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Canadian Confederation and its Leaders
William Annand


WILLIAM ANNAND was the chief “last ditcher” of his day. Long after Joseph Howe had thrown his influence in Nova Scotia for Confederation—lessened though it was by his own vacillation —Annand maintained his insurgency. He remained the leader of the anti-unionists, who were still in control of the local Assembly, until his removal in 1875 to England, where he died in the late ’eighties. Almost alone of influential Nova Scotians, Annand resisted the force and the craft of Sir Charles Tupper, and was one of the thousands who ever contended that a great wrong had been done his Province by the manner in which it was forced into Confederation. So sfirred was the Province that union and anti-union was the local election issue far into the ’seventies. At first the Nova Scotia members at Ottawa held aloof from the old parties, but gradually the Liberals, who had comprised the bulk of the anti-unionists, joined the forces of Alexander Mackenzie. As late as the Provincial election of 1886, antiunion feeling was strong, but few are now living who took part in the fight against Confederation, and the bitterness of the majority of that day is little in evidence.

One of the veterans of the lost cause is Senator L. G. Power of Halifax.

“Was there any real grievance in Nova Scotia?” he was asked on the eve of the Confederation jubilee.

“Nova Scotia before the union,” he replied, “had low customs duties, the highest ad valorem, except liquor and tobacco, being ten per cent.; many items were only five per cent.; others were free. It was a cheap country to live in, and increased duties that followed were unpopular. We were a prosperous Province; many people thought we would have been better off under the old conditions. The people got what they wished from their own Parliament, but Nova Scotia is now a small factor in the government of a big country, and the people do not get things as they would like. There is too much tendency to consider the big interests.”

Nova Scotia was slow to see the advantages of Confederation. Her own nearest neighbors were the New England States, a few hours distant. Canada lay days away by water, and no railway existed until the middle ’seventies. Canada had been the scene of rebellions and of the burning of parliament buildings; Nova Scotia was peaceful, and was taught by Howe to look on the Canadians as dangerous neighbors. When the logic of the occasion, coupled with better terms, had won Howe to the union cause, Annand, his relative and political associate for over thirty years, remained an opponent, and bitterly attacked his former friend. His position as editor of the Halifax Chronicle gave him influence which sustained the anti-unionist cause for years.

Annand, though overshadowed by more picturesque contemporaries, was in public life for almost forty years, and touched Nova Scotia’s development at several vital points. He joined Howe in reforms, and his shy, practical personality supplemented the oratorical genius who often lived in the clouds and ever sought the lime-light. Annand was born in Halifax on April 10, 1808, being thus Howe’s junior by four years. His father was a well-to-do merchant, and both parents came from Banffshire, Scotland. Their son inherited the prudence and the steadfastness of the Lowland Scots. William was carefully educated in Halifax and in Scotland, and for a time lived on a stock farm at Upper Musquodoboit, near Halifax. So esteemed was the young farmer that at twenty-eight he was elected to the Assembly for Halifax County, Howe being his fellow member. Annand in his election address laid down a progressive platform, including a demand for encouragement to agriculture, fisheries and domestic manufactures. Hand in hand, Howe and Annand took up the battle for responsible government, the latter being a shrewd counsellor and a wholesome restraining influence on his more impulsive associate. Annand took part in the movement in 1843 to secularize education in Nova Scotia, and twenty years later supported Tupper and his Conservative Government in their steps for compulsory education. Annand purchased The Nova Scotian in 1843 and early in 1844 founded the Halifax Chronicle, with which he was more or less identified until his death. Until 1846 he spent two happy years in editorial association with Howe, as they promoted the reforms for which they stood. Annand was not as brilliant a writer as Howe, but his articles had a clear, logical style and a certain manly dignity. He sat in the Assembly almost continuously until 1875, holding office as Financial Secretary from 1860 to 1863, and afterwards being a strong critic of the Tupper Government until he became Premier in 1867.

The fight over Confederation brought Annand to the front speedily. When Adams G. Archibald* gave up the Liberal leadership and joined the unionists, Annand naturally assumed a prominent place in his party. Later, when Howe forsook the cause, Annand became Liberal leader.

Before 1864, the year of the Quebec Conference, had closed, Annand had addressed a meeting in favor of Maritime Union and demanded that the Quebec scheme be submitted to the people. Presently he threw his full strength into the opposition cause, joining A. G. Jones, a prominent Conservative, and William J. Stairs, a Liberal. He deposed the editor of The Chronicle, Jonathan McCully,t who had been favorable to union, and early in 1865 admitted to his columns Howe’s famous attacks on Confederation entitled, “The Botheration Scheme.” The battle was then on in earnest. Howe on the rostrum and Annand with his pen strengthened each other. Together they denounced and delayed the scheme in the Assembly and crossed to England in 1866 to present the antis’ case when the bill was being drafted in London. Together they went to England again in 1868 to demand repeal. On this visit Tupper impressed Howe with the futility of the fight; he returned a waverer, and presently gave up the battle. When Howe showed him Sir John Macdonald’s letter, offering better terms, Annand, who was then Premier of Nova Scotia, said: “Yes, we will take this letter and deal with it.” Howe read in this a. move for further opposition to union and withdrew the letter. Annand proposed another delegation to England, but Howe disagreed. The quarrel which ensued broke a political friendship and association which had lasted for thirty-three years.

It would be easy to say now that Annand and his fellow anti-unionists were without vision, but it is unfair to ignore the arguments they presented, which then made a deep impression in the Province. Among the State papers of the period are the despatch of the Colonial Secretary, the Duke of Buckingham, concerning Nova Scotia’s protest, and the Nova Scotia Government’s reply. In February, 1868, the Legislature of Nova Scotia, then in control of Annand and the antiunionists, ordered Howe to proceed to England at once to present a petition to the Imperial Parliament “praying for the release of Nova Scotia from the union.”

The Colonial Secretary, replying to this petition, said:

“I trust that the Assembly and people of Nova Scotia will not be surprised that the Queen’s Government feel that they would not be warranted in advising the reversal of a great measure of State, attended by so many extensive consequences already in operation, and adopted with the previous sanction of every one of the Legislatures concerned, and with the subsequent approval of the Legislatures of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.”

To this the Annand Government made a tart reply:

“The Executive Council have read the despatch of His Grace the Duke of Buckingham, in reply to the address of the representatives of the people, for a repeal of the Act of Union, with mingled feelings of surprise and regret. . . . It is astonishing that the Colonial Minister should take the liberty of contradicting and of asserting that Confederation first originated with the Legislature of Nova Scotia. This assertion is unsustained by the slightest foundation of fact. We are, therefore, in no manner desirous of changing our political constitution, but will not willingly allow ourselves to be brought into subjection to Canada or any other country. We will have no confederation or union with other colonies, except upon terms of exact equality, and there is no change in our political relations that we should not prefer to the detestable confederation that has been attempted to be forced upon us. We shall proceed with the legislation and other business of the Province, protesting against the confederation boldly, and distinctly asserting our full purpose and resolution to avail ourselves of every opportunity to extricate ourselves from the trammels of Canada, and if we fail, after exhausting all constitutional means at our command, we will leave our future destiny in the hands of Him who will judge the people righteously and govern the nations upon earth.”

Annand’s controversial ability was shown in his arguments against union in 1866 and 1867, before Howe’s defection. Writing to the Earl of Carnarvon in 1866, in defence of Howe and in reply to Tupper, he contended the people should be consulted before the constitution was changed. “While nobody,” he saidj “denied the power of the Imperial Parliament to sweep away the constitution of a colony, should the preservation of the national life or the great interests of the Empire demand the sacrifice, yet in such a case flagrant abuses, corruption or insubordination must be shown, or the existence of a high State necessity, in presence of which the ordinary safeguards as existing institutions should give way”! Annand contended that no such abuses or State necessity existed to warrant what he termed “an act of confiscation and coercion of the most arbitrary kind.” His prophecy that, were an election to take place, not three unionists would be returned, was borne out, for in the contest of September, 1867, only one unionist, Dr. Tupper, was returned to Ottawa from the nineteen counties. At the same time the unionists carried only two out of thirty-eight seats in the Assembly.

In a debate in the Assembly in March, 1867, Annand developed the argument against the coercion of Nova Scotia. He demanded of Dr. Tupper where in the history of the world any such attempt had been made to deprive a people of their government and institutions against their will, without even a. chance to review the measure. “Such a policy might be tried with impunity in Nova Scotia with its 350,000 inhabitants, but could it safely be tried in Canada with 2,500,000? Could it be tried in England? We are too weak to rebel if we had the disposition, but it is a fair principle that what could not be done constitutionally in England should not be done here.”

“If, however,” said Annand, replying to Dr. Tupper, “the people are forced into the union, I do not hesitate to say that I will dedicate the remaining years of my life, be they many or few, to endeavor to repeal a union so hateful and obnoxious. I am an Englishman in spirit, if not by birth; I love the institutions of England, and if I am deprived of them and my liberties as a British subject, then all I can say is, that by every constitutional means I will endeavor to destroy a union brought about by corrupt and arbitrary means.”

In 1868 Howe, Annand and their colleagues made their last constitutional effort in asking the British Parliament to release Nova Scotia from the union. John Bright brought it before the House with a motion that a commission be appointed to investigate the causes of discontent in Nova Scotia. This was defeated by 183 to 87, and with this vote the repeal movement failed. The delegates, who yet included Howe, issued a parting statement couched in almost epic language, in which they said:

“But what of the future? The question is natural, but we have no answer to give. With the publication of this paper our responsibilities end. We have proposed our remedy—it has been rejected. His Grace the Colonial Secretary and Lord Monck have assumed the task of making things pleasant and harmonious. They will have begun to try their experiments before the Legislature of Nova Scotia meets in August. Having discharged our duty to the Empire, we go home to share the perils of our native land, in whose service we consider it an honor to labor, whose fortunes in this darkest hour of her history it would be cowardice to desert.” The back of the resistance to union was broken. Howe capitulated to the arguments of Tupper and the appeal of “better terms.” Annand might have acted with him had Howe taken him into his confidence during the memorable return journey with Tupper on the City of Cork. As it was, old friends parted. Annand refused to meet the Ottawa Ministers at dinner when they came to Halifax to negotiate with Howe, and afterwards took the stump against Howe in Hants. Annand’s feeling against Howe, which was heartily reciprocated in the quarrel, was reflected in The Chronicle, which on February 2, 1869, said:

“Howe came from England determined to share the perils of his native land in the darkest hour of her history, and he has done so with a vengeance. He has assumed the perils of the Presidency of the Dominion Privy Council, and the temptations of a yearly salary of $5,000, and dared a trip to snowed-up Ottawa.

That Mr. Howe has shamefully abandoned the party which he joined in the very heyday of its success is plain. That he actually sold, after long plotting, the country to which he owed all that he ever was, or ever had, we are sorry to say we are convinced. Let him go. One man never built up a country. One man cannot ruin it if the people make a determined stand for their rights.”

The insurgents and the irreconcilables had their day, but the leaven was working. Howe and Tupper together carried the voters by storm in the next election. Even Annand, shortly after Howe joined the Cabinet, admitted through The Chronicle that it was “the policy of the people of Nova Scotia to make the best of union while it lasted.”

Annand’s last years were spent in England, far from the scene of strife. For a time he was Agent-General of the Dominion Government, and afterwards, until his death on October 12, 1887, Agent for Nova Scotia. When he passed away few of his contemporaries remained, but Nova Scotia history must count him an influential and honorable figure during critical times. He was a good executive, a capable leader, and a speaker of ready expression and forcible style.

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