Manitoba Report - Part 2

Part 2 discusses the British government's attitude to the Red River, its people and their rights. This involves two lateral explorations ─ into wider imperial problems, in Ireland and New Zealand, and into the complex mental processes of the prime minister, W.E. Gladstone.

Part II


a.      Political Identity. Throughout the documentation, the predominant attitude of British ministers and officials was to characterise the Red River community in civic rather than ethnic terms. In other words, they were defined on the basis of their residence and not of their descent. They were, of course, aware that most Red River people were, to use the contemporary term, 'half breeds', but they do not seem to have regarded this as constituting any specific collective identity. In his reports, Murdoch referred to 'the Settlers at Red River', 'the wishes & interests of the people of Red River' and (in connection with demands for land rights), 'existing Settlers and their children'.[1] Far from describing them as a social collectivity, Murdoch stressed the divisions within the population. In April 1870, he reported (with some inaccuracy) that the French Canadians and half breeds form only a minority of the Settlers in the Red River - that not all of them adhere to Riel - but that the English and Scotch who are the majority are, generally speaking, anxious for union with Canada. The general estimate of respective numbers is French 5,000 English & Scotch 7,000.[2]

  Murdoch's reports were hostile to the insurgents, whom he accused of maintaining 'a reign of terror'. He insisted that 'the disaffected party in the territory is small in numbers, and powerful only by the possession of arms and the habit of using them - that a considerable proportion even of the French, and all the English & Scotch settlers, are anxious for union with Canada'.[3] More specifically, a Hudson's Bay Company report claimed that resistance was 'believed to be confined to the half breeds (the sons of Trappers by Indian mothers)'.[4] Information reaching the British government was indirect and not always accurate. None the less, it pointed to a divided population and not to a united community in arms.

By contrast, the British government had expressed concern for the welfare of Native people ('Indians' in contemporary terminology). When the transfer of the Hudson's Bay territories to Canada was agreed in April 1869, Granville had urged the Dominion government, through the Governor General, to recognise its obligations at some length. 'I am sure that your Government will not forget the care which is due to those who must soon be exposed to new dangers, and, in the course of Settlement, be dispossessed of the Lands which they used to enjoy as their own, or be confined within unwontedly narrow limits.' These were worthy and to some extent conventional expressions of 'obligations to those whose uncertain rights and rude means of living are contracted by the advances of civilized man'.[5] What stands out is the fact this expression of concern in April 1869 referred exclusively to the welfare of  Native people in 'Tribes'. When Granville expressed the confident hope 'that the old inhabitants of the Country will be treated with such forethought and consideration as may preserve them from the dangers of the approaching change', he clearly did not intend his comments to embrace any defined cultural or national community at the Red River. In political terms, they were, as Granville described them in the House of Lords a year later, 'the inhabitants of the Red River Settlement'.[6]

Racial Categorisation? In practice, British policy-makers were aware that most people at the Red River were of mixed race descent. Recent scholarship has emphasised the racist assumptions behind British and Canadian policy in the West,[7] and it might be argued that all claims of fair-mindedness and guarantees to the people of the Red River were privately regarded as expendable. In his proclamation to 'the Loyal Inhabitants of Manitoba' of June 30 1870, Colonel Wolseley might be thought to have protested too much in guaranteeing that 'justice will be impartially administered to all races and all classes', adding ungrammatically: 'The loyal Indians and half-breeds being as dear to our Queen as any others of Her loyal subjects.'[8] This may be contrasted with Lord Granville private reference to them as 'half savages'.[9] The predominant racism of British officialdom need not be denied. If anything, it was sharpened by the savage upheaval of the Indian 'Mutiny' of 1857-58. But this is not to say that there was a universal denial of social and political rights to non-Europeans and people of mixed race. In 1853, the Cape Colony had been granted a constitution that included a 'colour-blind' franchise based solely on a property qualification. This opened the way for the South African counterpart of the Metis, the Cape Coloured people, to qualify for the vote. (Since the Cape Coloureds, unlike the Metis, were usually not economically independent of the Europeans, in the early years relatively few actually got on to the register outside Cape Town itself.) Even more remarkably, in 1867 four seats in the General Assembly (parliament) of New Zealand were reserved for Maori representatives in an attempt to end inter-racial hostilities. The position of mixed-race people on the fringes of the Empire may be illustrated by the contrasting fates of two men with Scottish fathers and Black mothers. One, James Douglas, became governor of Vancouver Island in 1851, and unilaterally extended his authority to the mainland in response to the gold rush of 1858, becoming first governor of British Columbia. In 1863 he received a knighthood for his services. By contrast, G.W. Gordon, a member of the Jamaican legislature, was an outspoken critic of the colonial government. In 1865, there was a major uprising among the Black population. The governor, Edward Eyre, had Gordon tried for incitement by naval court martial and hanged twenty-four hours later as part of the blood-bath of pacification. It may be argued (as with the case of Louis Riel in 1885) that a White man would not have executed in the same circumstances. However, it is worth pointing out that the ensuing 'Governor Eyre controversy' constituted one of the most bitter conflicts of opinion in Victorian Britain. The governor's admirers were staunch in his defence, while his critics, who included the philosopher John Stuart Mill, attempted a private prosecution for murder. The question of official racism towards people of mixed race is thus ambiguous. R.N. Fowler's reference to them in the House of Commons as 'men of great intelligence and energy of character' may seem patronising, but it triggered unusually warm agreement from William Monsell. The phrase 'half-breed', he commented, 'was sometimes used in this country as a term of reproach, in utter forgetfulness of the mixed character of the English race'.[10] By no means everybody at the time would have agreed that a blend of Saxons and Normans ranked equal in the human hierarchy with the offspring of Frenchmen and Cree. It is still possible to catch the contempt behind Sir Clinton Murdoch's impatience in April 1870 at the thought of 'leaving the extensive & valuable Country from the borders of Canada to the Rocky Mountains ... at the mercy of a handful of French half breeds'.[11] Still, there is surely enough in the contemporary record to suggest that rights accorded to people of mixed race, on the fringes of Empire, would not be lightly set aside.


b.      Political Rights in the British government and the provisional authority in the West. The British government and its advisers were prepared to accept that people living in the Red River Settlement possessed certain political rights. Although these rights were not precisely defined, they stopped well short of constituting any form of sovereignty. Like most politicians and bureaucrats faced with a problem that might become a crisis, they were primarily concerned with its practical resolution rather than theoretical definition. As Granville told the House of Lords in May 1870, if 'that portion of Her Majesty's dominions' degenerated into 'a state of anarchy, accompanied by bloodshed and possibly by civil war', not only would trade be halted and British prestige damaged, but the situation would be 'embarrassing as regards our relations with the United States'.[12] Moreover, they framed their responses on the confident assumptions, first, that the territory would eventually become part of Canada and, secondly, that the bulk of the inhabitants would at least acquiesce in that outcome.

Hence Murdoch referred dismissively to the 'so-called existing Government of Red River' and used inverted commas to refer to '"the Provisional Government"'. At a practical level, the three delegates sent to Ottawa 'may fairly be considered to represent the wishes & interests of the people of Red River'. Their title to speak lay in the fact that were 'the Delegates appointed by a Convention of the Inhabitants of the Red River'.[13]

Thus any claim to sovereignty made by, or inherent in, the establishment of a body calling itself a government at the Red River were seen as possessing no greater measure of authority thereby than had been accorded to the short-lived 'Government and Council of Manitoba in British Territory', based on Portage-la-Prairie, whose President-elect, Thomas Spence, had announced its existence to the Foreign Secretary in February 1868. Spence's rise to the presidency had been meteoric, as he had only arrived in the West sixteen months earlier, and had lived in Portage for less than a year. None the less, the 'Republic of Manitoba' based its claim to existence upon British neglect, threatened to seek annexation to the United States and asserted its legitimacy through its actions: 'a revenue imposed, public buildings commenced to carry out the laws, provisions made for Indian treaties, construction of roads and other public works'. Although this would seem a remarkable record for a regime that had been in existence for barely one month, the Colonial Office was not impressed, insisting that the Portage settlers had 'no authority to create or organize a Government', even at municipal level. Mere assertion of sovereign status, even under the alleged provocation of the failure of existing institutions, was not conclusive.

Of course, it could be argued that there was some difference between Spence's creation of 'this self-supporting petty government in this isolated portion of Her Majesty's dominions' and the emergence of a provisional authority in the confused circumstances of the Red River in the winter of 1869-70.[14]

The claim that the people of the Red River has acquired sovereignty over their territory could be made in two ways. The first, announced at some length in the proclamation issued by the Provisional Government on December 8, 1869, asserted that the Hudson's Bay Company had no right to transfer its rights to the Dominion, and that consequently the territory had been abandoned.[15] It was apparently this document that was dismissed as 'grandiose' by Rogers.[16] However, it was probably this document that attracted the attention of the Prime Minister, Gladstone, in March 1869, and its implications are discussed below. The second possible route to local popular sovereignty lay in the imbroglio created by William McDougall's unauthorised and premature proclamation.

As the matter was viewed in the Colonial Office, the precipitate decision by Canada's governor-designate, William McDougall, to proclaim that Rupertsland had been transferred to the Dominion, when in fact it had not, seemed to create a void in which there was no legal basis for anyone to exercise authority. His proclamation had purported to extinguish the powers of William McTavish, the Hudson's Bay Company representative, who was in reality the sole legal governor of the Territory. (McTavish was in poor health, which deepened to the governmental vacuum, although as noted he managed to furnish a steady stream of sensible and informative reports to Company headquarters in London.) Not only McDougall had assumed powers that he did not possess, but he had also commissioned Colonel Dennis to raise an armed force on behalf of Canada, with extensive authorisation to attack people and property. Not least among Colonial Office was the embarrassment that 'the discovery that the statements made in the proclamation are unfounded in fact, must detract from the weight of any subsequent proclamations'. Granville singled out McDougal's actions for strong condemnation.[17]

Sir John A. Macdonald had in fact warned McDougall of the possible legal consequences of precipitate action in a letter written on 27 November, much too late to reach his temporary base at Pembina in time. At a practical level, Macdonald conceded that a proclamation of his authority 'would be very well if it were sure to be obeyed', but disastrously counter-productive if not: 'your weakness and inability to enforce the authority of the Dominion would be painfully exhibited', not least to the Americans. Worse still, it would create a situation where no legal government existed 'and anarchy must follow'. 'In such a case, no matter how the anarchy is produced, it is quite open by the law of nations for the inhabitants to form a Government ex necessitate for the protection of life and property, and such a Government has certain rights by the jus gentium. The temptation to acknowledge such a Government by the United States would be very great and ought not to be lightly risked,' Macdonald warned.[18] The use of the Latin phrases suggests that Macdonald was trying to appeal to McDougall as a fellow-lawyer to consider the implications of his intended move. (McDougall had trained as a lawyer, but his legal practice had been subordinated to his political career.)

When McDougall created precisely the power vacuum against which Macdonald had warned, the Canadian government referred its fears to London. 'While Company's authority exists insurgents are mere rioters,' ran the Ottawa telegram. ''If ended by Company's surrender to Crown insurgents may get some legal status as a Gov[ernmen]t of necessity.'[19] On 15 December 1869, Rogers referred the point to the Law Officers of the Crown, the Attorney General and Solicitor General, seeking an opinion on the status of the self-declared Provisional Government of the Red River. Was there 'any ground for the apprehension entertained by the Canadian Gov[ernmen]t that, on ther extinction of the authority of the Hudsons Bay Co[mpany] & its officers, & the substitution of that of Canada, & in the absence of any constituted authority representing Canada, the Provisional Gov[ernmen]t now established, or something of the same kind, may acquire on the ground of necessity, a legal or semi legal status which would not belong to it so long as the authority of the Hudsons Bay Co[mpany] subsists, & its officers are present in the Settlement.'[20]

The Law Officers replied that such apprehensions were 'unfounded', adding that 'the status of the Insurgents or rioters (by whichever term they may be properly designated) will not be improved or strengthened by the transference of the territory ... to the Canadian Government'. [21] Steps were subsequently taken formally to appoint the Governor General, Sir John Young, as Governor of Rupertsland, with power to appoint a lieutenant-governor, in order to avoid any further querying of the legitimacy of imperial authority.[22] Reinforced by the opinion of the Law Officers, Rogers sweepingly dismissed any claim on behalf of the inhabitants of the Red River to control their own destinies: 'they are subject as British subjects to the authority of the Queen & Parl[iamen]t; and the Queen & Parliament have determined, as well for their own good & that of Canada, that this sovereign authority shall reach [be applied, deleted] to them no longer thro' the H[udson's] B[ay] C[aompany] but thro' the Canadian Gov[ernmen]t and Leg[islatu]r[e] in wh[ich] latter they will be duly represented.'[23]

In announcing the despatch of troops in the two Houses of Parliament on May 5 1870, both Granville and Monsell referred to the 'Red River Convention' or 'Convention of the Red River', claiming that this body would welcome an Imperial military presence. The phrase was evidently chosen in concert, to reflect the abnormal situation in the Settlement without confronting the issue of sovereignty. (Monsell's description of Manitoba as 'the new State' was no doubt a slip of the tongue, an example of the common British habit of applying United States terminology to Canada. A few sentences earlier he had referred to 'a province called Manitoba', and once the Red River was on its way to provincial status, any question of statehood in the international sense was out of the question.) At no point did ministers refer to the de facto regime in the settlement as a provisional government.[24]

It is worth pointing out that, in 1870, the Dominion of Canada exercised day-to-day government over four million people, with their settled consent and, at a practical level, dealt directly with the consular representatives of foreign governments. While Canadian independence was occasionally discussed on the margins of politics, there was no suggestion that the Dominion had acquired any form of international personality.[25] Legally, Canada remained a British colony. Thus if any form of 'treaty' had been negotiated with a sovereign entity at the Red River, it must have been an agreement with the British Empire as a whole. (As late as 1923, Ernest Lapointe signed the Halibut Treaty, often seen as Canada's first solo diplomatic venture, in his capacity as the representative of the British Empire.) The most senior policy adviser, Frederic Rogers, firmly rejected any notion of sovereign authority at the Red River. Indeed, when one of the first Canadian emissaries to the Settlement, Colonel de Salaberry, allowed himself to be summoned by the Provisional Government, Rogers was disapproving. 'This looks to me a little like treating,' he commented.[26]

  ii: Gladstone's doubts: a plebiscite? The fate of the Red River people bothered the complex and sensitive conscience of the Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. On 5 March 1870, the cabinet held a four-hour meeting in which Lord Granville's report on the Red River formed one of eight items of business.[27] Some of the issues before the cabinet were complex and controversial, and it seems likely that there was much discussion on the colonial matter, although it is evident that Gladstone did refer to one document issued by the insurgents. Granville sent a telegram to the Governor General that day agreeing to a send a military expedition to the Red River but repeating the earlier British insistence upon a conciliatory stance by the Dominion towards the settlers.[28] Since the cabinet met until 6.45 p.m. and Gladstone's note stated that Granville 'stated what had been done', it seems likely that Granville's telegram had been despatched before the cabinet. (In 1873, Kimberley and the War Minister, Edward Cardwell, committed the government to military intervention in the Ashanti country of West Africa virtually without cabinet approval, reducing the agitated Prime Minister to the role of an ineffectual lobbyist within his own government.)[29]

The following day, Gladstone expressed his concerns in a 'Private & Confidential' letter to his Colonial Secretary.[30] 'Has not an error been committed - now too far back to be recalled - in handing over the Red River people to the Dominion of Canada without their consent?' In Gladstone's view, the ideal way for a colonial community to express its consent to constitutional change was through its legislature, but in the Red River there had been no locally elected institutions. His attitude can be seen from an earlier private letter to Granville, in January 1869, regarding the British response to agitation in Nova Scotia against the inclusion of the province in Confederation. Gladstone was prepared neither to endorse nor to contest the claim that the British North America Act should be rescinded under pressure from the colonies themselves, since 'the people of the United Kingdom are parties concerned in the Repeal, and must be heard if the case arose'. However, he felt able to disregard the widespread disaffection in Nova Scotia, since the legislature had agreed in 1866 to the union of the provinces, and sent delegates to London to negotiate Confederation in detail. 'If ever there was just & adequate evidence of a legitimate popular consent it was in this case.'[31] Gladstone's emphasis on the role of the legislature may have been convenient in brushing aside the Nova Scotian Repeal campaign, but it evidently represented his view of the correct procedure for validating British action in matters involving constitutional change. None the less, there is a certain element of inconsistency in his position: the consent of a colonial legislature was conclusive in endorsing a policy that the British wanted; its dissent would not automatically bring about action against priorities determined by the people of the United Kingdom, through their representatives.

But in the Red River there was no legislature.[32] Gladstone's suggestion - at this stage it was more of a trial balloon than a formal proposal - was potentially so radical that it is hard to believe he had thought through its implications. 'The Plebiscite is not according to our fashion, but it is because we have something better in the vote of representative bodies.' He wondered whether it would be 'safe - order being first re-established - to try the plebiscite in Red River?'[33] As discussed below, Gladstone floated an alternative approach, but before examining this, it is important to examine his terminology. The product of a classical education, Gladstone was deeply imbued with the Latin and Greek languages: he claimed to be a reluctant politician whose true ambition was to write a book about Homer. Thus he would not have used the word 'plebiscite' without being fully aware of its classical derivation and connotations, not least the implication that legislative power rested with the 'plebs' or ordinary people. (As Granville deftly hinted in his reply, holding a plebiscite implied universal suffrage, whereas in the British parliamentary system the right to vote was restricted and carefully defined: indeed, as recently as 1866-67, the political  world had been torn asunder by a massive debate on the precise extension of the franchise.) The term 'plebiscite'  had only recently come into general use in the English language, thanks to the Emperor Napoleon III who in 1852 had used a popular vote of the French people to legitimise his seizure power in France the previous year. Neither the Emperor nor his manipulative device aroused much enthusiasm in Britain. 'He knew how to strangle a nation in the night with a thing called the "Plebiscite"', wrote the popular historian A.W. Kinglake in 1863.[34] Napoleon III had further sullied the device by using it to give a fig-leaf of respectability to cover his annexation of Nice and Savoy in 1860. In toying with the idea, Gladstone was breaking fresh ground in British constitutional practice.

However, in one respect, his use of the term 'plebiscite' has no particular significance. In 1942, Mackenzie King was careful to call the national vote on conscription for overseas service a 'plebiscite' rather than a 'referendum', since the former seemed to imply a less binding process.[35] If 'plebiscite' was a term that had only entered general usage in English since 1852, 'referendum' was even more of a newcomer, and seems to have been associated with the - to British observers - arcane practices of the Swiss Confederation. The influential Saturday Review partly defined the term in May 1870: the referendum, it said, 'has this much in common with the Bonapartist plebiscitum, that it is submitted to a body which is not an assembly and which cannot discuss'.[36]

It was revolutionary for Gladstone even to contemplate the holding of a plebiscite in the Red River (although, as discussed below, he seems to have toyed with a similar notion in relation to Alsace-Lorraine during the Franco-Prussian War). In 1883, during his second term as Prime Minister, he flatly ruled out the plebiscite in the form of 'local option' voting to control the drink trade, a solution that had been adopted in Canada.[37] The referendum or plebiscite (the term was used interchangeably) was intermittently canvassed at moments of great crisis in British politics from about 1890, but the United Kingdom held no national popular vote until the referendum of 1975 on membership of the European Economic Community.[38]

Granville was quick to deflate the Prime Minister's trial balloon. 'I have some doubt whether the Red Riverites ought to have been consulted,' he replied, 'but they undoubtedly ought to have been managed, which probably would have been easy at first.' Granville and Rogers were to blame in not having foreseen this problem, but both the Canadians and the Hudson's Bay Company 'who knew so much more than we did', had anticipated any problems. As for a plebiscite, 'it would have been and would be difficult and a farce to collect the votes by universal suffrage of a few hundred Europeans and ten thousands half savages scattered over this vast territory. (Not to mention the Indians.)'  Granville added that the Canadian government seemed optimistic about striking a deal with the Red River delegates who were on their way to Ottawa, '& this would be the best way of getting the assent of the people. ... I see no alternative to our standing by the Canadians, and if so the prompt assertion of authority is probably the safest.'[39] 'I do not like the idea of the introduction of a plebiscite', Granville wrote to Rogers, 'which I presume would be putting the question to every male scattered over that vast territory, whether he were a white man, or a half breed , and if so how about the Indians.' He pinned his hopes on the prospect that the Red River delegates 'will come to some terms or other with the Gov[ernmen]t of the Dominion. This appears to be the only form of plebiscite, which it could be wise on our part to insist upon.'[40] Granville's notion of a plebiscite was evidently highly elastic.

Gladstone quickly responded in an attempt to clarify his suggestion. His aim ('as far as may be possible)' was 'to isolate the Red R[iver] settlement, & deal with it as a separate plot of ground, not recognizing it as representing the vast territory on which it is a speck, nor to extend to the savages, or the dispersed groups of the [Hudson's 'Bay] company's servants, throughout the territory, any similar recognition.' This would be the best way to 'shut out effectually the title of the Red River people to claim in the name of the country beyond their own limits, & especially to the zone between them and the United States which seems to be of great importance. To that zone they have no claim whatever beyond a right of way.' [41]

Three elements seemed to be emerging in Gladstone's thinking. The first, inherent in his unprecedented suggestion of a plebiscite, was that the Red River community possessed rights of some undefined sort. Secondly, he envisaged those rights as confined to a very small area, one that did not even extend southward to the United States boundary. These two aspects were interconnected. 'To acknowledge their rights would be to limit them ipso facto.'[42] (This was a deduction that would almost not have been shared by the Métis.) Thirdly, all such considerations were dominated by the sensitivity of British relations with the United States. A few months earlier, Gladstone had been unsettled by claims made by the American Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, that the Red River depended upon the United States as an outlet for its produce. Two months later, when Fish seemed to be shifting his ground in the controversy over the Alabama claims, Gladstone commented that he was 'really ... not ill pleased. ... This may give us a little fund of strength & credit to spend upon the Red River question in encouraging them to be strict against Fenian Sympathisers.'[43]  It was probably the American dimension that had encouraged Gladstone to consider an American-style appeal to a popular vote. 'What I wish is that the American Filibuster should not when he crosses the dividing line be entitled to say, now I am upon the land of the people for whom I am going to fight.' He summarised his view of the Red River community. 'They are independent settlers. But they are settlers on their own ground only.'[44]

iii. Gladstone's doubts: a covenant? Some light may be thrown upon Gladstone's suggestion of a plebiscite by examining his fall-back position, the 'Plan B' of his letter to Granville of 6 March. 'If we cannot have a Plebiscite, can we found ourselves upon the document to which I referred as a covenant on the part of the Red River people, conditional of course according to the matter set out in it?[45]  It is characteristic of Gladstonian pronouncements that a single sentence can trigger a host of questions. What was the document to which he referred? Granville, notorious for his light grip on detail, did not know, and promptly wrote to Rogers for help.[46] (Rogers perhaps replied viva voce: no letter survives.) Gladstone's use of the term 'covenant' is almost as problematic as his invocation of the plebiscite. A deeply religious man, he was inclined to allow spiritual concepts to intrude into secular discussion. The opaque final clause was also typically Gladstonian: sweeping pronouncements of principle were often accompanied by obscurely-worded escape clauses. In normal usage, a 'covenant' would seem to imply absolute and mutually binding rights and obligations, but in this case the terms seem to have been 'conditional ... according to the matter set out'.

The document to which Gladstone referred was most probably the 'Declaration of the People of Rupert's Land, and the North-West', accompanied by a 'List of Rights', dated 4 December 1869 and signed by John Bruce, President of the Provisional Government and Louis Riel, Secretary on behalf of 'the Representatives of the people in Council'.[47] The main document reflected the spirit of the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. It asserted 'as a fundamental principle that the Public Authority commands the obedience and respect of its subjects. It claimed as a matter of generally acknowledged right that 'a people, when it has no Government, is free to adopt one form of Government in preference to another, to give or refuse allegiance to that which is proposed'. It recited the unsuitability of the government of Rupert's Land through the medium of a company set up for trading purposes. Company rule was 'far from answering to the wants of the people, and became more and more so as the population increased in number, and as the Country was developed and commerce extended until the present day, when it commands a place among the Colonies'. Despite its shortcomings, the people of the North West 'had generously supported the aforesaid Government, and gave to it a faithful allegiance'. That allegiance, it was claimed, had been dissolved by the Company's decision, 'contrary to the laws of nations' to transfer the territory to Canada 'by transactions with which the people were considered unworthy to be acquainted'. The declaration rejected William McDougall and his 'rod of despotism' and warned the Canadian government that if it attempted to impose its will by force, it would be held 'responsible before God and man for the innumerable evils which may be caused by so unwarrantable a course'. The declaration ended by proclaiming that the Provisional Government was 'the only and lawful authority now in existence in Rupert's Land and the North-West'. While an offer was made 'to enter into such negotiations with the Canadian Government was may be favourable for the good Government and prosperity of this people', the overwhelming tone of the document made it seem highly optimistic of Gladstone to regard it as a working text for winning the consent of the Red River people.

However, the List of Rights that accompanied the Declaration pointed to a more flexible and resigned attitude.[48] Four of the fourteen articles specifically assumed transfer to the Dominion, for instance demanding 'a fair and full representation inn the Canadian Parliament', while Article fourteen [below] even used the phrase 'at the time of the transfer'. Article seven, demanding a rail link to Winnipeg within five years, was presumably only attainable within a larger political framework. Most of the articles asserted extensive rights of local self-government. Only two appear to have referred specifically to land titles. Article five insisted upon '[a] free Homestead and pre-emption Land Law'. Article fourteen more generally demanded that 'all privileges, customs, and usages existing at the time of the transfer be respected'. Two articles referred to land policy. One required that 'a portion of public lands be appropriated' for schools, roads, bridges and public buildings. The other demanded that the local legislature control any land grant for the rail link to Winnipeg.[49] It will be observed that three of these four articles appear to have related to general land policy of a kind that would not have seemed out of place in Ontario or the United States. Only in Article fourteen is there an open-ended hint of a demand for special treatment of local land-holding practices, and even that was not made explicit.

There is a certain irony in the timing of Gladstone's worthy determination to treat the List of Rights as a 'covenant'. Within a fortnight of the Prime Minister's exchange with Granville, Louis Riel had re-written and considerably increased the demands.

The Bill of Rights briefly figured in the British conditions for sending an expeditionary force to the Red River. A cipher telegram sent to Ottawa on April 23 1870 included the requirement that Canada should 'accept decision of Her Majesty's Government on disputed point in Settlers['] Bill of Rights'.[50] The position adopted by the British government foreshadowed its assertion of a right to arbitrate between British Columbia and the Dominion in 1874-75. However, the agreement reached between the Dominion government and the Red River delegates soon afterwards seems to have overtaken this provision.

iii: the significance of Gladstone's doubts: In the absence of an exact identification by Gladstone or of confirmation from Rogers in response to Granville's puzzled enquiry, it is impossible to be entirely certain that this was the document to which the Prime Minister referred. However, it is difficult to see any more plausible alternative. It remains to attempt to assess the significance of Gladstone's brief flirtation with the notion of a plebiscite, and his accompanying emphasis upon what seems to have been the Red River Declaration of December 8 1869.

First, it has to be stressed that the exchange with Granville was purely speculative and inconclusive. No plebiscite was held at the Red River. Indeed,  no form of local consultation was held that might have implied some measure of sovereignty over any part of the territory in the people themselves. Secondly, it is highly unlikely that Gladstone's notion could have been carried into effect. Stripped of its cultural arrogance, Lord Granville's objection, that it would be 'difficult and a farce' to organise a vote among 'a few hundred Europeans and ten thousand half savages', was by no means unreasonable. The distinguished historian W.L. Morton pointed out that the absence of any agreed franchise qualifications in the Red River not only undermined a so-called meeting of electors held on 26 November 1869, but was a powerful element in driving Riel and his associates to the use of force.[51] Even in his speculative suggestion of a plebiscite, Gladstone had made the qualification 'order being first re-established'. To establish order was to assert prior sovereignty. (Napoleon III's plebiscites in Nice and Savoy in 1860 had aroused derision partly because French soldiers had stood guard at the polling booths. A vote in the Red River settlement after the British military occupation needed to secure order would hardly have carried unchallenged moral legitimacy.) Indeed, when Gladstone returned to the Red River problem at the end of April 1870, he accepted that the situation was changed had been changed by the shooting of Thomas Scott.[52] Thirdly, there were elements of self-serving fantasy in Gladstone's thinking. The Provisional Government claimed authority over the whole of Rupertsland. Perhaps this was a negotiating stance, but there was still a considerable gap between its position and Gladstone's belief that a plebiscite might be used 'to isolate the Red R[iver] settlement'.[53]

Most fundamentally of all, Gladstone took for granted that a plebiscite would secure the result that he desired - a weakness, it might be thought, common among politicians who venture down the referendum route. In short, the idea of a plebiscite surfaced largely to quieten the sensitive conscience of a Prime Minister who saw himself as a man of principle. This element in Gladstone's mentality emerged even more sharply six months later as France collapsed under Prussian invasion, and it became clear that Bismarck intended to demand the annexation of the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. Gladstone proposed that Britain should seek to persuade other neutral countries to protest 'against the transfer of Alsace and Lorraine without reference to the populations'. As with the case of the Red River, he was vague about the practical procedure. 'The mode of expressing any such view of this matter is doubtless a question requiring much consideration.' Tentatively, he thought of 'calling in the Agents of friendly Powers to superintend and conduct the process' - an idealistic stance unlikely to appeal to either of the combatants. His cabinet colleagues rejected these overtures. One minister, the Duke of Argyll (whose son, Lord Lorne, later became Governor General of Canada) was not even sure that he could subscribe to the doctrine that people had the right to decide which country they wished to belong to. Perhaps the most curious aspect of Gladstone's convolutions over Alsace and Lorraine was his assumption that the people of the two occupied provinces would oblige his uneasy conscience by voting for annexation. 'It would comfort me to find that the Alsatians were disposed to be German,' he wrote early in October 1870, adding, 'I mean as a choice of difficulties, in present circ[umstances].' [54]

In summary, Gladstone's brief attraction to the idea of a plebiscite in the Red River can in no way be taken as evidence of a recognition by the British government of any measure of sovereignty resided among the people of the Settlement. Equally, his use of the term 'covenant' in a cabinet discussion was no more than an expression of the fundamental religiosity of his politics. It cannot be taken to mean that the eventual outcome, the creation of the province of Manitoba, was in any form or substance a treaty with the Red River community. In the Biblical sense, a covenant is an unbreakable agreement. Yet even in employing the term, Gladstone added that any British endorsement would be 'conditional of course according to the matter set out in it'.

iv: Mr Gladstone and Land Issues. Why did Gladstone not follow through the ideas he had outlined to Granville in early March 1870? Thanks to the obsessional nature of his political campaigns, he has sometimes been seen as a 'one idea at a time' politician.[55] Clearly, nobody could successfully hold the office of Prime Minister by imposing single-issue politics on the diversity of challenges inherent in governing a modern state and a great empire. None the less, it was the case that in the spring of 1870, Gladstone was primarily and intensely concerned with the struggle to pass his Irish Land Bill, which was assuming the form of a multiple political crisis.[56] (The Second Reading debate began on March 7 and continued until March 11.) In that sense, it is not surprising that no trace of his concern for the Red River problem seems to have surfaced for over seven weeks.

However, in another sense, the absence of interconnection between Irish and Red River issues is noteworthy. As noted above, Gladstone had defined two major challenges to British interests: Irish discontent within the United Kingdom, and an American desire for revenge in the external sphere. These twin challenges lay at the heart of the policies adopted by his cabinet, especially in 1869-71. Moreover, Gladstone was concerned not simply by these two problematic areas individually, but by the danger that they might intersect, through the activities of the Fenians, an Irish Republican paramilitary movement. Canada figured on Gladstone's political radar screen as the most probable and indeed most vulnerable place where that intersection might occur. In the long sweep of hindsight, it is Louis Riel who stands out as the dominant figure in the Red River imbroglio of 1869-70. To British policy-makers at the time, Riel seems to have been no more than a name on a document. Their evident concern was that justified discontent on the Red River would be exploited by the Fenians and might trigger the incursion of what Gladstone had called 'the American Filibuster'.

But to accept that Gladstone's priority in March 1869 was to pass an Irish Land Bill is to underline the negative significance of the brevity of his engagement with the Red River question. In short, Gladstone did not see the Red River problems in terms of land rights. To illustrate this, it is necessary briefly to outline the nature of the proposed reform in Ireland. It was notorious that most Irish tenants lived in degrading conditions. It was a complication in British attitudes to Ireland that this was particularly the case in the three-quarters of the island where the majority of the population was Catholic and Gaelic in culture. In the northern province of Ulster, where the descendants of Protestant settlers from Scotland and England formed local majorities, conditions were much better. The major reason for this difference lay in the 'Ulster Custom', a local tradition in the North of Ireland that in effect gave tenants partial rights of ownership over their holdings. In particular, if a tenant made improvements to a farm, the landlord was bound to offer compensation if the lease was terminated. The Catholic Irish were condemned for sharing their cabins with pigs but, outside Ulster, any tenant who went to the trouble of building a pigsty was simply making a present of a capital asset to the landlord. The main object of the Land Bill of 1870 was to extend the Ulster Custom by law to the whole of Ireland, so that tenants who made improvements to their holdings would have the right to compensation if they were subsequently evicted. Gladstone himself came from the land-owning classes, and in 1870 that was as far as an aristocratic cabinet and Parliament dominated by privilege was prepared to go.

By mid-Victorian standards, the Land Bill of 1870 represented a considerable measure of State intervention to limit the rights of property. Unfortunately, it did not satisfy Irish demands for what was called 'Tenant Right' (a term also adopted in the comparable situation of Prince Edward Island).[57] Irish tenants did not want to be compensated on being evicted from their farms; they wanted evictions to end. A weakness in the Bill was that it did nothing to prevent landlords from raising rent, in order to benefit from improvements made by tenants. Hence there was a widespread demand in Ireland for the 'three Fs': fair rents, fixity of tenure and freedom to sell tenancies. The first of these had no Red River equivalent, but there were strong parallels in the second and third, which together converted tenant occupation into a partial form of ownership. Fixity of tenure severely restricted eviction; freedom to sell a tenancy implied a property right which might be passed on for cash without reference to the landlord. Behind these demands lay in Ireland, as at the Red River, a deep communal rejection of the entitlement of alien occupiers, whether the Hudson's Bay Company or the descendants of Cromwellian planters, to challenge the innate rights claimed by the people over the soil on which they lived.

Gladstone's Bill had been tabled on February 15. On March 1, the Irish Catholic bishops demanded the three Fs. Between March 5 and 7, Gladstone focused on the Red River, before his attention was forced back to the Irish Land Bill debate in the House of Commons. Yet at no point in his exchange with Granville did he seem to imply that Red River land issues might intersect with the core issue on his current political agenda. This was probably because the Provisional Government's Declaration of Rights wrapped up the question of land claims under the more general article fourteen categories of 'privileges, customs, and usages'. No doubt, too, the principal political threat to the success of the Irish Land Bill in March 1870 did not lie with the Irish, who would have to take whatever concessions could be squeezed out of the House of Lords. None the less, it is striking that Gladstone drew no apparent connection between his Irish preoccupation and the discontent at the Red River, and that he dropped his Red River ideas as the Land Bill entered the choppy waters of its committee stage in the House of Commons and its even more frigid reception in the House of Lords.

c.       Political concessions and military intervention. 'Is it too late to settle the matter by negotiation before May when the [British expeditionary] force moves?'[58] The final sentence of Gladstone's letter to Lord Granville of March 6 is surely the key to his speculative language about the plebiscite and covenant. Pacifically inclined and economy-minded, Gladstone was anxious to avoid if possible, and certainly to limit, the use of British troops. As noted above, Britain had embarked in 1869 upon a wholly new policy of concentrating its Army in the home islands. Prior to the eighteen-sixties, small garrisons of Imperial troops in British North America were seen as a deterrent against invasion from the United States, which was still essentially a non-military country. In the event of war, the superior training of the British troops would compensate for their limited numbers, especially operating with the support of an effective Canadian militia force. The latter assumption was shaken by the defeat of the Canadian Militia Bill in 1862: in 1870, in a matter of importance to the Dominion, fewer than 800 local volunteer troops were contributed to the Red River expedition. The mass mobilisation of the American Civil War up-ended the continental balance of power. By the late eighteen-sixties, small British garrisons were much more likely to offer an easy prey and humiliating propaganda triumph to an invading force. An expedition from central Canada to the Red River was especially vulnerable. For political reasons, the force would have to advance through British territory, along rough roads and portage routes that had never been intended for detachments of soldiers and their equipment. The American authorities obstructed the despatch of even non-military supplies to Lake Superior through the Saulte Ste-Marie canal. Yet south of the international border, the American Mid-West was already organised into states, extensively settled and well provided with communications. On the face of it, Colonel Wolseley's force might have been marching into a trap every bit as catastrophic as the fate that overtook General Gordon at Khartoum fifteen years later.

There were other reasons why the British were keen to avoid, or at least severely limit, any military intervention at the Red River. While the expedition was in progress, the eruption of the Franco-Prussian War underlined the perceived need to concentrate British troops in Europe.  On July 16 1870, with the expedition still six weeks' march from the Red River, Gladstone was urgently warning his War Minister, Edward Cardwell, that if, 'which God forbid, we have to act in this war, it will not be with 6 months', nor 3 months', nor even one month's notice'. The Prime Minister was fearful that one of the belligerents might violate the neutrality of Belgium which Britain was pledged to defend - the issue that would trigger War in 1914. 'What I should like is to study the means of sending 20,000 men to Antwerp with as much promptitude as at the Trent affair when we sent 10,000 to B[ritish] N[orth] A[merica].'[59] 

Not only foreign affairs, but the wider perspective of colonial policy militated against the Red River expedition. One of the most controversial colonial problems of the eighteen-sixties had been the wars between New Zealand settlers and the Maori. The New Zealand settlements had become something of a playground for well-connected young Englishmen, and their grumbles were more likely to be sympathetically voiced in the House of Commons than were the complaints of Canadian politicians.[60] The New Zealand settlers were vocal in the denouncing the loss of the military protection behind which, critics alleged, they had recklessly confronted their indigenous neighbours. 'I am somewhat afraid that we may seem to be doing in N[orth] America what we refuse to do in N[ew] Zealand,' Rogers wrote to Granville on 30 April 1870.[61]

The British government could only contain an anomalous and potentially dangerous military intervention by insisting that the Dominion government make political concessions to the people of the Red River. In adopting this strategy, the British government in practice tied itself to whatever agreement might emerge in Ottawa. In approving in principle on March 4 1870 the Canadian request to send  'a small number of troops to the Red River Settlement ... to act in conjunction with a force of the Canadian Militia with the view to restoring order in that Settlement,' Granville insisted on three conditions. Canada was to meet a substantial part of the cost, the territory was to be simultaneously transferred to Canadian control (and responsibility) and 'adequate concessions should be made by the Canadian gov[ernmen]t to the Half breeds'. The Colonial Office seems to have been in the dark as to the practical nature of any such concessions. The original draft of this despatch had referred instead to 'reasonable conditions'. Presumably, 'reasonable' was rejected as implying a value judgement about entitlement; on the other hand, 'adequate' carried the more utilitarian implication of a deal sufficient to quieten discontent.[62]

It might have helped the Colonial Office to clarify its thinking about concessions if it had received the advice of the Anglican bishop, Robert Machray, at an earlier stage in the formation of policy. Machray wrote to the Governor General on 18 March 1870, and his comments were forwarded to London along with other reports. They arrived at the end of April, but thanks to the leisurely paper-shuffling routines of the Colonial Office, Frederic Rogers did no deal with them until 6 May. By then, news had arrived by telegraph of a deal with the Red River delegates and the introduction of the Manitoba Bill. 'This is for a time luckily disposed of,' noted the Permanent Under-Secretary.[63]

Machray cut through the well-meaning verbiage of the Dominion government's assurances that they would recognise the 'just rights' of the Red River settlers. Such a promise 'hardly meets the case of a Country in such a primitive & peculiar condition as this is. Just rights are properly those for which there is some legal basis, that is - that can be substantiated and maintained by some legal basis - something more definite is needed her.' In any case, Machray suspected that the francophone section of the population really wanted a section of the territory to be 'restricted' for their own use.

Unable to define its own blueprint for an ideal settlement, the British government confined itself to generalities in its exhortations for a political deal. Ministers and officials can hardly have been unaware that any such deal would have implications for land titles and possibly for land granting policy: at local level, most colonial issues revolved around control of the soil. The Colonial Office had been advised by the Hudson's Bay Company that the 'resistance' of the half-breed population had 'its origin in the feeling which has been fomented among them either that they are to be deprived of the patches of land of which they have been in occupation or of the share of the indemnity money in which they think they have a right to participate with the shareholders in London or of some other right which they previously enjoyed'.[64]

However, although as head of the Emigration Commission, the British agent in Ottawa, Clinton Murdoch, was closely concerned with questions of land settlement, he reported the negotiations primarily in broader political terms.  The Canadian government was 'willing to give the Settlers at Red River, very liberal terms - as liberal indeed as were given to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia'.[65]

Similarly, the package of documents reassuringly sent by John Rose in response to Lord Granville's insistence upon 'adequate concessions' made only brief allusion to land claims. On December 7 1869 (a little late in the process perhaps), Joseph Howe, as the Dominion's Secretary of State, had authorised McDougall to assure 'the residents of the North-West Territories' that 'in granting titles to land now occupied by the settlers, the most liberal policy will be pursued'. The Governor General had made a similar promise to Donald Smith on 12 December. 'The people may rely upon it ... that titles to every description of property will be perfectly guarded ... and that all franchises which have existed, or the which the people prove themselves qualified to exercise, shall be duly continued or liberally conferred'.[66]

There seems to have been no reference to the 1.4 million acre land grant until Sir Clinton Murdoch's letter of 4 May 1870, in which he reported that Father Richot, one of the Red River delegates, had made a last-minute demand to increase the acreage reserved 'to existing Settlers and their children' from 1.2 to 1.5 million. Murdoch felt 'that if any fault is to be found with this part of the scheme, it is rather that the quantity of land given to the settlers is too large than that it is not large enough'. However, the objection was 'perhaps unimportant in view of the immense territory which will be ceded to Canada'.[67] But long before Murdoch's letter could reach London, circumstances there had prompted the government to announce, through William Monsell in the House of Commons on 5 May, that the Red River delegates 'had come to a perfect agreement with the Government of Canada upon the terms upon which the Red River Settlement was to be annexed to Canada'. The following day, he elaborated his report, confirming that 'the negotiations between the Government of Canada and the Red River delegates have closed satisfactorily' so that a bill to create a province called Manitoba was on its way through the Dominion Parliament.  'The waste lands are to belong to the Dominion, but 1,200,000 acres are to be reserved to extinguish the claims of half-breeds and Indian titles; all existing titles and possessions are to be respected.' In this, the only specific allusion made in the British Parliament to the land-grant provision, Monsell telescoped the issues of Indian title and settler claims (as did Section 31 of the Manitoba Act) and cited the amount of land to be allocated from the initial reports received by telegraph from Ottawa.[68]

In reality, the British government had little option but to endorse what had been agreed in Ottawa. The terms they had themselves imposed on March 4 for sending a military force to the Red River left them with little room for manoeuvre. Two of the conditions were easily met: the Canadian government was happy to meet part of the cost - for a country with no army of its own the deal was a bargain - and more than ready to take possession of the territory once order was restored. That left only the question of 'adequate concessions' to the local population. The Colonial Office briefly sought to maintain an element of control by insisting upon the right to umpire any disputed points in the Red River List of Rights. This requirement would be overtaken by events in Ottawa: no outside arbitration was required. On April 4, when he was asked in the House of Commons whether there was 'any truth in the report that Imperial Troops are to be sent to the Red River Settlement', Monsell was noncommittal: 'the expediency of despatching a small body of troops was under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government; but no definite arrangements had been made on the subject'.[69] In reality, the government had lost control of its own safeguards, and was being carried along by a military timetable.

While telegrams passed between London and Ottawa, practical preparations had to be undertaken if troops were to be sent into wilderness country. On 23 March, a despatch to Sir John Young could still refer to 'the expedition, if it should be found absolutely necessary to send one',[70] and in his Commons answer on 4 April Monsell claimed that not only did the Canadian government wish for an Imperial force but that the Red River Convention also wished 'that British troops might be sent to preserve peace between the different sections of the community'.[71] This notion of an even-handed intervention was undermined by news of the shooting of Thomas Scott, which only reached London in the first week of April. Murdoch reported a shift of emphasis in Ottawa, where it was now argued that the killing of Scott demonstrated not Riel's strength but his weakness among his own people. Hence 'the despatch of troops to the territory so far from coercing the great body of the settlers would in fact only set them free to express their true Sentiments'.[72] Gladstone saw Murdoch's letter, and was impressed by its arguments. 'The murder of Scott, if it be a murder, gives great advantage to the Canadian Gov[ernmen]t, and enables them to move not by way of political invasion but as punishers of crime.'[73] Ironically, the killing of Scott, intended by Riel to force outsiders to recognise the Provisional Government, had the reverse effect upon the British Prime Minister.

None the less, the proposed role of a British expeditionary force remained confused. Announcing to the House of Commons on 7 April the news that Scott had been 'put to death', Monsell confessed that 'having regard to the difficulty of access to the red River Settlement during eight months of the year, I cannot see what steps Her Majesty's Government can take for the protection of the loyal inhabitants more efficient than those I informed the House two or three days ago were under their consideration'.[74] But if troops were to be sent at all, the timing of their despatch had to be dictated by those four months of the year when the Settlement was accessible. Hence the speed with which the British government embraced the political deal struck in Ottawa and embodied in the Manitoba Bill. On 5 May, a few hours after receiving confirmation of the agreement through Sir John Rose, Lord Granville announced that troops would be sent to the Red River in what a Canadian minister, Sir Francis Hincks, had called an expedition 'of peace'. William Monsell repeated the phrase in the Commons the following day. The notion of a 'peace-keeping force' was not one that was in use in the nineteenth century, and no doubt the government was fortunate that nobody rose to query the contradiction between peace-keeping and enforcing order. From the government's point of view, the key element probably lay in Granville's assurance that 'the Imperial troops shall return before the beginning of winter'.[75]

Ministers escaped with just one attack on their decision to send troops to the Red River. The knock-about performance to which the House of Lords was treated on July 4 was out of character with the staid proceedings of the upper chamber, and few would have been in any doubt about the motives of the Marquess of Clanricarde in raising the issue. Clanricarde was one of the most unpopular personalities in the inner world of politics, 'a man justly and universally disesteemed', in Gladstone's erudite phrase.[76] The antipathy was reciprocated: Clanricarde believed the Prime Minister was a dangerous politician, leading Britain towards the twin horrors of political democracy and social revolution. An Irish landlord, he had shown himself to be a relentless and resourceful foe of the government's intervention on behalf of the tenants. To accuse the government of bullying a small and distant community was a clever irritation. From an aristocrat who, twenty-five years earlier, had greeted the Irish Famine with demands for the suspension of civil rights and military protection for his fellow landlords, the attack could hardly be regarded as deeply sincere. None the less, Clanricarde managed to touch upon some basic issues and thereby demonstrate how vulnerable the British government might find itself on Red River issues and, indeed, how lucky it was that nobody more savoury than Clanricarde attempted to stir the pot.

Clanricarde began by referring to reports that the Red River Settlement had 'been engaged in hostilities of some sort of another', complaining that Parliament had not been told 'whether the war that has taken place there is a civil war between particular tribes, between different states, or between different nations'. Not only did he touch upon the sensitive issue of sovereignty, but he was also briefed on the fact that some of the settlers claimed to 'hold their land by right of occupation of waste and desert land'. He thought it 'a most objectionable proceeding that in any part of the world we should sell not British land or property but British subjects' and insisted that 'the Government have no right without the consent of Parliament to transfer the allegiance of the possessors of British soil from one party to another as though they were so many slaves'. Much of this represented the rhetoric of Irish landlordism projected on to a distant canvas, but it was uncomfortable enough, even without Clanricarde's extension of the attack to the military expedition. He demanded to know 'why we send our army to coerce the people into becoming a part of the newly established Canadian Dominion against their wishes'. Revealing the limitations of his geographical knowledge as he warmed to his case, Clanricarde reminded their Lordships that British soldiers were being sent to a district 'very near the Oregon boundary' where some of the settlers were certain to be American citizens: 'under those circumstances it was very rash to send a military force to those boundaries'. He ended with a direct challenge to the government. 'What I want to know is, what are the feelings of these people, how far are they justly called rebels, and what is the nature of their position towards this country and towards Canada.'

These were precisely the questions that ministers had tried hard not to confront in the preceding months, and there is some irony in the fact that they should have been raised by one of the most reactionary of hereditary peers. Lord Granville, the aristocrat of aristocrats, simply brushed aside Clanricarde's questions. 'It was too late now to question the legality of the transfer of the territory to the Dominion'. Glossing over the internal contradictions, he reiterated that the military force had been sent 'not to conquer a rebellion, but for the purpose of securing that state of order which he trusted the expedition would find prevailing'. While declining to defend the Dominion government's initial handling of the issue, he praised 'the singular judgment, caution, and moderation' that they had shown while working 'in perfect accord with Her Majesty's Government' to resolve the subsequent difficulties.[77]

Political concessions, then, had been necessary to get the troops into the Red River without the appearance of coercion. Ministers were equally determined that getting the troops out of the Red River was the best way of ensuring that the Canadian government would continue to act with judgement, caution and moderation. The incoming Colonial Secretary, Lord Kimberley, drew somewhat speciously on his Hudson's Bay Company experience to argue that if a trading company 'with no force at their back, managed to keep the country quiet, I can't believe that the Canadians with common prudence may not establish themselves firmly without quarrelling with the inhabitants white or red'.[78] Writing to Gladstone on August 27, he argued that common prudence would be encouraged by withdrawing the troops that only had just arrived at the Red River: the 'Canadians are much more likely to act with discretion and moderation if they have to rely on their own resources'. Gladstone agreed. Assuming that 'you will have handed over the Government of Manitoba order & tranquillity prevailing .... to leave the troops now would be an error which might interfere permanently with the Establishment of sound & normal relations between Canada & her little but free sister'.[79]

d.      The British government and the Red River. That slightly embarrassing metaphor tells its own story about the nature of official British attitudes to problems at the Red River in 1869-70. Faced with major domestic political challenges and a European crisis, they were anxious to avoid complications with the United States and blunders in dealing with a distant settlement that might provoke Fenian activity. The refusal of the Dominion government to accept the previously negotiated transfer until order was restored struck ministers as unfair and unwarranted, but ultimately they could not evade the obligation to send a token military force. What they could and did do was to insist that Canada make concessions to the insurgents and reach agreement with its spokesmen. This was purely a practical consideration and at no point did ministers concede that any form of sovereignty had been established by the Red River insurgents, whom they regarded as representing a minority only of the population in any case. To Gladstone it was a matter of honour to respond to concerns articulated in the List of Rights of December 4 1869. But in what way they should respond, and how far, he had no clear idea. Having no direct source of information from the Red River themselves, British ministers and officials could do little more than resort to generalities, leaving the actual terms of agreement to be worked out on the continent of North America. In their major contribution to the resolution of the affair, the despatch of a small military force, they benefited from multiple good fortune. Nobody launched a military attack upon the expedition, and the only parliamentary assault came from a politician who was massively unpopular. Above all, Louis Riel thought it prudent to quit the Settlement shortly before Colonel Wolseley's force arrived. As a result, there was no need to resolve the basic ambiguity in the military mandate: were the soldiers there to enforce the rule of law or celebrate the achievement of harmony? Gladstone, Granville, Kimberley and Monsell were politicians; Rogers operated on the fringes of the political environment. Ambiguity is often an asset in reconciling opposing positions during a dispute, and in 1870 ambiguity certainly played its part in smoothing the largely peaceable creation of the province of Manitoba.


[1] CO 42/694, Murdoch to Rogers, April 21 1870, fos 178-79; CO 42/679, Murdoch to Rogers, April 29 1870, fos 181-83; May 4 1870, fo. 187.

[2] CO 42/694, Murdoch to Rogers, April 21 1870, fos 178-79. The first Dominion census in 1871 reported a majority of French-speakers, and smaller overall numbers. Stanley, Birth of Western Canada, p. 13.

[3] CO 42/697, fos 178-79.

[4] CO 42/694, fos 283-88.

[5] CO 43/156, Granville To Young, copy, April 10 1869, pp. 120-25.

[6] Hansard, 201, May 5 1870, col. 252.

[7] See, generally, Jennifer S.H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country (Vancouver, 1980). More recently, Adele Perry, On The Edge of Empire: Gender, Race and the Making of British Columbia  1849-1871 (Toronto, 2001).

[8] Stanley, Birth of Western Canada, p. 140.

[9] Gladstone-Granville Correspondence, ii, p. 94 (March 6 1870).

[10] Hansard, 201, cols 1089, 1092.

[11] CO 42/685, Murdoch to Rogers, April 14 1870, fos 814-15.

[12] Hansard, 201, May 5 1870, col. 251.

[13] CO 42/694, fos 178-79, 181-83, 187. Rogers did use the term 'Provisional Government' in a letter to the Hudson's Bay Company (Rogers to Lampson, May 26 1870, see note 15, p. 219) but this reflected Colonial Office practice of resuming the points in any communication received as part of the reply. The Company was seeking compensation for damage done by Riel's associates. By May 26, any issue relating to recognition of the Provisional Government could be regarded as superseded.

[14] Spence's announcement is in British Parliamentary Papers, 1870, 443, pp. 10-11. See also Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 11, pp. 844-45.

[15] British Parliamentary Papers, 1870, 50 (C 207), Correspondence Relative to Recent Disturbances in the Red River Settlement,            pp. 75-76.

[16] CO 42/694, fo. 9 (Minute of January 17 1870).

[17] CO 43/156, Granville to Young, copy, no. 7, January 18 1870, pp. 386-9. 'I think that I should remonstrate in strong terms against the substance and form of McDougal's proceedings,' Granville minuted that day. CO 42/694, fo. 9.

[18] National Archives of Canada, Macdonald Papers, 516, Letter Book, Macdonald to McDougall, November 27 1869. As late as December 12, McDougall reported that the latest letter he had received from Macdonald was dated November 23, and that the fastest mail from Ottawa took two weeks. British Parliamentary Papers, 1870, Red River Disturbances, p.p. 71-2.

[19] CO 42/694, fo. 67. Rogers took a hard line throughout, and disapproved of any form of negotiation after the death of Thomas Scott. Stanley, Birth of Western Canada, p. 423.

[20] CO 43/138, Rogers to Law Officers, December 15 1869, pp. 160-2.

[21] CO 42/679, Law Officers to Granville, December 21 1869, fos 457-59.

[22] CO 43/138, Rogers to Northcote, 23 March 1870, pp. 278-79 and Law Officers' report, pp. 322-23.

[23] CO 42/ 694, fo. 9, Minute by Rogers, January 17 1870.

[24] Hansard, 202, May 5 1870,  cols 253, 281.

[25] This was well illustrated by the 'Lamirande affair' of 1866-67, when the mishandling of the extradition of a bank robber caused a diplomatic incident between Britain and France. On a daily basis, the Canadian authorities had dealt with the French Consul in Montreal without any reference to London. British Parliamentary Papers, 1867, 48.

[26] CO

[27] Gladstone Diaries, 7, p. 250.

[28] CO 42/684, Colonial Office to War Office, March 5 1870, fos 456-64.

[29] Matthew, 'Introduction,' Gladstone Diaries, 7, p. l (i.e. Roman numerals 50).

[30] Gladstone to Granville, private and confidential, March 6 1870, Gladstone-Granville Correspondence, I, pp. 93-94. In 1848, Gladstone had attacked the Company for failing to meet its obligations to the people of the North-West. As a member of the British Parliamentary Committee of 1857, he had argued for removing from Company control land suitable for colonisation. Thus Gladstone had (as so often) straddled both sides of the question.  Galbraith, Hudson's Bay Company, pp. 322-23, 341-42.

[31] Gladstone to Granville, January 8 1869, Gladstone-Granville Correspondence, I, p. 8.

[32] This point was confirmed by Rogers in an annotation on Granville's letter to him of March 6. PRO 30/29/57, Granville Papers, Granville to Rogers, March 6 1870, fos 258-59. In fact, the Council of Assinboia was regarded by many as representative, since co-options were made to reflect a range of local opinions, but it was not elective.

[33] As note 30.

[34] The examples are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary.

[35] J.L. Granatstein, Canada's War: The Politics of the Mackenzie King Government 1939-1945 (Toronto, 1975), p. 218.

[36] Example taken from the Oxford English Dictionary.

[37] H.C.G. Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Diaries, 10, p. 438.

[38] D. Butler and U. Kitzinger, The 1975 Referendum (2nd ed., Basingstoke, 1996), pp. 8-11.

[39] Granville to Gladstone, private and confidential, March 6 1870, Gladstone-Granville Correspondence, I, p. 94.

[40] PRO 30/29/57, Granville to Rogers, March 6 1870, fos 258-59.

[41] Gladstone to Granville, 7 March 1870, Gladstone-Granville Correspondence, I, p. 94. Gladstone's comment underlines the perceived irrelevance of the Council of Assiniboia, which had exercised administrative authority within a fifty-mile radius of the Settlement.

[42] As note 41. McDougall had sarcastically observed that Riel 'speaks for a large part of the earth's surface'. British Parliamentary Papers, 1870, Red River Disturbances, p. 203.

[43] Gladstone Diaries, 7, pp. 227, 290 (January 24, May 15 1870)

[44] As note 41.

[45] As note 30.

[46] As note 40. Granville accepted that the lack of consultation was a 'blot'.

[47] As note 15, pp. 75-76.

[48] As note 15, pp. 76-77.

[49] Although the 'Declaration of the People of Rupert's Land, and the North-West' had been issued from Fort Garry, the 'List of Rights' was dated from 'Winnipeg' and used the name as cited in Article 7. The term had been adopted by the local newspaper, the Nor'Wester, in 1866, although the municipality was not chartered until 1874. The Post Office adopted the name in 1876. Even in December 1870, the 'unattractive village' counted barely 100 people. A.F.J. Artibise, Winnipeg: A Social History of Urban Growth 1874-1914 (Montreal, 1975), pp. 9.

[50] CO 32/685, fos 421-28 (repeated in confidential despatch of April 28 1870).

[51] W.L. Morton, Manitoba: A History (Toronto, 1961 ed.), p. 127.

[52] Gladstone to Granville, 30 April 1870, Gladstone-Granville Correspondence, I, p. 97.

[53] As note 41.

[54] John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (3 vols, London 1903), ii, pp. 346-48; Gladstone-Granville Correspondence, I, p. 137.

[55] Matthew, 'Introduction', Gladstone Diaries, 7, p. xcvi.

[56] See, generally, Steele, Irish Land and British Politics.

[57] Ian Ross Robertson, The Tenant League of Prince Edward Island: Leasehold Tenure in the New World (Toronto, 1996).

[58] As note 30.

[59] Gladstone Diaries, 7, p. 327 (16 July 1870).

[60] Monsell remarked in 1869 that almost every MP had 'a friend or relation in New Zealand'. This could hardly have been said of Canada. Quoted, Ged Martin, Britain and the Origins of Canadian Confederation, p. 139.

[61] CO 42/687, fos 50-51.

[62] CO 42/695, fos 293-94.

[63] CO 42/685, Machray to Sir John Young, March 18 1870, and minute by Rogers of May 6 1870, fos 469-74. Machray's credibility may have been undermined by the fact that he cheerfully hoped that the Dominion would take over from the Company the funding of his diocese.

[64] CO 42/694, fos 283-88.

[65] CO 42/694, Murdoch to Rogers, April 21 1870, fos 178-79

[66] CO 42/694, fos 295-96.

[67] CO 42/694, Murdoch to Rogers, May 4 1870, fo. 187. Murdoch consistently mis-spelt Ritchot's name.

[68] Hansard, 201, 5, 6 May 1870, cols 252-53, 326.

[69] Hansard, 198, 4 April 1870, col. 1172,

[70] CO 42/685, fo. 312. Unusually this confidential despatch was published. British Parliamentary Papers, Red River Disturbances, p. 176.

[71] As note 69.

[72] CO 42/685, Murdoch to Rogers, April 14 1870, fos 814-15.

[73] As note 52. Gladstone continued: 'If the [Red River] Delegates do not come to "reasonable" terms promptly (Murdoch's presence will be very useful in the interpretation of the Epithet) & if Canada has to move in consequence I hope that in her declarations she will turn this advantage fully to account.' It would seem from this that any assumption of settler sovereignty behind Gladstone's suggestion of a plebiscite was very shallow.

[74] Hansard, 198, April 7 1870, col. 1431.

[75] Hansard, 201, May 5, 6 1870, cols 254, 326.

[76] Quoted Donald Southgate, 'The Most English Minister': The Policies and Politics of Palmerston (London, 1966), p. 456. Clanricarde  had been involved in a sex scandal. His appointment to Palmerston's cabinet in 1858 had been rapidly followed by the unexpected defeat of the government. The change of government put an end to a flexible policy towards the Hudson's Bay Company and inaugurated several years of poor relations.

[77] Hansard, 202, July 4 1870, cols 1331-36.

[78] Kimberley to Young, September 19 1870, quoted Powell, Liberal by Principle, p. 122n.

[79] Gladstone Diaries, 7, p. 349.