THE EXPULSION OF THE ACADIANS
[L'Évangéline, le 8 mai 1889, p. 3]
(From the Casket)
Sir Adams Archibald's two papers on this subject were read by the author before the N. Scotia Historical Society, on the respective dates of January 7th and November 4th, 1886. They were printed in the following year, but no copy of the publication reached de Casket office, or came otherwise into our hands, until Saturday of last week. Our perusal, therefore, though fully comprehensive, has necessarily been somewhat hurried.
Sir Adams contends that the expulsion was justified by the circumstances in which it took place ; and while we cannot agree with this conclusion, we readily admit that he has put the case in the strongest possible light. He has left nothing unsaid that could truthfully be said in favor of his contention. We do not now stop to enquire whether he has given the full Acadian version of the facts, or whether he has passed over in silence many incidents that, if expressed, would have modified the color of his thesis. We simply state that, even if we admit every allegation he makes, even if we assume that no relevant fact to the contrary has been by him ignored ; still his premises do not warrant the inference that he draws from them.
The end does not justify the means, when the means are wrong in themselves. He maintains that British supremacy in N. Scotia depended, or at least seemed in the eyes of officials to depend on the expatriation of the French inhabitants. Whether this be true or not is beside the question. British supremacy valuable as it is, is not, any more than any other boon, to be secured by the perpetration of inate injustice. There is hardly a crime of magnitude, recorded in the history of nations, which its author did not defend on the ground of national necessity. The first Napoleon so essayed to vindicate his destruction of the Mameluke prisoners in Egypt. Louis XIV so defended the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Scotland ultra loyalists so palliated the massacre of Glencoe.
Admitting for argument's sake that the Acadians were made disaffected, by the exertion of French priests, as Sir Adams say they were ; that the disaffection was general ; that they refused to take the oath of allegiance ; that these facts and all the others he adduces, were within the perfect knowledge of the British officials, it would follow that the latter had the right to punish the guilty ones, but not to drive men, innocent women, and helpless children, in hordes aboard transport ships, and carry them off to die piecemeal in countries which to them were strange and among people whom they distrusted and by whom they were distrusted in turn. Sir Adams by attributing all the guild to the priests, makes his case more untenable ; for it is absurd to suppose that these could not be hold individually accountable to British law. Was it right to punish the whole race ?
Apply Sir Adams' reasoning to another case that cannot but be in minds of all our readers. When the secession war broke out in the United States, it is unquestionable that the entire white population sided with Jefferson Davis. Would it be proper, supposing it feasible, that every white man, woman and child south of Dixie's line, should be deported to a foreign country, scattered over a whole continent, and left to live or die amid strangers of whose language not one word would be understood by the exiles ? N. Scotia belonged to England by right of conquest, ratified by treaty to which the Acadians were not a party, was there any reason for their cruel treatment that did not equally exist in the case of territory conquered ; say in India where the disaffection of the natives lasted for over a century ?
Sir Adams does not improve the case by describing the manner in which the French King treated his prisoners or his suspected subjects. He treated them unjustly : let us admit this at once. He was wrong in doing so ; and we cannot at this moment, call to mind one modern French writer who pretends to justify him on the plea of national necessity, or any other plea. The expulsion of the Acadians must be judged by itself in the light of British history and of British customs ; and view it as we will on that light, it will remain forever an indelible stigma on England's reputation. We can not undo it ; we can only deplore and regret.
If Colonel Winslow and the other men in command in the interests of Britain had possessed even a glimmer of the wisdom or adroitness that usually characterized her colonial management, they would have singled out a half dozen or so of the more prominent Acadians, if so, many could be found actually guilty of punishable crime, and treated them with due rigor of law. The example would have had a deterrent effect. Any one who investigated as deeply as Sir Adams into Acadian history, should have known this much, and knowing it, should not permit his loyality to Britain's throne to impair the still more sacred allegiance that everyone owes to the greater throne of historic truth. His is a line of argument that makes the inviolable dictates of justice and humanity, subservient to the pretended necessities of a difficult situation. What would become of the moral law, if it were left to the arbitrament of individual office, also to decide that it was in-operative in trying circumstances ? Heroism consists in doing what is right in presence of danger and in view of disaster ; but Col. Winslow was not of heroic mould. If he were, he would have resigned his commission, rather than carry out the following orders which he ruthlessly gave to men whom he had decoyed into a church and made prisoners in the midst of profound peace, without a moment's warning. We quote from Sir Adams' first paper, p. 25 :
"Your lands and tenements, cattle of all kinds, live stock of all sorts, are forfeited to the crown, with all your other effects, saving your money and household goods, and you, yourselves are to be removed from the province. Thus it is peremptorily His Majesty's orders that the whole French inhabitants of these districts be removed."
The parallel in history is to be found in the exploits of the Danes before Christianity had reached the shores of the Baltic. But, this happened les than 140 years ago, at a time when humanity in war and legality in peace had claims which were recognized by every jurist in the empire as fully and clearly as they are to-day.