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George Brown
Chapter VII - Rise of Brown's Influence


THE condition of parties in the legislature was peculiar. The most formidable antagonist of the Reform government was the man who was rapidly rising to the leadership of the Reform party. The old Tory party was dead, and its leader, Sir Allan MacNab, was almost inactive. Macdonald, who was to re-organize and lead the new Conservative party, was playing a waiting game, taking advantage of Brown’s tremendous blows at the ministry, and for the time being satisfied with a less prominent part in the conflict. Brown rapidly rose to a commanding position in the assembly. He did this without any finesse or skill in the management of men, with scarcely any assistance, and almost entirely by his own energy and force of conviction. His industry and capacity for work were prodigious. He spoke frequently, and on a wide range of subjects requiring careful study and mastery of facts. In the divisions he obtained little support. He had antagonized the French-Canadians, the Clear Grits of Upper Canada were for the time determined to stand by the government, and his views were usually not such as the Conservatives could endorse, although they occasionally followed him in order to embarrass the government.

Brown’s course in parliament, however, was pointing to a far more important result than changes in the personnel of office-holders. Hincks once told him that the logical conclusion of that course was the dissolution of the union. There was a measure of truth in this. If he had said dissolution or modification, he would have been absolutely right. Between the ideas of Upper Canada and Lower Canada there was a difference so great that a legislative union was foredoomed to failure, and separation could be avoided only by a federation which allowed each community to take its own way. Crown did not create these difficulties, but he emphasized them, and so forced and hastened the application of the remedy. Up to the time of his entering parliament, his pe cy had related mainly to Upper Canada. In parliament, however, a mass of legislation emanating from Lower Canada aroused his strong opposition. In the main it was ecclesiastical legislation incorporating Roman Catholic institutions, giving them power to hold lands, to control education, and otherwise to strengthen the authority of the Church over the people. It is not necessary to discuss these measures in detail. The object is to arrive at Brown’s point of view, and it was this : That the seat of government was a Catholic city, and that legislation and administration were largely controlled by the French-Canadian priesthood. lie complained that Upper Canada was unfairly treated in regard to legislation and expenditure ; that its public opinion was disregard ed, and that it was not fairly represented. The question of representation steadily assumed more importance in his mind, and he finally came to the conclusion that representation by population was the true remedy for all the grievances of which he complained. Lower Canada, being now numerically the weaker, naturally clung to the system which gave it equality of representation.

In all these matters the breach between George Brown and the Lower Canadian representatives was widening, while he was becoming more and more the voice of Upper Canadian opinion. When, in the intervals between parliamentary sessions, he visited various places in Upper Canada, he found himself the most popular man in the community, lie addressed great public meetings. Banquets were given in his honour. The prominent part taken by ministers of the Gospel at these gatherings illustrates at once the weakness and the strength of his position. He satisfied the “Nonconformist conscience” of Upper Canada by his advocacy not only of religious equality but of the prohibition of the liquor traffic and of the cessation of Sunday labour by public servants. But this very attitude made it difficult for him to work with any political party in Lower Canada.

In 1853 there was a remarkable article in the Cobourg Star, a Conservative journal, illustrating the hold which Brown had obtained upon Upper Canadian sentiment. This attitude was called forth by a banquet given to Brown by the Reformers of the neighbourhood. It expressed regret that the honour was given on party grounds. “Had it been given on the ground of his services to Protestantism, it would have brought out every Orangeman in the country. Conservatives disagreed with Brown about the clergy reserves, but if the reserves must be secularized, every Conservative in Canada would join Brown in his crusade against Roman Catholic endowments.” Then follows this estimate of Brown’s character: “In George Brown we see no agitator or demagogue, but the strivings of common sense, a sober will to attain the useful, the practical and the needful. He has patient courage, stubborn endurance, and obstinate resistance, and desperate daring in attacking what he believes to be wrong and in defending what he believes to be right. There is no cant or parade or tinsel or clap trap about him. He takes his stand against open, palpable, tangible wrongs, against the tyranny which violates men’s roofs, and the intolerance which vexes their consciences. True, he is wrong on the reserves question, but then he is honest, we know where to find him. He does not, like some of our Reformers, give us to understand that he will support us and then turn his back. He does not slip the word of promise to the ear and then break it to the lips. Leaving the reserves out of the question, George Brown is eminently conservative in his spirit. His leading principle, as all his writings will show, is to reconcile progress with preservation, change with stability, the alteration of incidents with tlie maintenance of essentials. Change, for the sake of change, agitation for vanity, for applause or mischief, he has contemptuously repudiated. He is not like the Clear Grit, a republican of the first water, but on the contrary looks to the connection with the mother country, not as fable or unreality or fleeting vision, but as alike our interest and our duty, as that which should ever be our beacon, our guide and our goal.”

In 1853 the relative strength of Brown and the ministers was tested in a series of demonstrations held throughout Canada. The Hon. James Young gives a vivid description of Brown as he appeared at a banquet given in his honour at Galt: “He was a striking figure. Standing fully six feet two inches high, with a well-proportioned body, well balanced head and handsome face, his appearance not only indicated much mental and physical strength, but conveyed in a marked manner an impression of youthfulness and candour. These impressions deepened as his address proceeded, and his features grew animated and were lighted up by his fine expressive eyes.” His voice was strong and soft, with a well-marked Edinburgh accent. His appearance surprised the people who had expected to see an older and sterner-looking man. His first remarks were disappointing; as was usual with him he stammered and hesitated until he warmed to his subject, when he spoke with such an array of facts and figures, such earnestness and enthusiasm, that he easily held the audience for three hours.

On October 1st, 1853, the Globe was first issued as a dally. It was then stated that the paper was first published as a weekly paper with a circulation of three hundred. On November 1st, 1846, it was published twice a week with a circulation of two thousand, which rose to a figure between three thousand and four thousand. In July, 1849, it was issued three times a week. When the daily paper was first published the circulation was six thousand. To anticipate a little, it may be said that .n 1855 the Globe absorbed the North American and the Examiner, and the combined circulation was said to be sixteen thousand four hundred and thirty-six. The first daily paper contained a declaration of principles, including the entire separation of Church and State, the abolition of the clergy reserves and the restoration of the lands to the public, cessation of grants of public money for sectarian purposes, the abolition of tithes and other compulsory taxation for ecclesiastical purposes, and restraint on land-holding by ecclesiastical corporations.

An extract from this statement of policy may be given:

"Representation by population. Justice for Upper Canada! While Upper Canada has a larger population by one hundred and fifty thousand than Lower Canada, and contributes more than double the amount of taxation to the general revenue, Lower Canada has an equal number of representatives in parliament.

National education.—Common school, grammar school, and collegiate free from sectarianism and open to all on equal terms. Earnest war will be waged with the separate school system, which has unfortunately obtained a footing.

“A prohibitory liquor law. —Any measure which will alleviate the frightful evils of intemperance.” The inclusion of prohibition on this platform was the natural result of the drinking habits of that day. In a pamphlet issued by the Canada Company for the information of intending immigrants, whiskey was described as “a cheap and wholesome beverage.” Its cheapness and abundance caused it to be used in somewhat the same way as the “ small beer ” of England, and it was a common practice to order a jug from the grocer along with the food supply of the family. When a motion favouring prohibition was introduced in the Canadian parliament there were frequent references to the convivial habits of the members. The seconder of the motion was greeted with loud laughter. He good-naturedly said that he was well aware of the cause of hilarity, but that he was ready to sacrifice his pleasure to the general good. Sir Allan MacNab, the leader of the Opposition, moved a farcical amendment, under which every member was to sign a pledge of abstinence, and to be disqualified he broke it. Brown made an earnest speech in favour of the motion. in which he remarked that Canada then contained nine hundred and thirty-one whiskey shops, fifty-eight steamboat bars, three thousand four hundred and thirty taverns, one hundred and thirty breweries, and one hundred and thirty-five distilleries.

The marked diminution of intemperance in the last fifty years may be attributed in part to restrictive laws, and in part to the work of the temperance societies, which rivaled the taverns in social attractions, and were effective agents of moral suasion.


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