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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It was a homely, blunt speech, strongly made, and that was
all. It lacked all the accomplishments and many of the gifts
which are essential to oratory. It was devoid of imagination,
of sarcasm, of humour, of irony, of pathos, of scorn. We know
that facts can be honestly and effectually told without these
gifts and graces, but we are merely pointing out that it is a
delusion to suppose that Mr. Brown was an orator. He was a
man of nmeh honest purpose, of rugged, strong intellect; so
ragged as to give room to the supposition that his muscle may
have been turned into brain without having undergone any
particular change. The true orator understands human nature,
the sympathies of audiences, and as he speaks keeps his hand
upon the pulse of his hearers. Mark Anthony subdued and
turned into zealous friends upon the spot a mob of turbulent
Romans, drunk with tumult, by appealing to all the better
instincts of their humanity. That oration of his, hidden away
in the play, is, in our poor judgment, the greatest speech, the
most effective piece of oratory that lives in any language,
though he who utters it declares (but in the disclaimer proves
the contrary), " I am no orator as Brutus is, but, as you know
me all, a plain, blunt man that loves his friends." George
Brown was a decidedly plain, blunt man, but it is doubtful if


he always loved his friends ; and if he did he surely had not
always tact enough to tell them so. He plunged straight on r
without art or grace, believing it to be his duty to drive instead
of to lead.

Papineau made an erratic attack upon the government, and
declared that he wanted annexation and an elective legislative
council. Mr. John A. Macdonald, who had informed some of
his friends that "at last he was ready for the fray," adminis-
tered a long scourging to the government. He affirmed that
the ministry had outlived its principles, and that its only bond
of union now was that of office. Frequent meetings of the
conservatives were held at which it was agreed that the party
should act in accord witli Brown's stalwarts when any blow
aimed to overthrow t] mment.

During the summer Mr. flincka had visited England, and
while there mad ttble effort to induce the* imperial

government to introduce such legislation as would give the
I anadian parliament authority to deal with the question of
secularization. Notwithstanding these facts, George Brown
charged him with having H sold himself so the enemy," and
upon this asseveration ground.-. 1 his opposition to the govern-
ment. The truth is, Mr. Hincks' real offence was that he had
ignored Brown in forming his cabinet, and now stood in the
path of a man who had told the public with a flourish but a
few months before that he was "aiming for high game." If
this is not the true interpretation, then it remains to be
explained why Drown had no censure for Messrs. Baldwin and
Lafontaine, one of whom, at least, was known to be hostile to
secularization; why he scourged the clear grits in his news-
paper for jeopardizing the interests of the party, and saw
nothing censurable in the conduct of the government till he
found he had not been remembered in the formation of Mr.
Hincks' cabinet. The interests of the reform party were
always dear to Mr. Brown, but not so dear as his own ambi-
tion. In the whole course of his public career, he never hesi-


tated to crush any man who crossed his path. If the interests
of hia party happened to be identical with the interests of his
rival, then BO much the worse for the party. It was not
that he loved his party less, but that he loved George Brown

( twing to the prevalence of cholera in Quebec, the legisla-
ture vrafl adjourned from November till February. A few days
before prorogation, D6WH reached Canada that a measure rela-
ting to secularization had passed the imperial parliament. The
act authorised the Canadian legislature to repeal or amend the
i h^aswas deemed desirable, but prohibited interfer-
ence with the annual stipends already allowed to clergymen.
Evidently, up to this date, the impression had not got out of
the head- of some of the law-makers that our legislature here
vnm largely composed of the barbarian element. They could
not trust the few clergymen interested in this legislation to
our hands for justice !

During the summer, the celebrated Alessandro Gavazzi, of
whom we have already made mention, arrived in Canada for
the purpose of destroying the papacy. He lectured in Quebec,
but a number of lawless ruffians, defenders of the Catholic
faith we suppose they styled themselves, broke up the meeting.
Thence Gavazzi passed to Montreal, and while addressing an
audience in Zion Church there one evening, a mob of Roman
Catholic Irishmen, also on the defence of religion, endeavoured
to force its way into the building. This was prevented by a
force of police outside, but as the mob was drawing back, one
of them fired a pistol. This rioter was promptly shot down
by a protestant. The lecture was hurriedly brought to a close,
but during the progress of the audience through the street it
was assaulted by the mob, which was largely composed of
murderous and half-drunken navvies. Two women were struck
to the ground and trampled over; and a child of nine years
had its arm broken. Mayor Wilson now appeared from behind
the scenes and ordered the military to fire. The order was


obeyed, but the balls went only among the procession whose
offence had been that they attended Gavazzi's lecture. Five
men dropped dead from the volley, and a large number were
wounded. In the excitement the mayor evidently lost his
head, though his action in ordering the soldiers to fire seems
like an appalling murder. Unfortunately for Mr. Hincks
he was on terms of great intimacy with Wilson, who was a
Catholic. The government was tardy in investigating the
occurrence, and its enemies told it on their trumpets through-
out Upper Canada that Mr. Hincks was in the hands of the
Catholics. The accusation seemed so much like the truth that
it contributed in no small degree to the premier's downfall.

During the session Mr. John A. Macdonald was the most
prominent figure in the debates. Upon the bill to increase the
Dumber of representatives, he took strong grounds, contending

that the measure was ■ Sacrilegious laying of hands upon the

constitution, without the ^auction or desire of the people.*
Against the University Bill, he took a iirm stand, f but a
perusal of his speech shows that his objections are well taken,
and that much of his hostility to the measure was due to a
conviction that Dr. Rolph was personally interested in the
government bill. During the discussion on a measure to res-
train the sale of intoxicating liquors, he took the position that
the government could no more legislate a man to be sober than
it could to make him religious} The law against duelling, he
pointed outdid not prevent " meetings," and the practice of the
duel existed till the moral force of the community frowned it out
of existence. The bill for indemnity to seigneurs he attacked
with fierce scorn, not that he believed compensation should not
be made for the confiscation of seigneuries, but that as the
measure was one of local interest only, the burthen of indem-
nity ought not to be borne by the people of UpperCanada.§ "It

♦ See Appendix "A." f See Appendix " B." J See Appendix "C."

§ See Appendix " D."


was as much as sa\ ing," he pithily observed, "that Upper
Canada should he bribed with her own money." The premier
seems to have been the chief object of his care during the
ion. Scarce a day passed that there was not a passage of
anus between the two. One afternoon Mr. Hineks was asked
istribute copies of the bill creating a bureau of agricul-
ture, among members, but curtly refuted to do so. Macdonald
rose in his place: "Mr. Speaker, the inspector-general, in an-
swer to a proper request from this, says 'we won't.'
Sir. it is absolutely indecent." Mr. Hineks who was rather
virprised at seeing Macdonald show any trace of peevish-
arose and said that there was surely nothing indecent
in saying, "we won't*" "Ah, yea," said Mr. Badgley, "but
it is the manner." " The manner," returned Macdonald, con-
temptuously ; "hehct8 no manners." "Why, is it possible!"
-ail several members at once, " that Macdonald has lost his
temper." " Nonsense," he replied, " I was never cooler in my
life." He seemed to be in his element glancing along the benches
of the doomed ministry and taunting its members. From being
silent and nonchalant, he had become active and provoking.
No joint in the enemy's harness escaped his eye ; the memo-
landum books were thrown aside, and he sat there another
Attila. Attorney -general Drummond, in defending the charita-
ble societies bill, had wandered away from his text, and indulg-
ed in some jubilation at the strength of the government. " Ah,
yes ; " Macdonald said, when Drummond sat down, " they had
much reason to be joyful about their majority. You have a ma-
jority of six votes," he went on ; " and you have at least eight
ministers. So deduct the votes of these eight gentlemen for
themselves, and there is a majority of two against them ! "
There was a time, he admitted, when he had some respect for
them, " but I have none now. The hon. member for Kent
(George Brown), has ungritted you. You are now an unfortu-
nate incoherent mass at the mercy of everybody and every-
thing." We find the Kingston member attending a meeting held


at Montreal during the summer, by the protestant citizens, in
relation to the Gavazzi riots, and observe in his conduct there
the caution that has always been part of his character. He
was called upon to speak, but said a few words only, assur-
ing the meeting of his sympathy with their object, but declin-
ing to say anything further, as " the matter was to be brought
up in parliament."

On the eighteenth of June, in this summer, the Globe winds
up a dreary article with the earnest prayer, that " the country
may be saved from the darkness of Romanism." Mr. Mackenzie
has, however, said in his book that " no article ever appeared
in the Globe, that bore the character of intolerance."


BIBTB 01 '• LIBERAL-* < >nsi:k\ atism."

u 1 F Russia should decline to restrict within purely diploma-
JL tic limits the discussion in which she has for sonic time
past been engaged with the Sublime Porte, and does not by
the return of the messenger, who is the bearer of my present
letter, announce her intention of causing the Russian troops
under Prince Gortsehakoff to commence their march with a
view to recross the Pruth, so that the provinces of Moldavia
and Wallachia shall be completely evacuated on April 30, next,
the British government must consider the refusal or the silence
of the cabinet of St. Petersburg as equivalent to a declaration
of war, and will take its measures accordingly." Such was-
England's ultimatum to Russia despatched on the 27th April,
1854. The messenger was informed by Count Nesselrode, four
days after he delivered his errand, that the Emperor did not
think it becoming in him to give any reply to the letter. A
few days afterwards, a large assemblage of excited persons con-
gregated about the Royal Exchange to witness the most inter-
esting ceremony known in any country. The sergeant-at-
arms, accompanied by several city officers, ascended the steps
of the Exchange, and therefrom read Her Majesty's declaration
of war against Russia. Foreign capitals which had so often
said with a sneer that " England had joined the peace society
and would never be seen in battle any more," stood aghast
now listening to the clangor of her arms. But that sentiment
sung by our first of Canadian singers, Mr. Roberts, still lived as



the swords which had lain idly in their scabbards were buckled
on, and the great ships were warped out from their moorings :

n But let a great wrong cry to heaven,
Let a giant necessity come ;
Then as of old she can strike,

She will strike, and strike home."

The Canadian government had been growing weaker day by

day, and while the great nations grappled with each other in
their murderous conflict at the Crimea, a violent newspaper
war was being waged throughout our province. It was in
vain that the ministry asked to be judged by their works, and
pointed out the valuable legislation they had called into ex-
istence. During the previous summer the Grand Trunk rail-
way had been opened to Portland, the Great Western from

Suspension bridge to Windsor, and the Ontario, Simcoe and
Huron, now known as the Northern, from Toronto to Barrie.
With the declaration of war the prices for Canadian products
bed a fever point, labour was in brisk demand, and com-
mercial prosperity at the flood-tide. The fly in .Ksop's fable
imagined that it was he who raised the dust-cloud, and not
unnaturally ministers believed that their policy was in some
measure the author of the extraordinary activity in trade; but
it was not.

For some time past Lord Elgin and his government had been
conducting negotiations towards a treaty of reciprocity be-
tween ( Canada and the United States. In May, the governor
and Mi. Hindu went to Washington to conclude the terms,
hut congress was busy with questions of greater moment, and
our representatives were lost sight of for some weeks in the
bustle. Opponents of the government ridiculed their mission,
and prophesied the return of " our diplomats," as they contem-
tuouslv termed them, " with their tails between their legs."
It created no little surprise among the prophets, and rejoic-
ing through the commercial community, to learn that, on the


"tli of June, the treaty had been signed by Lord Elgin on be-
half of Great Britain, and W. L. Marcy, secretary of state for
tlif United States, on behalf of the republic.

By the provisions of the treaty, citizens of the United States
were permitted to take Rah o£ any kind except shell-fish on

the DO S OOastfl and shores, and in the bays, harbours and creeks
of British provinces in North America, at any distance from
the shore; and to land upon the shores to dry their nets
and cure their fifth. In return for these privileges British
.subjects were allowed the same concessions in all the waters
and upon the land of the eastern sea-coasts and shores of the
United States, north of the 86th parallel of north latitude.
Grain, flour, breadstuff's animals, meats, poultry, fish, lumber,
hides, hemp, ores of metals, manufactured tobacco, and some
other articles were admitted into each country duty free.
The navigation of the St. Lawrence and the Canadian canals
was permitted to American citizens on the same conditions as
to British subjects ; and the latter were given similar rights
on lake Michigan. No export duty was to he levied on any
lumber cut in districts in Maine, watered by tributaries of
the St. John river, and floated down the latter to the bay of
Fundy for shipment to the United States. The treaty was
not to go into effect till it had received the sanction of the
imperial and provincial parliaments on the one hand, and
of the congress of the United States on the other. It was to
continue in force ten years from the date of ratification, and
one year after either party had signified a desire to terminate
it. In Canada the treaty was received with a good deal of
favour, but the people of the maritime provinces perused its
terms with disappointment and anger. They charged Lord
Elgin with hurrying away to Washington without understand-
ing what were their most vital interests, and flippantly sign-
ing these away. * The objections raised to the treaty were,

* Archer : " A History of Canada."


that though the United States had nothing to exchange com-
parable in value to the priceless fisheries of British North
America, and though their ships were placed on an equality
with the ships of Great Britain, they still peremptorily declin-
ed to concede the only equivalent they could offer, the admis-
sion of colonial vessels to registry in their ports and to their
coasting trade. The treaty, it may be added, ran for thirteen
years ; and during this time the value of the aggregate of
commodities interchanged between the two countries rose from
an annual average of $14,290,763, in the eight years previous
to the treaty, to $50,339,770, in its thirteenth year.

Parliament was called together on the 13th of June, the
last day to which convocation could be postponed. It was
impossible that the meeting could have been summoned for ;in
earlier date, as the governor and the premier had been detained
in Washington till the fifth of the month. But the opposition
did not care about impossibilities, and declared that mini-
were afraid to meet the house, and had put off the evil day
to the utmost moment

Political felling was once again at fever heat in Canada
The opposition press had ourried on a flaming crusade against
the ministry , charging it with treachery to the public, and
hostility to secularization of the i and the confiscation

of seigneuries. The Globe, and all the journals that followed
its lead contended that it was the government's duty at the
impendiii n to grapple with these questions; and Mr.

Brown wound up a very rampant editorial in support of this
new by saying that Mr. EEincks " must secularize or go out."
What the ministry's intention was had not transpired; and
when the governor sat upon the throne to read the address,
the house listened in breathless silence to hear what measures
were promised. But it indicated only two ; and neither
of these referred to the reserves or seigniorial tenure. The
house was merely informed that a bill would be prepared to
give effect to the Washington treaty, and another to regulate


the franchise and amend the election act, passed the preceding
ion, We are unable to see at this day what other measures
the ministry could have promised in the speech. During the
preceding session provision had been made for an increase in
the number of parliamentary representatives from 84 to 130.
Clearly, then, from the moment parliament had declared for an
increase in the number of representatives, the existing legis-
lature was not fairly representative, and for a body, so de-
fieienti to enact legislation affecting the interests of the pub-
lic would have been a violation of the principle of respon-
sible government Mr. Hincks defended the action of the
ministry on these grounds, and might have cited the prece-
dent set by the imperial parliament in 1832 after the passage
of the reform bill. We are unable to recall any instance
worth noting of a departure from this doctrine in any country
under responsible gove rnmen t It is only a few months ago
since Sir John Macdonald dissolved parliament after its fourth
session, because the census had shown that its representation
was not equitable. History by-and-by, when the party feel-
ing of the hour shall have passed away, will not fail to approve
his act ; yet had the country rustic who stood aghast at the
denunciation of Fox by a scurrilous hireling of the court ar-
rived in Canada after Sir John Macdonald had announced this
dissolution, he would have asked, as he asked in England,
" ' As 'e stole a sheep ? " Even Mr. Edward Blake so far forgot
the constitutional usage as to indite an extraordinary epistle
to his constituents, in which he told them that the government
having been beaten in a fair fight had resorted to " foul play."
Now that Mr. Blake's little fit of excitement has blown over,
he must bear to be told that it was no more correct to call a
desirable and constitutional act " foul play," than to say that
the government, against whom he issued his manifesto, had
been " beaten " in any fight, fair or foul.

It was plain to the house that the intention of the ministry
was to hurry through its measures and end the session speed-


ily. But the conservatives, led by Sir Allan MacNab, and in-
spired by John A. Macdonald, joined themselves with the clear
grits who followed George Brown, and the rouges who were a
set of political Mamelukes. The address was stubbornly op-
posed inch by inch, and Mr. Hincks had the mortification of
seeing men who stood fast to their allegiance all along now
desert him on the ground that he had been unfaithful to his
pledge. The man who goes through public life without some
reproach clinging to his name, is as strange a spectacle as the
Hebrew children who passed scathless through the fiery fur-
nace. Rumour had a good many scandals upon her lips now,
and the conduct of Mr. Hincks in certain transactions were
said to be not above reproach. Ministers were therefore
charged with infidelity and corruption ; and the explanations
they made were Dot sufficient before the house or the country.
Beyond any comparison their most powerful opponent was
Mr. John A. Macdonald. His hostility was not shown to the
constitutional ground the government had taken, but to their
hesitancy in dfHwg with tin* questions which had set the
country aflame. Se did not take ■ stand either for or against

the secularization of reserves and the abolition of tenure, but
contended that the duty of the government was to have said
yes or no to the publio, and to stand or fall by their action.
Apart from the shilly-shallying of the ministry, he formulated
against them a number of grave charges of wrong-doing. As
he proceeded with his speech he grew warm, and at last lost
hifl temper. It was a strange sight to see him who never be-
fore had been stirred by discussion grow white with feeling,
and gesticulate wildly with his arms. The government he
said was now a reproach to the country. They had the con-
tempt not alone of the party by which they had always been
opposed, but by their own friends. " It was well known," he
continued, " that the system pursued by the present govern-
ment had been one of rampant corruption, appealing to the
most sordid and the basest motives of men * * * *


Even the postmaster-general had said at Perth, in reference to
the purchase of government property by members of the
government, that there had been a job perpetrated by his col-
leagues, with whom he continued t<> ait. Now, a government
should be free from suspicion and feel a stain on their escut-
cheon like a wound on their person. Especially should they
keep their hands clean of any speculation in the government
property.*" All honour, he said, had departed from them,
and the only bond by which they were kept together now was
the bond of common plunder." Nor were these short-com-
ings either confined to one, or two, or three odious transac-
tions; " they were steeped to the very lips in infamy; " w. it-
tainted with corruption, collectively and individually, both in
their public and private characters." During the delivery of
this speech the wildest excitement prevailed in the house, and
ministers " shivered at their benches." The attack was all the
more effective coming from a man whose balance of temper the
house never before had seen destroyed, and at an hour when
the staunchest supporters of the ministry were dropping off.
Fastidious critics censure Mr. Macdonald's " violent language "
in his early career, but our impression is that outbursts like
these have not been uncommon in debate among the staidest
of parliamentarians. The very year before, Mr. Disraeli had
suffered his temper to get the mastery, when, in a discussion
with Mr. Gladstone, he informed Sir Charles Wood (Lord
Halifax) that petulance was not sarcasm, nor insolence invec-
tive ; and said that he "viewed Sir James Graham with regard,
but not with respect." Some years before, at a public meet-
ing, he denounced O'Connell as " a bloody traitor ;" and the
latter retaliated by characterizing Disraeli as the " true heir-at-
law to the blasphemous thief that died impenitent upon the

Among the amendments to the address were two by Messrs.
Cauchon and Sicotte — in the drawing of which it is said Mr.

See Appendix " E.'


Macdonald had a hand. Mr. Cauchon's amendment expressed
regret that the government had not taken steps for the dis-

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 13 of 57)