Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XII

REPUTATION ATTACKED. -BRILLIANT AND SUCCESSFUL DEFENCE. –

ILLNESS.

a

The bitterness of the party warfare towards Mr. Brown at this time found a fitting illustration in the attack made upon him by a Mr. Powell, the then member for Carleton, who had the baseness to attack Mr. Brown through the person of his aged father, a gentleman who had made no enemies personal or political, though given to a plain expression of his views on all passing subjects. Mr. Brown, senior, had a business failure in Edinburgh, in which he was not subject to moral blame, but was rather the victim of misplaced contidence. Even assuming there had been some blame attached to that incident of his life, none could attach to the son, who was a boy at the time. Nevertheless, it had been the occasion of mean inuendo, or bold insolent attack, from unscrupulous opponents who could find no vulnerable point in Mr. Brown's Canadian public life. The member for Carleton on this occasion made an attack on this subject in the most offensive manner, disgusting every respectable member on both sides of the House. Up to this time Mr. Brown had never noticed the gross attacks made outside the House, but now that he was assailed in the chamber, he dealt with the accusation, and showed its falsity and its uncharitable character, with a power, pathos and dignity never surpassed. A few extracts may be given. He referred for a moment to the tactics of the ministerialists in attempting to meet public accusations of misgovernment by private or personal attack, and then said:

I hesitate not to affirm that the assault the hon. member has just made is but the well understood climax of the scenes lately witnessed, that was to crush me forever as a public man.

This is not the first time that the insinuation has been made that I was a public defaulter in my native city. It has been echoed before now from the organs of the ministry: And at many an election contest have I been compelled to sit patiently and hear the tale recounted. For fifteen years I have been content to bear in silence these imputations. I would that I could yet refrain from the pain. ful theme, but the pointed and public manner in which the charge has now been made, and the fear that the public cause with which I am identified might suffer by my silence, alike tell me that the moment has come when I ought to explain the transaction, as I have always been able to explain it, and to cast back the vile charge of dishonesty on those who dared to make it. That my father was a merchant in the city of Edinburgh, and that he engaged in disastrous business speculations commencing in the inflated times of 1825 and 1826, terminating ten years afterwards in his failure,

.

is undoubtedly true. And it is, unhappily, also true, that he did hold a public office, and that funds connected with that office were, at the moment of bis sequestration, mixed up with his private funds, to the extent, I be. lieve, of £2,800. For this sum four relatives and friends were sureties, and they paid the money. Part of that money has been repaid ; every sixpence of it will be paid, and paid shortly. It happened in 1836; I was at that time but 17 years of age. I was totally unacquainted with it; but young as I was, I felt then, as I feel now, the obligation it laid upon me, and I vowed I should never rest until every penny had been paid. There are those present who have known my every action since I set foot in this country ; they know I have not eaten the bread of idleness; but they did not know the great object of my labour, the one end of my desire for wealth, was that I might discharge those debts of my father's. I have been accused of being ambitions ; I have been charged with aspiring to the office of Prime Minister of this great country,

but I only wish I could make my opponents understand how infinitely surpassing all this, how utterly petty and contemptible, in my thoughts, have been all such considerations in comparison with the one longing desire to discharge those debts of honour, and vindicate those Scottish principles that have been irstilled into me since my youth.

But why, asked the person who made the charge, has he sat silent under it? Why, if the thing is faise, has he endured it for so many years ? What, sir! free myself from blame by inculpating one so dear! Say, “ It was not I who was in fault; it was my father!" Rather would I have lost my right arm than utter such a word. No, sir ; I waited the time when the charge could be met as it only might be fittingly met ; and my only regret, even now, is that I have been compelled to speak before these debts have been entirely liquidated. But it is due to my aged father that I explain that it has not been with his will that these imputations have been so long pointed at me, and that it has only been by earnest remonstrance I have prevented him vindicating me in public long ere now.

The member for Carleton now pretends that he did not mean to insinuate anything against my father ; that he has a high respect for his character. I thank him not for the acknowledgment. No man in Toronto, perhaps, is more generally known in the community, and I think I could appeal even to his political opponents to say if there is a citizen of Toronto at this day more thoroughly respected and esteemed. With a fuli knowledge of all that has passed, and all the consequences that have flowed from a day of weakness, I will say that an honester man does not breathe the air of heaven; that no son feels prouder of his father than I do to-day : and that I would have submitted to the obloquy and reproach of his every act, not fifteen years, but fifty-ay, have gone down to my grave with the cold shade of the world upon me-rather than that one of his gray hairs should be injured.

Of this speech a leading conservative journal said :

The entire address forms the most refreshing episode which the records of the Canadian House of Commons present. Every true-hearted man must feel proud of one who has thus chivalrously done battle for his gray-haired sire. We speak deliberately when asserting that George Brown's position in the country is at this noment immeasurably higher than it ever previously has been. And though our political creed be diametrically antipodal to his own, we shall ever hail him as a credit to the land we love so well.

This was the general feeling over the whole country The nobility of his reply was everywhere contrasted with the meanness and brutality of the attack.

When the general election took place in 1861, Mr. Brown was urged to take some county constituency where his election would be certain, especially as such an arrangement would leave his hands free to aid in other quarters. He declined this advice with his usual self-denial, believing that he could carry Toronto East.

In the early part of this year Mr. Brown had a long and dangerous illness, which incapacitated him for months from giving any attendance on his parliamentary and other duties. Although his brother, Mr. Gordon Brown, kept the Globe up to its usual vigour and excellence, yet the multifarious other duties devolving on a political leader naturally suffered much neglect. More especially was this felt in the preparations for, and the management of, the elections. His defeat in Toronto and the loss of some other constituencies may not unreasonably be attributed to his physical inability to perform his usual work. One thing was very noticeable at this election. The candidates in Upper Canada generally pledged themselves to advocate constitutional changes almost as a matter of course. There was no further need to fight a battle to prove the wisdom and necessity for such changes. In this respect the work of the defeated leader and his coadjutors was practically complete, and the ten years' conflict was about to end in a complete vindication of the policy pursued by Mr. Brown since his entrance into parliament. It might be that the wonderful power of Canadian Tories to adapt themselves to existing circumstances would again place them in a condition to give effect to principles they had steadily and vehemently opposed as long as their advocates were comparatively few, or it might be that the true friends of the proposed changes would unite in giving legislative effect to their views; but at any rate changes had now become inevitable. It was nevertheless a great misfortune to the liberal party that the leader should be defeated at such a critical period. This was so generally felt, that immediately several of the newly elected members offered to resign their seats in his favour. He resolutely declined any and all of the offers made, having made up his mind to stay out of parliament, though not out of public life. He formally resigned the leadership and gave himself entirely to the management of the Globe. It is quite probable that he viewed the attempt at leadership by Messrs. Foley, McDougall and Connor, with a grim satisfaction. These gentlemen and others had often expressed the opinion that the party would do better without Mr. Brown, because of his very

decided opinions and his mode of expressing them. Some of them were only waiting to get Mr. Brown out of the way to form other combinations. The work of the opposition side of the House, so far as Upper Canada was concerned, was entirely in their hands for the sessions of 1861 and 1862, and it was only characterized by the want of vim, earnestness and power, the possession of which always distinguished Mr. Brown's

6

a

[ocr errors]

leadership. In 1862, an informal vote was taken in the reform caucus for the leadership, in which Mr. Foley got eleven votes, being one more than anyone else. The leadership resulting was only a farce which was ended two years afterwards by his joining the conservatives, a step he deeply regretted afterwards. In a letter to a friend, Mr. Brown remarked :

“I confess I do chuckle a little occasionally at the gentlemen who were so keen to get me out of the way, were it only for a week.' Why, sir,' they would say, “this government would not stand a day were Brown out of the way ;' and now they have had a whole session to themselves, with opportunities never enjoyed by men before, and they are just where I left them.

In the eight years in which I led the opposition there were many to doubt the ultimate success of my policy, and many in consequence to condemn it; but I recollect of no instance in which I was charged with want of vigilance, or grave blundering or incapacity. I don't think the gentlemen who were so anxious to thrust me aside can say so much for their one session "[1861).

Mr. Brown contemplated retiring from the leadership, if not from parliament, a year before this. Towards the close of 1860 he addressed a letter to Mr. Mowat, from which we give an extract :

I need not remind you of my determination to retire from parliamentary life at the earliest possible moment, and that for the last two years nothing has prevented me from doing so except the fears that new combinations might result from my retirement highly injurious to the cause we have so much at heart. I think, however, the moment has come when I may retire not only without fear of that danger, but with the probability that my doing so may largely conduce to secure the great ends we have been fighting for. You must have observed that throughout their whole tour in Upper Canada the members of the administration have tried to excite personal hostility against myself, and revive the feelings inspired by the fierce party contests of the past. There has been no question whether representation by population is just and should be adopted, but whether by false colouring George Brown can be made to appear to have abandoned it. There has been no attempt to argue from or for principle.

· It may be that some other person who would excite less personal hostility might be more successful at this moment.”

A few months after this he was stricken down by a long and severe illness, which incapacitated him from attending in his place in parliament during the whole session of 1861, or indeed to take a very active part in the general election of that year. The vast amount of labour he had undertaken as a political leader and as editor-in-chief of the Globe was more than any man could bear. He however, for some years previous to this time, commenced farming on an extensive scale on a tract of land he owned in the county of Kent. He also erected extensive saw and grist mills and a cabinet factory in the village of Bothwell, which was built on the property mentioned. The attempt to do the work of four or five men resulted in the dangerous illness which laid him prostrate so long. Mr. Brown was a candidate again for Toronto East, where he had been twice elected. He was opposed

a

by the late John Crawford, and defeated by a majority of 191. He took advantage of this defeat to retire for a time from the toils of parliamentary life. Many members would have gladly made way for him, but he declined to take any of the seats offered. From a letter written to a prominent member of the liberal party the following extract is given :

“As I shall not be in Quebec at the opening of parliament, I want you to do me the favour of communicating to our political friends, at their first meeting, my formal resignation of the leadership of the Upper Canada opposition. Failing health for many months, terminating in serious illness last spring, satisfied me that complete relief for a time from the pressure of public responsibility was necessary to the restoration of my health, and my private affairs requiring personal attention, I became earnestly desirous of retiring, at least for a time, from parliamentary life at the earliest favourable moment. The result of the contest for the representation of the city of Toronto at the general election has given that opportunity; and I have declined to avail myself of the kind offers of friends to secure me a seat in the early part of the session."

a

« PreviousContinue »