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The Tribune of Nova Scotia
Chapter VI. Baffled Hopes


Foiled in the great scheme, the government of Nova Scotia nevertheless went ahead with its policy of provincial railway construction, and in 1854 Howe, to the surprise of many, withdrew from the Executive to accept the post of Railway Commissioner. His motives were probably in part a desire to provide for his family, which his personal extravagance and political honour alike had kept in a continual state of penury, and in part that disgust at partisan bickering which so often seizes upon provincial politicians in their hours of reflection.

He had long had a great desire to enter the Imperial civil service. In the four years between June 1855 and June 1859 the colonies were administered by no less than six secretaries of state: Lord John Russell, Sir William Molesworth, Mr H. Labouchere, Lord Derby, Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, and the Duke of Newcastle. To each of them Howe wrote long letters setting forth his claims to office. To Lord John Russell he says: ‘I have exhausted the range of ambitions which that province [Nova Scotia] affords’; and he asks to be made a permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office, a rank corresponding to the Canadian title of deputy minister. Later in the year, when in London on a provincial mission, he again approached Lord John Russell, writing to him two long letters and having at least one interview. ‘A colonial governorship, if there was a vacancy, I would not refuse, but I would prefer employment in your department here, with the hope that I might win my way into parliament, distinguish myself by my pen, or by the intelligent dispatch of public business entrusted to my care. ... To win a position here, in the heart of my fatherland, is my highest ambition.’ To this Lord John Russell returned the official answer that his claims would be kept in mind.

Later in the year Howe made the same request to Sir William Molesworth. Sir William wrote back a very civil and straightforward letter, saying that the principle of taking colonials into the Imperial service had just been recognized in the appointment of Mr Hincks to the governorship of Barbados, and that Howe’s own claims would be kept in mind, but that ‘I have not at present, nor do I see any immediate prospect of my having, any vacancy suitable for you at my disposal either at home or abroad.’ Howe naturally viewed with mixed feelings the appointment of his enemy Hincks, and replied: ‘If Mr Hincks’s appointment be followed up by judicious selection from time to time, as fair opportunities occur, a new spirit will be infused into all the colonies. If it be not, it will only be regarded as an indication of the strength of English combinations which that gentleman has served, and which others, and myself among the number, have not conciliated by the freedom with which we have expressed independent opinions.

‘As my letter is to be placed on record, I shall be glad, with your permission, to chiefly found my claim to consideration on the service which I have rendered as the exponent and advocate of the new system of administration that pervades British America, and which we call Responsible Government.’

In 1856 come similar letters to Mr Labouchere; and to Mr Blackwood, a prominent official at the Colonial Office, he thus summarizes his claims: ‘I am quite aware that there are many claimants on the patronage of the Crown, and I would not wish importunately to press my own claims. If men of greater worth and capacity are appointed over my head, I trust that I shall have too much good sense and good taste to complain. . . . I am quite aware that you have many military, naval, and civil officers to provide for, and I am also aware of the advantages which they all possess, in comparison with any colonial gentleman, from being in England or having friends in the House, or elsewhere, to press their claims. As I cannot be on the spot, and have no such aids to rely upon, will you do me the favour, when such matters may be fairly pressed, to urge:

1. That eighteen years of parliamentary and official life ought to have trained me to comprehend and to administer colonial government.

2. That mainly by my exertions, the constitution of my native province was remodelled and established upon sound principles.

3. That a system of public works, devised by me, and now rapidly advancing, is regarded as so important to the prosperity of Nova Scotia and of the provinces generally that all parties acknowledge their value and give me their support.

4. That, irrespective of colonial interests or feelings, these works, by which troops can be conveyed in a few hours from the depot at Halifax to the Gulf of St Lawrence or Bay of Fundy, and regiments of militia from the eastern and western counties can be concentrated for the defence of its citadel, arsenals, and dockyard, ought to be considered in any comparison in which mere military or naval service may be supposed to outweigh my claims. When completed, these works may fairly be contrasted as a means of defence with all that your engineers have done in the Maritime Provinces for half a century.’

Attempts in 1857 to approach Mr Labouchere through the lieutenant-governor, Sir Gaspard Le Marchant, and through his brother, Sir Denis, a well-known literary man, failed, but in 1858 Lord Derby, whom Howe had known earlier as Lord Stanley, became prime minister, and Howe renewed his claim. With statesmanlike intuition he saw the possibilities of the Pacific slope, now, by the Oregon Treaty, shared between Great Britain and the United States, and asked for the governorship of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, which he thought should be united under the name of British Oregon. Here he could guide the infant steps of a vaster Nova Scotia ; here were mountain and valley and sea, farm and forest and fisheries ; here were international problems, not only of relations with the United States, but with the awakening East. Lord Derby’s answer was delayed, through no fault of his own, and when in November Howe brought out an edition of his collected speeches and public letters, he took advantage of the opportunity to send presentation copies/ with long letters, to Lord John Russell, Lord Derby, Sir E. B. Lytton, Mr Merivale, the permanent undersecretary of the Colonial Office, and to several other men of influence. To the colonial secretary he complained bitterly that 'our system denies to a colonist, so trained, the distinctions which others of less experience, with no knowledge of the provinces they are sent to govern, and intellectually not my superiors, readily obtain.’ Lord Derby was an English gentleman, and he replied in what Howe himself called ‘a very handsome letter,’ saying that as he could not interfere with the patronage of the Colonial Office, he had therefore left the matter to Sir E. B. Lytton. ‘I regret to find by your letter that you think that you have cause to complain of the conduct of the Colonial Office, in reference to position in the public service. ... I am unable to express any opinion upon the subject, except a very confident one that Sir E. Lytton cannot have any disposition to underrate public services, the value of which must be known to all who within the last twenty years have been connected with the North American Colonies.’

Howe’s hopes were high. ‘I suppose they will now do something with or for me,’ he wrote to a friend. But the governorship of British Columbia was not for him. Nor indeed could it be, richly though he had deserved that or any other governorship. The chief interest in the new province was that of the Hudson’s Bay Company; for twenty years this company’s interests and those of Great Britain had been protected on the Pacific by Sir James Douglas, to whom the governorship rightly fell.

In 1859 Howe made a last appeal to the Duke of Newcastle, with a like result.

It is a sad spectacle, that of the great man knocking at preferment’s door, and knocking in vain. Howe was a statesman, with his head full of ideas of Imperial consolidation. His was a great wild heart, deeply touched indeed with ambition, ‘the last infirmity of noble minds,’ but deeply conscious also of great powers, emotional and intellectual. Small wonder that he raged as he felt that to reach his goal he had to crawl through so narrow a portal, had to abase himself before well-meaning mediocrities like Labouchere or Newcastle.

He could not do it. In none of his letters do we find the real tone of the office-seeker. The man who so haughtily wrote back to Molesworth his opinion of the appointment of Hincks was not the man to commend himself to an official superior. His very merits closed the door against him. Government departments usually prefer to let sleeping dogs lie, to be content with honest administration along existing lines, and to distrust innovation. To bring a new idea into a government department is little less dangerous than to bring a live mouse into a sewing circle. A government department wishes for honest and able men; but the kind of ability it desires is the ability which will run in harness, an unoriginative industry, a mind plastic to the will of its superiors. The Colonial Office had no fancy for a turbulent, great-hearted, idealistic Howe, with views on Imperial consolidation, who avowedly wanted office as a means of influencing the British public, and if possible of entrance into the Imperial parliament. Colonial secretaries were little likely to choose as their assistant the man who had taught Lord John Russell his business, who had first forced Lord Grey to do violence to his cherished convictions, and later on had accused his Lordship of lack of courtesy, if not of honesty.

Moreover, the Colonial Office of the day was, as a rule, in the control of men who thought the Empire was big enough, if not too big. Honestly doing their duty in the station to which it had pleased God to call them, they yet, most of them, had a half-formed thought that the natural end for a colony was independence, and had no mind for Imperial consolidation.

Howe knew all this; he knew that to them he was only a colonial, and Nova Scotia only a detail; he knew that all his services counted for less in their eyes than did the claims of some 'sumph' whose father or uncle could influence a vote on a division. He knew that for the English statesman of the day, as for the Nova Scotian, charity began at home. Unfortunately, his knowledge did not turn him to the idea of building up a great Canada wherein a man could find satisfaction for his utmost ambition; his larger loyalty had ever been to England. It was eastwards and not westwards that the Nova Scotian of his day turned for a career.

A man in this mood, with no job big enough to occupy his mind, full of an almost open contempt for his Nova Scotian colleagues, was a very doubtful asset to a government. Yet he could not be dispensed with, for in or out of the provincial Executive he was indisputably the foremost figure in the province. To him the Cabinet turned so often for advice in hours of crisis that he became known as the 'government cooper’; and a government which is known to depend upon a power behind the scenes is invariably weakened.

In 1854 the Crimean War with Russia had broken out. Great Britain had enjoyed profound peace since Waterloo, and the mechanism of the War Office was rusty and inadequate. She soon became hard pressed for troops, and under the Foreign Enlistment Act Howe was sent, in 1855, by the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia to the United States with the object of getting men to Halifax, there to be sworn in. It was a delicate and unthankful task. Men did not come forward with enthusiasm, and Howe was driven to employ doubtful methods and doubtful agents. The sympathy of the United States was with Russia, a sympathy especially shown by the thousands of Roman Catholic Irish who had arrived in the past ten years. As a result of the attempted enlistments, Mr Crampton, the British ambassador, was given his passports by the American government; in New York Howe was mobbed, and compelled to escape from his hotel through a window. Meanwhile, the Irish in Nova Scotia had been roused against him. He returned from a mission on which he had hoped to win Imperial reputation under a cloud of failure, out of pocket, and with the Catholic vote, for the past twenty years his sheet-anchor, alienated.

Other misfortunes followed. Of late there had been rising into prominence in the Conservative ranks a country doctor, Charles Tupper by name. In 1852 he had demanded to be heard at one of Howe’s meetings. ‘Let us hear the little doctor by all means,’ said Howe, with contemptuous generosity. I would not be any more affected by anything he might say than by the mewing of yonder kitten.’ So vigorous was Tupper’s speech that a bystander muttered that  ‘it was possible Joe would find the little doctor a cat that would scratch his eyes out.’ In 1855 the prophecy was fulfilled. In his own county of Cumberland Howe was defeated by Tupper, and throughout the province the Conservatives obtained a decisive majority. In the next year Howe was elected for the county of Hants, but before he took his seat events occurred of which he took a short-sighted advantage.

The Irish Catholics of the province, whose numbers were now largely increased by the prospect of work on the railways, were for the most part hostile to the Protestant population. In face of their undoubted provocations, an equally narrow and irrational Protestant feeling was aroused. Late in 1856 this latent bitterness was roused to fury by a brutal attack by some Irish Catholics upon their fellow-labourers at Gourley’s Shanty, along the line of railway construction. So savage was the fighting that the military were called out to restore order, which was not done without bloodshed. Howe saw his chance of revenge for the unjust treatment he had received at the hands of the Irish the year before—a chance of forming an almost solid Protestant party, on the back of which he might ride to power again. Beginning with justified condemnation of lawlessness and fanaticism, the lust of conflict and the delirium of the orator soon swept him into a campaign of attack, and led him to ridicule some of the most sacred tenets of Catholicism.

It is a sad spectacle. Howe had noble ideas of religious freedom. In his early struggle against the Oligarchy, when accused of hostility to the Church of England, he had said, and said with deep sincerity : ‘ I wish to see Nova Scotians one happy family worshipping one God, it may be in different modes at different altars, yet feeling that their religious belief makes no distinction in their civil privileges, but that the government and the law are as universal as the atmosphere, pressing upon yet invigorating all alike.’ A few years later, in his struggle for one undenominational college, he had taken the same generous stand. In 1849, at a time of great bitterness, he had supported, before the English of Quebec, the rights of the French-Canadian Catholics. 'How long will you be making converts of the compact mass of eight hundred thousand French Canadians, who must by and by multiply to millions, and who will adhere all the more closely to their customs and their faith, if their attachment to them be made the pretext for persecution? In the sunshine, the Frenchman may cast aside his grey capote; but, depend upon it, when the storm blows, he will clasp it more closely to his frame. You ask me what is to be done with these recusants ? Just what is done now in Nova Scotia on a small scale, and by republican America on a large one: know no distinctions of origin, of race, of creed. Treat all men alike.’

Yet now we find the same Howe shrilling forth the very blasts of persecution which he had denounced. Provocation he had—bitter, violent provocation. But he had yielded place unto wrath; his egoism, his worship of success, were getting the better of his nobler side.

He had his reward. In 1860 his party was victorious at the general election. For the next three years he was in office, outwardly the same cheery Joe as ever, inwardly distracted, rebellious, pining for a wider field. But in 1863 Tupper and the Conservatives swept the province with the cry of retrenchment. In a house of fifty-four Howe had but fourteen followers. For the moment he was glad to be quit of office. ‘If ever I can be of use to Nova Scotia, let me know,’ were his words to Dr Tupper as he handed over the keys of the provincial secretary’s office. Later in the year he accepted from the Imperial government the important post of Fishery Commissioner. He was sixty years of age, and his part on the political stage seemed to have been played. But to the drama of his life a stirring last act and a peaceful epilogue were to be added.

Ever since the American colonies had torn away, the plan of a union, legislative or federal, of the remainder of British North America had been mooted, and nowhere with greater favour than in Nova Scotia. Geographical difficulties long made it an impossibility, but the steam-engine gave man the triumph over geography, and by 1860 an intercolonial railway, though not built, was evidently buildable. In 1864 the exigencies of Canadian party politics forced federation to the front with startling suddenness. Weary of long jangling, resulting in a deadlock which two elections and four governments within three years had failed to break, the nobler spirits of both parties in Canada resolved to find a solution in a wider federation. In the same year Dr Tupper had brought about a conference at Charlottetown, which met in September to discuss the question of Maritime Union. To this Howe, though a political opponent, had been invited, but pressure of work had prevented his attendance. Delegates from Canada persuaded the conference to take a wider sweep. Howe would now have liked to be present, but the season was getting late, and when he asked for a boat on the pretext of doing some inspection along the Island shore, the admiral on the station refused to furnish it. ‘If I had had any idea of why he really wanted that ship, he could have had my whole squadron,’ said the rueful admiral in after years. After some preliminary talk, the members of the conference adjourned to Quebec, and there gradually wrought out the resolutions which are at the basis of the British North America Act. They then returned to their homes, to endeavour to secure the adoption of these resolutions by the legislatures and people of their several provinces.

In Nova Scotia rumours of dissatisfaction were soon heard. The merchant aristocracy of Halifax at once saw that free trade between the provinces, an essential part of the projected plan, would destroy their monopoly of the provincial market. They were wealthy and influential, and an opposition soon was formed, including members of both political parties. Their prospects of success hinged largely on the attitude of Howe.

At first it seemed as though for Joe Howe there could be but one side. It was taken for granted that he, who had spoken so many eloquent words, all pointing to the magnificent future of British North America, all tending to inspire its youth with love of country as something far higher than mere provincialism, would now be among the advocates of federation, and the wise and loving critic of the scheme to be submitted to the legislatures. Though his ideal had ever looked beyond to a wider Imperial federation, he had at his best always regarded Canadian federation as a necessary preparation for it. In the troublous times of 1849, when the Montreal merchants shouted for Annexation, he had urged Confederation as a nobler remedy. It had been the incentive to his work for the inter-colonial railway. In 1861 he had moved in the legislature a resolution in its favour. As late as August 1864, on the visit to Halifax of some Canadian delegates, he had been convivially eloquent in favour of union. While all this in no way committed him to the details of the Quebec plan, it went far to binding him to its principle. Yet it soon began to be rumoured that he was talking against it, and in January 1865 a series of letters on ‘The Botheration Scheme’ appeared in the Morning Chronicle, in which none could fail to recognize the hand of the veteran.

What were his objections to the plan? He sets them out in a letter to Lord John Russell in January 1865.

1. The Maritime Provinces, and especially his beloved Nova Scotia, are being swamped. A little later he wrote to another friend: ‘I have no invincible objection to become a unionist provided any one will show me a scheme which does not sacrifice the interests of the Maritime Provinces.’

2. They will be swamped by Canadians, a poor lot of people, a little eccentric at all times, and at the worst given to rebellion— led by political tricksters of the type of his old enemy Hincks.

3. A federation is cumbrous, and inferior to a legislative union, such as that of the British Isles.

4. It will involve a raising of the low tariff of Nova Scotia, and ultimately protection.

To these arguments he afterwards added that a union of such widely scattered provinces was geographically difficult, and that it would arouse the suspicion and hostility of the United States.

These reasons, feeble enough at best, were at least political; unfortunately he had other reasons, deeper and more personal.

There can be no doubt that if he had gone to Charlottetown and Quebec, as one of the delegates, he would have thrown himself heartily into the project, and left his mark on the proposed constitution. It galled him that the Quebec scheme had been completed to the minutest detail, and published to the world, without any assistance from himself. He soon found that the people of the Maritime Provinces generally were averse to the scheme, and that many were already arrayed in downright opposition to it. What was he to do? He paused for a little. Two courses were open, one noble, one less noble. Not only in youth has Hercules’ Choice to be made. Stern principle called on him to take one course, a hundred pleasant voices called on the other side. Was he to be the lieutenant of Dr Tupper, the man who had taken the popular breeze out of his sails, who had politically annihilated him for a time, with whom, too, his contest had been mainly personal, for no great political question had been involved between them; or was he to put himself at the head of old friends and old foes, regain his proper place, and steer the ship in his own fashion? In the circumstances, only a hero could have done his duty. There are few heroes in the world, and it is doubtful if modern statecraft conduces to make men heroic. And Howe was an egoist. Friends and colleagues had known his weakness before, but had scarce ventured to speak of it in public. In his cabinets he had suffered no rival. To those who submitted he was sweet as summer. He would give everything to or for them, keeping nothing for himself. They might have the pelf if he had the power. Proposals that did not emanate from himself got scant justice in council or caucus. This egoism, which long feeding on popular applause had developed into a vanity almost incomprehensible in one so strong, was not known to the outside world. But now, in his hour of trial, his sin had found him out. The real reason of his opposition was given in his savage words to a friend: ‘I will not play-second fiddle to that d—d Tupper.’

But the egoist was also ‘a bonny fighter.’ He flung himself into the fray as wild with excitement as any soldier on a stricken field. With every artifice of the orator he wrought the people of Nova Scotia to madness. It was poor stuff, most of it; coarse jokes, recrimination, crowd-catching claptrap. Eighty cents per head of population was, according to the agreement, to be the subsidy from the federal to the provincial government. ‘We are sold for the price of a sheep-skin,’ was Howe’s slogan on a hundred platforms. Dr Tupper had passed a measure, instituting compulsory primary education, based on direct local assessment. In his heart of hearts Howe knew that it was a noble measure, such as he himself had wished to introduce but dared not; yet he did not scruple to play upon the hatred of the farmer against direct taxation. Instead of rousing, as of old, their love of Nova Scotia till it included all British North America and widened ever outward till the whole Empire was within, he made of it a bitter, selfish thing, localism and provincialism incarnate. Yet as an orator he was supreme.

Darkened so, yet shone
Above them all the archangel.

When the ablest speakers on behalf of federation met him on the platform, they were swept away in the blast of his ridicule and his passion.

In the midst of it his nobler self shone out again. The Reciprocity Treaty between Canada and the United States, negotiated by Lord Elgin in 1854, had been denounced by the government of the United States. To discuss this action, a great convention of representatives of the Boards of Trade and other commercial bodies of the northern and western States met in Detroit in August 1865, and was visited by Canadian delegates, of whom Howe was one. On the 14th of August he spoke as the representative of the British North American provinces. The audience at first was hostile. Gradually the skill and fire of the orator warmed them. At the last these hundreds of hard-headed business men rose spontaneously to their feet, and, amid tumultuous cheering, by a unanimous standing vote passed a resolution recommending the renewal of the treaty. Seldom can orator have won a more signal triumph.

For a time his anti-federation campaign went merrily, and received an impetus from the defeat in 1865 of the pro-federation government of New Brunswick. But Howe reckoned without the unflinching will of Tupper, a political bull-dog with a touch of fox. Though the province was obviously against him, the Conservative leader had a majority in the legislature in his favour. That this majority had been elected on other issues, and that the proper constitutional course was to consult the people, mattered not to him. Here was a big thing to do, and he was not the man to be squeamish on a point of constitutional correctness. He held his majority together by the strong hand. In 1866 he succeeded in getting a resolution passed, authorizing the sending of ‘delegates to arrange with the Imperial government a scheme of union which will effectively ensure just provisions for the rights and interests of the province.’ The Quebec Resolutions were not mentioned, but it was to support the Quebec Resolutions that the delegates went.

Howe also visited London, and endeavoured to sidetrack the federation scheme by a revival of his old idea of an organic union of the Empire with colonial representation in the Imperial parliament. To the pamphlet in which he put forward his views Tupper published a smashing reply, which consisted solely of extracts from Howe’s own previous speeches in favour of British North American union. Against Howe he set Howe, and seldom was an opponent more effectively demolished. Meanwhile conferences between the representatives of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, presided over by the British secretary of state for the Colonies, wrought out the British North America Act. In march 1867 became law, and on the 1st of July 1867 it came into force.

What was Nova Scotia to do? At the first election subsequent to federation, among the nineteen Nova Scotian delegates, Tupper alone of the Conservatives was elected. Eighteen others, with Howe at their head, went to Ottawa pledged to secure repeal. In the local house, of thirty-eight members two only supported federation. Howe had his majority; but what was he to do with it? Repeal could come only from England, and to England Howe went. One good argument he had, and one only, that Tupper had refused to consult the electorate on a question involving their whole constitutional status as a province; that, as he put it, they had been entrapped into a revolution. With the aid of this he won the support of the great English orator, John Bright, and had the matter brought up in the House of Commons. But Bright’s motion for a committee of investigation was voted down by an overwhelming majority.

Meanwhile Tupper, with fine courage, had followed him to London, and had made his first call upon Howe himself. Howe was not at home, but Tupper left his card, and Howe returned the call. Over forty years later the veteran, now Sir Charles Tupper, told in his Recollections the story of their interview.

‘I can’t say that I am glad to see you,’ said Howe, ‘but we must make the best of it.’ ‘When you fail in the mission that brought you here,’ said Tupper; ‘when you find out the Imperial government and parliament are overwhelmingly against you—what then?’ Howe replied: ‘I have eight hundred men in each county in Nova Scotia who will take an oath that they will never pay a cent of taxation to the Dominion, and I defy the government to enforce Confederation.’

‘You have no power of taxation, Howe,’ Tupper replied, ‘and in a few years you will have every sensible man cursing you, as there will be no money for schools, roads, or bridges. I will not ask that troops be sent to Nova Scotia, but I shall recommend that if the people refuse to obey the law, that the federal subsidy be withheld.’

'Howe,’ he continued, 'you have a majority at your back, but if you will enter the Cabinet and assist in carrying on the work of Confederation, you will find me as strong a supporter as I have been an opponent.’

'Two hours of free and frank discussion followed,’ writes Tupper. That very night Tupper wrote to Sir John Macdonald that he thought Howe would join the Dominion Cabinet.

On his return to Nova Scotia, Howe found that the extreme repealers in the local legislature were talking secession and hinting at annexation to the United States. He could countenance neither. The son of the Loyalist was loyal at the last. The whole province was like tinder. A spark would have kindled a fire that would have ruined it, or thrown it back ten or twenty years. Howe trampled the spark under his feet.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, an unrivalled political tactician was watching the situation. While the fever in Nova Scotia was at its height, Sir John Macdonald had refused to say a word. Now that the fever had run its course, now that the one able leader of the repeal cause realized the impasse into which he had brought his beloved province, Macdonald saw that it was the time for him ‘from the nettle danger to pluck the flower safety.’ He entered into negotiations with Howe, employing all his art and will his sagacity. Clearly he put the choice. Nova Scotia was in the Dominion, and the only way out led direct to Washington. Was not the only possible course for the greatest Nova Scotian to sink his personal feelings, and to join in giving to Nova Scotia her due part in a nation stretching from sea to sea and from the Arctic to the Great Lakes, puissant and loyal beneath the flag of Britain?

Against this conclusion Howe fought hard. It meant for him an act of inconsistency which he well knew his recent allies would stigmatize as apostasy. But the logic of the situation was too strong for him, and with noble self-sacrifice he faced it. In January 1869 he entered the Cabinet of Sir John Macdonald, and by so doing won for Nova Scotia the better financial terms which removed her most tangible grievance. By this time most of the leaders of the repeal party were ready for this step, even though their followers were not. Had Howe sunk his egoism and consulted them before he crossed the Rubicon, had there been no telegraph between Ottawa and Halifax, so that he could have come personally and have been the first to explain to them the improved financial terms which he had won, and the necessity of his entering the Cabinet as a pledge of his sincerity, they would probably have been satisfied. But the telegraph spoiled all, especially as there were men in the local legislature who were fretting against his leadership. They felt themselves to be in a false position, from which they could escape by making Howe the scapegoat. For ten days the only fact that was made to stand out before all eyes was that the leader of the anti-confederate and repeal party had taken office under Sir John Macdonald. The cry was raised, Howe has sold himself; Howe is a traitor. They condemned him unheard. When he returned to Halifax, old friends crossed the street to avoid speaking to him, and young friends, who once would have felt honoured by a word, walked as close before or behind him as possible that he might hear their insults. He was getting old; during his labours in 1866 in England bronchitis had fastened on him; and now the love and trust of the people—that which had been the breath of his nostrils—failed him utterly.

Having accepted Cabinet rank, he had to resign his seat in Hants county, and to appeal to his constituents for re-election. The result was the fiercest fight in the history of the province. Money was openly lavished by both sides. Howe fought well, but his health gave way, and for the first time in his life his buoyancy and courage deserted him. Finally, at a little village where he and a prominent opponent were to face each other, Howe broke down, and sent a friend to ask his antagonist to postpone the meeting.

‘Why must it be postponed?' was the reply.

‘Sir, to speak to-night would kill Mr Howe.’

‘Damn him! that’s what we want,’ was the fierce reply, symbolic of the merciless spirit of the contest.

Howe dragged himself to the platform, too ill to stand. Eventually he gained his election, but his health was shattered, and he was never the old Joe Howe again.

Then came the end. In the Cabinet he was not a success. He represented a small province with few votes, and even so he shared the leadership with Tupper. To Sir John Macdonald, too intent on a few great ends to have any place for unprofitable sentiment, the weary Titan was of less account than half a dozen Quebec or Ontario members with less than one-tenth of his ability, but with twice the number of votes in their control. Howe chafed under Macdonald’s drastic though kindly sway, and by impetuous outbreaks more than once got the government into trouble. Late in 1869 he was sent to the Red River Settlement, in the hope of smoothing out the difficulties there. He did no good, still further weakened his health, and on his return was involved in a bitter quarrel with one of his colleagues, the Hon. William M‘Dougall.

In 1872 he shared with Tupper the triumph of carrying in favour of the Conservative party eighteen of the nineteen seats in Nova Scotia, and of finally silencing the cry of repeal. In May 1873 his failing health led to his being appointed lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia. He died suddenly on the 1st of June 1873.

Here, with a few words, we close our sketch of this man, the greatest that Nova Scotia has produced. Judging him not by single acts, as no one ever should be judged, but by his life as a whole, he may be called a great man. His honesty of purpose and love of country, his creative faculty, width of view, and power of will combined, entitle him to be called a great statesman. He was more than a politician and more than an orator. He had qualities that made men willing to follow him even when they did not see where they were going, or only saw that they were going in a direction different from their former course. Steering in the teeth of former professions, he bade them have patience, for he was tacking; and they believed him. True, they were swayed by his eloquence, and gladdened by his sympathy and his humour. The fascination of the orator thrilled them; but had they not believed that at bottom he was sincere, the charm would soon have ceased to work. As it was, they followed him as few parties have ever followed a leader. Men followed him against their own interests, against their own Church, against their own prejudices and convictions. Episcopalians fought by his side against the Church of England; Baptists fought with him against the demands of their denomination; Roman Catholics stood by him when he assailed the doctrines of their Church.

Though he was merciless in conflict, bitterness did not dwell in his heart. He was always willing to shake hands, in true English fashion, when the war was over. If friends expostulated about the generosity of his language or actions to political opponents, ‘Oh! what’s the use,’ he would reply, ‘he has got a pretty wife’; or, ‘he is not such a bad fellow after all’; or, 'life is too short to keep that sort of thing up.’ He was generous partly because he felt he could afford it, for he had boundless confidence in his own resources. This self-confidence gave him a hearty, cheery manner, no matter what straits he was in, that acted on his followers like wine.

The one thing lacking was that he had not wholly subordinated self to duty and to God. He was immersed in active engagements and all the cares of life from early years. He was capable of enjoying, and he did enjoy without stint, every sweet cup that was presented to his lips. He was conscious of great powers that never seemed to fail him, but enabled him to rise with the occasion ever higher and higher. Small wonder, then, that he cast himself as a strong swimmer into the boiling currents of life, little caring whither they bore him, because proudly confident that he could hold his own, or, at any rate, regain the shore whenever he liked.

A thorough intellectual training would have done much for him. The discipline of a university career enables even a young man to know somewhat of his own strength and weakness, especially somewhat of his own awful ignorance; and self-knowledge leads to self control. Circumstances put this beyond his reach; but something more excellent than even a college was within his reach, had he only been wise enough to understand and possess it as his own. In his father he had a pattern of things in the heavens; a life in which law and freedom meant the same thing; in which the harmony between his own will and the will of God gave unity, harmony, and nobleness to life and life’s work. The teaching of the old Loyalist’s life was the eternal teaching of the stars:

Like as a star
That maketh not haste,
That taketh not rest,
Let each be fulfilling
His God-given best.

But the veins of the son were full of blood and his bones moistened with marrow. Passion spoke in his soul, and he heard and loved the sweet voices of nature, and of men and women. Not that the whispers of heaven were unheard. No; nor were they disregarded; but they were not absolutely and implicitly obeyed. And so, like the vast crowd, all through life he was partly the creature of impulse and partly the servant of principle. Often it would have been difficult for himself to say which was uppermost in him. Had he attained to unity and harmony of nature, he could have been a poet, or a statesman of the old heroic type. But he did not attain, for he did not seek with the whole heart. And he puzzled others, because he had never read the riddle of himself.

All Nova Scotians are glad that he spent his last days in Government House. It was an honour he himself felt to be his due—a light, though it were but the light of a wintry sun, that fell on his declining days. Many old friends flocked to see him; and the meetings were sometimes very touching. An old follower, one who had never failed him, came to pay his tribute of glad homage. His chief had reached a haven of rest and the height of his ambition. When the door was opened, the governor was at the other end of the room.

He turned, and the two recognized each other. Not a word was spoken. The rugged face of the liegeman was tremulous. He looked round; yes, it was actually old Government House, and his chief was in possession. After all the storms and disappointments, it had actually come to this. The two men drew near, and as hand touched hand the two heads bowed together, and without a word they embraced as two children would. Are there many such little wells of poetry in the arid wilderness of political life?

On the day of his arrival in Halifax a true and tried relative called. ‘Well, Joseph, what would your old father have thought of this?’ ‘Yes,’ was the answer, ‘it would have pleased the old man. I have had a long fight for it, and have stormed the castle at last. But now that I have it, what does it all amount to? I shall be here but a few days; and instead of playing governor, I feel like saying with Wolsey, to the Abbot of Leicester:

An old man, broken with the storms of State,
Is come to lay his weary bones among ye;
Give him a little earth for charity.’

That was almost all that was given him. The only levee he held in Government House was after his death, when he lay in state, and thousands crowded round to take a long last look at their old idol.

On the morning after Howe’s death a wealthy Halifax merchant, one who had been a devoted friend of his, saw as he was entering his place of business a farmer or drover, one well known for ‘homespun without, and a warm heart within,’ sitting on a box outside near the door, his head leaning on his hand, his foot monotonously swinging to and fro, looking as if he had sat there for hours and had no intention of getting up in a hurry. ‘Well, Stephen, what’s the matter?’ ‘Oh, nauthin’,’ was the dull response. 'Is it Howe?' was the next question, in a softer tone. The sound of the name unsealed the fountain. ‘Yes, it’s Howe.’ The words came with a gulp, and then followed tears, dropping on the pavement large and fast. He did not weep alone. In many a hamlet, in many a fishing village, in many a nook and corner of Nova Scotia, as the news went over the land, Joseph Howe had the same tribute of tears.

Vex not his ghost; O let him pass! he hates him That would upon the rack of this rough world Stretch him out longer.

He sleeps in Camphill Cemetery, not far from the pines and salt sea water of his boyhood, a column of Nova Scotian granite marking his resting-place; and his memory abides in the hearts of thousands of his countrymen.


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