The Tribune of Nova Scotia - A Chronicle of Joseph Howe
by W. L. (William Lawson) Grant
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E-text prepared by Al Haines

Transcriber's note:

Page numbers in this book are indicated by numbers enclosed in curly braces, e.g. {99}. They have been located where page breaks occurred in the original book. For its Index, a page number has been placed only at the start of that section.

Footnotes have been renumbered sequentially and moved to the end of their respective chapters.

Chronicles of Canada Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton In thirty-two volumes





Part VII The Struggle for Political Freedom

[Frontispiece: THE TRIBUNE OF NOVA SCOTIA—AFTER A SPEECH IN MASON HALL. From a colour drawing by C. W. Jefferys]


A Chronicle of Joseph Howe



Toronto Glasgow, Brook & Company 1915

Copyright in all Countries subscribing to the Berne Convention



In May-August 1875 my father, the Rev. G. M. Grant, published in the Canadian Monthly four articles on Joseph Howe, which give, in my opinion, the best account ever likely to be written of Howe's character, motives, and influence. Twenty-five years later he had begun to write for the 'Makers of Canada' a life of Howe, but his death left this task to Mr Justice Longley. In this he had thought to incorporate much of his earlier articles, and his copies of them remain in my hands, with excisions and emendations in his own handwriting. In the present little book I have not scrupled to embody these portions of my father's work.

Howe's speeches and public letters are the basis for any story of his career. They were originally published in two volumes in Boston in 1858, nominally edited by William Annand, {viii} really by Howe himself. In 1909 a revised edition, with chapters covering the last fourteen years of his life, was published at Halifax, excellently edited by Mr J. A. Chisholm, K.C. The Journals of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia contain the dispatches from the Colonial Office quoted in the text. Incidents and anecdotes have been taken from the biographies by Mr Joseph Fenety and Mr Justice Longley. I have also consulted the collection of his father's papers presented to the Canadian Archives by Mr Sydenham Howe, and a manuscript life of Howe by his old friend the late George Johnson. Lord Grey, with his invariable interest in things Canadian, has had the private correspondence of his uncle searched for anything that might throw light on the railway imbroglio of 1851, but without result.






PREFACE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii I. NOVA SCOTIA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 II. BIRTH AND TRAINING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 III. THE OLD COLONIAL SYSTEM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 IV. THE FIGHT FOR RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT . . . . . . . . 47 V. RAILWAYS AND IMPERIAL CONSOLIDATION . . . . . . . . 91 VI. BAFFLED HOPES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158 INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159



THE TRIBUNE OF NOVA SCOTIA—AFTER A SPEECH IN MASON HALL . . . . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece From a colour drawing by C. W. Jefferys.

THOMAS CHANDLER HALIBURTON . . . . . . . . . . . . . Facing page 42 From an engraving in the Dominion Archives.

SIR JOHN HARVEY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 86 From a portrait in the John Ross Robertson Collection, Toronto Public Library.

JOSEPH HOWE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 124 From a painting by T. Debaussy, London, 1857. Reproduced in Chisholm's 'Speeches and Public Letters of Joseph Howe.'

JOSEPH HOWE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 144 From a photograph by Notman, taken about 1871.




Joseph Howe was in a very special sense at once the child and the father of Nova Scotia. His love for his native province was deep and passionate. He was one in whom her defects and excellences could be seen in bold outline; one who knew and loved her with unswerving love; who caught the inspiration of her woods, streams, and shores; and who gave it back in verses not unmeet, in a thousand stirring appeals to her people, and in that which is always more heroic than words, namely, civic action and life-service. 'Joe' Howe was Nova Scotia incarnate. Once, at a banquet somewhere in England, in responding to the toast of the colonies, he painted the little province he represented with such tints that the chairman at the close announced, in half fun, half earnest, that he intended to pack up his portmanteau that night and start for Nova Scotia, and he advised all {2} present to do the same. 'You boast of the fertility and beauty of England,' said Howe, in a tone of calm superiority; 'why, there's one valley in Nova Scotia where you can ride for fifty miles under apple blossoms.' And, again: 'Talk of the value of land, I know an acre of rocks near Halifax worth more than an acre in London. Scores of hardy fishermen catch their breakfasts there in five minutes, all the year round, and no tillage is needed to make the production continue equally good for a thousand years to come.' In a speech at Southampton his description of her climate was a terse, off-hand statement of facts, true, doubtless, but scarcely the whole truth. 'I rarely wear an overcoat,' said he, 'except when it rains; an old chief justice died recently in Nova Scotia at one hundred and three years of age, who never wore one in his life. Sick regiments invalided to our garrison recover their health and vigour immediately, and yellow fever patients coming home from the West Indies walk about in a few days.' 'Boys,' he said on one occasion to a Nova Scotia audience, 'brag of your country. When I'm abroad I brag of everything that Nova Scotia is, has, or can produce; and when they beat me at everything else, I {3} turn round on them and say, "How high does your tide rise?"' He always had them there—no other country could match the tides of the Bay of Fundy. He loved and he sang of her streams and her valleys, her woods and her wild-flowers, most of all of the 'Mayflower,' the trailing arbutus of early spring, with its fresh pink petals and its wonderful fragrance, long since adopted as the provincial emblem. After more than one political fight he retired to the country for a month or for a year, and there let nature breathe into his soul her beauty and her calm. Of one such occasion he wrote: 'For a month I did nothing but play with the children and read old books to my girls. I then went into the woods and called moose with the old hunters, camping out night after night, listening to their stories, calming my thoughts with the perfect stillness of the forest, and forgetting the bitterness of conflict amid the beauties of nature.'

But while he was thus the child of Nova Scotia, he was her creator as well. Early Nova Scotia was rather a collection of scattered little settlements than a province. To Howe, in great measure, she owed her unity.


The first settlements in the Acadian peninsula were made by the French, in the fertile diked lands at the head of the Bay of Fundy. To the number of six thousand these Acadians were driven out on the eve of the Seven Years' War, a tragedy told of in Longfellow's Evangeline. In after years many of them crept back to different parts of their beloved province, and little settlements here and there, from Pubnico in the south to Cheticamp in the north-west, still speak the speech of Old France.

In 1713 the province became British, and in 1749 Halifax was founded by the British government. From this time on, bands of emigrants from various countries settled in districts often widely separated, and established rude farming and fishing communities, very largely self-contained. Howe knew and loved them all. In one of his speeches he thus sketched the process: 'A small band of English adventurers, under Cornwallis, laid the foundation of Halifax. These, at a critical moment, were reinforced by the Loyalist emigration, which flowed into our western counties and laid broad and deep the foundation of their prosperity. A few hardy emigrants from the old colonies and their {5} descendants built up the maritime county of Yarmouth. Two men of that stock first discovered the value of Locke's Island, the commercial centre of East Shelburne. A few hundreds of sturdy Germans peopled the beautiful county of Lunenburg. A handful of emigrants from Yorkshire gave animation to the county of Cumberland. The vale of Colchester has been made to blossom as the rose by the industry of a few adventurers from the north of Ireland. Half a century ago a few poor but pious Lowland Scotsmen penetrated into Pictou. They were followed by a few hundreds of Highlanders, many of them "evicted" from the Duchess of Sutherland's estates. Look at Pictou now, with its beautiful river slopes and fertile mountain settlements, its one hundred schools, its numerous churches and decent congregations, its productive mines and thirty thousand inhabitants, living in comfort and abundance. The picture rises like magic before the eye, and yet every cheerful tint and feature has been supplied by emigration. At the last election it was said that two hundred and seventy Frasers voted in that county—all of them heads of families and proprietors of land. I doubt if as many of the same name {6} can be found in all Scotland who own real estate.'[1]

Thus the little settlements gradually expanded into prosperous fishing and farming communities, on the statistics of whose steadily growing exports and imports Howe loved to dwell. But they long lacked a common consciousness, and no man did so much to knit them together as Howe. Germans of Lunenburg, New Englanders of Annapolis and Cornwallis, Loyalists of Shelburne, Scottish Presbyterians of Pictou, Scottish Roman Catholics of Antigonish, French of Tracadie and Cheticamp, and Irish of Halifax, all learned from him to be Nova Scotians and to 'brag of their country.' The chief influences making for union were the growth of roads, the growth of political discussion, and the growth of newspapers; and to all three Howe contributed. Both as politician and as editor he toured the province from end to end, walked, drove, or rode along the country lanes, and in learning to love its every nook and cranny taught its people their duty to one another and to the province. In those days when there were few highways, and bridle-paths were dignified with the name of roads; {7} when the fishermen and farmers along the coast did their business with Halifax by semi-annual visits in their boats or smacks; when the postmen carried Her Majesty's mail to Annapolis in a queer little gig that could accommodate one passenger; when the mail to Pictou and the Gulf of St Lawrence was stowed away in one of the great-coat pockets of a sturdy pedestrian, who kept the other pocket free for the partridges he shot on the way, we can fancy what an event in any part of the province the appearance of Joe Howe must have been.

Halifax, the capital, where Howe was born, engrossed most of the social and political life of the province; in fact, it was the province. The only other port in Nova Scotia proper that vessels could enter with foreign produce was Pictou. A few Halifax merchants did all the trade. Halifax was an old city, as colonial cities count. It was near Great Britain as compared with Quebec, Kingston, or Toronto; much nearer, relatively, then than now. The harbour was open all the year round, giving unbroken communication with the mother country. Halifax had a large garrison, and it was the summer headquarters of the North American fleet. On these and other accounts {8} it seemed to be the most desirable place for a British gentleman to settle in, and many accordingly did settle in it. Their children entered the Army or Navy or Civil Service, and many distinguished themselves highly.

Halifax was essentially a naval and military town. As such it was proud of its great traditions. It was into Halifax Harbour, on Whitsunday 1813, just as the bells were calling to church, that the Shannon towed the Chesapeake. Captain Broke had been wounded and the first lieutenant killed, and the Shannon was commanded by a Halifax boy, her second lieutenant. Of these glories no one was prouder than Howe. 'On some of the hardest fought fields of the Peninsula,' he said, 'my countrymen died in the front rank, with their faces to the foe. The proudest naval trophy of the last American war was brought by a Nova Scotian into the harbour of his native town; and the blood that flowed from Nelson's death-wound in the cockpit of the Victory mingled with that of a Nova Scotian stripling beside him, struck down in the same glorious fight.'[2]

On summer nights the whole population turned out to hear the regimental band. One of the great functions of the week was the {9} Sunday church parade of the garrison to St Paul's Church, which had been built in the year of the founding of the city. On these occasions the scarlet and ermine of the chief justice vied in splendour with the gold lace of the admiral and of the general. Whether this was altogether good for the town may be doubted. It gave the young men of civilian families a tendency to ape the military classes and to despise business. The private soldiers and non-commissioned officers, with little to do in the piping times of peace, took to the dissipations of the garrison town. Drunkenness was common, though not more so than in the England of that day. 'I ask you,' said Howe in his first great speech, 'if ever you knew a town of the size and respectability of Halifax where the peace was worse preserved? Scarcely a night passes that there are not cries of murder in the upper streets; scarcely a day that there are not two or three fights upon the wharves.'

Yet along with the drink and the snobbishness went much of finer grain. Many of the British officers brought traditions and standards of social life and of culture sometimes lacking in the Canada of to-day. At the dinner-tables of Halifax in the early nineteenth {10} century, when the merchant aristocracy dined the officers, the standard of manners was often high and the range of the conversation wide.

From the rest of British North America Nova Scotia was cut off by hundreds of miles of tumbled, lake-studded rock and hill. Its intercourse with the outer world was wholly by sea. The larger loyalty was to England across the Atlantic. It was by sea that Halifax traded with St John and Boston and Portland, which were a hundred times better known in Nova Scotia than were Montreal and Toronto. The staple trade of the merchants was with the West Indies, to which they sent fish and coal and lumber, receiving in return sugar and rum and molasses. Most of this sea-borne commerce centred at Halifax, rather to the detriment of the rest of the province, for from Halifax inland the ways were rough and difficult. But gradually the other coast towns won their privileges and became ports of entry. At Pictou, especially, the industry of building wooden ships grew up, which, until knocked on the head by the use of iron and steel, made Nova Scotian industry known on every sea, and gave her in the fifties a larger tonnage than all the other British colonies combined.

[1] Chisholm, Speeches and Letters, vol. ii, p. 177.

[2] See The War with the United States, chap. v.




Howe was born on the 13th of December 1804, in an old-fashioned cottage on the steep hill that rises up from the city side of the Northwest Arm, a beautiful inlet of the sea stealing up from the entrance of the harbour for three or four miles into the land behind the city of Halifax. A 'lawn with oak-trees round the edges,' a little garden and orchard with apple and cherry trees, surrounded the house. Behind, sombre pine-groves shut it out from the world, and in front, at the foot of the hillside, the cheery waters of the 'Arm' ebbed and flowed in beauty. On the other side of the water, which is not much more than a quarter of a mile wide, rose knolls clothed with almost every native variety of wood, and bare rocky hills, with beautiful little bays sweeping round their feet and quiet coves eating in here and there. A vast country, covered with boulders and dotted with lovely lakes, stretched {12} far beyond. Amid these surroundings the boy grew up, and his love of nature grew with him. In later years he was never tired of praising the 'Arm's enchanted ground,' while for the Arm itself his feelings were those of a lover for his mistress. Here is a little picture he recalls to his sister Jane's memory in after days:

Not a cove but still retaineth Wavelets that we loved of yore, Lightly up the rock-weeds lifting, Gently murmuring o'er the sand; Like romping girls each other chasing, Ever brilliant, ever shifting, Interlaced and interlacing, Till they sink upon the strand.

In his boyish days he haunted these shores, giving to them every hour he could snatch from school or work. He became very fond of the water, and was always much at home in it. He loved the trees and the flowers; but naturally enough, as a healthy boy should, he loved swimming, rowing, skating, lobster-spearing by torch-light, or fishing, much more. He himself describes these years:

The rod, the gun, the spear, the oar, I plied by lake and sea— Happy to swim from shore to shore, Or rove the woodlands free.

In the summer months he went to a school in {13} the city, taught by a Mr Bromley on Lancaster's system. 'What kind of a boy was Joe?' was asked of an old lady who had gone to school with him sixty years before. 'Why, he was a regular dunce; he had a big nose, a big mouth, and a great big ugly head; and he used to chase me to death on my way home from school,' was her ready answer. It is easy to picture the eager, ugly, bright-eyed boy, fonder of a frolic with the girls than of Dilworth's spelling-book. He never had a very handsome face; his features were not chiselled, and the mould was not Grecian. Face and features were Saxon; the eyes light blue, and full of kindly fun. In after years, when he filled and rounded out, he had a manly open look, illumined always as by sunlight for his friends, and a well-proportioned, 'buirdly' form, that well entitled him to the name of man in Queen Elizabeth's full sense of the word. And when his face glowed with the inspiration that burning thoughts and words impart, and his great deep chest swelled and broadened, he looked noble indeed. His old friends describe him as having been a splendid-looking fellow in his best days; while old foes just as honestly assure you that he always had a 'common' look. It is easy {14} to understand that both impressions of him could be justifiably entertained. Very decided merits of expression were needed to compensate for the total absence of beard and for the white face, into which only strong excitement brought any glow of colour.

Howe was fortunate in his father. John Howe was a Loyalist, of Puritan stock which had come to Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. When the American Revolution broke out, alone of his family he was true to the British flag. Many years afterwards his son told a Boston audience that his father 'learned the printing business in this city. He had just completed his apprenticeship, and was engaged to a very pretty girl, when the Revolution broke out. He saw the battle of Bunker's Hill from one of the old houses here; he nursed the wounded when it was over. Adhering to the British side, he was driven out at the evacuation, and retired to Newport, where his betrothed followed him. They were married there, and afterwards settled at Halifax. He left all his household goods and gods behind him, carrying away nothing but his principles and the pretty girl.'

In politics John Howe was a high Tory; in religion a dissenter of the dissenters, {15} belonging to a small sect known as Sandemanians. But neither narrow orthodoxy in politics nor narrow heterodoxy in religion can hide from us the noble, self-less character of Joe Howe's father. No matter how early in the morning his son might get up, if there was any light in the eastern sky, there was the old gentleman sitting at the window, the Bible on his knee. On Sunday mornings he would start early to meet the little flock to whom for many years he preached in an upper room, not as an ordained minister, but as a brother who had gifts—who could expound the Word in a strain of simple eloquence. Puritan in character, in faith, and in devotion to a simple ritual, he gave token that the Puritan organ of combativeness was not undeveloped in him. As a magistrate, also, he doubtless believed that the sword should not be borne in vain; and being an unusually tall, stately man, possessing immense physical strength, he could not have been pleasant in the eyes of law-breakers. The story is told that one Sunday afternoon, as Mr Howe was walking homewards, Bible under his arm, Joe trotting by his side, they came upon two men fighting out their little differences. The old gentleman sternly commanded them to desist, but, very {16} naturally, they only paused long enough to answer him with raillery. 'Hold my Bible, Joe,' said his father. Taking hold of each of the combatants by the neck, and swinging them to and fro as if they were a couple of noisy newspaper boys, he bumped their heads together two or three times; then, with a lunge from the left shoulder, followed by another from the right, he sent them staggering off, till brought up by the ground some twenty or thirty feet apart. 'Now, lads,' calmly remarked the mighty magistrate to the prostrate twain, 'let this be a lesson to you not to break the Sabbath in future'; and, taking his Bible under his arm, he and Joe resumed their walk homewards, the little fellow gazing up with a new admiration on the slightly flushed but always beautiful face of his father. As boy or man, the son never wrote or spoke of him but with reverence. 'For thirty years,' he once said, 'he was my instructor, my play-fellow, almost my daily companion. To him I owe my fondness for reading, my familiarity with the Bible, my knowledge of old Colonial and American incidents and characteristics. He left me nothing but his example and the memory of his many virtues, for all that he ever earned was given to the poor. He was {17} too good for this world; but the remembrance of his high principles, his cheerfulness, his childlike simplicity and truly Christian character, is never absent from my mind.' It was John Howe's practice for years 'to take his Bible under his arm every Sunday afternoon, and, assembling around him in the large room all the prisoners in the Bridewell, to read and explain to them the Word of God. . . . Many were softened by his advice and won by his example; and I have known him to have them, when their time had expired, sleeping unsuspected beneath his roof, until they could get employment in the country.' So testified his son concerning him in Halifax. When too old to do any regular work, he often visited the houses of the poor and infirm in the city and beyond Dartmouth, filling his pockets at a grocer's with packages of tea and sugar before setting out on his expeditions.

After the Revolution Great Britain was not regardless of her exiled children. She treated the Loyalists with a liberality far exceeding that of the United States to the war-worn soldiers of Washington. John Howe was rewarded with the offices of King's Printer, and {18} Postmaster-General of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and the Bermudas. But in spite of these high-sounding titles, the family income was small, and all the economies of Joe's mother—his father's second wife, a shrewd practical Nova Scotian widow—could not stretch it very far. At the age of thirteen young Joe was told that he must go to work. His eldest brother had succeeded to his father's positions, and into the printing-office the boy was sent. He began at the lowest rung of the ladder, learned his trade from the bottom upwards, sweeping out the office, delivering the Gazette, and doing all the multitudinous errands and jobs of printer's boy before he attained to the dignity of setting up type. 'So you're the devil,' said a judge to him on one occasion when the boy was called on as a witness. 'Yes, sir, in the office, but not in the Court House,' he at once answered, with a look and gesture that threw the name back on his lordship, to the great amusement of all present.

His education went on while he learned his trade. The study of books, talks in the long evenings with his father, and intimate loving communion with nature, all contributed to {19} build up his character. While he read everything he could lay hold of, the Bible and Shakespeare were his great teachers. He knew these thoroughly, and to his intimate acquaintance with them he owed that pure well of English undefiled which streamed with equal readiness from his lips and his pen. His taste was formed on English classics, not on cheap novels. His knowledge, not only of the great highways of English literature, but of its nooks, corners, and byways, was singularly thorough. In after years it could easily be seen in his speeches that his knowledge was not of the kind that is crammed for the occasion. It flowed from him without effort, and gave a charm to his ordinary conversation. Though living in the city during his teens, he spent as much of his time at home as he possibly could. He loved the woods, and as he seldom got away from work on a week day, he often spent Sundays among the trees in preference to attending the terribly long-drawn-out Sandemanian service.

His apprenticeship itself was a process of self-education. He worked the press from morn till night, and found in the dull metal the knowledge and the power he loved. One woman—a relative—taught him French. With {20} other women, who were attracted by his brightness, he read the early English dramatists and the more modern poets, especially Campbell, Mrs Hemans, and Byron. He delighted in fun and frolic and sports of all kinds, and was at the head of everything. But amid all his reading and his companionships elsewhere, he never forgot home. He would go out to it in the evening, as often as he could, and after a long swim in the Arm would spend the night with his father. One evening his love for home saved him from drowning. Running out from town and down to the water below the house, he plunged in as usual, but, when a little distance out from shore, was seized with cramp. The remedies in such a case—to kick vigorously or throw oneself on one's back and float—are just the remedies a man feels utterly unable at the time to try. He was alone and drowning when, his eye being turned at the moment to the cottage upon the hillside, he saw the candle for the night just being placed on the window-sill. The light arrested him, and 'there will be sorrow there to-morrow when I'm missed' passed through his mind. The thought made him give so fierce a kick that he fairly kicked the cramp out of his leg. A few strokes {21} brought him to the shore, where he sank down utterly exhausted with excitement.

Had he been anything of a coward, this experience would have kept him from solitary swims for the rest of his life. But he was too fond of the water to give it up so easily. When working in after years at his own paper, midnight often found him at the desk or at the press. After such toil most young men would have gone upstairs (for he lived above his office then) and thrown themselves on their beds, all tired and soiled with ink; but for six or seven months in the year his practice was to throw off his apron and run down to the market slip, and soon the moon or the stars saw him bobbing like a wild duck in the harbour. Cleaned, braced in nerve, and all aglow, he would run back again, and be sleeping the sleep of the just ten minutes after. When tired with literary or political work, a game of rackets always revived him. There was not a better player in Halifax, civilian or military. To his latest days he urged boys to practise manly sports and exercises of all kinds.

Such a boy, fond of communing with nature, with young blood running riot in his veins, and with wild vague ideals and passions intertwined in his heart, inevitably took to writing {22} poetry. But though he had the poet's heart, he had not the concentration of the great poet. All through his life he loved to string together verses, grave and gay. Some of his pasquinades are very clever; some of his serious verse is mellifluous enough; but as a poet he is not even a minor bard. Yet one of his early effusions, named Melville Island, written when he was twenty, was not without influence on his future. Such was its merit that Sir Brenton Halliburton, a very grand old gentleman indeed, went out of his way to compliment the lad and to advise him to cultivate his powers. The few words of praise from a man deservedly respected roused in Howe the high resolve to make letters his career. He deluged the local newspapers with prose and verse, much of which was accepted. In 1827, when just twenty-three years of age, he and another lad bought the Weekly Chronicle, and changed its name to the Acadian, with Howe as editor-in-chief. Before the year had ended his young ambition urged him to sell out to his partner and to buy a larger and more ambitious paper, the Nova Scotian, into possession of which he entered in January 1828. To find the purchase-money he did not hesitate to go deeply into debt.


In the same month he added to his responsibilities and his happiness by his marriage with Catharine Susan Ann Macnab. Men's wives bulk less largely in their biographies than in their lives. Mrs Howe's sweetness and charm were an unfailing strength to her husband. She moderated his extravagance, and bore cheerfully with his habit, so trying to a housekeeper, of filling the house with his friends at all hours and at every meal. Above all, she never nagged, or said 'I told you so.' She believed in him and in his work, and cheered him in his hours of depression. A man of such buoyant feelings, with such charm of manner, was quick to feel the attractions of the bright eyes of the pretty Nova Scotian girls. Many a wife would have taken deep offence at her husband's numerous but superficial flirtations, but Mrs Howe knew better; and when in 1840 he was called out to fight a duel, he could say with truth, in a letter which he wrote to her, and which he entrusted to a friend to be delivered in case he should not return: 'I cannot trust myself to write what I feel. You had my boyish heart, and have shared my love and entire confidence up to this hour.'

Thus in January 1828 Howe found himself {24} with a wife to support and a newspaper to establish. He had to fight with his own hand, and to fight single-handed. When he commenced, he had not 'a single individual, with one exception, capable of writing a paragraph, upon whom he could fall back.' He had to do all himself: to report the debates in the House of Assembly and important trials in the courts, to write the local items as well as the editorials, to prepare digests of British, foreign, and colonial news; in a word, to 'run the whole machine.' He wrote voluminous descriptions of every part of the province that he visited, under the title of 'Eastern and Western Ramblings.' Those rambles laid the foundation of much of his future political power and popularity. He became familiar not only with the province and the character and extent of its resources, but also with every nook and corner of the popular heart. He graduated with honours at the only college he ever attended—what he called 'the best of colleges—a farmer's fireside.' He was admirably qualified physically and socially for this kind of life. He didn't know that he had a digestion, and was ready to eat anything and to sleep anywhere. These were strong points in his favour; for in the {25} hospitable countryside of Nova Scotia, if a visitor does not eat a Benjamin's portion, the good woman of the house suspects that he does not like the food, and that he is pining for the dainties of the city. He would talk farm, fish, or horse with the people as readily as politics or religion. He made himself, or rather he really felt, equally at home in the fisherman's cabin or the log-house of the new settler as with the substantial farmer or well-to-do merchant; he would kiss the women, remember all about the last sickness of the baby, share the jokes of the men and the horse-play of the lads, and be popular with all alike. He came along fresh, hearty, healthy, full of sunlight, brimming over with news, fresh from contact with the great people in Halifax,—yet one of the plain people, hailing them Tom and Jack, and as happy with them as if in the king's palace. 'Joe Howe came to our house last night,' bragged a little girl as she skipped along to school next morning; 'he kissed mamma and kissed me too.' The familiarity was seldom rebuked, for his heartiness was contagious. He was as full of jokes as a pedlar, and had as few airs. A brusqueness of manner and coarseness of speech, which was partly natural, became thus {26} ingrained in him, and party struggles subsequently coarsened his moral fibre. From this absence of refinement flowed a lack of perception of the fitting that often made him speak loosely, even when men and women were by to whom such a style gave positive pain. No doubt much of his coarseness, like that of every humorist, was based on honesty and hatred of shams. When he saw silly peacocks strutting about and trying to fill the horizon with their tails, he could not help ruffling their feathers and making them scream, were it only to let the world know how unmelodious were their voices. It was generally in the presence of prudes that he referred to unnamable things; and he most affected low phrases when he talked to very superfine people. Still, the vein of coarseness was in him, like the baser stuffs in the ores of precious metals; but his literary taste kept his writings pure.

From his twenty-third to his thirty-first year his education went on in connection with his editorial and other professional work. He became intimate with the leading men in the town. He had trusty friends all over the country. His paper and he were identified as paper and editor have seldom been. All correspondence was addressed, not to an {27} unknown figure of vast, ill-defined proportions called Mr Editor, but simply to Joseph Howe. Even when it was known that he was absent in Europe, the country correspondence always came, and was published in the old way:

'Mr Joseph Howe, Sir——.' He cordially welcomed literary talent of all kinds, giving every man full swing on his own hobby, and changing rapidly from grave to gay, from lively to severe. He cultivated from the first the journalistic spirit of giving fair play in his columns to both sides, even when one of the sides was the editor or the proprietor. After he entered the House of Assembly, the speeches of opponents were as fully and promptly reported as his own. Able men—and the province could boast then of an extraordinary number of really able men—gathered round him or sent contributions to the paper, while from all parts of the country came correspondence, telling Mr Howe what was going on. As he began to feel his powers, and to know that he had power in reserve; to hold his own with older and better educated men; and to taste the sweets of popular applause, that fame which he, like all young poets, had affected to despise appeared beautiful and beckoned him onwards. He loved his country from the first, and, as it responded to {28} him, that love increased, until it became one of his chief objects to excite in the bosoms of the people the attachment to the soil that gave them birth, which is the fruitful parent of the virtues of every great nation.

To promote this object he made sacrifices. He published, between 1828 and 1839, ten volumes, connected with the history, the law, and the literature of the province, often at his own risk. Another of his literary enterprises was the formation of 'The Club,' a body composed of a number of friends who met in Howe's house, discussed the questions of the day, and planned literary sketches, afterwards published in the Nova Scotian. Among those who thus gathered round him, such men as S. G. W. Archibald, Beamish Murdoch, and Jotham Blanchard are now only remembered by students of Nova Scotian history. Even the Irish wit and humour of Laurence O'Connor Doyle gives him but a local immortality. But the names of Thomas C. Haliburton (Sam Slick) and Captain John Kincaid of the Rifle Brigade are known even to superficial students of English literature, and no two men were more regular members of 'The Club.'

Literary rambles and literary sketches were {29} all very well, but what really roused enthusiasm in those days was the political struggle. 'Poetry was the maiden I loved,' said Howe in after years, 'but politics was the harridan I married.' In the early nineteenth century aristocracy and democracy, alike in politics and in society, were fighting their battle all over Europe, and the struggle had spread to the British colonies. In the first year of his editorship Howe had a little brush with the lieutenant-governor and his circle, but not for some time did the crisis come. On the 1st of January 1835 an anonymous letter appeared in the Nova Scotian criticizing the financial administration of the city of Halifax and impugning the integrity of its administrators. Howe as editor was responsible. With his trial for criminal libel, and his speech in his defence, his real political life begins.




To understand the system of government which Howe assailed, we must go back to the very origin of the British colonies. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries an exaggerated importance was attached to money as such. A dollar's worth of gold or silver was held to be of more value than a dollar's worth of grain or timber; not merely more convenient, or more portable, or more easily exchangeable, but absolutely of more value. A country was supposed to be rich in proportion to the amount of money or bullion which it possessed. At first the only colonies prized were those which, like the Spanish, sent bullion to the mother country. Later on, when it was found that bullion need not be brought directly into a country, but might come in the course of trade, this exaggerated belief in money compelled the mother country so to regulate the trade of the colonies as to {31} increase her stores of bullion. To keep as much money as possible within the Empire the colonies were compelled to buy their manufactures in the mother country, and as far as possible to restrict their productions to such raw materials as she herself could not produce, and which she would otherwise be compelled to buy from the foreigner. In carrying out this policy the mother country did her best to be fair; the relation was not so much selfish as maternal. If the colonies were restricted in some ways, they were encouraged in others. If, for example, Virginia was forbidden manufactures, her tobacco was admitted into Great Britain at a lower rate of duty than that of Spain or other foreign countries, and tobacco-growing in England was forbidden altogether.

This system, which was embodied in a series of Acts known as Acts of Trade, or Navigation Acts, did not, in the state of development they had reached, hurt the colonies. In some ways it was actually of advantage to them. A new country, with cheap land and dear labour, must always devote itself mainly to the production of raw materials, and to many of these colonial raw materials Great Britain gave a preference or bounties. At the same {32} time, as was only natural, the tendency was for the colonies to look on the advantages as no more than their due, and on the restrictions as selfish and unjustifiable.

Though attempting thus to regulate the economic development of the colonies, the mother country paid little attention to their political growth. There was indeed in each colony a governor, sent out from England, and a Council, which was supposed to help him in legislation and in government; but more and more power passed, with but little resistance from Great Britain, into the hands of an Assembly elected by the people of the colony. As one Loyalist wrote of them, the Assembly soon discovered 'that themselves were the substance, and the Governor and Board of Council were shadows in their political frame.'

At the American Revolution the revolutionary leaders were, in the main, men of the people, trained in political arts and eloquence in these local assemblies; their complaints against the mother country were, in part at least, against her restrictive colonial system. Hence, after the winning of American independence, when the mother country endeavoured to draw lessons from her defeat, it {33} appeared to her statesmen that the colonies had been lost through too much political democracy in them and too much economic control by her. Thus after the Revolution we find a series of favours given to colonial trade. The timber trade and the shipbuilding of Nova Scotia were aided by bounties and preferential duties. Her commerce was still largely with Great Britain, where she purchased manufactured articles, though even here certain concessions were made; but so important were the favours considered that not even Howe thought the control a grievance, and when in 1846-49 Great Britain inaugurated free trade and put the colonies upon their own feet, Nova Scotians, while not despairing as openly as did the people of Montreal, yet thought it a very great blow indeed.

While conferring these favours, Great Britain exercised a growing control over Nova Scotian political affairs. The Assembly, granted in 1758, was indeed retained, but a restraining hand was kept on it by the Colonial Office in London, through the governor and the Council. An attempt was made to combine representative and irresponsible government. The House of Assembly might talk, and raise money, but it did not control the expenditure, the {34} patronage, or the administration, and it could neither make nor unmake the ministry. The more important House was the Council, which consisted of twelve gentlemen appointed by the king, and holding their offices practically for life. This body was at once the Upper House of the Legislature, corresponding to our present Senate, and the Executive or Cabinet. It was also to a certain extent a judicial body, being the Supreme Court of Divorce for the province. It sat with closed doors, admitting no responsibility to the people. Yet no bill could pass but by its consent. It discharged all the functions of government; all patronage was vested in it. It might do these things ill; its administration might be condemned by every one of the representatives of the people; but its authority remained unaffected.

In this Council sat the heads of departments, as they do in our modern Cabinet. They were appointed in and by Great Britain, and helped to control the commercial policy. Another member was the bishop of the Anglican Church, for the seemly ceremonies and graded orders of clergy of this body were deemed to be a counterpoise to popular vagaries and vulgarity. Prior to the American Revolutionary War there had been no colonial bishopric; {35} three years after its close the first bishop of Nova Scotia was appointed.

Owing to the favour shown to this Church, education long remained almost entirely in its hands, and to the political struggle an element of religious bitterness was added. King's College at Windsor, at first the only institution of higher learning in the province, was not open to any person who should 'frequent the Romish mass, or the meeting houses of Presbyterians, Baptists, or Methodists, or the conventicles or places of worship of any other dissenters from the Church of England, or where divine service shall not be performed according to the liturgy of the Church of England.' It is true that the Church enjoyed no rights which she did not at the time enjoy in England, and that King's College was less illiberal than were the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; but the circumstances were widely different. In England the Anglicans comprised the bulk of the people, and almost the whole of the cultivated and leisured classes; in Nova Scotia they were in the minority. Yet when, in 1820 and again in 1838, an attempt was made to found Dalhousie College at Halifax on a more liberal basis, the opposition of {36} the Church of England led to the failure of the scheme.

In the Council the chief justice had a seat. As a member of the Legislature he made the law; as one of the Executive he administered the law; and as judge he interpreted the law.

But the most potent element in the Council was for some time the bankers. Early in the nineteenth century, when there was no bank in the province, the government had issued notes, for the redemption of which the revenues of the province were pledged. In 1825 some of the more important merchants founded a bank, and issued notes payable in gold, silver, or provincial paper. The Halifax Banking Company, as this institution was called, was simply a private company, with no charter from the province, and that it was allowed to issue notes is an instance of the easy-going ways of those early days. No less than five of its partners were members of the Council. Thus the state of affairs for some years was that there was but one bank in the province, that its notes were redeemable in provincial paper, and that the Council was largely composed of its directors, who could order the province to print as much paper as they wished!

The Halifax Banking Company was of {37} great benefit to the provincial merchants, and, though its partners made large profits, there is no proof that they abused their position on the Council to aid them in business. But the general feeling in the province was one of suspicion, and the combination of financial and legislative monopoly was certainly dangerous. Soon some other citizens endeavoured to found another bank and to have it regularly incorporated by provincial charter, with the proviso that all paper money issued by it should be redeemable in coin. The directors of the Halifax Banking Company fought this proposal fiercely, both in business circles and in the Council, arguing that as the balance of trade was against Nova Scotia, there would rarely be enough 'hard money' in the province to redeem the notes outstanding. In 1832, however, popular clamour forced the legislature to grant its charter to the second bank, the Bank of Nova Scotia. The Halifax Banking Company[1] also continued to do a flourishing business, and during the struggle of Howe and his fellow-reformers against the Council, the influence of its partners was one of the chief causes of complaint.


Thus the Council comprised the leaders in Church and State, among them the chief lawyers and business men. These formed the 'Society' of Halifax, and to them were added the government officials, who were usually appointed from England. Some of the latter were men of honour and energy, but others were mere placemen in need of a job. When the famous Countess of Blessington wished to aid one of her impecunious Irish relations, she had only to give a smile and a few soft words to the Duke of Wellington, and her scape-grace brother found himself quartered for life upon the revenues of Nova Scotia. Charles Duller, in his pamphlet Mr Mother Country of the Colonial Office, hardly exaggerated when he said that 'the patronage of the Colonial Office is the prey of every hungry department of our government. On it the Horse Guards quarters its worn-out general officers as governors; the Admiralty cribs its share; and jobs which even parliamentary rapacity would blush to ask from the Treasury are perpetrated with impunity in the silent realm of Mr Mother Country. O'Connell, we are told, after very bluntly informing Mr Ruthven that he had committed a fraud which would forever unfit him for the society of gentlemen {39} at home, added, in perfect simplicity and kindness of heart, that if he would comply with his wishes and cease to contest Kildare, he might probably be able to get some appointment for him in the colonies.'

When the governor came out entirely ignorant of colonial conditions he naturally fell under the influence of those with whom he dined, and as all dealings with the British government were carried on through him, the Council and the officials had by this means the ear of the Colonial Office. An office-holding oligarchy thus grew up, with traditions and prestige, and known, as in Upper Canada, by the name of the 'Family Compact.' Nowhere did this system seem so strong as in Nova Scotia; nowhere did its leaders show so much ability or a higher sense of honour; nowhere did they endeavour to govern the province in so liberal a spirit. Yet it was fundamentally un-British, and it was to be completely overthrown by the attack of a printer's boy turned editor.

The leaders of the Family Compact in Nova Scotia were not only men of ability and integrity, they had also a reasoned theory of government. Their ablest exponent of this theory and the stoutest defender of the old {40} system was Thomas Chandler Haliburton, Howe's lifelong personal friend and political antagonist.

Haliburton was at once a scholar and a wit. In 1829 Howe published for him his Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia, a work which, in spite of its mistakes, may still be read with profit. In 1836-37 a series of sketches appeared in the Nova Scotian, which were reprinted with the title of The Clockmaker; or the Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville. These were issued in volume form in 1837, and took by storm the English-speaking world. The book has no plot. It tells how the author and his friend Sam, a shrewd vulgar Down-East Yankee, ride up and down the province discoursing on anything and everything. Shrewd, kindly, humorous, with an unfailing eye for a pretty woman or a good horse, selling his clocks by 'a mixture of soft sawder and human natur',' so keen on a trade that he will make a bad bargain rather than none at all, yet so knowing that he almost always comes out ahead, Sam is real to the finger-tips. From Haliburton flows the great stream of American dialect humour. Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, and a dozen others, all trace their descent from him.


But Haliburton's real object was intensely serious. He desired to awake Nova Scotians from their lethargy. 'How much it is to be regretted,' he wrote, 'that, laying aside personal attacks and petty jealousies, they would not unite as one man, and with one mind and one heart apply themselves sedulously to the internal improvement and development of this beautiful province. Its value is utterly unknown, either to the general or local government.' It is in his writings that we find the best exposition and defence of the 'Compact' theory of government.

'Responsible Government,' says Haliburton, 'is responsible nonsense.' Some one must be supreme, and as between colony and mother country, it must be the latter. The governor is sent out by the Colonial Office, and to that office he must be responsible. Were he responsible to his ministers or to the local House of Assembly, he might have to act in a way displeasing to the mother country, and subordination would be at an end. Responsible Government is a form of government only fit for an independent country. It is incompatible with the colonial status.

But not only was Responsible Government impossible for a colony; it would, in any case, {42} be a bad system for Nova Scotia, because it would be too democratic. A wise constitution must be, like that of Great Britain, composed of various elements. Such a mixed constitution Nova Scotia had. The governor contributed a bit of Monarchy, the Council a bit of Aristocracy, the Assembly a bit of Democracy. All had thus their fair share. Under Responsible Government, with all power in the hands of the Legislative Assembly, the balance would be overthrown and the democracy would be supreme. To Haliburton, control by the democracy meant control by the crafty, self-seeking professional politician, as he saw him, or thought he saw him, in the neighbouring United States. The people, well meaning, but ignorant and greedy, were at the mercy of the appeals to prejudice and pocket of these wily knaves. Government should be the affair of the enlightened minority, placed, as far as might be, in a position of security and freedom from temptation. This government would not be perfect, for 'power has a natural tendency to corpulency,' but it would be far superior to an unbridled democracy.

Speaking of the tree of Liberty, which had grown so splendidly in the United States, {43} Haliburton makes an American say to Sam: 'The mobs have broken in and torn down the fences, and snapped off the branches, and scattered all the leaves about, and it looks no better than a gallows tree.' Let the people attend to business, build their railways, develop their water-powers, their farms, and their forests, secure under the fostering care of the select few. 'I guess if they'd talk more of rotations and less of elections, more of them ar dykes and less of banks, and attend more to top-dressing and less to re-dressing, it 'ed be better for 'em. . . . Members in general ain't to be depended on, I tell you. Politics makes a man as crooked as a pack does a pedlar, not that they are so awful heavy, neither, but it teaches a man to stoop in the long run.'

Such, then, was the system and theory of government in Nova Scotia. Well defended as it was, it had one fundamentally weak point: the people of Nova Scotia did not want it. Howe had no great regard for the professional politician, whether in the legislature or in the village store. 'Rum and politics are the two curses of Nova Scotia,' he said. But he saw that it would be absurd to tell the people to let well enough alone, when, rightly or wrongly, {44} they were discontented with their government. The way to put an end to hectic agitation was not to curse or to satirize poor human nature, but to remove the cause of the agitation.

From early days there had been struggles against the oligarchy. In 1830 the speaker of the House, S. G. W. Archibald, protested against an attempt of the Council to lower the duty on brandy. Apart from the evident desire of the great merchants on the Council to get brandy in cheap and sell it dear, he took his stand on the fundamental maxim that taxation was the affair of the people's House alone, that there should be 'no taxation without representation.' A man is not necessarily a village politician because he lives in a village, or a great statesman because the stage on which he struts is wide. In this petty scuffle in an obscure colony were involved the same principles on which John Hampden defied King Charles. The Council gave way, and the old system went on as before.

Then, on the 1st of January 1835, a letter appeared in the Nova Scotian, accusing the magistrates of Halifax of neglect, mismanagement, and corruption, in the government of the city. No names were mentioned; the tone was moderate; but the magistrates were {45} sensitive and prosecuted Howe for libel. At this time there was not an incorporated city in any part of the province. All were governed by magistrates who held their commission from the Crown. When Howe received the attorney-general's notice of trial, he went to two or three lawyers in succession, and asked their opinion. They told him that he had no case, as no considerations were allowed to mitigate the severe principle of those days, that 'the greater the truth the greater the libel.' He resolved to defend himself. The next two weeks he gave up wholly to mastering the law of libel and the principles upon which it was based, and to selecting his facts and documents. With his head full of the subject, and only the two opening paragraphs of his speech written out and committed to memory, he faced the jury. He had spoken before, but only to small meetings, and on no subjects that touched him keenly. Now the Court House was crowded, popular sympathy entirely on his side, and the real subject himself. That magic in the tone that gives a vibrating thrill to an audience sounded for the first time in his voice. All eyes turned to him; all faces gleamed on him; he noticed the tears trickling down one old gentleman's {46} cheeks; he received the sympathy of the crowd, and without knowing gave it back in eloquence. He spoke for six hours and a quarter, and though the chief justice adjourned the court to the next day, the spell was unbroken. He was not only acquitted, but borne home in triumph on the shoulders of the crowd, the first, but by no means the last, time that such an extremely inconvenient honour was paid him by the Halifax populace. When once inside his own house, he rushed to his room and, throwing himself on his bed, burst into passionate weeping—tears of pride, joy, and overwrought emotion—the tears of one who has discovered new founts of feeling and new forces in himself.

On that day the editor leaped into fame as an orator. Early in the next year (1836) the House of Assembly was dissolved. Howe and his friend William Annand were chosen as the Liberal candidates for the county of Halifax, and were elected by large majorities. On taking his seat Howe was at once recognized as the leader of the party, and without delay began the fight.

[1] In 1872 it obtained a charter from the Dominion, but in 1903 was absorbed by the Canadian Bank of Commerce.




One of the oldest political struggles in the world is that of the people to control their government. In this struggle the barons faced King John at Runnymede. In this struggle King Charles I was sent to the block. It is a struggle of which the end is not yet. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the British people worked out what seemed to them a satisfactory solution of the problem, by making the Executive, or Government, responsible to the House of Commons, which in its turn had at certain periods to appeal to the people in a general election.

In this system the Executive holds office just so long as it can obtain the support of a majority in the House of Commons. Thus, while certain members of the Executive may be chosen from the House of Lords or the Legislative Council or the Senate or whatever the Upper House may be called, most of its {48} members must sit in the House of Commons, in order to explain or defend their policy. From this arrangement certain consequences follow.

(1) To be endurable a government must be more or less permanent, must have time to initiate and, partly at least, to carry out its policy. Constantly shifting governments would be intolerable. But if the government depends on the will of a majority, then that majority must also be more or less permanent. Hence we get the party system, by which the House of Commons is divided into two parties, each with a coherent policy. The leaders of the party which has the majority at the general election form the Executive, or Government, and, if they can keep their majority together, these leaders hold office till the people pronounce their verdict at the next general election.

(2) Members of a party will only work together under their leaders if those leaders have a coherent policy on which they agree, and which wins the sympathy of their followers. 'It doesn't matter much what we say, gentlemen,' said a British prime minister to his colleagues on a famous occasion, 'but we must all say the same thing.' Once a government {49} under this system has made up its mind, each member must sink his individual opinion, or must resign.

(3) But while the Cabinet as a body must 'say the same thing,' its members must also be heads of departments, for the competent administration of which they are responsible. One man must have charge of the Customs, another of Finance, another of Justice, and so on.

This system of heads of departments, each responsible for his own branch, but all uniting in a common responsibility for the common policy, and holding office at the will of a majority in the House of Commons, is known as Responsible Government. Under it the sovereign, as has been said, 'reigns but does not govern.' The monarch of England acts only on the will of his advisers. Once the Cabinet has decided, and has had its decision ratified by a majority in the two Houses of Parliament, the monarch has no choice but to obey. Dignified and honourable functions the Crown still has; but in administration the ultimate decision rests with the ministers. 'In England the ministers are king,' said a European monarch.

To every man alike in Great Britain and in {50} the colonies this form of government seemed, as has been said, fit only for an independent nation, and inconsistent with the colonial status. To Howe it was the essential birthright of British freemen, and he determined to vindicate it for his native province.

But Howe was no doctrinaire, bound at all costs to uphold a system. He was a practical man, fighting practical abuses. When parliament met, early in 1837, the young editor, already recognized as the Liberal leader, in company with Laurence O'Connor Doyle, began the fight by bringing in a resolution against the practice of the Council of sitting with closed doors. To this the Council replied that such a matter of procedure concerned themselves alone. Howe replied by introducing into the Assembly a series of twelve resolutions, embracing a general attack on the Council for its secrecy, its irresponsibility, and its ecclesiastical and social one-sidedness, and ending by an appeal to His Majesty 'to take such steps as will ensure responsibility to the Commons.' Eloquent though his speech was in defence of these resolutions, he showed that he did not yet see the line along which salvation was to come. 'You are aware,' he said, 'that in Upper {51} Canada an attempt was made to convert the Executive Council into the semblance of an English ministry, having its members in both branches of the legislature, and holding their positions while they retained the confidence of the country. I am afraid that these colonies, at all events this province, is hardly prepared for the erection of such machinery: I doubt whether it would work well here: and the only other remedy which presents itself is, to endeavour to make both branches of the legislature elective.' Howe had thus diagnosed the disease, but he was inclined to prescribe an inadequate and probably harmful remedy.

The debate on the twelve resolutions was hot. On the question of opening the doors of the Council, Howe had been unanimously followed, but his general attack on that body roused strong feelings among its friends and adherents in the Assembly, and though all his resolutions were passed, on each vote there was a resolute minority. Yet the debate, though hot, was on a high level, and does credit to the political capacity and the sense of decorum of early Nova Scotia.

The Council were prompt to take up the gage of battle. A day or two after their {52} receipt of the resolutions they returned a message which ignored eleven of the twelve, but insisted on the rescinding of the one which spoke of the disposition of some of their members 'to protect their own interests and emoluments at the expense of the public.' They hinted in unmistakable terms that, unless this was rescinded, they would refuse to concur in a bill for voting supply. Their refusal to do so would have meant that, while they were prepared to vote public funds to pay the salaries of the officials, they would hold up all grants for roads, bridges, education, and other public needs.

Great was the consternation. The members of the majority in the House of Assembly saw themselves in anticipation compelled to appear before their constituents and explain that they had been unable to vote this money because they had joined with a pestilent young editor in an attack on his elders and betters.

Howe sat up all night wondering what he should do. Then he determined to take his medicine like a man. On the next day he entered the House with cheerful face and buoyant step. He threw back his coat, a gesture already growing familiar, and stood {53} four-square to the Assembly. 'I feel,' he said, 'that we have now arrived at a point which I had to a certain extent anticipated from the moment I sat down to prepare the resolutions . . . the position in which we are now placed does not take me by surprise. . . . But it may be said, What is to be done? And I answer, Sacrifice neither the revenue nor the cause of reform. In dealing with an enemy who is disposed to take us at disadvantage, like politic soldiers, let us fight with his own weapons. . . . The Council ask us to rescind a particular resolution; I am prepared to give more than they ask and to rescind them all. . . . But I shall follow up that motion by another, for the appointment of a committee to draw up an address to the Crown on the state of the Colony. . . . It is not for me to say, when a committee is appointed, what the address shall contain; but I presume that having these resolutions before them, and knowing what a majority of this Assembly think and feel, they will do their duty, and prepare such a document as will attain the objects for which we have been contending.'[1]


A motion to rescind the twelve resolutions followed and was carried, and the revenues were saved. Before the end of the session Howe's thinking had advanced, and the address to the Crown which his committee prepared implored the monarch either 'to grant us an elective Legislative Council; or to separate the Executive from the Legislative Council, providing for a just representation of all the great interests of the province in both; and, by the introduction into the former of some members of the popular branch and otherwise securing responsibility to the Commons, confer upon the people of this province what they value above all other possessions, the blessings of the British constitution.'

Lord Glenelg, at this time the colonial secretary, was a weak but amiable man. He could not see that in the full grant to the colonies of Responsible Government lay safety; he deemed it 'inconsistent with a due adherence to the essential distinctions between a Metropolitan and a Colonial Government.[1] But he was a kindly soul, who was honestly shocked at the predominance in the Council of the Church of England and the bankers, and he went as far as he dared. In August 1837 dispatches from him arrived, directing {55} the lieutenant-governor to separate the Legislative and the Executive Councils. Of the wisdom of this step he was by no means sure, but he yielded to the wish of the Assembly, 'convinced that their advice will be dictated by more exact and abundant knowledge of the wants and wishes of their constituents than any other persons possess or could venture to claim.' In the new Executive Council the chief justice was not to sit, and the banking and Church of England influences were to be lessened. The Council of Twelve thus became an Executive merely, while a new Legislative Council, or Upper House, of nineteen members, came into being. Though no responsibility to the Commons was acknowledged, and though 'the Queen can give no pledge that the Executive Council will always comprise some members of the Assembly,' four members of the new Executive did actually sit in the Lower House and three in the Upper. Already the fortress was giving way. Instead of finding out the policy of the Executive by an elaborate interchange of written communications, the Assembly could now, whenever it so desired, interrogate such members of the Executive as were chosen from its own body.


Towards the end of this year broke out the rebellion headed in Lower Canada by Papineau and in Upper Canada by William Lyon Mackenzie. Its ignominious failure threatened for a time to overwhelm Howe with charges of similar disloyalty. Luckily he had in 1835 written to Mr H. S. Chapman, a prominent Upper Canadian Reformer, a long letter in which, while sympathizing with the grievances of the Reformers, he had indignantly denounced any attempt to use force, and had vindicated the loyalty of Nova Scotia. This letter he now published, and triumphantly cleared his character.

The rebellion had at least the merit of awakening the British government. When houses went up in smoke, when Canadians with fixed bayonets chased other Canadians through burning streets and slew them as they cried for mercy, the most fat-hearted place-man could not say that all was for the best in the best of all possible colonies. The British government sent out as High Commissioner one of England's ablest men, Lord Durham. His report, published early in 1839, is a landmark in the history of British colonial administration. Disregarding all half-measures, he declared that in Responsible Government {57} alone could salvation for the colonies be found. In clarion tones he proclaimed that thus alone could the deep, pathetic, and ill-repaid loyalty of the Canadas be preserved. But the report had still to be acted on. Lord John Russell, the ablest man in the government, had succeeded Lord Glenelg, and in 1839 he made a speech which did indeed mark an advance on the views of his predecessor, but which fell far short of the wishes of the Canadian Reformers. The internal government of the province, he admitted, must be carried on in accordance with the well-understood wishes of the Canadian people, but he still held Responsible Government to be incompatible with the colonial status. The governor of a colony can be responsible, he said, only to the Crown; to make him responsible to his ministers would be to proclaim him head of an independent state. If the governor must act on the advice of his ministers, he might be forced to choose ministers whose acts would embroil the province, and thereby the whole Empire, with a foreign power.

In answer to this speech Howe wrote to Lord John Russell four open letters, which were republished in almost every Canadian newspaper, and which, issued in pamphlet {58} form, were sent to every British newspaper and member of parliament. Never did he reach a higher level. Vigorous, sparkling, full of apt illustration and sound political thought, they grip 'little Johnny Russell's' speech and shake it to tatters. 'By the beard of the prophet!'—to use one of Howe's favourite oaths—here is a big man, a man with a gift of expression and a grip of principle. They should be read in full, for an extract gives but a truncated idea of their power.

He ridicules the arrogation to itself by the 'Compact' of a monopoly of loyalty. 'It appears to me that a very absurd opinion has long prevailed among many worthy people on both sides of the Atlantic: that the selection of an Executive Council, who, upon most points of domestic policy, will differ from the great body of the inhabitants and the majority of their representatives, is indispensable to the very existence of colonial institutions; and that, if it were otherwise, the colony would fly off, by the operation of some latent principle of mischief, which I have never seen very clearly defined. By those who entertain this view, it is assumed that Great Britain is indebted for the preservation of her colonies, not to the natural affection of their inhabitants—to {59} their pride in her history, to their participation in the benefit of her warlike, scientific, or literary achievements—but to the disinterested patriotism of a dozen or two of persons, whose names are scarcely known in England, except by the clerks in Downing Street; who are remarkable for nothing above their neighbours in the colony, except perhaps the enjoyment of offices too richly endowed; or their zealous efforts to annoy, by the distribution of patronage and the management of public affairs, the great body of the inhabitants, whose sentiments they cannot change.'[2]

He applies Lord John's reasoning to the British towns of London or Glasgow or Aberdeen, and shows what absurd results it would produce. He admits fully that Nova Scotia cannot be independent, and that there are limits beyond which, were her responsible Executive mad enough to pass them, the governor might rightly interpose his veto. But he shows in what a fiasco any such situation would necessarily end. The powers which he leaves to the British government would now, indeed, be thought excessive.

'From what has been already written, it {60} will be seen that I leave to the Sovereign and to the Imperial Parliament the uncontrolled authority over the military and naval force distributed over the colonies; that I carefully abstain from trenching upon their right to bind the whole empire by treaties and other diplomatic arrangements with foreign states; or to regulate the trade of the colonies with the mother country and with each other. I yield to them also the same right of interference which they now exercise over colonies and over English incorporated towns; whenever a desperate case of factious usage of the powers confided, or some reason of state, affecting the preservation of peace and order, call for that interference.'[3]

But he pleads eloquently that the loyalty of Nova Scotia need not be maintained by sending over to govern her a well-intentioned military man, gallant and gouty, with little knowledge of her history or her civil institutions, with a tendency to fall under the control of a small social set, whose interests are different from or adverse to those of the great majority; that it will only strike deeper root if the governor is given as his advisers not such an irresponsible council, but the popular {61} leaders, men strong in the confidence of the province.

Events moved rapidly. In October 1839 Lord John Russell sent out to the governors of the various British North American colonies a circular dispatch of such importance that it was recognized by Sir John Harvey, the governor of New Brunswick, as 'a new and improved constitution.' In this it was said that 'the governor must only oppose the wishes of the Assembly where the honour of the Crown, or the interests of the Empire, are deeply concerned,' and office-holders were warned that they were liable to removal from office 'as often as any sufficient motives of public policy may suggest the expediency of that measure.' A subsequent paragraph stated clearly that this was not meant to introduce the 'spoils system,' but to apply only to the heads of departments and to the other members of the Executive Council.

Sir Colin Campbell, at this time lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, was a very gallant soldier of unstained honour and kindly disposition, a personal friend of the Duke of Wellington, under whom he had proved his valour in India and in the Peninsula. When {62} in 1834 an epidemic of cholera ravaged Halifax, Sir Colin went down into the thick of it, and worked day and night to assuage the distressing agonies of the sufferers. In politics, however, he was under the sway of the Council. He now refused to communicate Lord John Russell's dispatch to the House, and when that body passed a vote of want of confidence in the Executive, Sir Colin met them with a curt reply to the effect that 'I have had every reason to be satisfied with the advice and assistance which they [the Executive] have at all times afforded me.'

But 'there was the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.' Mr J. B. Uniacke rose in the House and stated that, in the conviction of the absurdity of the present irresponsible system, he had tendered to the governor his resignation as an Executive Councillor. Mr Uniacke, a man of fine presence, oratorical gifts, and high social position, had hitherto been the Tory leader and Howe's chief opponent in the House, and his conversion to the side of Responsible Government was indeed a triumph. But there was fierce work still to do. By a large majority the House passed an address to the governor expressing unfeigned sorrow at his refusal to administer {63} the government in accordance with Lord John Russell's dispatch. To this Sir Colin replied that the matter was of too great moment for him to decide, and that he would refer it to Her Majesty's government. This in effect meant that he would spin the affair out for another six months or so, and so shift the burden of decision to his successor. The patience of the House was at an end, and an address to the Crown was passed, detailing the struggle and requesting 'Your Majesty to remove Sir Colin Campbell and send to Nova Scotia a governor who will not only represent the Crown, but carry out its policy with firmness and good faith.'

To ask Her Majesty to remove her representative was an extreme measure. From one end of the province to the other meetings were held. With one antagonist after another Howe crossed swords, and was ever victorious. Lord Sydenham, the governor-general, who though resident in Canada had authority over all British North America, came down to Halifax to look into the matter. He had a long talk with Howe and each yielded to the charm of the other. Such warm friends did they become that during the rest of Sydenham's short life they exchanged frequent letters, and {64} Howe called one of his sons by the name of Sydenham. In September 1840 Lord Falkland was sent out as lieutenant-governor, Sir Colin Campbell having been 'promoted' to the governorship of Ceylon. It is pleasant to think of the old soldier's last meeting with Howe. Passing out from Lord Falkland's first levee, Howe bowed to Sir Colin and would have passed on. The veteran stopped him, and held out his hand, exclaiming, 'We must not part in this way, Mr Howe. We fought out our differences of opinion honestly. You have acted like a man of honour. There is my hand.' The hand was warmly grasped, and on Sir Colin's departure a fine tribute to his chivalry and sense of honour was paid by the Nova Scotian.

With the coming of Lord Falkland the first stage in the struggle was over. That nobleman endeavoured to carry out in Nova Scotia the policy of Lord Sydenham in Canada and to remain in a half-way house. Greatly to their rage, four members of the Executive Council, who held seats in neither branch of the legislature, were at once informed that their services could no longer be retained. Three of the places so vacated were given {65} to Uniacke, Howe, and a third Liberal, and it was agreed that other Liberals should be brought into the Executive Council as vacancies occurred.

This account gives but a poor idea of the excitement in Halifax during these years. In so small a community, where every one knew every one else, personal, social, and political questions became hopelessly intertwined. The fighting was bitter. 'Forced into a cleft stick, there was nothing left for us but to break it,' was Howe's pithy way of putting the case. Naturally enough, the stick objected to being broken. And as in every war, for one man killed in battle five or six die from other causes connected with the war—bad boots, bad food, bad rum, wet clothes, the trenches for beds, hospital fever, and such like—so the open opposition of debate was the least that Howe had to fear. That, as one of the finest peasantry in the world said of Donnybrook, 'was enjoyment.' Howe was once asked by an old sportsman, with whom he had gone fishing for salmon, how he liked that sport. 'Pretty well,' was the answer; 'but, after all, it's not half so exciting as a fortnight's debate in the Legislature, and a doubt as to the division.' The personal {66} slanders in private circles—and he could not afford to be wholly indifferent to them; the misrepresentation not only of motives, but of the actual objects sought to be attained, which circulate from mouth to mouth till they become the established 'they say' of society; those ceaseless petty annoyances and meannesses of persecution which Thackeray declares only women are capable of inflicting; these were showered about and on him like a rain of small-shot, and they do gall, no matter how smilingly a man may bear himself. After all, these people did as most of us would probably have done. They were taught, and they believed easily, that the printer Howe was bad, that he spoke evil of dignitaries, that he was a red republican, and a great many other things equally low. The dignitaries could not control themselves when they had to refer to him; to take him down to the end of a wharf and blow him away from a cannon's mouth into space was the only thing that would satisfy their ideas of the fitness of things. Their women, if they saw him passing along the street, would run from the windows shrieking as if he were a monster whose look was pollution. Their sons talked of horse-whipping, ducking in a horse-pond, {67} fighting duels with him, or doing anything in an honourable or even semi-honourable way to abate the nuisance. Nor did they confine themselves to talk. On one occasion, before Howe became a member of the House, a young fellow inflamed by drink mounted his horse and rode down the street to the printing-office, with broadsword drawn, declaring he would kill Howe. He rode up on the wooden sidewalk, and commenced to smash the windows, at the same time calling on Howe to come forth. Howe, hearing the clatter, rushed out. He had been working at the case, and his trousers were bespattered with ink and his waistcoat was only half buttoned. He appeared on the doorstep with bare head and shirt-sleeves partly rolled up, just as he had been working, and took in the situation at a glance. He did not delay a minute or say a word. His big white face glowed with passion, and going up to the shouting creature he caught him by the wrist, disarmed and unhorsed him, and threw him on his back in a minute. Some years later another young man challenged Howe to a duel. Howe went out, received his fire, and then fired in the air. He was challenged afterwards by several others, but refused to go out again. {68} And he was no coward. There was not a drop of coward's blood in his body. Even a mob did not make him afraid. Once, when the 'young Ireland' party had inflamed the Halifax crowd against him, he walked among them on election day as fearlessly as in the olden time when they were all on his side. He knew that any moment a brickbat might come, crushing in the back of his head, but his face was cheery as usual, and his joke as ready. He fought as an Englishman fights: walking straight up to his enemy, looking him full in the face, and keeping cool as he hit from the shoulder with all his might. And when the fighting was over, he wished it to be done with. 'And now, boys,' said he once to a mob that had gathered at his door, 'if any of you has a stick, just leave it in my porch for a keepsake.' With shouts of laughter the shillelaghs came flying over the heads of the people in front till the porch was filled. The pleasantry gave Howe a stock of fuel, and sent away the mob disarmed and in good humour.

We can see the true resolve that was in such a man, but those who fought hand to hand with him may be excused if they could not see it. He was the enemy of their privileges, therefore of their order, therefore of {69} themselves. It was a bitter pill to swallow when a man in his position was elected member for the county. The flood-gates seemed to have opened. Young gentlemen in and out of college swore great oaths over their wine, and the deeper they drank the louder they swore. Their elders declared that the country was going to the dogs, that in fact it was no longer fit for gentlemen to live in. Young ladies carried themselves with greater hauteur than ever, heroically determined that they at least would do their duty to Society. Old ladies spoke of Antichrist, or sighed for the millennium. All united in sending Howe to Coventry. He felt the stings. 'They have scorned me at their feasts,' he once burst out to a friend, 'and they have insulted me at their funerals!'

When Uniacke left the Tory camp, his own friends and relatives cut him in the street. When Lord Falkland requested the resignations of the four irresponsible councillors, their loyalty to the Crown did not restrain their attacks upon himself. His sending his servants to a concert was spoken of as a deliberate insult to the society of Halifax; and his secretary was accused of robbing a pawnbroker's shop to replenish his wardrobe.

There was too much of human nature in Joe {70} Howe to take all this without striking hard blows in return. He did strike, and he struck from the shoulder. He said what he thought about his opponents with a bluntness that was absolutely appalling to them. He went straight to the mark aimed at with Napoleonic directness. They were stunned. They had been accustomed to be treated so differently. Hitherto there had been so much courtliness of manner in Halifax; the gradations of rank had been recognized by every one; and the great men and the great women had been treated always with deference. But here was a Jacobin who changed all this; who in dealing with them called a spade a spade; who searched pitilessly into their claims to public respect, and if he found them impostors declared them to be impostors; and who advocated principles that would turn everything upside down.

Lord Falkland was a well-meaning young nobleman of great good looks and small political experience. His ruling characteristic was pride. Shortly before leaving Halifax he had his carriage-horses shot, lest on his departure they should fall into plebeian hands. His hauteur was fortified by his wife, {71} daughter by a morganatic marriage of King William IV. Could such a man carry through a compromise, by which men of opposite views should sit in his Cabinet? In Canada it had taken all the skill and political experience of Lord Sydenham; under Sir Charles Metcalfe the new wine burst the old bottles, bespattering more than one reputation in the process. That the new governor would soon take offence at the jovial, self-confident, free manners of Howe was almost certain.

The new Executive Council was a compromise. Prime minister there was none. Its head was still the governor, whom Howe himself admitted to be 'still responsible only to his sovereign.' On the question which in Canada brought about the quarrel between Sir Charles Metcalfe and his advisers, Howe said in 1840 that in Nova Scotia 'the patronage of the country is at his [the governor's] disposal to aid him in carrying on the government.' In 1841 he still accorded him the initiative, saying that 'the governor, as the Queen's representative, still dispenses the patronage, but that as the Council are bound to defend his appointments, the responsibility even as regards appointments is nearly as great in the one case as in the other.'


During these years Howe had a delicate role to play. The extreme and logical members of his own party attacked him as a trimmer; on the other hand, any one of the four extruded councillors was considered by Society to be worth a hundred Howes, and Society was not slow to make its feelings known. The fight was fiercest in the Executive Council, where the party of caution, if not of reaction, was led by the Hon. J. W. Johnston. Tall and distinguished in appearance, with dark flashing eyes and imperious temper, of fine probity in his private life, and with a keen, though somewhat lawyer-like, intellect, Johnston was no unworthy antagonist to the great tribune of the people. Though of good birth, and recognized in Society as Howe was not, he was a Baptist, and so not hampered in the popular mind by any connection with the official Church. Nor were his views on government illiberal. The controversy between him and Howe was rather of temperament than of principles, between the keen lawyer, mistrustful of spontaneity, lingering fondly over his precedents, and the impulsive, over-trustful, over-generous lover of humanity. In the working out of the new system anomalies soon developed, which Falkland {73} was not the man to minimize. Howe himself was still a little misty in his views, and accepted the speakership as well as a seat in the Executive Council, thus becoming at once umpire and participant, a position impossible to-day. In the next year, however, he resigned the speakership to accept the post of collector of customs for Halifax.

But the great wrangle was over the extent to which Responsible Government had been conceded. One member of the government said that 'Responsible Government was responsible nonsense—it was independence. It would be a severing of the link which bound the colony to the mother country.' Johnston, at the time sitting in the Upper House, did not go so far, but said that 'in point of fact it is not the intention to recognize the direct responsibility which has been developed in the address. To concede such would be inconsistent with colonial relations.' There was no fundamental discrepancy between Johnston's views and those of Howe. Later on in the same speech, Johnston, while considering the subject to be 'incapable of exact definition,' yet said that 'the change simply is that it becomes the duty of the representative of Her Majesty to ascertain the wishes and feelings {74} of the people through their representatives, and to make the measures of government conform to these so far as is consistent with his duty to the mother country.' This is really much the same as Howe's statement that 'the Executive, which is to carry on the administration of the country, should sympathize with to a large extent, and be influenced by, and when proper be composed of to a certain degree, those who possess the confidence of the country'; especially when this is taken in connection with his other statement that he had no wish for colonial assemblies 'to interfere in the great national regulations, in arrangements respecting the army or navy of the Empire, or the prerogatives of the parliament or Crown.' But the emphasis was different. Howe insisted on the greatness of the change in local administration; Johnston on the amount of still surviving control by the mother country. The little rift in the lute was already apparent, and was increased by the natural tendency of the governor to consult the courtly Johnston, and to show impatience at the brusque familiarity of Howe.

The tension became greater and greater. There is no reason to doubt that both Howe {75} and Johnston tried to play the game. But their temperaments and their associates were different, and they grew more and more mistrustful of each other. Accusations of treachery began to fly. By the autumn of 1842 Howe had ceased to disguise his 'conviction that the administration, as at present constituted, cannot go on a great while longer.' The final break-up came over the question of education. It is sad that this should have been so, for Howe well knew that education should bring peace and not a sword. We may make education a battle-ground,' he said, 'where the laurels we reap may be wet with the tears of our country.' At this time primary education was optional, given in private schools, aided in some cases by provincial grants. Both Howe and Johnston would fain have substituted a compulsory system, supported by local assessments, but both feared the repugnance of the country voters to direct taxation, and it was not till 1864 that Dr (afterwards Sir) Charles Tupper took this fearless and notable step forward. In the mean time both Howe and Johnston supported the increase of grants to education, the establishment of circulating libraries, and the appointment of a superintendent of education.


But if schools were too few, universities were too many, and it was here that the quarrel began. King's College at Windsor was avowedly Anglican. An attempt had been made in 1838 to revive Dalhousie as undenominational, but the bigotry of Sir Colin Campbell and of a rump board of governors under Presbyterian influence refused to appoint as professor the Rev. Dr Crawley, on the almost openly avowed ground that he was a Baptist. The aggrieved denomination then hived off, and started at Wolfville their own university, known as Acadia. The Roman Catholics had for some time had in operation St Mary's College at Halifax. All these received grants from the government, and were endeavouring to do university work in a very imperfectly educated community of three hundred thousand people.

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