« PreviousContinue »
friend John Wilson is one of them. You have acquitted yourself admirably in the matter. Go on, and the country will sustain you ; and Macdonald could not promote your popularity more than by taking the course he has. I remain, my Dear Sir, sincerely yours,
Joux PRINCE. To GEORGE BROWN, Esq., M.P.P., Toronto.
When the general election took place late in 1847 and in January, 1848, Mr. Brown devoted all his efforts as a speaker and writer towards the defeat of the ministry. Many of his speeches delivered then on behalf of liberal candidates, are still remembered by those who heard them as being the most effective they had ever listened to. He had a singular power in rousing erthusiasm in a popular assembly, and very few cared to encounter the tremendous tide of his rhetoric. This election campaign fully established his reputation as one of the foreinost men in Canada both as a speaker and writer, and then and ever afterwards he could have obtained a seat in parliament for many of the constituencies. Up to the triumph of the liberals at this election, Mr. Brown and the regular liberal leaders worked generally harmoniously together. They were all engaged in an ardent attempt to secure, not the form alone, but the essence and spirit of responsible government. There could be no question as to the condemnation of Lord Metcalfe's acts and policy with any reformers (unless, indeed, we except those who went over to the enemy, but who affected to defend it as liberals, to whom allusion has already been made). Points of disagreement, which subsequently became vital, had as yet no exist
A common danger to the first principles of representative government kept all reformers together. All were supposed to be agreed on certain great reforms as yet untouched, especially the secularization of the clergy reserves and King's College, Toronto.
REFORM MINISTRY OF 1848.-MR. Brown PROSECUTED FOR LIBEL.
Mr. Brown and the country were soon to learn that some of the leaders had not courage to carry out their convictions, that some others hesitated about the policy and would not step over the Rubicon, and that some were actually hostile. Seldom had any country before witnessed the spectacle of party leaders being returned to power by the people by a large majority, to carry out certain specific reforms and to give effect to certain principles, and such leaders hesitating or refusing to introduce the measures they were bound by their principles and pledges to carry, as they could carry, in a friendly parliament. They seemed to forget that the ante electoral battle was not fought to place Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Lafontaine, and their subsequent associates, in power, but as means to a great public end ; the end being the passage of measures in parliament which would restore to the people property which had been seized by a sect or sects, and to abolish every appearance of a dominant church. Other fundamental reforms relating to the franchise and electoral laws, municipal government, the marriage laws and other more or less important measures, were also reasonably expected by the people. On such questions the mass of the people would have no compromise ; there could be no compromise with honest
Either it was right or it was wrong that certain sects should have a supremacy by law; if wrong, it must be put an end to ; and few but the beneficiaries were disposed to defend the absurd and wicked policy which sought to impose an established church on Canada, and so introduce the discord and constant agitation which prevailed in the mother land.
Parliament was summoned to meet on the 25th day of February, being about a month after the return of the writs. Of course, every one knew that although the conservative government determined to meet parliament, they were ignominiously beaten at the polls. * The liberal leaders knew equally well that they would have to assume the responsibilities of office, and that this carried with it the responsibility, to the people who placed them there, of carrying into effect
* The conservative press and leaders, in 1878, joined in vigorous denunciation of Mr. Mackenzie's government remaining in office from the polling day, Sept. 18th, to October 10th, a period sufficiently short to finish up business; but in this case, the spectacle of conservatives retaining office for three months, after sustaining a decisive defeat at the polls, attracted no censure.
the measures already alluded to, as containing the just and proper demands of the nation, the advocacy of which was to give them power and authority. It appeared, however, from the first that no agreement had been arrived at for a decisive policy.
The new reform ministry was formed on the 10th of March, and consisted of Messrs. Lafontaine, Baldwin, Sullivan, Hincks, Aylwin, Lesslie, Caron, Price, Viger, Taché and Cameron.
While much important legislation was accomplished in this session, none of the burning questions alluded to were touched. The great mass of ministerial supporters were, however, disposed to consider it as not very unreasonable that ministers should have time during the first recess to consider their measures, and therefore waited patiently.
In 1849 Mr. Brown accepted an appointment as one of the commissioners instructed to inquire into the management of the Provincial Penitentiary, also acting as secretary. This institution had been left almost entirely to the care of Ms. Smith, the warden, without a sufficient inspection by some competent officer. It was charged that many prisoners were cruelly used ; that extensive transactions in the business affairs had been grossly mismanaged; that the institution had been made a comfortable resort for relatives of the warden ; and that the funds placed at his disposal for the accounts had, to a greater or less extent, been improperly applied to other objects. The result of the inquiry was to establish the truth of many of the charges, if not all, and the consequent removal of the warden. The son of that gentleman (Sir Henry Smith) sat in parliament as member for Frontenac. He bitterly resented the exposure made, and laid the report chiefly at the door of the active secretary, whom he never ceased to attack when opportunity offered. The report, however, was looked upon by the public as an able and exhaustive one, and the conclusions and recommendations as the just and inevitable outcome of facts elicited during the inquiry. Many years afterwards this report was made the occasion of a scandalous attack on Mr. Brown, to which reference will be made elsewhere.
Mr. Brown's journalistic career was signalized in May, 1849, by the famous libel suit, at the instance of Col. Prince, to which reference has been made, who swore out a criminal information against him for copying some injurious comments on him in the capacity of Crown counsel, and for some criticisms afterwards indulged in at the Colonel's expense. The offensive articles appeared in an edition of the Globe published in London as the Western Globe, late in 1847. indicted in 1848, but it was not until May 1849 that he was brought to trial. On this as on subsequent occasions he defended himself. His cross-examination of the gallant Colonel was one of the most amusing court scenes ever witnessed in Canada. At that time the law of libel in Canada was most unjust, and behind that of England. A defendant
was not allowed to plead the truth of the libellous allegations as a justification, nor was he allowed to examine the prosecutor or plaintiff on matters of difference which may have led up to the motive for commencing the prosecution. In this case the indictment was in three counts. The first was having published evidence at some trial which reflected on the Colonel ; the second and third counts were grounded on criticisms on Mr. Prince's conduct in a subsequent paper. Mr. Brown boldly threw away all technical grounds of defence, admitting the publication, and defended himself on the merits of his case, a perilous course to pursue in the then state of the law. He derived no benefit from proving his case. He was stopped by the Judge when he ventured to broaden his defensive ground by examining the prosecutor as to the differences of opinion which led him to seek satisfaction in a libel suit. Colonel Prince had been elected by the reformers as a reformer in 1847, but soon went to the other side, for which action the Globe had paid him some unwelcome attention. This was probably the real cause of the offence. Mr. Brown conducted his case with great ability for a layman, and addressed the jury in a speech of great power. The jury acquitted him on the first count, but found him guilty on the second and third counts, as they were compelled to do by the charge of the Judge. He was sentenced to pay a fine of £30. Some of the audience wished to pay it for him on the spot, but he declined to allow them. It may be questioned whether he then pursued a wise course in defending himself in person, if he looked only to the obtaining of advantages in the course of the trial; but if he looked to the public effect only, he was undoubtedly correct in determining to defend himself. If he was less successful with a Judge than a professional advocate, he was probably more successful with the jury. In this case the leading barrister in London, the late John Wilson, congratulated him warmly, and volunteered to become his surety before leaving the court room.
THE REBELLION LOSSES BILL. —MR. BROWN DEFENDS LORD ELGIN.
In the second session of this parliament the government brought in a bill to provide for the payment of losses sustained by the loyal inhabitants of Lower Canada during the rebellion. The principle of the measure was just, and therefore defensible as explained by its promoters, though it was quite possible that some disloyal persons might be able to secure some advantages from it. Mr. Draper's administration had three years before appointed a commission to inquire into the losses sustained by the insurrectionary movements. This commission reported in April, 1846, that the claims for losses amounted in the aggregate to £241,965 10s. 6d., but that a sum of £100,000 might be considered sufficient to meet the claims which ought to be paid. No further action was taken by that government. Upper Canadian losses had been arranged for by the Act of 1840 and 1842, and the Assembly, in 1845, had unanimously passed an address, asking His Excellency the Governor-General to take measures to insure to the “ inhabitants of that portion of the Province, formerly Lower Canada, 'indemnity for just losses by them sustained during the rebellion of “1837 and 1838.” The estimate given was, under instructions to the commission, a general” one,
the particulars of which must form “the subject of more minute inquiry hereafter.”
The measure introduced to give effect to the report was, as Lord Elgin remarked, “nothing more than a strict logical following out of “their own acts (meaning the late ministry's acts]; though,” he added, “it is not altogether free from objection,” but “ their predecessors “had already gone more than half way in the same direction, though
they had stopped short, and now tell us they never intended to go “further.” No legislative Act passed during the existence of the union provoked so keen a controversy or gave rise to so much violence and agitation. The loss of the election fifteen months previous to this time would seem to have embittered the Tories to an intense degree. Acts of lawless violence against prominent reformers and the property of the state were almost invited by the speeches of these leaders ; and at last they inflicted lasting disgrace on themselves and the country by a violent attack on the Governor General and the outpouring of a continuous torrent of abuse upon him, although he confined himself strictly to the performance of his duty in giving the royal assent to the bill, which had passed both Houses. Lord Elgin