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George Brown
Chapter IV - Dissension Among Reformers


WITHIN the limits of one parliament, less than four years, the Baldwin-Lafontaine government achieved a large amount of useful work, including the establishment of cheap and uniform postage, the reforming of the courts of law, the remodelling of the municipal system, the establishment of the University of Toronto on a non-sectarian basis, and the inauguration o.f a policy by which the province was covered with a network of railways. With such a record, the government hardly seemed to be open to a charge of lack of energy and progressiveness, but it was a time when radicalism was in the air. It may be more than a coincidence that Chartism in England and a revolution in France were followed by radical movements in both Canadas'.

The counterpart to the Rouge party in Lower Canada, elsewhere referred to, was the Clear Grit party in Upper Canada. Among its leaders were Peter Perry, one of the founders of the Reform party in Upper Canada, Caleb Hopkins, David Christie, James Lesslie, Dr. John Rolph and William Macdougall. Rolph had played a leading part in the movement for reform before the rebellion, and is the leading figure .n Dent's history of that period. Macdougall was a young lawyer and journalist fighting his way into prominence.

“Grit” afterwards became a nickname for a member of the Reform or Liberal party, and especially for the enthusiastic followers of George Brown. Yet in all the history of a quarrelsome period in politics there is no more violent quarrel than that between Brown and the Clear Grits. It is said that Brown and Christie were one day discussing the movement, and that Brown had mentioned the name of a leading Reformer as one of the opponents of the new party. Christie replied that the party did not want such men, they wanted only those who were “Clear Grit.” This is one of several theories as to the derivation of the name. The Globe denounced the party as “a miserable clique of office-seeking, bunkum-talking cormorants, who met in a certain lawyer’s office on King Street [Macdougall's] and announced their intention to form a new party on Clear Grit principles.” The North American, edited by Macdougall, denounced Brown with equal fury as a servile adherent of the Baldwin government. Brown for several years was ;n this position of hostility to the Radical wing of the party. He was defeated in Haldimand by William Lyon Mackenzie, who stood on an advanced Radical platform; and in 1851 his opponent in Kent and Lambton was Malcolm Cameron, a Clear Grit, who had jcned the Hincks-Morin government. The nature of their relations is shown by a letter in which Cameron called on one of his friends to come out and oppose Brown: “I will be out and we will show him up, and let him know what stuff Liberal Reformers are made of, and how they would treat fanatical beasts who would allow no one liberty but themselves.”

The Clear Grits advocated, (1) the application of the elective principle to all the officials and institutions of the country, from the head of the government downwards; (2) universal suffrage; (3) vote by ballot; (4) biennial parliaments ; (5) the abolition of property qualification for parliamentary representations; (6) a fixed term for the holding of general elections and for the assembling of the legislature; (7) retrenchment; (8) the abolition of pensions to judges; (9) the abolition of the Courts of Common Pleas and Chancery and the giving of an enlarged jurisdiction to the Court of Queen’s Bench; (10) reduction of lawyers’ fees; (11) free trade and direct taxation; (12) an amended jury law; (13) the abolition or modification of the usury laws; (14) the abolition of primogeniture; (15) the secularization of the clergy reserves, and the abolition of the rectories. The movement was opposed by the Globe. No new party, it said, was required for the advocacy of reform of the suffrage, retrenchment, law reform, free trade or the liberation of the clergy reserves. These were practical questions, on which the Reform party was united. But these were placed on the programme merely to cloak its revolutionary features, features that simply meant the adoption of republican institutions, and the taking of the first step towards annexation. The British system of responsible government was upheld by the Globe as far superior to the American system in the security it afforded to life and property.

But while Brown defended the government from the attacks of the Cleai Grits, he was himself growing impatient at their delay in dealing with certain questions that he had at heart, especially the secularization of the clergy reserves. He tried, as we should say to-day, “to reform the party from within.” He was attacked for his continued support of a ministry accused of abandoning principles while “he was endeavouring to influence the members to a right course without an open rupture.” There was an undercurrent of discontent drawing him away from the government In October, 1850, tne Globe contained a series of articles on the subject. It was pointed out that there were four parties in the country: the old-time Tories, the opponents of responsible government, whose members were fast diminishing; the new party led by John A. Macdonald; the Ministerialists; and the Clear Grits, who were described as composed of English Radicals, Republicans and annexationists. The Ministerialists had an overwhelming majority over all, but were disunited. What was the trouble? The ministers might be a little slow, a little wanting in tact, a little less democratic than some of their followers. They were not traitors to the Reform cause, and intemperate attacks on them might be disastrous to that cause. A urion of French-Canadians with Upper Canadian Conservatives would, it was prophesied, make the Reform party powerless. Though in later years George Brown became known as the chief opponent of French-Canadian influence, he was well aware of the value of the alliance, and he gave the French-Canadians full credit for their support to measures of reform. “Let the truth be known,” said the Globe at this time, “to the French-Canadians of Lower Canada are the Reformers of Upper Canada indebted for the sweeping majorities which carried their best measures.” He gave the government credit for an immense mass of useful legislation enacted in a very short period. But more remained to be done. The clergy reserves must be abolished, and all connection between Church and State swept away. “The party in power has no policy before the country. No one knows what measures are to be brought forward by the leaders. Each man fancies a policy for himself. The conductors of the public press must take ground on all the questions of the day. and each accordingly strikes out such a line as suits his own leanings, the palates of his readers, or what he deems for the good of the country. All sorts of vague schemes are thus thrown on the sea of public opinion to agitate the waters, with the triple result of poisoning the public: mind, producing unnecessary divisions, and committing sections of the party to views and principles which they might never have contemplated under a better system.”

For some time the articles in the Globe aid not pass the bounds of friendly, though outspoken, criticism. The events that drew Brown into opposition were his breach with the Roman Catholic Church, the campaign in Halamand in which he was defeated by William Lyon Mackenzie, the retirement of Baldwin and the accession to power of the Hincks-Morin administration.

Towards the end of 1850 there arrived in Canada copies of a pastoral letter by Cardinal Wiseman, defending the famous papal bull which divided England into sees of the Roman Catholic Church, and gave territorial titles to the bishops. Sir E. P. Taché, a member of the government, showed one of these to Mr. Brown, and jocularly challenged him to publish it in the Globe. Brown accepted the challenge, declaring that he would also publish a reply, to be written by himself. The reply, which will be found in the Globe of December 19th, 1850, is argumentative in tone, and probably would not of itself have involved Brown in a violent quarrel with the Church. The following passage was afterwards cited by the Globe as defining its position: “In offering a few remarks upon Dr. Wiseman’s production, we have no intention to discuss the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church, but merely to look at the question in its secular aspect. As advocates of the voluntary principle we give to every man full liberty to worship as his conscience dictates, and without penalty, civil or ecclesiastical, attaching to his exercise thereof. We would allow each sect to give to its pastors what titles it sees fit, and to prescribe the extent of spiritual duties ; but we would have the State recognize no ecclesiastical titles or boundaries whatever. The public may, from courtesy, award what titles they please; but the statute -book should recognize none. The voluntary principle is the great cure for such dissensions as now agitate Great Britain.”

The cause of conflict lay outside the bounds of that article. Cardinal Wiseman’s letter and Lord John Russell's reply had thrown England into a ferment of religious excitement. “Lord John Russell,” says Justin McCarthy, “who had more than any man living been identified with the principles of religious liberty, who had sat at the feet of Fox and had for his closest friend the poet, Thomas Moore, came to be regarded by the Roman Catholics as the bitterest enemy of their creed and their rights of worship.”

It is evident that this hatred of Russell was carried across the Atlantic, and that Brown was regarded as his ally. In the Haldimand election a hand-bill signed, “An Irish Roman Catholic” was circulated. It assailed Brown fiercely for the support he had given to Russell, and for the general course of the Globe :i regard to Catholic questions. Russell was described as attempting “ to twine again around the writhing limbs of ten millions of Catholics the chains that our own O’Connell rescued us from in 1829.” A vote for George Brown would help to rivet these spiritual chains round the souls of Irishmen, and to crush the religion for which Ireland had wept oceans of blood; those who voted for Brown would be prostrating themselves like cowardly slaves or beasts of burden before the avowed enemies of their country, their religion and their God. “You will think of the gibbets, the triangles, the lime-pits, the tortures, the hangings of the past. You will reflect on the struggles of the present against the new penal bill. You will look forward to the dangers, the triumphs, the hopes of the future, and then you will go to the polls and vote against George Brown.”

This was not the only handicap with which Brown entered on his first election contest. There was no cordial sympathy between him and the government, yet he was hampered by his connection with the government. The dissatisfied Radicals rallied to the support of William Lyon Mackenzie, whose sufferings in exile also made a strong appeal to the hearts of Reformers, and Mackenzie was elected.

In his election address Brown declared himself for perfect religious equality, the separation of Church and State, and the diversion of the clergy reserves from denominational to educational purposes. “I am in favour of national school education free from sectarian teaching, and available without charge to every child in the province. I desire to see efficient grammar schools established in each county, and that the fees of these institutions and of the national university should be placed on such a scale as will bring a high literary and scientific education within the reach of men of talent in any rank of life.” He advocated free trade in the fullest sense, expressing the hope that the revenue from public lands and canals, with strict economy, would enable Canada “to dispense with the whole customs department.”

Brown’s estrangement from the government did not become an open rupture so long as Baldwin and Lafontaine were at the head of affairs. In the summer following Brown’s defeat in Haldimand, Baldwin resigned owing to a resolution introduced by William Lyon Mackenzie, for the abolition of the Court of Chancery. The resolution was defeated, but obtained the votes of a majority of the Upper Canadian members, and Mr. Baldwin regarded their action as an indication of want of confidence in himself. He dropped some expressions, too, which indicated that he was moved by larger considerations. He was conservative in his views, and he regarded the Mackenzie vote as a sign of a flood of radicalism which he felt powerless to stay.

Shortly afterwards Lafontaine retired. He, also, was conservative in his temperament, and weary of public life. The passing of Baldwin and Lafontaine from the scene helped to clear the way for Mr. Brown to take his own course, and it was not long before the open breach occurred. When Mr. Hincks became premier, Mr. Brown judged that the time had come for him to speak out. He felt that he must make a fair start with the new government, and have a clear understanding at the outset. A new general election was approaching, and he thought that the issue of separation of Church and State must be clearly placed before the country. In an article in the Globe entitled “The Crisis,” it was declared that the lime for action had come. One parliament had been lost to the friends of religious equal ily; they could not afford to lose another. It was contended that the Upper Canadian Reformers suffered by their connection with the Lower Canadian party. Complaint was made that the Hon. E. P. Taché had advised Roman Catholics to make common cause with Anglicans in resisting the secularization of the clergy reserves, had described the advocates of secularization as “pharisacal brawlers,” and had said that the Church of England need not fear their hostility, because the “contra-balancing power” of the Lower Canadians would be used to protect the Anglican Church. This, said the Globe, was a challenge which the friends of religious equality could not refuse. Later on, Mr. Brown wrote a series of letters to Mr. Hincks, setting forth fully his grounds of complaint against the government: failure to reform the representation of Upper Canada, slackness in dealing with the secularization of the clergy reserves, weakness in yielding to the demand for separate schools. All this he attributed to Roman Catholic or French-Canadian influence.


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