Fathers of Confederation

[Ed. In this recently rediscovered and historically significant speech, Canada’s first Prime Minister offers a vivid and often eloquent portrait of Confederation, including reflections on the formation of the Great Coalition, the merits of a head of state above politics, and the nature of Canadian federalism. Speaking in the immediate aftermath of the US Civil War, Macdonald also emphasizes the security considerations underpinning Confederation, “an aim that, once secured, would give us, instead of five or six scattered and feeble Colonies – insufficient in themselves, unable to fight their own battles because of their divisions, and a source of weakness not only to themselves but to the Mother Country, – one grand British North American Union.”

Macdonald’s account of negotiations with Britain is also significant – Confederation was made in Canada and implemented at Canada’s request, and although Canada was free to declare independence from Great Britain (“Go in peace, if you think you can walk alone – good bye, and God bless you.”), Macdonald argues Canada freely chose continuing alliance with the British Empire to prevent eventual annexation to the United States. “The only way to prevent these colonies being snatched or stolen, filched or coaxed away, one by one, from their allegiance to the British Crown, was by joining them together into one great nation, in alliance with Great Britain and under the same constitution.”

The speech is also interesting for its insights into Macdonald’s character as a politician and a man. All politics was still local back in 1866, and he begins with a fitting tribute to the surrounding counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, already settled and governed “at a time when the greater portion of Western Canada, that now blossoms like the rose, was hardly more than a wilderness.” The pathos of his salute to the aged but still living militia veterans of the War of 1812 is undeniable (– “still vigorous enough to make their voices heard from end to end of this room”). Finally there is a humble and human reflection on his political friendship with George-Étienne Cartier: “I am always glad to stand by him as second or third, or in any position from that of cabin-boy up to lieutenant; in any capacity, however humble, I am always ready to serve with him; and in that Government he was captain and I was first lieutenant.” The government Macdonald refers to is that of 1858-62, which first proposed Confederation.]

Hon. J. A. MACDONALD, whose rising was the signal for round after round of the most enthusiastic cheering, said, when quiet was restored:

Mr. Mayor, Mr. Warden, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would indeed be insensible if I were not in the highest degree impressed and gratified by this great compliment which you have paid to the Government of which I have the honour to be a member. The enthusiastic manner in which you have received us all is a compliment never to be forgotten, which we cannot forget, and which no man with a heart in his bosom could ever forget.

I had hoped that the respected head of the Government, Sir Narcisse Belleau, would have addressed you in reply to this toast instead of myself. Allow me to offer you, on his behalf, his most sincere regret. Illness is the sole cause of his not being here with us to respond to your kind, your magnificent demonstration of tonight. [Cheers.]

This is not an ordinary gathering, not a mere festive occasion; we are not met here for the mere purpose of social enjoyment, though I must say that you have lavished upon us, with the most liberal hand, all the means of social enjoyment and festivity; but we have come here to receive, as we have received at your hands, the evidence of your opinion that, at all events, if we are not the greatest Ministers in the world, we are men sincerely desirous of performing our duty; and we have come here feeling that you, who have watched our course, approve of our principles and think well of the manner in which those principles have been carried out in action. [Cheers.]

This toast and this compliment are gratifying to us on many grounds. The first ground is this, that it comes from the old Eastern District – the old and loyal Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry – counties that had an incorporated existence, that had a militia system, a magistracy and all the organizations of civilized life, at a time when the greater portion of Western Canada, that now blossoms like the rose, was hardly more than a wilderness. [Cheers.]

I see around me some of the hardy veterans who exposed themselves in our defence in the last war – men who fought on many hotly contested fields, and freely shed their blood for their king and country; and I know also that I am addressing many who are descendants of men like them – there are too few of them left to us, though some of them I see, who are still vigorous enough to make their voices heard from end to end of this room – and that these descendants, sons of loyal sires, are just as ready to fight for their country as their fathers were in 1812. [Loud cheers.]

No man who knows anything of the history of Canada – no man who knows anything of the great battles in which the Militia, with but scant aid from the small force of brave Regulars in the Province, and against enormous odds, met the foe in the cause of their young country – can forget the deeds of the gallant “Glengarrys,” and I can speak of them with some feeling of pride, because my ancestors belonged to the Glengarrys of old Scotland. [Cheers.]

Another ground upon which this compliment must be practically gratifying to my colleagues is this, that this is not a mere political party demonstration. (Hear, hear.) It does not spring from one section of the country, nor from any one phase of political party; it is not a Conservative nor yet a Reform demonstration, but you have come forward in the kindest, most marked and most enthusiastic manner, without reference to party opinion, to support and approve of the conduct of the Administration formed in 1864 – formed by men who, forgetting all old causes of political quarrel, joined together in the cause of our country. (Cheers.)

*          *          *

You must all know well the history of the formation of the Coalition Government in 1864. In the first place, in addition to the strong and close struggle of party which rendered Canadian Government almost impossible – because my friend, Mr. Cartier, and myself, not being strong enough, had been defeated and obliged to retire; then Mr. John Sandfield Macdonald, not being strong enough, had also been defeated, and retired; and on the return of Mr. Cartier and myself under the leadership of the late Sir Etienne Taché, we were again defeated, all these facts showing the weakness of the various Governments that were formed in the short period of two years; –

I say that in addition to that struggle, which was merely a social difficulty, and which rendered a strong Government impossible – and you all know that the first element of success and prosperity, in any country, is to have a strong Government – we had a far higher aim in view in forming that Coalition – an aim that had occupied the attention of statesmen in this country for years and years, and an aim that, once secured, would give us, instead of five or six scattered and feeble Colonies – insufficient in themselves, unable to fight their own battles because of their divisions, and a source of weakness not only to themselves but to the Mother Country, – one grand British North American Union which, instead of being a cause of embarrassment to the Sovereign and of weakness to the Imperial Government, would by a union give all strength, enable us to stand effectively as one man to the old flag, and that would even become a source of strength to the Home Government. (Loud cheers.)

No party has the right to claim the exclusive merit of originating this project, which has occupied the attention of public men ever since the formation of these colonies into responsible self-governing communities. It was strongly pressed in the Report of the Imperial Commissioner to Canada, Lord Durham; and since then it has been seen by every far-seeing, patriotic man, that, sooner or later, the only way to prevent these colonies being snatched or stolen, filched or coaxed away, one by one, from their allegiance to the British Crown, was by joining them together into one great nation, in alliance with Great Britain and under the same constitution. (Loud cheers.)

The subject was brought prominently under notice in 1858, by the Government which was headed by my friend Mr. Cartier, and in which I was glad to stand by him as second. I am always glad to stand by him as second or third, or in any position from that of cabin-boy up to lieutenant; in any capacity, however humble, I am always ready to serve with him; and in that Government he was captain and I was first lieutenant. Three members of the Administration were in England in that year, Mr. Cartier, Mr. Galt, Mr. Ross, who, although not now a member of the Government, is as strong and enthusiastic as ever in support of his old colleagues. They pressed the subject strongly upon the Imperial Government, in a paper which is admitted by all who have read it to be one of the ablest State Papers ever written, and urged the doing away with the anarchical, the disjointed, unpleasant and feeble condition of these Provinces by having a junction of the whole under Her Majesty as one Confederation of the Colonies of British North America.

The subject was thus cast upon the waters, and it produced fruit in many days, because not many months ago Mr. Brown made a motion in Parliament, based upon a quotation from that same State Paper, moving that a Committee should be appointed for the purpose of enquiring into the state of the Province with the view of obtaining a remedy for the state of things then in existence.

That motion, which I must say was most properly and ably moved by Mr. Brown, and carried through with that energy and zeal which characterize that gentleman, resulted in a Committee being appointed, which he fairly chose without distinction to party, without reference to whether its members were Conservative or Tory, Reformers or Clear Grits, Rouge or Bleu. (Laughter and cheers.)

He felt, as every patriotic man must feel, and as I have no doubt you all feel, that the country could not go on without a Government; that we ought, for the sake of the country, to cast aside all our old hostilities, our little party feelings, and forgetting our political differences and party bickerings, meet together on the common ground and platform of our country’s good. (Cheers.)

Well, that Committee met, and resolved, for the better attainment of their object, to sit in secret session, and so many of us had allowed our temper to get the better of our discretion in some old party quarrels – and I am sorry to say I was one of them – that we found when we met that we could not speak to each other; we could nevertheless speak at each other, if we could not speak to each other, through the chairman. Well, we made friends on the spot – (cheers) – and all agreed that the state of things that had existed could not go on, but that some system must be evolved which would alter that state of things, and that Canada must have a Government once more. (Cheers.)

And when we put our heads together, and treated the subject as honest men should, we found that after all we did not differ so much from each other as we had believed; and the deliberations of the Committee germinated in the present state of things, in which we have every expectation of seeing the object of our hopes and prayers and wishes carried out, ere many days. (Loud cheers.)

*          *          *

But, Sir, it would be a mistake to suppose that we entered into this Coalition merely for the purpose of getting rid of our party differences in Canada – or trying to bring the other Provinces into a union with us, in order that we might free ourselves from the effect of close party and personal struggles. We had other and higher objects to serve, the principal one of which has been alluded to in some of the remarks you made to this meeting; and that was to provide against the defenceless state of these Colonies in case hostilities should unfortunately arise between the Mother Country and the neighbouring States of America.

Thank God, the state of feeling which existed between the two countries at the time of the Trent affair, has disappeared on our side; I believe it has also long disappeared on the part of the American Government, and that it will soon disappear among the American People.

But at that time, when we thought ourselves to be on the brink of a war with the neighbouring country, and when England, prompt as ever, sent out troops and forces for our defence, as she always does when her Colonies are threatened with attack from any quarter, we could not help feeling and knowing that instead of being a source of strength to her in the trying times that were anticipated, we in these Colonies were a source of weakness – that instead of being one great political organization, with one militia system for the defence of the whole, and one commander-in-chief, who could utilize the forces under his control, send them at the shortest notice to any place at the requirement of duty, and by this means be able to defend every spot of British America, we had a different and conflicting system in each Province, and in some, indeed, we had no system at all, and no provision whatever for defence.

Instead of being a compact whole, we would have had men, in some of the Colonies, interfering with the arrangements and dispositions of the proper military officers, and of the Imperial commanders sent out for our protection, with jarring and diversity of opinion in our councils, with separate and distinct communities to provide the uncertain means of defensive warfare, and with our resources wasted and frittered away from want of combined action – so that, instead of aiding, we would have been actually a source of weakness to the Imperial troops, and instead of fighting battles successfully, we would have fought at great disadvantage, because of our inability to fight unitedly. (Cheers.) This great truth pressed itself upon all statesmen, upon every person who was in Parliament as a representative of the people, and I believe upon the whole people themselves. [Hear, hear.]

*          *          *

When, therefore, the defeat of the Government of which the late Sir Etienne Taché was the head, took pace in 1864, we remembered the conferences that had taken place in the Committee appointed on Mr. Brown’s motion, and the previous action of this Committee, in which we had come to the conclusion that for the safety of our common country we should unite in something like common action to make one great nation, instead of living as we are now, with five or six small and feeble communities, each independent of the other, and each a cause of weakness to the others.

Now, under these circumstances, I at once appealed, as you may all remember, to a gentleman who for years had been in a position of bitter political hostility to myself, the Honourable George Brown; and I say it now, although he is no longer a member of the Government, that in the most manly and honourable spirit he responded to that appeal, and we thereupon formed the Coalition Government for the purpose of inviting all the Colonies into one great Confederation. [Loud cheers.]

Mr. Brown has since seen fit to leave the Government, and I have no hesitation in saying that his colleagues deeply regret that he felt it his duty to retire from the Ministry; but I am happy to say that he retired because of no personal quarrel with any of us. [Cheers.] But he retired from his colleagues, simply from a difference of opinion as to the mode of dealing with a question so well known as the Reciprocity Treaty. [Hear, hear.]

I regret, I am sure all my colleagues regret, that he did so; for it is a great responsibility for a Minister to resign his office, and in many respects a step of greater responsibility to retire from than to accept a position in the Government of a country; for a man in private life, who is offered office, may for private or any other reason refuse it without incurring any great responsibility by his refusal, but having once accepted, and put his hand to the plough, he is bound by every consideration of duty to his country not to retire from the position, without good and substantial reasons; and a grave responsibility rests upon his shoulders when he breaks off the relations he has voluntarily assumed. However, every man must be the judge of that responsibility for himself. [Hear, hear.]

Of course, from the fact that my colleagues and myself remained in the Government and that he retired, it may be inferred that we think Mr. Brown was wrong and we were right. He thought otherwise, and chose to assume the responsibility of retiring. He declined to assume the responsibility of dealing with that question in the manner which the rest of his colleagues thought right and proper; and if he really and honestly believed that we were wrong, and that he was correct in his view of it – if he felt that we were so erroneous that he could not assume the responsibility of the course we proposed to pursue – the only thing that remained for him to do as a man of honour was to retire; because, I need hardly tell you that, no matter what a man’s private opinion may be upon any question of principle or policy to be dealt with, if he consents to the course adopted by his colleagues, he becomes equally responsible with them for their conduct.

From my point of view I think Mr Brown was in error in retiring from the Government; he, on the contrary, thinks he was right. I think that under the circumstances he might well have yielded his opinion to that of ten of his colleagues who were unanimous; he, on the other hand, thought that he could not honestly do so. (Hear, hear.) When he entered the Government, he entered it, I believe, with a sincere and earnest desire to carry out the Confederation of the Provinces, and I believe that Mr. Brown, although out of the Government, will continue to support this or any other Government that will honestly and straightforwardly press the scheme of Confederation to a successful completion. (Cheers.) I think it is but due to my ex-colleague, and when I speak in the singular number, I speak also the sentiments of my colleagues, that I should make this statement to you in this public manner. (Cheers.)

Gentlemen, I believe that Confederation is to be carried. (Loud cheers.) I believe that ere many weeks, and perhaps ere many days, you will see that the Lower Provinces, which at first repudiated the conduct of their delegates to the Quebec Conference, will, on calm and cool reflection upon the whole subject, and, above all, with a desire loyally to respond to the strongly expressed wishes of Her Majesty and Her Majesty’s Government in England, give up their local prejudices and feelings, and eventually, ere long, join with Canada in forming one great Confederation. (Loud and prolonged cheers.)

I had forgotten, Sir, in the proper sequence of my narration, to state that immediately after we had come to the conclusion respecting the Confederation of the Provinces, a Session of Parliament was held in Canada, and you may remember that by overwhelming majorities in both Houses, the proposed scheme of Confederation was carried. An Address was adopted and sent home to be laid at the foot of the Throne, asking Her Majesty to be pleased to cause a Bill to be laid before the Imperial Parliament, for the purpose of carrying into effect the scheme of Confederation adopted by the Quebec Conference, and approved by the Canadian Legislature. Her Most Gracious Majesty responded to that Address, and so far as she can be supposed individually to have an opinion on political questions, was highly pleased with the scheme of Union; and the Sovereign, with her Parliament and People, all responded heartily to the call that was made from Canada. (Loud cheers.)

After that you may remember that the Lower Provinces did not respond, as we had reason to hope and expect they would have done; and then again we found that Canada was thrown upon her own resources. When, then, being unable to foresee whether the Lower Provinces would persist in their opposition to Confederation, or give an adhesion to it; and when we had to consider what would be the position of Canada in the unfortunate contingency of standing alone in favour of the scheme, a deputation of four of the Ministers of Canada went home to England for the purpose of consulting and deliberating with the Imperial authorities as to what was best to be done in the emergency.

*          *          *

Now, although the hour is late, and I fear to detain you, – (cries of “no, no,”) – I cannot deny you the pleasure of stating to you very shortly the manner in which Canada, through this delegation of her Ministers, was treated in England. (Cheers.) We were almost unknown in the Mother Country; we might have some few individual friends in the Houses of Parliament, who took a particular interest in our welfare, but as a whole the Canadian Ministry and the Canadian People had no hold upon the public mind of England, or influence in the Imperial Government or Parliament.

But from the moment we went home as a deputation from the Canadian people and, going to the foot of the Throne to humbly address Her Majesty, said: – “We are here as Canadians, anxious to form a great nation – not a separate nation from the British Empire, but connected with it and subject to Your Majesty’s authority; not to cut off the link that binds us to the Mother Country, but to perpetuate in those Provinces, British institutions and British laws – to raise up under Your Majesty’s benignant sway, a new nation as an auxiliary to the Empire and a defence to the Mother Country, as well as to the mere dependencies of the British Empire” – from the moment we presented ourselves to the British Parliament with the credentials of the people of Canada, shewing that we went there for that purpose, we saw a great change.

We were treated there, not as mere delegates going home from some small dependency, as previous messengers from the colonies had been treated, but we were placed in a position as if we were an embassy from some great nation; and we, the four Ministers of a single colony, were met, day by day, and for weeks and weeks, by four of the chief heads of the great departments of the Government of England. (Loud cheers.) We had the head of the Army in the Secretary for War, Earl de Grey; the head of the Navy in the Duke of Somerset; the head of the Financial Department and leader of the House of Commons (since the death of Lord Palmerston) in Mr. Gladstone; and the Secretary for the Colonies in Mr. Cardwell. These were the gentlemen with whom we had to deal, and they met us and discussed these great questions on which I am now addressing you on terms of perfect equality. (Loud cheers.)

And they received us in this spirit also because we went home to bring them tidings that the Canadian people were willing – nay, more than willing, were anxious – to sacrifice anything for the purpose of extending and enlarging their powers, and of developing their strength, so as to cease to be a weakness to England, and to become a strength and a support to her. (Loud cheers.)

And, Mr. Chairman, we believe that we conveyed to the Government and People of England the sentiments of the People of Canada, as I am sure we conveyed the sentiments of the People of the old Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, when we told Her Majesty, through her Ministers, that Canada was ready to spend her last man and her last shilling in the defence of the British Constitution and the British crown. (Great cheering.) We made the offer without stint, without reservation, and met a response in the same generous, open and unlimited manner.

We were told that in case it was necessary the whole power of the mighty empire with which we are connected would be exercised in our defence, and that by land and by sea, by soldier and by sailor, by salt water and by fresh, on the ocean and on the lakes, England would, if necessary, expend the whole of her mighty resources, military and naval, in the defence of Canada and the British Provinces. (Loud and prolonged cheering.)

Such, gentlemen, were the results of our joining together under British laws and British institutions, and it is a lesson to be remembered by future statesmen in Canada, after we disappear from the scene. Such were the results of the statesmen of the day laying aside their party quarrels, their old political hostilities and personal enmities, and joining together in one Government for the sake of the common good. (Loud cheers.)

It resulted in the elevation of Canada from a position in which she was considered an encumbrance by the people of England, to a position in which she is regarded as a great and valuable accession to the power of empire; and we found, moreover, during this mission, that the People of England – no matter what a small school of able but fanatical men may say, those men who think that England would be better off without any of her Colonies, and that they ought to be cut off and she allowed to stand alone in the ocean, a small island of manufacturers – did not wish to cast us off, but that their opinion and that of the Government of England was, that she should never, either by compulsion or persecution, yield up one inch of her vast colonial territory; and that she was just as alive to the value of having Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotchmen in her Colonies across the sea, as to the value of having Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotchmen in the British Isles. (Loud cheers.)

Of course we were told that she would not force us to remain in connexion with the empire; but that if we, or any other colony, whether in America, Australia, or elsewhere, desired to sever that connexion – that if we did so, not in a tumultuous and hasty, ill-considered manner, but after grave deliberation, and with the acknowledged assent of a majority of the people, properly expressed through their parliamentary representatives – if after calmly and coolly considering the whole subject, they should say to the British people that they thought it to their interest and advantage that the alliance should be severed, England would say, without one single expression of harshness, without one feeling of asperity, – “Go in peace, if you think you can walk alone – good bye, and God bless you.”

But on the other hand I say that, while England would not compel, by any force, threat, or indirect means, a Colony to separate itself from the Mother Country if it chose to continue the connexion, she would also, so long as a Colony desired to remain a portion of the British Empire, as we do, and as I hope we always will do, (loud cheers,) and so long as it gave proof of this desire by act and word, use the whole power and strength of the Empire, military, naval and pecuniary, to fight for the Colonies that still wished to preserve the connexion with her. (Loud cheers.)

*          *          *

Now, gentlemen, as to the merits of the Confederation scheme adopted by the Quebec Conference, I shall say a few words, even at the hazard of wearying you. (Cries of “no, no.”) I do not say that any one of the delegates to the Conference which originated that scheme thought it a perfect one. It was of necessity a matter of compromise, for each Colony has its own prejudices and local difficulties, and the delegates had to discuss, not only what was the best system or plan of union according to the opinion of any one of us, but what was the best system to be carried out to a practical issue in reference to the future. No one can look into the future and predict what the result will be, but I believe the Conference at Quebec sketched out a system which would give us a strong and effective Government, and if, as the progress of experience probably will show, there are some amendments required, they can be introduced in a legal and constitutional manner, as all amendments are under the law and system of England.

I call special attention to the fact that the first Resolution passed in the Conference was – that the British North American Provinces should be united in one great Confederation, under Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. (Loud cheers.) That Resolution was carried without a dissentient voice. (Renewed applause.) We all rose in conference and declared if these colonies were to be made one nation, it was to be under the gracious sway of Queen Victoria, her heirs and successors. (Cheers.) This was not a mere matter of lip-loyalty, it came from the heart in the first instance, and from the head in the next. (Applause.)

It has been often said that the Government of England is a republic disguised in monarchical form, and that England is a republic with the Queen as a mere person of ceremonial position. A greater mistake could not be made. England stands in a peculiarly happy position with reference to her Sovereign. (Hear, hear) If England were to become a republic, which God forbid, (loud cheers) the consequence would be that the head of the Government must be elected or chosen by one party and opposed by another, just as in a political election for a county, town or corporation, a candidate is elected by a majority, and sometimes by but a majority of one or two. Just as the successful candidate must be the exponent of the principles, passions and prejudices of the majority that elected him, and occupy a position opposed to those who voted against him at the hustings or elsewhere. (Hear, here.)

But, in England, how different it is. Her Majesty moves far above the region of party politics. She knows no party; she knows only the whole nation are her subjects. She belongs neither to the Conservative, Whig, radical nor any other party, but acts equitably and rules with equal beneficence over all. She submits to the will of the people, expressed through her ministers, as a constitutional Sovereign always should. But when, in the course of events, one ministry goes out and another must come in, Her Majesty selects the best men of the opposite party, and leaves it to them to form an Administration. Every man in England knows the Queen will have no narrow prejudice, but that she governs and holds an even and steady course, guiding, checking, restraining, and regulating, as regards the different parties. (Cheers.) That is one great advantage which exists, and, I think, and overwhelming advantage and argument in favour of our connexion with Great Britain. (Loud applause.)

And so I might go through many of the leading features of the Confederation scheme, but you have already studied it for yourselves. I believe you have now the basis – because, after all, it is merely the basis or skeleton, or general principle – out of which should be evolved and worked up a system of government for British North America. (Cheers.) I think the principles agreed upon at the Conference, and voted upon by the Legislature of Canada and the Imperial Parliament, as embodied in the Confederation scheme, contain a system by which we shall have, under the governing power of Her Majesty – although not exercised personally, but through her representative, whether one of her sons or one of the nobles of the land – an assurance and guarantee that we shall be governed by a person belonging to no party, and holding an even balance between all parties, and restraining and controlling them in case of their running to riot or any extreme. (Cheers.)

I believe we have also worked out a system by which we shall have a strong central government – a system under which there can be no question about individual rights of the minor provinces or states, no question, in fact, of provincial or state rights can possibly arise. We shall have a strong central government, as I said before, and a strong parliament, able to consider all questions that affect the country, and guide its progress in the paths of prosperity and greatness.

At the same time we have provided for local institutions and governments. In consequence of the enormous extent of the contemplated Confederacy, which, I hope, will include, ere long, the vast extent of territory stretching from the foot of the Rocky Mountains to the Ocean, we have considered it necessary to provide local legislatures and governments to watch over the local interests of the different sections or colonies.

In Britain, which is a small country, one Parliament is enough, and sufficiently capable of looking after all the interests of the different sections or districts from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and, in the sister isle, attending to all the matters affecting the land from Cape Clear to Ireland’s Eye. (Hear, hear.) But how could the people of the Saskatchewan Valley, for instance, know what was the interest of the people of Newfoundland, and vice versa?

Therefore, while providing a strong central government and general parliament to watch over the interests of all parties from the St. Lawrence to the country extending far towards the North Pole, we shall have local interests of the different sections into which British North America is to be divided cared for and protected by local legislatures.

A Voice – “Three cheers for John A.” (Loud and prolonged cheering)

Now, as I have stated to you, I hope and believe that the great scheme, so happily commenced, so speedily hurried to a stage of progress beyond our expectation, for, after all, it is little more than a year since we commenced negotiations with the Lower Provinces – will soon be brought to a successful completion or realisation; and should it be so you will have the happiness of knowing you belong to a nation that from its size will exceed most nations of the earth, and which will from its natural resources, in the lifetime of some of those living, assume the position of one of the greatest countries in the world. (Cheers.)

*          *          *

I had intended, perhaps, to allude to other questions of public policy, but, happily, I am relieved from inflicting further remarks upon you, for I have some of my colleagues here who are going to express their views on some of the subjects I have not alluded to.

There is one subject, however, in which I am particularly interested, and that is the Militia system of Canada. (Cheers.) The Militia Law now prevailing was passed during the government of my immediate predecessor, my respected friend, the Honourable J.S. Macdonald. (Hear, hear.) So I am not responsible for the measure; I am neither to praise nor blame for it; but it contains some features for which he has a right to claim credit, and for which I would be unworthy and uncandid if I did not give him credit – and those are in connexion with the establishment of Military Schools for the education of our militia officers. (Cheers.) That feature of the militia bill, which is one of the most happy of the whole, has entailed comparatively little expense.

You can all look back at the history of the United States, and, and the late civil war now happily ended. Remember how, during the first two years of the war, both sides, especially the North, suffered for want of educated officers. They could get men in abundance, form their great wealth and resources, and by virtue of the general patriotism; but yet they could not procure competent officers till after hard experience and hard fighting and the loss of many battles, entailing the expenditure of much blood and treasure – they could only get officers after they had been trained in the hard school of actual service.

Canada, however, taking advantage of this experience, through the instrumentality of the administration that preceded ours, established two Military Schools – one for Upper and another for Lower Canada – for the education of officers for the militia. The results have most happily shown themselves already. All that I or this Government can claim is, that we approve of that system, introduced, as I have stated, and have maintained it vigorously, and have increased the number of the schools; but the bill was not our measure, but that of those opposed to us. We saw the value of the system, maintained and extended it, and from two schools we raised the number to five. The result is that already we have 2,000 officers able and ready to command the militia if ever they should be called out on any sudden emergency.

We have, besides, been able to retain the services – and I am glad to have this opportunity of expressing my gratification to find it so – of an officer recommended to us by the best military authorities in England, as one of the first theoretical soldiers in England – I mean the Adjutant-General of Militia, Colonel McDougall. (Cheers.) That officer’s books on the art of war and the management of troops, and on everything relating to strategy and the conduct of military operations, are quoted and used in the schools of Great Britain as standard works on those matters. (Cheers.)

I believe if it should happen that any inroad or incursion – I am not going to talk to you about Fenian raids or enterprises – were made upon us – no matter from what quarter, – under the present militia system, and under the able management of Colonel McDougall, the militia would show – as he had several times reported of them – that they were worthy to fight beside Her Majesty’s chosen and best trained soldiers. (Loud cheers.) Colonel McDougall states that when he came here he was prejudiced against the Volunteer system, but that he has since altogether changed his opinion. He finds here a body of militia, not a mere body of feather-bed soldiers, but men able, ready and willing, from their training, aptitude and military spirit, to fight beside the red or green coats of Her Majesty in the field. (Renewed applause.)

*          *          *

I will now make way for my colleagues, and allow you to proceed with the other toasts of the evening. Again let me return thanks to you, not only on my own behalf – and I feel the honour specially grateful to myself – but on behalf of the administration and all its friends in this part of Canada, for the highly distinguished honour you have paid us this day. (Applause.) It will be remembered long after this day, and will have its effect long, long after this day.

Years and years ago I promised some of my friends who sit around me now to receive an invitation of this kind; but public and private engagements rendered it impossible for me to do so until the present day. But, as soon as we could, from the facilities offered us by our contiguity to Cornwall, at the new Seat of Government, we embraced the first opportunity after your asking us, of accepting your hospitality. (Cheers.)

And much as we knew of the hospitality, kindness and loyalty and warm heartedness of the people of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, your demonstration tonight, in friendliness and enthusiastic warmth of reception, and the manner in which you have listened to my long and rambling speech, shows me that much as we had expected from our, our anticipations have been far exceeded. I shall have great pleasure in conveying to my absent colleagues information of the manner in which you have received us this night. They will hear of it with pride and pleasure; and now, before sitting down, let me thank you once more for all you have done for us.

(The honourable gentleman sat down amid enthusiastic cheers again and again repeated.)

MLI would not exist without the support of its donors. Please consider making a small contribution today.