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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that a dissolution was inevitable, he folded his sleeves for the
contest, and stooped to artifices and meanness in forwarding the
cause of the tory party to which an average ward politician
would hardly descend. He felt however sure of victory. Cir-
cumstances stronger than the strength of parties were in his
favour ; he lacked not the aid of friends who were influential
and unscrupulous, and had the satisfaction, above all, to know
that his opponents were alienating sympathy by their excesses.
The contest came on in November, in a very hurricane of

umult. At more than one hustings blood was shed, and mu-
tual massacre on a general scale only prevented by bodies of
soldiers and special constables. The worst fiend known to man
was loose in those days during the elections, the demon of
whiskey. Near every booth were open houses, where the ex-
cited mobs drank intoxicants furnished by the candidates till
they became mad. For days before polling, ill-favoured look-

ng persons poured into Montreal, some carrying dirks and
slung-shots, and others pistols. Regiments of soldiers, aided by
hundreds of special constables, were on constant duty during
the elections in this riotous city, but could not prevent some
of the most brutal collisions, and even bloodshed. The suspi-
cious strangers with the dirks and pistols did not come into the
city for naught ; and in the riots gave many a bloody account
of themselves.

In Kingston the passions of the mob were scarce less brutal,
or party feeling less bitter. Recent sittings of the parliament
there had called the staid political principles of the people into


activity, and now the crisis which had come fanned that ac-
tivity into a fierce flame. Some were extreme radicals, who
declared at their gatherings that " the British system ought to
be pulled out by the roots," others were uncompromising in
their toryisra, and prayed that Metcalfe " might hold fast, and
fight the good fight bravely to the end ; " while, perhaps, a
party as Large as the two extreme ones, took the middle ground,
and was neither so radical as the out-and-out reformer, nor so
conservative as the ultra tory. To the moderate conservative
party John A Macdonald belonged, though when it was told
through the streets of Kingston that he was coming to oppose
Manahan, the extrem as well as members of the great

middle party approved of the choice, and, with ringing cheers,
followed the young Alexander of polities to the hustings.



A TORY, however, Mr. Miu-lonald was, and as a tory he
went to the polls. But what he professed was not that
slavish toryism which believed that the nation and the people
were made only for the sovereign. Neither did he go to the
hustings " talking prerogative, the alpha and omega of the
compact," but at once came to the political condition of the
people. With prerogative, indeed, he did not concern himself
at all, unless where it bore on the constitutional status of the
province. These were turbulent times in many parts of Upper
and Lower Canada, and for several months preceding the
elections monster meetings had been held by the party leaders
at various parts of the province. It was not unusual to see
proceeding to one of these gatherings, a hundred teams, each
carrying a dozen stalwart voters to stirring music, with flags
flying, and every man armed with a club. Violent collisions
often occurred, and the polling places were frequently the
scenes of the maddest and most brutal party strife.

Of a similar character were the crowds that gathered at
Kingston before the elections were held, some cheering for Mr.
Manahan, others for Mr. Macdonald. Manahan was an Irish-
man, and all the bullies of the city were on his side. The
number of these was comparatively small, but they could
terrorize over a much larger number of peacably disposed men.
But the election had not proceeded far when the repute of
Manahan had grown so odious that his followers began to drop
away in flocks. The man's past career, the worthlessness of

his moral character and his mean abilities had much to do with



this ; but the chief reason was the happy address, the skill and
tact of the young lawyer, who opposed him, and who grew from
day to day in the good-will of the voters.

Macdonald addressed several meetings in the open air, meet-
ings composed of riotous men, inflamed with whiskey and the
worst passions of party. At one of these meetings he had
much difficulty in getting an opportunity to begin his speech,
as several adherents of Manahan came there to obstruct him,
"Never," says an eye-witness, "did he lose temper, but good-
naturedly waited till there was a lull in the disturbance.'*
When silence was restored, lie said he knew most of the elect-
ors, and they were all manly fellows — too manly, indeed, to
96 another fair play. Tli opposed to him, he said,

and they had a right to be, and he would not give much for

them if they would not stand up for their own eandi I;
hut if they had a right to their opinions — and he would be
glad to listen to them at another tim< — he had also a right to
hia He only wished to present his side of the case, and if his

ers did not agn-e with him they might afterwards vote
for whom they chose.

Here was something more than soothing speech; here, in-

. was the genius of a Mark Antony, that could by the
very force of >ubtle knowledge of character, turn a hostile
mob into friends upon the spot. The stroke told, and at

v j.»int which appealed to the manliness and fair play of
his opponents — for every man, however mean, respects both
these qualities — the crowd cheered again and again, and the
cheers did not all come from his own friends. It need hardly
be said that during his speech there were no more interrup-
tions, and tint he had completely conquered his opponents be-
charming his friends, A very intelligent Irishman, who
had just arrived in Canada, called at Macdonald's office the
next day, and said to a student there that he had heard

>nnell the year before making a speech in Kerry. " The

ch last night," he said, " was not as forcible as O'Connell's,


but it was just as effective." Mr. Macdonald's speeches, how-
ever, were far from consisting of sweetness and suavity alone ;
he had a tongue that could scourge, but it was rarely an unruly
tongue. Manahan received more than one castigatiou before
that memorable campaign ended ; but the ex-ministry and their
party came in for the lion's share. We have already shown
that the crisis was one where party feeling was called into
fierce activity ; that in many places the active tory became a
firebrand, and the moderate one a zealot — that hosts of re-
formers rallied around the governor, and only the most pro-
nounced of the party stood by their guns. We do not wonder
at Mr. Macdonald being loud in his cry against the ousted
ministry. He had been brought up a conservative, and the
young men with whom he first mingled were of the same po-
litical school. So, indeed, were nearly all, if not all, of his
close friends, up to his entry into public life ; and the first
chapter of political history he read, in equipping himself
for his career, he saw through conservative glasses. It was
impossible that he could have been other than a tory, taking
into consideration his birth, early training and associations.
In and about Kingston everything was on the side of conserv-
atism ; — the wealth, the influence, in great measure the intel-
ligence, the social standing, and the prospects. Had Macdon-
ald been the son of a whig father, and grown up in Toronto,
instead of Kingston, he might have struck a different chord
when he came upon his first platform. But to condemn him
for being a tory, as circumstances were, would be to see " an
example and a shining light " in the hero in Pinafore, who
" might have been a Roosian, a French, or Turk, or Proosian,
or perhaps an Italian," but who " in spite of all temptations to
belong to other nations," became " an Englishman." Friendly
historians, commenting upon Mr. Macdonald's entry into pub-
lic life, speak of his toryism, not as a set of irresistible opin-
ions, but as if the young politician were troubled with lame
back or a club foot, for they considerately describe it as " his


misfortune rather than his fault." The fact is, he ought, like
Richard the Third, to have come into the world a horrible pro-
digy, feet first, and bristling with teeth, and instead of crying,
as most babies do when first stranded upon this cold and cruel
world, begun with a rattling stump speech on Reform. It
matters little how John A. Macdonald set out. It is his career
in the trying path of public life in which we are interested.
If there he did his duty history will be satisfied

Macdonald did n« »t lack materia] to incite, from his stand-
point, tin- most fwathing speeches, While we all have sympa-
thies with the struggles of a just cause, with the excesses of
that cause we cannot have any sympathy. Some of the most
brazen demagogues had gone about the country for two years
befoiv the election pluming themselves on their disloyalty and
the aid they bad given to rebellion. They openly declared
that henceforth the gov e rnment should consist of men who
bad been either rebels in act or in open sympathy. Then many

close friends of the ex-government bad gone ranting about the
country declaring thai the government intended to proclaim Can-
ada a republic, and that we had bad enough of British connexion.
The ex-ministers had to bear the brunt of all this mischievous

noise ; in d 1. they took no pains to repudiate the wild sayings

of their followers. Then, during the closing session of parlia-
ment, it is said that cabinet secrets were the property of every
knot of reform loafers who gathered in the bar-rooms of
Kingston. It is undoubted that there was a painful lack of
ministerial dignity, and that scores of persons of indifferent
Lai standing enjoyed the confidence of ministers upon coun-
cil atl'ai is and government measures past and prospective. It
was generally believed, too, that the collision between Metcalfe
and the executive was less due to a spirit of constitutional
unfairness on the part of the governor than to the factious
and intolerable attitude of the council. They were, therefore,
to blame that the country had gone nine months without a

constitutional government, her peace exposed to the gravest



dangers. There is no reason why Mr. Macdonald should have
believed differently from the large majority of conservatives,
and there was no sham scorn, we may be sure, in his denuncia-
tions of the lack of ministerial dignity, and the reproaches
which ho hurled upon the late government for the disloyalty
of themselves and their followers.

Taverns were open in Kingston as elsewhere during the
contest, and whiskey and blood from cut heads flowed as freely
as at Doneybrook Fair. It was impossible for two opposing
factions to meet without a collision, and the candidate who
escaped violence or gross insult was a man of more than ordin-
ary popularity. It was the custom, too, at some of the public
halls where meetings were held, for members of the opposing
faction to make a sudden rush and extinguish the lights, when
the most indescribable confusion ensued, which ended in the
break-up of the meeting. Though this was done during this
election at many an assemblage in Kingston, Mr. Macdonald
scarcely ever had a noisy interruption at his gatherings. His
tact and suavity disarmed hostility, and when he was dealing
some of his most effective blows to his opponent, he adminis-
tered them with such good nature that the listener was remind-
ed of the hero in the song, who " met with a friend and for
love knocked him down." Instead of provoking hostility his-
aim was to disarm it, and this he accomplished while making
many a crushing point against his opponents. Every day the
contest lasted saw his popularity grow and that of his op-
ponent decrease, till, at length, a day before the polls closed,
the latter rushed out of the field in despair, while in the midst
of the wildest enthusiasm at the close Mr. Macdonald wa&
carried through the city on a chair, the victor by an over-
whelming majority of votes.

There remains little more to be told of the story of poor
Manahan. He dropped out of public life a broken man. From
stage to stage of the down road to ruin he went; his
friends forsook him ; his Church cursed him with candle, bell


and book, and after he had died from cold and misery, i
wretched outcast, she refused Christian sepulture to his remains.
Perhaps he rested after all, poor fellow, as comfortably in his
little unconsecrated plot as in the shadow of the Roman fane.
But Manahan was not a good man. His ways were evil, and
like bis ways his end.

The country was not proof against a united Compact where
all was staked upon the issue; against public money scattered
broadcast to debauch constituencies, and a govern. >r-"vneral
in liis shirt-sleeves pleading for the crown. The result was
that the tories were sustained by a majority of three, though
the governor-general, in a fit of jubilation, before the returns
were all in, wrote a despatch to the colonial secretary, Lord
Stanley, setting forth a different result. Forty-six for the
i ii ii ient, twenty-eight in opposition, and nine afloat, was
his representation. Both the governor and the colonial sec-
retary held that drift-wood went with the current, and un-
officially counted the nine in with the forty -eight. This would
show a sweeping victory for Sir Charles, and plead trumpet-
tongned in justification of his pre-election course. That de-
spatch, however, was false, but it was important. Jt deceived
the home government, and got a peerage for the governor.
The session opened with a wrangle over the appointment of a
speaker. By a clause of the Union Act, the official use of the
French language had been prohibited in the legislature, but
with nearly half the members in the house of French origin,
it was deemed well by all fair-minded men that the occupant
of the chair should know both languages. Two candidates
were proposed — Mr. Morin, an ex-Minister, who understood
both languages, and Sir Allan MacNab, who understood no
language but English, and that not very well. The latter
was chosen by a majority of three votes, which showed the
strength of parties, and the reckless despatches that governors-
general will sometimes write to the colonial office.


The Reform party now held a caucus, at which it was decided
that Mr. Lafontaine should introduce resolutions later on in
the session, praying the home government to remove the em-
bargo pat upon the official use of the French language. In
those days governor Metealfe did not creep about in person to
listen at his opponents 1 doors. He would not be above doing this,
however, if fche enterprise were a convenient one; but he main-
tained instead a pimp 01 a listener at every window and key-
hole when the reformers projected a movement which it was
his peculiar interest to thwart. In the proposed resolutions of
Mr. Lafontaine he saw danger to the French votes he had pur-
chased. Messrs. Viger and Papineau had been bought in the
political shambles, it is true, and could be purchased again, but
it would be too much even for them to face the storm of ob-
loquy that would follow their support to a government which
as a body opposed the resolutions of Mr. Lafontaine. On the
other hand, did they and the government as a whole support
the resolutions, the French people would ask, Can justice come
to us only from opposition ? Thus was there a dilemma, one
horn not more inviting than the other. The governor, there-
fore, once again, decided to play the Hindoo. One day, as
reform members sat listlessly at their desks, Mr. Papineau
arose and moved a set of resolutions praying for the relaxation
of restrictions upon an official use of the French language.
" Once more has the subtle Indian," whispered Mr. Baldwin to
the member who sat beside him, " delved a yard below our
mines." No one was astonished now when the cunning or the
meanness of the governor came to the surface. There was
only the feeling of mortification that he shouid have been per-
mitted to delve below the mines.

Parliament had no sooner opened than petitions " thick as
leaves that strew the brooks at Vallambrosa," began to pour
into the house, some setting forth that one member had ob-
tained his seat by the hybrid sin of " bribery and corruption,"
others that perjured returning officers and partisan magistrates


had turned majorities into minorities, and sent the defeated
candidate of the government to the legislature. Some of the
ministerial supporters affected to disbelieve these charges ;
Others said they were intolerable if true, but not a few coolly
maintained that whether they were true or false was of little
consequence. The contest had been between rebellious sub-
jects and the authority of the Crown, they said, and in main-
taining connection with the glorious mother-land, and subor-
dinating our colonial functions to the jurisdiction of the Fons
// </•/.< and Speculum Justitiiv what their opponents were
pleased to call corruption and bribery, they were proud to
recognise as loyalty and seal. It is not. perhaps, to be won-
dered at that when tli«' Fountain of Honour was spoken of,
men looked cynical, and wondered why a governor drinking
from that sacred source could do deeds so very dishonourable;
and the Mirror of Justice should reflect those atrocities
which had been so long a scourge upon the country. The fact
IS but too many regarded the fountain as a tainted well, and
the mirror as a mirage.

Yet, with all the intriguing of the governor, and the pur-
chaseableness of some members, the government was like a
crazy ship that creaked under the pressure of every squall,
and gave promise of going to pieces in the first storm. And
the old ship's position was made worse by the helplessness of
the crew in the lower house, who seemed to be navigating
their way through all the shoals that surrounded them without
captain or compass. The captain, Mr. Draper, was in the leg-
islative council and could no more preserve unity and concord
among his followers below than a mother could rule a family
in the basement while she kept to the attic. It would give
much scandal to the conservative of this day who prizes loy-
alty to his party as not among the least of the political virtues
to walk back fifty years into the ages, and from the gallery
of the Canadian assembly see the discords and disloyalty of
the conservative party then. No day passed during which


some prominent reformer did not ask a question which set the
hearts of the headless party there palpitating. Sometimes the
question was answered parrot fashion, or with that hesitation
with which an errand boy repeats over the message of the
sender. But the chief reply was that the government was
either considering, or would "consider the matter," though the
visible government, it came soon to be understood, was
only a sort of Mr. Jorkins, and the real government Mr.
Draper. Sometimes, indeed, a minister would burst " from
vulvar bounds with brave disorder," and answer an un-
decided question upon his own responsibility. But woe speed-
ily overtook him, for he was snubbed before the house ere
he had well settled into his chair, by a brother councillor. If
he had any retort in him, a scene generally ensued that scan-
dalized the party and set the opposition chuckling. The gov-
ernor's spies made notes of all these indiscretions and duly
reported them. When the situation at length became intoler-
able it was decided that the head of the Family should come
down stairs. In the early part of February, therefore, Mr.
Draper published a card soliciting the suffrages of the people
of London, asking them to reiterate their intention now " to
support the government of Sir Charles Metcalfe." Fancy Sir
John A. Macdonald, at this day, going up to the Forest City
and asking the people to reiterate their intention to support
" the government of Lord Lome S " The impartiality of the
governor's character, we fear, would scarcely be an offset to
the offence. And having spoken in one breath of the govern-
ment of Sir Charles Metcalfe, in the next Mr. Draper uttered
this lumbering sentence : " I am determined not to retain
office under responsible government under circumstances which
would cause a minister of the Crown in Great Britain to re-
sign." The Londoners swallowed Mr. Draper, contradictions
and all, and the government was saved for the time.

The faces of several prominent members of the old house
were missed from their places in the new. Mr. Francis Hincks


Tvas defeated in Oxford, but instead of playing Othello, he at
once turned his great energies and ability to his newspaper, the
', which he had established a few months before in Mon-
treal. The Pilot thereafter till the downfall of the Govern-
ment was the greatest newspaper power in the land.

John S. Cartwright, too, an uncompromising Conservative,
who probably believed that the rain would refuse to fall and
the corn to spring in a reform country, and that east winds
and every description of bad weather were sent by Providence
upon the reformers, was also missing from his place. It is not
recorded, however, that the earth ceased spinning, or the sun
to shine the day he stepped out of the political sphere.

The faces of many members destined to play a prominent
part in political life were seen there for the first time. Among
these were Mr. Ogle R. Gowan, the fiery Orangeman, Joseph
Edouard Cauchon, on whose political BBgifl there yet appeared
no tarnish, and, above all the rest in ability and promise, the
member foi Kingston, Mr. John A. Macdonald.



THE session, as we have seen, commenced with much wrangle,
and all the batteries of the opposition, who possessed the
heaviest guns, were opened upon the government. Nearly
every member who " could talk " took some part in assault or
defence; but Mr. Macdonald sat unmoved at his desk while the
fray went on, ■ looking," says a gentleman who remembers
having seen him there, "half careless and half contemptuous.
Sometimes in the thick of the melde, while Mr. Aylwin acted
like a merry-andrew, and Colonel Prince set his Bohemian lance
against members indiscriminately, Macdonald was busy in and
out of the parliamentary library. I scarce ever remember see-
ing him then about the house that he was not searching up
some case either then impending or to come up at a later date.
He was for a great part of his time, too, buried in a study of
political and constitutional history." With Mr. Macdonald we
have already seen the faculty to conciliate and harmonize con-
tending factions was born, as well as assiduously cultivated;
and we may be sure he had no little contempt for a ministry
which every day paraded the mutual jealousies and antagon-
isms of its members before their opponents and the public.
This, indeed, was the very reason why he abstained, with not
a little silent scorn, from engaging in the debates ; this is why
he chose rather to store his mind with knowledge that would
endure, while others wrangled or played the merry-andrew.

Some, who see a similarity in life and character from the re-
semblance of two locks of hair, have employed themselves in-
drawing parallels in these later years between the subject of



this biography and a young politician who had now begun to at-
tract attention in another parliament, that one reading the pour-
trayals could think of nothing but Martin and " the other
Martin" in " The Two Dianas, At the time of which we
write, Mr. Disraeli had published books and got into parlia-
ment, but had shone with an uncertain light which so much
resembled a will-o'-the-wisp that no man would have cared to
follow it. With an overmastering love of Oriental display, to
him a suit of clothes was of more moment khan a set of princi-
ples, while tlic particular cut of amyrtle-green vest transcended

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 5 of 57)