“Do you love freedom?”

A call to arms by William Lyon Mackenzie on the eve of the short-lived 1837 Upper Canada rebellion. Inspired by “patriotes” rebels in Lower Canada, Mackenzie fought for the democratization of Upper Canada’s political institutions. As a fiery newspaper editor and legislator, he advanced the novel argument of the time that the colony’s legislative council should be elected and that governments should be responsible. 

His reform attempts blocked, Mackenzie threw down the gauntlet. “Canadians! Do you love freedom? I know you do. Do you hate oppression? Who dare deny it? … Up then, brave Canadians! Get ready your rifles, and make short work of it.”

The rebellion soon sputtered to a halt in the muddy streets of Toronto. But Mackenzie’s words still evoke Canadian radicalism and the quest for a more democratic country. As Toronto poet Dennis Lee has put it, “Mackenzie talked of fighting/ While the fight went down the drain./ But who will speak of Canada?/ Mackenzie, come again!” 

Over a century later, Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was much less rebellious than his garrulous grandfather, the latter once called “a reptile” by political opponents. In 1942, King’s ultra-cautious and syncopated rhetoric was encapsulated in his “Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription” equivocation. 

Image source: Wikimedia

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