Joseph Edmund Collins.

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

. (page 2 of 57)
Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 2 of 57)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with the stern realities of emigrant life in the backwoods. A
•class formed mainly from the younger scions of great families,
naturally proud, and not only accustomed to command but to
i ve implicit obedience from the people under them, are not


men adapted to the hard toil of the woodman's life." The Mac-
donald family were among this better emigrant class, and had to
contend with their full share of the privations that fall to the lot
of the immigrant. Like most others, Mr. Hugh Macdonaldwasnot
enamoured of the new country or its occupations. But having
come to make his dwelling in it, he resolved to do the best he
could. He was shrewd and intelligent, but lacked much
experience in his new employment. It is not strange that his
success was doubtful almost from the first, and that eventually
he gave the business up, by no means a gainer. From Quinte*
Bay, in 1830, with his family, he moved to Kingston. Here
he leased the Kingston mills, situated a few miles outside of
the city, and these he operated for a number of years, simul-
taneously carrying on business on Princess street.

Those who remember young Macdonald in his school-days
describe him as having ■ a very intelligent and pleasing face,
strange, fuzzy-looking hair, that curled in a dark mass, and a strik-
ing nose." From a very early age it seems that his father intend-
ed him for the legal profession, remarking to a friend that the
province was yet only in its infancy, was rapidly growing, and
would soon need a horde of professional men. In preparation
for his entry upon legal studies it was that he was sent to the
grammar school. In school he displayed a marked talent for
mathematics, as did one of the most appalling characters in
history fifty years before at the Military College of Biienne.
For classics he showed no special talent, though in this study
he was up to the average in his class always. There may have
been much omen in his marked talent for Euclid. " The uni-
verse," says a great thinker, " is run by reason and mathe-
matics;" and Napoleon's generals did not fail to remark, after
some of the battles had been won that startled the world, " He
hasn't all these mathematics in his head for nothing." " When
visitors came to the school, Mr. Baxter, in showing his classes
off to the best advantage, nearly always," says an old gentleman
who was a schoolboy then in Kingston, "called on Macdonald


to go to the blackboard and demonstrate the propositions." In
those days copybook exercises formed a larger portion of the
school work than they do now. Mr. Baxter frequently ex-
hibited the clean kept books of young Macdonald to some
careless student for emulation, and as often selected specimens
of the neat penmanship of the boy to put to shame some of the
slovenly writers in the class.

After he had entered kua sixteenth war. hie father took him
away from school and articled him in the office of Mr.
George Mackenzie, where he applied himself diligently to a
study of the law. Mr. Macdonald was of the opinion the lad
might as profitably begin upon his studies at once after leaving
the school as go to college. At the present day a young man
who has not taken a degree at a college or university is con-
sidered indifferently qualified for a study of the law. There ifl
a good deal of force in the contention, but not so much as is
generally supposed. A degree, it is true, is a very worthy
badge, but is not unfrequently a sort of false light — a kind
of guinea-stamp put upon a worthless coin. Some writers
who know little about Mr. Macdonald's early career, de-
scribe his breaking off from school in his sixteenth year as
fatal to thoroughness. But what Macdonald did really do,
admits of a different deduction. He spent six years studying
law, instead of three years in college reading Grecian fables in
a dead tongue, and puzzling hifl poor young brain over the in-
tegral calculus, and three years at the law. It is hard to under-
stand how a wail of Jocasta or a cooing scene between Calypso
and Ulysses could have been a better training or more useful
knowledge for the young lawyer than the very law itself, since
he already had a knowledge of classics and mastered six books
of Euclid. At his studies Macdonald was an exemplary lad.
More than once did Mr. Mackenzie speak of " that young
Macdonald" as "the most diligent student" he had ever seen.

Before he was quite twenty-one he came up for admission to
the bar, and he afterwards used to tell jocularly how he per-


suaded his father that he was of full age, though he was really
some months short of it. He opened an office at Kingston, and at
once began to practise his profession. An old resident of the town,
who had been a school-mate of his, thus describes the young
barrister at this period: "He was an exemplary young
man and had the good wishes and respect of everybody. He
remained closely at his business ; never went about spreeing or
losing his time with the voum? men of his own aire and stand-
ing ; did not drive fast horses, hut was always to be found at
his office, courteous, obliging and prompt." Through his own
natural ability and the influence (.1' friends he secured in a short
time all the business to which lie could give attention. Besides
obtaining some of the most important local cases, he became
solicitor for the Commercial Bank, founded by Mr. John S.
( "a mv right, and also for the Trust and Loan Company ; and on
the death of Mr. Geoi^. Mackenzie, received most of the busi-
ness of that old practitioner.

When he began to practise law there were heard the first
mutterings of the storm soon to break over the country: and
the year following numbers of disaffected persons in Lower
Canada under Papineau, and in Upper Canada under William
Lyon Mackenzie, rushed blindly to arms. Every county in
Canada had its radicals to take up muskets or pitchforks
against their political oppressors ; every county, too, had its
loyal men so full of zeal for the welfare of the Crown that they
would, and often did, sit in grave and awful state hearing evi-
dence against men arraigned for saying that Papineau was
" handsome," or that Mackenzie was " sturdy." One day, Mr.
Augustus Thibodo,now one of the oldest residents of Kingston,
was out in the field with his servant-man ploughing. As they
stopped at the end of the furrow, Mr. Thibodo said to the man :
" Go fetch me that rifle f and when the man had brought it
from where it stood by the fence, he remarked, " I wonder how
far it would kill a man ? " Later in the day he observed inci-
dentally, " Papineau is a fine fellow ; I believe he will soon


be up here." Through the serving man the words reached
the ear of Mr. Smith, a zealous magistrate, the next day ;
time and circumstances were abolished ; the two observa-
tions were put together, and Thibodo was arrested and
thrown into prison. There was many a case like this in
those 'lays, and John A. Macdonald, though a tory, always felt
and expressed deep sympathy for the men who incurred penal-
ties by their resistance bo oppression ; and many a one who
was a marked man in the eves of loyal zealots came to his
office for advice, and received it readily and without pay.
" What would you advise me to do ?" said Augustus Thibodo,
who was beset by Government spies <>ne day and had received
advice which was not satisfactory from several other quarters,
" I am held in heavy bonds for appearance and good behaviour,

but I cannot escape calumny?" "It is very hard; these
times are trying, and from my heart 1 pity you and such
as you," said Macdonald, " but my adviee is, get awav
from the city as quickly as you can, and never mind the
bondsmen. Vmi ire do4 safe here. When the Habeas Cor-
pus is restored come back. That can't 1m- long; for affairs

are now intolerable."

He had yet won no important laurel in his profession, but
his opp< >rt unit v was fast approaching. During the autumn of
1838 along the American frontier adjacent to Canadian towns,
hong an ominous war-cloud. The autumn previous the militia
had scattered the gathering <»n Montgomery's farm under Wil-
liam Lyon Mackenzie, and the ill-starred leader and a portion
of his broken host had fled for safety into the republic. From
these refugees, and tie ii sympathizers in the republic, sprung
up the dark associations all along the border which bore the
name of Hunters' Lodges. The secrets of this mysterious
gathering no outsider could accurately gather, but the lead-
ing motive, an invasion of Canada, was surmised by everybody.
In the early part of November, 1838, large numbers of the
Hunters began to congregate at Ogdensburg, and anxious eyes


were turned thither for many days from the Canadian shore.
On the 11th of the month a noted Hunter, named S. Von
Shoultz, a Pole by birth, put himself at the head of upwards
of two hundred men and crossed over to Prescott. Here he
landed his force, taking position at Windmill Point, beyond
the range of Fort Wellington's guns and behind the mill, a
building with strong stone walls. Here he expected to be
joined by large numbers of Canadians and reinforcements from
the Lodges. But as the days went by and no reinforcements
came, the heart of the Pole began to sink, and he saw that he
had fallen into a snare. Retreat he found when too late was
impossible, for armed steamers patrolled the outlet from his
position ready to sink his boats; and now nothing remained
for him but to bide the bitter issue with his little force. On
the thirteenth the enemy under Col. Young, about five hundred
in number, came against him and opened a brisk fire of mus-
ketry. As the stag fights at bay, with a heroism such as de-
spair alone begets, so fought the Pole and his followers under
the hail of bullets which sang among them. Two of their
officers and eleven men had fallen, a large number were wound-
ed and thirty-two taken prisoners. Then the doomed band
went further into the death toils, entrenching themselves inside
the heavy stone walls of the mill. Here they were safe from
musket balls, and here they remained three days longer till the
enemy brought artillery from Kingston and began to batter
down the sides of the building. Then the luckless host, to the
number of about a hundred, surrendered and were taken off to
Kingston by the enraged soldiers. Fifty of the Hunters, it is
estimated, were killed, but this is not certain, as a great many
of the dead were burned in the building. The Canadians in
the two engagements lost two officers and seven men and had
a large number wounded.

Courts-martial were now established at London and Kings-
ton, and at the latter city Von Shoultz and his accomplices
were tried for their crime. For counsel the unfortunate leader


had the brilliant young barrister, Mr. John A. Macdonald.
This was a time of intense excitement, and crowds thronged
to see the prisoners and hear the trials. Every one was
struck with the masterly character of young Macdonald's de-
fence, and though they knew it lay not in the power of human
tongue or brain to save the prisoner, they admired the skill
with which he led up his arguments, the tact with which he
appealed to the inexorable judges, and above all the soul-felt
interest be Beamed to have in his client. But as effectually
might the wandering winds make appeal to some stern hill, as
the young lawyer sue these grim judges for mercy to the dar-
ing stranger. There ia no doubt Mr. Macdonald felt a deep
>nal, as well as professional, interest in his elient. He
had been closeted with the unfortunate man, and learnt his
story. Only tight years before the prisoners own beloved
Poland had made a last desperate effort to burst her fetters;
only >ix years before she — one of the noblest nations on the
face of the earth — had been blotted from the map, and fallen
into the grasp of the tyrant At the time the Hunters
were planning tin* invasion of Canada, Shoultz was told
that the people here eliafed under a yoke more galling than
ever Poland wore] that they only wanted to see among them
the glint of friendly steel, when the}' would arise and over-
throw their oppressors. It needed no further fuel to tire
the misguided Shoultz with the devoutest zeal. Here was a
cause similar to his own Poland's; and then he remembered
that when the American colonies were rising against alike op-
pression his illustrious countryman Kosciusko had come over
and thrown his fortunes in with the cause of liberty.

But no power in man's persuasion, as we have seen, could
save Shoultz. He was foredoomed to die, and, with nine
others, was executed at Fort Heniy, Kingston, on Saturday
morning, Decembar 8, 1838.* The following letter, written by

* Mr. Dent and other writers ttate incorrectly that the executions took place
late in the year of 1839.


Shoultz to his friend Warren Green, of Salina, New York, the
day before his death, shows how he had been duped by Mr.
Mackenzie and the others who led him into the enterprise. It
shows, too, that he is by no means the ruffian and brigand
which our historians flippantly describe him: "When you
get this letter I am no more. I have been informed that my
execution will take place to-morrow. May God forgive those
who brought me to this untimely death. I have made up my
mind and I forgive them. * * * * I wrote to you in my
former letter about my body. If the British Government per-
mit it, I wisli that it may be delivered to you to be buried on
your farm. * * * * My last wish to the Americans is
that they may not think of avenging my death. Let no fur-
ther blood be shed! And believe me, bom what I have seen,
the stories told about the Hofferinga of the Canadian people
were untrue. * * * * I further beg of you to take care
of W. Johnson, that he may find an honourable bread. Fare-
well, my dear friend; God bless and protect you ! "

Neither does he seem to have been a mere "adventurer,"
for in another letter, published after his execution, it was
found that he had left £400 to the widows of the Canadian
militiamen killed in the raid.

But though Shoultz died, young Macdonald at a bound
placed himself in one of the highest places as a forensic orator.
Then it was that careful listeners saw the first evidence of
his wonderful grasp of constitutional questions. When the
trial was ended he received warm congratulations from the
eloquent Mr. Forsythe and all the members of the local bar,
as well as from a host of friends. And in an editorial note
appended to an account of the trial, the editor of a Montreal
journal said that the defender of the unfortunate general would
soon be recognized as one of the first men in the country.

Shortly after the execution of the invaders, a young man
well known in Canada now, Alexander Campbell, then in his
eighteeenth year, entered upon the study of law with Mr. John


A. Macdonald, who had opened, in the words of an old resident
of Kingston, "one of the most wide-awake and business-like law
offices then to be found in Canada." In later years there
came to the same office one day a chubby little lad with large
prominent eyes and a methodical walk and manner of speaking
stating that he wanted to study law. His father had been
at one time a soldier, had come from Caithness, and was
now engaged in business in Kingston. The firm took the
lad; he is to-day the premier of Ontario. There was a
home in England which produced so many poets that it
was called "the nest of nightingales." With much rea-
son might this law office of J. A. Macdonald be called the
nest of statesmen. It is told that there used to be a good deal
of chaffing in the office about the handwriting of members of
the firm and the students. Macdonald, daring hifl school-
• lay-, wrote a hand of striking beauty and form — and to-day
he boasts of being the beet writer in hifl cabinet. Mowat
wrote "a tidy, conscientious little list," and in after yean Mac

donald would aay jocularly that the one strong point he ad

mired about Mowat was his handwriting,

In the midst of the law duties, one day it was told in the

office that the scat of government would soon he moved to

Kingston. John A. Macdonald took the pen from behind his

wheeled his chair around, and in deep thought looked out

of the window.



PERHAPS it were weU to pause here and take a back-
ward glance at the causes which brought about the
troublous times referred to in the foregoing chapter. Half a
century before the British Parliament divided the Province of
Canada into Canada Upper and Lower, each division corres-
ponding with what is to-day Quebec and Ontario. By this
partition it was hoped that each province would enjoy consti-
tutional peace and bound forward in the paths of progress.
Burke, indeed, who had been caught and flung back into the
most abject toryism by the influence of the French Revolution,
saw a golden peace in the future for the Canadas now, and re-
garded as guarantees for the abiding principle of the system
the restrictioas upon popular liberty placed in the Constitution.
But many statesmen shook their heads, and Fox predicted that
these vaunted safeguards of peace and an abiding constitution
would prove the seeds of discord and disruption. And so it
proved ; though the evil laid in the marrow of the system did
not break out into an active sore for many years afterwards.
To each province was given a constitution supposed to reflect
the virtues and the liberties of the constitution of the mother
land. There was an elective chamber where the sturdy yeo-
man and simple habitant clad in their homespun came to legis-
late upon their allotted questions. There was an upper
chamber, supposed to be a reflex of the House of Lords, the
members of which were appointed by the Crown for life. To
these were given the prerogative of altering or rejecting bills
which came up from the lower chamber. The councillors


were men of high social standing including even prelates and
judges. Then came the executive; a mimic privy council,
composed of men elected by the viceroy to advise with him
on all matters of public administration. The members of this
body were drawn from the legislative council, or from the
house of assembly, were not obliged to have a seat in the
popular branch, and were responsible only to the head of the
government. The governor was a mimic king, and in those
days had all the ways of a sovereign. " I am accountable to
God only for my actions," said Charles the First, when presented
with the Petition of Right. " I am accountable to the King
only for my actions " said the little Canadian mock-sovereign,
when meekly reminded of what was due to the people.

These were not the days of darkness, neither were they
the days of light ; rather both kings and commons lived
in a sort of twilight where the liberty of the present seemed
to merge in the oppression of the past. Since before the time
when the barons wrung from John atRunnymrade, the Charter
of their liberties, everyone had talked about the " right of the
subject " and the " prerogative of the Crown ;" but none seemed
to know where the one began or the other ended. Under the
reign of the Prince of Orange, men who remembered the tyr-
anny of the profligate Stuarts, thought they lived in the noon-
day of constitutional liberty. But it remained yet for George
the Third to set up a tyrant who did not rival the author of
* Thorough," only because he lacked ability for anything but
profligate intrigues, and the additional and self-sufficient reason
that Englishmen having tasted of a liberty unknown in the
days of Charles, would not be driven again into abasement by
a cleverer tyrant than Strafford. Truly, for tyranny was the
spirit of those Georges, willing, but the flesh was weak. " I
will die rather than stoop to opposition," said George the Third ;
but opposition was better than revolution, and he stooped. For
years he retained ministers in defiance of the House of Com-
mons, resisted the entry of good men, of whom Fox was one,


into the Cabinet, and maintained a system of wrong-headed
personal government that cost the country a hundred millions
of pounds, thirteen provinces, and the lives of a thousand

His son William the Fourth, though called "The People's
Friend," still dismissed or retained a minister " when he pleased,
and because he pleased ;" bat with him, we may well believe,
disappeared from the royal closet forever the last vestige of
personal government. A flutter, it is true, went through the
breasts of the jealous guardians of constitutional liberty not
many years ago when the commons discussed the " Question de
jupons ; " when a minister of whom the nation had grown sick,
a man who dandled cushions and played with feathers while
momentous questions of the state were hanging, resigned the
seals and two days later crept back again to power behind
the petticoats of the ladies-in-waiting. But if anything were
•needed to give assurance of constitutional rule, it surely must
have appeared, when, with girlish frankness, the young Queen
told Peel, " I liked my old ministers very well, and am very
sorry to part with them ; but I bow to constitutional usage."
It is not written in the constitution where the power of the
sovereign shall begin or end in retaining or dismissing minis-
ters ; but he would be a bold ruler indeed who should ever
again attempt personal rule in England. Should such an
attempt be made, it were not necessary to fear for the people.
It would be only the worse for that sovereign.

But while the principles of liberty were growing broader
and deeper in England, the people of the colonies were chafing
under a yoke as intolerable as that felt in England at any time
during the reign of the Stuarts. In the provinces of Canada
the long heard cry of discontent had grown deeper and more
ominous towards the close of the reign of William the Fourth.
Wise men looked into the future then as they look ever, but
we wonder that they could not have foreseen the consequences


of such government as was now imposed upon the Canadian

Each province, as we have seen, had its mimic king, and
this creature generally ruled with the spirit of an autocrat. It
mattered little that the man was good when the system by
which he governed was so very bad. There existed at this
time in every province a combination which bore the hateful
name of "Family Compact." This compact was composed of
men who were bodies by prof ession, and who came, by virtue
of the preference they had bo long held above their fellow
colonists, to regard their right to public office as prescriptive.
They filled the legislative council, which became the tool of
the Grown to thwart or strangle any objectionable measure
sent ap from the Chamber of the people. They filled every
office of emolument from the Prime Minister to the sergeant-
&t-arms; from the chief justice down to the tip-staff "Nor

did Israel 'seape tin- infection," for they were found in the
church whicfi in turn furnished mitred heads to the council.
They looked upon the large bulk of the colonists as interiors,
and viewed with alarm the movement in favour of what
was called Popular Etighta Every point gained by the people

they re^an led as something lost to the Grown; and when a
governor came to the colony they generously surrendered
themselves to his pleasure. If he were some haughty autocrat,
who looked upon the colonists ;is the owner of a plantation in
.lam irded his slaves, they seconded his opinions and

zealously assisted him to rule as he would. If he happened to
be a generous man, and was disposed to listen to the de-
mands of th.- people, they poured poison into his ear, and grad-
ually led him to reganl the most worthy popular tribunes who
asked for reform as dangerous demagogues. It seemed to be
the fate of every man who in these days came out to govern us
to turn tory the moment he set foot upon our soil. The whigs,
who in England set themselves up as the redeemers of our
liberty, outdid their opponents when they came to Canada.


When the tory came here he outdid himself. But the toryism
which ground down the people oi this country for so many

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 2 of 57)