Joseph Edmund Collins.

Life and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada online

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upon rebellion, now that rebels were rewarded for their own up-
risings ; for the government itself was a rebel government, and
the party by which it was maintained in power was a phalanx
of rebels. His lieutenants were scarce less unsparing and fierce
in the attack. But the government boldly took up their posi-
tion. Mr. Baldwin, attorney-general-west, maintained that it
would be disgraceful to enquire whether a man had been a
rebel or not after the passage of a general act of indemnity.
Mr. Drummond, solicitor-general-east, took ground which placed
the matter in the clearest light. The indemnity act had par-
doned those concerned in high treason. Technically speaking,
then, all who had been attainted stood in the same position as
before the rebellion. But the opposition were not in a mood
to reason. The two colonels, Prince and Gugy, talked a great
deal of fury. The former once again reminded the house that
he was " a gentleman " ; the latter made it plain that he was a
blusterer. Mr. Sherwood was fierce and often trenchant ; while
Sir Allan reiterated that the whole French -Canadian people
were traitors and aliens. At this date we are moved neither


to anger nor contempt at reading such utterances as those of
the knight's, for it would be wrong to regard them as else than
infirmities ; and it is regretable that by such statements the
one party should allow itself to be dominated and the other
driven to wrath. But through all these volcanic speeches Sir
Allan was drifting in the direction of a mighty lash held in a
strong arm ; and when the blow descends we find little com-
passion for the wrigglinga of the tortured knight. It was while
Sir Allan had been bestriding the parliament like a Colossus,
breathing fire and brimstone against every opponent, and fling-
ing indiatsriminaterjr about him such epithets as " traitor" and
"rebel," that Mr. Blakr, solicitor-general- west, stung beyond
endurance, sprang to 1 lis i'.ct. " He would remind them that
there was not only one kind of rebellion and one description of
rebel and traitor. He would tell them there was such a thing
as rebellion against the constitution as well as rebellion against
the crown. A man could be a traitor to his country's rights
M well as a traitor to the power of the crown." He instanced
Philip of Spain and James the Second when there was a struggle
between political freedom and royal tyranny. " These royal
nte found loyal men to do their bidding, not only in the
army but on the bench of justice. There was one such loyal
servant, he who shone above all the rest, the execrable Judge
Jeffries, who sent, among the many other victims before their
Maker, the mild, amiable and great Lord Russell. Another
victim of these loyal servants was Algernon Sydney, whose
offence was his loyalty to the people's rights and the constitu-
tion. He had no sympathy with the spurious loyalty of the
hon. gentlemen opposite, which, while it trampled on the peo-
ple, was the slave of the court — a loyalty which, from the dawn
of the history of the world down to the present day, had lashed
humanity into rebellion. He would not go to ancient history ;
but he would tell the hon. gentlemen opposite of one great ex-
hibition of this loyalty ; on an occasion when the people of a
distant Roman province contemplated the perpetration of the


foulest crime that the page of history records — a crime from
which Xature in compassion hid her face and strove to draw
i over : hut the heathen Unman lawgiver could not be in-
duced by perjured wJtoOBSeo to place the great founder of our
religion Upon the cross. ' I find no fault in him/ he said. But
these provincials, after endeavouring by every other means to
effect their purpose, had recourse to this spurious loyalty — 'If
thou lettest this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend/ Mark
the loyalty ; could they not see every feature of it ; could they
not trace it in this act; aye, and overcome by that mawkish,
spurious loyalty, the heathen Roman governor gave his sanc-
tion to a deed whose foul and impure stain eighteen centuries
of national humiliation and suffering have been unable to efface.
This spurious, slavish loyalty was not British stuff; this spuri-
ous, bullying loyalty never grew in his native land. British
loyalty w rung on the field of Runnymede, f rom the tyrant king,
the great charter of English liberty. Aye, the barons of Eng-
land, with arms in their hands, demanded and received the
great charter of their rights. British loyalty, during a period
of three centuries, wrung from tyrant kings thirty different
recognitions of that great charter. Aye, and at the glorious
era of the revolution, when the loyal Jeffries was ready, in his
eine loyalty, to hand over England's freedom and rights to
the hands of tyrants, the people of England established the
constitution which has maintained England till this day, a
great, free and powerful nation/'

Again and again did Sir Allan, tortured by the merciless lash,
rise in his place, but still the long pent-up stream of manly
wrath and contempt poured forth. " The expression ' rebel ' "
continued the speaker, " has been applied by the gallant knight
opposite, to some gentlemen on this side of the house, but I can
tell gentlemen on the other side that their public conduct has
proved that they are the rebels to the constitution and their
country." It required but one taunt more to bring on the climax
— and that taunt came. " And there sit the loyal men," con-


tinued the avenging member, pointing deliberately at the oppo-
sition benches, "there sit the loyal men who shed the blood of
the people and trampled on their just rights. There sit the
rebels. M Choking with rage, Sir A ]1 an arose once again and
repudiated tin. epithet rebel u applied to him, and asked Mr.
Blake to retract. This the honourah.e gentleman firmly refused
to do. whnvupon a sudden uproar arose through the house.
which was followed by a turmoil in the galleries, where spec-
tators ha^l joined in the discussion. Several breaches of the
o were committed, and men grappled and struck at each
other admidsi the terrified ncreamn <>i" ladies, Many of the
disturbers were arrested and tin- galleries cleared; the ladies
ring refuge in the body of the house, For twenty minutee
chaml>er wa> i>f wild confusion, and remained with

The sergeant-at -aiins was sorely tried to prevent
a collision between Mr. Blake and Sir Allan.

the discussion on the bill drew to a close, Mr. John A. Mac-
donald, who had all along preserved a stolid silence, rose in his
place and told Mr. Speaker that this measure was uot going to
pass without his pr o test, and that while his physical strength
endured he would offer it resistance, Mr. Macdonald was one of
the few members of the opposition against whom the charge of
inconsistency for opposing the hill could not be brought, f or when
Mr. Draper introduced the bill which was the parent of the pre-
sent measure, Mr. Macdonald had not yet entered the ministry,
and was only a passive, if not contemptuous, member of the
tory side of the house. Now, however, he became active, and
if we can believe the newspaper reports, "fierce." He brought
in a petition from his constituents, praying that the moneys of
the people of Upper Canada be " withheld from the rebels of
Lower Canada." He entreated the government to move slowly
and carefully with the bill, and when a minister remarked that
they were only waiting for him " to get done speaking to pass
it," he launched out fiercely against the promoters of the mea-
sure, charging them with utter disregard of the sense of the


country, and wanton discourtesy to members of the opposition.
He affirmed that the country was aroused against them, and
that they were drawing down grave dangers, not alone upon
their own heads, but upon the peace of the province. He de-
precated the surrender of the interests of Upper Canada into
the hands of the members of Lower Canada for party purposes,
and hurled no few epithets against Mr. Baldwin. But despite
this last effort to kill time, and his reading a long roll of the
Mackenzie letters through the tedious night, the bill passed the
lower house by a vote of forty-seven to eighteen. The next day,
speaking of the debate, the Pilot, the leading ministerial organ,
said : " In vain the hopeful ex-commissioner of crown lands, Mr.
J. A. Macdonald, ranted about wanton and disgraceful lack of
courtesy, and thundered at Mr. Baldwin, the charge of having
sold Upper Canada to Lower Canada. It was all to no purpose.
Three-fourths of the house were buried in refreshing slumbers.
* * * He made a last faint effort to prolong the discussion
by reading some thirty papers of Mr. Mackenzie's published
letters — and then the whole house was silent."

There only remains the sequel of tory consistency now to be
told to complete this chapter of disgrace. The bill had no sooner
passed the house than petitions to the governor-general, praying
for its disallowance, poured in from every quarter. Lord Elgin
received petition after petition in his closet, read each one
carefully and thoughtfully pondered the whole question over.
He plainly saw that the petitioners, who. were tories, were en-
deavouring to force him into conflict with his ministry and to
act over again the part of Lord Metcalfe. And the longer the
governor pondered the deeper the impression grew that his duty
lay in assenting to the bill. His reasons for this conclusion
were abundant and irresistible ; and since they were so, he
argued that it would be unworthy in him to shift upon the
shoulders of the sovereign the onus of assent or disallow-
ance. In the first place dissolution appeared to him unwise
and uncalled for, as the ministry had been elected but a


few months before on writs issued at the request of their op-
ponents. Then the measure was carried in the popular branch
by a vote of more than two to one ; and an analysis of this vote
showed that of the thirty-one representatives from Upper
Canada, seventeen voted for the measure and 14 against it ; and
of ten members of British origin from Lower Canada six voted
for and only four against it. Such logic as this was irresistible,
And though the governor saw the dark storm-clouds gathering
above his head, he manfully resolved to do the right and give
ssent to the bill.
On the afternoon of April 25th, he drove into town at the
call of the ministry, to assent to a customs bill, which in con-
sequence of the opening of navigation, it was imperative should
go into instant effect. The rumour having -one abroad that
it was to be given to the obnoxious "rebel bill " as it was
called, a number of persons opposed to the government, and all
of them "gentlemen," packed the galleries of the assembly.
They made no stir beyond taking snuff or shaking their cam-
bric pocket-kerchiefs till the governor nodded his assent to the
rebellion bill, when they arose as one man, and with much
pounding of feet went out of the building. His excellency did
not heed the interruption, and when his business was ended,
followed by his suite, passed out to his carriage. But he had
no sooner made his appearance outside than the body of loyal-
ist gi ■ntlemen who had left the building set up a storm of
groans, hisses and oaths. Some of them likewise seized bricks,
stones or pieces of bottles, while others took addled eggs out
of their pockets, and with these missiles an attack was begun
on the governor and his party. The vice-regal carriage got
away, however, before serious injury was done to anybody.
But this was only a small outburst of tory loyalty. Upon the
Champ de Mars that evening gathered a large and turbulent
crowd. The meeting had been called by placard and Mr. Au-
gustus Heward, nephew of the chief justice of Upper Canada,
and a society beau, was in the chair. This gentleman made an


inflammatory speech, and was followed by Mr. Ersdale; Mr.
Ferns, ■ newspaper editor ; Mr. Mack and Mr. Montgomerie,
another journalist, all "gentlemen." The chief subject of the
harangue was, "Now is the time for action," while frequently
above the din could be beard the cry, " To the parliament build*
inffS." After the chairman had made the closing remarks he
shouted out, "Now boys, three cheers for the Queen; then let
us take a walk." The cheers were given and the walk was
taken. Up to the parliament buildings surged the crowd of
gentlemen loading the names of Lord Elgin and the ministry
with blasphemous and obscene epithets. The windows were
attacked with stones, after which some hundreds of the mob
rushed into the building. The assembly was sitting in com-
mittee when the visitors burst through the doors. The members
fled in dismay, some taking refuge in the lobbies, and others be-
hind the speaker's chair. Then the rioters passed on to their
work. Some wrecked furniture, others wrenched the legs
off chairs, tables and desks, while some demolished the chan-
deliers, lamps and globes. One of the party, in the midst of
themette seated himself in the speaker's chair and cried out, "The
French parliament is dissolved." He was hurled from his place
and the chair thrown over and wrecked. The mace was torn
out of the hands of Mr. Chisholm, the sergeant-at-arms, and sub-
sequently left as a trophy of victory in the room of Sir Allan
MacNab at the Donegani hotel. In the midst of the riot and
destruction there was a cry of " fire." Flames were then found
in the balcony ; and almost simultaneously the legislative coun-
cil chamber was ablaze. The party left the building which in
a few minutes was doomed. There was little time to save any
of the contents, and out of 20,000 volumes not more than 200
were saved. A full length portrait of her majesty, which cost
£2,000 was rescued, but on being brought out of the building
one of the loyalists punched his stick through the canvas.*

* This picture now hangs in the Senate Chamber, facing the throne.


The fire companies promptly turned out on the first alarm, but
on their way to the building fell into the hands of the gentlemen
in the incendiarism, who detained them till everything
had been devoured by the flames.

Th rough some misunderstanding the military were not on
hand, ami the mob only left after the most brilliant part of the
conflagration was over, flowo with victory, and athirst for new
Conquest Jt was a direful night In Montreal. Many a blanched
face was seen in the gleam of the conflagration, and a deep
shudder ran through the community a4 the simultaneous clang-
ing of the bells. While the tires of the burning building shone
in their windows the ministry held a cabinet and decided to
meet the following morning in the Bonsecours Market.

There are occasions when feelings lit- too deep for words, and
the opening of the next days session seemed one of these. Ifr.
Baldwin, who made a motion, spoke in a tow voice, as if under
the influence of some painful spell; but the worthy Hamilton
knight to whom the mob had brought their choicest spoils was
in his primest talking condition. It is not worth while to re-
cord here what he said, but it is worth stating that Mr. Blake
took occasion to make one last comment upon the quality of
the loyalty with which the ears of the house had been so long as-
sailed— " a loyalty " he said, " which one day incited a mob to
pelt the governor-general, and to destroy the halls of parlia-
ment and the public records, and on the next day sought to
find excuses for anarchy." It is true indeed that some of the
tories had tried to condone the outrages; but Mr. John
Wilson, Mr. Badgley and oth rvatives denounced the

perpetrators with onmeasured indignity.

Mr. John A. Macdonald was one of those who deplored the
occurrences, but he censured the Government for lack of pre-
caution when they must have known that the outrages were
tmplated; and be attributed all the disgraceful proceedings
to the bill they had forced upon the people. In the midst of
the general debate he rose and moved that Kingston be adopted


henceforth as the seat of government, but his motion was lost
by a vote of fifty-one against ten. And others as well as Mr.
Macdonald censured the government for not having adopted
measures of protection against the lawlessness of the rioters.
Ministers, in B timid sort of a way, explained the absence of
the soldiers, but read DOW, and in the light of the mob's after
deeds, their explanations do not seem satisfactory. It is much
to be able to say as we look back upon this turbulent time,
that there was no shedding of Mood, but we have no reason to
congratulate anybody that for nights the iimb held possession
of a great city without being confronted by an available mili-
tary, whether bloodshed would or would not have been the re-
sult of the collision. When the mob will rise, take the bit in
their teeth and trample upon the supreme law of peace and or-
der they challenge the worst consequences, and have no right
to complain of whatever may follow. Forbearance is a virtue
we know, but past a certain limit it becomes poltroonery. A
coward indeed Lord Elgin was called for submitting twice to
the indignities of the rioters without employing the military,
but taking all the circumstances into account, whatever
grounds there might have been for such a charge against the
government there was none whatever for the charge against
the governor. His forbearance was dictated by the highest
and most worthy of motives.

During the day detachments of the mob appeared where the
house was in session uttering hoots and groans, and assaulting
any member of the government party who exposed himself.
But when night fell over the city the stragglers came together
and began again the work of destruction. The houses of Mr.
Hincks and of Mr. Holmes, and the lodgings of Dr. Price and
Mr. Baldwin were attacked and the windows demolished with
stones. Then the mob turned to the beautiful residence of
M. Lafontaine, but recently purchased, hacking down fruit
trees and burning the outbuildings ; then entered the house
itself and demolished the furniture and library. Just as the


torch was being applied to finish the work the cold but tardy
steel of the soldiers was seen glittering in the moonlight and
the mob fell back with disappointed howls. Then the loyal-
headed off for Dr. Nelson's but were met there again by
the bayonets and shrunk back. This too was another night
of terror in Montreal, for small detachments of the mob prowled
the city through the darkness wreaking their vengeance upon
the windows of houses belonging to known supporters of the

Jn the morning placards addressed to " the friends of peace "

were post. m1 around the city calling a meeting at the Champ

de liars. The chief speakers at this meeting were Hon.

George Iftofttt and ( Solonel Gugy. They counselled order and

sed an address to the Queen to call Lord Elgin home.

On the Saturday following, an address was passed by the
house bearing testimony to the justice and impartiality which
na<1 cli; " elleney's administration! and express-

and indignation at the recent outrages. On
Monday, his lordship, accompanied by his suite, and escorted
by a troop of volunteers, drove in from Monklands to receive
this address. But they had no sooner entered the city than
they were assailed with insults and pelted with brickbats and
rotten eggs. A stone weighing two pounds crashed through
tin coach, while a continuous fusilade of eggs and blasphemy
kept up. The address was to be read in "government
housed a building so called on Notre Dame Street; and on ar-
riving here the governor found his carriage surrounded by a
violent mob. A magistrate read the riot act and the soldiers
charged, but the mob gave way, cheering for the troops. They
were anxious that their loyalty should not be misunderstood !
On the address being read and replied to, the governor set out
on his return to Monklands, going by Sherbrooke Street in-
stead of Notre Dame, by which he had come. The mob were
outwitted, and set up a howl of baffled rage. They imme-
diately rallied, however, and, seizing cabs, caleches, and "every-


thing that would run," started off in pursuit. At Molson's
Qorner they overtook the vice regal party, and at once began
the attack. The hack of the coach was driven in with stones,
( !ol Brace, the roveriior'e brother, was wounded in the back of
the bead, and < fcL Ermatingei and Capt Jones received bodily
injuries. The governor himself esea]>ed unluirt. The party

eventually distanced the mob and entered the sheltering gates
of Ifonklanda.

Meanwhile the spirit of riot had elsewhere risen its head.
In several Upper ( Canada towns where the ultra loyalists were
found in strongest force, hooting mobs paraded and smashed
the heads and windows of obnoxious persons. In Toronto a
number of gentlemen gathered and lit bonfires with all the
Bed of religi'-u- i xecutioners at Smithfield, and there burnt
in effigy Messrs. Baldwin, Blake, and Mackenzie. The lodgings
of the latter, who had just returned from exile, were attacked
and battered, after which the rioters wreaked their vengeance
upon the windows of warehouses occupied by Dr. Rolph and
George Brown. But this, after all, was only the bad blood of
the community. From all parts of Canada addresses poured
in upon the governor, commending the fearless attitude he had
taken in defence of popular rights. Of all who prized polit-
ical freedom the governor was now the darling.

But while the masses rejoiced in the better constitutional
era which Lord Elgin had inaugurated, a British American
league, representing the tory discontent of the time, was
formed at Montreal, with branches in Kingston, Toronto and
elsewhere. There were many planks in the platform of the
new association, one of which was a scheme for the union of
the British North American provinces. Mr. Alexander Mac-
kenzie, in his " Life of Hon. George Brown," thus drily refers
to the organization : " Like King David's famous army at the
Cave of Adullam, every one that was in distress, and every one
that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gath-
ered themselves to the meeting of the league. * * They


were dubbed Children of the Sun. * * They advocated ex-
treme toryism, extreme disloyalty, and finally threatened to
drive the French into the sea." Towards the end of July, a
convention from the league sat at Kingston for several days,
and one of the speakers there was Mr. John A. Macdonald.

fusion and discord reigned through the gathering. Ogle R.
Oowan felt seriously disposed to have Lord Elgin impeached
before the house of lords ; some other speaker proposed that
the league declare for annexation; another said independence
would be better, and each li ad an instant following. Among
the ninny disgusted at the riot of proposals was Mr. John A.

lonald, who, at an early date, separated himself from the
babel Other leading members followed suit, and the mam-
moth Family gathering fell to pieces. A few of the fragments

ganiaed themselves into associations whose objects were
annexation and independence.

The news of the outrages created a sensation in England. Mr.
Disraeli declared the time to be "a moment of the deepest
public interest." Mr. Gladstone, who like the white knight at
th cross roads had looked at only one side of the shield, and
Said it wafl silver as he set bifl lance in tin- rest, declared that
Lord Elgin should have disallowed the bill; but Lord John
Russell, Sir Robert Peel and others defended the action of his

illency, and paid warm tribute to the unflinching manliness
and broad statesmanship he had shown. In view however of
all that had happened, and while the approbation of the British
parliament was ringing in his ears, Lord Elgin felt it his duty

ignify that his office was at the disposal of the colonial
secretary; but that official refused to accept the resignation,
and took occasion in warm and generous terms to endorse the
course of his excellency.

The 30th of May was the day fixed for the prorogation of
parliament, but Lord Elgin did not deem it well to expose
himself for the third time to the passions of the mob without
taking means of ample defence ; so the commander of the forces,

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 10 of 57)