Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Lord Elgin
Chapter VI - The Hincks-Morin Ministry

When LaFontaine resigned the premiership the ministry was dissolved and it was necessary for the governor-general to choose his successor. After the retirement of Baldwin, Hincks and his colleagues from Upper Canada were induced to remain in the cabinet and the latter became the leader in that province. He was endowed with great natural shrewdness, was deeply versed in financial and commercial matters, had a complete comprehension of the material conditions of the province, and recognized the necessity of rapid railway construction if the people were to hold their own against the competition of their very energetic neighbours to the south. His ideas of trade, we can well believe, recommended themselves to Lord Elgin, who saw in him the very man he needed to help him in his favourite scheme of bringing about reciprocity with the United States. At the same time he was now the most prominent man in the Liberal party so long led by Baldwin and LaFontaine, and the governor-general very properly called upon him to reconstruct the ministry. He assumed the responsibility and formed the government known in the political history of Canada as the Hincks-Morin ministry; but before we consider its personnel and review its measures, it is necessary to recall the condition of political parties at the time it came into power.

During the years Baldwin and LaFontaine were in office, the politics of the province were in the process of changes which eventually led to important results in the state of parties. The Parti Rouge was formed in Lower Canada out of the extreme democratic element of the people by Papineau, who, throughout his parliamentary career since his return from exile, showed the most determined opposition to LaFontaine, whose measures were always distinguished by a spirit of conservatism, decidedly congenial to the dominant classes in French Canada where the civil and religious institutions of the country had much to fear from the promulgation of republican principles.

The new party was composed chiefly of young Frenchmen, then in the first stage of their political growth--notably A.A. Dorion, J.B.E. Dorion (l'enfant terrible), R. Doutre, Dessaules, Labreche, Viger, and Laflamme; L.H. Holton, and a very few men of British descent were also associated with the party from its commencement. Its organ was L'Avenir of Montreal, in which were constantly appearing violent diatribes and fervid appeals to national prejudice, always peculiar to French Canadian journalism. It commenced with a programme in which it advocated universal suffrage, the abolition of property qualification for members of the legislature, the repeal of the union, the abolition of tithes, a republican form of government, and even, in a moment of extreme political aberration, annexation to the United States. It was a feeble imitation of the red republicanism of the French revolution, and gave positive evidences of the inspiration of the hero of the fight at St. Denis in 1837. Its platform was pervaded not only by hatred of British institutions, but with contempt for the clergy and religion generally. Its revolutionary principles were at once repudiated by the great mass of French Canadians and for years it had but a feeble existence. It was only when its leading spirits reconstructed their platform and struck out its most objectionable planks, that it became something of a factor in practical Canadian politics. In 1851 it was still insignificant numerically in the legislature, and could not affect the fortunes of the Liberal party in Lower Canada then distinguished by the ability of A.N. Morin, P.J.O. Chauveau, R.E. Caron, E.P. Tache, and L.P. Drummond. The recognized leader of this dominant party was Morin, whose versatile knowledge, lucidity of style, and charm of manner gave him much strength in parliament. His influence, however, as I have already said, was too often weakened by an absence of energy and of the power to lead at national or political crises.

Parties in Upper Canada also showed the signs of change. The old Tory party had been gradually modifying its opinions under the influence of responsible government, which showed its wisest members that ideas that prevailed before the union had no place under the new, progressive order of things. This party, nominally led by Sir Allan MacNab, that staunch old loyalist, now called itself Conservative, and was quite ready, in fact anxious, to forget the part it took in connection with the rebellion-losses legislation, and to win that support in French Canada without which it could not expect to obtain office. The ablest man in its councils was already John Alexander Macdonald, whose political sagacity and keenness to seize political advantages for the advancement of his party, were giving him the lead among the Conservatives. The Liberals had shown signs of disintegration ever since the formation of the "Clear Grits," whose most conspicuous members were Peter Perry, the founder of the Liberal party in Upper Canada before the union; William McDougall, an eloquent young lawyer and journalist; Malcolm Cameron, who had been assistant commissioner of public works in the LaFontaine-Baldwin government; Dr. John Rolph, one of the leaders of the movement that ended in the rebellion of 1837; Caleb Hopkins, a western farmer of considerable energy and natural ability; David Christie, a well-known agriculturist; and John Leslie, the proprietor of the Toronto Examiner, the chief organ of the new party. It was organized as a remonstrance against what many men in the old Liberal party regarded as the inertness of their leaders to carry out changes considered necessary in the political interests of the country. Its very name was a proof that its leaders believed there should be no reservation in the opinion held by their party--that there must be no alloy or foreign metal in their political coinage, but it must be clear Grit. Its platform embraced many of the cardinal principles of the original Reform or Liberal party, but it also advocated such radical changes as the application of the elective principle to all classes of officials (including the governor-general), universal suffrage, vote by ballot, biennial parliaments, the abolition of the courts of chancery and common pleas, free trade and direct taxation.

The Toronto Globe, which was for a short time the principal exponent of ministerial views, declared that many of the doctrines enunciated by the Clear Grits "embody the whole difference between a republican form of government and the limited monarchy of Great Britain." The Globe was edited by George Brown, a Scotsman by birth, who came with his father in his youth to the western province and entered into journalism, in which he attained eventually signal success by his great intellectual force and tenacity of purpose. His support of the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry gradually dropped from a moderate enthusiasm to a positive coolness, from its failure to carry out the principles urged by The Globe--especially the secularization of the clergy reserves. Then he commenced to raise the cry of French domination and to attack the religion and special institutions of French Canada with such virulence that at last he became "a governmental impossibility," so far as the influence of that province was concerned. He supported the Clear Grits in the end, and became their recognized leader when they gathered to themselves all the discontented and radical elements of the Liberal party which had for some years been gradually splitting into fragments. The power of the Clear Grits was first shown in 1851, when William Lyon Mackenzie succeeded in obtaining a majority of Reformers in support of his motion for the abolition of the court of chancery, and forced the retirement of Baldwin, whose conservatism had gradually brought him into antagonism with the extremists of his old party.

Although relatively small in numbers in 1851, the Clear Grits had the ability to do much mischief, and Hincks at once recognized the expediency of making concessions to their leaders before they demoralized or ruined the Liberal party in the west. Accordingly, he invited Dr. Rolph and Malcolm Cameron to take positions in the new ministry. They consented on condition that the secularization of the clergy reserves would be a part of the ministerial policy. Hincks then presented the following names to the governor-general:

Upper Canada.--Hon. F. Hincks, inspector-general; Hon. W.B. Richards, attorney-general of Upper Canada; Hon. Malcolm Cameron, president of the executive council; Hon. John Rolph, commissioner of crown lands; Hon. James Morris, postmaster-general.

Lower Canada.--Hon. A.N. Morin, provincial secretary, Hon. L.P. Drummond, attorney-general of Lower Canada; Hon. John Young, commissioner of public works; Hon. R.E. Caron, president of legislative council; Hon. E.P. Tache, receiver-general.

Later, Mr. Chauveau and Mr. John Ross were appointed solicitors-general for Lower and Upper Canada, without seats in the cabinet.

Parliament was dissolved in November, when it had completed its constitutional term of four years, and the result of the elections was the triumph of the new ministry. It obtained a large majority in Lower Canada, and only a feeble support in Upper Canada. The most notable acquisition to parliament was George Brown, who had been defeated previously in a bye-election of the same year by William Lyon Mackenzie, chiefly on account of his being most obnoxious to the Roman Catholic voters. He was assuming to be the Protestant champion in journalism, and had made a violent attack on the Roman Catholic faith on the occasion of the appointment of Cardinal Wiseman as Archbishop of Westminster, an act denounced by extreme Protestants throughout the British empire as an unconstitutional and dangerous interference by the Pope with the dearest rights of Protestant England. As soon as Brown entered the legislature he defined his political position by declaring that, while he saw much to condemn in the formation of the ministry and was dissatisfied with Hincks's explanations, he preferred giving it for the time being his support rather than seeing the government handed over to the Conservatives. As a matter of fact, he soon became the most dangerous adversary that the government had to meet. His style of speaking--full of facts and bitterness--and his control of an ably conducted and widely circulated newspaper made him a force in and out of parliament. His aim was obviously to break up the new ministry, and possibly to ensure the formation of some new combination in which his own ambition might be satisfied. As we shall shortly see, his schemes failed chiefly through the more skilful strategy of the man who was always his rival--his successful rival--John A. Macdonald.

During its existence the Hincks-Morin ministry was distinguished by its energetic policy for the promotion of railway, maritime and commercial enterprises. It took the first steps to stimulate the establishment of a line of Atlantic steamers by the offer of a considerable subsidy for the carriage of mails between Canada and Great Britain. The first contract was made with a Liverpool firm, McKean, McLarty & Co., but the service was not satisfactorily performed, owing, probably--according to Hincks--to the war with Russia, and it was necessary to make a new arrangement with the Messrs. Allan, which has continued, with some modification, until the present time.

The negotiations for the construction of an intercolonial railway having failed for the reasons previously stated, (p. 100), Hincks made successful applications to English capitalists for the construction of the great road always known as the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. It obtained a charter authorizing it to consolidate the lines from Quebec to Richmond, from Quebec to Riviere du Loup, and from Toronto to Montreal, which had received a guarantee of $3,000 a mile in accordance with the law passed in 1851. It also had power to build the Victoria bridge across the St. Lawrence at Montreal, and lease the American line to Portland. By 1860, this great national highway was completed from Riviere du Loup on the lower St. Lawrence as far as Sarnia and Windsor on the western lakes. Its early history was notorious for much jobbery, and the English shareholders lost the greater part of the money which they invested in this Canadian undertaking.[13] It cost the province from first to last upwards of $16,000,000 but it was, on the whole, money expended in the interests of the country, whose internal development would have been very greatly retarded in the absence of rapid means of transit between east and west. The government also gave liberal aid to the Great Western Railway, which extended from the Niagara river to Hamilton, London and Windsor, and to the Northern road, which extended north from Toronto, both of which, many years later, became parts of the Grand Trunk system.

In accordance with its general progressive policy, the Hincks-Morin ministry passed through the legislature an act empowering municipalities in Upper Canada, after the observance of certain formalities, to borrow money for the building of railways by the issue of municipal debentures guaranteed by the provincial government. Under this law a number of municipalities borrowed large sums to assist railways and involved themselves so heavily in debt that the province was ultimately obliged to come to their assistance and assume their obligations. For years after the passage of this measure, Lower Canada received the same privileges, but the people of that province were never carried away by the enthusiasm of the west and never burdened themselves with debts which they were unable to pay. The law, however, gave a decided impulse at the outset to railway enterprise in Upper Canada, and would have been a positive public advantage had it been carried out with some degree of caution.

The government established a department of agriculture to which were given control of the taking of a decennial census, the encouragement of immigration, the collection of agricultural and other statistics, the establishment of model farms and agricultural schools, the holding of annual exhibitions and fairs, and other matters calculated to encourage the cultivation of the soil in both sections of the province. Malcolm Cameron became its first minister in connection with his nominal duties as president of the executive council--a position which he had accepted only on condition that it was accompanied by some more active connection with the administration of public affairs.

For three sessions the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry had made vain efforts to pass a law increasing the representation of the two provinces to one hundred and thirty or sixty-five members for each section. As already stated the Union Act required that such a measure should receive a majority of two-thirds in each branch of the legislature. It would have become law on two occasions had it not been for the factious opposition of Papineau, whose one vote would have given the majority constitutionally necessary. When it was again presented in 1853 by Mr. Morin, it received the bitter opposition of Mr. Brown, who was now formulating the doctrine of representation by population which afterwards became so important a factor in provincial politics that it divided west from east, and made government practically impossible until a federal union of the British North American provinces was brought about as the only feasible solution of the serious political and sectional difficulties under which Canada was suffering. A number of prominent Conservatives, including Mr. John A. Macdonald, were also unfavourable to the measure on the ground that the population of Upper Canada, which was steadily increasing over that of Lower Canada, should be equitably considered in any readjustment of the provincial representation. The French Canadians, who had been forced to come into the union hi 1841 with the same representation as Upper Canada with its much smaller population, were now unwilling to disturb the equality originally fixed while agreeing to an increase in the number of representatives from each section. The bill, which became law in 1853, was entirely in harmony with the views entertained by Lord Elgin when he first took office as governor-general of Canada. In 1847 he gave his opinion to the colonial secretary that "the comparatively small number of members of which the popular bodies who determine the fate of provincial administrations" consisted was "unfavourable to the existence of a high order of principle and feeling among official personages." When a defection of two or three individuals from a majority of ten or so put an administration in peril, "the perpetual patchwork and trafficking to secure this vote and that (not to mention other evils) so engrosses the time and thoughts of ministers that they have not leisure for matters of greater moment" He clearly saw into the methods by which his first unstable ministry, which had its origin in Lord Metcalfe's time, was alone able to keep its feeble majority. "It must be remembered," he wrote in 1847, "that it is only of late that the popular assemblies in this part of the world have acquired the right of determining who shall govern them--of insisting, as we phrase it, that the administration of affairs shall be conducted by persons enjoying their confidence. It is not wonderful that a privilege of this kind should be exercised at first with some degree of recklessness, and that while no great principles of policy are at stake, methods of a more questionable character for winning and retaining the confidence of these arbiters of destiny should be resorted to."

While the Hincks government was in office, the Canadian legislature received power from the imperial authorities--as I shall show later--to settle the question of the clergy reserves on condition that protection should be given to those members of the clergy who had been beneficiaries under the Constitutional Act of 1791. A measure was passed for the settlement of the seigniorial tenure question on an equitable basis, but it was defeated in the legislative council by a large majority amongst which we see the names of several seigneurs directly interested in the measure. It was not fully discussed in that chamber on the ground that members from Upper Canada had not had a sufficient opportunity of studying the details of the proposed settlement and of coming to a just conclusion as to its merits. The action of the council under these circumstances was severely criticized, and gave a stimulus to the movement that had been steadily going on for years among radical reformers of both provinces in favour of an elective body.

The result was that in 1854 the British parliament repealed the clauses of the Union Act of 1840 with respect to the upper House, and gave full power to the Canadian legislature to make such changes as it might deem expedient--another concession to the principle of local self-government. It was not, however, until 1856, that the legislature passed a bill giving effect to the intentions of the imperial law, and the first elections were held for the council. Lord Elgin was always favourable to this constitutional change. "The position of the second chamber of our body politic"--I quote from a despatch of March, 1853--"is at present wholly unsatisfactory. The principle of election must be introduced in order to give to it the influence which it ought to possess, and that principle must be so applied as to admit of the working of parliamentary government (which I for one am certainly not prepared to abandon for the American system) with two elective chambers... When our two legislative bodies shall have been placed on this improved footing, a greater stability will have been imparted to our constitution, and a greater strength." Lord Elgin's view was adopted and the change was made.

It is interesting to note that so distinguished a statesman as Lord Derby, who had been colonial secretary in a previous administration, had only gloomy forebodings of the effects of this elective system applied to the upper House. He believed that the dream that he had of seeing the colonies form eventually "a monarchical government, presided over by one nearly and closely allied to the present royal family," would be proved quite illusory by the legislation in question. "Nothing," he added, "like a free and regulated monarchy could exist for a single moment under such a constitution as that which is now proposed for Canada. From the moment that you pass this constitution, the progress must be rapidly towards republicanism, if anything could be more really republican than this bill." As a matter of fact a very few years later than the utterance of these gloomy words, Canada and the other provinces of British North America entered into a confederation "with a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom"--to quote words in the preamble of the Act of Union--and with a parliament of which the House of Commons is alone elective. More than that, Lord Derby's dream has been in a measure realized and Canada has seen at the head of her executive a governor-general--the present Duke of Argyle--"nearly and closely allied to the present royal family" of England, by his marriage to the Princess Louise, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, who accompanied her husband to Ottawa.

One remarkable feature of the Imperial Act dealing with this question of the council, was the introduction of a clause which gave authority to a mere majority of the members of the two Houses of the legislature to increase the representation, and consequently removed that safeguard to French Canada which required a two-thirds vote in each branch. As the legislature had never passed an address or otherwise expressed itself in favour of such an amendment of the Union Act, there was always a mystery as to the way it was brought about. Georges Etienne Cartier always declared that Papineau was indirectly responsible for this imperial legislation. As already stated, the leader of the Rouges had voted against the bill increasing the representation, and had declaimed like others against the injustice which the clause in the Union Act had originally done to French Canada. "This fact," said Cartier, "was known in England, and when leave was given to elect legislative councillors, the amendment complained of was made at the same time. It may be said then, that if Papineau had not systematically opposed the increase of representation, the change in question would have never been thought of in England." Hincks, however, was attacked by the French Canadian historian, Garneau, for having suggested the amendment while in England in 1854. This, however, he denied most emphatically in a pamphlet which he wrote at a later time when he was no longer in public life. He placed the responsibility on John Boulton, who called himself an independent Liberal and who was in England at the same time as Hincks, and probably got the ear of the colonial secretary or one of his subordinates in the colonial office, and induced him to introduce the amendment which passed without notice in a House where very little attention was given, as a rule, to purely colonial questions.

In 1853 Lord Elgin visited England, where he received unqualified praise for his able administration of Canadian affairs. It was on this occasion that Mr. Buchanan, then minister of the United States in London, and afterwards a president of the Republic, paid this tribute to the governor-general at a public dinner given in his honour.

"Lord Elgin," he said, "has solved one of the most difficult problems of statesmanship. He has been able, successfully and satisfactorily, to administer, amidst many difficulties, a colonial government over a free people. This is an easy task where the commands of a despot are law to his obedient servants, but not so in a colony where the people feel that they possess the rights and privileges of native-born Britons. Under his enlightened government, Her Majesty's North American provinces have realized the blessings of a wise, prudent and prosperous administration, and we of the neighbouring nation, though jealous of our rights, have reason to be abundantly satisfied with his just and friendly conduct towards ourselves. He has known how to reconcile his devotion to Her Majesty's service with a proper regard to the rights and interests of a kindred and neighbouring people. Would to heaven we had such governors-general in all the European colonies in the vicinity of the United States!"

On his return from England Lord Elgin made a visit to Washington and succeeded in negotiating the reciprocity treaty which he had always at heart. It was not, however, until a change of government occurred in Canada, that the legislature was able to give its ratification to this important measure. This subject is of such importance that it will be fully considered in a separate chapter on the relations between Canada and the United States during Lord Elgin's term of office.

In 1854 the Roman Catholic inhabitants of Quebec and Montreal were deeply excited by the lectures of a former monk, Father Gavazzi, who had become a Protestant and professed to expose the errors of the faith to which he once belonged. Much rioting took place in both cities, and blood was shed in Montreal, where the troops, which had been called out, suddenly fired on the mob. Mr. Wilson, the mayor, who was a Roman Catholic, was accused of having given the order to fire, but he always denied the charge, and Hincks, in his "Reminiscences," expresses his conviction that he was not responsible. He was persuaded that "the firing was quite accidental, one man having discharged his piece from misapprehension, and others having followed his example until the officers threw themselves in front, and struck up the firelocks." Be this as it may, the Clear Grits in the West promptly made use of this incident to attack the government on the ground that it had failed to make a full investigation into the circumstances of the riot. As a matter of fact, according to Hincks, the government did take immediate steps to call the attention of the military commandant to the matter, and the result was a court of inquiry which ended in the removal of the regiment--then only a few days in Canada--to Bermuda for having shown "a want of discipline." Brown inveighed very bitterly against Hincks and his colleagues, as subject to Roman Catholic domination in French Canada, and found this unfortunate affair extremely useful in his systematic efforts to destroy the government, to which at no time had he been at all favourable.

Several changes took place during 1853 in the personnel of the ministry, which met parliament on June 13th, with the following members holding portfolios:

Hon. Messrs. Hincks, premier and inspector-general; John Ross, formerly solicitor-general west in place of Richards, elevated to the bench, attorney-general for Upper Canada; James Morris, president of the legislative council, in place of Mr. Caron, now a judge; John Rolph, president of the executive council; Malcolm Cameron, postmaster-general; A.N. Morin, commissioner of crown lands; L.P. Drummond, attorney-general for Lower Canada; Mr. Chauveau, formerly solicitor east, provincial secretary; J. Chabot, commissioner of public works in place of John Young, resigned on account of differences on commercial questions; and E.P. Tache, receiver-general. Dunbar Ross became solicitor-general east, and Joseph C. Morrison, solicitor-general west.

The government had decided to have a short session, pass a few necessary measures and then appeal to the country. The secularization of the reserves, and the question of the seigniorial tenure were not to be taken up until the people had given an expression of opinion as to the ministerial policy generally. As soon as the legislature met, Cauchon, already prominent in public life, proposed an amendment to the address, expressing regret that the government had no intention "to submit immediately a measure to settle the question of the seigniorial tenure." Then Sicotte, who had not long before declined to enter the ministry, moved to add the words "and one for the secularization of the clergy reserves." These two amendments were carried by a majority of thirteen in a total division of seventy-one votes. While the French Liberals continued to support Morin, all the Upper Canadian opponents of the government, Conservatives and Clear Grits, united with a number of Hincks's former supporters and Rouges in Lower Canada to bring about this ministerial defeat. The government accordingly was obliged either to resign or ask the governor-general for a dissolution. It concluded to adhere to its original determination, and go at once to the country. The governor-general consented to prorogue the legislature with a view to an immediate appeal to the electors. When the Usher of the Black Rod appeared at the door of the assembly chamber, to ask the attendance of the Commons in the legislative council, a scene of great excitement occurred. William Lyon Mackenzie made one of his vituperative attacks on the government, and was followed by John A. Macdonald, who declared its course to be most unconstitutional. When at last the messenger from the governor-general was admitted by order of the speaker, the House proceeded to the council chamber, where members were electrified by another extraordinary incident. The speaker of the assembly was John Sandfield Macdonald, an able Scotch Canadian, in whose character there was a spirit of vindictiveness, which always asserted itself when he received a positive or fancied injury. He had been a solicitor-general of Upper Canada in the LaFontaine-Baldwin government, and had never forgiven Hincks for not having promoted him to the attorney-generalship, instead of W.B. Richards, afterwards an eminent judge of the old province of Canada, and first chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Dominion. Hincks had offered him the commissionership of crown lands in the ministry, but he refused to accept any office except the one on which his ambition was fixed. Subsequently, however, he was induced by his friends to take the speakership of the legislative assembly, but he had never forgiven what he considered a slight at the hands of the prime minister in 1851. Accordingly, when he appeared at the Bar of the Council in 1853, he made an attempt to pay off this old score. As soon as he had made his bow to the governor-general seated on the throne, Macdonald proceeded to read the following speech, which had been carefully prepared for the occasion in the two languages:

"May it please your Excellency: It has been the immemorial custom of the speaker of the Commons' House of Parliament to communicate to the throne the general result of the deliberations of the assembly upon the principal objects which have employed the attention of parliament during the period of their labours. It is not now part of my duty thus to address your Excellency, inasmuch as there has been no act passed or judgment of parliament obtained since we were honoured by your Excellency's announcement of the cause of summoning of parliament by your gracious speech from the throne. The passing of an act through its several stages, according to the law and custom of parliament (solemnly declared applicable to the parliamentary proceedings of this province, by a decision of the legislative assembly of 1841), is held to be necessary to constitute a session of parliament. This we have been unable to accomplish, owing to the command which your Excellency has laid upon us to meet you this day for the purpose of prorogation. At the same time I feel called upon to assure your Excellency, on the part of Her Majesty's faithful Commons, that it is not from any want of respect to yourself, or to the August personage whom you represent in these provinces, that no answer has been returned by the legislative assembly to your gracious speech from the throne."

It is said by those who were present on this interesting occasion that His Excellency was the most astonished person in the council chamber. Mr. Fennings Taylor, the deputy clerk with a seat at the table, tells us in a sketch of Macdonald that Lord Elgin's face clearly marked "deep displeasure and annoyance when listening to the speaker's address," and that he gave "a motion of angry impatience when he found himself obliged to listen to the repetition in French of the reproof which had evidently galled him in English." This incident was in some respects without parallel in Canadian parliamentary history. There was a practice, now obsolete in Canada as in England, for the speaker, on presenting the supply or appropriation bill to the governor-general for the royal assent, to deliver a short address directing attention to the principal measures passed during the session about to be closed.[14] This practice grew up in days when there were no responsible ministers who would be the only constitutional channel of communication between the Crown and the assembly. The speaker was privileged, and could be instructed as "the mouth-piece" of the House, to lay before the representative of the Sovereign an expression of opinion on urgent questions of the day. On this occasion Mr. Macdonald was influenced entirely by personal spite, and made an unwarrantable use of an old custom which was never intended, and could not be constitutionally used, to insult the representative of the Crown, even by inference. Mr. Macdonald was not even correct in his interpretation of the constitution, when he positively declared that an act was necessary to constitute a session. The Crown makes a session by summoning and opening parliament, and it is always a royal prerogative to prorogue or dissolve it at its pleasure even before a single act has passed the two Houses. Such a scene could never have occurred with the better understanding of the duties of the speaker and of the responsibilities of ministers advising the Crown that has grown up under a more thorough study of the practice and usages of parliament, and of the principles of responsible government. This little political episode is now chiefly interesting as giving an insight into one phase of the character of a public man, who afterwards won a high position in the parliamentary and political life of Canada before and after the confederation of 1867, not by the display of a high order of statesmanship, but by the exercise of his tenacity of purpose, and by reason of his reputation for a spiteful disposition which made him feared by friend and foe.

Immediately after the prorogation, parliament was dissolved and the Hincks-Morin ministry presented itself to the people, who were now called upon to elect a larger number of representatives under the act passed in 1853. Of the constitutionality of the course pursued by the government in this political crisis, there can now be no doubt. In the first place it was fully entitled to demand a public judgment on its general policy, especially in view of the fact, within the knowledge of all persons, that the opposition in the assembly was composed of discordant elements, only temporarily brought together by the hope of breaking up the government. In the next place it felt that it could not be justified by sound constitutional usage in asking a parliament in which the people were now imperfectly represented, to settle definitely such important questions as the clergy reserves and the seigniorial tenure. Lord Elgin had himself no doubt of the necessity for obtaining a clear verdict from the people by means of "the more perfect system of representation" provided by law. In the debate on the Representation Bill in 1853, John A. Macdonald did not hesitate to state emphatically that the House should be governed by English precedents in the position in which it would soon be placed by the passage of this measure. "Look," he said, "at the Reform Bill in England. That was passed by a parliament that had been elected only one year before, and the moment it was passed, Lord John Russell affirmed that the House could not continue after it had declared that the country was not properly represented. How can we legislate on the clergy reserves until another House is elected, if this bill passes? A great question like this cannot be left to be decided by a mere accidental majority. We can legislate upon no great question after we have ourselves declared that we do not represent the country. Do these gentlemen opposite mean to say that they will legislate on a question affecting the rights of people yet unborn, with the fag-end of a parliament dishonoured by its own confessions of incapacity?" Hincks in his "Reminiscences," printed more than three decades later than this ministerial crisis, still adhered to the opinion that the government was fully justified by established precedent in appealing to the country before disposing summarily of the important questions then agitating the people. Both Lord Elgin and Sir John A. Macdonald--to give the latter the title he afterwards received from the Crown--assuredly set forth the correct constitutional practice under the peculiar circumstances in which both government and legislature were placed by the legislation increasing the representation of the people.

The elections took place in July and August of 1854, for in those times there was no system of simultaneous polling on one day, but elections were held on such days and as long as the necessities of party demanded.[15] The result was, on the whole, adverse to the government. While it still retained a majority in French Canada, its opponents returned in greater strength, and Morin himself was defeated in Terrebonne, though happily for the interests of his party he was elected by acclamation at the same time in Chicoutimi. In Upper Canada the ministry did not obtain half the vote of the sixty-five representatives now elected to the legislature by that province. This vote was distributed as follows: Ministerial, 30; Conservatives, 22; Clear Grits, 7; and Independents, 6. Malcolm Cameron was beaten in Lambton, but Hincks was elected by two constituencies. One auspicious result of this election was the disappearance of Papineau from public life. He retired to his pretty chateau on the banks of the Ottawa, and the world soon forgot the man who had once been so prominent a figure in Canadian politics. His graces of manner and conversation continued for years to charm his friends in that placid evening of his life so very different from those stormy days when his eloquence was a menace to British institutions and British connection. Before his death, he saw Lower Canada elevated to an independent and influential position in the confederation of British North America which it could never have reached as that Nation Canadienne which he had once vainly hoped to see established in the valley of the St. Lawrence.

The Rouges, of whom Papineau had been leader, came back in good form and numbered nineteen members. Antoine A. Dorion, Holton, and other able men in the ranks of this once republican party, had become wise and adopted opinions which no longer offended the national and religious susceptibilities of their race, although they continued to show for years their radical tendencies which prevented them from ever obtaining a firm hold of public opinion in a practically Conservative province, and becoming dominant in the public councils for any length of time.

The fifth parliament of the province of Canada was opened by Lord Elgin on February 5th, 1854, and the ministry was defeated immediately on the vote for the speakership, to which Mr. Sicotte--a dignified cultured man, at a later time a judge--was elected. On this occasion Hincks resorted to a piece of strategy which enabled him to punish John Sandfield Macdonald for the insult he had levelled at the governor-general and his advisers at the close of the previous parliament. The government's candidate was Georges Etienne Cartier, who was first elected in 1849 and who had already become conspicuous in the politics of his province. Sicotte was the choice of the Opposition in Lower Canada, and while there was no belief among the politicians that he could be elected, there was an understanding among the Conservatives and Clear Grits that an effort should be made in his behalf, and in case of its failure, then the whole strength of the opponents of the ministry should be so directed as to ensure the election of Mr. Macdonald, who was sure to get a good Reform vote from the Upper Canadian representatives. These names were duly proposed in order, and Cartier was defeated by a large majority. When the clerk at the table had called for a vote for Sicotte, the number who stood up in his favour was quite insignificant, but before the Nays were taken, Hincks arose quickly and asked that his name be recorded with the Yeas. All the ministerialists followed the prime minister and voted for Sicotte, who was consequently chosen speaker by a majority of thirty-five. But all that Hincks gained by such clever tactics was the humiliation for the moment of an irascible Scotch Canadian politician. The vote itself had no political significance whatever, and the government was forced to resign on September 8th. The vote in favour of Cartier had shown that the ministry was in a minority of twelve in Upper Canada, and if Hincks had any doubt of his political weakness it was at once dispelled on September 7th when the House refused to grant to the government a short delay of twenty-four hours for the purpose of considering a question of privilege which had been raised by the Opposition. On this occasion, Dr. Rolph, who had been quite restless in the government for some tune, voted against his colleagues and gave conclusive evidence that Hincks was deserted by the majority of the Reform party in his own province, and could no longer bring that support to the French Canadian ministerialists which would enable them to administer public affairs.

The resignation of the Hincks-Morin ministry begins a new epoch in the political annals of Canada. From that time dates the disruption of the old Liberal party which had governed the country so successfully since 1848, and the formation of a powerful combination which was made up of the moderate elements of that party and of the Conservatives, which afterwards became known as the Liberal-Conservative party. This new party practically controlled public affairs for over three decades until the death of Sir John A. Macdonald, to whose inspiration it largely owed its birth. With that remarkable capacity for adapting himself to political conditions, which was one of the secrets of his strength as a party leader, he saw in 1854 that the time had come for forming an alliance with those moderate Liberals in the two provinces who, it was quite clear, had no possible affinity with the Clear Grits, who were not only small in numbers, but especially obnoxious to the French Canadians, as a people on account of the intemperate attacks made by Mr. Brown in the Toronto Globe on their revered institutions.

The representatives who supported the late ministry were still in larger numbers than any other party or faction in the House, and it was obvious that no government could exist without their support. Sir Allan MacNab, who was the oldest parliamentarian, and the leader of the Conservatives--a small but compact party--was then invited by the governor-general to assist him by his advice, during a crisis when it was evident to the veriest political tyro that the state of parties in the assembly rendered it very difficult to form a stable government unless a man could be found ready to lay aside all old feelings of personal and political rivalry and prejudice and unite all factions on a common platform for the public advantage. All the political conditions, happily, were favourable for a combination on a basis of conciliation and compromise. The old Liberals in French Canada under the influence of LaFontaine and Morin had been steadily inclining to Conservatism with the secure establishment of responsible government and the growth of the conviction that the integrity of the cherished institutions of their ancient province could be best assured by moving slowly (festina lente), and not by constant efforts to make radical changes in the body politic. The Liberals, of whom Hincks was leader, were also very distrustful of Brown, and clearly saw that he could have no strength whatever in a province where French Canada must have a guarantee that its language, religion, and civil law, were safe in the hands of any government that might at any time be formed. The wisest men among the Conservatives also felt that the time had arrived for adopting a new policy since the old questions which had once evoked their opposition had been at last settled by the voice of the people, and could no longer constitutionally or wisely be made matters of continued agitation in or out of parliament. "The question that arose in the minds of the old Liberals," as it was said many years later by Thomas White, an able journalist and politician,[16]  "was this: shall we hand over the government of this country to the men who, calling themselves Liberals, have broken up the Liberal party by the declaration of extravagant views, by the enunciation of principles far more radical and reckless than any we are prepared to accept, and by a restless ambition which we cannot approve? Or shall we not rather unite with the Conservatives who have gone to the country declaring, in reference to the great questions which then agitated it, that if the decision at the polls was against them, they would no longer offer resistance to their settlement, but would, on the contrary, assist in such solution of them as would forever remove them from the sphere of public or political agitation."

With both Liberals and Conservatives holding such views, it was easy enough for John A. Macdonald to convince even Sir Allan MacNab that the time had come for forgetting the past as much as possible, and constituting a strong government from the moderate elements of the old parties which had served their turn and now required to be remodelled on a wider basis of common interests. Sir Allan MacNab recognized the necessity of bringing his own views into harmony with those of the younger men of his party who were determined not to allow such an opportunity for forming a powerful ministry to pass by. The political situation, indeed, was one calculated to appeal to both the vanity and self-interest of the veteran statesman, and he accordingly assumed the responsibility of forming an administration. He communicated immediately with Morin and his colleagues in Lower Canada, and when he received a favourable reply from them, his next step was to make arrangements, if possible, with the Liberals of Upper Canada. Hincks was only too happy to have an opportunity of resenting the opposition he had met with from Brown and the extreme Reformers of the western province, and opened negotiations with his old supporters on the conditions that the new ministry would take immediate steps for the secularization of the clergy reserves, and the settlement of the seigniorial tenure, and that two members of the administration would be taken from his own followers. The negotiations were successfully closed on this basis of agreement, and on September 11th the following ministers were duly sworn into office:

Upper Canada.--Hon. Sir Allan MacNab, president of the executive council and minister of agriculture; Hon. John A. Macdonald, attorney-general of Upper Canada; Hon. W. Cayley, inspector-general; Hon. R. Spence, postmaster-general; Hon. John Ross, president of the legislative council.

Lower Canada.--Hon. A.N. Morin, commissioner of crown lands; Hon. L.P. Drummond, attorney-general for Lower Canada; Hon. P.J.O. Chauveau, provincial secretary; Hon. E.P. Tache, receiver-general; Hon. J. Chabot, commissioner of public works.

The new cabinet contained four Conservatives, and six members of the old ministry. Henry Smith, a Conservative, became solicitor-general for Upper Canada, and Dunbar Ross continued in the same office for Lower Canada, but neither of them had seats in the cabinet. The Liberal-Conservative party, organized under such circumstances was attacked with great bitterness by the leaders of the discordant factions, who were greatly disappointed at the success of the combination formed through the skilful management of Messrs. J.A. Macdonald, Hineks and Morin.

The coalition was described as "an unholy alliance" of men who had entirely abandoned their principles. But an impartial historian must record the opinion that the coalition was perfectly justified by existing political conditions, that had it not taken place, a stable government would in all probability have been for some time impossible, and that the time had come for the reconstruction of parties with a broad generous policy which would ignore issues at last dead, and be more in harmony with modern requirements. It might with some reason be called a coalition when the reconstruction of parties was going on, but it was really a successful movement for the annihilation of old parties and issues, and for the formation on their ruins of a new party which could gather to itself the best materials available for the effective conduct of public affairs on the patriotic platform of the union of the two races, of equal rights to all classes and creeds, and of the avoidance of purely sectional questions calculated to disturb the union of 1841.

The new government at once obtained the support of a large majority of the representatives from each section of the province, and was sustained by the public opinion of the country at large. During the session of 1854 measures were passed for the secularization of the reserves, the removal of the seigniorial tenure, and for the ratification of the reciprocity treaty with the United States. As I have only been able so far in this historical narrative to refer in a very cursory manner to these very important questions, I propose now to give in the following chapter a succinct review of their history from the time they first came into prominence down to their settlement at the close of Lord Elgin's administration in Canada.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.