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George Brown
Chapter I - From Scotland to Canada


George brown was born at Alloa, a seaport on the tidal Forth, thirty-five miles inward from Edinburgh, on November 29th, 1818. His mother was a daughter of George Mackenzie, of Stornoway, in the Island of Lewis. His father, Peter Brown, was a merchant and builder. George was educated at the High School and Southern Academy in Edinburgh. “This young man,” said Dr. Gunn, of the Southern Academy, “is not only endowed with high enthusiasm, but possesses the faculty of creating enthusiasm in others.” At the risk of attaching too much significance to praise bestowed on a school-boy, it may be said that these words struck the keynote of Brown’s character and revealed the source of his power. The atmosphere of the household was Liberal; father and son alike hated the institution of slavery, with which they were destined to become more closely acquainted. “When I was a very young man,” said George Brown, denouncing the Fugitive Slave Law before a Toronto audience, “I used to think that if I ever had to speak before such an audience as this, I would choose African Slavery as my theme in preference to any other topic. The subject seemed to afford the widest scope for rhetoric and for fervid appeals to the best of human sympathies. These thoughts arose far from here, while slavery was a thing at a distance, while the horrors of the system were unrealized, while the mind received it as a tale and discussed it as a principle. But, when you have mingled with the thing itself, when you have encountered the atrocities of the system, when you have seen three millions of human beings held as chattels by their Christian countrymen, when you have seen the free institutions, the free press and the free pulpit of America linked in the unrighteous task of upholding the traffic, when you have realized the manacle, and the lash, and the sleuth-hound, you think no more of rhetoric, the mind stands appalled at the monstrous iniquity, mere words lose their meaning. and facts, cold facts, are felt to be the only fit arguments.”

Again, as George grew to manhood, the struggle which ended in the disruption of the Church of Scotland was approaching its climax, and the sympathies of the Brown household were with those who declared that it “is the fundamental law of this Church that no pastor shall be intruded on any congregation contrary to the will of the people.”

In 1838 reverses in business led the father and son to seek their fortunes in America. Arriving in New York, Peter Brown turned to journalism, finding employment as a contributor to the Albion, a weekly newspaper published for British residents of the United States. The Browns formed an unfavourable opinion of American institutions as represented by New York in that day. To them the republic presented itself as a slave-holding power, seeking to extend its territory in order to enlarge the area of slavery, and hostile to Great Britain as a citadel of freedom. They always regarded the slave-holding element in the United States as that which kept up the tradition of enmity to England. An American book entitled, The Glory and Shame of England, aroused Peter Brown’s indignation, and he published a reply in a little volume bearing the name of 'The Fame and Glory of England Vindicated’. Here he paid tribute to British freedom, contrasted it with the domination of the slave holders, and instanced the fact that in Connecticut a woman had been mobbed and Imprisoned for teaching coloured girls to read. Further light is thrown upon the American experience of the Browns by an article in the Banner, their first Canadian venture in journalism. The writer is answering an accusation of disloyalty and Yankee sympathies, a stock charge against Reformers in that day. He said: “We have stood in the very heart of a republic, and fearlessly issued our weekly sheet expressing our fervent admiration of the limited monarchy of Great Britain, though surrounded by Democratic Whigs, Democratic Republicans, Irish Repealers, slave holders, and every class which breathes the most inveterate hostility to British institutions. And we are not to be turned from maintaining the genuine principles of the constitution because some of our contemporaries are taken with a fit of sycophancy, and would sacrifice all at the shrine of power.”

In December, 1842, the Browns established in New York the British Chronicle, a paper similar to the AIbion, but apparently designed more especially for Scottish and Presbyterian readers in the United States and Canada. In an effort to promote Canadian circulation, George Brown came to Canada early in 1843. The Chronicle had taken strong ground on the popular side of the movement then agitating the Church of Scotland; and this struggle was watched with peculiar interest in Canada, where the relations between Church and State were burning questions. Young Brown also met the members of a Reform administration then holding power under Governor Metcalfe, and the ministers became impressed with the idea that he would be a powerful ally in the struggle then impending.

There is on record an interesting pen picture of George Brown as he appeared at this time. The writer is Samuel Thompson, editor of the Colonist. “It was, I think, somewhere about the month of May, 1843, that there walked into my office on Nelson Street a young man of twenty-five years, tall, broad-shouldered, somewhat lantern-jawed and emphatically Scottish, who introduced himself to me as the travelling agent of the New York British Chronicle, published by his father. This was George Brown, afterwards editor and publisher of the Globe newspaper. He was a very pleasant-mannered, courteous, gentlemanly young fellow, and impressed me favourably. His father, he said, found the political atmosphere of New York hostile to everything British, and that it was as much as a man’s life was worth to give expression to any British predilections whatsoever (which I knew to be true). They had, therefore, thought of transferring their publication to Toronto, and intended to continue it as a thoroughly Conservative journal. I, of course, welcomed him as a co-worker in the same cause with ourselves, little expecting how his ideas of Conservatism were to develop themselves in subsequent years.” His Conservatism - assuming that the young man was not misunderstood—was perhaps the result of a reaction from the experience of New York, in which democracy had presented itself in an unlovely aspect. Contact with Toronto Toryism of that day would naturally stiffen the Liberalism of a combative man.

As a result of George Brown’s survey of the Canadian field, the publication of the British Chronicle in New York ceased, and the Browns removed to Toronto, where they established the Banner, a weekly paper partly Presbyterian and partly political, and in both fields championing the cause of government by the people. The first number was issued on August 18th, 1843. Referring to the disruption of the “Scottish Church” that had occurred three months before, the Banner said: “If we look to Scotland we shall find an event unparalleled in the history of the world. Nearly five hundred ministers, backed by several thousand elders and perhaps a million of people, have left the Church of their fathers because the civil courts have trampled on what they deem the rights of the Christian people in Scotland, exhibiting a lesson to the world which must produce results that cannot yet be measured. The sacrifice made by these devoted ministers of the Gospel is great; their reward is sure.’

The columns of the Banner illustrate in a striking way the intermingling, common in that day, of religion and politics. The Banner's chief antagonist was the Church, a paper equally devoted to episcopacy and monarchy. Here is a specimen bit of controversy. The Church, arguing against responsible government, declares that as God is the only ruler of princes, princes cannot be accountable to the people; and perdition is the lot of all rebels, agitators of sedition, demagogues, who work under the pretence of reforming the State. All the troubles of the country are due to parliaments constantly demanding more power and thereby endangering the supremacy of the mother country. The Banner is astonished by the unblushing avowal of these doctrines, which had not been so openly proclaimed since the days of “High Church and Sacheverell.’' and which if acted upon would reduce the people to the level of abject slaves. Whence, it asks, comes this doctrine of the irresponsibility of kings? “It has been dug up from the tombs of Roman Catholic and High Church priests and of Jacobite bigots. Wherever it gets a footing it carries bloodshed and persecution in its train. It cramps the freedom of thought. It represses commercial enterprise and industry. It dries up the springs of the human understanding. To what does Britain owe all her greatness but to that free range of intellectual exertion which prompted Watt and Arkwright in their wonderful discoveries, which carried Anson and Cook round the globe, and which enabled Newton to scale the heavens? Is the dial to be put back? Must the world once more adopt the doctrine that the people are made for kings and not kings for the people? Where will this treason to the British Constitution find the slightest warrant in the Word of God? We know that power alone proceeds from God, the very air we breathe is the gift of His bounty, and whatever public right is exercised from the most obscure elective franchise to the king upon his throne is derived from Him to whom we must account for the exercise of it. But does that accountability take away or lessen the political obligations of the social compact?—assuredly not.”

This style of controversy was typical of the time. Tories drew from the French Revolution warnings against the heedless march of democracy. Reformers based arguments on the “glorious revolution of 1688.” A bill for the secularization of King’s College was denounced by Bishop Strachan, the stalwart leader of the Anglicans, in language of extraordinary vehemence. The bill would hold up the Christian religion to the contempt of wicked men, and overturn the social order by unsettling property. Placing all forms of error on an equality with truth, the bill represented a principle “atheistical and monstrous, destructive of all that was pure and holy in morals and religion.” To find parallels for this madness, the bishop referred to the French Revolution, when the Christian faith was abjured, and the Goddess of Reason set up for worship; to pagan Rome, which, to please the natives she had conquered, “condescended to associate their impure idolatries with her own.”

These writings are quoted not merely as illustrations of extravagance of language. The language was the natural outcome of an extraordinary situation. The bishop was not a voice crying in the wilderness; he was a power in politics as well as in the Church, and had, as executive councillor, taken an important part in the government of the country. He was not making extravagant pretensions, but defending a position actually held by his Church, a position which fell little short of absolute domination. Religious equality was to be established, a great endowment of land converted from sectarian to public purposes, anti a non-sectarian system of education created. In this work Brown played a leading part, but before it could be undertaken it was necessary to vindicate the right of the people to self-government.

In November, 1843, the resignation of Metcalfe’s ministers created a crisis which soon absorbed the energy of the Browns and eventually led to the establishment of the Globe. In the issue of December 8th, 1843, the principles of responsible government are explained, and the Banner gives its support to the ministers. It cannot see why less confidence should be bestowed by a governor-general in Canada than by a sovereign in the British empire. It deplores the rupture and declares that it still belongs to no political party. It has no liking for “Democracy.” a word which even Liberals at that time seemed to regard with horror. It asks Presbyterians to stand fast for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty. It exhorts the people of Canada to be firm and patient and to let no feeling of disappointment lead their minds to republicanism. Those who would restrict the liberties of Canada also dwell on the evils of republicanism, but they are the very people who would bring it to pass. The Banner's ideal is a system of just and equal government. If this is pursued, a vast nation will grow up speaking the same language, having the same laws and customs, and bound to the mother country by the strongest bonds of affection. The Banner, which had at first described itself as independent in party politics, soon found itself drawn into a struggle which was too fierce and too momentous to allow men of strong convictions to remain neutral. We find politics occupying more and more attention in its columns, and finally on March 5th, 1844, the Globe is established as the avowed ally of Baldwin and Lafontaine, and the advocate of responsible government. It Mill be necessary to explain now the nature of the difference between Metcalfe and his ministers.


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