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Joseph Howe
Chapter V - Howe vs Falkland


AS soon as it became evident that Lord Falkland was determined to carry out his own superficial views of government, and that Johnston intended to hold office by his majority of one in the House, Howe's course became clear. The task he set before him was to devote his energies to stirring up public opinion against Johnston and his government, and to make sure of securing a majority of members at the next general election. The contest for these three memorable years was, perhaps, the most conspicuous in the record of Howe's career. Party feeling was intense at this moment and Howe saw clearly that by keeping the Liberal party compactly together in the House and in the country, and compelling the administration to be carried on by members of the Tory party alone, he could bring about the exact condition of things for which he had always been struggling. If he carried a majority of seats in the assembly at the next election, he could force the resignation of Johnston's government and cause the creation of an administration which would represent the views and policy of the Liberal majority, and thus would end forever irresponsible governments, hybrid administrations, and impose for all time to come upon any administration hereafter formed in Nova Scotia the necessity of having the support and confidence of a majority of the people's representatives.

The contest was, of course, in a large degree, between Johnston and Howe, but, ultimately, owing to the somewhat foolish conception of his position on the part of Lord Falkland, the contest was really for a considerable time between the governor and Mr. Howe, and this part of it was conducted with the utmost bitterness. An employee of the government and a friend of the lieutenant-governor began a series of scurrilous newspaper articles attacking Mr. Howe. Howe took no notice of the writer of the articles, but held Lord Falkland directly responsible for their publication, and, over his own signature, addressed scathing open letters to Lord Falkland, which constitute the very acme of vituperative literature.

It has been mentioned that Mr. Annand became proprietor of the Nova Scotian and Morning Chronicle in 1843. As Howe had resigned his seat in the government and also his office as collector of customs, it was the universal judgment of his friends that he should resume the editorial management of these party papers, and in May, 1844, his first editorial appeared. It was written in his characteristic style, and, as an illustration of the peculiar qualities by which Howe could endear himself to the masses of the people, a quotation from this article will be read with interest:—

"Hardly had we taken our seat upon our old acquaintance (the editorial chair) when we fancied that ten thousand ties which formerly linked our name and daily labours with the household thoughts and fireside amusements of our countrymen, aye, and countrywomen, were revived as if by magic. We stepped across their thresholds, mingled in their social circles, went with them to the woods to enliven their labours, or to the field to shed a salutary influence over their midday meal. . . . And we had the' vanity to believe that we would be everywhere a welcome guest; that the people would say, 'Why, here is Howe amongst us again; not Mr. Speaker Howe, nor the Hon. Mr. Howe, but Joe Howe, as he used to be sitting in his editorial chair, and talking to us about politics, and trade and agriculture; about our own country and other countries; making us laugh a good deal, but think a good deal more even while we were laughing.' Such is the reception we anticipate, homely but hearty; and we can assure our countrymen that we fall back among them, conscious that there is no name by which we have been known of late years among the dignitaries of the land that we prize so highly as the old familiar abbreviation."

During these three years and more of toil, Howe was the great inspiring personality of the Liberal party. Mr. Annand, who was associated with him in the editorial office every day during the struggle, thus describes him at this period:—

"Nothing could exceed the buoyant and cheerful spirit with which Mr. Howe applied himself to the task which he had assumed, of routing Lord Falkland, and his government, horse, foot and artillery, at the next election. In the darkest hour he never despaired. He played through labours multifarious, and which, to a person of different temperament and training, would have been irksome. His armchair became the centre and rallying point of the whole party. Our office was rarely empty; his house, when at home, never. We have often seen him dashing off an editorial, which was to set the whole province laughing or thinking, surrounded by a mob of friends planning some movement or preparing for some meeting. We have known him work when he was weary; inspire others with cheerfulness, when his heart was sad ; and he thought as little of galloping over two or three counties and addressing half a dozen public meetings, as others would think of a drive round 'the Point."

Howe's versatility during this period of conflict was marvellous, but perhaps it may not add to his reputation to enter too fully into his contributions to the political literature of the day. Not content with caustic prose, he lampooned his opponents in verse. One of these poetical effusions entitled "The Lord of the Bedchamber," created much comment at the time, and was, of course, severely criticized 92 by his opponents. It appears that Lord Falkland had been one of the Lords of the Bedchamber prior to his coming to Nova Scotia, and it was to him under this name that the poem was addressed. The whole poem is a clever bit of satire, but scarcely of sufficient interest to quote in full. Its style can be gathered from the first two verses:—

The Lord of the Bedchamber sat in his shirt,
(And D—dy the pliant was there),
And his feelings appeared to be very much hurt,
And his brow overclouded with care.

It was plain from the flush that o'ermantled his cheek,
And the fluster and haste of his stride,
That drown'd and bewildered, his brain had grown weak.
From the blood pump'd aloft by his pride.

Another pasquinade, supposed to be addressed by Lord Falkland to Lord Stanley, at that time colonial secretary, contains the following as a sample of Howe's genius in galling satire:—

In my public despatch, my position, en beau,
Is set off to the greatest advantage, you know;
AVhen you read it you'll think I have nothing to bore me,
But am driving Bluenoses, like poultry, before me.
I'm sorry to own, yet the fact must be stated,
The game is all up, and I'm fairly checkmated.
The Poacher in Chaucer, with a goose in his breeches,
Was betrayed by the neck peeping through the loose stitches.
And I must acknowledge, unfortunate sinner,
As my griefs are enlarging, my breeches get thinner;
And I feel if I do not soon make a clean breast,
That from what you observe you will guess at the rest.

But while talking of geese, it is said, in some ruction,
That Rome, by their cackling, was sav'd from destruction—
The luck of the Roman runs not in my line,
For I am destroyed by the cackling of mine.

The first session of the new parliament was marked by protracted debates on the political situation. Mr. Howe made a lengthy speech in defence of his conduct both in going into and leaving the administration (but he was careful in this speech to omit anything that savoured of a personal attack upon Lord Falkland), and also setting forth the principles upon which an administration should be formed and continue in office. Then followed the efforts of Lord Falkland to induce leading men of the Liberal party to enter the administration on the condition that Howe should be excluded. These not only failed, but they impelled Howe to that course of vigorous and bitter attack upon Lord Falkland which ultimately drove him from the province.

During the summer of 1844, Mr. Howe visited parts of Nova Scotia, holding public meetings in Wilmot, Windsor, Newport, Maitland, Parrs-boro, Maccan, Amherst, Wallace and Musquodo-boit. His tours over the province were made on horseback. He often addressed three meetings in a day, attended public dinners, and participated in the evenings in country balls. It is impossible to describe the enthusiasm which he created among his friends and admirers in all parts of the province. At the meetings his eloquence captivated the hearts of his hearers; in social life he was simply irresistible. Most of his time at public gatherings, when he was not speaking, was spent moving round freely among the people, especially the women; he was brimful of humour, and elicited the ardent regard of every person with whom he came in contact. At each of these great popular addresses he was certain to indulge in some delightful and unique outburst, based upon the surrounding incidents, which evoked great enthusiasm.

The biography of Mr. Howe, properly speaking, cannot be written. The only true picture of his career can be obtained by extracts from his innumerable public utterances upon all questions and upon all occasions. The compass of this book makes this impossible. At an immense picnic at Cornwallis, where fifteen hundred persons of both sexes were assembled in the open air to welcome the hero of responsible government, Mr. Howe made the following reference to the ladies of King's county, whose health he proposed:—

Sculptors and painters of old stole from many forms their lines of beauty, and from many faces their harmonies of feature and sweetness of expression ; but from the groups around him, individual forms and single faces might be selected, to which nothing could be added, without marring a work, that, if faithfully copied, would stamp divinity upon the marble, or immortality on the canvas. He had seen other countries and admired their wonders of nature and of art. Germany had her Drakenfels, and Scotland her mountains, France her vineyards, England her busy marts, and Ireland her depths of verdure—each and all had some peculiar charm, some native characteristic, that Nova Scotians must be contented to admire, and satisfied to want; but when he came to contemplate that first, best gift to man, he could place the girls of his own wild country beside those of any portion of the globe, and thank Providence that those who were to lie in our bosoms and beautify our homes, were their equals in personal loveliness, in tact and virtue.

Addresses of a complimentary character were presented to Mr. Howe in all the places which he visited during this campaign, one of which will serve as an example of the manner in which he was regarded by his ardent followers in Nova Scotia:—

"Mr. Joseph Howe:—Sir, It is with feelings of no ordinary joy and gratification that we welcome you to our fertile county. No language at our command can adequately convey to you the unfeigned satisfaction and heartfelt gratitude with which we have ever witnessed the untiring zeal and perseverance you have displayed, in supporting our best interests during the whole tenor of your political career. Time would fail us to enumerate even the more prominent scenes in which you have stood forth the friend and champion of the people, and triumphantly fought their battles, both with your pen and in the legislative arena, and by which you have won their lasting confidence and affection. But we feel it a duty incumbent on us to mark with peculiar applause and approbation, that noble and disinterested act by which you and your associates cast off the shackles of office, and came forth the staunch and unfettered guardians of the people's rights.

"For this, as well as for the successful exertion of a whole lifetime spent in promoting the glorious cause of British colonial freedom, in the name and on behalf of the reformers of King's county, we beg to tender you our best thanks and confidence, and our sincere and earnest wishes for your future usefulness and prosperity.—King's County, July 17th, 1845."

The second session, 1845, was the scene of the most memorable contests between the two political parties that have marked the political history of Nova Scotia. At the former session Howe still had confidence in Lord Falkland and no desire to do him injustice. That nobleman had, in a fatuous manner, identified himself with the opponents of Howe, and had taken "a course so hostile to him personally that, as we have said, the contest became for a time more peculiarly one between Mr. Howe and Lord Falkland than between Mr. Howe and Mr. Johnston. In this session Mr. Uniacke moved a resolution, the general effect of which was to express, lack of confidence in the existing administration. Upon this Mr. Howe made a speech in the legislature, which occupied several hours in delivery and was regarded as the greatest parliamentary effort he had hitherto made. In reply to this nearly every prominent man in the legislature, from Johnston down, who was opposed to Howe, made answer, nearly all of them speaking in a tone of bitterness and unsparing invective. After ten days debate Howe rose and made a general reply, as long, as able and as vigorous as his first effort. The opening words of this speech will serve to illustrate the delightfully easy and racy manner with which he invariably began his public utterances :—

"Mr. Chairman,—There is a good story told of an Irishman, who was put in the pillory for saying that the city authorities were no better than they should be. He bore the infliction with exemplary patience, and severe enough it was; for every silly fellow who expected an invitation to the mayor's feast, every servile creature, who aspired to a civic office, strove to win favour by pelting him with conspicuous activity. When the hour expired, and a goodly array of missiles had accumulated upon the stage, the culprit, taking off his hat and bowing politely to the crowd, said, 'Now, gentlemen, it is my turn,' and, commencing with his Worship, pelted the crowd with great dexterity and effect. The Irish, who always relish humour, were so pleased with the joke, that they carried the man home on their shoulders. I have no expectation that my fate will be quite so triumphant, but no gentleman will question my right to follow the example. I have sat for ten days in this political pillory; missiles of every calibre have hurtled around my head; they have accumulated in great abundance, and if my turn has come, those by whom they were showered have no right to complain. As first in dignity, if not in accuracy of aim, perhaps I ought to commence with the learned and honourable Crown officer; but there is an old Warwickshire tradition, that Guy, before he grappled with the dun cow, tried his hand upon her calves; and perhaps it would be as well, before touching the learned attorney-general, that I should dispose of the strange progeny his political system has warmed into existence. The eagle, before he lifts his eye to the meridian, learns to gaze with steadiness on the lesser lights by which he is surrounded; and, as 'Jove's satellites are less than Jove,' so are the learned leader's disciples inferior to their master."

Mr. Uniacke's resolution was voted down by a majority of three, and the government was thus saved for another session.

During this session an incident somewhat unique in parliamentary government occurred in the House. Those who are familiar with Lord Durham's famous report are aware that in it is broached the idea of an intercolonial railway connecting the Maritime Provinces with Quebec. In 1845 some capitalists in London set on foot the organization of a company to undertake such a work, and Mr. George R. Young, brother of William Young, then speaker of the House, being in London, associated himself with the movement, and the law firm, consisting of his brother William and himself, were made solicitors of the company. During the session a despatch from Lord Falkland to the colonial secretary was brought down and read in the House, in which Mr. George It. Young's name and that of his brother were repeatedly mentioned, and in which they were held up to condemnation as associates of reckless and insolvent men. The principle of mentioning private persons in official despatches was entirely unsound and would not be dreamed of at the present time, and only illustrated Lord Falkland's utter failure to appreciate his constitutional position as lieutenant-governor.

Many members of the House were indignant, and especially the speaker, who, occupying the chair, had no opportunity to refer to it. It was inevitable that some comment should be made upon it, and most public men would have taken occasion to animadvert upon this practice in terms of deprecation. Mr. Howe, whose feelings for Lord Falkland, it will be easily recognized, were not of the kindest, saw an opportunity of giving a very striking object lesson, so he rose, immediately after the reading of the despatch, and made the following terse statement:—

Mr. Howe said that he should but ill discharge his duty to the House or to the country, if he did not, on the instant, enter his protest against the infamous system pursued (a system of which he could speak more freely now that the case was not his own), by which the names of respectable colonists were libelled in despatches sent to the colonial office, to be afterwards published here, and by which any brand or stigma might be placed upon them without their having any means of redress. If that system were continued, some colonist would, by and by, or he was much mistaken, hire a black fellow to horsewhip a lieutenant-governor.

Naturally, this extraordinary characterization created great excitement. The question of order was raised It appeared that no one had taken down the words, yet a vote of censure was moved by the government party and carried by their usual majority. Howe immediately addressed a long letter to his constituents on the incident, in which, in scathing terms, he dwelt upon the whole principle involved in the recent official despatches of Lord Falkland, and concluded with the following words:

"'But,' I think I hear some one say, 'after all, friend Howe, was not the suppositious case you anticipated might occur, somewhat quaint and eccentric, and startling?' It was, because I wanted to startle, to rouse, to flash the light of truth over every hideous feature of the system. The fire-bell startles at night, but if it rings not the town may be burned, and wise men seldom vote him an incendiary who pulls the rope, and who could not give the alarm, and avert the calamity, unless he made a noise. The prophet's style was quaint and picturesque when he compared the great king to a sheep stealer; but the object was not to insult the king, it was to make him think, to rouse him, to let him see by the light of a poetic fancy the gulf to which he was descending, that he might thereafter love mercy, walk humbly, and, controlling his passions, keep untarnished the lustre of the Crown. David let other men's wives alone after that flight of Nathan's imagination; and I will venture to say that whenever, hereafter, our rulers desire to grill a political opponent in an official despatch, they will recall my homely picture, and borrow wisdom from the past."

It would not be profitable to dwell further upon the acute and virulent conflict which continued for some time between Lord Falkland and Mr. Howe. It is sufficient to note that his Lordship was the first to grow tired of it, and at last, notwithstanding the support of his government, Lord Falkland became impressed with the disagreeable position in which he found himself placed. On January 1st, 1846, he omitted the usual levé at government house, recognizing that owing to his personal embroilment in the political affairs of the province, it would take almost entirely a partisan hue. No dinner or levé was held on the Queen's birthday, May 24th, and at last on August 3rd, Lord Falkland packed up his effects and sailed for England, where he soon after received another appointment as governor of Bombay. This was the second lieutenant-governor whom Mr. Howe, in the brief period in which he had been in public life, had driven to the wall.

Sir John Harvey, who had been governor of New Brunswick, and later of Newfoundland, was Lord Falkland's successor, and he arrived on August 11th, 1846. No appointment could have been better suited to meet the difficulties then existing in Nova Scotia. Sir John Harvey was himself a broad and liberal-minded man, and although he acted loyally upon the advice of his ministers on his arrival in the province until they were driven from office, yet unquestionably his sympathies were altogether with those who were struggling to secure constitutional government in Nova Scotia. After he had been a few months in the province he submitted a memorandum to his ministers, intimating his belief that the council should be filled up, and that it would be desirable to have leading men in the opposition offered places in the administration. The council acted upon the request of the governor and made overtures to Messrs. Howe, Young, Doyle and McNab, and these gentlemen were well assured that, if they accepted the positions thus tendered to them, they would have the confidence and support of the governor. But Howe never proposed that any such step should be taken. In the course of a year a general election must take place and his settled policy was that the situation should not be hampered by coalitions, but that a straight issue between the two parties should be submitted to the people, and the result of the elections determine the complexion of the administration. So in a very lengthy and elaborate paper, prepared by Howe himself, the Liberal leaders respectfully declined this proposition.

Nothing occurred in the session of 1847 to call for special note. Mr. Johnston had introduced, and carried, an excellent measure providing for simultaneous polling at the general election, which experience has amply demonstrated to be a great improvement on the old system of having elections peripatetic in their character and lasting ten days or a fortnight. After the session was over, about the end of March, both parties were absorbed in the approaching elections.

It may be mentioned that after the session of 1845, Howe with his whole family removed from the city of Halifax to a farm in Upper Musquodoboit, in the eastern part of Halifax county, forty or fifty miles from the capital, where they spent two years. Mr. Howe's own words in respect of this Musquodoboit residence may be appropriately quoted:—

"They were two of the happiest years of my life. I had been for a long time overworking my brains and underworking my body. Here I worked my body and rested my brains. We rose at daylight, breakfasted at seven, dined at twelve, took tea at six, and then assembled in the library, where we read for four or five hours almost every evening. I learned to plough, to mow, to reap, to cradle; I knew how to chop and pitch hay before. Constant exercise in the open air made me as hard as iron. My head was clear and my spirits buoyant. My girls learned to do everything that the daughters of our peasants learn, and got a knowledge of books which, amidst the endless frivolities and gossiping of city life, they never could have acquired. My boys got an insight into what goes on in the interior of their own country, which should be of service to them all their lives. I read the Edinburgh Review from the commencement, and all the poets over again; wrote a good deal, and yet spent the best part of every fine day in the fields or in the woods. My children were all around me, and in health, and although I had cares enough, as God knows, and you know, I shall never, perhaps, be so happy again."

When the session of 1847 was over, Howe returned for a short time to his Musquodoboit home to rest, but it was early made manifest that the government and its friends intended to use desperate measures to secure the elections. Howe was, of course, to contest the city and county of Halifax with three colleagues, and the Conservatives had nominated four strong men to oppose them. Stories, pretty well authenticated, are told of handsome election funds which were raised by some of the wealthy members of the privileged class in Halifax to aid in the contest. Howe returned from his farm in May and began his campaign,, first addressing a series of meetings in his own county; then he made a tour of the province, visiting twelve of the eighteen counties, and during this tour addressed sixty public meetings, accepted fifteen public dinners, and rode and drove thousands of miles. It would be impossible adequately to describe the enthusiasm which Howe's personal presence inspired as he moved over the province. His public speeches were admired, but his personality, as he shook hands and cracked jokes with thousands of men and women, was a greater feature in evoking personal regard than even his matchless and persuasive addresses.

The elections were held on August 5th, and resulted in the Liberals obtaining a handsome majority. Mr. Howe and his three colleagues were returned for Halifax. After the election, worn out, he went straightway to his little farm in Musquodoboit, but before he reached the Middle settlement, the inhabitants of the entire section turned out in carriages and on horseback, with banners flying, to meet him, and escorted him, for some twenty miles, to his home. A wagon with the raised seat festooned with flowers, and drawn by six horses, was waiting for him; an address was presented to him by the people of Upper Musquodoboit and of Middle Musquodoboit, and every token of the esteem and affection in which he was held was 106 bestowed. "For a month afterwards," said Mr. Howe, "I did nothing but play with the children and read old books to my girls. I then went into the woods and called moose with the old hunters, camping out night after night, listening to their stories and calming my thoughts with the perfect stillness of the forest, and forgetting the bitterness of conflict amidst the beauties of nature."

Johnston and his associates did not accept their defeat gracefully. Although no doubt as to the result of the election could exist, yet Johnston took no steps to vacate office, and met the House on January 22nd, 1848. Howe proposed Mr. William Young for speaker. This was bitterly opposed by Johnston and the government. Mr. Young was elected by six majority. Still no resignation. On January 24th, Mr. James B. Uniacke moved an amendment to the address, concluding with this statement, " and we consider it our humble duty respectfully to state that the present executive council does not possess that confidence so essential to the promoting of the public welfare, and so necessary to insure to Your Excellency the harmonious co-operation of this assembly." This was carried by a vote of twenty-eight to twenty-one, and, the day after, Mr. Johnston's government resigned, and Mr. James B. Uniacke was called upon to form' an administration.


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