New Nation Comment, Bill of Rights, Voting Clause

New Nation (25 February 1870), page 2 column 5.

The Franchise of Red River.

One of the clauses in the Bill of Rights adopted by the recent Convention has special reference to the right to vote. The importance of the subject cannot be over-rated, and it well merits a place in that Bill. Whether the decision come to by the Convention was in all respects unimpeachable is, of course, a matter of opinion; but there is one feature of it which we cannot too highly commend, and it is a feature, fortunately, which for the present at least most concerns people of Red River. We refer to the provision “that every man in the country (except uncivilized and unsettled Indians)[1] who has attained the age of 21 years shall have the right to vote.”

There is no property qualification exacted from the present residents of the country, it being considered that their interest in the country is such as will induce them to vote aright. The overwhelming majority of the people are natives, and these, even though they had no property, must be deemed to feel a deep interest in the land of their birth, the land where their relatives are, and where they must almost of necessity continue to exist. At the same time as there is scarcely a native who is not a householder, there is practically the same guarantee in their case as is required from foreigners!

It will be observed that all the present inhabitants, irrespective of nationality, can vote—Americans, Frenchmen, Germans, and all others. The foreigners form but a small part of the population, and when to paucity of numbers is added the consideration that so far all those who have come in are of the most respectable class, the people of Red River are doing well to receive them as brethren and at once to proffer them a privilege which for prudential reasons. will be accorded to future incomers only on conditions.

By the bye, this reminds us that there has recently been a good deal of disenssion [sic] in this town as to the right of American citizens to vote at the various elections held here. We feel no doubt upon the point. There is no law on the subject, and there has been no registration of voters or qualification net-work of any sort. In fact, we are not supposed to know who are American citizens and who are not, for there has been no classification made by legal machinery.

Some may think it a pity it is so, and may even say it ought not to be so; but these individuals should remember how much more liberal were the whole people of Red River, when their delegates unanimously stipulated to secure the right of all foreigners at present among us.[2]

There was a meeting of towns people [Town of Winnipeg] some time ago to decide upon the qualification to be required of voters, and they did not impose certain restrictions; but the fatal objection to that proceeding is that those who laid down the law had no authority to do so, and their dictum can only be regarded in the light of a recommendation or well-meant piece of advice. It had no legal force, and was not binding upon anyone who chose to repudiate it.

[1] ‘Uncivilized’ in this sense applied only to those First Nations who did not fall under a civil state and whose members did not attend a church in Assiniboia, did not farm in Assiniboia, and who as distinct peoples had their own stateless society and political systems of government. To be ‘civilized’ was to fall under the rule of, and pay tribute to a state. First Nations at this time in the North-West were in rather the reverse position: foreigners (or any individuals or groups who intruded on territory held by a First Nation) were obliged to pay tribute to them for access to their territories and to build missions or set up farming settlements. There were in Red River Settlement ‘civilized Indians’ — at St. Peter’s parish for example — who did have the right to vote.

[2] An allusion to the fact that Canadian citizens were not to be denied the right to vote.


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