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Sir John A MacDonald
First Ten Years of Political Life, 1844 to 1854


THE election which brought Macdonald into parliament was very distinctly connected with the struggle for the establishment of responsible government. The theory of that system, understood to have been recommended by Lord Durham, had, it was generally assumed, been accepted by the imperial government in framing the Union Act of 1840. But it proved more easy to have the principle of responsible government adopted in theory than fully carried out in practice. Even Lord Sydenham, who had been sent out to complete the work of union, found it difficult to believe that a governor-general could be responsible to the government at home and also to the legislature of the colony, but nevertheless he so far concealed his doubts as to gain credit at the time for being a true disciple of Lord Durham.

When Lord Sydenham was cut off by a premature death in September, 1841, he was succeeded by Sir Charles Bagot, under whose management progress was made in strengthening the power of the assembly. Recognizing the necessity of governing through men who enjoyed public confidence, he introduced the Reform leaders, Mr. Baldwin and Mr. LaFontaine, into the administration, though without formally placing its control in their hands. It was a serious blow to continuity of policy when Sir Charles Bagot was compelled by ill-health to resign the post of governor-general after having held it only one year. His successor, Sir Charles Metcalfe, was a man of high principle and patriotic purpose, but of less tact than his two predecessors. His ideas of government had been derived chiefly from service in tropical countries, where a large dependent population was to be kept under control. In both the East and West Indies he had filled important posts and had acquitted himself with great credit. But the training thus received was not the best preparation for the duties of a constitutional ruler, and still less for inaugurating a system professedly founded on new ideas in colonial administration. While admitting that his advisers should be taken from those who commanded the confidence of parliament, he strenuously resisted the claim of his advisers that the royal patronage in the matter of appointments to office should be regarded and used as an instrument for the advancement of party interests. The result was that the Reform members of the government which he found in power, headed by Mr. Robert Baldwin and Mr. LaFontaine, resigned in the autumn of 1843 in consequence of his having appointed a certain person to a local office without their advice or consent. As the resigning ministers commanded an overwhelming majority in parliament, and as the governor-general remained fixed in his opinion that to accede to their demands would not only impair the dignity of the Crown, but lower the tone of public life, the constitutional difficulty seemed well-nigh insuperable.

The conflict which followed evoked the greatest bitterness of party feeling, and put a severe strain upon the whole system of government. The governor-general's first attempts to form a new administration failed, and for a short time he had the assistance of only a single minister, Mr. Dominick Daly. A little later he secured the powerful aid of Mr. (afterwards chief-justice) Draper, of Upper Canada, and that of Mr. Viger, representing Lower Canada. For some time the government was carried on by means of this skeleton of a regular cabinet. Meanwhile party passion was stirred to its depths throughout the country. Reformers denounced Sir Charles Metcalfe as a despot; the Conservative party acclaimed him as the upholder of the true balance of the constitution. Behind the diatribes, inspired mainly by party feeling, which pictured opponents of either side as unscrupulous or malignant, it is possible now in the cold light of history to recognize the sincerity of conviction in both parties to this great struggle. While the memories of rebellion were still fresh and its embers still smouldering—when men who had taken part in the late uprising continued to wield great popular influence, and while much doubt existed as to the motives or aims of the extreme men of the Reform party, it is little wonder that Conservatives as a whole looked to the representative of the Crown as the true safeguard of their most valued traditions, and so rallied to his support. There is a type of mind, and that not the least worthy of respect, which rates loyalty as high as liberty.

The iron of the American revolution, from which they or their fathers had suffered so much, rankled in the hearts of the United Empire Loyalists, and they dreaded, more than anything else, a repetition in their new country of what had taken place in the old colonies. On the other hand, the constitutional argument of the Reformers was sound and their ideal inspiring. In their ranks were men whose ability was combined with genuine sincerity of purpose. In the end they triumphed, but they would have triumphed more speedily had not the violence of followers thrown doubt upon the loyalty of their purpose. The one redeeming feature in this great struggle lay in the fact that it compelled the combatants to clearly think out their political principles.

For almost nine months Sir Charles Metcalfe carried on the government with the few ministers who were found willing to take office without adequate support in the legislature. Then, in the autumn of 1844, having watched the development of opinion in Western Canada and judging the moment favourable, he determined to appeal to the people. After a bitterly contested struggle it was found when the smoke of battle had cleared away that, notwithstanding the almost solid opposition of the French-Canadians, the governor and his administration had been supported by a small majority.

The new parliament, of which Macdonald was now a member, met in Montreal on November 28th, 1844. Although Lord Metcalfe and his administration had been sustained in the election, the division of parties was so close in the first session that, even on critical questions, ministers only maintained themselves in power by a majority of six votes at the utmost, and often less. The principal parties themselves were divided into groups which rendered still more unstable this balance of power. Already could be seen approaching the shadow of that deadlock which was later to hasten the development of Canadian institutions. The atmosphere in which the young politician moved was one of the utmost uncertainty; one in which personal jealousies, racial prejudices and the clash of conflicting political theories combined to create a situation from which it was difficult to say what might emerge.

In reality it was a period of transition. Old conceptions of government were slowly dying—new ones were struggling towards birth. The imperial parliament, as has been said before, had recognized the theory of responsible government; yet the representatives of the Crown hesitated to give it full play. Subsequent events appear to indicate that this hesitation was a mistake, but there was much to excuse it. The memory of 1837, the year which saw treasonable utterances followed by treasonable acts, was still fresh in men's minds. It was kept fresh by the reckless expressions of extreme men in the Reform party by which doubt was cast upon the high aims of the leaders of the party, themselves loyal men, such as LaFontaine and Baldwin. The high-handed course, as many regarded it, of Sir Charles Metcalfe, in neglecting the advice of his constitutional advisers, and afterwards in governing the country by a ministry which did not possess the confidence of parliament, could only be justified on the ground of necessity; but the popular vote which followed his appeal to the people showed that a large section of the community, and of that portion of it particularly which was most interested in political problems as such, felt that arbitrary government was not the only danger that might threaten the State. It seemed that party, drawing everything to itself and using the patronage of the Crown for the solidifying of its power, might in the end prove a more conscienceless and far more costly tyranny than any that could reasonably be apprehended from a personal governor. To many the real question of the hour appeared to be whether enough time had elapsed since the Rebellion of 1837 to justify the application in its fullest sense of the principle of responsible government.

Macdonald's election address, as already mentioned, lays special stress on the maintenance of the imperial connection. That it was threatened from different quarters, as he suggests, is evident from the records of the time. A small wing of the Reform party favoured annexation to the United States; another advocated an independent republic; a section of the French population remained irreconcilable in its objection to British rule. Under the circumstances we cannot wonder that, whatever principles of government were alleged to be at stake, there were those who made it their first duty to stand by the queen's representative.

The Conservative government which Macdonald had been elected to support was not only without a large majority in the legislature, but was not in itself strong. Its guiding spirit and ablest member, Mr. W. H. Draper, was in the Upper House. The ministers who had seats in the Lower House had not learned the necessity for united action and mutual support, and not infrequently were found opposing each other in debate and even in divisions. So great was the consequent party disorganization that Mr. Draper was finally compelled to resign his place in the council and seek a seat in the assembly, in order that he might exercise more effective leadership. Even there his task was scarcely less difficult. The French representatives of Lower Canada were combined with the Radicals of Upper Canada in opposition. One event of the session is noteworthy as illustrating the shifts to which parties were driven to maintain their position. The Union Act of 1840 provided that all the proceedings of the legislature should be printed in the English language only. This was felt to be a hardship by Lower Canadians, few of whom knew any language but French. In order to strengthen their French alliance, the Radicals of Upper Canada had planned to propose the removal of this restriction, counting upon getting the credit for the change if the motion were carried, or on having a cry against the government should it oppose the motion. In some way the Opposition plan leaked out, and ministers prepared with the utmost secrecy to cut the ground from under their feet by bringing in the proposal as a government measure. This they did, much to the surprise and chagrin of their opponents.

For three sessions the Draper government managed, though with frequent cabinet changes, to hold its own. During this time Lord Metcalfe, to give him the title bestowed upon him in 1845, had resigned, worn out by the terrible disease from which he had long suffered. He left Canada in November of that year, and was succeeded for a short period by Lord Cathcart, commander-in-chief of the forces in Canada.

For the first few sessions Macdonald took little part in the discussions of the legislature. "Scarcely five speeches in five sessions " was his own account of himself. It would seem that he had no inclination to take a leading part in the fierce political frays by which this period was distinguished, but preferred to feel his way towards some solid ground of political conduct. One who remembered him in those days describes him, amid the disputes going on around him, as "looking half careless and half contemptuous. Sometimes in the thick of the melee he was busy in and out of the library. I scarce ever remember then seeing him about the House that he was not searching up some case either then impending or to come up at a later date. He was for a great part of his time, too, buried in a study of constitutional history." His example of speaking little, but quietly making himself familiar with parliamentary forms and business, and establishing a position for himself by assiduous attention to the ordinary duties of a member, may well be recommended to young members fresh from the excitement of the hustings, and inclined to attach an exaggerated value to their own parliamentary utterances. How strong a position he was making for himself soon became apparent.

At the close of the session of 1846 we find Mr. Draper advising the governor-general that reconstruction of the ministry is necessary, giving as a reason the lack of loyalty and steady support on the part of some of his most prominent colleagues during the previous sessions. In his difficulty he turns to Macdonald as one already able to assist him in an exceptional way and recommends him to the governor-general, Lord Cathcart, for office in the following terms:-

"In reference to the situation of commissioner of Crown lands, Mr. Draper humbly submits that a man of activity of mind, and familiar with business details, is imperatively required in the department. Mr. Draper would think a great advantage gained if Mr. J. A. Macdonald, the member for Kingston, would take the office."

In his reply the governor-general says that he "has a very high opinion of Mr. J. A. Macdonald, and his appointment to office in the administration would afford him much satisfaction." This correspondence took place in June, 1846, but circumstances intervened to prevent the immediate carrying out of the proposal thus made.

Soon after the arrival of Lord Elgin, early in 1847, Mr. Draper writes to urge the young member to come to Montreal in order that the new governor may hear "from others than executive councillors the state of parties," and expressing complete confidence in his "judgment and discretion." It is extremely significant, and interesting also, to find that he looks to Macdonald's presence to counteract in Lord Elgin "the feelings of distrust that mistaking ultra-Toryism for Conservatism (i.e. selfishness for patriotism) might give rise to." The distinction here drawn seems to prove conclusively that neither Draper nor Macdonald, Conservatives though they certainly were, sympathized with the political creed of the so-called Family Compact. If further proof were needed it is found in a letter of May 6th, 1847, from the Hon. W. Morris, urging him not to refuse the office of receiver-general. Mr. Morris says, . . . "If you will not put your shoulder to the wheel, you assist those who, it may be, desire to regain power which you and I helped to deprive them of: I mean the 'family.'"

The correspondence at this period indicates clearly that Macdonald was in no hurry to gain a place in the ministry, but only took office finally as a matter of public duty. He became receiver-general in May, 1847, and so began the official career which was destined to continue so long. In the general reconstruction of the government which took place at this time, Mr. Draper, who through these critical years had acted as its acknowledged head, accepted a judgeship and withdrew from public life. The great abilities and lofty character which had enabled him to conduct the affairs of the country through a peculiarly trying period, continued to dignify his career upon the bench, where he attained and held until his death the position of chief-justice. The fact that such a man, not extreme in his Conservative views, devoted to the interests of his country and with the highest personal sense of honour, should have given steady support to Sir Charles Metcalfe through the stormy period of his rule, proves that the political arguments of the day were not all on one side, as certain writers have been disposed to represent them.

Mr. Henry Sherwood succeeded to the nominal leadership of the party, as a concession to its extreme Tory wing. The reconstructed ministry, known as the Sherwood-Daly government, had but a short life. Two critical questions chiefly absorbed its attention. The first was that of university endowment, then as keenly disputed a question as even that of the Clergy Reserves. Macdonald himself believed that the defeat of the government in the coming elections was certain unless this difficulty could be settled. Writing to Mr. Morris on May 9th,1847, when accepting the office of receiver-general, he adds: "I suppose Mr. Draper will, whatever happens, remain in the ministry till the end of the session; and it appears to me that, with him in the House of Assembly, and yourself in the L. C., some disposition of the university question might be made, which would be satisfactory to the country, and at the same time remove a great stumbling block from our path. Many questions of more real importance may arise, but none which operates more strongly on the principles or prejudices of the public, and if the Conservatives hope to retain power, they must settle it before the general election."

His idea of a satisfactory settlement was then, as so often in later life with respect to other questions, conceived in a large spirit of compromise, and he succeeded in impressing his views upon his colleagues. The administration proposed to take over King's College, hitherto controlled entirely by the Church of England, and, in founding a university, to subsidize the Church of England college to the extent of £3,000 a year; and the Presbyterian College at Kingston, the Roman Catholic College at the same place and the Wesleyan College at Cobourg each with half that sum annually. This proposal was satisfactory to the Presbyterians, Roman Catholics and Methodists, and was at first accepted by Dr. Strachan, then at the head of King's College, as a reasonable compromise. Macdonald accordingly introduced a bill to give effect to the scheme, but at the last moment Dr. Strachan withdrew his consent and the bill was dropped. The position of the government was greatly weakened by this inability to carry out its own policy.

Macdonald always attributed to the obstinacy of Dr. Strachan the serious results for the Church of England, as well as for the government, which followed upon the failure of this measure. On the overthrow of the government and the accession to power of the Reform party under Mr. Baldwin and Mr. LaFontaine, King's College and its property were secularized, becoming the University of Toronto; and Dr. Strachan was compelled to raise with painful effort the means for founding a new Anglican university. That the University of Trinity College has fully justified its existence few will doubt, but it may fairly be questioned whether the Church would not have gained in power, without the sacrifice of principle, if it had accepted at this critical time the guidance of the practical politician rather than that of the unyielding cleric.

The spirit of reasonable compromise has now, after the lapse of more than half a century, prevailed, and the fact that the goal of a great university for Ontario with affiliated denominational colleges, has at length been reached, appears to prove the wisdom of Macdonald's policy in 1847.

In Lower Canada the outlook for the Conservative party was even worse. There the complicated question of compensation for losses incurred during the rebellion had become of paramount interest, and had made the French voters almost a unit in opposition to a ministry which was not prepared to meet their demands.

The result was that when the dissolution came in the last days of 1847, the government to which Macdonald belonged met with overwhelming defeat at the polls, though he himself secured his seat at Kingston. The Conservative party, shattered by its own divisions and without any leader with the capacity to organize and hold it together, went into opposition with an exceedingly dreary outlook. Several years were to elapse before the organizing ability and political genius of one of its youngest members were to give it new cohesion and new vitality.

Meanwhile, in opposition and associated with an unpopular party, he was to receive the discipline of patience, self-control and careful study of political principles and popular opinion, on which alone great parliamentary capacity and success can be established. Through the tedious years of party strife and intrigue which followed, Macdonald often thought of withdrawing from political life. A flood of light is thrown upon his attitude of mind by a letter written to him by his friend, Alexander Campbell, in March, 1855, and printed in Mr. Pope's memoirs of his chief. Speaking with all the intimacy of private friendship, Campbell says: "You will remember that throughout your long apparently hopeless opposition I always deprecated your retirement from parliament, as you often threatened to do. . . You were never so desponding as to prospects political as before and during the last canvass and election here. The disgusting electioneering arts you felt compelled to resort to, the defeat of many of your schemes as to candidates, the defection of some who promised to stand . . . the defeat at the polls of many others . . . all these influenced you . . . do you recollect? 'The party is nowhere—damned everlastingly. I will go down and get the Bank Bill passed and retire. I am resolved upon it.' And now you rule Canada; what a change!" Macdonald at this date held the position of attorney-general west in the government of Sir Allan MacNab, and was generally recognized as the most important man in the cabinet.

The Reform party came into power in February, 1848, with the support of every French constituency in Quebec and a smaller but sufficient majority from Upper Canada. With Mr. LaFontaine as leader from the Lower Province and 11Ir. Baldwin from the Upper, an administration was formed which continued in office for more than three years. That period proved a turning-point not only in Canadian, but in all colonial history. Four years before, under Lord Metcalfe, the two leaders had, as we have seen, resigned office on a question which they believed to involve the essential principle of responsible government. Now they returned to office, not merely with the endorsement of the popular vote but with a governor-general at the head of affairs who was bent upon giving their party a fair trial. Lord Elgin had come to his post with a fixed determination, the result of mature deliberation, to put into practice, without reservation of any kind, the principle of responsible government, that is, to be guided in his administration of the country by the will of the people as expressed through a majority in the legislature. Before leaving England he had carefully discussed the whole question with the colonial secretary, Lord Grey, who had shown him the despatch sent to Sir John Harvey, then governor of Nova Scotia, in which the operation of the principle was clearly and exhaustively considered.

To Lord Elgin the empire owes a peculiar debt of gratitude for having finally established this great principle, which harmonizes colonial autonomy with an imperial system. But in accomplishing this task his resolution was subjected to a test under which the courage and endurance of a weaker man would have broken down. One of the first acts of the new administration was to bring in what was known as the Rebellion Losses Bill. To understand the situation created by the introduction of that bill the antecedent circumstances must be recalled.

The rebellion in both provinces had been put down in 1838; Lord Durham's report had been made in 1839; the Act of Union was put into effect on February 10th, 1841. Soon after the provinces were united, an Act had been passed to provide compensation "to certain loyal inhabitants who had suffered losses by the destruction of property at the hands of the rebels during the suppression of the rebellion." This Act was at first only applied to losses incurred in Upper Canada, and the funds were supplied exclusively from Upper Canadian sources.

In Lower Canada the special council also made, by ordinance, partial provision for recompensing Loyalists for property destroyed by rebels. But under neither of these arrangements was provision made for compensating those whose property had been either purposely or incidentally destroyed by the authorities who were engaged in suppressing the rebellion. An Act, passed immediately after the union in 1841, extended the right of compensation to these cases, but only in Upper Canada. No move was made to deal with the claims in Lower Canada till February, 1845, when the assembly passed an address to the governor-general, Sir Charles Metcalfe, asking that means should be taken "in order to insure to the inhabitants of that part of the province formerly Lower Canada, indemnity for just losses during the rebellion of 1837 and 1838." Commissioners were accordingly appointed with instructions "to enquire into the losses sustained by Her Majesty's loyal subjects, in that part of the province of Canada which formerly constituted the province of Lower Canada, during the late unnatural rebellion.... and arising and growing out of the said rebellion." Distinction was here made between those who had aided the rebellion and those who had not. On applying for more particular instructions from the governor-general as to the methods of making this distinction the commissioners were told that it was not His Excellency's intention that the commissioners should be guided by any other description of evidence than that furnished by the courts of law. The commission reported in 1846, presenting a list of 2,176 applicants for compensation who claimed 9241,965 in all. The opinion was added that many of these claims were inadmissible, and that £100,000 would be sufficient to meet all that were reasonable. Many of the applications for extravagant compensation were made by persons deeply engaged in the rebellion. The Draper government which had appointed the commission, apparently to conciliate French feeling, took no action on this report, and the matter was allowed to drift. The opportunity thus given to their opponents to hold out the hope of compensation as a lure to the French voters of Lower Canada greatly contributed to the success of the Reform party in 1848. The new ministry was bound to realize the expectation of its followers, and so the famous Rebellion Losses Bill was duly presented to the legislature. The Act proposed to extend compensation to the Lower Province, and to all sufferers except persons actually convicted of high treason, or those who, on their own confession of rebellion, had been transported to Bermuda and consequently had no sentence standing against them. The great majority of the rebels had never been brought to trial ; and so loyal men who had risked their lives and made the greatest sacrifices to crush the rebellion had now to face the possibility of paying to a large number of rebels what seemed to them a public reward for disloyalty. On the other hand the government, and later the governor-general, took the ground that the action of the Draper administration had made this further step inevitable. The proposal was fiercely debated in the legislature, and still more fiercely throughout the country. Macdonald took an active part in opposing the bill, denouncing it as shameful in principle, protesting against the introduction of so important a measure without full notice, and also against the unseemly haste with which it was pushed through the legislature without adequate explanation of the real intentions of the government. So vehement was the discussion, and so strongly personal the language used in debate, that Macdonald sent a hostile message to Solicitor-general Blake, for which he was promptly taken into custody by the sergeant-at-arms. Finally by a vote of forty-seven to eighteen the bill passed the Lower House, while in the legislative council the division stood twenty to eighteen.

All eyes were now turned upon the governor-general in whose power it was to assent to the bill, reserve it for the consideration of the imperial government, or, refusing assent, to dissolve parliament in order to secure a direct popular decision upon the question. Lord Elgin weighed these alternatives with the utmost care. About the actual merits of the bill he did not feel called upon to decide; indeed he is said to have described it as "a questionable measure." In his eyes the real issue was the constitutional one. Was a parliamentary majority to be recognized as expressing the will of the people?

An analysis of the vote showed that there was a majority in favour of the bill in both provinces, which, considering the constitution of the assembly and the solidarity of interest existing between the government and its supporters was not surprising. In Upper Canada out of thirty-one who voted on the third reading seventeen were for and fourteen against; in Lower Canada the French vote was a unit, which of itself gave a decisive majority, while of the ten members of British birth six voted for and four against the bill. A more conclusive test case in constitutional government cannot well be imagined. But people were not calmly considering the matter from a constitutional point of view. Even before the bill had been passed petitions had poured in from every side praying for its reservation or for a dissolution. Lord Elgin was convinced, rightly or wrongly, that there was not the slightest prospect of a new election changing the balance of parties. He thought it would be pusillanimous in himself to adopt the alternative course of reservation, since he would thus be throwing upon the imperial government a responsibility which it was his own business as governor-general to assume. So, after mature consideration, he came down to parliament and gave his consent to the bill. Everybody was aware that the political atmosphere was in a high state of tension, but no one foresaw the violence of the storm which now burst upon the head of the governor-general. His carriage was pelted as he left the parliament buildings; on the same night the buildings themselves, with the valuable records which they contained, were destroyed by fire—the work of an infuriated mob. The riots continued for several days, and much additional damage was done. The governor-general, though attacked and insulted a second time when he entered the city to receive an address of confidence and sympathy from the legislative body, resolutely declined military protection, declared that no drop of blood should be shed in giving him protection, and patiently awaited the justification of his course which time was to bring. The common sense of the people soon began to reassert itself, and addresses sent from many parts of the country showed Lord Elgin that he had the support of a large body of the electors. Responsible government had in a very real sense received its baptism of fire and stood the test.

Two or three significant results of this reprehensible and disastrous outbreak are to be recorded. In the first place Montreal ceased to be the seat of government. It was generally conceded that it would be wrong to subject the executive and parliament to further risk of being exposed to such outrages. Another troublesome question was thus introduced into the politics of the country. The keenest rivalry at once arose among the other Canadian cities to gain the place which Montreal had forfeited. Kingston had for over three years after the union been the capital, and Macdonald as its representative now made vigorous efforts to have the old dignity restored. The greater influence of Quebec and Toronto prevailed, but so keen was the struggle between these two centres that it was found necessary to divide the honour, and for sixteen years the sessions of parliament shifted at intervals of four years from one to the other. This inconvenient and costly arrangement which, however, may have had some indirect advantages in enlarging the views and diminishing the prejudices of the members of the legislature, lasted till the year 1865, when the seat of government was finally removed to Ottawa.

The excitement of the public mind outlasted the days of riot, and the tide of popular passion found outlets for itself in two widely different directions. A considerable number of the leading citizens of Montreal, influenced partly by what they considered the disastrous legislation lately passed—partly by the extreme commercial depression then prevailing throughout the country in consequence of England's adoption of a free trade policy, which deprived them of the preference in British markets to which they had been accustomed—issued a manifesto in which was advocated a friendly separation from the mother country and annexation to the United States. The men who signed this manifesto had mostly been the strictest Loyalists in the dark days of rebellion; many of them became in later life the vigorous champions of imperial connection; and so this famous document must be looked upon rather as an outbreak of petulance under provocation and excitement than as the serious purpose of men who had carefully thought out the situation. Strongly as Macdonald had felt in regard to the recent course of events, he refused to join in this annexation declaration, though pressed to do so, and though many of his political associates were concerned in it. On the other hand, a saner movement, which looked to constructive statesmanship as a remedy for the ills from which the country suffered, enlisted his entire sympathy. The British American League was formed in Montreal, and soon branches were established in many parts of the country. Permanent connection with the mother country, the union of all the North American colonies, protection to home industries, and economy in public expenditure were the chief features in the policy of the League, as the first three, at least, subsequently became the distinctive aims of the great party which Macdonald led. The new association formed a safety valve for the effervescence of the time; discussion of public questions on a more rational basis went on; and it was not long before all thought of annexation, even in Montreal, had entirely died away.

The commissioners appointed under the Rebellion Losses Act carried out their work with strict moderation, and without recognizing the extravagant claims of those who had taken part in the rebellion. The government was severely blamed for not making its policy clear in this regard and not taking steps to guard against the threatened riot. Lord Elgin soon after made a tour through Upper Canada, and received many proofs that, however much the course of the government was criticized, the sober second judgment of the people endorsed the position which he had taken. It is of interest to note that when the subject of the Rebellion Losses Bill came up for consideration in the British parliament, the division of opinion was almost as striking there as in Canada itself. Lord Lyndhurst came down to the House of Lords at the close of his great career to denounce the bill as placing a premium upon disloyalty, and he was supported in this view by the fiery eloquence of Lord Brougham. The same attitude was taken in the House of Commons by Mr. Gladstone and other conspicuous members of parliament, but the government of the day, led by Lord John Russell, steadily supported the action of Lord Elgin and bestowed on him decisive marks of approval.

There is evidence that in this fierce conflict of opinion Macdonald acted as a moderating force. One of the many meetings to protest against the bill and against the action of the governor-general was held in his own constituency of Kingston. The resolutions passed and the speeches made on this occasion have been collected from the press reports of the time. The resolutions were strong; the speeches vehement and uncompromising. But it was only towards the close of the meeting that Macdonald, who had hitherto taken no part in the proceedings, came forward in response to a general demand for a speech. He said that he had been listening carefully to the discussion in order that, as their representative, he might hear the free expression of their opinion upon the state of the country rather than to prescribe any particular course to them. While expressing his general agreement with the terms of the resolutions and the sentiments of the speakers, he directed his remarks chiefly to an arraignment of the general policy of the government. If we remember that in later life he reckoned among the members of cabinets which served under him men who had taken a prominent part in the Rebellion of 1837, and at the same time men who had signed the annexation manifesto of 1849, we can understand what his moderating and conciliating influence had yet to accomplish. In 1840 Lord Sydenham had written: "I am satisfied that the mass of the people are sound—moderate in their demands, and attached to British institutions—but they have been oppressed by a miserable little oligarchy on the one hand and excited by a few factious demagogues on the other. I can make a middle reforming party, I feel sure, which will put down both." What was a hope and an aspiration in Lord Sydenham, Macdonald was to translate into fact.

The remark that "Canada is a difficult country to govern" has often been attributed to him. His glory is that he made the task less difficult by peaceful means. France was a hard country to govern when Catholic and Huguenot faced each other—arms in hand—in almost every city and province, and met on many a battlefield. Blood flowed like water in those earlier days before solution was found for the troubles of the State. All honour to Macdonald, Cartier and the statesmen of Canada who, confronted with equal divergence of religious conviction, and equal vehemence of political passion, were yet able to reconcile the conflicting elements, and, without the shedding of blood, to make it possible for two races to live side by side in harmony, and for two forms of religious belief to be fair to one another.

The Reform party had come into power in 1848 with an overwhelming majority, but as has often happened in parallel cases, lines of cleavage soon began to appear. In passing the Rebellion Losses Bill and in successfully asserting the theory of responsible government, the reforming energy of the leading spirits of the party had largely spent itself. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that the exercise of power had deepened in them the sense of responsibility. Certain it is that Mr. Baldwin and Mr. LaFontaine, taught moderation possibly by the violence of the agitation through which the country had passed, declined to push forward other measures which the more extreme followers of their party considered essential reforms. One more Act of importance, however, was passed in the session of 1849. Mr. Baldwin introduced a bill which abolished the faculty of theology in King's College, and by amending the charter created the University of Toronto as an institution of secular learning alone. Macdonald opposed this measure, and again brought forward, as an alternative solution of the question, his plan of 1847, which provided for the concurrent endowment of the denominational colleges. With the large majority behind him Mr. Baldwin had no difficulty in carrying his measure.

In 1850 the prosperity of the country, which had been greatly checked by the loss of a preference in British markets consequent on the adoption of a free trade policy, began to revive. It was an era of railway building, and in this work the government assisted not without energy. In 1849 the negotiations had been begun which, after many years and many mishaps, ended in the construction of the Grand Trunk and finally the Intercolonial Railway. In 1851 a steamship service between Canada and Great Britain was subsidized. In 1854, largely through the tact of Lord Elgin, a treaty of reciprocity in natural products was entered into with the United States, and proved of great value to both countries. By this treaty questions which afterwards became dominating factors in Canadian politics were held in abeyance for several years.

But while Canada revived and was in great measure transformed by these improvements, the political difficulties of the government increased daily. Two important sections of their followers split off. The breath of the revolution of 1848 had blown upon Lower Canada, and a band of brilliant young men, led by Antoine Dorion, clustered around the veteran Papineau in a desperate conflict against the almost unlimited political domination of the priesthood. In the policy of this Parti Rouge, as they came to be known, there was much that was noble, and not a little that was chimerical. The story of their endeavours is told at length in Mr. Willison's Life of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It is enough to say here that those who survived came out of the battle shorn of all that was chimerical, and perhaps something of what was noble.

In Upper Canada the same struggle against clerical influence had much to do with creating what became known as the Clear Grit party. The early platform of this party was in part directed to reasonable reforms—in part to what was almost revolutionary. While it embodied much justified resistance to privilege, the movement in Ontario soon assumed a religious and racial aspect which aroused the keenest animosities. The opponents of the Clear Grits were soon able to fasten on them the epithets of "anti-Catholic" and "anti-French." On the one hand this prevented them from full fraternization with the Rouges of Quebec; on the other, even the modified alliance which was maintained handicapped still more seriously Dorion and his followers, by enabling the clericals to accuse them of hostility not only to their religion but to the liberties and privileges of their native province.

But it was not merely by internal divisions that the Reform party was weakened. Early in 1851 Mr. Baldwin resigned, nominally in consequence of a vote of the Ontario members in the a legislature favouring the abolition of the Court of Chancery which he had established; really, in all probability, because he found himself out of sympathy with a large section of his party. Later in the year Mr. LaFontaine accepted a seat on the bench. They had achieved the great constitutional ends for which they had laboured. They could no longer satisfy their extreme followers. They perhaps did not feel themselves the men to carry out the policy of railway construction which was becoming necessary. The Liberal government was therefore reorganized towards the close of the year 1851, under Mr. (afterwards Sir Francis) Hincks, an able and eminently practical financier, and Mr. A. N. Morin, and became known as the Hincks-Morin administration. But Morin refused to conciliate the Rouges and Hincks proved too moderate for the Grits. Amid ever-increasing difficulties they struggled on till September, 1854, when they were defeated on a technicality and resigned. The real cause of their downfall was the question, at once religious and political, of the Clergy Reserves. The history of this question, of the men and circumstances which forced it to the front, and of its solution must be dealt with in a separate chapter.

Note—See page 33.

It is well to remember that it was not in Canada or by Canadians alone that the principles of responsible government were in those critical days being thought out. Never perhaps have they been more accurately stated than in the despatch here referred to.Sir John Harvey had asked for definite direction at a constitutional crisis when vacancies in a weak executive council were to be filled up. Lord Grey's reply, under date November 3rd, 1846, shows the clear guidance that came from Downing Street itself to support those working for true responsible government. He says:—

"I am of opinion that under all the circumstances of the case, the best course for you to adopt is to call upon the members of your present executive council to propose to you the names of the gentlemen whom they would recommend to supply the vacancies which I understand to exist in the present board. If they should be successful in submitting to you an arrangement to which no valid objection arises, you will of course continue to carry on the government through them, so long as it may be possible to do so satisfactorily, and as they possess the necessary support from the legislature. Should the present council fail in proposing to you an arrangement which it would be proper for you to accept, it would then be your natural course, in conformity with the practice in analogous cases in this country, to apply to the opposite party; and should you be able, through their assistance, to form a satisfactory council, there will be no impropriety in dissolving the assembly upon their advice; such a measure, under those circumstances, being the only mode of escaping from the difficulty, which would otherwise exist, of carrying on the government of the province upon the principles of the constitution. The object with which I recommend to you this course, is that of making it apparent that any transfer which may take place of political power from the hands of one party in the province to those of another, is the result, not of an act of yours, but of the wishes of the people themselves, as shown by the difficulty experienced by the retiring party in carrying on the government of the province according to the forms of the constitution. To this I attach great importance; I have therefore to instruct you to abstain from changing your executive council until it shall become perfectly clear that they are unable, with such fair support from yourself as they have a right to expect, to carry on the government of the province satisfactorily, and command the confidence of the legislature.

"Of whatever party your council may be composed, it will be your duty to act strictly upon the principle you have yourself laid down in the memorandum delivered to the gentlemen with whom you have communicated,—that, namely, of not identifying yourself with any party but, instead of this, making yourself both a mediator and a moderator between the influential of all parties.

"In giving, therefore, all fair and proper support to your council for the time being, you will carefully avoid any acts which can possibly be supposed to imply the slightest personal objection to their opponents, and also refuse to assent to any measures which may be proposed to you by your council which may appear to you to involve an improper exercise of the authority of the Crown for party rather than for public objects. In exercising, however, this power of refusing to sanction measures which may be submitted to you by your council, you must recollect that this power of opposing a check upon extreme measures proposed by the party for the time in the government, depends entirely for its efficacy upon its being used sparingly and with the greatest possible discretion. A refusal to accept advice tendered to you by your council is a legitimate ground for its members to tender you their resignation,—a course they would doubtless adopt should they feel that the subject on which a difference had arisen between you and themselves was one upon which public opinion would be in their favour. Should it prove to be so, concession to their views must sooner or later become inevitable, since it cannot be too distinctly acknowledged that it is neither possible nor desirable to carry on the government of any of the British provinces in North America in opposition to the opinion of the inhabitants.

"Clearly understanding, therefore, that refusing to accede to the advice of your council for the time being, upon a point upon which they consider it their duty to insist, must lead to the question at issue being brought ultimately under the decision of public opinion, you will carefully avoid allowing any matter not of very grave concern, or upon which you cannot reasonably calculate upon being in the end supported by that opinion, to be made a subject of such a difference. And if, unfortunately, such a difference should arise, you will take equal care that its cause and the grounds of your own decision are made clearly to appear in written documents capable of being publicly quoted.

"The adoption of this principle of action by no means involves the necessity of a blind obedience to the wishes and opinions of the members of your council; on the contrary, I have no doubt that, if they see clearly that your conduct is guided, not by personal favour to any particular men or party, but by a sincere desire to promote the public good, your objections to any measures proposed will have great weight with the council, or, should they prove unreasonable, with the assembly, or, in last resort, with the public.

"Such are the general principles upon which the constitution granted to the North American colonies render it necessary that their government should be conducted. It is, however, I am well aware, far easier to lay down these general principles than to determine in any particular case what is that line of conduct which an adherence to them should prescribe. In this, your own judgment and a careful consideration of the circumstances in which you are placed mast be your guide; and I have only, in conclusion, to assure you that Her Majesty will always be anxious to put the most favourable construction upon your conduct, in the discharge of the arduous duties imposed upon you by the high situation you hold in her service."


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