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Joseph Howe
Chapter III - Responsible Government


THE general elections had been held in 1836 and the new parliament was called together early in 1837. The House of Assembly contained many men of experience and eminence. Mr. S. G. W. Archibald had for some time been a leader of the popular party and was a man of education and ability. Mr. Alexander Stewart, who had been associated with those fighting the battle of the assembly, was also an eminent lawyer and a man who has attained a recognized position in the history of the province. Mr. John Young (father of Sir William) was also a member of the assembly and a man of large and progressive views. Mr. Lawrence O'Connor Doyle was a man of the most delightful character, whom Mr. Howe—not a poor judge of such matters—regarded as the wittiest man he had ever met, and whose political career was only marred by his excessive indulgence in conviviality. Mr. James Boyle Uniacke was also in this legislature, and might be regarded, perhaps, as the leader and spokesman of the Tory party. Howe was thirty-two years of age, he was taking his seat in the legislature for the first time, and the task before him was, not only to confront those in this assembly who were unfavourable to a change in the constitution of the country, but to grapple also with those timid and conciliatory Liberal members, who were necessarily alarmed at the direct, uncompromising and bold manner in which the young member seemed determined to challenge existing conditions.

On the first day this new parliament met, Howe was upon his feet with a resolution which indicated the temper of his mind and the line of action which might be expected from him. It was in connection with the appointment of a chaplain. Although at that time the population of Nova Scotia was over 150,000, and the Church of England numbered less than 30,000, that body had nearly a monopoly of all the public offices, and of positions with emoluments attached. The council of twelve was composed of eight Episcopalians, three Presbyterians and one Catholic, and from time immemorial the chaplain of both Houses was chosen, as a matter of course, from the Episcopalian clergy. Howe's first resolution, when the appointment of a chaplain had been moved, was to this effect:—

"Resolved, That, representing the whole province, peopled by various denominations of Christians, this House recognizes no religious distinctions, and is bound to extend not only equal justice, but equal courtesy to all."

The first and pressing question which agitated the assembly was the constitution of the legislative council. On the opening day, after the routine business had been disposed of, Mr. Doyle moved and Mr. Howe seconded the following resolutions:—

"Resolved, That the practice hitherto pursued by His Majesty's legislative council in this Province, of excluding the people from their deliberations, is not only at variance with that of the House of Lords in England, and that of several of the legislative councils in the other British North American colonies, but contrary to the spirit of the British constitution, and injurious to the interests and liberties of this country.

"Resolved," That while this House has no desire to deny to the upper branch of the legislature the right enjoyed by the representatives of the people, and sanctioned by public opinion, of closing their doors during the discussion of questions of order and privilege, and on particular occasions, when the public interest may require secret deliberation, yet they should fail in their duty if they did not express to His Majesty's council the deliberate conviction of those they represent, that the system of invariable exclusion, pursued for a series of years, and still pertinaciously continued, is fraught with much evil, and has a tendency to foster suspicion and distrust.

"Resolved, That this House is prepared to provide the expenses which may be incurred for the accommodation of the public in the legislative council chamber.

"Resolved, That the clerk do carry these resolutions to the council, and request their concurrence."

In support of these resolutions Howe made his maiden speech. With slight amendments these resolutions were adopted by the House unanimously.

It was clear after the election that the popular party had obtained a commanding position in the new assembly, and it was not considered judicious by those who were really in sympathy with the oligarchy to make a stand upon this question, because public opinion throughout the province was distinctly opposed to the existing position of the legislative council, especially in its dual character as the executive, and to the holding of its legislative deliberations behind closed doors.

To these resolutions the council on February 4th, forwarded to the House a reply, in which it was set forth that His Majesty's council denied the right of the House to comment on its mode of procedure; whether their deliberations were open or secret was their concern and theirs only.

This message was received by the popular party in the House with just indignation and considerable anxiety, while of course it was the occasion of mirth and exultation in Tory circles. It was felt on all sides that it was necessary to deal with the matter in some form. Mr. John Young, who was recognized as a consistent and sturdy Liberal, proposed a series of conciliatory resolutions in the hope of inducing the council to recede from its haughty position. Mr. Howe saw clearly that the adoption of these tame expressions of opinion would be simply dallying with the question and pursuing the innocuous and futile policy which had characterized the Reform party in the previous parliament. He accordingly conceived the idea that no course was left to him but boldly to propose a series of resolutions in amendment to those of Mr. Young, couched in terms so clear and so emphatic as to make a clean cut issue with the council, and carry the matter, if need be, to the imperial authorities. It is not difficult to see that this was a bold course for a young man, who had scarcely been a fortnight in the legislature, to take; and the boldness of his action is emphasized by the fact that it could not fail to bring down upon him the displeasure of the recognized leaders of his party.

In presenting these resolutions Howe made a speech of great length. Impressed with the seriousness of the position he was taking, he says in the course of his splendid speech :—

"It is one which I should not have assumed, did I not deeply feel that it involves the peace and freedom of Nova Scotia; and although, when applied to her alone, these principles may appear of little importance, when I take a broader view— when my eye ranges over our vast colonial possessions—when I see countries stretching through every clime, and embracing many millions of people more than the islands to which they belong, and when I reflect that upon a right understanding of these principles, a fair adjustment of these institutions, depends the security and peace of these millions of human beings, my mind warms with the subject, and expands with the magnitude of the theme. Sir, I ask for nothing but justice and responsibility, sanctioned by the spirit and forms of the British constitution. The idea of republicanism, of independence, of severance from the mother country, never crossed my mind. Centuries hence, perhaps, when nations exist where now but a few thousands are thinly scattered, these colonies may become independent states. But it will not be in my time; and when it arrives, if it be permitted to us to look down from the other world upon the destinies of our country, I trust hers may be one of freedom and of peace. But, as there is now no occasion, so have I no wish for republican institutions, no desire to desert the mighty mother for the great daughter who has sprung from her loins. I wish to live and die a British subject, but not a Briton only in the name. Give me—give to my country the blessed privilege of her constitution and her laws; and as our earliest thoughts are trained to reverence the great principles of freedom and responsibility, which have made her the wonder of the world, let us be contented with nothing less. Englishmen at home will despise us, if we forget the lessons our common ancestors have bequeathed."

A protracted and somewhat fierce debate followed. Mr. Alexander Stewart, one of the popular leaders, became alarmed, and straightway went over to the government. Howe closed the debate in another speech, concluding with these beautiful and pregnant words: "Sir, when I go to England, when I realize that dream of my youth, if I can help it, it shall not be with a budget of grievances in my hand. I shall go to survey the home of my fathers with the veneration it is calculated to inspire; to tread on those spots which the study of her history has made classic ground to me; where Hampden and Sydney struggled for the freedom she enjoys; where her orators and statesmen have thundered in defence of the liberties of mankind. And I trust in God that when that day comes, I shall not be compelled to look back with sorrow and degradation to the country I have left behind; that I shall not be forced to confess that though here the British name exists, and her language is preserved, we have but a mockery of British institutions; that when I clasp the hand of an Englishman on the shores of my fatherland, he shall not thrill with the conviction that his descendant is little better than a slave."

These twelve resolutions proposed by Mr. Howe are so vital to a proper conception of the question of responsible government that they should be read carefully in their entirety (see Appendix A.) In spite of the opposition of the friends of the government in the House and of the bitter hostility of some of those who were formerly associated with the Reform party, Howe succeeded, with some slight amendments, in securing the passage of every one of these twelve resolutions, some of them by substantial majorities, and soon afterwards moved for a committee to prepare an address to the Crown embodying the resolutions.

Three days later there came a message from the legislative council so pronounced and decisive in its character as to create the greatest excitement in political circles. It vehemently resented the manner in which the House had commented upon the council and its conduct, and intimated in plain terms that unless one obnoxious resolution was rescinded it would inevitably result in the interruption of the public business. This meant, of course, that they would refuse to pass the supply bill. It was an heroic remedy which the council had previously resorted to with impunity, since the Crown revenues were ample for paying the salaries and carrying on the functions of government, whereas the provincial revenues were devoted to the road and bridge service and other matters of importance in developing the interior of the country. If the monies were not appropriated for these purposes, all these important services would have to remain unperformed, which would be not only a serious thing for the country, but would tend to compromise the member with his constituents.

The receipt of this message occasioned the greatest possible anxiety to the popular party in the House. To yield to the council in this point meant a perpetuation of existing abuses. Stoutly to maintain their position on these pregnant resolutions meant the loss of the revenue, and the absence of any money to spend for the necessary development of a young, scattered and growing province. Many wiseacres shook their heads and said that Mr. Howe had precipitated matters in a rash and hasty manner and that the responsibility must fall upon his head, and his enemies were disposed to think that he had fallen into a fatal blunder, which would injure his prestige and, perhaps, destroy his career.

The day on which the council's message was to come up for consideration, Howe was not at first in his place, and no one knew what course he would pursue; and his attitude was of some importance, because, although he had only just taken his seat, in this comparatively short time he had come to be looked upon as a leader and guide in this great struggle for popular rights. At last Howe walked into the chamber, buoyant as ever, with that jaunty manner and cheerful smiling face, which never failed, in the long years in which he was associated with the political struggles of his province, to give confidence to his friends. At the proper time he arose and announced his determination. He had anticipated, he said, the action of the council, and was prepared for it. The revenue should not be lost; the resolutions had done their work; they had tested the opinion of the House; they had gone, with the debates upon them, to the country; they would go to England, and even if rescinded the very coercion under which the act was done would illustrate the overweening power of the upper branch and the defective constitution of the country. He would not rescind the single resolution complained of, but would move to rescind the whole, and then ask for a committee to prepare an address to the Crown upon the state of the province. What that address would contain was matter for after consideration, when the revenue bills had been passed.

The resolutions were rescinded; the revenue bills were secured, and within a few days of the close, of the session an address to the Crown was reported and passed, which embodied all the resolutions, and elicited those important despatches from Lord Glenelg, which were laid before the House the next session and led to important results. It must not be inferred that, jaunty as was his manner of doing it, the rescinding of these resolutions occasioned Mr. Howe no concern. We know from the best sources of information that he wrestled anxiously all night with the vexatious problem, and yielded to the painful necessity only after a prolonged struggle.

The adroit manner in which Howe had met this serious situation enhanced his reputation, baffled the confident anticipations of his enemies, and gave added confidence to his friends. After the revenue bills were passed, Howe moved his address to the Crown, and carried it by a substantial majority. This address, together with the counter statement of the council of twelve, was forwarded to the colonial office by Sir Colin Campbell, at that time lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia. During the recess, despatches were received from Lord Glenelg, secretary of state for the colonies, which, while not conceding the full measure of responsible government for which Howe was resolutely contending, went very far towards meeting the just demands of the House of Assembly. In his despatch to Sir Colin Campbell, Lord Glenelg instructed him to substitute two councils for one, that is, a legislative council was to be appointed for purposes of legislation, and a second council was to be appointed for the purposes of government. In forming these councils the governor was instructed to select men from all parts of the province and from the various religious denominations. He concurred in the proposition that the chief justice should be excluded from both of these councils, and the governor was recommended to call to his councils those representative men of the House of Assembly who enjoyed the confidence of the people's representatives; and the desire of the House of Assembly to have the control of the casual and territorial revenues was conceded upon the condition that the assembly should provide permanently for the payment, according to a civil list submitted, of the salaries of certain officials, such as the governor, provincial secretary, judges, attorney-general, solicitor-general, etc. To illustrate the fact that the colonial office was not yet prepared to concede the principle of executive responsibility in colonial government, an extract from one of Lord Glenelg's despatches will suffice:—

"The language of the address would seem to indicate an opinion, which is not yet distinctly propounded, that the assembly of Nova Scotia ought to exercise over the public officers of that government a control corresponding with that which is exercised over the ministers of the Crown by the House of Commons. To any such demand Her Majesty's government must oppose a respectful, but, at the same time, a firm declaration, that it is inconsistent with a due adherence to the essential distinctions between a metropolitan and a colonial government, and is, therefore, inadmissible."

Upon the receipt of these despatches, Sir Colin Campbell and his advisers created two councils, and forwarded the names for approval to the colonial office. The legislative council consisted of nineteen members, but it was composed, to a preponderating degree, of those favourable to the governing party, and leading Reformers were carefully omitted. The executive council was also formed very much upon the same-lines, but with some objectionable persons omitted. Four members of the executive were drawn from members of the House of Assembly, but they were those in sympathy with government house and officialdom, with the exception of Mr. Herbert Huntington, who was a sturdy advocate of reform and a supporter of Mr. Howe. During the session of 1838, however, it was announced that the legislative and executive, so formed by Sir Colin Campbell, had been dissolved, and new bodies created under instructions of Lord Durham, the governor-general. According to instructions from the colonial office, the number of members of the executive was limited to nine, and the legislative council to fifteen members. When the new councillors were gazetted, it appeared that Mr. Herbert Huntington, the only Liberal on the executive, had been left out, and the legislative council was composed almost exclusively of men hostile to responsible government.

After these appointments had been gazetted, Howe in his place in the assembly delivered an important and able speech, in the course of which he pointed out the numerous advances which had been made already as the fruit of the efforts of the assembly in the previous session, and indulged in a tone of justifiable triumph concerning the great concessions which had been freely made by the imperial authorities.

Later in the session another address to the Crown was proposed, expressing appreciation of the gracious consideration which had been given to the previous representations of the assembly, but pointing out among other things that in the formation of the executive and legislative councils the sentiments and wishes of the people at large had been ignored and that places in these councils had been conferred upon those who did not command the confidence of the people, and urging other complaints in respect of the existing system of government. The answer to this despatch was laid upon the table of the House in the session of 1839 and was distinctly unfavourable. The offer of the casual revenues was withdrawn, the councils as they stood were sustained, the judges' fees were abandoned, but these officers were compensated out of the public revenues. The request that all the outports at which collectors were maintained should be open was evaded, and five or six bills passed during the previous session were disallowed.

The only course now, it was felt, was to send a delegation representing the views of the majority to England. The tone of the latest despatches clearly indicated that both the governor and the executive were unduly influencing the colonial office. A series of resolutions was moved in the House on the subject of the popular grievances, concluding with one to the effect "that two members possessing the confidence of the House be appointed to proceed to England and represent to Her Majesty's government the views and wishes of this House and the people of Nova Scotia on the subjects embraced in the foregoing resolutions, and such other matters as might be given to their charge." The debate upon these resolutions was a fierce and protracted one. The lines between parties were being formed. The members of the government in the House, with Mr. J. B. Uniacke at their head, were distinctly resisting, with the assent of the governor, Howe's plans for securing responsible government and a recognition of the rights of the people, while Howe had behind him a compact majority of men who were determined to follow him, without wavering, in the pursuit of the great and important end he had in view.

At this particular juncture the popular party in Nova Scotia was considerably hampered by the reports of rebellion and bloodshed which came from the upper provinces. The unwise insurrection led by William Lyon Mackenzie and others in Upper Canada, and the precipitate resort to arms under the leadership of Papineau in Lower Canada had a tendency to cast aspersion upon the popular party in Nova Scotia. It was claimed that they were making demands which would lead also to sedition and rebellion. It is, perhaps, the greatest tribute that can be paid to Howe's sagacity as a public man, that, though entirely new to the political scene, and called upon to assume leadership at the moment of his entering the assembly, and resenting bitterly the denial of popular rights by the governing bodies, he was never for a moment betrayed into taking a step which was not strictly constitutional and within his rights as a legislator in a British colonial parliament. When the news of the insurrection first reached Nova Scotia, Howe was able to publish a very able letter addressed to Mr. H. S. Chapman, a leader of the Lower Canadian extremists, who had written to Howe to secure his cooperation in the Liberal movement there. This letter was dated October, 1835, before Howe had entered the legislature. In it he frankly points out the apparent aim of the agitators in Lower Canada—separation from Great Britain and the establishment of republican institutions, and he tells him plainly that no such idea animates the Maritime reformers, who love British institutions and intend to secure their full rights, by constitutional means, within the empire. Such a statesmanlike exposition of the situation at so early a stage of the struggle for self-government is a striking illustration of the great mental endowments of Mr. Howe, and his letter to Mr. Chapman, when published, elicited the highest encomiums of the English press.1

1 At the time of the rebellion in Canada, a regiment of British soldiers was sent from Halifax to uphold the imperial authority. A meeting to raise funds to support the wives and children of the soldiers was made the occasion of a loyal demonstration, and some of the Tory officials were disposed to take advantage of the incident to hint in their speeches at the dangers of agitation in this quarter. Mr. Howe was promptly on his feet, and in a magnificent speech vindicated the loyalty of himself and his associates, and completely captured the meeting.

Mr. Howe had faith in British institutions, and believed that, when the issues were thoroughly discussed and clearly understood, all that Reformers were now struggling for could be accomplished without compromising the loyalty of a.single individual or disturbing the peace of any province or community. Indeed, it may be fairly claimed that the principles laid down by Howe and His broad, clear and statesmanlike representation of the situation to the colonial secretary were the means of securing an enlightened system of self-government in all the rapidly growing colonies of the British empire. The necessity of resorting to rebellion in the Canadas in 1837 is an indictment against the wisdom and judgment of the leaders of the popular party, and it redounds to the eternal glory of Joseph Howe that he achieved within the compass of a few years everything the most advanced colonial statesman could desire by perfectly constitutional means and without causing a single drop of blood to be shed.

In the debate upon the proposition to send delegates to England, Howe entirely vindicated himself and his party from any reflections that might be cast upon them owing to the folly committed by the extremists in the Canadas. The resolutions were adopted by substantial majorities, and Mr. Herbert Huntington and Mr. William Young, afterwards Sir William Young, chief justice, were chosen as delegates to proceed to England. Mr. Howe would naturally have been selected owing to his leading position in the popular party, but he thought it would strengthen his position if he made it impossible to have charged against him any interested motive in his struggles. The legislative council selected Messrs. Alexander Stewart and Lewis M. Wilkins as delegates to represent that body and to defend the old system in England.

A scene occurred in the House during this session which redounds to its credit and especially to the high and magnanimous character of Mr. Howe. A controversy was going forward in respect to the boundary between the province of New Brunswick and the state of Maine. At last, in February 1839, the governor of the state of Maine sent a message to the senate and assembly of the state announcing that he had ordered troops into the disputed territory. His action in this matter was approved by both Houses and $800,000 was voted to pay the expenses of this hostile invasion of what was recognized then as a part of the province of New Brunswick. When this high-handed procedure became known in Halifax, although party feeling ran high, all political differences were hushed in a moment when the honour of the British flag was menaced. The executive government was helpless so far as the assembly was concerned, which was largely hostile and under the control of Howe and his associates, but Howe did not permit this to weigh. He at once tendered to the government the united support of himself and his followers in any measure providing for the defence. A series of resolutions was reported and carried unanimously, by which the executive was authorized to call out the whole militia of the province for the defence of New Brunswick and to expend £100,000, if necessary, in repelling the invaders. When the resolutions were passed, the whole House rose and gave three cheers for the Queen, and three for the province of New Brunswick.

It was at this time that Lord Durham's famous report was laid before parliament, and this elaborate and now famous document gave great encouragement and support to the popular party. Lord John Russell had brought forward in the English parliament an important measure for the settlement of Canadian affairs. It was disappointing to colonial Reformers, and especially coming from Lord Russell, who had achieved a just distinction for his breadth of view and liberality of mind. He failed to follow Lord Durham's report but elaborately argued that the adoption of executive responsibility in the sense in which it was understood in Great Britain was an obvious impossibility. The act creating the union of 1841 did not, therefore, in any way concede a full measure of responsible government, although this was ultimately achieved to the fullest extent under the operations of the act itself.

Colonial Reformers in Nova Scotia were disposed to become despondent and believe that there was no expectation of obtaining a just consideration of colonial claims to self-government from the imperial authorities. Howe remained sanguine. His conviction was that Lord John Russell did not understand the situation, and he undertook to bring the whole question of colonial government before him in a series of four letters, which may be read at this date, more than sixty years after their publication, as a magnificent illustration of intellectual capacity, breadth of view and vigorous composition unsurpassed in the whole volume of correspondence that has passed for one hundred years between the imperial government and the various statesmen who have been reared in the empire. To print them in full is impossible, and yet no enlightened Canadian can afford to dispense with their perusal. They are to be found in Vol. II. of Howe's "Speeches and Public Letters," and they embody in the clearest and most fascinating terms, and with a brightness and raciness altogether unusual in official correspondence, the whole case for self-government. They were printed in pamphlet form and placed in the hands of every member of both Houses of the imperial parliament, and widely distributed in the clubs. Unquestionably, these letters exercised a far-reaching influence on the policy of Great Britain towards her rapidly developing colonial possessions. After they had been well-considered and understood no further narrow enunciations of policy are to be found in despatches from the colonial office, and although in Nova Scotia the struggle had to be maintained a few years longer, and although in the Canadas, after the Act of Union, owing to the narrow views and arbitrary conduct of Sir Charles Metcalfe, full development of responsible government did not accrue until some years later, yet the seeds of sound policy had been sown and taken root, and thenceforth self-government was regarded as not only wise and prudent, but indeed the only condition upon which happiness, contentment and prosperity could prevail in the colonial empire. Splendid work Mr. Howe achieved in the enfranchisement of his own province, but when his claim to eminence is put forward, it will rest not alone upon the fruits of his direct political service in his own province but in the commanding part he played in educating the imperial authorities in true statesmanlike methods. If Howe were alive to-day and with more than sixty years experience in the development of colonial government in North America there is scarce a line in the four great letters to Lord John Russell that he would desire to recall, and his friends and admirers can read them at this day as the emanation of a splendid mind. Lord John (afterwards Earl) Russell was a very distinguished British statesman and afterwards prime minister, but his friends could scarcely, derive the same satisfaction from his observations on colonial executive responsibility. Lord Russell lived to see colonial governors govern, through their constitutional advisers, as fully and absolutely as the sovereign at home; and in less than a score of years after his famous pronunciamently no British colony possessing responsible government would have tolerated the idea that an executive should hold office an hour after it had ceased to possess the confidence of the people's representatives.

Messrs. Young and Huntington went to England, as did also Messrs. Stewart and Wilkins, and at the next session of the legislature in 1839, they reported to the respective bodies which had delegated them. Nothing definite resulted from this delegation. Messrs. Young and Huntington obtained concessions in respect of the opening of several ports of entry in the province; some definite concessions in respect of legislation; but accomplished nothing in respect either of the composition of the councils or in establishing the principle of the responsibility of the executive to the popular House.

It is, perhaps, desirable that a statement should be made in respect to the actual methods of conducting government in Nova Scotia at this time. The executive council on being constituted in 1838 as a separate body from the legislative council, consisted, first, of the Hon. T. N. Jeffrey, who was Her Majesty's collector of customs for Nova Scotia at Halifax, and holding no seat in either branch of the legislature. The Hon. Simon Bradstreet Robie, who had had a seat upon the judiciary, which he had vacated, was a member of the executive, and also president of the legislative council. The provincial secretary was a permanent official appointed by the Crown upon the recommendation of the colonial secretary, and held a seat in the executive, but was not a member of either branch of the legislature. His name was Sir Rupert D. George, and although his was an important provincial department, he was absolutely independent of the House of Assembly, and indeed virtually independent of the executive council to which he belonged. The attorney-general, Mr. S. G. W. Archibald, was not a member of the executive council, but obtained his appointment direct from the Crown through the colonial secretary, and at the same time held the position of speaker of the House of Assembly. The solicitor-general was Mr. J. W. Johnston, who was appointed to office in 1834, but held no seat in either branch of the legislature, nor indeed was a member of the executive. In 1838, when the two separate councils were formed, Mr. Johnston was made a member of both. Mr. James B. Uniacke was a member of the executive without office, and held a seat in the House of Assembly, and up to 1840 may be regarded as the leader of the government party in the popular branch, and therefore Howe's chief antagonist for the first term of his legislative life. It is proper to mention, however, that the strongest man in the executive council, and the one who can be fairly regarded as the leading figure of those opposed to responsible government in Nova Scotia was the Hon. J. W. Johnston, who, though born in the West Indies, sprang from a distinguished ancestry, came to Nova Scotia in his youth, settled at Annapolis, studied law with Mr. Thomas Ritchie, afterwards Judge Ritchie, and on being admitted to practice, first opened an office in Kentville, but afterwards moved to the capital, where he soon by his commanding abilities secured a foremost position as an advocate. His tastes and connections were all aristocratic, though the temper of his mind was liberal, and while his name is invariably associated with the leadership of the Tory party, he was in reality less disposed to thwart reform measures than many of those associated with him. From the time he entered the executive council in 1838, four years after he had held the office of solicitor-general, he was Sir Colin Campbell's chief adviser and the strongest man in his government, though then occupying no place in the House of Assembly.

Afterwards we shall find Mr. Johnston developing into a great figure in the political arena of the province, and destined for many years to be Howe's most sturdy opponent.

Similar anomalies in connection with the administration of government were to be found at this time in all the provinces, and it is not an extraordinary incident that the leading men of these several provinces should have conceived it impossible to have adopted in this country the same principle of executive responsibility to the people which had been then fully achieved in Great Britain. It is seldom that a privileged class ever conceives the wisdom of surrendering its privileges. What Howe started out to achieve was simply this, that all persons holding office and helping to carry on the business of the country should be appointed by an executive which had the confidence of a majority of the members of the House of Assembly; that no executive could hold office a day longer than it could command the confidence of the people's representatives, and that the governor himself should be reduced to the position of a respectable figurehead, acting according to the advice of ministers who were responsible for every act done in his name and liable to be called to account for it in the popular House. This was honestly believed, by British ministers and by most of the leading men of Nova Scotia at that time, to be a piece of palpable absurdity, which could not be practically worked. Mr. Howe was thoroughly imbued with the idea that it not only could work, but that nothing else would give satisfaction to the people and lead to pleasant and harmonious relations with the mother country. And here we see the issue between the two parties, which was not to be finally determined until 1847.

Meantime, considerable progress had been made in the direction of reform. The old council of twelve had been swept away; a legislative council, holding its deliberations with its galleries open to the public, had been created, and an executive council formed in which members of the House of Assembly had obtained seats; but no control over the executive had been obtained by the House. The revenue of the country had not yet been placed fully at the disposal of the assembly, and the leading officials of the province were, in the main, men who in no sense commanded the confidence of the people's representatives.

In the autumn of 1839 Lord John Russell became colonial secretary and he sent despatches on the subject of the formation of colonial governments to the Canadian provinces, the most important feature of which was in relation to the tenure of office of public officials in Canada. He adverts to the fact that all the leading offices were held by permanent tenure, the origin of which was that these at first were appointed from persons residing in England, but as of late years the practice had been introduced of preferring to places of trust in the colonies persons resident there, this had taken away the strongest motive which could be alleged in favour of a practice to which there were many objections of the greatest weight. The governors were instructed to cause it to be made generally known that thereafter the tenure of colonial office held during Her Majesty's pleasure, would not be regarded as an equivalent to tenure under good behaviour, but that such officers should be called upon to retire from the service as often as any sufficient motives of public policy might suggest the expediency of that measure. These remarks were not to apply to judicial officers, nor to offices which were altogether ministerial and which did not devolve upon the holders of them duties in the discharge of which the character and policy of the government were directly involved, but were intended to apply to the heads of departments, and especially to such offices as that of provincial secretary, treasurer or receiver-general, surveyor-general, attorney and solicitor-general; and should apply also to members of the executive council in those provinces in which the legislative and executive councils were distinct bodies. When these despatches arrived late in 1839, Sir John Harvey, the governor of New Brunswick, under date of December 31st, issued a circular addressed to the heads of the civil departments and members of the executive council of New Brunswick, in which he intimated to them his intention of carrying on the government, of that province upon the lines laid down in Lord John Russell's despatch. This at once gave complete satisfaction to the people of New Brunswick, and practically ended, so far as that province was concerned, any acute contest in relation to responsible government, although, it must be added, it was not until a later date that the full and complete recognition of responsible party-government was in effective operation in that province.

In Nova Scotia, Sir Colin Campbell, acting partly upon his own views, and supported, no doubt, by most of those in his council, adopted an entirely different course. His council was composed almost entirely of men not possessing the confidence of the assembly, and no prominent member of the popular party could look forward, under existing conditions, to any reasonable expectation of filling a responsible or honourable position in the government of the country. In the session of 1840, finding that Sir Colin Campbell would take no step towards giving effect to Lord John Russell's despatches, Mr. Howe gave notice of a series of resolutions reciting the existing conditions, and concluding as follows: "Resolved, that the House of Assembly, after mature and calm deliberation, weary of seeing the revenues of the country and the time of its representatives wasted, and the people of Nova Scotia misrepresented to the sovereign, the gracious boons of the sovereign marred in their transmission to the people, do now solemnly declare that the executive council, as at present constituted, does not enjoy the confidence of the Commons!"

Howe introduced this resolution in a speech of great length and power. Perhaps its greatest merit was in its extreme moderation, and the exhaustive manner in which he set forth point by point the actual prevailing conditions. This speech made a great impression, not only upon Mr. Howe's friends in the House, but upon the members of the executive who sat in the House, and it was not less far-reaching in its effect upon the people generally throughout the province. This resolution of want of confidence was passed by a large majority in the House, and it is a notable fact that the Hon. Mr. Uniacke, the leader of the government in the House, withdrew from the division, and it became an open secret that he was leaning towards Howe's views. After the adoption of these resolutions, the House waited upon the governor in a body and presented them. The governor's reply was evasive and altogether unsatisfactory. He declared that he had no reason to believe that any alteration had taken place on the part of Her Majesty's government in respect to the methods of conducting colonial government, and he declared that justice to his executive council compelled him to say that he had every reason to be satisfied with the advice and assistance which they had at all times afforded. When the House returned to its own chamber, Mr. Uniacke arose and stated that being desirous of facilitating the introduction of a better system of government, he thought it his duty to the House and to the government to tender his resignation of the seat he held as executive councillor, and he intimated that his resignation had been accepted. He followed this with a speech in which he admitted frankly the absurdity of the present system and the necessity for a change. Howe at once rose, and in the most handsome manner conveyed his congratulations to his late antagonist; declared that his resignation did him the highest honour; paid a tribute to his ability, and contrasted his conduct with that of the men who, while they had relied upon him for their defence, now wished to sacrifice him in support of a rotten system which the government itself had abandoned. From thenceforward Mr. Uniacke may be reckoned as a friend and coadjutor of Mr. Howe in the struggle for responsible government. To indicate how bitter and tenacious of its position the official oligarchy was, it is stated that, although belonging to one of the oldest and most distinguished families in the province, Uniacke for a time was socially ostracized by the governor and by many of the old Tory families in the city. It was unquestionably an important acquisition to the Liberal party of Nova Scotia to have secured the cooperation of such an able and accomplished man as James Boyle Uniacke.

Howe and his associates in the House of Assembly were naturally disgusted at the answer to their address given by Sir Colin Campbell. It was not that he affirmed anything especially obnoxious, but the evasive tone indicated a determination upon his part to disregard Lord John Russell's despatch and to cling to his present Tory advisers. Howe's first impulse was to prepare an address to the governor-general, but this he abandoned, and after a day or two proposed another address to Sir Colin Campbell, couched in mild and respectful terms, setting forth with still greater clearness the exact point at issue between the assembly and the government. He asked him simply to give effect to Lord John Russell's despatch and carry on his government according to the wishes of the people. The second address was adopted by a large majority in the House, twenty-nine voting for and ten against it. It was presented to the governor and an answer returned almost identical in its vague and unsatisfactory character with the former answer. He declared that if he gave effect to their address, he would practically recognize a fundamental change in the colonial constitution, which he could not discover to have been designed by the despatch of the secretary of state, Lord John Russell, of October 13th.

Howe now took a step which for boldness stands almost unsurpassed in the struggle for responsible government in any of the colonies. Sir Colin Campbell was a distinguished old soldier, a very worthy type of man personally, and the office of lieutenant-governor of a province in those early days was regarded with a sanctity altogether unknown at the present time. He was sent out directly by the imperial authorities as the representative of the sovereign; he exercised substantial political power and enormous social influence; he had always at his back not only the wealth and social position of the country and the official class, but there is always an innate disposition on the part of the people generally to hold in high regard the office of governor. •Yet Howe took the responsibility of submitting to the legislature an address to the queen, very full in its character, and concluding with this memorable paragraph: "That Your Majesty will join with this House in obviating the necessity for such appeals— that you will repress these absurd attempts to govern provinces by the aid and for the exclusive benefit of minorities, this assembly confidently believes; and in asking Your Majesty to remove Sir Colin Campbell, and send to Nova Scotia a governor who will not only represent the Crown, but carry out its policy with firmness and good faith, the representatives of Nova Scotia perform a painful duty to their sovereign and to their constituents, but recommend the only remedy which they fear can now be applied to establish harmony between the executive and legislature of this province."

This step really startled the people of Nova Scotia. It was a novel movement in the history of colonial government. Some members of the legislature became timid. They could follow Howe in his efforts to procure popular government, but to vote to ask the queen to recall the governor was going too far. Some other timid ones who could not be induced to vote for this extreme measure were absent when the division took place, but Howe was able to secure twenty-five members to vote, and carry his resolution by a substantial majority.

When this resolution was adopted considerable excitement prevailed in the province, especially in the city of Halifax. Up to this point the leaders of the Tory party had recognized that Howe's course was obtaining the support of the mass of the people in the country, and therefore, they scarcely cared to challenge him to a contest in the open; but they regarded this resolution as going in advance of public opinion and giving a shock to the sensibilities of the people at large. The consequence was that public meetings were summoned to denounce this cruel attack upon the governor. The first of these was held in the city of Halifax and the call was addressed simply to those opposed to the action of the assembly. Howe and his friends, of course, could not attend this, but they immediately summoned another meeting, open to everybody, for public discussion. Mr. Johnston, the solicitor-general, who was regarded as undoubtedly the leader of the Tory party, attended this meeting, and Howe and he met for the first time upon the public platform. Both speeches were able and eloquent, for Johnston was an orator of great distinction. Howe, after the meeting, was carried home upon the shoulders of the people. His speech on the occasion was a masterpiece, and, considering that the meeting was composed of heated partisans in a mood to interrupt, great moderation was observed by Howe from the beginning to the end. From the capital the war was extended into the country. The Tory officials circulated addresses of a fulsome character to the governor. But Howe was equal to the occasion and threw himself everywhere, east and west, in the province, to sustain the popular side and keep his friends and supporters, in the outlying districts, in line.

And so the contest went on until July 9th, 1840, when Mr. Poulett Thomson (afterwards Lord Sydenham), who had been recently appointed governor-general of Canada, arrived from Quebec, which was then the seat of government for Canada and the usual residence of the governor-general. He immediately assumed the reins of government, as under his commission he had a right to, and sent for the leading men of both parties to consult upon the aspect of affairs. Mr. Howe was among the number, and between him and Mr. Thomson there was a full, free and most agreeable interchange of views.

What course would be adopted in respect to the governor remained a profound mystery. Among the Tories it was reported that the colonial secretary had declined to present the address of the assembly to the queen, and boasts were made everywhere that the governor would be sustained. But the problem was solved on September 30th, when Lord Falkland arrived in Nova Scotia, bearing with him the queen's commission as lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia. This nobleman was a young man, still in the thirties, handsome in appearance, extremely vain, with little political experience, and, so far as can be judged, of no very great intellectual endowments, and certainly lacking in discretion. But he arrived, evidently with instructions to carry on the government in such a way as to meet, if possible, the objections of the popular party, and he started out with one distinct policy, and that was that the only way to govern a colony successfully was to call into the council men representing all shades of political opinion. It no doubt seemed a plausible solution then, but experience very quickly demonstrated that this system was far from being an ideal one, but rather an impossible one, and that with all the evils surrounding it, the only rational and sensible method of carrying on the government of the country was by a homogeneous cabinet with a premier at its head, all the members of which should be united in carrying forward a common policy.

In furtherance of his policy, Lord Falkland asked Howe to take a seat in his council, and he agreed, on the condition that McNab and Uniacke should also be taken in, that a bill for the incorporation of Halifax should be submitted as a government measure, and that as vacancies occurred from time to time in the council, men in sympathy with the majority of the assembly should be taken in to supply their places.

Thus, before the end of his first term in the legislature, we find that Howe has not only destroyed the old council of twelve, made the deliberations of the legislative council open to the public, driven from the province a lieutenant-governor who would not regard the popular will, but now has himself been asked to accept a place in the cabinet in association with men of his own political views, whose object was to infuse into the government the principles for which he was contending. When Howe was sworn into the cabinet he had been four years in public life and was thirty-six years of age.


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