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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posal of the seigniorial tenure question tin ring the session, and
Mr. Sicotte's very adroitly added, " or one for the immediate
settlement of the clergy reserves." Inasmuch as " settlement "
might mean a confirmation of the status qua, or an agreement
to the demands of the clear grits and rouges, these amend-
ments were support ed by the two latter parties, and by the con-
- rvatives; and the government found itself beaten by a vote-
of 42 to 29. The vote being really one of non-confidence, Mr.
Hincks promptly adjourned the house for two days, and the
ministry hurried together to discuss a way out of the dilemma-
The conservatives and clear grits each held its separate caucus
the following day, and at tie- tatter's George Brown wan jubilant
as he saw tie- "higher game" now almost within his reach. At tie-
other meeting was no exultation; but there sal the eool, shrewd-
headed Macdonald, pointing out that now since tin- crisis bad
come, their party should move with more prudence and cau-
tion than ever. It was clear to him, he said, that no ministry
could be formed, even after an appeal to the people, without
the coalition of some tWO of the parties. Sir Allan MacNab.

as was his wont, became excited and talked extravagantly, but
Macdonald reminded kirn, thai they could "afford now to sit
and see them flounder in the net." "There is no way for them
out of it," he assured his colleagues. Meanwhile no one outside

of those who sat at the ministerial conclave knew what the
government would do on Thursday next When the day came
the house met at the stated hour, and members, some with
anxious, others with curious, and not a few with gratified
faces took their seats at their desks. But the speaker had
hardly taken his place when the house was startled by the
booming of cannon; and the conviction flashed upon unin-
formed members that the governor was on his way to prorogue
parliament. Sir Allan MacNab jumped to his feet and
asked the ministry if it was possible that the government had


decided on an immediate prorogation. Mr. Morin said yes, by
a simple inclination of his head. " Then," replied the knight
trembling with excitement, " 1 protest in the name of the op-
positioo against OUT being broken up in this manner. I declare,
on behalf of myself and my friends, that we are quite prepared
to make a respectful reply to his excellency's speech, that we
are rauty to pass a hill bringing the new franchise act into op-
eration, and to grant the necessary supplies for the current
year." Sir Allan had HO sooner sat down than William Lyon
Mackenzie, almost speechless with rage, arose and began
•an attack apoo the ministry. After pouring out his wrath
upon the government he asked permission to introduce a bill
mi the clergy reserves; but while insisting on having his mo-
tion put the knocking of black-rod was heard at the door,
and the sergeant-at-anns appealed before the bar commu-
nicating the fact to Mr. Speaker. Then arose a general con-
fusion, a dozen members endeavoured to make themselves
heard at once. Some members could be understood through
the din to say, that black-rod must wait at the door till
the house was prepared to send him his answer. Mr. Mac-
kenzie, who had maintained his place on the floor the while,
now sat down, and Mr. Macdonald arose, and began to speak
with great vehemence. He declared, that of all the disgrace-
ful acts of which the government had been guilty, this last
was the worst. It was, he affirmed, an unlawful and indecent
use of the power in their hands to prevent the public from
investigating their corrupt actions before the election. While
he was yet speaking, Mr. Mackenzie, taking the motion he had
written, from his desk, walked with it to the speaker's chair.
Mr. Sherwood arose to a question of order. The messenger,
he said, had been admitted without the consent of the house.
Mr. Macdonald, who still remained standing said he stood
there to protect the liberties of the people of Canada. Here
the uproar, in the words of the newspapers of the day, became
tremendous ; Macdonald speaking at the top of his voice, but


being quite inaudible, and the speaker standing up also as if
to speak. The sense of the house, however, began to return
to it, and the " faithful commons " eventually proceeded to the
court-house where the legislative council held session and the
governor was waiting.

While reading the incidents of this memorable morning many
will ask, But how could a dissolution be declared, since the pass-
age of at least one bill through both branches of the legislature
was necessary to constitute a session? So queried, too, the
speaker in whose eyes now shone the light of triumph as he
nervously fingered a slip of paper he carried in his hand. He
had sat in the chair passionless and impartial since his election,.
l»ut there always burnt in his breast the desire to be revenged
on Mr. Hincks for having refused to him the attorney-generals
ship. As Speaker it was his duty to call attention to any
infringement of constitutional usage I • v the government Of the
house, and he now saw the time at hand when lie eould take
revenge on the premier. The governor sat on the vice-regal
ehair awaiting the appearance of the commons, and when the
Speaker reached the bar put out bis hand to the secretary for
hlfl speech. But he hesitated and a look of astonishment came
over his face, for the Speaker had unfolded the paper with which
his fingers had been nervously toying as he walked over to-
the court house, and in a bold tone in which one could catch the
feeling of subdued triumph, read: u May it plkase your K\< i.i.
LENCY, — ft has been the immemorial custom of the Speaker of
the commons house of parliament to communicate to the throne
the general result of the deliberations of the assembly upon the
principal subjects which have employed the attention of parlia-
ment during the period of their labours. It is not now part of
my duty to address your excellency, inasmuch as there has been
no act passed or judgment of parliament obtained. The passage
of an act through its several stages, according to the law or
custom of parliament solemnly declared applicable to parliamen-
tary proceeeings by a decision of the legislative assembly of


L841, is held to be necessary in order to constitute a session of
parliament This we have been unable to accomplish, owing
to the command which your excellency has laid upon me to
meet you this day for the purpose of prorogation; and at the
same time 1 feel called upon to assure your excellency, on the
part <>f her majesty's faithful commons, thai it is not from any
want of respect to yourself or to the august personage whom
you represent in these provinces, that no answer has been
returned by the Legislative assembly to your gracious speech
from the throne."

This address wa>< also read in the French Language, and Mr.
Penninga Taylor tells as that ;is his excellency listened to what
he regarded as an act of censure upon his ministers and a
reprimand to himself,his countenance displayed dee] > displeasure
And annoyance. He recovered his calm, cool aspect very soon,
however, and read a brief Speech announcing an immediate dis-
solution of parliament.

Political affairs had now reached a puzzling state. There
three parties in the field, the ministerialists, led by Mr.
Hinck-. tin- conservatives, by Sir Allan MacNab, and the clear
u r i its, by George Brown. No one of these parties could hope
to be returned in sufficient strength to form a government ; so
that to close observers the only way out of the difficulty was
in coalition. The choice of the conservatives was between
joining their forces with the ministerialists, whom they were
now savagely assailing on the hustings and through the news-
papers for corruption and incompetency, and the clear grits. To
the government no choice presented itself : they could not seek
coalition with men who had told upon trumpets that they were
"" steeped to the very lips in infamy," nor could they on the other
hand submit themselves to the intolerable tyranny which Mr.
Brown had set up in his newspaper ; so they went to the polls in
a sort of sullen despair. The most jubilant politician at that
election was George Brown, for he believed that the hour of
office was at hand. He w T as led away by the delusion that


either one of the other two parties in the field would readily
join its forces with his own ; but he did not see himself as
others saw him. At the very time that he went about among his
followers in a storm of jubilation, telling them that their day was
coming, both of the parties, either of whom he thought would
coalesce with him on the hint, were pondering how they could
get into office without making such a compact. Fanny Squeers
supposed Nicholas Nickleby smitten of her because he talked with
her over the tea; and she went abroad to announce an "engage-
ment," forgetting that it takes two parties to a contract. Much
like Fanny Squeers was George Brown at this election. He
was doubtful whether Mr. Hincks could be bullied or libelled
into submission to his will, and so concluded to ally himself with
the conservatives. To the astonishment of the latter party and
everybody else he began to coquet with his ancient enemies
privately,and to support them in the Glof>e. Like Fanny Squeers,
he did not deem two parties to the engagement necessary,

use he was willing to form a compact with the conserva-
tives he believed they were ready to coalesce with him. Mr.
Brown may have been anxious to see a secularization of the re-
serves — no doubt he was — but above all other things he desired
to get into power. So eager was he for office, and so little did
the hereditary evils of toryism countcompared with the capture
of his own M higher game," that he gave warm support in (be
Globe and on the platform to no less conservatives than MacNab,
Macdonald and Cayley, opposing the ministerial candidates.
This portion of Mr. Brown's career Mr. Mackenzie finds the most
difficult Of all to whitewash over. But it needs only a few
extracts from the biographer's book to show how effectually it

ted his treatment. "Thai Mr. Brown ever expressed an
unqualified wish for the success of the tories," he says on page
32, "is not only without foundation but so palpably absurd as
to require no contradiction." On page 52, a contradiction comes,
and it is made by himself. He says : " Mr. Brown gave his
support in certain cases to candidates of the conservative type


on the ground that there was nothing to be hoped from the
ministry." We have made the italics in the last quoted passage,
It would not have accorded with the opinions so strongly put
forward by Mr. Mackenzie, to have it stated that Mr. Brown
supported such conservatives;^ Maodonald, MacNab and Cayley,
so by a tugg&tioj hfoi the writer tries to leave the impression
that support wasp van only to some indifferent politicians who
really might, — and this was a generous admission on the part of
the writer '. — he regarded of the " conservative type." Keep still
in mind who were the "candidates of the conservative type,"
and then turn to the next page of Mr. Mackenzie's book : " The
new government was savagely assailed by the Globe. No one
could expect that a government in which the names of J. A.
Macdonald, Sir Allan MacNab and Mr. Cayley appeared, could
be other than hostile to the determined demands of the Upper
Canadian people I " We are not dealing with Mr. Mackenzie as
an historical writer now : that is out of the question ; but we
are merely showing how unskilled he is, after all his attempts,
in the use of whitewash. Were we to show the value of his
statement* as an impartial historian, we would merely quote
from the page preceding that containing the extract just given :
" Mr. Hincks was entitled to the discredit of forming a new
combination with the tories." In view of Mr. Brown's attempt
and failure to form " a new combination with the tories," the
discredit of having succeeded in doing so fell to Francis Hincks ?
That is it we suppose. Mr. Mackenzie also forgets that Mr.
Hincks waived his personal claims, and that Robert Baldwin
wrote from his quiet retreat at Spadina strongly endorsing
the coalition and the course of Mr. Hincks.

Parliament was summoned for the 5th of September. For
days before the opening intense excitement in political circles
prevailed at the capital ; and several caucuses were held, some
by each party alone, and others by the conservatives and clear
grits together. The plan agreed on by the latter was, that both
should unite to defeat the government. For the speakership


there were three candidates, George E. Cartier, put forward by
the ministry; John Sandfield Macdonald, by the clear grits, and
Mr. Sicotte, by the Lower Canada opposition. When the gover-
nor-general had withdrawn, after saluting the new parliament,
the clerk of the Assembly took the chair. The three candidates
were then named, and after some hot discussion on the merits
and claims of each, the clerk put the question, Shall Mr. Cartier
be speaker ? In reply, G2 said nay, and 59 yea. Mr. Sicotte
was proposed next, when the clerk told the yeas to rise ; but
only a comparative few stood up. Jt was plain to the house
that the speakership was to fall to John Sandfield Macdonald.
But there sat on a ministerial bench a member who, with all his
fire and feeling knew how to be cool, and he resolved that tin-
man who had read the rebuke to the government at the close of
the last parliament should not grace (he Speaker's chair. The
clerk counted Mr. Sicotte's supporters, and was about to call
for the nays, wlu-n Mr. Hineks, with flashing eye, sprang to

his feet. "Put me with the yeas," he said, and immediately
the entire body of his followers also stood up. Mr. Sicotte
was declared sleeted. When the buzz wafl over, Mr. Macdonald,
the defeated candidate, half hissed a "thank you *' across the
house to the premier, and the latter answered him with an
ironical bow.

The vote showed that the ministry did not possess the con-
fidence of the house, yet, Mr. Hincks argued, as the vote had
not been taken 00 a question of non-confidence, he need not
resign till some other sign had been made. On the following
day the governor-general came down and delivered his speech
from the throne. Several important measures were promised,
but nothing that ink and pen could put on paper would have
saved the ministry. The latter now saw that there was noth-
ing to be gained b}' postponing the evil day, and on Friday,
the 8th instant, resigned. From the mass of political timber
now afloat, the governor-general set about to select some one
to form a ministry, and his choice fell upon Sir Allan MacNab.


But John A. Macdonald's was the head that planned the course
to be pursued. Mr. Brown and one or two of his lieutenants
wen almost bursting with anxiety for several hours after it
wafi learnt that the governor had called upon MacNab, ex-
pecting to be " waited on " and invited to enter the cabinet.
But Mr. Brown was soon to find, like Fanny Squeers, that be-
tween himself and the conservatives there was no "engage-

© ©

nit iit." A caucus of MacNab's party was held, at which John
A. Macdonald was the mod prominent figure. He pointed out
that the sentiments of the old tory party had been now out-
grown by the province, and that the true course was the
medium line between effete toryism and the doctrine of the
radicals. Alliance, he said, with the clear grits — which num-
bered about forty strong — was not to be dreamt of. Their
policy was one of impetuosity and indiscretion, and their
leader would tyrannize with his newspaper if he could not
rule in the cabinet. With the liberal party, which had become
detached from the extravagant members of the reform side, he
said, the conservatives could, without any sacrifice of princi-
ple, and with much profit to the country, unite. The secular-
ization of the clergy reserves, and the abolition of seigniorial
tenure were questions, he added, upon which the country had
expressed itself unmistakably; and it was the duty of the
government to give effect to the popular wish.

While the discussions went on, and messages passed between
Sir Allan and some of the ex-ministers, Mr. Brown's excite-
ment had grown to a very high pitch, and every one who ap-
proached him, he fancied, brought a letter from MacNab. At
last, to his utter consternation, he learnt that the conservatives
were in communication with some of the ex-ministers, and
later on, that a government had been formed, as follows


Hon. Sir Allan MacNab, President of Council and Minister

of Agriculture.


Hon. John A. Macdonald - - - Attorney-General.

" Wm. Cayley - Inspector-General.

" Robert Spence - Postmaster- General.

" John Ross - Speaker Legislative Council.


Hon. A. N. Morin - - Commissioner of Crown Lands.

" L. T. Drummond - Attorney-Genera.!.

" P. J. O. Chaveau - Provincial Secretary.

" E. P. Tache - Receiver-General.

" J. Chabot - - Commissioner of Public Works,

This was the famous MacNab-Morin government, the first
liberal-conservative ministry formed in Canada, the combina-
tion in which were fused the staid ami respectable Liberal senti-
ment of the province, and the liberalised and broadened form

of conservative opinion. With this coalition disappeared from
the stage the historic reform party, the apostate reformers or
grits, only remaining. Strictly speaking we have no "reformers"
now; and those who call themselves such are the descendants
of the bat lied grits who set up a cry of rage when liberal and
conservative sank a few imaginary dill and blended into

a party libera] enough to keep abreast of public opinion and
conservative enough not to run into excess.

Meanwhile George Brown's excitement had passed away, and
as we have it on the authority of Mr. Mackenzie that he was
now anxious to see the reserves secularized, it is natural to
suppose that he held his peace till he learnt what the policy of
the new government was. But he did no such thing. In the
words of Mr. Mackenzie himself, " the new ministry was sav-
agely assailed by the Globe." After parliament had met Mr. Mac-
donald promptly introduced a measure dealing with the clergy-
reserves. This act abolished all distinctions between religious
denominations by providing that the proceeds arising from all
land-sales, after the deduction of expenses, be handed over


to the municipalities in proportion to population, the amount
to be applicable for ordinary municipal purposes. Another
bill was introduced abolishing feudal rights and duties in Lower
Canada, and allowing compensation to seigneurs in cases where*
vested rights had grown up under the tenure. Since the object
of George Brown, according to the Globe and Mr. Mackenzie,
was to have a settlement of the clergy reserves made, and
since it was because of alleged dilatoriness on Mr. Hincks' part
in settling this question that Mr. Brown seceded from the
ministerialists hil support to a government which swept state-
church ism away ought to follow as a matter of course. But it did
not. On the contrary, the new ministry was still " savagely
assailed by the Globe." It was not, after all, state-church ism
so much that Mr. Brown cared about, though Mr. Mackenzie
does not tell us so, but his failure to capture the " higher game."
There was some astonishment among the fossil tories at the
stand taken by the new ministry ; and John Hillyard Cameron,
John W. Gamble and Edmund Turner were utterly scandalized
and withdrew their august support. Some of the newspapers
of the conservative side expressed regret, and others wonder.
The Belleville Intelligencer said : " Who would have fancied
that the knight of Dundurn and the Hon. Mr. Cayley would
ever have surrendered their principles on the clergy reserve
question. That the Hon. John A. Macdonald should have done
so, does not astonish us, because we have long known his views
upon this question, and that they had undergone considerable
change, so far as its settlement would tend to allay the un-
natural excitement which has so long agitated the country.
Well, these men are to compose the ministry, with the French
members, who were part and parcel of the Hincks' administra-
tion. So that the changes are confined to the upper part of the
province, exclusively."

In the legislature the new ministry were subjected to some
scathing criticism, and some of those who had not learnt to
appreciate the force of the Duke of Wellington's maxim, that


"the Queen's government must go on," loaded conservative
ministers with reproach for sitting in the same cabinet with
men whom they had so lately denounced. Mr. Macdonald, of
Glengarry, said, among other things, in a very long and windy
speech : " Well, the house met after an adjournment of a year,
and amendments to the address hostile to the administration
were adopted. Charges of a very serious nature were brought
against the administration. The honourable member for King-
ston (Mr. Macdonald), who had now gone over to the other side,
and was to be the administration Leader, stood up in his place
in this house and declared that the administration then in
power were 'steeped in infamy to their very lips,' and that they
were 'tainted with corruption collectively and individually,
both in their public and private characters.' And yet within
three months after, they found the gentleman who made use of
that language, almost unparalleled in the annals of parliament,
amalgamating with the administration which he had thus de-
nounced] Could anything have happened which would have
taken tlie people more by surprise?"

The Globe in a calm mood mad.' an estimate of the new min-
istry, and said of Mr. John A. Macdonald : "Then we have
Mr. attorney -general Macdonald, the only man of any working
qualities in the government, tho only one who can make a set
speech in the house', the man who must be the leader in the
assembly. Has Mr. Macdonald ever shown any tendency to
reform principles ? Was he not one of the most active mem-
'" is of the Metcalfe cabinet, the opponent of responsible
government? Is he not known to hold the highest conserva-
tive views ? "

This was the same " Mr. Macdonald " whom the Globe had
supported when it saw hopes of a coalition with the tories. It
is needless also to say, that the inference we ought to draw
from this statement, namely, that Mr. Macdonald was one of
Metcalfe's ministers, is, like many other things published


and spoken by Mr. Brown, incorrect. Mr. Macdonald did not
enter the cabinet till after Metcalfe had left the country.

In December, Lord Elgin, who had lived to see the system
of government advocated by his father-in-law in his masterly
report* tried and proved successful, sailed for England. His
after career was worthy of the man who so ably and fearlessly
performed his duty in Canada in a time of perplexity and
turmoil. After performing important services in China and
Japan, and sitting for a time in Palmerston's cabinet as post-
master-general, he was appointed to the vice-royalty of India.
While making a progress through the north-western provinces,
he was attacked with serious disease of the heart, and died
under the shadow of the Himalayas, where, at his request,
and in a spot selected by Lady Elgin, his remains were laid.
His successor to the governorship of Canada was Sir Edmund
Walker Head.

* For extracts from Lord Durham's Report, see Appendix (M).



SIR EDMUND W. HEAD, was born, in 1805, near Maid-
stone, Kent, England. He came of i distinguished and very
ancient family which had for an ancestor Richard Head, baro-
net, in 1G7C. Edmund was educated at Oriel college, Oxford,
where he took a first-class in classics, subsequently obtaining
a fellowship in Mereton. Here he WIS appointed university
examiner, and examined Lord Elgin, whom he was afterwards
to succeed as governor-general of Canada, for a Mereton fellow-
ship. An article of his published by the Foreign Quarterly

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 14 of 57)