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George Brown
Chapter II - Metcalfe and the Reformers


THE Browns arrived in Canada in the period of reconstruction following the rebellion of 1837-8. In Lord Durham’s Report the rising in Lower Canada was attributed mainly to racial animosity— “two nations warring in the bosom of a single state”—“a struggle not of principles but of races.' The rising in Upper Canada was attributed mainly to the ascendency of the “family compact”—a family only n the official sense. “ The bench, the magistracy, the high offices of the episcopal church, and a great part of the legal profession, are filled by their adherents; by grant or purchase they have acquired nearly the whole of the waste lands of the province; they are all-powerful in the chartered banks, and till lately shared among themselves almost exclusively all offices of trust and profit. The bulk of this party consists, for the most part, of native born inhabitants of the colony, or of emigrants who settled in it before the last war with the United States; the principal members of it belong to the Church of England, and the maintenance of the claims of that Church has always been one of its distinguishing characteristics.” Reformers discovered that even when they triumphed at the polls, they could not break up this combination, the executive government remaining constantly in the hands of their opponents. They therefore agitated for the responsibility of the executive council to the legislative assembly.

Lord Durham’s remedy was to unite Upper and Lower Canada, and to grant the demand for responsible government. He hoped that the union would in time dispose of the racial difficulty. Estimating the population of Upper Canada at four hundred thousand, the English inhabitants of Lower Canada at one hundred and fifty thousand, and the French at four hundred and fifty thousand, “the union of the two provinces would not only give a clear English majority, but one which would be Increased every year by the influence of English immigration ; and I have little doubt that the French, when once placed by t he legitimate course of events and the working of natural causes, in a minority, would abandon their vain hopes of nationality.”

The future mapped out by Lord Durham for the French-Canadians was one of benevolent association. Tie underestimated their tenacity and their power of adapting themselves to new political conditions. They not only retained their distinctive language and customs, but gained so large a measure of political power that in time Upper Canada complained that it was dominated by its partner. The union was effected soon after the report, but the granting of responsible government was long delayed. From the submission of Lord Durham’s Report to the time of Lord Elgin, the question of responsible government was the chief issue in Canadian politics. Lord Durham’s recommendations were clear and specific. He maintained that harmony would be restored “not by weakening but strengthening the influence of the people on its government; by confining within much narrower bounds than those hitherto allotted to it, and not by extending, the interference of the imperial authorities on the details of colonial affairs.” The government must be administered on the principles that had been found efficacious in Great Britain. He would not impair a single prerogative of the Crown, but the Crown must submit to the necessary consequences of representative institutions, and must govern through those in whom the representative body had confidence.

These principles are now so well established that it is hard to realize how bold and radical they appeared in 1839. Between that time and 1847, the British government sent out to Canada three governors, with various instructions. Whatever the wording of these instructions was, they always fell short of Durham’s recommendations, and always expressed a certain reluctance to entrusting the government of Canada unreservedly to representatives of the people.

From 1842 to 1846 the government in Great Britain was that of Sir Robert Peel, and it was that government which set itself most strongly against the granting of autonomy to Canada. It was Conservative, and it probably received from correspondents in Canada a good deal of misinformation and prejudiced opinion in regard to the Reformers. But it was a group of men of the highest character and capacity, concerning whom Gladstone has left on record a remarkable testimony. “ It is his conviction that in many of the most important rules of public policy, that government surpassed generally the governments which have succeeded it, whether Liberal or Conservative. Among them he would mention purity in patronage, financial strictness, loyal adherence to the principle of public economy, jealous regard to the rights of parliament, a single eye to the public interest, strong aversion to extension of territorial responsibilities, and a frank admission of the rights of foreign countries as equal to those of their own.” With this high estimate of the general character of the Peel government must be coupled the undoubted fact that it entirely misunderstood the situation in Canada, gave its support to the party of reaction, and needlessly delayed the establishment of self-government, We may attribute this in part to the distrust occasioned by the rebellion ; in part to the use of partisan channels of information; but under all this was a deeper cause— inability to conceive of such a relation as exists between Great Britain and Canada to-day. In that respect Peel and his colleagues resembled most of the public men of their time. They could understand separation; they could understand a relation in which the British government and its agents ruled the colonies in a kindly and paternal fashion ; but a union under which the colonies were nations in all but foreign relations passed their comprehension. When the colonies asked for complete self-government it was supposed that, separation was really desired. Some were for letting them go in peace. Others were for holding them by political and commercial bonds. Of the latter class, Stanley, colonial secretary under Peel, was a good type. He believed in “ strong” governors ; he believed in a system of preferential trade between Great Brits tin and the colonies, and his language might have been used, with scarcely any modification, by the Chamberlain party in the recent elections in Great Britain. When, in 1843, he introduced the measure giving a preference to Canadian wheat, he expressed the hope that it would restore content and prosperity to Canada; and when that preference disappeared with the Corn Laws, he declared that the basis of colonial union was destroyed.

From the union to September, 1842, no French-Canadian name appears in a Canadian government. French-Canadians were deeply dissatisfied with the terms of the union ; there was a strong reluctance to admitting them to any share of power, and they complained bitterly that they were politically ostracized by Sydenham, the first governor. His successor, Bagot, adopted the opposite policy, and earned the severe censure of the government at home.

On August 23rd, 1842, Sir Robert Peel wrote to Lord Stanley in terms which indicated a belief that Governor Bagot was experiencing great difficulty in carrying on the government. He spoke of a danger of French-Canadians and Radicals, or French-Canadians and Conservatives, combining to place the government in a minority. He suggested various means of meeting the danger, and said, “I would not voluntarily throw myself into the hands of the French party through fear of being in a minority.’’

Before instructions founded on this letter could reach the colony, the governor had acted, “throwing himself,” in the words of Peel’s biographer, “into the hands of the party tainted by disaffection.” What had really happened was that on September 16th, 1842, the Canadian government had been reconstructed, the principal change being the introduction of Lafontaine and Baldwin as its leading members. This action aroused a storm in Canada, where Bagot was fiercely assailed by the Tories for his so- called surrender to rebels. And that view was taken also in England.

On October 18th, 1842, Mr. Arbuthnot wrote to Sir Robert Peel: “The Duke [Wellington] has been thunderstruck by the news from Canada. Between ourselves, he considers what has happened as likely to be fatal to the connection with England; and I must also, in the very strictest confidence, tell you that he dreads lest it should break up the cabinet here at home.”

On October 21st, Sir Robert Peel wrote to Lord Stanley, pointing out the danger of the duke’s strong and decisive condemnation: “In various quarters the Duke of Wellington denouncing the arrangement as a tame surrender to a party tainted with treason, would produce an impression most dangerous to the government, if it could get over, the effects produced by the first announcement of his retirement, on the ground of avowed difference of opinion.” After reading Sir Charles Bagot’s explanations, he admitted that the governor’s position was embarrassing. “Suppose,” he said in a subsequent letter, “ that Sir C. Bagot was reduced to such difficulties that he had no alternative but to take the best men of the French-Canadian party into his councils, and that it was better for him to do this before there was a hostile vote; still, the manner in which he conducted his negotiations was a most unwise one. He makes it, appear to the world that he courted and rejoiced in the necessity for a change in his councils.” On October 24th the Duke of Wellington wrote expressing his agreement with Peel, and adding: “However, it appears to me that we must consider the arrangement as settled and adopted by the legislature of Canada. It will remain to be considered afterwards what is to be done with Sir Charles Bagot and with his measures.”

The question was solved by the death of the governor who had been unfortunate enough to arouse the storm, and to create a ministerial crisis in Great Britain. It is believed that his end was hastened by the news from England. He fell ill in November, grew steadily worse, and at last asked to be recalled, a request which was granted. At his last cabinet council he bade an affectionate farewell to his ministers, and begged them to defend his memory. His best -vindication is found in the future of Metcalfe’s policy, and in the happy results of the policy of Elgin.

The events connected with the retirement of Bagot, which were not fully understood until the publication of Sir Robert Peel’s papers a few years ago, throw light upon tiie reasons which determined the selection of Sir Charles Metcalfe. Metcalfe was asked by Lord Stanley whether he would be able and disposed to assume “most honourable and at the same time very arduous duties in the public service.” Metcalfe wrote to Captain Higginson, afterwards his private secretary: “ I am not sure that the government of Canada is a manageable affair, and unless I think I can go to good purpose I will not go at all.” Sir Francis Hincks says: “All Sir Charles Metcalfe’s correspondence prior to his departure from England is indicative of a feeling that, he was going on a forlorn hope expedition,” and Hincks adds that such language can be explained only on the assumption that he was sent out for the purpose of overthrowing responsible government. It is certainly established by the Peel correspondence that the British government strongly disapproved of Sir Charles Bagol’s policy, and selected Sir Charles Metcalfe as a man who would govern on radically different lines. It is perhaps putting it rather strongly to say that he was intended to overthrow responsible government. But he must have come to Canada filled wli h distrust of the Canadian ministry, filled with the idea that the demand for responsible government was a cloak for seditious designs, and ready to take strong measures to preserve British connection. In this misunderstanding lay the source of his errors and misfortunes in Canada.

It is not therefore necessary to enter minutely into the dispute which occasioned the rupture between Metcalfe and his adv iscrs. On the surface it was a dispute over patronage. In reality Baldwin and Lafontaine were fighting for autonomy and responsible government; Metcalfe, as he thought, was defending the unity of the empire. He was a kindly and conscientious man, and he held his position with some skill, always contending that he was willing to agree to responsible government on condition that the colonial position was recognized, the prerogative of the Crown upheld, and the governor not dominated by one political party.

The governor finally broke with his advisers in November, 1813. For some months he was to govern, not only without a responsible ministry, but without a parliament, for the legislature was immediately prorogued, and did not meet again before dissolution. His chief adviser was William Henry Draper, a distinguished lawyer, whose political career was sacrificed in the attempt to hold an Impossible position. Reformers and Tories prepared for a struggle which was to continue for several years, and which, in spite of the smallness of the field, was of the highest importance in settling a leading principle of government.

On March 5th, 1844, as a direct consequence of the struggle, appeared the first issue of the Toronto Globe, its motto taken from one of the boldest letters of Junius to George III: “ The subject who is truly loyal to the chief magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.’’ The leading article wras a long and careful review of the history of the country, followed by a eulogy on the constitution enjoyed by Great Britain since “the glorious revolution of 1688,” but denied to Canada. Responsible government was withheld; the governor named his councillors in defiance of the will of the legislature. Advocates of responsible government were stigmatized by the governor’s friends as rebels, traitors, radicals and republicans. The Globe proclaimed its adherence to Lord Durham’s recommendation, and said: “ The battle which the Reformers of Canada will fight is not the battle of a party, but the battle of constitutional right against the undue interference of executive power.” The prospectus of the paper contained these words: “Firmly attached to the principles of the British Constitution, believing the limited monarchy of Great Britain the best system of government yet devised by the wisdom of man, and sincerely convinced that the prosperity of Canada will best be advanced by a close connection between it and the mother country, the editor of the Globe will support all measures which will tend to draw closer the bonds of a mutually advantageous union.”

On March 25th, 1844, the campaign was opened with a meeting called by the Toronto Reform Association. Robert Baldwin, “father of responsible government,1' was in the chair, and William Hume Blake was the orator of the night. The young edi tor of the Globe, a recruit among veterans, seems to have made a hit with a picture of a ministry framed on the “no party” plan advocated by Governor Metcalfe. In this imaginary ministry he grouped at the same council table Robert Baldwin and his colleague Francis Hincks; Sir Allan MacNab, the Tory leader; William Henry Draper, Metcalfe’s chief adviser; John Straohan, Bishop of Toronto; and Dr. Ryerson, leader of the Methodists and champion of the governor. His Excellency is on a chair raised above the warring elements below. Baldwin moves that King’s College be opened to all classes of Her Majesty’s subjects. At once the combination is dissolved, as any one who remembers Bishop Strachan’s views on that question will understand.

Dr. Ryerson, whose name was used by Brown in this illustration, was a leader among the Methodists, and had fought stoutly for religious equality against Anglican privilege. But he had espoused the side of the governor-general, apparently taking seriously the position that it was the only course open to a loyal subject. In a series of letters published in the summer of 1844, he warned the people that the Toronto Reform Association was leading them to the edge of a precipice. “In the same manner,” he said, "I warned you against the Constitutional Reform Association, formed in 1834. In 1837 my warning predictions were realized, to the ruin of many and the misery of thousands. What took place in 1837 was but a preface of what may be witnessed in 1847.” The warning he meant to convey was that the people were being drawn into a conflict with the imperial authorities. “Mr. Baldwin,” he said, “practically renounces the imperial authority by refusing to appeal to it, and by appealing through the Toronto Association to the people of Canada. If the people of Canada are the tribunal of judgment on one question of constitutional prerogative, they are so on every question of constitutional prerogative. Then the governor is no longer responsible to the imperial authority, and Canada is an independent country. Mr. Baldwin’s proceeding, therefore, not only leads to independence but involves (unconsciously, I admit, from extreme and theoretical views), a practical declaration of independence before the atmal of the 4th of July. ”

In this language Dr. Ryerson described with accuracy the attitude of the British government. That government had, as we have seen, disapproved of Governor Bagot’s action in parting with so large a measure of power, and it was fully prepared to support Metcalfe in pursuing the opposite course. Dr. Ryerson was also right in saying that the government of Great Britain would be supported by parliament. In May, 1844, the affairs of Canada were discussed in the British House of Commons, and the governor’s action was just ified by Peel, by Lord Stanley, and by Lord John Russell. The only dissentient voices were those of the Radicals, Hume and Roebuck.

Metcalfe and his chiefs at home can hardly be blamed for holding the prevailing views of the time, which were that the changes contemplated by Durham, by Bagot, and by Baldwin were dangerous and revolutionary. The idea that a colony could remain connected with Great Britain under such a system of autonomy as we enjoy to-day was then conceived by only a few men of exceptional breadth and foresight, among whom Elgin was. one of the most eminent.

The wise leadership of Baldwin and Lafontaine and the patience and firmness of the Reformers are attested by their conduct in very trying circumstances. Finding their demand for constitutional reform opposed not only by the Canadian Tories, but by the governor-general and the Imperial government and parliament, they might have become discouraged, or have been tempted uito some act of violence. Their patience must have been sorely tried by the persistent malice or obstinate prejudice which stigmatized a strictly constitutional movement as treason. They had also to endure the trial of a temporary defeat at the polls, and an apparent rejection of their policy by the very people for whose liberties they were contending.

In the autumn of 1844 the legislature was dissolved and a fierce contest ensued. Governor Metcalfe’s attitude is indicated by his biographer. “The contest,” he says, “was between loyalty on the one side and disaffection to Her Majesty’s government on the other. That there was a strong anti-British feeling abroad, in both divisions of the province [Upper and Lower Canada] Metcalfe clearly and painfully perceived. The conviction served to brace and stimulate him to new exertions. He felt that he was fighting for his sovereign against a rebellious people.” The appeal was successful; Upper Canada was swept by the loyalty cry, and iu various polling places votes were actually cast or offered for the governor-general. The Globe described a conversation that occurred in a polling place in York: “Whom do you vote for? ” “I vote for the governor-general.” “There is no such candidate. Say George Duggan, you blockhead.” “Oh, yes, George Duggan; it’s all the same thing.” There were candidates who described themselves as “governor-general’s men”; there were candidates whose royalist enthusiasm was expressed in the name “Cavaliers.” In the Montreal election petition it was charged that during two days of polling the electors were exposed to danger from the attacks of bands of fighting men hired by the government candidates or their agents, and paid, fed. and armed with “bludgeons, bowie-knives, and pistols and other murderous weapons” for the purpose of intimidating the Liberal electors and preventing them from gaining access to the polls ; that Liberals were driven from the polls by these fighting men, and by cavalry and infantry acting under the orders of partisan magistrates. The polls, it was stated, were surrounded by soldiers, field-pieces were placed in several public squares, and the city was virtually in a state of siege. The charges were not investigated, the petition being rejected for irregularity; but violence and intimidation were then common accompaniments of elections.

In November the governor was able to record his victory thus: Upper Canada, avowed supporters of his government, thirty; avowed adversaries, seven; undeclared and uncertain, five. Lower Canada, avowed supporters, sixteen; avowed adversaries, twenty-one; undeclared and uncertain, four. Remarking on this difference between Upper and Lower Canada, he said that loyalty and British feeling prevailed in Upper Canada and in the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada, and that disaffection was predominant among the French-Canadian constituencies. Metcalfe honestly believed he had saved Canada for the empire; but more mischief could hardly have been done by deliberate design. In achieving a barren and precarious victory at the polls, he and his friends had run the risk of creating that disaffection which they feared. The stigma of disloyalty had been unjustly affixed to honest and public-spirited men, whose steadiness alone prevented them, in their resentment, from joining the ranks of the disaffected. Worse still, the "me of political cleavage had been identified with the line of racial division, and “French-Canadian ” and “rebel” had been used as synonymous terms.

The ministry and the legislative assembly were now such as the governor had desired, yet the harmony was soon broken. There appeared divisions in the cabinet, hostile votes in the legislature, and finally a revolt m the Conservative press. An attempt to form a coalition with the French-Canadian members drew a sarcastic comment from the Globe: “ Mr. Draper has invited the men whom he and his party have for years stigmatized before the country as rebels and traitors and destructives to join his administration.” Reformers regarded these troubles as evidence that the experiment in reaction was failing, and waited patiently for the end. Shortly after the election the governor was raised to the peerage, an honour which, if not earned by success in Canada, was fairly due to his honest intentions. He left Canada at the close of the year 1845, suffering from a painful disease, of which he died a year afterwards.

Soon after the governor’s departure the young editor of the Globe had a curious experience. At a dinner of the St. Andrew’s Society, Toronto, the president, Judge MacLean, proposed the health of Lord Metcalfe, eulogized his Canadian policy, and insisted that he had not been recalled, “ as certain persons have most impertinently and untruly assumed and set forth.” Brown refused to dri ik the toast, and asked to be heard, asserting that he had been publicly insulted from the chair. After a scene of uproar, he managed to obtain a hearing, and said, addressing the chairman : “ I understand your allusions, sir, and your epithet of impertinence as applied to myself. I throw it back on you with contempt, and will content myself with saying that your using such language and dragging such matters before the society was highly improper. Lord Metcalfe, sir, has been recalled, and it may yet be seen that t was done by an enlightened British government for cause. The toast which you have given, too, and the manner in which it was introduced, are highly improper. This is not the place to discuss Lord Metcalfe’s administration. There is a w ide difference of opinion as to it. But I refrain from saying one word as to his conduct in this province. This is not a political but a benevolent society, composed of persons of very varied political sentiments, and such a toast ought never to have been brought here. Lord Metcalfe is not now governor-general of Canada, and I had a right to refuse to do honour to him or not as 1 saw fit, and that without any disparagement to his conduct as a gentleman, even though the person who is president of this society thinks otherwise.” This incident, trivial as it may appear, illustrates the passion aroused by the contest, and the bold and resolute character of the young politician.

Lord Metcalfe’s successor was Earl Cathcart, a soldier who concerned himself little in the political disputes of the country, and who had been chosen because of the danger of war with the United States, arising out of the dispute over the Oregon boundary. The settlement of that dispute does not come within the scope of this work; but it may be noted that the Globe was fully possessed by the belligerent sprit of the time, and frankly expressed the hope that Great Britain would fight, not merely for the Oregon boundary, but “to proclaim liberty to the black population.” The writer hoped that the Christian nations of the world would combine and “break the chains of the slaves in the United States, in Brazil and in Cuba.


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