British Supremacy & Canadian Self-Government - 1839-1854
by J. L. Morison
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[Frontispiece: Lord Elgin]

British Supremacy


Canadian Self-Government



J. L. Morison, M.A., D.Litt.

Professor of Colonial History in Queen's University, Kingston, Canada

Late Lecturer on English Literature in the University of Glasgow


S. B. Gundy

Publisher in Canada for Humphrey Milford




M. T.



The essay which follows had been printed, and was on the point of being published, when the outbreak of war involved my venture in the general devastation from which we are only now emerging. More than four years of military service lie between me and the studies of which this book is the summary. It was written under one dispensation; it is being published under another. My first impulse, therefore, was to ask whether the change which has rendered so much of the old world obsolete had not invalidated also the conclusions here arrived at. But reflection has simply confirmed me in the desire to complete the arrangements for publication. Self-government is the keynote of the essay, and it is unlikely that self-government will cease to be the central principle of sane politics either in the British Empire or in the world outside. I watched a Canadian division coming out of the last great battle in France, battered and reduced in numbers, but with all {viii} its splendid energy and confidence untouched. The presence of the Canadians there, their incomparable spirit and resolution, the sacrifices they had just been making, with unflinching generosity, for the Empire, seemed only the last consequences of the political struggle for autonomy described in the pages which follow. They would have been impossible had the views of all the old imperialists from Wellington to Disraeli prevailed.

The material on which this volume is based falls into three groups. First in importance are the state papers and general correspondence of the period, contained in the Canadian Archives at Ottawa. In addition to the correspondence, ordinary and confidential, between the Secretaries of State for the Colonies, and the Governors-General, from 1839 to 1867, I read two very notable collections, designated in the foot-notes the Bagot Correspondence and the Elgin-Grey Correspondence. In the former are contained not only Bagot's private correspondence with Lord Stanley, but also letters from Bagot's British friends and Canadian political advisers. These constitute the most important evidence which exists for Bagot's year of office. In the same way, the private correspondence, carried on between Earl Grey and the Earl of Elgin from {ix} 1847 to 1852, takes precedence of all other Canadian material of that period; and is, indeed, the most enlightening series of documents in existence on mid-Victorian Colonial policy.

The second group is composed of pamphlets and early newspapers, more especially the admirable collection of pre-confederation pamphlets in the Archives at Ottawa, and the Bell and Morris collections at Queen's University. Kingston. I cannot pretend to have mastered all the material supplied by the newspapers of the period; but I have attempted to work through such representative journals as the Toronto Globe, the Montreal Witness, and the Kingston papers published while Kingston was capital of the united Provinces. I consulted certain others, French and English, on definite points of political interest, such as the reappearance of Papineau in politics in 1847.

The Canadiana of Queen's University Library gave me my third group of documents: and the facts from books were confirmed or modified by information gathered, chiefly in Kingston, from persons whose memories of the period under discussion were still fresh and interesting.

As the work proceeded, certain impressions were {x} very definitely created in my mind. It seemed clear, in the first place, that no statesman, whose experience was limited by unbroken residence in Europe, quite understood the elements which, between 1839 and 1867, constituted the Home Rule problem in Canada. More especially on fundamental points concerning Canadian opinion, and the general temper of the populace, even the best men in England seemed singularly ignorant. A second impression was that, while the colony remained throughout essentially loyal, and while the political leaders in Canada displayed really great qualities of statesmanship at critical moments, the general development of Canadian political life was seriously delayed by the crudities and rudeness of provincial politicians. British ignorance was not the only obstacle in the way.

The last impression was that the relations between Britain and Canada depended then, as now, not on constitutional forms, or commercial bargains, or armed protection, but on racial solidarity, and community in social and moral ideals. It was this solidarity, far more than conscious statesmanship, which held Canada and Britain together. These impressions I have tried to analyse and elucidate in the chapters which follow.


I have to thank the Dominion Archivist, Dr. A. G. Doughty, for many kindnesses, and more especially for permitting me to read the Elgin-Grey Correspondence. To my friends, Mr. K. K. M. Leys, of University College, Oxford, Dr. Adam Shortt, Ottawa, and Professor W. D. Taylor, of Queen's University, Kingston, I am indebted for advice and information. Mr. James MacLehose and Dr. George Neilson made the final stages of printing easy by their generous assistance. The opinions which I express are my own, occasionally in spite of my friends' remonstrances.





I. INTRODUCTORY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 II. THE CANADIAN COMMUNITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 III. THE GOVERNORS-GENERAL: LORD SYDENHAM . . . . . . . . . . 70 IV. THE GOVERNORS-GENERAL: SIR CHARLES BAGOT . . . . . . . . 126 V. THE GOVERNORS-GENERAL: LORD METCALFE . . . . . . . . . . 158 VI. THE GOVERNORS-GENERAL: LORD ELGIN . . . . . . . . . . . . 187 VII. BRITISH OPINION AND CANADIAN AUTONOMY . . . . . . . . . . 230 VIII. THE CONSEQUENCES OF CANADIAN AUTONOMY . . . . . . . . . . 293 INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 347




There are antinomies in politics as in philosophy, problems where the difficulty lies in reconciling facts indubitably true but mutually contradictory. For growth in the political world is not always gradual; accidents, discoveries, sudden developments, call into existence new creations, which only the generous logic of events and the process of time can reconcile with pre-existing facts and systems. It is the object of this essay to examine one of these political antinomies—the contradiction between imperial ascendancy and colonial autonomy—as it was illustrated by events in early Victorian Canada.

The problem was no new one in 1839. Indeed it was coeval with the existence of the empire, and sprang from the very nature of colonial government. Beneath the actual facts of the great {2} American revolution—reaching far beyond quarrels over stamp duties, or the differentiation between internal and external taxation, or even the rights of man—was the fundamental difficulty of empire, the need to reconcile colonial independence with imperial unity. It was the perception of this difficulty which made Burke so much the greatest political thinker of his time. As he wrote in the most illuminating of his letters, "I am, and ever have been, deeply sensible of the difficulty of reconciling the strong presiding power, that is so useful towards the conservation of a vast, disconnected, infinitely diversified empire, with that liberty and safety of the provinces, which they must enjoy (in opinion and practice, at least), or they will not be provinces at all. I know, and have long felt, the difficulty of reconciling the unwieldy haughtiness of a great ruling nation, habituated to command, pampered by enormous wealth, and confident from a long course of prosperity and victory, to the high spirit of free dependencies, animated with the first glow and activity of juvenile heat, and assuming to themselves as their birthright, some part of that very pride which oppresses them."[1]


Dissatisfied as he ever was with merely passive or negative views, Burke was led to attempt a solution of the problem. He had never been under any illusion as to the possibility of limiting colonial constitutional pretensions. A free government was what the colonists thought free, and only they could fix the limit to their claims. But many considerations made him refuse to despair of the empire. His intensely human view of politics led him to put more trust in the bonds of kindred and affection than in constitutional forms. He hated the petty quibbles of political legists and pedants—their dilemmas, and metaphysical distinctions, and catastrophes. In his opinion the bulk of mankind was not excessively curious concerning any theories whilst they were really happy. But perhaps his political optimism depended most on his belief that institutions, as living things, were indefinitely adaptable, and that the logic of life and progress naturally overcame all opposing arguments. In his ideal state there was room for many mansions, and he did not speak of disaster when American colonists proposed to build according to designs not ratified in Westminster.

I have dwelt on the views of Burke because here, as in Indian affairs, he was the first of British {4} statesmen to recognize what was implied in the empire, and because his views still stand. But his contemporaries failed utterly, either to see the danger as he saw it, or to meet it as he bade them meet it. Save Chatham, they had no understanding of provincial opinion; in their political methods they were corrupt individualists, and their general equipment in imperial politics was contemptibly inadequate.

After the loss of the American colonies, the government in England contrived for a time to evade the problems and responsibilities of colonial empire. The colonies which remained to England were limited in extent and population; and such difficulties as existed were faced, not so much by the government in London, as beyond the seas by statesmen with local knowledge, like Dorchester. At the same time, the consequences of the French Revolution and the great wars drew to themselves the attention of all active minds. Under these circumstances imperial policy lost much of its prestige, and imperial problems either vanished or were evaded. It was a period of "crown colony" administration.[2] The connexion, as it was called, was maintained through oligarchic {5} institutions, strictly controlled from Westminster; local officials were selected from little groups of semi-aristocrats, more English than the home government itself; and the only policy which recommended itself to a nation, which still lacked both information and imagination, was to try no rash constitutional experiments, and to conciliate colonial opinion by economic favours and low taxation.

Yet the old contradiction between British ascendancy and colonial autonomy could not for long be ignored; and as in the early nineteenth century a new colonial empire arose, greater and more diversified than the old, the problem once more recurred, this time in Canada. It is not the purpose of this book to discuss the earlier stages of the Canadian struggle. The rebellions under Mackenzie in the West and Papineau in the East were abnormal and pathological episodes, in considering which the attention is easily diverted from the essential questions to exciting side issues and personal facts. In any case, that chapter in Canadian history has received adequate attention.[3] But after Colborne's firmness had repressed the {6} armed risings, and Durham's imperious dictatorship had introduced some kind of order, there followed in Canada a period of high constitutional importance, in which the old issue was frankly faced, both in England and in Canada, almost in the very terms that Burke had used. It is not too much to say that the fifteen years of Canadian history which begin with the publication, in 1839, of Durham's Report, are the most important in the history of the modern British empire; and that in them was made the experiment on the success of which depended the future of that empire.

These years are the more instructive, because in them there are few distracting events drawing the attention from the main constitutional question. There were minor points—whether voluntaryism, or the principle of church establishment, was best for Canada; what place within the empire might safely be conceded to French-Canadian nationalism; how Canadian commerce was to relate itself to that of Britain and of the United States. All of these, however, were included in, or dominated by, the essential difficulty of combining, in one empire, Canadian self-government and British supremacy.


The phrase, responsible government, appears everywhere in the writings and speeches of those days with a wearisome iteration. Yet the discussion which hinged on that phrase was of primary importance. The British government must either discover the kind of self-government required in the greater dependencies, the modus vivendi to be established between the local and the central governments, and the seat of actual responsibility, or cease to be imperial. Under four governors-general[4] the argument proceeded, and it was not until 1854 that Elgin, in his departure from Canada, was able to assure the British government that the question had been for the time settled.

The essay which follows will describe the character of the political community within which the question was raised; the fortunes and policy of the governors-general concerned in the discussion; the modifications introduced into British political thought by the Canadian agitation; and the consequences, in England and Canada, of the firm establishment of colonial self-government.

[1] Burke, Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol.

[2] Sir C. P. Lucas, Introduction to Lord Durham's Report, p. 266.

[3] Its latest statement may be found in Sir C. P. Lucas's admirable edition of Lord Durham's Report, Oxford, 1912.

[4] I omit from my reckoning the brief and unimportant tenure of office by the Earl Cathcart, who filled a gap between Metcalfe's retirement and Elgin's arrival.




To understand the political evolution of Canada it is essential to begin with a study of the elements of Canadian society. Canadian constitutionalists would have written to better purpose, had they followed the example of the Earl of Durham, in whose Report the concluding practical suggestions develop naturally from the vivid social details which occupy its earlier pages, and raise it to the level of literature. In pioneering communities there is no such thing as the constitution, or politics, per se; and the relation between the facts, sordid and mean as they often are, of the life of the people, and the growth of institutions and political theories, is fundamental.

Canadian society, in 1839 and long afterwards, was dominated by the physical characteristics of the seven hundred miles of country which stretched from Quebec to the shores of Lake Huron, with {9} its long water-front and timid expansion, north and south; its forests stubbornly resisting the axes of the settlers; its severe extremities of heat and cold; the innumerable inconveniences inflicted by its uncultivated wastes on those who first invaded it; and the imperfect lines of land communication which multiplied all distances in Canada at least four-fold. It was perhaps this sense of distance, and difficulty of locomotion, which first impressed the settler and the visitor. To begin with, the colony was, for practical purposes, more than a month's distance from the centre of government. Steam was gradually making its way, and the record passage by sailing ship, from Quebec to Portsmouth, had occupied only eighteen days and a half,[1] but sails were still the ordinary means of propulsion, and the average length of voyage of 237 vessels arriving at Quebec in 1840 was well over forty days.[2] To the immigrant, however, the voyage across the Atlantic was the least of his troubles; for the internal communications of Canada left much to be desired. The assistance {10} of railway transportation might be entirely ignored,—as late as 1847 only twenty-two miles of railway lines had been laid and worked.[3] There was, of course, during the open season, the wonderful passage by river and lake into the heart of the continent; although the long winter months broke into the regularity of the traffic by water, and the St. Lawrence rapids added to the traveller's difficulties and expenses. Even the magic of a governor-general's wand could not dispel the inconveniences of this simplest of Canadian routes. "I arrived here on Thursday week," grumbled Poulett Thomson, writing from Toronto in 1839. "The journey was bad enough; a portage to Lachine; then the steamboat to the Cascades, twenty-four miles further; then road again (if road it can be called) for sixteen miles; then steam to Cornwall forty miles; then road, twelve miles; then, by a change of steamers on to Lake Ontario to Kingston, and thence here. I slept one night on the road, and two on board the steamers. Such, as I have described it, is the boasted navigation of the St. Lawrence!"[4] For military purposes there was the alternative route, up the Ottawa to Bytown, {11} and thence by the Rideau military canal to Kingston and the Lakes. On land, progress was much more complicated, for even the main road along the river and lake front was in shamefully bad condition, more especially when autumn passed into winter, or when spring once more loosened up the roads. There is a quite unanimous chorus of condemnation from all—British, Americans, and Canadians. One lively traveller in 1840 protested that on his way from Montreal, he was compelled to walk at the carriage side for hours, ankle-deep in mud, with the reins in his hands, and that, with infinite fatigue to both man and beast, he accomplished sixty miles in two days—a wonderful performance.[5] In the very heart of the rebellion, W. L. Mackenzie seems to have found the roads fighting against him, for he speaks of the march along Yonge Street as over "thirty or forty miles of the worst roads in the world"; and attributes part of the disheartening of his men to what one may term mud-weariness.[6] Local tradition still remembers with a sense of wonder that Sydenham, eager to return to his work in Lower Canada, once travelled by sleigh {12} the 360 miles from Toronto to Montreal in thirty-six hours.

Off the main routes, roads degenerated into corduroy roads, and these into tracks, and even "blazed trails "; while, as for bridges, cases were known where the want of them had kept settlers who were living within three miles of a principal town, from communicating with it for days at a time.[7] And, as the roads grew rougher, Canadian conditions seemed to the stranger to assert themselves more and more offensively, animate and inanimate nature thrusting man back on the bare elements of things. The early descriptions of the colony are crowded with pictures of wretched immigrants, mosquito-bitten, or, in winter, half dead with cold, struggling through mud and swamp, to find the land whither they had come to evade the miseries of civilization, confronting them with the squalor and pains of nature. Far into the Victorian era Canada, whether French or British, was a dislocated community, with settlements set apart from each other as much by mud, swamp, and wood-land, as by distance. Her population, more particularly in the west, was engaged not with political ideals, but in an incessant struggle {13} with the forests; and the little jobs, which enabled the infant community to build a bridge or repair a road at the public expense, must naturally have seemed to the electors more important items of a political programme than responsible government or abolition of the clergy reserves. No doubt, in the older towns and cities, the efforts of the earlier settlers had gained for their sons leisure and a chance of culture; yet even in Toronto, the wild lands were but a few miles distant, and, as Richardson saw it, London was "literally a city of stumps, many of the houses being still surrounded by them."

Straggling along these 700 miles, although here and there concentrated into centres like Quebec, Three Rivers, Montreal, Kingston, and Toronto, was a population numbering well over a million, which from its internal divisions, its differences in origin and disposition, and its relation to the British government, constituted the central problem at the time in British colonial politics. The French population formed, naturally, the chief difficulty. Thanks to the terms of the surrender in 1763, and the policy of Dorchester, a unit which called itself la nation Canadienne had been formed, nationalite had become a force in Lower {14} Canada, imperfectly appreciated even by the leaders of the progressive movement in England and Western Canada. In the Eastern townships, and in Quebec and Montreal, flourishing and highly organized British societies existed. The Rebellion had found sturdy opponents in the British militia from the townships, and the constitutional societies of Quebec and Montreal expressed, in innumerable resolutions and addresses, the British point of view. But Lower Canada was for practical purposes a French unit, Roman Catholic in religion, and, in structure, semifeudal. In the cities, the national self-consciousness of the French was most conspicuously present; and leaders like Papineau, La Fontaine, and Cartier proved the reality of French culture and political skill. Below the higher classes, Durham and Metcalfe noticed that in Lower Canada the facilities given by the church for higher education produced a class of smaller professional men, from whose number the ordinary politicians and agitators were drawn. To the church they owed their entrance into the world of ideas; but apparently they were little more loyal to the clergy than they were to Britain. "I am led to believe," wrote Metcalfe in 1845, "that the influence of the clergy is not predominant, {15} among the French-Canadian people, and that the avocat, the notary, and the doctor, generally disposed to be political demagogues, and most of them hostile to the British government, are the parties who exercise the greatest influence. Whatever power the clergy might have acting along with these demagogues, it would, I fear, be slight when exercised in opposition to them."[8]

These active, critical, political groups were not, however, representative of French Canada. So long as their racial pride remained unhurt, the French community was profoundly conservative. It was noticed that the rebels of 1837 and 1838 had received no support from the Catholic priesthood; and in a country where the reverence for that ancient form of Christianity was, in spite of Metcalfe's opinion to the contrary, profound, it was unlikely that any anti-religious political movement could make much permanent headway. Devoted to their religion, and controlled more especially in education by their priests,[9] the habitants formed the peculiar people of the American continent. Education flourished not at all among {16} the rank and file. Arthur Buller found the majority of those whom he met either not able to write, or able to write little more than their names.[10] The women, he said, were the active, bustling portion of the habitants, thanks to the admirable and yet inexpensive training to be had in the nunneries. As for the men, they farmed and lived as their fathers had done before them. They cleared their land, or tilled it where it had been cleared, and thought little of improvement or change. M'Taggart, whose work on the Rideau Canal, made him an expert in Canadian labour, much preferred French Canadians to the Irish as labourers, and thought them "kind, tender-hearted, very social, no way very ambitious, nor industrious, rarely speculative."[11] To the Canadian commonwealth, the French population furnished a few really admirable statesmen; a dominant and loyal church; some groups of professional men, disappointed and discontented sons of humble parents, too proud to sink to the level of their uninstructed youth, and without the opportunity of rising higher; and a great mass of men who hewed wood and drew water, not for a master, but for themselves, {17} submissive to the church, and well-disposed, but ignorant, and at the mercy of any clever demagogue who might raise the cry of nationalism. Still, when nationality remained unchallenged, the French-Canadians were at least what, till recently, they remained, the most purely conservative element in Canada.

The second element, in point of stability and importance, in the Canadian population was that of the United Empire Loyalists, the remnants of a former British supremacy in the United States. They had proved their steadfastness and courage by their refusal to accept the rules of the new republic; and their arrival in Canada gave that country an aristocracy of Anglo-Saxon origin to counterbalance that of the seigneurs on the Lower St. Lawrence. The men had in many cases been trained to arms in the revolutionary war, and they served a second and perhaps a harder apprenticeship in the Canadian forests. They had formed the centre of resistance to American attacks in the war of 1812. Their sons and grandsons had once more exhibited the hereditary loyalty of the group, in resisting the rebels of 1837-38; and Metcalfe, who was their best friend among the governors of the United Provinces, justly {18} looked on them as the most conspicuous examples of devotion to connection with the British Empire, and loyal subjection to the Crown.[12] Robinsons, Cartwrights, Ryersons, and a score of other well-known families, proved, generation after generation, by their sustained public capacity, how considerably the struggle for existence, operating on sound human material, may raise the average of talent and energy. The tendency of the Loyalists to conservatism was, under the circumstances, only natural. Their possession, for a time, of all the places in Upper Canada which were worth holding, was the consequence of their priority in tenure, and of their conspicuous pre-eminence in political ingenuity. Critics of a later date forgot, and still forget, in their wholesale indictment of the Family Compact, that the Loyalist group called by that name had earned their places by genuine ability. If, like other aristocracies, they found it hard to mark the precise moment for retirement before the rise of democracy, their excuse must be found in their consciousness of high public spirit and their hereditary talents for administration.

Politically and socially one may include among the Loyalists the half-pay officers, from both {19} navy and army, whom the great peace after Waterloo sent to Canada, as to the other colonies; and certain men of good family, Talbots or Stricklands, who held fast by English conservative tradition, played, where they could, the English gentleman abroad, and incidentally exhibited no mean amount of public spirit. Conspicuous among these was Colonel Talbot, who had come to Upper Canada with Simcoe in 1793, and became there an erratic but energetic instrument of empire. "For sixteen years," says Mrs. Jameson, writing with a pardonably feminine thrill after a visit to the great man, "he saw scarce a human being, except a few boors and blacks employed in clearing and logging his land; he himself assumed the blanket coat and axe, slept upon the bare earth, cooked three meals a day for twenty woodsmen, cleaned his own boots, washed his own linen, milked his cows, churned the butter, and made and baked the bread."[13] Yet, as Strickland confesses, in his Twenty-Seven Years in Canada West, there were few Talbots. "Many high-spirited gentlemen," he says, "were tempted by the grants of land bestowed on them by the government, which made actual settlement one of the conditions of {20} the grant. It followed, as a matter of course, that the majority of these persons were physically disqualified for such an undertaking, a fact which many deserted farms in the rear townships of the county in which I reside painfully indicate."[14]

French Canadians and United Empire Loyalists constituted the stable factors in Canadian public life; but the process of immigration, which the years of rebellion checked only for a time, had by 1840 prepared another element, and that the most incalculable and disturbing both socially and politically. Indeed the real problem of Canadian public life lay simply in the influence of the humbler class of immigrants on existing administration and opinion. It was natural for the other settlers and the governing class to regard the larger part of the new population as beneath the political level. The very circumstances of the emigrating process carried with them a suggestion of degradation. Durham had embodied in his Report the more flagrant examples of the horrors of emigration;[15] but a later review, written in 1841, proves that many of the worst features of the old system still continued. There were still the privations, the {21} filth and the diseases of this northern "middle passage," the epidemics and disorders inflicted on the Canadian community as ship-load after ship-load of poor wretches passed ashore at Quebec. On land their sorrows were renewed, for many of them were paupers, and there was still no organized effort to introduce the labourer to those who required his labour. More than one half of the 12,000 who, according to the report of 1841, passed in that year through Bytown locks, were considered objects of charity. Many of them were common labourers with families, men who had little but their physical strength as capital for the new venture; and cholera, typhus, or smallpox had in many cases reduced even that to the vanishing point. More especially among the Irish settlers, who, in these years and later, fled in dismay from the distresses of Ireland, the misery continued long after the first struggle. M'Taggart, who had his prejudices, but who had unusually good opportunities for observation, thought that a tenth of the poorer Irish settlers died during their first two years in the country. He found them clumsy at their work, accustomed to the spade and shovel, not to the axe, and maiming themselves most fearfully, or even killing themselves, in their {22} experiments in clearing the ground.[16] Of all who came, the immigration agents thought the Lowland Scots and the Ulster Irishmen the best, and while the poorer class of settler lagged behind in the cities of Lower Canada, these others generally pushed on to find a hard earned living among the British settlers in the Upper Province. Some of them found their way to the United States. Others, faced with the intolerable delays of the land administration, took the risk of "squatting," that is, settling on wild land without securing a right to it—often to find themselves dislodged by a legal owner at the moment when their possession de facto seemed established. The majority settled as small farmers in the more frequented districts, or became shop-keepers and artisans in the towns. Politically their position was curious. The Reform Act of 1832 had extended the British franchise, but the majority had still no votes; and the immigrants belonged to the unenfranchised classes. The Irish had the additional disability of being reckoned disloyal, followers of the great Irish demagogue, and disorderly persons until proved otherwise.[17] To government servants and {23} the older settlers alike, it seemed perilous to the community to share political power with them. Yet they were British citizens; many of them at once became active members of the community through their standing as freeholders; the democratic influence of the United States told everywhere on their behalf; and even where hard work left little time for political discussion, the fact that local needs might be assisted by political discussion, and the stout individualism bred by the life of struggle in village, town, and country, forced the new settlers to interest themselves in politics. Many of the new arrivals had some pretensions to education—more especially those from Scotland. Indeed it is worthy of note that from the Scottish stream of immigration there came not only the earlier agitators, Gourlay and Mackenzie, but, at a later date, George Brown, the first great political journalist in Canada, Alexander Mackenzie and Oliver Mowat, future leaders of Canadian liberalism, and John A. Macdonald, whose imperialism never lacked a tincture of traditional Scottish caution. The new immigrants were unlikely to challenge the social supremacy of the old aristocracy, but they formed so large an accession to the population that they could not {24} long remain without political power. They must either be granted the rights of numerical majority or be exasperated into destructive agitation.

It is not altogether easy to describe the community or chain of communities created out of these diverse elements. Distance, climatic difficulties, and racial misunderstandings weakened the sense of unity in the colony; and the chief centres of population were still too young and unformed to present to the visitor the characteristics of a finished civilization.

Everywhere, but more especially in the west, the town population showed remarkable increases. Montreal, which had, in 1790, an estimated population of 18,000, had almost trebled that number by 1844; in the same interval, Quebec increased from 14,000 to nearly 36,000. In the Upper Province, immigration and natural increase produced an even more remarkable expansion. In the twenty-two years between 1824 and 1846, Toronto grew from a village of 1,600 inhabitants to be a flourishing provincial capital of 21,000. In the census of 1848, the population of Hamilton was returned as 9,889; that of Kingston as 8,416; Bytown, the future capital, had 6,275 inhabitants; while a score of villages such as London, Belleville, {25} Brockville, and Cobourg had populations varying from one to four thousand.[18]

Social graces and conveniences had, however, hardly kept pace with the increase in numbers. The French region was, for better or worse, homogeneous, and Quebec formed a social centre of some distinction, wherein the critical M'Taggart noted less vanity and conceit than was to be met with in the country.[19] But further west, British observers were usually something less than laudatory. The municipal franchise in the cities of Lower Canada, being confined to the possessors of real estate, shut out from civic management the more enterprising trading classes, with the natural result that mismanagement and inefficiency everywhere prevailed. In Quebec there was no public lighting, the community bought unwholesome water from carters who took it from the St. Lawrence, and the gaol—a grim but useful test of the civilization of the place—not merely afforded direct communication between the prisoners and the street, but was so ill ordered that, according to a clerical authority, "they who happily are {26} pronounced innocent by law may consider it a providential deliverance if they escape in the meantime the effects of evil communication and example."[20] While Montreal had a better water supply, it remained practically in darkness during the winter nights, through the lapsing in 1836 of its earlier municipal organization.[21] Strangers were said to find the provincial self-importance of its inhabitants irritating. At the other extreme of the province, Mrs. Jameson found fault with the citizens of Toronto for their social conventionalism. "I did not expect to find here," she wrote, "in the new capital of a new country, with the boundless forests within half a mile of us on almost every side, concentrated as it were, the worst evils of our old and most artificial social system at home, with none of its agremens, and none of its advantages. Toronto is like a fourth or fifth rate provincial town with the pretensions of a capital city."[22]

Everywhere, if contemporary prints of the cities may be taken as evidence, the military element was very prominent, and the tone was distinctly English. The leaders of society looked {27} to London for their fashions, and men like John Beverley Robinson moved naturally, if a little stiffly, in the best English circles when they crossed to England. It was, indeed, a straining after a social standard not quite within the reach of the ambitious provincial, which produced the conventionalism and dullness, noticed by British visitors in Canadian towns.

In the smaller towns or villages where pretensions were fewer, and society accepted itself for that which it really was, there was much rude plenty and happiness. An Ayrshire settler writing in 1845, after an orthodox confession that Canada, like Scotland, "groaned under the curse of the Almighty," described his town, Cobourg, as a place where wages were higher and prices lower than at home. "A carpenter," he writes, "asks 6s. sterling for a day's work (without board), mason 8s., men working by the day at labourer's work 2s. and board, 4s. a day in harvest. Hired men by the month, 10 and 11 dollars in summer, and 7 and 8 in winter, and board. Women, 3 and 4 dollars per month, not much higher than at home. Provisions are cheaper here than at home. Wheat, 4s. per bushel; oats 1s. 3d. and 1s. 6d per bushel; potatoes, 1s. 6d.; beef and pork, 3d. and 4d. per {28} lb.; butter, 6d. per lb.; cheese, 6d.; tobacco, 1s. per lb.; whisky, 1s. 6d. per gallon; apples, 1s. 6d. per bushel; tea from 2s. 6d. to 4s., and sugar, 6d. per lb.... A man by honest industry here may live comfortably and support himself decently—I can, I know—and save something too. We live much better here than at home."[23]

More especially in the smaller towns, the externals must have presented a steady and dull monotony—the jail and court-house, three or four churches, a varying number of mean-looking stores including a liberal proportion of taverns, and the irregular rows of private houses.

If lack of efficient public spirit, and social monotony, marked the towns, the settlers in the bush were hardly likely to show a vigorous communal spirit. They had their common life, building, clearing, harvesting in local "bees," primitive assemblies in which work, drinking, and recreation welded the primitive community together, and the "grog-boss" became for a time the centre of society.[24] But the average day of the farmer was solitary, and, except where politics meant {29} bridges, roads, and material gifts, his outlook was limited by the physical strain of his daily life, and work and sleep followed too closely on each other's track to leave time for other things. M'Taggart has a quaint picture of a squatter, which must have been typical of much within the colony in 1839. He found the settler, Peter Armstrong, "in a snug little cabin, with a wife, two children, some good sleek grey cats, and a very respectable-looking dog. He had but few wants, his health was aye good; there was spring water plenty just aside him, and enough to make a good fire in winter, while with what he caught, shot, gathered and grew in the yard, he lived well enough." His relation to the state, secular and ecclesiastical, is best gauged by his admission that when it came to marriage, he and his wife—Scottish like himself—"just took ane anither's word on't."[25] Crime, on the whole, considering the elements out of which the community had been formed, was surprisingly little in evidence.[26] In certain regions it had a natural fertility. Wherever the white trader met the Indian, or rival {30} fur-traders strove in competition, the contact between the vices of the two communities bred disorder, and Canadian trading success was too often marked by the indiscriminate ruin of the Indians through drink and disease.[27] At Bytown, where the lumberers gathered to vary their labours in the bush with dissipation, the community "was under the control of a very dangerous class of roughs, who drank, gambled, and fought continually, and were the terror of all well-disposed citizens."[28] Drunkenness seems to have been a very prevalent vice, probably because whisky was so cheaply produced; and where self-restraint was weak, and vast numbers of the poorest classes from Britain formed the basis of society, drunkenness was accompanied by bestial violence, or even death, in sudden and dreadful forms.[29] But it was the verdict of a Scottish clergyman, who played his part in pioneer work round Perth, that "considering the mixture of worthless persons, which our population formerly contained, it was astonishing how few crimes had been committed."


Three powerful influences helped to shape the young Canadian community and to give it some appearance of unity—education, religion, and politics. It now becomes necessary to examine these factors in Canadian existence in the years prior to, and immediately after, the visit of Durham to the colony. In religion and education, however, our analysis must concern Upper and British Canada rather than the French region. In the latter the existence and dominance of the Catholic church greatly simplified matters. Thanks to the eighteenth century agreements with the French, Roman Catholicism had been established on very favourable terms in Lower Canada, and dominated that region to the exclusion of practically all other forms of religious life. As has already been shown, the church controlled not only religion but education. If the women of the Lower Province were better educated than the men, it was because the convent schools provided adequately for female education. If higher education was furnished in superabundance, again the church was the prime agent, as it was also in the comparative neglect of the rank and file; and comment was made by Durham's commissioners on the fact that the priesthood resented anything which weakened {32} its control over the schools. This Catholic domination had a very notable influence in politics, for, after the first outbursts of nationality were over, the Catholic laity in politics proved themselves a steadily conservative force. La Fontaine, the first great French leader who knew how to co-operate with the British Canadians, was only by accident a progressive, and escaped from politics when the growth of Upper Canada radicalism began to draw him into dangerous religious questions.[30] But in the Upper Province, education and religion did not show this stationary and consistent character, and played no little part in preparing for and accentuating the political agitation.

Education had a history rather of good intentions than of brilliant achievement. At different times in the earlier nineteenth century, schemes for district grammar schools and general common schools were prepared, and sums of money, unhappily not in increasing amounts, were voted for educational purposes. But, apart from the doubtful enthusiasm of the legislators, the education {33} of the British settlers was hampered by an absence of suitable teachers, and the difficulty of letting children, who were often the only farm assistants at hand, attend school for any length of time. According to good evidence, half of the true school population never saw the schools, and the other half could give only seven months in the year to their training.[31]

In most country districts, the settlers had to trust to luck both for teachers and for schoolhouses, and beginnings which promised better things too often ended in blank failure. There is both humour and romance in these early struggles after education. In Ekfried, by the Thames, in Western Canada, there had been no school, till the arrival of an honest Scot, Robert Campbell, and the backwardness of the season in 1842, gave the settlement a schoolmaster, and the new settler some ready money. "I get a dollar and a half, a quarter per scholar," he wrote to his friends in Scotland, "and seeing that the wheat did little, I am glad I did engage, for we got plenty of provisions."[32] In Perth, a more ambitious start {34} met with a tragic end. The Scottish clergyman, appointed to the district by government, opened a school at the request of the inhabitants. All went well, and a generous government provided fifty pounds by way of annual stipend; until a licentiate of the Anglican Church arrived. By virtue of the standing of his church, the newcomer took precedence of the Scottish minister and displaced him as educational leader. But, says the Scot, with an irony, unchristian but excusable, "the school under the direction of my clerical successor, soon after died of a consumption, and the school-house has been for sometime empty."[33]

The main difficulty in education was to provide an adequate supply of competent teachers. Complaints against those who offered their services were almost universal. According to a Niagara witness, not more than one out of ten teachers in the district was competent to instruct his pupils even in the humblest learning,[34] and the commissioners who reported to the government of Upper Canada in 1839 both confirmed these {35} complaints, and described the root of the offence when they said, "In this country, the wages of the working classes are so high, that few undertake the office of schoolmaster, except those who are unable to do anything else; and hence the important duties of education are often entrusted to incompetent and improper persons. The income of the schoolmaster should, at least, be equal to that of a common labourer."[35] In so precarious a position, it was unfortunate that sectarian and local feeling should have provoked a controversy at the capital of the western district. Much as the education of the province owed to John Strachan, he did infinite harm by involving the foundation of a great central school, Upper Canada College, and of the provincial university, in a bitter religious discussion. It was not until the public capacity and unsectarian enthusiasm of Egerton Ryerson were enlisted in the service of provincial education, that Upper Canada emerged from her period of failure and struggle.

Apart from provincial and governmental efforts, there were many voluntary experiments, of which Strachan's famous school at Cornwall, was perhaps the most notable. After all, the colonists were {36} Britons, many of them trained in the Scottish system of national democratic education, and wherever the struggle for existence slackened down, they turned to plan a Canadian system as like as possible to that which they had left. Kingston was notably enterprising in this respect. Not only were there schools for the more prosperous classes, but attempts were made to provide cheap education for the poor, at first supported by the voluntary contributions of ladies, and then by a committee representative of the best Anglican and Presbyterian sentiment. Three of these schools were successfully conducted at very small charges, and, in certain cases, the poorest received education free.[36] In higher education the period of union in Canada exhibited great activity. The generous provision made for a King's College in Toronto had been for a long time stultified by the ill-timed sectarian spirit of the Bishop of Toronto; but a more reasonable temper prevailed after the Rebellion, and the second governor-general of the united provinces, Sir Charles Bagot, spent much of his short time of service in securing professors and seeing the provincial university launched.[37] {37} At the same time, the two other Canadian colleges of note, M'Gill University and Queen's College, came into active existence. In October, 1839, after many years of delay, Montreal saw the corner-stone of the first English and Protestant College in Lower Canada laid,[38] and in the winter of 1841-2, Dr. Liddell sailed from Scotland to begin the history of struggle and gallant effort which has characterized Queen's College, Kingston, from first to last. It is perhaps the most interesting detail of early university education in Canada, that the Presbyterian College started in a frame house, with two professors, one representing Arts and one Theology, and with some twenty students, very few of whom, however, were "fitted to be matriculated."[39]

It is well to remember, in face of beginnings so irregular, and even squalid, that deficiencies in Canadian college education had been made good by the English and Scottish universities, and that Canadian higher education was from the outset assisted by the genuine culture and learning of the British colleges; for the main sources of university inspiration in British North America {38} were Oxford and Cambridge, Glasgow and Edinburgh.[40]

There were, of course, other less formal modes of education. When once political agitation commenced, the press contributed not a little to the education of the nation, and must indeed be counted one of the chief agencies of information, if not of culture. Everywhere, from Quebec to Hamilton, enterprising politicians made their influence felt through newspapers. The period prior to the Rebellion had seen Mackenzie working through his Colonial Advocate; and the cause of responsible government soon found saner and abler exponents in Francis Hincks and George Brown. At every important centre, one, two, or even more news-sheets, not without merit, were maintained; and the secular press was reinforced by such educational enterprise as the Dougalls attempted in the Montreal Witness, or by church papers like the Methodist Christian Guardian.[41] {39} Nothing, perhaps, is more characteristic of this phase of Canadian intellectual growth than the earlier volumes of the Witness, which played a part in Canada similar to that of the Chambers' publications in Scotland. The note struck was deeply sober and moral; the appeal was made to the working and middle classes who in Canada as in Scotland were coming into possession of their heritage; and if the intellectual level attained was never very high, an honest attempt was being made to educate the shop-keepers and farmers of Canada into wholesome national ideals.

Little literary activity seems to have existed outside of politics and the newspapers. For a time cheap reprints from America assisted Britons in Canada with their forbidden fruits, but government at last intervened. It is a curious fact that this perfectly just and natural prohibition had a most unfortunate effect in checking the reading habits of the colony.[42] In the larger towns there {40} were circulating libraries, and presumably immigrants occasionally brought books with them; but newspaper advertisements suggest that school books, and the like, formed almost the only stock-in-trade of the book-shop; and the mercurial Major Richardson, after agitating the chief book-sellers in Canada on behalf of one of his literary ventures, found that his total sales amounted to barely thirty copies, and even an auction sale at Kingston discovered only one purchaser, who limited his offer to sevenpence halfpenny. In speaking, then, of the Canadian political community in 1839, one cannot say, as Burke did of the Americans in 1775, that they were a highly educated or book-reading people. Their politicians, progressive and conservative alike, might have shortened, simplified, and civilized certain stages in their political agitations, had they been able more fully to draw on the authority of British political experience; and their provincialism would not have thrust itself so disagreeably on the modern student, had Locke, Rousseau, Burke, and the greater leaders in modern political science, been household names in early Victorian Canada.

As with other young communities, the church and religion had their part to play in the shaping {41} of modern Canada. And yet it would be impossible to attribute to any of the Canadian churches an influence so decisive as that which religion exercised through Presbyterianism in the creation of the Scottish democracy, or through Independency in moulding the New England character. For while the question of a religious establishment proved one of the most exciting issues in politics, influences more truly religious suffered a natural degradation and diminution through their over-close association with secular affairs.

Once again the situation in Lower Canada was simplified by the conditions prevailing among the French Canadians. For Lower Canada was whole-heartedly Catholic, and the Canadian branch of the Roman Church had its eulogy pronounced in no uncertain fashion by the Earl of Durham, who, after praising its tolerant spirit, summed up the services of the priesthood in these terms: "The Catholic priesthood of this Province have, to a remarkable degree, conciliated the good-will of persons of all creeds; and I know of no parochial clergy in the world, whose practice of all the Christian virtues, and zealous discharge of their clerical duties, is more universally admired, and has been productive of more beneficial consequences. {42} Possessed of incomes sufficient, and even large, according to the notions entertained in the country, and enjoying the advantage of education, they have lived on terms of equality and kindness with the humblest and least instructed inhabitants of the rural districts. Intimately acquainted with the wants and characters of their neighbours, they have been the promoters and dispensers of charity, and the effectual guardians of the morals of the people; and in the general absence of any permanent institutions of civil government, the Catholic Church has presented almost the only semblance of stability and organization, and furnished the only effectual support for civilization and order. The Catholic clergy of Lower Canada are entitled to this expression of my esteem, not only because it is founded on truth, but because a grateful recognition of their eminent services, in resisting the arts of the disaffected, is especially due to them from one who has administered the government of the Province in these troubled times."[43]

Upper Canada and the British community presented a somewhat different picture. Certain Roman Catholic elements among the Irish and the Scottish Highlanders reinforced the ranks of {43} Catholicism, but for the greater part Anglicanism and Presbyterianism were the ecclesiastical guides of the settlers. At first, apart from official religion, the Church of England appeared in Canada in missionary form, and about 1820 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had fifteen missionaries in Lower Canada, and seventeen in Upper Canada. But under the fostering care of governors like Colborne, and the organizing genius of Dr. Strachan, Rector, Archdeacon, and latterly Bishop in Toronto, the Anglican Church in Canada became a self-dependent unit. The Bishop of Toronto was able to boast in 1842 that in his western visitation, which lasted from June till October, he had "consecrated two churches and one burial ground, confirmed 756 persons at twenty-four different stations, and travelled, including his journeys for the formation of District Branches of the Church Society, upwards of 2,500 miles."[44] In cities like Toronto and Kingston it was on the whole the church of the governing class, and shared in the culture and public qualities of that class. Nor was it negligent of the cure of poorer souls, for Anglicans co-operated with Presbyterians in the {44} management of the poor schools in Kingston, and in that and the other more prominent towns of the province, the English parish church system seems to have been transplanted and worked most efficiently. Equal in importance, if not in numbers, Scottish Presbyterianism claimed its section of the community. Down to 1822, there were but six organized congregations in Upper and Lower Canada connected with the Church of Scotland,[45] but at the first Presbyterian Synod held in Canada, in 1831, fourteen ministers and five elders gathered at Kingston to represent the Church;[46] and by 1837 the number of congregations had grown to 37 in Upper Canada, and 14 in Lower Canada. Nor were these weak and struggling efforts. The Scottish Church at Kingston had in 1841 a membership of 350, and an average attendance of 800. Like its Anglican rival, it was simply a parish church, and its minister, trained in Edinburgh, as the Anglican cleric came naturally from an English college, visited, preached, and disciplined according to the rules of Knox and Melville, and maintained, perhaps more genuinely than either school or {45} newspaper could, an educational influence on his flock not unworthy of the mother country. Here and there the ties, which still remained strong, between Canadian settlements and the districts in Scotland whence the settlers were drawn, proved useful aids in church extension. Lanark, in Upper Canada, owed its church to the efforts of friends in Lanarkshire, in Scotland, who collected no less a sum than L290 for the purpose.[47]

But the religious life of Canada was assisted by another less official force, the Methodist Church. Methodism in its earlier days incurred the reproach of being rather American than British, and, in one of his most unjustifiable perversions of the truth, Strachan tried to make the fact tell against the sect, in his notorious table of ecclesiastical statistics. Undoubtedly there was a stronger American element in the Methodist connection than in either of the other churches; and its spirit lent itself more readily to American innovations. Its fervent methods drew from the ranks of colder churches the more emotional, and being freer and homelier in its ritual, it appealed very directly to a rude and half-educated community. Thus the Methodist preachers made {46} rapid headway, more especially in regions untouched by the official churches.

In the representative man of early Canadian Methodism, Egerton Ryerson, qualities conspicuously British and conservative, appeared. Through him Methodism came forward as the supporter of the British connection in the Metcalfe troubles, as through him it may claim some of the glory of organizing an adequate system of provincial education. But, after all, the noblest work of the sect was done in informal and irregular fashion. They were the pioneers and coureurs du bois of the British province in the religious world. Perhaps the most genuine tribute paid to this earlier phase of Methodism was that of John Beverley Robinson, when his fellow Anglicans blamed him in 1842 for granting a plot of ground for a Methodist chapel. "Frequently," he retorted, "in the most lonely parts of the wilderness, in townships where a clergyman of the Church of England had never been heard, and probably never seen, I have found the population assembled in some log building, earnestly engaged in acts of devotion, and listening to those doctrines and truths which are inculcated in common by most Christian denominations, but which, if it had not been for {47} the ministration of dissenting preachers, would for thirty years have been but little known, if at all, to the greater part of the inhabitants of the interior of Upper Canada."[48] Still the Canadian Methodist Church did not occupy so conspicuous a place in the official public life of Canada, and in Sydenham's Legislative Council of 1841, out of twenty-four members, eight represented Anglicanism, eight Presbyterianism, eight Catholicism, and Methodism had to find lowlier places for its political leaders.[49]

Hitherto religion has been viewed in its social and spiritual aspects. But Canadian history has, with perhaps over-emphasis, selected one great controversy as the central point in the religious life of the province. It is not my intention to enter here into the wearisome details of the Clergy Reserve question. But the fight over the establishment principle forms an essential factor in the social and political life of Canada between 1839 and 1854, the year in which it was finally settled. It is first necessary to discriminate between what may be called casual and incidental support to churches in Canada, and the main Clergy Reserve {48} fund. When Dr. Black challenged, in the interests of Presbyterianism, certain monies paid to Anglican churches in Upper and Lower Canada, he was able to point to direct assistance given by the Imperial Parliament to the Anglican Church in Canada. He was told in answer that these grants were temporarily made to individuals with whose lives they terminated, and that a pledge had been given in 1832 that Britain should be relieved of such expenses.[50] In a similar fashion, when the district of Perth, in Upper Canada, was settled by discharged soldiers and emigrants from Scotland, "Government offered assistance for the support of a minister, without respect to religious denomination," and, as a matter of fact, the community thus assisted to a clergyman, received, not a minister of the Church of Scotland, but one ordained by the Secession Church in Scotland—a curious but laudable example of laxity on the part of government.[51]

The root and ground of offending lay in the thirty-sixth and following clauses of the Constitutional Act of 1791, which proposed to support {49} and maintain a Protestant clergy in the provinces by grants of land, equal in value to the seventh part of lands granted for other purposes. On the face of it, and interpreted by the clauses which follow, the Act seems to bear out the Anglican contention that the English Church establishment received an extension to Canada through the Act, and that no other church was expected to receive a share. It is true that the legal decision of 1819, and the views of colonial secretaries like Glenelg, admitted at least the Scottish Church to a portion of the benefits. But for the purposes of the situation in 1839, it is merely necessary to say that a British parliament in 1791, ignorant of actual colonial conditions, and more especially of the curious ecclesiastical developments with which the American colonies had modified the British system before 1776, and probably forgetful of the claims of the Church of Scotland to parliamentary recognition, had given Canada the beginnings of an Anglican Church establishment; and that the Anglicans in Canada, and more especially those led by Dr. John Strachan, had more than fulfilled the sectarian and monopolist intentions of the legislators.

Three schools of opinion formed themselves in {50} the intervening years. First and foremost came the establishment men, mainly Anglican, but with a certain Presbyterian following, who claimed to monopolize the benefits, such as they were, of the Clergy Reserve funds. Canada as a British colony was bound to support the one or two state churches of the mother country; religious inequality was to flourish there as at home; dissent was to receive the same stigma and disqualification, and the dominant church or churches were to live, not by the efforts of their members, but at the expense of all citizens of the state, whether Anglican, Presbyterian, or Methodist. This phase of opinion received its most offensive expression from leaders like the Bishop of Toronto. To these monopolists, any modification of the Anglican settlement seemed a "tyrannical and unjust measure," and they adopted an ecclesiastical arrogance towards their fellow-Christians, which did much to alienate popular sympathies throughout the province.

At the other extreme was a solid mass of public sentiment which had little interest in the ecclesiastical theories of the Bishop of Toronto, and which resented alike attempts to convert the provincial university into an Anglican college, and the cumbrous and unjust form of church establishment, {51} the most obvious evidence of which lay in the undeveloped patches of Clergy Reserve land scattered everywhere throughout the settlements. It was the undoubted desire of a majority in 1840 that the Clergy Reserve system should be ended, the former reserves sold, and the proceeds applied to educational and general purposes; a desire which had been registered in the House of Assembly on fourteen different occasions since 1826.[52] The case for the voluntary principle in Canada had many exponents, but these words of Dr. John Rolph in 1836 express the spirit of the movement in both its strength and its weakness: "Instead of making a State provision for any one or more churches; instead of apportioning the Clergy Reserves among them with a view to promoting Christianity; instead of giving pensions and salaries to ministers to make them independent of voluntary contributions from the people, I would studiously avoid that policy, and leave truth unfettered and unimpeded to make her own conquests.... The professions of law and physic are well represented in this Assembly, and bear ample testimony to the generosity of the people towards them. Will good, pious and evangelical ministers of our holy religion be likely to {52} fare worse than the physicians of the body, or the agents for our temporal affairs? Let gospel ministers, as the Scriptures say, live by the gospel, and the apostolic maxim that the workman is worthy of his hire implies the performance of duty rewarded temporarily by those who impose it. There is no fear that the profession will become extinct for want of professors."[53]

Between the extremes, however, there existed a group of moderate politicians, represented, in the Upper Province by Baldwin, in the Lower by La Fontaine, and among British statesmen apparently by both Sydenham and Elgin. Especially among its Canadian members, this group felt keenly the desirability of supporting religion, as it struggled through the difficulties inevitably connected with early colonial life. But neither Baldwin, who was a devoted Anglican, nor La Fontaine, a faithful son of his Church, showed any tinge of Strachan's bitterness as they considered the question; and nothing impressed Canadian opinion more than did La Fontaine's speech, in a later phase of the Clergy Reserve troubles, when he solemnly renounced on behalf of his coreligionists any chance of stealing an advantage while the Protestants {53} were quarrelling, and when he stated his opinion that the endowment belonged to the Protestant clergy, and should be shared equally among them. It was this school of thought—-to anticipate events by a year or two—which received the sanction of Sydenham's statesmanship, and that energetic mind never accomplished anything more notable than when, in the face of a strong secularizing feeling, to the justification for which he was in no way blind, he repelled the party of monopoly, and yet retained the endowment for the Protestant churches of Canada. "The Clergy Reserves," he wrote in a private letter, "have been, and are, the great overwhelming grievance—the root of all the troubles of the province, the cause of the Rebellion—the never-failing watchword at the hustings—the perpetual source of discord, strife, and hatred. Not a man of any party but has told me that the greatest boon which could be conferred on the country would be that they should be swept into the Atlantic, and that nobody should get them. My Bill[54] has gone through the Assembly by a considerable majority, thirty to twenty, and I feel confident that I can get it through the {54} Council without the change of a word. If it is really carried, it is the greatest work that ever has been done in this country, and will be of more solid advantage to it than all the loans and all the troops you can make or send. It is worth ten unions, and was ten times more difficult."[55]

It is a melancholy comment on the ecclesiastical interpretation of religion that, ten years later, when the firmly expressed desires of all moderate men had given the Bishop of Toronto a good excuse for acquiescence in Sydenham's status quo, that pugnacious ecclesiastic still fought to save as much of the monopoly as could be secured.[56]

With the Clergy Reserve dispute, the region of politics has been reached; and, after all, politics furnished the most powerful influence in the young Canadian community. But politics must be taken less in the constitutional sense, as has been the custom with Canadian writers, and more in the social and human sense. It is important also to note the broad stretches of Canadian existence {55} into which they hardly intruded. Political questions found few exponents among the pioneers as they cleared the forests, or gathered lumber for the British market, or pushed far to the west and north in pursuit of furs. Even the Rebellion, when news of it reached Strickland and his fellow-settlers in the Peterborough country, came to them less as part of a prolonged struggle in which they all were taking part, than as an abnormal incident, to be ended outright by loyal strength. They hardly seem to have thought that any liberties of theirs were really endangered. When Mackenzie himself complained that instead of entering Toronto with four or five thousand men, he found himself at the head of a poor two hundred, he does not seem to have realized that, even had his fellow-conspirators not mismanaged things, it would still have been difficult to keep hard-working settlers keyed up to the pitch of revolutionary and abstract doctrines.[57] There must have been many settlers of the temper of the humble Scottish janitor in Queen's College, Kingston, who wrote, in the midst of the struggle of parties in 1851: "For my part I never trouble my head about one of them. Although the polling-house was just across {56} the street, I never went near it."[58] In the cities, however, and along the main lines of communication, the interest must have been keen, and the country undoubtedly attained its manhood as it struggled towards the solution of questions like those of the Clergy Reserves, the financing of the colony, the regulation of trade and immigration, and, above all others, the definition of responsible government.

Something has already been said of the various political groups in the colony, for they corresponded roughly to the different strata of settlement—French, Loyalist, and men of the later immigration. It is true, as Sydenham and Elgin pointed out, that the British party names hardly corresponded to local divisions—and that these divisions were really too petty to deserve the name of parties. Yet it would be foolish to deny the actual existence of the groups, or to refuse to see in their turbulence and strife the beginning of national self-consciousness, and the first stage in a notable political development.

Most conspicuous among the political forces, because the bond of party union was for them {57} something deeper than opinion, and must be called racial, was the French-Canadian group, with the whole weight of habitant support behind it. From the publication of Lord Durham's Report, through the Sydenham regime, and down till Sir Charles Bagot surrendered to their claims, the French politicians presented an unbroken and hostile front to the British community. Colborne had repressed their risings at the point of the bayonet; a Whig government had deprived them temporarily of free institutions; Durham—their friend after his fashion—had bidden them be absorbed into the greater British community; Sydenham came to enforce what Durham had suggested; and, with each new check, their pride had grown more stubborn and their nationalism more intense. Bagot, who understood them and whom they came to trust, may be allowed to describe their characteristics, through the troubled first years of union: "On Lord Sydenham's arrival," he wrote to Stanley, "he found the Lower Province deprived of a constitution, the legislative functions of the government being administered by a special council, consisting of a small number of members nominated by the Crown. A large portion of the people, at least those of French origin, prostrate under {58} the effects of the Rebellion, overawed by the power of Great Britain, and excluded from all share in the government, had resigned themselves to a sullen and reluctant submission, or to a perverse but passive resistance to the government. This temper was not improved by the passing of the Act of Union. In this measure, heedless of the generosity of the Imperial government, in overlooking their recent disaffection, and giving them a free and popular constitution, ... they apprehended a new instrument of subjection, and accordingly prepared to resist it. Lord Sydenham found them in this disposition, and despairing, from its early manifestations, of the possibility of overcoming or appeasing it, before the period at which it would be necessary to put in force the Act of Union, he determined upon evincing his indifference to it, and upon taking steps to carry out his views, in spite of the opposition of the French party.... They have from that time declared and evinced their hostility to the Union ... and have maintained a consistent, united, and uncompromising opposition to the government which was concerned in carrying it into execution."[59]

To describe the French in politics, it has been {59} necessary to advance a year or two beyond 1839, for the Rebellion had terminated one phase of their political existence, and the characteristics of the next phase did not become apparent till the Union Assembly of 1841 and 1842. It was indeed an abnormal form of the national and racial question which there presented itself. French Canada found itself represented by a party, over twenty in number, the most compact in the House of Assembly, and with la nation Canadienne solidly behind them. In La Fontaine, Viger, Morin and others, it had leaders both skilful and fully trusted. Yet the party of the British supremacy quoted Durham and others in favour of a plan for the absorption of French Canada in the British element; and the same party could recount, with telling effect, the past misdeeds, or at least the old suspicions, connected with the names of the French leaders. Misunderstood, and yet half excusably misunderstood; self-governing, and yet deprived of many of the legitimate consequences and fruits of self-government; without places or honours, and yet coherent, passionately French, and competently led, the French party stood across the path of Canadian peace, menacing, and with a racial rather than a party threat.


In the Upper Province, the party in possession, the so-called Family Compact group, posed as the only friends of Britain. They had never possessed more than an accidental majority in the Lower House, and, since Durham's rule, it seemed likely that their old supremacy in the Executive and Legislative Councils had come to an end. Yet as their power receded, their language became the more peremptory, and their contempt for other groups the more bitter. One of the most respectable of the group, J. S. Cartwright, frankly confessed that he thought his fellow-colonists unfit for any extension of self-government "in a country where almost universal suffrage prevails, where the great mass of the people are uneducated, and where there is but little of that salutary influence which hereditary rank and great wealth exercise in Great Britain."[60] Their position had an apparent but unreal strength, because they knew that the older type of Colonial official, the entire British Conservative party, and the Church of England, at home and abroad, supported them. As late as July, 1839, Arthur, the representative of the Crown in Upper Canada, could write thus to his government concerning more than half the {61} population under his authority: "There is a considerable section of persons who are disloyal to the core; reform is on their lips, but separation is in their hearts. These people having for the last two or three years made a 'responsible government' their watch-word, are now extravagantly elated because the Earl of Durham has recommended that measure. They regard it as an unerring means to get rid of all British connection, while the Earl of Durham, on the contrary, has recommended it as a measure for cementing the existing bond of union with the mother country."[61]

Their programme was precise and consistent. The influence of a too democratic franchise was to be modified by a Conservative upper house, and an executive council, chosen not in accordance with popular wishes, but from the class—their own—which had so long been dominant in the executive. The British connection depended, in their view, on the permanent alliance between their group and whatsoever representative the British crown might send to Canada. French Canadian feeling they were prepared to repress as a thing rebellious and un-English, and the {62} friends of the French in Upper Canada they regarded very much as a South African might the Englishman who should be prepared to strengthen his political position by an alliance with the native peoples; although events were to prove that, when other elements of self-interest dictated a different course, they were not unwilling to co-operate in the interests of disorder with the French. In ecclesiastical affairs, they supported the establishment of an Anglican Church in Canada, and insulted religion never found more eloquent defenders than did the Clergy Reserve establishment at the hands of Sir Allan MacNab, the Conservative leader, and his allies. But events and their own factious excesses had broken their power. They had allowed nothing for the possibilities of political education, in a land where the poorest had infinite chances of gaining independence. They scorned democracy at a time when nothing else in politics had a stable future; and the country naturally distrusted constitutional logicians whose conclusions invariably landed them in the sole possession of emoluments and place. Sydenham's quick eye foresaw the coming rout, and it was his opinion, before the Assembly of 1841 came to make matters certain, that moderate men would overturn the {63} sway of old Toryism, and that the wild heads under MacNab would stultify themselves by their foolish conduct.[62]

In Upper Canada, the Conservative and Family Compact group had to face a vigorous Reforming opposition. It is well, however, after 1838, to discriminate between any remnants of the old Mackenzie school, and the men under whom Canada was to secure unrestricted self-government. The truth is that the situation up to 1837 had been too abnormal to permit the constitutional radicals to show themselves in their true character. Mackenzie himself, in the rather abject letter with which he sought reinstatement in 1848, admitted the falsity of his old position: "Had I seen things in 1837 as I do in 1848, I would have shuddered at the very idea of revolt, no matter what our wrongs might have been. I ought, as a Scotsman, to have stood by the government in America to the last; exerted any energy I possessed to make it better, more just, more perfect; left it for a time, if too oppressive, but never tried, as I did, to put it down."[63] Mackenzie's ideal, discovered {64} by him too late to be very useful, was actually that of the Reforming Loyalists who refused to indulge in treason in 1837, but who determined to secure their ends by peaceful persuasion. Their leader in public affairs was Robert Baldwin, whose career and opinions may be more fitly considered at a later point, and Francis Hincks expounded their views in his paper The Examiner. They were devoted adherents of the Responsible Government school; that is, they desired to have provincial cabinets, not simply chosen so that they might not conflict with public opinion, but imposed upon the governor by public opinion through its representatives in the House of Assembly. They had for years protested against the Clergy Reserves monopoly, and although Baldwin seems always to have favoured the retention of some form of assistance to religion, the ordinary reformer was vehement for absolute secularization. Sydenham when he came, refused to admit that the British party names were anything but misnomers in Canada; and yet Hincks was not singular among the reformers when he said that he had been in favour of all the measures advocated by the British progressives—Catholic Emancipation, the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, Abolition of {65} Slavery, and Parliamentary Reform.[64] Their relation to the French was curious. Unlike the French, they were usually strong advocates of a union of the two provinces, and they sympathized neither with Papineau's doctrinaire republicanism, nor with the sullen negative hatred of things British which then possessed so many minds in Lower Canada. But grievances still unredressed created a fellow-feeling with the French, and from 1839 until 1842 the gradual formation of an Anglo-French reforming bloc, under Baldwin and La Fontaine, was one of the most notable developments in Canadian political life.

After the Union, as before it, the political life of Canada was characterized by a readiness to resort to violence, and a lack of political good manners, which contrasted painfully with the eloquent phrases and professions of the orators on either side. The earliest impression which the first governor-general of the Union received of politics in his province was one of disorder and mismanagement. "You can form no idea of the manner in which a Colonial Parliament transacts its business," Poulett Thomson wrote from Toronto, in 1839. "When they came to their own affairs, {66} 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, and bills are introduced without notice, and carried through all their stages in a quarter of an hour."[65] The first efforts in the struggle for responsible government were rendered needlessly irritating by the absence of that spirit of courteous moderation which usually characterizes the proceedings of the Imperial Parliament. The relations between the governor and his ministers, at the best difficult, were made impossible for a man like Metcalfe by the ill-mannered disdain with which, as all the citizens of his capital knew, the cabinet spoke of their official head; and in debate the personal element played far too prominent a part. In all the early Union assemblies, too, the house betrayed its inexperience by passing rapidly from serious constitutional questions to petty jobs and quarrels, and as rapidly back again to first principles. There was a general failure to see the risk run by too frequent discussions on fundamentals, and much of the bitterness of party strife would have been avoided if the rival parties could have prosecuted their {67} adverse operations by slower and more scientific approaches.

The warmth of feeling and the disorder exhibited in the councils of state and the assembly, met with a ready response in the country. It is only fair to say that many of the gravest disturbances were caused by recent immigrants, more especially by the Irish labourers on the canals in the neighbourhood of Montreal.[66] But the whole community must share in the discredit. The days had not yet ceased when political bills called on adherents of one or other party to assemble "with music and good shillelaghs";[67] and indeed the decade from 1840 to 1850 was distinctly one of political rioting. The election of 1841 was disgraced, more especially in Lower Canada, by very violent strife. In 1843 an Act was deemed necessary "to provide for the calling and orderly holding of public meetings in this province and for the better preservation of the public peace thereat."[68] In the Montreal election of April, 1844, Metcalfe accused both his former inspector-general and the reform candidate of using inflammatory and reckless language, and {68} certainly both then and in November disgraceful riots made the elections no true register of public sentiment. At the very end of the decade, the riots caused by the passing of the "Rebellion Losses" Act, organized, it must be remembered, by the so-called loyal party, endangered the life of a governor-general, and made Montreal no longer possible as the seat of government. One may perhaps over-estimate the importance of these details; for, after all, the communal life of Canada was yet in its extreme youth, and in England itself there were still remnants of the old eighteenth century disorders, with hints of the newer revolutionism. Their importance is rather that they complicated the task of adjusting imperial standards to suit Canadian self-government, and introduced unnecessary errors into the conduct of affairs by the provincial statesmen.

It was obvious then that the United Provinces of Canada had, in 1839, still some distance to travel before their social, religious, and political organization could be regarded as satisfactory. Individually and collectively poor, the citizens of Canada required direct aid from the resources of the mother country. Material improvements in roads and canals, the introduction of steam, {69} the organization of labour, were immediately necessary. Education in all its stages must receive encouragement and recognition. Religion must be freed from the encumbrance of a vexatious controversy. Municipal institutions and local government had still to be introduced to teach the people the elements of self-government; and a broader system of colonial legislation and administration substituted for the discredited rule of assemblies and councils at Toronto and Quebec. There was racial hate to be quenched; and petty party jealousies to be transmuted into more useful political energy. A nation was at its birth. The problem was whether in Great Britain there were minds acute and imaginative enough to see the actual dangers; generous enough not to be dissuaded from trying to avert them by any rudeness on the part of those who were being assisted; prophetic enough to recognize that Anglo-Saxon communities, whether at home or across the seas, will always claim the right to govern themselves, and that to such self-government none but the community actually affected may set a limit.

[1] Robinson, Life of Sir John Beverley Robinson, Bart., pp. 75-6.

[2] Report of the Agent for Emigration, Toronto, January, 1841. "The passage extended to seven complete weeks," writes a Scottish settler, Robert Campbell, in 1840, "and to tell the truth we were weary enough of it." MS. letter, penes me.

[3] Conditions and Prospects of Canada in 1854, London, 1855.

[4] Poulett Scrope, Life of Lord Sydenham, pp. 141-2.

[5] Richardson, Eight Years in Canada, p. 117.

[6] See an interesting letter of January, 1838 in Christie, History of Lower Canada, v. 109.

[7] Lord Durham's Report, Appendix B. (ed. by Lucas), iii. p. 84.

[8] Kaye, Papers and Correspondence of Lord Metcalfe, p. 453. Metcalfe undoubtedly overestimates the influence of these men, as compared with the church, over the habitant class.

[9] Lord Durham's Report (ed. by Lucas), Appendix D, iii. p. 284.

[10] Ibid. p. 267.

[11] M'Taggart, Three Years in Canada, i. p. 249.

[12] Kaye, op. cit. p. 407.

[13] Mrs. Jameson, States and Rambles in Canada, vol. ii. p. 189.

[14] Strickland, Twenty-Seven Years in Canada West, vol. i. p. 135.

[15] Lord Durham's Report, ii. pp. 242-59.

[16] M'Taggart, ii. pp. 242-5.

[17] See a despatch of Lord Metcalfe on the effect of Irish agitation on the tranquillity of Canada, Kaye, op. cit. pp. 432-4.

[18] Censuses of Canada (1665-1871), vol. iv.; Appendix to the First Report of the Board of Registration and Statistics (1849); A Statement of the Population of Canada (1848).

[19] M'Taggart, op. cit. i. p. 35.

[20] Lord Durham's Report, Appendix A. Sir Charles Lucas has not included this appendix in his edition.

[21] Ibid. (ed. Lucas), iii. p. 220.

[22] Mrs. Jameson, Studies and Rambles in Canada, i. p. 98.

[23] A Long-treasured Letter, from Matthew Fowlds and Other Fenwick Worthies, Kilmarnock, 1910, pp. 205-11.

[24] Strickland, Twenty Seven Years in Canada West, i. p. 35.

[25] M'Taggart, op. cit. i. p. 201.

[26] This statement I modify below in dealing with the violence which disfigured political life in Canada at this time.

[27] Passim in descriptions of the Canadian Indians, and the North-West.

[28] Lord Durham's Report, ii. p. 125 n.

[29] See local news in the early volumes of The Montreal Witness.

[30] I have accepted Durham's, rather than Metcalfe's estimate of the influence of the Roman Catholic church in Canada. The latter may be found in a despatch to Stanley, entitled by Kaye, "State of Parties in 1845" (Kaye, op. cit. p. 449).

[31] Hodgins, Documentary History of Education in Upper Canada, iii. p. 298.

[32] MS. letter, 5 December, 1842.

[33] Bell, Hints to Emigrants, p. 125.

[34] Hodgins, Documentary History of Education in Upper Canada, iii. p. 266.

[35] Ibid. p. 249.

[36] Memorials of the Rev. John Machar, D.D., p. 62.

[37] Bagot Correspondence, in the Canadian Archives, passim.

[38] Montreal Gazette, 8 October, 1839.

[39] Memorials of the Rev. John Machar, p. 77.

[40] A strong, probably exaggerated, opinion exists among the older members of the Canadian community that, while information and specialization have grown, culture has retreated from the standards set for it by the former school of English and Scottish college instructors.

[41] "The amount of postage paid by newspapers would be a fair indication of their circulation.... The postage on the Christian Guardian was L228, which exceeded by L6 the aggregate postage on the following newspapers: Colonial Advocate, L57; The Courier, L45; Watchman, L24; Brockville Recorder, L16; Brockville Gazette, L6; Niagara Gleaner, L17; Hamilton Free Press, L11; Kingston Herald, L11; Kingston Chronicle, L10; Perth Examiner, L10; Patriot, L6; St. Catherine's Journal, L6; York Observer, L3."—Egerton Ryerson, Story of My Life, p. 144.

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