Fathers of Confederation

[Brown resigned from cabinet in December 1865, ostensibly due to a dispute with Galt over trade policy. Brown’s biographer explains that there were larger causes at work. With the Quebec Conference over, and its resolutions safely through the Canadian Parliament, the justification for Coalition was at an end. The depths of Brown’s emotions about the Coalition are evident below: “Sir, I understood what degradation it was to be compelled to adopt that step…and glad was I when I got out of it.”

The Reform Convention of June 1867 was an attempt to reprise the convention of 1859, and revive Reform as a party movement. The effort was a failure. Continuing the Coalition, Macdonald won the first election for the new Parliament of Canada with reform ministers in his cabinet, raising a call to put patriotism before party. Brown lost his seat, fulfilling his often-expressed desire to secure constitutional reform, then retire from the scene forever.

To Macdonald went the laurels as first Prime Minister of the new Dominion, and a large measure of the credit for Confederation – justly so, for his political skill was Confederation’s vital spark and catalyst. Yet Brown’s speech form a minority report reminding us that the man who insistently demanded change, who disrupted the old Canadian Union and exposed its contradictions was not an ounce less vital. “It is a far greater credit to a public man,” wrote the Globe, “to have consistently fought the battle for constitutional reform to the end, than to have held office for a generation.”

In a message across time that still resonates, Brown exhorts Canadians to remember that the new constitution is not a “wind-up” piece of machinery – qualities of citizenship will be required to make it work and keep its governments honest. “Recollect that vigilance is the price of freedom, and depend upon it, under this constitution, the people require to exercise all the watchfulness they can bring to bear on the machinery.”]

Hon. GEORGE BROWN, who was received with loud cheers, said the resolution which had been placed in his hands was as follows: -

Resolved, - That while the new Federal Constitution for the united Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, doubtless contains obvious defects – yet we unhesitatingly and joyfully recognize that the measure, as a whole, is based on equitable principles, and removes the barriers that have heretofore stood in the way of good government in this Province; and on behalf of the great Reform party of Upper Canada, this Convention heartily accepts the new Constitution about to be inaugurated – with the determination to work loyally and patiently, and to provide such amendments as experience from year to year may prove to be expedient.

Mr. BROWN, in moving the above resolution, said – I think, if there are any men in this country who have cause to be proud to-day, it is those who took part in the great Reform Convention of 1859. (Cheers.) My friend, Mr. Irving, read from the pamphlet which contained the address of that Convention. He read you one passage from it. If he could have read the whole of it through, you would have seen that it pointed out all the difficulties we laboured under – the great abuses which existed in the country, and also the remedies which [ought] to be applied to cure those abuses; and the grand remedy which was pointed out in the address of the Convention of 1859, was that very remedy which we are to obtain on the 1st of July, and which we meet here to-day to rejoice over. (Cheers.)

I quite admit, that any one who takes up the Constitution that is about to be proclaimed on the 1st of July, will undoubtedly discover blemishes in that document. But I do say that, considering the different peoples who had to agree on the terms of that Constitution, considering the variety of interests that had to be blended together – the immense obstacles that had to be overcome – I do say, considering all this, that that constitution is far more perfect than any one of us in 1859 had the slightest reason to expect, or even to hope for at this day. We could not have anticipated in eight years such an immense revolution as this constitution is about to work. I am sure the gentlemen before me – and I am happy to see in this large assemblage a great many of the old familiar faces which we saw at that Convention, and on many other well-fought fields of the Reform party. (Cheers.) I am sure if any of those gentlemen will turn back to the days of 1859, and think of the position we were in then, and the position we occupy now, they will see we have indeed cause to rejoice over an immense victory. (Cheers.)

What was the position we then occupied? When we met in 1859, it was to lay before the country a clear statement of the abuses which existed in the administration of public affairs. It was to point out that it was perfectly unendurable, and ruinous to the State that those abuses should go on, and to show what were the best remedies that could be provided. WE are told now that our opponents are entitled to the credit of carrying the measure we are about to obtain. I ask you to look back to 1859, aye, and to 1858, when the Brown-Dorion Administration was formed, and to 1857 and back to 1852, and recollect the battle of the Reform party during the whole of that time for the measures now so popular, and to say whether it is not the fact that we got no assistance from those gentlemen, but on the contrary, the most stern opposition and hostility. (Hear, hear.) Was not the most bitter obloquy and reproach constantly cast on the advocates of those very measures, who had the courage and the manliness to  stand up for the rights of the people? (Hear, hear.)

Will you allow me to refer very briefly to one or two of the matters we then complained of, in order to show how great a change is to be wrought by the operation of this Constitution. When the Convention of 1859 was assembled, in pointing out the great injustice that was done to Upper Canada, among other things we complained of with regard to the representation of the people, was this, that, while there were three Upper Canada members, who sat representing a population of 155,000 souls, there were in the same House of Assembly 10 members from Lower Canada who sat for 157,000, and that, while there were 16 Upper Canada members sitting there, representing a population of 505,000 souls, there were 28 Lower Canada members representing 503,000 souls. We complained that there were 39 members sitting in the House, representing one half of the population of united Canada, and that there were 91 members sitting there for the other half. We complained that 65 of the members sat for 900,000, while the other 65 sat for 1,600,000 souls. Any one could see that, so long as that system of representation continued, it was impossible that the country should be governed in a satisfactory manner.

Then we complained that the taxation was laid on in a most unfair manner – that, while we in Upper Canada paid four-fifths of the whole revenue of the country, we were at that moment kept in a position of inferiority to those who were paying one-fifth of the taxation. (Hear, hear). We complained also that the system of taxation was not made by the people who paid the taxes, but by the minority of the country who paid but a small proportion of them. We complained that the commercial policy of the country was ruled by those who were not so deeply interested in it as we were. WE complained that the administration, not merely of matters of general concern, but of our own local affairs, was governed, not by the representatives of the majority, but by the representatives of the minority, who were beaten at the polls, but found allies in the other section. WE complained that the effect on our public men was that those, who were in the minority, who had [been] beaten at the polls, were too often placed in power; and that recreancy to those principles which Upper Canadians desired to see carried out, was the road to political power and political success. (Hear, hear).

Then we complained that the effect on the expenditure of the country was most disastrous. Whenever any proposition was made for a large and lavish expenditure of money, there was a portion of the people and of their representatives, who could not lose by it, because they always received a large share in the division of the money, while they paid but a small portion of it into the public chest. For the same reason, we found that the effect on our public debt was most disastrous, because it was clear that those who had not to pay, had no objection to increase the public debt, as they got the advantages of the expenditure that made it up. WE found ourselves in the extraordinary position of a young people, with great natural resources, so governed that our expenditure far exceeded our revenue, with the necessary result that our debt was mounting up, and our taxes increasing from year to year by the misgovernment and maladministration which this system produced.

And I am bound to say this, on behalf of those gentlemen in the House of Assembly, who, during the last sixteen years, have fought the battle of the people of Upper Canada, that no public men ever deserved better at the hands of their countrymen. (Cheers.) You may search the history of every free country, and I defy you to find in the history of any party an instance of more indomitable determination and perseverance than that with which the Reform representatives of the people of Upper Canada stick to the great principle which they had placed on their colours and nailed to the mast-head, that of obtaining just representation for the people they represented. (Cheers.)

It has been said that, in the course of this agitation we had to lop off some Reformers. This is quite true. Very stringent rules had to be laid down, in order to keep that great contest up to the high point it had reached. The justification for it was that, unless this had been done, we should not have won the victory we did. And I think the very highest praise is due to the men who stood firm to their duty, and faithful to their constituents, in spite of all the seductions brought to bear on them. People come and say to them – “Why do you sacrifice your interests in public life in order to go after a mere phantom? Why don’t you give up that nonsense about Representation by Population, and your cry about no connection between Church and State, and all that sort of thing? Why don’t you throw these things to the winds and come with us, and then you will rise in the State?”

No man likes to go into public life, and be condemned to remain year after year, in what are called the cold shades of opposition. I speak not so much for myself. Holding the position I did, I was swayed by conditions and reasons which, probably, influenced no other man. But I speak for those gentlemen who stood by me during all that time, who were not, perhaps, so prominently before the public as I was, who probably had not the same great stake before the country either to win or to lose. I speak for those noble men who, from 1852 to the last hour of the contest, have stood firmly by the cause of the people of Upper Canada, and have earned that meed of gratitude which is spoken of in this resolution (Cheers.) It is these men, who, fighting on year after year, almost hoping against hope, have at length won the victory, and I say that we are not only entitled to have a sweeping Reform victory at the polls on this occasion, but that even the Conservatives, if they had any spark of honest or patriotism about them, would say – “These men have fought and conquered – they have long been deprived of the opportunity of showing how they would rule the country – we will now give them an opportunity of doing so.” (Cheers.)

After such a victory as this, which the great Reform party have accomplished – talk to me and to my friends, Mr. Mackenzie, Mr. McKeller, Mr. Stirton, Mr. Gould, Mr. White, Mr. Rymal, and many others whom I see around me – tell us that we are now to condescend – (great and repeated cheers) – tell me that we are to condescend at this day, when we stood before our country, claiming credit for one of the noblest records public men could display before a country – that we are now to go down upon our knee to Mr. John A. Macdonald! (Great cheering.) Tell me, we are to cast reproach upon everything we have been doing for the last fifteen years – that it may be said the whole thing we wanted was office, because no sooner did we accomplish this great boon for our country than we were prepared to make terms with the enemy and go into a Coalition Administration! (Cheers.)

A gentleman told you I have called this meeting in order that I might be made the head of the Reform party. If, Sir, there is any large number of men in this assembly who will record their votes this night in favour of the degradation of the public men of that party by joining a Coalition, I neither want to be a leader nor a humble member of that party. (Cheers.) If that is the reward you intend to give us for all our services, I scorn connection with you. (Immense cheering.) Go into the same Government with Mr. John A. Macdonald! (Cries of “never! never!”)

Sir, I understood what degradation it was to be compelled to adopt that step by the necessities of the case, by the feeling that the interests of my country were at stake, which alone induced me ever to put my foot in that Government, and glad was I when I got out of it. None ever went into a Government with such sore hearts as did two out of the three who entered it on behalf of the Reform party – I cannot speak for the third. It was the happiest day of my life when I got out of the concern. (Cheers.) But tell me that, after we have gained the end, when we have bought it from our opponents by giving them three ears of office – that we shall now renew that hateful compact, and put John A. Macdonald at the head of the Government! And these gentlemen are to come in as his followers – his meek followers! If that is to be the position, gentlemen, blot out your resolutions, and throw your record in the fire, before you let the Reform party take that contemptible position which this course would reduce it to. (Loud cheers, and cries of “Never! Never!”)

The resolution says that this constitution removes the barriers that have heretofore stood in the way of good government in this Province. I say, with a full knowledge of the abuses which existed, having watched them from year to year, and having seen the sources of them – that it is my conscientious conviction that this Constitution we are to have in operation next week, does provide a sufficient remedy for those evils of which we complain.

I do not mean a sufficient remedy, like machinery, that will run on with nothing else to be done but to wind it up. This is a very different kind of machinery; and I call your attention to this, that, good as it is, and useful as it may be, I say most unhesitatingly, that if the people do not do their duty, if they do not look after the representatives they send to the Legislature, and to the character of the Government that is to administer this constitution, it will be worse for Canada under that Constitution than it would have been without it. It extends the country, it multiplies the machinery of government. If that measure is worked wisely and well, if the people will watch it closely, if they will keep their public men up to the mark, if they will see that their public men do their work properly, and hold a healthful rein over public proceedings, then I say that we will all have great cause to rejoice that this Constitution was brought into operation, and I can only repeat this to the men I now see before me, and to men like him throughout the country, that we must look to have these faithfully carried out; and unless you do so, depend upon it we will have cause for regret in the future, as in the past. Recollect that vigilance is the price of freedom, and depend upon it, under this constitution, the people require to exercise all the watchfulness they can bring to bear on the machinery.

Now, the first remedy provided in this Constitution is that the injustice we laboured under with regard to the representation of people is almost entirely swept away. When the new constitution comes into operation on Monday next, we in Upper Canada get 17 representatives more than Lower Canada. WE will have 82, and Lower Canada 65. And, looking at the rate at which the population in the two sections has hitherto advanced, the probability is that in 1871 we will be entitled to 94 or 95 representatives, and that ten years later if the same ratio of increase in the population is maintained, Upper Canada will have [a] majority in the House of Commons in the Federal Legislature. If our people, therefore, are not well governed under the new Constitution, it will be their own blame. (Hear, hear.)

The next point is, that this Constitution gives us entire control over our own local affairs, and thus sweeps away one great abuse of which we formerly complained. Formerly, public moneys were taken out of the public chest for certain local purposes – as, for instance, the administration of justice, schools, and local works of different kinds. All this is now swept away from the public arena. There is, indeed, a certain drawback. There is a toll to be taken from the public chest, and given for local purposes to the different Provinces. But, instead of our paying the largest share, and getting back only the small end of it – under this new system it will be given back to us, divided according to population, and a large share of the money will come to the people of Upper Canada. (Hear, hear).

Then another advantage of this Constitution is that it unties with us 600,000 men of the same feelings and dispositions and industrial habits with ourselves. Had it not been that in my visits to the Lower Provinces I found that the Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers were men of the closest economy – and a most industrious and enterprising people, I would not have been so strong an advocate for this union as I am. And I shall be much disappointed, if the majority of the representatives from the Lower Provinces are not found hand in hand with the people of Upper Canada in going for measures of Reform. (Cheers.)

Another great cause of rejoicing with regard to this Constitution, is that it vindicates the position we have always held as advocates of an entire separation of Church and State. (Cheers.) I am proud to stand here to-day to present to you as the fruits of our sixteen years labour, a measure which sweeps from the general political arena, all questions of a sectarian or sectional character. (Cheers.) I think it can be shown that in the course taken during the last sixteen years by the Reform party with reference to these questions, we acted on the defensive. You may go to the journals of the Assembly, and examine all the motions made, the Bills brought in, the speeches delivered, and I defy you to show an instance of an oppressive act, with regard to those questions, proceeding from any member of the party to which I belong. (Hear, hear.) We held that these questions were too sacred to be made [a] matter of political question, and in fighting to prevent their being thrust on the political arena, it could not be helped if hard blows were struck.

But I am sure no one can more heartily rejoice than I do, at the success we have achieved in removing these questions from the political arena, so that hereafter each Church shall stand upon its own bottom, and find its support from its own Christian people. (Cheers.) I rejoice, too, at this success, because it opens up a way for the return to the great Reform party of that section of religionists in this Province, who have been more or less separated from us in consequence of those strifes. If there is one thing that I rejoice over more than another, before I leave the position which I have occupied in the Reform party – it is that the ground is now cleared for their unhesitating and complete return to our ranks. (Loud cheers) After some further remarks on this point, Mr. Brown continued:

The next great advantage we are to obtain from this Constitution is, that this Union with the Lower Provinces will provide us a route to the ocean through our own country. (Hear.) You all know I am not one of those who believe that the United States are longing to eat us up without pepper or salt some fine morning. (Laughter.) Perhaps, they would like to have us annexed; and there is no man more heartily opposed to that, or who will struggle more energetically or fight should occasion arise – (loud cheers) – in order to retain this noble Province in connection with the British Empire than I will. But, Sir, while by no means fancying that there is any great fear of the Americans coming upon us, and no great fear of their carrying their distinctive commercial policy further than they have done – for they are a sensible people – we have taught them a good lesson, and they are beginning to find they had the best of the reciprocity treaty, and will soon be coming to their senses and open negotiations for its renewal – on that policy I resigned, and not many months will elapse before you will see that that policy is the true one.

While believing all that, I am firmly convinced that no country ought to be dependent on another when there is a way of making it dependant only upon itself. Therefore, with the kindest feeling towards the United States, and the most earnest desire to continue in friendly – the most intimate – relations with them; yet I say it is a very good thing to have a road through our own country to the ocean – a very good thing. (Cheers.) It may be that this will cost us a considerable sum of money; but I do say, that if you send right men to represent you in Parliament – if you take care that there is no Coalition Government, but that the Government is placed in the hands of men of the same principles and interests as yourselves, then, I tell you, that that railroad can be built for a very small sum of money in comparison with that now talked of. But, if upon the other hand, you put it into the hands of Mr. J.A. Macdonald, with four Reformers, if you like, from the Lower Provinces, I care not whether two or three Reformers go in from Upper Canada – if these Reformers were as pure as the driven snow, an as determined and upright men as ever stood upon the earth, I tell you – they may say a great deal possibly before the elections; but I tell you, that when the elections are over, that the Intercolonial Railroad will be made the blackest sight you ever saw in this world. (Cheer.)

What is the talk now? It will not be before the elections; but observe – the elections once over, and Mr. John A. Macdonald posted there as Prime Minister, with the enormous power he will wield as Prime Minister – when he can say to Mr. this and that, “Sir, I do not want you here longer; there is your office, let me put another in your place” – with no appeal to the people, gentlemen, for five years afterwards – then, I tell you, gentlemen, that you will be bought and sold upon this Intercolonial Railroad as upon everything else. (Hear, hear.)

Observe, what is the proposal here. I do not charge the present Administration with the intention of doing this – by no means. It would be insane of me to charge any member of the Government with meditating such a thing; but we cannot avoid hearing and reading that this great work is to be built as a government railroad. Now, I say that if you wish to bring the Province to ruin, this is the way to do it. I do not bring charges – I cannot think that any public man can think of such a thing; but in order to avoid it you want a pure government, gentlemen, if you can get it, and if you cannot, a strong, firm, manly opposition. (Cheers.)

But there is another great advantage to be obtained from this Confederation. It gives us a market of 690,000 souls. By this reciprocity treaty being abolished we have lost the market of the United States to a great extent, and we shall gain another market in its place. (Hear, hear.) While the reciprocity treaty was in existence, the Americans were coming here and buying our farm produce at low prices, carrying it down their canals and getting the freight, storing it at their wharves, sending their vessels with it to Halifax and St. John and selling it there – and we allowed all this to be done. The treaty being broken up and the Confederation formed, a new state of things will be inaugurated, and I think we shall gain a set off against any loss we have suffered. I believe this is but the beginning – the opening up – of new branches of trade, and that the union of the interests of the Maritime Provinces with ours will secure us a great measure of, if not a complete return of this trade.

Gentlemen, I could have detained you at great length in reference to the advantages that will probably result from this Confederation; but I have spoken already too long, and there are many gentlemen to address you. There is, however, one point on which I will say a word. The changes in the Constitution that were made in England. There is no question that these changes were of a serious character; but, gentlemen, when men conclude – as I myself did – that the measure as a whole is a good one, the true plan is to allow these things to pass. Express your mind upon them, but accept the Constitution and try it patiently, and as you find evils arise, apply the remedy. Let us act in this spirit – and I believe this is the spirit in which the Constitution will be received all over these united Provinces. (Cheers.)

I am quite sure, should any of us live to have another meeting, such as this, some years hence – and I hope some of us may be spared till that day in order to see the working of this Constitution – if the people of this country do their duty to themselves, watch closely public affairs, send their best men to Parliament, and especially see that the Government is maintained on pure, downright, party principles, I have no doubt, when we meet again, we shall heartily rejoice over the results that have been obtained. (Loud and long continued applause.)