Joseph Edmund Collins.

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

. (page 3 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 3 of 57)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

dark years was not the toryism that was known in England.
Had it been, the history of our own times would have formed
a more turbulent chapter.

From this Family Compact the governor, whether whig or
tory, drew a circle of advisers which he called "The Executive;"
but he did not feel himself bound to seek the advice of its
members, unless for courtesy, or when beyond his depth. But
where the council were of the same mind as the governor, re-
straints were not needful ; and in the executive for many a
year the viceroy found a willing tool to aid him in governing
according to his conviction or caprice. In Quebec the wheels
of government rolled on with an incessant jar which threatened
a disruption. It was hard for the French to forget that they
were a conquered people, even under the most liberal foreign
rule ; but the intolerable oppressions of the dominant clique
brought out all the race prejudice*, tnd, not unnaturally, gave
an alarming magnitude, sometimes, to the smallest grievance.
But there was enough of weighty grievance. The home
government had fostered and kept up a British party, a little
clique which threw themselves in with the governor and ruled
in defiance of the vast majority. The upper chamber was
filled with this clique, and they sat with eagle eyes watching
to destroy any measure opposed to their interests coming from
the lower chamber. It was a long and fierce wrestle, that,
between the two houses, but in every contest the habitant
went to the wall. From the ranks of this clique, too, was
filled the executive council, puppets of an autocrat governor,
and the demoralizers of a man of fair play. Again and again
would the house of assembly declare it had no confidence in
a minister; but it was coolly recommended to mind its own
affairs, and not to meddle with those which were only the
governor's. For nearly half a century the French had worn
this galling yoke, and now determined to cast it off. Finding


how hollow a thing to them was responsible government, in
1832 they suddenly stopped the supplies. Then came about
" the officials' famine," and for four years judges walked the
land in shabby ermine, while " every description of official be-
gan to put his corporosity off." This was a harsh kind of
revenge, but surely it was not unprovoked. A people goaded
for half a century cannot be much blamed if they, as a last
resort, seize a weapon of resistance lawful and constitutional.
We know that some of those upon whom the heavy hand fell
were not responsible; but they were the servants of an atro-
cious system. While the world came to look full of ruin to
the official, Louis Joseph Papineau, ■' man of honourable char-
acter and much energy, ottered a series of ninety-two resolu-
tions to the legislature to present to the imperial parliament.
Theee resolutions contained a formulary of grievances against
tlir home government and its iigmts in Lower Canada. The
counts set forth, in brief: " Arbitrary eonduct on the part of the
Government; intolerable composition of the legislative council
(which, they insisted, ou^htto be elective); illegal appropriation
of the public moneys, and violent prorogation of the provincial
parliament." They pointed out, likewise, that the French people
had been treated with contumely; that they had been shut out
from office by the favoured British ; that their habits, customs
and interests were disregarded, and they now demanded that
the doors of office and emolument be thrown open to all — or
they would rebel, tie- resolutions hinted between the lines.

The little British party, alarmed for their beloved flesh-pots,
sent to the imperial parliament a set of counter resolutions.
The Commons perused both without much emotion, and sent
out Lord Gosford and two commissioners to clear up affairs in
the confused colony. Lord Gosford came out with a large stock
of that material with which it is said the road to a certain place
i - } -aved ; but he fell into the hands of the compact, and chose
to walk according to tradition rather than to the impulses of


Meanwhile, Papineau had allowed magnificent visions of a
future republic along the banks of the St. Lawrence to lure
him awa}' from the path of sober, unambitious reform, in which
he had earlier trod. IJe had to deal with a people, too, who
have more than once in history become the slaves of a blind
enthusiasm ; and in those speeches at which the monster crowds
cheered the loudest could be heard the first breathings of re-
bellion. The two commissioners who had come out with Lord
Gosford presented their report to the imperial parliament, and
the outcome of this was Lord John Russell's Ten Resolutions.
By one provision of these resolutions the Governor was author-
ized to take £142,000 out of the funds in the hands of the
Receiver-General to pay the arrearages of civil salaries. In
vain Lord John was told that his resolutions would drive the
people into rebellion, and perhaps into the arms of the Republic ;
but that haughty little statesman did not anticipate any trouble
from the Republic, and as for the Canadians, they were very
lightly taxed, he said, and had really but little to grumble

As had been predicted, the resolutions brought the discontent
to a head. It is hard now to believe that Papineau did not
really rejoice at the coercive spirit of those measures, for they
gave him an ample pretext for soaring off towards that new re-
public of which he so fondly dreamed. The people became
enraged, and from hot reformers changed into flaming patriots.
They resolved to use no more goods that came through the
custom house, and to smuggle rather than pay duties. Monster
meetings were held by Papineau, at which the habitants were
told to strike now for liberty. Men who knew anything, of mili-
tary tactics began to drill large bodies of the inhabitants, while
every man provided himself with some weapon that would
kill. Then the outbreak came, and the poor habitants, in wild
enthusiasm, rushed upon the cold bayonets of Lord Gosford.
It was only the history of political tyranny the world over,
again — lashing the people into rebellion by bad laws and worse


administrators, and driving them back again into allegiance
with cruel steel. We are told that the blood of a man who
falls by the violence of his fellow will cry to heaven for ven-
geance ; a heavy account, then, must be that of those men by
whose oppression these poor habitants were driven away from
their humble toil to meet death at the hands of the soldiers.

The flame having burst forth in Lower Canada, it was soon
communicated to the ready materia] in the upper province.
There, too, did the Family Compact furnish an irresponsible
executive to an autocrat governor. The people dreamed of
constitutional freedom, for the light which now was shining
across the Atlantic was dawning here. Great men are usually
the offspring of an important crisis; and new ■ party of superior
men, all of high character, and many of good social standing,
had grown up; and they demanded that the government of the
province should be taken out of the hands of the favoured, ir-
responsible few, and handed over to the majority of the people
through responsible ministers. This change would purge
away the long train of evils of which the people had so long
complained, in those days there was no popular eheck upon bad
administration, or even opon corruption. Many a minister grew
rich upon his peculations, because the eye of the public could not
reach him. But some journalists now boldly intruded upon the
sacred privacy of the ministry, ami revealed to the public many
instances of official mismanagement and corruption. Then it
was that the history, in which we read of the disgraceful per*
secutinn of Wilkes by a tyrannical sovereign, was repeated in
Upper Canada. Then came prominently upon the stage the
iU-starred Lyon Mackenzie, a man whose name in his day
served to hash the babes of loyal mothers to sleep. We perse-
cuted him then in every conceivable way. We sent the most
loyal and respectable of our young men to scatter his types
and wreck his printing press, s . We five times expelled him
from the legislature, after he had been five times elected.
Finally we drove him into rebellion, and set a price of £1,000


upon his head. Now, we are about erecting a column to his

It was galling enough to see a mimic king come over here
to govern us, as if God had made us only to be governed ; but
it was unbearable that the political adventurer, besides be-
ing an autocrat, should be also a blockhead. To quell the
fast-increasing tumult in Upper Canada, the British govern-
ment set about to select a man. They found one in a poor
commissioner's office in Kent, surrounded with prayers for
relief and heroic poems. This was an extraordinary man, and
had done things in his day which, in the eyes of the gov-
ernment, qualified him well to rule a colony. He had writ-
ten several pamphlets, extraordinary for their style, and in-
stinct with "fine frenzy." Twice he had dashed across the
South American pampas, from Buenos Ayres to the Andes, on
the back of a mustang. Upon this man the home govern-
ment let the mantle of authority fall, and dispatched him to
Upper Canada. He came amongst us with the pomp of an
Alexander, and the attitudes of a Garrick. The band of perse-
cuted men who had fought so long for popular rights be-
seeched him to redress their grievances, but after a few dramatic
revolutions on his own responsibility, poor Sir Francis Bond
Head fell into the fatal circles of the Compact maelstrom.
Naturally, with a colony in the incipient throes of revolt, we
might have expected the home government to send a man with
some fitness, natural or acquired, to govern and make smooth,
but at this day we are unable to see what special training in
this direction could have been conferred upon an enthusiastic
tragedy-reader by galloping about the pampas on a wild pony.
It is not necessary to add that the action of the new gov-
ernor drove the impatient seekers for reform towards the
brink of rebellion. In the house of assembly the Speaker
read a letter from Joseph Papineau, urging the Upper Can-
ada reformers in covert terms to rebel, and hinting that, in
case of need, republicans would come over and help them. Here


was an opportunity for the dramatic governor, and he seized
it. " In the name of every militia regiment in Canada," he
exclaimed, with a tremendous wave of his arms, as he closed
the parliament, " I promulgate, let them come if they dare.""
There was then nothing for the reformers to expect from Sir
Francis. He was threatened with rebellion, but treated the
threat with seeming scorn, and sent all the soldiers out of the
country. In an evil moment, and without taking counsel of
prudence or philosophy, Mackenzie and his followers rushed
to arms. Then brother rose against brother, and after a con-
flict in which smoke predominated, the government demon-
strated its strength, and the cause of the rebels ended in

Lord John Rpaooll could not have heard the news from Can-
ada with much astonishment, for he had been told that just
those things would happen, and he seemed coolly to court the
eonaequenoea, In the commons some made light of the rising,
and spoke of "a Mr. liackensie," concerned in the rebellion,
Mr. Hume replying, cited the declarations of Chatham on the
Stamp Act, instancing them as the sayings of " a Mr. Pitt."
They had queer opinions in England then about colonies, and
equally odd notions about how they should be governed.
Some statesmen claimed that the executive should have the
confidence of the house of assembly, but Lord John Russell
and other whigs held that to make the executive responsible
to the popular branch would be to reduce the governor to a
cipher, and to virtually proclaim the independence of the colo-

In this emergency Lord Durham was sent out to Canada
with extraordinary powers. He proclaimed his Ordinances
from Quebec, but had scarcely begun to carry out his pro-

* All our histories make the inexcusable blunder of stating that a large number
of persons were killed and wounded at this battle ; even Mr. Lindsey, son-in-law
of Mr. Mackenzie, repeats the fiction in his book many years after the battle. Tc*
the Toronto World the public are indebted for ferreting out the blunder.


gramme when many voices began to clamour for his recall.
Undoubtedly there was a disposition to judge Lord Durham
in England on the scantiest evidence. His emotional nature
was not unknown to the public. Men had not forgotten how
often he had terrified his father-in-law, Earl Grey, and ap-
palled the council by his outbursts at their cabinet meetings.
They had heard him in the House of Lords describe the speech
of the Bishop of Exeter, against the Reform Bill, as " coarse
and virulent invective, malignant and false insinuation, the
-est perversion of historical facts, decked out with all the
choicest flowers of pamphleteering slang." They did not be-
lieve that a man with a head so hot was fitted to grapple with
such a problem as was now presented in Canada. But every
day added fresh rumours to those already current in England.
The famous Ordinances of the Earl seemed to astound every-
body. They were sweeping measures, to say the least, and in
England were regarded as revolutionary. An amnesty was
granted to all political offenders, Papineau, Mackenzie and the
other leaders, excepted. These were banished to Bermuda,
from which they were not to return under pain of death. The
colonists were cordially invited to aid in organizing a libe-
ral and enduring plan of government ; and, attended by his
suite, the High Commissioner made a progress through the
country with all the pomp and splendour of an Eastern king.
But Lord Durham was not allowed to put his Ordinances to a
trial. His course was assailed in England by a storm of hostile
criticism ; it was shown that in nearly every important respect
he had transcended his constitutional powers ; that he could
not transport to Bermuda, for the reason that he had no author-
ity over that island, and that he had no power to order that
any one breaking his exile and returning to Canada should
suffer death. One of the most fierce of his critics was Lord
Brougham, but the whole cause of his bitterness was not the
Quebec Ordinances. Five years before, at a dinner given by
Earl Grey, he had imprudently provoked Lord Durham and


called down upon his head a torrent of wrath. The govern-
ment, who first stood like a weak man in a strong current
feebly facing the stream, supported their Commissioner for a
time, then faltered and gave way. In an American newspaper
the Earl read for the first time that the government had for-
saken him ; and he tendered his resignation. The resignation
and the disallowance of his Ordinances crossed each other on
the Atlantic, and a few days later the proud and great Lord
Durham learnt that he was a disgraced man. With constitu-
tional impulsiveness he issued a proclamation which was sim-
ply the justification that a lofty spirit, too noble and too sensi-
tive for the rude shocks of party strife, sought before the
country he had so earnestly striven to serve. Humiliated
beyond the length that a mean mind can imagine, he returned
to England, his proud spirit broken.

It has been said that he Went beyond his constitutional
powers; but Surety he (fid not do so unknowingly. No better
justification of his conduet can be given than is afforded in
his own wotdf, when In- a^ks with just scorn: " What are the

constitutional principlei remaining in force when the whole

constitution is suspended I What principle of the Biitish
Constitution holds good in a country where the people's money
is taken from them without the people's consent ; where rep-
resentative government is annihilated; where martial law
has been the law of the land, and where trial by jury exists
only to defeat the endfl of justice, and to provoke tie' righteous
scorn and indignation of the community." But it remained
for posterity to do justice to Lord Durham. While he lay
gasping away his last breath by the sea shore at Cowes, came
the tidings, but all too late, that even his bitterest foes bore
tribute to the wisdom and broad statesmanship in his Report.
This was the document that first set forth the scheme by which
our struggling provinces afterwards became united in one con-
federation ; which traced the causes of colonial discontent, and
pointed out the cure. Toward the close of July, 1840, the earl


breathed his last. Two days before he died he said : " I would
fain hope that I have not lived altogether in vain. Whatever
the tories may say, the Canadians will one day do justice
to my memory." They have done justice to his memory ; and
one of the foremost names in their affections and their history
is that of the great, the high-minded John George Lambton,
first Earl of Durham.

The Government were not satisfied, it appears, with what
they had done for Upper Canada in sending over Sir Francis
B. Head, but on his being recalled, endeavoured to do better,
and sent out Sir George Arthur. He was deemed to possess
the very acme of governing powers, for he had already ruled
two colonies. He governed 20,000 negroes and several whites
in Honduras, and when selected for Canada had just returned
covered with glory from Van Die men's Land. This latter was
a colon}- to which, about thirty years before, the home
government had begun to send the most violent and aban-
doned characters. Armed with the experiences of Honduras
and Tasmania, Governor Arthur began to rule Upper Can-
ada. It took a great deal to fill up his bill of duty. In tu-
mult he stamped every rebellion splutter out with the heel of
a Claverhouse ; in peace he was busy with the halter. It nigh
drove him mad when a reformer approached him to state a
grievance, or ask a mercy for the misguided men who had
fallen into his hands. Reform, he said, had been too long the
cloak of treason — therefore he would talk only of stern justice
now. And the governor chose a bloody justice. He hanged
Lount and Matthews in Toronto, to the horror even of many
tories. It is due, however, to the governor's memory to say,
that he was not entirely guilty of the blood of these men ; as
it is understood that the deed was strongly recommended by
the officials of the Family Compact. We know not to what
extent the governor would have used the rope, had not Lord
Glenelg aroused himself from his languor to stay the fell work
of the hangman.


In Lower Canada, affairs were in chaos. The constitution
had been suspended, and the affairs of the colony were being
administered by a special council. The British population,
who now found themselves more than ever estranged from
the French, prayed for union with Upper Canada, for freedom
from French laws and French dominion ; and beseeched all the
legislatures of British North America to assist them in attain-
in- these things. The French inhabitants had felt the yoke
of a few British sit so heavily upon them that they regarded
with horror a proposal which they believed would utterly
absorb them into the English system, with its uncongenial
customs and political oppressions.

In 1839, Sir John Colbome went home, and the British
Government, finding that the most unsuitable men did not
make the best govern eted a plain merchant, Mr. ( 'harles

Poulett Thompson, who was known to have a clear, cool head,
much suavity and tact, and an enormous capacity for business.
The great drawback to him was that he possessed no title, an
inferiority keenly deplored by the tories ; but the government,
though partial to titled men themselves, overcame their scruples
and sunt him out. His first duty was to act on a suggestion
made by Lord Durham, whom the tories had slandered and
tin whigs deserted. That duty was to unite Upper and Lower

The new governor-general promptly convened the special
council of Lower Canada, and obtained its assent to a draft
bill providing for the Union. It was known that the French,
who comprised the great bulk of the population, were hostile
to the scheme, and they were not consulted. The measure was
foreshadowed in the Speech opening the legislature of Upper
Canada. Subsequently, a message was sent down to the assem-
bly, embodying, among other matters, the chief points of the
proposed Union Bill. This message gave some hope to the
reform politicians, but one of its most important statements
was a lie. " So far," said the governor-general, " as the feeling


of the inhabitants of Lower Canada can be obtained the meas-
ure of re-union meets with approbation." The governor very-
well knew that nothing could be more hateful to the bulk of
the inhabitants than this same measure ; and for this very
reason he had refused to consult them. The Bill was intro-
duced in due course and was opposed by the Family Compact.
But the governor-general was in earnest, and what was better,
he was master of the situation. They might pass the bill or
submit to worse. So they at e their leek with all the grace
they could command.

In July, the next year, a measure was introduced into the
imperial parliament and passed with slight amendments. The
Union Bill provided that there should be one legislative
council and one assembly. Each province had equal represen-
tation in both branches. The legislative council consisted of
twenty members, who held their seats for life ; the Assembly
consisted of eighty-four members, who were to be elected
every four years. The executive council was to consist of
eight members, and any of those who had a seat in the assem-
bly had to go back for re-election on taking office. A perma-
nent civil list of £75,000 was established, but the control of
the revenues was vested in the assembly. In 1841 the Act
went into force by proclamation. To the reformers the race
was not yet, though the tone of Lord John Russell's despatches
had favoured responsible government.

Mr. Thompson had all the qualities of an excellent ruler, but
he needed more light. Our historians, we believe, have quite
overrated him. It is hard to doubt that, had he been spared
to the limit of his term, the crisis which came under Metcalfe
would have come under him. Though the first ministry after
the Union was a coalition, he stubbornly refused to admit
deserving French-Canadians to a share in the government,
and though the reformers were in a majority in the house,
only one of their number, Mr. Robert Baldwin, was called to
the executive. And the governor's subsequent refusal to do


justice to the reform party forced Mr. Baldwin out of the
government and into opposition.

On the death of Mr. Thompson, who, while dying, learnt
that he had been created Baron Sydenham of Toronto, Sir
Charles Bagot was appointed to the governorship. Now, Sir
Charles was sent out by a tory government, and was a tory
himself. The reformers turned blue when they heard of his
appointment, and believed that the evil days of the Heads and
the Arthurs had com. again. But the tory proved himself more
liberal than the liberal. He was the only governor, Durham
pied, who really understood what was due to the colonists
under constitutional government. Lord Sydenham would not
traffic with pitch lest he might delile himself ; but the old tory
understanding that he came to carry on responsible govern-
ment, invited leading members of the French party in Lower
Canada, and Mr. Baldwin and his followers in Upper Canada,
to form a ministry. w The ( brusader lias turned Turk," gasped
the Family in horror, as the "Republicans crowded to the

Towards the close of the year Sir Charles's health began to
fail him, and he asked to be recalled. Then Sir Robert Peel
cast about him to find a man to lend to ( 'anada, and his choice
fell upon one whose naim- afterwards became hateful to all
lovers of constitutional liberty. Sir Charles Metcalfe, Peel's
baneful choice, had begun life as a writer in the Indian civil
service. By the sheer force of his abilities he had scaled the
steepy ways of tame, till in 1834 he found himself acting
Governor-General of India. Sir Charles was both astute and
cunning; and besides these qualities his bravery was with him

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 3 of 57)