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Lord Sydenham
Chapter XV - The Clergy Reserves


HAVING secured the primary object of his mission in obtaining from the existing legislative bodies in Canada an early and favourable verdict on the union measure, His Excellency was encouraged to employ his influence in further preparing the way for the successful introduction of a united legislature. Already the governor had abundantly proved the strength of his will and the vigour of his personality. Amid the shifting sands and baffling cross-currents of Canadian politics, it was with a happy relief that many who were not the special champions of this or that section of policy instinctively turned to a man with an intelligent and comprehensive grasp of affairs, who was sure of himself and of his destination.

During his rapid and effective canvass of the actual condition of the province, both as to men and affairs, the governor had learned that the most troublesome question in Upper Canada was that of the Clergy Reserves. As this was a question peculiar to Upper Canada it was particularly desirable that »t should be disposed of, if possible, before the union came into effect. In the united legislature much would depend upon reducing the causes of friction and the multiplication of factions. The governor's object in taking up the question immediately is thus stated by himself in his correspondence: "I am much wanted at Montreal; but I think I shall stay on here for three weeks or a month longer, in order to try my hand at the Clergy Reserves. My popularity is just now at its utmost height, and it may be possible to use »t for that purpose. The House adjourns to-day, and I shall employ this week in trying whether I can bring people together upon any decent plan of settlement. Rut I confess I am not sanguine; for there are as many minds almost as men, and they are all dreadfully committed, both in the House and with their constituents, upon this question, for twenty different projects. II it were possible, however, to come to some conclusion which would not be addressed against in England, it would be the greatest boon ever conferred on this province, for it causes a degree of excitement throughout it which is scarcely credible. I will at least make some attempt at it, if possible."

As the governor states, the question of the Clergy Reserves had been for many years a source of the most bitter feelings throughout the province. Designed originally to insure to the people of Upper Canada the teaching of the Protestant religion and a close dependence upon the British Crown, these reserves had done more than anything else to bring Christianity into contempt, and to loosen Britain's hold upon the colony, It is not possible here to go into the prolonged and numerous controversies over this subject; it must suffice to indicate briefly the essential features of the question.

Following vaguely and roughly the idea of the Mother Country as to an established church, various provisions had been made in the American colonies, and subsequently advocated in Canada, for the assistance of the clergy in the colonies. The idea of setting apart a portion of the Crown lands for this purpose was discussed in relation to Canada before the framing of the Constitutional Act, the first drafts of which, however, contained no reference to the subject This feature was introduced by special message from the king, and in the final form of the Act provision was made for setting apart in each province one-seventh of the lands thereafter to be granted, "for the Support and Maintenance of a Protestant Clergy within the same." The Church of England interpreted the "Protestant clergy" to mean the clergy of the Established Church of England; but when Presbyterian Churches were introduced the Church of Scotland laid claim to a share of the proceeds from these lands as an established church in the United Kingdom. This claim was brought up in the assembly in 1823-4 by Mr. William Morris, for years the champion of the Church of Scotland in the legislature. The assembly presented an address to the king asking for a recognition of the claims of the Church of Scotland. The controversy thus introduced between the two established churches, led to claims on behalf of other churches whose representatives pointed out that the Act specified only a Protestant clergy, and that the clergy of the established churches had no monopoly of Protestantism. This wider interpretation having been effectively propagated, another address was adopted by the assembly in 1826, declaring that the reserves "ought not to be enjoyed by any one denomination of Protestants to the exclusion of their Christian brethren of other denominations." Either, therefore, the Clergy Reserves should benefit every denomination, or, if that were deemed inexpedient, the proceeds "should be applied to the purposes of education and the general improvement of the province." The Earl of Bathurst, seeking to avoid the issue, replied that the assembly had misunderstood the intention of the Act; whereupon the assembly passed a series of resolutions strongly objecting to a monopoly of the reserves by the Church of England. It also drew attention to the very inadequate provision made for education, and declared that the proceeds of the Clergy Reserves ought to be " applied to increase the provincial allowance for the support of district and common schools, and the endowment of a respectable provincial seminary for learning, and in aid of erecting places of worship for all denominations of Christians." A bill was passed giving effect to these resolutions, but was rejected by the council.

In 1820 the assembly, in an address to the queen with reference to the provincial university, expressed the popular desire that the proceeds of the Clergy Reserves "should be entirely appropriated to purposes of education and internal improvement." They expressed the conviction also that the churches would be adequately provided for by private liberality. In 1829 and 1830 bills were passed by the assembly for the sale of part of the reserves, the proceeds to be devoted to the above purposes, but these also were lost in the council. The assembly reaffirmed its position in the resolution of 1831 and the accompanying address to the imperial parliament for an Act authorizing the sale of the Clergy Reserves, and the application of the proceeds "for the advancement of education, and in aid of erecting places of public worship for various denominations of Christians." The close of the session checked this movement, but the subject was resumed the following session, and an address adopted praying for an application of the proceeds of the reserves to education only. In the session of 1832-3 a bill to re invest the reserves in the Crown came to nought. In 1834 a bill for the application of the reserves to education was passed,' but again lost in the council. In 1835 a similar bill was sent to the council, which instead of dealing with it adopted a series of resolutions stating the various claims made upon the reserves and praying the imperial parliament to settle the question. On these being sent to the assembly they adopted a resolution declaring that their wishes and opinions remained entirely unchanged. In 1830 the assembly passed another bill for the sale of the reserves and the r appropriation to general education. The council entirely reconstructed the bill so as to authorize the re-investing of the reserves in the Crown for the benefit of religion. The assembly restored it to its original form, and the council then rejected it.

In the new and strongly Conservative assembly of 1830-7, a resolution was adopted, by thirty-five to twenty-one, declaring it to be desirable that the Clergy Reserves should be employed " for the promotion of the religious and moral instruction of the people throughout this province." To this the council replied that if "moral instruction" meant nothing but religion, they would agree to it, and there the matter rested during that session. The following session, 1837-8, the assembly, after a heated debate, adopted a resolution advocating the re-investing of the reserves in the Crown " for the support and maintenance of the Christian religion within the province." A bill for that purpose was brought in, but, owing to the disturbed condition o^ the province due largely to this very question, was not proceeded with. In the first session of 1839 the question absorbed a great deal of attention and excited much bitterness. A series of resolutions was passed, by twenty-four to twenty, making provision for glebes for the Churches of England and Scotland and the Wesleyan Methodists. His remainder of the reserves was to be sold and the proceeds invested in provincial debentures, the returns from which should be employed, first, in paying the clergymen of the Churches of England and Scotland a stipend not to exceed a hundred pounds; second, in paying a specified number of clergymen of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, in connection with the English conference, an allowance not to exceed a hundred pounds each, the surplus to be employed in the erection of places of worship throughout the province. A bill founded on these resolutions was passed, but, being' considerably amended by the council, was afterwards rejected in the assembly, and a resolution adopted declaring that the Clergy Reserves should be sold and the proceeds paid over to the receiver-general for the current uses of the province. It was also resolved that the imperial parliament be requested to pass an Act placing the funds arising from past sales at the disposal of the provincial legislature. A bill based upon these resolutions was, after much close voting, passed by the casting vote of the speaker. It was amended in the council to vest the proceeds in the imperial parliament to be applied to "religious purposes." The amendments were finally accepted in the assembly by a majority of one, on the last day but one of the session, when some of the opponents of the council's amendments had left town. This bill was sent to Britain, but the law-officers of the Crown, on technical grounds, held it to be unconstitutional, and as there was little prospect of its effecting a settlement, even if sanctioned, it was disallowed and the matter referred back to the local legislature.

Such was the stage at which this vexed question had arrived when Lord Sydenham faced the problem which had been the despair of a long line of preceding governors, who could neither prevent its constant reappearance nor find any acceptable solution for it. In dealing with the question, not only were the assembly and council both to be faced, with their strongly divergent views and interests; but, even should they be brought into sufficient harmony on any measure, it would still have to run the gauntlet of the home government, itself divided on such measures as between the Lords and Commons. Moreover, it was certain that any measure which diverted the proceeds of the reserves from religion, or even from the Church of England, would have little prospect of gaining the sanction of the House of Lords. In easting about for some solution of this chronic problem, a practicable rather than an ideal measure was the only one worth attempting. The history of the question obviously indicated that the existing House of Assembly was, for Upper Canada, an unusually Conservative one, and thus inclined to concede much towards the convictions of the council, and thereby also to secure concessions from the council.

Having sized up the situation and mapped out his line of policy, on December 23rd Governor Poulett Thomson sent his message to the House of Assembly, giving the reasons for the disallowance of the Act of the previous session, and declaring that he would shortly call the attention of the assembly to this subject. Accordingly, on January 6th, 1840, he sent to the assembly a message on the subject of the Clergy Reserves. He frankly acknowledged the difficulty of the subject, owing to the varied convictions and interests not only in Canada but in Britain also, where any measure dealing with a problem involving a modification of the Constitutional Act must be submitted to both Houses of Parliament. At the same time there was an extreme necessity for disposing of the subject, m view of the probable reunion of the provinces. He had, therefore, directed a measure to be prepared for their consideration which provided that the remainder of the Clergy Reserves should be sold and the proceeds funded, and that the annual return should be distributed, according to specified terms, between the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and such other religious bodies as were recognized under the laws of Upper Canada, for the support of religious instruction in the province. Such a solution he considered would be in accordance with the original object of the appropriation, and, if accepted by the legislature in Canada, would probably insure a final settlement of the question. On the same day Solicitor-General Draper brought in the promised bill for the disposal of the Clergy Reserves and the distribution of the proceeds.

It was quite evident that the measure would be very distasteful to the whole of the reform element, who had just assisted the governor so effectively in passing the union resolutions. The governor was abundantly aware of this, but considered that there was not the slightest possibility of getting a bill, drawn on the usual reform lines, through either the legislative council in Canada or the House of Lords in England. Even to the measure as introduced he knew that there would be strenuous opposition on the part of the friends of the English Church, and even of the Church of Scotland. He knew that all his influence and persuasive powers would be required to meet the opposition of the more extreme parties on both sides, but the solution offered seemed to him the only one which had a chance of passing.

The attitude of the Reformers had already been expressed in certain resolutions passed at a meeting in Toronto, on December 30th, Dr. Baldwin in the chair. In these the Reformers m the assembly were commended for supporting the union policy of the governor-general. It was declared, however, that the only acceptable solution of the Clergy Reserves question would be the application of the proceeds to either education or public improvements. It was maintained also that on the subject of the Clergy Reserves the present legislature did not properly represent the people of the province. Roth Baldwin and Hincks had evidently been consulted on the subject of the reserves and were informed in advance of the settlement to be proposed by the governor. The Toronto Examiner, Hincks's paper, announced in advance what the character of the new bill was likely to be. It condemned, however, any such settlement, though admitting that the House of Lords in England would scarcely consent to a diversion of the reserves from religious uses. At the same time it was declared to be the duty of the legislature to insist upon a settlement acceptable to the people of Canada.

When the bill was brought in, the Examiner declared that it had supported the general policy of the new governor, and would not even now actively oppose his administration, but maintained that he had made a great mistake in his plan for settling the Clergy Reserves. As the discussion on the measure continued, it was evident that the governor was winning over quite a number of Reformers who, while doubtful of the wisdom of this measure, would accept it as a settlement in default of anything better. On the other hand, the majority of the Conservatives found in this measure at least one item in the programme of a Liberal governor which they could accept, even with qualifications. It was not, of course, to be expected that such a burning issue could be disposed of without much acrimonious debate. N ot only did the heathen rage, but the prelates also, for Bishop Strachan and the uncompromising Anglicans were as incensed at the inclusion of dissenters as the secularists were at the participation of any clergymen. The country was accustomed to bitter controversies of this kind without a settlement, but now, owing chiefly to the wisdom and tact of the governor alike in the framing of his measure and in the enlisting of supporters, a settlement was effected, for in the end the bill successfully passed both branches of the legislature. But it had still to receive the sanction of the home government, and Strachan hoped to defeat it in the House of Lords. In a private letter to Lord John Russell, the governor wrote, "If the Lords reject the Bill, upon their heads be the consequences. I will not answer for the Government of the Province, if the measure should come back. In case there is any blunder made by the lawyers, you must re-enact the Bill in England; for here it cannot come again without the most disastrous results." As the Act undoubtedly involved an alteration of certain features in the Constitutional Act of 1791, it was judged to have exceeded the powers of a colonial legislature. But the imperial parliament, following the governor's advice, itself passed a bill effecting the same purpose, and thus, for a number of years at least, the Clergy Reserves question was disposed of. It might, indeed, have been permanently disposed of had not the irreconcilable Bishop of Toronto insisted upon re-opening the question in his efforts to secure the whole of the endowment for his own Church, with the result that, having roused the secularist element once more, Hincks was enabled to achieve as prime minister what he had advocated as editor of the Examiner, and in the end the Church lost everything.

During this last session of the legislature of Upper Canada, Sydenham had been experimenting with the new system of an organized cabinet and responsible government, though its complete expression could not be secured until the passing of the Union Bill. At the same time, though ingenious efforts were made to draw from him definite statements on the theoretic aspects of responsible government and British connection, knowing quite well that this was a matter calling for a practical and not a theoretic solution, he adroitly avoided precise definitions, simply stating "that he had received Her Majesty's commands to administer the government of these Provinces in accordance with the well understood wishes and interests of the people, and to pay to their feelings, as expressed through their representatives, the deference that ;s justly due to them."

The governor's experience of the session, the attitude which he had adopted, and the contrast of strong government leadership under a cabinet system with the previous methods of conducting the provincial business, are well brought out in a private letter to Lord John Russell. " I have prorogued my Parliament, and T send you my Speech. Never was such unanimity! When the Speaker read it in the Commons, after the prorogation, they gave me three cheers, in which even the ultras united. In fact, as the matter stands now, the Province is in a state of peace and harmony which, three months ago, I thought was utterly hopeless. How long it will last is another matter. Rut if you will settle the Union Bill as 1 have sent it home, and the Lords do not reject the Clergy Reserves Bill, I am confident I shall be able to keep the peace, make a strong Government, and get on well. It has cost me a great deal of trouble, and I have had to work night and day at it. Rut I was resolved on doing the thing. . . .

"The great mistake made here, hitherto, was that every Governor threw himself into the hands of one party or the other, and became their slave. I have let them know and feel that I will yield to neither of them—that I will take the moderate from both sides—reject the extremes—and govern as I think right, and not as they fancy. I am satisfied that the mass of the people are sound—moderate in their demands, and attached to British institutions; but they have been oppressed by a miserable little oligarchy on the one hand, and excited by a few factious demagogues on the other. I can make a middle reforming party, I feel sure, which will put down both.

"You can form no idea of the manner in which a Colonial Parliament transacts its business. I got them into comparative order and decency by having measures brought forward by the Government, and well and steadily worked through. But when they came to their own affairs, and, above all, to the money matters, there was a scene of confusion and riot of which no one in England can have any idea. Every man proposes a vote for his own job a and bills are introduced without notice, and carried through all their stages in a quarter of an hour! One of the greatest advantages of the Union will be, that it will be possible to introduce a new system of legislating, and, above all, a restriction upon the initiation of money-votes. "Without the last I would not give a farthing for my bill: and the change will be decidedly popular; for the members all complain that, under the present system, they cannot refuse to move a job for any constituent who desires it."

At the close of this session a re-adjustment of offices took place, the chief object of which was the governor's well-known purpose to bring the members of the government into greater harmony and unity on public issues. The previous record of Mr. Hagerman, the attorney-general, was notoriously at variance with the more liberal policy introduced by Governor Poulett Thomson. Though he had accepted the Clergy Reserves Rill with a fairly good grace, it was quite obvious that his position, while embarrassing to himself, would bring little strength to the government. It was arranged, therefore, that Judge Sherwood should retire from the bench with a pension, and that Mr. Hagerman should succeed him, while Solicitor-General Draper becoming attorney-general, Mr. Robert Baldwin, the acknowledged leader of the Reformers, should enter the government as solicitor-general. This arrangement was duly sanctioned by the home government and went into effect.


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