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Joseph Howe
Chapter VI - The Liberal Ministry


THOSE who have perused the preceding chapters, and have formed, it is hoped, a justly high opinion of Mr. Howe's talents and achievements, of his splendid courage, his unceasing devotion to the Liberal cause, his unrivalled eloquence and his matchless power of winning the confidence and affection of the masses, will probably wonder why, when the Tory government had been driven from office, Howe himself was not called upon to form an administration. Those who will take the pains to study carefully and philosophically the history of popular government throughout the world will scarcely need an answer. Public life in all free countries reveals usually two classes of men, one which possesses great talent, great courage, great intellectual endowments and capacity to revolutionize events and make history; another, which, but moderately endowed with these particular qualities, has the advantage which mediocrity always bestows of possessing the confidence of average people, by dint of a reputation for judiciousness derived from the possession of average qualities. In former days in Great Britain, such men as the Pitts were able, it is true, to obtain the premierships, and in these later days, Mr. Gladstone and Lord Beaconsfield might perhaps be classed as the distinguished exceptions to the general rule, although a careful insight into Lord Beaconfield's career indicates that he possessed to a very marked degree the quality of gauging public opinion and adjusting himself to it. But for the most part the premiers of Great Britain have been men of average, all-round ability, but who could reckon among their qualities that of being able to appeal to the ordinary mortals whom they were governing. In the United States, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and James G. Blaine could never be president, but James Polk, James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison could. The history of Canada and her several provinces has illustrated, often enough, the principle that the man who obtained the leadership was not necessarily the man who was guiding the policy of the country or making history. Mr. James B. Uniacke was a gentleman of education, wealth, high social standing, and of long experience in public affairs, and it was most natural that he should have been chosen to lead the administration to be formed. He chose for his colleagues Messrs. Michael Tobin, Hugh Bell, Joseph Howe, James McNab, Herbert Huntington, W. F. Desbarres, Lawrence O. C. Doyle, and George R. Young.

The defeat of a Tory administration, and the accession, as a result, of a Liberal administration, constitutes the final act in the triumph of responsible government in Nova Scotia. The advent of Lord Elgin to Canada on the departure of Lord Metcalfe may be named as the period when responsible government in its amplest form received full recognition in the larger provinces of Canada. Never, after 1848, was the idea entertained in any province of British North America, having a constitution, that an administration could hold office an hour longer than it had the confidence of the people represented in the popular branch.

The new administration had some unpleasant. reforms and changes to make. In the formation of the administration Mr. Uniacke became attorney-general, and Mr. W. F. Desbarres solicitor-general, and these were the only departmental offices that then existed. Sir Rupert D. George has been mentioned as perpetual provincial secretary; it was determined to get rid of him. He resigned his seat in the executive with the rest of the government, but he did not think of resigning his office as provincial secretary. Provision was made by order-in-council for a retiring allowance, and he, having obstinately refused to bow to the popular will, was dismissed, and Howe became provincial secretary, holding it as a departmental and political office, subject to the exigencies of the government to which he belonged. The treasurer was an officer hitherto appointed by the governor, who had exercised this power in Lord Falkland's time by the appointment of Mr. Samuel P. Fairbanks. This was loudly protested against, and Howe gave pledges that this officer should be a responsible minister. A departmental bill was introduced whereby the two departments of financial secretary or finance minister, and receiver-general or treasurer were created, and these offices were bestowed, the first upon Mr. Herbert Huntington, and the last upon Mr. James McNab. The casual and territorial revenues were taken possession of by the government, and the salaries of the various officials, including the governor, judges, etc., were provided for by a civil list made statutable, and subject at all times to the independent action of the legislature of the province. Great official documents of protest went to the colonial office from all the officials affected, but they were met triumphantly in able official despatches prepared by Howe, and it is to be noted that the lieutenant-governor, Sir John Harvey, stood loyally and steadily with the members of his administration in all the acute measures which they were compelled to take in order to give full effect to the principles of responsible government. In a despatch by Sir John Harvey to the colonial secretary, dated soon after the formation of the new administration, he makes this observation:—"I may therefore, perhaps, venture to regard the introduction of a system of responsible government in Nova Scotia, as having been practically effected upon fair, just principles, and without the necessity of having recourse to any measure of a stringent character, except in the single instance of the provincial secretary, and that a great step has been taken towards the political tranquilization of this long distracted colony, inasmuch as I apprehend no factious opposition, to any measure of acknowledged utility, from the party under the guidance of my late government." This may be fairly taken as an official pronouncement of the establishment of responsible government.

In looking over the long and arduous struggle, two or three things may be safely predicted without fear of challenge. The author, the moving spirit, the supreme champion, and the acknowledged hero of responsible government in Nova Scotia, was Joseph Howe. He achieved it by perfectly constitutional means; not a disloyal word was uttered by him or his friends during the entire contest, though perpetually branded as rebels and provoked by official stupidity. He lent the weight of his great influence to uphold constitutional methods, in the struggle in Canada and New Brunswick. He discountenanced rebellion and bloodshed in both Upper and Lower Canada, and when at a later date riots occurred in Montreal, when Lord Elgin was pelted with rotten eggs, and the parliament buildings burned by a mob because of a measure to compensate losses by rebellion, and when, also, the British American League was organized in Montreal, revolutionary in its aims and disloyal in its utterances, Howe addressed a letter to the Hon. George Moffatt, the president of the League, dated May 8th, 1849, in which he threw upon the entire movement the greatest possible opprobrium, and in scathing terms intimated that no sympathy could be expected from the provinces by the sea in this disturbing and disloyal movement. Some extracts from this famous letter will certainly be read with interest, and will illustrate Howe's incisive method of dealing with current topics:—

"We gather from the 'scholastic production' to which your name is attached, that a convention, called by yourself, is to supersede the parliament of Canada. This movement for dispensing with the services of the legislature, it seems to us Nova Scotians, very naturally generated the idea that the building in which it sat was an encumbrance; and that its books and papers, fraught with occult sciences and varied superstition, were dangerous to the progress of society. Lord Elgin, who stood in the way of Mr. Protector Moffatt, was pelted as a matter of course; and as the old parliament house was too small to hold the convention, it was very reasonable that the mob should exclaim: 'Burn it down, burn it down; why cumbereth it the ground?' Tfye promulgation of your manifesto, and the occurrence of subsequent events, take us somewhat by surprise in this benighted province; but nothing appears more natural than the sequence.

"As you have appealed to North Americans in your address, and as the mob of Montreal have favoured us with their interpretations of its contents, I am induced to inquire whether it be the true one, and whether pelting the queen's representative, dispersing our parliaments, and burning our books, are to be indispensable preliminaries in joining the British American League?"

In taking office, therefore, in 1848, with responsible government fully achieved in Nova Scotia, Howe had not to lament the utterance of a seditious word or an act unworthy of British statesmen. The government so formed by Messrs. Uniacke and Howe continued during the four years term of parliament, and dealt with many questions, but it is not necessary to refer at length to these. The entire revenues of the country were placed absolutely at the disposal of the legislature; the postal system, which had been previously managed under imperial control, was vested also absolutely in the provincial government; a postmaster-general was duly appointed by the executive, and the whole post-office system made as subject to the people's control as the customs, roads or education. Howe, during his term of office, again brought forward his educational measure, and made another great speech in its behalf, but could secure no adequate support at that time from the legislature.

Early in September, 1849, a convention was held in Halifax, consisting of delegates from Canada, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia —all the members of the Nova Scotia government attending as delegates. The object was to consider the commercial conditions of the country, and, after a full discussion of several days, a resolution was adopted, apparently unanimously, affirming, in effect, that a system of reciprocal trade between this country and the United States was essential to the proper commercial development of the country. This may be regarded as the first organized movement in the direction of a reciprocity treaty with the United States, which culminated in the treaty secured by Lord Elgin in 1854.


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