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Joseph Howe
Chapter IV - Howe as a Minister


ALMOST immediately after the formation of Lord Falkland's administration, the House was dissolved and a general election took place. Howe's position during the three years that he held a seat in the executive was not by any means an easy or agreeable one. As a doughty champion fulminating against officialdom, he quickly became the popular idol, but many, if not most, of those who were in sympathy with the movement for responsible government looked with suspicion, if not with disfavour, upon his association with the bigwigs who gathered about government house. Johnston did not become attorney-general until the next year, and the idea of premiership had not yet developed in connection with the executive council of the province, but to all intents and purposes Johnston was Lord Falkland's chief adviser, and occupied a position as nearly as possible akin to that of premier. He was a strong man and distinctly obnoxious to the Liberals of Nova Scotia, many of whom doubted the propriety of their hero sitting at a council board at which Johnston was the ruling spirit.

At the same time, it will be easily understood that officialdom and the Tory party generally throughout Nova Scotia were profoundly disgusted at finding at the council board a man who had ruthlessly disturbed their comfortable nests, and who, from their point of view, might use his position at this board to destroy completely the system which they cherished. Howe's first duty was to appease his friends by a public letter before the elections, and thereby secure a majority of Liberals in the new House of Assembly, and in this he was entirely successful. His own words justifying the course he had taken will, perhaps, best set forth his conception of the situation.

"Having been elevated by'Her Majesty's command to a seat in the executive council, a brief explanation may be necessary on this subject, and I make it the more readily because I have no secrets to conceal. When the charge of personal ambition has been reiterated by those who assert their claims to fill every post in the country, by applying in shoals whenever one happens to be vacant, I have often smiled at their modesty, and at their ignorance of facts. Had I sought my own advancement, and not the general good, I might have accepted a seat in council in 1837, and held it for life independent of the people. Again, in 1839, had I abandoned my principles, I might have obtained the vacancy occasioned by the demise of the Hon. Joseph Allison; but to have gone into the old council, upon the old principles, would have been to deserve the epithets which have sometimes been as freely as ignorantly applied. When, however, Her Majesty's government, by the withdrawal of Sir Colin Campbell, by the retirement of a large section of the old council, and by the adoption of the sound principles for which the popular party had contended, made such a demonstration as I conceived entitled them to the confidence of the country, it seemed to be clearly my duty to accept the seat tendered by the new governor, and to give him the best assistance in my power."

The anomalies of these three years of hybrid administration are too numerous to be minutely detailed. Mr. Howe, although a member of Lord Falkland's government with Mr. Johnston at the head of it, found himself and his colleagues in Halifax city and county fiercely opposed at their elections by the political friends of Johnston, and this course was pursued in most parts of Nova Scotia in respect to all the candidates running for the assembly who could be classed as Howe's friends and followers. Nevertheless, the Liberal party was successful in this election, and Howe and his three colleagues for Halifax were returned by large majorities. After the election Howe was entertained at a public banquet in Mason Hall.

Another anomaly in connection with this new condition of things arose at the opening of the House. Mr. S. G. W. Archibald, as has been said, had long filled the office of attorney-general and at the same time the speakership of the House of Assembly. Before the new House met, Archibald had accepted the position of master of the rolls, a judicial post corresponding to judge in equity. This left the speakership open. Under the existing condition of things, with responsible government in full operation, no member of a government would think of filling that position. However, the race for the speakership at this session was between Howe and his friend James B. Uniacke, and, after considerable contest, the former was elected by a majority of two, thus occupying the dual position of member of the government and speaker of the House. In September, 1842, the office of collector of customs at Halifax became vacant by the retirement of Mr. Binney, and Howe accepted the position. It is probable that he was forced by financial exigencies to accept this place of emolument. His political duties were now extremely exacting. He had been forced during the first four years of his legislative career to assume leadership, travel over the province, address meetings and give his time to the evolution of policy. He was a poor man when he started his political life and remained steadily poor until the day that he died. At this time, too, he had the responsibilities of a young and growing family. He was compelled in 1841, to hand over the control of the Nova Scotian to Mr. Nugent, who in a very short time handed it over to Mr. William Annand, Howe's friend and colleague, who continued its publication together with the Morning Chronicle, which he started soon afterwards. Howe was, therefore, without any means of livelihood except those which sprang from his political duties. When the next session (1843) opened, Howe announced that, having accepted an office of emolument, he felt it his duty to resign the speakership. Previous to this Mr. William Young, member for Inverness, had been sworn into the executive council in place of S. G. W. Archibald. Young became a candidate for the speakership in 1843, and Mr. Herbert Huntington, another warm friend of Mr. Howe's, was his opponent. To show that public opinion was advancing, a resolution was passed by the legislature declaring the office of member of the government and speaker incompatible, whereupon Young resigned his seat in the executive council and was elected speaker by a majority of two over Mr. Huntington.

Still another anomaly to be mentioned in connection with this era of government is that while Howe and McNab made declarations in the House of Assembly that the ministers were responsible and held office through the favour and confidence of the assembly, in the legislative council, Johnston, Stewart and other members made speeches declaring almost the exact opposite. This was one of the tokens of difference of opinion which appeared between members of the same administration. Howe was determined that this question of responsibility should be settled and defined. A meeting of council was called and Mr. E. M. Dodd, who was at that time solicitor-general and a member of the executive and legislative councils, was deputed to make a statement which would have a quieting effect. Mr. Dodd in this statement, which was afterwards approved by Mr. Johnston in a public declaration, declares that while the governor is responsible to his sovereign and the ministers are responsible to him, they are likewise bound to defend his acts and appointments, and to preserve the confidence of the legislature. This patched up matters between the diverging ministers, for a time.

But, perhaps the greatest anomaly which was developed by this period of coalition government was in respect to the question of education. This leads, naturally, to an incident in Howe's career which cannot be omitted if a full study of his character is to be made. By some unfortunate incident Howe had a quarrel with the leaders of the Baptist body in Nova Scotia at this time. Mr. Johnston himself was originally a member of the Church of England and belonged to the exclusive set which at that time the Church of England represented in the province, though in point of numbers they represented less than one-fifth of the population. An unfortunate division occurred about this time in St. Paul's church, the oldest and largest Episcopalian organization in the city, in reference to the choice of a rector. The people elected one clergyman as rector, the bishop appointed another, and made him rector by virtue of his official prerogative. This led to the withdrawal from St. Paul's of a considerable number of influential men. It happened at this time that a Baptist minister, the Rev. John Burton, was conducting religious services in Halifax with considerable enthusiasm, and many of the seceders from St. Paul's church sat under his ministration and were affected by his religious fervour, among the number being the Hon. Mr. Johnston, Mr. E. A. Crawley, (a rising lawyer who afterwards entered the Baptist ministry and became one of the most distinguished men in religious life in Canada), Mr. J. W. Nutting, Mr. John Ferguson and others, all of whom ultimately joined the Baptist church. Ferguson was the editor and proprietor of the Christian Messenger, and Howe had for some time published this paper in the office of the Nova Scotian under contract, involving certain business transactions between Mr. Howe, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Nutting, which led to financial difficulties and litigation, and paved the way for considerable ill-feeling between Howe and leading members of the Baptist body, the majority of whom in Nova Scotia were naturally in sympathy with Howe's struggles for popular government. It is necessary to admit frankly that Howe during his whole career could never be classed as thoroughly judicious in his general movements. As a political tactician he was unsurpassed, but he had an impulsive temperament in his every day dealings with men, which very often led him to do things indiscreet for a political leader, and to utter not infrequently bitter words which would long rankle in the breasts of his victims. Johnston at this time was intimately identified with the Baptist body and he and the eminent men who united with that body at the same time were regarded with considerable interest and pride by the Baptists generally throughout the province. Although seated round the same council board politically, no one at the time doubted that Mr. Johnston, was, to all intents and purposes, sympathizing with and aiding and supporting those Baptists associated with the Christian Messenger, with whom Howe was carrying on a violent personal struggle.

Another still more acute cause of dissent arose at this time, when Johnston and Howe were sitting as colleagues in Lord Falkland's council. It may be mentioned that Howe from the earliest period was deeply interested in the great question of education, and nothing which pertains to the public life of a country, viewed from every aspect, can be so far-reaching in its consequences as the proper intellectual development of the masses, through the agency of public schools. As early as 1841 Howe introduced a measure to establish a system of free schools by popular assessment. At this time, while there was a school system in Nova Scotia in a measure controlled by the board of education, and small sums were voted to aid and assist common school education by the House of Assembly, yet throughout the province generally the only method of obtaining a school was by voluntary subscriptions from the people, and the teacher was very often himself compelled to go through a district and get subscriptions from those having children in order thereby to have a school established. Some of the larger towns had grammar schools which received a special grant from the legislature, but the school system of Nova Scotia was crude, unsatisfactory, and could never become permanently successful until established upon a distinct legal basis, and until the support of schools was made a compulsory charge upon the taxpayers in the section. Howe was the first Nova Scotian distinctly and explicitly to advocate this. His speech on this question was one of the noblest and most elevated of his career. He knew quite well that the proposition to impose taxation for the support of schools would be unpopular in the country and alarm the members of the House, but he did not hesitate to advocate it boldly, and to appeal to the members of the House to risk everything in order to accomplish this great reform. For the sacred purposes of education, for founding a provincial character, for the endowment of common schools for the whole population, no hesitation, he maintained, need be felt at coming to direct taxation. Few, perhaps, were more worldly than himself, or more alive to the value of popularity; yet he would willingly take all the blame, all the unpopularity that might be heaped on him, as one who had a share in establishing that which he proposed. They were representatives of the people, and he put it to them, as they were greatly honoured, should they not greatly dare ? He called on gentlemen not to be too timid in risking popularity, and not to reckon too carefully the price of doing their duty. Were they Christians, and afraid to lay down their seats, when He from whom they received the distinguished name laid down His life for them? Were they Nova Scotians, and afraid to do that which would tend to elevate the country to the highest moral grade? If so, they were unworthy of the name. It was their duty to raise and establish the character of the country as the character of other countries had beenóby the intelligence of the people.

It was not destined that the honour of establishing a free school system should become the endowment of Mr. Howe. That glory belongs to another; but that Howe's persistent and eloquent advocacy paved the way to the later achievement of Sir Charles Tupper, in 1864, is an undoubted fact, and entitles him to a large share in the credit for this noble measure.

But the question in relation to education which resulted in acute difference between Johnston and Howe, while members of the same cabinet, related to the establishment of colleges. The Church of England had founded King's College early in the century and it was for a time the only institution that could be regarded as possessing collegiate powers. Dalhousie College had been called into existence early in the century as the result of the appropriation of a large sum of prize money taken in the war of 1812 and entitled the "Castine Fund," but this institution had been apparently taken possession of by the Presbyterian body, and with great illiberality they had refused to appoint the Rev. Mr. Crawley, now an eminent Baptist divine, to a professorship in the institution on account of his religious views. This induced the Baptists to found an institution at Wolfville, called at first Queen's, but soon after, Acadia College. The institution was started in 1839, and has existed by the voluntary contributions of the Baptist body, and has steadily grown and expanded until this day, when it has become one of the most important collegiate institutions in the Maritime Provinces. The Catholics also founded a collegiate institution, and the Methodists were calling into existence their institutions at Sackville, N.B., on the border line between the two provinces and supported by the Methodists of both. Thus in a province of less than three hundred thousand people, five colleges, sectarian in their character, were in existence.

Mr. Howe believed that these colleges were unnecessarily multiplying burdens upon the people, and affording only a minimum of efficiency in the direction of university education, and he therefore openly and boldly favoured the establishment of one central college, free from sectarian control and open to all denominations, maintained by a common fund and rallying round it the affections of the whole people. A resolution supporting this proposition was submitted to the legislature, under Howe's inspiration, by his friend Mr. Annand, seconded by Mr. Herbert Huntington. Howe made a very able speech in its support, in the course of which he stated that when he looked abroad on the works of Providence he saw no sectarianism in the forest or in the broad river which sparkled through the meadows; and asked why we should be driven to the conclusion that men could not live together without being divided by that which ought to be a bond of Christian union.

As a matter of principle Howe was unquestionably sound in this view, and if his policy in respect to one central university had prevailed in Nova Scotia, it is quite probable that greater efficiency in respect to higher education would have resulted. But his uncompromising course on the question was unwise from a political point of view, as the result demonstrated. Taken in connection with his recent quarrel with the Christian Messenger and leading men in the Baptist denomination, it was only calculated to add fuel to the flame. The Baptists at that moment were zealously employed in the work of building up Acadia College, and the project had taken root in the hearts and consciences of the great mass of the denomination. Mr. Johnston, as one of the leaders of the Baptist body, was naturally called upon to defend his college, and incidentally the denominational system. This brought him into direct conflict with Howe on an important public question, which at that moment had become a burning one. The inevitable result of such a controversy would be to alienate from Howe and his party a powerful section of the Baptist body, and several seats in the Nova Scotia legislature were likely to be influenced in a considerable measure by the Baptist vote. Mr. Howe, as the result showed, paid dearly for his chivalrous advocacy of a non-sectarian provincial university, and the acute contest between these two men, both of them sitting at the same council board, constitutes, as has been said, another of the grotesque anomalies which must inevitably follow from a government constructed on the lines upon which Lord Falkland insisted. The Christian Messenger fulminated furious attacks upon Howe week after week, and Johnston himself, at a Baptist association in Yarmouth, in the course of an inflammatory speech, animadverted with great severity upon the action of the House of Assembly in passing the resolutions which Mr. Annand had moved and Mr. Howe had supported. Howe, in self-defence, held a series of meetings to discuss this college question, the first in Halifax, when a resolution was passed endorsing his policy; then he visited Colchester, Hants, and Pictou.

While Howe was absent in the autumn of 1843 attending these meetings, the executive council, under Johnston's leadership, was called together and a proposal made for dissolution. Howe was summoned to attend, but he had made engagements for two meetings which detained him on the way. Before he got to the capital, an order-in-council dissolving the House was passed. This course was justly regarded by Howe and his friends as unwise and uncalled for. The term of the House had not nearly expired and the government had received a steady support for all its important measures, thanks to the influence which Howe was able to exercise. The dissolution was to take place at a time when acute differences of opinion were being publicly proclaimed on an important question, between Johnston, the leader of the government, and Howe, the leader of the Liberal element in it.

But Johnston had a definite purpose in this sudden dissolution of the legislature. He perceived that Howe had alienated influential interests in Nova Scotia by his unfortunate difficulties with the Baptists, and on account of his zealous advocacy of a central university as against sectarian colleges, and he conceived the idea that he would dissolve the House and set himself to the task of securing a majority of members in the assembly who would be in sympathy with himself and his views. In furtherance of this, Johnston resigned his seat in the legislative council and accepted a nomination for the county of Annapolis, then represented by a supporter of Howe. Annapolis was a strong Baptist constituency and Johnston relied upon the influence of denominational pride and sympathy to enable him not only to carry his own seat, but also the two remaining seats in the county.

Some of Howe's friends, when this dissolution was announced, seeing in it plainly a determination on the part of the majority of the council, with Johnston at their head, to conduct matters according to their own views and without regard to the wishes and sentiments of Howe and his friends, urged him to resign and bring on a crisis then. But Howe did not concur in this view, and indicated to Lord Falkland his judgment of the situation. If Howe and his friends should carry a majority of seats in the election, the true policy for Johnston would be to resign and allow him to form an administration. If Johnston obtained a majority of seats, the true policy would be for him (Howe) to leave the government and let Johnston form an administration composed entirely of his own political friends. This most rational proposal Lord Falkland declined to entertain, adhering to his fatuous scheme of having a council composed of men of all political views.

During the election, which Howe and his friends entered upon 'with much discouragement and want of spirit, he constantly advocated the idea of party government, and announced that the administration hereafter should depend upon the result of the coming elections. Mr. Johnston, on the other hand, supported Lord Falkland's idea that government should not be conducted upon party lines, but he had in his mind all the while a fixed determination that, if he could by any possibility obtain a majority of members favourable in the new House, he would rule according to his own views and let Howe and his friends take care of themselves.

The election took place late in the year 1843, and the result was for a time in doubt. Both parties claimed a majority. As a matter of fact, the event proved that Johnston could count upon a majority of one in the new assembly.

After the elections were over Howe and his friends in the government did not resign, and it is possible that if Johnston had pursued a wise course he might have placed his antagonist in an embarrassing position. But, almost immediately after the election, he committed a distinct blunder, which afforded Howe the very opportunity he wished, to retire from the cabinet. The mistake was nothing less than calling to the executive and legislative councils Mr. M. B. Almon, a bitter Tory, who had been active in opposing Howe in his election in Halifax, and who was a brother-in-law of Johnston himself. The instant this was announced Mr. Howe, Mr. J. B. Uniacke and Mr. James McNab retired from the government. It was one of the conditions upon which Howe and his supporters had entered the cabinet three years before, that as vacancies occurred, friends of the Liberal party should be called to the council. William Young had been appointed in 1842, and resigned on accepting the speakership in 1843. The vacancy belonged to the Liberals, and the arbitrary filling of it by the appointment of so pronounced an opponent as Almon made it impossible for Howe and his friends longer to endure the unpleasant position in which they were placed.

Lord Falkland called upon these gentlemen to give reasons for their resignation, which Howe promptly did in clear terms, as did also Messrs. Uniacke and McNab. At a later time further negotiations were set on foot by Lord Falkland to induce these gentlemen to come back. Mr. Dodd, the solicitor-general, was made the medium of communication. His attempt was unsuccessful, as these gentlemen distinctly declined the proposition. At the first session of the new parliament a resolution of want of confidence was soon moved, and this Johnston was able to defeat by a vote of twenty-six to twenty-five. This tested the strength of parties in the House, and during the parliamentary term Johnston had to rely upon this narrow vote to secure the adoption of his measures.


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