Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter XXIV. The Civil War

AS the mist of party prejudice clears away we are able to judge of public acts by their results.

The rebellion of 1837-38 was a purely Canadian movement, an armament of a portion of the Canadian people to win back by force those constitutional rights which the Family Compact Government had wrested from the electors; and, but for accidental circumstances, to be detailed in the sequel, this rebellion would, no doubt, have been successful in overthrowing, without bloodshed, the whole Family Compact system, and the rule of Sir Francis Bond Head. Of course, it would have been absurd to suppose that any attempt could have been made to hold Upper Canada against the military power of England. But the course of subsequent events, and the legislation which followed the publication of Lord Durham's Report, show that it is equally absurd to suppose that the Liberal party then in power in England would have exerted military force to retain a system like that of Head and the Canadian Tories.

The Mackenzie rising, in 1837, must be carefully distinguished from the other movements, from the Lower Canadian insurrection, and from the filibustering raids of American "sympathizers" which followed. The English Canadian movement resembled only m appearance the Lower Canadian insurrection of 1837. I he Upper Canadian movement was essentially a popular one. It was supported by the great mass of English Canadian people. Not so the rising in French Canada. The latter movement never had a really popular support, for it was from the first under the ban of the Church, and the Lower Canadian is a Catholic first, a patriot afterwards. Lafontaine had to mend his ways and become reconciled to the Church before he could become, what Papineau never had been, the real leader of French Canada. The English Canadian movement, under Mackenzie, had a distinctly national aim and support, and a military programme which came very near being successful. The French revolt under Papineau never could have been a success. Its solitary success in the field was gained under the English-speaking leader, Dr. Wolfred Nelson. Nor is the movement of 1837 to be confounded with the raids at Navy Island, at Amherstburgh, and at Prescott in the succeeding year, which were mere filibustering expeditions, for which no justification whatever is admissible.

It is clear that Sir Francis Bond Head was sent to Canada on what was intended to be a mission of conciliation. He bore the reputation of holding Liberal, or rather Whig opinions; he had been a zealous official as Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, in Kent; he was chiefly known to the public as the author of several magazine articles describing his personal adventures, and written m a garrulous, egotistical, but good-humoured tone. His utter ignorance, frankly avowed in his narrative of his official career, of Canadian politics, was not likely to be regarded as a disqualification by his English superiors, it being then the custom for English insular officialism to ignore colonial interests.

Sir Francis Head arrived at Toronto in January, 1836, and was greeted with inscriptions covering the fences on King Street of "Welcome to Sir Francis Head, the tried Reformer!" The "tried Reformer" soon showed the cloven hoof of partisanship. In reply to an address adopted at a public meeting of the citizens of Toronto, he snubbed the addressers as of inferior capacity, and requiring to be addressed "in plainer and more homely language," words which naturally gave much dissatisfaction. Head's manner, as he met the members of the Legislature, was also discourteous and haughty.

A reply to the Lieutenant-Governor's official insolence was drawn up by Drs. Rolph and O'Grady. "We thank Your Excellency," it began, "for replying to our address, principally from the industrious classes of the city, with as much attention as if it had proceeded from either branch of the Legislature; and we are duly sensible in receiving Your Excellency's reply, of your great condescension in endeavouring to express yourself in plainer and more homely language, presumed by Your Excellency to be thereby, brought down to the lower level of our plainer and more homely understandings." The rejoinder then deplored, with sarcastic humility, the deplorable neglect of their education, resulting from the misgovernment of King's College University, and the veto imposed by the Executive Government on the popular Assembly's resolutions that the Clergy Reserves should be applied to the needs of public education. This able document proceeded to recite other grievances, and concluded with what, according to Mr. Charles Lindsey, "William Lyon Mackenzie, in a manuscript note he has left, calls the 'first low murmur of insurrection.'" "If Your Excellency will not govern us upon those principles, you will exercise arbitrary sway, you will violate our charter, virtually abrogate our law, and justly forfeit our submission to your authority," ran the reply. The able and sarcastic rejoinder was left by James Leslie and Jesse Ketchum at the door of Government House, and its bearers were whirled out of sight before the irate Lieutenant-Governor could discover who they were. In one of his outbursts of undignified fury he sent the paper to Mr. George Ridout, a member of a distinguished Toronto family, whose name did not even appear among the signers. It was at once returned to Sir Francis by Mr. Ridout. But the rejoinder was already in print, and in the hands of every member of the Legislature.

But Head had not proceeded thus far without some show of efforts to carry out his mission of conciliation. The Tory leaders had at first regarded Sir Francis with distrust on account of his presumed Reform tendencies. On this account, according to Sir Francis Head's own statement—no very reliable authority, as he repeatedly contradicts himself— he was more ready to make overtures to the popular side. He induced three of the popular leaders to accept office in his Executive Council, the Hons. John Rolpli, John Henry Dunn and Robert Baldwin. But these gentlemen, finding that they were never consulted by Sir Francis, and that thus they were made responsible for measures which they had never advised, soon afterwards resigned. Hence Sir Francis threw himself into the arms of the Family Compact, and ruled avowedly as an Irresponsible Governor.

Soon after this the Lieutenant-Governor appointed four new members of the Executive Council, all members of the extreme Tory faction, one being the clever renegade, Robert Baldwin Sullivan. This heightened the people's indignation, the Assembly declared its entire want of confidence m the men whom Sir Francis had called to his CouncuS. A petition from Pickering, where the Reform party were ably led by Peter Matthews, protested against British subjects being reduced by the Lieutenant-Governor to a state of vassalage, and demanded the dismissal of the new Councillors. Other petitions to the same effect poured in from other townships.

In effect Sir Francis Head now regarded the people of English Canada as belonging to two classes, the "loyal"—i.e., those who supported the irresponsible executive in all its monopolies and the "rebels"'—who demanded responsible government —all of whom were put down by Sir Francis Head as "traitors and republicans." Yet in reality it was the


Lieutenant-Governor himself who was the "rebel," if disloyalty to the , instructions of his English superiors can be so described. Lord Glenelg had sent a despatch in which he instructed Sir Francis Bond Head that in the British American Provinces the Executive Councils should be composed of individuals possessing the confidence of the people. In despite of these distinct instructions from the English Government, his masters, this addle-headed Governor persisted m treating as "rebels" all who desired to carry into effect the very system of responsible government which Lord Glenelg had charged h m with the duty of establishing in Canada. But the British Colonial Office had yet to find out that they had to deal with a subordinate who had no notion of subordination, and whose only guide was his own over-weening restless vanity. The able men who directed the Family Compact counsels, men such as Strachan, Robinson, Powell, Hagerman and Sullivan, soon took the measure of the conceted little riding-master, and flattered him into the notion that it was his mission to suppress "democracy."

Head's next step was to dissolve the House, which was now completely beyond his control, and to issue writs for a general election. He had the supreme self-conceit to write to his superior, Lord Glenelg, telling him of his intention, and actually requesting that no orders might be sent him on that subject. To the English Colonial Office he reported his policy as supported by the loyal inhabitants of Canada, and entreated that he might not be interfered with in carrying it out. For the moment these representations had weight at the Foreign Office, more especially as Head's account of things seemed confirmed soon afterwards by the success of his party at the general elections of 1836.

It is of the utmost importance that we obtain a thorough and clear understanding of the fact that at the general election of 1836, the agencies of force and fraud were openly and unblushingly used to exclude members of the Reform party, and to compel or bribe constituencies to choose Tory candidates. The Canadian constitution was virtually abrogated, by the right of electing their representatives being wrested out of the hands of the people. It was this that made the crisis of December, 1837, inevitable. It was this that made civil war a sacred duty to all who were loyal to their country.

Of this fact of the utter unconstitutionality of the elections of 1836, I wish to give the reader clear proofs. Lord Durham states m his famous "Repoit, an authority whose truthfulness is admitted by the parties to be above suspicion, that "in a number of instances the elections were carried by an unscrupulous exercise of the influence of the Government, and by a display of violence on the part of the Tories, who were emboldened by the countenance afforded them by Government; that such facts and such impressions produced in the country an exasperation and a despair of good government which extended far beyond those who had actually been defeated at the polls." The Tories raised an enormous corruption fund, grants of land were freely issued to those who would vote on the side of Government. In the North Riding of the County of York a set of lots at the mouth of the Credit Valley River were distributed during the election. It was well known that the great banking company, the Bank of Upper Canada, was at that time nothing more or less than a corruption machine, holding m trust large sums of money to be used in bribing the electors. It was no secret in Family Compact circles that about a month before the elections of 1836 the manager of the Bank sent for Attorney-General Hagerman, and that the cashier handed to him a large bundle of notes due to the Bank, at the same time giving him explicit instructions to be very lenient with every voter in York County who would pledge himself to vote against Mackenzie, but to "put on the screws" in the case of any who refused to pledge themselves. The Tories could not control public opinion. The unbiased elections of twenty years had made that plain enough. But they could, and they did hire mobs of drunken ruffians armed with guns, stones and bludgeons, to overawe the electors. At Streetsville, the polling-place for the newly formed Second Riding of York County, the path of Mackenzie's friends was barred by a procession of Orangemen, with banners displayed and bands braying forth their party tunes. The refusal of scrutiny into election proceedings in many another case by the corrupt Parliament thus elected has hidden from record in how many another constituency the Tory Lords of misrule led forth their hired gladiators infuriate with loyalty and whiskey. There was many a polling-place where it was risking life to vote for a Reformer.

At the head and front of these outrages on the constitution stood the conceited and unprincipled Lieutenant-Governor, lie openly avowed him self a partisan. He as openly denounced the Reformers. He stumped the count' ,. He has been praised for the dexterity with which he threw himself into the role of an agitator, for his appeals to spread-eagle "loyai' sentimentality, his bunkum stump oratory about the "glorious old flag of England," his ridiculous anti-climax, "let them come if they dare, to an imaginary enemy, in the name of fifteen regiments, not one of which had he common-sense to embody for the defence of his Government when it was threatened by a serious danger. But all this, justly regarded, is but the stock in trade of a political charlatan, without common sense as he was without principle, his ever restless self-conceit exulting in a little brief notoriety. None of Head's predecessors would have stooped to such a course, though some of them, such as Sir John Colborne and Sir Peregrime Maitland, were deeply attached to Tory principles. But they were high-minded English gentlemen. Head, whose real name was Mendez, had not a particle of right to the respectable English name he bore. His true surname was that of his grandfather, Moses Mendez, the descendant of a Portuguese Jew, a quack doctor who had settled in England some generations before. What has been said will, it is to be hoped, enable the reader to realize the iniquities practised by the Tories at the election of 1836.

The constitution of Canada was gone, the elective principle was a thing of the past, hope of constitutional remedy there was none. Well might Samuel Lount, the late member for Simcoe, when asked why he did not appeal to the House for an investigation of the corrupt practices by which it was patent that he had been unseated, reply: "it would be only throwing away £100; the present Parliament would give it against me all the same." To complain of bribery before the tribunal of the House would be to challenge immorality before a jury of prostitutes. Well might Mackenzie, in his address to the Second Riding of York, express his despair of redress by constitutional methods. "I have been diligent in the Legislature; every proposition calculated to make you happier I have supported; and whatever appeared to me to be against popular government and the interests of the many, I have opposed, please or affect whom it might. The result is against you; you are nearer having saddled on you a dominant priesthood; your public and private debt is greater; the public improvements made by Government are of small moment; the priests of the leading denominations have swallowed bribes like a sweet morsel; the principle that the Executive should be responsible to the people is denied you; the means to corrupt our electors are in the hands of the adversaries of popular institutions, and they are using them; and although an agent has been sent with the petitions of the House of Assembly to the King and House of Commons, I dare not conceal from you my fears that the power that has oppressed Ireland for centuries will never extend ;ts sympathies to you." The fiery orator little foresaw the day when both political parties in the freely-elected Parliament of Canada would unite their forces to petition the British Government to extend to unhappy Ireland the system of Home Rule and Responsible Government under which Canada has thriven so well. But truly, at that time the outlook was dark indeed; all constitutional landmarks were effaced, every vestige of electoral freedom was trampled under the hoof of oligarchy. Domnie Strachan's State church dominant; the night-birds of Tory corruption militant over the land! There remained but a pale hope of redress in answer to petition, and what beyond? Mackenzie's last words were ominous enough: "If the reply be unfavourable, as I am apprehensive it will, then the Crown will have forfeited all claim upon British freemen in Upper Canada, and the result is not difficult to foresee.""

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus