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Chapter IX - Tilley Again in Power

AMONG the causes that had assisted to defeat confederation in New Brunswick, when the question was first placed before the people, was the active hostility of the lieutenant-governor, Mr. Arthur Hamilton Gordon, a son of that Earl of Aberdeen who was prime minister of England at the outbreak of the Crimean War. Mr. Gordon had been a strong advocate of maritime union and had anticipated that he would be the first governor of the united province of Acadia, or by whatever name the maritime union was to be known. He was therefore greatly disappointed and annoyed when the visit of the Canadians to Charlottetown, in September, 1864, put an end to the conference which had met for the purpose of arranging the terms of a union of that character. While a governor cannot take a very active part in political matters, he may stimulate others to hostility or to a certain course of action, who, under other circumstances, would be neutral or inactive, and there is reason to believe that some of the men who were most prominent in opposing confederation at the general election of 1865 were mainly influenced by the views of the lieutenant-governor. Confederation, however, had been approved by the British government, after the terms arranged at Quebec had been submitted to it in a despatch from the governor-general; and those officials in New Brunswick and elsewhere, who expected to find support in Downing Street in their hostility to confederation, were destined to be greatly disappointed. Not long after the new government was formed in New Brunswick, Mr. Gordon returned to England, and it was generally believed that he was sent for by the home authorities. Instead of being favourably received on the ground of his opposition to confederation, he is said to have been compelled to submit to a stern reproof for his anti-constitutional meddling in a matter which did not concern him, and to have been given decidedly to understand that if he returned to New Brunswick, to fill out the remainder of his term of office, it must be as one pledged to assist in carrying out confederation and not to oppose it. When Mr. Gordon returned he was an entirely changed man, and whatever influence he was able to exert from that time forward was used in favour of confederation.

Another cause which made confederation more acceptable to the people of the province arose from the threats of the Fenians to invade Canada, which were made during the year 1865, and which were followed by armed invasions during the following year. Although there was no good reason for believing that the opponents of confederation were less loyal than its supporters or less inclined to favour British connection, it was remarked that all the enemies of British connection seemed to have got into the anti-confederate camp. The Fenian movement had its origin in the troubles in Ireland arising out of oppressive land laws and other local causes, and it soon extended to America, where the politicians found it useful as a means of increasing their strength among the Irish people. At that time, there were in the United States many hundreds of thousands of men who had been disbanded from the army at the close of the Civil War, and who were only too ready to embrace any new opportunity of winning for themselves fame and rank on other fields of glory. Among these disbanded soldiers were many Irishmen, and it soon came to be known that bands of men could be collected in the United States for the invasion of this country, with the avowed object of driving the British flag from the American continent and substituting the stars and stripes. It was impossible that the people of Canada could view without emotion these preparations for their undoing, and in New Brunswick, especially, which was the first province to be threatened, the Fenian movement materially assisted in deciding the manner in which the people should vote on this great question of confederation when it came to be submitted to them a second time.

The House of Assembly met on March 8th. 1806, and the speech from the throne, delivered by the lieutenant-governor, contained the following paragraph: “I have received Her Majesty’s commands to communicate to you a correspondence on the affairs of British North America, which has taken place between Her Majesty’s principal secretary of state for the colonies and the governor-general of Canada; and I am further directed to express to you the strong and deliberate opinion of Her Majesty’s government that it is an object much to be desired that all the British North American colonies should agree to unite in one government. These papers will immediately be laid before you.” This paragraph was not inserted in the speech without considerable pressure on the part of the lieutenant-governor, and it excited a great deal of comment at the time, because it seemed to endorse the principle of confederation, although emanating from a government which had been placed in power as the result of an election in which confederation had been condemned. When this portion of the speech was read by the lieutenant-governor, in the legislative council chamber, the crowd outside the bar gave a hearty cheer,—a circumstance which never occurred before in the province of New Brunswick, and perhaps not in any other British colony.

The members of the House favourable to confederation immediately took up the matter, and dealt with it as if the government had thereby pledged themselves in favour of that policy, and indeed there was a fair excuse for such an inference. When the secret history of the negotiations between the lieutenant-governor and his advisers, prior to the meeting of the legislature, comes to be told, it will be found that at least some of the members of the government had given His Excellency to understand that they were prepared to reverse their former action and to adopt confederation. The difficulty with them was that they feared their own supporters, and thought that if they made such a move they would lose the favour of those who had placed them in power, and this fear was certainly a very natural one.

As soon as the House met, it was discovered that Mr. A. R. Wetmore, one of the prominent supporters of the government who had been elected to represent the city of St. John as an anti-confederate, was no longer in sympathy with the government. Mr. Wetmore’s long experience as a nisiprius lawyer, and his curt and imperturbable manner, rendered him a most exasperating and troublesome opponent, and at a very early period of the session he commenced to make it unpleasant for his former friends. He cross-examined the members of the government in the fashion which he had learned from long experience in the courts. Such attacks proved extremely damaging as well as very annoying.

The address in reply to the speech from the throne was moved in the House of Assembly by Colonel Boyd, of Charlotte County, and when the paragraph relating to confederation was read, Mr. Fisher asked him what it meant. Mr. Boyd replied that the government had no objection to confederation, provided the terms were satisfactory. This reply still further strengthened the feeling that the government were inclined to pass the measure which they had been elected to oppose. Mr. Fisher moved an amendment to the fourth paragraph of the address, which referred to the Fenian conspiracy against British North America, expressing the opinion that while His Excellency might rely with confidence on the cordial support of the people for the protection of the country, his constitutional advisers were not by their general conduct entitled to the confidence of the legislature. This amendment was seconded by Mr. DesBrisay, of Kent, who had been elected as a supporter of the government, and it was debated at great length. The discussion upon it continued from day to day for about three weeks, when, on April 10th, the government resigned in consequence of difficulties with His Excellency in regard to his reply to the address of the legislative council. The legislative council had proceeded to pass the address in reply to the speech, but in consequence of the delay in the House of Assembly, this reply had not before been presented to the governor. In answer to the address of the legislative council, His Excellency said: “I will immediately transmit your address to the secretary of state for the colonies in order that it may be laid at the foot of the throne. Her Majesty the Queen has already been pleased to express deep interest in a closer union of her North America colonies and will no doubt greatly appreciate this decided expression of your opinion, and the avowal of your desire that all British North America should unite in one community, under one strong and efficient government, which cannot but tend to hasten the accomplishment of this great measure.”

The resignation of the government was announced in the House of Assembly on April 13th by the Hon. A. J. Smith, and the correspondence between the lieutenant-governor and his advisers was laid before the House at the same time. The immediate and ostensible cause of the resignation was the terms of approval in which the lieutenant-governor had replied to the address of the legislative council in reference to confederation. Mr. Smith claimed that it was the duty of the lieutenant-governor to consult his constitutional advisers in regard to the answer to be given, and that, in assuming to himself the right to reply to such an address without consulting them, he had not acted in accordance with the true spirit of the constitution. This was certainly sound doctrine, and the reply of the lieutenant-governor was by no means satisfactory on this point, but he was able to show that Mr. Smith had himself expressed his willingness to enter into a scheme of union, although opposed to the Quebec scheme, and had suggested that, as a preliminary step, the papers on that subject should be referred to a joint committee of both Houses with an understanding that the committee should report in favour of a measure of union. At a later period Mr. Smith seemed indisposed to carry out this arrangement, his conduct evidently being the result of timidity, and so he found himself, to use the language of Sir Arthur Gordon, “entangled in contradictory pledges from which he found it impossible to extricate himself.” He had, in fact, placed himself in the power of the lieutenant-governor, and his only resource was to resign. It was understood at the time, and has never been denied, that His Excellency was acting under the advice of the Hon. Peter Mitchell, a member of the legislative council, who was a strong supporter of confederation. Mr. Mitchell was a man of great force of character, and, next to Mr. Tilley, must be regarded as the most potent factor in bringing about the change in the sentiments of the people of the province with respect to confederation.

The lieutenant-governor called upon the Hon. Peter Mitchell, who was a member of the legislative council, to form a government. Mr. Mitchell had been very active in the cause of confederation, and was the moving spirit in the legislative council in all the proceedings in its favour taken in that body; but, when asked to form a new government, he advised the lieutenant-governor that the proper person to undertake that responsibility was the Hon. Mr. Tilley. The latter, however, declined the task on the ground that he was not a member of the legislature, whereupon Mr. Mitchell associated with himself the Hon. Mr. Wilmot for the purpose of forming a new government. The government was announced on April 18th, and was formed as follows:—Hon. Peter Mitchell, president of the council; Hon. S. L. Tilley, provincial secretary; Hon. Charles Fisher, attorney-general; Hon. Edward Williston, solicitor-general; Hon. John McMillan, postmaster-general; Hon. A. R. Mc-Clelan, chief commissioner of public works; Hon. R. D. Wilmot and Hon. Charles Connell, members without office. The latter afterwards became surveyor-general.

While the government was being formed in New Brunswick, a Fenian army was gathering upon the border for the purpose of invading the province. This force consisted of four or five hundred young men, most of whom had been in the army of the United States. It was recruited at New York, and its chief was a Fenian named Doran Killian. A part of his force arrived at Eastport on April 10th, and a schooner, laden with arms for the Fenians, soon after reached that place. From this schooner, which was seized by the United States authorities, one hundred and seventeen cases of arms and ammunition were taken,—a clear proof that the intentions of the Fenians were warlike, and that their presence on the border was not a mere demonstration. The Fenians appeared to have been under the impression —as many residents of the United States are to this day—that the people of Canada and of New Brunswick were dissatisfied with their own form of government, and were anxious to come under the protection of the stars and stripes. This absurd idea was responsible, largely, for the War of 1812, and it has been responsible, since then, for many other movements, with respect to the British provinces of North America, in which residents of the United States have taken part. There never was a greater delusion than this, and, in the instance referred to, the Fenians were doomed to be speedily undeceived. The presence of a Fenian force on the border sounded like a bugle blast to every able bodied man in New Brunswick, and the call for troops to defend the country was instantly responded to. About one thousand men were called out and marched to the frontier. The troops called out consisted of the three batteries of the New Brunswick regiment of artillery, seven companies of the St. John volunteer battalion, one company of the first battalion of the York County militia, one company each of the first and third battalions of the Charlotte County militia, and two companies each of the second and fourth battalions of the Charlotte County militia. These troops remained in arms on the frontier for nearly three months, and were disbanded by a general order dated June 20th. The Fenian raid on New Brunswick proved to be a complete fiasco. The frontier was so well guarded by the New Brunswick militia and by British soldiers, and the St. Croix so thoroughly patrolled by British warships, that the Fenians had no opportunity to make any impression upon the province. It ought to be added that the United States government was prompt to take steps to prevent any armed invasion, and General Meade was sent down to Eastport with a force of infantry and a ship of war to prevent the Fenians from making that place a base of operations against these provinces.

The general elections to decide whether or not New Brunswick was willing to become confederated with Canada, were held in May and June. The first election was that for the county of Northumberland on May 25th, and the result was that the four candidates who favoured confederation, Messrs. Johnson, Sutton, Kerr and Williston, were elected by large majorities. The same result followed in the county of Carleton, where the election was held on May 26th, Messrs. Connell and Lindsay being elected by a vote of more than two to one over their anti-confederate opponents. The third election was in Albert County on the 29th, and there Messrs. McClelan and Lewis, the two candidates in favour of confederation, were triumphantly returned. On May 31st, elections were held in Restigouche and Sunbury, and, in these counties, the candidates in favour of confederation were returned by large majorities. The York election came next. In that county, the anti-confederates had placed a full ticket in the field, the candidates being Messrs. Hatheway, Fraser, Needham and Brown. Mr. Fisher had with him on the ticket, Dr. Dow and Messrs. Thompson and John A. Beckwith. Every person expected a vigorous contest in York, notwithstanding the victory of Mr. Fisher over Mr. Pickard a few months before. But, to the amazement of the anti-confederates in other parts of the province, the Hon. George L. Hatheway and Dr. Brown retired after nomination day and left Messrs. Fraser and Needham to do battle alone. Mr. Hatheway’s retirement at this time was a deathblow to the hopes of the anti-confederates all over New Brunswick, affecting not only the result in the county of York, but in every other county in which an election was to be held. A few nights before his resignation, Mr. Hatheway had been in St. John addressing a packed meeting of anti-confederates in the hall of the Mechanics’ Institute, and he had spoken on that occasion with apparent confidence. When his friends in St. John, who had been so much moved by his vigorous eloquence, learned that he had deserted them, their indignation was extreme, and they felt that matters must indeed be in a bad way when he did not dare to face the York electors. The election in the county of St. John was held on June 6th, and that in the city, on the seventh.

For the county, the confederate candidates were Messrs. C. N. Skinner, John H. Gray, James Quinton and It. D. Wilmot, and the anti-confederate candidates were Messrs. Coram, Cudlip, Robertson and Anglin. The former were elected by very large majorities, Mr. Wilmot, who stood lowest on the poll among the confederates, having a majority of six hundred over Mr. Coram, who stood highest among the defeated candidates. The election for the city was an equally emphatic declaration in favour of confederation. The candidates were the Hon. S. L. Tilley and A. R. Wetmore on the confederate side, and J. V. Troop and S. R. Thompson opposed to confederation. Mr. Tilley’s majority over Mr. Troop, who stood highest on the poll of the two defeated candidates, was seven hundred and twenty-six. The only counties which the anticonfederate party succeeded in carrying were Westmorland, Gloucester and Kent,—three counties in which the French vote was very large,—so that of the forty-one members returned, only eight were opponents of confederation. The victory was as complete as that which had been recorded against confederation in the beginning of 1865.

The battle of confederation had been won, and the triumph was mainly due to the efforts of the Hon. Mr. Tilley. That gentleman, as soon as the defeat of confederation took place in March, 1865, had commenced a campaign for the purpose of educating the people on the subject. Being free from his official duties and having plenty of time on his hands, he was able to devote himself to the work of explaining the advantages of the proposed union to the people of the province; and during the years 1865 and 1866, he spoke in almost every county on the subject which was so near to his heart. He had embraced confederation with a sincere desire for the benefit of his native province, and with the belief that it would be of the greatest advantage to New Brunswick. If the fruits of confederation have not yet all been realized, that has been due rather to circumstances over which neither Mr. Tilley nor any one else had any control, than to any inherent vice of confederation itself. If union is strength, then it must be admitted that the union of the British North American provinces, which consolidated them into a powerful whole, was a good thing; and there cannot be a doubt that if the provinces had remained separate from each other, their present position would have been much less favourable than it is now.

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