tensions, the turbulence of Lower Canadian society was becoming increasingly pronounced as a consequence of the repercussions of the wars in Europe and even more the threat of armed conflict with the United States looming as a result of the provocations to which Britain was subjecting neutral countries, the impressment of American sailors on the high seas, and the stirring-up of the Indian tribes in the interior of the continent [see Tecumseh].
Craig tried to act directly on all these levels, but he met with uneven success because he so often ran up against structures which remained sturdy and a set of circumstances that often proved to be the deciding factor.
James Henry Craig, who came from a respectable Scottish family, was born at Gibraltar; his father was a judge of the civil and military courts in the British fortress. In 1763, at the age of 15, he joined the army as an ensign in the 30th Foot. In 1770 he was promoted aide-de-camp to Colonel Robert Boyd, lieutenant governor of Gibraltar. Next he took command of a company of the 47th Foot, and he was serving in this capacity in the American colonies from 1774. After the outbreak of the War of Independence the following year, he took part in the battle of Bunker Hill, in Massachusetts, where he was badly wounded. Nevertheless he accompanied his regiment to the province of Quebec in 1776, met the American invaders at Trois-Rivières, and commanded the advance guard that forced them back over the border. The next year he was twice wounded, once seriously, during engagements at Fort Ticonderoga (near Ticonderoga, N.Y.), Hubbardton (East Hubbardton, Vt), and Freeman’s Farm, N.Y. Major-General John Burgoyne*, who thought highly of him, recommended him for the rank of major in the 82nd Foot in recognition of his services. From 1778 to 1781 he served with his regiment in Nova Scotia, at Penobscot (Castine, Maine), and in North Carolina. Constantly on the go during these campaigns, he mainly led light infantry troops. His successes suggest that he possessed initiative and resourcefulness to an unusual degree.
Having attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1781, Craig became adjutant general of the Duke of York’s army in the Netherlands in 1794, and then major-general. In 1795 he collaborated with Vice-Admiral Viscount Keith and Major-General Alured Clarke* in wresting the Cape Colony (South Africa) from the Dutch. Now at the peak of his military career, he became governor of the new possession and remained in this post until 1797. After receiving the Order of the Bath, he sailed that year for Madras and the Bengal region in India, where he again engaged in battle. Having been made a lieutenant-general in January 1801, he returned to England and for three years served as commander of the Eastern District. In 1805, despite his poor health, the British government commissioned him to serve as a local general in the Mediterranean, in command of an expeditionary corps in Italy which was to effect a junction with the Russian army. The battles of Ulm and Austerlitz made these plans futile, and Craig had to fall back on Sicily. Suffering from chronic dropsy, he returned to England in 1806. Since he was unable to remain inactive and seemed to recover, he accepted the post of governor in-chief of British North America in 1807, succeeding Robert Shore Milnes*.
On 18 Oct. 1807, with great pomp and ceremony, Craig disembarked at Quebec from the ship of the line Horatio. A large crowd and a 15-gun salute greeted this short but stately figure. His brief, triumphant appearance was, however, only an interlude, since it was rumoured that Craig had taken to his bed and was dying. On all sides, and particularly in the English party, prayers were said for his recovery. From the time of their first contact the governor’s civil secretary, Herman Witsius Ryland*, had felt the stirrings of great admiration for his new chief and a breath of hope; he was confident that the British would be backed up by an energetic governor, provided he lived. The Canadians also rejoiced; Le Canadien surmised that, like a second Hannibal, the new governor might well purge the Canadian Carthage of the clique of “placemen.” The British anticipated a resolutely British policy, whereas the Canadians expected redress for the wrongs of which they claimed to be victims.
As noted, Craig arrived in the midst of very difficult circumstances. Seriously ill at the outset, he had to rely on his civil secretary for information about the colony and for expediting correspondence. He took the customary oaths from his bed on 24 October, and he did not write or dictate any letters until 9 November. His first concerns were quite naturally for military matters, especially since war between Great Britain and the United States seemed imminent. He was convinced that if the British did not make use of the Indians, the Americans would. Consequently he gave orders that greater efforts than ever be made to win them over, but that they should be made in a prudent manner, without any allusion to the possibility of a conflict, because certain tribes wanted to drag Britain into a new war to recover their lands from the United States. However, in the event of conflict he envisaged restraining their cruelty. From the time of his arrival Craig devoted much energy and money to rebuilding fortifications in the province, particularly at Quebec. As for the Canadian militia, it had displayed exemplary loyalty when put on a war footing in the summer of 1807. Craig, however, was sparing in his congratulations on this ardour and took the few deserters to task at length; this attitude, which was characteristic of Craig’s perfectionist and punctilious side, startled the Canadian militia.
Yet on his arrival Craig had not been unfavourably inclined towards the Canadians. He gave no evidence of preconceived hostility towards them. Abbé François-Emmanuel Bourret, Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis*’s agent in London, had conversed with the governor before the latter’s departure, and in a letter to Plessis had remarked: “You will have reason to be satisfied with Sir J. Craig.” Furthermore, in December 1807 the governor awarded commissions as militia officers to some Canadians, including a captaincy to Pierre-Stanislas Bédard*, the leader of the Canadian party.
Craig liked show. Consequently the opening of the parliamentary session on 29 Jan. 1808 was described by the newspapers as “the most brilliant that ever took place in this province.” The two great debates dominating the session were linked to the Canadian party’s attempt to secure a stable majority in the House of Assembly. In fact, despite their numerical superiority most of the Canadian members deserted the legislature early in the session because they could not afford a prolonged stay in the capital. Thus, at the end of the sessions the British and their Canadian allies – called “placemen” by Le Canadien – sometimes found themselves in the majority. The Canadian party had twice failed in the attempt to pass a bill providing an expense allowance for members of the assembly coming from outside Quebec. Hence it sought instead to expel some members of the opposing party who were vulnerable: those who were members of the judiciary and a Jew, Ezekiel Hart*, who had been elected for Three Rivers in 1807.
In debating the bill on the ineligibility of judges, however, the members of the Canadian party advanced only honourable grounds. They expressed the opinion that participation of judges in elections undermined their impartiality, or at least sapped the electors’ confidence in justice, and observed that in England judges sat only in the House of Lords. Encouraged by most of the British members, judges Pierre-Amable De Bonne and Louis-Charles Foucher replied that educated men and government spokesmen were needed in the assembly, and that the bill amounted to an act of vengeance by Le Canadien. During an exchange Bédard extemporized brilliantly on the existence of a “ministry” in the colony because Lower Canada had been given a constitution similar to that of Britain. Finally, after many debates, adjournments, and dramatic turns of events, the assembly passed the bill on the ineligibility of judges on 4 March 1808. But the Legislative Council blocked it, in order, according to Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain Chartier* de Lotbinière, “to stop the encroachments” of the assembly on royal prerogatives. It is easy to understand the indignation of Le Canadien, which proclaimed the “right to have representation free from all [governmental] influence,” noting that otherwise one had tyranny. Such language could only rile a governor concerned about his authority and image. Other articles violently denounced the “little ministry” that was advising the governor; the policy of the paper may explain the hardening of Craig’s attitudes towards the Canadians between April and June 1808.
After shorter but just as violent debate, on 14 March 1808 the assembly passed a resolution expelling Hart, the member of Jewish origins who was allied with the British party; since he had taken the oath in accordance with the custom of his religion rather than with the constitution of 1791, he could not “attend, sit, or vote in this House.” The decision was the result of a mixture of political opportunism, anti-Semitism, and legalism. Some Canadian members had, however, defended Hart, whereas some of the British, including Attorney General Jonathan Sewell*, had voted for the resolution. Contrary to legend Craig showed Hart little sympathy; he curtly gave him to understand through his secretary that he could not intervene in the matter.
Friction arose in other areas too. Pierre-Stanislas Bédard and Jean-Thomas Taschereau* failed in their attempt to have a committee study the “alterations” to be made in the British system of free and common socage for landholding and the “precautions” to be taken against the introduction of “Yankees” and “dangerous aliens” from the United States. On the other hand the assembly succeeded in passing a good many useful measures concerning public works, justice, and other matters during the 1808 session. Craig took the opportunity to congratulate it on the work accomplished. His correspondence reveals his great satisfaction. He even stressed the “moderation” of the deliberations, except in the discussions on the ineligibility of judges when personal animosities had surfaced.
During the 1808 session partisan debates had continued to arouse passions, especially through the medium of the newspapers. The Quebec Mercury, the British party’s organ at Quebec [see Thomas Cary*], insulted the language, customs, religion, and education of the Canadians; it considered assimilation to be necessary in itself and advantageous for the victims. Le Canadien – and on certain points the Courier de Québec, the organ of the Canadian members of the British party – spoke disparagingly of American immigrants, denounced plans for assimilation as leading inevitably to annexation to the United States, criticized the English judges who were unfamiliar with French law, and accused the clique of placemen of gobbling up lucrative posts, halting the implementation of the constitution, and blocking the avenues to promotion for Canadians. Just before the elections in June 1808 Le Canadien and various pamphlets even more stridently denounced privileges and the wasting of public funds. To the fury of the British, Le Canadien urged the people to reject the placemen, their adversaries, and to elect only Canadian representatives devoted to their interests. On the hustings more than one candidate resorted to ethnic appeals. The administration was, however, successful in bringing about the defeat of Jean-Antoine Panet, the speaker of the assembly. But the Canadian party had foreseen this and had him elected in Huntingdon riding. Although there were 50 seats to be filled, only 14 British members – as against 16 in the previous parliament – escaped defeat in the elections, and even at that most leading officials and merchants in the colony had had to be conscripted into the campaign. The astute Pierre-Amable De Bonne held his own against the Canadian party and was re-elected along with a handful of his supporters. Among the members of the Canadian party newly elected were Louis-Joseph Papineau*, aged 21, Denis-Benjamin Viger*, and Joseph Levasseur-Borgia*.
Having kept his distance somewhat from political quarrels until April 1808, Craig had then quickly become the leader of the British party. This sudden metamorphosis can be explained by the democratic aspirations of the Canadian party, its virulent attacks on the executive authority and ultimately on the governor, who topped the pyramid of placemen, and then by its questioning of the prerogatives vested in the institutions representing imperial sovereignty and the colonial oligarchy. As a paternalistic and energetic soldier who had fought American democracy in the United States, Craig was not a person to let himself be attacked without counter-attacking strongly. Sick and somewhat reserved, he depended upon the people about him to keep informed of the changing situation in the colony. These people, who shared the same political interests, may have been able to influence him skilfully by suggestion, even though the governor emerged naturally as the supreme leader of the British party. In a long memoir composed in May 1808 Ryland painted a pessimistic picture of the political situation for him and recommended measures that were dear to the members of the British party: reinforcement of the preponderance of the British in the councils, the magistracy, and public office; creation of English Protestant schools and control of the Catholic clergy so as to assimilate the Canadians and convert them to Protestantism; settlement of the Eastern Townships by British people and an artificial increase in the number of ridings for this region. These solutions would become a leitmotiv within British circles in the colony.
Immediately after the elections in June 1808 Craig avenged the British party by dismissing those officials and militia officers who were associated with the newspaper Le Canadien. The British applauded this martial gesture. Some Canadians who held office or sought it lost no time in showering praise upon the governor’s “wisdom” and incriminating their compatriots; this was the attitude adopted by Paul-Roch Saint-Ours in particular. But through his intervention Craig set off a chain reaction that led the Canadian party to harass the government even more, thus further provoking the anger of the proud and authoritarian governor and the fury of his entourage. Le Canadien denounced governmental “abuses” more strongly than ever, publishing in detail the expenditures on the civil list, comparing them with “useful expenditures,” and then making known its objective of gaining control of revenues. In return the Mercury accused Le Canadien of heaping abuse upon the merchants and office holders solely out of ambition and jealousy.
In his correspondence for the months of July and August 1808 Craig even cast doubt on the loyalty of the Canadians in the event of war. Just as had Lieutenant Governor Milnes in 1800, he regretted the marked decline of the old seigneurial aristocracy and portrayed the new parliamentary leaders – for the most part lawyers, notaries, and shopkeepers who came from the people – as ambitious revolutionaries, “violent,” “unprincipled,” “dangerous,” and “ingratiating.” As for the rest of the Canadians, “they are French at heart.” Even the clergy, he noted with great distaste, recruited its personnel from among “the lowest classes of the people.” He predicted a stormy session and an early dissolution of parliament.
Craig did not think highly of the Catholic clergy. In the winter of 1808–9 Bishop Plessis had met with him before asking the assembly to incorporate parishes that had been created since 1721, a measure necessary to solve the innumerable problems stemming from their lack of civil recognition [see Joseph-Laurent Bertrand]. Indeed, some Canadians had gone so far as to demand that the clergy retrocede lands that their ancestors had given to fabriques. Others, for no good reason, threatened the bishop with an appeal to the “royal prerogative,” which in theory had been imposed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act. If the parishes had no legal status, how could they own or transfer property, or collect tithes? The interview between Craig and Plessis occurred in a “rather heated” atmosphere, according to the bishop, who distrusted the dispositions “of the present ministry.” Craig had clearly expressed his desire to subject the bishop and his church to the royal prerogative. Moreover, the church was suffering from a critical lack of priests; Plessis noted that there were no more than 166 for the more than 200,000 Catholics spread across an immense territory. Of that number, a score were teaching in colleges. It was therefore necessary to abandon some small parishes in order to meet the needs of the large ones. In the towns a large proportion of the élite from the liberal professions did not attend church, especially because of the church’s teachings on lending money at interest. Thus morals were growing lax, and the habitants were becoming unruly in their conduct. In commiserating with a discouraged parish priest, Bishop Plessis observed: “People are always people, and peasants always peasants; more ready to receive than to give, making promises in order to have a parish priest and making no effort to keep him once they have him.”
Early in 1809 Craig, worried by the tension between Britain and the United States, asked London for military reinforcements, but without success. He sent a spy, John Henry*, to the United States to ferret out information on public opinion, the plans and military capacity of the republic, and the rumours of a split between New England and the rest of the country over the American embargo, which was ruinous for the seaboard states. He even gave Henry authority to negotiate with separatist leaders if an opportunity occurred. In the event Henry passed on little useful information, and Craig recalled him in May after progress had been made in the negotiations between London and Washington. In 1812 Henry sold his correspondence to the American government, which published it to rally public opinion further.
Some correspondents of the Montreal Gazette capitalized on the international tension to urge the parties in Lower Canada to make peace. Le Canadien and the Mercury nevertheless persevered in their vendetta. The themes remained the same, but the gibes became more scathing. Le Canadien dwelt more on constitutional concepts and persisted in its opposition to American immigration. To those Canadians who wanted to keep Lower Canada to themselves the Mercury retorted that it would take them centuries to develop and settle the province. According to a journalist writing in the Mercury under the pseudonym of Scaevola, the Canadians were prolonging to no avail a backward, feudal, decadent, and inert society. Instead of whining about the distinction between the races, the Canadians, he said, should themselves do away with it “by becoming English.” Another journalist refused to admit that Canada belonged only to “papists.”
These articles illustrate the vigour of the confrontation. Furthermore, in 1809 the great problems facing Lower Canada were examined in two pamphlets and a book. In Considérations sur les effets qu’ont produit en Canada, la conservation des établissemens du pays, les mœurs, l’éducation etc. de ses habitans, Denis-Benjamin Viger maintained that the British party’s plan to submerge the Canadians through the immigration of American “rebels” would steer the colony towards annexation to the United States. Great Britain’s interest dictated that she should keep the province for the Canadians: only they could maintain the colony in the empire, as much through interest as through religious conviction. Two months later Ross Cuthbert* answered him in An apology for Great Britain. Canada, he said, was a young country with a potential for immense development, thanks to the British and Americans. The French Canadians, with their wretched “patois,” represented only a hundredth of the empire’s population; their medieval laws handicapped trade, and their assimilation would in no way be unjust. On the contrary, they ought to collaborate in it, since their survival was neither possible nor desirable: “inert in its nature,” this people “exhibit[ed] its infant face, surcharged with the indications of old age and decay.” Finally, in London an English merchant by the name of Hugh Gray published Letters from Canada, written during a residence there in the years 1806, 1807 and 1808. He went further than Cuthbert and suggested concrete means of carrying out assimilation: the union of the Canadas and subordination of the Canadian clergy.
For some obscure reason Craig had delayed the opening of the next session of the assembly until 10 April 1809. This decision prompted Le Canadien to make some comments on the constitution, the rights of the assembly, and the abuses of the “ministry.” During the short session only five statutes were passed, for the most part simple re-enactments. Three questions took up almost all the sittings. First, the assembly corrected certain “insinuations” in the speech from the throne about the existence of unfounded “jealousies” in the province. Bédard seized this hoped-for occasion to deliver a long speech on the necessity of ministerial responsibility, without which the assembly would have to entertain the “monstrous idea” of turning against the person of the king’s representative. The question of the ineligibility of judges took up the greater part of the debates. The Canadian party again sought passage of the bill disqualifying them from sitting in the house. Judge De Bonne’s energetic resistance led to the creation of a committee to investigate the elections, which brought in a devastating report against the judge as candidate. Premature prorogation on 15 May 1809 put an end to the polemic, at least in the assembly.
Ezekiel Hart, who had been re-elected for Three Rivers in 1808, had taken the oath in the Christian manner and in the form prescribed by law. The assembly again expelled him by resolution in 1809, but this time the exclusion verged on illegality. Craig had already consulted the Executive Council, which recognized Hart’s right to sit in the assembly and recommended that London censure this body, but that the governor not dissolve it. The hot-headed Craig disregarded the recommendation so as to provoke the confrontation that he had been predicting since 1808. He at last had the pretext for carrying out his plan to bring the assembly to heel, indeed, to impress the people and get them to elect members favourable to the government. In Craig’s eyes new elections would deal with the dangerous and unruly Canadian party, which dared to brave his authority and criticize his policy. He therefore burst unannounced into the assembly chamber, and in a long speech proroguing the house he gave the majority a dressing down for having frittered time away on trivialities, “personal animosities,” and “unconstitutional” measures. He did, however, distribute a few compliments to the Legislative Council and to the British group in the assembly.
Craig justified his conduct to the Colonial secretary, Viscount Castlereagh, by affirming that he had wanted to show the assembly he could not be “intimidated” by threats, and consequently to dispel any thought that he was afraid in the slightest of the Canadian party. He also said that he had wanted to avoid any violent measures on the part of the assembly, refute its claim to dispose of unlimited powers, and put a stop to agitation among the population. In his optimism the governor predicted the defeat of a great many of his opponents in the coming elections. In June 1809 he even campaigned throughout the province. At Trois-Rivières, Montreal, William Henry (Sorel), Dorchester (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), and elsewhere his faithful supporters and some of the people gave him a rousing welcome and applauded his policies. In the euphoria of the moment the governor imagined that winning the election was simply a matter of subjugating a small clique of agitators who had no influence on the loyal population. He had considered it fitting to innovate by openly involving himself in politics. He anticipated approval from the electors and from London. In reality he had gone too far, too quickly: the people and the Colonial secretary were going to let him know it.
As the elections were not held until the autumn of 1809, the Canadian party had time to rally and to convince the population that the “ministers” had rejected its representatives because they had protected the rights of the people too well. In this long and merciless campaign Le Canadien played an important role. Feigning horror, the paper recapitulated the people’s alleged reproaches with regard to the governor’s conduct. It attributed the responsibility for Craig’s actions to the “ministers,” portraying them as profiteers who put pressure on the people because they feared supervision by its free representatives. Voters were urged to choose members who shared their interests. Finally, Le Canadien displayed on the front page extracts from the English bill of rights of 1689 opposing intervention in elections by the government and officials. Polling took place in an atmosphere of extreme excitement. There was no lack of threats, brawls, and false reports, or, again, of nationalist appeals. Despite unheard-of efforts by the government, the electors returned an assembly that was virtually identical to the preceding one, with the British holding only 14 seats. Bédard was even elected in two ridings. The Canadian party was satisfied and in its newspaper drew the conclusion that its constitutional theories had been confirmed by the people, the supreme judge.
From London Castlereagh rebuked the governor for his extravagant language. Craig, he said, would have to control himself in the future. In addition he agreed with the assembly concerning the ineligibility of judges and Hart’s expulsion. He asked Craig to give his approval to any law disqualifying judges henceforth from being members of the assembly.
The year 1810 began in a climate of political crisis. The newspapers were still exchanging sarcasms and quibbles that revealed the contradictory aims of the two opposing blocs. Having learned a few lessons, Craig modified his tactics. At the opening of the session he delivered a moderate speech and announced that he would ratify a law decreeing “in the future” the ineligibility of judges. Full of confidence the assembly reprimanded the governor for his past conduct; then, as economic prosperity was bringing large sums into the public coffers, it offered to assume the total cost of the civil administration. Paying the piper would enable it to call the tune. Plainly this offensive fitted into the logic of the assembly’s claims concerning both financial and ministerial responsibility. The governor perceived clearly the intention of the Canadian party. Nevertheless he noted the novelty of the offer and promised to transmit the assembly’s proposal to London. In his correspondence with the home authorities Craig called the request most dangerous; to agree to it, he said, would establish the complete domination of the country by the assembly. Finally, irritated by a Legislative Council amendment to delay enforcing the ineligibility of judges until the next elections, the assembly unilaterally declared judge De Bonne’s seat vacant. Craig jumped on this patently unconstitutional action and on 1 March 1810 again dissolved parliament.
Throughout the debates and electoral campaigns of 1808 and 1809 newspapers such as Le Canadien and especially the Mercury had persisted in fanning the fire. The former had discoursed upon the rights of the people and the assembly, ministerial responsibility, the certain link between assimilation of the Canadians and Americanization, and the wasting of public funds for the benefit of a small clique. The Mercury had slandered the Canadian leaders, calling them Jacobins and climbers, had extolled the virtues of trade, and had treated Canadian society with contempt, considering it backward and ill adapted to the modern world and thus destined to disappear. All this rhetoric was, of course, interlarded with insults which each side heaped on the other.
Setting new elections in motion in 1810 could only stir up further controversy, especially since the government launched full speed into the campaign. Officials and government pensioners signed addresses complimenting Craig and had to campaign actively. To defend the government’s cause and harass Le Canadien, they even founded a French newspaper, Le Vrai Canadien, which was published by Pierre-Amable De Bonne, Jacques Labrie*, and others. Le Canadien then vented its fury against the “ministry” and its “rotten bunch” of creatures drawn from the “rich” and the “upper classes” whom the people maintained through paying the “tallage.” In an electoral manifesto the Canadian party attributed the dissolution of parliament to one main cause: the officials’ fear that the assembly would gain control of the civil list and prevent increases in the expenditures it covered. The electors had therefore to choose as a bloc the candidates of the Canadian party or the others. A song printed in Le Canadien’s shops urged the electors to drive out the governor’s “rabble” that was kept by the taxes levied on the people.
Craig was determined to strike a decisive blow. He used Le Canadien’s stinging language as a pretext to have its presses seized on 17 March 1810 and he had a score of those chiefly responsible for it imprisoned on a charge of “treacherous practices.” A document found on the paper’s presses and listing all the Canadians’ grievances since the conquest was also seized. The government’s plan provided as well for incarcerating the principal Canadian leaders in Montreal; a party thus decapitated would have difficulty in campaigning. But James Brown*, proprietor of the Montreal Gazette, refused to print an article given him by James McGill, Isaac Ogden, Jean-Guillaume De Lisle, and possibly John Blackwood – all of them office holders – which reportedly contained an unsubstantiated accusation that the prospective prisoners had received sums of money from the French consulate in Washington. The government had therefore to be content with a smaller haul, which, however, at Quebec included Charles Lefrançois*, Le Canadien’s printer, and François Blanchet, Jean-Thomas Taschereau, and Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, its founders.
The Executive Council allowed rumours of treason and conspiracy to be spread, although they had no substance. The pro-governmental papers rejoiced in them and pretended to believe them. In an impassioned proclamation Craig denounced the “wicked, seditious, and traitorous writings” that had forced him to take harsh measures. He circulated his proclamation across the province through militia officers, magistrates, and judges. He asked Bishop Plessis to appear before the Executive Council, assured him that a conspiracy existed, censured “the almost criminal apathy” of the clergy, and ordered him to intervene. Plessis anticipated that the members of the Canadian party would be re-elected; this made him even more fearful of the government’s vengeance. He begged the priests therefore to read the governor’s proclamation in the churches and to preach loyalty, “which may very well be done with commonplaces.” For his own part he set an example by denouncing notions of the liberty and sovereignty of the people.
In his correspondence Craig justified the dissolution of parliament by alleging the need to counter the spread of the spirit of democracy in a province that was in an “extremely critical” state. After the arrests the governor explained to the home authorities that a democratic party with many members had distilled the disaffection and distrust in the population and had aroused the animosity between British and Canadians. He even gave it to be understood that there had been some question of a “massacre”; to be sure, he was not afraid of this eventuality, but he emphasized how worked up the population was – proof, in his view, of the good sense of his energetic intervention to rally the shaken masses to his side.
The British party emerged from the test of the elections weakened, having won only 12 seats; it was embittered, and craved revenge. This desire was gratified through the large number of informers, eager for favours, found amongst the Canadians. The phenomenon of informing was so widespread that it contradicts somewhat the traditional theme of the “reign of terror” and the Canadians’ heroic resistance to it. At an opportune moment, the government would reward its zealous servants and punish those who were “seditious.” As for the political prisoners, the government intended to release them one by one, without bringing them to trial but exacting large amounts of bail after they had displayed what was considered sufficient contrition. Blanchet and Taschereau submitted to these demands; the latter even went so far as to reveal to the jubilant governor certain consultations and disputes among the editors of Le Canadien. Bédard was the only one to defy the governor to the end. He was unyielding and refused to admit to any offence, even an involuntary one, demanding instead a trial to clear his honour and prove the correctness of his political opinions. For a moment Craig hoped to use his brother, Abbé Jean-Charles Bédard*, to make him give in, but the abbé proved just as tough and stubborn. As a result Bédard spent more than a year in prison.
For its part the Canadian party came out of the elections stronger than ever. Having foreseen what was going to happen, Craig gave up trying to convince the people in haste and endeavoured to subjugate the assembly through fear. By 1808 he had already taken up his position firmly and definitively, thereby inaugurating a period of increasing political conflict. He was not only fighting against “ignorance,” the “rabble,” political liberalism, and the democratic aspirations of an assembly which was defying him and in his view threatening the imperial and aristocratic order; he was opposing a Catholic Church become too independent, and he was struggling on behalf of the class of “respectable people” – the merchants and higher officials – which seemed to him the best educated and most dynamic one in the colony. He was also fighting very strongly for British colonization and the disappearance of the “French” characteristics of the Canadians. His energetic intervention in 1810 had been aimed only at preventing an insurrection that he apprehended might occur. For him and for many others of British origin, such as Jonathan Sewell, the democratic danger went hand in hand with the danger of nationalism. In fact, the Canadians had remained “completely French” and felt “hatred” for the British. Worse still, they considered themselves “as forming a separate nation,” hence their relentless fight against British immigration.
In the long term Craig, supported by British merchants such as John Young and John Richardson* and higher officials such as Sewell, Ryland, and Anglican bishop Jacob Mountain*, revived in part the suggestions of his predecessor, Sir Robert Shore Milnes, and advocated assimilation of the Canadians because otherwise they always would be French, and therefore enemies of the English, and because they blocked the development of British colonization and trade. A whole range of means would eventually lead to this end: either union of the Canadas, combined with over-representation of the Eastern Townships in the assembly so as to assure British dominance of the house, or the abolition of the assembly and establishment of a council that would be predominantly British and drawn from the oligarchy. Other means were also envisaged, such as immigration from Britain and the United States, abolition of the seigneurial system, subjection of the Catholic priests, and seizure by the government of control over education.
What was involved, then, was a proper offensive designed to correct the “error” of 1791. It crowned the efforts of Milnes and the British party. Craig sent Ryland to London to promote this ambitious plan, but the secretary cooled his heels there for more than two years. Certainly by 1810 the British government recognized the defects of the 1791 constitution, but it did not dare introduce a legislative measure to correct them for various reasons: the fragility of its political power, the illness of King George III, the European war then monopolizing the ministers’ attention, the American danger which dictated prudence in dealing with the Canadians in the colony, and the divergent views held by the higher officials in Lower Canada on the means to be adopted.
Early in 1811 Craig exercised astonishing mastery over the assembly because of the absence of the leader of the Canadian party, Bédard, who was still in prison. The gap in the party’s leadership caused fear and confusion among its elected members; rivalries sprang up between the regions and among the candidates for Bédard’s position. The assembly even went so far as to renew the law that had enabled Bédard to be imprisoned! Consequently the steps it took to free Bédard proved timid and fruitless. In March 1811, after the session was ended, Craig had him released, not because of weakness but to show clearly to the people by the delay that it was he who governed the province, and not the assembly. During the session the assembly refused, however, to hand its general revenues over to the government and renewed the Gaols Act of 1805 only “to help meet the civil expenses of this Province, in the form and manner that will be adopted by the legislature of this Province.” Meanwhile Craig vainly tried to persuade Bishop Plessis to give up his authority voluntarily before London forced him to do so. The bishop was not unaware of the purpose of Ryland’s mission in England, but he refused to give in to the governor’s blackmail, observing that “it would not grieve me to be put on board a warship, rather than betray my conscience.”
Governor Craig was playing a losing game, at least for the immediate future. He was up against a particularly unfavourable set of circumstances outside the country and structures within that were not easy to change (the demographic situation, the civil laws, the seigneurial system, the parliamentary institutions, and so on). He was very ill and since 1810 had been asking to be replaced. Against his own wishes he remained in his post at the insistence of the British government, but late in June 1811, feeling himself failing rapidly, he sailed for England, to the great regret of the British in the colony and of his protégés. He was dying when he reached London, and he passed away there shortly afterwards, on 12 Jan. 1812. If the British government replaced him with Sir George Prevost, it was not to appease the Canadians, as traditional historical works claim, but simply because the former lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia was the only experienced senior officer who could get to Quebec quickly and could meet all contingencies there, including a war with the United States that seemed imminent.
London, moreover, did not disapprove of the team in the colony whose aim was to render it British; indeed, the Prince Regent officially recognized Craig’s services before he died, and the Colonial secretary, Lord Liverpool, recommended Ryland to Prevost in July 1811. Craig did not, then, die broken and defeated, as has been claimed; he remained convinced that he had done his duty and that he had in part been successful. Although the British government felt unable to amend the 1791 constitution in the immediate future, Craig could nevertheless hope that one day the supremacy of the British and of the upper classes would be recognized once and for all in the colony. For the time being he had contained the “spirit of insubordination” in the assembly and had alerted London to the disadvantages of the constitution, both where relations between the mother country and the colony were concerned and on the social, national, and economic levels.
Craig has been described sometimes as a man of transparent simplicity who was misled by bad advisers, and at other times as a man whose touchy disposition was responsible for the birth of French Canadian nationalism. An examination of his military and civil correspondence reveals instead an energetic leader (it was he who ran the British party and not the reverse), skilful and stubborn, capable of manipulating people and even of machiavellianism. A member of the upper classes, he liked the display of wealth and had the reputation of being a generous host. A resolute soldier who was punctilious but also concerned about the well-being of his troops, he was quick to react to real or presumed affronts, and also to pardon the guilty parties if they were repentant. As governor he did not disdain the constant use of patronage, authority, and threats to achieve his goals. This impulsive being had ventured too roughly into Canadian politics without having really weighed all the complexities of a situation that had made his predecessor, Milnes, more devious but perhaps in the long run more effective. Unyielding on the whole, Craig also had a warm and engaging side, as witnessed by the loyal friendships he formed in Lower Canada and as evidenced by the sale of numerous prints portraying him. His contemporaries lauded his personal generosity to the poor. He had been a member of the Quebec Fire Society, but does not seem to have been much involved in other associations.
No mere plaything in the hands of the officials or narrow-minded soldier reputed to have created French-Canadian nationalism through his policy of confrontation, Sir James Henry Craig appears rather as the person who brought out into the open a whole set of conflicts that turned two heterogeneous blocs in the colony against each other. These antagonisms focused on issues related to democracy and the emancipation of the colony as well as on the struggle between the mass of people, who were above all Canadian and rural, and the “people” in the English tradition – the oligarchy of landowners, higher officials, and wealthy merchants, which was largely British; the people expressed their preferences and plans through the assembly, whereas the oligarchic “people” defended itself by maintaining its supremacy within the Legislative and Executive councils and by resort to its privileged ties with London. The war situation would prevent any immediate resolution of these structural conflicts.
[Most of the information on James Henry Craig’s career as a colonial administrator (1807–11) was taken from collections of papers relating to affairs of state. The ANQ-Q has the official records (correspondence, resolutions, and reports) of Craig in its RG 2 series. The PAC also holds many of the official records such as the petitions he received (RG 4, A1), his civil correspondence (RG 7, G1, G2, G14, G15, and G18), his military correspondence (RG 8, I (C ser.)), his recommendations to the Lower Canadian Legislative Council (RG 14, A1) and Executive Council (RG 1, E1), his reports on the militia (RG 9, I) and Indian affairs (RG 10), and his dispatches to the Colonial Office (MG 11, [CO 42] Q).
Collections of personal papers contain numerous letters concerning Craig from 1807 to 1811. These may be found at the AAQ in the correspondence of Bishop Plessis (210 A); at the ANQ-Q in the papers of Jean-Antoine Panet (P-200), the Papineau family (P-417), Jonathan Sewell (P-319), and Jean-Thomas Taschereau (P-238); at the PAC in the papers of Jonathan Sewell (MG 23, GII, 10), John Neilson* (MG 24, B1), and Herman Witsius Ryland (MG 24, B3); at the Archives du séminaire de Trois-Rivières (Trois-Rivières, Qué.) in the Hart papers; at the ASQ in the Viger-Verreau papers (Sér.O, 095–125; 0139–52 (copies at PAC)); and at the AUM in the Baby collection (P 58). j.-p.w.]
Bas-Canada, chambre d’Assemblée, Journaux, 1807–11. Robert Christie, Memoirs of the administration of the colonial government of Lower-Canada, by Sir James Henry Craig, and Sir George Prevost; from the year 1807 until the year 1815 . . . (Quebec, 1818). [Ross Cuthbert], An apology for Great Britain, in allusion to a pamphlet intituled, “Considérations, &c. par un Canadien, M.P.P.” (Quebec, 1809). Doc. relatifs à l’hist. constitutionnelle, 1791–1818 (Doughty et McArthur; 1915). Hugh Gray, Letters from Canada, written during a residence there in the years 1806, 1807, and 1808 . . . (London, 1809; repr. Toronto, 1971). Mandements, lettres pastorales et circulaires des évêques de Québec, Henri Têtu et C.-O. Gagnon, édit. (18v. parus, Québec, 1887– ). Un Canadien, M.P.P. [D.-B. Viger], Considérations sur les effets qu’ont produit en Canada, la conservation des établissemens du pays, les mœurs, l’ éducation, etc. de ses habitans . . . (Montréal, 1809). Canadian Courant and Montreal Advertiser, 1807–11. Le Canadien, 1807–11. Le Courier de Québec, 1807–8. Montreal Gazette, 1807–11. Montreal Herald, 1811. Quebec Gazette, 1807–12. Quebec Mercury, 1807–11. Le Vrai Canadien (Québec), 1810–11. Hare et Wallot, Les imprimés dans le Bas-Canada. Quebec almanac, 1807–11. Christie, Hist. of L.C., vols.1, 6. J. E. Hare, La pensée socio-politique au Québec, 1784–1812: analyse sémantique (Ottawa, 1977). Lemieux, L’établissement de la première prov. eccl. Manning, Revolt of French Canada. Ouellet, Bas-Canada. Paquet et Wallot, Patronage et pouvoir dans le Bas-Canada. J.-P. Wallot, “Le Bas-Canada sous l’administration de sir James Craig (1807–1811)” (thèse de phd, univ. de Montréal, 1965); “Les Canadiens français et les Juifs (1808–1809): l’affaire Hart,” Juifs et Canadiens, Naïm Kattam, édit. (Montréal, 1967), 111–21; Un Québec qui bougeait. F. G. Morrisey, “The juridical situation of the Catholic Church in Lower and Upper Canada from 1791 to 1840,” Studia Canonica (Ottawa), 5 (1971): 279–321. Fernand Ouellet, “Mgr Plessis et la naissance d’une bourgeoisie canadienne (1797–1810),” SCHÉC Rapport, 23 (1955–56): 83–99. Gilles Paquet et J.-P. Wallot, “Le Bas-Canada au début du XIXe siècle: une hypothèse,” RHAF, 25 (1971–72): 39–61; “Groupes sociaux et pouvoir: le cas canadien au tournant du XIXe siècle,” RHAF, 27 (1973–74): 509–64. J.-P. Wallot, “Le clergé québécois et la politique: le ‘règne de la terreur’ (1810),” Annales de Bretagne et des pays de l’Ouest ([Rennes], France), 88 (1981): 457–75.
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Cite This Article
Jean-Pierre Wallot, “CRAIG, Sir JAMES HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/craig_james_henry_5E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Jean-Pierre Wallot|
|Title of Article:||CRAIG, Sir JAMES HENRY|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||May 29, 2023|