The Governors-general: Sir Charles Bagot

Sir Charles Bagot, the second governor-general of United Canada,

contrasted strangely with his predecessor in character and political

methods. He was a man of the Regency, and of Canning's set. Since

1814 he had occupied positions of considerable importance in the

diplomatic world, not because of transcendent parts, but because of his

connections. He had been ambassador at Washington, St. Petersburg, and

the Hague; and in the United States, where, to the end, his friends

remembered him with real affection, he had rendered service permanently

beneficial both to Britain and to America by negotiating the Rush-Bagot

treaty, which established the neutralization of the great lakes. In

Europe, he had been known to fame mainly as the recipient of George

Canning's rhyming despatch; and for the rest, he allowed the great

minister to make him, as he had made all {127} his other agents, a pawn

in the game where he alone was player. In his correspondence he stands

out as an old-fashioned, worldly, cultured, and unbusiness-like

diplomatist, worthy perhaps of a satiric but kindly portraiture by

Thackeray--a genuine citizen of Vanity Fair. Apart from his

correspondence, his friendships, and his American achievements, he

might have passed through life, deserving nothing more than some few

references in memoirs of the earlier nineteenth century. But by one

freak of fortune he found himself transported to Canada in 1842, and,

by another, he became one of the foremost figures in the history of

Canadian constitutional development. There have been few better

examples of the curious good-fortune which has attended on the growth

of British greatness than the story of Bagot's short career in Canada.

When a very eminent personage demanded from the existing government

some explanation of their selection of Bagot, Stanley, who was then

Secretary of State for the Colonies, pointed, not to administrative

qualifications, but to his diplomatic services in the United States.

Relations with the American Republic do not here concern us, but it may

be remembered that the situation in 1841 and 1842, just before the

{128} Ashburton Treaty, was full of peril; and Bagot was sent to Canada

as a person not displeasing to the Americans, and a diplomatist of

conciliatory temper. But his work was to be concerned with domestic,

not international, diplomacy.

Three factors must be carefully studied in the year of political

turmoil which followed: the Imperial government, the Canadian political

community, and the new governor-general.

During this and the following governor-generalship, the predominant

influence at the Colonial Office was Lord Stanley, almost the most

distinguished of the younger statesmen of the day. Peel's judicial and

scientific mind usually controlled those of his subordinates; but even

Peel found it hard to check the brilliant individualism of his colonial

secretary; and this most interesting of all the great failures in

English politics exercised an influence in Canadian affairs, such as

not even Lord John Russell attempted. Judged from his colonial

despatches, Stanley seems to have found it very hard to understand that

there could be another side to any question on which he had made up his

mind. His party had consented to a modification of the old oligarchic

rule in Canada; but they were intent upon limiting the scope of the

{129} change, and upon conducting all their operations in a very

conservative spirit. Stanley's instructions to Bagot had been drawn up

in no ungenerous fashion. Bagot was to know no distinctions of

national origin or religious creed, and in so far as it might be

consistent with his duty to his Sovereign, he was to consult the wishes

of the mass of the community.[1] Their happiness it was his main duty

to secure. In ecclesiastical matters, Stanley, who had changed his

party rather than consent to weaken the Anglican Church in Ireland, was

willing to acknowledge "that the habits and opinions of the people of

Canada were, in the main, averse from the absolute predominance of any

single church."[2] But the theory inspiring the instructions was one

which denied to the colonists any but the most partial responsibility

and independence, and which regarded their party divisions as factious

and at times treasonable. This disbelief in the reality of Canadian

parties was, however, discounted, and yet at the same time rendered

more insulting to the reformers, because the colonial secretary

regarded the fragments of old Family Compact Toryism as still the best

guarantee in Canada for the British connection. "Although {130} I am

far from wishing to re-establish the old Family Compact of Upper

Canada," he wrote, at a later date, "if you come into difficulties,

that is the class of men to fall back upon, rather than the

ultra-liberal party."[3] Confidence in political adventurers and the

disaffected French seemed to him a kind of madness. In addition to

this attitude towards existing parties, Stanley held stiffly to every

constitutional expedient which asserted the supremacy of the Imperial

government. The Union had, by fixing a Civil List, taken the power of

the purse within certain limits from Canadian hands, and this Civil

List Stanley regarded as quite essential to the maintenance of British

authority.[4] In fact, any discussion of the subject seemed to him the

"reopening of a chapter which has already led to such serious

consequences, and in the prosecution of which I contemplate seriously

the prospect of the dismemberment of the Empire."[5] Holding views so

resolute, he could not, like Russell, trust his representative on the

spot; and, from the first, the troubles of the new governor-general

were multiplied by Stanley's {131} determination to make the views of

the Colonial Office prevail in Canada. "I very much doubt," wrote

Murdoch, Sydenham's former secretary, "how far Lord Stanley is really

alive to the true state of Canada, and to the necessity of governing

through the assembly."[6]

Local influences provide the second factor in the situation. As has

been seen, the Canadian political community was demanding both

responsible government, and the admission of the French to a share in

office. Sydenham had exhibited the most wonderful skill in working an

anomalous system of government, and he had found himself on the brink

of failure. His Council, which Bagot had inherited, "might be said to

represent the Reform or popular party of Upper Canada, and the moderate

Conservatives of both provinces, to the exclusion of the French and the

ultra-conservatives of both provinces,"[7] but the compromise

represented less a popular demand for moderation, than Sydenham's own

individual idea of what a Canadian Council should be. There had been

uneasiness in adjusting the opinions of individual members; there was a

steady decline in the willingness of the Assembly {132} and the country

to support them; and a determined constitutional opposition found

additional strength through the support of the French party, whom the

governor had alienated not simply as a political division but as a

race. In a sense, there was no imminent danger, as there had been in

1837, for Sydenham's sound administration had given the country peace

and prosperity. English money and immigrants were flowing in; the

woods were ringing with the axes of settlers too busy in clearing the

ground to trouble much with politics; the lines of communication were

being improved and transportation simplified; and, thanks to Ashburton,

the war-cloud to the south had vanished over the horizon. Yet the

politicians held the central position--everything depended on them; and

the crisis for Bagot would arise, first, when he should be called on to

fill certain places in the Executive Council, and then, when Parliament

met. It is often assumed that public opinion was seriously divided on

the question of the responsibility of the ministry to the Assembly, and

of the extent of the concessions to be made to the French; and that the

opposition to reform was almost equal in the numbers of its supporters

to the progressive party. But this is to over-estimate the forces of

{133} reaction. The Family Compact men had fallen on evil days.

Strachan with his church party, and MacNab with his tail of Tory

irreconcilables, had really very little substantial backing; and honest

Tory gentlemen, like J. S. Cartwright, who openly advocated an

aristocratic administration, were unlikely to attract the crowd. The

work of Sydenham had contributed much to the political education of

Canada; popular opinion was now firmer and more self-consistent, and

that opinion went directly contrary to the views of Stanley and his

supporters. One may find evidence of this in the views of moderates on

either side.

Harrison, who represented the moderate reforming party in Sydenham's

ministry, held that responsible government, in some form or other, was

essential, and that French nationalism must also receive concessions.

"Looking at the present position of parties," he wrote to Bagot in

July, "it may, I think, be safely laid down that, to obtain a working

majority in the House of Assembly, it is absolutely necessary that the

government should be able to carry with it the bulk of the

French-Canadian members.... There is no disguising the fact that the

French members possess the power of the country; and he who directs

that {134} power, backed by the most efficient means of controlling it,

is in a situation to govern the province best."[8] It was his opinion

that Bagot should anticipate the coming crisis by calling in Baldwin

and the French, before events forced that step on him.

On the Conservative side, a moderate man like W. H. Draper, the

attorney-general for Upper Canada in Sydenham's ministry, argued in

favour of a policy almost identical. While his views tended to

oscillate, now to this side, now to that, their general direction was

clear. He felt that the ideal condition was one of union between the

parties of Western Canada, which would "render the position of the

government safer in its dealings with the French-Canadians." But no

such union was possible, and Draper, with that honest opportunism which

best expressed his mind and capacity, assured Bagot that action in the

very teeth of his instructions was the only possible course. "One

thing I do not doubt at all," he wrote in July 1842, "and that is that,

with the present House of Assembly, you cannot get on without the

French, while it is necessary for me at the same time to declare

frankly that I cannot sit at the {135} council-board with Mr.

Baldwin."[9] In other words, since Draper admitted that the opposition

leaders must receive office, and at the same time declared the

impossibility of his holding office with them, he was consenting to

Cabinet government, not in the restricted form permitted in Lord John

Russell's despatches, but after the regular British fashion.

Outside the sphere of party politics moderate opinion took precisely

the same stand. Murdoch had been Sydenham's right-hand man, and was

still the fairest critic of Canadian politics. That he distrusted

Stanley's methods is apparent in his letters to Bagot; and it was his

suggestion that the Imperial position should be modified, and that some

concession should be made to French national feeling. "No half

measures," he told Bagot, "can now be safely resorted to. After the

Rebellion, the government had the option, either of crushing the French

and anglifying the province, or of pardoning them and making them

friends. And as the latter policy was adopted, it must be carried out

to its legitimate consequences."[10]


The situation in Canada during the spring and summer of 1842 stood

thus. A governor-general, entirely new to the work of domestic

administration, and to the province which had fallen to his lot, faced

a curious dilemma. The British cabinet, the minister responsible for

the colonies, and all those in Canada who claimed to be the peculiar

friends of the British connection, bade him govern for, but not by the

people, and exclude from office almost all the French-Canadians, on the

ground that they were devotedly French in sympathies. Another group,

at times aggressive, and very little accustomed to the orthodox methods

of parliamentary opposition, bade him venture and trust; and warned him

that no half measures would satisfy the claims of constitutional

liberty and nationality.

The administration of Bagot occupied a single year, and its more

important episodes were crowded into a few weeks in the autumn of 1842.

Yet there have been few years of equal significance in the history of

Canadian political development. There were intervals in which Bagot

had time to reveal to Canada his genius for making friends; and the

foundation of a provincial university in Toronto deeply interested one

who had something of {137} Canning's wit and literary inclinations.

But politics usually claimed all his attention. The Union of the

Provinces, and the Imperial supremacy, had to be defended against their

assailants; the vacant places in the Executive Council had to be

filled, as nearly as was possible in harmony with the wishes of the

community; and whatever the character of that council might be, it

would have to face the test of criticism from an Assembly, which had

already striven not unsuccessfully with Sydenham. In his attempt to

answer these various problems, Bagot was at his worst in finance. He

had not the requisite business training, and entirely lacked Sydenham's

knowledge, boldness, and precision. In the correspondence over the

mode in which the province should dispose of the British loan of

L1,500,000, Stanley's views show a clearness and force, lacking in

those of Bagot; and in the one really unfortunate episode of the year,

his want of financial skill drew on the governor-general's head the

remonstrances of both Stanley and the Treasury authorities. To escape

financial difficulties in Canada, Bagot had anticipated the loan, by

drawing on British funds for L100,000, and the Treasury did not spare

him. "He ought," wrote the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "to have {138}

considered those (difficulties) which must arise here from the

presentation of large drafts at the Treasury, for which Parliament had

made no provision; and for which, as Parliament was not sitting, no

regular provision could be made. The situation to which the Treasury

is reduced is this: either to protest the bills for want of funds, or

to accept the bills, and find within thirty days the means of paying

them."[11] This incident furnished to Stanley fresh proof, if any were

needed, of Bagot's inexperience. An anxious and mistrustful temper

appears in all his despatches to Bagot; but, in fact, with little

justification. He never learned how completely the governor for whom

he trembled was his master in the art of governing a half-autonomous


As early as March, Bagot had begun to feel that the views of the

Cabinet in Britain were impracticable: and that even the Civil List

might not be so easily defended as Stanley imagined. "I know well by

what a slender thread the adhesion of the colony will hang whenever we

consent to leave the matter entirely in its own hands.... But the

present supply is not sufficient for its purposes. We must always be

dependent on the Legislature for provision to meet its excess; and I

cannot but {139} think that the sooner the Legislature succeeds, if

they are to succeed, in carrying the point, the more generous they may

possibly be in the use of their victory."[12] Bagot was already

defining the policy which was to be peculiarly his own. He had a

singularly clear eye for facts, even when they contradicted his

preconceived ideas; and, being a man of the world, he saw that

compromise with the opposition was as natural in Canada as in Britain.

But in answer to his despatches, proposing such a compromise, Stanley,

with his dogmatic omniscience, and eloquent certainty, had nothing but

regrets to express, and difficulties to suggest. England, he thought,

had dealt generously with Canada in the terms of the Act of Union, and

sound statesmanship lay in resolute defence of that measure. And,

since there always seems to be in such imperialists a sense of

political pathos--the lacrymae rerum politicarum--he began to have

pessimistic views of the permanence of the connection: "I am very far

from underrating the value to Great Britain of her extensive and

rapidly improving North American possessions, but I cannot conceal from

myself the fact that they are maintained to her at no light cost, and

at no {140} trifling risk. To all this she willingly submits, so long

as the bonds of union between herself and her colonies are strengthened

by mutual harmony, good will, and confidence; and it would be indeed

painful to me to contemplate the possibility that embarrassments,

arising from uncalled for and unfounded jealousies on the part of

Canada, might lead the people of England to entertain a doubt how far

the balance of advantages preponderated in favour of the continuance of

the present relations."[13] The Civil List raised the fundamental

question, but it was a simple issue, and it lay still far in the

future. The constitution of the ministry, however, and its relation to

the coming parliament, could be neither evaded nor delayed.

Bagot's instructions gave him a certain scope, for he was permitted to

avail himself of the advice and services of the ablest men, without

reference to the distinction of local party. In making use of this

liberty, Bagot had to consider chiefly the need of finding a majority

in the Lower House--happily he could postpone their meeting till

September. Of the probable tone of that Assembly the estimates varied,

but Murdoch, who knew the situation as well as any man, calculated that

while {141} the government party would number thirty, the French, with

their British Radical friends, would be thirty-six strong, the old

Conservatives eight, and some ten or so would "wait on providence or

rather on patronage."[14] In Sydenham's last days, the government

majority, which he had so subtly, and by means so machiavellian, got

together, had vanished. Reformers, not all of them so scrupulous as

Baldwin, were ready to ruin a government which kept them from a

complete triumph. Sir Allan MacNab with his old die-hards, fulminating

against all enemies of the British tradition, was still willing to make

an unholy alliance with the French, if only he could checkmate a

governor-general who did not seem to appreciate his past services to

Britain. And the French themselves, alienated and insulted by

Sydenham, sat gloomily alone, restless over the Union, seemingly on the

threshold of some fresh racial conflict. Everything was uncertain,

save the coming government defeat.[15]

At the very outset, Bagot had this question of French Canada thrust

upon him. From the moment of his arrival his council advised the {142}

admission of the French Canadians to a share in power. He refused, for

Stanley had very carefully instructed him on that subject. The

Colonial Secretary had spoken of the wisdom of forgetting old

divisions, but he never permitted himself to forget that the French

leaders--La Fontaine, Viger, Girouard--had all been, in some fashion or

other, involved in the troubles of 1837. He believed that there still

existed in Lower Canada a gloomy, rebellious, French Canadian party,

which no responsible British statesman could afford to recognize.

Sober-minded Canadian statesmen told him that it was useless to attempt

to detach from the party individuals--les Vendus their compatriots

called them. He answered that he would like to multiply such Vendus;

and he hoped for a day when the anglicising of the Lower Province

should have been completed. It was his intention to break down all

forces tending in the opposite direction. He was conscious of a

repulsion, equally strong, in his feelings towards Baldwin, and the

Reform party. Whether it came by French racial hate, or Upper Canadian

republicanism, which was the name he gave to all views of a reforming

colour, the ruin of the Empire would follow hard on concession to

agitation. In his heart, he trusted only {143} the old Tories, and not

all his disgust at MacNab's interested advances could alter his

conviction that one party alone cared for Britain--the former Family

Compact men. When he bade Bagot disregard party divisions in his

choice of ministers, he was unconsciously limiting Bagot's choice to a

very little circle, all of them most unmistakably displeasing to the

populace, whose wishes he professed to be willing to consult. He

claimed to be a man of principle--mistaking the clearness of

doctrinaire ignorance for the certainty of honest knowledge.

Happily the governor-general of Canada was not in this sense a man of

principle. He observed, took counsel, and began to shape his own

policy. It is not easy to describe that policy in a sentence, or even

to make it absolutely clear. He had come out to Canada, forewarned

against Baldwin and the school of constitutionalists associated with

him; and the warning made him reluctant to consent to their ideas. He

had been advised to draw his councillors from all directions, and his

naturally moderate spirit approved a policy of judicious selection.

But the noteworthy feature in the line of action which he ultimately

followed was that he allowed his diplomatic instincts to overbalance

the advice imposed on him by the British ministry. {144} In selecting

individuals for his councils, he almost unconsciously followed the

wishes of Baldwin and his party, until, at the end, he found himself in

the hands of resolute advocates of responsible government, and did

nothing to withstand their doctrine. But this is to anticipate events,

and to simplify what was actually a process involved in some confusion.

He filled two vacant places--one with the most brilliant of reforming

financiers, Francis Hincks, whose merits he saw at once; the other,

after a gentlemanly refusal from Cartwright, with Sherwood, a sound but

comparatively moderate Conservative from Upper Canada. In an admirable

letter to Stanley at the beginning of the summer, he outlined his

policy. Stanley, ever fearful of rash experiments, warned him that a

combination of black and white does not necessarily produce grey. To

this he answered: "My hope is that, circumstanced as I am, I possibly

may be able to do this, that is, to take from all sides the best and

fittest men for the public service.... The attempt to produce such a

grey, whether it succeed or not, must, I think, after all that has

passed, and at this particular crisis in which I find myself here, be

the safest line."[16] Stanley, then, limited his {145} choice of men,

and in the event of a crisis, was prepared that he should risk a defeat

and the violent imposition of an alien ministry, on the chance that

such a reverse might provoke a loyalist uprising to defend the British

connection. Baldwin dreamed of a consistently Radical cabinet.

MacNab, with his eyes shut to the consequences, seems to have

considered a leap in the dark--a coalition between his men and the

French Canadians. Bagot, as opportunist as the Tories, but opportunist

for the sake of peace, and some kind of constitutional progress, laid

aside lofty ideals, and said, as his most faithful advisers also said,

that the future lay with judicious selection, no party being barred

except where their conduct should have made recognition of them

impossible to a self-respecting governor.

It is difficult to name all the influences which operated on Bagot's

mind. He corresponded largely and usefully with Draper, the soundest

of his conservative advisers. His own innate courtesy led him to end

the social ostracism of the French, and taught him their good

qualities. Being quick-witted and observant, his political instincts

began almost unconsciously to force a new programme upon him. Before

August, he had conciliated moderate reforming opinion through Hincks;

he {146} had proved to the French, by legal appointments, which met

with a stiff and forced acquiescence in Stanley, that at least he was

not their enemy. He had begun to question the certainty of Stanley's

wisdom on the Civil List, and various other subjects. Then, between

July 28th and September 26th, the date of two sets of despatches,

which, if despatches ever deserve the term, must be called works of

genius, he completed his plan, brought it to the test of practice, and

challenged the home government to acquiesce, or recall him. With his

ministry constituted as it was in July, he had to face the certainty of

a vote of no confidence as soon as parliament met. Were he to do

nothing, some unholy alliance of groups would defeat the government.

In that case, his ministers, pledged as they were to constitutionalism

by the resolutions of September, 1841, had warned him beforehand, that

they would resign in a body. All hold over the French would be lost,

and responsible government, whether he and Stanley willed it or not,

would be established in its most obnoxious form. To fill the vacant

places, or to reconstruct the ministry, the field of choice was very

small, even if men of every connection were included. "Out of the 84

members of the House of {147} Assembly," he told Stanley, "not above

30, as far as I can judge, are at all qualified for office, by the

common advantages of intelligence and education, and of these, ten at

least are not in a position to accept it."[17] In the case of the

French he seemed to have reached an absolute deadlock. He found offers

to individual Frenchmen useless, for he did not gain the party, and he

ruined the men whom he honoured. The Assembly was to meet on the 8th

of September, and as that date drew near, the excitement rose. It was

a crisis with many possibilities both for England and for Canada.

As certainly as Stanley, with all the wisdom of Peel's cabinet behind

him, was wrong, and fatally so, Bagot's conduct between September 10th

and September 14th was precisely right. In a correspondence with Peel,

just before the crisis, Stanley sought to get his great leader to take

his view. Even Peel's genius proved incompetent to settle a problem of

local politics, three thousand miles away from the scene of action.

The wisdom of his answer lay, not in its suggestions, which were

useless to Bagot, but in its hint "that much must be left to the

judgment and discretion of those who have to act at a great distance

from the supreme {148} authority."[18] Stanley himself, from first to

last, was for allowing Bagot to face defeat, although he always thought

it possible that stubborn resistance to what he counted treason would

rally a secure majority to Bagot and the Crown. Time and again after

assuring Bagot that he and the ministry acquiesced, which, to do them

justice, they did like men, he harked back to the idea of allowing

events to prove that the government was indeed powerless, before it

made a definitive surrender. Long before Parliament met, the situation

had been discussed in all its bearings; and the only doubt that

remained was concerning which out of three or four foreshadowed

catastrophes would end the existence of the government. The ministers

themselves had their negative programme ready; for, having consented to

the constitutional resolutions of September, 1841, they forewarned

Bagot that if they were left in a minority, or in a very small

majority, they should feel themselves compelled to resign, and they

added that, if Bagot did not accept their recommendation to admit the

French Canadians, they would insist upon his accepting their



When the Assembly met, events moved very rapidly. On the opening day,

Neilson brought forward the exciting question of amnesty; and the air

was filled with rumours and schemes, of which the most ominous for

government was the project of coalition between Conservatives and

French Canadians. The time had come for action--if anything could

really be done. To understand the boldness of Bagot's tactics, it must

be remembered that they went "in the teeth of an almost universal

feeling at home ... certainly in opposition to Lord Durham's recorded

sentiments, and as certainly to Lord Sydenham's avowed practice"--to

say nothing of Stanley's own wishes. La Fontaine was definitely

approached on the tenth, and, seemingly, Bagot was not quite prepared

for the greatness of his claims--"four places in the Council, with the

admission of Mr. Baldwin into it."[20] But he had no alternative, for

on the 12th he received a plain statement from his cabinet that, if he

failed, they were not prepared to carry on the government.[21] To his

dismay, the surrender, if one may so term it, which he signed next day,

was not accepted, since Baldwin could not {150} countenance the

pensioning of the ministers, Ogden and Davidson, who had been

compulsorily retired, and, although MacNab was at hand with the offer

of sixteen Conservative stalwarts, the plan was useless, and, in view

of MacNab's general conduct at this time, irritating. When Bagot wrote

that night to Stanley it was as a despairing man, for the attack had

begun at 3 o'clock, Baldwin leading off with an address, as usual

pledging the House to responsible government, and there was every

chance that he would defeat the ministry. At this point Bagot took the

strange and daring plan of allowing Draper to read his letter to La

Fontaine in the House, that the Lower Canadians might "learn how

abundantly large an offer their leaders have rejected, and the honest

spirit in which that offer was made."[22] His unconventionality won

the day, by convincing the House that the governor-general was in

earnest. Successive adjournments staved off the debate on the address;

and by September 16th, terms had been settled. La Fontaine, Small,

Aylwin, Baldwin, and Girouard if he cared to take office, were to

enter, Draper, Davidson, Ogden and Sherwood passing out.

Unfortunately, since neither Ogden nor Sherwood happened to be {151}

present, Bagot had to accept their resignations on his own initiative,

and without previous consultation with them. Not even that dexterous

correspondent could quite disguise the awkwardness of his position when

he wrote to tell both men that they had ceased to be his ministers.[23]

So the crisis ended.

The address was carried by fifty-five votes to five, the malcontents

being MacNab, foiled once more in his ambitions; Moffat and Cartwright,

representing inflexible Toryism; Neilson, whose position as a

recognized opponent of the Union tied his hands, and Johnstone, a

disappointed place man. Peace ruled in the Assembly, and the battle

passed to the province, the newspapers, and most ominous of all for the

governor, to the cabinet and public in Britain. A storm of abuse,

criticism, and regrets broke over Bagot's devoted head. The opposition

press in Canada called him "a radical, a puppet, an old woman, an

apostate, a renegade descendant of old Colonel Bagot who fell at Naseby

fighting for his King."[24] MacNab, in the House, led a bitterly

personal opposition. At least one {152} cabinet meeting in England was

called specially to consider the incident, and for some months Stanley

tempered assurances that he and the government would support their

representative, with caustic expressions of regret. The necessity of

the change, he reiterated, had not been fully proven. The French

members and Baldwin were doubtful characters. If the worst must be

accepted, and a ministry constructed, containing both Baldwin and the

French, then Bagot had better obtain from the new cabinet some

assurance of "their intention of standing by the provisions of the Act

of Union, including the Civil List, and every other debatable

question." Then, fearing lest the very citadel of responsibility and

control should be surrendered, he set forth his theory of government in

an elaborate letter which revealed distinct distrust of his

correspondent's power of resistance. "Your position is different from

that of the Crown in England. The Crown acts avowedly and exclusively

on the advice of its ministers, and has no political opinions of its

own. You act in concert with your Executive Council, but the ultimate

decision rests with yourself, and you are recognised, not only as

having an opinion, but as supreme and irresponsible, except to the Home

government, for {153} your acts in your executive capacity.

Practically you are (influenced) by the advice you receive, and by

motives of prudence, in not running counter to the advice of those who

command a majority in the Legislature; but you cannot throw on them the

onus of your actions in the same sense that the Crown can in this


Yet, so far as Canada was concerned, Bagot had reason to feel

satisfied. Threatened with half a dozen hostile combinations, he had

forestalled them all, and found the Assembly filled with friends, not

enemies. He had approached a sullen French nation--and thereafter the

French party formed as solid an accession to Canadian political

stability as they had once been dangerous to Imperial peace; and their

union with the moderate reformers in government, while it gave them all

they asked, enabled the governor to exercise a natural restraint on

them, should they again be tempted to nationalist excesses. He had not

explicitly surrendered to any sweeping doctrine of responsible

government. There was peace at last. The Assembly which passed over

thirty acts, reaffirmed the rights of the royal prerogative, and {154}

was dismissed in the most amiable temper with itself, and the


One may discern, however, a curious contradiction between the

superficial consequences of the crisis, as described by Bagot, and the

fundamental changes the beginnings of which he was able to trace in the

months which followed. On the face of it, Bagot's policy of frank

expediency had saved Stanley and his party from a crushing defeat and a

humiliating surrender to extreme views. So far, he had assisted the

cause of conservatism. But the disaster and the humiliation would have

come, not from the grant of responsible government, but from the misuse

of it to which a victory, won against a more resolute governor, might

have tempted Baldwin and La Fontaine, and from the false position in

which the imperial government would have stood, towards the men who had

challenged imperial authority and won. It is interesting to follow the

process by which Bagot came to see all that lay in his action.

Yielding to Canadian autonomy, he went on to new surrenders. He had

already warned Stanley that the agitation over the Civil List would

certainly reawaken; to the end he seems to have been considering the

advisability of a complete surrender {155} on that point. When he

wrote communicating to the minister the Assembly's acknowledgment of

the royal prerogative, in recognizing the right of the Crown to name

the capital, he pointed out that, prerogative or no prerogative, the

possessor of the purse had the final voice. He rebuked his new

minister, Baldwin, for tacking on question-begging constitutional

phrases to a legal opinion, but he told Stanley, quite frankly, that,

"whether the doctrine of responsible government is openly acknowledged,

or is only tacitly acquiesced in, virtually it exists."[26] During

the remainder of his tenure of office, partly because of his own

ill-health, but partly also, I think, from conviction, he gave his

ministers the most perfect freedom of action. And, although he did not

gain the point, he was willing to make sweeping concessions in answer

to the call for an amnesty for the rebels of 1837. He recognized the

force of trusting, in a self-governing community, even those who had

once striven against the British rule with arms--the final proof in any

man that he has come to understand the secrets, at once of Empire, and

of constitutional government.

There is little more to tell of Bagot's rule, for {156} the last months

of his life were spent in a struggle to overcome extreme bodily

sickness in the interest of public duty; and Stanley himself, in the

name of the Cabinet, expressed his admiration for the gallantry of his


To the end, he held himself justified in his political actions, and if

there were moments when he questioned whether Stanley would see things

in a reasonable light, he possessed the perfect confidence of his

Canadian ministers, who did not neglect his injunction to them to

defend his memory.[27]

Nevertheless the irritation of the Colonial Secretary was neither

unnatural nor unjustifiable. He confidently expected that separation

from England would be the immediate consequence of a surrender to the

reform party in Canada; and he believed that Bagot had made that

surrender. In the latter opinion he was correct. There are times when

the party of reaction sees more clearly than their opponents the scope

and consequences of innovation, however blind they may be to the

developments which by their parallel advance check the obvious dangers;

and Sir Charles Metcalfe, whom Stanley sent to Canada to stay the

flowing tide, has furnished the most accurate negative criticism of

{157} the Bagot incident: "The result of the struggle naturally

increased the conviction that Responsible Government was effectually

established, new Councillors were forced on the governor-general....

The Council was no longer selected by the governor. It was thrust on

him by the Assembly of the people. Some of the new members of the

Council had entered it with extreme notions of the supremacy of the

Council over the governor; and the illness of Sir Charles Bagot, after

this change, threw the current business of administration almost

entirely into their hands, which tended much to confirm these

notions."[28] It fell to the lot of this critic to attempt to correct

Bagot's mistakes.

[1] Stanley to Bagot, 8 October, 1841.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bagot Correspondence: Stanley to Bagot, 17 May, 1842. The term

Bagot Correspondence is used to denote the letters to and from Bagot,

other than despatches, in the possession of the Canadian Archives.

[4] Stanley to Bagot, 8 October, 1841.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bagot Correspondence: Murdoch to Bagot, 18 October, 1842.

[7] Bagot to Stanley, 26 September, 1842.

[8] Bagot Correspondence: Harrison to Bagot, 11 July, 1842

[9] Bagot Correspondence: W. H. Draper to Bagot, 18 May, and 16 July,


[10] Bagot Correspondence: Murdoch to Bagot, 3 September, 1842.

[11] Goulburn to Stanley, 16 September, 1842.

[12] Bagot Correspondence: Bagot to Stanley, 26 March, 1842.

[13] Stanley to Bagot, 27 May, 1842.

[14] Bagot Correspondence: Stanley to Bagot, describing an interview

with Murdoch, 1 September, 1842.

[15] See Bagot's admirable analysis of French conditions in his public

and confidential despatches, 26 September, 1842.

[16] Bagot Correspondence: Bagot to Stanley, 12 June, 1842.

[17] Bagot to Stanley: 26 September, 1842--confidential.

[18] Peel to Stanley, 28 August, 1842.

[19] Bagot to Stanley, 26 September, 1842--confidential.

[20] Bagot Correspondence: Bagot to Stanley, 28 July, 1842.

[21] Bagot Correspondence: Bagot to Stanley, 13 September, 1842.

[22] Bagot Correspondence: Bagot to Stanley, 13 September, 1842.

[23] Bagot Correspondence: letters to Sherwood 16 September, and to

Ogden 19 September. Dismissal is far too blunt a term in which to

describe the transaction.

[24] Bagot Correspondence: Bagot to Stanley, 28 October, 1842.

[25] Bagot Correspondence: Stanley to Bagot, 3 November and 3 December,


[26] Bagot Correspondence: Bagot to Stanley, 28 October, 1842.

[27] Hincks, Reminiscences of his Public Life, p. 89.

[28] Kaye, Papers and Correspondence of Lord Metcalfe, p. 416.

The Governors-general: Lord Sydenham The Heights Of Abraham facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail