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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a point of honour. In his day the military held in contempt
the soldierly prowess of civil servants in India, and Mr. Metcalfe,
hearing that among the rest his intrepidity was called in ques-
tion, resolved to affirm the valour that was in him. So when
the British troops were before Deeg, armed with a walking
stick, he headed an attacking party, rushed into the town, and


retrieved his reputation. In 1839, he entered the imperial
privy council, and shortly afterwards became governor of
Jamaica. Here, it is said, he won golden opinions, but we are
told by his biographer, whose aim seems to have been to cover
him with glory, that during his rule there "some outbreaks
occurred, but they were speedily crushed and their instigators
punished, some capitally." This was not, it will be frankly
admitted, an indifferent training for a man who looked upon
refractory reformers as he did upon rebellious negroes. Added
to this, during his long contact with the wiles and treachery of
oriental craft, he had grown incurably suspicious, and would
trust any man who differed from himself as he would "an adder
fanged." He came to Canada, and to his amazement found a
system of responsible government which did not need a gov-
ernor, and, as some of the advisers of the Crown, men who had
given sympathy or aid to rebellion. He was disgusted, too,
with the manners of his councillors, who approached him with
a brusqueness and familiarity that was revolting to a ruler of
nabobs. With the cunning of a Nana Sahib, he sent out his
confidential secretary, who wormed out of the ministers over
their wine their opinions on the powers of the governor. The
truth is, Sir Charles was like a captain who in a storm and
amidst the breakers sets himself down for the first time to
learn navigation. He knew nothing about the governing of
a colony under responsible government: few governors in
those days did. It was not the men who had sat in cabinets
and saw how people are ruled under constitutional forms, that
they sent out, but some one who had ridden n?ustangs great
distances, or coerced Hindoos or negroes with the strong arm
of the autocrat.

When Sir Charles learnt the opinion of ministers about his
prerogative, he became incensed. He saw that his prerogative
was in danger, and the point of prerogative to him was the
point of honour. And how high with him was the point
which he regarded the point of honour will appear from his


exploit with the walking stick. Then began the system of wily
and treacherous diplomacy which he had learned in the East.
With utter disregard for constitutional decency, he outraged
the privacy of his cabinet, and took the opponents of the
ministry into his confidence. Day after day he planned and
set snares for his own ministers. A close friend of his, who
knew his ways and wrote his biography, thus glories in the
governor's shame: "He saw that the feet of the council were
on the wire, and he skilfully concealed the gun." Many an
appointment was then made that the ministry knew nothing
about till they read it in the public prints of their opponents.
It was galling to be treated as cyphers by the head of the
government — to feel that the position of adviser was only a
mockery ; but it was unbearable to hear the sneers of opponents
who were the real advisers of the governor. The ministry
resigned, and one wonders how they could have lived down
contempt so long. For nine months now there was no ministry
save Dominick Daly, the " perpetual secretary," who as a poli-
tician had been all his life at once "everything and nothing."
This political in.rnian assisted the Dictator till a provisional
ministry was formed, after which, in a whirlwind both parties
rushed to the polls.

It was at this orisifl that Mr. John A. Macdonald, with his
judgment much ripened, emerged from his law office, and be-
gan the stormy career of a politician.



THOSE who enjoyed the confidence of Mr. Macdonald say-
that after his defence of Shoultz, his aim was to win a
still more prominent place in his profession. As we have
already seen, his defence of the Pole gave him more than a local
reputation ; it was, as his friends used to say, " a feather in his
cap " of which a veteran member of the bar might have been
proud ; and persons coming to Kingston with difficult cases
from distant points !thereaf ter inquired for " the young lawyer
who defended the Pole, Von Shoultz." These were the days
of exclusiveness and snobbery, when it was almost as difficult
to approach the august person of a Dodson or a Fogg as the
Sleeping Beauty overhung with alarum bells and guarded by
fiery dragons. There was a population of over half a million,
and the immigration tide poured constantly upon us from the
mother countries through the summer, but among this influx
came few educated persons, and but rarely a member of the
learned professions ; so that the doctor and the lawyer were
not in proportion to the population, were much sought after, and
hence garrisoned round with importance. But no client, how-
ever poor, came out of Mr. Macdonald's office complaining of
snobbery ; rather telling of the courteous and gentlemanly
young lawyer, " quick as a flash," who understood his case
better than the client himself before he had " half told it." In
those days, more than at the present time, which produces law-
yers and stump orators " not singly but in battalions," when a
young man discovered brilliant talents, or the power, by his

eloquence, to carry his hearers, his friends invariably said,



" We must send him to the House." We are told that in many
a case which Mr. Macdonald pleaded, even strangers in the
Courts, not knowing the young lawyer, but observing his
ferasp oi principles, the ease with which he led up all his argu-
ments, and the power he had of compelling juries to take, by
sympathy as well as by reason, his view of the case, were
heard to exclaim, " the House is the place for him/'

Standing by the ocean as the dark storm-clouds gather over
it and the tempest breaks, a man with poetry in his soul feels
spirit exalted and impelled to sing as nature in no other mood
■in move him : and so, too. looking upon the political storm-
clouds gather, and darken the sky, if a man have a yearning
for tie- ways of public life, it must be quickened as it can be
at no other time. At the date of which we write the air was
full of the sounds of political strife, and the clouds deepened
and grew more ominous. We cannot wonder if the situation
quickened the desires of the young barrister, or if we heard
him say, as he glanced through his office window out upon the
political scene, wlei' ■ men wrestled and many won prizes for
whose abilities he could have no feeling but contempt:

" Yes, yonder in that stormy sky
I see my star of destiny.''

But it wa# not known now, nor for some years afterwards, that
he looked to a political career. During the elections for the
parliament under the Union the strife was high and
confusion general. One day, sitting among friends in fhis
other. Mr. Macdonald said, " If I were only prepared now I
should try for the Legislature," and then added, " but it does
no harm to wait." The removal of the theatre of politics to
his own city, in 1841, gave impulse to his yearnings for political
lif«' ; and thereafter he began to equip himself for the sphere in
which he longed to move. But he did not, like too many empty
young men of our own day, go noising through the country to
attract the people's notice ; he did not, indeed, woo the con-


stituency at all, but decided to have the constituency woo
him. During the time Parliament sat at Kingston he made
the acquaintance of leading public men, and long before it was
known that his eye was turned to the paths which they them-
selves were treading, they prized the friendship and respected
the opinions of the young barrister, Macdonald. He attended
much to the debates of the House, and many a keen and
judicious piece in criticism those who sat with him in the gal-
lery heard fall from his lips. Though he devoted much time
to his profession, and was always to be found in his office and
ready to take up a case, he was profoundly engaged in prepar-
ing himself for his ideal sphere. While most of those who
knew him thought his ambitions bent towards legal distinc-
tions only, he was acquiring that knowledge of constitutional,
political and parliamentary history, which so early in his pub-
lic career gave weight to his opinions and standing to himself.

In 1843, in an evil hour, as we have already seen, came over
to Canada Sir Charles Metcalfe. The rebellion clouds had
rolled away, and the province set out once more, it was
hoped, in the ways of political peace ; but the new governor-
general had no sooner begun to make " his growl heard at the
council board" than the political heavens began to grow
dark again. Rumours of dissension between the governor and
his council began to be whispered abroad, and it was not
made a secret that Sir Charles despised and distrusted his
council, and had thrown himself into the arms of the Family
Compact. We can fancy the feeling among the tribes of ani-
mals known as the Seven Sleepers when the genial warmth of
spring visits them in their icy abodes : with some such thrill
the tories, lying politically dormant, must have received
the news that Sir Charles had come to an open rupture
with his "rebel advisers" and now sought the confidence
and advice of "loyal men."

At this time Kingston was not enamored of her late mem-
ber, and it was plain that an opportunity was arriving for


some one who had the respect and good-will of the constituency.
Mr. Harrison, the representative then, was only a make-shift
for Mr. Manahan, who had, in the words of an old Kingston
newspaper, " sold his constituency to the enemy for a billet for
his son-in-law." Young Macdonald now saw his opportunity
coming, and so did his friends, for they waited upon him towards
the close of the summer of 1843, and invited him to come out
for election to the Kingston council. The city had been lately
incorporated, and the divisions differed from those of the pres-
ent, but Macdonald stood for that section which now forms
the western part of St. Lawrence Ward. An eye-witness of the
election, and a friend of Macdonald, says: "The contest was
a fierce one. At every tavern you found crowds of persons
drunk and fighting. Capt. Jackson was the candidate against
Macdonald, and he had all the noisy and drunken Irishmen in
the town on his side. I was passing by one of the booths,
and I happened to hear a ruffian of a fellow, named Sullivan,
plotting with a large crowd of his own description to go in
and prevent Macdonald from speaking, and 'go through' his
supporters. They knew me well, and I told them I had my
eye upon them. This prevented fa great row. I went in, and
found everybody inside fairly orderly, for Macdonald had a
wonderful way of casting oil on troubled waters." Jackson
was overwhelmingly beaten, and a portion of the field, for
higher purposes, was won to Macdonald. So in the following
year, after the rupture between Metcalfe and his council had
come, and the delegation waited upon him and told him they
now expected him to take the field against Manahan, Mac-
donald did not wonder at receiving the call, for he had been
long preparing himself for the occasion, and was now ready.
If either did anybody wonder when it was told that he had
come into the field, though he had not proclaimed his coming,
or talked about it at all, for it was known that there was
no one else so capable.


The country was now fairly out of its head, and perhaps it
was not strange. A ministry having the confidence of a major-
ity of the people had quarrelled with the governor -general
on constitutional questions of vital importance, and resigned.
It was a battle between prerogative and the power of the
people. In prerogative the tories saw the stability of our
institutions, and the maintenance of our connection with the
empire. In the power of the people they saw a democracy
that to-day might rush into republicanism and to-morrow into
chaos. In prerogative the reformers saw the most hateful
engine of political oppression, the evil which had convulsed
the province in rebellion and blood, a something which was
not even a prerogative, but a system by which a large major-
ity of the people were ruled according to the interests of a
favoured and irresponsible few. In the power of the people
they saw not a privilege but only a birthright, and went to
the polls defending that right. While the story of dissen-
sions between the governor and his late ministry was the
property of everybody, few seemed to understand the real na-
ture of the issue between them. A large portion of the people
believed that Mr. Baldwin and his colleagues had been forcing
measures upon the governor that would eventually lead to a
separation of Canada from the mother country, and that it
was in resisting these encroachments the discord arose. It was
told at public meetings, too, long before the elections, that
Messrs. Baldwin, Lafontaine and Hincks were aiming at Sepa-
ration* and all these rumours were susceptible, more or less, of
confirmation. The liberal party, while including a vast body
of earnest men who aimed only at the establishment of consti-
tutional government, comprised all the blatant demagogues
and rebels of the time. Men who were in open hostility to
British connection, and who loved anarchy better than order,
men who were aforetime American citizens and now longed
for annexation, were found upon the reform platforms, each
faction proclaiming vehemently its own set of doctrines.


Few, as we have said, at this time really understood what
responsible government was, or what had been the issue be-
tween the governor and his ministry. But now, as the elec-
tions drew near, those before inclined to moderate reform came
to think about it, and remembered that some of the men in the
late ministry had come thither out of the rebels' camps. They
did not wonder that men who six years before were pitted
against the soldiers were pitted now against tho governor.
And during the many months that the autocrat had ruled with-
out a government, ominous mutterings were heard from large
bands of the more impatient and radical reformers. They
said anarchy had come again, and professed their readiness to
take up arms and once more strike for a republic. All this
was remembered now, and was yet to be used witli tremendous
effect by the governor and his party. The question, therefore,
by skilful tory arrangement, came to be, not one between
conservatives and reformers, as our histories have it, but be-
tween the reform party and the crown, — a party who the
tories claiim-d had famished rebels to the rebellion, who had
threatened of late to rebel again, who alarmed the governor
with measures which would be fatal to the constitution, and
who from their hustings even now were calling for separation.
The i Yuwn, in the person of governor Metcalfe, had been out-
raged by the reformers, and all men who loved peace and
British rule were asked to rally round the representative of
the Queen,

In a country yet in a crude state of civilization, where the
reverential and emotional are the strongest sides to the
character of men, we need not wonder how talismanic proved
the mention of the Crown. " Next to my God, my king," was
the rule of men for over a thousand years, when to touch the
hem of the royal garment made the sufferer whole. Aye, and

More than my God, my king," was often the maxim too,
and it is avowed us by the statesman-prelate gasping his


last in the Abbey of Leicester. It is hard to break the

bonds which

" The Queen of Slaves,
The hood-winked angel of the blind, and dead,

has during a thousand years bound about us. The sword of Alex-
ander cannot cut that woof; but when the man stands up, full
of that better light which is purging the world, the thrall snaps
easily as the flaxen withes that bound Sampson. The blind
reverence of the province was aroused at this election ; but Sir
Charles and the tories said it was the British Lion that was
abroad. We fancy they had the lion in the wrong place. The
emotional reverence of the people was abroad blind-fold, and
not the lion which cowered in his covert. The British lion is
not a cruel monster that lives in the closet of a tyrannical king
or an autocrat governor, but he Ls the noble beast that goes
abroad and vindicates the rights and the manhood of the peo-
ple. He was heard at Runnymede, and his roar was louder
than the cry of Strafford's butchers.

The fury was not alone the property of the hustings
during this campaign, but it blew a hurricane through the
prints as well. Every editor dipped his pen in gall ; every
column reeked with libel. Those who had no newspapers is-
sued handbills, that might have fired the fences upon which
they were posted. Had poor Mr. Potts been in Canada, in the
midst of this ink-cyclone, he would have sighed for the tame-
ness of his Eatonswill Gazette. But there was a class of men
who considered the poster too low a medium, and the news-
paper not high enough for the formal conveyance of their
loyalty or the spread of their radicalism, and these flew to the
pamphlet. The most noted of the pamphleteers was Rev,
Egerton Ryerson, who did not add anything to his reputation
for usefulness or integrity by becoming the abject flatterer and
slavish defender of Sir Charles Metcalfe. It is pleasing to note,
however, one good feature in this questionable transaction.


The governor was grateful, and the following year the doctor
was assured the chief superin tendency of education for
Upper Canada. If in this, though, we find no reparation by
the governor for his oppression of the people, we do find in it
an excuse for the divine in lending himself to the autocrat.
Self-interest is the strongest passion among mortals ; and Dr.
Ryerson was mortal. His pamphlets are not worth much
notice, save for their literary form, 'which is good, although
Hon. A. Mackenzie says in his "Life of George Brown" that
it is not good. This hardly amounts to a contradiction, how-
ever, as Mr. Mackenzie is not a judge of literary style. The
doctor was a fiery and terse writer, and generally made the
most of his material, though he had a passion for running into
bombast. He was not satisfied with defending his master on
one or two points, but led up his defences in battalions. It
was a crushing reply to the charge of autocracy to be told
by the reverend defender that Sir Charles was "not a fortune
seeker, but a fortune spender," and that he was " good to the
poor." Nevertheless, in the governor's cause these pamphlets
were as strong as armies, for they were spread among the dis-
senters, a class outside the charmed circle of the aristocracy, and,
hence, stoutly given to reform. They transfigured the governor
from a monster "mounted on an elephant, the despotic ruler of
oriental slaves," as the fiery and terse Francis Hincks styled
him, into a " benevolent man," whose whole life was " an un-
Eng round of good works." Mr. Sullivan, under the name
of "Legion," appeared on the other side with pamphlets which
would have been more impressive had they been less flippant.

About this time, Mr. George Brown, a young Scotchman for
some time resident in New York, came over to Canada, can-
vassing for a little weekly newspaper called the British
Chronicle, belonging to his father, Peter Brown. He went
about among the politicians to see if he could get encourage-
ment to establish a political newspaper. It would have been
natural to him to have allied himself with the tories, as both


be and his father had been more intensely British and anti-
American in New York than Metcalfe had been in Canada.
The tories, however, had plenty of organs, and were never
over-anxious to share confidence with adventurers. But young
Brown was more lucky among the radicals, and the ultimate
outcome was the establishment of a new radical organ, the
Globe. This paper was launched on the eve of the contest, and
at once began the battle with much earnestness. Its style was
rous but extremely uncouth, and would be rather rough
reading in the light of our present newspaper culture. This,
however, was not a grievous fault then, for not a very large
bulk of its readers enjoyed much more literary culture than
the editor himself. Its more serious fault was the frequent
crude and undigested form of its thought which was the result
of a spontaneous outpouring of impatient and indiscreet enthu-
siasm. There was no manoeuvering in Mr. Brown's advances ;
he attacked always in charges. It was on seeing his impatience
and impetuosity, his lack of tact and the inability " to wait for
the morrow till the morrow came," that men said, " Another
William Lyon Mackenzie has come amongst us."

Once it is recorded in Holy Writ that in troublous times
fierce horsemen were seen riding through the clouds shaking
their shields and spears : to those who looked out upon the
political sky as the summer of 1844 wore away, and autumn
came, the spectacle could have been scarce less full of fore-
boding. Chaos virtually had come, for the governor had now
unlawfully ruled eight months without a constitutional govern-
ment. Mr. Draper had proved the friend and counsellor of the
governor all along ; but as August arrived, and yet no progress
in forming a ministry had been made, he one day waited upon
his excellency and told him he saw grave danger in further
delay. Mr. Draper was a tory of a dye almost pre-historic, yet
he was a wise man and a patriot. The governor took his sharp
and, we may say, imperious advice with wonderful grace for an
autocrat, and set himself to work to form a cabinet. Evidently


Mr. Draper had frightened him, for he went hastily at his work,
as if he fancied a tempest were shortly to break, and he feared
being caught in the storm. In a few weeks it was known that
a cabinet had been patched up as follows :

James Smith - Attorney-General, East.

Wit. Draper - Attorney-General, West.

D. J. Papineau - Com. of Crown Lands.

WlLLIAM Morris Receiver General.

M. Viger . - . President of the Council-

Dominick DALY ... - Provincial Secretary.

The capture of Mr. Papineau was the most important move
the governor had mad.' ; for he was a brother of the notorious
agitator and rebel, and his accession to the cabinet fell like a
Manket upon some of the more radical of the reformers.
M. Viger was another French Canadian. He had been a bo-
som friend of Joseph Papineau, had aided in the rebellion; and
for his treason. While lying in the gaol a tory
paper had objected to his being "fattened for the gallows.''
The same journal with other tory organs now pointed to him
with pride as a leading representative Canadian, and an honour
and a strength to the government. But after all M. Viger was
not a man of much consequence. He had not constancy enough
in his character to be much of anything. He was a weak rebel
and an indifferent patriot. He was on the market when Met-
began to play the despot, and was speedily bought up.
His absorption into the new cabinet had no effect upon any-
body but himself and those who profited by his salary and

But those who knew the old man were moved to sorrow ra-
ther than to anger at his defection. " I assure you that no oc-
currence in my political life," says Robert Baldwin, in a private
letter to a gentleman in Kingston, " has ever occasioned me a
tenth part of the personal pain than the position which our
venerable friend thought proper to assume, has inflicted upon


me. ... I honoured him as a patriot, I loved him as a
man, and I revered him as a father. ... In fact his course
is one of those enigmas that baffle me quite in every attempt
to unravel it, and I can still really designate it by no other
term than an hallucination."

The necessity of appealing to the country went sorely against
the governor's grain, but he was assured that there was no
hope for the ministry in the existing house. When he found

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 4 of 57)