The Winning of Popular Government - A Chronicle of the Union of 1841
by Archibald Macmechan
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[Frontispiece: Burning of the Parliament Buildings, Montreal, 1849. From a colour drawing by C. W. Jefferys]



A Chronicle of the Union of 1841






Copyright in all Countries subscribing to the Berne Convention







I. DURHAM THE DICTATOR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 II. POULETT THOMSON, PEACEMAKER . . . . . . . . . . 25 III. REFORM IN THE SADDLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 IV. THE GREAT ADMINISTRATION . . . . . . . . . . . . 97 V. THE PRINCIPLE ESTABLISHED . . . . . . . . . . . 132 EPILOGUE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161 BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166 INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167



BURNING OF THE PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS, MONTREAL, 1849 Frontispiece From a colour drawing by C. W. Jefferys.

THE EARL OF DURHAM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Facing page 6 After the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

LORD SYDENHAM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 34 From an engraving by G. Browning in M'Gill University Library.

SIR CHARLES BAGOT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 74 From an engraving in the Dominion Archives.

SIR CHARLES METCALFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 82 After a painting by Bradish.

CHARLES, EARL GREY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 98 From the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

SIR LOUIS H. LAFONTAINE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 108 After a photograph by Notman.

THE EARL OF ELGIN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 136 From a daguerreotype.




And let him be dictator For six months and no more.

The curious sightseer in modern Toronto, conducted through the well-kept, endless avenues of handsome dwellings which are that city's pride, might be surprised to learn that at the northern end of the street which cuts the city in two halves, east and west, bands of armed Canadians met in battle less than a century ago. If he continued his travels to Montreal, he might be told, at a certain point, 'Here stood the Parliament Buildings, when our city was the capital of the country; and here a governor-general of Canada was mobbed, pelted with rotten eggs and stones, and narrowly escaped with his life.' And if the intelligent traveller asked the reason for such scenes, where now all is peace, the answer might be given in one word—Politics.

To the young, politics seems rather a stupid {2} sort of game played by the bald and obese middle-aged, for very high stakes, and governed by no rules that any player is bound to respect. Between the rival teams no difference is observable, save that one enjoys the sweets of office and the mouth of the other is watering for them. But this is, of course, the hasty judgment of uncharitable youth. The struggle between political parties in Canada arose in the past from a difference in political principles. It was a difference that could be defined; it could be put into plain words. On the one side and the other the guiding ideas could be formulated; they could be defended and they could be attacked in logical debate. Sometimes it might pass the wit of man to explain the difference between the Ins and the Outs. Sometimes politics may be a game; but often it has been a battle. In support of their political principles the strongest passions of men have been aroused, and their deepest convictions of right and wrong. The things by which men live, their religious creeds, their pride of race, have been enlisted on the one side and the other. This is true of Canadian politics.

That ominous date, 1837, marks a certain climax or culmination in the political {3} development of Canada. The constitution of the country now works with so little friction that those who have not read history assume that it must always have worked so. There is a real danger in forgetting that, not so very long ago, the whole machinery of government in one province broke down, that for months, if not for years, it looked as if civil government in Lower Canada had come to an end, as if the colonial system of Britain had failed beyond all hope. Deus nobis haec otia fecit. But Canada's present tranquillity did not come about by miracle; it came about through the efforts of faulty men contending for political principles in which they believed and for which they were even ready to die. The rebellions of 1837 in Upper and Lower Canada, and what led up to them, the origins and causes of these rebellions, must be understood if the subsequent warfare of parties and the evolution of the scattered colonies of British North America into the compact united Dominion of Canada are not to be a confused and meaningless tale.[1]


Futile and pitiful as were the rebellions, whether regarded as attempts to set up new government or as military adventures, they had widespread and most serious consequences within and without the country. In Britain the news caused consternation. Two more American colonies were in revolt. Battles had been fought and British troops had been defeated. These might prove, as thought Storrow Brown, one of the leaders of the 'Sons of Liberty' in Lower Canada, so many Lexingtons, with a Saratoga and a Yorktown to follow. Sir John Colborne, the commander-in-chief, was asking for reinforcements. In Lower Canada civil government was at an end. There was danger of international complications. For disorders almost without precedent the British parliament found an almost unprecedented remedy. It invested one man with extraordinary powers. He was to be captain-general and commander-in-chief over the provinces of British North America, and also 'High Commissioner for the adjustment of certain important questions depending in the ... Provinces of Lower and Upper Canada respecting the form and future government of the said Provinces.' He was given 'full power and authority ... by {5} all lawful ways and means, to inquire into, and, as far as may be possible, to adjust all questions ... respecting the Form and Administration of the Civil Government' of the provinces as aforesaid. These extraordinary powers were conferred upon a distinguished politician in the name of the young Queen Victoria and during her pleasure. The usual and formal language of the commission, 'especial trust and confidence in the courage, prudence, and loyalty' of the commissioner, has in this case deep meaning; for courage, prudence, and loyalty were all needed, and were all to be put to the test.

The man born for the crisis was a type of a class hardly to be understood by the Canadian democracy. He was an aristocratic radical. His recently acquired title, Lord Durham, must not be allowed to obscure the fact that he was a Lambton, the head of an old county family, which was entitled by its long descent to look down upon half the House of Peers as parvenus. At the family seat, Lambton Castle, in the county of Durham, Lambton after Lambton had lived and reigned like a petty prince. There John George was born in August 1792. His father had been a Whig, a consistent friend of Charles James {6} Fox, at a time when opposition to the government, owing to the wars with France, meant social ostracism; and he had refused a peerage. The son had enjoyed the usual advantages of the young Englishman in his position. He had been educated at Eton and at the university of Cambridge. Three years in a crack cavalry regiment at a time when all England was under arms could have done little to lessen his feeling for his caste. A Gretna Green marriage with an heiress, while he was yet a minor, is characteristic of his impetuous temperament, as is also a duel which he fought with a Mr Beaumont in 1820 during the heat of an election contest. After the period of political reaction following Waterloo, reaction in which all Europe shared, England proceeded on the path of reform towards a modified democracy; and Lambton, entering parliament at the lucky moment, found himself on the crest of the wave. His Whig principles had gained the victory; and his personal ability and energy set him among the leaders of the new reform movement. He was a son-in-law of Earl Grey, the author of the Reform Bill of 1832, and he became a member of the Grey Cabinet. Before the Canadian crisis he had shown his {7} ability to cope with a difficult situation in a diplomatic mission to Russia, where he is said to have succeeded by the exercise of tact. He was nicknamed 'Radical Jack,' but any one less 'democratic,' as the term is commonly understood, it would be hard to find. He surrounded himself with almost regal state during his brief overlordship of Canada. In Quebec, at the Castle of St Louis, he lived like a prince. Many tales are told of his arrogant self-assertion and hauteur. In person he was strikingly handsome. Lawrence painted him when a boy. He was an able public speaker. He had a fiery temper which made co-operation with him almost impossible, and which his weak health no doubt aggravated. He was vain and ambitious. But he was gifted with powers of political insight. He possessed a febrile energy and an earnest desire to serve the common weal. Such was the physician chosen by the British government to cure the cankers of misrule and disaffection in the body politic of Canada.

Lord Durham received his commission in March 1838. But, though the need was urgent for prompt action, he did not immediately set out for Canada. For the delay {8} he was criticized by his political opponents, particularly by Lord Brougham, once his friend, but now his bitterest enemy. On the twenty-fourth of April, however, Durham sailed from Plymouth in H.M.S. Hastings with a party of twenty-two persons. Besides his military aides for decorative purposes, he brought in his suite some of the best brains of the time, Thomas Turton, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, and Carlyle's gigantic pupil, Charles Buller. It is characteristic of Durham that he should bring a band of music with him and that he should work his secretaries hard all the way across the Atlantic. On the twenty-ninth of May the Hastings was at Quebec. Lord Durham was received by the acting administrator, Sir John Colborne, and conducted through the crowded streets between a double hedge of soldiery to the Castle of St Louis, the vice-regal residence.

If Durham had been slow in setting out for the scene of his labours, he wasted no time in attacking his problems upon his arrival in Canada. 'Princely in his style of living, indefatigable in business, energetic and decided, though haughty in manner, and desirous to benefit the Canadas,' is the {9} judgment of a contemporary upon the new ruler. On the day he was sworn to office he issued his first proclamation. Its most significant statements are: 'The honest and conscientious advocates of reform ... will receive from me, without distinction of party, race, or politics, that assistance and encouragement which their patriotism has a right to command ... but the disturbers of the public peace, the violators of the law, the enemies of the Crown and of the British Empire will find in me an uncompromising opponent, determined to put in force against them all the powers civil and military with which I have been invested.' It was a policy of firmness united to conciliation that Durham announced. He came bearing the sheathed sword in one hand and the olive branch in the other. The proclamation was well received; the Canadians were ready to accept him as 'a friend and arbitrator.' He was to earn the right to both titles.

Durham was determined to begin with a clean slate. With a characteristic disregard for precedent, he dismissed the existing Executive Council as well as Colborne's special band of advisers, and formed two new councils in their place, consisting of {10} members of his personal staff, military officers, Canadian judges, the provincial secretary, and the commissary-general. Together they formed a committee of investigation and advice; and, being composed of both local and non-local elements, it was a committee specially fitted to supply the necessary information, and to judge all questions dispassionately from an outside point of view. This committee acting with the High Commissioner took the place of regular constitutional government in Lower Canada. It was an arbitrary makeshift adopted to meet a crisis.

During the long, tedious voyage of the Hastings the High Commissioner had not been idle. He had worked steadily for many hours a day at the knotty Canadian question, studying papers, drafting plans, discussing point after point with his secretaries. Once in the country, he set to work in the most thoroughgoing and systematic way to gather further knowledge. He appointed commissions to report on all special problems of government—education, immigration, municipal government, the management of the crown lands. He obtained reports from all sources; he conferred with men of all shades {11} of political opinion; he called representative deputations from the uttermost regions under his sway; he made a flying visit to Niagara in order to see the country with his own eyes and to study conditions. Such labours were beyond the capacity of any one man; but Durham was ably supported by his band of loyal helpers and a public eager to co-operate. The result of all this activity was the amassing of the priceless data from which was formed the great document known as Lord Durham's Report.

It is generally overlooked that at this period Canada stood in danger from external as well as internal enemies. Hardly had Durham landed at Quebec when there occurred a series of incidents which might have led to war between Great Britain and the United States. A Canadian passenger steamer, the Sir Robert Peel, sailing from Prescott to Kingston, was boarded at Wells Island by one 'Bill' Johnson and a band of armed men with blackened faces. The passengers and crew were put ashore without their effects, and the steamer was set on fire and destroyed. Very soon afterwards an American passenger steamer was fired on by over-zealous sentries at Brockville. Together {12} the twin outrages were almost enough, in the state of feeling on both sides, to set the Empire and the Republic by the ears.

The significance of these and other similar incidents can only be understood by recalling the mental attitude of Americans of the day. They had a robust detestation of everything British. It is not grossly exaggerated by Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewit. And that attitude was entirely natural. The Americans had, or thought they had, beaten the British in two wars. The very reason for the existence of their nation was their opposition to British tyranny. They saw that tyranny in all its balefulness blighting the two Canadas. They saw those oppressed colonies rising, as they themselves had risen, against their oppressors. To make the danger all the more acute, the exiled Canadians, notably William Lyon Mackenzie, went from place to place in the United States inciting the freeborn citizens of the Republic to aid the cause of freedom across the line. There was precedent for intervention. Just a year before the fight at St Charles, an American hero, Sam Houston, had wrested the huge state of Texas from the misrule of Mexico and founded a new and independent republic. {13} Hence arose the huge conspiracy of the 'Hunters' Lodges' all along the northern border of the United States, of which more in the next chapter.

Durham took prompt action. He offered a reward of a thousand pounds for such information as should bring the guilty persons to trial in an American, not a Canadian, court. Thereby he said in effect, 'This is not an international affair. It is a plain offence against the laws of the United States, and I am confident that the United States desires to prevent such outrages.' He followed up this bold declaration of faith in American justice by sending his brother-in-law, Colonel Grey of the 71st Regiment, to Washington to lay the facts before President Van Buren and to remonstrate vigorously against the laxity which permitted an armed force to organize within the borders of the Republic for an attack upon its peaceful neighbour. Such laxity was against the law of nations. As a result of Durham's spirited action, the military forces on both sides of the boundary-line worked in concert to put down such lawlessness. President Van Buren's attitude, however, cost him his popularity in his own country.


The most pressing and most thorny question was how to deal with the hundreds of prisoners who, since the rebellion, had filled the Canadian jails. A large number of these were only suspected of treason; some had been taken in the act of rebellion; and some were confined as ringleaders, charged with crimes no government could overlook and hope to survive. In some countries the solution would have been a simple one: the prisoners would have been backed against the nearest wall and fusilladed in batches, as the Communists were dealt with in Paris in the red quarter of the year 1871. Even in Canada there were hideous cries for bloody reprisals. But the ingrained British habit of giving the worst criminal a fair trial blocked such a ready and easy way of restoring tranquillity. Still, a fair trial was impossible. In the temper then prevailing in the province no French jury would condemn, no English jury would acquit, a Frenchman charged with treason, however great or slight his fault might prove to be. The process of trying so many hundreds of prisoners would be simply so many examples of the law's burdensome delay. To leave them to rot in prison, as King Bomba left political offenders {15} against his rule, was unthinkable. Durham met the difficulty in a bold and merciful way. The young Queen was crowned on June 28, 1838. Such an event is always a season of rejoicing and an opportunity for exercising the royal clemency in the liberation of captives. Following this excellent custom, Durham proclaimed on that day an amnesty in his sovereign's name; and, in a month after his arrival, he gave freedom to hundreds of unfortunates, who had endured many hardships in the old, cruel jails of the time, in addition to the tortures of suspense as to their ultimate fate.

There were some who could not be so released. They were only eight in number, but they were such men as Wolfred Nelson and Robert Bouchette, whose treason was open and notorious. They knew, and Durham knew, that they could not obtain a fair trial. Therefore the High Commissioner overleapt the law, and by an ordinance banished these ringleaders to Bermuda during Her Majesty's pleasure. Durham was much pleased at this happy solution of a difficult and delicate problem. He congratulated himself, as well he might, on having terminated a rebellion without shedding a drop of blood. 'The {16} guilty have received justice, the misguided, mercy,' he wrote to the Queen, 'but at the same time, security is afforded to the loyal and peaceable subjects of this hitherto distracted Province.' Furthermore, his proceedings had been 'approved by all parties—Sir J. Colborne and all the British party, the Canadians and all the French party.' Durham fancied that this question was now settled, and that he could proceed unhampered with his main task of reconstruction. But his justifiable satisfaction was not to last long.

While the High Commissioner was labouring in Canada, as few officials have ever laboured, for the good of the Empire, his enemies and his lukewarm friends in England were between them preparing his downfall. Of his foes, the most bitter and unscrupulous was Brougham, a political Ishmael, a curious compound of malignity and versatile intellectual power. He had criticized Durham's delay in starting for Canada; and he was only too glad of the handle which the autocratic, czar-like ordinance of banishment to Bermuda offered him against his enemy. It is nearly always in the power of a party politician to distort and misrepresent the act {17} of an opponent, however just or blameless that act may be. Brougham made a great pother about the rights of freemen, usurpation, dictatorship. As a lawyer he raised the legal point, that Durham could not banish offenders from Canada to a colony over which he had no jurisdiction. He enlisted other lawyers on his side to attack the composition of Durham's council. The storm Brougham raised might have done no harm, if Durham's political allies had stood by him like men. But the prime minister Melbourne, always a timorous friend, bent before the blast, and Durham's ordinance was disallowed. The High Commissioner, who had been granted such great powers, was held to have exceeded those powers. Durham belonged to the caste which felt a stain upon its honour like a wound. The disallowance of his ordinance by the home authorities was a blow fair in the face. It put an end to his career in Canada, by undermining his authority. In those days of slow communication the news of the disallowance reached him tardily. By a side wind, from an American newspaper, he first learned the fact on the twenty-fifth of September. He at once sent in his resignation, told the {18} people of Canada the reason why in a proclamation, and as soon as possible left the country for ever. Brougham was burned in effigy at Quebec. The lucky eight, already in Bermuda, were speedily released. Never did leaders of an unsuccessful rebellion suffer less for their indiscretion. From Bermuda they proceeded to New York to renew their agitation. On the first of November Durham left Quebec, as he had entered that city, with all the pomp of military pageantry and in a universal display of public interest. He came in a crisis; he left amid a crisis. He had spent five months in office, almost the exact term for which the Romans chose their chief magistrate in a national emergency and named him dictator.

In the eyes of Durham's enemies his ordinance of banishment was a ukase; and, at first blush, it looks like an unwarrantable stretching of his powers. But Durham was on the ground and must necessarily have known the conditions prevailing much better than his critics three thousand miles away. Desperate diseases need desperate remedies. The presumption is always that the man on the ground will be right; and posterity has {19} passed a final judgment of approval on Durham's bold slashing of the Gordian knot. New facts have set the whole matter in a new light. A paper of Buller's,[2] hitherto unpublished, shows that the ordinance was promulgated only after consultation with the prisoners. 'The prisoners who expected the government to avail itself of its power of packing a jury were very ready to petition to be disposed of without trial, and as I had in the meantime ascertained that the proposed mode of dealing with them would not be condemned by the leading men of the British party, Lord Durham adopted the plan proposed.' They regarded banishment as an unexpected mercy, as well they might. The only alternative was the dock, the condemned cell, and the gallows.

On the thirtieth of November Durham landed at Plymouth, and by the middle of the following January he had finished his Report. Early in February it was printed and laid before the House of Commons. The {20} curious legend which credits Buller with the authorship is traceable to Brougham's spite. Macaulay and Brougham met in a London street. The great Whig historian praised the Report. Brougham belittled it. 'The matter,' he averred, 'came from a felon, the style from a coxcomb, and the Dictator furnished only six letters, D-u-r-h-a-m.' The whole question has been carefully discussed by Stuart J. Reid in his Life and Letters of the First Earl of Durham, and the myth has been given its quietus. Even if direct external evidence were lacking, a dispassionate examination of the document itself would dispose of the legend. In style, temper, and method it is in the closest agreement with Durham's public dispatches and private letters.

The drafting of this most notable of state papers was the last of Durham's services to the Empire. A little more than a year later he was dead and laid to rest in his own county. Fifty thousand people attended his funeral. A mausoleum in the form of a Greek temple marks his grave. The funds for this monument were raised by public subscription, such was the force of popular esteem. His dying words were prophetic: 'Canada will one day do justice to my memory.'


The Report was Durham's legacy to his country. It defined once for all the principles that should govern the relations of the colony with the mother country, and laid the foundations of the present Canadian unity. It did not please the factions in Canada; it was too plain-spoken. Exception may be taken, even at the present day, to some of its recommendations and conclusions. But its faithful pictures of 'this hitherto turbulent colony' enable the historical student and the honest patriot to measure the progress the country has since made on the road to nationhood. If unpleasant, it is very easy reading. Few parliamentary reports are closer packed with vital facts or couched in clearer language. To the task of its composition the author brought energy, insight, a sense of public duty, a desire to be fair, and, best of all, an open mind, a perfect readiness to relinquish prepossessions or prejudices in the face of fresh facts. His ample scheme of investigation, as carried out by himself and his corps of able helpers, had put him in control of a huge assemblage of data. On this he reasoned with admirable results.

The Report consists of four parts. The {22} first, and by far the largest, portion deals with Lower Canada, as the main storm centre. The second is concerned with Upper Canada; the third, with the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland. Having diagnosed the disease in the body politic, Durham proposes a remedy. The fourth part is an outline of the curative process suggested.

'I expected to find a contest between a government and a people; I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state.' In that one sentence Durham precises the situation in Lower Canada. Nothing will surprise the Canadian of to-day more than the evidence adduced of 'the deadly animosity' which then existed between the two races. The very children in the streets fought, French against English. Social intercourse between the two was impossible. The Report shows the historical origin and carefully traces the course of this 'deadly animosity.' It finds much to admire in the character of the French habitant, but spares neither his faults nor the shortcomings of his political leaders. It shows that the original racial quarrel was aggravated by the conduct of the governing officials, both at home and in Canada, until the French took up arms. {23} The consequences were 'evils which no civilized community can long continue to bear.' There must be a 'decision'; and it must be 'prompt and final.'

In Upper Canada Durham found a different situation. There the people were not 'slavish tools of a narrow official clique or a few purse-proud merchants,' but 'hardy farmers and humble mechanics composing a very independent, not very manageable, and sometimes a rather turbulent democracy.' The trouble was that a small party had secured a monopoly of power and resisted the lawful efforts of moderate reformers to establish a truly democratic form of government. Ill-balanced extremists had taken up arms; but the sound political instinct of the vast majority was against them. Here, too, the original difficulties had been complicated by official ignorance in England and the unwisdom of authorities on the spot. The result was that these 'ample and fertile territories' were in a backward, almost desperate, condition. Their poverty and stagnation were a depressing contrast to the prosperity and exhilarating stir of the great American democracy.

The other outlying provinces presented no {24} such serious problems. There were various anomalies and difficulties; but they were on their way to removal.

The 'evils which no civilized community could bear' were to be cured by a legislative union of the Canadas. The time had gone by for a federal union. A door must be either open or shut; the French province must become definitely a British province and find its place in the Empire. To end the everlasting deadlock between the governor and the representatives of the people, the Executive should be made responsible to the Assembly; and, in order to bring the scattered provinces closer together, an inter-colonial railway should be built. In other words, the obsolete, bad system of colonial government must undergo radical reform, both within and without, because 'while the present state of things is allowed to last, the actual inhabitants of these provinces have no security for person or property, no enjoyment of what they possess, no stimulus to industry.'

The story of how this reform was undertaken, and of how, in spite of many obstacles, it was brought to a triumphant success, must always remain one of the most important chapters in the political history of Canada.

[1] The story of the rebellions will be found in two other volumes of the present Series, The Family Compact and The Patriotes of '37, For earlier cognate history see The Father of British Canada and The United Empire Loyalists.

[2] A sketch of Lord Durham's mission to Canada in 1838, by Charles Buller. See the edition of Lord Durham's Report edited, with an introduction, by Sir C. P. Lucas: Oxford, 1912. The original document was given to Dr Arthur G. Doughty, Dominion Archivist, by the present Earl of Durham.




Wounded and angry at what he considered an intolerable affront, Durham had placed the reins of government in the firm hands of that fine old soldier, Sir John Colborne, and had gone to speak with his enemies in the gate. Not only was the cause of Canada left bleeding; but as soon as Durham's back was turned, rebellion broke out once more. This second outbreak arose from the support afforded the Canadian revolutionists by American 'sympathizers.' The full story of the 'Hunters' Lodges' has never been told, and the sentiment animating that organization has been quite naturally misunderstood and misrepresented by Canadian historians. In the thirties of the nineteenth century western New York was the 'frontier,' and it was peopled by wild, illiterate frontiersmen, familiar with the use of the rifle and the bowie-knife, bred in the Revolutionary {26} tradition and nourished on Fourth of July oratory to a hatred of everything British. The memories of 1812 were fresh in every mind. These simple souls were told by their own leaders and by political refugees from Canada, such as William Lyon Mackenzie, that the two provinces were groaning under the yoke of the 'bloody Queen of England,' that they were seething with discontent, that all they needed was a little assistance from free, chivalrous Americans and the oppressed colonists would shake off British tyranny for ever. Appeal was made to less exalted sentiment. Each patriot was to receive a handsome grant of land in the newly gained territory. Accordingly, in the spring and summer of 1838, a large scheme to give armed support to the republicans of Canada was secretly organized all along the northern boundary of the United States. It was a secret society of 'Hunters' Lodges,' with ritual, passwords, degrees. Each 'Lodge,' was an independent local body, but a band of organizers kept control of the whole series from New York to Detroit. The 'Hunters' are uniformly called 'brigands' and 'banditti' by the British regular officers who fought them, and the terms have been {27} handed on without critical examination by Canadian historians; but not with justice. Misled though they were, the 'Hunters' looked upon Canada only as Englishmen looked upon Greece, or Poland, or Italy struggling for political freedom: the sentiment, though misdirected, was anything but ignoble. Acting upon this sentiment, a Polish refugee, Von Shoultz, led a small force of 'Hunters,' boys and young men from New York State, in an attack on Prescott, November 10, 1838. He succeeded in surprising the town and in establishing himself in a strong position in and about the old windmill, which is now the lighthouse. His position was technically a 'bridge-head,' and he defeated with heavy loss the first attempt to turn him out of it. If he had been properly supported from the American side of the river, and if the Canadians had really been ready to rise en masse as he had been led to believe, the history of Canada might have been changed. As it was, the invaders were cut off, and, on the threat of bombardment with heavy guns, surrendered. Their leader paid for his mistaken chivalry with his life on the gallows within old Fort Henry at Kingston; and, {28} in recognition of his error, he left in his will a sum of money to benefit the families of those on the British side who had lost their lives through his invasion. Of his followers, some were hanged, some were transported to Tasmania, and some were set free. During that winter the 'Hunters' made various other attacks along the border, which were defeated with little effort. Though now the danger seems to have been slight, it did not seem slight to the rulers of the Canadas at that time. The numbers and the power of the 'Hunters' were not known; the sympathy of the American people was with them, especially while the filibusters were being tried at drum-head court-martial and hanged; and there was imminent danger of the United States being hurried by popular clamour into a war with Great Britain.

All through the summer of 1838 the rebel leaders in the United States had been plotting for a new insurrection. They were by no means convinced that their cause was lost. Disaffection was kept alive in parts of Lower Canada and the habitants were fed with hopes that the armed assistance of American sympathizers would ensure success for a second attempt at independence. It may be {29} the sheerest accident of dates; but Durham took ship at Quebec on the first of November, and Dr Robert Nelson was declared president of the Canadian republic at Napierville on the fourth. A copy of Nelson's proclamation preserved in the Archives at Ottawa furnishes clear evidence of the aims and intentions of the Canadian radicals: they wanted nothing less than a separate, independent republic, and they solemnly renounced allegiance to Great Britain. At two points near the American boundary-line, Napierville and Odelltown, the loyal militia and regulars clashed with the rebels and dispersed them. Once more the jails were filled, which the mercy of Durham had emptied. Once more the cry was raised for rebel blood, and the winter sky was red with the flame of burning houses which had sheltered the insurgents. Hundreds of French Canadians fled across the border; and from this year dates the immigration from Quebec into New England which has had such an influence on its manufacturing cities and such a reaction on the population which remained at home. Another fruit of this ill-starred rebellion was the haunting dirge of Gerin-Lajoie, Un Canadien errant. Twelve of the leaders were {30} tried for treason, were found guilty, and were hanged in Montreal. Some of these had been pardoned once for their part in the rising of the previous year; some were implicated in plain murder; all were guilty; but the chill deliberate formalities of the gallows, the sufferings of the wretched men, their bearing on the scaffold, the vain efforts to obtain reprieve, produced a strong revulsion of popular feeling in their favour. By the common law of nations they were traitors; but they are still named and accounted 'patriots.'

At Toronto, Lount and Matthews, two of the rebel leaders of Upper Canada, were hanged in the jail-yard on April 12, 1839. A petition for mercy was set aside; Lount's wife on her knees begged the lieutenant-governor to spare her husband's life, but in vain. Here, too, public feeling was chiefly pity for the unfortunate. But these executions did not satisfy the extremists. The lieutenant-governor, Sir George Arthur, who had long been governor of the penal settlement in Tasmania, was avowedly in favour of further severities; and vengeful loyalists clamoured in support. All Durham's work seemed undone. The political outlook of {31} the Canadas in 1839 was, if anything, darker and more hopeless than it had been two years before.

Almost as grave as the political condition of the country was the financial situation. The rebellions of '37 coincided with a wide-spread financial crisis in the United States, which had its inevitable reaction upon all business in Canada, and matters had gone from bad to worse. By the summer of 1839 Upper Canada—the present rich and prosperous Ontario—was on the verge of bankruptcy. The reason lay in the ambition of this province. The first roads into any new country are the rivers. Therefore the population of Canada first followed and settled along the ancient waterway of the St Lawrence and the Great Lakes. But this wonderful highway was blocked here and there by natural obstacles to navigation, long series of rapids and the giant escarpment of Niagara. To overcome these obstacles the costly Cornwall and Welland canals had been projected and built. The money for such vast public works was not to be found in a new country in the pioneer stage of development; it had to be borrowed outside; and the annual interest on these borrowings amounted {32} to L75,000, more than half the annual income of the province. And this huge interest charge was met by the disastrous policy of further borrowings. After Poulett Thomson, Durham's successor, became acquainted with Upper Canada—'the finest country I ever saw,' wrote the man who had seen all Europe—he testified: 'The finances are more deranged than we believed in England.... All public works suspended. Emigration going on fast from the province. Every man's property worth only half what it was.' Decidedly the political and financial problems of Canada demanded the highest skill for their solution.

While things had come to this pass in Canada, Lord Durham's Report on Canada had been presented to the British House of Commons and its proposals of reform had been made known to the British public. It revealed the incompetency of Lord Glenelg as colonial secretary; he resigned and made way for Lord John Russell, who was in hearty accord with the principles and recommendations of the Report. The chief recommendation was that the only possible solution of the Canadian problem lay in the political union of the two provinces. At first the British {33} government was inclined to bring about this desirable end by direct Imperial fiat, but in view of the determined opposition of Upper Canada, it wisely decided to obtain the consent of the two provinces themselves to a new status, and to induce them, if possible, to unite of their own motion in a new political entity. The essential thing was to obtain the consent of the governed; but they were turbulent, torn by factions, and hard to bring to reason.

For a task of such difficulty and delicacy no ordinary man was required. Sir John Colborne was not equal to it; he was a plain soldier, but no diplomat. He was raised to the peerage as Lord Seaton and transferred. A second High Commissioner, with practically the powers of a dictator, was appointed governor-general in his stead. This was a young parliamentarian, of antecedents, training, and outlook very different from those of his predecessors. Instead of the Army or the county family, the new governor-general represented the dignity of old-fashioned London mercantile life. Charles Poulett Thomson had been in trade; he had been a partner in the firm of Thomson, Bonar and Co., tallow-chandlers. Now tallow-chandlery is not {34} generally regarded as a very exalted form of business, or the gateway to high position; but in the days of candles it was a business of the first importance. Candles were then the only light for the stately homes of England, the House of Commons, the theatres. The battle-lanterns of Britain's thousand ships were lit by candles. Supplies of tallow must be fetched from far lands, such as Russia. And this business formed the governor-general of Canada. As a boy in his teens he was sent into the counting-house, an apprentice to commerce, and so he escaped the 'education of a gentleman' in the brutal public schools and the degenerate universities of the time. Business in those days had a sort of sanctity and was governed by punctilious—almost religious—routine. In the interests of the business he travelled, while young and impressionable, to Russia, and mixed to his advantage with the cosmopolitan society of the capital. Ill-health drove him to the south of France and Italy, where he resided for two years. His was the rare nature which really profits by travel. Thus, in a nation of one tongue, he became a fluent speaker of several European languages; and, in a nation which prides itself on being blunt {35} and plain, he was noted for his suave, pleasing, 'foreign' manners. Poulett Thomson became, in fact, a thorough man of the world, with well-defined ambitions. He left business and entered politics as a thoroughgoing Liberal and a convinced free-trader long before free trade became England's national policy. Another title to distinction was his friendship with Bentham, who assisted personally in the canvass when Thomson stood for Dover. From 1830 onwards he was intimately associated with the leaders of reform. He was a friend of Durham's, and they had worked together in negotiating a commercial treaty with France. Continuity in the new Canadian policy was assured by personal consultations with Durham before Thomson started on his mission. 'Poulett Thomson's policy was based on the Durham Report, and most of his schemes in regard to Canada were devised under Durham's own roof in Cleveland Row.'

Business, travel, and politics combined to form the character of Poulett Thomson. His well-merited titles, Baron Sydenham and Toronto, tend to obscure the fact that he was essentially a member of the great middle class, a civilian who had never worn a sword or {36} a military uniform. He represented that element in English life which is always enriching the House of Peers by the addition of sheer intellectual eminence, like that of Tennyson and Kelvin. He had a sense of humour, a quality of which Head and Durham were devoid. He was amused when he was not bored by the pomp attending his position. 'The worst part of the thing to me, individually, is the ceremonial,' he writes. 'The bore of this is unspeakable. Fancy having to stand for an hour and a half bowing, and then to sit with one's cocked hat on, receiving addresses.' In person Thomson was small, slight, elegant, fragile-looking, with a notably handsome face. He was one of those clever, agreeable, plausible, managing little men who seem always to get their own way. They are very adroit and not too scrupulous about the means they use to attain their ends. They have that absolute belief in themselves which their friends call self-confidence and their enemies conceit.

Thomson came to his arduous task brimming with ambition and belief in his ability to cope with it. He realized to the full the difficulty of the problem set him and {37} the credit which would accrue if he solved it. 'After fifteen years,' a friend wrote, 'you have now the golden opportunity of settling the affairs of Canada upon a safe and firm footing, ensuring good government to the people, and securing ample power to the Crown.' He was fully aware of this himself. 'It is a great field too,' he notes in his private Journal, 'if I can bring about the union of the provinces and stay for a year to meet the united assembly and set them to work'; and he contrasts the opportunity for distinction offered by the Canadian imbroglio with the tame possibilities of a subordinate position in the Cabinet, which would be his fate if he remained in England.

The new governor-general reached Quebec in H.M.S. Pique on October 17, 1839, after a stormy passage of thirty-three days. His first task in Canada was the same as Durham's—to acquaint himself with the actual conditions—and he flung himself into it with equal energy. Like Durham, too, he was ably assisted by capable men on his staff, notably T. W. C. Murdoch, his civil secretary, and James Stuart, the chief justice of Lower Canada. From the very first he won golden {38} opinions from all sorts of persons. The tone of his proclamations, the courtesy and tact of his public utterances, his personal charm made him speedily popular. The party of Reform was conciliated because he was known to be in sympathy with the principles of Lord Durham's Report, while the Conservatives were pleased with his avowed purpose of strengthening the bonds between the colony and the mother country. Lower Canada was still a province without a constitution; but it must have some machinery of government. A makeshift for regular government was provided by a Legislative Council of fourteen persons of importance appointed by Sir John Colborne. Their agreement to the principles of union was soon obtained. The province now seemed tranquil and the governor-general hurried on to Upper Canada. His account of his journey from Montreal to Kingston—the changes and stoppages, the varieties of conveyance—illustrates vividly the difficulties of travel in those days.

At Toronto Thomson found a totally different set of conditions. Here was a constitution functioning and a legislature in session; but what a legislature! Split into half a dozen little cliques and factions, it was {39} trying to work with no cabinet, no opposition, no party system—an ideal state of things to which some critics of present conditions would like to return. The office-holders, that is, the members of the government, took opposite sides in debate. The Assembly was a house divided and sub-divided against itself. There was a wide-spread and persistent clamour for 'responsible government,' but no one knew precisely what was meant by it. Who was to be 'responsible'? for what? and to whom? How was it possible to make the local government 'responsible' to the people of the colony without reducing the governor to a figurehead? If his authority were reduced to a shadow, what became of the 'prerogative' and British connection? Was not 'responsible government' simply the prelude to the absolute separation of the colony from the mother country? Then there was the question of the Clergy Reserves agitating every colonial breast. One-seventh of the public domain had been set aside for the support of a favoured church: a plain case of monopoly and privilege, said some; a wise provision for the maintenance of religion, said others. And the shadow of bankruptcy was {40} hanging over the unhappy colony. The situation was one of the utmost difficulty, calling for an almost superhuman combination of ability, tact, and firmness. Here, as in Lower Canada, the governor-general's first effort was to obtain the consent of the people's representatives to the great change in the status of the province which the union would involve. He carried his point by meeting men and discussing the project with them—a process of education. Although there was some opposition on various grounds, reasonable and unreasonable, the Assembly finally consented to the following terms: first, each province was to have an equal number of representatives; secondly, a sufficient civil list was to be granted; thirdly, the debt incurred by Upper Canada for public works of common interest should be charged upon the revenue of the new united province. These terms could not be called ideal, especially in regard to Lower Canada; but union was the only alternative to benevolent despotism or civil war. In bringing the legislature of Upper Canada to consent to these terms Thomson had the valuable aid of the cohort of Moderate Reformers led by Baldwin and Hincks.


No inconsiderable part of the governor-general's task was a campaign of education in the ABC of responsible government. Those elementary ideas of party government now regarded as axiomatic had to be taught painfully to our rude forefathers in legislation. That the government should have a definite head or leader in the Assembly, who should speak for the government, introduce and defend its measures; that the officials of the government other than those holding permanent posts should form one body—a ministry—which should automatically relinquish office and power when it could no longer command a majority in the legislature, were practically new and by no means welcome ideas to the old-time law-makers of Canada. The natural corollary that the opposition also should be organized under a definite leader, who, on defeating the government, should assume the responsibility of forming a cabinet, was equally novel. Such a check on reckless criticism was sadly needed. Of the process by which Thomson achieved his ends even his fullest biography gives little information. There must have been endless conferences of homespun, honest farmers like Willson, men of breeding like {42} Robinson, brilliant lawyers like Sullivan, plain soldiers like MacNab, with the little, sickly, understanding governor of the brilliant eyes, the charming manner, and the persuasive tongue. Of all the varied explaining, discussing, initiating, little record remains. But the work was done and the results are manifest to the world. The persuasive little man succeeded in persuading the law-makers of Upper Canada that the way out of their difficulties lay not through division but through union. He persuaded them to a change of status which was a reversal to the old status prior to the Constitutional Act, and also a prelude to that larger union of the British colonies in North America which was destined to embrace half the continent.

Having succeeded almost beyond belief in the first part of his mission, Thomson turned his attention to the next vexed question. This was the question of the Clergy Reserves. On this subject much ink had been spilt and much hard feeling engendered; and it still provokes not a little ill-directed sarcasm. The whole matter is in danger of being misunderstood, and eighteenth-century lawmakers are blamed for not possessing ideas a hundred years ahead of their times.


By the terms of the Constitutional Act of 1791 one-seventh of the public lands thereafter to be granted were devoted to 'the Support and Maintenance of a Protestant Clergy.' The provision was due, it seems, to the king himself, pious, homely 'Farmer George'; and to men of his mind no provision could have seemed more natural or right. 'Establishment' had been the rule from time immemorial. The Church of England was 'established,' that is, provided by law with an income in England, in Wales, and in Ireland. The 'Kirk' was similarly 'established' in Scotland. In British America itself the Church of Rome was 'established' very firmly in Lower Canada. What could be more natural for a Protestant monarch than to make provision for a 'Protestant Clergy' in a British colony settled by British immigrants, and purchased with such outpouring of British blood and British treasure? And what more ready and easy way could be found of providing for that 'clergy' than by endowing it with waste lands which taxed no one and which would increase in value as the country became settled? In its essence this endowment was a recognition of the value of the Christian religion in preserving {44} the state. But trouble arose almost at once in the interpretation of the terms 'Protestant' and 'clergy.' Was not the Church of Scotland 'Protestant' as well as the Church of England? Were not the various species of 'Dissenters' also the most vigorous of 'Protestants'? On the other side it was asked, Was not the term 'clergy' applied exclusively to the ministers of the Church of England? It could not apply to any religious teachers outside the pale; those outside the pale never dreamed of applying it to themselves. Naturally other denominations wished to share in this most generous endowment; and quite as naturally the Church of England desired to stand by the letter of the law and hold what it had of legal right. Some extremists opposed any and all establishments, holding that the church should be independent of the state. Let the endowment be used for the sorely pinched cause of education, and let the ministers of all denominations depend solely on the Christian liberality of their people. Perhaps the extremists were in closest touch with the genius of the new land and the new institutions growing up in it. To the plain man in the pioneer settlement there seemed something feudal, something {45} unjust, in creating a privileged church at the expense of all other churches. Pioneer life brings men back to primal realities. To the settler in the log-hut the externals of religion are apt to fade until all churches seem to be much the same: to set one above all the others seems in his eyes so unjust as to admit of no argument in its favour. Besides, he had a very real grievance: the reserved unoccupied lands interfered with his well-being; they came between farm and farm, increased his taxation, and prevented the making of the needful roads. How was he to get to market? to fetch supplies? To-day few will be found to argue for a state church; but it was not so in the twenties and thirties of the last century. The battle raged loud and long; and pamphleteer rent pamphleteer in endless, wordy warfare.

By 1817 the grievance had become clamant; and when that inquisitive agitator, Robert Gourlay, asked the farmers of Upper Canada what hindered settlement, he received the answer—Clergy Reserves. Two years later the Assembly asked for a return of the lands leased and the revenue derived from them. Up to this time the annual revenue had not exceeded L700. In the same {46} year, 1819, the 'Kirk' parish of Niagara applied for a grant of L100, and the law-officers of the Crown supported the claim. This decision stirred up the Anglicans. They formed themselves into a corporation in each province to oversee the administration of the Clergy Reserves. Ownership in the lands was to be obtained, if obtained at all, through the establishment and endowment of separate rectories, as provided for in the original act. Why the directing minds among the Anglicans did not adopt this ready and easy method of obtaining at least the bulk of the disputed land is something of a mystery. Apparently they adopted a policy of all or none. Only in 1836, just before the outbreak of the rebellions, when political feeling was at fever pitch, did Sir John Colborne, at the bidding of Bishop Strachan, sign patents for forty-four parishes to be erected in Upper Canada. The total amount of land devoted to this purpose was seventeen thousand acres. 'This,' declared Lord Durham, 'is regarded by all other teachers of religion in the country as having at once degraded them to a position of legal inferiority to the clergy of the Church of England; and it has been most warmly resented. In the opinion of many persons, {47} this was the chief predisposing cause of the recent insurrection, and it is an abiding and unabated cause of discontent.'

Thomson's way of dealing with this cause of discontent did not dispose of it for ever, but it at least provided a lenitive. With the business man's respect for property and vested interests, he was opposed to the diversion of the grant from its original purpose to the support of education. He used his powers of persuasion upon 'the leading individuals among the principal religious communities.' After 'many interviews' he secured the support of the religious communities to a measure which he had prepared. By the terms of this bill the remainder of the reserved land was to be sold and the proceeds were to form a fund, the income from which should be distributed annually among the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and other specified religious bodies, 'in proportion to their respective numbers.' This measure was not really acceptable to the Reformers, who wanted to see the land used in the cause of education; it was distasteful to the Kirk men; it was gall and wormwood to extreme Anglicans like Bishop Strachan. None the less, the personal {48} influence of the diplomatic, strong-willed little man carried it through; and although the Act itself was disallowed, on excellent grounds, by the Imperial government, as exceeding the powers of the provincial legislature, yet the Imperial parliament passed an Act exactly to the same effect. Thomson had applied a plaster to the sore.

His general view of the political conditions is shown in a private letter to his chief, Lord John Russell. The picture he draws is lively, unflattering, but instructive. 'I am satisfied that the mass of the people are sound—moderate in their demands and attached to British institutions; but they have been oppressed by a miserable little oligarchy on the one hand and excited by a few factious demagogues on the other. I can make a middle reforming party, I am sure, that will put down both.' The record of seventy-five years and of two wars shows the attachment of the Canadians to British institutions, and how justly the governor-general appraised the 'mass of the people.' Not less clearly did he judge the politicians of the day, their pettiness, their naive selfishness, their disregard of rule and form, shocking all the instincts of the British man of business and {49} the trained parliamentary hand. 'You can form no idea,' he continues, 'of the way a Colonial Parliament transacts its business. I got them into comparative order and decency by having measures brought forward by the Government and well and steadily worked through. But when they came to their own affairs, and, above all, to money matters, there was a scene of confusion and riot of which no one in England can have any idea. Every man proposes a vote for his own job; and bills are introduced without notice and carried through all their stages in a quarter of an hour! One of the greatest advantages of the Union will be that it will be possible to introduce a new system of legislating, and above all, a restriction upon the initiation of money-votes. Without the last I would not give a farthing for my bill: and the change would be decidedly popular; for the members all complain that under the present system they cannot refuse to move a job for any constituent who desires it.' Canadians of the present day should study those words without flinching.

When the session was over Thomson posted back to Montreal, assembled his Special Council, and set to work, in the role of {50} benevolent despot, introducing many much-needed reforms. The wheels of government had been definitely blocked by racial hatred; the constitution was still suspended. 'There is positively no machinery of government,' Thomson wrote in a private letter. 'Everything is to be done by the governor and his secretary.' There were no heads of departments accessible. When a vacancy occurred, the practice was to appoint two men to fill it, one French and the other English. There were joint sheriffs, and joint crown surveyors, who worked against each other. Ably seconded by the chief justice Stuart, the energetic governor succeeded in reforming the procedure of the higher courts of judicature and in establishing district courts after the model of Upper Canada. Altogether, twenty-one ordinances were passed which had the force of law. They were indispensable, in Thomson's opinion, in paving the way for the Union. He was under no illusions as to his methods. 'Nothing but a despotism could have got them through. A House of Assembly, whether single or double, would have spent ten years at them,' he writes, with perfect truth.

The Maritime Provinces next claimed his {51} attention, as they came within the scope of his commission. In Nova Scotia, likewise, a struggle for responsible government was in progress, but with striking differences. The protagonist of the movement, Howe, was the very reverse of a separatist. He was passionately attached to Britain and British institutions, and he thought not in terms of his little province, but of the Empire. Over-topping all other politicians of his day in native power and breadth of vision, he was successful in working out the problem of responsible government by purely constitutional methods, without a symptom of rebellion, the loss of a single life or any deus ex machina dictator or pacificator from across the seas. Howe, indeed, was fitted to educate statesmen in the true principles of democratic government, as his famous letters to Lord John Russell testify. Howe's achievement must be compared with the failure of Mackenzie and Papineau, if his true greatness is to appear. When Thomson and he met, they found that they were at one in principle and in respect to the measures necessary to bring about the desired reforms. That month of July 1840 was a very busy one for the governor-general. He reached Halifax on the ninth and left on {52} the twenty-eighth for Quebec. In the meantime he had met many men, discussed many measures, gauged the situation correctly, drafted a clear memorandum of it, and made a flying visit to St John and Fredericton. He found New Brunswick happy and contented, a very oasis of peace in the howling wilderness of colonial politics. His policy was to get into personal touch with every part of his government and to see it with his own eyes. On his way back to Montreal from Quebec he made a detour through the Eastern Townships. Everywhere he increased his already great popularity.

Apart from his natural and commendable desire to inform himself by the evidence of his own eyes and ears, these tours were dictated by sound policy. The governor-general was his own minister, the approaching election was his election, the Union was his measure; so his public appearances, speeches, replies to addresses, personal interviews were all in the nature of an election tour by a modern political leader to influence public opinion, a legitimate part of his campaign. After touring the Eastern Townships he made a thorough visitation of the western province, going round by water, and {53} being nearly wrecked on Lake Erie and again on Lake Huron, where he found that the inland freshwater sea could be as turbulent as the Bay of Biscay. Elsewhere the Canadian autumn weather was delightful. His precarious health improved. His tour was a triumphal progress. 'All parties,' he writes, 'uniting in addresses in every place, full of confidence in my government, and of a determination to forget their former disputes.' He adds a little pen-picture, which shows that the Canadian pioneer had a knack of impromptu pageantry which his descendants have lost. 'Escorts of two and three hundred farmers on horseback at every place from township to township, with all the etceteras of guns, music, and flags.' The governor rode a good deal himself, taking saddle-horses with him as well as a carriage. Those musical, gun-firing, flag-flying cavalcades from township to township in the pleasant autumn weather of 1840 enliven the background of a political struggle. 'What is of more importance,' continues the astute and businesslike little man, 'my candidates everywhere taken for the ensuing elections.' This western tour had an important reaction upon public opinion in Toronto, bringing the {54} divers factions into something like harmony for a time. Thomson himself was genuinely pleased with what he had seen of that rich, heart-shaped peninsula lying behind the moat of three inland seas, with the flowing names, Huron, Erie, Ontario. He writes in justifiable superlatives. 'You can conceive nothing finer. The most magnificent soil in the world—four feet of vegetable mould—a climate certainly the best in North America—the greater part of it admirably watered. In a word, there is land enough and capabilities enough for some millions of people and for one of the finest provinces in the world.' Half a century from the time of writing the governor's vision was realized and Ontario was the 'banner province' of the Dominion.

During that busy month of July which the governor had spent in the Maritime Provinces the Act of Union passed by the Imperial parliament had taken effect. The two provinces were proclaimed to be one province with one legislature. It was necessary to issue a new commission for the governor of the new province, and, to mark the importance of his achievement, Charles Poulett Thomson was created a peer, Baron Sydenham of Sydenham in Kent and Toronto in Canada. {55} One advantage of a monarchy is its ability to reward service to the state in a splendid way. Sydenham's honour was well deserved, but he was not destined to enjoy it long. His activity in no way relaxed. An essential part of the scheme of union, as he saw it, was local home rule. The country was to be divided into small self-governing units—municipalities—taxing themselves for their own necessary expenditures and controlling the revenues so raised. This is now such a familiar idea, an institution which works so well, that it is hard to conceive of Canada ever lacking it. Even more difficult to conceive is why the idea should have been opposed by the Imperial parliament so strongly that an advanced Liberal like Lord John Russell was forced to exclude it from the Act of Union. But Sydenham was not easily balked. Being on the ground and seeing the urgent need of such an institution, he called together his wonderful Special Council for one last session. Between them they organized the municipal system which, in modified form, still functions in Quebec. After the Union the system was extended to Ontario, to the great advantage of that province. So thoroughly are Canadians {56} accustomed to managing their own affairs, that they do not realize what a privilege they possess in their municipal system, and how far Great Britain then lagged behind.

Another important measure passed by the expiring Special Council was the Registry Act. To the habitant the selling, mortgaging, and transfer of property was a private affair; he did not see the need for publicity. So the habit of clandestine transfer of land was almost a French habit. The same habit prevailed among the Acadians and had to be dealt with by the English governors. The attempt to put the transfer of land upon a business basis was regarded as an insidious attack upon a national custom. Once more the benevolent despot succeeded in bringing about a much-needed reform. The 'ass's bridge,' as he calls it, had been impassable for twenty years. Now that it was crossed, the exploit met 'the nearly universal assent of French and English.' Some thirty other ukases, all tending to order and the common weal, were issued in the last session of this extraordinary legislative body. One fixed the place of the capital. After much debate on the rival claims of Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Bytown, and {57} Kingston, it was decided that the town with the martello towers guarding the gateway to the Thousand Islands, with its memories of Frontenac and the War of 1812, should be the capital of the new united province. And it was so. About the quiet university town, where Queen's is Grant's monument—si monumentum requiris, circumspice—there lingers still the distinction of the old vice-regal days.

Then came the first election for the new Assembly of the united province, perhaps the most momentous in the history of Canada. Lower Canada was vehemently opposed to the whole scheme. To elect a Union member was, in the words of the Quebec Committee, 'stretching forth the neck to the yoke which is attempted to be placed upon us.' The French were organized into a solid phalanx of opposition. In the western province the Tory and Orange opposition was equally violent towards a measure which was deemed to favour the French. The elections of 1841 were held with the bad old-fashioned accompaniments of riot and bloodshed, especially in the centres, Montreal and Toronto. Neither side was free from the blame of irregular methods. Certainly the government was not {58} scrupulous in the means it employed to secure the return of Union candidates. The results were known early in April. They were as follows: for the government, twenty-four members; French, twenty; Moderate Reformers, twenty; ultra-Reformers, five; Compact party, five; doubtful, seven. The curse of petty faction was not lifted, nor the machinery of two-party government really installed, for it was quite possible for several of these groups to combine in voting down government measures without having sufficient cohesion among themselves to form a ministry and assume control.

The session opened at Kingston on June 14, 1841. A hospital was turned into a parliament house, a row of warehouses was appropriated for government offices, and the fine old stone mansion by the waterside known as 'Alwington' became the residence of the governor-general. That last summer of his life was crowded with toil and anxiety, but crowned with triumph. Acting as his own minister, he had to press through a chaotic and factious legislature, far-seeing measures of vital importance to the country; he had to reconcile differences, to smooth opposition, to continue his campaign of education in {59} parliamentary procedure. In addition to the immediate problem of remaking the Canadas into one province, Sydenham was deep in diplomatic difficulties arising over disputes as to the Maine boundary. This difficulty was settled in 1842 by the Ashburton Treaty, which finally delimited the frontier lines. The strain on the governor-general was severe, and his health, never robust, gave way under it; but the frail form was upborne by the indomitable spirit of the man, and by the consciousness that he was winning the long-desired and doubtful victory. His success was plain to other eyes across the sea. His chief, Lord John Russell, sent gratifying commendations and obtained for him the coveted honour of the Grand Cross of the Bath. Feeling that his mission was accomplished, he sent in his resignation and made his preparations to return to England. The sound he longed to hear was the pealing of the guns from the citadel of Quebec in a final salute to the departing proconsul. He was to obtain release in another way.

Some idea of Sydenham's difficulties may be formed by a consideration of the Baldwin incident, as it has been called. Just before the session opened an effort was made to {60} combine the Moderate Reformers of Upper Canada and the 'solid' French-Canadian party of Lower Canada into a compact parliamentary phalanx of forty which would, of course, take charge of the House. Baldwin was skilfully approached and played upon until he supported this intrigue. The sequel is best told in Sydenham's own words.

Acting upon some principle of conduct, which I can reconcile neither with honour nor common sense, he strove to bring about this Union, and at last having as he thought effected it, coolly proposed to me, on the day before Parliament was to meet, to break up the Government altogether, dismiss several of his Colleagues and replace them by men whom I believe he had not known for twenty-four hours, but who are most of them thoroughly well known in Lower Canada (without going back to darker times) as the principal opponents to every measure for the improvement of that Province which has been passed by me, and as the most uncompromising enemies to the whole of my administration of affairs there.

I had been made aware of this Gentleman's {61} proceedings for two or three days, and certainly could hardly bring myself to tolerate them, but in my great anxiety to avoid if possible any disturbance, I had delayed taking any step. Upon receiving, however, from himself this extraordinary demand, I at once treated it, joined to his previous conduct, as a resignation of his office, and informed him that I accepted it without the least regret.

Of Baldwin's personal integrity there was no doubt; but the honest man had been used as a tool. If the intrigue had succeeded, all Sydenham's labour must have been lost, the Union would have been wrecked in the launching, and the country thrown back into chaos. Fortunately the intrigue failed. Baldwin passed over to the opposition, but he was unable to lead the Reformers of Upper Canada into killing government measures such as extension of the main highways, reform of the usury laws, establishment of a comprehensive municipal system. They followed the sounder leadership of Hincks and supported Sydenham in his wise efforts to promote the country's good.


The whole session was a series of crises. Sydenham stood pledged to the cardinal principle of democratic government, that the majority must rule. Parliamentary procedure, as they have it in England, was a new thing in Canada. In Great Britain the government does not always resign when defeated on a vote, nor does the opposition defeat the government when it has no power to form an alternative government. The only consistent opposition was Neilson's band of French Canadians, and their policy was pure obstruction and their object to separate the two provinces once more. By combining the factions it was possible sometimes to defeat a government, but for the government to throw down the reins of power, with no one on the other side capable of taking them up, would have been madness. The situation craved wary walking and most delicate balancing; but Sydenham was equal to it. Later in the session, when the members had learned their lesson, the governor-general affirmed his position in a series of resolutions moved by Harrison, the leader of the government. In these he asserted: first, his position as representative of the monarch, and, as such, responsible to Imperial {63} authority alone; secondly, the administration must possess the confidence of the representatives of the people; and thirdly, that the administration shall act in accordance with the well-understood wishes and interests of the people. In other words, he declared himself for British connection plus majority rule.

Critics found the first session of the new parliament of Canada a 'do-nothing-but-talk' session. There was indeed a flow of eloquence in various kinds during the first few weeks until the different parties found the proper relations and the serious work of legislation began. Constructive measures of the first importance became law in due course. Sydenham's own words sum up his achievement. 'With a most difficult opening, almost a minority, with passions at boiling heat, and prejudices such as I never saw, to contend with, I have brought the Assembly by degrees into perfect order ready to follow wherever I may lead; have carried all my measures, avoided or beaten off all disputed topics, and have got a ministry with an avowed and recognized majority, capable of doing what they think right, and not to be upset by my successor. I have now accomplished all that I set much {64} value on; for whether the rest be done now, or some sessions hence, matters little. The five great works I aimed at have been got through: the establishment of a board of works with ample powers; the admission of aliens; the regulation of the public lands ceded by the Crown under the Union Act; and lastly this District Council Bill.' The financial difficulties of the province had been met by guaranteed Imperial loan, and progress had been made in remedying the evils of pauper immigration. Not often does a constructive statesman live to see his labours so richly rewarded by success.

Then the end came. A stumble of Sydenham's horse as he mounted a rise near 'Alwington' threw him to the ground and broke his right leg. His constitution, never strong, had been weakened by disease, unsparing work, and ceaseless anxieties. The bones would not set, the laceration would not heal, and at last lockjaw set in. It was impossible for him to recover. One does not expect the heroic from a fragile man of the world, but Sydenham's last thoughts were for the state he had served so well. In the agonies of tetanus he composed the speech with which he had hoped to bring the session {65} to a close. The last words were the dying governor's prayer for Canada. 'May Almighty God bless your labours, and pour down upon this province all those blessings which in my heart I am desirous it should enjoy.'

His accident occurred on the fourth of September: he was not released from his sufferings until the nineteenth. A stately funeral testified to the universal regret. St George's Cathedral at Kingston, where his bones lie, should be among the high places of the land, a shrine doubly sacred, as the tomb of one who had no small part in making Canada.




On Parliament Hill at Ottawa is a monument of bronze and marble. It represents two men standing in close converse; and, in spite of the dull and untempering effect of modern coats and trousers, the monument is an artistic success worthy of the noble eminence on which it stands above the broad-bosomed river and looking towards the distant hills. It is designed to keep in memory LaFontaine, the man of French blood, and Baldwin, the man of English blood, who worked together as leaders in the first parliament of reunited Canada. That they so worked together for the good of their common country deserves commemoration in enduring brass; for, happily, ever since their time English and French have been found working side by side and vying in fraternal efforts towards the same glorious end.

LaFontaine and Baldwin are typical Canadian {67} politicians of the new order. They carried on a government under modern conditions. Sydenham's work had been done once for all. In spite of ignorance, and errors, and worse, the parliamentarians had really learned the lessons of procedure which he had so deftly taught, and they now settled down to the regular game of Ins and Outs, according to established and accepted rules. The irreconcilables were gradually tamed as wild animals are—by hunger first, and then by being fed with sufficient quantities of the loaves and fishes. Power, office, good permanent positions, fat salaries, proved strong sedatives of yeasty aspirations towards vague political ideals. There were still to be grave difficulties, crises, reactions towards the old order of things; but the cardinal principle of popular government was finally accepted, and, ever since 1841, has been in continuous operation, as part and parcel of the constitution.

If Canadian politicians had, in the words of the Shorter Catechism, been left to the freedom of their own will, it is difficult to see how they could ever have brought about either the union of the jarring provinces, or established the principles of popular government. It is not apparent how half a dozen {68} irreconcilable little factions could have combined to thwart the sullen determination of John Neilson's French-Canadian party to wreck the Union. There was a crying need for intervention by a true statesman from without, who, with his eyes unblinded by local prejudices and passions, could take his stand above all parties, and, in benevolent despotism, lead them into concerted action for their own good and the good of the country. Equally clamant was the need of information and instruction. Sometimes Canadians are inclined to write the tale of the building of the nation as if that splendid fabric were all the work of their own hands, as if 'our own arm had brought salvation unto us.' This is manifest fallacy. Without a Durham to diagnose the malady and a Sydenham to apply the remedy, the condition of the body politic must have been past cure. At least, no other physicians could avail. Now, it was a matter of treatment and careful nursing, and being instructed, we were capable of following the doctor's orders.

The Reform leaders were very unlike each other in character and antecedents. Robert Baldwin was the son of William Warren Baldwin, whose father (also a Robert Baldwin) {69} belonged to the humbler class of landed gentry in Ireland. Tempted, like so many others of his class, by the bait of cheap land, he came to Canada to 'farm.' His son William studied medicine at Edinburgh, became a doctor, and, with Irish powers of adaptation, soon exchanged physic for the more profitable pursuit of law. Robert the grandson was born in York (now Toronto) in 1804. He became one of 'Johnny' Strachan's pupils at the Grammar School, achieving in time the distinction of being 'head boy'; after which he studied law in the old, leisurely, articled-clerk system, and finally became his father's partner. An opportune legacy enabled his father to buy a large property outside 'muddy York,' on which, in accordance with hereditary landholding instinct, he endeavoured to establish his family, after the old-world fashion. A broad thoroughfare in Toronto preserves the name of Baldwin's ambition, 'Spadina.'

Like his father, Robert Baldwin was a Moderate Reformer. He entered public life (1829) in his native town as draftsman of a petition to George IV in what was known as the Willis affair. In the same year he was elected to the Assembly as member for York. {70} Unseated on a technicality, he was at once re-elected, and took his seat in the House the following year. In the new elections, however, following the demise of George IV in 1830, when the House was dissolved, Baldwin was defeated. He had recently entered into partnership with his wife's brother, who was also his own cousin, Robert Baldwin Sullivan, a handsome Irishman with more than a touch of Irish brilliancy. Sullivan played no small part in the politics of the time. He is the author of the wittiest pamphlet ever evoked by Canadian party struggles.

Another young Irishman with whom Baldwin became closely associated was Francis Hincks, who also left his mark on the history of Canada. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he had received a good general education, and a sound and extensive business training in Belfast. Coming to Toronto by way of the West Indies, he became interested in various local business concerns and speedily proved his outstanding capacity for all matters of commerce and finance. Besides being the manager of a bank and the secretary of an insurance company, Hincks carried on at his house in Yonge Street, next door to Robert Baldwin's (number 21), a {71} general warehousing business; and, as if these enterprises did not afford sufficient scope for his energy, he launched a weekly newspaper, the Examiner, in the interests of Reform. The successful man of business soon became the expert in finance, to whom all eyes turned in difficulty. In 1833 he was appointed one of the inspectors of the Welland Canal accounts in a parliamentary investigation, so swiftly had he come to the front. Though much unlike in temperament, he and Baldwin were agreed in their views of political reform, siding with the Moderates as against the Mackenzie faction of extremists. When in 1836 the Constitutional Reform Society of Upper Canada was organized, with William Warren Baldwin as president, Hincks became the secretary. The main objects of this society were to secure 'responsible advisers to the governor,' and the abolition of the forty-four rectories established by Sir John Colborne in accordance with the well-known provisions of the Constitutional Act. The success of any organization often depends on one man, the secretary, and in this capacity Hincks evinced his wonted ability and extraordinary energy.

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