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Baldwin, LaFontaine, Hincks
Chapter VIII - In Opposition

THE elections of the autumn of 1844 were carried on amid an unsurpassed political excitement, and both sides threw themselves into the struggle with an animosity that seriously endangered the peace of the country. Whatever may be thought of the constitutionality of Metcalfe's conduct during the recent session of parliament, there can be no doubt that ne went outside of his proper sphere in the part he took in the parliamentary election. His personal influence and his personal efforts were used to the full in the interests of the Draper government. Indeed, there now existed, between the governor-general and the leaders of the Reform party, a feeling of personal antagonism that gave an added bitterness to the contest. The governor-general had not scrupled to denounce the Reformers publicly as enemies of British sovereignty: in answer to an address sent up to him from the county of Drummond in which reference was made to the " measures and proceedings of a party tending directly in our opinion to the terrible result of separation from British connection and rule." Metcalfe stated that he had "abundant reason to know that you hav e accurately described the designs of the late executive council."

This intemperate language brought about the resignation of LaFontaine from his position as queen's counsel, a step immediately followed by a similar resignation, on the part of Baldwin. The resignations were accompanied by letters to the provincial secretary in which the accusation of hostility to British sovereignty was indignantly denied. The same denial was repeated by the Reform leaders ui the public addresses to their constituents, inserted in full length, according to the custom of the day, irf the party newspapers, in spite of which Metcalfe and the Tories persisted in viewing the contest as one between loyalty and treason. " He felt," said Metcalfe's biographer, " that he was fighting for his sovereign against a rebellious people." For the rank and file of the Tory following, excuse maybe found in the exigencies of party warfare; but for Metcalfe, as governor of the country, no apology can be offered, save perhaps the honesty of his conviction. "I regard the approaching election," he wrote (September 26th., 1844), "as a very important crisis, the result of which will demonstrate whether the majority of Her Majesty's Canadian subjects are disposed to have responsible government in union with British connection and supremacy, or will struggle for a sort of government that is impracticable consistently with either."

The result of the election gave a narrow majority to Mr. Draper's administration, but the contest was accompanied by such violence and disorder at the polls that the issue cannot be regarded as indicating the real tenor of public opinion. In this violence, it must be confessed, both parties participated. The Irish, mindful of their late contest with the Orangemen and the fate of the Secret Societies Bill, were solid for the Reform party, and their solidity assumed at many polling places its customary national form. It was charged by the enemies of Baldwin that gangs of Irishmen were hired in Upper Canada to control the voters by the power of the club. Nor were the Tories behind hand in the use of physical force, and on both sides inflammatory handbills and placards incited the voters to actual violence. "The British party," said Metcalfe himself, "were resolved to oppose force by force and organized themselves for resistance."

As the issue of the elections became known, it appeared that the Reformers had carried Lower Canada by a sweeping majority, but that the adherents of the government had scored a still more complete victory in the Upper Province. LaFontaine, who had decided to present himself again to the electors of Terrebonne rather than to continue to represent an Upper Canadian constituency, was elected almost unanimously. Out of fifteen hundred voters who assembled in despite of bad roads and bad weather, only about a score were prepared to support a local attorney—a Mr. Papineau—who had been nominated to oppose LaFontaine. A mere show of bands was sufficient to settle the election without further formalities. Morin was elected for two constituencies. Aylwin was returned for Quebec, and of the forty two members for Lower Canada, only sixteen could be counted as supporters of the government. D. B. Papineau was elected for Ottawa county, but his colleague, Viger. whose prestige among the French-Canadians was permanently impaired. was defeated by Wol-fred Nelson, the former leader of the rebellion. The city of Montreal, henceforth to be the capital of Canada, signalized itself by returning two supporters of the administration. But their success was due solely to the arrangement of voting districts made by the government; for the city contained ail overwhelming majority of French-Canadian and Irish adherents of the Reform party.2 In Upper Canada, of the forty-two members elected, the government could count thirty as its adherents. MacNab. Sherwood, W. B. Robinson, John A. Macdonald of Kingston, and many other Tories were elected. Baldwin, who had bidden farewell to the constituency of Rimouski, was elected for the fourth riding of York, but Hincks was beaten in Oxford and remained out of parliament until 1848- John Henry Dunn, also a member of the late cabinet, was beaten in Toronto. The Tories stuck at nothing to carry the elections in Upper Canada. To their affrighted loyalty the end justified the means. Returns were in some cases wilfully falsified. Elsewhere the voters were driven from the polls and violence carried to such an extent that the troops were called out to quell the disorder, while throughout the province the militia were warned to be in readiness for possible emergencies. Only seven decided Reformers, among them Baldwin. Small and Price, were returned to parliament from Upper Canada. Taking the two sections of the province together and making due allowance for doubtful members, it appeared that the government might claim at the very outside, forty-six supporters in a House of eighty-four members. Even this narrow margin of support could not be relied upon. On the vote for the speakership, for example, Sir Allan MacNab was elected by only a majority of three.

On these terms, for want of any better, Mr. Draper had now to undertake the government of the country. It was a difficult, task, and for one less skilled in the arts of political management it would have been impossible. The administration could hardly rest upon a satisfactory footing unless an adequate support could be Obtained from the French of Lower Canada : on the other hand, any attempt to gain this support was apt to alienate the Upper Canadian Tories, now definitely n alliance with Mr. Draper and represented in his cabinet by Robinson, the new inspector-general. The leader of the government was therefore compelled to preserve, as best he might, a balance of power in a chronic condition of unstable equilibrium. That Mr. Draper did continue to carry on his government for nearly three years speaks volumes for his political dexterity.

It is no part of the present narrative to follow in detail the legislative history of Mr. Draper's administration. The seat of government, had now been transferred to Montreal, where the parliament was given as its quarters a building that had formerly been St. Anne's market. It was a capacious edifice some three hundred and fifty feet in length by fifty in breadth, with two large halls on the ground floor which served for the House of Assembly and the legislative council, the hall of the assembly containing ample galleries with seats for five hundred spectators. The parliament came together on November 28th, 1844, and remained in session until the end of March of the ensuing year. During Mr. Draper's administration under Lord Sydenham, he had maintained himself in office, as has been seen, by adopting the measures desired by the Opposition as his own policy. This method of stealing his opponent's thunder was a favourite artifice of the leader of the government, and during the present session he made a liberal use of it. Acts in reference to the schools and municipalities of Lower Canada were passed, which carried forward the educational reforms already commenced. In order to conciliate, if possible, the Reformers of Lower Canada, steps were taken towards restoring the French language to its official position. It was known to the government that LaFontaine had it under consideration to put. before the assembly a resolution urging upon the imperial government the claims of the people of Lower Canada to have their language placed upon an equal footing with English in the proceedings of the legislature. LaFontaine's intention was accordingly forestalled, and Denis Papineau, the commissioner of Crown lands, proposed to the assembly to vote an address to the imperial government asking for a repeal of the clause, of the Act of Union1 which made English the sole official language. The motion was voted by acclamation amid general enthusiasm and the home government, after some delay, saw fit to act upon it. The adminstration was less happy in its attempt to deal with the still outstanding university question. Mr. Draper presented a University Bill, closely analogous to that of Robert Baldwin; but finding the opposition of the Tories was at once aroused against such a proposed spoliation of the Church, the bill was dropped without coming to a vote. With these and other minor measures, and with much wrangling over the crop of contested elections that remained as a legacy from the late conflict, the time of the assembly was occupied until the end of the month of March.

Before the session had yet come to an end, the news was received that the home government intended raising Sir Charles Metcalfe to the peerage. In view of Metcalfe's long and useful career in other parts of the empire, such a step was not necessarily to be regarded as a special official approval of his conduct in Canada; but among the Reformers the announcement occasioned great indignation. The violence of party antagonism had by no means subsided: at the very opening of the session Baldwin had endeavoured to carry through the assembly a vote of censure against the governor-general for having violated the principles of the constitution by governing without a ministry.

The news that Metcalfe, instead of censure, was now to obtain an elevation to the peerage, drew forth from the members of the Opposition expressions of protest in language which the passions of the hour rendered unduly intemperate. Aylwin declared to the assembly that it would be more fitting that Metcalfe should be recalled and put on trial, rather than that he should receive the dignity of a peer. Even Robert Baldwin made use of somewhat immoderate expressions of disapproval. Utterances of this kind might perhaps have been spared, for the untoward fate that had fallen upon the two preceding governors of Canada now cast its shadow plainly on the governor-general, and it was becoming evident that Baron Metcalfe of Fern Hill was not long destined to enjoy earthly honours. Before coming to Canada he had suffered severely, as has been said above, from a cancerous growth upon the cheek: an operation had for the time arrested the progress of the disease, but all efforts towards a radical cure had proved unavailing. The sufferings of the distinguished patient had now become constant and his sight seriously affected. The rapid decline of his health made it apparent that he was no longer fit for the arduous duties of his position, and his friends began to urge him to ask for his recall. But Lord Metcalfe, with the indomitable courage that was his leading virtue, still held heroically to what he considered to be the post of duty.

Meantime, having got through one parliamentary session, Mr. Draper was anxious to avoid, i,? possible, encountering another upon the same terms. Draper appears to have realized that the great error of his past policy had been his failure to reckon with the strength of the united French-Canadian vote. This had upset his former ministry under Lord Sydenham, and the experience of the Metcalfe crisis had shown him that, even with the full support of a governor-general, the government could not be satisfactorily carried on without French-Canadian support. Mr. Draper now determined to obtain this support, and to retrieve his past errors by the formation of a new variety of political coalition. Of the Reform party of Upper Canada he had but little fear. Their representation in parliament was now seriously depleted, and even among their remaining members of the assembly, divisions had existed during the past session; on the other hand, the star of the Tories was in the ascendant and that party might always be counted upon to offset in Upper Canada the political influence of the Reformers. If then, Mr. Draper argued, the French-Canadian party under LaFontaine could be induced to break loose from Baldwin and his adherents and to join forces with the Ministerialists of Upper Canada, a combination could be formed that would hold a strong majority in both of the ancient provinces. We have here the beginnings of that system of a 258 "double majority,"—a majority, that is, in both Upper and Lower Canada, -which became the will o" the wisp of the rival politicians, and which many persons were presently inclined to invest with a constitutional sanctity, as forming part of the necessary machinery of Canadian government.1 It was characteristic of the ways and means of Mr. Draper, to whom the term " artful dodger" has often been applied, that he was prepared to throw overboard his French-Canadian men of straw (Viger and Papineau) to make way for LaFontaine, Morin, and their friends.

In order to attain his purpose, Mr. Draper in the autumn of 1845 entered into indirect negotiations with LaFontaine, Mr. Caron, the speaker of the legislative council, acting as a go-between. In the three-cornered correspondence that ensued the question of a ministerial reconstruction along the lines of the new alliance was fully discussed. Draper at first had interviews with Caron in which he suggested that the ministry might be strengthened by the addition of leading French-Canadian Reformers. Caron conveyed this suggestion to LaFontaine in a letter of September 7th, 1845.

Mr. Draper's ideas, gathered thus at one remove and intentionally expressed with vagueness, may be seen in the follow "ng passage from Mr. Caron's letter. " He [Mr. Draper] told me that Mr. Viger could be easily prevailed upon to retire, and that Mr- Papineau desired nothing better: that both these situations should be filled up by French-Canadians : he seemed desirous that Morin should be president of the council ... he spoke of the office of solicitor-general, which, he said, ought to be filled by one of our origin . . . he also spoke of an assistant secretaryship, the incumbent of which ought to receive handsome emoluments . . . This was about all he could for the present offer to our friends, who, when in power, might themselves strive afterwards to make their share more considerable. As regarded you [LaFontaine], he said that nothing would afford him greater pleasure than to have you as his colleague, but that, as the governor and yourself could not meet, the idea of having you form part of the administration must be given up so long as Lord Metcalfe remained in power: that it would be unjust to sacrifice a man of your influence and merit . . . but that this difficulty could easily be made: to disappear by giving you an appointment with which you would be satisfied. ... As to Mr. Baldwin, be said little about; but I understood, as I did in my first conversation, that he thought he would retire of himself'

Such was Mr. Draper's plan. LaFontaine's attitude in the dealings which followed is entirely above reproach. Mr. Draper's method of approach he considered to be irregular and unconstitutional; nor did the glittering bribe of "handsome emoluments" and "an appointment with which he would be satisfied," conceal from him the real mcagreness of Mr. Draper's offer. The artful attorney-general was indeed merely offering to buy off a number of leading French-Canadians with offers of office and salary. It appears, however, that if Mr. Draper had been willing to go further and entirely reconstruct the Lower Canadian part of his cabinet so as to place it in the hands of the Reformers, LaFontaine would have been willing to make terms with him. This statement must not, however, be misunderstood. The arrangement contemplated was viewed by LaFontaine, not as the purchase of the Lower Canadian party by Mr. Draper, but as the purchase of Mr. Draper by the Lower Canadian party. The plan was fully discussed between LaFontaine and Hincks in Montreal. Nor did LaFontaine conceal anything of the negotiations in question from Robert Baldwin. The plan contemplated by LaFontaine and Ilincks would merely have amounted to a further consolidation of the united French and English Reform party by adding to its ranks Mr. Draper and his immediate adherents. The danger of further secession, n pursuance of the example of Denis, Papineau and Viger, would thus be minimized. The undoubted parliamentary talents of Mr. Draper would lend a valuable support to the cause, and the Tories of Upper Canada would remain in hopeless isolation. In a letter of September 23rd, 1845, 'LaFontaine wrote very freely to Baldwin of the whole matter, and enclosed a translation of his letter to Caron. "Mr. Hincks," he said, "whom 1 saw this morning, seemed to be favourable to the plan, if it was effected, admitting that it would immediately crush the reaction in Quebec, and would strengthen you in Upper Canada. For my part I think Mr, Draper would be very glad to have an opportunity to act with the Liberal party: he knows he is not liked by the Tory party and that they wish to get rid of bun. However, that is his own business."

If so powerful a combination of parties, and one so obviously advantageous to the interests of his race could have been formed. LaFontaine was perfectly willing, if need be, to retire from his leadership of the party in order to facilitate the new arrangement. "What French-Canadians should do above everything," he wrote, " is to remain united and to make themselves respected. I will not serve as a means of dividing my compatriots. If an administration is formed which merits my confidence, I will support it with all my heart. If it has not my confidence but possesses that of the majority of my compatriots, not being able to support it, 1 will willingly resign my seat, rather than cast division in our ranks." But to meet LaFontaine's views, Mr. Draper would have been called upon to go further than he had intended. To break entirely with the Canadian Tories and to throw overboard Mr. Dominick Daly,—the "permanent secretary," as lie was now facetiously entitled,—was more than Mr. Draper had bargained for. These difficulties caused the negotiations to hang fire until the recall of Lord Metcalfe changed the position of affairs. "The whole affair," says a Canadian historian, "suddenly collapsed, and the only result was to intensify the political atmosphere, and aggravate the quarrel between a weak government and a powerful opposition."

Among the correspondence of Robert Baldwin in reference to the proposed reconstruction of parties, appears a letter of considerable interest addressed to LaFontaine which bears no date, but which was probably written in the autumn of 1845, after the failure of Mr. Caron's negotiations. Baldwin expresses an emphatic disapproval of any attempt to set up the principle of a "double majority." Such a system of government would be calculated, in his opinion, rather to intensify than to obliterate the racial animosity and end in precipitating a desperate struggle for supremacy. "You already know," he wrote, "my opinion of the 'double majority' as respects the interests of the province at large. When I gave you that opinion I hesitated to dwell on what appears to me to be its extreme danger to our Lower Canadian friends of French origin themselves. ... 1 speak not of the present public men of the province, or of the course which they or any of them may take. Some may be swept away from the arena altogether; others may retire; but in the event of such an arrangement being carried out, all who remain upon the political sea will, lam satisfied, have to go with the stream. The arrangement will be viewed as one based essentially upon a natural, original distinction and equally uninfluenced by the political principles. British and French mil then become in reality, what our opponents have so long wished to make them, the essential distinctions of party, and the final result will scarcely admit of doubt. The schemes of those who looked forward to the union as a means of cmshixig the French-Canadians, and who advocated it with no other views, will then be crowned with success, and the latter will themselves have become the instruments to accomplish it. That this will be the final result of any successful attempt to reorganize the; ministry upon such a foundation, I have no doubt whatever. It will not, however, be injurious to the French-Canadian portion of our population alone. It appears to me equally clear that il will be most calamitous to the country iu general, It will perpetuate distinctions, 204 initiate animosities, sever the bonds of political sympathy and sap the foundation of political morality."

In the autumn of 1845 the progress of Lord Metcalfe's malady was such as rapidly to render him unfit for further exertions. His disease had almost destroyed his sight and his constant sufferings rendered the transaction of official business a matter of extreme difficulty. At the end of October he asked for his recall. But the imperial government, aware of his distressing condition, had anticipated his request, and Stanley had already forwarded to him the official acceptance of a resignation which he might use at any time that seemed proper to him. "You will retire, whenever you retire," wrote the colonial secretary, "with the entire approval and admiration of Her Majesty's government." Lord Metcalfe left Montreal at the end of November, 1845, and returned to England. All attempts to stay the ravages of his dreadful malady proved unavailing and after months of suffering, borne with admirable constancy, he died on September 5th, 1846. Not even the melancholy circumstances of Lord Metcalfe's departure from Canada could still the animosity (if his opponents, and a section of the Reform press greeted the news of his retirement with untimely exultation.

On Metcalfe's departure the government was entrusted to Lord Cathcart, commander of the forces, at first as administrator and afterwards as governor-general. Cat heart was a soldier, a veteran of the Peninsula, and Waterloo, whose main interest in the Canadian situation lay in the question whether the dispute then pending in regard to the Oregon territory would end in war with the United States. Indeed it was on account of the threatening aspect of the boundary question that the imperial government had elevated Cathcart to the governorship. The matter of responsible government concerned him not, and during his administration he left the civil government of the country to his ministers to conduct as best they might. Their best was indeed but poor. In the session of parliament that ran from March 20th until June 9tli, 1846, the government was quite unable to maintain itself. Mr. Draper tried in vain to repeat his thunder-stealing policy and although he carried through parliament an Act to provide for a civil list, which was intended (with imperial consent) to take the place of the existing imperial arrangement, his government on other measures was repeatedly defeated. In the summer and autumn of the year, difficulties crowded upon Mr. Draper. The Draper-Caron correspondence was made public,2 whereat many Tories took offence and Sherwood, the solicitor-general, dropped out of Mr. Draper's cabinet.

The leader of the government had failed in his attempted alliance with the Liberals of Lower Canada, and had excited resentment and distrust in the minds of his Tory following. It was indeed becoming very evident that the only method of salvation for the Draper government was to make it a government without Mr. Draper.

Meantime events had happened in England calculated to exercise an immediate effect upon the course of Canadian policy. With the disruption of the Tories over the passage of the Corn Law Repeal (in the summer of 1846), Sir Robert Peel's government had come to an end, and the Liberals under Lord John Russell had come into power. With Lord John was associated as colonial secretary, Earl Grey, the son of the great Whig prime minister of the Reform Bill. The name of the second Earl Grey will always be associated with the establishment of actual democratic government in the mother country by means of parliamentary reform: that of the third will be forever connected with the final and definite adoption of the principle of colonial self-government. The moment was a critical one. The abandonment of the older system of commercial restrictions had destroyed the doctrine that the value of the colonies lay in the monopoly of their trade by the mother country.1 To the Radical wing of the British party this seemed to mean that the time had eome to permit the colonies to depart in peace. But to Lord Grey, himself a former under-secretary of state for the colonies, and enlightened by the study of recent events in Canada, and by the similar struggle that had been in progress in Nova Scotia, it appeared that the time was opportune for establishing the colonial system upon another and more durable basis, and for the creation of such a system of government as might combine colonial liberty with imperial stability. He repudiated the idea of abandoning the dependencies of the empire to a separate destiny. " The nation," he said. " has incurred a responsibility of the highest kind which it is not at liberty to throw off'."

In order to carry into effect in the province of Canada the views thus indicated, the new British government determined to send out to the colony a governor-general whose especial task it should be to set right the unfortunate situation created by the mistaken policy of Lord Metcalfe. The conclusion of the Oregon treaty had by this time removed any immediate prospect of rupture with the United States, and it was no longer necessary to retain a military man at the head of Canadian affairs. The choice of the Liberal government, fell upon Lord Elgin. Elgin presented, in many respects, a marked contrast to the governors who had preceded him. He was still a young man, and his vigorous health and ardent spirits gave reason to hope that he was destined to break the spell that seemed to hang over the Canadian governors, and that there was little likelihood of his dying in office. His proficiency in the French language, his geniality and the charm of his address, prepared for him, from the moment of his landing, a social and personal success. But these advantages were the least of Lord Elgin's qualifications for his new position. His chief claim to distinction, and the fact which gives his name a high and enduring place in the record of Canadian history, was his masterly grasp of the colonial situation, and the course he was prepared to take in instituting a real system of colonial self-government.

Lord Durham recommended responsible government: Baldwin and LaFontaine contended for it: Lord Grey sanctioned it, and Lord Elgin, as governor-general, first successfully applied it. For this full credit should be given to him. There seems to have been in the minds of Lord Grey and Lord John Russell some lingering of the old leaven,— a certain reservation in the grant of colonial autonomy they were prepared to make. The fact appears in certain passages of the despatch quoted above, and it is not difficult to find in Lord Grey's other writings expressions of opinion which imply a hesitancy to accept the doctrine of colonial self-government in its entire sense.1 Lord John Russell in earlier years (1835) had told the House of Commons that the demands of the Canadian Reformers were incompatible with British sovereignty. Prior to his departure for the colony Lord Elgin had. indeed, been given by the colonial secretary the most liberal instructions in regard to the conduct of the Canadian government. Had he been of the temper of Lord Metcalfe or IiOrd Sydenham, he could easily have assumed a certain latitude in his application of the constitutional system. But Lord Elgin was not so minded. He was inclined, if anything, to improve on his instructions, and having grasped the fundamental idea of colonial self-government, was determined to bring it fully into play.

Lord Elgin was a thorough believer in the doctrines enunciated in Lord Durham's Report, Moreover, his marriage with Durham's daughter gave him an especial and sympathetic interest in proving the truth of Lord Durham's views. "I still adhere," he wrote to his wife, "to my opinion that the real ami effectual vindication of Lord Durham's memory and proceedings will be the success of a governor-general of Canada who works out his views of government fairly." Where Lord Elgin showed a political sagacity far in advance of the governors who had preceded him was in his perception of the fact that a governor, in frankly accepting his purely constitutional position, did not thereby abandon his prestige and influence in the province, nor cease to be truly representative of the British Crown. Sydenham's pride had revolted at the prospect of nonentity: Metcalfe's loyalty had taken fright at the spectre of colonial - independence; but Elgin had the insight to perceive and to demonstrate the real nature of the governor's position. He was once asked, later on, "whether the theory of the responsibility of provincial ministers to the provincial parliament, and of the consequent duty of the governor to remain absolutely neutral in the strife of political parties, had not a necessary tendency to degrade his office into that of a mere roifaineant." This Elgin emphatically denied. "I have tried," he said, "both systems. In Jamaica, there was no responsible government; but I had not half the power I have here, with my constitutional and changing cabinet"

Lord Elgin left England at the beginning of January, 1847, and entered Montreal on the twenty-ninth of the month. The people of the city, irrespective of political leanings, united in an address of welcome, and, in the perplexed state of Canadian politics, all parties were inclined to look to the new governor to give a definite lead to the current of affairs. It was strongly in Elgin's favour that neither party associated his past career with the cause of their opponents. In British politics a Tory, he came to Canada as the appointee of a British Liberal government. "Lord Elgin," said Hincks in the Pilot, "is said to be a Tory and there is no doubt that he s of a Tory family. We look upon his bias as an English politician with the most perfect indifference. We do not think it matters one straw to us Canadians whether our governor is a Tory or a Whig, more especially a Tory of the Peel school. We have to rely on ourselves not the governor; and it" we are true to ourselves, the private opinions of the governor will be of very little importance."

At the time of Lord Elgin's arrival, the Draper government was reaching its last stage of decrepitude. "The ministry,'" in the words of a Canadian writer, "were as weak as a lot of shelled pease." In the spring of the year (April and May, 1847) a partial reconstruction of the ministry was made with a view of rallying the support of the malcontent Tories. Mr. Draper himself abandoned his place, his fall being broken by his appointment as puisne judge of the court of queen's bench. John A. Macdonald, destined from now on to figure in the forefront of Canadian politics, entered the ministry as receiver-general; Sherwood became attorney-general of Upper Canada, and other changes were made. But inasmuch as the reconstructed cabinet—the Sherwood-Daly ministry, as it is called—contained no other French-Canadian than Mr. Papineau, it was plainly but a makeshift and could not hope to conduct with success the administration of the country. As soon as parliament was summoned (June 2nd, 1847) the Reformers commenced a vigorous and united onslaught. Baldwin, seconded by LaFontaine, moved an amendment to the address in which, while congratulating Lord Elgin upon his recent marriage with Lord Durham's daughter, he declared that it was to Lord Durham that the country owed the recognition of the principle of responsible government, and to Lord Elgin that the parliament looked for the application of it. LaFontaine followed with an eloquent denunciation of those of his compatriots who had lent their support in parliament to a ministry whose cardinal principle was hostility to their race. "You have," he said, "sacrificed honour to love of office: you have let yourselves become passive instruments in the hands of your colleagues: you have sacrificed your country and ere long you will reap your reward."

After a heated debate of three days the government was able to carry the address by a majority of only two votes. Nor had it any better fortune during the session of two months which ensued. The ministry was not in a position to introduce any measures of prime Importance, and even upon minor matters sustained repeated defeats. The only legislation possible under the circumstances were measures of evident and urgent public utility into which party considerations did not enter. The incorporation of companies to operate the new "magnetic telegraph," as the newspapers of the day called it, are noticeable among these. Still more necessary was the legislation for the relief of the vast crowds of indigent Irish immigrants, driven from their own country by the terrible famine of 1846-7, and to whose other sufferings were added the ravages of ship fever and other contagious diseases. In the public consideration of this question Robert Baldwin took a prominent place and aided in the foundation of the Emigration Association of Toronto.

The ill-success of the reconstructed government, and the universal desire for a strong and stable administration which could adequately cope with the many difficulties of the hour, clearly necessitated a dissolution of parliament. Lord Elgin, though without personal bias against the existing cabinet, felt that it was no longer representative of the feelings of the people, among whom the current of public opinion had now set strongly in favour of the Reform party. Elgin dissolved the parliament on December 8th, 1847, the writs for the new election being returnable on the twenty-fourth of the following January. The general election which ensued was an unbroken triumph for the Reformers. In Upper Canada twenty-six of the forty-two members returned belonged to the Liberal party, while in the lower part of the province only half a dozen of those elected were partisans of the expiring government. Baldwin was again elected 278 in the fourth riding of York, the same county returning also, in Blake and Price, two of his strongest supporters. Francis Hincks, who was absent from Canada, being at this time on a five months' tour to his native land, was elected for Oxford in his absence. Sir Allan MacNab and John A. Macdonald were among the Conservatives reelected; Sherwood narrowly escaped defeat, while John Cameron, the solicitor-general. Ogle R. Gowan, the Orange leader, and many others of the party lost their seats. In Lower Canada the Reformers were irresistible: even the city of Montreal repented of its sins by returning LaFontaine and a fellow-Reformer as its members. LaFontaine was also returned for Terrebonne, but elected to sit for Montreal. The result of the election left nothing for the Conservatives but to retire as gracefully as might be to the shades of Opposition and wait for happier times.

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