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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXXI.—Important Legislation-1853 and 1854


Reciprocity Treaty concluded, June 5th -Its conditions and results— The Hincks Ministry forced to resign -The McNab-Morin Coalition Cabinet formed - State of parties—The Secularization of the Clergy Reserves—The Abolition of Seigniorial Tenure— Resignation of Lord Elgin—His subsequent career and death - The Crimean War - Battle of the Alma—Canadian sympathy-1854.

Two prominent subjects of public interest continued to provoke warm discussion in the political press—the settlement of the seigniorial tenure and clergy reserve questions. The latter subject was formally surrendered to the Canadian Parliament for legislation, by the Home Government, May 9th, 1853. The life interests of the existing claimants on the reserves were, however, in accordance with Lord Sydenham's Act, to be strictly protected.

The subject of international reciprocity between Canada and United States had ever since the repeal of the Navigation Laws in 1849 engaged the attention of both Imperial and colonial authorities. The negotiations between the two neighbouring countries were now happily completed. The treaty provided for the free interchange of the products of the sea, the soil, the forest, and the mine. The navigation of the St. Lawrence, the St. John and the 'canals, and the inshore fisheries in the British waters, were conceded to the United States; and the navigation of Lake Michigan was thrown open to Canada. By the provisions of the treaty, it was to continue in force for ten years from March, 1855, and was then terminable on twelve months' notice from either party.

To the agricultural population of Canada the treaty was attended with immense advantage, and gave an important stimulus to every branch of productive industry. The maritime provinces, however, complained that the United States had nothing to exchange comparable with the valuable fisheries of their waters; and that while American shipping was admitted to the same privileges as that of Great Britain, yet colonial vessels were refused registration in the ports of the United States or a share of the coasting trade.

In consequence of its declining popularity, the Hincks ministry was compelled to resign, and a coalition ministry under the leadership of Sir Allan McNab and Morin was formed.

The policy of the new ministry, however, included measures for which the Reform party had long contended. Prominent among these was one for the secularization of the clergy reserves. A bill was therefore promptly brought forward for that purpose. By the bill previously introduced by the Draper administration for the settlement of this question, the vast revenue arising from these reserves, at first claimed exclusively for the Church of England, was proposed to be divided with the Church of Scotland and other denominations in proportion to their private contributions to the support of their clergy. But the principle of the voluntary support of the ministry by the people, which had led to the Free Church secession in Scotland in 1843, and which had been previously held by other dissenting bodies, was widely prevalent throughout Canada. The Government, therefore, although many of their supporters were opposed to the principle, were forced to yield to the popular demand. The clergy reserve lands, originally amounting to one-seventh of all the crown territory of the province, were consequently handed over to the various municipal corporations in proportion to their population, to be employed for secular purposes. The life interests of the existing incumbents were commuted, with the consent of the holders, for a small permanent endowment, and this long-vexed question was settled forever: the principle of the perfect religious equality of all denominations in the eye of the law had finally triumphed.

The other subject urgently demanding legislation related exclusively to Lower Canada. This was the system of seigniorial tenure, whose vexatious conditions greatly retarded the progress of the country. This system was a legacy from the old French regime. Much of the land of New France had been granted to scions of noble houses, under the feudal conditions obtaining in the Old World, as previously described. It was chiefly when the population became more dense and the transfers of property more frequent that these conditions became oppressively felt, especially that requiring the payment of one-twelfth of the purchase price of the land to the seignior at every sale, and the vexatious milling and fishing dues and other conditions of vassalage imposed on the tenants. The value of these seigniorial claims had greatly increased, and they could be equitably abolished only by a commutation from the public funds of the province, supplemented by certain payments of the censitaires or small land-holders, in consideration of the exemptions about to be granted them. The entire expenditure under the authority of this Act was a little over two and a half million dollars. Thus was abolished, without violence or revolution as in other lands, the last vestige of the feudal system in the New World.

The Canada Ocean Steamship Company was also incorporated by Act of Parliament, and was aided by a subsidy of $1,800,000. From this beginning has grown one of the largest steam fleets that plow the ocean. Direct trade with Great Britain has been greatly stimulated, and the city of Montreal has been made one of the great seaports of the world.

Toward the end of 1854, Lord Elgin resigned the governorship of the province. He had won the lasting esteem and admiration of a people who had been largely alienated in sympathy from his administration. He subsequently employed his distinguished abilities in the service of his sovereign, in the discharge of difficult and important missions in China and Japan. As the highest gift of the crown, he received in 1862 the appointment of Governor-General of India; and the following year, worn out with excessive labours, he died beneath the shadows of the Himalayas, leaving behind him the blameless reputation of a Christian statesman.

The gallant struggle of the Allied Armies against the hosts of Russia, now in progress, evoked the enthusiastic loyalty of both Canadas. In almost every town and hamlet generous donations were contributed to the nation's heroes who so gallantly maintained her name and fame on a foreign shore. The illustrious victories of Alma, Balaclava, Inker-man, and Sebastopol became memories of imperishable power, and kindled beacon-fires of joy throughout the land, from the rock-built citadel of Quebec to the remote villages on the shores of Lake Huron.

Sir Edmund Walker Head, Governor-General—1855. Parliament meets at Toronto—Sir Allan McNab resigns leadership to Mr. John A. Macdonald—Sketeh of new Premier's career—The Legislative Council made Elective—Its Constitution—1856. Severe Commercial Crisis—1857. General Election —Reform majority in Upper Canada —The "Double-Majority" principle abandoned — Demand for "Representation by Population"—1858.

Sir Edmund Walker Head, the successor of Lord Elgin as Governor-General of Canada, was a gentleman of distinguished scholarship, a prizeman and fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and a man of considerable administrative ability. His first diplomatic appointment was that of Governor of New Brunswick, from which he was promoted to the position of Governor-General of British North America.

In 1856, the seat of government was again removed to Toronto, where Parliament was opened on the 15th of February. Sir Allan McNab resigned office in order to make way for the more brilliant leadership of the acting Attorney-General, Mr. John A. Macdonald, who subsequently filled so prominent a position in Canadian politics. On the resignation of the Hincks administration, in 1854, Mr. Macdonald became a member of the coalition ministry by which it was succeeded, and was now recognized as the leader of the Conservative party of Upper Canada. With a considerable degree of administrative skill, he combined a large amount of political tact and sagacity.

Under this Conservative Government was passed a measure for which the Reform party had long striven, and which their opponents had resolutely resisted. This was the Act making the Legislative Council an elective body. This system was relinquished under the Confederation Act, but a strong feeling is entertained in favour of its restoration.

The continuance of the Chinese war and the outbreak of the Sepoy mutiny taxed to the utmost the force of Britain's arms, and called forth the intense sympathy of Her Majesty's Canadian subjects. The names of the veteran Out-ram, the gallant Campbell, the chivalric Lawrence, the saintly Havelock, Were added to Britain's bead-roll of immortal memories, to be to her sons an inspiration to patriotism, to piety, and to duty, forever. - A comparative failure of the wheat crop, coincident with a depression in the English money market and a commercial panic in the United States, together with the almost total cessation of railway construction, produced a financial crisis of great severity throughout Canada. The inflated prices of stocks and real estate came tumbling down, and many who thought themselves rich for life were reduced to insolvency.

The rapid development of the natural resources of the country, and the elasticity of public credit, however, were such that, under the Divine blessing, prosperity soon returned to crown with gladness the industry of the merchant, the artizan, and the husbandman.

Since the union of the Canadas in 1840, successive ministries had succeeded in carrying their measures by a majority from each province, in accordance with what was known as the "double-majority" principle, adopted in order to prevent either section of the country from forcing unpalatable legislation on the other. The Reform preponderance in the western province compelled the ministry of Mr. John A. Macdonald to abandon this " double-majority " principle if they would continue in office. The Government measures were therefore carried chiefly by a Lower Canadian ministerial majority. This was felt by the Upper Canadian Opposition to be all the more galling, because the wealth and population, and consequently the contributions to the public revenue, of the western province had increased relatively much more than had these elements of prosperity in eastern Canada. This soon led to an outcry against what was designated as "French domination," and the persistent advocacy of the principle of representation by population was adopted by the Reform leaders of Upper Canada.

The most conspicuous and influential advocate of this principle was Mr. George Brown, the editor of the Toronto 1858 a gentleman who, though seldom holding office, largely contributed to the moulding of the institutions and political destiny of his adopted country. In 1851 Mr. Brown was elected to the representation of the county of Kent in the Parliament of Canada; and from that time to his retirement from active public life, subsequent to the confederation of the British North American provinces, he occupied a conspicuous place and exerted a powerful influence in Parliament.


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