British Opinion And Canadian Autonomy

While these great modifications were being made in the form and spirit

of Canadian provincial government, corresponding changes were taking

place in British opinion. In the present chapter, it is proposed to

examine these as they operated during the first two decades of the

Victorian era. But an examination of early Victorian imperialism

demands, as a first condition, the dismissal of such prejudices and

misjudgments as are implicit in recent terms like "Little-Englander"

and "Imperialist." It is, indeed, one of the objects of this chapter

to show how little modern party cries correspond to the ideas prevalent

from 1840 to 1860, and to exhibit as the central movement in imperial

matters the gradual development of a doctrine for the colonies, and

more especially for Canada, not dissimilar to that which dominated the

economic theory of the day under the title of laissez faire.


It is important to limit the scope of the inquiry, for the problem of

Canadian autonomy was strictly practical and very pressing. There is

little need to exhibit the otiose or irresponsible opinions of men or

groups of men, which had no direct influence on events. Little, for

example, need be said of the views of the British populace. No doubt

Joseph Hume expressed views in which he had many sympathizers

throughout the country; but his constituents were too ill-informed on

Canadian politics to make their opinions worthy of study; and their

heated debates, carried on in mutual improvement societies, had even

less influence in controlling the actions of government than had the

speeches of their leader in Parliament.[1] After the sensational

beginning of the reign in Canada, public opinion directed its attention

to Canadian affairs only when fresh sensations offered themselves, and

usually exhibited an indifference which was not without its advantages

to the authorities. "People here are beginning to forget Canada, which

is the best thing they can do," wrote Grey {232} to Elgin after the

Rebellion Losses troubles had fallen quiet.

The British press, too, need claim little attention. On the confession

of those mainly concerned, it was wonderfully ignorant and misleading

on Canadian subjects. Elgin, who was not indifferent to newspaper

criticism, complained bitterly of the unfairness and haphazard methods

of the British papers, neglecting, as they did, the real issues, and

emphasizing irritating but unimportant troubles. "The English press,"

he wrote, after an important viceregal visit to Boston in 1851, "wholly

ignores our proceedings both at Boston and Montreal, and yet one would

think it was worth while to get the Queen of England as much cheered in

New England as she can be in any part of Old England."[2] Grey in turn

had to complain, not merely of indifference, but of misrepresentation,

and that too in a crisis in Canadian politics, the Rebellion Losses

agitation; "I am misrepresented in The Times in a manner which I fear

may do much mischief in Canada. I am reported as having said that the

connexion between Canada and this country was drawing rapidly to a

close. This is {233} the very opposite of what I really said."[3] How

irresponsible and inconsistent a great newspaper could be may be

gathered from the treatment by The Times of the Annexationist

movement in 1849. Professing at first a calm resignation, it refused

for the country "the sterile honour of maintaining a reluctant colony

in galling subjection"; yet, shortly afterwards, it took the high

imperial line of argument and predicted that "the destined future of

Canada, and the disposition of her people" would prevent so unfortunate

an ending to the connection.[4] The fact is that in all political

questions demanding expert knowledge, newspaper opinion is practically

worthless; except in cases where the services of some specialist are

called in, and there the expert exercises influence, not through his

articles, but because, elsewhere, he has made good his claims to be

heard. Canadian problems owed nothing of their solution to the British


Another factor, irresponsible and indirect, yet closer to the scene of

political action than the press, was assumed in those years to have a

great {234} influence on events--the permanent element in the Colonial

Office, and more especially the permanent under-secretary, James

Stephen. Charles Buller's pamphlet on Responsible Government for the

Colonies formulates the charge against the permanent men in a famous

satiric passage. Buller had been speaking of the incessant change of

ministers in the Colonial Office--ten secretaries of state in little

more than so many years. "Perplexed with the vast variety of subjects

presented to him--alike appalled by the important and unimportant

matters forced on his attention--every Secretary of State is obliged at

the outset to rely on the aid of some better informed member of his

office. His Parliamentary Under-Secretary is generally as new to the

business as himself: and even if they had not been brought in together,

the tenure of office by the Under-Secretary having on the average been

quite as short as that of the Secretary of State, he has never during

the period of his official career obtained sufficient information to

make him independent of the aid on which he must have been thrown at

the outset. Thus we find both these marked and responsible

functionaries dependent on the advice and guidance of another; and that

other person must of course be one of the permanent {235} members of

the office.... That mother-country which has been narrowed from the

British Isles into the Parliament, from the Parliament into the

executive government, from the executive government into the Colonial

Office, is not to be sought in the apartments of the Secretary of

State, or his Parliamentary Under-Secretary. Where you are to look for

it, it is impossible to say. In some back-room--whether in the attic,

or in what storey we know not--you will find all the mother-country

which really exercises supremacy, and really maintains connexion with

the vast and widely-scattered colonies of Britain."[5]

The directness and strength of the influence which men like Sir Henry

Taylor and Sir James Stephen exercised, both on opinion and events, may

be inferred from Taylor's confessions with regard to the slave question

in the West Indies, and the extent to which even Peel himself had to

depend for information, and occasionally for direction, on the

permanent men.[6] It seems clear, too, that up till the year when Lord

John Russell took over the Colonial Office, Stephen had a great {236}

say in Canadian affairs, especially under Glenelg's regime. "As to his

views upon other Colonial questions," says Taylor, "they were perhaps

more liberal than those of most of his chiefs; and at one important

conjuncture he miscalculated the effect of a liberal confidence placed

in a Canadian Assembly, and threw more power into their hands than he

intended them to possess."[7] On the assumption that he was

responsible for Glenelg's benevolent view of Canadian local rights, one

might attribute something of Lord John Russell's over logical and

casuistical declarations concerning responsible government to Buller's

"Mr. Mother-country." But it is absurd to suppose that Russell's

independent mind operated long under any sub-secretarial influence;

more especially since the rapid succession of startling events in

Canada made his daring and unconventional statesmanship a fitter means

of government than the plodding methods of the bureaucrat. After 1841,

Stanley and Stephen were too little sympathetic towards each other's

methods and ideas, and Gladstone too strongly fortified in his own

opinions, for Stephen's influence to creep in; while the Whig

government which entered as he left the Colonial Office, had, {237} in

Grey, a Secretary of State too learned in the affairs of his department

to reflect the last influences of his retiring under-secretary.

Whatever, then, Mr. Over-Secretary Stephen did to dominate Lord

Glenelg, and to initiate the concession of responsible government to

Canada, his influence must speedily have sunk to a very secondary

position, and the independent and conscious intentions of the

responsible ministers held complete sway. It is interesting to note

that, according to his son, he seems to have come to share "the

opinions prevalent among the liberal party that the colonies would soon

be detached from the mother-country."[8]

The actual starting-point of the development of British opinion with

regard to Canadian institutions is perfectly definite. It dates from

the co-operation and mutual influence of a little group of experts in

colonial matters, of whom Charles Buller and Gibbon Wakefield were the

moving spirits, and the Earl of Durham the illustrious mouthpiece. The

end of the Rebellion furnished the occasion for their propaganda.

The situation was one peculiarly susceptible to {238} the treatment

likely to be proposed by these radical and unconventional spirits. It

was difficult to describe the constitutional position of Canada without

establishing a contradiction in terms, and neither abstract and logical

minds like that of Cornewall Lewis, nor bureaucratic intelligences like

Stephen's, could do more than intensify the difficulty and emphasize

it. The deus ex machina must appear and solve the preliminary or

theoretic difficulties by overriding them. There are some who describe

the pioneers of Canadian self-government as philosophic radicals; but

they were really not of that school. It was through the absence of any

philosophy or rigid logic that they succeeded.

Foremost in the group came Edward Gibbon Wakefield, one of those

erratic but creative spirits whose errors are often as profitable to

all (save themselves) as their sober acts. It is not here necessary to

enter on the details of his emigration system; in that he was, after

all, a pioneer in the south and east rather than in the west. But in

the stirring years of colonial development, in which Canada, Australia,

and New Zealand took their modern form, Wakefield was a leader in

constitutional as well as in economic matters, and Canada was favoured

not only with his opinions, but with {239} his presence. In the Art

of Colonization he entered into some detail on these matters. There

was a certain breezy informality about his views, which carried him

directly to the heart of the matter. He understood, as few of his

contemporaries did, that in all discussions concerning the "connexion,"

the final argument was sentimental rather than constitutional; and he

accepted without further argument the incapacity of Englishmen for

being other than English in the politics of their colony. "There would

still be hostile parties in a colony," he wrote as he planned reforms,

"yes, parties instead of factions: for every colony would have its

'ins' and 'outs,' and would be governed as we are--as every free

community must be in the present state of the human mind--by the

emulation and rivalries, the bidding against each other for public

favour, of the party in power and the party in opposition. Government

by party, with all its passions and corruptions, is the price that a

free country pays for freedom. But the colonies would be free

communities: their internal differences, their very blunders, and their

methods of correcting them, would be all their own; and the colonists

who possessed capacity for public business would govern in turns far

better on the whole than {240} it would be possible for any other set

of beings on earth to govern that particular community."[9] He was,

then, for a most entire and whole-hearted control by colonists, and

especially Canadians, of their own affairs. But when he came to define

what these affairs included, he had limits to suggest, and although he

was aware of the dangers implicit in such a limitation, he was very

emphatic on the need of imperial control in diplomacy and war, and more

especially in the administration of land.[10] How practical and

sincere were his views on the supremacy of the home government, he

proved by supporting, in person and with his pen, Sir Charles Metcalfe

in his struggle to limit the claims of local autonomy.

Powerful and suggestive as Wakefield's mind was, he had, nevertheless,

to own a master in colonial theory; for the most distinguished, and by

far the clearest, view of the whole matter is contained in Charles

Buller's Responsible Government for the Colonies, which he published

anonymously in 1840. Buller was indeed the ablest of the whole group,

and his early death was one of the greatest losses which English

politics sustained in the nineteenth {241} century--"an intelligent,

clear, honest, most kindly vivacious creature; the genialist Radical I

have ever met,"[11] said Carlyle. The ease of his writing and his gift

for light satire must not be permitted to obscure the consistency and

penetration of his views. Even if Durham contributed more to his

Report than seems probable, the view there propounded of the scope of

Responsible Government is not nearly so cogent as that of the later

pamphlet. Buller, like the other members of his group, believed in the

acknowledgment of a supremacy, vested in the mother country, and

expressed in control of foreign affairs, inter-colonial affairs, land,

trade, immigration, and the like; but outside the few occasions on

which these matters called for imperial interference, he was for

absolute non-interference, and protested that "that constant reference

to the authorities in England, which some persons call responsibility

to the mother country, is by no means necessary to insure the

maintenance of a beneficial colonial connexion."[12] His originality

indeed is best tested by the vigour and truth of his criticisms of the

existing administration. First of all representation had been given

without {242} executive responsibility. Then for practical purposes

the colonists were allowed to make many of their own laws, without the

liberty to choose those who would administer them. Then a colonial

party, self-styled the party of the connexion, or the loyal party,

monopolized office. To Buller the idea of combining a popular

representation with an unpopular executive seemed the height of

constitutional folly; and, like Wakefield, he understood, as perhaps

not five others in England did, the place of party government and

popular dictation in colonial constitutional development. "The whole

direction of affairs," he said, "and the whole patronage of the

Executive practically are at present in the hands of a colonial party.

Now when this is the case, it can be of no importance to the mother

country in the ordinary course of things, which of these local parties

possesses the powers and emoluments of office."[13] Unlike the

majority of his contemporaries, he believed in assuming the colonists

to be inspired with love for their mother country, common sense, and a

regard for their own welfare; and it seemed obvious that men so

disposed were infinitely better qualified than the Colonial Office to

manage their own affairs. Nothing but evil {243} could result "from

the attempt to conduct the internal affairs of the colonies in

accordance with the public opinion, not of those colonies themselves,

but of the mother country."[14] It may seem a work of supererogation

to complete the sketch of this group with an examination of the

opinions expressed in Lord Durham's Report; yet that Report is so

fundamental a document in the development of British imperial opinion

that time must be found to dispel one or two popular illusions.[15] It

is a mistake to hold that Durham advocated the fullest concession of

local autonomy to Canada. Sir Francis Hincks, a protagonist of

Responsible Government, once quoted from the Report sentences which

seemed to justify all his claims: "The crown must submit to the

necessary consequences of representative institutions, and if it has to

carry on the government in union with a representative body, it must

consent to carry it on by means of those in whom that representative

body has confidence"; and again, "I admit that the system which I

propose would in fact place the internal government of the colony in

the hands of the {244} colonists themselves, and that we should thus

leave to them the execution of the laws of which we have long entrusted

the making solely to them."[16] Public opinion in Canada also put this

extreme interpretation on the language of the Report.

Yet, as a first modification, it was Lord Metcalfe's confident opinion

that the responsibility of ministers to the Assembly for which Durham

pled, was not that of a united Cabinet, but rather of departmental

heads in individual isolation,[17] and certainly one sentence in the

Report can hardly be interpreted otherwise: "This (the change) would

induce responsibility for every act of the Government, and, as a

natural consequence, it would necessitate the substitution of a system

of administration by means of competent heads of departments, for the

present rude machinery of an executive council."[18]

In the second place, while Durham did indeed speak of making the

colonial executive responsible to a colonial Assembly, he discriminated

between the internal government of the colony and its {245} imperial

aspect.[19] In practice he modified his gift of home rule, by placing,

like Wakefield and Buller, many things beyond the scope of colonial

responsibility, for example, "the constitution of the form of

government, the regulation of foreign relations, and of trade with the

mother country, the other British colonies, and foreign nations, and

the disposal of the public lands."[20] There is too remarkable a

consensus of opinion on this point within the group to leave any doubt

as to the intention of Durham and his assistants; that an extensive

region should be left subject to strictly imperial supervision.

Durham's career ended before his actions could furnish a practical test

of his theories, but Buller, like Wakefield, gave a plain statement of

what he meant by supporting Metcalfe against his council, at a time

when the colonial Assembly seemed to be infringing on imperial rights.

"No man," said Buller, of the Metcalfe affair, "could seriously think

of saying that in the appointment of every subordinate officer in every

county in Canada, the opinion of the Executive Council was to be



To pass from controversy to certainty, there was one aspect of the

Report which made it the most notable deliverance of its authors, and

which set that group apart from every other political section in

Britain, whether Radical, Whig, or Tory--I mean its robust and

unhesitating imperialism. How deeply pessimism concerning the Empire

had pervaded all minds at that time, it will be the duty of this

chapter to prove, but, in the Report at least, there is no doubt of its

authors' desire, "to perpetuate and strengthen the connexion between

this Empire and the North American Colonies, which would then form one

of the brightest ornaments in your Majesty's Imperial Crown." This

confident imperial note, then, was the most striking contribution of

the Durham Radicals to colonial development; and the originality and

unexpectedness of their confidence gains impressiveness when contrasted

with general contemporary opinion.

They contributed, too, in another and less simple fashion, to the

constitutional question. Nowhere so clearly as in their writings are

both sides of the theoretic contradiction--British supremacy and

Canadian autonomy--so boldly stated, and, in spite of the

contradiction, so confidently accepted. They would trust implicitly to

the sense and {247} feelings, however crude, of the colony: they would

surrender the entire control of domestic affairs: they would sanction,

as at home, party with all its faults, popular control of the

executive, and apparently the decisive influence of that executive in

advising the governor in internal affairs. Yet, in the great imperial

federation of which they dreamed, they never doubted the right of the

mother country to act with overmastering authority in certain crises.

That right, and the unquenchable affection of exiles for the land

whence they came, constituted for them "the connexion."

These were the views which came to dominate political opinion in

Britain, for Molesworth was right when he declared that to Buller and

Wakefield, more than to any other persons, was the country indebted for

sound views on colonial policy. The interest of the present inquiry

lies in tracing the development of these views into something unlike,

and distinctly bolder than, anything which these rash and

unconventional thinkers had planned.

Whatever might be the shortcomings of the Radical group, the daring of

their trust in the colonists stands out in high relief against a

background of conservative restriction and distrust. It was natural

for the Tories to think of colonies as {248} they did. Under the

leadership of North and George III. they had experienced what might

well seem to them the natural consequences of the old constitutional

system of colonial administration. After 1782 they were disinclined to

experiment in Assemblies as free as those of Massachusetts and

Connecticut had been. The reaction caused by the French Revolution

deepened their distrust of popular institutions; and the war of 1812

quickened their hatred of the United States--the zone of political no

less than military danger for Canada. The conquests which they made

had given them a second colonial empire, and they had administered that

empire with financial generosity and constitutional parsimony, hoping

against hope that a fabric so unexpected and difficult as colonial

empire might after all disappoint their fears by remaining true to

Britain. Developing in spite of themselves, and with the times, they

had still learned little and forgotten little. So it was that Sir

George Arthur, a Tory governor in partibus infidelium, was driven

into panic by Durham's frank criticisms, and expounded to Normanby, his

Whig chief, fears not altogether baseless: "The bait of responsible

government has been eagerly taken, and its poison is working most

mischievously.... {249} The measure recommended by such high authority

is the worst evil that has yet befallen Upper Canada":[22] and again,

"since the Earl of Durham's Report was published, the reform party, as

I have already stated, have come out in greater force--not in favour of

the Union, nor of the other measures contemplated by the Bill, that has

been sent out to this country, but for the daring object so strenuously

advocated by Mackenzie, familiarly denominated responsible


The distrust and timidity of Arthur's despatches are shared in by

practically the entire Tory party in its dealings with Canada, after

the Rebellion. The Duke of Wellington opposed the Union of the

provinces, because, among other consequences, "the union into one

Legislature of the discontented spirits heretofore existing in two

separate Legislatures will not diminish, but will tend to augment, the

difficulties attending the administration of the government;

particularly under the circumstances of the encouragement given to

expect the establishment in the united province of a local responsible

administration of government."[24] He {250} was greatly excited when

the news of Bagot's concessions arrived. Arbuthnot describes his

chief's mood as one of anger and indignation. "What a fool the man

must have been," he kept exclaiming, "to act as he has done! and what

stuff and nonsense he has written! and what a bother he makes about his

policy and his measures, when there are no measures but rolling himself

and his country in the mire."[25]

During these years, and until late in 1845, Lord Stanley presided at

the Colonial Office. Naturally of an arrogant and unyielding temper,

and with something of the convert's fanatic devotion to the political

creed of his adoption, he administered Canada avowedly on the lines of

Lord John Russell's despatch to Poulett Thomson, but with all the

emphasis on the limitations prescribed in that despatch, and in a

spirit singularly irritating. His conduct towards Bagot exhibited a

consistent distrust of Canadian self-government; and the fundamental

defects of his advice to Bagot's successor cannot be better exhibited

than in the letter warning Metcalfe of "the extreme risk which would

attend any disruption of the present Conservative party of Canada.

Their own steadiness {251} and your own firmness and discretion have

gone far towards consolidating them as a party and securing a stable

administration of the colony."[26] In spite of the warnings of Durham

and Buller, Stanley was aiming at restoring all the ancient

landmarks--an unpopular executive, a small privileged party "of the

connexion," and a colony quickly and surely passing from the control of

Britain. Even after Stanley's resignation, and the accession of an

avowed Peelite and free-trader, Gladstone, to his office, the change in

commercial theory did not at first effect any change in the Colonial

Office interpretation of the Canadian constitution. No doubt Gladstone

recommended Cathcart to ascertain the deliberate sense of the Canadian

community at large, and pay respect to the House of Assembly as the

organ of that sense, but he committed himself and the new

governor-general to a strong support of Metcalfe's system, and put him

on his guard against "dishonourable abstract declarations on the

subject of what has been termed responsible government."[27]

It would be tedious to follow the subject into every detail of Canadian

administration; but all {252} existing evidence tends to prove that the

representative men of the British Tory party opposed the new

interpretation of Canadian rights at every crisis in the period. In

the Rebellion Losses debate in 1849, Gladstone, taking in this matter a

view more restricted than that of his leader Peel, held that Elgin

should have referred to the Home Government at the very first moment,

and before public opinion had been appealed to in the colony.[28] The

fall of the Whig ministry in 1851 was followed by the first of three

brief Derby administrations: and the Earl of Derby proved himself to be

more wedded than he had been as Lord Stanley to the old restrictive

system. The Clergy Reserve dispute was nearing its end, but Derby and

Sir John Pakington, his colonial secretary, intervened to introduce one

last delay, and to give the Bishop of Toronto his last gleam of hope.

The appointment of Pakington, which, according to Taylor, was treated

with very general ridicule, was in itself significant: even an ignorant

and retrograde politician was adequate for his task when that task was

obstruction. After the short-lived Derby administration was over,

Pakington continued his defence of Anglican rights in Canada, and

although {253} Canadian opinion had declared itself overwhelmingly on

the other side, he refused to admit that "the argument of

self-government was so paramount that it ought to over-rule the sacred

dedication of this property."

So far nothing unexpected has been revealed in the early Victorian

colonial policy of the Tories. The party naturally and logically

opposed all forms of democratic control; they stood for the strict

subordination of the outlying regions to the centre in the

administration of dependencies; they were, as they had always and

everywhere been, the party of the Church, and of church endowment. But

it is surprising to find that the party of Wellington and of British

supremacy varied their doctrine of central authority with very

pessimistic prophecies concerning the connection between mother country

and colonies.

Stanley has already been exhibited, during the Bagot and Metcalfe

incidents, as a prophet of pessimism; and at the same period, Peel

seems to have shared in the views of his Colonial Secretary. "Let us

keep Nova Scotia and New Brunswick," he said, "but the connection with

the Canadas against their wills, nay without the cordial co-operation

of the predominant party in Canada, is {254} a very onerous one. The

sooner we have a distinct understanding on that head the better. The

advantage of commercial intercourse is all on the side of the colony,

or at least is not in favour of the mother country. Why should we go

on fighting not our own battle (I speak now of a civil battle) but

theirs--in a minority in the Legislature, the progress of the contest

widening daily old differences and begetting new ones! But above all,

if the people are not cordially with us, why should we contract the

tremendous obligation of having to defend, on a point of honour,

their territory against American aggression?"[29]

Ten years later, Tory pessimists still talked of separation. Lord John

Manners, in an oration which showed as much rhetorical effort as it did

little sense and information, was prepared for disaster over no more

tragic an issue than the Clergy Reserves. Concession to local demands

on that point for him involved something not far from disruption of the

Empire. "Far better than this, if you really believe it to be

necessary to acknowledge the virtual independence of Canada, recall

your Governor-General, call back your army, call home your fleet, and

let Canada, if she be so {255} minded, establish her independence and

cast off her character as a colony, or seek refuge in the extended arms

of the United States."[30] But perhaps it is not fair to confront a

man with his perorations.

The most remarkable confession of Tory doubt still remains to be told.

It is not usually noticed that Disraeli's famous phrase "these wretched

colonies will all be independent too in a few years, and are a

mill-stone round our necks,"[31] was used in connection with Canadian

fishery troubles, and belongs to this same region of imperial

pessimism. There is, however, another less notorious but perfectly

explicit piece of evidence betraying the fears which at this time

disturbed the equanimity of the founder of modern imperialism. He had

been speaking of the attempts of liberalism to effect the

disintegration of the Empire; but the speech, which contained his

counter-scheme of imperial consolidation, was itself an evidence of

doubt deeper than that harboured by his opponents. "When those subtle

views were adopted by the country, under the plausible plea of granting

{256} self-government to the Colonies, I confess that I myself thought

that the tie was broken. Not that I for one object to

self-government. I cannot conceive how our distant colonies can have

their affairs administered except by self-government. But

self-government, in my opinion, when it is conceded, ought to have been

conceded as part of a great policy of Imperial consolidation."[32]

Disraeli was speaking of the views on colonial government, which he had

held, apparently at the time when Grey and Elgin introduced their new

system. That system had since been developed under Gladstone's

supervision; and, in 1872, the date of Disraeli's speech, it presented

not fewer, but more decided signs of colonial independence. Yet the

statesman who accused the Whigs and Liberals of planning the disruption

of the Empire, never attempted, when in office, to stay the decline of

imperial unity by any practical scheme of federation, and must be

counted either singularly indifferent to the interests of the empire,

or sceptical as to its future. A few years later, when the Imperial

Titles Bill was under discussion, Disraeli again revealed a curious

disbelief in, or misunderstanding of, the character of the

self-governing colonies. He had been {257} challenged to defend his

differentiation of the royal title in India from that authorized in the

rest of the British Empire. It would have been easy to confess that an

imperial dignity, appropriate to the East, would have been singularly

out of place in communities more democratic than Britain herself. But

he chose to argue from the unsubstantiality of separate colonial

existence, and the natural inclination of prosperous colonists to make

for England, the moment their fortunes had been made. "The condition

of colonial society," he said, "is of a fluctuating character....

There is no similarity between the circumstances of our colonial

fellow-subjects and those of our fellow-subjects in India. Our

colonists are English; they come and go, they are careful to make

fortunes, to invest their money in England; their interests are

immense, ramified, complicated, and they have constant opportunities of

improving and enjoying the relations which exist between themselves and

their countrymen in the metropolis. Their relations to their Sovereign

are ample, they satisfy them. The colonists are proud of those

relations, they are interested in the titles of the Queen, they look

forward to return when they {258} leave England, they do return--in

short they are Englishmen."[33]

It seems fair to argue from these instances that Disraeli, with all his

imagination and insight, did not, even in 1876, understand the

constitutional and social self-sufficiency of the greater colonies; or

the nature of the bond which held them fast to the mother country. His

consummate rhetorical skill persuaded the nation to be imperial, while

he himself doubted the very possibility of permanence in an empire

organized on the only lines--those of strict autonomy--which the

colonists were willing to sanction.

So the party of the earlier British Empire distrusted the foundations

laid by Durham and his group for a new structure; and behind all their

proclamations of authority, there were ill-concealed fears of another

declaration or succession of declarations of independence.

It is now time to turn to the central body of imperial opinion--that

which used Durham's views as the foundation of a new working theory of

colonial development. Its chief exponents were the Whigs of the more

liberal school, who counted {259} Lord John Russell their

representative and leader.

It was only at the end of a period dominated by other interests that

Lord John Russell was able to turn his attention to colonies, and more

particularly to Canada. Even in 1839, the leader of the House of

Commons, and the politician on whom, after all, the fate of the Whig

party depended, had many other claims on his attention. He was no

theorist at general on the subject, and his interest in Canada was

largely the product of events, not of his own will. But he came at a

decisive moment in Canadian history; his tenure of the Colonial Office

coincided with the period in which Durham's Report exercised its

greatest influence, and Russell, who had the politician's faculty for

flinging himself with all his force into the issue dominating the

present, inaugurated what proved to be a new regime in colonial


In attributing so decisive a part to Russell's work at the Colonial

Office, one need not estimate very highly his powers of initiative or

imagination. It was Lord John Russell's lot, here as in Parliamentary

Reform, to read with honest eyes the defects of the existing system, to

initiate a great and useful change, and then to predicate finality

{260} of an act, which was really only the beginning of greater

changes. But in Canadian politics as in British, he must be credited

with being better than his words, and with doing nothing to hinder a

movement which he only partially understood.

His ideas have in part been criticized in relation to Lord Sydenham's

governor-generalship: in a sense, Sydenham was simply the Russell

system incarnate. But it is well to examine these ideas as a whole.

Russell was a Durhamite "with a difference." Like Durham he planned a

generous measure of self-government, but he was a stricter

constitutional thinker than Durham. He reduced to a far finer point

the difficulty which Durham only slightly felt, about the seat of

ultimate authority and responsibility; and his instructions to Sydenham

left no doubt as to the constitutional superior in Canada. With

infinitely shrewder practical insight than his prompter, he refused to

simplify the problem of executive responsibility, by making the council

subject to the Assembly in purely domestic matters, and to the Crown

and its representative in external matters. "Supposing," he said,

"that you could lay down this broad principle, and say that all

external matters {261} should be subject to the home government, and

all internal matters should be governed according to the majority of

the Assembly, could you carry that principle into effect? I say, we

cannot abandon the responsibility which is cast upon us as Ministers of

the Executive of this great Empire."[34] Ultimately the surrender had

to be made, but it was well that Russell should have refused to consent

to what was really a fallacy in Durham's reasoning. In consequence of

this position, the Whig leader regarded Bagot's surrender as one,

difficult perhaps to avoid, but unfortunate in its results, and he was

an unflinching supporter of Metcalfe. He further declared that he

thought Metcalfe's council had an exaggerated view of their power, and

that to yield to them would involve dangers to the connection.[35] The

novelty involved in his policy lay, however, outside this point of

constitutional logic: it was a matter of practice, not of theory. Not

only did he support Sydenham in those practical reforms in which the

new political life of Canada began, but in spite of his theory he

really granted all save the form of full responsibility. So completely

had he, and his agent Sydenham, undermined their own imperial {262}

position, that when Peel's ministry fell in 1846, it was one of the

first acts of Lord John Russell, now prime minister, to consent to the

demolition of his own old theories. If he may not dispute with Grey

the credit of having conceded genuine responsibility to Canada, at

least he did not exercise his authority to forbid the grant.

It seems to me, indeed, that Russell definitely modified his position

between 1841 and 1847. At the earlier date he had been a stout

upholder of the supremacy of Britain in Canada, for he believed in the

connection, and the connection depended on the retention of British

supremacy. In the debate of January 16th, 1838, he argued thus for the

Empire: "On the preservation of our colonies depends the continuance of

our commercial marine; and on our commercial marine mainly depends our

naval power; and on our naval power mainly depends the strength and

supremacy of our arms."[36] It is worthy of note that Charles Buller

took occasion to challenge this description of the pillars of

empire--it seemed a poor theory to him to make the empire a

stalking-horse for the commerce and interests of the mother country.

But as events taught Russell surely that the casuistry of 1839 {263}

was false, and that Responsible Government was both a deeper and a

broader thing than he had counted it, and yet inevitable, he accepted

the more radical position. At the same time, he either came to lay

less stress on the unity of Empire, or he was forced to acknowledge

that, since Home Rule must be granted, and since with Home Rule

separation seemed natural, Britain had better practise resignation in

view of a possible disruption. The best known expression of this phase

in Russell's thought is his speech on Colonial Administration in 1850:

"I anticipate, indeed, with others that some of the colonies may so

grow in population and wealth that they may say, 'Our strength is

sufficient to enable us to be independent of England. The link is now

become onerous to us; the time is come when we think we can, in amity

and alliance with England, maintain our independence.' I do not think

that that time is yet approaching. But let us make them as far as

possible fit to govern themselves ... let them increase in wealth and

population; and whatever may happen, we of this great empire shall have

the consolation of saying that we have contributed to the happiness of

the world."[37] It is possible to {264} argue that because Russell

admitted that the time for separation was not yet approaching he was

therefore an optimist. But the evidence leans rather to the less

glorious side. It was this speech which kindled Elgin into a passion

and made him bid Grey renounce for himself and his leader the habit of

telling the colonies that the colonial is a provisional existence. The

same speech, too, extorted complaints from Robert Baldwin, the man whom

Sydenham and Russell had once counted half a traitor. "I never saw him

so much moved," wrote Elgin, to whom Baldwin had frankly said about a

recent meeting. "My audience was disposed to regard a prediction of

this nature proceeding from a Prime Minister, less as a speculative

abstraction than as one of that class of prophecies which work their

own fulfilment."[38] The speech was not an accidental or occasional

flash of rhetoric. The mind of the Whig leader, acquiescing now in the

completeness of Canadian local powers, and reading with disquiet the

signs of the times in the form of Canadian turbulence, seems to have

turned to speculate on the least harmful form which separation might

take. Of this there is direct evidence in a private letter from Grey

to Elgin: "Lord {265} John in a letter I had from him yesterday,

expresses a good deal of anxiety as to the prospects of Canada, and

reverts to the old idea of forming a federal union of all the British

provinces, in order to give them something more to think of than their

mere local squabbles;[39] and he says that if to effect this a

separation of the two Canadas were necessary he should see no objection

to it. His wish in forming such a union would be to bring about such a

state of things, that, if you should lose our North American

provinces, they might be likely to become an independent state, instead

of being merged in the Union."[40]

Russell moved then at this period through a most interesting

development of views. His initial position was a blend of firm

imperialism and generous liberal concession, the latter more especially

inspired by Durham. As his genuine sympathies with liberty and

democracy operated on his political views, these steadily changed in

the direction of a more complete surrender to Canadian demands. But,

since, in spite of his sympathies, he still remained logical, and since

he had believed the connection to depend on {266} the

governor-general's supremacy, the modification of that supremacy

involved the weakening of his hopes of empire. If the change seem

somewhat to his discredit, his best defence lies in the fact that Peel,

who made a very similar modification of his mind on Canadian politics,

was also contemplating in these years a similar separation. "The

utility of our connexion with Canada," he said in 1844, "must depend

upon its being continued with perfect goodwill by the majority of the

population. It would be infinitely better that that connexion should

be discontinued, rather than that it should be continued by force and

against the general feeling and conviction of the people."[41] Indeed,

Russell seems to have been accompanied on his dolorous journey by all

the Peelites and not a few of the Whigs. "There begins to prevail in

the House of Commons," wrote Grey to Elgin in 1849, "and I am sorry to

say in the highest quarters, an opinion (which I believe to be utterly

erroneous) that we have no interest in preserving our colonies and

ought therefore to make no sacrifice for that purpose. Peel, Graham,

and Gladstone, if they do not avow this opinion as openly as Cobden and

his friends, yet betray very clearly that they {267} entertain it, nor

do I find some members of the Cabinet free from it."[42]

Meanwhile, the direction of colonial affairs had fallen to the writer

of the letter just quoted: from the formation of the Russell ministry

in 1846 until its fall, Earl Grey was the dominant force in British

colonial policy. Unlike Russell, Grey was not so much a politician

interested in the great parliamentary game, as an expert who had

devoted most of his attention to colonial and economic subjects.

Consciously or unconsciously, he had imbibed many of Wakefield's ideas,

and in that period of triumphant free trade, he came to office resolute

to administer the colonies on free-trade principles. It said much for

the fixity and consistency of his ideas of colonial administration

that, unlike Russell, Buller, and others, he had not been misled by the

Metcalfe incident. "The truth is," he said of Metcalfe, "he did not

comprehend responsible government at all, nor from his Indian

experience is this wonderful."[43]

The most comprehensive description of the Grey regime is that it

practised laissez faire principles in colonial administration as they

never had been {268} practised before. Under him Canada first enjoyed

the advantages or disadvantages of free trade, and escaped from the

shackles of the Navigation Laws. Grey and Elgin co-operated to bring

the Clergy Reserve troubles to an end, although the Whigs fell before

the final steps could be taken. Grey secured imperial sanction for

changes in the Union Act of 1840, granting the French new privileges

for their language, and the colony free control of its own finances.

But all these were subordinate in importance to the attitude of the new

minister towards the whole question of Canadian autonomy, and its

relation to the Imperial Parliament. That attitude may be examined in

relation to the responsibility of the Canadian executive, the powers of

the Imperial Parliament, the occasions on which these powers might be

fitly used, and the bearing of all the innovations on the position of

Canada within the British Empire.

Grey's policy with regard to Responsible Government was simple. As

Canadians viewed the term, and within the very modest limits set to it

by them, he surrendered the whole position. So much has already been

said on this point in connection with Elgin, that it need not be

further elaborated. Yet, since there might linger a suspicion that the

{269} policy was that rather of the governor than of the minister,

Grey's position may be given in a despatch written to Sir John Harvey

in Nova Scotia, before Elgin went to Canada.

"The object," wrote Grey, "with which I recommend to you this course is

that of making it apparent that any transfer, which may take place, of

political power from the hands of one party to those of another is the

result, not of an act of yours, but of the wishes of the people

themselves, as shown by the difficulty experienced by the retiring

party in carrying on the government of the Province according to the

forms of the Constitution. To this I attach great importance; I have

therefore to instruct you to abstain from changing your Executive

Council until it shall become perfectly clear that they are unable with

such fair support from yourself as they have a right to expect, to

carry on the government of the province satisfactorily, and command the

confidence of the Legislature.... In giving all fair and proper

support to your Council for the time being, you will carefully avoid

any acts which can possibly be supposed to imply the slightest personal

objection to their opponents, and also refuse to assent to any measures

which may be {270} proposed to you by your Council, which may appear to

you to involve an improper exercise of the authority of the Crown for

party rather than for public objects. In exercising however this power

of refusing to sanction measures which may be submitted to you by your

Council, you must recollect that this power of opposing a check upon

extreme measures, proposed by the party for the time in the Government,

depends entirely for its efficacy upon its being used sparingly and

with the greatest possible discretion. A refusal to accept advice

tendered to you by your Council is a legitimate ground for its members

to tender to you their resignation--a course they would doubtless

adopt, should they feel that the subject on which a difference had

arisen between you and themselves was one upon which public opinion

would be in their favour. Should it prove to be so, concession to

their views must sooner or later become inevitable, since it cannot be

too distinctly acknowledged that it is neither possible nor desirable

to carry on the government of any of the British Provinces in North

America, in opposition to the opinion of the inhabitants."[44]

In strict accordance with this plan, Grey gave {271} Elgin the most

loyal support in introducing responsible government into Canada, and,

in a note written not long after Papineau had once more awakened the

political echoes with a distinctly disloyal address, he expressed his

willingness to include even the old rebel in the ministerial

arrangement, should that be insisted on by the leaders of a party which

could command a majority.[45]

Complete as was the concession made by Grey to local claims, it would,

nevertheless, be a grave error to think that he left no space for the

assertion of imperial authority. No doubt it was part of his system to

reduce to a minimum the occasions on which interference should be

necessary, but that such occasions might occur, and demand sudden and

powerful action from Britain, he ever held. Even in matters of a

character purely domestic, he believed, with Lord John Russell, that

intervention might be necessary, and he desired to prevent danger, not

by minimizing the powers of the imperial authority, but by exercising

them with great discretion.[46] It was perhaps with this conservation

of central power in view that {272} he was willing to transfer to the

British treasury the responsibility of paying the salary of the

governor-general, provided the colonists would take over some part of

the expenses and difficulties of Canadian defence. But the extent to

which he was prepared to exalt the supremacy is best illustrated in the

control of imperial commerce. A great change had just been made in the

economic system of Britain. Free trade was then to its adherents not

an arguable position, but a kind of gospel; and men like Grey, who had

something of the propagandist about them, were inclined to compel

others to come in. Now, unfortunately for Canada, free trade appeared

there first rather as foe than as friend. As has already been seen,

the measures of 1846 overturned the arrangement made by Stanley in

1843, whereby a preference given to Canadian flour had stimulated a

great activity in the milling and allied industries; and the removal of

the restrictions imposed by the Navigation Acts did not take place till

1849. At the same time the United States, the natural market for

Canadian products, showed little inclination to listen to talk of

reciprocity; and the Canadians, seemingly deprived of pre-existing

advantages by Peel's action, talked of retaliation as a means of {273}

bettering their position, at least in relation to the United States.

Grey, however, was an absolute believer in the magic powers of free

trade. "When we rejected all considerations of what is called

reciprocity," he wrote to Elgin, "and boldly got rid of our protective

duties without inquiring whether other nations would meet us or not,

the effect was immediately seen in the increase of our exports, and the

prosperity of our manufactures."[47] Canada, then, in his opinion

could retaliate most effectively, not by setting up a tariff against

the United States, but by opening her ports more freely then before.

He had a vision, comparable although in contrast, to that of believers

in an imperial tariff, of an empire with its separate parts bound to

each other by a general freedom of trade. Besides all this, he had a

firm trust that the evils which other nations less free than Britain

might for a time inflict on her trade by their prohibitions, would

shortly end, since all would be convinced by the example of Britain and

would follow it. Under these circumstances he set imperial policy

against local prejudice, and wrote to his governor-general: "I do trust

you will be able to prevent the attempt to enter upon that silliest of

all silly policies, the {274} meeting of commercial restrictions by

counter restrictions; indeed it is a matter to be very seriously

considered, whether we can avoid disallowing any acts of this kind

which may be passed."[48]

In spite, then, of the present thoroughness of Grey's conversion to the

Canadian position with regard to Home Rule, there was for him still an

empire operating through the Houses at Westminster and the Crown

ministers, and striking in, possibly on rare occasions, but, when

necessary, with a heavy hand. To such a man, too, belief in the

permanence of empire was natural. There are fewer waverings on the

point in Grey's writings than in those of any of his contemporaries,

Durham, Buller, and Elgin alone excepted. He had, indeed, as his

private correspondence shows, moments of gloom. Under the strain of

the Montreal riots, and the insults to Elgin in 1849, he wrote: "I

confess that looking at these indications of the state of feeling

there, and at the equally significant indications to the feelings in

the House of Commons, respecting the value of our colonies, I begin

almost to despair of our long retaining those in North America; while I

am persuaded that to both parties a hasty separation will be a very

serious {275} evil."[49] Elgin's robust faith, and perfect knowledge,

however, set him right. Indeed, in tracing the growth of Grey's

colonial policy, it is impossible for anyone to mistake the evidences

of Elgin's influence; and the chapter on Canada in his Colonial

Policy owes almost more to Elgin than it does to the avowed author.

His final position may be stated thus. The empire was to the advantage

of England, for, apart from other reasons, her place among the nations

depended on the colonies, and the act of separation would also be one

of degradation. The empire was an unspeakable benefit to the colonies:

"To us," he once wrote in a moment of doubt, "except the loss of

prestige (no slight one I admit) the loss of Canada would be the loss

of little but a source of heavy expense and great anxiety, while to the

Canadians, the loss of our protection, and of our moderating influence

to restrain the excesses of their own factions, would be one of the

greatest that can be conceived."[50] But, apart from these lower loss

and gain calculations, to Grey the British Empire was a potent

instrument, essential to the peace and soundness of the world, and he

expected the {276} provinces to which he had conceded British rights,

to rally to uphold British standards through a united and loyal

imperial federation. Those were still days when Britain counted

herself, and not without justification, a means of grace to the less

fortunate remainder of mankind. "The authority of the British Crown is

at this moment the most powerful instrument, under Providence, of

maintaining peace and order in many extensive regions of the earth, and

thereby assists in diffusing among millions of the human race, the

blessings of Christianity and civilization. Supposing it were clear

(which I am far from admitting) that a reduction of our national

expenditure (otherwise impracticable) to the extent of a few hundred

thousands a year, could be effected by withdrawing our authority and

protection from our numerous Colonies, would we be justified, for the

sake of such a saving, in taking this step, and thus abandoning the

duty which seems to have been cast upon us?"[51]

Such, then, was the imperial policy of Britain under the man who

carried it farthest forward, before the great renaissance at the end of

Queen Victoria's reign. To Grey, Canada was all that it had meant to

Durham--a province peopled by {277} subjects of the Queen, and one

destined by providence to have a great future--a fundamental part of

the Empire, and one without which the imperial whole must be something

meaner and less glorious. Like Durham he planned for it a constitution

on the most generous lines, and conferred great gifts upon it. And, in

exchange, he claimed a loyalty proportionate to the generosity of the

Crown, and a propriety of political behaviour worthy of citizens of so

great a state. In the last resort he held that in abnormal crises, or

in response to great and beneficial policies, Canadians must forget

their provincial outlook, or, if they could not, at least accept the

ruling of an imperial parliament and a crown more enlightened and

authoritative on these matters than a colonial ministry or people could

be. Having conceded all the rights essential to a free existence, he

mentioned duties, and called the sum of these duties Empire.

The concluding stage in the evolution of mid-Victorian opinion

concerning Canada, which must now be described, differs essentially

from the earlier stages, although, as it seems to me, the chief factor

in the development is still Durham and his group. It is the period of


One thing has appeared very prominently in the {278} foregoing

argument--the prevalence of a fear, or even a fixed belief, that the

connection between Britain and Canada must soon cease. Excluding, for

the present, the entire group of extreme radicals, there was hardly a

statesman of the earlier years of Victoria, who had not confessed that

Canada must soon leave England, or be left. Many instances have been

already cited. Among the Tories, Stanley thought that Bagot had

already begun the process of separation, and that Metcalfe's failure

would involve the end of the connection. Peel, ever judicial, gave his

verdict in favour of separation, should Canadians persist in resenting

imperial action. As Lord John Russell's view of autonomy expanded, his

hopes for continued British supremacy contracted; and, on the evidence

of a letter from Grey quoted above, Russell was not alone among the

Whigs in his opinion, nor Peel among his immediate followers. The

reckless and partizan use of the term Little-Englander has largely

concealed the fact that apart from Durham, whose faith was not called

upon to bear the test of experience, and Buller, Grey, and Elgin, who

had special grounds for their confidence, all the responsible

politicians of the years between 1840 and 1860 moved steadily towards a

"Little England" position. {279} The reasons for that movement are

worthy of examination.

So far as the Tories were concerned, the change, already traced in

detail, was not unnatural. In the eighteenth century, the colonies,

possessed of just that responsible government for which Canadian

reformers were clamouring, had with one accord left the Empire. The

earlier nineteenth century had witnessed in the British American

colonies a steadily increasing demand for the liberties, formerly

possessed by the New England states. Representative assemblies had

been granted; then a modified form of responsibility of the executive

to these assemblies; then the complete surrender of executive to

legislature. Attempts had been made to gain some countervailing powers

by bargain; but, in Canada, the civil list had now been surrendered to

local control, the endowment of the Church of England was practically

at an end, patronage was in the hands of the provincial ministry, and

all the exceptions which the central authority had claimed as essential

to its continued existence followed in the wake of the lost executive

supremacy. Neither Whigs nor Tories quite understood how an Empire was

possible, in which there was no definite federating principle; or, if

there {280} were, where the federating principle existed only to be

neutralized as, one by one, the restrictions imposed by it were felt by

the colonists to be annoying to their sense of freedom. Empire on

these terms seemed to mean simply a capacity in the mother country for

indefinite surrender. The accomplishment of the purpose proclaimed by

Durham, Russell, and Grey, would, to a Tory even less peremptory than

the Duke of Wellington, mean the end of the connection; and as they

felt, so they spoke and acted. They were separatists, not of

good-will, but from necessity and the nature of things.

Among the Whigs, an even more important process was at work. By 1850

the disintegration of the Whig party was already far advanced.

Finality in reform had already been found impossible, and Russell and

the advanced men were slowly drawing ahead of conservatives like

Melbourne and Palmerston. After 1846, the liberalizing power of Peel's

steady scientific intelligence was at work, transforming the ideas of

his allies, as he had formerly shattered those of his old friends, and,

of Peel's followers, Gladstone at least seemed to be looking in the

same direction as his master--towards administrative liberalism. The

{281} Whig creed and programme were in the melting pot. Now, what made

the final product not Whig, but Liberal, was on the whole the

increasing influence of the parliamentary Radicals; and in colonial

matters the Radicals, who told on the revived and quickened Whig party,

were pronouncedly in favour of separation. It is too often assumed

that the imperial creed of Durham and Buller was shared in by their

fellow Radicals. That is a grave mistake. One may trace a descent

towards separatism from Molesworth to Roebuck and Brougham. In

Molesworth, the tendency was comparatively slight. No doubt in 1837,

under the stress of the news of rebellion, he had proclaimed the end of

the British dominion in America as his sincere desire.[52] But he

believed in a colonial empire, if England would only guarantee good

government. "The emancipation of colonies," he said, in a cooler mood,

"must be a question of time and a question, in each case, of special

expediency ... a question which would seldom or never arise between a

colony and its mother country if all colonies were well governed"; and

he explained his language about Canada on grounds of bad government.

"I hope that the people of {282} that country (Lower Canada) will

either recover the constitution which we have violated, or become

wholly independent of us."[53] It is not necessary to quote Hume's

confused but well-intentioned wanderings--views sharing with those of

the people whom Hume represented, their crude philanthropy and

imperfect clearness. But Roebuck marked a definite stage in advance;

for, while he was willing to keep "the connexion," where it could be

kept with honour, he seems to have regarded separation as

inevitable--"come it must," he said--and his best hopes were that the

separation might take place in amity and that a British North American

federation might counterbalance the Union to the south.[54] Grote's

placid and facile radicalism accepted the growing breach with Canada as

the most desirable thing which could happen both to the mother country

and the colony; and Brougham directed all his eccentric and ill-ordered

energy and eloquence, not only to denounce the Whig leaders, but to

proclaim the necessity of the new Canadian republic. "Not only do I

consider the possession as worth no breach of the Constitution ... but

in a national view I really hold those colonies to {283} be worth

nothing. I am well assured that we shall find them very little worth

the cost they have entailed on us, in men, in money, and in injuries to

our trade; nay, that their separation will be even now a positive gain,

so it be effected on friendly terms, and succeeded by an amicable


Separation was indubitably a dogma of philosophic radicalism; and yet

it was not so much the influence of this metaphysical and doctrinaire

belief which moved Whig opinion. It was rather the plain business-like

and matter-of-fact radicalism of the economist statesmen, led by Bright

and Cobden. Of the two forces represented by Peel and by Cobden, which

completed the formation of a modern Liberal party, the latter was on

the whole the stronger; and Bright and Cobden took the views of their

Radical predecessors, and out of airy and ineffectual longings created

solid political facts. "I cannot disguise from myself," wrote Grey to

Elgin in 1850, "that opinion in this country is tending more and more

to the rejecti

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