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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter XXVII

Last Contest for the Clergy Reserves.—Settlement of the Question in 1854-5.—The Commutation Scheme.—Synod of 1856, and Episcopal Address.

time was now approaching when the Bishop of Toronto was to fight his last battle for the Clergy Reserves, and when the controversy was to close upon a question which had been allowed to disturb the Province for nearly forty years. We have seen the issue of his persevering contest for King’s College; in which, with its original features materially changed, there was nevertheless much retained that would remind the world of its being a Christian and a Church Institution. But even this was gone, uprooted wholly; and a new establishment was raised upon its ruins, with a different name and essentially different principles. We do not question the benefit to the country at large of the University of Toronto. The building is most creditable to the Province; and its ample revenues have secured a staff of able and zealous Professors. It is doing all that could be expected, for the intellectual culture of our youth; but, divested of its religious character, it can never have the moral weight and influence possessed by the ancient Universities of our Mother Land. This, however, is the misfortune, rather than the fault, of the authorities of the College. In a Colony, composed of people of all nations and all creeds, there will be an endless variety of opinions; and when the choice lies between no creed and all creeds, it would be wiser, perhaps, to select the former than the latter.

The remnant of our Church property, secured as we thought inalienably by the settlement of 1840, already fully explained, was again in jeopardy: another and a last battle had to be fought for this shred of a goodly inheritance. The Provincial Parliament, elected in 1851, contained a strong element of hostility to the Church of England; and the cry was revived with as much intensity as ever, for the entire alienation of the Clergy Reserves, and the appropriation to secular purposes of whatever they could be made to produce. In the summer of 1852, Mr. Hincks, then in England, addressed a strong letter to the Government of Lord Derby then in power, and urged the passing of a measure by the Imperial Parliament which should authorize the Legislature of Canada to deal unrestrictedly with this property. The writer of this Memoir happened to be in England that summer, and had several conferences with Sir John Pakington, the Colonial Secretary, on the subject of the Clergy Reserves; and in the autumn of that year he published in the Times newspaper a full statement of the present condition of the question, and the injustice of any interference with property or moneys absolutely applied by Act of Parliament to the Churches of England and Scotland. He contended that the settlement of 1840 was regarded as a final and irrevocable settlement; and that it was affirmed in the Canadian Legislative Assembly to be so, by Mr. Price, the very gentleman who now moved that such settlement should be reversed. Upon the public mind in England, of Churchmen especially, the impression produced by these statements was highly favourable, and they gained to our cause a large share of the public interest and sympathy.

Nothing could exceed the anxiety of Lord Derby’s Government to settle this question on a consistent and equitable basis; and late in the autumn of 1852, Sir John Pakington, in answer to a question from Sir William Molesworth, declared it to be the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to bring in a Bill, authorizing the Parliament of Canada to dispose of the Clergy Reserves, but with this restriction,—that the proceeds therefrom, in accordance with the original intention of the grant, should be applied exclusively to the maintenance of religion in that Province. They were to be bound to this; but left free as to the manner in which the distribution of the funds should be made.

A proposal so reasonable, and so just, could hardly have failed of acceptance by the Imperial Parliament; but unhappily, in December, 1852, Lord Derby’s administration was overthrown, and the* Coalition Government under Lord Aberdeen succeeded. This Government would not adopt the views ennunciated by Sir John Pakington in his reply to Sir William Molesworth; and, in conferences with the Duke of Newcastle and Mr. Sydney Herbert, the writer of this was assured of their anxious desire to give to the Church in Canada all that she so reasonably claimed; but that as public men they felt it their duty to yield to the Legislature of Canada the unrestricted, unconditional disposal of the Clergy Reserves, and of any revenue they could be made to yield.

Consequent upon this avowed purpose of the Imperial Goverment, there was a wide-spread agitation amongst the friends of the Church in England; and, at every meeting of the Propagation Society, and of its branches throughout the Kingdom, this measure of spoliation was most earnestly deprecated. Petitions were got up in various quarters against this measure, and entrusted to influential members of the Lords and Commons. The late Bishop of Quebec was in England during the winter and spring of 1853, and united very vigorously and heartily in the efforts to secure the rights and claims of the Church in Canada. We had little hope of being successful in the Commons, but had the fullest reliance upon the House of Lords.

I was present myself at the whole debate on the third reading in the House of Commons, and very much surprised at the weakness of the arguments in support of the Government measure. They could not touch the question on any ground of principle, and had to be content with arguments for the expediency of the measure they recommended. Mr. Walpole was the best speaker on the side of the Church, and Lord John Russell about the weakest against it; but numbers outweighed the moral strength of our position, and a majority of eighty carried the third reading. It was not long before the Lords passed the measure by a considerable majority also; the Bishop of Oxford, to our intense surprise and sorrow, voting for the Government Bill.

He had spoken in favour of it on the second reading; and this induced me, before it finally came up in the Lords, to address him a letter on the subject,—the publication of a few extracts from which will not, I trust, be considered out of place :—

“Your Lordship, I am bold enough to say, fails in adducing a single argument to shew that the Canadian Legislature have a shadow of right to demand the control of the Clergy Reserves, or a single word to prove that this property is not by law or equity exempt from their jurisdiction by an anterior adjudication and settlement of the whole question. The plea of want of finality in all human legislation, has no moral support: it is begotten generally not by the sense of the right of things, but what a popular and often dangerous impulse may urge: it is one which, if shifted with equal facility to other great questions, must endanger the throne, and threaten destruction to our national faith. The right conceded, in the Constitutional Act of 1791, to the Legislature of Canada to 'vary or repeal' its provisions, was, by the testimony of the Judges of the land, simply prospective; and the self-government, on the larger scale, which of late years has been enjoyed, was conceded after the period in which a final, and what was intended to bp an irrevocable settlement of this Church question, was made. What becomes, then, of the plea of consistency, so steadily asserted, in throwing this property into their hands? What of the plea of justice, which appears to be the only plausible ground upon which the surrender is proposed to be made?

"Fiat justitia, root coelum, is a heathen adage which your Lordship adduces in support of the course which, in this Church question, you have been pleased to pursue. All we ask is the fair, and faithful, and courageous application of that rule. Let justice be done, we say, however terrible the consequences. Let justice be done to the Church and to Protestant Christianity, even if the threat, —which every body knows to be an impracticable threat,— should be carried out, that the Province of Canada will disown the supremacy of this Empire, unless the control of the Clergy Reserves be vested in its Legislature. Let truth prevail, and faith be kept; let truth be maintained, and guarantees be respected, though the enemy should come in like a flood to destroy them all.

“Your Lordship, with that charitable indulgence which befits your station, expresses the hope that, when once the boon of self-government in the disposal of the Clergy Reserves is conceded, the Canadian Legislature will be fair and liberal in their dealing, and assure to the Church the justice that she so rightfully claims. There is just a possibility that it will be so; but the late dealings of that Legislature with Ecclesiastical questions forbids the hope. The Common School Law of Upper Canada, except in the case of Roman Catholics, makes no recognition of religion: only three years ago, a University, after its Royal Charter had been recklessly set at nought, was wholly stripped of its religious character; and the cry in many quarters has long been, that this Church property should be wholly applied to the support of ordinary and secular education. We have little, then, in the past Legislation of the Colony, to encourage the belief that there would be much respect paid, in the future allotment of this property to its first great object,—the dissemination of Christianity.

“The spiritual desolation which looms too distinctly in the future, should this unwise measure be carried out, was experienced in its full bitterness by the Church in the United States after the successful revolt of the Colonies. And if now there is a goodly array of Bishops and Clergy in that vast territory, and many thousands of the Laity who gladly seek their ministrations, let it be recollected that as the consequence of an inadequate stated provision for the support of religion in that country, and the confiscation of much that had been supplied, the members of the Church in the United States number only one twenty-fifth of the whole population. That the Church there has no nationality, no universally felt influence, or expansive power, is further evident from the fact that millions of its inhabitants are the prey of most extravagant sects, and even millions profess no religious faith whatsoever. And this is what is destined for Canada, should the present measure of Government become law.”

An elaborate letter upon the whole question of the Clergy Reserves was addressed by the Bishop of Toronto to the Duke of Newcastle. This I had published in London, and circulated generally among the Peers. A pamphlet had previously been published and circulated by myself, giving a brief statement of the present position of the question. Both these were referred to in the course of the debate in the House of Lords; but as neither contained any thing that would be new to the readers of this Memoir, no quotations need be given from them.

In 1854, there was another election in Canada; and, soon after the meeting of Parliament at Quebec, in the autumn of that year, there was a break up of the existing administration, of which Mr. Hincks was a leading member, and a new and coalition Ministry,—the first of the kind attempted in Canada,—was formed under the presidency of Sir Allan MacNab. His principal coadjutor was Mr. Morin; and so the new administration was commonly termed the MacNab-Morin Ministry. Here the question of the Clergy Reserves was very soon taken up; and the Bishop of Toronto felt it his duty to address a strong letter to Mr. Morin, deprecating the threatened secularization of that property. In this letter it was strongly urged, that such dealing with a property set apart for a Protestant Church as was threatened, might come to be extended, by and by, to the possessions of the Romish Church; and that it would be wise in the members of this communion to allow no such precedent to exist for a spoliation which too many were anxious to effect. But, like all foregoing appeals of this character, this letter had little weight with the Ministry or the Legislature. Not that many did not estimate at their right value the honest intentions and weighty arguments of the Bishop; but public opinion was more weighty; and, whether right or wrong, public men must concede to this, or retire from public life.

The Bill for the final secularization of the Clergy Reserves was actively discussed in both Houses of the Legislature, and it was at length carried by considerable majorities. There was a guarantee, as specially provided by the Imperial Act, that the stipends of all Clergymen, and Clergymen’s widows, hitherto charged upon the Reserves Fund, should be paid during their respective lives; and a sum was set apart to meet any other personal claims that could fairly be substantiated.

A large array of annuitants was thus presented; and a question arose whether these might not be provided for in a manner less troublesome to the Government, and at the same time more advantageous to the Church. The expedient of a Commutation of life-interest for a sum in bulk,—estimating the value of each life according to recognized and approved rules,—was happily hit upon; and the Government, which had shewn a friendly and liberal spirit throughout, readily, acceded to the plan. Instead, then, of the Clergy becoming stipendiaries of the Government as long as they lived, with all the chances of change and loss which in the course of years might occur, a gross sum^of £188,342 sterling was received. This amount, however, was not put into the pockets of the Clergy; but it was handed over to the Church Society of the Diocese, to be held in trust by them for the permanent benefit of the Church,—the Society giving to each Clergyman a bond guaranteeing the full amount of his stipend for life.  It was also provided in this bond that, when a Clergyman through age, or bodily or mental infirmity, should become incapacitated for duty, his income from this fund should be paid him without abatement as long as he lived.

At the outset of this arrangement it was discovered that the income from the Commutation Fund, just as it then stood, would fall short of the stipulated expenditure by nearly $25,000 per annum; a deficiency which, nothwithstanding the gradual falling-in of lives, must have seriously reduced the principal. The Bishop was on the eve of preparing a Pastoral Address, recommending a generous subscription on the part of the Laity to meet this deficiency; but so many favourable circumstances occurred, and there was so much good management in the investment of the funds, that it became soon apparent that such appeal would be unnecessary. Upwards of £8000, early in 1855, was paid over by the Government as the Church of England’s share of the Clergy Reserves Surplus Fund for the past year. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel voted £7500 sterling in our aid, to be paid by instalments: several of the commuting Clergy, being out of the Diocese, never drew any stipend from this fund; and within a very short time several lives dropped in. From these concurrent circumstances, the income was veiy soon brought up to the level of the expenditure.

The Bishop, in his Address to the Synod in May, 1850, expressed himself thus on the subject of the Commutation:

“After the close of the Synod in October, 1854, we were employed in arranging the Commutation, to which the Clergy had, to their lasting honour, given their intelligent and free consent. By this noble and disinterested act, they have merited the gratitude of the Church in Canada for ever, and won for themselves the cordial admiration of true Churchmen throughout the world.

“It had been no easy matter to arrange the numerous details of this great and important measure, and to reduce them to such a shape, for the consideration of the Government, that each might appear in its proper place, and the grounds on which it rested be justly appreciated. Yet this vast labour, requiring so much skill and ability, was, happily for us, willingly and zealously undertaken by the Hon. John Hillyard Cameron; and to him the Church, on this account as well as on many others, is infinitely indebted. But for his steady perseverance, clear intelligence, and untiring patience in examining every application from individuals, as well as bodies, I feel persuaded that the adjustment could not have been so rapidly or so well effected.”

In this Address the Bishop recapitulated a portion of his work during the past year :—

“On the 17th May, 1855,” he says, “I commenced my usual Confirmation visits. In this journey I confined myself to what was formerly called the Home District, including the County of Halton. It lasted twenty-four days, during which I visited 44 parishes, and confirmed 946 of our youth of both sexes,—a result very encouraging both in number of parishes and candidates. On the 9th July I began my second journey, which continued sixty-four days. On this occasion I visited all the parishes and stations below Toronto, in number 94. The results of my summer’s labours were : Confirmations held, 141; number confirmed, 4299.

“Many incidents of interest might be selected from my journals, but I will indulge only in one. On my visit to the Penitentiary at Kingston on Sunday, 5th August, I found that by the laudable exertions of the Rev. Hannibal Mulkins, a great number of prisoners had been prepared for baptism and confirmation. Accordingly, on Sunday morning at 9 o’clock, I was in attendance at the Penitentiary. It appeared that one hour only was allowed, and there was no authority to grant more. Yet by shortening the address, and some alterations of an unimportant character in arranging the baptisms and confirmations, every thing was done in decency and in order, and without the appearance of haste. The number baptized was 60, and the number confirmed 86.

“The spectacle was deeply interesting, and it was hopeful. The numbers speak more impressively than words for the care and assiduity of the Chaplaiu. Indeed the decent and reverend manner in which they behaved, and the interest they seemed to take in the solemnities, proved that Mr. Mulkins had impressed upon their minds, by sound instruction, the infinite importance of the duties they were now called upon to discharge; and I trust that I am justified in believing that something of the grace prayed for was imparted.”

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