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Lord Sydenham
Chapter X - First Impressions


IT was on September 13tb, after these preliminary arrangements and understandings with the home government, that the new governor-general sailed in the frigate Pique from Portsmouth, and after a stormy voyage of thirty-three days reached Quebec on October 17th. In the meantime, as we have seen, he was being very vigorously canvassed in the colonies over which he was coming to preside. We have seen the estimate of his character and the presentation of his views made by well-informed authorities in England. An entry in his journal, while oil shipboard, indicates the personal attitude in which he approached the task before him. It shows that he recognized that he was not coming to Canada to be a figurehead, but to be a central force in bringing about the reunion of the provinces, and in reconstructing the political and financial systems. " It is a great field, too, if I bring about the union, and stay for a year to meet the united assembly, and set them to work. On the other hand, in England there is little to be done by me. At the Exchequer all that can be hoped is to get through some bad, tax. There is no chance of carrying the House with one for any great commercial reforms, timber, corn, sugar, etc.; party and private interests will prevent it. If Peel were in, lie might do this, as he could muzzle or keep away his Tory allies, and we should support him.

"On private grounds 1 think it good too. 'Tis strange, however, that the office which was once my greatest ambition (the Exchequer) should now be so disagreeable to me that I will give up the cabinet and parliament to avoid it. After all, the House of Commons and Manchester are no longer what they were to me. I do not think that I have improved in speakingórather gone back. Perhaps in Opposition, with time to prepare, 1 might rally again; but I do not feel sure of it. I am grown rather nervous about it. The interruption and noise which prevail so much in the House concerns me. I have certainly made no good speech for two years. It is clear, from what has passed, I might have kept Manchester as long as I liked. But till put to the test by leaving it, one could not help feeling nervous and irritated by constant complaints of not going far enough or going too far. The last years have made a great change in me. My health, 1 suppose, is at the bottom of it. On the whole I think it is well as it is."

The above extract shows also that the stale and unprofitable condition into which the Whig party had fallen, from too long and too precarious a tenure of office, had proved to him that it was impossible, for the immediate future, to find in British politics an adequate expression for his personality or his aspirations. In Canada alone did there seem to be such a field, and into it, therefore, he threw himself without backward longing.

After remaining two days on board ship, awaiting the arrival of Sir John Colborne from Montreal, he landed, opened the Royal Commission and was sworn into office on October 19th. On the same day he issued a proclamation announcing his appointment as governor-general and his entrance upon the duties of the office. The spirit in which he intended to discharge his duties as governor-general is thus briefly expressed: "In the exercise of this high trust it will be my desire, no less than my duty, to promote to the utmost of my power the welfare of all classes of Her Majesty's subjects. To reconcile existing differences; to apply a remedy to proved grievances; to extend and protect the trade, and enlarge the resources of the colonies entrusted to my charge; above all, to promote whatever may bind them to the Mother Country by increasing the ties of interest and affection will be my first and most anxious endeavour. In pursuit of these objects I shall ever be ready to listen to the representation of all, while I shall unhesitatingly exercise the powers confided to me to repress disorder, to uphold the law7, and to maintain tranquillity."

He recognized the unsatisfactory condition of affairs in Lower Canada, and hoped to be able to find a means of restoring the constitution. He acknowledged the essential loyalty of the people of Upper Canada, but recognized their financial embarrassment, which hampered trade and provincial development. These defects, however, he hoped to remedy, relying upon the patriotism of the people and the wisdom of the legislature. Finally, he called upon all who have the good of British North America at heart to lay aside all minor differences and co-operate with him in promoting the welfare of the provinces. Altogether it was a simple, candid, and businesslike statement, quite unlike many of the stilted and perfunctory proclamations to which the people of the colonies had been accustomed. The proclamation was awaited with the greatest interest, as the first utterance of a governor of a totally different type from any of his predecessors, and concerning whose personality, views, and motives the liveliest hopes and fears had been aroused. But especially was it felt by every intelligent citizen that the whole future not only of the Canadian provinces, but of British North America, was hanging in the balance, so much depending upon the wisdom and policy of the new governor-general.

On this same day His Excellency was presented with an address by the magistrates of the city and district of Quebec. This was of a very noncommittal character, except for the very parochial appeal that the city of Quebec might not be deprived of the residence of the governor-general, there having been a tendency of late to favour Montreal. This the new governor adroitly met by declaring that it would afford him the sincerest satisfaction to contribute at all times to the prosperity of Quebec, and, when circumstances permitted, to reside within its walls, in order to cultivate the good feeling and regard of its inhabitants. This was only the first of many scores of instances in which all classes of the people were to be charmed with the ability of the governor to turn the most unpromising materials, personages, and conditions to account, in order to ingratiate himself with the Canadian public.

Altogether, the new governors first day m Canada produced a most favourable impression, and began a revulsion of feeling in his favour which, within a very short time, had removed almost all doubt and distrust as to his personal qualities, and had laid a solid foundation for that great personal popularity which was to be so powerful an influence in mitigating political bitterness, breaking down factious opposition, and promoting those larger political objects to which the governor-general had devoted himself.

On the day of his arrival he despatched a letter to Sir George Arthur transmitting a copy of his commission and instructions, together with a warrant reappointing Sir George as lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. This despatch met the lieutenant-governor at Kingston, on his way to Montreal to pay his respects to the new governor-general, as requested by Lord John Russell.

One of the first official acts of Poulett Thomson was the appointment of T. W. Clinton Murdoch, Esq., to be civil secretary of the general government, and of Major George D. Hall to be military secretary and chief aide-de-camp. Mr. Murdoch was a gentleman of exceptional ability, who rapidly acquired a very intimate knowledge of Canadian history and of the actual conditions of the country. His rare capacity for affairs, his sound judgment, indefatigable industry, and admirable tact enabled him to render invaluable assistance to Lord Sydenham during his term of office, and at the earnest solicitation of Sir Charles Bagot he continued as civil secretary during the greater part of his administration.

With characteristic energy, amounting almost to impetuosity, the new governor immediately plunged into the details of Canadian affairs, taking every method and opportunity of making himself intimately acquainted with Canadian conditions. On the twenty-first he held a levee at the Castle St. Louis, which was attended by the principal inhabitants of Quebec and district, without distinction of parties. At the close of this function came the Committee of Trade of Quebec to pay their respects to the new governor, hitherto only known to them as "the enemy of the Canadian timber trade," in which trade most of them were interested. However, they made the best of it, and being merchants themselves they told him that they saw with prule the government of the country entrusted to one who had himself been a merchant. Notwithstanding that the opinions which he had been understood to entertain with reference to an important branch of the Canadian trade differed materially from their own, they believed that his efforts as governor of the colonies would be directed to the promotion not only of the political, but of the commercial interests, including the timber trade. They recognized the difficulty as well as the importance of the general task before him: to establish a just and steady form of government, to develop the latent resources of the provinces by improving the means of communication, to revive commerce, and to recall to Canada the stream of immigration now diverted elsewhere, and they promised him their co-operation towards the accomplishment of these objects. To this address also he made a felicitous reply, appealing to their rule and fellow-feeling as merchants, soliciting their all-important assistance, and promising the most hearty co-operation in all mutual interests.

The following day he left for Montreal, there to meet Sir George Arthur in conference on the affairs of Upper Canada. He reached Montreal on the twenty-third, and on the twenty-fifth Sir George Arthur arrived. On the twenty-sixth he received an address from the merchants of the city, to which lie made one of his brief but effective replies. With his long training in the intricate details of the Board of Trade, he at once grappled with the tangled problems of Upper Canada. He held numerous conferences with Sir George Arthur, whose breath was rather taken away by the rapidity with which he covered the ground and followed up his conclusions with decisions as to policy.

He found that conditions were sufficiently tranquil in the Lower Province to permit of his leaving it for a few months. In the meantime, he could devote himself to the more immediate object of his mission, in taking up the union question with the Special Council, and on his return from the Upper Province, he would be able to discuss the detailed needs of Lower Canada at greater length.

It had evidently been his intention to dissolve the House of Assembly in Upper Canada, and lay the proposition for a union of the provinces before a House elected specifically on that issue. He found, however, that this would occasion considerable delay. Moreover, the lieutenant-governor was apprehensive lest a new election at that time should be attended with undue excitement, resulting possibly in riots in certain parts of the province. It appeared also that the existing assembly was not opposed to the measure of re-union, though inclined to attach onerous conditions thereto as regards the majority in the Lower Province. But even should the assembly indicate a tendency to seriously run counter to the general wishes of the people, it was still within the power of the governor to dissolve the House and .appeal to the electors. All things considered, therefore, he resolved to proceed to the Upper Province about the middle of November, and before the close of water communication. Accordingly, Sir George Arthur was instructed to return to Toronto and to summon the provincial parliament for December 3rd.

Already the vigorous yet prudent activity displayed by the new governor-general, his obvious desire to acquaint himself with all phases of public opinion, and to reach the most equitable and practicable conclusions, caused him to rise steadily in the general estimation. His movements and his utterances were followed with the keenest interest, and fully chronicled in the leading newspapers of Lower and Upper Canada. There was, of course, a special curiosity as to his attitude on the subject of responsible government. His repeated assertion of his intention to maintain and, if possible, strengthen the connection between Britain and the colonies, reassured the more conservative element, while his known sympathy with the chief recommendations of Lord Durham's Report and his avoidance of any hostile criticism of the advocates of responsible government, gave no occasion to the Reformers to apprehend that he had renounced his Liberal views.

His interviews with Sir George Arthur had caused no little uneasiness in the mind of that outspoken opponent of responsible government. The lieutenant-governor now saw very clearly that the stand which lie had lately taken against that heresy, and his known sympathy with the legislative council in its opposition to the union, were no longer to be supported by the chosen representative of the home government. Having promised to assist the governor-general in his various measures in Upper Canada, lie began to have visions of himself publicly repudiating his previous utterances, abandoning his friends of the Compact, and, quite generally, performing the unpleasant task of supporting in the name of the home government what lie had previously condemned m the name of the same authority. Reflecting upon these things on his way back to Toronto, and doubtless taking counsel with his friends there, he wrote a long letter of explanation to the governor-general, dated November 9th.

After informing the governor that, according to his desire, the provincial parliament had been convened to meet oil December 3rd, he took advantage of the occasion to give His Excellency some information on Upper Canadian conditions, and especially as to his personal position before he took over the government of the province. He repeated the statement that he had been instructed at the time of his appointment to follow the policy of his predecessor, Sir F. B. Head. These directions on the part of the home government he had taken pains to make public, believing that it justified him in "giving every possible encouragement and support to the constitutional party who desired British connection and monarchical institutions under the existing constitution of 1791, in opposition to the Reform party, whom my predecessor considered collectively disloyal and desirous of republican institutions." In following this policy he believed that the condition of the province had been distinctly improving up to the time of the appearance of Lord Durham's Report, and he had hoped among the better disposed Reformers to regain all the ground that had been lost. He saw no hope of reconciling the American party or those Reformers who had long associated with them in striving for the introduction of republican institutions, under which he evidently included responsible government. But he had hoped to win the moderate Reformers, though without any departure from the principles of the constitutional party, who were, above all things, not to be offended.

As to a union of the provinces, he believed that many who favoured it in 1822, when it failed to carry, had since become opposed to it, He also referred to the joint address of the legislative council and assembly to the late king deprecating the policy of the union, the reply to which had informed him " that the project of a union between the two provinces has not been contemplated by His Majesty as fit to be recommended for the sanction of parliament." He also stated that Lord Thirham himself had on several occasions expressed his decided objection to union. Hence, when consulted about it by members of both Houses, he had always opposed it. He claimed to have taken the precaution, however, to state that it would not be well to be too sure of the course to be taken ih England, and that it would be desirable to accept whatever measures were finally determined upon there. He now finds that the home government has adopted a union policy, and that His Excellency has come out to endeavour to carry it into effect. But though he has personally opposed it, he believes from the sentiments he has heard expressed that, as an abstract proposition, it could be carried in Upper Canada, though perhaps not in the form presented in the bill sent out from Britain.

However, the question which has given rise to most discussion since the appearance of Lord Durham's Report is that of responsible government. The Report virtually recommends that the executive council be made responsible to the House of Assembly, and this is almost universally accepted as recommending that form of government contended for even to rebellion by Mackenzie and Papineau. This he maintains has rehabilitated that whole movement, and so-called " Durham meetings" have been held in various parts of the province to advocate this policy. Many of these meetings have indeed been very perplexing, because, while warmly supported by the late rebels, they have also been favoured by persons of undoubted loyalty, some of whom have admitted that their object was to exclude eventually Her Majesty's secretary of state from any interference in the local concerns of the province. His own attitude towards the idea of responsible government has been to decidedly discountenance it, considering himself as justified in this attitude by the statements of Lord John Russell and the Marquis of Normanby in the British parliament. He flatters himself also that his course has caused this "dangerous innovation" to lose much of its popularity.

Referring in particular to his reply to the address presented to him as a result of the "Durham meeting " at Hamilton, he presents the usual alternatives as set up at that time by the opponents of responsible government. "A governor, if the Crown allowed him to name his council, would surely for his own peace and success, select persons disposed to work in harmony with the legislature. By the responsible government now sought men want to place the council, in effect, over the governor, and to set aside altogether the influence of the imperial government by rendering the executive government wholly dependent upon the provincial parliament." It might be stated parenthetically that it was just because hitherto no governor had ever attempted to follow the first alternative that the second was advocated by extreme Reformers. However, after presenting his abstract alternatives, Sir George Arthur proceeds half unconsciously to justify most of the agitation for responsible government. He admits that the cry for reponsibility does not surprise him, for the chaotic condition into which both the executive and legislative councils of the government had fallen left no real responsibility anywhere. "Partly owing to the House of Assembly having taken into its own hands matters purely executive, and partly from other causes, there has been, in reality, in some transactions, no responsibility, and great intricacy exists, and a want of system, n the manner in which the public accounts have been kept, some of the departments have worked most inconveniently to the public, and there are. as it seems to me, no adequate checks over the receipts and disbursements of public money." He had proposed when tranquillity was restored to show by drastic measures of executive reform that an honest and efficient governor could eradicate the evils of the existing conditions and introduce a new " system of government under which all public officers may be made strictly responsible, in every practical and useful sense of the term." In other words, his conception of responsibility was responsibility to a benevolent despotism. But there was apt to be a very uncertain series of despots.

After referring to the embarrassed condition of the provincial finances and the necessity for developing the resources of the country, and to that end completing the public works already undertaken, Arthur proceeds to sum up the difficulties of the situation in which he finds himself. He considers that it was his special function to provide for the safety of the province, and though that is not altogether insured, still he recognizes that it may be the policy of the British government to make considerable changes in the system of administration. On the principles of the union he had left a way of escape for himself, but 011 the principle of responsible government he infers from his brief interview with His Excellency that his views are not in accordance with those which he himself has been publicly expressing. This may indeed cause some embarrassment to the new governor, for " it is impossible not to perceive how difficult it must be for Your Excellency to avoid being entangled with past transactions." As regards himself under these new conditions, "Her Majesty's government has placed me in circumstances of very considerable embarrassment, from which I have endeavoured to relieve myself, so far as I can, by this unreserved and detailed explanation." He trusts, therefore, that the governor will not require him to take a course for the future too glaringly inconsistent with that of the past, as it would destroy his influence as an auxiliary in carrying out the new policy.

It is plain from this that while it was acknowledged that the governor-general had come out to Canada prepared to introduce a new policy in the administration of the country, he was to find himself hampered, not only by the prejudices of the majority of the people in positions of power and influence, but by the previous policy and definitely expressed convictions of former governors, even Lord Durham himself being quoted against the recommendations of the Report which bore his name.


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