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George Brown
Chapter XIV - Last Years of the Union


IN 1860, Mr. Brown contemplated retiring from the leadership of the party. In a letter to Mr. Mowat, he said that the enemies of reform were playing the game of exciting personal hostility against himself, and reviving feelings inspired by the fierce contests of the past. It might be well to appoint a leader who would arouse less personal hostility. A few months later he had a long and severe illness, which prevented him from taking his place in the legislature during the session of 1861 and from displaying his usual activity in the general election of the summer of that year. He did, however, accept the hard task of contesting East Toronto, where he was defeated by Mr. John Crawford by a majority of one hundred and ninety-one. Mr. Brown then announced that the defeat had opened up the way for his retirement without dishonour, and that he would not seek re-election. Some public advantages, he said, might flow from that decision. Those whose interest it was that mis-government should continue, would no longer be able to make a scapegoat of George Brown. Admitting that he had used strong language in denouncing French domination, he justified his course as the only remedy for the evil. In 1852 he could hardly find a seconder for his motion in favour of representation by population; in the election just closed, he claimed fifty-three members from Upper Canada, elected to stand or fall by that measure. He had fought a ten years' battle without faltering. He advocated opposition to any ministry of either party that would refuse to settle the question?

The Conservative government was defeated, in the session following the election, on a militia bill providing for the maintenance of a force of fifty thousand men at a cost of about one million dollars. The American Civil W ar was in progress; the Trent affair had assumed a threatening appearance and it was deemed necessary to place the province in a state of defence. The bill was defeated by the defection of some French-Canadian supporters of the government. The event caused much disappointment in England; and from this time forth, continual pressure from that quarter in regard to defence was one of the forces tending towards confederation.

John Sandfield Macdonald, who was somewhat unexpectedly called upon to form a ministry', was an enthusiastic advocate of the “ double majority,” by which he believed the union could be virtually federalized without formal constitutional change. Upper Canadian ministers were to transact Upper Canadian business, and so with Lower Canada, the administration, as a whole, managing affairs of common interest. Local legislation was not to be forced on either province against the wish of the representatives. The administration for each section should possess the confidence of a majority of representatives from that section.

Brown strongly opposed the “double majority” plan, which he regarded as a mere makeshift for reform in the representation, and he was in some doubt whether he should support or oppose the Liberal ministers who offered for re-election. He finally decided, after consultation with his brother Gordon, “to permit them to go in unopposed, and hold them up to the mark under the stimulus of bit and spur.”

In July 1862, Mr. Brown sailed for Great Britain, and in September he wrote Mr. Holton that he had had a most satisfactory interview with the Duke of Newcastle at the latter’s request. They seem to have talked freely about Canadian politics. “ His scruples about representation are entirely gone. It would have done even Sandfield [ Macdonald] good to hear his ideas on the absurdity of the ‘double majority.’ Whatever small politicians and the London Times may say, you may depend upon this, that the government and the leaders of the Opposition perfectly understand our position, and have no thought of changing the relations between Canada and the mother country. On the contrary, the members of the government, with the exception of Gladstone, are set upon the Intercolonial Railway and a grand transit route across the continent.” He remarked upon the bitterness of the British feeling against the United States, and said that he was perplexed by the course of the London Times in pandering to the passions of the people.

The most important event of his visit to Scotland was yet to come. On November 27th he married Miss Anne Nelson, daughter of the well-known publisher, Thomas Nelson—a marriage which was the beginning of a most happy domestic life of eighteen years. This lady survived him until May, 1906. On his return to Canada with his bride, Mr. Brown was met at Toronto station by several thousand friends. In reply to a complimentary address, he said, “I have come back with strength invigorated, with new, and I trust, enlarged views, and with the most earnest desire to aid in advancing the prosperity and happiness of Canada.’’

It has been seen that the Macdonald-Scotte government had shelved the question of representation by population and had committed itself to the device of the “double majority". During Mr. Brown’s absence another movement, which he had strongly resisted, had been gaining ground. In 1860, 1861, and 1862, Mr. R. W. Scott, of Ottawa, had introduced legislation intended to strengthen the Roman Catholic separate school system of Upper Canada. In 1863, he succeeded, by accepting certain modifications, in obtaining the support of Dr. Ryerson, superintendent of education. Another important advantage was that his bill was adopted as a government measure by the Sandfield Macdonald ministry.

The bill became law in spite of the fact that it was opposed by a majority of the representatives from Upper Canada. This was in direct contravention of the "double majority” resolutions adopted by the legislature at the instance of the government. The premier had declared that there should be a truce to the agitation for representation by population or for other constitutional changes. That agitation had been based upon the complaint that legislation was being forced upon Upper Canada by Lower Canadian votes. The “double majority” resolutions had been proposed as a substitute for constitutional change. In the case of the Separate School Bill they were disregarded, and the premier was severely criticized for allowing his favourite principle to be contravened.

Mr. Brown had been absent in the sessions of 1861 and 1862, and he did not enter the House in 1863 until the Separate School Bill had passed its "second reading. In the G-lobe, however, it was assailed vigorously, one ground being that the bill was not a finality, but that the Roman Catholic Church would continually make new demands and encroachments, until the public school system was destroyed. On this question of finality there was much controversy. Dr. Ryerson always insisted that there was an express agreement that it was to be final; on the Roman Catholic side this is denied. At confederation Brown accepted the Act of 1863 as a final settlement. He said that if he had been present in 1863, he would have voted against the bill, because it extended the facility for establishing separate schools. “It had, however, this good feature, that it was accepted by the Roman Catholic authorities, and carried through parliament as a final compromise of the question in Upper Canada.'' He added: “I have not the slightest hesitation in accepting it as a necessary condition of the union.” With confederation, therefore, we may regard Brown’s opposition to separate schools in Upper Canada as ended. In accepting the terms of confederation, he accepted the Separate School Act of 1863, though with the condition that it should he final, a condition repudiated on the Roman Catholic side.

The Sandfield Macdonald government was weakened by this incident, and it soon afterwards fell upon a general vote of want of confidence moved by Mr. John A. Macdonald. Parliament was dissolved and an election was held in the summer of 1863. The Macdonald-Dorion government obtained a majority in Upper but not in Lower Canada, and on the whole, its tenure of power was precarious in the extreme. Finally, in March, 1864, it resigned without waiting for a vote of want of confidence. Its successor, the Tache-Macdonald government, had a life of only three months, and its death marks the birth of a new era.


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