Page images
PDF
EPUB

considerations. I not only saw British statutes wantonly set aside for the worst of purposes: I not only saw the purest bond of attachment be. tween a people and their protecting government the substantial bond of affection and interest, sacrificed to a matter of mere form, and to an assumption, which, in the abstract, I deny ; (yes, I deny in the abstract, writing here in London, any absolute and indissoluble bond over me on the score of natural allegiance) but I perceived that the grossest errors existed respecting the principle and law of allegiance, and that the most dreadful consequences might ensue without explanation. When the British Declaration against America was pub. lished in 1812, I had weighed the assumption, that, “ no individual could throw off his natural bond of allegiance.I had weighed it in the abstract and found it wanting; and it was not long before the ques. tion came to issue in practice. Our Government, big with the notion that their declaration as to the principle and law of allegiance could be maintained, seized certain natives of Britain who had sworn allegiance to America, and who were caught in arins fighting against the King in Canada, to try them as traitors and put them to death ; but what happened? The Americans seized an equal number of British subjects in Canada, held them as hostages, and, threatening retaliation, overawed and set aside the purpose of our Government. The natives of Britain, sworn subjects of America, were liberated. What then became of the assumption in our state Declaration? What respect in,

deed did it deserve, when the British Parliament, by statute law, had been for upwards of twenty years seducing from natural allegiance subjects of America, and placing them in the cruelest situation ; in the event of Canada being invaded, making them liable to trial and condemnation by the American Government, should that Government assume our declared principle of allegiance? Being made up in my mind, before going to

da, that the ancient principle of allegiance was incompatible with practice in America, the wretched policy which I found pursued in the province struck me ten times more forcibly than otherwise it would have done. It betrayed ignorance in every way: ignorance of the state of the province : ignorance of human nature; and most culpable ignorance of statute law, if not the most criminal disregard of it. My intimacy with Clark and Dickson: my knowledge of the vast loss they had sustained, as land speculators, from arbitrary measures of Government, and the violent way in which they, legislative councillors, talked on the subject-all made stronger and stronger impressions on my mind, and when I had once resolved that a thorough investigation into the state of Upper Canada was absolutely required, it would have been worse than trifling to blink this great question regarding allegiance; and now that it is brought before the British public, I would solicit to it most particular attention. question which should be fairly argued before

It is a

the British Parliament, so as to have determined rules laid down for practice.' fue

When writing my Address on the subject, I was not aware that by common law there was established that clear distinction pointed out in the extracts from Judge Forster, quoted in page xxxix of the General Introduction, between natural and local allegiance; but this clear and established distinction makes it appear still more necessary that the Legislature should interfere, and establish something better and more distinct-establish clear regulations, by which men may be governed in the exercise of their most important rights and duties.

It is worse than useless to promulgate a law which cannot be enforced, even though that law is not at variance with abstract, natural, and indefeasible right; and, if any law exists, whether a law of nations, or any other, which experience and growing knowledge demonstrates to be wrong, that law should be repealed, openly and expressly. It is, in fact, repealed, tacitly, the moment that it cannot be enforced, for power to execute a law is a necessary part of it. When the power ceases the law must, from the nature of things, cease to exist. It may be said that our Government, when they relinquished their design of trying, as traitors, those native-born subjects of Britain who were found fighting against the King in Canada,—who had sworn allegiance to the Government of the United States, might have been tried and put to death, for the ancient law of allegiance had not yet been dropt, and our Government had the power to enforce it: it may be said that the ancient law still exists, because our Government, only for the time, yielded to expediency. I say, no: the ancient law of allegiance is dropt-is annulled for ever, as an international law between Britain and America. It is, and ought to be dropt. The intercourse between America and Britain is now so great ; and so many natural-born subjects of Britain have become sworn subjects of America, are becoming sworn subjects of America, and will continue to become sworn subjects of America ;-so much intercourse has taken place, is taking place, and will continue to take place, between Britain and America, that the very idea of maintaining, that the ancient law of nations, regarding allegiance, now subsists between these nations and coun. tries, is absurd; and, what is now required-imperiously required, when we look to the relative situations and close connexion of America and Canada, is, that between these countries there should be an immediate understanding on the subject,—that between these countries, at least, there should be fixed terms to regulate practice as to the rights, duties, and obligations of allegiance. The subject should immediately be brought under discussion before the British Parliament; and, after grave determination there, our ministers should confer with the American Government, in order

[blocks in formation]

to have a rational international law decided upon and mutually proclaimed.

After my Address on the subject of allegiance was published in Canada, I observed, from American newspapers, that the question was agitated in Congress ; but it was quashed, or laid aside. It ought not to be laid aside, or neglected. The consideration of it is most pressing, as it concerns Canada and the United States—Britain and America ; but, it would be well if every nation on the earth could be brought to a unanimous decision for general good—to a plain, well-defined, and well-understood international law on the subject of allegiance.

Mankind are every day becoming more and more enlightened ; and as they become enlightened, the intercourse between nations will increase: it will increase, I hope, till all nations become one as to allegiance, and every law on the subject shall be void for want of object-when a free and unrestrained intercourse and fellowship shall universally prevail. In barbarous times, and while mankind were not yet in possession of the printing press—when they could not converse together beyond limits prescribed by tyrants when they could not find opportunity to learn and be agreed upon these great truths, that bad government has mainly promoted national antipathies; that the interest, of governors only, was served by war; and, that, that of the people was to join hands from all sides for the suppression of

« PreviousContinue »