Enter George Brown

There’s one point on which Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Rousseau, John
Locke, and indeed all the major political thinkers agree: the act of
political founding is the greatest of human endeavours.

At Canadian Confederation no one had a more elevated sense of the occasion
than George Brown. Here he is in the Legislative Assembly of the old
Province of Canada, defending the proposal for colonial union drafted at the
Quebec Conference of 1864.

“We are striving to do peacefully what Holland and Belgium, after years of
strife, were unable to accomplish. We are seeking by calm discussion to
settle questions that Austria and Hungary, that Denmark and Germany, that
Russia and Poland, could only crush by the iron heel, or armed force. We are
seeking to do without foreign intervention that which deluged in blood the
sunny plains of Italy. We are striving to settle forever issues hardly less
momentous than those that have rent the neighbouring republic and are now
exposing it to all the horrors of civil war. Have we not then … great
cause of thankfulness that we have found a better way for the solution of
our troubles than that which entailed on other countries such deplorable
results?” (Ajzenstat et al., eds, Canada’s Founding Debates, University of
Toronto Press, 2003, page14).

He is referring to the Belgian overthrow of Dutch rule in 1830, the
Hungarian uprising against Hapsburg rule in 1848, the uprising of 1863 in
Russian Poland, the Danish-German war of 1864 over the provinces of
Schleswig and Holstein, the continuing struggle for Italian unity and
independence, and the civil war in the United States.

Historians do not fail to note that the Fathers of Confederation watched the
progress of the American Civil War closely, afraid that the huge army built
up by the northern states would at some point turn against British North
America. They less often comment on the surely extraordinary fact that the
sight of the modern world’s first federation tearing itself apart did not
dissuade the British North Americans from advancing bold plans for a second.

Brown’s contention could not be more striking. We, that is, the authors of
the Quebec Resolutions of 1864, the Fathers of Confederation, have found a
way to forestall rebellions, secessionist claims, civil war, and armed
intervention, a “way” unknown in Europe and in the United States.

There’s lots to say about this extraordinary speech and I’ll say some of it
tomorrow.

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2 Responses to “Enter George Brown”


  1. 1 diploportal May 14, 2008 at 4:49 am

    Janet:

    Your weblog is a delight to read.

    Speaking of the Fathers of Confederation, you may be interested in the John A. Macdonald portal I recently put up:

    http://www.canadachannel.ca/pm/index.php/Welcome_to_the_John_A._Macdonald_Portal

    Alastair Sweeny
    V-P Development
    Northern Blue Publishing
    info@northernblue.ca
    http://www.northernblue.ca/products
    613-725-1956
    IM/iChat:asweeny@gmail.com

  2. 2 diploportal May 14, 2008 at 4:54 am

    Janet:

    Your blog is a delight to read. Speaking of the Fathers, you may enjoy the John A. Macdonald portal I recently launched.

    http://www.canadachannel.ca/pm/index.php/Welcome_to_the_John_A._Macdonald_Portal

    Alastair Sweeny
    V-P Development
    Northern Blue Publishing
    info@northernblue.ca
    http://www.northernblue.ca/products
    613-725-1956
    IM/iChat:asweeny@gmail.com


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