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History of the York Rangers
Chapter VI

The Ingredients of Sedition

FOLLOWING the War of 1812-14 a political process was resumed and accelerated, which had started under the regime of Hon. Peter Russell, President and Administrator of the Province after the withdrawal of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe. This consisted in the formation of a patrician class, composed of officials, a number of whom together with their relatives, became large land-holders and proceeded to engross the government places and emoluments of the province. This was not unaccompanied by some corruption and peculation in office and by abuses inherent to an aristocratic system, such as the reservation of one seventh of all public lands to form the foundation for a state church. One very irritating grievance that bore heavily on the actual settler, was that a large percentage of the land being thus held by the church or by land-grabbers and unoccupied by bona fide residents and no work being done on the contiguous allowances for roads, the public highways were in a deplorable condition.

The natural result of these, actual grievances and of this exclusiveness of political patronage was a series of agitations bitterly conducted and ferociously resisted. A succession of agitators, Gourlay, Collins and finally William Lyon Mackenzie kept the public mind in a turmoil by writings and public meetings. What in the journalism of those days was apparently regarded by its authors as calm and legitimate criticism would now be reckoned as gross personal insult. One response of the office-holding class to these attacks was by the sweeping use of the machinery of the courts in prosecutions for seditious libel. And whether it was an attorney-general or chief justice thundering in the court or merely a Scotch reformer and a North of Ireland upholder of the administration arguing with stakes that ought to have been left in place to keep the wood from falling off the sleigh— the proceedings were wholehearted and free from any pretence of toleration and self-restraint. The Tories-in-office had a number of hard names, which they freely applied to their enemies the Radical agitators. But the agitators cleverly responded with one fixed term of opprobrium and summed up all their charges of nepotism and tyranny in the words, “Family Compact.”

Now the militia of Canada, embracing all the able-bodied male population, was of course neither all for nor all against the Family Compact. But it happened that certain able and courageous men, whom had occasion to mention in previous chapters were recognized members of the ruling caste. Thus Dr. Strachan and John Beverley Robinson were felt by both parties to be the dominant brains of the compact; while there were many ardent spirits among those also had seen service in 1812, who were heartily in accord with upholding aristocratic traditions, and who powerfully detested any democratic innovations. Thus when on June 8th, 1826 a mob of young gentlemen of official extraction threw William Lyon Mackenzie’s type into the Bay,— and thereby unintentionally prolonged his political career,—it was deposed to that two citizens mentioned in previous chapters as Major and Captain, but now became Colonel Allan and Colonel Reward stood complacently watching that unconventional method of answering an editor.

In fact it appears to have been the policy of the Family Compact both to secure the veteran officers of 1812 by public offices and to keep the higher ranks in the militia for members of its circle. Thus in a pleasantly personal black list published by Mackenzie in June, 1828, just on the eve of a general election, with the title:—

“No. 6. Places of Profit, Honour and Emolument held by some of the members of the present or last House of Assembly or by candidates for the legislature,” we find items like these

“John B. Robinson, Attorney-General; Colonel of Militia; King’s College Counsellor; Welland Canal Director; Hospital Trustee; Allegiance Commissioner, School Trustee.”

“D. Cameron, J.P.; Major of Militia."

“Arch. McLean, Clerk of the Peace; Registrar of Stormont and Dundas; Member Board of Education; J.P.; Colonel of Militia."

The total list comprises Colonels and Leutenant-Colonels, 19; Majors, 9; Captains 8; and one Lieutenant. Whence we may infer that up to 1828, at any rate the Family Compact had with premeditated design set its strong fingers on the whole militia organization.

One thing, however, had not been foreseen, namely, that a paper organization without weapons or training, is not suited for emergency work. Veterans who still felt within their veins the hot blood of Queenston or Lundy’s Lane, did not perhaps realize that during a quarter of a century of peace there had rusted out both the muskets of 1812 and the skill to use them. And so fell out that curious episode of 1887.

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