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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Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 23 of 57)
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forget to pay tribute to the memory of those who fell in resist-
ing the invaders. In the Queen's Park, Toronto, a monument
was raised which tells the story of the brave young hearts who
died in defending their homes.




THE fatal balance of parti. m had at last been reached, and
Mr. Macdonald who had always before, in emergency,
relied on bis brains, now "trusted to luck." He was like a
captain who, in the pitchy darkness, and in the midst of the
storm, torn* his nice from the compass and allows his barque to
take her own way through the unknown sea. The house mei
mi May 3rd, r>»;k The new ministry had found sturdy oppo-

ii in the constituencies, and Mr. Foley had fallen in the
conflict. Some of Mr. John A. Macdonald's colleagues cheered
themselves by the hope that John Sandfield would not oiler
serious resistance to the government ; as, they said, the consti-
tution was on its trial, and they could not beHeve he would
sacrifice the institutions of the country to his ambition. The
attorn* \ r-jgp neral-west, however, leaned upon no such reed as
this. " If a disruption of the whole fabric," he assured his
friends " is to be the price of John Sandfield's opposition, then
woe to the constitution. We Bhowed him no mercy; at his
hands I do not think we now deserve mercy." Meanwhile the

iremier was brooding over his revenge. Some of his col-
leagues assured him that it was now a question between duty
to his party and duty to his country; that, to overthrow the
new administration might lead to a disruption of the whole
governmental system. "Did they spare us," retorted John

Ifield with flashing eye, " when our overthrow was an equal

menace to the constitution ? No ; I shall oppose them now as

I have never done before ; it is useless to talk to me of for-




\ t"< in days after the opening of the session a no-confidence
motion was introduced, and though the ministry strained every

nerve in the conflict, it was sustained by a majority of only two
With sueli a support the g o vernment were powerless to

• any important legislation, yet, under the circumstances,
resolved to maintain their places till actually voted out.
Not long were they obi kged to wait, for the ending came on
the 14th of June. It had come to light, that, in 1859, Mi
A. T. Gait, the finance minister that yea* in the Cartier-Mac-
donald gover nm ent, had advanced a sum of S100,000 from the
public funds to redeem certain bonds given by the city of Mon-
treal to the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railway Company. The
bonds were subsequently made redeemable by the Grand Trunk
which company thus became actually the recipient of the ad-
vance. The loan had been made quietly in the finance minis-
ter's office, and the fact had not transpired, till a member, dis-
tended with importance, rose at his desk, and in the low,
feigned-sorrowful tones which an honourable member always
assumes when digging a grave for his live opponent, announced
that he had a painful task to perform, but that, nevertht

imperative duty to the country demanded that it should be
done ; " and then exposed the $100,000 transaction. Mr. A. A.
Dorion following, moved, in amendment to the motion to go into
committee of supply, a resolution censuring the advance of the
amount without the knowledge of parliament. The resolution
though aimed apparently at Mr. Gait, comprehended a censure
of the ministry which it was averred was a mere rehabilitation
of the Cartier-Macdonald government. This was an unconsti-
tutional view, but ministers at once waived the question of
propriety, and assumed for the cabinet the full responsibility
of Mr. Gait's act. The latter gentleman was not bowed down,
but defended himself in a speech that was everything a mere
outpour of plausibility could possibly be. But, tottering from
the moment of its birth, the ministry could not withstand this
last shock. It had to deal not less with the uncompromising


foeman, whose eyes sparkled with the very fire of hostility,
than with over-sensitive consciences. It is not likely that the
reader has failed to remark, as well as the writer, that an
" honourable " gentleman, who, while his party is on the flood-
tide of prosperity, can swallow a camel without a grimace, will
strain at a gnat when the same party is found on the ebb-tide,
-in rounded by reefs and ruin. Perhaps it is only one more of
the many wise provisions of the Great Intelligence whose
"hand holds the reins of all things," that ruling parties should
sometime* grow r weak, else such men as these would never find
an opportunity to reveal that they are possessed of conscienc $&.
h would be extremely unwise and unprofitable for a man sud-
1' iily to let virtue get the better of him while his party still
held a majority of fifty men ; hut tin- case is reversed when the
honesty-impulse ean be exhibited while tin- party ship lies
soggy in 1 1 1 • * water, and goes down with the defection of two
or three of the virtue-stricken crew. Messrs. Dunkin an<l
Rankin belonged to this not uncommon class of politician-
They had for year- judged the morality f the liberal-coiiMT-
vative party by the standard of its success — while it was
Btannch, their faith in its virtue was strong; when it grew
■k it became a moral Lazarus in their eyes, full of sores,
and not fit to live. They voted with the grits on Mr. Dorion's
lution, and the ministry fell.

Yet, it may be seen, as our story progresses, that these two
men were instruments in facilitating the birth of the greatest
event in our political history. The movements of several years
past which we have endeavoured to pourtray, were the causes,
though inefficient, producing the scheme for a union of the
provinces; henceforth we lose sight of the causes, and watch
the manner in which was born the confederation itself.

When the defeat came, ministers were in no wise perturbed :

they had expected the result for many weeks, and did not re-

i. Two courses there remained open to them : to attempt a

reconstruction, or to ask for a dissolution. Neither project at


first left room to hope that the second condition would be bet-
ter than the first, either for the party or the constitution.
Within a little more than two years four different governments
bad Wen formed, and party feeling had grown so bitter that
the ministry felt there was little hope that the general result
could be changed by " trying their fortune in the lottery of a
general election." Vet though the virtue had apparently gone
out of the expedients of our constitutional system, responsible
government was still supreme, and Messrs. Macdonald and
Tachd could not continue in office while in a minority in the
assembly. The opposition held their breath after the minis-
terial defeat, and spake not during the hours that minister!
>till holding the reins, deliberated over their position ; but the
silence was like that which falls upon wood and dale before
the storm breaks. Happily for the public peace, the figure on
tiiis occasion held not good. There was no storm after the
death-like stillness ; for, after duly considering the situation,
Mr. Macdonald reached the conclusion that of the ways open
•lution was the best; and with this view the ministers
waited on the governor-general. His excellency, after careful
deliberation, granted the request of his advisers. If the writer
were one of those who subscribed to predestination, he would
affirm here with rigid religious conviction, that " there's a
divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will ;""
for with such surprise as one feels who sees a thunderbolt
flame out of a clear sky, the public saw a figure stalk upon the
scene to end the confusion between parties, and assist in the
adoption of a new and wholesome course of public policy. We
can hardly tear ourselves away from figures, the apparition
forces itself so strongly upon our imagination. It was as if
the pope had left Rome, appeared suddenly upon one of our
platforms, and begun to read a lecture in favour of the right
of private judgment in spiritual things ; as if King John had
headed a movement that was seeking for popular liberty. The
man who came upon the scene, was no other than George


Brown. We have not laid ourselves open to the charge, so far,
of undue admiration for this politician, but have endeavoured,
M we shall strive now, to do him simple, naked justice. It
might be open to us, were we disposed merely to censure the
public career of Mr. Brown, instead of to endeavour to paint
his record, the good and the bad, so far as it is concerned with
the main thread of our narrative, just as it is, to say that the
course he proposed in the political emergency which had come
was not begotten of a well-spring of devotion to the country's
interest*, and not that he hated John A. Macdonald and hifl
party less, but that lie hated John Sandfield Macdonald more.
What he did do, we shall, instead, endeavour to regard as a
bright spot in a career of noisy and unscrupulous ambition,
and peaoe-distarbing demagogisnv

On the day after the ministerial defeat Mr. Brown fell into
conversation with Messrs. J. H. Pope and Alexander Morris,

supporter! <>f the mini-try. and members respectively for Comp-

ton and South Lanark. He gave it as his opinion that a crisis
had arrived whieh conld not he overcome by an appeal to the
people, and that the time was a fitting one to settle " for ever
the constitutional difficulties between Upper and Lower Can-
ada." He further expressed his willingness to cooperate-
with the existing or any other ministry that would deal
promptly and firmly with the matter. The two ministerialists,
one of whom had been a staunch advocate of federation, lis-
tened to Mr. Brown with a good deal of satisfaction, and before
parting from him asked if they might repeat the conversation!
to the conservative leaders. He readily consented, and the re-
sult was that on Friday, the 17th, Messrs. John A. Macdonald
and A. T. Gait waited on Mr. Brown at his rooms in the St,
Louis Hotel, stating that they were authorized by the minis-
try to invite the cooperation of the liberal leader, with a view
to the settlement of differences existing between Upper and
Lower Canada. When this proposal had been made, Mr. Brown
replied that nothing but the extreme urgency of the pre


crisis could justify tliis meeting — with which observation Mr.
Macdonald agreed in a tone of bland irony. The grit chief
tln-u intimated that ■ it was quite impossible that he could be
a member of any administration at pteaon t, and that even had
this been otherwise, he would haw oonoeived it highly objec-
tionable that partus who had been so long and so strongly op-
posed to each other, as he and MMM members of the adminis-
tration had been, should enter the same cabinet. He thought
the public mind would be shocked by such an arrant -in cut,
bet lit' felt wry Btrongty that the present crisis presented an
opportunity of dialing with this question that might never oc-
cur again. Both political parties had tried in turn to govern
the country, but without success ; and repeated elections only
arrayed sectional majorities against each other more strongly
than before. Another general election at this moment present-
ed little hope of a much altered result ; and he believed that
both parties were far better prepared than they had ever been
before to look the true cause of all the difficulties firmly in the
face, and endeavour to settle the representation question on an
•equitable and permanent basis."

In reply, Mr. Macdonald said he considered it essential that
Mr. Brown should be a member of the cabinet, to give gua-
rantees to the opposition and the country of the earnestness of
the government. To do justice to Mr. Brown, he did not show
any hopeless opposition to the proposal that he should enter
the ministry, but suggested that all questions of a personal na-
ture, and the necessary guarantees, might be waived for the
present, " and the discussion conducted with a view of ascer-
taining if a satisfactory solution of the sectional difficulty
could be agreed upon." He then requested to know what steps
the government proposed towards settling sectional troubles.
Promptly, Messrs. Macdonald and Gait informed him that
their remedy was " a federal union of all the British North-
American provinces " — a project, while not in some details the
same as that afterwards adopted, all along very dear to Mr.


Maedonald, though he did not approve of the methods recently
proposed to carry out the object, and had voted against the plan
I — " local matters being committed to local bodies, and
matters common to all to a general legislature, constituted on
the well-understood principles of federal government." With
this plan Mr. Brown expressed himself dissatisfied, his desire
not being to see a confederation of the provinces, a contin-
v which he regarded as impracticable then and remote, but
rather to haw accomplished a measure to provide more euuit-

able parliamentary representation for Upper ( anada. As there

>ion among several writers that Mr. Brown was

the parent of confederation, and entered the coalition for the

purpose of forwarding the scheme it may be is well to dispel

the illusion. The testimony of Mr. Mackenzie, Mr. Brown's
grapher, on this point, i> conclusive. After Messi
dd and (Jalt had stated what their remedy was, "Mr.
Brown," Mr. Mackenzie tells us, at page 89 of his book, " <>]>
I that this was uncertain and remote (the confederation
•■me), as there were so many bodies to be consulted; and
stated that the measure acceptable to Upper Canada would be
parliamentary reform based on population, without regard to
a separating line between Upper and Lower Canada." Messrs.
Miedonald and Gait assured Mr. Brown that his proposal in-
volved an impossibility, and after some discussion the latter
gentleman was persuaded to accept a compromise in the adop-
tion of the federal principle for all the provinces as the larger
question, or lor Canada alone, with provision for the admis-
sion of the maritime provinces and the North- West territory.
The ground having been thus cleared, Mr. Brown stated that
he was ready to cooperate with the new government. The
utmost credit then to which Mr. Brown is entitled is, not that
he brought the union into life, but that he permitted its birth.
Quite a different parent had the scheme. To use Bystanders
apt epigram, " The father of confederation was dead-lock."



On the 30th of the month, business having been hurried
through, parliament was prorogued. On the same day the
ministerial announcement- \\vn- made. ( leorge Brown entered
the government as president of the council, Oliver Mowat as
postmaster-general, and Win. McDougall as provincial-secretary.
The ordinary affairs of Legislation had little charm now for the
coalition ministry, so absorbed were they by the scheme which
overshadowed every other question. The tongues of implac-
able party foemen for the time were stilled, the questions that
had kept the two sections of the province so long in an atti-
tude of hostility towards each other, passed for the time from
the public memory, and one and all began to dream over this
new nationality that was to be given to them. But as one hears,
in the stilly moments before the rush of the storm, the croak-
ing note of the raven on the turret or the tree-top, so, in the
midst of the expectancy which held the people mute, here and
there was heard the voice of a politician croaking some evil
prophecy. Messrs. Dorion and Holton raised their voices and
said in effect that we were plucking green fruit, that the union
scheme required yet many years to ripen, and predicted a new
brood of discord under the expected regime. Mr. Dunkin
croaked an unmistakable note of ruin ; solemnly declaring that
we would have under " this confederation " a swarm of trou-
bles and heart-burnings far more grievous than the discords
we aimed to exorcise. A number of the grits who had followed
Mr. Brown all along, while approving of the federation princi-
ple, declared that he had sold himself to the liberal-conserva-
tive party, and, that, what was worse than the sale, he had
gone over " too cheap." They pointed out that while the oppo-
sition had a majority of two votes in the legislature they were
given only three seats ; but it afterwards became clear that
Mr. Brown brought all possible pressure to bear for the admis-
sion of a greater number of his friends, and that the govern-
ment had decided to stop at this point.


The most energetic spirit in the federation movement now
Mr. John A. Macdonald. It was his hand that made
smooth many of the rough ways in the negotiations ; and he in-
spired his colleagues with the same faith and enthusiasm in the
achievement of the union as he felt himself. His interest in
dieme, after the coalition had been accomplished, has been
ted at by some prejudiced and superficial writers, while
others who affect an anxiety to be friendly, say that he de-
serves credit for having beni bo readily to the wishes of the
Legislature and the public. The truth is, from the moment that
a federation of the provinces had been first discussed, the scheme

bad been Mr. Ifacdonald^ fondest dream. Efforts, wrongly

made, by politicians who were zealous for the union, lie had

seen and disapproved ; believing, and affirming his belief, that

it was not proper to jeopardize a project of such overshadowing
moment, by affixing t;> it the Btigma of that defeat which
was sure to come upon the test of its popularity, at a time when
the puhlic mind was not prepared to comprehend its import-
ant through all those years that the Upper Canada re-
formers cried oat for representation by population, and charged
him with lending himself to the French Canadians for the sake
of office, he dreamt of the time, when through some such system
a- was afterwards adopted, the turmoil would be brought to an
end. and that which the majority of the people in his own sec-
tion sought be granted, without working injustice to the other
portion of the province ; and when the census revealed that
there were 300,000 persons more in the upper than in the lower
division, he promptly told Mr. Cartier that the day of settle-
ment was close at hand. We have seen that while the union
maintained, such settlement never could be representation
1 >y population ; that Mr. Macdonald had made some of his most
powerful speeches in affirming this position : it is not necessary
then to say that the expedient in which he saw a cure was
this plan for a confederation. Later on, when, among other
delegates, he visited Halifax, he stated that this scheme of l


union had been hifl ideal dream, and that since he saw a possi-
bility of its accomplishment be felt that a higher future had
been Opened for OS, ami a field worthy the ambition of the
Canadian iilalammn Fe4 not alone in his attitude towards
thii gieal q nesii on, but bo many other important political
'-.the birth of his time, in which he has felt the deep-
est interest, has he been regarded hostile. "He will not con-
sent to be homed," says one writer, " but no one can say that
on any given question his finality of to-day may not be his
staffing-point at some future time."* The truth is, Mr. Hac-
donald had not proten ded to be wiser than his time, or Bought
to move faster than the people. He showed then, as e
since, that he regards it to be his duty in the governing place,
not to create, but to obey public opinion. Many a time when
pressed to move this way or that has he assured impulsive col-
leagues, " The fruit is green and not fit to pluck," and that the
harmless thunder of an unpopular orator, or a newspaper awry,
is not public opinion, any more than one swallow is a summer.
He mightwrite in living letters in bis political arms as his motto,
Carpe diem. Unlike the unthinking plodder who launches his
skiti' when the tide sets against him, Mr. (let us say Sir John, for
we are anticipating) Macdonald only puts out when the current
is with him, and the " furrow follows free." Some men are for
ever wrestling with the winds and the tides of public opinion,
because they have not been given the gift to see in what direc-
tion the currents flow ; but after they have been driven by the
adverse elements, which are stronger than they are, and which
have always conquered, and will always overcome whoso is
reckless enough to battle with them, and see their opponents
progressing with flowing sail, they sneer and cry, "He has
waited for the wind and the tide. He is only a creature of
expedient. We have not regarded the tempest or the waves,
but have buffeted them " — and, let us add, had shipwreck.

♦ Charles Lindsey, in Dent's " Portrait Gallery."


" We do not wait till public opinion is in our favour, but set
boldly out, wrestle with it," — and, let us add for them again,
get ashore. This has been Mr. John A. Macdonald's pre-emin-
ence : and if standing patiently by, and waiting till public
opinion is ready for him to secularize clergy reserves, or con-
summate a union of the straggling provinces, is to be a creature
of expediency, then such a creature, in the superlative degree,,
ia he. Brown's proposal of a coalition Macdonald saw was
the favourable turn to the tide which had up to that hour set
adversely. Because his efforts for union before would only
have been energy wasted, and ■ defeat-tarnish on the project
he had, up to this hour, held aloof; beoanso ok I xertions now
oonld be turned to triumph, lie not alone joined hands with the
unionists, but with heart and head became the Leader of the
in-iit, baiting not, or flagging not, as we shall Bee, till his
ifteal victory had been won.

Let us now, briefly as we may. give the story of the various-
steps, from tin- first to the last, of the confederation move-
ment. The idea of a federation of the colonies was not a new
One, and bad been mooted many times before. Indeed BO early
as the time when the New England colonies separated from the
empire, an article was introduced into the constitution of the
new confederacy authorizing the admission of Canada to the
union, should the latter seek such alliance. In 1810 an enter-
prising colonist put forward the federation scheme, but politi-
cal opinion was in a erode state, and nothing more was heard
of the proposition till four years later, when chief-justice Se-
well, of Quebec, submitted a plan of confederation to the Duke
of Kent. The Duke agreed, in a very cordial note, with the
suggestions of " my dear Sewell," and then pointed out that the
chief-justice was mistaken as to the number of legislatures in
the British North American possessions. Although the justice
had " quite overlooked " one province, he was satisfied that bis
scheme was a masterpiece of grasp and detail. In 1827 the
legislative council of Upper Canada originated resolutions aim-


ing at a union of the two Canadian provinces, suggesting like-
Wise a union of the whole four provinces of North America
under a vice-royalty, with %fae twittfi of that great and glori-
tabric, the best monument of human wisdom, the British
constitution." This movement exploded in rhetorical thunder,
and nothing more was heard of tin* scheme in public places till
1 . 1 Durham had been disgraced, and had presented his report.
Prom that hour the question engrossed, more or less, the public
mind, and in 184-0 the North American League, a body which
bore asomewhat similar relation to the British North American
provinces, as those three T<«>lry-stivet tailors did to the city of
London, met in Toronto and discussed the question, though the
immediate object of the gathering was an application of the
federal principle to the two provinces of Canada. In 1854 the
legislature of Nova Scotia adopted resolutions recommending a
closer union of the British North-American colonies. From
Una period the imperial government seem to have set their
hearts upon a federation of the provinces. Leading statesmen
warmly recommended the measure in the house of commons,

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 23 of 57)