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

THE Reform party of English Canada, hitherto describable in scientific language as "homogeneous," now became "differentiated" into two distinct elements, those who still clung to constitutional methods, and the revolutionists. Many a staunch advocate of Reform principles sided with the former. In Toronto the Scotch shrewdness of James and William Lesslie, the mild wisdom of Robert Baldwin, impelled them to take the constitutional side. It is true that these men were denounced as "rebels" In Head and his colleagues, and that they suffered insult during the brief hour of the Tory terror. For instance, Mr. James Lesslie, still happily surviving in the city, had his offices occupied by a lawless gang of militia soldiers, who stole and destroyed everything within their reach.

On the other side, that of revolution, were the most resolute leaders of the Reform party, prominent among whom was William Lyon Mackenzie. He had early been inured to poverty, and had all through boyhood been taught a daily lesson of unselfishness and self-help by the example of his widowed mother. He had received the usual excellent education of the primary kind obtainable in a Scottish public school. But the latter part of Mackenzie's mental training was self-given. He had the advantage of studying thoroughly a few good books. He read the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton ; then Plutarch's Lives, Rollin, and a few of Robertson's now forgotten histories, and these were the staple of his mental equipment for life. As a public speaker he had in a pre-eminent degree that power of carrying with him a large audience which is apt to follow from intense earnestness on the part of the speaker. His speeches are remarkable for an almost total lack of rhetorical ornament. They contain powerful passages, but these result from the intense convictions which form themselves into forcible expression, and "form thick and fast the burning words the tyrants quake to hear."

Next in weight of character to Mackenzie came Marshall Spring Bid-well, he of the noble intellect and stainless life, statesman, orator, jurist, but above all Christian and gentleman. Born in Massachusetts, while it was still an English colony, Bidwell in early boyhood lived at Bath, near Kingston. It has been distinctly proved that never at any time did Bidwell overtly connect himself with the revolutonists, though it 'i» pretty certain that be approved of their aims, and that he, on at least one occasion, advised them as to the legality of their proceedings. Though fearless in his opposition to evil, Marshall Spring Bidwell was moderate and discreet in word and action; he was one of the most impressive speakers on the Reform side in the Assembly, and had a singularly clear and expressive voice.

For many-sided talent it may be doubtful if any of the leaders of 1836-37, was the equal of the Hon. John Rolph. An Englishman of good education, Rolph was for some time settled on Colonel Talbot's estate, and according to Colonel Erinatinger was a special favourite with that eccentric old warrior till their political opinions separated them. Rolph began, like the first of the Baldwin settlers, to practise law, and was equally distinguished as a physician. As an orator the few specimens that remain of Dr. Rolph's Parliamentary speeches rank with the best Canada can boast of. In consequence of a quarrel that took place between Mackenzie and Rolph, subsequent to 1837, those who side most warmly with the former are apt to undervalue Rolph's services to the revolutionary cause. After careful enquiry I can see no just evidence against Dr. Rolph. He certainly staked ever -thing on the perilous game then about to be played. He knew that whoever else might escape, he certainly could not hope to escape the unforgiving hatred of the Tory chiefs whose dearest plans his sarcastic oratory had thwarted so often. Dr. Rolph was singularly successful in his profession, and succeeded in attracting the warm affection of the young men with whom he came into contact as their teacher. His features were pleasing, his figure tall and commanding, and up to the day of his flight from Toronto no one was more trusted by those bent on a revolt.

Dr. Thomas D. Morrison, physician and member of Parliament, was another influential member of the revolutionary organization. He was a cautious, reticent man, a good speaker on political matters, and exceedingly influential with his party.

Samuel Fount, formerly member for Simcoe, had gained much influence among the farmers m the northern part of York County, especially in the neighbourhood of Holland Landing, where he resided. He combined with farming the business of blacksmithing, could make excellent horse shoes, and if need be, pike-heads also. An honest, affectionate, generous man, a kind husband and father, much beloved of all men, he had been deprived of his seat for Simcoe by the unconstitutional outrages of Head and his Tory abettors.

David Gibson, a land surveyor, and member of the Assembly, had a house on Yonge Street, at which Mackenzie's friends frequently met in council. The same may be said of the home of James Hervey Price, which was situated in the same neighbourhood. The city meetings were generally convened at the large brewery owned by Mr. John Doel, on the north-west corner of Bay and Adelaide Streets. Part of this building is still standing (1884) and is used as a planing mill. Mr. Doel was much respected by men of all political opinions. Even Dr. Scadding, a pronounced though never uncharitable Loyalist, admits that in giving what comfort he could to the persecuted insurgents of 1837, Mr. Doel did himself honour. It was at this brewery that the first overt steps were taken towards forming a revolutionary organization. Here a meeting of Reformers was held on July 28th, 1837, at which a resolution was passed which was afterwards known as the "Declaration of Independence of Upper Canada." This important document (as we learn from Mr. C. Lumdsey's "Life of William Lyon Mackenzie," Vol. II. p. 17) had been previously drawn up mainly by Dr. Rolph, at Elliott's tavern, at the corner of Yonge and Queen Streets. Its main features were a pledge to make common cause with the French Canadian Reformers, and "to summon a convention of delegates at Toronto, to take into consideration the political condition of Upper Canada, with authority to its members to appoint commissioners to meet others to be received on behalf of Lower Canada and any other colonies, armed with suitable powers to seek an effectual remedy for the grievances of the colonists."

From this first measure towards revolution, it is evident that the thoughts of those who planned it were already moving in the direction of a Union of the Provinces. A lack of statesmanlike insight as to the condition of the French, as compared with the English colonists, is apparent in the reliance placed on Papineau's frothy gasconades as a permanent political force.

At the Brewery meeting of July 31st, a permanent vigilance committee wTas appointed, of which Mackenzie was to be agent and corresponding secretary. He was to hold meetings in various parts of Upper Canada, and organize branch vigilance societies which were to be so organized as to be easily available for military purposes. Each society was to count not less than twelve, or more than forty members, as far as possible residents in the same neighbourhood. The secretaries of five of these societies were to form a township committee. Ten of the township committees were each to choose a representative to form a county committee, and these again were to elect a district committee, Upper Canada being divided into four districts. At the head of all was to be an executive committee. The secretary of each subordinate society would rank as sergeant, the delegate of five societies to a township committee as captain, the delegate of ten township committees to a district committee as colonel, at the head of a battalion of six hundred men.

The public meetings, the first of which was held at Newmarket, in the county of York, were enthusiastically attended by excited multitudes, who eagerly drank in Mackenzie's fervid oratory. Among the chief promoters were Samuel Lount, of Holland Landing ; Nelson Gorllam, afterwards an exile in the United States; Giles Fletcher, who also became an exile; Jeremiah Graham; Peter Matthews, a.farmer of Pickering, who held the rank of colonel, and was executed in 1838. Mackenzie was appointed chief of the Provisional Government ; Dr. Rolph was invested with sole power as executive; Gibson, besides holding the rank of colonel, was appointed comptroller; and Jesse Lloyd as delegate to communicate with the French Canadians. It will be seen that the military organization aimed at was of the loosest kind. Mr. Lindsey tells us that not even an oath of secrecy and fidelity was exacted; all that was aimed at was to associate men from the same neighbourhood, who could trust each other, and to attain sufficient organization and discipline to enable its members to act together in the effort at supplying Toronto, which was from the first the main aim of the revolutionists. But the weekly drill on Yonge Street was regularly attended, bullets were cast, and old flint-lock muskets and pea-rifles carefully furbished; and at Lount's forge, at Holland Landing, pike-heads were manufactured, and fitted to stout six-foot handles.

It is hardly possible now to estimate the actual number of Mackenzie's avowed supporters. When the insurrection failed, numbers who would have joined Mackenzie had the attack on Toronto succeeded, multitudes who, in the London district, hail actually taken up arms under Dr. Duncombe, made a pretence of offering their services to Colonel MacNab or Sir Francis Head, as the best means to secure their personal safety. Head's boasts of the numbers of "loyal militia" that poured in to support him, rested therefore on very slight foundations. It was well known that Mackenzie had a very large following in Toronto itself, where lie was most popular, having been the city's first mayor m 1834. The intended rising was known, though not, it is believed, m all its details, to many gentlemen of high position, among others to Marshall Spring Bidwell and to the elder Baldwin. The latter, it is certain, did not communicate his knowledge of the revolutionary plans to his son Robert, who afterwards explicitly declared, in his place in Parliament, that he was in complete ignorance of what was going on. Sir Francis Hincks has also assured the writer that although everyone felt that a crisis of some kind was impending, he himself had no sympathy whatever with anything under Mackenzie's leadership. East of Toronto, Mackenzie had a considerable following—about Cobourg, Port Hope, and Pickering. With the exception of the Orangemen, with which powerful organization Mackenzie hail made the great n stake of quarrelling, and the Irish Roman Catholics, whose clergy denounced Mackenzie (he had made another mistake in picking a quarrel with their . bishop), all the farmers of the Home District, and most of those in the Gore and Niagara Districts, were in full sympathy with Mackenzie. These were for the most part steady, industrious land-owners, men who risked not only life, but all that for half a lifetime they had toiled to reclaim from the wilderness, on the doubtful issues of insurrection. Many took the precaution of deeding in trust to friends, or to their children, what land they possessed, as a safeguard against government confiscation, should the rising fail. Besides the Home District contingents which were levied by Mackenzie and his lieutenants, Fount, Anderson, Gibson, Matthews and Floyd, a very considerable force was raised in the Western Peninsula of Ontario, between the Detroit River and Lake Erie. This was one of the most fertile and best settled districts in English Canada ; consequently it was one where the grievance of the Clergy was keenly felt. It was, as it ;s, a centre of Reform influence in Upper Canada.

The leading spirit in this phase of the revolutionary organization was Dr. Charles Duncombe, a resident of the village of Bishopsgate, on the town-line between Bur ford and Brantford townships, m the county of Brant. Like Dr Rolph, like Dr. Wolfred Nelson in French Canada, this gentleman had gamed considerable personal influence by his skill in the exercise of his profession, as well as by the self-sacrificing generosity with which he would ride for miles through swamp and forest to visit pioneer patients too poor to give any fee but gratitude. Like the able physicians named above, Duncombe was a many-sided man. a lucid and impressive speaker, well read in history and general literature, and gifted with a personal magnetism which enabled him to exert no slight influence over the farmers of the sections of five or six counties into which (so energetic were the medical men of those days,) his practice extended. He had been for many years representative in the Assembly of the riding in which he lived. In Parliament Dr. Duncombe exerted a marked influence. He it was that transmitted to the British Colonial Office such an impeachment of Sir Francis Head's misgovernment, accompanied by proofs, as to cause the charges to be examined into, and the delinquent Lieutenant-Governor recalled in something very like disgrace. Duncombe had acquired considerable wealth in the course of his practice, and owned much land in Brant and Oxford.

On July 4th, 1837, a "significant date," as Mr. Lindsey says, Mackenzie began to publish a newspaper called The Constitution, which, as compared with the more moderate public criticisms of his former Colonial Advocate, must be regarded as the organ of revolution. It lasted with ' some intermissions till the very eve of the rebellion. It was the voice of Mackenzie's vigorous, incisive trumpet-call of insurrection, and openly recommended that new branch societies should be formed, and well supplied with "pikes and rifles."

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