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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the stars of heaven in number." Leading < anadian minds have
begun to ponder these fignrea 1- ->ucha plenitude of governn tent
needful they ask themselves ; if not, then why should it abide I
Meanwhile the inhabitants of New Brunswick had taken
alarm, and a very gale of opposition to the confederation
movement swept over the province. Before heavy guns are
put to the ordeal of battle, they are tested by tremendous
charges; and boilers used for generating steam are subjected
to enormous pressure, to guard against ruinous explosion in
the day of trial. When the delegates shut themselves uj> in
their secret chamber at Quebec, a sacred silence was imposed
upon each one present till the result of the deliberations
should be made known in the proper way through the legisla-
tures. There was no means of testing the secret-bearing capa-
city of members, else some explosions might have edified the
early stages of the proceedings. Nothing in the way of casu-
alty occurred, however, during the tour through the western
province, though some of the delegates did look the while so
important with their cargo of mystery as to remind one of a
heavy August cloud, full of lightning and thunder, that may at
any moment burst. But when one of the number reached his
home in Prince Edward Island, the secret had grown so oppres-
sive that he felt it would be impossible for him to contain
himself. When the pressure became intolerable, he went, in
a sort of reckless despair, and unburthened to a newspaper
editor. Within three hours the terms of the Quebec scheme

♦ Prof. Goldwin Smith, in " The Bystander " for March, 1880.


were flashed from end to end of British North America. The
New Brunswickers took instant alarm. Trifling discrepancies
were magnified into frightful proportions. The demagogue
cried out against "taxation," and tlic conservative against a
sacrilegious meddling with the constitution." In Marc h, Jfifi& .
aeraJ election was held, and 80 hitter was the feeling against
union. JJia t not one of the Quebec delegates was electe d. An
anti-confederate ministry was formed by Hen. now Sir) A. J.
Smj£h, and George L Hathaway. The result of the election
in New Brunswick told heavily on the fate of the question else-
where. The nni<»n enthusiasm of Nova Scotia was instantly

chilled; tic legislature seemed disposed to hold aloof from
general federation plan* and passed resolutions favouring

alone a union of the maritime provinces, j^rjmiii- K J ward Is —
]nm l sn l 'h-nly d-'vl"p"d n turMd^nt Tittfo t i fiinp **! ' of her ow n ;
spiri tedly refused to have anything to do with confederation,
and re pudiated the action of her delegates at the Quebec con-
ferenc e. Newfoundland took no steps, and the ministry waited
till the other provinces had set the example of entering the
union before submitting the <piestion to the pulls.
The Canadian del irhile En England, had several

hy confci ith the imperial ministers on the proposed

constitutional changes, on treaties andjegislation, the defences
of Canada, ^he settlement of the north-west territories, the
Hudson Bay company's claim, and other subjects. The con-
ration scheme having attracted much favourable attention
in England, OUT emissaries, were received with marked cordiality
by the ministry as we\l as by the Queen and royal family.
Hon. John A. Macdonald pressed upon the home government
the expediency of making known to the recalcitrant colon its
that the imperial authorities desired to see a union consumma-
ted ; for one of .the weapons used again sj^the jaroject in Nova
Scotia and New Brun swick, was t hat the_aim of the confedera- -
lion was sepa ration from the empire^ an d the a ssumption of
independent nation ality. Such an intention at that day was


regarded as a public offence. It' it is an offence for the son,
approaching the yean and the strength of manhood, to turn
his thoughts to separation from the homestead under whose

jurisdiction and shelter he has lived during his infancy and
boyhood, to sketch out a manly and Independent career of his

own, plan to build his own house, conduct his own business,

and carve out his own fortune, then was it an offence for those
I anadian-. if there WCM at that time any such, who on the eve
of union dreamt of nationality, of a time when Canada would
-passed the years of boyhood, and be brave and strong
enough to stand forth among the independent nations.

Alter the despatches of the colonial secretary had readied
the provincial government, some of those who had opposed
union on the ground of loyalty, now began with much consist-
ency to inveigh against the alleged " undue pressure " of the
imperial government ; while many declared that " an atrocious
system for the coercion of the colonies into the hateful bon< 1 "
had been inaugurated in the home office. The truth is there
was neither pressure nor coercion exercised from the colonial
office, since no proceeding could have been more fatal to the
prospects of the confederation. The home ministry had grown
to be enthusiastic supporters of the "new-dominion " scheme,
and stated their views at much length in their despatches to
the colonial governors, whom they wished to give to the project
every possible proper support at their command ; but that was
all. On the one hand Mr. John Macdonald and his colleagues
avouched the loyalty of the provinces to the crown, and de-
clared that the colonists would spend their only dollar, and shed
the last drop of their blood, in maintaining connexion with the
mother-land. The parent was much moved at these earnest and
lavish protestations of the child, and in token of her apprecia-
tion and gratitude guaranteed a loan for the construction of an
Intercolonial railway ; admitted her obligation to defend the
colonies with all the resources at her command ; and consented
to strengthen the fortifications at Quebec, and provide arma-


ments. The Quebec scheme was amply and carefully discussed,,
and our colonial ministers were fairly matches for their impe-
rial brethren in diplomacy — notably so was Mr. John A. Mac-
donald. whose astuteness and statesmanlike views were the
subject of much favourable comment. Among other things,
the home government undertook to ascertain what were the
rights of the Hudson Bay company, with a view to the cession
of the north-west territory to the Dominion.

A meeting of the Canadian parliament, to discuss the report
of the de was called fox the 8th <>t" August. On the ,'iQt . h

of Ju jjf, some excitement was caused in political circles by the
death of the pivmier, Kir^Etienne P . Tache *, and as the meeting
of the legislature was to take plaee in a few day>, it became
iniperative that blfl successor should be appointed as speedily

as possible, The senior member of the cabinet, and bej ond any
comparison, its mosi able and eligible member, was the attor-
ney-general-west, and for this gentleman tlie governor-general
promptly sent, requesting him to assume the place of the de-
ceased leader. Mr. Macdonald offered no objections, but, on the
contrary, believed thai he was entitled by reason of his seniority
in the cabinet, to the vacant premiership. He waited on
George Brown to whom he stated what had passed between
himself and Lord Honck, but the grit chieftain refined to con-
to the arrangement, giving as his reason that the govern-
ment hitherto had been a coalition of three political parties,
each represented by an active party leader, but all acting under
one chief, who had ceased to be moved by strong party feelings
or personal ambition. Mr. Macdonald, M. Cartier and himself
on the contrary, he maintained, were regarded as party leaders,
with party feelings ami aspirations; and to place any one of
i in an attitude of superiority over the others, with the ad-
vantage of the premiership, would, in the public mind, lessen
security of good faith, and seriously endanger the existence
of the coalition. He refused, therefore, to accept Mr. Macdon-
ald as premier, and suggested the appointment of some gentle-


man of good standing in the Legislative council. Tlie grit

ler'a motives, the reader can see as well as ourselves, were

partly patriotic, but above all they were selfish Jt was natural

that he should be jealous of the ascendancy of Mr. Macdonald,

hoi it would have been inure creditable bad be frankly said

>o, instead of trying t<» bide his real motive behind the tbin

d of argument, thai sir Btienne Taehd was a colourless

politician, without strong party feeling. Mr. Macdonald, very
calmly and clearly, pointed out, in reply t" Mr. Brown's objec-
tion, that at the time the coalition was effected, in 18G4, Sir
Btienne Taehlheld the }>>sition of premier, with bimself as
leader in the lower house, and of the Upper Canada section of
tbf government ; thai Sir Btienne was not selected at the time
of the coalition to the leadership as a part of the agreement
for the coalition, but that be bad been previously, as then, the
head of the conservative government, and was accepted by all
his Lower-Canada colleagues without change. This it will be
seen cut away the ground completely from under Brown's con-
tention; after which Mr. Macdonald stated that he had not much
personal feeling in the matter, and that if he had he thought it
to be his duty to overcome such feeling for the sake of carrying
out the great scheme, so happily commenced, to a successful
issue. He would, therefore, readily stand aside, and waive his
pretensions to the premiership ; and then suggested the name
of M. Cartier for the vacancy. Mr. Brown said he could not
decide on this proposal without seeing his friends ; and went
away to consult Messrs. McDougall and Howland. The result
of the conference was that M. Cartier was not acceptable
either, after which Mr. Macdonald informed Mr. Brown that he
and M. Cartier had decided on offering the premiership to Sir
Narcisse Belleau. To this Brown replied that he was still un-
satisfied, that his party would not have chosen Sir Narcisse ;
but he added : " Since we are equally with you desirous of pre-
venting the scheme for the confederation of British America
receiving injury from the appearance of disunion among us, we


shall offer no objection to his appointment." Sir Narcisse was
therefore installed, accepting the original policy of the coalition
The last session of the Canadian parliament, held in Quebec,
was opened on the 8th of August. The chief work of the ses-
sion was a consideration of the report of the delegates to Eng-
land. The government carried its measures by overwhelming
majorities, and there seemed no disposition to tolerate the ob-
struction of the small band of opposition. During tin- session,
the result of the labours of the commission, appointed in 1857,
ime a civil code for Lower Canada, was presented to the
slature, and M. Cartier introduced a hill to carry the same
into effect. The late Mr. S. .1. Watson, a peculiarly vigorous
writer, in referring t,> tli»> speech delivered l>y M. Cartier on
this occasion, remarks: " Be spoke with the feeling of a man
who is conscious that he is placing the crowning stone on an
odifice which has cost him years of labour and anxiety to
buikL" The code went into operation on the Isi of August in
th<- foil*. wing year. The hon after a si >ion;

and in the autumn the public offices were removed to the
new capital in the wilderness, some one hundred and twenty
miles up the Ottawa river. During the summer, for the sake
of convenience, the cabinet meetings were held in Montreal.

Meanwhile, it was faring ill with George Brown in the
cabinet. "The giant of the platform," says Bystander, "is
apt to shrink into toss imposing dimensions when placed at the
council board and pitted mind to mind against shrewd and able
men who are not to be swayed by rhetorical thunder. It was
always said that the southern slave-owner never was half so
happy at Washington, even in the hour of his political ascen-
dancy, as on his own plantation where he was absolutely lord
and master of all around him. Mr. Brown's position, it may be
ily believed, was more pleasant in the sphere where, instead
of finding his supremacy always contested, he ruled with des-
potic sway, and could visit dissent from his opinion with the


lash." His position began to grow so intolerable, that the vir-
tue which prompted him to enter the government^ and give his
pledge to support the ministry till the confederation scheme
wifl beyond danger, began to fade out of him, and lie only sought
a pretext for resignation. It appears, and it is not greatly to-
be wondered at, that Sir Narcisse Belleau was only the figure-
l of the administration, and that attorney -general Macdon-
ald's was the ruling mind. Of Mr. Brown's personal unfriend-
liness, we might say his hatred, towards Mr. Macdonald, we
liav. already heard, as shown in his refusal to ratify the latter
gentleman's appointment to the premiership ; and now that his
enemy, d e spite this protest, was the virtual premier, the mind
which inspired, and the hand that shaped the policy of the ad-
ministration, was a thorn too stinging for him to bear.y One
writer says that Mr. Brown should have foreseen all these things
before entering the administration, but as we have already
shown, Mr. Brown was frequently, when apparently moving
according to the dictates of calm calculation, the victim of im-
pulse, and always incapable of forecasting probabilities or con-
sequences. Duty to some men is as the fixed star that the
mariner, sailing over the unknown main, follows with unfalter-
ing faith till it leads him to his haven ; but it is clear in the
record that with all the robust honesty and sense of right which
Mr. Brown possessed, this higher, and finer moral duty was not
to him a constant star. Strong and clear appeared his duty
when he came to conservative ministers and proposed a coali-
tion ; promptly did he follow then what he deemed his duty
was ; and that, so far, he did honourably, we might say nobly,
is by nothing so strongly proven as in the protests entered by
that school of politicians, to which, by his own newspaper, he
had given life. But not far did he travel on his way when he
lost faith in the virtue of the star, faltered, dropped off, and
covered an honourable beginning with an ignominious ending
Let us not anticipate, however, but see exactly what he did.


The termination of the reciprocity treaty, as those who have
borne the dates in mind remember, was now at hand, and the
commercial interests of the provinces demanded that the gov-
ernment should employ all possible means towards securing
renewal. Overtures which had been made, were treated with
contempt at Washington, so, at the suggestion of the imperial
government, a " Confederate Council on Commercial Treaties,"
and comprising representatives from all the British North
American provinces, was held during the autumn of 18G5, at
Quebec. This council, among whose members was Mr. George
Brown, recommended that a deputation should be sent to Wash-
ington, to endeavour to effect a renewal. While Mr. Brown
was absent from Ottawa on public business, Mr. Howland and
Mr. Gait were sent to Washington to negotiate there with the
committee of ways and mean* [nasmnch as Mr. Howland had
not been a member of the confederate council, and Mr. Brown
had, the latter gentleman regarded the preference of the other
as a personal slight, and a snffid use for withdrawing

himself from the cabinet. It will be seen that a very filmy
; 1 obscured Mr. Brown's star of duty. A principle that can-
not withstand a personal slight, and one of such a nature as this,
is surely not worth the having. But in view of Mr. Brown's
tuhseqnent attitude towards the treaty question, it will be ob-
• i \ed that Mr. Macdonald acted with his usual discretion in
refusing to send to negotiate a treaty a man who was hostile to
the very proceedings which it would be his duty to carry out.
On learning that Howland had been sent to Washington, Brown
at once resigned his seat in the ministry, and could not be in-
duced by any pressure to alter his decision. It appears that
the affront received was not Mr. Browns only ground of com-
plaint against the government. Of the ministerial policy witli
leet to the Washington treaty, he strongly disapproved. He
did not believe that we ought to go to Washington as suitors, but
that Washington ought to come to us. In other words he was
not willing that Mahomet should go up to the mountain, but


contended that the mountain ought do comedown to Mahomet.
That this excellent view had taken possession of him is clear

from the following extract of a speech which he delivered dur-
ing the next session of parliament. " I was," In- said, " as much

in favour of a renewal of reciprocity u any member of this
house, hut 1 wanted ■ Bair treaty ; and we shou Id not overlook
the fact while admitting its benefits, that the treaty was at-
tended with some disad vantages to us. I contend that we
should n«>t have gone to Washington as suitors, for any terms
they were pleased to give as. We were satisfied with the treaty,
and the American government should have come to us with a
proposition since they, not us, desired a change." Of course
nobody believes that Mr. John A. Macdonald sent delegates to
Washington begging for " any terms they were pleased to give
In a little w T hile Mr. Brown passed from the transition
state, and was pouring red-hot broadsides into the government.
11 ss political history ever told of such another man? No
impartial writer hesitates to think if there may be found any
use for the man's course ; one might almost have fancied
Alexander Mackenzie shrinking with his brush. Says Colonel
Gray : " Either he (Mr. Brown) ought not to have joined the
government or he ought not to have left it at that time. The
people sustained him in the first ; they condemned him in the
latter. The reason he gave no one accepted as the real reason,
and his opponents did not hesitate to say that he left the go-
vernment because he was not permitted to be its master." One
balm only now could have healed the wounds of Mr. Brown,
and that the loyalty of his reform colleagues. But in the
dark hour these deserted him. Mr. Howland openly disap-
proved of his leader's course, and when Mr. McDougall returned
to Canada, from which he had been absent on a mission of trade,
he endorsed the course of Mr. Howland. It may be said here
that the mission to Washington was a failure, and that no
further attempt to secure reciprocity was made till several
years after confederation.


The last session of the provincial parliament met at Ottawa
on the 8th of June. The ministry's speech expressed the hope
that the union scheme would soon bewnfcdtctocompli, and that
the next parliament would embrace an assemblage not only of
the federate representatives of Canada, but of every colony in
British North America. A shiver had run through the public
with the tidings of the invasion by O'Neil's ruffians, and on the
assembling of the legislature an act suspending the Habeas
Corpus for one year was hurriedly passed ; also a measure pro-
viding for the protection ol Lower Canada against invasion.
There was brisk discussion upon some of the government
measures, but the opposition found themselves In compari-
son with their opponents as " small infantry warred
on by i -raies;" and hence, as the session wore on, Learned not
to offer opposition where nothing was to be gained but a crown
of ridicul 1 ries of resolutions defining the constitution of
Upper and Lower < 'anada under the proposed confederation,
and which subsequently were, in great measure, incorporated
in the imperial act, were passed, and likewise a tariff pro-
vision for the admission of such commodities as boots and
shoes, ready-made clothing, saddlery and harness, which had
hitherto, by virtue of the act of 1859, paid a duty of twenty-
five per cent., at a duty of fifteen per cent. ; while, to stimulate
native manufacture, a number of raw materials were put upon
the free list. To meet the deficiency which must result in
the revenue, an increased impost was placed upon whiske}'.
Before the house arose a difference, suppressed for some time,
between the finance minister, Mr. A. T. Gait, and Mr. EL L.
Langevin, on the subject of education in Lower Canada came
to a head, and resulted in the resignation of the former gentle-
man, who, however, loyally supported the government in its
general policy, while feeling obliged to so far differ from it
on a particular (pnst'ion. Mr. Howland took Mr. Gait's port-
folio, and Mr. solicitor-general Langevin became postmaster-
neral in the place of the new finance minister.


Meanwhile, roaooti had resumed her sway in New Brunswick
and Nova Scotia. In New Brunswick, shortly after the blind
godctofl had scored her victory, opinion began to revolt against
thr counsel by winch it had hitherto been guided respecting
the great question at issue, and which, in its an ti -progressive
and dark-age press had appealed to the condition of Ireland
under union for witness against the wisdom of the confederation
scheme. The public in a calm and sensible mood pondered the
question over, and remembered among other things the story
of the bundle of rods, which when fastened together could not
be broken, while each rod, tested singly, proved to be a frail
and unresisting thing. But they thought beyond the confines
of figure and allegory, and were eager for an opportunity to dis-
card the progress-brakes which had assumed the government
of the province. In I860*, the legislature of New Brunswick
met under exciting circumstances. The province had been
threatened with invasion by the Fenians, and, not unnaturally,
the public mind exaggerated small danger into great propor-
tions. There was some reason to suppose, and strong supposi-
tion, that the ministry which had assumed power by virtue of
opposition to the union, was not composed entirely of members
deadly foemen to the ruffians threatening the province. Gover-
nor Gordon, in the speech opening the legislature, announced
that it was the earnest wish of the Queen that the provinces
should unite in one confederacy, and strongly urged the ques-
tion upon the legislature. The Smith-Hatheway administra-
tion was willing to meet the royal wish half way, provided that
New Brunswick obtained better terms in the compact than
those offered in the Quebec scheme. But the public were
not disposed to abide by the half-way marches of the ministry,
or even to tolerate its existence. The legislative council, strange
to say, proved that on occasion it may be useful, by passing an
address expressing the desire that the imperial government
might unite New Brunswick and the other provinces in a fed-
erative union. The ministry were obliged to resign, and the


governor called on Mr. (now Sir) Leonard Tilley to form an
administration. A dissolution followed, and to the same length
which the province had before gone in opposing confederation,
it now went in supporting the scheme. This election had a
marked influence on the fortunes of confederation in other
quarters. " The destiny of British North America," indeed, says
Mr, Archer, " was decided in New Brunswick." Nova Scotia
shook off her torpor, and appointed delegates to proceed to
London, to perfect a measure of union. Meanwhile the little
province in the ( Julf remained refractory, while her more ragged
sister out on the edge of the Atlantic was listless, save for the
harrowing "poetry n of her Ssherman-bards, and the metaphys-
ical llux of a Hebrew scholar. The little meadow province
afterwards fell before the wooer, but the "ancient colony "chose
perpetual celibacy. Little Tom the tea haby once found in the
middle of the Northern Bea a solitary gair-fowl sitting bob up-
right upon the Allalonestone, and iri n g*ng at morn and eve,

' And so the poor stone was left all alone,

With a fal-lal-la-lady."

She was an ancient dame, having no winces, and despising
birds who had ; was supremely content with her isolation, and
disgusted with the progress of modern times. It seems to us

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 25 of 57)