Georges-Étienne Cartier on Confederation, 1866

George-Étienne Cartier from Quebec family came to believe that the rights and culture of the French could best be protected within a Canadian federation. He gave this speech in Montreal in October 1866.

George-Étienne Cartier was involved as a young man in Papineau’s 1837 rebellion in Quebec, and in its aftermath escaped to Vermont. He returned to Canada in 1858 and came to believe that the rights and culture of the French could best be protected within a Canadian federation. When Canada received responsible government in 1848, he ran for election, and later served as co-premier with John A. Macdonald between 1857 and 1862. Together, they set in motion the movement toward Confederation. Cartier was to become Macdonald’s key ally over many years. He gave the following pro-Confederation speech in Montreal in October 1866.

“French Canadians have no need to be afraid of the English”

I too am a French Canadian, like many of those I see around me. I love my race, and of course I have a very natural predilection for it; but as a politician and as a citizen, I love others as well. And I am happy to see, in this meeting of fellow citizens of all classes, races, and religions, that my compatriots have recognized these feelings in me. I have already had the opportunity to declare in Parliament that the Protestant minority in Lower Canada has nothing to fear from the provincial legislature under Confederation. I have given my word and, I repeat, nothing will be done of such a nature as to harm the principles and rights of this minority. I take as my witnesses all the Protestant companions who are listening to me. I have given my word and I will keep it; it is the word of a man of honour . . .

Having told you that the Protestants of Lower Canada will have all possible guarantees, I must add that the Catholic minority of Upper Canada will have the same guarantees, and I give you my solemn word on this as well. The Catholic minority in Upper Canada will be protected equally with the Protestant minority in Lower Canada. Any fears on this score are empty and false. Don’t dwell on this subject and, I say it again, all will be well . . .

A glorious era

A glorious era lies before us: we are entering Confederation. Let it not frighten you. After all, it is nothing but the realization of a plan designed by the first European to set foot in Canada, Jacques Cartier. Would Lower Canada want to limit the influence of the French race to the narrow confines of our province? When Jacques Cartier, in 1534, after landing in Newfoundland, discovered part of Canada and New Brunswick, he guaranteed its possession by France. François I, who claimed his share of America by virtue of Adam’s will, sent Jacques Cartier out again, and the navigator extended his discoveries. What Jacques Cartier called Acadia comprises New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Thus, the lands that Jacques Cartier identified or discovered, at least in part, will soon be ruled by the same government. With Confederation, we will realize a vision of this great man: the coming together of all the provinces he discovered. If he rose from the grave today, he would undoubtedly look with satisfaction on this great country, enlightened by civilization and soon to enjoy an era of prosperity and happiness brought on by Confederation.

No need to fear  

French Canadians have no need to be afraid of the English. After all, they are not so frightening. Instead, let us admire their energy and perseverance; let us imitate them. To be excellent French Canadians we need to have, along with the qualities of our race, the best qualities of the English Canadians. We are partly descended from the Normans, and the blood of this heroic race is infused in the veins of the English as well, since the days of William the Conqueror.

British institutions

I would like to say a word about the British institutions under which we are governed. This is the only form of government in the world that, while making use of the democratic element, has been able to keep it within reasonable limits. The democratic element has a fortunate effect in the political sphere when it is balanced by another force. We have this advantage over our neighbours the Americans, who have extreme democracy. It is the same in politics as it is in the physical world. The centripetal force has to be greater than the centrifugal force.

Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier brought with him monarchical principles that I love and cherish. He is my namesake: I would like to walk in the footsteps of this illustrious man and I do not want to detract from his great plans. If, when three more centuries have passed, history remembers my name as someone who did something for his country, and if it says that one day I deviated from the virtue of my ancestors, it will hold my memory in abhorrence, and I do not wish it to be so.


Desmond Morton & Morton Weinfeld, Who Speaks for Canada, (Toronto: McCelland & Stewart Inc., 1998), pp:  36-38

Primary Source: Joseph Tasse, ed., Discours de Sir George Cartier, (Montreal: Barronet, 1893), pp: 514-15

More information

The Canadian Encyclopedia, Sir George-Étienne Cartier

Photo credit

Wikipedia Commons

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