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Lord Sydenham
Chapter XXII - Summary and Conclusion


THE close of the first session of the united legislature, which coincided with Lord Sydenham's death, permitted the people of Canada for the first time since his arrival, indeed, for the first time since the political crisis which here and there had flamed into actual rebellion, to take stock of their situation, to realize what they had escaped, and to appreciate in some measure the new future which was opening out before them. In the veritable revolution which had been accomplished. Lord Durham and Lord Sydenham were naturally the chief figures. The Report of Lord Durham had furnished an analysis of the accumulated evils which beset the country. The clear and rapid insight of Lord Sydenham not only realized the truth of the analysis but completed it in many essential details, while his experienced statesmanship grappled with the task of effecting the actual revolution in colonial policy and constitutional practice, which was indispensable to the political and economic salvation of the country.

The result of the reflection which followed Lord Sydenham's death was greatly to enhance his reputation. The great services which he had rendered the country were frankly acknowledged in many quarters where, during at least the first half of his administration, he had met with hitter opposition or carping criticism. Of the scores of tributes paid to his personal qualities and political achievements, we may make selection from those of two representative Canadians, who, while deeply interested in the welfare of the country and closely in touch with all that transpired, were not personally immersed in the practical politics of the province. The first is taken from a letter of Dr. Eger-ton Ryerson, printed in the Christian Guardian:— "It is not easy to determine which is the most worthy of admiration, the comprehensiveness and grandeur of Lord Sydenham's plans, the skill with which he overcame the obstacles that opposed their accomplishment, or the quenchless ardour and ceaseless industry with which he pursued them. To lay the foundations of public liberty, and, at the same time, to strengthen the prerogative—to promote vast public improvements, and not increase the public burdens—to provide a comprehensive system of education upon Christian principles, without interference with religious scruples—to promote the influence and security of the government by teaching the people to govern themselves —to destroy party faction by promoting the general good—to invest a bankrupt country with both credit and resources, are conceptions and achievements which render Lord Sydenham the first benefactor of Canada, and place him in the first rank of statesmen. His Lordship found a country divided, he left it united ; he found it prostrate and paralytic, he left it erect and vigorous; he found it mantled with despair, he left it blooming with hope. Lord Sydenham has done more in two years to strengthen and consolidate British power in Canada by his matchless industry and truly liberal conservative policy, than had been done during the ten previous years by the increase of a standing army and the erection of military fortifications. His Lordship has solved the difficult problem, that a people may be colonists and yet be free; and, in the solution of that problem, he has gained a triumph less imposing but not less sublime, and scarcely less important, than the victory of Waterloo; he has saved millions to England, and secured the affections of Canada......

To lay the foundation of a government adapted to the social state and character of a population thus depressed, divided, and subdivided; to provide for it the efficient administration of all its departments ; to create mutual confidence, and induce united action among leading men of all parties, without sacrifice of principle oil the part of any, was a task difficult and hazardous to the last degree, and for even attempting which Lord Sydenham has been frequently ridiculed by persons of reputed knowledge and experience."

The second extract is from an article by Joseph Howe in his paper the Nova Scotian:— .

"In order to understand the value of the service which Lord Sydenham has rendered to Her Majesty and to British America, it is necessary to recall for a moment the state of things winch his Lordship had to encounter. Did he succeed to political inheritance, so wisely husbanded, and so fairly established, that even bad management could scarcely lessen its value or disturb the security of the possession ? Did he take the helm of state when the vessel was tight and sound, with perfect instruments, a fair wind, a clear sky, and a crew well disciplined and well disposed ? Was not the estate wasted by years of bad management, until the tenants were at war with the landlord or with each other, and even the title of the property w as dragged into angry controversy? Was not the ship tempest tossed, shattered, and almost unseaworthy with ignorant vacillation or eccentric severity on deck and mutiny below, without an instrument that could be relied upon, or a blue spot in the heavens to admit of an observation? The state of Canada when Lord Sydenham assumed the government might well have appalled any man not desirous to wreck his reputation. A long course of maladministration, or, rather, of administration often well meant but based upon no principle which the people could understand or respect, had prepared the way for open insurrection, and aroused foreign interference in both provinces, to be followed by the suspension of the constitution and the establishment of despotism in one, and in the other by a state of things which, perhaps, was a g*eat deal worse; the forms of civil government being retained, but affording rather shelter from which a fragment of the population might insult and annoy the remainder than any real protection to the people. Lord Durham's mission, although of immense value, because it laid bare the real causes which convulsed Canada and shadowed forth the remedies, had been so brief, so disastrous, so unproductive of practical results within the country itself, that, however invaluable that volume in which the experience and principle of his Lordship and his able coadjutors was embodied might have been—and no man estimates the Report more highly than we do—still, until reduced to practice, it was but a book, a theory, the value of which the enemies of colonial freedom might altogether deny, and which its fondest admirers might well be excused for doubting until experience had demonstrated the applicability of the new principles to the exigencies of colonial society. The task of consummating the union which Lord Durham had pronounced to be indispensable, of grappling with those evils which he had fully exposed, and of applying the principles of representative government indicated in his Report, devolved upon Lord Sydenham ; and it is rare that a statesman so firm, so sagacious and indefatigable follows in the wake of a projector so bold.'

Some of the most important of Lord Sydenham's despatches, so far as published by the British government, did not appear in Canada until after his death. From these it was frequently learned for the first time what a broad and statesmanlike view he constantly took of Canadian affairs, and how on several occasions he remonstrated against amendments and interferences on the part of the British parliament, especially in matters which affected the French-Canadians, but for the practical consequences of which their leaders constantly held him responsible. It is true that in practically all matters of an administrative character, where the decision lay with the colonial office, Lord John Russell manifested the most complete confidence in Lord Sydenham's judgment, gave him a singularly free hand, and uncompromisingly defended his policy in parliament. Yet there were measures such as the Clergy Reserves Act and the Union Act itself, which were required to run the whole gauntlet of parliament, including the House of Lords. itli the narrow and precarious majority which the government commanded, it was sometimes impossible to prevent the introduction of certain features and the omission of others which were contrary to the recommendations of Lord Sydenham, and which aggravated the difficulties of his administration in Canada. That these variations were not more numerous or more troublesome, was undoubtedly due to the wisdom and moderation of Sir Robert Peel, leader of the Opposition in the Commons. Within a couple of years the compliment was returned by Lord John Russell when, as leader of the Opposition, he sheltered from criticism Sydenham's successor, Sir Charles Bagot, in continuing to follow out a Canadian line of policy.

The impression produced by some of Lord Sydenham s despatches which were made public, after his death, may be gathered from the following extracts from an editorial in the Kingston Chronicle and Gazette, a paper representative of the old Tory ideals and opposed at the outset to the governor's programme of reform:—

"If any testimony were wanting to prove Lord Sydenham's great talents for governing, or to stamp the seal of certainty upon the consummate ability which he exhibited m declaring and defending his policy, it is amply afforded by the despatch to Lord John Russell which we publish in this day's Chronicle. It is, beyond comparison, the most able despatch which has ever yet emanated from a Canadian governor. Those even who do not approve of the new system of municipal government, or others who approve with timid fears and uncertain faith, cannot fail to be strongly impressed with the fearless sincerity with which Lord Sydenham presses forward in his great work, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left; and no one can read the paragraph beginning with—"Owing to this, duties the most until, etc.—without admitting the comprehensive grasp of observation which, like the glance of the eagle, surveys the whole field, yet detects the minutest object of interest," The despatch here referred to was that in which Lord Sydenham remonstrated at the changes which had been made in the Union Act during its passage through the British parliament, and which Lord John Russell »n reply declared his inability to prevent.

Lord Sydenham's remarkable success in Canada was undoubtedly due to the singular fitness of his personal qualities, training and experience for the exceptional task which was required of him at so critical a stage in Canadian history. He came to Canada with a wide knowledge of men and affairs. While no visionary, he was a courageous reformer, a sane and practical radical. His courage, his sanity, and his progressiveness are abundantly evidenced by the fact that, while many of the reforms which he advocated in Britain were regarded as ruinous or absurd, all were accomplished within the next thirty years. So also the radical changes which he introduced into Canadian constitutional practice and administrative government, and for which lie was so bitterly denounced by his ablest Canadian critics, are now regarded as the very palladium of our liberties and the inspiration of our national life.

He was well aware, on his departure from Britain, that he had no light task before him in Canada; yet it was only in the course of his first successful efforts to grapple with the Canadian problems that he realized how much greater the difficulties were than he had imagined. However, he had come to Canada expecting to find here or nowhere an adequate field for the realization of his ambitions for further success in the public service. Moreover, his ties with Britain were, for the time, completely broken. His political enemies had taken much pleasure in burning his bridges behind him, and only in Canada could they be rebuilt. A man of less varied resources and self-reliance might have succumbed to the infection of despair which saturated the country. So completely, however, did Lord Sydenham throw himself into the task before him, so sure was he of the potential greatness of the country's future, that no diagnosis of the past or present could damp his ardour or shake his faith in the successful outcome of his efforts. Indeed, the very thoroughness and accuracy of his analysis of the existing condition of the country enabled him to determine with confidence what must be the remedy and how it must be applied. The very difficulties which the Canadian problems presented and his successes in meeting them, account for the fascination which Canada had for him and the enthusiasm with which he devoted his every faculty to her service.

Lord Sydenham saw the necessity for inducing the people to forego the bitter antagonisms of the past, for rousing them from the sullen deadlock in which they held each other paralyzed, and in which, not the spirit of political partyism, but of deadly feud had engendered a malevolent contest on the part of the opposing factions to forego the realization of their own ideals if only they could prevent their opponents from making progress in theirs. But, to draw the people of Canada out of their narrow antagonisms, they must be made to feel direct responsibility for their own destiny. They must no longer be merely fault-finding spectators of attempts to govern their provinces by a power from without, or an oligarchy from within. They must be invited to attack their own problems, taking only counsel, not commands, from without, thereby learning wisdom and caution from their failures, and acquiring hope and inspiration from their successes. In a word, they must have responsible government, but they must realize that it can alone be maintained by a responsible people.

To lead the people of Canada out of the wilderness, it was essential that Lord Sydenham should gain their confidence. This his experience and combination of personal qualities enabled him to secure in a remarkable degree. His assurance and self-confidence awakened interest and inspired hope, while his sound judgment and the fortunate results which followed the adoption of his counsels, rapid ly extended his influence and insured successful leadership. It requires only a glance at the men who rallied to his support, as his administration advanced, to realize that his leadership attracted the strongest men of sound judgment and moderate views.

While Lord Sydenham had unlimited self-confidence, he was the very reverse of arrogant or dictatorial. The inevitable attractiveness of personal intercourse with him, so frequently commented upon by both friends and opponents, was due to his tactful and sympathetic treatment of men, and his capacity to appreciate their qualities and enlist their interest. Once he had assured himself of the presence of exceptional natural gifts and their capacity for effective public service, he endeavoured, usually with success, to enlist them in the service of the State, allowing them the freest possible scope, thus insuring at once efficiency and enthusiasm in the public service.

Notwithstanding the intense prejudices of the leaders of the French-Canadians against the policy of the union, with which Lord Sydenham was so completely identified from the opening of the first session when he first came into contact with the majority of the French members, he steadily grew in favour with them. His complete command of the French language, his personal charm of manner, his knowledge of French characteristics and his sympathy with them, made rapid inroads upon their initial prejudices. Thus, when his successor, Sir Charles Bagot, arrived in Canada, he was able to report that not only was the whole country in a condition of unparalleled tranquility, but that the opposition of the French-Canadians to the union was melting away, as also their devotion to the anti-union leaders who, in their anxiety to demonstrate their zeal, were "more loyal than the King and more catholic than the Pope." Shortly afterwards, to the alarm of Lord Stanley the colonial secretary, Governor Bagot reported the advisability of admitting several of the French members to the cabinet, and that without any new appeal to the country.

It fell to Lord Sydenham's lot to bring to a close the old regime with its absolute racial antagonism and its party division of loyalists and rebels, and to open a new era of responsible government in which it was possible for both races to take their share m the government, and in which both government and opposition were brought within the pale of loyal Canadian citizenship. In accomplishing this he was required to be at once the last and most powerful of the autocratic governors, and the first and most influential of the diplomatic representatives under responsible government.


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