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Sir John A MacDonald
First Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada, 1867 to 1872


THE course of events leading up to Confederation and the unquestioned leadership displayed by Macdonald in the conferences at Quebec and Westminster had distinctly marked him out as the one man to whom the task of inaugurating the machinery of Confederation should be entrusted. Public expectation in this regard was soon realized, and on March 21st, 1867, he writes from London to his sister in Canada that Lord Monck, who was then in England, had charged him with the formation of a government.

Meanwhile, a month earlier, his private outlook on life had been greatly changed by his marriage to Miss Bernard, a daughter of the Hon. Thomas J. Bernard, of the Jamaica privy council. The wedding took place on February sixteenth, at St. George's, Hanover Square, London. The circumstances of his life gave this event a peculiar significance. The prolonged illness of his first wife, her death in 1858, and the long periods of necessary residence at the various seats of government away from his Kingston home, had up to this time left him without that atmosphere of domestic comfort and care which means so much in the lives of men absorbed in public affairs. The circumstances may in a measure account for a lack of self-control in his personal habits which marked this earlier part of his life, and furnished to his opponents a weapon of which they were not slow to avail themselves. Henceforward his political career and private life were alike deeply influenced by one whose vigorous and masculine intellect eminently fitted her to share in the toils and sympathize with the ambitions of a strenuous public life. The newly married couple were soon after presented at court, the queen on this occasion granting a special audience to Macdonald and his four principal associates in the conference in recognition of the significance of the work they had just accomplished. Macdonald records his own reply to a remark of Her Majesty in regard to the importance of the work and the loyal spirit in which the deliberations had been carried on. "We have desired in this measure to declare in the most solemn and emphatic manner our resolve to be under the sovereignty of Your Majesty and Your Majesty's family forever."

Early in the month of May, Macdonald returned to Canada, and began the critical business of setting in motion the governmental system created by the Act of Confederation. It will be seen that he had been very singularly prepared for the larger work to be taken upon his shoulders. More than twenty years of experience in provincial legislation had given him an unrivalled knowledge of parliamentary tactics and consummate skill in carrying through the business of a popular assembly. His natural quickness of perception in measuring the character and capacity of those with whom he had to deal had been sharpened by the years of keen struggle to maintain against heavy odds the position and influence of his party. The manipulation of men with whom he had little personal sympathy, but who had to be reckoned with in the government of a country including in its population the most diverse elements, had become with him a second nature. He had learned to find the implements of his purposes in the passions, prejudices, even the weaknesses of men, no less than in their higher qualities of mind and character.

In the formation of his first cabinet Macdonald was confronted by great difficulties. The newly united provinces insisted on the application of the federal principle in the distribution of federal offices, and it was finally decided that Ontario was entitled to five representatives, Quebec to four and the Maritime Provinces to two each. This, however, disposed of one difficulty only. The Irish Catholics insisted on having a representative. So did the English Protestant minority of the province of Quebec. In Ontario the Liberals claimed three of the five members ; in Quebec the Conservatives demanded all four. The necessity for satisfying so many local and religious interests led, as often in Canada, to the omission from the cabinet of men whom a wider principle of selection would have included, but Macdonald had to do his best with the material at his disposal and the parties to be conciliated. As finally chosen the cabinet was made up as follows:-

The Hon. John Alexander Macdonald—minister of justice and attorney-general.
The Hon. Georges Etienne Cartier--minister of militia and defence.
The Hon. Alexander Tilloch Galt—minister of finance.
The Hon. Alexander Campbell—postmastergeneral.
The Hon. Jean Charles Chapais—minister of agriculture.
The Hon. Hector Louis Langevin—secretary of state for Canada.
The Hon. Edward Kenny—receiver-general.
The Hon. William MacDougall—minister of public works.
The Hon. William Pearce Howland—minister of inland revenue.
The Hon. Adam Johnston Fergusson Blair—president of the privy council.
The Hon. Samuel Leonard Tilley—minister of customs.
The Hon. Peter Mitchell—minister of marine and fisheries.
The Hon. Adams George Archibald—secretary of state for the provinces.

It was a coalition administration, Conservatives and Reformers being about equally represented. As previously agreed upon, five of its members represented Ontario, and four Quebec, while Nova Scotia and New Brunswick contributed two each. Seven belonged to the Conservative party, and six had been Liberals. Mr. Kenny represented the Irish Catholics and Mr. Galt the English-speaking minority in Quebec. "I do not want it to be felt by any section in the country," Macdonald said, "that they have no representative in the cabinet and no influence in the government, . . I desire to ask those who were in favour of this system of government, and who wished to see it satisfactorily carried out."

Such a cabinet proved, like all coalitions, extremely difficult to manage. The distribution of patronage, always carried out in Canada on strictly party lines, was a cause of endless trouble. Accusations of treachery from old Conservative friends, of perfidy to the compact from Liberals, soon began to reach the premier. "It is rather hard on me," writes Sir John two or three years later, "that I should be pitched into by Mr. MacDougall for not taking care of the Reformers, and, at the same time, be grumbled at by my own party for giving everything to that portion of Her Majesty's liege subjects in Ontario."

There were other difficulties of a more personal nature. Galt, whose reflective and independent temper had always made him an unsatisfactory party man, resigned towards the end of 1.867 for some reason never fully explained, and was succeeded by Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Rose. He too, was for private reasons compelled to resign a year later, and Macdonald was much perplexed to find a successor.

Just at this time Sir Francis Hincks returned to Canada, which he had not seen since 1854, having in the meantime filled imperial offices in several colonies. Like Sandfield Macdonald, he was an old Reformer, but at open enmity with George Brown. His former triumphs as inspector-general were remembered, and he was at once given the vacant portfolio. He made an efficient finance minister, but his long absence had put him out of touch with the men and with the ideals of the new Dominion, and the appointment did not fulfil Sir John's hopes of securing a leader in Ontario fearless and energetic enough to confront George Brown.

The formation of the government was the signal for a determined attempt on the part of the latter, and those of his party who sympathized with him, to break up the coalition. The Liberal leader claimed that, Confederation having been achieved, the compact made to carry it was at an end. Macdonald held that the task of setting in motion the new machinery of government was the most important part of the whole business, and that till this was done patriotic duty pointed to the maintenance of the coalition. With this view the other Reform members of the cabinet from Ontario, MacDougall and Howland, agreed; and on the same principle Fergusson Blair, also a Reformer, had some months before accepted the place of Mr. Brown as president of the council. All three had now taken office in the new Dominion administration. George Brown denounced their course as political treason, and Macdonald's attitude as merely a clever device for keeping himself in power. MacDougall and Howland defended the position they had taken before a large Reform convention called in June, 1867, to consider this and other party questions. The convention decided against them and against the continuance of the coalition, but the ministers remained firm, and in the first general election for the Dominion parliament which came on soon after, they received the approval of their constituents, while Brown was defeated. The general result was a large majority for the new government.

It cannot be doubted that keen personal rivalry between the two leaders was a large factor in the controversy. George Brown found it impossible to serve under, and very difficult to act with, Macdonald. The result was that the country was deprived of his services in the first parliament of that Confederation for securing which he had made such considerable sacrifices of personal and party feeling. While continuing, as a journalist, to take an active part in all political discussions, he did not again seek a seat in the popular branch of the legislature, although he accepted an appointment to the senate from the Mackenzie administration in 1874.

While the party which Macdonald led took the name of Liberal-Conservative to mark its mixed composition, it is scarcely surprising, after this action of the Reformers, to find his cabinet taking a more Conservative complexion as necessary changes were made. Within three years after Confederation, Fergusson Blair was dead; the career of William MacDougall had ended somewhat unsatisfactorily in connection with his efforts to fulfil the mission assigned to him in 1868 as lieutenant-governor of Manitoba; Howland and Archibald had passed into honourable retirement as lieutenant-governors of Ontario and Manitoba; Tilley and Mitchell, formerly Liberals, had yielded to the large national ideals and personal fascination of Sir John, and were among the most loyal and efficient of his colleagues. Of the later appointments, Howe, who might once have counted as a great Liberal force in any cabinet, was broken in health, and by taking office had lost his old popularity; while Dr. Tupper, the Conservative leader in Nova Scotia, who joined the cabinet in 1870, soon became recognized, by right of energy and ability, as Macdonald's first lieutenant. Meanwhile in these first years Macdonald's own leadership was unquestioned. During the early days of Confederation, no statesman from New Brunswick or Nova ' Scotia, however brilliant, could have aspired to the premiership, nor indeed could a French-Canadian have hoped for this supreme prize of political life. In later years two premiers and a leader of Opposition taken from Nova Scotia; a French-Canadian premier holding the first place in parliament and the unquestioned leadership of one of the parties in the State for many years, bear eloquent testimony to the influence of Confederation in obliterating alike provincial and racial lines of distinction. They furnish the best evidence of the genuineness of the national bond created by the British North America Act.

While Macdonald cannot be absolved from the charge of having manipulated the coalition cabinet of 1867 in favour of his earlier political associates, and indeed may fairly be excused for doing so, no prime minister was ever more free from that fear of able colleagues which has been so often displayed by political leaders from Walpole onwards.

Subject to the restrictions entailed by the federal nature of the cabinet, he always sought to gather round him the ablest men of his own party. If complaints were made, he sometimes replied, "Give me better wood and I will make you a better cabinet;" and he was quick to recognize and encourage rising ability. Not the least striking testimony to his genius is the loyal service given him by men of the imperious will of Sir Charles Tupper and Peter Mitchell, of the organizing ability and great local influence of Sir Hector Langevin, of the unimpeachable integrity of Sir Alexander Campbell and Sir Leonard Tilley.

The Dominion had its birthday on July 1st, 1867; the first general election to the new parliament took place during August and September with the result above noted. No weighty opposition to Macdonald's cabinet had yet been organized.

George Brown's impulsive acceptance of office in 1864, and his still more impulsive withdrawal at the end of the next year, placed the Liberal party in Ontario in a very awkward position. They stood committed to Confederation, and had three representatives in the government which their leader now called upon them to oppose. To the argument that the coalition had been formed for a definite purpose, on the attainment of which it was, ipso facto, dissolved, Macdonald's reply that the object was not achieved until the new machine had been made to work seemed conclusive, and appealed to the common sense of the electorate. Thus when the first session of parliament of the Dominion of Canada met on November 6th, 1867, an Opposition could hardly be said to exist.

Ontario had returned only fifteen opponents of the government out of eighty-two ; Quebec twelve out of sixty-five; New Brunswick three out of fifteen. Nova Scotia had indeed been swept for repeal, and of its nineteen members Dr. Charles Tupper, representing the county of Cumberland, alone supported the government. But the other eighteen refused to coalesce with the Opposition from Ontario and Quebec. The premier was to have many difficulties and discouragements in his task of getting the new Dominion under way, but he had the great advantage of a large majority, and as he himself said "of a clean slate." In the organization of the provincial governments he showed great judgment and skill.

No one has ever disputed Sir John Macdonald's knowledge of men, but even he never did anything more clever than in putting .John Sandfield Macdonald at the head of the local government in the province of Ontario, and P. J. O. Chauveau in the same position in Quebec. In Ontario the great question of representation by population had been settled by the British North America Act, and the chief desire of the province was for honest and economical administration. This, Sandfield Macdonald was eminently fitted to give. A Scottish Catholic, he was usually at issue with the priesthood on the question of separate schools; a Liberal, his stubborn will and gibing tongue had brought him into sharp conflict with George Brown ; his Scottish caution and dislike for theorists had led him to oppose Confederation, but he was essentially a practical man, and in the presence of its successful accomplishment felt no desire to sulk in his tent, or to endeavour to undo the results attained. For four years he gave to Ontario an honest, economical and not unprogressive administration, which more and more assumed a (politically) conservative character.

In the face of Cartier and the Catholic clergy, Dorion had for a moment come near to swaying the people of Quebec with the argument that Confederation was a plot of their Protestant foes to anglicize and americanize the province, to break the triple bond of "Notre langue, notre religion, nos lois." To this the appointment of a burning "patriote" like Chauveau, the friend and former follower of Papineau, but now one of the staunchest upholders of Catholicism as well as of the best literary and social traditions of French Canada, was the most effective reply. With Chauveau at Quebec and Cartier at Ottawa the habitant felt his fears subside.

In Nova Scotia alone was the Opposition triumphant. Joseph Howe with his magnificent oratory swept the province for repeal. The old mistrust of Canada rose to white heat, and even to-day it is impossible not to acknowledge the force of the plea that so all-important a change in the constitution should have been submitted directly to the people. Of the nineteen members sent to Ottawa, eighteen were pledged to support repeal, as were thirty-six out of thirty-eight members of the local assembly. This latter body passed an address to Her Majesty praying her not to "reduce reduce this free, happy, and hitherto self-governing province to the degraded condition of a servile dependency of Canada," and a delegation headed by Howe was sent to London to lay their petition at the foot of the throne.

From the early stages of this struggle Sir John wisely held aloof. The fever had to run its course, and any outside interference might have been fatal. Yet assured though he was of the sympathy of the British government, and of the unlikelihood of its reopening the question, he felt that Howe's mission must not be unchallenged. To send a member of the cabinet to counteract his influence would have been unwise, as seeming to imply that the Canadian government considered repeal a subject for discussion. But Dr. Tupper, Howe's old and most powerful opponent in Nova Scotia, who had patriotically waived his own claims to cabinet position in order to solve Macdonald's difficulties in balancing interests, was sent to confront him on the wider field. Both fought magnificently, but Howe's struggle, notwithstanding that he enlisted in his favour the eloquence of John Bright, was from the first hopeless.

An interview in London between the two men, in which Tupper pointed out the hopelessness of the task Howe had in hand, the ruin that would be brought by continued agitation to national ideals which both had cherished, and his own determination to fight out the contest to the bitter end, closing with an appeal to Howe's patriotism, was a dramatic episode in the discussion, and probably did much to open the eyes of the great tribune of the people to the gravity of the situation and to shake his resolve. He returned to report to his fellow Nova Scotians that for any movement tending to break up the Confederation they could not rely upon British sympathy. The attitude of the British government had convinced Howe that the question was closed, and he was far too loyal an imperialist to adopt the cry for annexation which was soon raised by the baser sort of Nova Scotian politicians.

Now was the time for Sir .John Macdonald. He at once determined to win over Howe to Confederation, and towards the close of July, 1868, visited Halifax for that purpose, accompanied by Cartier, William MacDougall, Tupper, and John Sandfield Macdonald, the latter an intimate friend of Howe. For the Conservative premier of the new Dominion to bring with him an anti-Confederation Liberal to aid in enticing Howe within the Confederate fold was a masterpiece of political strategy. The interview between the two statesmen cleared the way, and was followed up by a correspondence, printed in full by Mr. Pope, which strikingly illustrates Macdonald's diplomatic skill in conducting a delicate negotiation. Nova Scotia's most tangible grievance was financial, and this Macdonald promised to deal with "not in a rigid but in the most liberal spirit." The situation was urgent. Howe reported a widespread feeling in favour of annexation to the United States, "and the visit of a prominent American politician for the purpose, scarcely disguised, of encouraging the annexation feeling with offers of men and money."

If an additional grant could save the new born Dominion from disintegration it was no time for haggling. "Better terms" were promptly conceded by order-in-council on January 25th, 1869, and five days later Joseph Howe entered the Dominion cabinet. The local government endeavoured for a time to maintain the agitation against Confederation which had brought them into power, and things were said on the floors of the assembly which verged on disloyalty. Bereft of its leader, however, the agitation soon died away, and after the general election of 1872, only one antagonist of Macdonald and Howe was returned.

The strength of provincialism with which the idea of Confederation had been confronted in Nova Scotia inclined Macdonald to use great caution in his further efforts to "round off" the Dominion by drawing in the other Maritime Provinces. The smaller the community the more strongly entrenched seemed to be the provincial spirit. Newfoundland had been represented at the Quebec conference, but its delegates refused to commit themselves to the union. The negotiations then broken off were renewed in 1868, and in the following year a delegation from the island visited Ottawa, when Macdonald succeeded in arranging what seemed to be satisfactory terms of entrance into the Dominion. They were, however, decisively rejected on being submitted to the electors of the island a few months later. A proposal to add Newfoundland to the Dominion by an Act of the imperial parliament he refused to encourage. "There can be no doubt of the power to do so," he says in a letter to the governor-general, "but the exercise of it would seem to me very unadvisable. We have had an infinity of trouble with Nova Scotia, although both the government and the legislature agreed to the union, because the question was not submitted to the electors. We have at a large cost settled that difficulty. The case would be much worse in Newfoundland, where there was a dissolution and an appeal to the people for the express purpose of getting their deliberate opinion for or against the union. They have decided for the present against it, and I think we should accept their decision." But he regretted the result of the election as postponing the completion of the imperial policy of uniting all the British North American possessions under one government, and he looked forward to the "inevitable reaction that must take place in a year or two."

In this he failed to gauge accurately the tenacity of insular sentiment which has kept the "ancient colony" apart from the Dominion for forty years, in spite of the manifest advantages, both from a local and a national point of view, that would flow from union. While he attached no vital importance to the refusal of Newfoundland in 1868, it can scarcely be believed that, had he been alive in 1893, he would have missed the opportunity then offered of adding the island to the Dominion for the sake of the half-million or million dollars which blocked an agreement.

Opposition almost as vehement presented itself in Prince Edward Island. The electors had decisively rejected the proposals of the Quebec conference in 1865, formally declaring that such a union as was suggested "would prove politically, commercially and financially disastrous to the rights and interests of the people." The same opinion was reiterated still more vigorously in the following year, when the legislature declared by resolution that no terms Canada could offer would be acceptable. The overwhelming nature of the opposition to Confederation at this time may be inferred from the fact that only ninety-four electors in the whole island could be found to sign an address of thanks to the seven members of the legislature who supported the scheme. The colony was therefore not represented at the Westminster conference which finally settled the terms of the British North America Act. This rejection of Confederation seemed to Macdonald a much more serious matter than that of Newfoundland. He writes to the governor-general in December, 1869, in the letter last quoted: "Canada is more directly interested in the immediate acquisition of Prince Edward Island, from its proximity to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and the extent of its fisheries. Neither the imperial government nor Canada can carry out satisfactorily any policy in the matter of the fisheries under present circumstances, and most unpleasant complications with the American fishermen may ensue. It will, besides, become a rendezvous for smugglers, and, in fact, be as great a nuisance to us as the Isle of Man was in the days of old to England, before its purchase from the Duke of Athol. We must endeavour to get Her Majesty's government to help us as much as possible in our attempts to conciliate the islanders, of which, I am glad to say, there is now good hope."

"Better terms" had been offered in 1866 and again in 1869, but the proposals were ignored or rejected. It was not till 1872 that the financial necessities of the island, which had become involved in heavy railway expenditure, led the electors to realize the advantages of union with the Dominion. Negotiations followed which ended in the assumption of the railway debt by Canada, and the entrance of the island into the Dominion in the following year.

If caution marked the negotiations with Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, boldness, almost to the verge of audacity, characterized those by which British Columbia was induced to join the Confederation. The acquisition of a frontage on the Pacific and of the vast country lying between the Great Lakes and the Rockies was essential to the future of the Dominion. The officers of the Hudson's Bay Company, who still retained great influence in the colony, were opposed to the entrance of British Columbia into the Confederation, as they were to the accession of the North-West. The British governor of the colony was also hostile, and a party had actually been formed to promote annexation to the United States. But when the North-West was transferred in 1870 the opposition of the Hudson's Bay officials ceased, and on the death of Governor Seymour, a successor, Sir Antony Musgrave, known to be favourable to Confederation, was, on Macdonald's suggestion, appointed by the imperial government, which used all its influence to forward the work of union.

The chief item in the terms agreed upon was that "the government of the Dominion undertake to secure the commencement simultaneously, within two years from the date of the union, of the construction of a railway from the Pacific towards the Rocky Mountains, and from such point as may be selected east of the Rocky Mountains, towards the Pacific, to connect the sea-board of British Columbia with the railway system of Canada; and further to secure the completion of such railway within ten years of the date of the union." At a general election held in the autumn of 1870 the people of British Columbia approved of the terms of the union, and the colony became a province of the Dominion on July 20th, 1871.

The compact thus made with the province for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, denounced by opponents as ruinous and impossible, but proved by subsequent events to be not only within the fair limits of practicability, but also the mainspring of Canadian development and prosperity, became for the next fifteen years the pivot of Canadian politics.

Meanwhile the early sessions of parliament were chiefly taken up with questions of administration and organization. On these matters the Opposition, led by Alexander Mackenzie, who had been chosen as leader in succession to George Brown, refrained almost entirely from mere factious disputation. The acrimonious personal disputes of pre-Confederation debates were no more heard. Both parties endeavoured to rise to the level of their new opportunities, and more than one suggestion from the opposition side of the House was adopted by the government.

In 1867 the postal rates were reduced and unified, and a system of post-office savings banks introduced. In 1868 the militia of the Dominion was organized, the tariff altered and systematized, and an Act passed to secure the independence of parliament, as well as a Civil Service Act. A series of Acts culminating in 1871, put the banking system of the country on a sound footing. From 1868 to 1870 Sir John gradually shaped a bill to establish a Supreme Court for Canada, but circumstances prevented him from passing this measure, and the court was not finally organized till 1875 under the administration of Alexander Mackenzie.

Thus gradually the new machine was put into operation. Larger measures, in which ; a difference of policy was possible, soon came forward and the Opposition began to gain coherency. Among the most important of these measures was that relating to the Intercolonial Railway. Section 145 of the British North America Act had stated that I it shall be the duty of the government and parliament of Canada to provide for the commencement, within six months after the union, of a railway connecting the river St. Lawrence with the city of Halifax." The government pushed on the work of surveying with much energy, and during the first session Macdonald announced that the road would be built "under the direct supervision of commissioners appointed by the government, for whose conduct the administration would hold itself responsible to parliament." This method of management was opposed by Dorion, who moved an amendment that the location of the line should not be settled without the consent of parliament. This was opposed by Sir John, on the ground that such procedure would imperil the financial guarantee which had been given under certain conditions by the imperial authorities, and the first trial of strength ended in a vote of eighty-three to thirty-five in favour of the government.

The selection of the route through New Brunswick was not made without difficulty. The folly of Lord Palmerston in 1833-5, in refusing the extremely reasonable terms offered by President Jackson, and the timidity of Lord Ashburton in the treaty negotiations of 1842 had given to the United States a wedge of territory thrust up far to northward between New Brunswick and Quebec. A direct route from east to west was thus impossible. Three alternative lines were finally surveyed, one by the valley of the St. John River, known, owing to its nearness to the American boundary, as the frontier route; a second along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Baie des Chaleurs; and a third or central route directly across New Brunswick. The strained relations existing between Great Britain and the United States, and the unwillingness of the former to assist in the construction of any but a military line, put the first and most direct line out of the question. The second was supported by Sir Georges Cartier and Peter Mitchell, in the interest of the lower counties of Quebec and the north shore counties of New Brunswick ; the third by Sir Leonard Tilley, William MacDougall and other ministers, as giving the most direct and least expensive route from the upper province to the sea. From a commercial point of view the central route was unquestionably the best. The imperial authorities approved of the northern route, owing to its greater distance from the American frontier. A report in its favour, balancing military and interprovincial considerations, was obtained from Mr. (afterwards Sir Sandford) Fleming, the engineer in charge, and it was finally adopted. The struggle over the question within the cabinet was very keen, and Macdonald found himself at once on the verge of a ministerial crisis.

In 1870 a quarrel between William MacDougall and Joseph Howe, growing out of the former's disappointment in the matter of the government of the North-West, led to the publication by MacDougall of a series of open letters, in which he affirmed that Sir Georges Cartier and Peter Mitchell forced Macdonald to agree to the selection of the longer route for the Intercolonial as the price of their consent to the acquisition of the western country. He claimed that by this surrender it became necessary to construct one hundred and thirty-eight additional miles of railway, to abandon the natural commercial route, to impose upon the country for all time the burden of this unnecessary mileage, and to injure permanently the Intercolonial as a medium of interprovincial traffic. In MacDougall's own words, " they threw eight millions of dollars into the sea." He was at the time a disappointed and embittered man, but there was probably a measure of truth in his allegations. The whole affair shows the inevitable difficulties which beset a premier in Macdonald's position, and the compromises to which he is driven.

Macdonald's final justification for the course taken must lie in the conditions imposed by the imperial government which gave the guarantee for the money required, and which at the time believed that the military necessity was a real one. Fortunately there has been no need to test the value of the railway in this respect, and other lines built for purely commercial ends now connect the upper provinces with the sea. The construction of the Intercolonial carried out one of the compacts on which Confederation was based, and though, under government control, it has not proved altogether a commercial success, it has had a most important influence in consolidating the Dominion.

The choice of the northern route, however, and the extravagance involved in its construction, gave to the Opposition their first definite plan of attack in the adoption of a platform of economy. This was carried further in 1869 in their objection to the "better terms" granted to Nova Scotia, which they also opposed on constitutional grounds, an indication of the strict and even narrow adherence to the constitution which was for many years to characterize them. Their third great principle, the maintenance of provincial rights, appeared in the discussion of the troubles which broke out in the Red River Settlement.

If Canada and the Maritime Provinces knew but little of each other, and felt the necessity of the iron link of the Intereolonial, they knew still less of the great West on whose acquisition depended the future of the Dominion. When, in 1868, the Red River Settlement was overwhelmed by a plague of grasshoppers, and collections were made for the sufferers, Principal George M. Grant, then a leading clergyman of Halifax, wrote, "I could have collected the money quite as easily, and the givers would have given quite as intelligently, had the sufferers been in Central Abyssinia." Yet there were not wanting statesmen with the eye of faith to look into the future, and George Brown and Sir John Macdonald were at one in feeling that the great heritage so long monopolized by the Hudson's Bay Company must belong to Canada, and that half a continent was too large a preserve for the scattered agents of a trading company and a few thousands of Indians.

To conceive so vast a project as the annexation of a territory more than seven times as large as the four federated provinces, showed the high courage to which nothing is impossible; on the other hand the details of the annexation present a series of the gravest errors, only partially excused by the absolute ignorance at Ottawa of the situation. Admitting that the greater part of the blame falls on MacDougall and Cartier, it is impossible, nevertheless, wholly to acquit Macdonald of inattention in the earlier stages of the business.

Till Confederation the discussion of the surrender of this monopoly by the company had hardly proceeded beyond the academic stage. The new Dominion took the matter up with vigour. Provision for the acquisition of the North-West Territories was inserted in the British North America Act (section 146) and on December 4th, 1867, a series of resolutions was introduced into the House of Commons by Mr. MacDougall, and an address to the queen based upon them was passed, praying her to unite these portions of her empire to Canada. On October 3rd, 1868, Sir Georges Cartier and Mr. MacDougall were sent to London to negotiate. After prolonged discussions and much delay, with the help of the colonial secretary, Lord Granville, an excellent bargain was made for Canada. The Hudson's Bay Company agreed to transfer to the Crown their exclusive rights to the North-West Territories and Rupert's Land, in consideration of the sum of £300,000, the reservation of one-twentieth of the fertile belt and a certain area adjacent to each of their trading-posts. The vast area ceded was inhabited almost solely by scattered tribes of Indians, and by the officials of the company. But in the vicinity of the trading-post of Fort Garry, at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, where now stands the city of Winnipeg, dwelt a population of about ten thousand persons, known as the Red River Settlement. Of this little community the majority were half-breeds or metis, the descendants of Scottish and French trappers and Indian mothers. They had lived quietly and contentedly under the easy lordship of the Hudson's Bay Company, and now viewed with great alarm and excitement the prospect of their transfer, without their consent, to the Dominion.

As if to increase their irritation, the Canadian government, in 1869, undertook the construction of a road between the Lake of the Woods and Red River, and sent a surveying party under an indiscreet militia officer into the settlement itself. The Hudson's Bay Company officials in London protested to the Canadian delegates against these unauthorized proceedings in a district still in their possession, but could get no satisfaction. Monseigneur Tache, the Roman Catholic bishop of the district and the idol of the half-breeds, on his way to the Vatican council turned aside to warn Sir Georges Cartier of impending trouble and was, so it is said, greeted with a contemptuous laugh.

The domineering, and in some cases dishonest, conduct of the contractor for the road excited still further the ignorant and suspicious metis, who set up a provisional government of their own under the leadership of Louis Riel. The situation was complicated by the illness of the company's governor at Fort Garry ; by the absence of Archbishop Tache, whose influence with the half-breeds might have prevented trouble ; and by the presence at Pembina and at St. Paul of an element in the population which openly awaited the opportunity of annexing the new territory to the United States. "A decrepit government with the executive officer sick; a rebellious and chronically dissatisfied maetis element; a government at Ottawa far removed by distance, committing with unvarying regularity blunder after blunder; a greedy and foreign cabal planning to seize the country, and a secret jesuitical plot to keep the governor from action and to incite the fiery metis to revolt!" is the startling, but perhaps substantially correct, way in which Mr. Bryce in his Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company sums up the situation.

Meanwhile the Canadian government had appointed the Hon. William MacDougall lieutenant-governor of the territory which they had not yet taken over. Travelling through the United States, Mr. MacDougall reached the frontier town of Pembina late in October, 1869. On crossing the border, he was met by an armed force of half-breeds, and forced to retire. On December 1st, under the impression that the formal transfer of territory was to take place on that date, and urged by a number of the British inhabitants, he issued a proclamation declaring himself lieutenant-governor and Colonel Dennis, head of the surveying party, his "lieutenant and conservator of the peace." But Sir John Macdonald had absolutely refused to take over the country save in a state of tranquillity, insisting that the company" stood pledged to convey not only their title but the territory itself." MacDougall's proclamation and the unsuccessful attempts of Dennis to collect an adequate force among the loyal settlers only added to the prevailing anarchy.

Sir John Macdonald's understanding with the lieutenant-governor had been "that he was to go as a private individual to report on the state of affairs at the Red River, but to assume no authority until officially notified from him that Rupert's Land was united to Canada." On this assumption both he and Joseph Howe, the secretary of state for the provinces, had endeavoured to keep in touch with MacDougall ; their endeavours, however, were rendered fruitless by his hasty assumption of authority, and the slow and uncertain postal communications of the time.

Macdonald's position now became most difficult. Whatever the ulterior objects of their leaders, the demands of the settlers were most reasonable, and consisted of little else than a demand for the self-government possessed by other inhabitants of the Dominion. In this request racial and religious sentiment won them the support of the Quebec members of the House and of the cabinet, led by Sir Georges Cartier. Ontario, Protestant and English, was urgent for the restoration of order by a military force. This demand became overwhelming when news arrived that on March 4th, 1870, Riel had, after a mock trial, put to death Thomas Scott, a former resident of Ontario and a member of the Orange order. Even before this Sir John had written to his friend the Hon. John Rose: "The propositions adopted at the Red River conference, are, most of them, reasonable enough, and can easily be disposed of with their delegates. Things look well enough were we only assured of Riel's good faith. But the unpleasant suspicion remains that he is only wasting time by sending this delegation, until the approach of summer enables him to get material help from the United States. It is believed by many that he is in the pay of the U. S. —besides, the longer he remains in power, the more unwilling will he be to resign it, and I have, therefore, no great confidence in his ratifying any arrangements made here with the delegates. Under these circumstances the preparations for the expeditionary force must not be delayed."

On receipt of the news of the murder of Scott, preparations for a relief expedition, composed of British regulars and of Canadian militia under the command of Colonel (now Viscount) Wolseley, were hurried on, and early in May, 1870, the little force set out from Collingwood. Meanwhile on May 2nd, a bill for the establishment and government of the province of Manitoba, had been introduced by Macdonald and hurriedly passed through the House. But the long strain had been too great; and four days later the premier was suddenly prostrated by an attack of illness, pronounced by his physicians to be biliary calculus, so sudden and severe that, to use the words of his biographer, "for days he lay between life and death in the room where he was seized, tended by the supreme devotion of a loving wife, who nursed him with a solicitude to which he has repeatedly declared he owed his life." Not until September was he again fit for work.

The leadership of the House devolved on Sir Georges Cartier, who had determined that the "key to the whole province," as he justly termed Manitoba, should be, as far as possible, in French and Catholic hands. He threw every hindrance in the way of Wolseley's expedition, and when it had finally set out, formed a bold plan for sending Monseigneur Tach. and Adams G. Archibald, the newly appointed successor to MacDougall, through the American territory to the Red River. On their arrival a full amnesty covering the murderers of Scott was to be proclaimed and the new provincial government organized. What course would have been followed by a legislature controlled by Riel, and under a pliable lieutenant-governor, can only be surmised, for the plan leaked out and so furious was the opposition raised throughout Ontario that even Cartier quailed, and Archibald went up by the "snow route " in rear of the punitive expedition. After great difficulties, surmounted by Wolseley with masterly skill, the little force reached Fort Garry on August 24th, and won a bloodless victory, Riel and his followers decamping at the sound of the bugles. From that time the organization of the new province went forward without hindrance.

Riel long remained the storm centre of Canadian politics. In the province of Quebec he was a hero, contending for British rights and French privileges; to Ontario he was a murderer and rebel, and the local legislature offered a reward of five thousand dollars for his apprehension. In 1874 he was elected by the half-breeds to succeed Sir Georges Cartier in the representation of Provencher, but was expelled from the House, outlawed and forced to flee to the United States. He was to return in after years and again disturb the peace of the Dominion.

During the critical months of 1870, as has been said, Macdonald's guiding hand was withdrawn from the conduct of affairs. So extreme had been his illness that little hope was entertained of his recovery. His return to Ottawa in September was marked by the warmest demonstrations of feeling on the part of the public. During the greater part of the following session of 1871 he was absent in Washington as a member of the high commission. The task imposed upon him there had such a special importance in his career that it must be dealt with in a separate chapter.


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