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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in importance the lhape given to a bill of reform. "Clothes,'*
he tells us by the mouth of Endymion, when his race was
nearly run, " do not make the man, but they have a great deal
to do with it," But there was in the beginning, and indeed to
the end, little resemblance between the two, as we shall sec in
the prog r o ai of our story.

The young member who has the affliction of being
"smart" is generally as great a nuisance as the boy com-
ing home from high school, to whom all knowledge is a.
novelty; but Mr. Macdonald was as reserved as the staid* >t
veteran in that whole house. He assumed no airs when he
to speak, and never attempted dramatic or sentimental
flights, as did the man to whom he has been likened, in the
outset of his career. He never spoke merely for the purpose
of talking, but only when that which he had to say threw
more tight upon the discussion, added force to an attack, or
strength to the defence. It is not uninteresting to note that
the beginning of his long executive career was his appointment
on the 12th of December, 1844, to the standing orders com-
mittee. On the 21st of December there was much turmoil in
the assembly. During the elections held at Montreal, owing*
to the corrupting facilities in the hands of the govern-
ment, Hon. Geo. Moffatt and Mr. C. S. De Bleury had been
returned to the legislature. One Peter Dunn, and others, ac-
cordingly drew up a petition setting forth the irregularities


of the election, and Mr. Aylwin, a reformer, and a gentleman
possessing a most flippant and annoying tongue, moved that
the election of the two members be declared void. The soli-
citor-general, Mr. Sherwood, held that the petition was insuf-
ficient, inasmuch as it was not competent to any person, not an
elector at the time of the election, to petition against a mem-
ber s return, and that the law in Lower Canada required that
ten of the persons signing such a petition should take an oath
declaring their right to vote under the Act. But this petition
omitted to show these vital points, for which reason it was not
■ valid subject for legislative action. Mr. Aylwin, in a deluge
of words, said the government was unnecessarily tied to techni-
calities. Mr. Baldwin, the leader of the reformers, said the
mere technical question with respect to qualification was en-
titled to no weight. The question now was not whether the
acts alleged in Dunn's petition were true or false, but whether
the legal formalites had been observed which Lower Canada
required. " Will any one tell me," quoth Mr. Baldwin, " that
if I had only obtained my elective franchise yesterday, I am
not interested in the manner in which the town or country
-where I reside is represented ? " Then Mr. Baldwin folded his
coat and sat down. Up to this time the young Kingston mem-
ber had uttered no word in the house save yea or nay. Many
members had heard of the clever Kingston lawyer who defend-
ed Shoultz, and overwhelmed Manahan, but he had sat there
so unobtrusively at his desk that many thought, really, but
little about him, regarding him as a quiet, lawyer-like politi-
cian, who seemed very industrious — for he was always reading
or searching books — and that was all. Now he arose, cool and
collected, to put an old member right ; not, indeed, some indif-
ferent member, but the renowned Mr. Baldwin, with whom
few, save the " know-nothing, fear nothing," members of the
government would care to have measured swords. He glanced
first at the speaker, then at the leader of the opposition. In
* reply to that gentleman's observations he would say that the


hon. gentleman was mistaken in supposing that the law did
not require parties petitioning to be resident at the place where
the elections took place, and that if they afterwards became
residents it would be sufficient. The hon. and learned member
for Quebec did not adopt that line of argument because he
saw that it was an unsound one. The whole of the argument upon
the subject used by Sir William Follett, which had been referred
to, was sustained, and it was a principle not only of law, but of
common lense, that parties not residing at the place of election
ran not be aggrieved by the return. It could not be contended
that they had sustained a wrong, and it would be out of their
power to make the affidavit, required by the statute. The first
ground of objection was not answered in any way, because the
law of Lower Canada on this point was the same as the law of
Eng lan d, and tin' argument* need must apply with equal force
in the one case as in the other. The second ground of objection
was equally unanswerable. It was true that the magistrate
had taken upon himself to state that the oath which had been
taken was according to law, but the house was the only com-
petent judge as to whether the oath had been so administered.
It seemed to him, therefore, upon these grounds that the peti-
tion could not be supported; and to settle the precedent he
would move that the further consideration of the question be
deferred until the 11th day of January next."

A writer who draws an amusing picture of the phcenix-like
member for Megantic, Mr. Daly, and a not flattering portrait
of Mr. Sherwood, was present in the house when Mr. Macdon-
ald made his first speech. He tells us that " when Mr. Mac-
donald stood up to reply to the contentions of the opposition,
he addressed the house with as much ease as if speaking
there were nothing new to him. He had an air of confidence,
and was as truly naaster of his subject as if he had been
prime minister. Every eye was upon the young member as
he spoke, and as I saw the respectful attention that was paid
to him, I felt proud of Kingston." This gives us an idea of the


manner of Mr. Macdonald on first addressing the house, but
the speech itself tells us a much fuller story. It is not often
that the beginner in fence courts conflict with a master of
the sword. It is not often that a young politician, standing
up for the first time in parliament, courts issue with a veteran,
the leader of a great party, and a debater against whom none
save the reckless would have cared to match himself. But
this weight in his opponent was the very incentive that hur-
ried Macdonald to the conflict. He had sat since the opening
of the house silent, often with scorn upon his lips, while
a series of little tempests raged about him, till now, he saw an
opportunity to worst the greatest opponent on the other side,
to end a wrangle, and establish a precedent. It is not to be
wondered at that the austere reformer glanced darkly from
under his brows at this young man whom he had not seen till
rday, who now stood up coolly rebuking him and expos-
ing his errors, as if the ex-minister were the novice, and the
novice the veteran. But the speaker spoke on indifferently.
For days he had heard the house wrangle about these Mon-
treal seats, and now he felt the time had come when the
brawling ought to cease. He had looked for some member of
the government to end the turmoil, but had looked in vain.
The spirit of confusion had taken the bit in its teeth, and the
government was completely at its mercy. What old heads had
failed to do, at last he did. He made a motion that at once
brought the barren strife to an end, and established a prece-
dent. His motion ended the disorder, and the house set free,
proceeded with its work. It is doubted by no one now that
both Messrs. De Bleury and Mo flat t won their seats through
fraud and perjured instruments, but it was not Mr. Macdonald's
aim or concern to shield them in their ill-got places. To reach
them was made impossible by a fatal informality in Dunn's
petitions. His speech was a triumph for higher reasons — a
different speech from the first flight taken by the gaudy young
statesman in the British commons.


From this time on to the first of February, we meet not his
name again in the mass of verbiage that flowed from the
House. His silence during this period and the following ses-
sion has been much commented on, but we have already seen
that during a great portion of his time, while the wrangling
went on, hesat will) bent bead at Ins desk, poring over a book,
Or was found searching, or making memoranda in the library.
But we suspect he was as deeply engaged in another direction;
that then began the system of persona] influence upon political
hich has been such an important factor in the se-
cret of his success as a party leader. With most men noise is
one of the necessary accompaniments of advancement, but with
him it was different fchen m it has been since. Be did not
gain the attention and Admiration of the conservative party
by sounding his trumpet; and later on, when he entered the
Cabinet, he weiri in, bo to speak, in his stocking-feet. Neither
did he accomplish this in the fashion of a Machiavelli, but
Jit after upon merits he had manifested without in-
trigue or display, and through ■ system of what we must re-
gard as something higher than mere tact, as indeed an art
born in him with his birth, and a phase of only the rarest

On the first of February, Mr. Roblin introduced a Bill pro-
viding for the proper distribution of intestate property in
Upper ('ana. la. He set forth that the law of primogeniture
was an evil tree to set growing in our country ; and drew a
touching picture of an expiring father dying intestate, whose
baby son wondered at all the faces gathered about his papa's
bed. Would the house believe, Mr. Roblin asked, that the
father was less anxious for the welfare of this infant son
thrown upon the cold world, than for the oldest son who might
have reached the years of manhood? He therefore believed
that what Canada wanted was gavelkind. Such was the law
in Kent, and under it the children of the intestate inher-
ited in equal proportions. Mr. Baldwin believed that the Bill


was very defective, but as the people of Upper Canada desired
it, he would vote for it.

Mr. Baldwin bad no sooner sat down, than the provokingly
cool young lawyer from Kingston rose again ; once more looked
at the Speaker, and from the Speaker to the leader of the
opposition ; then told " Mr. Speaker " that he " heard with sur-
prise and regie! the hon. member for the fourth riding of
York, after <1< glaring that the system now attempted to be in-
troduced was open to great objections, state his intention to
support it. He had, indeed, always persuaded himself that the
hon. gentleman's motto was * Flat justitia mat catlum.' He
would vote for a measure which he knew to beidefective and
declared to be a bad one, simply because he had taken it
into lii^ head that the people of Upper Canada required it.

. . . . How did he know they did require it ? There
were but two legal and parliamentary ways of ascertaining
what were the opinions of the people, petitions and public
meetings, and there had been neither of these in its favour. . . „
It was folly to raise a monarchical structure upon a republican
foundation The measure ought not to be intro-
duced here for the very reason that it was adopted in the

United States It violated the laws of political

economy, and was calculated to make the poor poorer ; to
make that which was a comfortable farm-house in one genera-
tion a cottage in the second, and a hovel in the third. They
had heard that primogeniture was a son of toryism, but surely
they would accept the dicta of Blackwood's Magazine, a jour-
nal not much tied to toryism, against the cutting and carving
up. ... It was the younger sons of England that had
made her great in peace or war. What would have been the
younger Pitt and Fox if instead of being sent forth to seek
their fortunes, the estates of their fathers had been divided ?
They would have been mere country squires. It was fortunate
for the Duke of Wellington and for his country that he was
left with his sword in his hand, and that sword all he had."


We do not quote these extracts in admiration of all their
doctrines, but to show how deftly the young politician could
turn away the point of an opponent's argument, and that oppo-
nent in the right ; and how he had yet to escape from his strong
tory shell. How ashamed of him his party would now be to
hear him from his place in the Dominion parliament defend
what Gibbon calls the " insolent prerogative of primogeniture."
How ashamed of him his party and the country now would be
to hear him oppose a measure here " for the very reason that it
was adopted in the United States." But these opinions, held
for some years later, were as the vapours that hang about the
face of the morning, but which are purged away as the strength
of the day advances.

We know that Mr. Ifaedonald's public life has been described
as " a f contradictions," but in what statesman do we

fm<l ■' the morning song and evening song always correspond?"
Mr. Gladstone, the very fountain of liberal virtues and great-
ness, for years after his first appearance in public life, bore
the nickname of "Pony Peel," and was regarded as an "Ox-
ford bigot," before the better light began to dawn upon him.
Because his tather owned slave plantations in Demerara, he

took ground upon negro emancipation that will not give
a halo to his picture ; he opposed Jewish emancipation, the
reform of the Irish Church, the endowment of Maynooth, and
several other just and liberal measures. He began his pub-
lic career, in short, not only as an obstructive tory, but as a>
narrow bigot. Yet we see not even the bitterest tory organ
in England describe his career as " a series of contradictions,"
though it has been far more contradictory than John A. Mac-
donald's. Mr. Disraeli, during all the time he was prominently
before the public, was regarded at worst, as a sort of fantastic
tory, yet strange and contradictory was his beginning. He
began as a visionary radical, and formed one of the joints in
O'Connell's tail ; in his earlier books he evoked a clapping of
hands from reformers by his advocacy of free trade ; but won


party leadership by becoming the champion of protection. In
* l Lothair " he sneered at the aristocracy, and then knelt before
its shrine. He denounced it as a " Venetian oligarchy," and
then described it as comprising "the dignified pillars upon
which order end liberty rest." Y.-t to after years when the man-
tle of rule descended upon him, even hisopponents forgot these
things, for they had been done and said when there was nei-
ther responsibility nor experience.

A man is not born wise, but the way to wisdom lies open to
every man, and he is tarnished with ■ light to guide him by
that way, and that light the understanding. If he falter by
the way or turn into the crooked bye-paths, then does he be-
e accountable to his fellow men and receive the judgment
of history. A man who first sets foot in the bewildering paths
of public life is like unto one who has just begun to learn a
trade. Experience is his school, and there must be many a de-
fective blow dealt, many a wrong step made before the appren-
tice comes out a master of his craft. We have no training
schools unfortunately where we can send candidates for public
life, but are obliged to accept the unfit and unready, and leave
them to learn their trade while they are doing our journeymen
work! It is not surprising that the "botches" seen in our
egislative halls are so many and the handicraft often so very
bad. Neither, unfortunately, is it always the ablest and most
suitable students in the political trade that we send at the poli-
tical journey-work ; but often men of a low intellectual stamp,
who never read a suitable book in their lives, who know noth-
ing and really care less about great political questions, and
whose passport to public favour is joviality in the bar-room
or at the billiard table, and the ability to talk blatant vulgarity
on the " stump " at election times. Few of the really worthy
men, those who watch the trend of events, who read and think,
can be induced to enter into a field so degraded, but retire
away to their libraries; though probably, if one of these
men did come, he would find himself distanced far in the race


by some demagogue who excelled him in drinking beer, driv-
ing fast horses, and "treating" friends in the saloons. We
have a legion of reformers in this count rv. but will some of
them not come forward and begin to reform here? As well
may they wrangle with the winds as many of the questions
■gainst which they have set their lances. If the people, after
ing both sides of a plain question, put with clearness and
force, decide to have N. P, or N. C, let them have it. It
is they alone who are concerned. But the question of the
intellectual and moral capacity of the candidate for Legisla-
tive uchi - the root of the whole political system.
[f you elect to represent yon a man with a low moral char-
. depend upon bis turning corruptionist if he get the
chance; and it u but too often the case, in all parts of
our Dominion, that a man who has no moral or social stand-
ing, and who has failed at everything else — in commerce,
in law, in medicine, and not (infrequently in divinity — turns
politician, sells himself to the highest bidder, and ever after-
wards makes it the aim of his life to get all of the public
funds he can, welcoming the means, whatever their character,
to thai and

Well, Gladstone and Disraeli were not exceptions in being
"off with the old love." Peel* who began bis career as a tory
of the tories, was not struck with the light till two years after
Mr. Macdonald had entered public life, and then suddenly an-
nounced to the house that he had changed his mind on the
whole subject of protection, on the policy that he had advo-
cated all his life, and was now converted to a belief in free
trade. Yet history relates the change without discredit to his
memory, although it came when he was in his fifty-eighth
year, the ?ery meridian of his powers. Only a few days ago a-
noble lord, whose toryism had been pronounced, and who
fought aide by ride with Disraeli in many a pitched battle
against Gladstone, entered the great liberal's cabinet as colo-
nial secretary, And really the tories whom he deserted had


less to say about the defection of the distinguished peer than
some of our critics about the utterances of a student politi-
cian delivered doling a reign of political chaos, and in the twi-
light of opinion. We are not apologizing for inconsistency
here, but justifying a wholesome and honest change of opinion.
It would be an evil principle that required a legislator to
oppose the adoption of the locomotive because, before the
introduction of the steam engine, he had favoured the stage
coach. No; tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in Mis.
For the remainder of the session, Mr. Macdonald sat uncon-
cernedly at his desk, save when he arose to make a motion or
introduce a measure. He had not grown less contemptuous
for his opponents or warmer towards his friends ; but sat there
waiting, with cool philosophy, for that tide to come, which,
" taken at the flood leads on to fortune." Once indeed, on the
20tfa of February, he was aroused from his indifference by a
wrangle which seemed to be interminable. Mr. Ay 1 win had
persisted in interrupting Mr. Moffat t till he was named from
the chair. But beyond the naming, no one on either side
seemed to know how to proceed. Sir Allan was nonplussed,
ministers looked on bewildered, leading reform members arose
only to add to the confusion, while the merry-andrew who had
raised the squall, bandied words defiantly with the house and
the chair, seeming to say in effect, " I have been named ; here I
am; what are you going to do with me ?" While the house
sat puzzled and confounded, there was a movement at a quiet
desk, and the cool member for Kingston arose. He looked
around the confused house, and from the house to the chair.
" The member for Quebec has been named," he said ; "he
might now explain the cause of his being called to order after
which he must withdraw." And he took his seat. The words
threw light upon the house but a formality was yet needed.
Aylwin still kept the floor, hurled abuse indiscriminately, and
defied the chair. Members looked from one to the other, and


many eyes were turned to the desk of the member for King-
ston. Again he arose. " As the member for Quebec chooses
to continue in the same strain, I move that he withdraw. "
This punctured the bubble, and Mr. Aylwin apologized. The
incident goes to show the cool prompitude of the young politi-
cian, when others who must have understood the formalities, in
the confusion, had forgotten them.

It was hoped by Sir Charles that the appearance of Mr.
Draper in the lower chamber would secure the harmony of
the members, but the tendency was to disruption instead of
cohesion. With a loud flourish Mr. Draper had stated in the
beginning of the session that the government would stand or
fall with the University Bill; with cynical faces the opposi-
tion saw him bring the measure down; saw his supporters
•brink away ; saw him eat the leek, withdraw the Bill upon
the second reading, do everything, in short, but keep his word
and resign. They remembered, too, that only a few weeks
before he had told the people of London that he would not
retain office under circumstances that would oblige a British
minister to yield up the seals,

At this date, it appears, the conscience of Sir Charles Met-
calfe began to sting him, in proportion as his government
lost ground he exerted himself by art and wile to prop it up,
till, eventually, as his biographer tells us, he began to fear
that he had lowered his honour, and appeared to himself
somewhat of a trickster. But, though ho had degraded his
high office, the home government considered he had done
his duty well, and wrote to him that he had been ennobled.
It is not surprising that when an address was moved in
the legislature, felicitating him on his honours, many a
member said that he could not congratulate either Baron
Metcalfe or the House of Lords ; and that instead of being
honoured with gauds and title he ought to have been re-
called and tried for high crimes and misdemeanors. If the


denunciation was extravagant, it was certainly not without
its excuse.

Shortly after the prorogation of parliament a destructive
fire broke out in Quebeq, consuming 1,650 dwellings, two
churches, a ship-yard and several lumber yards. Nearly
2,000 persons were turned penniless and adrift upon public
charity. Assistance rapidly poured in from every quarter, and
the governor-general, who took active measures in soliciting
subscriptions, generously headed the list with $2,000.

The end of poor Metcalfe's mortal career was drawing close
to him now. His old malady, cancer in the face, had broken out
afresh, and was dragging him down remorselessly to the grave.
They sent out a physician from the colonial office with a
sovereign wash* for the disease, but the patient was beyond the
reach of human skill. During the early winter he crossed the At-
lantic to his seat at Basingstoke and died there. It is said that
in private life he was kind and courteous, and good to the poor ;
and that many a tear was shed to his memory. His epitaph
was written by Macaulay, who makes the marble tell posterity
that," In Canada, not yet recovered from the calamities of civil
war, he reconciled contending factions to each other and to the
mother country," and that " costly monuments in Asiatic and
American cities attest the gratitude of the nations he ruled."
This, however, only lessens our faith in epitaphs. It proves,
too, that Byron was not all astray when he toldjis in the
" English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," not to

" Believe a woman or an epitaph,
Or any other thing that's false."

It was during the spring of this year that the gallant com-
mander Sir John Franklin sailed away with high hopes from
England to meet his death among the thunders of ice in the
dismal North. Thereafter it was that many a whaling crew

* Chloride of Zinc


at night in Northern bays sang while the tempest howled and
icebergs rumbled the touching song,

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 6 of 57)