Charles Lindsey.

The life and times of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie. With an account of the Canadian rebellion of 1837, and the subsequent frontier disturbances, chiefly from unpublished documents online

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Online LibraryCharles LindseyThe life and times of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie. With an account of the Canadian rebellion of 1837, and the subsequent frontier disturbances, chiefly from unpublished documents → online text (page 1 of 62)
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Central University Library

University of California, San Diego

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Entered according to Act of the Provincial Logislature, in the year 1862, \>y


In the Office of the Eegistrar of the Province of Canada.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1862, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylyanla.


A VERT general impression prevails throughout Canada that
the late William Lyon Mackenzie had, for some years, been en-
gaged in writing his autobiography ; and that, at the time of his
death, the work was nearly completed. An examination of his
papers showed that such was not the case. He had indeed pro-
jected such a work, and arranged much of the material neces-
sary for its construction. The foundation had been dug ; but the
first stone of the superstructure had not been laid. About his
intention, or rather his desire, there can be no doubt. He had
made known to all his friends that he had laid out this work for
himself ; and even his own family were under the impression that
he had made considerable progress in its execution. But on ex-
amining his papers, I soon discovered that, except detached and
scattered memoranda, he had written nothing. Of autobio-
graphy, not previously written when some momentary exigency
seemed to demand it, or fancy spurred him to put down some
striking passage in his life, there was nothing. Beyond this,
every thing had to be done by his biographer, if his life was to
be written ; and such was the public curiosity to learn the con-
nected story of his eventful life, that I was pressed, on all hands,
to undertake the work. At great inconvenience, and under a
pressure of other exacting literary engagements, I consented.


A vast raass of materials was put into my hands. Although
it had been subjected to a certain system of arrangement, I did
not always readily discover the key to the connection. The
general plan of reference was very simple. Take fifty common-
place books numbered, by pages, up to seven thousand, with an
index of subjects, and you are furnished the same facility of re-
ference as to a ledger. It is required to find all the available
information on any particular subject. Under the proper head
in the index, we are directed, let us suppose, to page 6,059. We
find a book numbered " 6,001 to 6,062." It will therefore contain
the intermediate number required. On opening at the page in-
dicated, we find a number of manuscripts, letters, leaves from
pamphlets, and cuttings from periodicals, intermingled with writ-
ten notes on slips of paper, cut to the exact size necessary to
contain the observations noted. All these papers are left loose
for facility of removal.

So far all is plain sailing. Deficiencies, I soon found, had to
be supplied ; and I was sometimes puzzled to see the connection
of documents lying entombed between the same pages. One
subject runs into another; and to exhaust the available informa-
tion on any one point, an endless number of references and com-
parisons had to be made. Some twenty years of newspaper files
had to be carefully read. To give an idea of the mass of ma-
terials with which I had to deal, it will suffice to say that the
Navy Island correspondence alone, occupying a single page of
one of fifty-five common-place books — and there is a second
series with a second index — would make a large printed volume.

These facts are characteristic of the methodical habits of the
man whose life is, however imperfectly, delineated in this work.

Full of the fiery energy of the Celtic race ; impetuous and
daring ; standing in the front rank of party combatants, in times
and in a country where hard knocks were given and taken, it was
the fate of Mr. Mackenzie to have many relentless enemies. If
I had undertaken to refute all the calumnies of which he was
the subject, and to correct all the false statements made to his


injury, this biography -would have taken a controversial form,
which must have rendered it less acceptable to a large class of
readers. The plan I have followed has been to tell the story of
his life as I find it, without much reference to what friends or
enemies, biased one way or the other, may have said under the
excitement of events that have now passed into the great ocean
of history. There Avere some few cases in which it was necessary
to clear up disputed questions, over which men still continue to

The striking want of moral courage in many who were engaged
with Mackenzie in the unfortunate and ill-advised insurrection, in
Upper Canada, in 1837, lei them to attempt to throw the odium
of an enterprise that had failed in its direct object entirely upon
him. Men, of whose complicity in that affair the clearest evi-
dence exists, cravenly deny all knowledge of it. Mackenzie
never shrank from his share of the responsibility. He lived to
see and admit the error of the movement, and to express deep re-
gret for the part he had taken. But an enterprise which cannot
be justified, and the engaging in which involved him in ruin, was
in the end advantageous to the country. Much of the liberty
Canada has enjoyed, since 1840, and more of the wonderful pro-
gress she has made, are due to tlie changes which the insurrection
was the chief agent in producing. Unless those changes had
been made — unless a responsible government especially had been
established — Canada would ere now either have been lost to the
British Crown ; or, ruled by the sword, it would have been stunted
in its growth, its population poor, discontented, and ready to
seek the protection of another power. The amelioration which
the political institutions of Canada have undergone would prob-
ably have come in time, if there had been no insurrection ; but
it would not have come so soon ; and there is no reason to sup-
pose that the Province would yet have reached its present stage
of advancement.

Being several thousands of miles distant when the insurrection
and the frontier troubles took place, and having never been in


Canada till several years after, I lay under the disadvantage of
not having any personal recollection of what occurred in those
stirring times. But considering the stores of materials and the
sources of information at my command, perhaps this is no great
loss ; certainly it will be more than compensated by the imparti-
ality with which an unconcerned spectator can pass in review the
events of that troubled period.

In the private documents in my possession, containing the se-
cret history of the frontier movements, I found much that had
never seen the light ; including projects of invasion and insurrec-
tion, of which the public has never had more than the vaguest
notions. The use I have made of these documents will, I pre-
sume, not be regarded as unwarranted.

I first saw Mr. Mackenzie, in 1849, when he came from New
York to Canada, on a visit. Our differences of opinion on the
politics of Canada during the last ten years have been notorious.
Still I knew his real views perhaps better than any one else. In
private he never concealed his hand to me, during the whole of
that time. By the hour, when no third person was present, he
would speak with great earnestness and animation on the claims
of justice, the odiousness of oppression, and the foulness of cor-
ruption. The offer of office under the Government was more
than once obliquely — once, I think, directly — made to him after
his return to Canada, and it always threw him into a fit of pas-
sion. He received it as an attempt to destroy his independence
or to shackle his freedom of action. A thousand times I have
heard him protest that he would rather die of starvation than de-
scend to any meanness, or be guilty (f any act that would deprive
him of that title to an unpurchasable Patriot, which he deemed
the best heritage he could bequeath to his children.




Oeneral Bemarks — Mackenzie's Parents — Birth — School Days — Characteristic In-
oidents — Religious Instruction — Books he read 11


Mackenzie first Employed in a Draper's Shop, then in the Counting House of Gray
of Dundee — Dr. Chalmers — Starts business at Alyth, and fails — Clerk to Zen-
nett and Avon Canal Co., in England — London — Resolution to go to Canada-
France 28


Sadls for Canada in the Psyche — Personal Appearance — Lachine Canal Surrey-
Book and Drug Business in York and Dundas — Dissolves partnership with Less-
lie — ^Removes to Queenstown — Politics — School Trustee 34


Reasons for going into Politics — Canada in 1820 — Moderation of his Political Prin-
ciples — Press in Upper Canada in 1826 — Union of the North American Provinces
—General Election— -Scene in Court 39


Removes to York — Reports and Publishes Debates — Newspapers and Postage-
Government in a minority in New House — Journey to Kingston — Abandons Po-
litics for Literature — Ideal of a Patriot 63


The Colonial Advocate destroyed by an Official Mob — Rioters cast in Damages-
Amount collected by Officials — Criminal Proceedings against Rioters by Francis
Collins — Conviction — Presentment against Mackenzie for Libel by Official

Party 1i





Judge Willis removed by Executive— The cause— Collms convicted of Libel— Fine
paid by Subscriptioa— Judge Sherwood's Direction denounced— Prosecution
■ against Mackenzie abandoned— Execution of Charles French 108

Pecuniary embarrassments— Fever— Sickness and Death in the Family— Robert
Randall— Alien Question— Letters to Earl Dalhousie— DiflBculty and Final Set-
tlement of the Question— Faith in the Colonial Office 121

Printer to House of Assembly— Not a Sure Partisan— Irresponsible Government-
Union of Legislative and Judicial Functions— Colonial Representation in Im-
perial Parliament ^^'


Candidate for Legislative Assembly— Elected— Allen McNab sent to Jail, Boulton
Reprimanded— Chaplain of House- Government Independent of Assembly —
Sir J. Colborne— Specimen of Mackenzie's Oratorical Powers 143


Visit to United States— Cameronian Preaching and Scottish Psalmody — States and
Canada Compared— Charge of Disloyalty met— Action- for Libel — Session of
1830 — Change of Administration demanded — Contemptuous Reply — Reforms
proposed 160


Small Libel Suit — Mackenzie pleads his own Cause and Succeeds — Responsible
Government — Opposition to his Re-election — Successful Appeal to the People-
Success of the Official Party 173


McLean Speaker in New House — State Church— Cause of the Party Revolution —
Stnte of the Representation — Permanent Civil List — An Attempt to Expel Mac-
kenzie — Journey to Quebec — Shipwreck , 187


Expulsion of Mackenzie — Defence Voted an Aggravation of his Offence — Feeling
excited — Military Preparations — Public Meeting — Re-election — Gold Medal and
Chain Presented 209


Triumphal Entry — Commotion in the House — Second Expulsion — Defence cut short
—Impassioned Appeal to Electors— Re-election 224





Popular Excitement and Sympathy — Attempt to Assassinate Mackenzie — Convic-
tion of Kerr — Journey to England — Procures the Dismissal of the Crown Of-
ficers — Tories threaten to Revolt — Revisits Scotland — Returns to Canada 244


Third Expulsion — Re-elected — House refuses to receive him — Another election —
Forcibly ejected — New writ refused — Proceedings expunged from the Journals... 283


Y'ork changed to Toronto — Mackenzie First Mayor — Cholera of 1834 — Braves Dis-
ease and Death — Canadian Alliance Society — Loss of his Eldest Son — Macken-
zie as a Journalist 312


Meeting of the New House — Hume's Letters — Grievance Committee — Read by the
King — Mackenzie appointed Director of the Welland Canal — Disclosures —
Hinck's Career — Visit to Papineau — Letter to Hume 324


Sir Francis Bond Head arrives — His Speech — Censured — Troubles — Separation
from England — Stoppage of Supplies and Reservation of Money Bills — Dissolu-
tion of the House — Violent means to carry Elections — Mackenzie loses his
Election — Dangerous Illness 355


The Conatitution—TAook Trial of Sir F. B. Head— Samuel Lount— Fatal Resolu-
tions — Session of 1836, 7 — Its turbulent Close — Mackenzie goes to New York —
Purchases at Trade Sales of Books 391




GeneraJ Remarks — Mackenzie's Parents — His Birth — School Days — Youth —
Characteristic Incidents — Religious Instruction imposed hy his Mother —
The Books he read.

Few men who have led a life of great mental acti
vity long survive the abandonment of their accustomed
habit of labor. Nor was it different with Mr. Mackenzie
When he resigned his seat in the Legislative Assembly,
in 1858, few of his colleagues were equal to the endur-
ance he underwent. It was no uncommon thing for
him to burn the midnight oil till streaks of gray were
visible in the eastern horizon. He would do this three
or four nights in the week. He could jump as high,
and run as fast, as the j^oungest and the most athletic
member of the House. Every one thought there were
still left many years of wear in his slender but wiry
frame; but the seeds of mortality had been already sown
in his system. As a steam engine of disproportionate
size shakes to pieces the to^prail vessel in which it is



placed, his ponderous brain, overworked with long
years of mental toil, wore out the bodily frame. Nor
did the brain itself escape the penalty of over-exertion.
Loss of memory was the first symptom of the brain-
softening thus superinduced. Violent pains in the
head, accompanied by the refusal of the stomach to
perform its accustomed functions, followed. For the
last two years of his life, he failed more rapidly than
his most intimate friends were able to realize. In his
declining health, pecuniary embarrassments threw a
gloom over the latter days of his existence. Whether
he was himself aware of the extent to which his health
had failed, that the iron frame was so 'far shaken and
debilitated as it was, it is impossible to say. His te-
nacity of life would probably prevent him fron> ad-
mitting to himself the true state of the case ; and
though he often spoke of the decline of his strength,
he generally did so by way of inquiry and with a view
of eliciting the opinion of others on the subject. It
was a point on which he was morbidly sensitive ; and
the last time he was out, before being confined to his
death-bed, he inquired anxiously of one of his daugh-
ters whether people remarked that he was failing.
When he did so, he drew himself up in a more erect
posture and walked with a show of unwonted firmness,
as if desirous to disprove an impression that he
dreaded. Relying on the extraordinary strength of
his constitution, he promised himself, in his moments
of flickering hope, many years of life. But at length
he became weary of battling the world, and was
anxious to lie down to rest.

The public probably fltcied that the Homestead


subscription had given him some degree of ease in his
worldly circumstances ; but the truth was that beyond
the house in which he lived and died, the product was
very little, and when that little was exhausted, he
found himself without an income. It is doubtful
whether the paper he published, The Weelcly Message,
ever yielded any profit ; and he was finally compelled
to abandon its publication. After this, he lived on
borrowed money, obtained at usurious rates, upon the
endorsement of political friends. When atlast, hehad to
battle with despair, he ceased to desire to prolong the
painful endurance of life. One day he remarked to
some members of his family, that though he would
not destroy the life that God had given him — that he
had np right to do so — he cared not how soon it might
please the Author of existence to take back the life
that he had given. He died heart-broken with disap-
pointment, as much as of brain-softening ; died because
he no longer knew where to find the means of exist-
ence, and because his proud spirit forbade him to beg.
From his most intimate friends, who might have helped
him, he concealed the embarrassments of his j)ecuniary

Such were the causes of the death of this extraor-
dinary man, whose powers of agitation, at one period
of his life, gave him an almost absolute command over
the masses in his adopted country. When he had
ceased to be able to speak or write, he seemed much
concerned for his family ; and placed the hand of the
mother of his children in mine, as if to commend her
to my protection. It seemed his last hope and his
last wish. 9


In writing his biography, it will be my duty, as far
as convenient, to allow him to tell his own tale ; and
where opinions must be expressed, it will be my aim
to make them judicial and just, though I may not con-
ceive that he was always right, either in act or opin-
ion. In this spirit and with these feelings, I begin
this tale of shipwrecked hopes and overwhelming dis-

Under the head " Mackenzie,"* I find among Mr.
Mackenzie's papers several slips of memoranda, going
over a long story of pedigrees. On reading them my
curiosity was excited to see whether he was going to
give point to the recital by tracing his own descent
from some of the ennobled members of his family
name ; but the conclusion somewhat brusquely ex-
cluded any claim of this kind. According to what
was long the orthodox method of writing history, he
derived the Mackenzies from Noah ; but with this dif-
ference, that, instead of pretending to complete the
chain, he made a safe assumption of the fact.

Mr. Mackenzie's parents were married at Dundee
on the 8th of May, 1794, by the Rev. Mr. Macewen.f

* " This ancient family," writes Mr. Mackenzie, "traces its descent from the
House of Gerald, Ireland, (whence sprung some of the noble families of Lein-
ster, Desmond, etc.,) a member of which and his followers settled in Scotland
about 1261, and was created Baron of Kintail. His name was Carlinns Fitz-
gerald, First Baron of Kintail. He married a daughter of Walter, High Stew-
ard of Scotland ; was succeeded by his son Kenneth ; who agair was succeeded
by a son of the same name. Third Baron of Kintail, called in Gaelic, Ken-
neth Mackenneth, which in English was pronounced Mackenzie Mackainzie;
and hence (says Burke's peerage) arose all the families of Mackenzie, in Scot-

f The following entry is copied from an old family Bible :
Daniel Mackenzie and Elizabeth Mackenzie, both natives of Kirkmiehael,
Perthshire, Scotland, were marri^||at Dundee, by the Rev. Mr. Macewen, on
the 8th of May, 1794.


Of this marriage William Lyon Mackenzie, the object
of this biography, was the sole issue. He was born
at Springfield, Dundee, Scotland, on the 12th of March,
1795 ;* and his father died when the child was only
twenty-seven days old.f His death was brought on
by a cold contracted at a dancing party ; and during
his illness, which lasted only a few days, he suffered
severely from a violent pain in the head. The know-
ledge of this circumstance caused the son, throughout
his life, to dread the severe pains in the head with
which he was occasionally afflicted, at long intervals,
and generally after great and long continued mental
exertion. "What he had dreaded all his life came
upon him before his death. For several weeks he
complained of increasing and almost constant pains
in the head. At all times, when they occurred, they
had been extremely violent ; and in his last illness,
but chiefly before he took to his bed, or had ceased
to struggle against the disease, they were the cause
of intense suffering. The discrepancy between the
ages of his parents was great ; his father being only
twenty-eight years old when he died; while his mo-
ther had seen forty-five summers when her only child
was born.
His mother, by the death of her husband, who left

* William Lyon Mackenzie, born at Springfield, Dundee, Forfarshire, Scot-
land, March 12th, 1795, Baptized on the 29th by the Kev. Mr. Macewen,
Seceder Minister. — Entry in Family Bible.

I Daniel Mackenzie died at Dundee on the 9th of April, 1795, leaving
only one child, William Lyon, then tventy-seven days old. — Entry in Family


behind him no property of any account, became to a
great extent dependent upon her relatives, of whom
she had several in the Highlands ; and she sometimes
lived with one and sometimes with another. Some
of them were poor, others well to do ; and if it be
presumed that she gave the largest share of her pa-
tronage to the latter, the former were probably not
missed in their turn. At the same time she always
managed, by some ingenuity of industry, to keep a
humble home over the heads of herself and her boy.
Her constitutional temperamenl always kept her busy,
let her be where she might ; her high nervous organi-
zation rendering inaction difficult to her, except to-
wards the close of her life. In this respect, there
was a remarkable resemblance between herself and
her son ; and from her, it may safely be affirmed, he
derived the leading mental characteristics that distin-
guished him through life.

She was so small in stature as to be considerably
below the average size of her sex. In complexion
she was a brunette ; her hair was dark-brown, till
whitened by age, and at ninety it was as abundant as
ever, and always long. Her dark eyes were sharp
and piercing, though generally quiet ; but when she
was in anger, which did not often occur, they flashed
out such gleams of fire as might well appall an anta-
gonist. Her features, corresponding w^th her size,
were small ; and the prominence of her cheek-bones
gave unjmistakable indications of her Celtic origin. The
small mouth and the thin, compressed lips, in har-
mony with the whole features, told of that unconquer-
able will which she traftsmitted to her son. The fore-


head was broad and high, and the face seldom relaxed
into perfect placidity ; there were always on the sur-
face indications of the working of the volcanic feelings
within. The subduing influences of religion kept her
strong nature under control, and gave her features
whatever degree of repose they ordinarily wore.

Her strong religious bias made her an incessant
reader of the Scriptures and such religious books as
were current among the Seceders. With this kind
of literature she early imbued the mind of her son ;
and, it would not be difficult to show, the impressions
thus formed were never wholly effaced. Though of
Highland origin, she spoke Gaelic but rarely, it would
seem, for she never imparted more than a very slight
knowledge of it to her son. She cherished some plau-
sible superstitions, firmly believing that a Mackenzie
never died without warning of the coming event being
given by some invisible messenger in a strange, un-
earthly sound, and had a strong suspicion that fairies
were something more than myths. The strongest
reciprocal afl'ection existed between her and her son,
at whose house she spent the last seventeen years of
her life, having followed him to Canada, in company
with Mr. J. Lesslie, in 1822, and died at Kochester,
N, Y., in 1839, while her son was a state prisoner,
in Monroe county jail, under sentence for a breach
of the neutrality laws of the United States. She had

Online LibraryCharles LindseyThe life and times of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie. With an account of the Canadian rebellion of 1837, and the subsequent frontier disturbances, chiefly from unpublished documents → online text (page 1 of 62)