{Chief Justice} Jonathan Sewell
(1766 - 1839)

A plan for the federal union of
British provinces in North America

The following proposal for a confederation was made in 1814.

This plan represents the first suggestion of a Canadian Confederation,
which was finally realised over fifty years later in 1867.

     “The province of Quebec, which originally comprehended the two Canadas, and the province of Nova Scotia, which in like manner comprehended New Brunswick, having remained firm in their allegiance during the American Rebellion, Upper Canada, at the peace of 1783, was entirely settled by disbanded officers, soldiers, and refugees, and many of the same description settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The settlers which the provinces have received since that period, have been loyalists driven from the States by persecution, or led by attachment to his Majesty’s government; emigrants from the Mother Country, principally from Scotland, and American subjects who have settled from interested views, and not from any preference to our government; but the proportion of this description, is comparatively small. The great bulk of the inhabitants of the provinces are therefore royalists, and as such are, in principle, opposed to the government of the United States, and as they are besides nearly exempt from taxes, as their situation is prosperous, and they cannot but duly appreciate the security which their property and commerce derives from the protection of the Mother Country, they have no inducements to become subjects of the United States; the change would not ameliorate their condition. It is also to be remarked, that of the entire population of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, more than three fifths are in habitants of Lower Canada, and that in this division of that population, other causes operate to produce the same effects, which certainly are not inferior to those which have already been enumerated.

    “The entire number of persons of British origin in habiting Lower Canada, may be estimated, at thirty thousand, the remainder are Roman Catholics, and descendants from French blood.

    “From the first establishment to the conquest in 1759, the ancestors of these descendants from French blood, and the Americans, were engaged against each other, in a series of border inroads, pillage, and destruction out of which have grown in the Canadian, feelings which, in contemplation of the injuries which he or his predecessors have suffered, sustain a spirit of revenge against the “Bostoné” as he terms every American and in the contemplation of the successes, gained by his ancestors, excites his emulation, and his vanity; the latter not a little augmented by the success of his efforts for repelling the Americans in 1775, and in the late war.

    “The French descended Canadian is, besides, in attachment to his country and to its institutions, equal to the Swiss. He abhors the idea of conquest by the States, because he believes it would lead (as it certainly would) to the abolition of the laws, customs, and religion of his country; which are now secured to him by an act of parliament. He dreads, moreover, the abolition of his language, to which he is, perhaps, equally attached; but he dreads, most especially the abolition of the feudal system which prevails, in Canada, with such ameliorations, that every peasant can obtain from his seignior, or feudal lord, for each of his sons at a proper age, a lot of land at a rent almost nominal; and can thus provide for the males of his family without difficulty. He feels himself, therefore, personally interested in the defence of the province against the aggressions of the Americans, because he believes (and he is correct in his belief) that this system of land-holdings, to which he is so much attached, must fall with the country, if that should fall to the United States.

    “To these causes must be added the influence of the Roman Catholic clergy . . . . The United States, it is well known, have no established religion; all sects there are equally protected by law in the enjoyment of their tenets, and the exercise of their ceremonies; and all being left alike to their own support. Tithes are not tolerated, nor does the government contribute by salary, or allowance, to the maintenance of any church. The situation of the Roman Catholic Church, in America, is similar to the others; and the situation of the Roman Catholic Church, in Canada, in case of conquest to the States, would be the same. It would be but one, among many, not entitled to any pre-eminence or advantage, and left to the voluntary support of its own members.

    “In Canada, on the contrary, the Roman Catholic Church considers itself to be (while Canada shall remain under the dominion of England) an established Church: and as far as unequivocal toleration assured, by act of parliament, admission of its members to every office of the government (except the highest); tithes secured for the support of their clergy, by act of parliament; a salary to their bishop; and the filling up of every vacancy in the benefices of their church, without interference or participation of any kind,— can constitute an established church, it is so.

    “It is however, by no means material to inquire, whether this does or does not constitute an established church; the contrast, without this distinction, between what the Roman Catholic Church is in Canada, under His Majesty’s government, and what it would be under the government of the United States, is so great, that its consequences and effects upon the conduct of the priesthood of that church, and of every Roman Catholic layman within the reach of their influence, cannot be doubted.

    “On the efforts of the inhabitants of the provinces for their defence, in case of invasion by the Americans, the utmost reliance may therefore be placed; but the disproportion between the means of attack and the means of defence is so great, as to call imperiously for every measure to augment the latter.

    “Under these circumstances, it appears necessary to adopt a course which will tend to consolidate the interests and the strength of the provinces; because no hopes of effectual resistance can be entertained, unless the strength of the provinces collectively (if required) can be wielded at any time, and at any point, within their limits, for the purpose of defence, until assistance can be given; and because this cannot be done, unless the colonial provisions, for the defence of the provinces (both legislative and executive) have reference to them collectively, as a whole.

    “There are at present, in America, five provincial legislatures, viz: In Lower Canada, Upper Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward’s Island. These legislatures are assimilated to the legislature of the mother country, and are independent even in all that relates to the mother country, commerce and religion excepted. It is also but too true, that the crown has but little influence in the democratic branches of either of these provincial legislatures; and it is unquestionably true, that it has none which can enable it to carry a single measure (however expedient or indispensably necessary for the whole of the provinces, or for the empire) in opposition to any local provincial interest which may militate and be exerted against it.

    “The Imperial government, therefore, although it is bound to provide for the protection and for the defence of the provinces, manifestly has not means sufficient to enable her to avail herself of their own resources for these most important purposes.

    “A legislative union of the several provinces would, in a great degree, obviate this evil, and consolidate the interests and strength of the provinces, for the following reasons: —There are now five assemblies, and it must of course be a more easy task to conduct one, than to conduct five public elective bodies of any description.

    “The members of these five assemblies amount, collectively, to two hundred (or nearly that number), whose majority consequently is one hundred and one. But if a united representation of the provinces were limited to thirty, which it ought not to exceed, this majority would be reduced to sixteen.

    “In a general united parliament, the representation of any single province would not constitute a majority; and, therefore, mere local prejudices or attachments would be sunk, and the interests of the empire and the provinces would be considered as a whole.

    “The officers of the executive government in each province (who are, in fact, officers of the empire, and not of the provinces), especially if appointed by the Governor General, would feel themselves secure from the attacks of the democratic branches of the provincial legislature, without sufficient cause; and as they would thus be saved from becoming dependant on the assemblies of their respective provinces, they would not hesitate to do their duty in their several stations, as occasion might require; and the strength of the Imperial government would thereby be materially increased.[1]

    “One code of militia law, instead of five, would pervade the whole union; and the physical force of all the provinces, being thus subject to the direction of the Viceroy, or Governor-General, might be wielded for the purpose of putting down domestic insurrections, or of repelling foreign invasion at any time, or at any point; a consequence which, of itself, is so distinctly and so equally advantageous to all the provinces, that it appears of itself a sufficient motive for the union. It must however, be remarked, that what is proposed, is a legislative union of the provinces and no more; that it is not proposed to annihilate any of the offices in the gift of the crown in either of them: on the contrary, it is intended that each province should be left in the charge of a Lieutenant Governor, and that the executive department of each province should be continued.”

[1] It would appear that the Chief Justice’s intent was not to create an independent and democratically ruled nation with a responsible government when “The officers of the executive government . . . feel themselves secure . . . from becoming dependant on the assemblies . . ..”  Under this plan,  the appointed governor and officials such as Chief Justice Jonathan Sewell would continue to run things as they saw fit.

    The following is the Duke of Kent’s reply to Jonathan Sewell’s suggestion for Confederation, and has been scanned from W. Darcy McKeough’s Sewell Family Tree.  It is interesting to note that the Duke refers to Cape Breton as a separate province.  New Brunswick and Cape Breton were separated from Nova Scotia in 1784.  Cape Breton was reunited with Nova Scotia in 1820 and New Brunswick, of course, has remained a separate province to this day. It seems as well that the Duke of Kent preferred two federations; one being Upper and Lower Canada and the other being what we would now refer to as a Maritime Federation consisting of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island.

 *          *          *          *

Kensington Palace 30th November 1814.
“My dear Sewell,

    “I have had this day the pleasure of receiving your note of yesterday with its interesting enclosure. Nothing can be better arranged than the whole thing is or more perfectly, and when I see an opening it is fully my intention to point the matter out to Lord Bathurst and put the paper in his hands, without however telling him from whom I have it, though I shall urge him to have some conversation with you relative to it. Permit me, however, just to ask you whether it was not an oversight in you to state that there are five Houses of Assembly in the British Colonies in North America. If I am not under an error there are six, viz., Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the islands of Prince Edward and Cape Breton.

    “Allow me to beg of you to put down the proportions in which you think the thirty members of the Representatives Assembly ought to be furnished by each Province, and to suggest whether you would not think two Lieutenant-Governors with two Executive Councils sufficient for an executive government of the whole, namely one for the two Canadas, and one for New Brunswick and the two small dependencies of Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, the former to reside in Montreal, and the latter at whichever of the two (following) situations may be considered most central for the two provinces whether Annapolis Royal or Windsor.

    “But, at all events, should you consider in your Executive Councils requisite I presume there cannot be a question of the expediency of comprehending the two small islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with Nova Scotia.

        “Believe me ever to remain,

        “With the most friendly regard,

        “My dear Sewell,

        “Yours faithfully,


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