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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>ew, brought him to the notice of the marquis of Lands
downe — who had the honour of " bringing out" Macauley under
almost similar circumstances — and this nobleman prevailed
upon him to study ecclesiastical law. He found, however, that
theology was not his proper vocation, and, like his giddy-headed
kinsman Sir Francis, entered a poor-law office as assistant-com-
missioner. In this department he acquitted himself with such
excellent discrimination and high ability, that on a change of
ministry, though the in-coming party were not of his school of
politics, he was appointed chief-commissioner. The poor-law,
however, grew into bad odour, though the conduct of the com-
missioner was beyond reproach, and the ministry was obliged
to reconstruct it. It was felt by the government that a man of
Sir Edmund's ability and high character ought to have employ-
ment ; and in 1848 they appointed him to the governorship
of New Brunswick. This position he retained till 1854, when
he was appointed governor- general of Canada. As will be



Been by the record' of Sir Edmund's Canadian administration,.
he was a man of a discerning mind and wide experience, who
could not be coaxed or driven from the path of duty. Above-
all his sense of honour was so keen that no consideration could
bring him to follow any course that was not in keeping witli
toe dignity and impartiality of the position he held. We shall
B66 him, as we proceed* in trying places, and hear him loaded
with reproach for doing his duty. But the snake may crawl
upon the spotless stone and cover it with slime, still the purity
of the marble will outlive the defilement Through all the
dander and malignant abuse heaped upon Sir Francis during
the years immediately to follow, the character of the man
a— ailed stands forth to-day untarnished by any improper act
during his administration.

The health of Mr. Morin now began to fail him and he longed
to be out of the hurly-burly of political life and get upon
the bench, a haven where all harassed statesmen believe " the
wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest." Mr.
Marin's resignation disturbed the Lower Canada portion of the
cabinet Col. Tache* took the place of the retiring leader, Mr.
Drummond retained his old post, Francis Lemienx became com-
missioner of public works, Mr. Cauchon assumed charge of the
department of crown lands, and, a man destined to play a
prominent part in our history, George Etienne Cartier, was
chosen provincial secretary. For some time past it appears Mr.
Macdouald had strongly admired Mr. Cartier, while the latter
was drawn with an irresistible force towards the attorney-gen-
eral-west. It was then began that friendship, unique in the
history of Canadian public men,between these two distinguished
statesmen; a friendship that survived through the trial and the
1 »attle, but which, at least on the side of one, was shattered when
both stood in the noonday of their fame, and after their great-
est victories had been won.

Parliament met in February following in Quebec. In fancy
then could be heard through Canada the ringing of sabres and the


booming of cannon in the Crimea, and every noise increased the
heat of the heightened public pulse. It was announced, too, that
Great Britain would need every available soldier, and that a
portion of the troops was to be withdrawn from Canada. The
instinct of self-defence at once arose and found expression in
the government's militia bill. This measure can only be justified
in the light of a time when the air was full of the sounds of war.
It provided for the formation of two great militia bodies, one to
be called the sedentary, the other the active. The former was
to include all the male inhabitants of the province between the
ages of eighteen and sixty; the latter all those under forty
years. They were to muster once a year for drill ; and the
cheeks of those who drew the bill flushed as they thought what
a force this would be t<> hurl against an invader. Not unreason-
ably the opposition inveighed against the' measure, charging
the ministry witli endeavouring to establish a standing army
which they described as one of tin- greatest curses of a fiv«
country. The bill passed, however, and remained in force for
about eight years. It may be called the parent of our present
militia BVStem. The government were tiercely opposed by the
clear grits, and notably by George Brown and Ids iieutenauts,
William Lyon Mackenzie and John Sandfield Macdonald. Mr.
Hincks rendered Loyal support t<> bis party, a lesson which
some of the grit statesmen who have been so ready in their
books to criticise the career of that gentleman would do well to-
bear in mind. Mr. Hincks had been superseded not more by
conservatives than by his own party, but this did not prevent
his cordial support of the coalition. It is not a hundred years
ago since a certain party in Canada changed their leader, as wo
suppose they had a perfect right to do, whereupon a personal
hostility grew up between the discarded and the newly chosen
head ; and they have since been barely able to maintain decent
appearances. If the writers of some of our Canadian books
would try to follow Mr. Hincks' example during the time undei
discussion, instead of criticising where there is nothing to cen-


BOre, they would appear themselves, when their careers are
over, brighter figures to succeeding book-writers. After the
session closed Mr. Hincks went to England, and while there
was appointed to the governorship of Barbadoes and the Wind-
ward Islands.

During the summer the question of denominational schools
was discussed on the platform and through the press with a
great deal of vehemence. Mr. Brown rode the protestant horse
with much flourish through the country. The greater portion
of Upper Canada was in favour of non-sectarian schools, while
the people of the lower province would not hear of " banishing
God from the class-rooms," and insisted on separate control.
The government decided on maintaining the existing system ;
and their opponents said they were bondsmen to Rome. While
every other question, after a too long bruiting, lost its potency
to stir the multitude up to tumult, the pope and Rome never
once felled in its object. The mention of Rome was, at the
time of wdiich we are writing, to demagogues of George Brown's
stripe — and George Brown, however many Stirling qualities he
may have possessed, was the arch type of a demagogue — what
dynamite is now to the Russian nihilist and a wing of the Irish

Parliament opened at Toronto in February. During the
debate on the address Mr. Brown made a slashing assault upon
the government, charging ministers wth infidelity to pledges,
and disregard for the will of the people. On the night of Tues-
day the 26th of February, some ministerialists remarked that
the criticism of Mr. Brown might be correct and proper, but
they doubted the judiciousness of such censorship by one who
had coquetted with conservatives and supported their leaders
at the late election, with a view to forming a coalition with
their forces. John A. Macdonald, upon whom Mr. Brown had
showered some indiscreet speech, sat at his desk smiling, and
when an opportunity occurred arose to add his testimony to
the remarks of the preceding speakers. In a half playful, yet


half bitter way, he called attention to the difference between
George Brown hopeful and George Brown disappointed. But
notwithstanding that Mr. Brown had at first supported the re-
formers and then deserted them; and that he ridiculed the clear
grits for forsaking their party, and afterwards became the leader
of the clear grits himself; and though he tried to ally himself
with the conservatives, and savagely attacked the reformers for
succeeding where he had failed ; yea, though he had, as w r e have
already stated, supported MacNab, Macdonald and Cayley
before the election, and ferociously assailed them after the elec-
tion, because they would not coalesce with him, and after they
had abolished state churchism — the thing for which he said he
had been chiefly contending — notwithstanding, we say, all this,
of all the sins in the political calendar the most hateful in his
eyes was inconsistency. He rose trembling with excitement, and
poured out a stream of invective on the government, taunting
them with corruption, incompetency and dishonour; and with
infidelity to their pledges and the people's trust. Once again
temper got the better of the cool attorney-general west. He
was observed to tremble and gVOW white at his seat, while Mr.
Brown went on; and as the latter gentleman took his seat like
a subsided volcano, Mr. Macdonald jumped up. It was some
time before he could articulate distinctly, but when his voice
grew clear and his nerves steady, there was no effort needed
to catch his meaning. He accused Mr. Brown of having, while
acting as secretary to a commission appointed some years be-
fore to investigate abuses said to exist in the management of
the provincial penitentiary at Kingston, falsified testimony,
suborned convict witnesses, and obtained the pardon of mur-
derers in order to induce them to give false evidence. Such
appalling charges coming from a minister of the government
bewildered several members of the house, but others remem-
bered that Mr. Macdonald had made similar charges years
before, and believed that he had strong warrant for reiterating
them now. In making these charges Mr. Macdonald is open to


c< n-ujv, not indeed for having, as Mr. Mackenzie meanly alleges
in his book, pivfenv<l them knowing the same to be false, and
under the belief that a certain document which alone could
exonerate Mr. Brown, had been burnt at the Montreal fire; but
in allowing an opponent to provoke him into gravely making
charges that had been substantiate.! only by rumour. From
all that can be leathered he did not assert the wrong-doing as
having come within his person*] knowledge, but repeated the
charges in language of burning passion, and in the words
employed by the lips of rumour. After Mr. Macdonald had
taken his seat, Mr. Brown arose shivering with rage. He re-
pelled the charge in tierce words, said he had taken down the
attorney -general's statements, and would hold him responsible
for them. The house was too much excited to proceed with
<»ther work, and the scene in the legislature was the topic for
knots of persons in the street after adjournment. On the
following day, Mr. Brown moved for a committee of enquiry
and during the discussion Mr. Macdonald expressed his regret
at the occurrence of the previous day, but maintained that he
had strong reasons then, and still, for believing that the charges
he had preferred against the honourable member for Lambton
were not without foundation ; though, he repeated, he had not
spoken from personal knowledge. The committee brought in
a report wdiich neither convicted nor exonerated Mr. Brown,
and the house passed a motion setting forth that : "Attorney-
general Macdonald appears to have acted under a firm convic-
tion of the truth of the charges made against Mr. Brown, and
to have been justified in doing so by all the evidence within his
reach." Mr. Mackenzie displays a great deal of malice in writing
about this event, and endeavours to show that not only Mr.
Brown's followers, but leading members of the government,
reprobated the conduct of Mr. Macdonald. " It was remark-
able " he says, "that one of Mr. Macdonald's colleagues, attorney-
general Drummond, was candid enough to declare that there was
no evidence criminating Mr. Brown. Sir Allan MacNab and


other conservatives took similar ground and boldly stated their
views." The truth of the matter is, both Sir Allan MacNab
and Mr. Drummond were at this time hostile to Mr. Macdonald,
and would lose no plausible opportunity to discredit him before
the house. Sir Allan knew that the desire of all the cabinet
members, save one or two, was to see Macdonald occupy the
premier's seat; while Mr. Drummond had ambitions of his own,
but saw that Macdonald was preferred before himself. Some
time afterwards, when Mae Nab was forced out, and Col. Tache
called in his place, the question of leadership in the assembly
arose between Macdonald and Drummond, and because the
former was chosen the latter withdrew from the cabinet in hierh

Another of Mr. Macdonald's quarrels during this session is
worth recording. On a motion regarding the scat of govern-

nient, Col. Rankin, who possessed an exasperating tongue, seemed
disposed to create tome tumult. About this time, stories of

dissentions in the cabinet were on everybody's lip, and it was
well understood that the government was sick of Sir Allan,
and trying to be rid of him. As Col. Rankin proceeded with
his speech it was evident that he was inspired by public rumour,
and endeavouring to make his remarks as offensive ai possible.
He could not understand the course the government had pur-
sued in the seat of government matter, he said. " If there was
any point on which they ought to agree, he thought this ought
to be one, and their not being able to take any decided course
.showed that they were unfit to hold office any longer. He was
well aware that the tone of the remarks he was now makine
was not consistent with the manner in which he had spoken of
the ministry on some former occasions, but it would be remem-
bered that he had always maintained an independent position,
and had never allowed himself to be described as a follower of
the government ; and though he had supported some of their
measures, he never regarded them as men of a high order of
talent : while anything of a complimentary nature which he


had said about them was well known to have been said in irony.
He would still support such measures as he approved of regard*
of the quarter whence they emanated. In looking at the
conduct of the government lately, he could not help thinking
of a certain exhibition in Trafalgar Square, called the 'happy
family,' which consisted of a collection of animals naturally
the most hostile to each other, but which had been taught to
appear before the public as the most harmonious in the world.
But one could not help feeling that when the public eye waa
off them they would indulge tn scratches and bites; and he
thought the ministry were somewhat in the same position ; for
notwithstanding their professions of perfect harmony, no great
question came up on which they had not some difference of
opinion ; and he had no doubt that in private, like the happy
family, they indulged in some of those contests of which the
house sometimes saw the symptoms." He was proceeding with
some general reflections in the same tone, on the conduct of
ministers, when he was called to order by the speaker. He then
said that a more fitting opportunity would probably occur before
long, to discuss the merits of the ministry, and of that he would
not fail to avail himself. He then moved that Toronto is a
most desirable place at which to establish the permanent seat
of government in Canada.

When Col. Rankin ceased, Mr. John A. Madonald arose. He
ridiculed the remarks of the colonel who, he said, had been des-
cribing happy families and like exhibitions, with such wit and
gusto as would lead people to imagine that he must have been
a showman himself ; but he had not said anything of various
other exhibitions that had been seen in London, such as Ojib-
beway Indians." He confessed, also, that he had gone so far as
to compliment the government ; but that had only been done in
irony, and probably the motion he had just made was in irony
too. He could not believe, however, that the hon. member wa3
quite so bad as he had represented himself to be, and he thought
that the remark must have been an after-thought, for the hon.


gentleman could never have been so insincere as to have voted
on many occasions with the majority of the house contrary to his
own convictions. These and other remarks which the newspaper
reporters did not catch exasperated the colonel, and on attorney-
general Macdonald taking his seat the former arose again and
said he understood the attorney-general- west to allude to the
exhibition of Ojibbeway Indians ; but that was a respectable
affair compared with the exhibition of ravenous animals to
which he had compared the ministry; for it was well known
that they were all plotting and counter-plotting against each
other. He had previously believed the ministry to be possessed
of the feelings of men of honour, but he found that there was
among that ministry one person whom he could never regard
with any feeling but that of unmitigated contempt. He never
could regard with any other feeling any prison who was guilty
of a violation of truth. There was a person in the ministry
whose conduct he could not describe in any language that
would not be unparliamentary. The individual to whom he
alluded was the attorney-general- v

When the speaker had proceeded thus far an uproar arose
through the chamber, and the cries of order! order! alone
were distinguished above the din. In the midst of the tumult
the clock struck six and the house arose, while the personal
friends of the belligerent members surrounded each to prevent
a collision. After the speaker taking his place at nearly eight
o'clock, he rose and said he thought it to be his duty to call the
attention of the house to the possibility of a collision taking
place between the two hon. members who were engaged in
controversy when he left the chair ; and he thought, in order
to prevent anything unpleasant taking place, that both gentle-
men should be put under the custody of the sergeant-at-arms.

Mr. Chisholm said, if the language used by the hon. member
for Essex, before the house adjourned, was to be permitted on
the floor of that house, collisions would take place frequently,
and he thought it right to call upon the hon. member offending


otract those words : else they ought to be taken down.
Neither of the hon. members was now present, and it became
the house to vindicate its own privilege, and to send for the
belligerents and place them in the custody of the sergeant-at-

arma The interval which had elapsed between the adjourn-
ment and now, should have led the hon. member for Essex to

have retracted.

Mr. Murney deemed it right f«>r any hon. member in the
opposition to state what lie pleased, in a political way, to the
hon. gentleman <>n the other side, and to do as the hon. member
for Essex (Rankin) had fairly done. How had that hon. mem-
ber been met I Why in a spirit of ridicule, and with the deter-
mination of insulting him.

The Speaker said it was not right to increase the pain of the
house by such remarks. He himself had not acted very promptly
in calling the attorney -general to order when he addressed the
house, because he thought that the hon. gentleman did not go
beyond what he (the speaker) thought was parliamentary lan-
guage. To prevent further difficulty he must beg of the hon.

mberfor Essex to retract the words he used.

Mr. M urney thought it to have been the desire of the attorney-
general to insult the hon. member for Essex personally. He
had listened with great pain to the speech of the hon. attorney -
general- west, but he claimed for himself the right to say in that
house all he wished with respect to the hon. gentlemen oppo-
site, as to their political acts, and he dared their right to oppose

The Speaker said, if the house were to go on with this con-
troversy, more trouble would ensue. He would propose a plan
which would impute the fault to neither of the hon. gentlemen,
namely, that they should both be placed under the custody of
the sergeant-at-arms — (hear, hear, and sensation) — when, prob-
ably, the house would be in a better position to judge of their
conduct, and it could adjudicate upon it. That would be the
better way, without now discussing which was in the right and


which was in the wrong. Mr. Macdonald came into the house
after the discussion had been some time in progress, and very
coolly offered advice to the Speaker as to what he ought to do
with respect to the " two hon. gentlemen." Many members
shook their heads and said that it would not pass away so quietly
as this, and believed that the affair would end in a rencontre
at ten paces. But in the words of Burke, " the age of chivalry
had gone ; that of sophisters, economists, ami calculators had
succeeded," and Messrs. Rankin and Macdonald fired no shots
and had no " meeting."

It was now generally known that the rumours which Col.
Rankin had repeated in the house, in such an offensive manner,
were not without some foundation. Members of the cabinet
did not try to conceal their desire to be rid of Sir Allan Mac-
Nab and to have a "younger and more capable member " of
the council in his place. The younger and more capable mem-
ber, we need not say, was John A. Macdonald, And though
the conspiracy formed for the overthrow of Sir Allan was the
spontaneous action of the greater number of ministers, we need
not doubt that Mr. Macdonald himself had ambition to become
the leader. He had sat calmly in the house through several
ions while the conservative party gradually went to pieces
through lack of capable leadership, and seldom made a sign of
impatience. He sat unbowed while the reform party towered
above their opponents in numbers and prestige ; saw that party
pass away like the pag« ant in the Tempest isle; bs \v the conser-
vatives come again to power, and. now, through inferior leader-
ship, show a tendency to a second fall. He met the recalcitrant
ministers at one of their "conspiracy gatherings," as Sir Allan
passionately described the meetings. He was informed that
his colleagues desired that he should become their leader, that
doom awaited the government if Sir Allan remained at its head,
and that the duty of the party's well-wishers was now to get
rid of the premier. Mr. Macdonald is understood to have placed

himself in the hands of his colleagues and to promise to assist


in doing whatever they believed t<> be for the welfare of the
government. Sir Allan at this time was a victim to gout, and
was frequently unable to attend the meetings of council. It
came to his ears that the ministry had resolved at a caucus to
put Mr. Biacdonald in his place, and Ins anger knew no bounds
When the paroxysm of his disease was over, he reviewed the
condition of atlaii^and found, with some exultation, that he was
master of the situation. He was premier he told his friends
indeed blurted it out publicly, not by the suffrage of his con-
spirator ooUeagaeSybat of that of the governor. He even fancied
that lie might he able to dispense with the cabal altogether,
and rally around him other men who would have sufficient fol-
lowing in the house to sustain the ministry. Presently the
newspapers began to open fire upon him, telling him that he
was a log in the path of progress, that he had been a good man
in his time, but that his day was past ; and urging him not to
sully a fairly respectable career by becoming a nuisance at the
end of his life. Against such a defection as this the old man
was not proof, and he shed hitter tears as he resolved to offer a
compromise. It was sufficient humiliation he felt to be forced
out of the leadership, but it was intolerable that the man he
regarded as the arch conspirator should succeed to his place.
H« met the ministers and informed them that he had made up
his mind to resign; but on the condition that Mr. John Hillyard
Cameron should succeed him. Mr. Cameron was an indifferent
figure compared with the gentleman of the cabinet's choice, but
he was not at all conscious of inferiority, and pressed himself
forward with much earnestness. Although the ministry was
now in a critical condition and staggered under the assaults of
the opposition, its members resolved not to accept Sir Allan's
offer. They could afford to wait till a change came, they said,
which would not be long. It came sooner than they expected.
On the 17th day of October, the previous year, Kobert Cor-
rigan, a protestant, while attending a cattle show in the parish
of St. Sylvestre, Quebec, had been attacked and brutally mur-

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 15 of 57)