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 27 of 57)
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approval, to this early contribution ; but we can only shed
compassion backward through the years upon the editor of
Fraser' 8 Magazine. It is a sore (ask enough for a magazine
editor to have to read, and reject the tomes of manuscript
produced by adults, but it is horror opening her flood-gates
upon his head when he is not safe from boys of fourteen.
Therefore, we must not be regarded as considering that either
the spirit which prompted Mr. Gait to write at fourteen, or the
matter he wrote, was good ; we do not approve of the parent
who permitted him to write ; neither does the judgment of the
editor commend itself to us, who published the lad's effusion.
Literature after a short stay with young Gait waved her wing ;
and the young man fixed his eye upon some other star. The '


Gait family emigrated to ( ana. la, in 1824, and when Alexander
had attained hlfl sixteenth year, be entered the service of the
British American Land Company, in the eastern townships, as
a junior clerk. His marked abilities brought him to notice, and
his rise through the virions stagwi of the department was rapid,
till he reaobed tin- post of oommia&wneimhip. "Daring his

twelve veal's lnana-'-in.-iit." >ays a reliable authority, " the com-
]).fnv was changed from one of almost hopeless insolvency, to
that of a valuable and lvninnrrative undertaking." Mr. Gait
first entered parliament when the country was aflame over the
rebellion losses bill, but at this period he seemed to be less use*
ful as a politician than as a business man. He endeavoured to
distinguish himself as a shining { -rotes tan t by opposition to
catholicity, though the true way for him to prove the superior-
ity of his protestantism, was to worship God in his church in a
simple earnest spirit, and when he left the temple to do unto
others as he would have others do unto him. Uncharitableness
and intolerance are not any more true protestantism, than
Catholicism is the drunken zeal of those brutal mobs that stood
up in defence of the " church," when Gavazzi lectured in Que-
bec and Montreal. In the lapse of time, Mr. Gait outgrew weak
prejudice, and he was for many years regarded as being " too
judicial " for the warped ways of the politician. He was a
valuable member when measures were supported or opposed
merely for party's sake, and sat as one alone in the house, now
warmly supporting a view of the government, and again ap-
pearing the most censorious among the opposition. From the
first his opinion on all questions of trade and finance commanded
the close attention of the house. Upon the collapse of the
Brown-Dorion ministry, he was requested to form an adminis-
tration, but having practically alienated himself from party, he
had no following in the house, and not being possessed of the
blind ambition of George Brown, wisely refused to attempt a
task which must have ended in failure. We have already noted
other events in his career, and shall see him asrain before we


close. Mr. Gait, though not born in Canada, is a Canadian,
and even with his eccentricities is a credit to his country. His
political compass as our readers are aware, has frequently taken
fits of wide variation ; to intensify the figure a little his opinion
has gone round the compass. He has shown decided leanings
to the policy of the reformers ; and at times has sounded notes
with the true ring of the conservative. This perhaps Mr. Gait
himself would call the swinging of the pendulum, denoting a
w.ll-balanced non-party man ; but unfortunately the time came
when the pendulum, reaching one sid<\ remained there. For
example, Mr. Gait was a zealous champion of confederation,
and we write it down, with a hearty feeling, to his credit, At
another period of hia life he was something quite different, A
band of men gathered together in Canada shortly after the tory
mob had burnt the parliament buildings in Montreal, and cir-
culated a manifesto recommending "• friendly and peaceful
separation from British connexion, and ■ union upon equitable
terms with the i, r reat North A mrrican conf<-< lei acy of sovereign

A number of gentlemen ofg 1 standing in ( anada,

supported the scheme, and one of tln'.se was Mr. A. T. Gait.
There would be nothing striking bo this historical morsel but
that, s few months ago, while trying to restrain her laughter,
Canada stood watching the same Mr. A. T. Gait, as Cana-
dian high commissioner to England, endeavouring to set flying
no less a kite than s scheme for the federation of the empire.
The idea, unfortunately for the fame of Mr. Gait, is not original,
and even in the way of seconddiand is only a half-way measure.
For, in Locksley Hall. Tennyson has a much better proposal,
as we learn when he Binge of the time

11 When the war drum throbs no longer, and the battle-flags are furled
In the parliament of man, the federation of the world."

Hut as the Canadians are not far enough advanced yet to appre-
ciate such an admirable scheme as this, Mr. Gait should have
brought the project out in a story-book rather than in a prac-'


tical way. Had Jules Verne proposed all those elaborate ideas
of his to the French government, he might not have succeeded
either, but he wisely instead put them forth in his " Ten Thou-
sand Leagues under the Sea," his voyage through the heavens,
and other unusual excursions. Should it ever occur to Mr. Gait
that his federation plan might be extended so as to take in
the moon, we beseech of him not to make the proposal in the
formal way cither to the British or the Canadian government —
as so surely as he does they will not take kindly to the scheme
— but amply l»ring it out in a novel. If we except this one
marvellous idea, SO far as relates to Mr. Gait's public career, his
influence upon political lift' in Canada has been for the better,
and he deserves well of his countrymen. As his mission at the
court of St. James has, by his own desire, been brought to a
close, and he is again to become a resident of Canada, we only
express the wish, that must be general, that the country may
for many years to come have the benefit of his experience, pru-
dence and great ability in public matters. We beseech of him*
from our own feeling, and on behalf of Canadians, however, to
purge his mind of this federation phantasm.

Perhaps one of the most prominent men in the new ministry
was M. Hector L. Langevin, secretary of state for Canada.
M. Langevin is a son of the late Jean Langevin, who was as-
sistant civil secretary under Lords Gosford and Sydenham.
He was born in the city of Quebec on the 25th of August, 1826.
Educated in the city of his birth he began the study of
law in the office of Hon. A. N. Morin, concluding his course
with the late Sir George E. Cartier. He was called to the bar
in 1850. Early in life M. Langevin gave evidence of the first-
rate abilities which were to be employed in the service of his
country in later years. In connexion with the practice of his
profession he was at various periods the editor of three differ-
ent newspapers, of the Melanges Religieux, and the Journal
d 'Ag iricultwre, in Montreal ; and of the Courrier du Canada, in
Quebec. He had the desire common to so many aspiring young


men in this country to enter political life, and began his public
CUeer in the capacity of mayor of Quebec, to which office he
wafl several times elected. In 1855, he took the first of three
prizes for an essay on ( anada, written for circulation in Paris,
in which paper as in his other contributions he gave promise of
reaching high literary eminence, though, somewhat unfortu-
nately for letters, the public charmer, with her siren tongue,
won him for her own. He made his first appearance in parlia-
ment, the reader remembers, in 1S57, when he was elected for
Dorchester. Through the many years that followed till death
removed l£ ( 'artier from the scenes, M. Langevin acted the part
loyal, and skilful second, in his party, though the eye of
Lower Canada lit not with enthusiasm save when it fell upon
the imposing figure of the principal. let to us, M. Langevin

in the TO cond to M. ('artier, seems like the sun acting

satellite to the moon. As a statesman, to M. ('artier we can

only accord a second place; to ML Langevin we gives first.

M no tempest come, it is impossible for one to " ride the whirl-
wind and direct tin- storm.'' Vet, we may from observing the
man in the calm judge of his capacity in the hour of tumult.
M. Langevin has been described by some critics as a narrow
bigot, caring only for the welfare of his own race, and grudging
and opposing the progress of his Knglish brethren. We an
glad to say that these are the accusations of persons who know
not M. Langevin, and who perhaps cared not to know him,
since their objed was only to blacken. Most assuredly is the
eli leader loyal to the race whence he has sprung: there
has never arisen in his province a man to whom the best
interests of French < anadians is more dear, or who in advanc-
ing those interests has ever displayed more earnestness, wisdom
and ability. But, above all tilings, we believe he 18 a Cana-
{I'm n. Inde.d, what we want is such public men as M. Lange-
vin, to keep our political system from the mire into which it
shows a tendency to fall. When the Acadians of New Bruns-
wick sent a delegation to him reverting to the time that


their ancestors were expelled from their happy homes in the
Basin of Minas and to all the dark years that since have fal-
len upon the outcast descendant, M. Langevin pointed out to
them that tlic past was now ■ sealed book, that the duty of the
Acadian as well as of the French Canadian was not to keep
alive the remembrance of these dark hours, but to feel that one
and both, while doing well not to forget the language of their
fathers, were above all things Canadians, enjoying equal privi-
- with other nationalities in the provinces. Of this nature
has been his advice timet without number to the people of his
own province, and it is only just to say that, owing to his ex-
ertions, a more liberal spirit, a feeling of broader citizenship,
has grown up among his people. We do not wish here to be
understood as thinking that the province of Quebec has held
a monopoly of uncharitableness ; for a large portion of the
people of Ontario, through the teaching of a press forced into
perfidious work by the needs of party, regard Quebec with a feel-
ing at once narrow and unworthy. Unfortunately, the Globe
newspaper has been foremost in promoting the bad work of es-
trangement, though some do now hope, and we are of the num-
ber, that the worst of that great journal's work is done ; that,
to use the words of 1\ r, " the black flag has been hauled

down. Under these circumstances, the duty of Sir Hector
Langevin to his province is resistance, but with more than
judicious resistance, and a patriotic assertion of his people's
rights, he is not to be charged. M. Langevin's ability as a
statesman is, as we have said already, of the highest order. To-
a comprehensive understanding he brings a calm and unwarped
judgment, while so ready is his grasp, and so accurate his view
that he has more than once astonished delegations having com-
plex propositions before government, by his readiness in un-
ravelling and making plain the difficult sides of the question.
To all who meet him in his public capacity he is painstaking
and affable, and in every walk of life comports himself with-
that courtesy which he has acquired from his distinguished an-


cestors. In this respect we do wish some of his blustering,,
pompous colleagues, who endeavour to supply by airs what they
lack in escutcheon, would try to emulate him. No one has
ever yet proved that he is a gentleman, or "of good family"
1 > y the assumption of swagger ; on the contrary, he thereby
shows as plainly as if he had it written upon his front, that he
is low born, and not a gentleman. Men have control over most
of the events in their lives, bat they have not the remotest in-
fluence upon their own birth : so that it would be unjust to
think the WOfSe of a man in exalted place that he is not high-
bom A large number of our public men have sprung from

humble parentage, and these we can readily torsive, when high
upon fortune's Steep, fof endeavouring to appeal- as gentlemen ;
for they must take their wives and their daughters to Ottawa,,
Bud gO to OOUrt, and give and recive calls, and hold I place in
social life prop.-r t<» their rank in tie public sphere; and when
BUfih men deport themselves with that grace, courtesy and toler-
ance belonging to those who are to the manner born, they de-
to be ranked among those whose house has never been
-'•'•n in the bud hut always in tic tree. But the person who
'•ian born, wraps himself in conceit and vulgar pomp, or in
that brusque honlimni* which sits well upon some imperial

colonel, and that the parvenu counterfeits "uly to travesty, is
plebeian -till : all the waters of the St. Lawrence will not make
him whitr than the "great unwashed" of whom he is, but
whom he despises. In 1881, with the approval of those who
auds or title, save as badges of merit, and of
duty, in whatever line, well and faithfully done, her Majesty
conferred upon M. Langevhi the order of knighthood, which
distinction he now worthily wears.

One of the moei remarkable men in the council, was the-
minister of customs, Mr. S. L. Tilley. For many years he had
been the foremost politician in New IJrunswick, and, in the
capacity of leader, exhibited talents of more than a common
order. I fafortunately, the profession of politics to the popular


mind, when placed in the moral scale, has i; ttle specific gravity;
alid the person who enters public life is regarded as having
taken a step downward But through all the years that Hon.
Leonard Ti n ev had given to public duty, the most unscrupu-
lous opponent never even sou-lit to put any tarnish upon his
name. So upright were all his acts, so deep and sincere his
moral convictions, so able his administration of affairs, and,
withal, so zealous was he in the BeWice of his country, that his
name was a v.iy tower of strength to his party. Once indeed
in the hubbub of political strife, the popular mind lost its
balance and rejected the favourite, but when reason returned
the people repaired their error, and placed him again in power,
He was, as we have seen, a warm advocate of union, and it
i- not improbable that the confederation might not to this day
have comprehended the maritime provinces, but for his firm
and decided course at the critical time when New Brunswick
was the pivot ground of the scheme. Mr. Tilley brought to the
-enlarged sphere of politics at Ottawa, a mind stored with the
fruits of observation and experience, a penetrating and well-
contained intellect, and an unerring judgment. / s minister of
customs, he was prompt and decisive, but he displayed such
clearness of grasp and excellence of judgment upon every ques-
tion of trade or finance which came up, that it was apparent he
was capable of much higher work than playing the role of
chief custom-house officer. An important occasion was soon to
arise when the people of Canada demanded a reorganization of
the laws bearing upon trade and commerce ; and in Hon. Leo-
nard Tilley was found a man equal to the emergency. We need
not here do more than refer to the National Policy, and to the
laurels that have fallen to Mr. Tilley 's share through the suc-
cess of that measure, which is indebted in so great a degree to
his financial skill and keen insight. Among modern statesmen^
we need not say the place of Hon. (now Sir) Leonard Tilley is
among the first; and to this qualification he adds the other dis-
tinction of being an honest man. There are, perhaps, in the


Canadian Parliament more forcible speakers than Sir Leonard
Tilley, but there is certainly not one more convincing ; and
the way to judge of the merit of a speech is by looking at the
results. u The distinguishing characteristic of Sir Leonard Til-
lev, says Mr. Nicholas Flood Davin, in his sparkling and capi-
tal paper, " Great Speeches," in the Canadian Montlihj, "is sin-
eeiity. No man could appear more lost in his subject. This
is | great element in persuasiveness. The earnestness is en-
hanced by a style »>f pure Saxon and unaffected simplicity.
His ease of expression would at once mark him out in the
ish house of commons, and the wuc&oritas with which he
spot him weight and Bocnr ee a following, He lias the

rare power of waking a budget speech interesting, a power
which no chancellor of the exchequer I ever heard in the En-
glish house of commons had. Mr. Gladstone, of course, always

:<■'! In listening to Sir Leonard Tilley, we hear a man
who makes no statement that has not received thorough exam-
ination from every view, no opinion that does not bear the
stamp of deep eonvietion ; few, if any, propositions that those

who follow will be able to dis prove. The critic who admires

lid and fury would be disappointed in Sir Leonard Tilley

for he would find a man discnaaing his question with calm,

earnest dignity, never allowing passion to hurry him into ex-
travagance, bat firmly maintaining himself upon the ground of

common sense. Through such simple, irresistible force, Mr.
' den, whom Sir Leonard as a statesman and as a speaker
Strongly resembles, was in his day one of the leading orators
in Great Britain, and one of the foremost of her public men.
Sir Leonard Tilley 's public career is one that some of our
young politicians might study with profit. To no principle
in private or political life to which he has pledged himself has
he ever been known to prove faithless ; and in, at least, one no-
I instance the sincerity of his character is shown in strong

contrast to what others placed in circumstances similar to his


own might haw done. When he was appointed to the Govern-
orship of New Brunswick, no one was ignorant of the fact that
he had been, all his life, a devoted, zealous, and uncompromising
advocate of total abstinence. Yet they believed that the new
I ernor would be able to reconcile his conscience to fall in
with the immemorial custom of dispensing wine at his hospi-
talities ; bat daring the Bye years that he occupied the guber-
natorial chair, intoxicants were not mice found on his sideboard
or table.* In these days when principle so often gives way to
expediency, a practical example of this kind is of the highest
moment. Sir Leonard is gracious and affable to all with whom
his duty brings him in contact, and it would certainly be taxing
to the patience of Job himself to have to listen to, expostulate
with, and resist the shoals of delegations that visit Ottawa re-
presenting this, that, and the other " interest," and with whom
Sir Leonard, by virtue of his position as adjuster of the tariff
law is brought into contact. Once or twice he has hinted at
withdrawal from public life, but his province, and Canada at
large, will not willingly let retire from her service, so long as
health remains, a son to whom one and both owe so much, and
who has been, since his first appearance on the political
scenes, down to this hour a credit to the country that has given
him birth* A further popularity is added to Sir Leonard in the
social sphere, by the grace and charming manners of his accom-
plished wife, Lady Tilley.

A member whose presence would be felt in any cabinet, was
Hon. Peter Mitchell, minister of marine and fisheries, who had
also been appointed to the senate. Mr. Mitchell had had a pro-
minent political career in his native province, New Brunswick.
He was a keen-eyed critic and a powerful assailant out of
office, and an Armstrong gun in a ministry. Mr. George Stew-
art, jun., in some of his life-like portraits in "Canada under DuJ-

* We may be pardoned for having made this reference, seeing that the " enter-
prising journalist," has preceded us.


I " has this telling bit of description with reference to Mr.
Mitchell. " In popularity he almost rivalled Sir John himself.
He WW a hard worker, a redoubtable foe and an unfor<rivin£
enemy. He was keen in debate, quick to perceive weakness in
an opponent, and ready on the instant to strike him down. He
always spoke eloquently ami well. He was bold but did not
always show the more subtle element of tact which he un-
doubtedly possessed lb- was vindictive and never neglected
to pursue an enemy with relentless fury. In executive power
he had few equals. With great skill he mastered fche minutise
of his office, and hta department rapidly became one of fche most
important in the cabinet," Politicians matching themselves

DSt Mr. Mitchell, had usually come to grief. Wlxn a clear-
headed man is able to <>ntwit an opponent by calmly ponder-
ing tlif situation over, u the careful chess-player looks many
moves into the future of his game, he is not (infrequently

termed a trickster ; and Mr. Mitchell who had been guilty of

[fence save possessing fche ability to delve ■ yard below
the mine me of those pitted against him. received the

iquet of " lJi-maivk." For a brief season many were per-
iod that the clever politician dealt in naught but "trea-
^tratagems and Spoils;" and they heard without won-
that an invertebrate lieutenant-governor and a guileless
ministry had fallen a victim to his wiles. As this is not a
tion of morals, we have only to say that if a ministry can
t the arts and a governor the blandishments of one
man, it were a pity the one should not fail and the other be
perverted There ia in the record, even taking the distortions
Of the outwitted ones, little to bring a blush to Mr. Mitchell,
and less that the historian needs to condemn or excuse. It need
hardly he said that the department given to the charge of Mr.
Mitchell wasatthi time the most important in the public ser-
With the energy and ability which are his in such a
marked degree, he vigorously set to work to frame laws for the
protection of the various fisheries, a task requiring a vast deal


of consideration, prudence and skill ; and he likewise construct-
ed a system of regulations, which, with a few modifications
only, htfl existed to the present day. Many of the harbour
improvements began, the erection of a large number of light-
houses, and the adoption of a host of other measures in the in-
3< of the sailor and the fisherman were likewise the work
of his hands. It is not uncomplimentary to succeeding officers,
or even to the present clear-head, -d and thoroughly able incum-
bent to say that since Hon. Peter Mitchell left the department
of marine and fisheries, it has not had such another energetic
tad capable head. Like most other distinguished public men,
though the pet and pride of their constituents, who sometimes
become the victim of reason run wrong, Mr. Mitchell was
once rejected on appealing to bis constituents in Northumber-
land, New Brunswick, being defeated by one of the local millers
of that place. His tireless figure has returned again to the
commons, however, and he is now, as always, with sleeves rolled
up. l>attling for the interests of the constituents who have the
good fortune to call him their representative. The country is
still to hear a good deal from Mr. Mitchell ; and it would, it
will be readily admitted, be a loss to the dominion to have such
a splendid ability out of harness.

The minister of Inland Revenue, Mr. (now Sir) W. P. How-
land, whom we have already seen on several occasions, and
whose figure is one the reader of Canadian history will not
hesitate to admire, was one of the " commercial magnates " of
Toronto when he entered public life. He was bom in New
York State, but removing to Toronto in his youth, he never
knew sympathy for any other country than the Canada to
whom he has since been as much indebted, as she has been to
him. We have already seen that Mr. Howland entered public
life in 1857, when he was elected, in the reform interest, for
the west-riding of York. The good judgment, caution and
foresight which had made him foremost among men of busi-
ness, soon elevated him to the ranks of the prominent members


Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 27 of 57)