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Chapter VIII - Defeat of Confederation

THE result of the election was the most overwhelming defeat that ever overtook any political party in the province of New Brunswick. Out of forty-one members, the friends of confederation succeeded in returning only six, the Hon. John McMillan and Alexander C: DesBrisay, for the county of Restigouche; Abner R. McClelan and John Lewis for the county of Albert; and William Lindsay and Charles Connell for the county of Carleton. Every member of the government who held a seat in the House of Assembly, with the exception of the Hon. John McMillan, the surveyor-general, was defeated. The majorities against the confederation candidates in some of the counties were so large it seemed hopeless to expect that any future election would reverse the verdict. Both the city and county of St. John, and the county of York, made a clean sweep, and returned solid delegations of anti-con-•federates. With the exception of the two Carleton members, the entire block of counties on the River St. John and the county of Charlotte, forming the most populous and best settled part of the province, declared against the Quebec scheme. On the north shore, Westmorland, Kent, Northumberland and Gloucester pronounced the same verdict, and, on the day after the election, the strongest friends of confederation must have felt that nothing but a miracle could ever bring about a change in the opinion which had been pronounced with such emphasis and by so overwhelming a majority. Yet fifteen months later the verdict of March, 1865, was completely reversed, and the anti-confederates were beaten almost as badly as the advocates of confederation had been in the first election; such are the mutations of public opinion.

Mr. Tilley and his colleagues resigned immediately after the result of the elections became known, ' and the Hon. Albert J. Smith was called upon to form a new government. Mr. Smith had been attorney-general in Mr. Tilley’s government up to the year 1862, when he resigned in consequence of a difference with his colleagues in regard to the negotiations which were being carried on for the construction of the Intercolonial Railway. He was a fine speaker, and a man of ability. At a later period, when confederation had been established, he became a cabinet minister in the government of the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie. His powerful influence was largely responsible for the manner in which the North Shore counties declared against confederation, and he also did much to discredit the Quebec scheme by his speeches delivered in the city of St. John. Mr. Smith did not take the office of attorney-general in the new government, but contented himself with the position of president of the council, the Hon. John

C. Allen, of York, becoming attorney-general, and the Hon. A. H. Gillmor, of Charlotte, provincial secretary. The Hon. Bliss Botsford, of Westmorland, was made surveyor-general; and the Hon. George L. Hatheway retained his old office as the chief commissioner of the board of works. The other members of the government were the Hon. Robert Duncan Wilmot, of Sunbury, the Hon. T. W. Anglin, of St. John, and the Hon. Richard Hutchinson, of Miramichi.

The new government looked strong and imposing, and seemed to be secure against the assaults of its enemies, yet it was far from being as compact and powerful as it appeared to the outward observer. In the first place, it had the demerit of being founded solely on a negative, and upon opposition to a single line of policy. The reason why these men were assembled together in council as a government was that they were opposed to confederation, and, this question having been disposed of, they were free to differ upon all other points which might arise. Some of the men who thus found themselves sitting together at the same council board had all their lives been politically opposed to each other. The Hon. R. D. Wilmot, an old Conservative, could have little or no sympathy with Mr. A. H. Gillmor, a very strong Liberal. The Hon. A. J. Smith, also a Liberal, had little in common with his attorney-general, Mr. Allen, who was a Conservative. Mr. Odell, the postmaster-general, represented the old Family Compact more thoroughly than any other man who could have been chosen to .fill a public office in New Brunswick, for his father and grandfather had held the office of provincial secretary for the long term of sixty years. As he was a man of no particular capacity, and had no qualification for high office, and as he was, moreover, a member of the legislative council, his appointment to such a position was extremely distasteful to many who were strongly opposed to confederation. The Hon. Bliss Botsford, of Moncton, who became surveyor-general, was another individual who added no strength to the government. In a cabinet consisting of four men in the government who might be classed as Liberals, and five who might be properly described as Conservatives, room was left for many differences and quarrels over points of policy, to say nothing of patronage, after the great question of confederation had been disposed of. Local feelings also were awakened by the make-up of the government, for the North Shore people could not but feel that their interests were in danger of being neglected, as instead of having the attorney-generalship and the surveyor-generalship, which had been theirs in the previous government, they had to be content with a single member in the government, without office, in the person of Mr. Richard Hutchinson, who, as the representative of Gilmour, Rankine & Co., the great lumber house of the North Shore, was extremely unpopular, even in the county which had elected him. The Hon. Robert Duncan Wilmot was perhaps the most dissatisfied man of any, with the new cabinet in which he found himself. He had not been a fortnight in the government before he began to realize the fact that his influence in it was quite overshadowed by that of Mr. Smith and Mr. Anglin, although neither of them held any office. Mr. Wilmot was a man of ability, and of strong and resolute will, so that this condition of affairs became very distasteful to him and his friends, and led to consequences of a highly important character.

The new government had not been long in . existence before rumours of dissensions in its ranks became very common. Mr. Wilmot made no secret to his friends of his dissatisfaction, and it was understood that other members found their position equally unpleasant. An element of difficulty was early introduced by the resignation of the chief-justice, Sir James Carter, who, in September, 1865, found it necessary, in consequence of failing health, to retire from the bench, rendering it immediately necessary for the government to fill his place. The Hon. Albert J. Smith, the leader of the government, had he chosen, might have then taken the vacant position, but he did not desire to retire from political life at that time, and the Hon. John C. Allen, his attorney-general, was appointed to the bench as a puisne judge, while the Hon. Robert Parker was made chief-justice. The latter, however, had but few weeks to enjoy his new position, dying in November of the same year, and leaving another vacancy on the bench to be filled. Again, as before, the Hon. Mr. Smith declined to go on the bench, and the Hon. John W. Weldon, who had been a long time a member of former legislatures, and was at one time Speaker, was appointed to the puisne judgeship, and the Hon. William J. Ritchie was made chief-justice. The entire fitness of the latter for the position of chief-justice made his appointment a popular one, but he was the junior of the Hon. Lemuel A. Wilmot as a judge, and the Hon. R. D. Wilmot, who was a cousin of the latter, thought the senior judge should have received the appointment of chief-justice. His disappointment at the office being given to another caused a very bad feeling on his part towards the government, and he would have resigned his seat forthwith but for the persuasions of some of those who were not friends of the government, who intimated to him that he could do them a great deal more damage by retaining his seat, and resigning at the proper time than by abandoning the government at that moment. Mr. Wilmot remained in the government until January, I860, but although of their number, his heart was estranged from them, and he may properly be regarded as an enemy in their camp.

Mr. Anglin also had some difference with his colleagues with regard to railway matters, and he resigned his seat early in November, 1865; still he gave a general support to the government, although no longer in its councils. But the most severe blow which the administration received arose from the election in the county of York, which followed the seating of the Hon. John C. Allen on the bench. The confederation party had been so badly beaten in York at the general election that no doubt was felt by the government that any candidate they might select would be chosen by a very large majority. The candidate selected by the government to contest York was Mr. John Pickard, a highly respectable gentleman, who was engaged in lumbering, and who was extremely popular in that county, in consequence of his friendly relations with all classes of the community and the amiability of his disposition. The Hon. Charles Fisher was brought forward by the confederation party as their candidate in York, although the hope of defeating Mr. Pickard seemed to be desperate, for at the previous election Mr. Fisher had received only 1,226 votes against 1,799 obtained by Mr. Needham, who stood lowest on the poll among the persons elected for York. Mr. Fisher by his efforts in the York campaign, which resulted in his election, struck a blow at the anti-confederate government from which it never recovered. His election was the first dawn of light and hope to the friends of confederation in New Brunswick, for it showed clearly enough that whenever the people of the province were given another opportunity of expressing their opinion on the question of confederation, their verdict would be a very different one from that which they had given at the general election. Mr. Fisher beat Mr. Pickard by seven hundred and ten votes, receiving seven hundred and one votes more than at the general election, while Mr. Pickard’s vote fell five hundred and seventy-two below that which Mr. Needham had received on the same occasion.

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