Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Lord Elgin by John George Bourinot

Part 1 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.






Edition De Luxe

Toronto, 1903

[Illustration: "Elgin a Kincardine."]


The late Sir John Bourinot had completed and revised the following
pages some months before his lamented death. The book represents more
satisfactorily, perhaps, than anything else that he has written the
author's breadth of political vision and his concrete mastery of
historical fact. The life of Lord Elgin required to be written by one
possessed of more than ordinary insight into the interesting aspects
of constitutional law. That it has been singularly well presented must
be the conclusion of all who may read this present narrative.


Chapter Page

















The Canadian people have had a varied experience in governors
appointed by the imperial state. At the very commencement of British
rule they were so fortunate as to find at the head of affairs Sir Guy
Carleton--afterwards Lord Dorchester--who saved the country during the
American revolution by his military genius, and also proved himself an
able civil governor in his relations with the French Canadians, then
called "the new subjects," whom he treated in a fair and generous
spirit that did much to make them friendly to British institutions. On
the other hand they have had military men like Sir James Craig,
hospitable, generous, and kind, but at the same time incapable of
understanding colonial conditions and aspirations, ignorant of the
principles and working of representative institutions, and too ready
to apply arbitrary methods to the administration of civil affairs.
Then they have had men who were suddenly drawn from some inconspicuous
position in the parent state, like Sir Francis Bond Head, and allowed
by an apathetic or ignorant colonial office to prove their want of
discretion, tact, and even common sense at a very critical stage of
Canadian affairs. Again there have been governors of the highest rank
in the peerage of England, like the Duke of Richmond, whose
administration was chiefly remarkable for his success in aggravating
national animosities in French Canada, and whose name would now be
quite forgotten were it not for the unhappy circumstances of his
death.[1] Then Canadians have had the good fortune of the presence of
Lord Durham at a time when a most serious state of affairs
imperatively demanded that ripe political knowledge, that cool
judgment, and that capacity to comprehend political grievances which
were confessedly the characteristics of this eminent British
statesman. Happily for Canada he was followed by a keen politician and
an astute economist who, despite his overweening vanity and his
tendency to underrate the ability of "those fellows in the
colonies"--his own words in a letter to England--was well able to
gauge public sentiment accurately and to govern himself accordingly
during his short term of office. Since the confederation of the
provinces there has been a succession of distinguished governors, some
bearing names famous in the history of Great Britain and Ireland, some
bringing to the discharge of their duties a large knowledge of public
business gained in the government of the parent state and her wide
empire, some gifted with a happy faculty of expressing themselves with
ease and elegance, and all equally influenced by an earnest desire to
fill their important position with dignity, impartiality, and

But eminent as have been the services of many of the governors whose
memories are still cherished by the people of Canada, no one among
them stands on a higher plane than James, eighth earl of Elgin and
twelfth earl of Kincardine, whose public career in Canada I propose to
recall in the following narrative. He possessed to a remarkable degree
those qualities of mind and heart which enabled him to cope most
successfully with the racial and political difficulties which met him
at the outset of his administration, during a very critical period of
Canadian history. Animated by the loftiest motives, imbued with a deep
sense of the responsibilities of his office, gifted with a rare power
of eloquent expression, possessed of sound judgment and infinite
discretion, never yielding to dictates of passion but always
determined to be patient and calm at moments of violent public
excitement, conscious of the advantages of compromise and conciliation
in a country peopled like Canada, entering fully into the aspirations
of a young people for self-government, ready to concede to French
Canadians their full share in the public councils, anxious to build up
a Canadian nation without reference to creed or race--this
distinguished nobleman must be always placed by a Canadian historian
in the very front rank of the great administrators happily chosen from
time to time by the imperial state for the government of her dominions
beyond the sea. No governor-general, it is safe to say, has come
nearer to that ideal, described by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, when
secretary of state for the colonies, in a letter to Sir George Bowen,
himself distinguished for the ability with which he presided over the
affairs of several colonial dependencies. "Remember," said Lord
Lytton, to give that eminent author and statesman his later title,
"that the first care of a governor in a free colony is to shun the
reproach of being a party man. Give all parties, and all the
ministries formed, the fairest play.... After all, men are governed as
much by the heart as by the head. Evident sympathy in the progress of
the colony; traits of kindness, generosity, devoted energy, where
required for the public weal; a pure exercise of patronage; an utter
absence of vindictiveness or spite; the fairness that belongs to
magnanimity: these are the qualities that make governors powerful,
while men merely sharp and clever may be weak and detested."

In the following chapters it will be seen that Lord Elgin fulfilled
this ideal, and was able to leave the country in the full confidence
that he had won the respect, admiration, and even affection of all
classes of the Canadian people. He came to the country when there
existed on all sides doubts as to the satisfactory working of the
union of 1840, suspicions as to the sincerity of the imperial
authorities with respect to the concession of responsible government,
a growing antagonism between the two nationalities which then, as
always, divided the province. A very serious economic disturbance was
crippling the whole trade of the country, and made some
persons--happily very few in number--believe for a short time that
independence, or annexation to the neighbouring republic, was
preferable to continued connection with a country which so grudgingly
conceded political rights to the colony, and so ruthlessly overturned
the commercial system on which the province had been so long
dependent. When he left Canada, Lord Elgin knew beyond a shadow of a
doubt that the two nationalities were working harmoniously for the
common advantage of the province, that the principles of responsible
government were firmly established, and that the commercial and
industrial progress of the country was fully on an equality with its
political development.

The man who achieved these magnificent results could claim an ancestry
to which a Scotsman would point with national pride. He could trace
his lineage to the ancient Norman house of which "Robert the Bruce"--a
name ever dear to the Scottish nation--was the most distinguished
member. He was born in London on July 20th, 1811. His father was a
general in the British army, a representative peer in the British
parliament from 1790-1840, and an ambassador to several European
courts; but he is best known to history by the fact that he seriously
crippled his private fortunes by his purchase, while in the East, of
that magnificent collection of Athenian art which was afterwards
bought at half its value by the British government and placed in the
British Museum, where it is still known as the "Elgin Marbles." From
his father, we are told by his biographer,[2] he inherited "the genial
and playful spirit which gave such a charm to his social and parental
relations, and which helped him to elicit from others the knowledge of
which he made so much use in the many diverse situations of his after
life." The deep piety and the varied culture of his mother "made her
admirably qualified to be the depository of the ardent thoughts and
aspirations of his boyhood." At Oxford, where he completed his
education after leaving Eton, he showed that unselfish spirit and
consideration for the feelings of others which were the recognized
traits of his character in after life. Conscious of the unsatisfactory
state of the family's fortunes, he laboured strenuously even in
college to relieve his father as much as possible of the expenses of
his education. While living very much to himself, he never failed to
win the confidence and respect even at this youthful age of all those
who had an opportunity of knowing his independence of thought and
judgment. Among his contemporaries were Mr. Gladstone, afterwards
prime minister; the Duke of Newcastle, who became secretary of state
for the colonies and was chief adviser of the Prince of Wales--now
Edward VII--during his visit to Canada in 1860; and Lord Dalhousie and
Lord Canning, both of whom preceded him in the governor-generalship of
India. In the college debating club he won at once a very
distinguished place. "I well remember," wrote Mr. Gladstone, many
years later, "placing him as to the natural gift of eloquence at the
head of all those I knew either at Eton or at the University." He took
a deep interest in the study of philosophy. In him--to quote the
opinion of his own brother, Sir Frederick Bruce, "the Reason and
Understanding, to use the distinctions of Coleridge, were both largely
developed, and both admirably balanced. ... He set himself to work to
form in his own mind a clear idea of each of the constituent parts of
the problem with which he had to deal. This he effected partly by
reading, but still more by conversation with special men, and by that
extraordinary logical power of mind and penetration which not only
enabled him to get out of every man all he had in him, but which
revealed to these men themselves a knowledge of their own imperfect
and crude conceptions, and made them constantly unwilling witnesses or
reluctant adherents to views which originally they were prepared to
oppose...." The result was that, "in an incredibly short time he
attained an accurate and clear conception of the essential facts
before him, and was thus enabled to strike out a course which he could
consistently pursue amid all difficulties, because it was in harmony
with the actual facts and the permanent conditions of the problem he
had to solve." Here we have the secret of his success in grappling
with the serious and complicated questions which constantly engaged
his attention in the administration of Canadian affairs.

After leaving the university with honour, he passed several years on
the family estate, which he endeavoured to relieve as far as possible
from the financial embarrassment into which it had fallen ever since
his father's extravagant purchase in Greece. In 1840, by the death of
his eldest brother, George, who died unmarried, James became heir to
the earldom, and soon afterwards entered parliament as member for the
borough of Southampton. He claimed then, as always, to be a Liberal
Conservative, because he believed that "the institutions of our
country, religious as well as civil, are wisely adapted, when duly and
faithfully administered, to promote, not the interest of any class or
classes exclusively, but the happiness and welfare of the great body
of the people"; and because he felt that, "on the maintenance of these
institutions, not only the economical prosperity of England, but, what
is yet more important, the virtues that distinguish and adorn the
English character, under God, mainly depend."

During the two years Lord Elgin remained in the House of Commons he
gave evidence to satisfy his friends that he possessed to an eminent
degree the qualities which promised him a brilliant career in British
politics. Happily for the administration of the affairs of Britain's
colonial empire, he was induced by Lord Stanley, then secretary of
state for the colonies, to surrender his prospects in parliament and
accept the governorship of Jamaica. No doubt he was largely influenced
to take this position by the conviction that he would be able to
relieve his father's property from the pressure necessarily entailed
upon it while he remained in the expensive field of national politics.
On his way to Jamaica he was shipwrecked, and his wife, a daughter of
Mr. Charles Cumming Bruce, M.P., of Dunphail, Stirling, suffered a
shock which so seriously impaired her health that she died a few
months after her arrival in the island when she had given birth to a
daughter.[3] His administration of the government of Jamaica was
distinguished by a strong desire to act discreetly and justly at a
time when the economic conditions of the island were still seriously
disturbed by the emancipation of the negroes. Planter and black alike
found in him a true friend and sympathizer. He recognized the
necessity of improving the methods of agriculture, and did much by the
establishment of agricultural societies to spread knowledge among the
ignorant blacks, as well as to create a spirit of emulation among the
landlords, who were still sullen and apathetic, requiring much
persuasion to adapt themselves to the new order of things, and make
efforts to stimulate skilled labour among the coloured population whom
they still despised. Then, as always in his career, he was animated by
the noble impulse to administer public affairs with a sole regard to
the public interests, irrespective of class or creed, to elevate men
to a higher conception of their public duties. "To reconcile the
planter"--I quote from one of his letters to Lord Stanley--"to the
heavy burdens which he was called to bear for the improvement of our
establishments and the benefit of the mass of the population, it was
necessary to persuade him that he had an interest in raising the
standard of education and morals among the peasantry; and this belief
could be imparted only by inspiring a taste for a more artificial
system of husbandry." "By the silent operation of such salutary
convictions," he added, "prejudices of old standing are removed; the
friends of the negro and of the proprietary classes find themselves
almost unconsciously acting in concert, and conspiring to complete
that great and holy work of which the emancipation of the slave was
but the commencement."

At this time the relations between the island and the home governments
were always in a very strained condition on account of the difficulty
of making the colonial office fully sensible of the financial
embarrassment caused by the upheaval of the labour and social systems,
and of the wisest methods of assisting the colony in its straits. As
it too often happened in those old times of colonial rule, the home
government could with difficulty be brought to understand that the
economic principles which might satisfy the state of affairs in Great
Britain could not be hastily and arbitrarily applied to a country
suffering under peculiar difficulties. The same unintelligent spirit
which forced taxation on the thirteen colonies, which complicated
difficulties in the Canadas before the rebellion of 1837, seemed for
the moment likely to prevail, as soon as the legislature of Jamaica
passed a tariff framed naturally with regard to conditions existing
when the receipts and expenditures could not be equalized, and the
financial situation could not be relieved from its extreme tension in
any other way than by the imposition of duties which happened to be in
antagonism with the principles then favoured by the imperial
government. At this critical juncture Lord Elgin successfully
interposed between the colonial office and the island legislature, and
obtained permission for the latter to manage this affair in its own
way. He recognized the fact, obvious enough to any one conversant with
the affairs of the island, that the tariff in question was absolutely
necessary to relieve it from financial ruin, and that any strenuous
interference with the right of the assembly to control its own taxes
and expenses would only tend to create complications in the government
and the relations with the parent state. He was convinced, as he wrote
to the colonial office, that an indispensable condition of his
usefulness as a governor was "a just appreciation of the difficulties
with which the legislature of the island had yet to contend, and of
the sacrifices and exertions already made under the pressure of no
ordinary embarrassments."

Here we see Lord Elgin, at the very commencement of his career as a
colonial governor, fully alive to the economic, social, and political
conditions of the country, and anxious to give its people every
legitimate opportunity to carry out those measures which they
believed, with a full knowledge and experience of their own affairs,
were best calculated to promote their own interests. We shall see
later that it was in exactly the same spirit that he administered
Canadian questions of much more serious import.

Though his government in Jamaica was in every sense a success, he
decided not to remain any longer than three years, and so wrote in
1845 to Lord Stanley. Despite his earnest efforts to identify himself
with the island's interests, he had led on the whole a retired and sad
life after the death of his wife. He naturally felt a desire to seek
the congenial and sympathetic society of friends across the sea, and
perhaps return to the active public life for which he was in so many
respects well qualified. In offering his resignation to the colonial
secretary he was able to say that the period of his administration had
been "one of considerable social progress"; that "uninterrupted
harmony" had "prevailed between the colonists and the local
government"; that "the spirit of enterprise" which had proceeded from
Jamaica for two years had "enabled the British West Indian colonies to
endure with comparative fortitude, apprehensions and difficulties
which otherwise might have depressed them beyond measure."

It was not, however, until the spring of 1846 that Lord Elgin was able
to return on leave of absence to England, where the seals of office
were now held by a Liberal administration, in which Lord Grey was
colonial secretary. Although his political opinions differed from
those of the party in power, he was offered the governor-generalship
of Canada when he declined to go back to Jamaica. No doubt at this
juncture the British ministry recognized the absolute necessity that
existed for removing all political grievances that arose from the
tardy concession of responsible government since the death of Lord
Sydenham, and for allaying as far as possible the discontent that
generally prevailed against the new fiscal policy of the parent state,
which had so seriously paralyzed Canadian industries. It was a happy
day for Canada when Lord Elgin accepted this gracious offer of his
political opponents, who undoubtedly recognized in him the possession
of qualities which would enable him successfully, in all probability,
to grapple with the perplexing problems which embarrassed public
affairs in the province. He felt (to quote his own language at a
public dinner given to him just before his departure for Canada) that
he undertook no slight responsibilities when he promised "to watch
over the interests of those great offshoots of the British race which
plant themselves in distant lands, to aid them in their efforts to
extend the domain of civilization, and to fulfill the first behest of
a benevolent Creator to His intelligent creatures--'subdue the earth';
to abet the generous endeavour to impart to these rising communities
the full advantages of British laws, British institutions, and British
freedom; to assist them in maintaining unimpaired--it may be in
strengthening and confirming--those bonds of mutual affection which
unite the parent and dependent states."

Before his departure for the scene of his labours in America, he
married Lady Mary Louisa Lambton, daughter of the Earl of Durham,
whose short career in Canada as governor-general and high commissioner
after the rebellion of 1837 had such a remarkable influence on the
political conditions of the country. Whilst we cannot attach too much
importance to the sage advice embodied in that great state paper on
Canadian affairs which was the result of his mission to Canada, we
cannot fail at the same time to see that the full vindication of the
sound principles laid down in that admirable report is to be found in
the complete success of their application by Lord Elgin. The minds of
both these statesmen ran in the same direction. They desired to give
adequate play to the legitimate aspirations of the Canadian people for
that measure of self-government which must stimulate an independence
of thought and action among colonial public men, and at the same time
strengthen the ties between the parent state and the dependency by
creating that harmony and confidence which otherwise could not exist
in the relations between them. But while there is little doubt that
Lord Elgin would under any circumstances have been animated by a deep
desire to establish the principles of responsible government in
Canada, this desire must have been more or less stimulated by the
tender ties which bound him to the daughter of a statesman whose
opinions where so entirely in harmony with his own. In Lord Elgin's
temperament there was always a mingling of sentiment and reason, as
may be seen by reference to his finest exhibitions of eloquence. We
can well believe that a deep reverence for the memory of a great man,
too soon removed from the public life of Great Britain, combined with
the natural desire to please his daughter when he wrote these words to

"I still adhere to my opinion that the real and effectual
vindication of Lord Durham's memory and proceedings will be
the success of a governor-general of Canada who works out
his views of government fairly. Depend upon it, if this
country is governed for a few years satisfactorily, Lord
Durham's reputation as a statesman will be raised beyond the
reach of cavil."

Now, more than half a century after he penned these words and
expressed this hope, we all perceive that Lord Elgin was the
instrument to carry out this work.

Here it is necessary to close this very brief sketch of Lord Elgin's
early career, that I may give an account of the political and economic
conditions of the dependency at the end of January, 1847, when he
arrived in the city of Montreal to assume the responsibilities of his
office. This review will show the difficulties of the political
situation with which he was called upon to cope, and will enable us to
obtain an insight into the high qualifications which he brought to the
conduct of public affairs in the Canadas.



To understand clearly the political state of Canada at the time Lord
Elgin was appointed governor-general, it is necessary to go back for a
number of years. The unfortunate rebellions which were precipitated by
Louis Joseph Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie during 1837 in the
two Canadas were the results of racial and political difficulties
which had gradually arisen since the organization of the two provinces
of Upper and Lower Canada under the Constitutional Act of 1791. In the
French section, the French and English Canadians--the latter always an
insignificant minority as respects number--had in the course of time
formed distinct parties. As in the courts of law and in the
legislature, so it was in social and everyday life, the French
Canadian was in direct antagonism to the English Canadian. Many
members of the official and governing class, composed almost
exclusively of English, were still too ready to consider French
Canadians as inferior beings, and not entitled to the same rights and
privileges in the government of the country. It was a time of passion
and declamation, when men of fervent eloquence, like Papineau, might
have aroused the French as one man, and brought about a general
rebellion had they not been ultimately thwarted by the efforts of the
moderate leaders of public opinion, especially of the priests who, in
all national crises in Canada, have happily intervened on the side of
reason and moderation, and in the interests of British connection,
which they have always felt to be favourable to the continuance and
security of their religious institutions. Lord Durham, in his
memorable report on the condition of Canada, has summed up very
expressively the nature of the conflict in the French province. "I
expected," he said, "to find a contest between a government and a
people; I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state; I
found a struggle, not of principles, but of races."

While racial antagonisms intensified the difficulties in French
Canada, there existed in all the provinces political conditions which
arose from the imperfect nature of the constitutional system conceded
by England in 1791, and which kept the country in a constant ferment.
It was a mockery to tell British subjects conversant with British
institutions, as Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe told the Upper Canadians
in 1792, that their new system of government was "an image and
transcript of the British constitution." While it gave to the people
representative institutions, it left out the very principle which was
necessary to make them work harmoniously--a government responsible to
the legislature, and to the people in the last resort, for the conduct
of legislation and the administration of affairs. In consequence of
the absence of this vital principle, the machinery of government
became clogged, and political strife convulsed the country from one
end to the other. An "irrepressible conflict" arose between the
government and the governed classes, especially in Lower Canada. The
people who in the days of the French regime were without influence and
power, had gained under their new system, defective as it was in
essential respects, an insight into the operation of representative
government, as understood in England. They found they were governed,
not by men responsible to the legislature and the people, but by
governors and officials who controlled both the executive and
legislative councils. If there had always been wise and patient
governors at the head of affairs, or if the imperial authorities could
always have been made aware of the importance of the grievances laid
before them, or had understood their exact character, the differences
between the government and the majority of the people's
representatives might have been arranged satisfactorily. But,
unhappily, military governors like Sir James Craig only aggravated the
dangers of the situation, and gave demagogues new opportunities for
exciting the people. The imperial authorities, as a rule, were
sincerely desirous of meeting the wishes of the people in a reasonable
and fair spirit, but unfortunately for the country, they were too
often ill-advised and ill-informed in those days of slow
communication, and the fire of public discontent was allowed to
smoulder until it burst forth in a dangerous form.

In all the provinces, but especially in Lower Canada, the people saw
their representatives practically ignored by the governing body, their
money expended without the authority of the legislature, and the
country governed by irresponsible officials. A system which gave
little or no weight to public opinion as represented in the House of
Assembly, was necessarily imperfect and unstable, and the natural
result was a deadlock between the legislative council, controlled by
the official and governing class, and the house elected by the people.
The governors necessarily took the side of the men whom they had
themselves appointed, and with whom they were acting. In the maritime
provinces in the course of time, the governors made an attempt now and
then to conciliate the popular element by bringing in men who had
influence in the assembly, but this was a matter entirely within their
own discretion. The system of government as a whole was worked in
direct contravention of the principle of responsibility to the
majority in the popular house. Political agitators had abundant
opportunities for exciting popular passion. In Lower Canada, Papineau,
an eloquent but impulsive man, having rather the qualities of an
agitator than those of a statesman, led the majority of his

For years he contended for a legislative council elected by the
people: and it is curious to note that none of the men who were at the
head of the popular party in Lower Canada ever recognized the fact, as
did their contemporaries in Upper Canada, that the difficulty would be
best solved, not by electing an upper house, but by obtaining an
executive which would only hold office while supported by a majority
of the representatives in the people's house. In Upper Canada the
radical section of the Liberal party was led by Mr. William Lyon
Mackenzie, who fought vigorously against what was generally known as
the "Family Compact," which occupied all the public offices and
controlled the government.

In the two provinces these two men at last precipitated a rebellion,
in which blood was shed and much property destroyed, but which never
reached any very extensive proportions. In the maritime provinces,
however, where the public grievances were of less magnitude, the
people showed no sympathy whatever with the rebellious elements of the
upper provinces.

Amid the gloom that overhung Canada in those times there was one gleam
of sunshine for England. Although discontent and dissatisfaction
prevailed among the people on account of the manner in which the
government was administered, and of the attempts of the minority to
engross all power and influence, there was still a sentiment in favour
of British connection, and the annexationists were relatively few in
number. Even Sir Francis Bond Head--in no respect a man of
sagacity--understood this well when he depended on the militia to
crush the outbreak in the upper province; and Joseph Howe, the eminent
leader of the popular party, uniformly asserted that the people of
Nova Scotia were determined to preserve the integrity of the empire at
all hazards. As a matter of fact, the majority of leading men, outside
of the minority led by Papineau, Nelson and Mackenzie, had a
conviction that England was animated by a desire to act considerately
with the provinces and that little good would come from precipitating
a conflict which could only add to the public misfortunes, and that
the true remedy was to be found in constitutional methods of redress
for the political grievances which undoubtedly existed throughout
British North America.

The most important clauses of the Union Act, which was passed by the
imperial parliament in 1840 but did not come into effect until
February of the following year, made provision for a legislative
assembly in which each section of the united provinces was represented
by an equal number of members--forty-two for each and eighty-four for
both; for the use of the English language alone in the written or
printed proceedings of the legislature; for the placing of the public
indebtedness of the two provinces at the union as a first charge on
the revenues of the united provinces; for a two-thirds vote of the
members of each House before any change could be made in the
representation. These enactments, excepting the last which proved
eventually to be in their interest, were resented by the French
Canadians as clearly intended to place them in a position of
inferiority to the English Canadians. Indeed it was with natural
indignation they read that portion of Lord Durham's report which
expressed the opinion that it was necessary to unite the two races on
terms which would give the domination to the English. "Without
effecting the change so rapidly or so roughly," he wrote, "as to shock
the feelings or to trample on the welfare of the existing generation,
it must henceforth be the first and steady purpose of the British
government to establish an English population, with English laws and
language, in this province, and to trust its government to none but a
decidedly English legislature."

French Canadians dwelt with emphasis on the feet that their province
had a population of 630,000 souls, or 160,000 more than Upper Canada,
and nevertheless received only the same number of representatives.
French Canada had been quite free from the financial embarrassment
which had brought Upper Canada to the verge of bankruptcy before the
union; in fact the former had actually a considerable surplus when its
old constitution was revoked on the outbreak of the rebellion. It was,
consequently, with some reason, considered an act of injustice to make
the people of French Canada pay the debts of a province whose revenue
had not for years met its liabilities. Then, to add to these decided
grievances, there was a proscription of the French language, which was
naturally resented as a flagrant insult to the race which first
settled the valley of the St. Lawrence, and as the first blow levelled
against the special institutions so dear to French Canadians and
guaranteed by the Treaty of Paris and the Quebec Act. Mr. LaFontaine,
whose name will frequently occur in the following chapters of this
book, declared, when he presented himself at the first election under
the Union Act, that "it was an act of injustice and despotism"; but,
as we shall soon see, he became a prime minister under the very act he
first condemned. Like the majority of his compatriots, he eventually
found in its provisions protection for the rights of the people, and
became perfectly satisfied with a system of government which enabled
them to obtain their proper position in the public councils and
restore their language to its legitimate place in the legislature.

But without the complete grant of responsible government it would
never have been possible to give to French Canadians their legitimate
influence in the administration and legislation of the country, or to
reconcile the differences which had grown up between the two
nationalities before the union and seemed likely to be perpetuated by
the conditions of the Union Act just stated. Lord Durham touched the
weakest spot in the old constitutional system of the Canadian
provinces when he said that it was not "possible to secure harmony in
any other way than by administering the government on those principles
which have been found perfectly efficacious in Great Britain." He
would not "impair a single prerogative of the crown"; on the contrary
he believed "that the interests of the people of these provinces
require the protection of prerogatives which have not hitherto been
exercised." But he recognized the fact as a constitutional statesman
that "the crown must, on the other hand, submit to the necessary
consequences of representative institutions; and if it has to carry on
the government in unison with a representative body, it must consent
to carry it on by means of those in whom that representative body has
confidence." He found it impossible "to understand how any English
statesman could have ever imagined that representative and
irresponsible government could be successfully combined." To suppose
that such a system would work well there "implied a belief that French
Canadians have enjoyed representative institutions for half a century
without acquiring any of the characteristics of a free people; that
Englishmen renounce every political opinion and feeling when they
enter a colony, or that the spirit of Anglo-Saxon freedom is utterly
changed and weakened among those who are transplanted across the

No one who studies carefully the history of responsible government
from the appearance of Lord Durham's report and Lord John Russell's
despatches of 1839 until the coming of Lord Elgin to Canada in 1847,
can fail to see that there was always a doubt in the minds of the
imperial authorities--a doubt more than once actually expressed in the
instructions to the governors--whether it was possible to work the new
system on the basis of a governor directly responsible to the parent
state and at the same time acting under the advice of ministers
directly responsible to the colonial parliament. Lord John Russell had
been compelled to recognize the fact that it was not possible to
govern Canada by the old methods of administration--that it was
necessary to adopt a new colonial policy which would give a larger
measure of political freedom to the people and ensure greater harmony
between the executive government and the popular assemblies. Mr.
Poulett Thomson, afterwards Lord Sydenham, was appointed
governor-general with the definite objects of completing the union of
the Canadas and inaugurating a more liberal system of colonial
administration. As he informed the legislature of Upper Canada
immediately after his arrival, in his anxiety to obtain its consent to
the union, he had received "Her Majesty's commands to administer the
government of these provinces in accordance with the well understood
wishes and interests of the people." When the legislature of the
united provinces met for the first time, he communicated two
despatches in which the colonial secretary stated emphatically that,
"Her Majesty had no desire to maintain any system or policy among her
North American subjects which opinion condemns," and that there was
"no surer way of gaining the approbation of the Queen than by
maintaining the harmony of the executive with the legislative
authorities." The governor-general was instructed, in order "to
maintain the utmost possible harmony," to call to his councils and to
employ in the public service "those persons who, by their position and
character, have obtained the general confidence and esteem of the
inhabitants of the province." He wished it to be generally made known
by the governor-general that thereafter certain heads of departments
would be called upon "to retire from the public service as often as
any sufficient motives of public policy might suggest the expediency
of that measure." It appears, however, that there was always a
reservation in the minds of the colonial secretary and of governors
who preceded Lord Elgin as to the meaning of responsible government
and the methods of carrying it out in a colony dependent on the crown.
Lord Sydenham himself believed that the council should be one "for the
governor to consult and no more"; that the governor could "not be
responsible to the government at home and also to the legislature of
the province," for if it were so "then all colonial government becomes
impossible." The governor, in his opinion, "must therefore be the
minister [i.e., the colonial secretary], in which case he cannot be
under control of men in the colony." But it was soon made clear to so
astute a politician as Lord Sydenham that, whatever were his own views
as to the meaning that should be attached to responsible government,
he must yield as far as possible to the strong sentiment which
prevailed in the country in favour of making the ministry dependent on
the legislature for its continuance in office. The resolutions passed
by the legislature in support of responsible government were
understood to have his approval. They differed very little in
words--in essential principle not at all--from those first introduced
by Mr. Baldwin. The inference to be drawn from the political situation
of that time is that the governor's friends in the council thought it
advisable to gain all possible credit with the public in connection
with the all-absorbing question of the day, and accordingly brought in
the following resolutions in amendment to those presented by the
Liberal chief:--

"1. That the head of the executive government of the
province, being within the limits of his government the
representative of the sovereign, is responsible to the
imperial authority alone, but that nevertheless the
management of our local affairs can only be conducted by him
with the assistance, counsel, and information of subordinate
officers in the province.

"2. That in order to preserve between the different branches
of the provincial parliament that harmony which is essential
to the peace, welfare, and good government of the province,
the chief advisers of the representative of the sovereign,
constituting a provincial administration under him, ought to
be men possessed of the confidence of the representatives of
the people; thus affording a guarantee that the
well-understood wishes and interests of the people--which
our gracious sovereign has declared shall be the rule of the
provincial government--will on all occasions be faithfully
represented and advocated.

"3. That the people of this province have, moreover, the
right to expect from such provincial administration the
exercise of their best endeavours, that the imperial
authority, within its constitutional limits, shall be
exercised in the manner most consistent with their
well-understood wishes and interests."

It is quite possible that had Lord Sydenham lived to complete his term
of office, the serious difficulties that afterwards arose in the
practice of responsible government would not have occurred. Gifted
with a clear insight into political conditions and a thorough
knowledge of the working of representative institutions, he would have
understood that if parliamentary government was ever to be introduced
into the colony it must be not in a half-hearted way, or with such
reservations as he had had in his mind when he first came to the
province. Amid the regret of all parties he died from the effects of a
fall from his horse a few months after the inauguration of the union,
and was succeeded by Sir Charles Bagot, who distinguished himself in a
short administration of two years by the conciliatory spirit which he
showed to the French Canadians, even at the risk of offending the
ultra loyalists who seemed to think, for some years after the union,
that they alone were entitled to govern the dependency.

The first ministry after that change was composed of Conservatives and
moderate Liberals, but it was soon entirely controlled by the former,
and never had the confidence of Mr. Baldwin. That eminent statesman
had been a member of this administration at the time of the union, but
he resigned on the ground that it ought to be reconstructed if it was
to represent the true sentiment of the country at large. When Sir
Charles Bagot became governor the Conservatives were very sanguine
that they would soon obtain exclusive control of the government, as he
was known to be a supporter of the Conservative party in England. It
was not long, however, before it was evident that his administration
would be conducted, not in the interests of any set of politicians,
but on principles of compromise and justice to all political parties,
and, above all, with the hope of conciliating the French Canadians and
bringing them into harmony with the new conditions. One of his first
acts was the appointment of an eminent French Canadian, M. Vallieres
de Saint-Real, to the chief-justiceship of Montreal. Other
appointments of able French Canadians to prominent public positions
evoked the ire of the Tories, then led by the Sherwoods and Sir Allan
MacNab, who had taken a conspicuous part in putting down the rebellion
of 1837-8. Sir Charles Bagot, however, persevered in his policy of
attempting to stifle racial prejudices and to work out the principles
of responsible government on broad national lines. He appointed an
able Liberal and master of finance, Mr. Francis Hincks, to the
position of inspector-general with a seat in the cabinet. The
influence of the French Canadians in parliament was now steadily
increasing, and even strong Conservatives like Mr. Draper were forced
to acknowledge that it was not possible to govern the province
on the principle that they were an inferior and subject people,
whose representatives could not be safely entrusted with any
responsibilities as ministers of the crown. Negotiations for the
entrance of prominent French Canadians in opposition to the government
went on without result for some time, but they were at last
successful, and the first LaFontaine-Baldwin cabinet came into
existence in 1842, largely through the instrumentality of Sir Charles
Bagot. Mr. Baldwin was a statesman whose greatest desire was the
success of responsible government without a single reservation. Mr.
LaFontaine was a French Canadian who had wisely recognized the
necessity of accepting the union he had at first opposed, and of
making responsible government an instrument for the advancement of the
interests of his compatriots and of bringing them into unison with all
nationalities for the promotion of the common good. The other
prominent French Canadian in the ministry was Mr. A.N. Morin, who
possessed the confidence and respect of his people, but was wanting in
the energy and ability to initiate and press public measures which his
leader possessed.

The new administration had not been long in office when the
governor-general fell a victim to an attack of dropsy, complicated by
heart disease, and was succeeded by Sir Charles Metcalfe, who had held
prominent official positions in India, and was governor of Jamaica
previous to Lord Elgin's appointment. No one who has studied his
character can doubt the honesty of his motives or his amiable
qualities, but his political education in India and Jamaica rendered
him in many ways incapable of understanding the political conditions
of a country like Canada, where the people were determined to work out
the system of parliamentary government on strictly British principles.
He could have obtained little assistance from British statesmen had he
been desirous of mastering and applying the principles of responsible
government to the dependency. Their opinions and instructions were
still distinguished by a perplexing vagueness. They would not believe
that a governor of a dependency could occupy exactly the same relation
with respect to his responsible advisers and to political parties as
is occupied with such admirable results by the sovereign of England.
It was considered necessary that a governor should make himself as
powerful a factor as possible in the administration of public
affairs--that he should be practically the prime minister,
responsible, not directly to the colonial legislature, but to the
imperial government, whose servant he was and to whom he should
constantly refer for advice and assistance whenever in his opinion the
occasion arose. In other words it was almost impossible to remove from
the mind of any British statesman, certainly not from the colonial
office of those days, the idea that parliamentary government meant one
thing in England and the reverse in the colonies, that Englishmen at
home could be entrusted with a responsibility which it was inexpedient
to allow to Englishmen or Frenchmen across the sea. The colonial
office was still reluctant to give up complete control of the local
administration of the province, and wished to retain a veto by means
of the governor, who considered official favour more desirable than
the approval of any colonial legislature. More or less imbued with
such views, Sir Charles Metcalfe was bound to come into conflict with
LaFontaine and Baldwin, who had studied deeply the principles and
practice of parliamentary government, and knew perfectly well that
they could be carried out only by following the precedents established
in the parent state.

It was not long before the rupture came between men holding views so
diametrically opposed to each other with respect to the conduct of
government. The governor-general decided not to distribute the
patronage of the crown under the advice of his responsible ministry,
as was, of necessity, the constitutional practice in England, but to
ignore the latter, as he boldly declared, whenever he deemed it
expedient. "I wish," he wrote to the colonial secretary, "to make the
patronage of the government conducive to the conciliation of all
parties by bringing into the public service men of the greatest merit
and efficiency without any party distinction." These were noble
sentiments, sound in theory, but entirely incompatible with the
operation of responsible government. If patronage is to be properly
exercised in the interests of the people at large, it must be done by
men who are directly responsible to the representatives of the people.
If a governor-general is to make appointments without reference to his
advisers, he must be more or less subject to party criticism, without
having the advantage of defending himself in the legislature, or of
having men duly authorized by constitutional usage to do so. The
revival of that personal government which had evoked so much political
rancour, and brought governors into the arena of party strife before
the rebellion, was the natural result of the obstinate and
unconstitutional attitude assumed by Lord Metcalfe with respect to
appointments to office and other matters of administration.

All the members of the LaFontaine-Baldwin government, with the
exception of Mr. Dominick Daly, resigned in consequence of the
governor's action. Mr. Daly had no special party proclivities, and
found it to his personal interests to remain his Excellency's sole
adviser. Practically the province was without an administration for
many months, and when, at last, the governor-general was forced by
public opinion to show a measure of respect for constitutional methods
of government, he succeeded after most strenuous efforts in forming a
Conservative cabinet, in which Mr. Draper was the only man of
conspicuous ability. The French Canadians were represented by Mr.
Viger and Mr. Denis B. Papineau, a brother of the famous rebel,
neither of whom had any real influence or strength in Lower Canada,
where the people recognized LaFontaine as their true leader and ablest
public man. In the general election which soon followed the
reconstruction of the government, it was sustained by a small
majority, won only by the most unblushing bribery, by bitter appeals
to national passion, and by the personal influence of the
governor-general, as was the election which immediately preceded the
rising in Upper Canada. In later years, Lord Grey[4] remarked that
this success was "dearly purchased, by the circumstance that the
parliamentary opposition was no longer directed against the advisers
of the governor but against the governor himself, and the British
government, of which he was the organ." The majority of the government
was obtained from Upper Canada, where a large body of people were
misled by appeals made to their loyalty and attachment to the crown,
and where a large number of Methodists were influenced by the
extraordinary action of the Rev. Egerton Ryerson, a son of a United
Empire Loyalist, who defended the position of the governor-general,
and showed how imperfectly he understood the principles and practice
of responsible government. In a life of Sir Charles Metcalfe,[5] which
appeared shortly after his death, it is stated that the
governor-general "could not disguise from himself that the government
was not strong, that it was continually on the brink of defeat, and
that it was only enabled to hold its position by resorting to shifts
and expedients, or what are called tactics, which in his inmost soul
Lord Metcalfe abhorred."

The action of the British ministry during this crisis in Canadian
affairs proved quite conclusively that it was not yet prepared to
concede responsible government in its fullest sense. Both Lord
Stanley, then secretary of state for the colonies, and Lord John
Russell, who had held the same office in a Whig administration,
endorsed the action of the governor-general, who was raised to the
peerage under the title of Baron Metcalfe of Fernhill, in the county
of Berks. Earthly honours were now of little avail to the new peer. He
had been a martyr for years to a cancer in the face, and when it
assumed a most dangerous form he went back to England and died soon
after his return. So strong was the feeling against him among a large
body of the people, especially in French Canada, that he was bitterly
assailed until the hour when he left, a dying man. Personally he was
generous and charitable to a fault, but he should never have been sent
to a colony at a crisis when the call was for a man versed in the
practice of parliamentary government, and able to sympathize with the
aspirations of a people determined to enjoy political freedom in
accordance with the principles of the parliamentary institutions of
England. With a remarkable ignorance of the political conditions of
the province--too often shown by British statesmen in those days--so
great a historian and parliamentarian as Lord Macaulay actually wrote
on a tablet to Lord Metcalfe's memory:--"In Canada, not yet recovered
from the calamities of civil war, he reconciled contending factions to
each other and to the mother country." The truth is, as written by Sir
Francis Hincks[6] fifty years later, "he embittered the party feeling
that had been considerably assuaged by Sir Charles Bagot."

Lord Metcalfe was succeeded by Lord Cathcart, a military man, who was
chosen because of the threatening aspect of the relations between
England and the United States on the question of the Oregon boundary.
During his short term of office he did not directly interfere in
politics, but carefully studied the defence of the country and quietly
made preparations for a rupture with the neighbouring republic. The
result of his judicious action was the disappearance of much of the
political bitterness which had existed during Lord Metcalfe's
administration. The country, indeed, had to face issues of vital
importance to its material progress. Industry and commerce were
seriously affected by the adoption of free trade in England, and the
consequent removal of duties which had given a preference in the
British markets to Canadian wheat, flour, and other commodities. The
effect upon the trade of the province would not have been so serious
had England at this time repealed the old navigation laws which closed
the St. Lawrence to foreign shipping and prevented the extension of
commerce to other markets. Such a course might have immediately
compensated Canadians for the loss of those of the motherland. The
anxiety that was generally felt by Canadians on the reversal of the
British commercial policy under which they had been able to build up a
very profitable trade, was shown in the language of a very largely
signed address from the assembly to the Queen. "We cannot but fear,"
it was stated in this document, "that the abandonment of the
protective principle, the very basis of the colonial commercial
system, is not only calculated to retard the agricultural improvement
of the country and check its hitherto rising prosperity, but seriously
to impair our ability to purchase the manufactured goods of Great
Britain--a result alike prejudicial to this country and the parent
state." But this appeal to the selfishness of British manufacturers
had no influence on British statesmen so far as their fiscal policy
was concerned. But while they were not prepared to depart in any
measure from the principles of free trade and give the colonies a
preference in British markets over foreign countries, they became
conscious that the time had come for removing, as far as possible, all
causes of public discontent in the provinces, at this critical period
of commercial depression. British statesmen had suddenly awakened to
the mistakes of Lord Metcalfe's administration of Canadian affairs,
and decided to pursue a policy towards Canada which would restore
confidence in the good faith and justice of the imperial government.
"The Queen's representative"--this is a citation from a London
paper[7] supporting the Whig government--"should not assume that he
degrades the crown by following in a colony with a constitutional
government the example of the crown at home. Responsible government
has been conceded to Canada, and should be attended in its workings
with all the consequences of responsible government in the mother
country. What the Queen cannot do in England the governor-general
should not be permitted to do in Canada. In making imperial
appointments she is bound to consult her cabinet; in making provincial
appointments the governor-general should be bound to do the same."

The Oregon dispute had been settled, like the question of the Maine
boundary, without any regard to British interests in America, and it
was now deemed expedient to replace Lord Cathcart by a civil governor,
who would be able to carry out, in the valley of the St. Lawrence, the
new policy of the colonial office, and strengthen the ties between the
province and the parent state.

As I have previously stated, Lord John Russell's ministry made a wise
choice in the person of Lord Elgin. In the following pages I shall
endeavour to show how fully were realized the high expectations of
those British statesmen who sent him across the Atlantic at this
critical epoch in the political and industrial conditions of the
Canadian dependency.



Lord Elgin made a most favourable impression on the public opinion of
Canada from the first hour he arrived in Montreal, and had
opportunities of meeting and addressing the people. His genial manner,
his ready speech, his knowledge of the two languages, his obvious
desire to understand thoroughly the condition of the country and to
pursue British methods of constitutional government, were all
calculated to attract the confidence of all nationalities, classes,
and creeds. The supporters of responsible government heard with
infinite pleasure the enunciation of the principles which would guide
him in the discharge of his public duties. "I am sensible," he said in
answer to a Montreal address, "that I shall but maintain the
prerogative of the Crown, and most effectually carry out the
instructions with which Her Majesty has honoured me, by manifesting a
due regard for the wishes and feelings of the people and by seeking
the advice and assistance of those who enjoy their confidence."

At this time the Draper Conservative ministry, formed under such
peculiar circumstances by Lord Metcalfe, was still in office, and Lord
Elgin, as in duty bound, gave it his support, although it was clear to
him and to all other persons at all conversant with public opinion
that it did not enjoy the confidence of the country at large, and must
soon give place to an administration more worthy of popular favour. He
recognized the fact that the crucial weakness in the political
situation was "that a Conservative government meant a government of
Upper Canadians, which is intolerable to the French, and a Radical
government meant a government of French, which is no less hateful to
the British." He believed that the political problem of "how to govern
united Canada"--and the changes which took place later showed he was
right--would be best solved "if the French would split into a Liberal
and Conservative party, and join the Upper Canada parties which bear
corresponding names." Holding these views, he decided at the outset to
give the French Canadians full recognition in the reconstruction or
formation of ministries during his term of office. And under all
circumstances he was resolved to give "to his ministers all
constitutional support, frankly and without reserve, and the benefit
of the best advice" that he could afford them in their difficulties.
In return for this he expected that they would, "in so far as it is
possible for them to do so, carry out his views for the maintenance of
the connection with Great Britain and the advancement of the interests
of the province." On this tacit understanding, they--the
governor-general and the Draper-Viger cabinet--had "acted together
harmoniously," although he had "never concealed from them that he
intended to do nothing" which would "prevent him from working
cordially with their opponents." It was indispensable that "the head
of the government should show that he has confidence in the loyalty of
all the influential parties with which he has to deal, and that he
should have no personal antipathies to prevent him from acting with
leading men."

Despite the wishes of Lord Elgin, it was impossible to reconstruct the
government with a due regard to French Canadian interests. Mr. Caron
and Mr. Morin, both strong men, could not be induced to become
ministers. The government continued to show signs of disintegration.
Several members resigned and took judgeships in Lower Canada. Even Mr.
Draper retired with the understanding that he should also go on the
bench at the earliest opportunity in Upper Canada. Another effort was
made to keep the ministry together, and Mr. Henry Sherwood became its
head; but the most notable acquisition was Mr. John Alexander
Macdonald as receiver-general. From that time this able man took a
conspicuous place in the councils of the country, and eventually
became prime minister of the old province of Canada, as well as of the
federal dominion which was formed many years later in British North
America, largely through his instrumentality. From his first entrance
into politics he showed that versatility of intellect, that readiness
to adapt himself to dominant political conditions and make them
subservient to the interests of his party, that happy faculty of
making and keeping personal friends, which were the most striking
traits of his character. His mind enlarged as he had greater
experience and opportunities of studying public life, and the man who
entered parliament as a Tory became one of the most Liberal
Conservatives who ever administered the affairs of a colonial
dependency, and, at the same time, a statesman of a comprehensive
intellect who recognized the strength of British institutions and the
advantage of British connection.

The obvious weakness of the reconstructed ministry was the absence of
any strong men from French Canada. Mr. Denis B. Papineau was in no
sense a recognized representative of the French Canadians, and did not
even possess those powers of eloquence--that ability to give forth
"rhetorical flashes"--which were characteristic of his reckless but
highly gifted brother. In fact the ministry as then organized was a
mere makeshift until the time came for obtaining an expression of
opinion from the people at the polls. When parliament met in June,
1847, it was quite clear that the ministry was on the eve of its
downfall. It was sustained only by a feeble majority of two votes on
the motion for the adoption of the address to the governor-general.
The opposition, in which LaFontaine, Baldwin, Aylwin, and Chauveau
were the most prominent figures, had clearly the best of the argument
in the political controversies with the tottering ministry. Even in
the legislative council resolutions, condemning it chiefly on the
ground that the French province was inadequately represented in the
cabinet, were only negatived by the vote of the president, Mr. McGill,
a wealthy merchant of Montreal, who was also a member of the

Despite the weakness of the government, the legislature was called
upon to deal with several questions which pressed for immediate
action. Among the important measures which were passed was one
providing for the amendment of the law relating to forgery, which was
no longer punishable by death. Another amended the law with respect to
municipalities in Lower Canada, which, however, failed to satisfy the
local requirements of the people, though it remained in force for
eight years, when it was replaced by one better adapted to the
conditions of the French province. The legislature also discussed the
serious effects of free trade upon Canadian industry, and passed an
address to the Crown praying for the repeal of the laws which
prevented the free use of the St. Lawrence by ships of all nations.
But the most important subject with which the government was called
upon to deal was one which stifled all political rivalry and national
prejudices, and demanded the earnest consideration of all parties.
Canada, like the rest of the world, had heard of an unhappy land
smitten with a hideous plague, of its crops lying in pestilential
heaps and of its peasantry dying above them, of fathers, mothers, and
children ghastly in their rags or nakedness, of dead unburied, and the
living flying in terror, as it were, from a stricken battlefield. This
dreadful Irish famine forced to Canada upwards of 100,000 persons, the
greater number of whom were totally destitute and must have starved to
death had they not received public or private charity. The miseries of
these unhappy immigrants were aggravated to an inconceivable degree by
the outbreak of disease of a most malignant character, stimulated by
the wretched physical condition and by the disgraceful state of the
pest ships in which they were brought across the ocean. In those days
there was no effective inspection or other means taken to protect from
infection the unhappy families who were driven from their old homes by
poverty and misery. From Grosse Isle, the quarantine station on the
Lower St. Lawrence, to the most distant towns in the western province,
many thousands died in awful suffering, and left helpless orphans to
evoke the aid and sympathy of pitying Canadians everywhere. Canada was
in no sense responsible for this unfortunate state of things. The
imperial government had allowed this Irish immigration to go on
without making any effort whatever to prevent the evils that followed
it from Ireland to the banks of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes.
It was a heavy burden which Canada should never have been called upon
to bear at a time when money was scarce and trade was paralyzed by the
action of the imperial parliament itself. Lord Elgin was fully alive
to the weighty responsibility which the situation entailed upon the
British government, and at the same time did full justice to the
exertions of the Canadian people to cope with this sad crisis. The
legislature voted a sum of money to relieve the distress among the
immigrants, but it was soon found entirely inadequate to meet the

Lord Elgin did not fail to point out to the colonial secretary "the
severe strain" that this sad state of things made, not only upon
charity, but upon the very loyalty of the people to a government which
had shown such culpable negligence since the outbreak of the famine
and the exodus from the plague-stricken island. He expressed the
emphatic opinion that "all things considered, a great deal of
forbearance and good feeling had been shown by the colonists under
this trial." He gave full expression to the general feeling of the
country that "Great Britain must make good to the province the
expenses entailed on it by this visitation." He did full justice to
the men and women who showed an extraordinary spirit of
self-sacrifice, a positive heroism, during this national crisis.
"Nothing," he wrote, "can exceed the devotion of the nuns and Roman
Catholic priests, and the conduct of the clergy and of many of the
laity of other denominations has been most exemplary. Many lives have
been sacrificed in attendance on the sick, and administering to their
temporal and spiritual need.... This day the Mayor of Montreal, Mr.
Mills, died, a very estimable man, who did much for the immigrants,
and to whose firmness and philanthropy we chiefly owe it, that the
immigrant sheds here were not tossed into the river by the people of
the town during the summer. He has fallen a victim to his zeal on
behalf of the poor plague-stricken strangers, having died of ship
fever caught at the sheds." Among other prominent victims were Dr.
Power, Roman Catholic Bishop of Toronto, Vicar-General Hudon of the
same church, Mr. Roy, cure of Charlesbourg, and Mr. Chaderton, a
Protestant clergyman. Thirteen Roman Catholic priests, if not more,
died from their devotion to the unhappy people thus suddenly thrown
upon their Christian charity. When the season of navigation was nearly
closed, a ship arrived with a large number of people from the Irish
estates of one of Her Majesty's ministers, Lord Palmerston. The
natural result of this incident was to increase the feeling of
indignation already aroused by the apathy of the British government
during this national calamity. Happily Lord Elgin's appeals to the
colonial secretary had effect, and the province was reimbursed
eventually for the heavy expenses incurred by it in its efforts to
fight disease, misery and death. English statesmen, after these
painful experiences, recognized the necessity of enforcing strict
regulations for the protection of emigrants crossing the ocean,
against the greed of ship-owners. The sad story of 1847-8 cannot now
be repeated in times when nations have awakened to their
responsibilities towards the poor and distressed who are forced to
leave their old homes for that new world which offers them well-paid
work, political freedom, plenty of food and countless comforts.

In the autumn of 1847, Lord Elgin was able to seek some relief from
his many cares and perplexities of government, in a tour of the
western province, where, to quote his own words, he met "a most
gratifying and encouraging reception." He was much impressed with the
many signs of prosperity which he saw on all sides. "It is indeed a
glorious country," he wrote enthusiastically to Lord Grey, "and after
passing, as I have done within the last fortnight, from the citadel of
Quebec to the falls of Niagara, rubbing shoulders the while with its
free and perfectly independent inhabitants, one begins to doubt
whether it be possible to acquire a sufficient knowledge of man or
nature, or to obtain an insight into the future of nations, without
visiting America." During this interesting visit to Upper Canada, he
seized the opportunity of giving his views on a subject which may be
considered one of his hobbies, one to which he devoted much attention
while in Jamaica, and this was the formation of agricultural
associations for the purpose of stimulating scientific methods of

Before the close of the first year of his administration Lord Elgin
felt that the time had come for making an effort to obtain a stronger
ministry by an appeal to the people. Accordingly he dissolved
parliament in December, and the elections, which were hotly contested,
resulted in the unequivocal condemnation of the Sherwood cabinet, and
the complete success of the Liberal party led by LaFontaine and
Baldwin. Among the prominent Liberals returned by the people of Upper
Canada were Baldwin, Hincks, Blake, Price, Malcolm Cameron, Richards,
Merritt and John Sandfield Macdonald. Among the leaders of the same
party in Lower Canada were LaFontaine, Morin, Aylwin, Chauveau and
Holmes. Several able Conservatives lost their seats, but Sir Allan
MacNab, John A. Macdonald, Mr. Sherwood and John Hillyard Cameron
succeeded in obtaining seats in the new parliament, which was, in
fact, more notable than any other since the union for the ability of
its members. Not the least noteworthy feature of the elections was the
return of Mr. Louis J. Papineau, and Mr. Wolfred Nelson, rebels of
1837-8, both of whom had been allowed to return some time previously
to the country. Mr. Papineau's career in parliament was not calculated
to strengthen his position in impartial history. He proved beyond a
doubt that he was only a demagogue, incapable of learning lessons of
wise statesmanship during the years of reflection that were given him
in exile. He continued to show his ignorance of the principles and
workings of responsible government. Before the rebellion which he so
rashly and vehemently forced on his credulous, impulsive countrymen,
so apt to be deceived by flashy rhetoric and glittering generalities,
he never made a speech or proposed a measure in support of the system
of parliamentary government as explained by Baldwin and Howe, and even
W. Lyon Mackenzie. His energy and eloquence were directed towards the
establishment of an elective legislative council in which his
compatriots would have necessarily the great majority, a supremacy
that would enable him and his following to control the whole
legislation and government, and promote his dominant idea of a _Nation
Canadienne_ in the valley of the St. Lawrence. After the union he made
it the object of his political life to thwart in every way possible
the sagacious, patriotic plans of LaFontaine, Morin, and other
broad-minded statesmen of his own nationality, and to destroy that
system of responsible government under which French Canada had become
a progressive and influential section of the province.

As soon as parliament assembled at the end of February, the government
was defeated on the vote for the speakership. Its nominee, Sir Allan
MacNab, received only nineteen votes out of fifty-four, and Morin, the
Liberal candidate, was then unanimously chosen. When the address in
reply to the governor-general's speech came up for consideration,
Baldwin moved an amendment, expressing a want of confidence in the
ministry, which was carried by a majority of thirty votes in a house
of seventy-four members, exclusive of the speaker, who votes only in
case of a tie. Lord Elgin received and answered the address as soon as
it was ready for presentation, and then sent for LaFontaine and

He spoke to them, as he tells us himself, "in a candid and friendly
tone," and expressed the opinion that "there was a fair prospect, if
they were moderate and firm, of forming an administration deserving
and enjoying the confidence of parliament." He added that "they might
count on all proper support and assistance from him." When they "dwelt
on difficulties arising out of pretensions advanced in various
quarters," he advised them "not to attach too much importance to such
considerations, but to bring together a council strong in
administrative talent, and to take their stand on the wisdom of their
measures and policy." The result was the construction of a powerful
government by LaFontaine with the aid of Baldwin. "My present
council," Lord Elgin wrote to the colonial secretary, "unquestionably
contains more talent, and has a firmer hold on the confidence of
parliament and of the people than the last. There is, I think,
moreover, on their part, a desire to prove, by proper deference for
the authority of the governor-general (which they all admit has in my
case never been abused), that they were libelled when they were
accused of impracticability and anti-monarchical tendencies." These
closing words go to show that the governor-general felt it was
necessary to disabuse the minds of the colonial secretary and his
colleagues of the false impression which the British government and
people seemed to entertain, that the Tories and Conservatives were
alone to be trusted in the conduct of public affairs. He saw at once
that the best way of strengthening the connection with Great Britain
was to give to the strongest political party in the country its true
constitutional position in the administration of public affairs, and
identify it thoroughly with the public interests.

The new government was constituted as follows:

Lower Canada.--Hon. L.H. LaFontaine, attorney-general of
Lower Canada; Hon. James Leslie, president of the executive
council; Hon. R.E. Caron, president of the legislative
council; Hon. E.P. Taehe, chief commissioner of public
works; Hon. I.C. Aylwin, solicitor-general for Lower Canada;
Hon. L.M. Viger, receiver-general.

Upper Canada.--Hon. Robert Baldwin, attorney-general of
Upper Canada; Hon. R.B. Sullivan, provincial secretary; Hon.
F. Hincks, inspector-general; Hon. J.H. Price, commissioner
of crown lands; Hon. Malcolm Cameron, assistant commissioner
of public works; Hon. W.H. Blake, solicitor-general.

The LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry must always occupy a distinguished
place in the political history of the Canadian people. It was the
first to be formed strictly in accordance with the principles of
responsible government, and from its entrance into public life must be
dated a new era in which the relations between the governor and his
advisers were at last placed on a sound constitutional basis, in which
the constant appeals to the imperial government on matters of purely
provincial significance came to an end, in which local self-government
was established in the fullest sense compatible with the continuance
of the connection with the empire. It was a ministry notable not only
for the ability of its members, but for the many great measures which
it was able to pass during its term of office--measures calculated to
promote the material advancement of the province, and above all to
dispel racial prejudices and allay sectional antagonisms by the
adoption of wise methods of compromise, conciliation and justice to
all classes and creeds.

In Lord Elgin's letters of 1848 to Earl Grey, we can clearly see how
many difficulties surrounded the discharge of his administrative
functions at this time, and how fortunate it was for Canada, as well
as for Great Britain, that he should have been able to form a
government which possessed so fully the confidence of both sections of
the province, irrespective of nationality. The revolution of February
in Paris, and the efforts of a large body of Irish in the United
States to evoke sympathy in Canada on behalf of republicanism were
matters of deep anxiety to the governor-general and other friends of
the imperial state. "It is just as well," he wrote at this time to
Lord Grey, "that I should have arranged my ministry, and committed the
flag of Great Britain to the custody of those who are supported by the
large majority of the representatives and constituencies of the
province, before the arrival of the astounding news from Europe which
reached us by the last mail. There are not wanting here persons who
might, under different circumstances, have attempted by seditious
harangues, if not by overt acts, to turn the example of France, and
the sympathies of the United States to account."

Under the circumstances he pressed upon the imperial authorities the
wisdom of repealing that clause of the Union Act which restricted the
use of the French language. "I am for one deeply convinced," and here
he showed he differed from Lord Durham, "of the impolicy of all such
attempts to denationalize the French. Generally speaking, they produce
the opposite effect from that intended, causing the flame of national
prejudice and animosity to burn more fiercely." But he went on to say,
even were such attempts successful, what would be the inevitable

"You may perhaps Americanize, but, depend upon it, by
methods of this description you will never Anglicize the
French inhabitants of the province. Let them feel, on the
other hand, that their religion, their habits, their
prepossessions, their prejudices, if you will, are more
considered and respected here than in other portions of this
vast continent, who will venture to say that the last hand
which waves the British flag on American ground may not be
that of a French Canadian?"[8]

Lord Elgin had a strong antipathy to Papineau--"Guy Fawkes Papineau,"
as he called him in one of his letters--who was, he considered,
"actuated by the most malignant passions, irritated vanity,
disappointed ambition and national hatred," always ready to wave "a
lighted torch among combustibles." Holding such opinions, he seized
every practical opportunity of thwarting Papineau's persistent efforts
to create a dangerous agitation among his impulsive countrymen. He
shared fully the great desire of the bishops and clergy to stem the
immigration of large numbers of French Canadians into the United
States by the establishment of an association for colonization
purposes. Papineau endeavoured to attribute this exodus to the effects
of the policy of the imperial government, and to gain control of this
association with the object of using it as a means of stimulating a
feeling against England, and strengthening himself in French Canada by
such insidious methods. Lord Elgin, with that intuitive sagacity which
he applied to practical politics, recognized the importance of
identifying himself with the movement initiated by the bishops and
their friends, of putting himself "in so far as he could at its head,"
of imparting to it "as salutary a direction as possible, and thus
wresting from Papineau's hands a potent instrument of agitation." This
policy of conciliating the French population, and anticipating the
great agitator in his design, was quite successful. To use Lord
Elgin's own language, "Papineau retired to solitude and reflection at
his seigniory, 'La Petite Nation,'" and the governor-general was able
at the same time to call the attention of the colonial secretary to a
presentment of the grand jury of Montreal, "in which that body adverts
to the singularly tranquil, contented state of the province."

It was at this time that Lord Elgin commenced to give utterance to the
views that he had formed with respect to the best method of giving a
stimulus to the commercial and industrial interests that were so
seriously crippled by the free trade policy of the British government.
So serious had been its effects upon the economic conditions of the
province that mill-owners, forwarders and merchants had been ruined
"at one fell swoop," that the revenue had been reduced by the loss of
the canal dues paid previously by the shipping engaged in the trade
promoted by the old colonial policy of England, that private property
had become unsaleable, that not a shilling could be raised on the
credit of the province, that public officers of all grades, including
the governor-general, had to be paid in debentures which were not
exchangeable at par. Under such circumstances it was not strange, said
the governor-general, that Canadians were too ready to make
unfavourable comparisons between themselves and their republican
neighbours. "What makes it more serious," he said, "is that all the
prosperity of which Canada is thus robbed is transplanted to the other
side of the line, as if to make Canadians feel more bitterly how much
kinder England is to the children who desert her, than to those who
remain faithful. It is the inconsistency of imperial legislation, and
not the adoption of one policy rather than another, which is the bane
of the colonies."

He believed that "the conviction that they would be better off if they
were annexed," was almost universal among the commercial classes at
that time, and the peaceful condition of the province under all the
circumstances was often a matter of great astonishment even to
himself. In his letters urging the imperial government to find an
immediate remedy for this unfortunate condition of things, he
acknowledged that there was "something captivating in the project of
forming this vast British Empire into one huge _Zollverein_, with free
interchange of commodities, and uniform duties against the world
without; though perhaps without some federal legislation it might have
been impossible to carry it out."[9] Undoubtedly, under such a system
"the component parts of the empire would have been united by bonds
which cannot be supplied under that on which we are now entering," but
he felt that, whatever were his own views on the subject, it was then
impossible to disturb the policy fixed by the imperial government, and
that the only course open to them, if they hoped "to keep the
colonies," was to repeal the navigation laws, and to allow them "to
turn to the best possible account their contiguity to the States, that
they might not have cause for dissatisfaction when they contrasted
their own condition with that of their neighbours."

Some years, however, passed before the governor-general saw his views
fully carried out. The imperial authorities, with that extraordinary
indifference to colonial conditions which too often distinguished them
in those times, hesitated until well into 1849 to follow his advice
with respect to the navigation laws, and the Reciprocity Treaty was
not successfully negotiated until a much later time. He had the
gratification, however, before he left Canada of seeing the beneficial
effects of the measures which he so earnestly laboured to promote in
the interests of the country.



The legislature opened on January 18th, 1849, when Lord Elgin had the
gratification of informing French Canadians that the restrictions
imposed by the Union Act on the use of their language in the public
records had been removed by a statute of the imperial parliament. For
the first time in Canadian history the governor-general read the
speech in the two languages; for in the past it had been the practice
of the president of the legislative council to give it in French after
it had been read in English from the throne. The session was memorable
in political annals for the number of useful measures that were
adopted. In later pages of this book I shall give a short review of
these and other measures which show the importance of the legislation
passed by the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry. For the present I shall
confine myself to the consideration of a question which created an
extraordinary amount of public excitement, culminated in the
destruction of valuable public property, and even threatened the life
of the governor-general, who during one of the most trying crises in
Canadian history, displayed a coolness and patience, an indifference
to all personal considerations, a political sagacity and a strict
adherence to sound methods of constitutional government, which entitle
him to the gratitude of Canadians, who might have seen their country
torn asunder by internecine strife, had there been then a weak and
passionate man at the head of the executive. As it will be seen later,
he, like the younger Pitt in England, was "the pilot who weathered the
storm." In Canada, the storm, in which the elements of racial
antagonism, of political rivalry and disappointment, of spoiled
fortunes and commercial ruin raged tumultuously for a while,
threatened not only to drive Canada back for years in its political
and material development, but even to disturb the relations between
the dependency and the imperial state.

The legislation which gave rise to this serious convulsion in the
country was, in a measure, an aftermath of the rebellious risings of
1837 and 1838 in Upper and Lower Canada. Many political grievances had
been redressed since the union, and the French Canadians had begun to
feel that their interests were completely safe under a system of
government which gave them an influential position in the public
councils. The restoration of their language to its proper place in a
country composed of two nationalities standing on a sure footing of
equal political and civil rights, was a great consolation to the
French people of the east. The pardon extended to the rash men who
were directly concerned in the events of 1837 and 1838, was also well
calculated to heal the wounds inflicted on the province during that
troublous period. It needed only the passage of another measure to
conceal the scars of those unhappy days, and to bury the past in that
oblivion in which all Canadians anxious for the unity and harmony of
the two races, and the satisfactory operation of political
institutions, were sincerely desirous of hiding it forever. This
measure was pecuniary compensation from the state for certain losses
incurred by people in French Canada in consequence of the wanton
destruction of property during the revolt. The obligation of the state
to give such compensation had been fully recognized before and after
the union.

The special council of Lower Canada and the legislature of Upper
Canada had authorized the payment of an indemnity to those loyal
inhabitants in their respective provinces who had sustained losses
during the insurrections. It was not possible, however, before the
union, to make payments out of the public treasury in accordance with
the ordinance of the special council of Lower Canada and the statute
of the legislature of Upper Canada. In the case of both provinces
these measures were enacted to satisfy the demands that were made for
compensation by a large number of people who claimed to have suffered
losses at the outbreak of the rebellions, or during the raids from the
United States which followed these risings and which kept the country
in a state of ferment for months. The legislature of the united
provinces passed an act during its first session to extend
compensation to losses occasioned in Upper Canada by violence on the
part of persons "acting or assuming to act" on Her Majesty's behalf
"for the suppression of the said rebellion or for the prevention of
further disturbances." Funds were also voted out of the public
revenues for the payment of indemnities to those who had met with the
losses set forth in this legislation affecting Upper Canada. It was,
on the whole, a fair settlement of just claims in the western
province. The French Canadians in the legislature supported the
measure, and urged with obvious reason that the same consideration
should be shown to the same class of persons in Lower Canada. It was
not, however, until the session of 1845, when the Draper-Viger
ministry was in office, that an address was passed to the
governor-general, Lord Metcalfe, praying him to take such steps as
were necessary "to insure to the inhabitants of that portion of this
province, formerly Lower Canada, an indemnity for just losses suffered
during the rebellions of 1837 and 1838." The immediate result was the
appointment of commissioners to make inquiry into the losses sustained
by "Her Majesty's loyal subjects" in Lower Canada "during the late
unfortunate rebellion." The commissioners found some difficulty in
acting upon their instructions, which called upon them to distinguish
the cases of those "who had joined, aided or abetted the said
rebellion, from the cases of those who had not done so," and they
accordingly applied for definite advice from Lord Cathcart, whose
advisers were still the Draper-Viger ministry. The commissioners were
officially informed that "it was his Excellency's intention that they
should be guided by no other description of evidence than that
furnished by the sentences of the courts of law." They were further
informed that it was only intended that they should form a general
estimate of the rebellion losses, "the particulars of which must form
the subject of more minute inquiry hereafter, under legislative

During the session of 1846 the commissioners made a report which gave
a list of 2,176 persons who made claims amounting in the aggregate to
L241,965. At the same time the commissioners expressed the opinion
that L100,000 would be adequate to satisfy all just demands, and
directed attention to the fact that upwards of L25,503 were actually
claimed by persons who had been condemned by a court-martial for their
participation in the rebellion. The report also set forth that the
inquiry conducted by the commissioners had been necessarily imperfect
in the absence of legal power to make a minute investigation, and that
they had been compelled largely to trust to the allegations of the
claimants who had laid their cases before them, and that it was only
from data collected in this way that they had been able to come to
conclusions as to the amount of losses.

When the Draper-Viger ministry first showed a readiness to take up the
claims of Lower Canada for the same compensation that had been granted
to Upper Canada, they had been doubtless influenced, not solely by the
conviction that they were called upon to perform an act of justice,
but mainly by a desire to strengthen themselves in the French
province. We have already read that their efforts in this direction
entirely failed, and that they never obtained in that section any
support from the recognized leaders of public opinion, but were
obliged to depend upon Denis B. Papineau and Viger to keep up a
pretence of French Canadian representation in the cabinet. It is,
then, easy to believe that, when the report of the commissioners came
before them, they were not very enthusiastic on the subject, or
prepared to adopt vigorous measures to settle the question on some
equitable basis, and remove it entirely from the field of political
and national conflict.

They did nothing more than make provision for the payment of L9,986,
which represented claims fully investigated and recognized as
justifiable before the union, and left the general question of
indemnity for future consideration. Indeed, it is doubtful if the
Conservative ministry of that day, the mere creation of Lord Metcalfe,
kept in power by a combination of Tories and other factions in Upper
Canada, could have satisfactorily dealt with a question which required
the interposition of a government having the confidence of both
sections of the province. One thing is quite certain. This ministry,
weak as it was, Tory and ultra-loyalist as it claimed to be, had
recognized by the appointment of a commission, the justice of giving
compensation to French Canada on the principles which had governed the
settlement of claims from Upper Canada. Had the party which supported
that ministry been influenced by any regard for consistency or
principle, it was bound in 1849 to give full consideration to the
question, and treat it entirely on its merits with the view of
preventing its being made a political issue and a means of arousing
racial and sectional animosities. As we shall now see, however, party
passion, political demagogism, and racial hatred prevailed above all
high considerations of the public peace and welfare, when parliament
was asked by the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry to deal seriously and
practically with the question of indemnity to Lower Canada.

The session was not far advanced when LaFontaine brought forward a
series of resolutions, on which were subsequently based a bill, which
set forth in the preamble that "in order to redeem the pledge given to
the sufferers of such losses ... it is necessary and just that the
particulars of such losses, not yet paid and satisfied, should form
the subject of more minute inquiry under legislative authority (see p.
65 _ante_) and that the same, so far only as they may have arisen from
the total or partial, unjust, unnecessary or wanton destruction of
dwellings, buildings, property and effects ... should be paid and
satisfied." The act provided that no indemnity should be paid to
persons "who had been convicted of treason during the rebellion, or
who, having been taken into custody, had submitted to Her Majesty's
will, and been transported to Bermuda." Five commissioners were to be
appointed to carry out the provisions of the act, which also provided
L400,000 for the payment of legal claims.

Then all the forces hostile to the government gathered their full
strength for an onslaught on a measure which such Tories as Sir Allan
MacNab and Henry Sherwood believed gave them an excellent opportunity
of arousing a strong public sentiment which might awe the
governor-general and bring about a ministerial crisis. The issue was
not one of public principle or of devotion to the Crown, it was simply
a question of obtaining a party victory _per fas aut nefas_. The
debate on the second reading of the bill was full of bitterness,
intensified even to virulence. Mr. Sherwood declared that the proposal
of the government meant nothing else than the giving of a reward to
the very persons who had been the cause of the shedding of blood and
the destruction of property throughout the country. Sir Allan MacNab
went so far in a moment of passion as to insult the French Canadian
people by calling them "aliens and rebels." The solicitor-general, Mr.
Hume Blake,[10] who was Irish by birth, and possessed a great power of
invective, inveighed in severe terms against "the family compact" as
responsible for the rebellion, and declared that the stigma of
"rebels" applied with complete force to the men who were then
endeavouring to prevent the passage of a bill which was a simple act
of justice to a large body of loyal people. Sir Allan MacNab instantly
became furious and said that if Mr. Blake called him a rebel it was
simply a lie.

Then followed a scene of tumult, in which the authority of the chair
was disregarded, members indulged in the most disorderly cries, and
the people in the galleries added to the excitement on the floor by
their hisses and shouts. The galleries were cleared with the greatest
difficulty, and a hostile encounter between Sir Allan and Mr. Blake
was only prevented by the intervention of the sergeant-at-arms, who
took them into custody by order of the House until they gave
assurances that they would proceed no further in the unseemly dispute.
When the debate was resumed on the following day, LaFontaine brought
it again to the proper level of argument and reason, and showed that
both parties were equally pledged to a measure based on considerations
of justice, and declared positively that the government would take
every possible care in its instructions to the commissioner; that no
rebel should receive any portion of the indemnity, which was intended
only as a compensation to those who had just claims upon the country
for the losses that they actually sustained in the course of the
unfortunate rebellion. At this time the Conservative and ultra-loyal
press was making frantic appeals to party passions and racial
prejudices, and calling upon the governor-general to intervene and
prevent the passage of a measure which, in the opinion of loyal
Canadians, was an insult to the Crown and its adherents. Public
meetings were also held and efforts made to arouse a violent feeling
against the bill. The governor-general understood his duty too well as
the head of the executive to interfere with the bill while passing
through the two Houses, and paid no heed to these passionate appeals
dictated by partisan rancour, while the ministry pressed the question
to the test of a division as soon as possible. The resolutions and the
several readings of the bill passed both Houses by large majorities.
The bill was carried in the assembly on March 9th by forty-seven votes
against eighteen, and in the legislative council on the 15th, by
fifteen against fourteen. By an analysis of the division in the
popular chamber, it will be seen that out of thirty-one members from
Upper Canada seventeen supported and fourteen opposed the bill, while
out of ten Lower Canadian members of British descent there were six
who voted yea and four nay. The representatives of French Canada as a
matter of course were arrayed as one in favour of an act of justice to
their compatriots. During the passage of the bill its opponents
deluged the governor-general with petitions asking him either to
dissolve the legislature or to reserve the bill for the consideration
of the imperial government. Such appeals had no effect whatever upon
Lord Elgin, who was determined to adhere to the well understood rules
of parliamentary government in all cases of political controversy.

When the bill had passed all its stages in the two Houses by large
majorities of both French and English Canadians, the governor-general
came to the legislative council and gave the royal assent to the
measure, which was entitled "An Act to provide for the indemnification
of parties in Lower Canada whose property was destroyed during the
rebellion in the years 1837 and 1838." No other constitutional course
could have been followed by him under all the circumstances. In his
letters to the colonial secretary he did not hesitate to express his
regret "that this agitation should have been stirred, and that any
portion of the funds of the province should be diverted now from much
more useful purposes to make good losses sustained by individuals in
the rebellion," but he believed that "a great deal of property was
cruelly and wantonly destroyed" in Lower Canada, and that "this
government, after what their predecessors had done, and with Papineau
in the rear, could not have helped taking up this question." He saw
clearly that it was impossible to dissolve a parliament just elected
by the people, and in which the government had a large majority. "If I
had dissolved parliament," to quote his own words, "I might have
produced a rebellion, but assuredly I should not have procured a
change of ministry. The leaders of the party know that as well as I
do, and were it possible to play tricks in such grave concerns, it
would have been easy to throw them into utter confusion by merely
calling upon them to form a government. They were aware, however, that
I could not for the sake of discomfiting them hazard so desperate a
policy; so they have played out their game of faction and violence
without fear of consequences."

His reasons for not reserving the bill for the consideration of the
British government must be regarded as equally cogent by every student
of our system of government, especially by those persons who believe
in home rule in all matters involving purely Canadian interests. In
the first place, the bill for the relief of a corresponding class of
persons in Upper Canada, "which was couched in terms very nearly
similar, was not reserved," and it was "difficult to discover a
sufficient reason, so far as the representative of the Crown was
concerned, for dealing with the one measure differently from the
other." And in the second place, "by reserving the bill he should only
throw upon Her Majesty's government or (as it would appear to the
popular eye in Canada) on Her Majesty herself, a responsibility which
rests and ought to rest" upon the governor-general of Canada. If he
passed the bill, "whatever mischief ensues may probably be repaired,"
if the worst came to the worst, "by the sacrifice" of himself. If the
case were referred to England, on the other hand, it was not
impossible that Her Majesty might "only have before her the
alternative of provoking a rebellion in Lower Canada, by refusing her
assent to a measure chiefly affecting the interests of the _habitants_
and thus throwing the whole population into Papineau's hands, or of
wounding the susceptibilities of some of the best subjects she has in
the province."

A Canadian writer at the present time can refer only with a feeling of
indignation and humiliation to the scenes of tumult, rioting and
incendiarism, which followed the royal assent to the bill of
indemnity. When Lord Elgin left Parliament House--formerly the Ste.
Anne market--a large crowd insulted him with opprobrious epithets. In
his own words he was "received with ironical cheers and hootings, and
a small knot of individuals, consisting, it has since been
ascertained, of persons of a respectable class in society, pelted the
carriage with missiles which must have been brought for that purpose."
A meeting was held in the open air, and after several speeches of a
very inflammatory character had been made, the mob rushed to the
parliament building, which was soon in flames. By this disgraceful act
of incendiarism most valuable collections of books and documents were
destroyed, which, in some cases, could not be replaced. Supporters of
the bill were everywhere insulted and maltreated while the excitement
was at its height. LaFontaine's residence was attacked and injured.
His valuable library of books and manuscripts, some of them very rare,
was destroyed by fire--a deplorable incident which recalls the burning
and mutilation of the rich historical collections of Hutchinson, the
last loyalist governor of Massachusetts, at the commencement of the
American revolution in Boston.

A few days later Lord Elgin's life was in actual danger at the hands
of the unruly mob, as he was proceeding to Government House--then the
old Chateau de Ramezay on Notre Dame Street--to receive an address
from the assembly. On his return to Monklands he was obliged to take a
circuitous route to evade the same mob who were waiting with the
object of further insulting him and otherwise giving vent to their

The government appears to have been quite unconscious that the public
excitement was likely to assume so dangerous a phase, and had
accordingly taken none of those precautions which might have prevented
the destruction of the parliament house and its valuable contents.
Indeed it would seem that the leaders of the movement against the bill
had themselves no idea that the political storm which they had raised
by their inflammatory harangues would become a whirlwind so entirely
beyond their control. Their main object was to bring about a
ministerial crisis. Sir Allan MacNab, the leader of the opposition,
himself declared that he was amazed at the dangerous form which the
public indignation had at last assumed. He had always been a devoted
subject of the sovereign, and it is only just to say that he could
under no circumstances become a rebel, but he had been carried away by
his feelings and had made rash observations more than once under the
belief that the bill would reward the same class of men whom he and
other loyalists had fought against in Upper Canada. Whatever he felt
in his heart, he and his followers must always be held as much
responsible for the disturbances of 1849 as were Mackenzie and
Papineau for those of 1837. Indeed there was this difference between
them: the former were reckless, but at least they had, in the opinion
of many persons, certain political grievances to redress, while the
latter were simply opposing the settlement of a question which they
were bound to consider fairly and impartially, if they had any respect
for former pledges. Papineau, Mackenzie and Nelson may well have found
a measure of justification for their past madness when they found the
friends of the old "family compact" and the extreme loyalists of 1837
and 1838 incited to insult the sovereign in the person of her
representative, to create racial passion and to excite an agitation
which might at any moment develop into a movement most fatal to Canada
and her connection with England.

Happily for the peace of the country, Lord Elgin and his councillors
showed a forbearance and a patience which could hardly have been
expected from them during the very serious crisis in which they lived
for some weeks. "I am prepared," said Lord Elgin at the very moment
his life was in danger, "to bear any amount of obloquy that may be
cast upon me, but, if I can possibly prevent it, no stain of blood
shall rest upon my name." When he remained quiet at Monklands and
decided not to give his enemies further opportunities for outbursts of
passion by paying visits to the city, even if protected by a military
force, he was taunted by the papers of the opposition with cowardice
for pursuing a course which, we can all now clearly see, was in the
interests of peace and order. When at a later time LaFontaine's house
was again attacked after the arrest of certain persons implicated in
the destruction of the parliament house, and one of the assailants was
killed by a shot fired from inside, he positively refused to consent
to martial law or any measures of increased rigour until a further
appeal had been made to the mayor and corporation of the city. The
issue proved that he was clearly right in his opinion of the measures
that should be taken to restore order at this time. The law-abiding
citizens of Montreal at once responded to a proclamation of the mayor
to assist him in the maintenance of peace, and the coroner's jury--one
member being an Orangeman who had taken part in the funeral of the
deceased--brought in a unanimous verdict, acquitting LaFontaine of all
blame for the unfortunate incident that had occurred during the
unlawful attack on his residence.

The Montreal disturbances soon evoked the indignation of the truly
loyal inhabitants of the province. Addresses came to the
governor-general from all parts to show him that the riots were
largely due to local causes, "especially to commercial distress acting
on religious bigotry and national hatred." He had also the
gratification of learning that his constitutional action was fully
justified by the imperial government, as well as supported in
parliament where it was fully discussed. When he offered to resign his
office, he was assured by Lord Grey that "his relinquishment of that
office, which, under any circumstances, would be a most serious blow
to Her Majesty's service and to the province, could not fail, in the
present state of affairs, to be most injurious to the public welfare,
from the encouragement which it would give to those who have been
concerned in the violent and illegal opposition which has been offered
to your government." In parliament, Mr. Gladstone, who seems never to
have been well-informed on the subject, went so far as to characterize
the Rebellion Losses Bill as a measure for rewarding rebels, but both
Lord John Russell, then leader of the government, and his great
opponent, Sir Robert Peel, gave their unqualified support to the
measure. The result was that an amendment proposed by Mr. Herries in
favour of the disallowance of the act was defeated by a majority of

This action of the imperial authorities had the effect of
strengthening the public sentiment in Canada in support of Lord Elgin
and his advisers. The government set to work vigorously to carry out
the provisions of the law, appointing the same commissioners as had
acted under the previous ministry, and was able in a very short time
to settle definitely this very disturbing question. It was deemed
inexpedient, however, to keep the seat of government at Montreal.
After a very full and anxious consideration of the question, it was
decided to act on the recommendation of the legislature that it should
thereafter meet alternately at Toronto and Quebec, and that the next
session should be held at Toronto in accordance with this arrangement
This "perambulating system" was tried for several years, but it proved
so inconvenient and expensive that the legislature in 1858 passed an
address to Her Majesty praying her to choose a permanent capital. The
place selected was the city of Ottawa, on account of its situation on
the frontier of the two provinces, the almost equal division of its
population into French and English, its remoteness from the American
borders, and consequently its comparative security in time of war.
Some years later it became the capital of the Dominion of Canada--the
confederation of provinces and territories extending across the

In the autumn of 1849 Lord Elgin made a tour of the western part of
the province of Upper Canada for the purpose of obtaining some
expression of opinion from the people in the very section where the
British feeling was the strongest. On this occasion he was attended
only by an aide-de-camp and a servant, as an answer to those who were
constantly assailing him for want of courage. Here and there, as he
proceeded west, after leaving French Canada, he was insulted by a few
Orangemen, notably by Mr. Ogle R. Gowan, who appeared on the wharf at
Brockville with a black flag, but apart from such feeble exhibitions
of political spite he met with a reception, especially west of
Toronto, which proved beyond cavil that the heart and reason of the
country, as a whole, were undoubtedly in his favour, and that nowhere
was there any actual sympathy with the unhappy disturbances in
Montreal. He had also the gratification soon after his return from
this pleasant tour to receive from the British government an official
notification that he had been raised to the British peerage under the
title of Baron Elgin of Elgin in recognition of his distinguished
services to the Crown and empire in America.

But it was a long time before Lord Elgin was forgiven by a small
clique of politicians for the part he had taken in troubles which
ended in their signal discomfiture. The political situation continued
for a while to be aggravated by the serious commercial embarrassment
which existed throughout the country, and led to the circulation of a
manifesto, signed by leading merchants and citizens of Montreal,
urging as remedies for the prevalent depression a revival of colonial
protection by England, reciprocal free trade with the United States, a
federal union or republic of British North America, and even
annexation to the neighbouring states as a last resort. This document
did not suggest rebellion or a forceable separation from England. It
even professed affection for the home land; but it encouraged the idea
that the British government would doubtless yield to any colonial
pressure in this direction when it was convinced that the step was
beyond peradventure in the interest of the dependency. The manifesto
represented only a temporary phase of sentiment and is explained by
the fact that some men were dissatisfied with the existing condition
of things and ready for any change whatever. The movement found no
active or general response among the great mass of thinking people;
and it was impossible for the Radicals of Lower Canada to persuade
their compatriots that their special institutions, so dear to their
hearts, could be safely entrusted to their American republican
neighbours. All the men who, in the thoughtlessness of youth or in a
moment of great excitement, signed the manifesto--notably the Molsons,
the Redpaths, Luther H. Holton, John Rose, David Lewis MacPherson,
A.A. Dorion, E. Goff Penny--became prominent in the later public and
commercial life of British North America, as ministers of the Crown,
judges, senators, millionaires, and all devoted subjects of the
British sovereign.

When Lord Elgin found that the manifesto contained the signatures of
several persons holding office by commission from the Queen, he made
an immediate inquiry into the matter, and gave expression to the
displeasure of the Crown by removing from office those who confessed
that they had signed the objectionable document, or declined to give
any answer to the queries he had addressed to them. His action on this
occasion was fully justified by the imperial government, which
instructed him "to resist to the utmost any attempt that might be made
to bring about a separation of Canada from the British dominions." But
while Lord Elgin, as the representative of the Queen, was compelled by
a stern sense of duty to condemn such acts of infidelity to the
empire, he did not conceal from himself that there was a great deal in
the economic conditions of the provinces which demanded an immediate
remedy before all reason for discontent could disappear. He did not
fail to point out to Lord Grey that it was necessary to remove the
causes of the public irritation and uneasiness by the adoption of
measures calculated to give a stimulus to Canadian industry and
commerce. "Let me then assure your Lordship," he wrote in November
1849, "and I speak advisedly in offering this assurance, that the
dissatisfaction now existing in Canada, whatever may be the forms with
which it may clothe itself, is due mainly to commercial causes. I do
not say that there is no discontent on political grounds. Powerful
individuals and even classes of men are, I am well aware, dissatisfied
with the conduct of affairs. But I make bold to affirm that so general
is the belief that, under the present circumstances of our commercial
condition, the colonists pay a heavy pecuniary fine for their fidelity
to Great Britain, that nothing but the existence of an unwonted degree
of political contentment among the masses has prevented the cry for
annexation from spreading like wildfire through the province." He then
proceeded again to press upon the consideration of the government the
necessity of following the removal of the imperial restrictions upon
navigation and shipping in the colony, by the establishment of a
reciprocity of trade between the United States and the British North
American Provinces. The change in the navigation laws took place in
1849, but it was not possible to obtain larger trade with the United
States until several years later, as we shall see in a future chapter
when we come to review the relations between that country and Canada.

Posterity has fully justified the humane, patient and discreet
constitutional course pursued by Lord Elgin during one of the most
trying ordeals through which a colonial governor ever passed. He had
the supreme gratification, however, before he left the province, of
finding that his policy had met with that success which is its best
eulogy and justification. Two years after the events of 1849, he was
able to write to England that he did not believe that "the function of
the governor-general under constitutional government as the moderator
between parties, the representative of interests which are common to
all the inhabitants of the country, as distinct from those that divide
them into parties, was ever so fully and so frankly recognized." He
was sure that he could not have achieved such results if he had had
blood upon his hands. His business was "to humanize, not to harden."
One of Canada's ablest men--not then in politics--had said to him:

"Yes, I see it all now, you were right, a thousand times
right, though I thought otherwise then. I own that I would
have reduced Montreal to ashes before I would have endured
half of what you did,"

and he added, "I should have been justified, too." "Yes," answered
Lord Elgin, "you would have been justified because your course would
have been perfectly defensible; but it would not have been the best
course. Mine was a better one." And the result was this, in his own

"700,000 French reconciled to England, not because they are
getting rebel money; I believe, indeed that no rebels will
get a farthing; but because they believe that the British
governor is just. 'Yes,' but you may say, 'this is purchased
by the alienation of the British.' Far from it, I took the
whole blame upon myself; and I will venture to affirm that
the Canadian British were never so loyal as they are at this
hour; [this was, remember, two years after the burning of
Parliament House] and, what is more remarkable still, and
more directly traceable to this policy of forbearance,
never, since Canada existed, has party spirit been more
moderate, and the British and French races on better terms
than they are now; and this in spite of the withdrawal of
protection, and of the proposal to throw on the colony many
charges which the imperial government has hitherto borne."

Canadians at the beginning of the twentieth century may also say as
Lord Elgin said at the close of this letter, _Magna est Veritas_.


Book of the day: