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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r again t<> raise its head We know the term " tory " is
still applied to one of our great parties, and that we are told
■" toiyism still lives;" but surely our informants are those who
are not acquainted with the history of public parties in the
past, or who understand the genius of political opinion in the
present. But after all, it matters really little what we call our
parties now, since there is not necessarily a connection at any
time between the name and the nature of any thing. It is not
so long asjo since a profound and dogmatic thinker would be
styled a * duns," because he resembled the over-learned and
profound Scotus. Now, that name dunce we apply only to a
blockhead — and not more striking has the difference between
the Duns of six hundred years ago, and the dunce of now
become, than between the tory of 1840, and the tory of 1883.

In the autumn of 1846, Lord Elgin, the greatest of Canadian
governors up to his day, Durham excepted, arrived in Canada.
He was a member of the tory school, and the reformers became
sore afraid when they heard of his coming; yet they had already
learnt how really little there is in a governor's party name.
When Sir Francis B. Head carne they posted proclamations upon
the fences, but before the little boys tore down the placards,
they began to learn how sorely they had been deceived.
When Metcalfe, " the great liberal," came, they had no letter
black enough in their type-cases to print their " Welcomes ; "
a day came upon them when ink was not dark enough to paint
his character. But when Bagot, " the tory," came, they hung
down their heads in gloom ; and were wearing mourning faces


when he called their Leaden to his cabinet. Lord Elgin was
a nobleman in the peerages of Scotland and the United King-
dom, and was a Bruce of the illustrious house which had for a
member the victor of Bannockburn. In 1842 he had been ap-
pointed governor of Jamaica; and upon the change of govern-
ment in England in the summer of ]84G,and the establishment

actable relations between the imperial and United States

rnments, was sent out to Canada. Shortly before departing
for his seat of government he married his second wife, Lady
Mary Louisa, the eldest surviving daughter of the late Lord
Durham, bnt left his bride to follow him when the tempestuous

m passed He arrived here in the early winter, and at
once threw his whole energies into the work before him. It

plain to those who watched his movements with an intel-
ligent eye that he had studied the political condition of ( 'anada
before be passed the Atlantic; nay, more, he alarmed the apos-
nipaet ly telling the inhabitants of Montreal : " I
shall best maintain the prerogative of the Crown by manifest-
in.: a due regard for the wishes and feelings of the people, and

by Seeking the advice and assistance of those who enjoy their
confidence." He had studied carefully the doctrines laid down
by bis illustrious father-in-law and found they were good. He

mastered the condition of affairs in Canada, and saw, so
hifl biographer* telk us, that in the ruling party "there was no
ival political lit'.-; only that pale and distorted reflection of it
which is apt to exist in a colony before it has learnt to look
within itself for the centre of power." He frankly and heartily

ted the effete and unrepresentative body he found in office,
but plainly told them that be should as cheerfully and not less
heartily assist their opponents. The governor was doubly tied
to his duty. Canada had long been looked upon as a stormy

studded with breakers, where administrators were as likely
to meet with shipwreck as to win laurels ; and he was deter.



mined to avoid the rooks. Then, as dear to him as his own
success was tlir reputation of his father-in-law, Lord ])urham,
which still trembled in the balance, and must so remain till
the principles he laid down had been worked out for weal or
woe. He was here to win a reputation for himself in follow-
in.; out the principle! laid down by the father of bis absent
bride : we may be save most earnestly did he set himself to his
duty. Bis manly form was seen at several public meetings,
exposed to the tierce winds of our Canadian winters, and he
had not appeared upon many platforms before it was learnt
that he was the most eloquent speaker in Canada.

In the spring following his arrival the dying man of the
tory cabinet shifted his place once again. Attorney-general
Smith resigned, and Hon. Wm. Badgley took his place. " Your
turn has come at last, Macdonald," said Mr. Draper, as he wait-
ed on the Kingston member, and told him that the receiver-
generalship was at his disposal. Macdonald took the post, and
thenceforth the cabinet had the benefit of advice, which, if pos-
sessed at an earlier day, might have saved it from a doom that
now no human hand could avert. Once again Mr. Draper
yearned to be rid of the turmoil of public life, and the com-
panionship of faithless friends, and offered the premiership to
John Hillyard Cameron; but staid supporters of the dying
ministry said the young lawyer had not yet won his spurs - t
and Mr. Sherwood, who now appears to have had a small fol-
lowing, threatened to secede. Cameron did not press his claims,
if it can be said that he had any claims, and Mr. Sherwood
saw the ruling aspiration of his life gratified. In the speech
opening the session, the governor announced the relinquish-
ment of post-office control by the imperial parliament, and the
repeal of differential duties, in favour of British manufacturers.
The old hull of the Compact ship, the vessel in which they had
sailed so long, and enjoyed the privilege of office with all its
spoils, was exposed to a merciless, we may say a murderous >
fire from the opposition guns, and though division after divi-


sion showed that the government was in a sad minority in
the house, ministers said nought about resignation. The sun-
set of Mr. Draper's political life Beemed to have given him
mystical lore, and the speech he made reviewing his own
r. and Betting forth his opinion on the duties of ministries,
might have been regarded as * valuable death-bed sermon.
Like Saul, the scales seemed to have fallen from his eyes of a
sudden, and that which he had never Been before, though he
must have heard it times without number, was instantly re-
vealed to his vision. He told, in no boastful spirit, that he
had always tried to serve his country to the full extent of his
powers, and dwelt with no little feeling— indeed, shed tears as
-on the ingratitude of men at whose hands he had
Mugs than conspiracy and calumny. He gave
ho uncertain sound when he came to speak of responsible gov-
ernment That, he said, was the only method by which the
country could be governed justly and well
After the close of the session another shuffle was made of
in the doomed cabinet, and Mr. John Macdonald, whose
administrative ability COmmandi d attention, was re-

1 Iron, the receiver-generalship to the office of crown
lands then the most important department in the public ser-
that in the past had been most shamefully, if not
criminally, mismanaged. Here he established a new and better
order of things, reducing confusion and delay to order and
promptness, till, during the brief time his place was vouch-
to him, the report went abroad that if the government
were effete and incompetent they had, at least, among them
one master business head.

In December a dissolution was granted, and for the last
time the cause of toryism appealed for support to the electo-
rate of Canada.



THE reformers entered the contest with cheerful faces, and
the tories fought sullenly on the deck of their sinking
ship. A change had come over the country since the autumn
which saw the governor-general the leading spirit in one side
of a party contest. The public is sometimes an impulsive and
not too just arbiter between men or questions ; but it is possess-
ed of a broad generosity, and is certain to show sympathy
tually, for that one to whom it discovers, on reflection, it
has done injustice. And, as Carlyle expresses it, since it is al-
ways " revising its opinion," it is certain sooner or later to dis-
cover if it has gone wrong. A demagogue may succeed for a
time in leading the public into extravagance, or gross error,
but sober, second thought, is sure to come and set its judgment
right. Percival Stockdale thought the public always wrong,
because as often as he gave them his verses, so often did they
cast them aside, after a hasty glance ; the author going back to
the country comforting himself on " the verdict of posterity."
But Percival lives now only among " The Curiosities of Litera-
ture." Whenever you see a man who has had an opportunity
of stating his case, whatever it may be, before the people, and
see them withhold their approbation, be assured that the pub-
lic is not stupid, or unjust, and that the man is another Perci-
val Stockdale.

By foul means, and through false cries, a verdict had been
wrenched from the public against Mr. Baldwin. He bore his
defeat with that proud patience which the gods love and men



admire ; and now that he came before the people, the same
lofty and upright character that they had always known him,
his principles unchanged by time, sincere and true, to ask of
them, in their sober, second thought, for a verdict again, near-
ly all the wholesome sentiment in the country rallied around
him. He went to the polls with ringing cries, cries that at the
late election were called the voice of treason. Once again he told
his hearers, who were now in an impartial mood, that "he was
not disloyal, nor were his followers rebels; but this they con-
tended for, nothing mor.-. and nothing Less, thai what the Queen
would not be permitted to do in England, we should not per-
mit the governor to do in Canada. Tories had proclaimed
from their hustings that responsible government, at Bought by
the reformers, would be insufficient, and unworthy of Canada;
but he had unbounded faith in its adequacy." And some
writer us. (1 the apt figure that, as in the unfettered working of
the ocean, lay the secret of the purity of its waters, so in tho
untrammelled operation of colonial government lay the secret
of its justice and purity.

In Lower Canada, the people, the great bulk of whom were
reformers, were loudly jubilant and lit bonfires before the
opening of the polls, in anticipation of a sweeping victory.
The question that most agitated public gatherings there was
that of recompense to persons who had suffered losses, either by
the rebels or the soldiers, during the uprising of 1837. The re-
bellion of 1837-38 had no sooner been put down than resolu-
tions were introduced into the legislature of Upper Canada
providing for the appointment of commissioners to investigate
the claims set forth by certain loyal inhabitants for damages
ained during and by " the late unnatural rebellion." The
report of these commissioners was made the basis of further
legislation during the following session ; while the special
council of Lower Canada had provided by ordinance a recom-
pense for loyal persons in that province whose property had
been injured or destroyed during the collision between Papi-



lulu's followers and the soldiers. But neither the act of the one
tegislature, dot the ordinance of the other met the demands of
a large number who had suffered 1 y the rising, There came
from every quarter, demanding compensation, men whose pro-
perty had been injure 1 or destroyed, not by the rebels, but by
the agents of authority. Xor can we wonder at the nature or
the number of supplications, when we take into account the
loyalty of the soldiers. Their zeal, we are told in the records
of this unfortunate time, did not end when they had left the
poor habitant soaking his coarse homespun with his heart's
blood on the field where he fell, but they directed their might
against property in tainted districts, tiring outbuilding and
dwellings, slaughtering cattle, and, it is not hard to believe,
only ceasing, like Alexanders, in sorrow, because there was
naught else to conquer. But in the most disaffected districts,
there were some whose adherence to authority had been un-
flinching, who deplored the uprising, and gave no countenance
to the rebels ; and these came forward now asking recompense
for butchered cattle and demolished dwellings.

Accordingly, shortly after the union, an act was passed ex-
tending compensation for losses sustained at the hands of persons
acting on behalf of Her Majesty in " the suppression of the said
rebellion, and, for the prevention of further disturbances," but
the operation of the act curiously enough was confined to
Upper Canada alone. Lower Canada, where the conflict had
been the greater and the more bloody, where the trained sol-
diery had been let loose, and scores of the innocent, with the
guilty, felt the weight of the arm of authority, was not admitted
within the pale of the recompense law. Therefore it was that
in 1845 the assembly passed another address praying Sir Charles
Metcalfe for a measure which would " insure to the inhabitants
of that part of this province, formerly LowerCanada, indemnity
for just losses during the rebellion of 1837 and 1838." This
change of ministerial attitude is curious reading now, but the
wheel had gone round since 1842. Here and there among the


remnants of the ancient party was a man who saw the drift of
public opinion, and one of these was Mr. Draper. He saw that
his party was being every day poshed nearer the brink of the
precipice, that French votes and sympathies were on the other
: and, as drowning men will eluteli at straws, s.izedupon
the faint hope of wining Lower Canadian support by authoris-
ing commissioners to enquire into the" losses sustained by
loyal subjects in Lower Canada during the rebellion, and the
losses arising and growing out of the said rebellion." The com-
missioiiers were instructed to distinguish between rebels and
loyal subjects, but they soon found that every claimant on his
own showing, had always been unswervingly obedient to the
law. Men who had fired at soldiers out of flint muskets and
hacked at the law officers with scythes, came forward claiming
compensation for their losses as the reward of their loyalty.
The commissioners were nen-plnased. They wrote on the 11th
of Fcburary, 1846, to the governor-in-council, Karl Cathcart,
for instructions as to how they might draw a distinction be*
tween the loyal and those who had rebelled. The provincial
it was not the intention of his excellency
that the commissioners .should be guided by " any description
of evidei r than that furnished by the evidence of the

:' law." It was pointed out that the commissioners
not to try cases, but merely to obtain a general estimate
of the rebellion losses, and that the particulars of the estimate
would form the subject of minute enquiry, subsequently, un-
der parliamentary authority. The commissioners presented
their report in the same year. This document set forth that
Commissioners were entirely at the mercy of the claimants
where there was no court sentence before them; and they ex-
hibited a list of 2,170 persons who claimed damages amount-
In the aggregate to £241,9G5. An opinion was expre
that £100,000 would cover all meritorious claims, for it had
■ ascertained that damages for £25,503 were claimed by
ins who had actually been condemned by court-martial for


complicity in the rebellion. But the intention of the ministry
was not to close the question of these claims, but to temporize
and keep it hanging. The report of the commissioners was,
therefore, laid by, Mr. Draper, like Micawber, hoping that some-
thing would " turn up " by which he might be able to repudiate
the claims. Henee it was that another act was immediately
passed authorizing the payment of £9,986 to Lower Canada
claimants, which sum had been recognised by parliament as
due the second session after the union. This £9,986 was not a
large amount, Mr. Draper reasoned, but it was a sop to the
French party, and a first step, while the larger instalment was
impending. But the premier outwitted himself. His instal-
ment was received with anger and contempt, and the gulf be-
tween him and the support he sought became wider than ever.

From one end of Lower Canada to the other, during the
election of 1848, went up the cry demanding full compensation
for rebellion losses. The reform candidates came into the field
pledging themselves to satisfy all just claims. Thus it was
that Mr. Lafontaine and his party were returned in overwhelm-
ing majority.

In Upper Canada the popular tide likewise set with the re-
formers, though stubborn was the dying fight made by their
opponents. In Kingston John A. Macdonald, who was unspar-
ing in his attacks upon the reformers, and not full of eulogy for
his own party, whose tactics and ability he must have despised
at heart, was returned in triumph. The legislature met on
the 25th of February, and the tories proposed Sir Allan Mac-
Nab for the speakership. The vote for the speakership is
usually a test of the strength of parties, and in this case it re-
vealed that fifty-four of those present were in opposition, and
nineteen true to the government. Mr. Morin was then chosen
unanimously. Some happy exchanges had been made at the
polls. Not among the least of these was the return of Francis
Hincks for Oxford, and the rejection of the coarse and noisy Ogle
R. Gowan for Leeds. Among the new faces seen in the house


were those of George Etienne Cartier and Alexander Tilloch
Gait, both destined to play high and honourable parts in the
history of their country. For the first time, William Hume
Blake, one of the most remarkable men of his day, took his seat
in the house. He was born in 1809, at Kiltegan, County of
Wick low, Ireland, where his father was a church of England
rector. He received his education at Trinity College, Dublin,
and studied surgery under Sir Philip Crampton. Not caring for
surgery, he began a course of theology, which seems also to have
been unsuited to him, and he subsequently emigrated to Can-
ada, taking up his abode in the backwoods. But wilderness
life, separated from all the influences of civilization, was no
more fascinating to Mr. Blake and his family than to that class
generally, whose hardships Mrs. Moodie has described with
Bach feeling and vividness, and he moved to Toronto, where he
red the legal profession, becoming in a few years one of its
brightest ornaments, and eventually adding lustre to the bench
of his adopted province.

We shall see tliat as an orator he had no rival in that parlia-
ment, and that his eloquence was not of that icy, passionless
kind which comes from the trained intellect — never from the
heart — but was instinct with Celtic fire, now rising to a storm
of withering scorn and invective, now launching forth arrows
of piercing sarcasm, and air tin mellowing down to unsurpassed
depths of pathos and tenderness.

On the day following the vote on the speakership, the gov-
ernment resigned, and Lord Elgin called on M. Lafontaine to
form a cabinet. After a short delay, the new ministiy was
announced as follows : —


Hon. H. L. Lafontaine - - Attorney- General.
„ J as. Leslie - Pres. Executive Council.

„ R. E. Caron - Speaker of the Legislative Council.


Hon. E. P. Tache - - Chief Com. of Public Works.

„ T. ( '. Aylwin - Solicitor-Geita-al

„ L. M. Viqeb - - ll>< .',■,,-<;< ,\<rtil.


Hon. Robert Baldwin - Attorney-General.

„ R. B. Sri i. ivan - - - Provincial Secretin' //.

„ FRANCIS Hincks - - - Inspector-General.

., J. H. PBICI - - - Com. of Crown Lands.

„ Malcolm (ami:;: Asst. Com. of Public Works.

The shade of Metcalfe could not have been unmoved when
tin new cabinet ministers came to draw comparisons between
Lord Elgin and another governor-general. Now were they
met by a gentleman who could no more stoop to an act of
meanness in diplomacy than to a similar offence in private life ;
by one whose attitude towanls them was that of a kind friend,
if not a father ; who knew the weakness inherent in party
ministers and the evils by which they are beset. He frankly
gave tluin his confidence and told them he wanted theirs; and
that in all things which tended to a just and intelligent ad-
ministration of affairs they should have the best of his assist-
ance. Though he would scorn to lend his influence to further
the interests of any party, even it were the party of his choice,
he sat for hours advising ministers to be firm with their mea-
sures, telling them of the rocks they had to encounter in their
way, and pointing out that they ought to set up high aims
and not be turned from these by the pressure of any circum-
stance. The time was soon to come when both the ministry
and the governor would need all the firmness that comes from
a conviction of right doing and from philosophy.

On coming into power, the new ministry promptly intro-
duced a series of resolutions into the assembly which was fol-
lowed by a bill " to provide for the indemnification of parties
in Lower Canada, whose property had been destroyed in the


years 1837 and 1838," The only reservation made in the al-
lowance of claims was in the case of those who had been con-
victed of rebellion and either imprisoned or transported to
Bermuda. Five commissioners were appointed to carry out the
Act, and a sum of £100,000 was set apart to satisfy all claims.
The introduction of the measure was the signal for an ex-
plosion. Like the bursting of a long pent-up storm, arose a
cry of indignation from the tory members and their press. To
many it seemed that the < lay of doom had dawned upon our
monarchy. Two poor gentlemen ^hed tears over their liquor,
when mentioning the name of the Queen. The fact Lb, this bill
was only the climax of a long series of outrages. The loyal
Family Compact had been driven from power, and superseded
by "radicals, rebels and republicans," a trinity of had Mood, but
apt alliteration. The head of the government was a french-
man, a former leader of the society La Jeune France ; a man
who had been, at one time, an Infidel, and at another, a rebel,
flying his country from the wrath of the laws. It was no
lemed dishonourable to have rebelled sgainst the au-
thority of the Queen; nay, more, a bill had been introduced,
not only to condone tin- rebellion, but to indemnify the rebels.
For of those who rebelled, it was held ot one in ten had

been convicted by the laws • whereas everyone having a stile
broken down dming tin; rising, who had not been imprisoned
or sent to Bermuda, came forward with claims which the gov-
ernment allowed. But the proudest spirit that chafed under
this galling ordinance, was the gallant knight of Hamilton. He
must have felt with Solomon, as he glanced back upon all the
history which he had made, that the brightest trail a man may
behind him for the admiration of the world, is hut a huge
vanity. To what purpose now had he marshalled his "gallant
men of Gore," levelling the taverns and dwellings of rebellious
owners, or on that dark December night, sent his soldiers to
seize the "piratical" Caroline, and give her to the cataract of
Niagara. Now that a premium had been put upon rebellion


he saw a sort of derision in the very spurs upon his heels, for
they had been given him in token of his loyalty. He resolved*-
however, that the outrages should not be sanctioned, without a
struggle. He rallied his followers in their lodgings; he told
tin in the crisis had come, when rebellion was to be stamped as
a crime or a virtue. In his loyal ears, we doubt not, as he trod
from alley to alley through the darkness on his mission of re-
sistance, rang the words of the couplet :

M Treason does not prosper ; what's the reason ?
Why, when it prospers none dare call it treason."

But he would " dare call it treason," and, so, girt up his loins
for the fight,

His party, therefore, entered the conflict with a will. The
knight led the attack, and his invective was unsparing and in-
discriminate. He did not wonder that a premium was put

Online LibraryJoseph Edmund CollinsLife and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, premier of the Dominion of Canada → online text (page 9 of 57)