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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notions about political principles — by the way, he always had
— but when Metcalfe developed into a political tyrant he
joined the ousted ministry; and it was because political treach-
ery was revolting to his mind that we find him now sitting
anion- the opposition benches. Though we shall meet him
again, we may as well anticipate some of the events in his
career. Although a Roman Catholic, he opposed separate
ioIs ; and his clergy denounced him from their altars. But
he was very dear to the affections of his brother Highlandmen,

* Morgan: " Biographies of Celebrated Canadians. "


whom he could address fluently in Gaelic ; and they voted for
him despite the dicta of the priests. At the election of 1844,
there were 18,000 inhabitants in his county, Cornwall, and of
these nineteen-twvntieths were of Scotch descent; while of
I melds tlone then were not fewer than three thousand
•WO hundred, all of whom spoke Gaelic. Four years before
this date Mr. Maedonald married a lady from Louisiana, the
daughter of a United States, senator and owner of a large
plantation of negroes. His after career is not uninteresting, *
and we shall see this nervous man, with the bright eyes, often,
before our story closes.



1ITHILE tho struggle for constitutional government was
T! going on in this country, three great questions pro-
foundly stirred the minds of men in the mother land. One of
these began thirteen yean before within the hallowed walls of

Oxford, when the conviction dawned upon tin-" sweet and saintly
Keble," who baa been likened to Goethe's star, asoul u without
haste and without rest," thai the Church of England had wan-

1 fr.nn the apostolic road into the world's by-ways, a n< 1
while the body grew out into fair proportions and decked

f in purple and fine linen, the soul within it languished to
the very gasp of death. And Keble, sore in spirit that his
beloved church should see such an evil time, told his sorrows,
and gathered around him some of the most sincere and lofty
spirits in England Within the college walls, one evening, as
the wind murmured through the classic trees, with Richard
Hurrell Froude, Dr. Pu8ey,John II. my Newman and others, he
inaugurated the movement that first became manifest by the
publication of the series of arguments contained in the " Tracts
for the Times," Bold and searching were the arguments in
itartling, if not audacious, were their doctrines. As
tract after tract appeared, the thinking world became profoundly
stirred, and the bishops turned uneasily in their chairs. It
would have been easy to hush the voice of the skeptic or the
unbeliever within the walls of Oxford, and the church, whether
papal or episcopal, has never hesitated to enforce silence by
authority, while the nerve remained to her arm ; but here the



bench of bishops was met by the thrilling appeal of some of
the most pure and lofty spirits in tin* realm, men who neither
doubted nor disbelieved, who aimed not to pull down the
church, but to build her up. to make her better and not
WOEBe, and who had discovered but too many unpleasant

truths which tln-y dragged into the light by the aid of a
mercilesi and all-penetrating logic. So they calmly bowed

their heads before the storm, though their mighty fabric rocked,

and braved the rack till " No. 90" catm- rolling from the press.
This was the most famous of the series, was written by N<\v-
maii, and was the climax to which the whole current of the
argument had hitherto been tending. The bishops at once
took th<- alarm ; the vice-chancellor and the heads of houses
met; they condemned the traet and eensnred the writer. Ths
you may still by force, but opinion you cannot stifle.
Newman had entered upon a vast field of speculation; and
those who saw the trend of his thought, must have known that
only one church upon earth for him could be a staying-place.
He still taught in the college and in the pulpit, and, in the
words of Mr. Gladstone, was " all the while, without ostenta-
tion or effort, but by simple excellence continually drawing
under-graduates more and more around him." He went to the
continent, and wandered through classic cities like a man in a
dream. In these wanderings the whole world to him seemed
dark, and he, himself, as an infant groping his way to find a
home. It was then his spirit breathed, and he wrote, that
sweetest of our English hymns, that, pealed now upon ten
thousand organs through all Christendom :

" Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on ;
The night is dark, and I am far from home ; —
Lead Thou me on."

He returned to England teaching with all the sweet earnest-
ness of his nature; and while he knew not where his haven lay,
or whither his footsteps tended, the eyes of observant men saw


that he was travelling fast to Rome. His secession sta£orered


1 1 10 church of which he bad been the most brilliant star; and
twenty-five years afterwards Mr. Disraeli describes his separa
tinu as having • dealt a blow to the church of England, under
which she still reels," While we do not believe that the falling


a way oi anyone man could, to this extent, injure a church
with a throne and government forming two of its constant
bulwarks, we may suppose that the secession was a serious loss.
But Newman, in a simple surplice, preaching in a modest epis-
copal chapel, was a Ear greater menace to tie- episcopacy, than
man witli a cardinal's hat, or thundering out of the chair

of Peter. When he went over to Rome the danger was past,

and the wildly agitated heart of the established church at-
1 its normal, sober b
While the divines -aw with trepidation the movement in
the theological world, politicians were filled with interest in the

onell for ;> repeal of the anion.
They had heard him say, and fchey knew the tremendous force
in- would employ to keep his pledge, M The year 1843 is, and
shall be, tie- repeal They saw the whole of Ireland

as a man at his call and stream Erom the mountains and
out of th - cities in thousands, headed by their priests, with
the regularity of soldiers, to attend his monster open-air meet-
Thefaroe of the agitator and his movements were known
over the world, and distinguished strainers visited Ireland to
the man in whose word, and voice, and gesture there was
some witching power, potent to move to tears or laughter, to
pity or indignation, the tens of thousands of his countrymen
wll,) I in the fields at his call When Lord Metcalfe

ii the play the tyrant in Canada, O'Connell was addressing
surging crowds among the hills of Kerry, and appealing to
" yonder blue mountains where you and I were cradled." The
of O'Connell and the hopes of his followers were not un-
known in ( an;. da ; and not a little of the zeal in the cause of
Metcalfe and the Crown was kindled on the hustings by the

102 / . ' '• £ OX SIR JOIIX A. MACDOKALD.

reminder, from some wily tory, that the air was full of the
"spirit of this repeal" that they " wanted separation in Ire-
land, and less would not satisfy them in Canada." But the
great fabric that O'Connell raised was destined to pass away as
dissolves the picture in a troubled dream. And almost as sud-
den as the tall of the movement, was the fall of its originator.
Now we stand spell-bound in the gallery of the commons listen-
ing to "the thunder of his eloquence ;" Charles Dickens, while
a reporter in the gallery, is so moved by the pathos of one of
his Speech*! that he has to lay his pencil by; the discerning
critic, Lord Jeffrey, regards all others whom he hears as " talk-
ing schoolboy " compared with the agitator. Yet a little, yea»-
in three short years, and we see him making his last speech —
this giant who so took the fancy of Lord Lytton among his
native mountains, that he made him the subject of a poem —
tottering feebly by a table. " His appearance was of great de-
bility, and the tones of his voice were very still. His words,,
indeed, reached only those who were immediately around him,
the ministers sitting on the other side of the green table,
and listening with that interest and respectful attention which
became the occasion. * * It was a strange and touching
spectacle to those who remembered the form of colossal energy,,
and the clear and thrilling tones that had once startled, disturbed
and controlled senates. * * * It was a performance in
dumb show ; a feeble old man muttering before a table."* He
longed now to get away to Rome, to soothe his spirit in the
shadow of her wing and there lie down to rest. He hurried
away just as the shadows of famine began to gather over
his beloved land, struggled to Genoa, on his way to the holy
city, and there died.

The most engrossing movement of the three, perhaps, was
that which stirred the whole commercial frame of Great
Britain — the question of a tax on corn. This movement had

* Disraeli.


been set on foot and carried out with a force and a success be-
fore unequalled, by those unique and singularly honest and able
politicians, Richard Cobden and John Bright. These were the
gifted men who could, in the wordfl of Kinglake, " go
bravely into the midst of angry opponents, shew them their
fallacies one by one, destroy their favourite theories before their
very faces, and triumphantly argue them down." This de-
scription helps us to understand how a government chosen to
maintain the duty on corn should suddenly announce its con-
version to the doctrines of* free trade : and how Sir Robert Peel
could stand boldly up in the parliament four years alter his
election to maintain the duty, and frankly tell the house: "I
will not withhold the homage which is due to the progress of

in and truth by denying that my opinion on the subject
of protection has undergone a change." The sudden revolution
in English opinion on this question ereated much surprise
and some excitement here, bed though Peel fell in the momeni

of victory, and a young rival seized the occasion to raise him-
self to eminence, no hand has since lUCCeeded in renewing the
life of the corn laws. They are dead] aid, we doubt not, will
p now till the sound of the last trumpet.
In the autumn of 1845 a period of chilling winds and wet
prevailed in [reland, and the potato crop, the mainstay of
the great majority of the working people, began to rot in the
ground. The extent of this calamity will be understood when
it i> learnt that large numbers of the labouring class received
no wages, but tilled the fields of the land-owner on the "cot-
tier-tenant system" ; that is, giving their labour for the use of a
patch of land in which to plant potatoes. Generations, in many
districts in Ireland, had grown up and passed away, and never
tasted flesh meat, unless fortune sent a rabbit, perhaps once in
the year, through the hedge, when it was stealthily dispatched
with a pitchfork, conveyed home under the mother's cloak,
and eaten in uneasy silence. So when the long-continued,
drizzling days set in, and the potatoes began to rot in the


ground, a feeling of honor crept over the country. Not a
county escaped the devastating hand, hut the southern and
western districts Eared the worst, and were soon plunged into
all the horrors of famine. Hundreds of persons, wandering
aimlessly along the roadside, searching in vain for food, tell down
and died. To add to the horror of the famine, an epidemic,
known M "famine f« in, and with this a terrible form

of dysentery. Between these frightful scourges, and hunger,

thousands were carried away; their dead bodies lay in the
ditches, and the town authorities refused any longer to burtl ten
the* living with expense in providing coffins for the dead. In
the early stages of the mortality coroners held inquests, and
juries often brought in verdicts of wilful murder against Lord
John Russell or the lord lieutenant, either of whom, it was
believed, could have furnished relief to the starving popula-
tion. Crowds of girla and young women, tortured with hun-
ger, came from the mountains and the villages, and entering
the city, smashed the windows of shops, and committed every
possible act of destruction to property, in the hope of being
sent to jail, where they could get food to eat.

The gloom of this reign of horror was somewhat enlivened
by the appearance upon the scene of a fashionable French
cook, M. Soyer, who appeared in silver buckles and shining
velvet, at the head of a soup kitchen in Dublin under the
patronage of the lord lieutenant. The object of the cook's
appearance seemed to be less to relieve the hunger of the suf-
fering throngs than to demonstrate a nice scientific point over
which he had long been brooding ; namely, that the extent to
which the inhabitants of the earth up to that time had eaten
was an excess and a folly, and that a strikingly sustaining
potage could be produced out of the thinnest and cheapest
articles of food. A character in one of Scott's novels had an old
mare upon which he applied the* same principle, however, long
before the day of the dandy French cook. This individual
began by lessening the ration of hay to his poor old beast from


day to day, aiming to bring the daily food down to one straw ;
and lie would have been successful, we may suppose, had not
the " puir naig" died the day before he made the final experi-
ment Frightful though this famine was in all its eonse-
quences of death, and ri<>t, and crime, we can scarce help regard-
ing it as Goldsmith looked upon the French revolution — a
"blessing in disguise." From a population of six millions,
rcrowded in sties too filthy even for the brutes, the number

of Ireland's inhabitants fell to four millions. If that famine did
nothing but let in additional air and sunshine upon these re-
maining four millions it surely cannot be called a BCOUrge. 1 > u t

it did better than this : it taught the peasant that there are

i' lands besides his own dreary bogs and sterile mountain-
sides, lands where there is bread to be had for honest toil, and
where rack-renting and the miseries of an organised pau-

'iM i> not known. Thereafter, the inhabitants, with a new
hope, turned their faces to the setting mid, and there saw the
land of their deliverance. They poured into Canada dining
the dark year following the famine, 70,000 in tic one season
alone. On the Atlantic voyage, huddled together in worse
plight than the cattle we now ship to British markets, in all the
tilth and misery of a load of negroes under a slaver's hatches,
they sickened of fever and dysentery and died like sheep.
Through tic summer long they poured in upon Grosse Isle, till
tie- fever broke out with redoubled violence among the filthy
and pent-up hovels, and the very air thai Mew about the island
was Loathsome, and instinct with death. « Army after army

ck and suffering people," McMullen tells us, " fleeing

from famine in their native land to he stricken down by death

in the Valley of the St. Lawrence, stopped in rapid succession at

and then, leaving numbers of their dead behind

them, pushed upwards towards the lakes in overcrowded steam-

> burden tie- inhabitants of tic western towns and villages."
r lh<- inhabitants, without regard for race, colour, or religion,

all the assistance in shelter, food and clothing to the suf-


ferers that they could ; but there was a bitter feeling abroad as
ships carried in cargoes of Lord Palmerston's tenants to add to
tin- others already living upon public charity. The people could
have borne the load of sharing their own scanty store with
the sufferers, but it aroused their indignation to think that the
British (iovi-rnnirnt should utilize Canada merely to get rid of
useless and burdensome subjects. No pen can describe the
horrors among the miserable and filthy masses that sweltered
in their fever and {>oisonous dirt under the summer sun on
Grosse Isle, or the anguish of mothers separated from their
babes and children in the wild hurly-burly on board the
ships and during debarkation. Scores of children who could
not yet lisp their own nanus were thus thrown upon public
charity, and at least one of these, a weakly infant, alone in the
fumes of the plague, exposed to die, was taken in by kindly
people, and is now a leading member in one of our Provincial
Cabinets. Like the child of Zanoni that smiled through all
the tumultuous horrors of the French revolution, we see this
infant deserted 'mid the pestilence of the river isle, and hear
the words, " See ! the orphan smiles. The fatherless are the
care of God."

When Metcalfe left Canada to die, the old dispute about the
Oregon boundary took on an alarming face, and our people ex-
pected grievous trouble. As early as 1818, an attempt had
been made to harmonise the claims of the British and the
United States governments to a portion of the territory lying
between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coast, but the
negotiations failed, and the disputed regions were left to a joint
occupation. For many years the debatable land seems to have
escaped the attention of both countries, till the fertility of the
Pacific slope and the value of some of the ports for naval sta-
tions came to be known, when the question suddenly assumed
a serious prominence. The joint occupation was continued
down to 1843, when the president of the United States peremp-
torily, if not insolently, called for a prompt settlement of the


question. The Monro doctrine must have been strong in the
minds of the quarrelsome party in the United States then, and
the call of the president in 1843 does not seem unlike a summons
to the British nation, to show cause why her subjects should not
be swept off the continent, and on what grounds at all they
claimed a foothold there. The Canadians had not learned then
a^ well as they know now, that it takes a good deal of Ameri-
can bluster to make one cannon shot, and that a noisy presi-
dent or a party in war paint does not represent the whole spirit
of the republic. Bat the Canadians became alarmed at the
noise, and looked to their muskets. The British government
expected to see the glove thrown down every moment, and
appointed a military governor, who had instructions to put the
frontiers in a state of defence, and make the country ready for
war. The governor choeen, Bad 1 Sathcart, a brave soldier who

had seen fire in Holland and the IVninsula, and had three
horses shot under him at Waterloo, was an admirable selection
at rack a criaia. But the threatening cloud blew away before it

broke ; the compromise of Lord Aberdeen, the foreign secretary,
was accepted, and the treaty of Oregon made. This provided,
among other th ings, that the di vi< 1 ing 1 i ne along t h « • d i *] uited ter-
ritory should be " the forty-ninth degree of latitude from the
Rocky Mountains, west to the middle of the channel, separating
Vancouver'a [aland from the mainland; thence southerly through
the middle of the channel, and of Fuca's Straits to the Pacific."
By this treaty Vancou v.i > [aland remained to Great Britain,
as also the free navigation of the Columbia river. On this
basis the question rested for a time, to be disturbed again din-
ing the framing of the treaty of Washington. Shiill war's
alarms having now subsided, Earl Cathcart was relieved of his
civil responsibilities, and a new governor sent out.

The day the evil genius of the tory government left Canada to-
die, the fate of the Family Compact was sealed. Removed from
the subtle charming of the governor's voice, poor old Viger came
to see the unlovely place he held, and, smitten with remorse, re-


signed the presidency of the council, and practically disappeared
from tlif political scene for ever. Mr. W. B. Robinson, who had
resigned the inspector-generalship a year before, became commis-
sioner of public works, and Ifr.John BillyardM !ameron,one of the
most brilliant legal stars in the horison) then in his thirtieth
ycai-, became solicitor-general instead <>f Mr. Sherwood, who
earned removal by having shown contempt for the government,
and hostility to Mr. Draper. Nearly every day brought a change,
or the rumour of a change in the cabinet, and the govern-
ment seemed not unlike the dying man, who, racked with pain,
now takes one end of his conch and now another in the hope
of bettering his condition. Weary of the turmoil of public
life, and disgusted with the bitter fruit it brings, Mr. Draper
yearned to spend the remainder of his life in the rest and calm
of the bench ; but whenever he spoke of moving there was a
general rising at the cabinet seats, as if not one, but all, would
be the premier, and he was obliged to forego retirement till a
successor without a rival appeared.

It was during this time that many eyes were turned to the
member for Kingston, as a rising hope of the declining party,
but he seems not to have been anxious to "go on board
a ship that was foundering." Yet the impression went abroad
and got into the public prints, that the member for Kingston
was about to enter the cabinet. A Toronto paper, violently
opposed to the government, but an admirer, evidently, of Mr-
Macdonald, heard the rumour, and told its readers rather sadly :
" Mr. John A. Macdonald is marked for another victim ; he too
will speedily be a flightless bird." A Montreal journal, which
has not since ceased to support Mr. Macdonald, told its readers
something different. " The appointment of Mr. Macdonald,"
it said, " if confirmed, will, we believe, give universal satisfac-
tion. A liberal, able, and clear-headed man, of sound conserv-
ative principles, and unpretending demeanour, he will be an ac-
quisition to any ministry, and bring energy and business habits
into a department of which there have been for many years,


under the present, and still more under preceding manage-
ments, many complaints." But this was a time when govern-
ment was sustained only for plunder, and some of those
who had worn the harness Long in the tory cause — who had

i for the good and the had, and lent themselves to every

scheme of their masters — threatened rebellion If any more

xuits" were taken into office, Ifacdonald took the dis-

appointment with philosophical coolness, told hia friends that

lie did not suppose the world was ooming to an end very soon

that lie could M afford to wait.'' and added : " The condition of

our party must b before if is better." During the pre-

eedinj M he had sat, as usual, industriously at his desk ■

but in one discussion whieh eame up he took a part which is

inter to us now in view of an important act of legis-

tatioo of his later lite.

On the first of May, Mr. Cayley had a resolution before the

ilate a scale of differentia] duties on im-

itiona in leather manufactures, which was bitterly oppos-
ed by some of the reformers. Among those who warmly de-
solution was Mr. Macdonald, and what he said is
©cause we have heard that in adopting the "na-
tional policy," as in other matters, he was only "the creature
of expediency," and did not believe the principle of protection
to be good. But it will interest, if it will not discomfit, those
who say this, to Learn that on the 1st day of May, 1840, Mr.

on;, Id stood up in his place in the ( 'anadian parliament
and told " hon. gentlemen that there was no reason in their
opposition to these resolutions;" that " had they studied the
question they must have supported them," that " the measure
of the hon. gentleman was really a protective one, and as such
unanimous support;" for "it would prevent the
trade of Canada from being subject to the competition of Ame-
rican artisans, and not among the least to the artisans of Ame-
rican penitentiaries."


And now drew on the last days of toryism in Canada. Its
sun was low in the >ky, even when Metcalfe put his dignity
l<v and Appealed to party in the name of the Queen. It lay
not in the power of man or any combination of men to bring
the life back again to its palsied limbs. Toryism is the policy
of stagnation, the force that opposes change and progress. It
( ■ann..t liw where the will of the people is supreme. It was
put upon its trial in Canada, in the summer of 1848, and fell,

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 8 of 57)