John Stephen Willison.

Reminiscences, political and personal online

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any panoply of virtue. Carling's chief offence was that
he was usually successful, and what title has a candidate
who will not be defeated to courtesy or justice or com-
passion. He was a placid, wholesome, honourable gen-
tleman who would have been esteemed and beloved
even by those who hunted him with so much ardour
and malignity if he had kept out of politics. Even as
it was, he was trusted and respected in no ordinary de-
gree. If not a great man, he gave the country service
of sound quality throughout a long public career. Once,
no doubt, he held the seat for London in the House of



Commons by a dubious title. There was technical jus-
tice in the judicial decision by which he profited, and
perhaps it is difficult to determine the moral validity
of a legal technicality or what latitude judges may exer-
cise in interpreting the letter of the law instead of the
spirit. It is said that once in Council Sir John Mac-
donald looked long at his colleague from London and
at length remarked, "I wonder, Carling, if God ever
made a man as honest as you look." It may be that he
was not as honest as he looked, but he was honest enough
for Christian communion, reverential burial and kindly
remembrance. The press never killed a public man
who deserved to live. If this were not so Hon. George
Brown never would have reached middle life and Sir
John Macdonald would have died in infancy. I think
sometimes that if journalists would periodically exam-
ine the old files of their newspapers there would be far
more of charity and justice in political controversy.

It is doubtful, however, if any newspaper in Canada
has a more honourable history than The Free Press or
has been a more effective ally of the Conservative lead-
ers. So The Advertiser has been a staunch champion
of the Liberal party in London and the western coun-
ties. At times wayward, it was ever valiant in the day
of battle. Like its Conservative contemporary, The
Advertiser has had individual flavour and distinction.
Founded by Mr. John Cameron in 1863, until 1883 it
was as much the expression of his personality as was
The Globe of the robust courage and flaming spirit of
George Brown. Associated with Mr. John Cameron
in the conduct of The Advertiser were three of his
brothers, of whom only one is living. Less resolute
than Mr. Brown and more distrustful of himself, Mr.



Cameron was more tractable and more submissive to
authority. But it would be unjust to suggest that he
had no settled opinions or was yielding when his cher-
ished convictions were challenged. He was a prohibi-
tionist by example long before we all became prohibi-
tionists by compulsion. Until he withdrew from the
active direction of The Advertiser to become editor of
The Globe, liquor advertising was not admitted to its
columns. Forty years ago when there was no such
volume of advertising as newspapers now carry this
involved a serious sacrifice. Nor was there much
popular sympathy for what was regarded as pharisaical
pretension and commercial imbecility. Two or three
months after Mr. Cameron relinquished his personal
control over The Advertiser I was detailed to write a
sympathetic account of the Carling brewery. Just why
I was assigned to that particular duty I have never un-
derstood. There were other members of the staff who
could have pronounced a more seasoned judgment upon
the quality of the product. But I had an amiable con-
versation with Sir John Carling and thereafter The
Advertiser gave Carling's ale the benefit of its circula-
tion. Mr. Cameron was favourable to woman suffrage
when advocacy of the political equality of women was
regarded as a feminine eccentricity. He was religious,
but he hated heresy hunting and narrow denomination-
alism. He was loyal to British connection, but doubted
the permanence of the colonial relation unless equality
of citizenship throughout the Empire could be estab-
lished. Restless under the domination of The Globe,
he naturally drifted into relations with that element of
the Liberal party which chafed under George Brown's



George Brown was not jealous of equals nor con-
temptuous of inferiors, but he was a natural Dictator
and was intolerant of carping and disaffection within
the Liberal party. Those who were contumacious he
would flog into submission or drive into the wilderness.
If there never was an open quarrel between George
Brown and Edward Blake it is certain that Mr. Blake
sometimes resented the dictation of The Globe and its
masters. Thus there were two forces, if not two fac-
tions, in the Liberal party until Mr. Blake became the
Federal leader. It may be that the responsibility for
this division lies upon Mr. Blake rather than upon The
Globe, for he had the zealous and faithful support of
the Liberal organ while he was Prime Minister of On-
tario. I have been told by Mr. William Houston,
M.A., who was on the staff of The Globe as far back as
1872, that George Brown exercised all his power of
persuasion to get Mr. Blake to enter public life. It
was the judgment of the Liberal Dictator, who was as
just as he was downright, that Mr. Blake had no intel-
lectual equal in Canada, while among British states-
men he ranked only below Gladstone and perhaps Lord
John Russell. This estimate was not accepted by his
brother, nor perhaps will we all agree with George
Brown that Lord Palmerston was inferior to Russell in
capacity and genius for government. But while Mr.
Mackenzie was leader of the Liberal party, Mr. Blake
was an uneasy and uncertain ally. Between the two
there was constant friction and misunderstanding. If
they had personal relations they were frigid and re-
luctant. When Mr. Mackenzie died I was sent to ask
Mr. Blake if he would be a pallbearer at the funeral.
He acquiesced but hesitated. There came into his face



a look of memories that were not pleasant. As I turned
to go he murmured, "How I was misunderstood."
Whether there was discord or music in Mr. Blake's
memories among Mr. Mackenzie's adherents there was
a rooted conviction that Blake had not been generous or
chivalrous in his treatment of the head of the Govern-
ment or of the Government itself towards which his
relation was so capricious and uncertain.

The truth is that Mr. Blake could lead, but he could
not follow. There is reason to believe that he could
have succeeded to the leadership of the Federal Liberal
party upon his resignation of office in Ontario if he had
permitted the Parliamentary caucus to choose between
Mr. Mackenzie and himself. One reads much into a
letter which Mr. Mackenzie wrote shortly before his
Government was defeated : "From the first I was more
willing to serve than to reign, and would even now be
gladly relieved from a position, the toils of which no
man can appreciate who has not had the experience. I
pressed Mr. Blake in November, 1874, to take the lead,
and last winter I again urged him to do so, and this
summer I offered to go out altogether, or serve under
him as he might deem best in the general interest."
But Mr. Blake persuaded himself or deluded himself
into the notion that he did not want to be leader. He
was not frank with his associates nor frank with him-
self. He was more ambitious than Mr. Mackenzie,
but his ardent and honourable craving for place and
power was poorly concealed beneath an affected pre-
tentious indifference. He was sensitive to every wind
of criticism, blow it ever so softly. He was so mortally
afraid he would be misunderstood that he never fully
understood himself. Disabled by temperamental dc-



fects, this man of whom giants might well be afraid let
his soul be harried by insects and to the gnats gave vic-
tories which belonged to the gods.

It was natural that Mr. Blake, who wanted to blaze
the trail instead of Hon. George Brown, Mr. Goldwin
Smith, who hated the Browns and The Globe as he
hated Disraeli and the Jews, Mr. David Mills, who
was rising to leadership in Western Ontario and was
not convinced that when George Brown set his hand to
the British North America Act the era of constitutional
reform was closed forever, and Mr. John Cameron
second in authority among the Liberal journalists of
Upper Canada but not unwilling to be first, should seek
a basis of alliance and co-operation. But surely there
never was less promising material for conspiracy. There
is no evidence that Mr. Blake had complete confidence
in Mr. Goldwin Smith, while in politics the Sage of
The Grange trusted no one but himself. One can
imagine that at the first conclave they would adopt a
resolution of mutual distrust and commiseration and
disband. Mr. Cameron could have gone with the com-
pany for a day's journey, not too happily, but with the
quiet fortitude of a Christian fatalist. As for Mr.
Mills, he had a wise humour, a collection of stories that
even Sir John Macdonald relished, much knowledge of
books and of human nature, and a confidence in Mr.
Blake that he gave in equal measure only to Sir Oliver
Mowat. A rare company for social converse, if the
mood was mellow, but difficult for any political enter-

If there was any intimate political understanding
between Mr. Blake and Mr. Goldwin Smith it is not
revealed in the speeches of the one or the writing of the



other. Mr. Goldwin Smith was never happy in any
political household. No man denounced party so freely
and laboured so continually to organize new parties.
No other man of his time wrote the English language
with such beauty and simplicity, or had greater com-
mand of searching irony and biting invective. He had
a genius for depreciation. He never saw a human face
without warts and he painted the warts first and often
in colours that never faded. His "Canada and the
Canadian Question" expresses political despair with
scholarly elegance and a suggestion of enjoyment. His
"Political History of the United States" is as brilliant
as it is destructive. He left both the Dominion and
the Republic almost without a hero or a patriot. It was
said when he published "Guesses at the Riddle of
Existence" that having wholly lost faith in man he was
beginning to lose faith in God. I doubt if he ever lost
faith in either God or man, but he would be perverse
and unhappy. Surely there never was a finer or serener
look on a human face than when 1 saw him just before
he died, and he said at parting, "Good-bye, when we
meet again it will be in another world." He had genu-
ine sympathy with organized labour, but to the cher-
ished ideals and projects of Collectivists and Socialists
he was resolutely opposed. No man fought more stub-
bornly or more continuously to prevent construction of
the Canadian Pacific Railway by Government.

We are told by Baroness Macdonald that when
British Columbia entered Confederation on condition
that direct railway communication between the Prov-
ince and Eastern Canada should be established, Sir John
Macdonald desired to have the road built by the Gov-
ernment, but was over-ruled by his colleagues while he



was engaged in negotiating the Treaty of Washington.
There is reason to think that Mr. Mackenzie entered
upon Government construction with reluctance and
only because no satisfactory agreement with private
capitalists could be effected. The Mackenzie Govern-
ment and the Macdonald Government while engaged
in building the railway were embarrassed by gross
charges of ineptitude and corruption. Many of these
charges were the emanation of partisan credulity and
malice, as subsequent events established. No one was
more active in these assaults than Mr. Goldwin Smith
in The Bystander and other publications. The atmos-
phere of suspicion thus created throughout the country
was among the chief reasons for the final decision of
the Macdonald Government to reverse the policy and
commit the undertaking to private capitalists. We do
not know just how the negotiations with George
Stephen and Donald A. Smith began. The chances are,
however, that the Government was at least as eager to
be relieved of the undertaking as the private capitalists
were to build the railway.

Here perhaps was the only real bond of sympathy
between Mr. Blake and Mr. Goldwin Smith. Neither
had faith in the transcontinental railway project, Mr.
Blake not only denounced Sir John Macdonald's con-
tract with British Columbia under which the railway
was to be completed within ten years from the admis-
sion of the Province to Confederation as extravagant
and impossible, but was hostile to the "better terms"
secured by the Mackenzie Government. He created
disaffection in the Cabinet, in the Commons and in the
Senate, and spread throughout the country that vague
sense of insecurity which is so fatal to the spirit and
unity of a political party.



Mr. Goldwin Smith was neither a Nationalist nor
an Imperialist. He denounced American Imperialism
as illustrated in the adventure in Cuba and the acquisi-
tion of the Phillipines, while he sought to extend the
sovereignty of the Republic over Canada. As long ago
as 1866 at Manchester, which begins to rival Oxford
as the home of lost causes, he delivered an address in
which his vision of the future of Canada is freely and
boldly disclosed. "Grow," he said, "the American
Federation must. Its people know that it must grow;
and diplomacy will do well at once to acquiesce in the
natural and inevitable course of things. But the growth
will be that of peaceful expansion and attraction ; not of
forcible annexation, of which I believe no considerable
party at the North dreams or has ever dreamed. The
British North American colonies will in time, and
probably at no very distant time, unite themselves poli-
tically to the group of States, of which they are already
by race, position, commercial ties and the characteris-
tics of their institutions a part. No one can stand by
the side of the St. Lawrence and doubt that in the end
they will do this; but they will be left to do it of their
own free will." To this vision Mr. Goldwin Smith
was faithful. He would not have the prophecy unful-
filled. While the British North American colonies,
with high hope and eager counsel, were evolving a
Commonwealth, he was making sepulchre for the new
birth of Empire. It is clear that Mr. Blake was af-
fected by his teaching, if then averse to any severance of
the connection between Canada and Great Britain.

During his first years in Canada there was a disposi-
tion to forget or overlook Mr. Goldwin Smith's aca-
demic declarations in favour of political union between



the United States and the British Provinces. It was
believed, perhaps, that the consummation of Confeder-
ation gave adequate and final security against absorp-
tion in the Republic. He had the most intimate per-
sonal relations with the Denisons and other uncom-
promising British Imperialists. Even by The Globe
he was eulogized as a distinguished scholar and pub-
licist and his decision to settle in Toronto treated as a
signal favour and distinction. There was a serious
movement, in which Mr. D'Alton McCarthy was
active, to have him appointed editor of The Mail, but,
according to the tradition, Sir John Macdonald would
not consent. He was the first president of the National
Club established as the social home of the Canada
First group, but never was in full sympathy with a
movement peculiarly dedicated at its origin to Canada
and British connection. Originally a faithful expres-
sion of the political faith and outlook of Colonel
George T. Denison and Mr. W. A. Foster, the Canada
First movement developed into the Canadian National
Association, was invaded by advocates of political inde-
pendence and became a refuge for doctrines upon which
The Globe fell with characteristic ardour.

In the famous address at Aurora on October 3rd,
1874, Hon. Edward Blake, eagerly acclaimed as the
mouthpiece of Canada First, advocated federation of
the Empire, reform of the Senate, compulsory voting,
extension of the franchise and representation of minor-
ities in Parliament. The Globe treated the speech with
reserve, but was not unfriendly. It said that a great
Federal Parliament for the British Empire was not
a novelty and was an idea that had "many attractions
for a certain class of minds." Much in the abstract



could be said in its favour, but its practicability was a
very different affair. "The subject affords material for
interesting and harmless speculation, which in the
course of time may issue in some arrangement which
will fuse the whole Empire more thoroughly into one
united whole, and make the inhabitants of all its differ-
ent parts so entirely one in sentiment and feeling and
aspiration that the only country they will recognize as
theirs will be the British Empire, and the only national
sentiment they will deem worthy of cherishing will be
one that thinks not of 'Canada first' or 'Australia first'
or of 'Heligoland first' or 'Norfolk Island first,' but of
the grand old British race first, and of all who love their
Sovereign and all who swear by the 'old flag' as first and
last and midst as well." The Globe, however, depre-
cated "tinkering" with the Constitution, and argued that
the Senate as constituted assured reconsideration and
amendment of measures adopted by the Commons and
effectively prevented hasty and injurious legislation.
It was the part of wisdom to hasten slowly, since nations,
institutions and sentiments grow slowly. Changes in
due time would be needed, and when needed would be
effected. It argued that an elected Senate would pro-
duce conflict with the Commons, and that any second
House elected for a longer period than the Commons
would reduce the authority of the popular Chamber.
"In the interests of the people of Ontario, who strug-
gled for fifteen years to secure representation by popula-
tion, and who are enjoying the full fruits of their
labours at the present moment, we enter our protest
against any change which will weaken the power of
the popular Chamber in which they possess their fair
share of influence and authority."



The London Advertiser accepted "the Aurora plat-
form" without substantial reservation. It was espe-
cially whole-hearted in support of Blake's protest
against early construction of the Canadian Pacific Rail-
way in British Columbia. It was strongly in favour of
his demand for reorganization of the second Chamber.
Indeed in its columns Mr. David Mills was advocating
an elective Senate. There are sentences in Mr. Blake's
attack upon British Columbia and the Transcontinental
Railway project which constitute an instructive warn-
ing against rash political prophecy. He emphasized
"the insanity of the bargain thrust upon you by your
late rulers." He believed that it would cost $36,000,-

000 to build the British Columbia section, and doubted
"if that section can be kept open after it is built." At
best we could only find "the least impracticable route
through that inhospitable country, that sea of moun-
tains." He affirmed, "If under all the circumstances
the British Columbians were to say, 'You must go on
and finish the railway according to the terms or take
the alternative of releasing us from the Confederation,'

1 would take the alternative." Finally, he declared,
"I am confident that a bushel of wheat will never go to
England over an all-rail route from Saskatchewan to
the seaboard."

In the speech at Aurora the more extreme Conserva-
tive newspapers saw only conflict between Mr. Blake
and George Brown, and between Mr. Blake and the
Mackenzie Government, which was negotiating "bet-
ter terms" with British Columbia and proceeding with
the construction of the Transcontinental Railway. Ac-
cording to The Toronto Mail Mr. Blake in urging
reform of the Senate, to which, it must be remembered.



George Brown had just been appointed, was "in great
hostility to Mr. Brown." If it were not that Mr. Blake
had "removed himself from the list of Reform leaders"
it would have to be said that "the Grit party had at
last issued an ultimatum which means nothing if it is
not a declaration that the sooner the British Columbians
take themselves out of the Confederation the better."
It declared that "Mr. Blake has virtually severed him-
self from the Grit party." Furthermore, "The fore-
shadowed exodus of a great body of intelligent me'i
from the Grit organization, led by one of the boldest
and bitterest spirits among them may well cause a shak-
ing in the secret councils of the faithful at this junc-
ture." It might be said "in respect of the crib that
Brown built that the Aurora pronunciamento is the be-
ginning of the end." The Toronto Sun said that for
"this outspoken disloyalty there can be only one fate
in store for him, and that is to blackletter him in The
Globe as a traitor, and to read him out of the party as a
renegade." The London Free Press denounced the
Aurora platform as impracticable and absurd. But
The Montreal Gazette, in an editorial of great modera-
tion and dignity, said "that Mr. Blake is momentarily
out of harmony with his party friends is quite possible.
That they are very decidedly out of humour with him
is proved by the kind of criticism which has been be-
stowed upon his Aurora speech one organ declaring
that the Reform party cannot consent to follow him in
his principles and another dismissing him with the
statement that his utterances were quite 'harmless.' '

Generally, however, Mr. Blake's address at Aurora
was treated with consideration and respect. There was
clear evidence that he was at variance with the Mac-



kenzie Government, but the Liberal newspapers were
discreet and conciliatory. So many of the Conservative
journals discussed the Aurora proposals with such
breadth and restraint as The Montreal Gazette dis-
played. It is not possible to follow the controversy in
its various phases without sincere respect for the press
of Canada forty-five years ago. But Mr. Blake could
not escape association with Mr. Goldwin Smith and
the Canadian National movement. Mr. Goldwin
Smith was the first president of the National Club, and
naturally was regarded as an authoritative interpreter
of the Canada First movement. He rejected federation
of the Empire, and proclaimed the ultimate inevitable
separation of Canada from Great Britain. In answer
to strong and sustained attack by The Globe he ex-
plained that he looked to gradual emancipation as the
natural end of the colonial system. "Gradual emanci-
pation," he said, "means nothing more than the gradual
concession to the colonies of powers of self-government.
This process has already been carried far. Should it
be carried farther and ultimately consummated, as I
frankly avow my belief it must, the mode of proceeding
will be the same as it has always been. Each step will
be an Act of Parliament passed with the full consent
of the Crown. As to the filial tie between Canada and
England I hope it will endure forever." He said he
could club with Imperial federationists, but could not
agree with them in opinion. This was in direct conflict
with the teaching at Aurora. Nor was Mr. Blake's
utterance at Aurora his only declaration in favour of
federation of the Empire. He had said at Montreal in
1873 that he desired "the intimate union of the British
Empire." He believed that Canada must have a greater



voice in "the disposal of her interests," but that voice
need not be acquired by disruption. "We looked to a
brighter future, to the reorganization of the Empire
on another basis, which would open to us a wider and
higher destiny as a member of the great British

But if Mr. Blake and Mr. Goldwin Smith divided
over federation, it is impossible to doubt that they were
animated by a common hostility to Hon. George Brown
and The Globe. Through Mr. Cameron, of The Lon-
don Advertiser, they found a common medium of ex-
pression and action. In 1875, The Liberal, with Mr.
Cameron as editor and Mr. W. F. Maclean as Ottawa
correspondent, was established at Toronto. Behind
The Liberal were Mr. Blake, Mr. Goldwin Smith, Mr.
David Mills and Mr. Thomas Moss, who represented
West Toronto in the House of Commons. But the days
of The Liberal were few and full of trouble. Its re-

Online LibraryJohn Stephen WillisonReminiscences, political and personal → online text (page 5 of 25)