The Tribune of Nova Scotia
Chapter IV. The Fight for Responsible Government


One of the oldest political struggles in the world is that of the people to control their government. In this struggle the barons faced King John at Runnymede. In this struggle King Charles I was sent to the block. It is a struggle of which the end is not yet. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the British people worked out what seemed to them a satisfactory solution of the problem, by making the Executive, or Government, responsible to the House of Commons, which in its turn had at certain periods to appeal to the people in a general election.

In this system the Executive holds office just so long as it can obtain the support of a majority in the House of Commons. Thus, while certain members of the Executive may be chosen from the House of Lords or the Legislative Council or the Senate or whatever the Upper House may be called, most of its members must sit in the House of Commons, in order to explain or defend their policy. From this arrangement certain consequences follow.

(1) To be endurable a government must be more or less permanent, must have time to initiate and, partly at least, to carry out its policy. Constantly shifting governments would be intolerable. But if the government depends on the will of a majority, then that majority must also be more or less permanent. Hence we get the party system, by which the House of Commons is divided into two parties, each with a coherent policy. The leaders of the party which has the majority at the general election form the Executive, or Government, and, if they can keep their majority together, these leaders hold office till the people pronounce their verdict at the next general election.

(2) Members of a party will only work together under their leaders if those leaders have a coherent policy on which they agree, and which wins the sympathy of their followers. ‘It doesn’t matter much what we say, gentlemen,’ said a British prime minister to his colleagues on a famous occasion, ‘but we must all say the same thing.’ Once a government under this system has made up its mind, each member must sink his individual opinion, or must resign.

(3) But while the Cabinet as a body must ‘say the same thing,’ its members must also be heads of departments, for the competent administration of which they are responsible. One man must have charge of the Customs, another of Finance, another of Justice, and so on.

This ^system of. heads of departments, each responsible for his own branch, but all uniting in a common responsibility for the common policy, and holding office at the will of a majority in the House of Commons, is known as Responsible Government. Under it the sovereign, as has been said, ‘reigns but does not govern.’ The monarch of England acts only on the will of his advisers. Once the Cabinet has decided, and has had its decision ratified by a majority in the two Houses of parliament, the monarch has no choice but to obey. Dignified and honourable functions the Crown still has; but in administration the ultimate decision rests with the ministers.

To every man alike in Great Britain and in the colonies this form of government seemed, as has been said, fit only for an independent nation, and inconsistent with the colonial status. To Howe it was the essential birthright of British Freemen, and he determined to vindicate it for his native province.

But Howe was no doctrinaire, bound at all costs to uphold a system. He was a practical man, fighting practical abuses. When parliament met, early in 1837, the young editor, already recognized as the Liberal leader, in company with Laurence O’Connor Doyle, began the fight by bringing in a resolution against the practice of the Council of sitting with closed doors. To this the Council replied that such a matter of procedure concerned themselves alone. Howe replied by introducing into the Assembly a series of twelve resolutions, embracing a general attack on the Council for its secrecy, its irresponsibility, and its ecclesiastical and social one sidedness, and ending by an appeal to His Majesty ‘ to take such steps as will ensure responsibility to the Commons.’ Eloquent though his speech was in defence of these resolutions, he showed that he did not yet see the line along which salvation was to come. ‘You are aware,’ he said, ‘that in Upper Canada an attempt was made to convert the Executive Council into the semblance of an English ministry, having its members in both branches of the legislature, and holding their positions while they retained the confidence of the country. I am afraid that these colonies, at all events this province, is hardly prepared for the erection of such machinery: I doubt whether it would work well here: and the only other remedy which presents itself is, to endeavour to make both branches of the legislature elective.’ Howe had thus diagnosed the disease, but he was inclined to prescribe an inadequate and probably harmful remedy.

The debate on the twelve resolutions was hot. On the question of opening the doors of the Council, Howe had been unanimously followed, but his general attack on that body roused strong feelings among its friends and adherents in the Assembly, and though all his resolutions were passed, on each vote there was a resolute minority. Yet the debate, though hot, was on a high level, and does credit to the political capacity and the sense of decorum of early Nova Scotia.

The Council were prompt to take up the gage of battle. A day or two after their receipt of the resolutions they returned a message which ignored eleven of the twelve, but insisted on the rescinding of the one which spoke of the disposition of some of their members ‘to protect their own interests and emoluments at the expense of the public.’ They hinted in unmistakable terms that, unless this was rescmciea, they would refuse to concur in a bill for voting supply. Their refusal to do so would have meant that, while they were prepared to vote public funds to pay the salaries of the officials, they would hold up all grants for roads, bridges, education, and other public needs.

Great was the consternation. The members of the majority in the House of Assembly saw themselves in anticipation compelled to appear before their constituents and explain that they had been unable to vote this money because they had joined with a pestilent young editor in an attack on his elders and betters.

Howe sat up all night wondering what he should do. Then he determined to take his medicine like a man. On the next day he entered the House with cheerful face and buoyant step. He threw back his coat, a gesture already growing familiar, and stood four-square to the Assembly. ‘I feel,’ he said, ‘that we have now arrived at a point which I had to a certain extent anticipated from the moment I sat down to prepare the resolutions . . . the position in which we are now placed does not take me by surprise. But it may be said, What is to be done? And I answer, Sacrifice neither the revenue nor the cause of reform. In dealing with an enemy who is disposed to take us at disadvantage, like politic soldiers, let us fight with his own weapons. . . . The Council ask us to rescind a particular resolution; I am prepared to give more than they ask and to rescind them all. . . . But I shall follow up that motion by another, for the appointment of a committee to draw up an address to the Crown on the state of the Colony. ... It is not for me to say, when a committee is appointed, what the address shall contain; but I presume that having these resolutions before them, and knowing what a majority of this Assembly think and feel, they will do their duty, and prepare such a document as will attain the objects for which we have been contending.’

A motion to rescind the twelve resolutions followed and was carried, and the revenues were saved. Before the end of the session Howe’s thinking had advanced, and the address to the Crown which his committee prepared implored the monarch either to grant us an elective Legislative Council; or to separate the Executive from the Legislative Council, providing for a just representation of all the great interests of the province in both; and, by the introduction into the former of some members of the popular branch and otherwise securing responsibility to the Commons, confer upon the people of this province what they value above all other possessions, the blessings of the British constitution.’ Lord Glenelg, at this time the colonial secretary, was a weak but amiable man. He could not see that in the full grant to the colonies of Responsible Government lay safety; he deemed it ‘inconsistent with a due adherence to the essential distinctions between a Metropolitan and a Colonial Government.’ But he was a kindly soul, who was honestly shocked at the predominance in the Council of the Church of England and the bankers, and he went as far as he dared. In August 1837 dispatches from him arrived, directing the lieutenant-governor to separate the Legislative and the Executive Councils. Of the wisdom of this step he was by no means sure, but he yielded to the wish of the Assembly, convinced that their advice will be dictated by more exact and abundant knowledge of the wants and wishes of their constituents than any other persons possess or could venture to claim.’ In the new Executive Council the chief justice was not to sit, and the banking and Church of England influences were to be lessened. The Council of Twelve thus became an Executive merely, while a new Legislative Council, or Upper House, of nineteen members, came into being. Though no responsibility to the Commons was acknowledged, and though ‘ the Queen can give no pledge that the Executive Council will always comprise some members of the Assembly,’ four members of the new Executive did actually sit in the Lower House and three in the Upper. Already the fortress was giving way. Instead of finding out the policy of the Executive by an elaborate interchange of written communications, the Assembly could now, whenever it so desired, interrogate such members of the Executive as were chosen from its own body.

Towards the end of this year broke out the rebellion headed in Lower Canada by Papineau and in Upper Canada by William Lyon Mackenzie. Its ignominious failure threatened for a time to overwhelm Howe with charges of similar disloyalty. Luckily he had in 1835 written to Mr H. S. Chapman, a prominent Upper Canadian Reformer, a long letter in which, while sympathizing with the grievances of the Reformers, he had indignantly denounced any attempt to use force, and had vindicated the loyalty of Nova Scotia. This letter he now published, and triumphantly cleared his character.

The rebellion had at least the merit of awakening the British government. When houses went up in smoke, when Canadians with fixed bayonets chased other Canadians through burning streets and slew them as they cried for mercy, the most fat-hearted placeman could not say that all was for the best in the best of all possible colonies. The_ British government sent out as High Commissioner one of England’s ablest men, Lord Durham. His report, published early in 1839, is a landmark in the history of British colonial administration. Disregarding all half-measures, he declared that in Responsible Government alone could salvation in the colonies be found. In clarion tones he proclaimed that thus alone could the deep, pathetic, and ill-repaid loyalty of the Canadas be preserved. But the report had still to be acted on. Lord John Russell, the ablest man in the government, had succeeded Lord Glenelg, and in 1839 he made a speech which did indeed mark an advance on the views of his predecessor, but which fell far short of the wishes of the Canadian Reformers. The internal government of the province, he admitted, must be carried on in accordance with the well-understood wishes of the Canadian people, but he still held Responsible Government to be incompatible with the colonial status. The governor of a colony can be responsible, he said, only to the Crown; to make him responsible to his ministers would be to proclaim him head of an independent state. If the governor must act on the advice of his ministers, he might be forced to choose ministers whose acts would embroil the province, and thereby the whole Empire, with a foreign power.

In answer to this speech Howe wrote to Lord John Russell four open letters, which were republished in almost every Canadian newspaper, and which, issued in pamphlet form, were sent to every British newspaper and member of parliament. Never did he reach a higher level. Vigorous, sparkling, full of apt illustration and sound political thought, they grip ‘little Johnny Russell’s’ speech and shake it to tatters. ‘By the beard of the prophet!’—to use one of Howe’s favourite oaths—here is a big man, a man with a gift of expression and a grip of principle. They should be read in full, for an extract gives but a truncated idea of their power.

He ridicules the arrogation to itself by the Compact ’of a monopoly of loyalty.‘ It appears to me that a very absurd opinion has long prevailed among many worthy people on both sides of the Atlantic : that the selection of an Executive Council, who, upon most points of domestic policy, will differ from the great body of the inhabitants and the majority of their representatives, is indispensable to the very existence of colonial institutions and that, if it were otherwise, the colony would fly off, by the operation of some latent principle of mischief, which I have never seen very clearly defined. By those who entertain this view, it is assumed that Great Britain is indebted for the preservation of her colonies, not to the natural affection of their inhabitants— to their pride in her history, to their participation in the benefit of her warlike, scientific, or literary achievements—but to the disinterested patriotism of a dozen or two of persons, whose names are scarcely known in England, except by the clerks in Downing Street; who are remarkable for nothing above their neighbours in the colony, except perhaps the enjoyment of offices too richly endowed; or their zealous efforts to annoy, by the distribution of patronage and the management of public affairs, the great body of the inhabitants, whose sentiments they cannot change.’

He applies Lord John’s reasoning to the British towns of London or Glasgow or Aberdeen, and shows what absurd results it would produce. He admits fully that Nova Scotia cannot be independent, and that there are limits beyond which, were her responsible Executive mad enough to pass them, the governor might rightly interpose his veto. But he shows in what a fiasco any such situation would necessarily end. The powers which he leaves to the British government would now, indeed, be thought excessive.

‘From what has been already written, it will be seen that I leave to the Sovereign and to the Imperial Parliament the uncontrolled authority over the military and naval force distributed over the colonies; that I carefully abstain from trenching upon their right to bind the whole empire by treaties and other diplomatic arrangements with foreign states; or to regulate the trade of the colonies with the mother country and with each other. I yield to them also the same right of interference which they now exercise over colonies and over English incorporated towns; whenever a desperate case of factious usage of the powers confided, or some reason of state, affecting the preservation of peace and order, call for that interference.’

But he pleads eloquently that the loyalty of Nova Scotia need not be maintained by sending over to govern her a well-intentioned military man, gallant and gouty, with little knowledge of her history or her civil institutions, with a tendency to fall under the control of a small social set, whose interests are different from or adverse to those of the great majority; that it will only strike deeper root if the governor is given as his advisers not such an irresponsible council, but the popular leaders, men strong in the confidence of the province.

Events moved rapidly. In October 1839 Lord John Russell sent out to the governors of the various British North American colonies a circular dispatch of such importance that it was recognized by Sir John Harvey, the governor of New Brunswick, as ‘a new and improved constitution.’ In this it was said that ‘the governor must only oppose the wishes of the Assembly where the honour of the Crown, or the interests of the Empire, are deeply concerned,’ and office-holders were warned that they were liable to removal from office ‘as often as any sufficient motives of public policy may suggest the expediency of that measure.’ A subsequent paragraph stated clearly that this was not meant to introduce the ‘spoils system,’ but to apply only to the heads of departments and to the other members of the Executive Council.

Sir Colin Campbell, at this time lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, was a very gallant soldier of unstained honour and kindly disposition, a personal friend of the Duke of Wellington, under whom he had proved his valour in India and in the Peninsula. When in 1834 an epidemic of cholera ravaged Halifax, Sir Colin went down into the thick of it, and worked day and night to assuage the distressing agonies of the sufferers. In politics, however, he was under the sway of the Council. He now refused to communicate Lord John Russell’s dispatch to the House, and when that body passed a vote of want of confidence in the Executive, Sir Colin met them with a curt reply to the effect that ‘I have had every reason to be satisfied with the advice and assistance which they [the Executive] have at all times afforded me.’

But ‘there was the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.’ Mr J. B. Uniacke rose in the House and stated that, in the conviction of the absurdity of the present irresponsible system, he had tendered to the governor his resignation as an Executive Councillor. Mr Uniacke, a man of fine presence, oratorical gifts, and high social position, had hitherto been the Tory leader and Howe’s chief opponent in the House, and his conversion to the side of Responsible Government s was indeed a triumph. But there was fierce work still to do. By a large majority the House passed an address to the governor expressing unfeigned sorrow at his refusal to administer the government in accordance with Lord John Russell’s dispatch. To this Sir Colin replied that the matter was of too great moment for him to decide, and that he would refer it to Her Majesty’s government. This in effect meant that he would spin the affair out for another six months or so, and so shift the burden of decision to his successor. The patience of the House was at an end, and an address to the Crown was passed, detailing the struggle and requesting 'Your Majesty to remove Sir Colin Campbell and send to Nova Scotia a governor who will not only represent the Crown, but carry out its policy with firmness and good faith.’

To ask Her Majesty to remove her representative was an extreme measure. From one end of the province to the other meetings were held. With one antagonist after another Howe crossed swords, and was ever victorious. Lord Sydenham, the governor-general, who though resident in Canada had authority over all British North America, came down to Halifax to look into the matter. He had a long talk with Howe and each yielded to the charm of the other. Such warm friends did they become that during the rest of Sydenham’s short life they exchanged frequent letters, and Howe called one of his sons by the name of Sydenham. In September 1840 Lord Falkland was sent out as lieutenant-governor, Sir Colin Campbell having been ‘promoted’ to the governorship of Ceylon. It is pleasant to think of the old soldier’s last meeting with Howe. Passing out from Lord Falkland’s first levee, Howe bowed to Sir Colin and would have passed on. The veteran stopped him, and held out his hand, exclaiming, ‘We must not part in this way, Mr Howe. We fought out our differences of opinion honestly. You have acted like a man of honour. There is my hand.’ The hand was warmly grasped, and on Sir Colin’s departure a fine tribute to his chivalry and sense of honour was paid by the Nova Scotian.

With the coming of Lord Falkland the first stage in the struggle was over. That nobleman endeavoured to carry out in Nova Scotia the policy of Lord Sydenham in Canada and to remain in a half-way house. Greatly to their rage, four members of the Executive Council, who held seats in neither branch of the legislature, were at once informed that their services could no longer be retained. Three of the places so vacated were given to Uniacke, Howe, and a third Liberal, and it was agreed that other Liberals should be brought into the Executive Council as vacancies occurred.

This account gives but a poor idea of the excitement in Halifax during these years. In so small a community, where every one knew every one else, personal, social, and political questions became hopelessly intertwined. The fighting was bitter. ‘Forced into a cleft stick, there was nothing left for us but to break it,’ was Howe’s pithy way of putting the case. Naturally enough, the stick objected to being broken. And as in every war, for one man killed in battle five or six die from other causes connected with the war—bad boots, bad food, bad rum, wet clothes, the trenches for beds, hospital fever, and such like—so the open opposition of debate was the least that Howe had to fear. That, as one of the finest peasantry in the world said of Donnybrook, ‘was enjoyment.’ Howe was once asked by an old sportsman, with whom he had gone fishing for salmon, how he liked that sport. 'Pretty well,’ was the answer; ‘but, after all, it’s not half so exciting as a fortnight’s debate in the Legislature, and a doubt as to the division.’ The personal T.N.S, slanders in private circles—and he could not afford to be wholly indifferent to them; the misrepresentation not only of motives, but of the actual objects sought to be attained, which circulate from mouth to mouth till they become the established ‘they say’ of society; those ceaseless petty annoyances and meannesses of persecution which Thackeray declares only women are capable of inflicting ; these were showered about and on him like a rain of small-shot, and they do gall, no matter how smilingly a man may bear himself. After all, these people did as most of us would probably have done. They were taught, and they believed easily, that the printer Howe was bad, that he spoke evil of dignitaries, that he was a red republican, and a great many other things equally low. The dignitaries could not control themselves when they had to refer to him; to take him down to the end of a wharf and blow him away from a cannon’s mouth into space was the only thing that would satisfy their ideas of the fitness of things. Their women, if they saw him passing along the street, would run from the windows shrieking as if he were a monster whose look was pollution. Their sons talked of horse-whipping, ducking in a horse-pond, fighting duels with him, or doing anything in an honourable or even semi-honourable way to abate the nuisance. Nor did they confine themselves to talk. On one occasion, before Howe became a member of the House, a young fellow inflamed by drink mounted his horse and rode down the street to the printing-office, with broadsword drawn, declaring he would kill Howe. He rode up on the wooden sidewalk, and commenced to smash the windows, at the same time calling on Howe to come forth. Howe, hearing the clatter, rushed out. He had been working at the case, and his trousers were bespattered with ink and his waistcoat was only half buttoned. He appeared on the doorstep with bare head and shirt-sleeves partly rolled up, just as he had been working, and took in the situation at a glance. He did not delay a minute or say a word. His big white face glowed with passion, and going up to the shouting creature he caught him by the wrist, disarmed and unhorsed him, and threw him on his back in a minute. Some years later another young man challenged Howe to a duel. Howe went out, received his fire, and then fired in the air. He was challenged afterwards by several others, but refused to go out

And he was no coward. There was not a drop of coward’s blood in his body. Even a mob did not make him afraid. Once, when the 'young Ireland’ party had inflamed the Halifax crowd against him, he walked among them on election day as fearlessly as in the olden time when they were all on his side. He knew that any moment a brickbat might come, crushing in the back of his head, but his face was cheery as usual, and his joke as ready. He fought as an Englishman fights; walking straight up to his enemy, looking him full in the face, and keeping cool as he hit from the shoulder with all his might. And when the fighting was over, he wished it to be done with. 'And now, boys,’ said he once to a mob that had gathered at his door, 'if any of you has a stick, just leave it in my porch for a keepsake.’ With shouts of laughter the shillelaghs came flying over the heads of the people in front till the porch was filled. The pleasantry gave Howe a stock of fuel, and sent away the mob disarmed and in good humour.

We can see the true resolve that was in such a man, but those who fought hand to hand with him may be excused if they could not see it. He was the enemy of their privileges, therefore of their order, therefore of themselves. It was a bitter pill to swallow when a man in his position was elected member for the county. The flood-gates seemed to have opened. Young gentlemen in and out of college swore great oaths over their wine, and the deeper they drank the louder they swore. Their elders declared that the country was going to the dogs, that in fact it was no longer fit for gentlemen to live in. Young ladies carried themselves with greater hauteur than ever, heroically determined that they at least would do their duty to Society. Old ladies spoke of Antichrist, or sighed for the millennium. All united in sending Howe to Coventry. He felt the stings. ‘They have scorned me at their feasts,’ he once burst out to a friend, ‘and they have insulted me at their funerals!’

When Uniacke left the Tory camp, his own friends and relatives cut him in the street. When Lord Falkland requested the resignations of the four irresponsible councillors, their loyalty to the Crown did not restrain their attacks upon himself. His sending his servants to a concert was spoken of as a deliberate insult to the society of Halifax; and his secretary was accused of robbing a pawnbroker’s shop to replenish his wardrobe.

There was too much of human nature in Joe Howe to take all this without striking hard blows in return. He did strike, and he struck from the shoulder. He said what he thought about his opponents with a bluntness that was absolutely appalling to them. He went straight to the mark aimed at with Napoleonic directness. They were stunned. They had been accustomed to be treated so differently. Hitherto there had been so much courtliness of manner in Halifax; the gradations of rank had been recognized by every one; and the great men and the great women had been treated always with deference. But here was a Jacobin who changed all this; who in dealing with them called a spade a spade ; who searched pitilessly into their claims to public respect, and if he found them impostors declared them to be impostors; and who advocated principles that would turn everything upside down.

Lord Falkland was a well-meaning young nobleman of great good looks and small political experience. His ruling characteristic was pride. Shortly before leaving Halifax he had his carriage-horses shot, lest on his departure they should fall into plebeian hands. His hauteur was fortified by his wife, daughter by a morganatic marriage of King William IV. Could such a man carry through a compromise, by which men of opposite views should sit in his Cabinet? In Canada it had taken all the skill and political experience of Lord Sydenham; under Sir Charles Metcalfe the new wine burst the old bottles, bespattering more than one reputation in the process. That the new governor would soon take offence at the jovial, self-confident, free manners of Howe was almost certain.

The new Executive Council was a compromise. Prime minister there was none. Its head was still the governor, whom Howe himself admitted to be ‘still responsible only to his sovereign.' On the question which in Canada brought about the quarrel between Sir Charles Metcalfe and his advisers, Howe said in 1840 that in Nova Scotia ‘the patronage of the country is at his [the governor’s] disposal to aid him in carrying on the government.’ In 1841 he still accorded him the initiative, saying that ‘the governor, as the Queen’s representative, still dispenses the patronage, but that as the Council are bound to defend his appointments, the responsibility even as regards appointments is nearly as great in the one case as in the other.’

During these years Howe had a delicate role to play. The extreme and logical members of his own party attacked him as a trimmer; on the other hand, any one of the four extruded councillors was considered by Society to be worth a hundred Howes, and Society was not slow to make its feelings known. The fight was fiercest in the Executive Council, where the party of caution, if not of reaction, was led by the Hon. J. W. Johnston. Tall and distinguished in appearance, with dark flashing eyes and imperious temper, of fine probity in his private life, and with a keen, though somewhat lawyerlike, intellect, Johnston was no unworthy antagonist to the great tribune of the people. Though of good birth, and recognized in Society as Howe was not, he was a Baptist, and so not hampered in the popular mind by any connection with the official Church. Nor were his views on government illiberal. The controversy between him and Howe was rather of temperament than of principles, between the keen lawyer, mistrustful of spontaneity, lingering fondly over his precedents, and the impulsive, over-trustful, over-generous lover of humanity. In the working out of the new system anomalies soon developed, which Falkland was not the man to minimize. Howe himself was still a little misty in his views, and accepted the speakership as well as a seat in the Executive Council, thus becoming at once umpire and participant, a position impossible to-day. In the next year, however, he resigned the speakership to accept the post of collector of customs for Halifax.

But the great wrangle was over the extent to which Responsible Government had been conceded. One member of the government said that ‘Responsible Government was responsible nonsense—it was independence. It would be a severing of the link which bound the colony to the mother country.’ Johnston, at the time sitting in the Upper House, did not go so far, but said that ‘in point of fact it is not the intention to recognize the direct responsibility which has been developed in the address. To concede such would be inconsistent with colonial relations.’ There was no fundamental discrepancy between Johnston’s views and those of Howe. Later on in the same speech, Johnston, while considering the subject to be ‘incapable of exact definition,’ yet said that ‘the change simply is that it becomes the duty of the representative of Her Majesty to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the people through their representatives, and to make the measures of government conform to these so far as is consistent with his duty to the mother country.’ This is really much the same as Howe’s statement that ‘the Executive, which is to carry on the administration of the country, should sympathize with to a large extent, and be influenced by, and when proper be composed of to a certain degree, those who possess the confidence of the country’; especially when this is taken in connection with his other statement that he had no wish for colonial assemblies ‘to interfere in the great national regulations, in arrangements respecting the army or navy of the Empire, or the prerogatives of the parliament or Crown.’ But the emphasis was different. Howe insisted on the greatness of the change in local administration; Johnston on the amount of still surviving control by the mother country. The little rift in the lute was already apparent, and was increased by the natural tendency of the governor to consult the courtly Johnston, and to show impatience at the brusque familiarity of Howe.

The tension became greater and greater. There is no reason to doubt that both Howe and Johnston tried to play the game. But their temperaments and their associates were different, and they grew more and more mistrustful of each other. Accusations of treachery began to fly. By the autumn of 1842 Howe had ceased to disguise his ‘conviction that the administration, as at present constituted, cannot go on a great while longer.’ The final break-up came over the question of education. It is sad that this should have been so, for Howe well knew that education should bring peace and not a sword. ‘We may make education a battle-ground,’ he said, ‘where the laurels we reap may be wet with the tears of our country.’ At this time primary education was optional, given in private schools, aided in some cases by provincial grants. Both Howe and Johnston would fain have substituted a compulsory system, supported by local assessments, but both feared the repugnance of the country voters to direct taxation, and it was not till 1864 that Dr (afterwards Sir) Charles Tupper took this fearless and notable step forward. In the mean time both Howe and Johnston supported the increase of grants to education, the establishment of circulating libraries, and the appointment of a superintendent of education.

But if schools were too few, universities were too many, and it was here that the quarrel began. King’s College at Windsor was avowedly Anglican. An attempt had been made in 1838 to revive Dalhousie as undenominational, but the bigotry of Sir Colin Campbell and of a rump board of governors under Presbyterian influence refused to appoint as professor the Rev. Dr Crawley, on the almost openly avowed ground that he was a Baptist. The aggrieved denomination then hived off, and started at Wolfville their own university, known as Acadia. The Roman Catholics had for some time had in operation St Mary’s College at Halifax. All these received grants from the government, and were endeavouring to do university work in a very imperfectly educated community of three hundred thousand people.

Theoretically this system was absurd. But each of the little colleges had its band of devoted adherents, held fast to it by the strongest of all ties, that of religion. Most of all was this the case with Acadia, founded in hot and justifiable anger, and eager to justify its existence. Had Howe been a wary politician, he would have thought twice before stirring up such a wasp’s nest, more especially as the Baptists had hitherto been his faithful supporters. But Howe was both more and less than a wary politician, and when early in 1843 a private member brought in resolutions in favour of withdrawing the grants from the existing colleges, and of founding ‘one good college, free from sectarian control, and open to all denominations, maintained by a common fund,’ Howe supported him with all his might. In thus differing from his colleagues on a question of primary importance he was undoubtedly guilty of ignoring the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility.

The heather was soon on fire. Johnston came vigorously to the rescue of Acadia. The Baptist newspaper attacked Howe in no measured terms. Crawley himself in public speeches endeavoured to show ‘the extreme danger to religion of the plan projected by Mr Howe of one college in Halifax without any religious character, and which would be liable to come under the influence of infidelity.’ Howe repaid invective with invective. ‘I may have been wrong, but yet when I compare these peripatetic, writing, wrangling, grasping professors, either with the venerable men who preceded them in the ministry of their own Church, or in the advent of Christianity, I cannot but come to the conclusion that either one set or the other have mistaken the mode. Take all the Baptist ministers from one end of the province to the other —the Hardings, the Dimocks, the Tuppers, take all that have passed away, from Aline to Burton; men who have suffered every privation, preaching peace and contentment to a poor and scattered population ; and the whole together never created as much strife, exhibited so paltry an ambition, or descended to the mean arts of misrepresentation to such an extent, in all their long and laborious lives, as these two arrogant professors of philosophy and religion have done in the short period of half a dozen years.’

In reply to Dr Crawley he contrasted the students of an undenominational college, ‘drinking at the pure streams of science and philosophy,’ with the students of Acadia ‘imbibing a sour sectarian spirit on a hill.’ ‘It is said, if a college is not sectarian, it must be infidel. Is infidelity taught in our academies and schools? No; and yet not one of them is sectarian. A college would be under strict discipline, established by its governors; clergymen would occupy some of its chairs; moral philosophy, which to be sound must be based on Christianity, must be conspicuously taught; and yet the religious men who know all this raise the cry of infidelity to frighten the farmers in the country.’

Johnston, in evident alarm at the success of Howe’s agitation, persuaded the governor to dissolve the House and hold a general election. At the same time he himself, with great courage, resigned his life - membership of the Legislative Council, and offered himself as a candidate for the Assembly. A hot election followed, in which both Howe and Johnston were returned at the head of approximately equal numbers.

By this time Howe had learned his lesson. A half-way house might be a useful stopping-place, but could not be a terminus. A unanimous Cabinet was a necessity, and a unanimous Cabinet was possible only if backed by a unanimous party. He therefore offered Lord Falkland either to resign, or to form a Liberal administration from which Johnston and those who thought with him should be excluded. This Lord Falkland could not see, nor yet could Johnston. The latter ‘unequivocally denounced the system of a party government, and avowed his preference for a government in which all parties should be represented.’ At last, on Falkland’s urgent request, Howe consented to remain in the government till the House met. A few days later the governor suddenly appointed to the Executive Council Mr Almon, a high Tory and Johnston’s brother-in-law. It was too much ; Howe and his Liberal colleagues at once resigned.

Was he in the right? With Almon as a man they had no quarrel. Howe and Johnston were both well qualified to serve their native province. Why should one consume his energy in trying to keep out the other? The answer is that a government is not merely composed of heads of separate departments. It is a unity, responsible for a coherent policy, and as such cannot contain two men, however estimable, who differ on political fundamentals. It is Howe’s merit that he saw this, while Johnston and Falkland did not. After all, their loud cries for a non-party administration only meant an administration in which their own party was supreme. Howe was wholly in the right when he said that Johnston’s epitaph should be, 'Here lies the man who denounced party government, that he might form one; and professing justice to all parties, gave every office to his own,’

There followed three years of hard fighting. Johnston formed an administration, which was sustained by a majority varying from one to three. Debates of thirteen and fourteen days were common. Howe’s relations with Lord Falkland had at first been those of intimate friendship, and for a time the quarrel was conducted with decorum. Several months after his resignation he could write, ‘ personal or factious opposition to your Lordship I am incapable of.’ But a literary gentleman, in close connection with Lord Falkland, began in the press a series of fierce attacks on Howe and the other Liberal leaders. Of Lord Falkland’s sanction and approval there could be little doubt. His Lordship himself said in private conversation that between him and Howe it was ‘war to the knife,’ and personally denounced him in his dispatches to the Colonial Office. Howe was not the man to refuse such a challenge. Though retaining his seat in the House, he resumed the editorship of the Nova Scotian, which he had abandoned in 1841. From his editorial chair he not only guided the parliamentary Opposition, but pelted the governor himself with a shower of pasquinades in prose and verse. Lord Falkland has practically put himself at the head of the Tory party, said Howe, and as a political opponent he shall have no mercy. A flood of Rabelaisian banter was poured upon the head of the unhappy nobleman. He was attacked in his pride, his tenderest place. It is impossible not to wish that Howe had shown more moderation. He had, of course, precedent on his side. Nothing which he wrote was so bad as the language of Queen Elizabeth to her councillors, or of Frederick the Great to Voltaire. He was neither more savage than Junius, nor more indecent than Sir Charles Hanbury Williams in his attacks on King George II. But times had changed. Mouths and manners had grown cleaner, and much of Howe’s banter is over coarse for present-day palates. But of its effectiveness there is no doubt. He fairly drove the unhappy Falkland out of the province. After all, his raillery was an instrument in the fight for freedom, and a less deadly one than the scythes and muskets of Mackenzie or Papineau.

A squib which produced much comment in its day was ‘The Lord of the Bedchamber' which begins thus:

The Lord of the Bedchamber sat in his shirt,
(And D—dy the pliant was there),
And his feelings appeared to be very much hurt
And his brow overclouded with care.
It was plain, from the flush that o’ermantled his cheek,
And the fluster and haste of his stride,
That, drowned and bewildered, his brain had grown weak
By the blood pumped aloft by his pride.

So it goes on, not unamusing, full of topical allusions and bad puns. The serious Johnston, with some lack of humour, brought the matter up in the House, and came near to accusing Howe of High Treason. Howe wisely refused to take the matter seriously, and defended himself in a speech of which a fair sample is: ‘This is the first time I ever suspected that to hint that noblemen wore shirts was a grave offence, to be prosecuted in the High Court of Parliament by an Attorney General. Had the author said that the Lord of the Bedchamber wore no shirt, or that it stuck through his pantaloons, there might have been good ground of complaint.’ On the more serious question he said: ‘The time has come when I must do myself justice. An honest fame is as dear to me as Lord Falkland’s title is to him. His name may be written in Burke’s Peerage; mine has no record but on the hills and valleys of the country which God has given us for an inheritance, and must live, if it lives at all, in the hearts of those who tread them. Their confidence and respect must be the reward of their public servants. But if these noble provinces are to be preserved, those who represent the sovereign must act with courtesy and dignity and truth to those who represent the people. Who will go into a Governor’s Council if, the moment he retires, he is to have his loyalty impeached ; to be stabbed by secret dispatches ; to have his family insulted; his motives misrepresented, and his character reviled? What Nova Scotian will be safe? What colonist can defend himself from such a system, if a governor can denounce those he happens to dislike and get up personal quarrels with individuals it may be convenient to destroy?’ In 1846 the quarrel came to a crisis. The speaker of the House and his brother, a prominent member of the Opposition, were connected with an English company formed for building Nova Scotian railways. To the astonishment of everybody, a dispatch from Lord Falkland to the Colonial Office was brought down and read before the speaker’s face, in which his own name and that of his brother were repeatedly mentioned, and in which they were held up to condemnation as the associates of ‘reckless’ and ‘insolvent’ men. Howe was justly indignant at this gross breach of constitutional procedure, and indeed of ordinary good manners. Leaping to his feet, he said: ‘I should but ill discharge my duty to the House or to the country, if I did not, this instant, enter my protest against the infamous system pursued (a system of which I can speak more freely, now that the case is not my own), by which the names of respectable colonists are libelled in dispatches sent to the Colonial Office, to be afterwards published here, and by which any brand or stigma may be placed upon them without their having any means of redress. If that system be continued, some colonist will, by and by, or I am much mistaken, hire a black fellow to horsewhip a lieutenant-governor.’1 In reply to a vote of censure by the House, he defended himself in a letter to his constituents, of which the pith is in the final sentences: ‘But,” I think I hear some one say, “after all, friend Howe, was not the supposititious case, which you anticipated might occur, somewhat quaint and eccentric and startling?” It was, because I wanted to startle, to rouse, to flash the light of truth over every hideous feature of the system.

The fire-bell startles at night; but if it rings not the town may be burned ; and wise men seldom vote him an incendiary who pulls the rope, and who could not give the alarm and avert the calamity unless he made a noise. The prophet’s style was quaint and picturesque when he compared the great king to a sheep-stealer; but the object was not to insult the king, it was to make him think, to rouse him; to let him see by the light of a poetic fancy the gulf to which he was descending, that he might thereafter love mercy, walk humbly, and, controlling his passions, keep untarnished the lustre of the Crown. David let other men’s wives alone after that flight of Nathan’s imagination; and I will venture to say that whenever, hereafter, our rulers desire to grille a political opponent in an official dispatch, they will recall my homely picture and borrow wisdom from the past.’

Later in the year Lord Falkland was recalled, and appointed governor of Bombay. Soon afterwards Howe wrote to a friend: ‘ Poor Falkland will not soon forget Nova Scotia, where he learned more than ever he did at Court. I ought to be grateful to him, for but for the passages of arms between us, there were some tricks of fence I had not known. Besides, I now estimate at their true value some sneaking dogs that I should have been caressing for years to come, and lots of noble-hearted friends that only the storms of life could have taught me adequately to prize.’ Falkland’s successor was Sir John Harvey, in old days a hero of the War of 1812, more recently governor of New Brunswick. Shortly after his coming he endeavoured to induce Howe and his friends to enter the government, but Howe now saw victory within his grasp, and had no mind for further coalitions. To a friend he wrote: ‘I do not in the abstract disapprove of coalitions, where public exigencies, or an equal balance of parties, create a necessity for them, but hold that, when formed, the members should act in good faith, and treat each other like gentlemen—should form a party, in fact, and take the field against all other parties without. If they quarrel and fight, and knock the coalition to smithereens, then a governor who attempts to compel men who cannot eat together, and are animated by mutual distrust, to serve in the same Cabinet; and bullies them if they refuse, is mad.’

Foiled in his well-meant attempt, Sir John then consulted the Colonial Office. Into that department a new spirit had come with the arrival in 1846 of Lord Grey, who replied with a dispatch in which the principles of Responsible Government were laid down in the clearest terms, while at the same time the Reformers were warned that only the holders of the great political offices should be subject to removal, and that there should be no approach to the ‘spoils system,’ which was at the time disgracing the United States. In 1847 the Reformers carried the province, and Sir John Harvey gave to their leaders his loyal support. Mr Uniacke was called on to form an administration, in which Howe was given the post of provincial secretary. There was a final flurry. For a month or two the province was convulsed by the conduct of the former provincial secretary, Sir Rupert D. George, who, amid the plaudits of fashionable Halifax, refused to resign. But Sir Rupert was dismissed with a pension, and Joe Howe ruled in his stead. The ten years’ conflict was at an end. The printer’s boy had faced the embattled oligarchy, and had won. f It was a bloodless victory. Heart-burning I indeed there was, and the breaking up of friendships. But it is the glory of Howe that j responsibility was won in the Maritime Provinces without rebellion. In the next year, in his song for the centenary of the landing of the Britons in Halifax, he exultantly broke out:

The blood of no brother, in civil strife poured,
In this hour of rejoicing encumbers our souls!
The frontier’s the field for the patriot’s sword,
And cursed is the weapon that faction controls!

In conclusion we must ask ourselves, was it worth while? Was the winning of Responsible Government a good thing ? We are apt to take this for granted. Too many of our historians write as if all the members of the Family Compact had been selfish and corrupt, and all our present statesmen were altruistic and pure. Both propositions are equally doubtful. A man is not necessarily selfish and corrupt because he is a Tory, nor altruistic and pure because he calls himself a Liberal or a Reformer. It is very doubtful whether Nova Scotia is better governed to-day than it was in the days of Lord Dalhousie or Sir Colin Campbell. Native Nova Scotians have shown that we do not need to go abroad for lazy and impecunious placemen. But two things are certain. Nova Scotia is more contented, if not with its government, at least with the system by which that government is chosen, and it has within itself the capacity for self improvement. Before Joseph Howe Nova Scotians were under tutors and governors; he won for them the liberty to rise or fall by their own exertions, and fitted them for the expansion that was to come.


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