HotFreeBooks.com
The Story of the Upper Canada Rebellion, Volume 1
by John Charles Dent
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

So far as to the wealthy members of the ruling faction. But there were a good many of them who not only were not wealthy, but who were in positively indigent circumstances. These, for the most part, were members of old country families who had sent them to Canada with the sole object of getting rid of them. Others were half-pay officers who had spent their whole fortunes in settling on land, after which they had found themselves unable to make a livelihood, and had then sold their property for as much—or as little—as they could manage to get. These latter, after having disposed of their lands, generally repaired to the towns, and most of them sooner or later found their way to the Provincial capital. There they became obedient slaves of those in authority, and picked up a precarious livelihood by making themselves useful in various ways. The Executive could always find a certain amount of work for such persons, though, if the truth must be told, the supply was often greater than the demand. The code of social ethics in vogue among this class was such as might have been expected from persons who had been reared to regard themselves as the objects of a special dispensation of fortune. They looked upon manual labour as degrading. Any person, no matter what his abilities, who earned a livelihood by the sweat of his brow, or even by honest trade, was considered as no fit company for the brood of parasites who hung on to the heels of the Compact, and who nevertheless did not hesitate to perform tasks from which the average costermonger would have shrunk in disgust. Their employers occasionally admitted them to their tables, and even to some degree of social intimacy. More frequently they presented them with their cast-off clothing, with new gowns for their wives at Christmas, or—when things were at a remarkably low ebb—with a hundredweight of flour or half a barrel of mess pork. Yet the recipients of these favours piqued themselves upon their good birth and high connexions, and would have felt themselves insulted if anyone had ventured to hint that they should visit, upon terms of equality, with the grocer or the butcher in the next street.

The reader now has before him a sufficient array of facts to enable him to form a pretty accurate conception of the state of social life in Upper Canada during ante-Rebellion times. It was a matter of course that such a monopoly of power as was possessed and exercised by the ruling faction should excite envy and opposition on the part of those who did not revel in its smiles or share in its plunder. Loud murmurings began to make themselves heard against the delay and partiality in the land-granting department, and against the corrupt manner in which the public affairs of the Province generally were carried on. Before the close of Governor Hunter's regime these murmurings had become loud enough to occasion no little disquiet to some of the officials who had most reason to dread enquiry and investigation. The abuses were greater in some branches of the service than in others, but peculation prevailed to a greater or less extent almost everywhere. The Indian department was notorious for the corruption of its officials. A sum of sixty thousand pounds sterling was annually granted by the Imperial Government for distribution among the various tribes, and for the payment of agents and interpreters. The distribution among the Indians chiefly took the form of commodities which had a particular fascination for the mind of the noble savage—such commodities, for instance, as muskets, powder, bullets, knives, tomahawks, hatchets, blankets, spangles, pocket mirrors, and—last, but by no means least—fire-water. The opportunities which this grant afforded for peculation and plunder were too tempting to be resisted. The agents and their subordinates, from highest to lowest, owed their positions to their servility and usefulness to those in authority. So long as they proved serviceable and obedient to their masters, there was not much likelihood of their being called to serious account for any iniquities they might commit towards Mohawk or Seneca, Oneida or Mississauga. By way of consequence, the Indians were robbed and the Government was robbed; and the robbers, feeling secure of protection from their superiors, plied their nefarious traffic with impunity.[51] There were equally culpable but less notorious abuses of power in other branches of the service. Probably not one in ten of these ever came to light, but from time to time there were awkward revelations which could not be suppressed. All these things combined to beget a widespread lack of confidence in the official clique. The want of confidence, not without good reason, extended even to the administrators of the law. The judges, as already mentioned, held office at the will of the Executive, and, at least in some instances, were shamelessly servile and corrupt. This led to their dicta being disregarded by sturdy juries who cared less for the letter of the law than for its spirit. Mr. John Mills Jackson, in his "View of the Political Situation of the Province of Upper Canada," published in 1809, speaks of an instance where the people became tumultuous, and broke the public stocks in the presence of the Chief Justice.[52] The public distrust of the administrators of the law does not seem to have been confined to the judges of the Superior Courts. It extended to the rural magistrates, some of whom turned their offices to commodity in a manner which would have excited the admiration of Falstaff himself. "The shop-keepers," writes Mr. Jackson, "are Justices of Peace. They have the means of extortion, and the power of enforcing payments. They are first the criminals, then the judges; and the court of appeal seems to be so constructed as to prevent an honest verdict from passing into effect. The practice of the court is unjust, oppressive, and influenced. Favourite attorneys were made deputy clerks of the peace, so that process might be entered and writs obtained most partially. The crown lawyer is allowed nearly seven pounds sterling for every criminal prosecution! an inducement to listen to trifling complaints, and prefer frivolous indictments, when, if power was gratified and independence harassed, it was a sufficient excuse for an inflated contingent account." The author of this scathing philippic against petty oppression proceeds to recount a case wherein an action was brought against a magistrate who had exerted his authority in an illegal and oppressive manner. A verdict was obtained against him for a hundred pounds. An application was made to the Court of King's Bench to set the verdict aside, which was rejected; whereupon the clerk of the court in which the judgment had been obtained was ordered by the Crown lawyer not to issue execution. The clerk knew better than to disobey an order from such a source, and the plaintiff accordingly took nothing by his verdict. The unrighteous magistrate escaped the penalty of his misdeeds, and furnished a sort of standing precedent for magisterial iniquity. Other equally flagrant perversions of justice are recorded by the same authority. An illegal and unjustifiable extent issued, at the suit of the Crown, against one of the civil officers. It lasted for years; yet the officer dared not resist oppression by applying for justice. "When [the extent] was as imperiously taken off as it was arbitrarily laid on," writes Mr. Jackson, "the sheriff dared not apply for fees expended in holding possession under the writ, or the printer sue for the money voted him by the House of Assembly for printing their journals. The surveyors could not obtain the money they had actually expended in the public service, nor the people find redress for extorted fees. Therefore, when there was neither substance nor shadow of law or justice, but the will of power was the rule of decision, the public mind was agitated in the extreme, and universal gloom pervaded the Province."

The discontent produced by official tyranny was however almost impotent as against the wrong-doers, who were so strongly entrenched in their places that it seemed as though nothing could shake them. Many of them, conscious of their misconduct, doubtless felt secret misgivings whenever any specially significant outburst of popular dissatisfaction occurred. But for many years they were able to present a united and brazen front, and to crush anyone who dared to so much as wag a finger against them. It was intimated on a former page that Robert Gourlay was not the first victim of Executive tyranny. The first conspicuous victim of whom any record has been preserved was Mr. Robert Thorpe, an English barrister of much learning and acumen, who in 1805 was appointed a puisne judge of the Court of King's Bench for Upper Canada. Previous to his arrival in this country Mr. Thorpe had never been remarkable for any specially liberal opinions, but he was a man of enlightened mind, and actuated by an honest desire to do his duty. He was not long in perceiving that the administration of justice in this Province was little better than a hollow mockery. He resolved to do what one man could to restore public confidence in the judicial bench, and his court erelong became a popular forum for honest litigants, for it was evident to all that he held the scales of justice with an even hand, and was not to be either cajoled or bullied into perverting the law. Before he had been a twelvemonth in the country he was known far and wide as an upright judge, and as a sort of champion of popular rights. Grand juries took him into their confidence, and tabulated their grievances before him. These were laid by him before the authorities at York, upon his return from circuit; a proceeding which was quite sufficient to bring down upon his head the opposition of the faction which flourished by reason of those very grievances. The whole of the Family Compact influence arrayed itself against him in deadly enmity. Francis Gore arrived in the capacity of Lieutenant-Governor in the summer of 1806. He was informed by his Councillors that Judge Thorpe was a dangerous and revolutionary personage. It was certain that the past year had been signalized by a decided propensity on the part of the people to assert themselves against the intolerable exactions of their oppressors, and that a spirit of opposition was on the increase throughout the land. Governor Gore and his Councillors reversed the inductive process, and attributed the popular discontent to the influence of the new judge. This seeming conviction on their parts was strengthened by certain remarks of Judge Thorpe himself, made in reply to an address from the Grand Jury of the London District. "The art of governing," said he, "is a difficult science. Knowledge is not instinctive, and the days of inspiration have passed away. Therefore, when there was neither talent, education, information, nor even manners in the Administration, little could be expected, and nothing was produced." The reference here is manifestly to the regime of Governor Hunter and Commodore Grant; and the intimation is that better things are to be hoped for under the recently-arrived Governor. "But," continued the judge, "there is an ultimate point of depression, as well as of exaltation, from whence all human affairs naturally advance or recede. Therefore, proportionate to your depression, we may expect your progress in prosperity will advance with accelerated velocity." He also in the course of his address, inveighed against the Alien Act of 1804. When he reached York, at the close of the circuit, he laid before the new Lieutenant-Governor the various recapitulations of grievances which had been entrusted to him. They were received by Mr. Gore and his Councillors with a very ill grace. The complaints from the London District were stated with great vigour and lucidity, and as they had got into print they could not be suppressed or wholly ignored. An attempt was made to show that the chapter of grievances had been presented by the jurors, not because there was really anything of importance to complain of, but because Judge Thorpe himself had instigated them to such a course. As this charge was openly made, Mr. Thorpe in his capacity of a Justice of the King's Bench, caused a proceeding of the nature of scandalum magnatum to be instituted. His brother judges, however, some of whom were members of the Executive Council, and all of whom were subject to strong influences from that quarter, ruled that the proceeding could not be maintained, and it accordingly fell through. An attempt was also made, first to intimidate, and afterwards to corrupt the Grand Jury. A letter was sent to them from the office of the Lieutenant-Governor, requesting them to state the grounds of their complaints more specifically. The recipients responded by preparing and forwarding a stronger case than before. A recantation was then drawn up by a skilful hand, and presented to each individual member of the Jury, a reward being at the same time offered as an inducement to sign it. The jurymen, however, were not prepared to barter away their liberties in this manner, and the attempt wholly failed. While the Executive were deliberating as to how they could most effectually strike Judge Thorpe, a vacancy occurred in the representation of one of the constituencies in the Home District. In those times, as has already been seen, a judgeship was no disqualification for political life, and a deputation waited on Mr. Thorpe with a numerously signed address, requesting him to become their representative. He replied that he would not become a partisan, but that if he were returned to Parliament he would not hesitate to do his duty. No sooner did it become known that "the Radical Judge," as he was called, was a candidate for the Assembly than the leading spirits of the Compact aroused themselves to defeat him. This was natural enough. That they should employ against him every means which their ingenuity could devise—among others, bribery, vilification and deliberate slander—that also was natural, when the time and persons are considered. "Every engine within the reach of authority," writes Mr. Jackson, "was used for the purpose of defeating the wishes of the people on this occasion. All interests were required to yield in favour of the candidate most likely to succeed as against Mr. Thorpe. Any person in employment, in expectation of, or entitled to land, was gratified, promised, or threatened; magistrates were made and unmade, as best suited the purposes of electioneering; grants were given; fees excused, or promised to be paid by those high in authority. Even domestics were bribed with places, land, and money, to vilify and accuse, by direct falsehoods, the most upright, serviceable and esteemed persons in the Province." For once public opinion proved too strong for Family Compact influence. Judge Thorpe was returned, and great things were hoped for from his career in Parliament. But the triumph of freedom was short-lived. The Compact was too strong to be opposed by the multitude with impunity. Lieutenant-Governor Gore was subservient to its wishes, and besides he had by this time come to hate the popular judge on his own account, and his mind was fully made up to solicit from the Colonial Secretary Judge Thorpe's recall. One of his private letters, written from Kingston, during a journey from York to Montreal, several months after the Judge's election to the Assembly, announces this resolution in unmistakable terms. "The object of Mr. T.'s [Thorpe's] emissions," he writes, "appears to be to persuade the people to turn every gentleman out of the House of Assembly. However, keep your temper with the rascals, I beseech you. I shall represent everything at St. James'." He was as good as his word, and in October, 1807, the announcement was made in the Gazette that the Lieutenant-Governor had been instructed to suspend Mr. Thorpe from his judgeship, which we may be quite sure was done without unnecessary loss of time.

Thus did might continue to triumph over right. There was not the slightest imputation of any sort against the Judge's character. His professional attainments were high; his personal character without a stain. His continued presence in Canada would have been a blessing to all but the race of tyrants who trampled on popular liberty. Yet he was removed because he respected himself and his office too highly to pervert judgment, and because he bade fair to abridge the rule of corruption. Upon his return to England the Colonial Office urged nothing whatever against him, and merely suggested, by way of justification for his recall, that his stay in Upper Canada would have led to perpetual disturbance of the public tranquillity. He instituted proceedings in one of the English courts against Mr. Gore, who was convicted of libel, but who escaped much more easily than he deserved with a fine of trifling amount. By way of recompense for his recall from Upper Canada, Judge Thorpe was appointed Chief Justice of Sierra Leone. There he remained for two years, by which time his constitution had become so much broken by the climate that he was compelled to return home. At the request of a number of the inhabitants he carried with him to England a petition complaining of certain abuses of power there. For this he was discarded by the Ministry of the day. His appointment as Chief Justice was cancelled, and another judge was sent out to West Africa in his stead. The rest of his life was passed in obscurity and neglect, and when he died his family were left without any provision for their future. Such was the untoward fate of an honourable and high-minded man, whose only fault was that he was too pure for the times in which he lived, and for the people among whom his lot was cast.

Another early victim, whose life record seems to contradict the adage that honesty is the best policy, was Surveyor-General Wyatt. There is no need to go minutely into the particulars of his case. He was universally recognized as a competent and honest official, insomuch that it was currently said of him that he was too good for the masters whom he served. But he ventured to interfere on behalf of one of the subordinates in his office, who had been refused a stipend to which Mr. Wyatt considered him entitled. Then, he presumed to oppose the Council in respect of an irregular purchase of a large tract of land from the Mississauga Indians. Finally, he went so far as to profess a high degree of respect for the manly and independent conduct of Judge Thorpe. The secret conclave speedily pronounced his doom. No one ventured to allege any fault against him, yet he was deprived of his situation by the Lieutenant-Governor, and a pliable tool was installed in his office.

Joseph Willcocks had a more bitter experience still. He was an Irishman, of liberal education, and of much energy of character, whose influence in official circles was wide enough to obtain for him the post of Sheriff of the Home District. For several years no occasion for any difference of opinion arose between him and his superiors. He was known as a competent officer, who discharged his duties with great consideration for the impecunious and unfortunate. But his frequent official peregrinations through the Home District enabled him to see with his own eyes the disastrous effects of the Clergy Reserves, of the land-granting system, and of Family Compact domination generally; and on several occasions he had sufficient courage to express his opinions thereupon. Attempts were made to silence him, first by remonstrances, and afterwards by threats, but all to no purpose. When Judge Thorpe began to figure as a sort of popular tribune, Willcocks declared himself as being also on the side of the people. When the Judge became a candidate for Parliament, the Sheriff, who had a vote in the constituency, recorded it in his favour. For this he shared the fate of the Surveyor-General, and was promptly dismissed from office by the Lieutenant-Governor. But he came of a fighting stock, and was not to be suppressed by the mere circumstance of being deprived of an official income. He started a newspaper called The Upper Canada Guardian, or Freeman's Journal. In this sheet, which was edited by Mr. Willcocks himself, various desirable measures of reform were advocated, and the dominant faction were from time to time referred to in opprobrious, but certainly not untruthful or unmerited language. The paper obtained a considerable circulation, and soon made its editor an object of bitter hatred on the part of the authorities. The vilest abuse was poured out upon him, and he was subjected to a course of persecution well-nigh as grievous as subsequently fell to the lot of Robert Gourlay. Governor Gore himself, in a letter still extant, written in 1807, refers to him as "that execrable monster who would deluge the Province with blood." The execrable monster's influence, however, continued to grow, and upon Judge Thorpe's retirement from Upper Canada, he was returned to the Assembly in his stead, for the West Riding of the County of York, the First Riding of the County of Lincoln, and the County of Haldimand. As he was a ready and powerful speaker, as well as a vigorous writer, it was felt that he would soon become intolerable if his career were not effectively checked. He was accordingly tried before the Assembly on a frivolous charge of having, in a private conversation held at the house of a Mr. Glennan, in York, spoken disrespectfully of some of the members. The proceedings were the veriest travesty of the forms of justice. The accused was found guilty, and committed to the common jail of the Home District, there to remain during the sitting of Parliament.[53] This indignity he was compelled to suffer, being confined for many weeks in a small close cell, which he was not permitted to leave for a single moment. He was further wrought upon by informations for libel, as well as by secret inquisitions into his private affairs. After his enlargement he continued to publish his paper, but he was so tortured by the incessant persecutions to which he was subjected that he could accomplish little or nothing in the way of reform. From some of his votes in the Assembly it would appear that he made tacit overtures towards reconciliation with his enemies,[54] but he had offended too deeply to be forgiven, and their rancour was not to be appeased. Eventually he was compelled to relinquish the publication of the Guardian for want of funds to carry it on. Notwithstanding all that he had endured, his loyalty remained unshaken, and when the War of 1812[55] broke out he responded to the call for volunteers by shouldering his musket and doing his devoirs like a man at the battle of Queenston Heights. Even this obtained for him neither complaisance nor immunity from abuse. He found himself ruined in fortune, opposed and hated by those in authority, without any prospect before him but starvation. It is not singular that a man subjected to such conditions should become disheartened. In a moment of exasperation he deserted the ranks where he had been held as of so little account. Accompanied by a small body of Canadian volunteers, he repaired to the camp of the enemy, where he offered his services, and obtained a colonel's commission. He served under Major-General Brown at the siege of Fort Erie, where he was slain while planting a guard.

Such are three of the most notable examples of ministerial tyranny in comparatively early times. As before mentioned, they attracted less widespread attention than did Mr. Gourlay's case some years later, because, though they were signal instances of the abuse of power, they were not marked by such refinement in cruelty, and because they appealed to the political sympathies of comparatively few. In the time of Judge Thorpe, Wyatt and Willcocks, the dominating class not only held a monopoly of power, but they and their adherents were numerically in the ascendant. At the time of Gourlay's persecution the population was much more evenly divided. The oligarchy still had control of all the avenues to power, but there was a large and steadily-increasing class in the community who recognized the fact that many changes were necessary before Upper Canada could become a prosperous and well-governed colony, and a satisfactory place of abode for the average British immigrant.

In closing this hasty review of the nature and effects of Family Compact domination in Upper Canada, I would not be understood as pronouncing a sweeping condemnation upon all the individual members of that body. John Beverley Robinson, for instance, though he lent himself to many high-handed acts of oppression, was a man of undoubted ability, and of a character which inspired respect. His descendants are to-day among the most respected and influential members of society in our Provincial capital. Several others were men of high personal character, and of abilities above the average. They acted in accordance with time and circumstance, and must be supposed to have done so conscientiously. But such persons as these composed but a very slender proportion of the Compact's entire membership. The rank and file were of a totally different complexion. The characteristics of the more poverty-stricken among them have already been hinted at; but, independently of these, there were many who were well-to-do, and who held their heads high in the air, who were nevertheless very ill qualified to win admiration for the caste to which they belonged. To state the simple truth, most of them were very ordinary commonplace personages, respectable, sapless, idealess—what Dr. Johnson would have characterized as exceedingly barren rascals. Some were of obscure origin, and would have been hard put to it if required to trace their ancestry beyond a single generation. Of these latter, a few, as has already been seen, had amassed wealth by trade or speculation, and had made their way into the exclusive circle by a fortunate combination of circumstances.

Among the Compact, then, the number of persons of good birth and descent, possessed of sufficient qualifications to justify their aristocratic predilections, and of sufficient capacity to enable them to direct the colonial policy, was small. And it must by no means be supposed that all the good blood in the Province was confined to the Compact. There were many persons among the pioneers of Upper Canada of gentle nurture and breeding, who nevertheless scorned to pose in the character of aristocrats in a land where such assumptions were altogether out of place, and who manfully accommodated themselves to their primitive surroundings. As has been well remarked by Mr. MacMullen,[56] "While they learned to wield the axe and swing the cradle with the energy and skill of the roughest backwoodsman, they retained their polished manners, their literary tastes, their love for the beautiful and the elegant; and thus exercised the most beneficial influence upon their rustic neighbours. In the absence of schools, of churches, of most of the refining influences of civilized society, this class of the early settlers of Upper Canada were foremost in usefulness. Their superior education, their well-bred manners, their more refined habits, raised them in the estimation of the rural population, who soon tacitly admitted a superiority which would never have been conceded [had it been] more directly asserted." Most, though not all, of these gentlemen were Tories, and, with hardly an exception, preserved their loyalty through all chances and changes. During the War of 1812-15, and again during the agitation arising out of the Rebellion, they proved true to their Tory instincts, and rallied to the side of the Government with ready fervour. Their social proclivities were equally removed from the rude boorishness of the ordinary settler as from the pretence and ceremonial of the clique of self-constituted aristocrats. They generally preserved a modicum of state in the regulation of their household affairs, though they kept aloof from the Compact and its practices, and devoted themselves to various branches of industry—among others, to the education of youth; to the practice of the learned professions; to the opening and cultivating of new avenues of commerce; and to reducing the pathless forests to arable and smiling fields.

One other fact it is essential to bear in mind, in estimating the effects of the Compact's regime. In seizing upon all the official and other spoils within their reach, and in trampling upon the liberties of the people, the magnates of Upper Canada were merely treading in the footsteps of the Tite Barnacles of Great Britain. The period was one of transition, all over the civilized world. Popular rights were but imperfectly understood, and the idea that good government is best served by the extension of justice and equal rights to all classes was only beginning to dawn upon the minds of public men, even in old and long-established communities. That Canada was not in advance of the times is not to be wondered at; but the ordeal through which she was compelled to pass on the way to full and assured liberty forms an epoch highly necessary to be understood and frequently remembered by all who appreciate the blessings which are the birthright of every Canadian of the present day. A knowledge of the principles and practices of the Family Compact in the olden days constitutes the most effectual guarantee that such days can never return, and that neither our children nor our children's children will ever be compelled to fight over again the battle which was so long and so patiently waged by their ancestors.

FOOTNOTES:

[45] It may perhaps be thought by some readers that the closing sentences of this paragraph are pitched in too high a key. Those who entertain that opinion will receive light on the subject by a careful perusal of various official reports issued just prior to the passing of the Quebec Act in 1774, and more especially of A Cry from Quebec, published at Montreal in 1809.

[46] Report on the Affairs of British North America, English folio edition, p. 53.

[47] Ib.

[48] How far Lord Durham was justified in saying that there was "little of family connexion" among the members of the Compact will appear from the following "curious but accurate statement," prepared by Mr. W. L. Mackenzie for his Sketches of Canada and the United States, published in England in 1833. It will be found on pp. 405-409 of that work. "When I left Upper Canada last year," writes Mr. Mackenzie, "some of the offices, sinecures, and pensions of the Government were divided as follows:—No. 1. D'ARCY BOULTON, senior, a retired pensioner, L500 sterling. 2. HENRY, son to No. 1, Attorney-General and Bank Solicitor, L2400. 3. D'ARCY, son to No. 1, Auditor-General, Master in Chancery, Police Justice, etc. Income unknown. 4. WILLIAM, son to No. 1, Church Missionary, King's College Professor, etc., L650. 5. GEORGE, son to No. 1, Registrar of Northumberland, Member of Assembly for Durham, etc. Income unknown. 6. JOHN BEVERLEY ROBINSON, brother-in-law to No. 3, Chief Justice of Upper Canada, Member for life of the Legislative Council, Speaker of ditto, L2000. 7. PETER, brother to No. 6, Member of the Executive Council, Member for life of the Legislative Council, Crown Land Commissioner, Surveyor-General of Woods, Clergy Reserve Commissioner, etc. L1300. 8. WILLIAM, brother to Nos. 6 and 7, Postmaster of Newmarket, Member of Assembly for Simcoe, Government Contractor, Colonel of Militia, Justice of the Peace, etc. Income unknown. 9. JONAS JONES, brother-in-law to No. 2, Judge of the District Court in three districts containing eight counties, and filling a number of other offices. Income about L1000. 10. CHARLES, brother to No. 9, Member for life of Legislative Council, Justice of the Peace in twenty seven counties, etc. 11. ALPHEUS, brother to Nos. 9 and 10, Collector of Customs, Prescott, Postmaster at ditto, Agent for Government Bank at ditto, etc. Income L900. 12. LEVIUS P. SHERWOOD, brother-in-law to Nos. 9, 10, 11, one of the Justices of the Court of King's Bench. Income L1000. 13. HENRY, son to No. 12, Clerk of Assize, etc. 14. JOHN ELMSLEY, son-in-law to No. 12, Member of the Legislative Council for life, Bank Director, Justice of the Peace, etc. 15. CHARLES HEWARD, nephew to No. 6, Clerk of the District Court, etc. Income L100. 16. JAMES B. MACAULAY, brother-in-law to Nos. 17 and 19, one of the Justices of the Court of King's Bench. Income L1000. 17. CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER HAGERMAN, brother-in-law to No. 16, Solicitor-General. L800. 18. JOHN MCGILL, a relation of Nos. 16 and 17, Legislative Councillor for life. Pensioner, L500. 19 and 20. W. ALLAN AND GEORGE CROOKSHANKS, connexions by marriage of 16 and 17, Legislative Councillors for life, the latter President of the Bank. L500. 21. HENRY JONES, cousin to Nos. 9, 10, etc., Postmaster of Brockville, Justice of the Peace, Member of Assembly for Brockville, Income unknown. 22. WILLIAM DUMMER POWELL, father of No. 24, Legislative Councillor for life, Justice of the Peace, Pensioner. Pension, L1000. 23. SAMUEL PETERS JARVIS, son-in-law to No. 22, Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, Deputy-Secretary of the Province, Bank Director, etc. Income unknown. 24. GRANT, son to No. 22, Clerk of the Legislative Council, Police Justice, Judge Home District Court, Official Principal of Probate Court, Commissioner of Customs, etc. Income L675. 25. WILLIAM M., brother to 23, High Sheriff Gore District. Income from L500 to L800. 26. WILLIAM B., cousin to Nos. 23 and 25, High Sheriff, Home District, Member of Assembly. Income L900. 27. ADIEL SHERWOOD, cousin to No. 12, High Sheriff of Johnstown, and Treasurer of that district. Income from L500 to L800. 28. GEORGE SHERWOOD, son to No. 12, Clerk of Assize. 29. JOHN STRACHAN, their family tutor and political schoolmaster, archdeacon and rector of York, Member of the Executive and Legislative Councils, President of the University, President of the Board of Education, and twenty other situations. Income, on an average of years, upwards of L1800. 30. THOMAS MERCER JONES, son-in-law to No. 29, associated with No. 19, as the Canada Company's Agents and Managers in Canada. This family connexion rules Upper Canada according to its own good pleasure, and has no efficient check from this country to guard the people against its acts of tyranny and oppression. It includes the whole of the judges of the supreme civil and criminal tribunal (Nos. 6, 12, and 16)—active Tory politicians. Judge Macaulay was a clerk in the office of No. 2, not long since. It includes half the Executive Council or provincial cabinet. It includes the Speaker and other eight Members of the Legislative Council. It includes the persons who have the control of the Canada Land Company's monopoly. It includes the President and Solicitor of the Bank, and about half the Bank Directors; together with shareholders, holding, to the best of my recollection, about 1800 shares. And it included the crown lawyers until last March, when they carried their opposition to Viscount Goderich's measures of reform to such a height as personally to insult the government, and to declare their belief that he had not the royal authority for his despatches. They were then removed; but, with this exception, the chain remains unbroken. This family compact surround the Lieutenant-Governor, and mould him, like wax, to their will; they fill every office with their relatives, dependants, and partisans; by them justices of the peace and officers of the militia are made and unmade; they have increased the number of the Legislative Council by recommending, through the Governor, half a dozen of nobodies and a few placemen, pensioners, and individuals of well-known narrow and bigoted principle; the whole of the revenues of Upper Canada are in reality at their mercy;—they are Paymasters, Receivers, Auditors, King, Lords, and Commons!"

[49] See his evidence annexed to the Committee's Report, p. 86.

[50] Gourlay, commenting upon this episode, remarks: "Who pardoned all the poor sinners that for years had been getting bastards, and who legitimized these, was not determined when I bade farewell to Upper Canada."—Statistical Account, Vol. 2, p. 348.

[51] Those who wish to gain an insight into some of the most revolting features of this traffic may consult Claws and the Clauses, a pamphlet published at Buffalo in 1818; also Gourlay, vol. 2, pp. 486, 487; together with Jackson's pamphlet referred to in the text.

[52] This must have been Chief Justice Thomas Scott, after whom Scott Street, Toronto, was called. He was Chief Justice from August, 1806, to Michaelmas Term, 1816. He is referred to by Dr. Scadding in Toronto of Old, p. 51, as "a man of fine culture, spoken of affectionately by those who knew him." A picture of him in his decline is presented on page 130 of the same work.

[53] For a full account of these infamous proceedings, the reader is referred to The Upper Canada Guardian of February 6th and March 18th, 1808, quoted by Gourlay in his Statistical Account, Vol. 2, pp. 655-662.

[54] See an extract from the minutes of the proceedings in the Assembly, 10th March, 1810, quoted by Gourlay, Vol. 2, pp. 328, 329. See also Gourlay's remarks thereon, Vol. 2, pp. 334, 335.

[55] There is reason to believe that the discontent begotten of the abuse of power in Canada was one of the inducements to this attempt on the part of the United States, the Government of which was led to believe that Canadians generally would welcome any relief from the yoke which the Compact had placed upon their necks.

[56] History of Canada, p. 243.



CHAPTER IV.

FATHERS OF REFORM.

The history of Upper Canada, from the time of Mr. Gourlay's banishment, in 1819, down to the actual outbreak of rebellion, is largely made up of a succession of abuses on the part of the Executive, and of more or less passive endurance on the part of the great body of the people. As has been intimated, the Gourlay prosecutions and their attendant circumstances aroused much popular indignation, and led to the formation of an organized Opposition. During the session of 1820 the "Gagging Bill," as it was called, which had been introduced and carried through the Assembly under the auspices of Mr. Jonas Jones[57] two years before, was repealed,[58] and the holding of conventions was no longer prohibited by law. It is a fact worth mentioning that Attorney-General Robinson was the only member who recorded his vote against the repealing statute, whereas at the time of the enactment of the original repressive law in 1818 only one vote had been given against it. Such a change of opinion among the members of the Assembly within so brief a space of time is in itself significant of the progress of liberal views among the people generally.

The vote on this repealing statute was somewhat of a surprise to the authorities. It was evident that Reform sentiment was growing, and that many persons who had never been classed as Reformers were weary of the long reign of tyranny. It was not the policy of the Compact, however, to yield anything to popular demands, and they held on their course with dogged pertinacity, as though animated by a fixed resolve that the public indignation which had been aroused by the Gourlay prosecutions should not be permitted to subside. Erelong a new opportunity for applying the thumb-screw presented itself, and it was taken advantage of to the fullest practicable extent. During the recess following the close of the first session of the Eighth Provincial Parliament, which was prorogued on the 14th of April, 1821, a vacancy occurred in the representation of the constituency of the United Counties of Lennox and Addington. The local Reformers took advantage of the opportunity thus afforded of bringing out a candidate who had rendered much service to Liberal principles in Upper Canada, and who was eminently fitted to impart strength to the Opposition in the Assembly. His name was Barnabas Bidwell, and he was known far and wide as one of the keenest intellects and as one of the best public speakers in the country. His past history had been unfortunate, and as it was soon to be made the subject of strict Parliamentary enquiry, a few leading facts in connection with it may as well be set down here.

He was a native of Massachusetts, where he was born in the old colonial days before the Revolution. He came of a Whig family which espoused the colonial cause with ardour, but he was himself too young to take any part in the great struggle which gave birth to the United States. Having completed his education at Yale College, he studied law, and at an early age rose to eminence at the Massachusetts bar. He became Attorney-General of the State, and, though he had for his rivals some of the ablest men known to American history, he was regarded by his countrymen as one whose future was in his own hands. His manners were courtly and refined, and his scholastic attainments wide and various. He soon found his way to Congress, where his brilliant eloquence caused him to be listened to with attention and respect.

Up to this time his career had been an uninterrupted success. But in achieving his political eminence he had been unfortunate enough to make for himself a good many bitter enemies. His political course seems to have been somewhat arbitrary and uncompromising, insomuch that his opponents regarded him with more rancorous feelings than are commonly entertained among public men where there are no personal grounds for enmity. Whether such personal grounds existed in the case of Barnabas Bidwell cannot now be readily ascertained. It is however certain that he was regarded by a host of clever and unscrupulous persons with a bitterness of enmity almost amounting to ferocity. He seems to have made no attempt to conciliate his foes, but treated them with a sort of haughty contempt. In the year 1810 the weight of their anger descended upon him like an avalanche. He was then, and he for some years previously had been, Treasurer of the County of Berkshire, Massachusetts. An accusation of a very serious nature was brought against him. He was charged with having applied the public funds to his own use, and with having falsified entries in his books in order to cover up his malversations. It is difficult to get at the exact truth in the matter. Mr. Bidwell's attention to public affairs had caused him to neglect his private and professional business, which consequently had not flourished. He was far from wealthy, and it is not improbable that he was sometimes financially embarrassed. Whether he succumbed to temptation, and dipped his hands into the treasury without leave, cannot now be certainly declared. His own version of the matter was that he was entirely free from blame, but that his enemies had deliberately woven a subtle web about him from which he was unable to extricate himself, as it would have been impossible for him, under the existing state of things, to obtain justice. At all events, he seems to have felt himself to be unable to face the situation. Learning that an indictment had been laid, and that a warrant had been issued for his apprehension, he fled from his native country, and took refuge in Upper Canada.

Accompanied by his family, consisting of a son and daughter, he settled at the village of Bath, in the County of Addington, on the Bay of Quinte. He soon obtained employment as a school teacher, and encountered no difficulty in gaining a livelihood, though the humble role he was compelled to play comported ill with his past experience and present ambition. There is little doubt that he was an admirer of republican institutions, and that he so remained to the end of his life, though his admiration was thrown away in this country, and it was impossible for him to return to his own. He was a useful man in the little community where he resided, and his education and intelligence caused him to be looked up to by people of all classes. He did not intrude his political views further than to proclaim himself an advocate of Liberal ideas, and upon the breaking out of the War of 1812 he took the oath of allegiance to His Majesty. His ordinary pursuits were altogether insufficient for his enthusiastic nature, and after the lapse of several years he removed to Kingston, and took up his abode there. He found an outlet for his superabundant energy through the medium of frequent contributions to the press. Among the best known of his writings are a series of letters on practical agriculture and political economy, originally contributed to a Kingston newspaper, and subsequently republished in pamphlet form under the title of "The Prompter." The series of historical and topographical sketches forming the first half of the first volume of Gourlay's "Statistical Account of Upper Canada" are also from Mr. Bidwell's pen, and they are upon the whole the most valuable portion of the entire work. He espoused Mr. Gourlay's cause with great fervour, and by his written and spoken words did much to arouse public sympathy for that unfortunate man, as well as to awaken abhorrence for the cruelty and selfishness of his persecutors. From that time forward he began to take a more conspicuous part in politics than he had been accustomed to take since his arrival in Canada. From the hustings and elsewhere he thundered against the Compact domination with an eloquence which thrilled his audiences. He soon made himself felt as a power in the land, and as one from whom the ruling faction had good reason to apprehend more serious antagonism than they had ever had to encounter.

Such was the man chosen by the Reform element in Lennox and Addington, during the summer of 1821, to represent its interests in the Provincial Assembly. The ensuing campaign was an exciting one, but at its close Barnabas Bidwell was the undoubted choice of a large majority of the electors. This was a heavy blow to the Executive party. The Reformers would now have a representative in the House who could not be cajoled or bullied. His eloquence, aggressiveness, intelligence and shrewdness could not fail to produce a decided impression on the House and on the country. Would it not be well if he could be got rid of, as Thorpe and Gourlay had been got rid of before him?

During the progress of the election campaign, some of the main facts connected with Mr. Bidwell's migration from Massachusetts to Upper Canada had become known to his opponents. The pretext afforded by these disclosures was too good to be neglected. An emissary was despatched to Berkshire County, where there was no difficulty in ascertaining that he had been Treasurer of the municipality; that he had been indicted for misapplying public funds; that a warrant had thereupon been issued for his apprehension; and that he had then fled beyond the jurisdiction. Certified copies of the indictment and of several other important documents bearing on the matter were obtained by the agent, and by him brought over to Upper Canada. On the strength of the information and documents thus obtained a petition was filed against the election of Mr. Bidwell, upon the ground that he was an alien and a fugitive from justice, who had moreover taken an oath of allegiance to the Government of the United States. The accused notwithstanding appeared in his place in the Assembly upon the opening of the session, and when the matter of the petition came up for discussion he defended himself before the House with an eloquence and pathos which stirred every heart. He declared, in language and tones which left no doubt of his sincerity, that he was guiltless of the embezzlement with which he had been charged, and that the accusation had been solely due to the machinations of a powerful clique of enemies. He further urged that, whatever might be the facts as to the charge, he had never been tried or convicted, and that the Assembly had no right to assume his guilt in the absence of positive proof. He admitted having taken the oath of allegiance to the Government of the United States, but urged that such an oath was required of every man assuming a public office in all civilized countries; that it applied only to the period of his actual residence, and was no legitimate bar to his advancement in another country. Since his arrival in Canada he had taken an oath of allegiance to the King of Great Britain. That his loyalty was not open to suspicion was sufficiently manifest from the mere fact of his having been returned to Parliament by a constituency the inhabitants whereof were largely composed of United Empire Loyalists and their immediate descendants. Such was the course of his argument, which from beginning to end was singularly lucid and clear. But all was unavailing. He was assailed by the Government party in language such as is rarely to be met with in the annals of Parliamentary debate in this country. Mr. Attorney-General Robinson went beyond any former effort of his life in the way of vituperation, and overleapt the bounds of the commonest decency. He proclaimed himself to be the son of a United Empire Loyalist who had fought and bled for his country, and as therefore being no fit company for runaway felons and pickpockets. His sympathy with himself was so great that the tears chased one another down his cheeks as he was speaking. All the amiability which commonly marked his intercourse with his fellowmen seemed to have utterly departed from him, and he towered above his seat in a perfect whirlwind of rage and fiery indignation. Mr. Bidwell's calm and temperate reply was in striking contrast to the levin bolts which had been hurled at him, and produced a marked effect upon his hearers. But the Compact commanded a majority in the Assembly,[59] which sustained a motion for his expulsion. And as it was well known that the electors of Lennox and Addington would again return him, and that he could not be permanently excluded by any ordinary means, it was determined to disqualify him by special legislation. An Act was accordingly passed intituled "An Act to render ineligible to a seat in the Commons House of Assembly of this Province certain descriptions of persons therein mentioned."[60] Among the persons declared ineligible were those who had held any of the principal public offices in a foreign country, which was of course an effectual disqualification for Barnabas Bidwell, who, as already mentioned, had been Attorney-General of Massachusetts. It was a veritable Act of Exclusion, aimed at a particular person, and it served its purpose by keeping the obnoxious individual perpetually out of public life.[61]

In consequence of Mr. Bidwell's expulsion a new election for Lennox and Addington became necessary. The writ was issued, and, to the chagrin and disgust of the supporters of the Government, a new champion of popular rights appeared in the field in the person of Marshall Spring Bidwell, the only son of the recently-expelled member. The new candidate was a young man of twenty-three years of age. He was a native of Massachusetts, and had accompanied his parents to Canada at the time of their migration in 1810. At an early age he had given proofs of the possession of splendid abilities. His father, who was exceedingly proud of the bright boy, had cultivated his faculties to the utmost, and by the time that Marshall Spring Bidwell had attained his majority he was regarded by all who knew him as having a brilliant future before him. A year before his candidature he had been called to the Provincial bar. He now presented himself before the electors of Lennox and Addington in opposition to the Tory candidate, a gentleman named Clark. The combined modesty and assurance displayed by young Bidwell throughout the contest gained for him many warm friends, while at the same time his earnestness and flowing eloquence proved that he was a true son of his father. He conducted the campaign with signal ability, and laid the foundation of a lasting reputation in the constituency. At the close of the poll the returning-officer declared Mr. Clark to have been duly elected, but, as it was notorious that corrupt practices had been resorted to, a protest was entered by the friends of the Reform candidate, who himself appeared in person at the bar of the House to conduct the argument. The result of the enquiry was that the return was set aside and a new election ordered. Young Bidwell so distinguished himself by his argument before the House that the official party perceived that he was likely to be no less formidable as an opponent than his father would have been. When the new election was held he again presented himself as a candidate, but found that the returning-officer had received instructions to accept no votes for him, upon the ground that he was an alien. The Tory candidate, Mr. Ham, was accordingly returned; but another protest was filed, with a similar result. The election was once more set aside, and Lennox and Addington still remained without a Parliamentary representative. It had by this time become notorious that the whole power of the Executive was exerted to keep the Bidwells out of public life, and the conviction that such was the fact gave rise to a counter-movement on the part of the victims. The friends of Reform bestirred themselves to such purpose that during the session of 1823-24 an Act was passed[62] repealing the measure of two years before, and relaxing the conditions under which persons who had resided in or taken the oath of allegiance to a foreign state should be eligible for election to the Provincial Parliament. It was provided that a residence in the Province of seven years next before election should render such persons eligible for membership in the Assembly. This clause removed all existing disqualifications from young Mr. Bidwell; but his father still remained disqualified, for it was expressly re-enacted that no person who had been a member of the Senate or House of Representatives of the United States, or who had held office in any of the executive departments of "the United States of America, or any one of the said United States," should be capable of being elected to the Assembly. Under this clause the elder Bidwell was doubly disqualified, for he had not only been Attorney-General of Massachusetts, but had also sat in Congress. It was much, however, that the son was rendered eligible. A general election took place during the summer of 1824, at which he was returned for the constituency which he then contested for the third time. He continued to sit in Parliament for eleven successive years. He is properly regarded as one of the founders of the Reform party in Upper Canada, and by his eloquence, tact and discretion, no less than by the high respect in which his character was held, he did much to advance the progress of Reform principles.

The general election of 1824 resulted in the return of a number of prominent Reformers who now for the first time came forward to take part in public affairs. It was evident that a spirit of Reform had been awakened, and that from this time forward every important public question was likely to have two sides to it.

The most conspicuous of all the new members was Mr. John Rolph, who had been returned as one of the representatives for the County of Middlesex. As he played an important part in the event which forms the subject of this work, and as he was one of the ablest men who have ever taken part in public affairs in this country, it is desirable to give some fuller account of him than is to be found in the various books relating to the place and times in which he lived.

John Rolph was unquestionably one of the most extraordinary personalities who have ever figured in the annals of Upper Canada. He possessed talents which, under favouring circumstances, would have made him a marked man in either professional or public life in any country. Chief among his qualifications may be mentioned a comprehensive, subtle intellect, high scholastic and professional attainments, a style of eloquence which was at once ornate and logical, a noble and handsome countenance, a voice of silvery sweetness and great power of modulation, and an address at once impressive, dignified and ingratiating. His keenness of perception and his faculty for detecting the weak point in an argument were almost abnormal, while his power of eloquent and subtle exposition had no rival among the Canadian public men of those times. His famous speech—to be hereafter more particularly referred to—delivered in the Assembly, in 1836, on the subject of the Clergy Reserves, was one of the most powerful indictments ever heard within the walls of a Canadian Parliament. His arraignment of Sir Francis Bond Head before the same body early in the following year was hardly less impressive. He was of a full habit of body, even in comparative youth, and though he was rather under than above the middle height, there was a dignity and even majesty in his presence that gave the world assurance of a strong man, while it at the same time effectually repelled unseemly familiarity. A pair of deep clear blue eyes, surmounted by rather heavy eyebrows, glanced out from beneath his smooth and expansive forehead. He had light brown hair, a well-moulded chin, a firmly-set nose, and a somewhat large and flexible mouth, capable of imparting to the countenance great variety of expression. Such, according to the universal testimony of those who knew him, and according to portraits painted from life and preserved in his family, was the John Rolph of fifty to sixty years ago.

There was unquestionably a per contra. Though he was a man of many friends, and was the repository of many familiar confidences, there was probably no human being—not even the wife of his bosom—who ever possessed John Rolph's entire confidence. There was about him no such thing as self-abandonment. This was not because he was devoid of natural passions or affections, or even of warm friendship, for he was a kind, if not a tender husband and father, and there were many persons whom he held in very high esteem, and for whom he cheerfully made great sacrifices. But the quality of caution seems to have been preternaturally developed within his breast. No man was ever less open to the imputation of wearing his heart upon his sleeve. He had a temperament of great equableness, and doubtless felt much more deeply than was suspected, even by those who were constantly about him. To the outer world he was ever self-possessed, calm and dignified, of pleasant and amiable manners, and not deficient in good-fellowship, but seldom or never abandoning himself to frolicsomeness or fun. His smile had a winsome sweetness about it, but it was a very rare occurrence indeed for him to indulge in anything approaching to hearty laughter. His self-control was marvellous. He was never surprised or startled, never dismayed by unexpected intelligence, never taken off his guard. Yet he possessed great dramatic talent, and in his addresses to juries and public audiences could successfully simulate the most contradictory feelings and emotions. One who judged him simply from such exhibitions as these might well have set him down for an emotional and impetuous man, apt to be led away by the fleeting passions and weaknesses of the moment. Yet no one coming to such a conclusion would have had any conception of his real character and idiosyncrasies. He certainly never acted without motive, but his motives were sometimes dark and unfathomable to everyone but himself. Not one among his contemporaries was able to take his moral and intellectual measure with anything approaching to completeness; and throughout the entire length and breadth of Canadian biography there is no man of equal eminence respecting whose real individuality so little is known.

Mr. Rolph's peculiarities were probably inherent, for the facts of his early life, so far as known, afford no clue to the reading of the riddle. He was the second son in a family consisting of eighteen children, and was born at Grovesend, in the market town of Thornbury, Gloucestershire, England, on the 4th of March, 1793. His father, Thomas Rolph, was a physician of some local repute, who seems to have been impelled to emigrate in consequence of the impossibility of making any suitable provision in England for so numerous a progeny. The ascertained facts with reference to John Rolph's early life in England are singularly meagre. He accompanied his parents to Canada some time prior to the War of 1812, for he served as a volunteer during the early part of that conflict, and was for some months a paymaster of militia. During the progress of the war he was taken prisoner by the enemy, and was detained in custody for a short time at Batavia, in the State of New York. An exchange of prisoners having been effected, he was set at liberty. After his liberation he returned to England, where he entered one of the colleges of the University of Cambridge; and, though he seems to have left there without taking a degree, he was recognized as a young man of very remarkable and precocious intellectual powers, likely to become conspicuous in after-life. He absorbed knowledge with marvellous facility, and never forgot anything he had learned. After leaving college he repaired to London, where he was entered as a student-at-law, and was in due time called to the bar of the Inner Temple. Like Bacon, he seems to have taken all knowledge to be his province, for, not satisfied with having acquired what, in so young a man, was accounted a wide knowledge of jurisprudence, he studied for some time under Sir Astley Cooper, and was enrolled as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He soon afterwards returned to Canada, and took up his abode on a lot of land in the Township of Charlotteville, about midway between the villages of Turkey Point and Vittoria, in what is now the County of Norfolk, but which then and for long afterwards formed part of the Talbot District. In Michaelmas Term of 1821 he was called to the bar of Upper Canada, and for some years thereafter he appears to have practised the two professions of law and medicine concurrently. His great acquirements and pleasant manners made him a favourite with all classes of the people, and caused him to be regarded as a genuine acquisition to the district in which he resided. He became the professional adviser and familiar friend of Colonel Thomas Talbot, founder of the Talbot Settlement, and was one of the originators of the Talbot Anniversary, established in 1817, and kept up for more than twenty years thereafter, in honour of the day of the Colonel's arrival at Port Talbot—the 21st of May, 1803. The Colonel was not, in the strict sense of the term, a politician, but he was a member of the Legislative Council, and naturally supported the official party; whereas Rolph, though a man of equable mind, and by no means constitutionally inclined towards Radicalism, had much better opportunities for mixing with the people than had Colonel Talbot, and his keen eye revealed to him many official abuses which did not commend themselves to his sense of justice. It is probable that differences of opinion on public questions led to their ultimate estrangement. At all events, Rolph espoused the side of the people, and declared himself a foe to the Family Compact policy, and from that time forward the intimacy between him and Colonel Talbot seems to have grown less and less. The Gourlay prosecutions aroused Rolph's hot indignation, which he did not hesitate to express with much freedom whithersoever he went. Being a brilliant and eloquent talker, strong in opinion and logical in argument, he made many converts to his views, the number of whom was not lessened by the course of treatment adopted towards the Bidwells. It seems to have been about this time that he took up his abode at Dundas, where he subsequently resided for many years. When the general elections of 1824 took place the Reformers of Middlesex brought out John Rolph and Captain John Matthews, both of whom were returned at the head of the poll.

Rolph made his presence felt in the Assembly from the time of taking his seat there. He was then thirty-one years of age, and of a compact, well-built figure, inclining to portliness. His face was at once handsome and intellectual, and his presence carried with it a suggestion of undoubted power. He spoke comparatively seldom during his early Parliamentary sessions, but when he did speak it was always with effect. His diction was singularly luminous and expressive, and would have attracted attention in any public assembly in the world. There was a clear metallic ring in his voice which did full justice to the language employed, and there were few empty benches in the House when it was known that Rolph was to speak.

His colleague from Middlesex, though a staunch Reformer, was a man of very different cast. Captain Matthews was a retired officer of the royal artillery, who had seen twenty-seven years' service. At a very early period of his residence in Upper Canada he had become disgusted with Family Compact rule, and had spoken his mind on the subject with much freedom. Being a resident of the County of Middlesex, and being held in much esteem there among the adherents of Liberal principles, he was induced to offer himself along with Dr. Rolph at the general election of 1824 as one of the candidates for the county. His candidature was successful, and he became very popular in the House, though the texture of his mind was somewhat light and airy, and he was not well fitted, either by nature or by training, to deal with such grave constitutional questions as were continually forcing themselves upon public attention.

Another prominent Reformer who now took his seat in Parliament for the first time was Peter Perry, who had been returned as young Marshall Bidwell's colleague in the representation of Lennox and Addington. Although thirty-four years have elapsed since his death, Mr. Perry is still well remembered by the older generation of our politicians. During the twelve years succeeding his entry into public life he was one of the most conspicuous Reformers in the Province. Though not possessed of a liberal education, and though his demeanour and address were marred by a sort of impetuous coarseness, he was master of a rude, vigorous eloquence which under certain conditions was far more effective than the most polished oratory would have been. He was certainly the ablest stump orator of his time in this country, and there was no man in the Reform ranks who could so effectively conduct a difficult election campaign. No man was more dreaded by his opponents, more especially by those who had to encounter him while a contest was pending. It may here be added that he continued to take an active part in politics down to a short time before his death in 1851, and that he rendered great services to the cause of Reform, but in the years following the Union of the Provinces he was overshadowed by Robert Baldwin, whose social position, spotless reputation and disinterestedness of purpose combined to place him on a pedestal beyond the reach of ordinary politicians. Peter Perry, however, while yielding a loyal support to Mr. Baldwin, continued to the end of his life to fight his political battles in his own way. The sincerity of his convictions was beyond any sort of question, and his shrewdness, experience and hard common sense caused his opinions to be regarded with respect, even by such men as Rolph, Baldwin and the Bidwells.

Mr. Perry was a native Upper Canadian, having been born at Ernestown in 1793, during the early part of Governor Simcoe's administration of affairs. He was the son of a U. E. Loyalist, and was brought up on a farm, at a time when public schools were few and far between in the rural districts. He grew to manhood without having acquired much in the way of education, but the quickness of his parts and the soundness of his judgment did much to atone for his want of regular school training. He began to take an active interest in public affairs at an early age, and before he was thirty he had acquired wide notoriety as a strongly-pronounced Reformer. Living in the same part of the country as the Bidwells, he took a warm interest in their candidature. As his political ideas coincided with theirs, and as his rough eloquence had already made him well known throughout the constituency, he espoused their side in the successive election contests, and at the general election of 1824 was himself returned to the Assembly as the colleague of the brilliant young lawyer.

In addition to John Rolph, Marshall Spring Bidwell, Captain John Matthews and Peter Perry, a number of other advocates of Reform principles were returned at the general election of 1824. For the first time in Upper Canadian annals, it was manifest not only that the Reformers had a majority in point of numbers in the Assembly, but that they had a decided preponderance of ability. No adherent of the official party—not even the Attorney-General, John Beverley Robinson—was a match for Rolph or Bidwell, to say nothing of Perry, whose oratory was of an altogether different complexion, though scarcely less effective. Upon the meeting of the Houses the numerical strength of the respective parties was fairly tested by the vote on the Speakership. The Reformers nominated as their candidate John Willson, one of the members for Wentworth. Mr. Willson was an unpretending farmer, of strong political convictions, but of good sense and calm judgment, who had allied himself with the Reformers, and who might safely be depended upon to discharge the duties incidental to the Speakership with judicial impartiality. The vote stood twenty-one to nineteen, the majority of two being in Mr. Willson's favour. The Reformers felt that they had achieved a triumph, and were accordingly jubilant; but they soon found that the mere control of the Assembly signified very little in the absence of Executive responsibility. The Legislative Council interposed its dead weight, and vetoed one bill after another sent up by the Assembly.

The Reform preponderance in the Assembly, however, and the bringing together of the leading supporters of Liberal principles, led to the establishment of an organized body of Reformers, which from that time forward made its existence felt throughout the constituencies, and presented an obstacle to the continued rule of the Compact. Conspicuous among the Fathers of Reform, in addition to John Rolph, Peter Perry, Captain Matthews and the two Bidwells, were Doctor William Warren Baldwin, his son Robert, and William Lyon Mackenzie. None of the three last-named gentlemen was at this time in Parliament, but they were nevertheless all able to render very valuable services to Reform principles—the first two by reason of their wealth and high social position, and the third from the fact that he was the publisher of a newspaper, and that he was a man of strong opinions and superabundant energy in giving expression to them.

The elder Baldwin was a gentleman of high character and social position, resident at York. He had emigrated from Ireland to Canada towards the close of the last century, and, like Mr. Rolph, had for some time practised law and medicine concurrently. He achieved considerable success, both pecuniarily and otherwise, and, notwithstanding his political principles, which were of a decidedly advanced character, he was respected by the entire community of the little Provincial capital. The family to which he belonged were well known in Ireland for their adherence to advanced political doctrines, and he himself remained true to family traditions. At a time when it required no slight courage to espouse the Liberal side in York, Dr. Baldwin was always to be found in the ranks of Reform. He was wealthy, as, in addition to the property which he had personally accumulated, he had succeeded, by bequest, to the bulk of the large possessions of the Honourable Peter Russell—whose method of doing good unto himself has already been glanced at—and of that gentleman's maiden sister Elizabeth. Miss Russell resided in Dr. Baldwin's family during the last few years of her life, and survived until 1822. The Russells and the Baldwins were remotely connected by ties of relationship, and as neither the Administrator nor his sister ever married, there was nothing strange in the disposition made by them of their property.

High as Dr. Baldwin stood in the Reform ranks, however, he was destined to be eclipsed by his more distinguished son. It is safe to say that no public man in Canada has ever gained so enviable a reputation as attaches to the name of Robert Baldwin. As was intimated two or three pages back, he stood upon a lofty pedestal, and was a very man per se. And this high position he attained, not by means of brilliant oratory, keenness of perception, or subtle comprehensiveness of judgment. No one has ever pretended to claim for him any special intellectual greatness of any kind. He was a plain man, of abilities not much above the average, who possessed strong convictions, and whose high principles, sterling honesty and disinterestedness of purpose were unimpeachable. Had he been a member of the British House of Commons during Sir Robert Walpole's regime, the proverbial dictum of that high priest of corruption would never have been uttered, for certainly no man would ever have dreamed of offering a bribe to Robert Baldwin. He has been in his grave for more than a quarter of a century; thirty-four years have elapsed since his withdrawal from public life; yet he is still referred to by adherents of both political parties in Canada as a statesman of unblemished integrity, whose character was without spot, and in whose bosom was no guile. He more than once occupied the foremost position in the public eye. During much of his career a fierce light beat upon him, yet failed to disclose anything whereof the most august character in history would have had any cause for feeling ashamed. As I have said elsewhere: "We can still point to him with the admiration due to a man who, during a time of the grossest political corruption, took a foremost part in our public affairs, and who yet preserved his integrity untarnished. We can point to him as the man who, if not the actual author of Responsible Government in Canada, yet spent the best years of his life in contending for it, and who contributed more than any other person to make that project an accomplished fact. We can point to him as one who, though a politician by predilection and by profession, never stooped to disreputable practices, either to win votes or to maintain himself in office. Robert Baldwin was a man who was not only incapable of falsehood or meanness to gain his ends, but who was to the last degree intolerant of such practices on the part of his warmest supporters. If intellectual greatness cannot be claimed for him, moral greatness was most indisputably his. Every action of his life was marked by sincerity and good faith, alike toward friend and foe. He was not only true to others, but was from first to last true to himself.... Robert Baldwin was neither a bigot nor a fanatic, but he was in the best and truest sense of the word a Christian. He was strict in his observance of religious duties, and brought up his children to seek those things which make for righteousness, rather than the things of this world. His piety was an ever-present influence in his life, and was practically manifested in his daily walk and conversation. As we contemplate the fifty-four years which made up the measure of his earthly span, we cannot fail to be impressed by its uniform consistency, its thorough conscientiousness, its devotion to high and noble objects. It is a grand thing to acquire a famous name, but it is a much grander thing to live a pure and noble life; and in estimating the character of Robert Baldwin it should be remembered that he was not merely a statesman and a lawyer, but was, over and above all else, a man and a Christian."[63]

The foregoing account, be it understood, applies to a later period. At the date of the general election in 1824 Robert Baldwin was still a young man, whose reputation, professional and political, was yet to be made. He had not even been called to the bar, and was still a student in his father's office. Notwithstanding his youth, however—he was only in his twenty-first year—he had given some thought to the political questions of the time, and had even begun to look forward to the possibility of an ultimate political career. His father, from whom he had learned many political lessons, had recently become very wealthy through the death of Miss Russell, as already mentioned. Much of his wealth consisted of landed property. Robert was the first-born child of his parents, and, as the law of primogeniture was then in force in Upper Canada,[64] it was to be anticipated that he would succeed to large possessions, and would be independent of any income arising from his own exertions. He bore an honoured name, and it was tolerably certain that, under such a combination of circumstances, he would sooner or later find his way to Parliament. He had already imbibed what were in those days considered as advanced Liberal views, and was in full accord with his father, who had to a large extent moulded his opinions. He was present at the meetings of the Reform members held during the first session following the elections of 1824, for the purpose of organization. It was then that a distinct Reform Party, with common objects and a specific policy, may be said to have been formed in this Province. There had been Upper Canadian Reformers from the very foundation of the Province, but no Reform Party can strictly be said to have had an existence prior to the latter part of the year 1824.

No man was more conspicuous in contributing to the founding of the Reform Party than was William Lyon Mackenzie, whose personality yet remains to be considered. Owing in some measure to the force of circumstances, but chiefly to his own energy, impulsiveness and love of notoriety, Mr. Mackenzie's name and achievements have become more widely known than have those of many abler and wiser men. He was the only child of humble parents, and was born at Springfield, a suburb of Dundee, in Forfarshire, Scotland, on the 12th of March, 1795. When he was four weeks old his father died, leaving him and his mother wholly unprovided for, insomuch that they were dependent upon the bounty of relatives. To adopt his own language, poverty and adversity were his nurses, and want and misery were his familiar friends. "It is among the earliest of my recollections," wrote he in 1824, "that I lay in bed one morning during the grievous famine in Britain in 1800-1, while my poor mother took from our large kist the handsome plaid of the tartan of our clan, which in her early life her own hands had spun, and went and sold it for a trifle, to obtain for us a little coarse barley meal, whereof to make our scanty breakfast; and of another time during the same famine when she left me at home crying from hunger, and for (I think) eight shillings sold a handsome and hitherto carefully preserved priest-gray coat of my father's, to get us a little food." His mother, from whom he inherited his most salient peculiarities, was a woman of strongly-marked character. She was endowed by nature with a high temper, and with a tendency to act from impulse rather than from reason. To these qualities were added great energy and strength of will. She brought up her son in the straitest of theological creeds, which left a certain permanent mental impress upon him, though during the last quarter of a century of his life he wandered far afield from the religious teachings of his childhood. He seems to have been born with a genuine love for knowledge, for, notwithstanding the inauspicious surroundings of his youth, he contrived to acquire a better education than was commonly obtainable by lads in his rank of life in Scotland in those times. The education thus acquired was almost to the end of his days supplemented by reading and study. As soon as he was old enough to enter upon employment he became an assistant in a draper's shop, after which he filled various temporary situations which led to nothing. When only nineteen he opened a small store on his own account at Alyth, a village about twenty miles from Dundee. This he conducted for about three years, by which time it had become apparent that the business could not be successfully carried on, so he abandoned it and removed to England. There he spent more than two years, during some part of which he acted as clerk to a coal company. In the spring of 1820 he sailed for Canada, where he was destined to gain great notoriety, and to become an important factor in the moulding of public opinion.

In a new country like Canada a young man of Mackenzie's energy was soon able to make his presence felt. After being employed for a short time on the survey of the Lachine Canal, he opened a store at York, whence he removed to Dundas, and entered on a more extensive mercantile business in partnership with Mr. John Lesslie, the style of the firm being "Mackenzie & Lesslie." His mercantile venture in Dundas was fairly successful. During his residence there he married Miss Isabel Baxter, a native of Dundee, after a brief courtship of three weeks. In the spring of 1823 the firm of Mackenzie & Lesslie was dissolved, and for a few months thereafter the senior partner carried on business by himself. In the autumn of the same year he removed to Queenston, where he embarked in business by opening a general store. The store had not been many months in operation before its proprietor abandoned commercial pursuits and embraced the life of a journalist. This change seems to have been the result of some deliberation, and it must be admitted that Mr. Mackenzie possessed considerable aptitude for the new field of labour which he had chosen. His writing, though very unequal, and sometimes exceedingly verbose and amateurish in point of style, was almost always direct and easy to understand. His observation was keen, and he had taken a warm interest in politics ever since his arrival in the country. Though many of his views were what would now be considered Toryish and out of date, they were then classed by the Compact and their adherents as ultra-Radical and revolutionary. He had formed the acquaintance of Rolph, Perry, the Bidwells, and other prominent Reformers, by all of whom the sincerity of his political professions were regarded as being beyond question. The first number of his newspaper, which was christened The Colonial Advocate, made its appearance on the 18th of May, 1824. It consisted of thirty-two pages, and, although its owner had neither received nor sought a single subscriber, he issued an edition of twelve hundred copies. Whether he embarked in newspaper life at this particular time with a view to influencing votes during the impending general election cannot now be known with certainty. Probably enough this may have been one of his motives, which were doubtless of a mixed nature. That he was sincere in his advocacy of Reform must in all fairness be conceded, though his itch for notoriety must always be considered in reviewing and estimating his actions. This tendency of his mind would readily lead him to select journalism as his vocation in life, more especially as he found that his opinions were regarded as having some value. As compared with his life in Britain, his career in Canada had been an undoubted success. He had acquired some property, and was in fair pecuniary circumstances. From the inner side of his counter he had been in the habit of holding forth to his customers on the political and other questions of the day, and had found that his arguments were accepted by a majority of the unlettered yeomen of Wentworth as being unanswerable. He was looked up to as a man of weight and influence in the community, and the consciousness of this was naturally gratifying to the whilom shop-boy of Dumfries. He felt incited to address larger audiences than any which had hitherto listened to him. The time seemed propitious for the establishment of a Reform newspaper. There was a general awakening in the direction of Reform, extending over the greater part of the Province. There could be no sort of doubt that public opinion was in a state of transition: that many people had begun to look forward to a time when Responsible Government would be conceded, and when the domination of the Compact would be no more. When that much-wished-for epoch should arrive, those who had been the means of bringing it about, or of hastening its advent, would stand high among the Reformers of Upper Canada. Who would be likely to stand higher than a clever and aspiring man who was at once editor and proprietor of the leading organ of Liberal opinion in the Province? Such a personage might command anything within the power of his party to grant. That he would soon be able to write his way into Parliament was a foregone conclusion; and a seat in Parliament appeared a very proud distinction in the eyes of one whose past surroundings had been so far removed from such a sphere.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse