Sir Wilfrid Laurier
, on Louis Riel who had been executed 4 months prior, speaking
in the House of Commons on March 16, 1886...
Sir, what is hateful . . .
is not rebellion but the despotism which induces that rebellion ;
what is hateful are not rebels but the men, who, having the
enjoyment of power, do not discharge the duties of power;
they are the men who, having the power to redress wrongs,
refuse to listen to the petitions that are sent to them; they
are the men who, when they are asked for a loaf, give a
But to-day, not to speak of those who have lost their
lives, our prisons are full of men who, despairing ever to get
justice by peace, sought to obtain it by war, who, despairing
of ever being treated like freemen, took their lives in their
hands, rather than be treated as slaves. They have suffered
a great deal, they are suffering still; yet their sacrifices will
not be without reward. Their leader is in the grave, they
are in durance, but from their prisons they can see that that
justice, that liberty which they sought in vain, and for which
they fought not in vain, has at last dawned upon their country.
Their fate well illustrates the truth of Byron's invocation to
liberty, in the introduction to the Pris'oner of Chillon :
Eternal Spirit of the chainless mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty thou art!
For there thy habitation is the heart
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned
To fetters and the damp vault's dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom.
Yes, their country has conquered with their martyrdom.
They are in durance to-day; but the rights for which they
were fighting have been acknowledged. We have not the
report of the commission yet, but we know that more than
two thousand claims so long denied have been at last granted.
And more still more. We have it in the Speech from the
Throne that at last representation is to be granted to those
Territories. This side of the House long sought, but s'ought
in vain, to obtain that measure of justice. It could not come
then, but it came after the war; it came as the last conquest
of that insurrection. And again I say that their country
has conquered with their martyrdom, and if we look at that
one fact alone there was cause sufficient, independent of all
others, to extend mercy to the one who is dead and to those
Labels: canadian history, laurier, quotable, riel