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Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter IX. Pioneer Politics


"Party is the madness of the many for the gain of the few." —SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD.

FOR some years after the first settlement, the Zorra pioneers took little interest in politics. What with clearing the forest, "ploughing, sowing, reaping and mowing," they had hard work to provide food and clothes for themselves and their children. In Parliament there scarcely existed what we now call partyism. The politicians, acting upon the principle that the "State belongs to the Statesman," were occupied in gobbling up as much of the land as possible at a shilling an acre.

There was but one voting place for the whole county. This was at an hotel called "Martin's old stand," near Beachville. It was open voting; the election lasted for five days, and feeling ran high. During the election, free meals and liquor were supplied by each candidate to his friends. Barrels of whiskey were placed near the polling booth ; pails, dippers, and little tin cups were supplied in abundance, and as may be easily imagind, the consequent scenes were far from edifying. The wonder is that under such circumstances the consequences were not even more serious. But the typical Highlander, although never chargeable with lack of courage, is not disposed to fisticuffs. This is too small game for him, and if he fight at all, he aims at killing "twa at a blow."

A Highlander and an Irishman fell out and began to quarrel. Instantly the Irishman's coat was off. "Tut! tut! " said Donald. "Pe quate, and we will jaw it for a while."

But while personal encounters were not so frequent as under the circumstances might be expected, the poverty and degradation caused by strong drink were very great. In Britain's battles, from the days of old down to Dargai Heights, the Highlander has taken his full share of fighting and honors, and he has proved himself able to hold his own "man tae man the world ocr;" but alas, there is one enemy that has time and again, in Zorra and elsewhere, proved more than a match for him—the enemy that gurgles out of the neck of a black bottle.

Cheap as whiskey was in those pioneer days it was frequently hard to get, for the money was not there. A poor old woman, who was very fond of a dram, sent her daughter round to Sandy's bar for a gill. As she sent no money, but only a promise to pay next morning, the girl came back without the whiskey, and reported that the tavern keeper would not give it to her without the cash. The woman had no money, but she told the girl to give the family Bible as security till the next morning. Even that was refused. When this was reported to the old lady she exclaimed, "What will I do when he'll neither tak my word nor the Word of God for a gill of whiskey?"

"Bring out Jeroboam," said the head of a house when a friend called, meaning a jug of whiskey. But why was the whiskey jug called "Jeroboam"? Because it was "Jeroboarn, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin." Thus the Highlander, with a native religious instinct, confessed his fault while he indulged the sin.

It was in the thirties. Mr. Ayers was driving a flourishing, hotel business in Embro. The political contest was between Peter Carroll and Robert Rollo Hunter. Mr. Ayers each day drove a four-horse sleigh, loaded with voters, to "Martin's old stand," the place of voting. There was always a piper on board, who skirled away the music that never fails to inspire the Highland heart. They had cast their votes, and were "na fou, but juist had plenty." The four- horse team had been left standing for hours in the shelter of a log house. In this domicile lived two bachelors, who, for various reasons, were notoriously unpopular. Indeed it was whispered that these men did not distinguish between their neighbors' hen roosts and their own. On this occasion a wag played a cruel practical joke on the bachelor brothers.

While the sleigh stood beside the house, an enemy found a couple of logging chains, fastened them securely together, then attached one end very carefully to both cross beams of the sleigh; then the other end was attached to the top log and roof of the shanty. The chain was carefully concealed with snow. Well, the time came for the Zorra boys to start for home. They had the Deoch an doras (drink of the door, that is, the last drink). "All aboard!" There was a rush, and soon all found a place, in various postures, in the long sleigh-box. "Hurrah! Whip! Crack! Get up! " With a bound the horses dashed forward, but in an instant came to a standstill. The driver, knowing nothing of his attachment, struck up again with more vigor, and in less time than it takes me to write it, the topmost log of the shanty, accompanied by the roof, lay on the ground.

When, with bunting flying, pipes screaming, and twenty free and independent electors shouting, the sleigh reached Embro, there was a hot time in the old village that night. Every man, woman and child turned out, and long and loud was the cheering when it was announced that Hunter (Embro's favorite) was ahead. But next night the news came that Carroll was ahead. The third night Hunter's majority was seventy, and he kept the lead to the end, much to the satisfaction of the Zorra men.

The first Parliament of Upper Canada was elected in 1792, and was held at Niagara. I can find no trace of any representative of Oxford in the first or second Parliament, but in the third Parliament, 1800-1804, Oxford, along with Norfolk and Middlesex, was represented by Hon. D. W. Smith.

From 1804 to 1812 Oxford and Middlesex were represented by one man—Benaiah Malory.

From 1812 to 1820 by Mahlon Burwell.

From 1820 to 1840 the elections resulted as follows: 1820, Thos. Homer; 1824, Thos. Homer and Chas. Ingersoll; 1828, Homer and Malcolm; in 1830, Chas. Ingersoll and Chas. Duncombe; in 1835, Chas. Duncombe and Robt. Alway.

Duncombe having left the country, there was a contest, as we have seen, for his seat, between Robert Rollo Hunter and Peter Carroll, resulting in the election of the former.

After the union of Upper and Lower Canada, in 1840, Oxford was represented by Francis Hincks, afterwards Sir Francis Hincks.

In 1844 Mr. Robert Riddell was elected, and in 1848 Peter Carroll and Hon. F. Hincks.

In 1849 Lord Elgin was egged, and the parliament building in Montreal burned. There was great excitement throughout the country.

In 1851 Hon. F. Hincks was elected; after which the county was divided into two ridings —North and South Oxford.

In 1854 the north riding was represented by D. Matheson, Esq., of Embro, and the south riding by Hon. F. Hincks.

In 1858 Hon. Geo. Brown, of Toronto, was elected for the north riding, and also for Toronto, and decided to sit for Toronto. Then the constituency was represented by Wm. McDougall.

In 1861 the north riding re-elected Wm. McDougall, and the south riding Dr. Connor; and on the demise of Dr. Connor, Hon. Geo. Brown became representative for South Oxford.

In 1863 the north riding was represented by Hope F. McKenzie, of Sarnia, and the south riding by Hon. Geo. Brown.

In 1867 the north riding elected Thos. Oliver, of Woodstock, as its representative.

In 1872 Thos. Oliver was again returned for North Oxford, by acclamation, and E. V. Bodwell for South Oxford.

In 1874 Thos. Oliver was returned a third time for North Oxford, and Col. Jas. A. Skinner for South Oxford.

In 1880, on the death of the late Thos. Oliver, the present member, James Sutherland, became member for North Oxford. Since then Mr. Sutherland has been elected four times, and each time by an increased majority.

The election of Hon. (afterwards Sir) Francis Hincks, in 1851, was perhaps one of the most exciting contests ever witnessed in the county. The "Clergy Reserve" question and the "Separate School" question were up, and a great deal of religious feeling was aroused. The writer has now before him one of the campaign sheets of the time. It is a large poster, eighteen inches by twelve. The head-lines are in very large letters, and the whole get-up quite sensational. For clear ringing denunciation of a political opponent this electioneering document would be hard to beat. Here it is as far as it can be exhibited on our small page:

"ATTENTION!

"REFORMERS!!

"Hincks, the traitor to Reform Principles, and his Office-hunting friends have reported that Scatcherd will resign. This is false!

"Scatcherd cannot resign!

"400

"Free and Independent Electors have signed his Requisition, and he is pledged to go to the polls. He is opposed to tax the people $800,000 a year to pay the 'Interest' on money for a railroad from Quebec to Halifax, for the benefit of Lower Canada.

"Electors of Oxford! Can you vote for Hincks, who has falsified every promise, and betrayed your dearest interests?

"Who voted against the Marriage Bill? Hincks.

"Who voted against the Rectory Bill? Hincks.

"Who voted against the Clergy Reserves Bill? Hincks.

"Who is patron of the fifty-seven Rectories? Hincks.

"Who said you persecuted the English Church? Hincks.

"Who turned Merrit and Malcolm Cameron out of the Executive Council? Hincks.

"Who supports Sectarian Schools? Hincks.

"Who said Upper Canada Reformers were a set or Pharisaical Brawlers? Dr. Taché, one of the new Ministry.

"Who got $7,000 to pay for dinners given in Montreal, and called it 'extra services'? Hincks.

"Who voted $8o,000 of your money to repair the Governor's residence in Quebec? Hincks.

"Who spent $3 50,000 to remove the seat of Government? Hincks.

"Who voted $300,000 last year to pay for the Administration of Justice? Hincks.

"Who divided the County? Hincks.

"REFORMERS!—AWAKE.

"Record your votes for Scatcherd, for his Election must be secured. Read his Address. He is a Farmer, and a resident of your county. His Interest is yours.

"Mr. Hincks has received a Requisition from the County of Kent, to run in opposition to Mr. George Brown, and has accepted it.

"November 18, 1851."

Strange that after such a fusilade Hincks was triumphantly elected!

A Zorra man who is still living, speaking of the excitement of this election, says: "They axed me how I was going to vote. I said I would vote for ------; and as soon as the word was out of my mouth the blood was out of my nose." This was voting solid!

How did the early elections compare with those of to-day? As we have already clearly shown, they were not ideal. We wish we could say:

"Then none were for the party, then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor, and the poor man loved the great
'Then spoils were fairly portioned, then lands were fairly sold,
And the Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old."

In the olden times, as to-day, whiskey was the foe of everything pure and good. The fact also of there being only one polling place in the county, and the open voting, helped greatly to increase the excitement.

But notwithstanding the excitement and excesses of the early elections, they were conducted in a manner immeasurably more pure and honorable than some similar campaigns in our time. Are not our politics rapidly degenerating into a very cesspool of corruption? The boodling and bribery, the frauds and corruption which have characterized many recent elections, are enough to bring the blush of shame to the cheek of every honest Canadian. Occasionally we have an election trial, and then, although only a corner of the covering is raised, we see something of the seething mass of corruption underneath. And yet how seldom do we hear the ring of genuine, honest indignation against political corruption, except when it hurts "our party" or "our man."

What is the remedy? The remedy lies largely with the Church. Unless the Church throws off her indifference, arouses herself to cry aloud and spare not, the cancer will spread. Legislation can do something; and by all means let good laws be sought—laws that will make it as easy as possible to do right, and as difficult as possible to do wrong. But legislation can deal only with environment. The Divine Spirit alone, working upon the hearts of men, can create and foster a love of righteousness, and a hatred of iniquity.

We may change the tariff, reform the finances, prohibit the liquor traffic, obtain better Sunday laws, enact severest laws against bribery, kill off. the monopolies, and shake off the bosses, but unless the electors enthrone Jesus Christ in the politics of the land, there will soon be as much oppression, dishonesty, intemperance, and corruption as ever. Radical and lasting reform must begin in the heart. "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word," said John Knox. So we say of Zorra, Oxford, Canada. Men of God, arise!

"Perish policy and cunning!
Perish all that fears the light
Whether losing, whether winning,
'Trust in God and do the right.'

"Trust no party, sect, or faction;
Trust no leaders in the fight;
But in every word and action
'Trust in God and do the right."

As soil, shower, and sunshine can make more flowers and fragrance than all the chemists, so God's Word and Spirit can effect more in moral reforms and human regeneration than all human legislation. Let every Christian patriot therefore proclaim the glorious truth that Christianity is not a mere sentiment, or a system of cold abstractions, but a power that shows itself grandly in the domestic, the social, the political life of a people. It ennobles every department of life, making the polling booth as sacred as the prayer meeting, and the act of voting an act of worship.


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