Canada's Great Coalition, 1864

Fiction and Faction in Canada's Great Coalition of 1864 was published by the Centre for Canadian Studies at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick in 1993, and based on the 1991 Winthrop Pickard Bell Lecture in Canadian Studies. In it I challenged the conventional textbook of the circumstances and motives that brought Canadian politicians together to work for a union of the provinces in 1864. In particular I argued that the Great Coalition could not be understood without appreciating that the province faced, not "deadlock" but an internal sectional upheaval, and that its members united not on the basis of a single programme to unite the whole of British North America, but rather behind two alternative, overlapping but rival schemes of constitutional change.

Winthrop Pickard Bell Lecture at
Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick
November 1991




Ged Martin


Unlike most of my predecessors, I propose to discuss a theme which does not immediately appear to relate to the Maritimes, by offering a revision of our understanding of the politics and policies of the Great Coalition which launched Confederation in the province of Canada in 1864. In fact, this represents part of a wider study which seeks to re-examine and indeed to challenge generally accepted ideas about the reasons why Confederation came about. I therefore begin with a brief survey of what I term the "textbook interpretation" of the causes of Confederation, with some indications of why I believe it to be largely inaccurate.[1]

This consensus of interpretation begins firmly in the St Lawrence valley, a clear warning that it will relegate the Maritimes to a secondary and shoe-horned place in the overall explanation. The Union of Upper and Lower Canada created in 1841, so we are told, had failed by 1864. The British had imposed artificial equality of representation between the two sections of the united province, with a two-thirds vote being required to change the balance. As Upper Canada's population outstripped that of the mainly French-speaking lower province, so demands grew for representation by population, or "rep. by pop." According to the textbooks, politics and politicians were increasingly unable to deliver any goods as the two sections reached "deadlock": for what Upper Canada most insistently demanded, French Canadians could not possibly concede. In an obligingly gender-free version of his habitual sneer, Goldwin Smith would later write that "whoever may lay claim to the parentage of Confederation ... its real parent was Deadlock."[2] The textbook story goes on to a further claim which modern Canadians, mired in apparently insoluble constitutional wrangling, may find hard to credit: the only way out in 1864 was to make an imaginative leap towards an entirely new structure, a union of all of British North America. The evidence for this strange assumption is of course to be found in the apparently unprecedented alliance of John A. Macdonald with his fervent enemy George Brown, the most inflexible of those demanding rep. by pop., in a coalition ministry which could only be assembled around an aim as breath-taking as Confederation. This received view of the nature of the Great Coalition may actually be harmful to modern Canada, for it implies that there was once a golden age in which politicians sank their differences and worked for a common national end. In a recent book in which he argues that Canada's constitution failed in the 1980s, Robert Vipond has this to say of the key players of 1864. "For this brief, but crucial, moment they were united by a common desire to form a federal union. That desire brought them, and held them, together." By extension, the myth carries the message that the political leadership of Canada in the 1990s lacks the vision and nobility to emulate the Fathers of Confederation, that in its inability to achieve a satisfactory constitutional settlement, the Canadian present has failed to live up to the example of the Canadian past.[3] This is an unhelpful myth, which is as wrong about the past as it is unfair to the present.

However, the textbook explanation does itself to some extent qualify the adulation due to the "Fathers" by further asserting that Confederation was in fact the logical answer to the question of the political destiny of the northern half of the North American continent, since it was the only solution to

deadlock on the St Lawrence which would simultaneously provide for westward expansion, the intercolonial railway and defence against the United States. The problem here for the historians was that many Maritimers were apparently both blind and resistant to this obvious destiny. The difficulty was coped with through two connected explanatory strategies. The first was to assume that Maritimers who opposed Confederation were stupid, or at least parochial, short-sighted, blinkered and so on. Unfortunately, stupid people are usually also obstinate in their errors, and hence a second assumption was required: the Maritimers were smacked into line by the British, acting on appeal from the Canadians. Creighton devoted a whole chapter of his Road to Confederation to the Great Coalition's mission to London in 1865, but the thrust of his explanation is contained in the three words of the chapter title: "Appeal to Caesar". Phillip Buckner has recently attempted a comprehensive rebuttal of the first part of this package, arguing that Maritime objections were directed as much against the terms of Confederation as against the aim itself, as may be demonstrated by the fact that there was no long-lasting or coherent separatist movement in the region after the 1860s. The subsequent longer-term decline of the region within Confederation does not justify posterity in concluding that Maritime suspicions were either foolish or obtuse.[4] Buckner's predominantly convincing revision clearly has implications for the inter-related question of the role of the British, which is the primary focus of my own research: if the Maritimers made their own bargain in 1866, Creighton's conjuring of a British factor, both imperial and imperious, becomes yet another unnecessary distortion of what really happened.

However, the inadequacies of the traditional textbook explanation of the causes of Confederation are by no means confined to its misplaced denigration of the Maritimes. Confederation was by no means the only possible destiny for the British North American provinces in the 1860s, and the argument is not made any the more plausible by the historians' contention that Confederation constituted both a logical and an interconnecting answer to all the problems which faced them. (I ought to stress that I am not claiming that Confederation was a the wrong answer in the 1860s, a contention which would be taking even the condescension of posterity to ridiculous lengths. As a friendly foreigner, I should make it equally clear that I am by no means implying that Confederation is not the essential political context within which Canada should tackle its difficulties today. Even if I contemplated such an impertinence, common sense would be against me: whatever may have been the motives for the adoption of Confederation in the 1860s ─ and we owe it to the dignity of the past to accept that their reasons must have been persuasive at the time ─ it would be foolhardy to discard a framework which has lasted for a century and a quarter.) Nor was the Canadian Union the political failure which the textbooks have found it convenient to paint it. We need to remember that the province of Canada was prosperous -- at least partly because its politicians had energetically supported improvements to internal communications -- and we should not overlook the fact that however great the feuds of the politicians, the province of Canada actually managed to transmute itself a more vigorous structure, a challenge which has destroyed polities as varied as the Lebanon and the Soviet Union in our own times. If the province of Canada was not always a shining political success, we should remember that the same is true of most liberal constitutional systems, including Canada since 1867.[5]

None the less, the Canadian Union was facing a major upheaval by the middle of the 1860s, not from any political failure but as a consequence of demographic imbalance. The 1861 census showed that Upper Canada had 1.4 million people, Lower Canada only 1.1 million. The demographic problem constituted not a deadlock, from which by definition it is impossible to escape, but a logjam -- a more appropriately Canadian image. At least three logs were ready flip by 1864 -- the Lower Canada English, the Lower Canada Rouges and -- most crucial of them all -- the Lower Canada Bleus. Far from deadlock, there was likely to be a rush to make terms.

To grasp just how catastrophically the textbooks have got it wrong, we need to go back to 1854, the year the Canadian Assembly had been enlarged to from 84 to 130 seats, although with the principle of sectional equality preserved. Of the 65 Lower Canada ridings, French Canadians held no more than 49 in 1865 -- and that estimate includes two members who are reassuring hard to allocate to either of the solitudes. Thus even if we wish to embrace a theory of sectional deadlock, we cannot portray it as one of language groups. The key to unflipping the logjam was that piece of stout timber marked "Lower Canada English". From Papineau's Ninety-Two Resolutions to Lévesque's Bill 101, their presence in a majority French-speaking province has constituted a crucial factor in Canada's history.

Moreover, the British legislation which increased the size of the Assembly in 1854 also abolished the two-thirds entrenchment of sectional equality in representation. This meant that once Upper Canada became united behind the demand for representation by population it would in theory require the defection of just one Lower Canadian member to force through a redistribution of ridings in favour of the upper province. The general election of 1863 returned a near-unanimous contingent of members pledged to fight for the principle, and R.B. Somerville from Huntingdon at least was ready to act the part of Lower Canadian collaborator.[6] Once we appreciate that the province of Canada was anything but deadlocked, we can begin to see the calculations of gains and losses which lay behind the decisions of the politicians. There were three alternatives to an outright redistribution of ridings to give Upper Canada majority control within the existing structure. At one end of the spectrum, outright repeal of the Union was unlikely: even the Upper Canada Reformers had rejected it in 1859. At the other end, a general Confederation of all the provinces was an ambitious and uncertain target. By far the most likely outcome was a federation of Upper and Lower Canada, a cosmetic disguise for outright rep. by pop. which would give Upper Canada the overall dominance which its population warranted, at the price of safeguarding francophone cultural distinctiveness by the creation of a local Assembly for Lower Canada. None of the three alternatives would be attractive to the Lower Canada English, simply because each would place them in a minority within a reconstituted French-majority province, returning them to the minority position of the 1830s from which the Union had enabled them to escape. For the Bleus, on the other hand, any form of federation would be preferable to rep. by pop. pure and simple, since they could surrender to the irresistible demand for Upper Canadian majority control at the centre in return for local security within their own sub-unit. Once Cartier saw that the Lower Canada English log was about to flip, his logical strategy was to offer a pre-emptive deal. Even the most francophobe of Upper Canadian leaders would see the practical advantage in legislating for change with the co-operation of the dominant French party, and be prepared to adjust his demands accordingly. For John A. Macdonald, any form of rep. by pop. would be disastrous. He had become increasingly weak in his own section, and clung to office only through his alliance with the Bleus of Lower Canada. If pushed to action, he would adopt two strategies to blunt the damage. One would be to concede the principle of rep. by pop. but seek to block the concomitant implication of adult manhood suffrage, to which as a Conservative he was opposed. The other would be to bring in the Maritimers to balance the numerical weight of Upper Canada -- and preserve his own options as the greatest balancer of them all. Only George Brown could expect to gain from any of the possible solutions -- but Brown may have overlooked one basic point. Of the possible solutions, only outright rep. by pop. could be carried solely by the Canadian parliament, thanks to the abolition of the entrenchment provision in 1854. Any other scheme would require basic constitutional change -- and in the 1860s that meant legislation at Westminster and consequently British support for the end in view.

One thing is certain. The old Canadian Union was condemned to death on 14 March 1864. The Assembly debate that day is best known as the occasion of the debate to create George Brown's famous committee on the state of the province, which would lead to a call for some form of reconstruction on federal lines. Perhaps more significant was the vote on Joseph Perrault's defiant amendment in favour of eternal sectional equality, which was defeated by a massive 82 votes to 25. Upper Canadian members voted by an impressive 54 to 1 to crush this yearning protest against demographic inevitability: even John A. Macdonald joined his namesake Sandfield and George Brown in dismissing it. In the circumstances, it was surprising that no fewer than 28 Lower Canadian members also registered their opposition. There was no need for them to vote at all. Perrault was going down to defeat, and the fate of no ministry hung on the outcome. The Lower Canadians in the Noe lobby split half and half on communal lines, and the francophones were evenly divided between Rouges and Bleus.[7] All three Lower Canada logs were ready to flip. It would only be a matter of time before some form of rep. by pop. was forced through. Such, then, is the revision which I propose: one in which Confederation was neither a necessary nor even a particularly logical solution, a context not of deadlock but rather of inescapable upheaval pointing to a shift in electoral power within the united province towards the growing numbers of Upper Canada through representation by population, imposed by anglophones on francophones. There is, of course, one problem in accepting this revision. In June 1864, most of Canada's leading politicians joined together in the Great Coalition with the aim of carrying Confederation. In order to sustain my overall revision, I must come to grips directly with the politics and policies of the Great Coalition of 1864. If Canada's historians have been correct in their assessment of the Great Coalition, then my attempt to dismiss the whole textbook consensus of explanation shatters on the rocks of basic fact.

"Some of the basic facts about the Great Coalition are not questioned," wrote Paul G. Cornell in 1966. In June 1864, a ministry was formed in the province of Canada under the leadership of Sir Etienne Taché‚ which brought together the arch-foes John A. Macdonald and George Brown to launch the successful move towards Confederation. "Miraculously", avowed enemies had come together to break the deadlock of Canadian politics and strike out afresh for a union of all British North America.[8] There are three reasons for removing the miraculous element from these "basic facts". The first is that while the Great Coalition was remarkable in its personnel and ultimately in its achievements, there was nothing unusual in the fact of its being a coalition of factions and factious opponents, may be demonstrated by as comparison with its short-lived predecessor, the Taché-Macdonald ministry of March to June 1864. Secondly, once it is appreciated that the Taché-Macdonald ministry was a coalition without Confederation, it becomes possible to grasp that the context of the political crisis of June 1864 was one of the inevitability and not the impossibility that some form of representation by population would shortly be imposed on the province of Canada. Thirdly, its principal members, notably Macdonald and Brown, were by no means as united in their objectives, at least at the outset, as historians have assumed. The coalition represented a continuation, not a suspension, of their political duel in a new form, and we cannot understand the significance of the events of 1864 unless we realise that the Grit leader had far more room to manoeuvre than his Tory opponent. Coalition, but not Confederation, was the outcome of the ministerial crisis of March 1864. On 17 March 1864, Sandfield Macdonald set in motion a fortnight of complicated negotiations aimed at a reconstruction of his ministry, for the second time in eight months. He claimed an overall majority of two, hardly enough to survive from day to day. In the folklore of Canadian politics, his ministry would be remembered not for going down to defeat in the Assembly -- for Sandfield anticipated his fate by resigning on 21 March -- but because it lacked a "drinking majority": its supporters, it was recalled, dared not leave the Chamber even for a drink for fear that the government might be defeated in their absence.[9] "I think they must have a coalition of both sides," the governor-general, Lord Monck, wrote to his son, "which would be much the best thing for the country."[10] Certainly in March 1864, Monck did not see any need to adopt a visionary aim around which "both sides" might be grouped. Indeed, he reported to London that "there is really no question involving any principle which ought to prevent public men from co-operating in Government".[11] Certainly the men whom Monck attempted to commission were not the most dynamic of potential leaders: A.J. Fergusson-Blair, a man of "retiring habits"[12] and Sir Etienne Taché, an elder statesman retired from active politics. Personalities rather than issues dominated the negotiations: Taché would not accept Dorion, nobody was enthusiastic about joining forces with Sandfield Macdonald. The outcome was another insecure administration, under Taché and John A. Macdonald. Still apparently thinking of personalities rather than issues, Monck regretfully commented that "they have thrown away a great opportunity of forming a strong government by a junction of the best men on both sides".[13] For W.L. Morton, impatient at what he saw as the crumbling fabric of Canadian politics, the policies of the Taché-Macdonald ministry were an infuriating puzzle. He admitted that its "full" programme reflected "the needs and purposes of Canada", but there was nothing new about it. The Taché-Macdonald ministry promised to reform the militia, to work for a commercial union of the provinces, to develop communications with the Northwest and to support the Intercolonial railway project. Yet, inexplicably (to Morton at least) "it did not fuse all in a general formula of federation; in fact, it seemed almost to refrain from doing so." Ingeniously, Morton called it "a program containing all the elements of a federal union but union itself".[14] Equally, it might be argued that New Brunswick possesses all the elements of a tropical climate -- except the temperature range. "To all intents and purposes," Careless concluded, the Taché-Macdonald ministry "was the old Liberal-Conservative coalition back in office."[15] Within the factional kaleidoscope, there were certainly some core groupings, and the incoming ministry was regarded as the heir to the Cartier-Macdonald government which had been ousted in 1862, as was shown by the "$100,000 question". This murky transaction, which came to light in the early summer of 1864, involved a journey taken by a sum of public money back in 1859, which had started in the public treasury and finished in the coffers of the Grand Trunk, without anybody telling parliament.[16] Since A.T.Galt had been finance minister in 1859 and was finance minister once again, his colleagues were censured for the sins of his earlier incarnation and the ministry fell on 14 June, thus precipitating the political crisis which culminated in the formation of the Great Coalition.

Despite the elements of continuity, the Taché-Macdonald cabinet was itself a coalition of factions and personalities.[17] Its four French Canadian members were mainstream Bleus, although Taché himself and George Cartier had both begun their political careers as followers of Louis LaFontaine, and had crossed over with the bulk of French Canadians ten years earlier in 1854. Of the eight English-speaking ministers, only three could be described as Conservatives pure and simple: Macdonald himself, his personal friend Alexander Campbell and the insignificant John Simpson from Niagara. Of the others, Galt had been a Reform-leaning independent until Macdonald had adopted him, and his policy of British North American federation, in 1858. Isaac Buchanan had also generally been designated as an independent, if normally leaning to the Conservatives. However, one biographical source categorises him as "a moderate Liberal", and he had supported Sandfield Macdonald's administration until its reconstruction in 1863. That upheaval had shot two other former Liberals, the Irishmen M.H.Foley and D'Arcy McGee, into a new orbit which brought them into alliance with Macdonald a year later. Both had served under Sandfield Macdonald in 1862-63. John A. Macdonald, who was a good hater, seemed to have felt almost as much distaste for McGee as he did for Brown, damning the Irishman as a "ruffian" after a "beastly speech" in 1860. Foley had also been a member of the Brown-Dorion "Short Administration" of 1858, an association which led Macdonald to refer to him as "Lying Mike", although even in 1858 John A. suspected that "Foley doesn't like a bone in Brown's skin" and concluded that "Mike may be made useful yet." Foley was taken aback when Macdonald invited him to join the new combination in March 1864, and suggested that public opinion would expect some major policy initiative to justify such an unexpected alliance. John A. slapped him playfully on the knee and replied, "join the Government and then help to make the policy." The remaining Taché-Macdonald minister was James Cockburn, described by Macdonald at the time of his first election in 1861 as "a tory of the old school" -- and that was no compliment -- for Cockburn "belonged to the old fossil party -- a Tory of the old Family Compact". To complete the kaleidoscope, and indeed return the lack of compliment, Cockburn pledged "unhesitatingly" in 1861 to vote against John A. Macdonald on every issue of confidence, although he voted for the Militia Bill in May 1862, explaining that this still did not indicate support for the Conservative ministry. Moreover, he not merely endorsed representation by population, but argued in favour of a united Upper Canada to force it through -- the policy endlessly advocated George Brown. On paper, Cockburn was the most tory of the Conservatives. On the hustings and in the division lobbies, he had proved to be a determined opponent. Now he sat in a "Conservative" ministry alongside the man he had vowed three years earlier he would "unhesitatingly" oppose.[18] In fact, John A. Macdonald's political career centred around his constant manoeuvring to blunt the majority Reform tendencies of Upper Canada by luring individuals into coalitions with his Bleu allies. These tactics often brought him into conflict with those whom he dismissed in 1861 as "the violent Tories, who are fools enough to think that a purely Conservative Gov[ernmen]t can be formed."[19] His jocular approach to Galt in November 1857 is well known: "You call yourself a Rouge. There may have been at one time a reddish tinge about you, but I could observe it becoming by degrees fainter. ... Seriously, you would make a decent Conservative, if you gave your own judgment a fair chance and cut loose from Holton and Dorion and those other beggars. So pray do become a true blue at once: it is a good standing colour and bears washing."[20] Within a year they would be cabinet colleagues. "There must be a fair proportion of Moderate Conservatives & Conservative Liberals in the Gov[ernmen]t in order to prevent a reunion of the whole Liberal party," he told Buchanan in 1861.[21] The definition of a conservative Liberal gradually extended to any Grit who had quarrelled with his colleagues, but within the context of the existing Canadian Union, the tactic worked. Every "loose fish" won over could be added to the solid core of his Bleu allies in Lower Canada. Virtually every ministry formed in the history of the province of Canada was to some degree a coalition of individuals and factions. For every unlikely combination which got into office, it seems that many more were rumoured or tentatively explored. There were even indirect talks between Brown and John A. Macdonald in 1862-63, and Brown himself thought an alliance of the two Macdonalds, "John S. and John A.", had only just been avoided.[22] What was notable about the Great Coalition was its personnel and politics. There was nothing very new in the fact of its being a coalition. Canada's historians have not always been sympathetic in their assessments of the motives which led politicians to scramble for office, but the breathtaking suspension of their feuds and the inspirational nature of their aims have generally exempted the Fathers of Confederation from charges of insincerity. Take for example the implications for historical interpretation of accepting George Brown's explanation that he would have been "one of the vilest hypocrites that ever entered public life" if he had not responded to the crisis in public affairs by joining men whom he had previously opposed "in the most hostile manner which it is possible to conceive." Acceptance of Brown's protestation implies first that it was unusual for politicians to suspend hostilities and form alliances, although the Brown-Macdonald feud may have been uncommonly virulent. Secondly, we are required to believe that Brown really had abandoned his antipathy and replaced it with harmony and trust. Thirdly, if we accept Brown's version of his motives at face value, we must embrace his claim that there was in reality a crisis in the Canadian political system so overwhelming that it not only justified the coalition but rendered it imperative. If historians were to apply the more cynical standards through which they filter most political pronouncements from that era, they might conclude that Brown's defence of his surprising alliance was precisely what an embarrassed and cornered office-holder could be expected to plead -- especially one who well knew that "the public mind would be shocked" if he accepted office alongside Macdonald.[23] Fourthly, we have to accept not only that there was an overwhelming crisis, but that Confederation offered the best way out of it. Curiously, neither the crisis nor the solution had been evident when Sandfield Macdonald's ministry had slowly crumbled just three months earlier. The Taché-Macdonald cabinet had signalled a virtual abandonment of opposition to representation by population by making the issue an open question. Joseph Perrault's defiant amendment in March 1864, demanding eternal equality of sectional representation, had been rejected not just by a massive majority of Upper Canadian members, but also more narrowly by those Lower Canadians who had voted. Throughout May and June, George Brown's famous committee on the future constitution of the province held its meetings. Some French Canadians may have shared Perrault's paranoid belief that the census was erroneous and fraudulent, but few could really doubt that Upper Canada had just short of 1.4 million people, while Lower Canada numbered little over 1.1 million. The 1863 election added to the pressure on western members to declare themselves for change, and George Brown's prediction that the Upper Canada members would be "almost unanimous" on the issue was borne out by the vote on Perrault's amendment. It could only be a matter of time before representation by population came about. The only real question was the form it would take.[24]

It is true that in the negotiations for the formation of the Great Coalition, John A. Macdonald insisted that no government could force representation by population on Lower Canada: for him to have taken any other negotiating position would have been astonishing. Yet in February 1865, Macdonald flatly told the Canadian Assembly that "if some such solution of the difficulties as Confederation had not been found, the representation by population must eventually have been carried ... it is certain that in the progress of events representation by population would have been carried". Publicly, he insisted that such an outcome would have been in the interests of neither section.[25] Privately, Macdonald was well aware that the issue could destroy his career. To a dissident Conservative, he would later bluntly explain that in June 1864 he had faced the choice "either of forming a coalition government or of handing over the administration of affairs to the Grit party for the next ten years."[26] Of course, he may have been invoking a bugbear to shrug off criticism from a disquieted supporter. Even so, bugbears usually work bestwhen they are plausible. The Quebec City journalist, Joseph Cauchon, may also be suspected of special pleading, to acquit himself of charges of inconsistency in defending a scheme which he had opposed in 1858. He warned French Canadians that it would not be possible to resist indefinitely the Upper Canadian demand for representation by population. In particular, "les représentants bas-canadiens d'origine Britannique", who did not share francophone attachment to the institutions of Lower Canada and held different views on the representation issue, were showing signs of becoming tired of "cette lutte incessante et systématique entre les deux provinces". Increasingly in private discussions -- parliament met in Quebec City in 1864 -- these men were threatening to throw their support to the Upper Canadian cause, or even to appeal for the intervention of the British parliament.[27] Cauchon's public warning merely echoed the private prediction made by Sir Edmund Head eight years earlier. "The only solution of the difficulty will be the chance that the district of Montreal, and the English population about it and in the townships, may be got to side with Upper Canada and thus turn the scale in favour of that section, which, for reasons beyond our control, must prevail.[28] The vote on Perrault's amendment indicated that by 1864 Head's prediction and Cauchon's fears would soon be realised. It was increasingly a question of which log would be first to break the jam: if the Lower Canada English joined the Upper Canadians, the result would be a legislative union in which the French would form an overall minority without any specific safeguards for their culture and institutions. If the French beat their anglophone neighbours to the political punch, they might concede the overall point but gain local autonomy within some form of federal system. When La Minerve truculently announced that the only new constitution French Canadians would accept would be one in "le principle fédérale serait appliqué dans toute son étendue", the Montreal Gazette retorted that if French Canadian demands were obstinate and unreasonable, English Canadians might impose representation by population "pure and simple".[29] While some prominent anglophone members from Lower Canada, such as Galt and McGee, were enthusiasts for Confederation, others were unhappy at their prospects as a minority within a re-created French province. As Joseph O'Halloran, member for Missisquoi, put it, powers of taxation were to be given to a local legislature "where one nationality has four-fifths of the numbers, and the other nationality contributes one-half of the taxes." Provincial control over immigration did not bode well for the future of the anglophone minority, redistribution would make it "easy ... to snuff out one-half of the English constituencies in Lower Canada" through redistribution of ridings. The Principal of McGill, J.W. Dawson, was sure that many Lower Canada English "would like to have a legislative union were that possible.[30] Representation by population was also a threat to John A. Macdonald's balancing act. In the short term, it was an all-intrusive issue which would make it harder for Macdonald to lure wanderers into his net. In the longer term, a redistribution of ridings in favour of the upper province would devalue both the relative parliamentary strength of Cartier's Lower Canadian following, the bedrock of his alliance, and his own claims upon Upper Canadian gratitude. Already, the 1863 election had left him dangerously weak in his own section. As Hodgins reminds us, "John A. Macdonald entered the last parliament of the Province of Canada, the one that was to make his name immortal, with only a remnant of supporters.[31] 1861, Cartier had delighted French Canadians with the dangerous sneer that "the codfish of Gaspé Bay should also be represented, as well as the 250,000 Clear Grits of Western Canada".[32] Neither sarcasm nor codfish could shore up the electoral imbalance for ever. It was not surprising that John A. Macdonald was prepared to look to the half million British Americans who lived beyond the Gaspé: to adapt Cartier's pleasantry, where better than the Maritimes to find loose fish? Once we strip the picture of the 1860s of the disadvantages of hindsight, we may begin to see that the most likely constitutional change confronting the province of Canada in 1864 was not Confederation, but an upheaval leading to a redistribution of seats within the existing Assembly in favour of Upper Canada. The problem lay not with the likely solution but with the means that would be required to achieve it. As Chester Martin observed, "the real peril was not 'deadlock' but what lay beyond.[33] After a decade and a half of the politics of communal partnership under responsible government, the province of Canada seemed suddenly about to revert to the grand British imperial strategy of 1840: English Canadians would combine to overbear their French-speaking fellow-subjects in a sectional showdown. Despite the emerging majority, the process of legislation alone made it likely that the fight to carry a redistribution would protracted and divisive. If Upper Canada failed in its demands, the consequences might be catastrophic. The Grit William McDougall had warned in 1861 that if Upper Canadians were refused representation by population, they might "look below the border for relief". Macdonald had seized on the phrase to claim that Reformers were secret annexationists.[34] (The abuse did not prevent McDougall from not merely joining the Great Coalition in 1864 nor from switching allegiance from Brown to Macdonald the following year.) Yet if Upper Canada imposed its will through sectional confrontation, Macdonald warned that French Canadians would be left "with a sullen feeling of injury and injustice". Instead of being "a nationality ... governed by general principles, and dividing according to their political opinions" they would become "a faction, forgetful of national obligations, and only actuated by a desire to defend their own sectional interests".[35] Brown had been a teenager in Scotland during the Reform crisis of 1831; Macdonald had "carried his musket in '37". He had first run for parliament during le crise Metcalfe in 1844, the last occasion on which an attempt had been made to govern the province in the face of near-united French Canadian opposition. Significantly, he had then announced that Canada was "a young country" which would do better to develop its resources rather than waste time "in fruitless discussions on abstract and theoretical questions of government.[36] It was not the illusion of deadlock which brought such men together, but fear of the implications of change, even among those who insisted upon it. One historian has grasped the significance of this stand-off. "If Macdonald could not stem the tide of votes to reform and 'rep by pop', his career would end," writes Desmond Morton. "Cartier could now foresee a political battle his Canadiens could not win." It was at this point that Macdonald opened talks with George Brown. "The bibulous opportunist and the self-righteous autocrat hated each other. They might also use each other.[37] Other textbooks jump to the assumption that the two men joined forces in the Great Coalition solely to work for the Confederation of all the British North American provinces. McNaught described it as "a coalition whose purpose would be to inaugurate discussions leading to a general confederation of the British American provinces", or, in the words of Finlay and Sprague, "a more general union, one that included all the provinces of British North America.[38] In fact, as other textbooks acknowledge[39] the Great Coalition had a dual aim. However, few appreciate the extent to which in the summer of 1864, at least, Macdonald's policy of British North American Confederation and Brown's preferred target of a federation of the two Canadas alone were actually jostling for priority. It was less a case of two political enemies working together for the common good than of two rivals each seeking to trap the other into helpless support for his own policy. Indeed, the negotiations between Macdonald and Brown suggest that coalition, like war, may be the continuation of politics by other means. When Macdonald and Galt opened negotiations on 17 June 1864 by stating that "their remedy was a Federal Union of all the British North American Provinces", Brown replied "that federation of all the provinces ought to come, and would come about ere long, but it had not yet been considered by the people; and even if this were otherwise, there were so many parties to be consulted that its adoption was uncertain and remote." Consequently, he preferred "Parliamentary Reform, based on population, without regard to a separating line between Upper and Lower Canada." Macdonald and Galt in turn ruled this out. "After much discussion on both sides, it was found that a compromise might probably had in the adoption either of the federal principle for all British North American Provinces, as the larger question, or for Canada alone, with provisions for the admission of the Maritime Provinces and the North Western Territory, when they should express the desire."

However, Brown continued to contend "that the Canadian Federation should be constituted first" to reassure Upper Canadian opinion that its sectional interests would not be sacrificed in any subsequent negotiations with the Maritimes. For his part, Macdonald urged that even if Brown stuck by his refusal to enter a coalition cabinet, he should "undertake a mission to the Lower Provinces, or to England, or both, in order to identify himself with the action of the Canadian Government". In short, each was striving to manoeuvre the other into commitment to his own policy.[40] As Creighton acknowledged, "though the two plans were not mutually exclusive, a government would have to start with one or the other."[41] By the second day of the coalition negotiations, it seemed that an outline agreement had been reached. The new ministers would "address themselves, in the most earnest manner, to the negotiation for a confederation of all the British North American Provinces." However, "failing a successful issue to such negotiations", ministers pledged themselves "to legislation during the next session of Parliament for the purpose of remedying existing difficulties by introducing the federal principle for Canada alone, coupled with such provisions as will permit the Maritime Provinces and the North-Western Territory to be hereafter incorporated into the Canadian system." Two points stand out here. One is that it was tacitly assumed throughout the negotiations that the Canadian parliament could carry organic constitutional changes, not merely a redistribution of ridings to match the changing balance of population. The other was that Macdonald had clearly nosed Confederation ahead of Brown's preferred option: British North American union would be attempted before a federation of the two Canadas, which would only come on to the practical agenda should the bid for Confederation fail. Who would decide that there had not been "a successful issue to such negotiations"? In 1858-59, during Canada's earlier half-hearted federation initiative, despatches and memoranda had crossed and re-crossed the Atlantic for months. Brown realised he had lost ground, and he attempted a rearguard action, arguing "as a compromise" for an immediate federation of the two Canadas, coupled with provision for its subsequent extension. Macdonald and his associates insisted that they "could not consent to waive the larger question, but after considerable discussion, an amendment to the original proposal was agreed to", which attempted to telescope the two approaches by pledging the introduction of "a measure next session for the purpose of remedying existing difficulties by introducing the federal principle into Canada, coupled with such provisions as will permit the Maritime Provinces and the North-West Territory to be incorporated into the same system of government.

John A. Macdonald was now gambling his political future on a positive response from the Maritime provinces, for without their prompt adherence, he would be trapped into endorsing Brown's policy of a federation of the two Canadas, rep. by pop. in thin disguise. Far from being "miraculously"[42] united, the Fathers of Confederation proceeded to squabble over the division of ministerial portfolios. Brown argued that while the coalition had "arrived at a basis which he believed would be generally acceptable to the great mass of his political friends," none the less "the proposition was so general in its terms" and "depended so entirely on the details that might finally be adopted" that "security must be given for fairness of those details and the good faith with which the whole movement should be prosecuted". Brown's idea of minimum security was that he should appoint half the incoming cabinet, a formula which he defined "as meaning four members for Upper Canada, and two for Lower Canada". This notion was successfully resisted. Cartier and Galt opposed any change from their section "as the majority of the people of Lower Canada, both French Canadians and English, had implicit confidence in their leaders, which it would not be desirable to shake in any way." The message was clear: if Brown wanted to deal with Lower Canada, he must work through the Bleus. Macdonald was equally blunt in rejecting Brown's claim to the nomination of four of the six members from Upper Canada, throwing back the challenge that "he would be prepared for the admission into the Cabinet of three gentlemen of the Opposition, on its being ascertained that they would bring with them a support equal to that now enjoyed by the Government from Upper Canada." It was a reminder that George Brown was not the leader of a united Reform party; indeed insofar as the Upper Canada Reformers had a leader, it was Sandfield Macdonald, in whom the caucus had voted its confidence as recently as March 1864. Thus, if Brown secured the nomination of half the cabinet seats in his own section, he was really doing well. Moreover, Macdonald wanted Brown to be one of the three Reformers around the cabinet table. In return, he would "confer with him as to the selection of Upper Canada colleagues from both sides, who should be the most acceptable to their respective friends, and most likely to work harmoniously for the great object which alone could justify the arrangement proposed." (Brown would riposte to this unctuous offer of a mutual veto by nominating Oliver Mowat, whom Macdonald strongly disliked.) Brown was on equally weak ground when he enquired "what Mr. Macdonald proposed in regard to the Upper Canada leadership." John A. replied that "he could not with propriety, or without diminishing his usefulness alter his position" -- meaning that he would not allow Brown to take precedence over him. Menacingly, he added that he had been keen for some time to leave office altogether, and would do so if his departure would "facilitate arrangements", although he could not do so "without Sir Etienne Taché's consent." In the divided state of Upper Canadian politics, Macdonald intended to be the sectional leader on the basis of his united and powerful French Canadian alliance. Except on grounds of personal dislike, Brown perhaps did not object very strongly to losing this round in the struggle for, as will be argued, he doubted whether the Confederation option would get very far, and the more prominent a place his enemy held, the harder John A. Macdonald would find it to escape the trap of being forced to work for a federation of the two Canadas alone. Brown attempted a rearguard skirmish over cabinet places, suggesting that he should hold a seventh Upper Canadian seat "without department or salary", thus giving his "friends" four places overall, but Macdonald objected that this would destroy the principle of equality "and he was satisfied it could not be done." John A. Macdonald's tough stance suggests that he and Brown had not "trampled their personal antipathies in the dust and joined hands ... to extricate their country from its dangers", as one admirer later put it. The alternative to a deal was an election, and a province-wide vote might well place the ousted Reform leader Sandfield Macdonald in a stronger position than the independent and quarrelsome Brown. No doubt it was high-minded of Brown to attempt to draw his political foes into agreement. Yet with elections looming, it was also high time. Perhaps Brown and John A. Macdonald had "set an example of patriotic statesmanship and self-abnegation sometimes portrayed in political romance, but seldom met with in the sober annals of every-day politics."[43] Perhaps they had both realised that their mutual interest pointed to a temporary alliance to block the return of Sandfield Macdonald. The resulting coalition was united neither by policy aim nor by personal trust. In his account of the coalition talks, Creighton left no doubt that Macdonald had emerged victorious from the tussle. Although "Brown had made a vain last attempt to insist upon the immediate federation of the Canadas", Macdonald and his allies "would not consent to waive the larger issue". Creighton passed over the word "but" which follows this uncompromising protestation, and dismissed the resulting "verbal formula" as "an alleged compromise" which left "no doubt that the coalition would be committed to an immediate attempt to seek a general federation."[44] So it was -- but if the "larger issue" proved to be unattainable, the "verbal formula" would become a rep. by pop. timebomb. In the long view of hindsight, the distinction between the two positions may seem slight: Macdonald wanted to give priority to the negotiations for a British North American union, in which Upper Canada would be represented according to its population; Brown favoured an immediate federal union of the two Canadas, with provision for its expansion on geographical lines identical to Confederation. At the time, the difference between them was very important indeed, simple because Brown assumed that the wider union would take many years to achieve. His two-stage programme envisaged a united Upper Canada dominating first a federation of the two Canadas and then, as the Globe had put it in 1860, becoming "the centre, at no distant day, of a British Confederation extending from the Rocky Mountains to the Banks of Newfoundland." In 1863, the Globe had again stressed the need to begin by securing representation by population and open the North West to settlement, "so that, when federation of all the British American provinces does come, it may be formed with Upper Canada as the central figure of the group of states, with western adjuncts as well as eastern."[45] Even after the formation of the Great Coalition, the Globe was still arguing that a federation of the two Canadas "paves the way for the larger federation".[46] A two-stage move to Confederation via a federation of the two Canadas might suit the stately march of nationhood, but John A. Macdonald's political career would slip through the gap between the first and second phase. George Brown had not suddenly become a visionary idealist wedded to Confederation. In fact in June 1864, he still doubted whether the general union would come about. As far back as 1858, he had accepted that once the question of federation came on to the political agenda, it would become British American in scope, but added: "We will be past caring for politics when that venture is finally achieved." One of the resolutions of the Reform Convention of 1859 had rejected the wider federation because of "the delay which must occur in obtaining the sanction of the Lower Provinces." Brown had dazzled the delegates then with a vision of "the day when these northern countries shall stand out among the nations of the world as one great confederation!" He certainly did not deny the grandeur of the vision, but meanwhile, "is it not wisdom to commence the federated system with our own country, and leave it open to extension hereafter, if time and experience shall prove it desirable?"[47] This was the position he had reaffirmed on 17 June 1864 when the coalition talks began. Brown's modern biography tells us that in the ministerial explanations to the Assembly on 22 June 1864, he spoke of his pride at having brought about a ministry "pledged to settle the alarming sectional difficulties of my country".[48] There is no reference to the fact that the newly minted Father of Confederation seemed oddly non-committal about the policy which historians believe he had just endorsed. "We are bound to find out what would be all the bearings of a confederation of all the Provinces," he said, as if it were a novel topic for intellectual speculation. "For myself, I do not feel that I am ill informed as to the politics of this continent ... but I am free to confess that I am not so well informed as to all the bearings on the question of a union of all the British North American Provinces, that I could at once pronounce a final opinion on this question." George Brown, we should remember, was not merely a political animal but also a journalistic beast, with an omnivorous interest in public affairs. The proprietor of the mighty Globe was signalling a barely coded dismissal of the Confederation option. The ministers, he said, would go to the convention the Maritimers were to hold at Charlottetown "and there present our views" and they would seek the co-operation of the imperial government -- but there was more than the suspicion of an implication that once they had conscientiously gone through these motions, the Great Coalition would get down to the real business of bringing in rep. by pop. through the creation of a federation of the two Canadas.[49] Ignored by historians, Brown's disclaimer hardly squares with the interpretation that his "solution was a grand coalition designed to carry out confederation of all British North America."[50] The Globe decoded Brown's message. "Efforts are to be made to induce the Lower Provinces to join the confederation, but the success of the scheme, as far as Canada is concerned, is not to be contingent on their assent." Whatever happened at Charlottetown, "Parliament will, at its next session, be asked to carry out the principle as regards this Province, while those who are beyond the control of the Canadian Parliament, will be taken in whenever they are willing to come." Six weeks later, the Globe complained that the British press had over-simplified its reporting of the formation of the Great Coalition. "The Times, for example, gets sight of but one of the alternatives contemplated by the policy of the Administration, and entirely misses the other."[51] In short, it is only possible to claim that Macdonald had won in 1864 because he did in the event win in 1867. Had the negotiations for British North American union failed, Macdonald would have delivered himself manacled and muzzled into the hands of his opponents, compelled to deliver rep. by pop. through a federation of the two Canadas -- and with only a single parliamentary session as his stay of execution. No wonder Macdonald insisted that his arch-enemy should be prominently involved and publicly identified with the negotiations for the wider union. Far from leading a predestined cavalcade along the broad highway of Creighton's road to Confederation, Macdonald was in reality walking a desperately insecure tightrope. The coalition agreement neutralised even his favourite tactic of delay: whatever happened on the wider front, he had agreed that within months legislation must be introduced for a federation of the two Canadas. From his own personal point of view, his warning at the Quebec Conference that it was now or never for Confederation was no mere debating point. "Now is the time, or we may abandon the idea in despair", he warned the delegates, for "if we come to no decision here, we Canadians must address ourselves to the alternative and reconstruct our Government. Once driven to that, it will be too late for a general federation. We cannot, having brought our people to accept a Canadian federation, propose to them the question of a larger union."[52] Brown was even more direct in warning Maritimers that they must take what was on offer or forget about British North American union: "we have not come here to seek relief from our troubles for remedy of our grievances is already agreed upon and come what way of the larger scheme now before us, our smaller scheme will certainly be accomplished."[53]

This is not the language of a whose "personal situation was quite precarious".[54] In reality, either way, Brown could hardly lose. If Confederation came about, which he evidently did notexpect, it would bring representation by population and offer a basis for westward expansion. If it did not, his darkest foe would have to do his bidding in the province of Canada. "We are not going to be tied to Lower Canada, for twelve months more," Brown bluntly told New Brunswick's governor Arthur Gordon.[55] It was Macdonald who had cornered himself and was wagering everything upon the wider union of all the provinces. At the time of the Quebec Conference, the governor-general's niece recorded with regretful disapproval that "John A. Macdonald is always drunk now" and if the reports were true -- and they were not denied when Joseph Howe made very effective use of them in Britain two years later -- they would seem to indicate that Macdonald was under very great strain. He was spied in his bedroom one evening during the Quebec Conference, dressed in a nightshirt with a rug draped over his shoulders, "practising Hamlet before a looking-glass."[56] Hamlet is not the most obvious Shakespearian inspiration for a nation-builder. It is not surprising that Macdonald reacted irritably to the defeat of Confederation in the New Brunswick election of March 1865.57] The opposition was quick to remind him of the terms he had accepted nine months earlier, and time was running out. "The Administration could not give a pledge that they would carry the Confederation of all the provinces," A-A. Dorion reminded the Assembly, "but they could pledge, and did pledge themselves to bring in, in the event of the failure of that scheme, a measure for the federation of Upper and Lower Canada." It was now the "duty" of Brown and his associates in the Great Coalition "to insist upon their colleagues keeping to the pledges they have made."[58] Brown was ready enough to do so, and did not seem very disappointed at the setback to Confederation. "If it fails after all legitimate means have been used," he wrote to his wife two days after Dorion's challenge, "we will go on with our scheme for Canada alone."[59] When Taché's sudden death in the summer of 1865 made it necessary to reconstitute the coalition under the compromise figure of Sir Narcisse Belleau, Brown forced Macdonald to acknowledge that the cabinet remained committed to the introduction of the smaller federation at the start of the 1866 parliamentary session, "should we be unable to remove the objections of the Maritime Provinces" to the larger scheme.[60] Two arguments may be advanced against the claim that the Great Coalition of 1864 represented Brown's victory over John A. Macdonald. The first is that it was Macdonald's policy of Confederation which emerged triumphant in 1867, not Brown's federation of the two Canadas. The second is that Brown himself gave the appearance of admitting defeat by resigning from office in December 1865, over an issue which in the longer view of hindsight seems so technical as to imply an irritable pretext. These objections are in fact less substantial than they may appear. First, it must be said that the fact that Macdonald won does not necessarily mean that Brown lost. John A. Macdonald had to have a Confederation of the British North American provinces to survive being trampled underfoot by a federation of the two Canadas; George Brown's fundamental aim could be met through either policy. It was not that Brown was actually opposed to general federation -- unlike John A. Macdonald, who continued to reject the federal principle to the very eve of the coalition -- merely that in the summer of 1864 he did not think it likely. Once negotiations for the wider scheme suggested that it might indeed be feasible, Brown happily adapted himself to the aim of Confederation. When the Great Coalition was formed, Macdonald had insisted that Brown should publicly identify himself with the policy of the ministry by acting as its travelling envoy. Brown duly journeyed first to Charlottetown and then twice crossed the Atlantic. Macdonald's ploy seemed to succeed. Brown enjoyed his role as the spokesman for an emerging colonial nation, especially in December 1864 when he travelled to Britain alone, and received an unprecedented and flattering welcome from the highest in the land. He enjoyed matching his wits against the mighty brain of Gladstone, confiding to his wife that he felt "dreadfully conceited" that they had talked of the highest questions of statecraft for an hour and a half, "but I did not feel him a tremendous length beyond me in intellect." Frances Monck noted that he "was enchanted with his visit."[62] Certainly when he resigned from the Great Coalition in December 1865, Brown announced that he would continue to give his former colleagues general support "for the sake of Confederation."[63] Brown's resignation was a further episode in his political struggle with Macdonald. He had been sent on yet another of the missions which Sir Joseph Pope cruelly commented "occupied him fully and kept him in high good humour", this time to the Maritimes as the Canadian representative at the recently established Confederate Council on Commercial Treaties, an intercolonial body created to present a common British North American front in negotiations for the continuation of Reciprocity with the United States. (The Confederate Council has been little noticed in the textbooks, perhaps because its mere existence is evidence that the political union of British North America was not necessary for inter-provincial co-operation in the pursuit of common interests.) Meanwhile, Galt had made an unauthorised visit to Washington, where American politicians assured him that there was no prospect of an extension of the Treaty, but advised that a year-to-year agreement might be established by concurrent legislation. Galt regarded it as simple realism to accept the American position; to Brown, it was a craven abandonment of any chance of a favourable deal from the outset. Without any attempt to negotiate, Galt had made "every concession that we had it in our power to make ... and our eagerness in making them has evidently already shown the Americans how entirely we think ourselves at their mercy." Worse still, the concessions were squandered not for a treaty but for the mere prospect of annual legislation, which Congress might or might not renew. Canadians, said Brown, in a sardonic allusion to McDougall's remark of 1861, would find themselves "looking to Washington instead of to Ottawa as the controller of their commerce and prosperity." The cabinet backed Galt and Brown resigned.[64] George Brown certainly felt strongly about the handling of Reciprocity. He felt strongly about most issues. Yet from a factional point of view, his resignation was not ill-timed, and he admitted to a supporter at the time that "other circumstances" played a part in his decision.[65] For one thing, there was little realistic prospect of rescuing any kind of trade deal with the United States: the politician who resigned alleging that his colleagues had mishandled the question would be well placed to claim that events justified his fears. By resigning over Reciprocity, Brown was once again guaranteeing himself on both sides of a two-way bet. If Confederation came about -- and Brown probably concluded that it would after Fisher's by-election victory in New Brunswick the previous month -- he could present himself to the Maritimers as the Canadian politician who had sacrificed office in solidarity with their wish for a united British North American negotiating front. Who, after all, would have guessed in 1865 that the teetotal Reformer S.L. Tilley would serve for two decades after Confederation as a close ally of John A. Macdonald? Equally, Brown could argue that the Canadian decision to ignore the Maritimes might cause "the loss of Confederation as well as Reciprocity."[66] Macdonald apparently made no effort to prevent Brown from resigning. Rather it was Cartier who asked Brown to reconsider. Their exchange of letters was courteous, and more than mere form. Brown assured that Bleu leader that "if you stick to the compact you made with me when Sir Narcisse came into the government, my being out will not change my course in the slightest --- and that you will have my best aid in carrying the constitutional changes we were then pledged to."[67] The phrasing was carefully chosen -- "constitutional changes" not "Confederation" to convey, as Creighton acknowledged, a "pointed reminder of the agreement that, even if confederation failed, 'justice' must be done" to the claims of Upper Canada.[68] It was a clear signal that if Confederation failed, a Brown-Cartier ministry delivering a federation of the two Canadas would be the only alternative to a head-to-head sectional conflict over representation by population. Given the stakes, Brown was probably prepared to sacrifice his own alliance with fellow Reformers, Howland and McDougall, who remained in the ministry. In the fast-changing factional alliances of Canadian politics, they could return to the fold later. The only constant in Upper Canadian politics was the hostility between George Brown and John A. Macdonald. It was not simply that they were personal foes -- mere antipathy was no barrier to political alliance -- but rather that their entire difference in political philosophy meant that not even Upper Canada was big enough to contain them both. In 1872, Macdonald offered his own explanation for his success in this great duel. "The great reason why I have always been able to beat Brown is that I have been able to look a little ahead, while he could on no occasion forego the temptation of a temporary triumph."[69] The comment have referred to Brown's eagerness to form a ministry in 1858 or to his resignation in 1865, but perhaps it applies most directly to Brown's attempt to trap the Great Coalition into endorsing a federation of the Canadas. In terms of the politics of Canada and the Maritimes, the ploy came close to working. Ultimately, it failed because Macdonald was able to see that there was a third player, the imperial government in London. Most of the available solutions to Canada's logjam required the involvement of the British. Brown was equally aware of this general point, telling the Assembly in June 1864 that the new ministers would go to London to seek imperial "co-operation".[70] Yet it seems unlikely that Brown foresaw the extent to which British preferences and British priorities would shape the outcome. If nothing else, in an era of slow communications, the imperial factor would give Macdonald the precious asset of time, and consequently a respectable excuse for sliding out of his commitment to introduce legislation for a federation of the two Canadas in 1865. As Lord Monck reminded the Canadian parliament in his throne speech in January 1865, British legislation "will be necessary to give effect to the contemplated union of the Colonies", and ministers in London were ready "to introduce a Bill for the purpose" as soon as Confederation had "received the sanction of the legislatures representing the several provinces affected by it."[71] There was little prospect that members of parliament at the centre of the world's greatest empire were likely to "hold their noses", to borrow the inelegant phrase of Pierre Trudeau, and simply rubber-stamp legislation at the dictation of a group of colonies. Indeed, what happened in 1981, when Westminster finally transferred control of the Canadian constitution, is instructive. The modern party system gave governments a considerable measure of control over backbenchers, while the House of Lords was little more than a debating chamber with little power to obstruct legislation. From Canada's point of view, by 1981 Westminster looked like a legislating machine which would play a compliant role in patriation. It came as annoying shock when a House of Commons committee proclaimed that Britain was Canada's "constitutional guardian", a claim which suddenly subjected the country's internal affairs to the scrutiny of right-wing backbenchers who, as one Canadian commentator waspishly remarked, "had not managed to make it into the cabinet",[72] in a bizarre coalition with left-wingers engaged in an utterly misplaced crusade for native rights in another sovereign state. There were 58 attempted amendments to the legislation in the House of Commons , and thirty peers insisted on speaking in the Lords. What happened in 1981 should throw into relief the potential blocking role -- and , by implication, the potential facilitating role -- of Westminster over a century earlier. In the 1860s, ministries did not control backbenchers: even the popular prime minister, Palmerston, had been briefly unseated in 1858, for seeming to be too accommodating to the French Emperor in proposing legislation aimed at discouraging plots against foreign tyrants. The legislative process was inefficient, with much time devoted to chartering railway companies and establishing local authority boards for cleaning and lighting: Macdonald himself complained that British officials behaved "as if the B.N.A. Act were a private Bill uniting two or three English parishes."[73] Parliament usually rose in July for a six month vacation: thus even if all the mainland provinces had endorsed the Quebec resolutions by March 1865, when they were adopted by the Canadian parliament, there would still have been little prospect of British legislation until well into 1866. Palmerston himself was temperamentally opposed to treating parliament as a legislative machine ready to do the bidding of an interventionist ministry. "We cannot go on adding to the Statute Book ad infinitum", he told a young MP in 1864, adding "we cannot go on legislating for ever."[74] It was thus by no means certain that the British would automatically accede to any request to legislate for a new British North American constitution. In particular, MPs had shown themselves reluctant to endorse colonial legislation which might have domestic implications. Many British politicians would have been aware that it had been the debates on the Constitutional Act of 1791 that had triggered the split between Fox and Burke which kept the Whigs out of office for four decades: an apparently innocuous measure for the government of the French in Canada was the occasion of a fundamental debate about the Revolution in France in itself. When the Whigs did get back into office in the 1830s, they found Canadian questions difficult to solve partly because issues such as the role and composition of the Legislative Councils and the need to seek an accommodation with French Canadian nationalism had disturbing implications for the House of Lords and for Ireland. The clergy reserves provided an even longer lasting example of a Canadian issue which could have been easily solved in its own terms had it not been for its relationship to the fundamental question of the relations of Church and State in England. Russell's government promised legislation to transfer control of the clergy reserves in 1851, but their successors, Lord Derby's Conservative ministry of 1852, refused to touch the matter. A bill had eventually come before parliament in 1853, and its passage required the broad backing of a coalition government plus an appeal to the transparent fiction that confiding the reserves to Canadian control might actually safeguard them as religious endowments.[75] By 1864, a new constitution for British North America was similarly likely to become embroiled in the British political agenda. Of the four possible options for change facing the province of Canada, one -- outright repeal of the Union -- was highly unlikely to inspire co-operation from Westminster, as George Brown had realised in 1859 when he had dismissed the option with the question: "Will the British go for it?"[76] Yet Brown probably failed to realise that a federation of the two Canadas was almost equally unlikely to inspire British enthusiasm. Why should this be so? First, it should be remembered that federalism has never been part of British political culture. Confronted with a demand to pass enabling legislation for a Canadian federation, British politicians might well have objected that the repeal of the entrenchment clause in 1854 made it possible for the province of Canada to solve its own internal problems without recourse to Westminster at all. More crucial would be the implications of endorsing any form of representation based on population at a time when the question of parliamentary reform was once again becoming controversial in Britain. There were two aspects to the question of Reform -- which was seen to be so fundamental that it was usually spelt with a capital letter. The obvious issue was the extent of the right to vote, which was held only a minority of the adult male population. Representation by population implied manhood suffrage, which was an outcome most British politicians were determined to block. The other aspect of the Reform question which is sometimes overlooked, was the distribution of representation. Considerable anomalies had survived the Reform Act of 1832: Thetford, with four thousand inhabitants and two hundred voters, had the same representation as Manchester, with a third of a million people and fourteen thousand voters. One historian has concluded that "the map of representation remained much as it had been in Stuart England", with the "South and West grossly over-represented by comparison with the Midlands and the North".[77] "Too little weight is given to the growing parts of the country," Walter Bagehot had complained in 1859, "too much to the stationary." His comment could have been adopted unchanged as an argument for representation by population in Canada. The two issues were uncomfortably similar. George Brown underlined the similarity by defining his policy as "Parliamentary Reform, based on population, without regard to a separating line between Upper and Lower Canada."[78] It is hard to imagine any British minister rushing to the despatch box to endorse that controversial and embarrassing principle unless it formed an incidental part of a larger and more acceptable imperial aim. While Palmerston was prime minister, change was unlikely. However, Palmerston was nearing his eightieth birthday, and there were signs that Reform was becoming entangled in the inevitable succession. On 11 May 1864 Gladstone had startled the political world by appearing to endorse a sweeping increase in the franchise.[79] Given the delays in transatlantic communications, this sensational event in British politics effectively took place as the Taché-Macdonald government fell: the Globe reported both crises more or less side by side, its London correspondent speculating, for instance, on 13 June -- the day before coalition talks began -- that Palmerston would soon be forced to retire in favour of a government dominated by Gladstone.[80] It is even possible that the timing of John A. Macdonald's decision to negotiate with George Brown had almost as much to do with developments in British politics as with events in Canada: Gladstone had made parliamentary reform a central issue, and no British minister was going to rush to introduce enabling legislation to create a federation of the two Canadas, simply because colonial politicians had concluded that the existing Union gave "too little weight to the growing parts of the country". This would help to explain why constitutional reform was at the centre of negotiations for the coalition of June 1864 but had been invisible during the extensive talks which had preceded the coalition of March 1864. The entire difference between Canadian and British political cultures can be seen in the contrast between the provisions of the British North America Act regarding electoral divisions in the House of Commons of the new Dominion, and the terms of Britain's 1867 Reform Act, approved a few months later. The British North America Act provided for a decennial redistribution of seats after each census, to eliminate any future anomalies which might arise from population changes. By contrast, the Reform Act which eventually emerged in 1867 combined a broad extension of the franchise with a very restricted alteration to the pattern of constituencies in Britain. Only 52 seats (out of a total of 658) were re-distributed, with the under-represented industrial areas of the Midlands and North of England gaining a mere sixteen additional MPs, while one modern estimate suggests that London remained under-represented, in terms of population, by no fewer than 63 seats. After an intensive fight on the floor of the House of Commons, the four largest provincial cities in England were each given a third member, but even then electors were limited to two votes in a primitive attempt at proportional representation.[81] It really did not matter how many people voted in Manchester if they only returned three members of parliament. British politicians did not even begin to embrace the principle of representation by population. Nor had they the faintest intention of re-opening the question at ten-year intervals: the next two redistributions came in 1885 and in 1918. By contrast, British politicians did show an impressive measure of support in supporting Confederation, and their virtual unanimity has led historians to overlook its enormous significance. Remarkably, the British North America Act was passed during the most serious and divisive British political crisis between the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the first Home Rule Bill of 1886. There can be no stronger evidence that Confederation was an objective broadly embraced by all influential sections of British opinion. The British North America Act was twice in danger of becoming the casualty of domestic political concerns, and both episodes provide clues to the controversy which would have accompanied any ministerial attempt to secure Westminster endorsement for a Canadian objective not generally supported by British opinion. The Liberals under Russell were defeated over Reform in the summer of 1866, but the new Conservative colonial secretary, Lord Carnarvon, fully accepted the commitment to support Confederation made by his predecessor Edward Cardwell. Indeed, Carnarvon attempted the ambitious strategy of attempting to carry an outline bill at the tail end of the parliamentary session. In July, he came close to securing agreement from the Liberal opposition to hurry through an immediate bill, leaving details to be settled by Order in Council. Abruptly, on 27 July, the Liberal leaders abruptly decided that they could not accept Carnarvon's proposal to incorporate a uniform franchise qualification in the bill, contending instead that each province should be left to determine who should vote for the new British North American legislature. This objection had not been voiced when Carnarvon and Cardwell had discussed a joint strategy on 21 July, and its sudden appearance was almost certainly a response to the Hyde Park Riots of 23-25 July, the one episode of the Second Reform Act controversy which recalled the revolutionary threat of 1831. The Liberals, who were seriously divided over the Reform issue, did not propose to commit themselves to a definition of fitness to vote in Canada which might be used against them at home.[82] The intrusion of the franchise issue -- coupled with the late and leisurely arrival in London of the Canadian delegates -- delayed the introduction of legislation until February 1867. As a result, the British North America bill went through its various stages into law side-by-side with a ministerial crisis. By mid-January, Galt had feared "dangerous delays" to Confederation should the "most precarious" Conservative fall over Reform. If the Conservatives simply resigned and were replaced by the equally supportive Liberals, "our Bill will pass in good time". If, however, they called a general election, all legislation would have to begin afresh in the new parliament, "and in the meantime, an election must take place in Nova Scotia, which will certainly be adverse to Confederation". Galt clung to the hope that even if ministers were forced into an election, "they may induce the House to pass certain measures first, of which ours may be one."[83] That Galt could entertain such a hope is evidence that he regarded all parties in Britain as whole-hearted supporters of Confederation. In the event, the bill was debated in the two houses of parliament between 19 February and 12 March and received the royal assent on 29 March. The debates coincided with the explosion of the cabinet crisis over Reform, which was at its peak between 25 February and 2 March -- when Carnarvon himself resigned. On 4 March, a Liberal MP attempted to prevent the House from going into Committee on the British North America bill, demanding instead that the government clarify its policy towards Reform. Significantly, it was Gladstone from the opposition front bench who swiftly halted the manoeuvre by appealing to the importance of Confederation.[84] Of course, John A. Macdonald could hardly have foreseen in June 1864 the extent of the British political crisis which broke in the early months of 1867. Yet it seems likely that he looked "a little ahead" and appreciated the extent to which the involvement of the British would dictate the outcome. Macdonald was a lawyer, and possessed extensive experience of steering legislation through the provincial parliament. He had represented the Canadian government in negotiations for the Intercolonial Railway in Britain in 1857, as well as acting unofficially in London for a savings bank in 1850 and 1862, while as a minister he was in close touch with the negotiations which Galt had headed in 1859. Macdonald would have known that once the imperial factor was invoked, he would gain time, for transatlantic communications were slow, and the process of government in Britain slower still. He would also gain the support of the British government, useful for prestige and for invoking the ever-potent loyalty cry, even if London had little in the way of real muscle. By mid-November 1864, Macdonald was ready to draft legislation for submission to the British.[85]

"Brown had the temper of an agitator and the outlook of a reformer. Macdonald had genius for government." Brown had no experience of government -- Macdonald had seen to that in 1858 - - and his only quasi-official contact with the British had been an interview with the duke of Newcastle in August 1862, when Brown was officially retired from colonial politics. Brown felt that he had quietened the duke's fears about representation by population.[86] In fact, a few weeks earlier, Newcastle had circulated a landmark despatch to the North American provinces giving them full permission to discuss any scheme for intercolonial union among themselves before bringing it to London.[87] Newcastle's object was to encourage a move towards Confederation. Brown would have been wrong had he interpreted the duke's attitude as implying an open-ended guarantee that the British would actively endorse any constitutional settlement which might emerge from the North American provinces. While Brown had spoken in the Assembly of the need to seek British co-operation, the Globe wrote confidently of the creation of a Canadian federation as if solely by legislation in the province's own parliament, and even predicted that "those who are beyond the control of the Canadian Parliament, will be taken in whenever they are willing to come."[88] The Globe was correct in believing that the Canadian parliament could redistribute ridings in favour of Upper Canada: Westminster had quietly conceded that power in 1854. Perhaps the Canadian parliament could also have created two large subordinate authorities like gigantic municipalities covering the two sections of the province -- again without troubling Westminster. When the Globe spoke of Lower Canada having a moral guarantee of autonomy within a Canadian federation, it did not seem to be contemplating any more entrenched legal security. Yet Globe editorials could equally assume that "it will be carefully provided in the constitution that the Upper House shall not have the power of originating bills involving the expenditure of money."[89] If there was to be a constitution, there would have to be imperial legislation. The Globe was evidently not aware of the implications of its own wishes. Indeed, it was editorially offended when The Times reproved colonial politicians for their presumption in dictating an imperial solution. "Whether there shall be a federation of the American colonies must depend, if we are dealing with law and not with revolution, upon the will of the Imperial Parliament; and it is a new thing to create Ministries, in dependencies of the British Crown, in order to give effect to changes which violate the Constitution of the whole empire."[90] In fact, The Times felt that the time for Confederation had "long since arrived" and made it clear that it was not much bothered by procedural niceties. The Globe still found the notion of an autonomous imperial role an unwelcome novelty."Suppose we admit at once that the policy of the present Canadian Government is one which can only be carried into effect by the aid of the Imperial authorities. What then? How does the Times think that the Canadian people are to get changes desired unless by first putting in power a Government pledged to procure those changes if possible? We require the assent of the Canadian Parliament to the new constitutional scheme, as well as that of the Home Government.[91]

The Globe's thinking was usually that of its proprietor. When George Brown returned to London in December 1864, this time as the envoy of Confederation, he was still inclined to brush aside British reservations about details of the Quebec resolutions. "I do not doubt that if we insist on it, they will put through the scheme just as we ask it." What he did not know -- because Cardwell, Newcastle's successor, did not tell him -- was that the colonial secretary was already drafting his own Confederation bill embodying his own ideas on the subject.[92] When a despatch from Newfoundland announced that the island's government had accepted an invitation to attend the Quebec Conference, Cardwell had drily commented that "the question is one in which the Imperial -- as well as the Newfoundland Legislature -- will have something to say."[93] He urged the provinces to confine themselves to passing identical addresses to the Crown, and entrust the final drafting of the measure to plenipotentiary delegates meeting in London. As he told Brown, the House of Commons would not pass a scheme which would not work.[94] Even Frederic Rogers, permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office, who was sometimes impatient at Cardwell's constant concern about the likely reactions of MPs had to admit that he "had a fine instinctive sense of what 'would do'" when it came to dealing with the House of Commons.[95] When Cardwell made it clear in a speech to his constituents in January 1865 that Westminster would have "the ultimate decision" on Confederation, even the Globe grasped that British approval for Confederation was neither "carelessly given" nor "based upon a policy of allowing us to do as we please. Even though the "British authorities" might have given their consent "to a very different scheme from that actually adopted at Quebec", the strength of their endorsement of Confederation reflected both the excellence of the project and the united sentiments of the British people.[96] The Globe had finally realised that to unscramble the irksome structure of the province of Canada, it would be necessary to accommodate colonial needs to the metropolitan target of a union of all the provinces.[97] This is not to suggest that the British North American provinces were manoeuvred into union from London, but rather that Macdonald manipulated an imperial sentiment in his own interests. The successive deadlines to press ahead with a federation of the two Canadas in the parliamentary sessions of 1865 and 1866 were allowed to lapse because British efforts had been engaged to work for Confederation, and the wider union had thus not disappeared from the practical agenda. The Great Coalition was formed in response to the increasing realisation that the imbalance of population within the existing Canadian Union made its reconstruction unavoidable simply because the maintenance of artificial equality between the two sections was untenable in Canadian (but not British) political culture. Just as it is untrue that the province of Canada had collapsed in ineptitude and deadlock, just as it is unconvincing that Confederation was the one and only answer to each and every problem in British North America, so it is not the case that the Fathers of Confederation forget their enmities in the lofty aim of nation-building. Of course they were uplifted by the prospect of creating a new colonial nation, especially as Charlottetown and Quebec raised hopes that the dream would be realised. There is no historical law which debars politicians from combining statesmanship with self-interest. Faced with the near-certainty of the early collapse of the artificial equality of representation in the province of Canada, the Bleus opted to stage a pre-emptive retreat to entrench French Canadians in their own unit within a wider federation. George Brown decided to work with them towards a federal solution because the price of complete victory on his own terms, a head-on communal confrontation, was too high. It was the likelihood that the logjam would soon break, not the rigidity of a deadlock, which triggered the Great Coalition. Historians have tended to be relatively uncritical in their acceptance of the claims of patriotic disinterestedness made by the Fathers of Confederation. Furthermore, under the influence of nationalistic hindsight, Canada's historians have simplified the policies of the Great Coalition, thereby losing sight of the extent to which British North American union was a ploy and not a crusade. Even where duality of aim has been acknowledged, the full significance of the commitment to a federation of the two Canadas has rarely been appreciated. The negotiations which led to the formation of the Great Coalition were anything but a reconciliation of enemies under the inspiring vision of a new nationality: Brown and Macdonald grasped each other not by the hand but by the throat. Macdonald can only be seen the victor in 1864 because he emerged as the champion in the outcome of 1867. In reality, in terms of 1864, it was Brown who had won hands down, by cornering his enemy into contingent endorsement of a thinly camouflaged form of representation by population in the form of a federation of the two Canadas -- a system of government which would shift the centre of gravity of Canadian politics from the Bleus of the lower province to the Upper Canada Grits, by-passing the increasingly marginalised John A. Macdonald. At the time the Great Coalition was formed, Brown apparently expected the bid for Confederation would fail, as it Had failed in 1858-59. Indeed, both an aggressive Brown and a truculent Macdonald made it clear to Maritimers in the autumn of 1864 that Canadians had already agreed on a solution to their own problems. It is unlikely that we can ever fully understand why New Brunswickers and Nova Scotians accepted terms in 1866-67 which many of them regarded as unfavourable unless we appreciate that they realised that if they refused the offer of Confederation, it might not be repeated. Apparently trapped by Brown in the summer of 1864, Macdonald's only escape route ran through London. When New Brunswick upset his calculations in March 1865, he played the imperial card -- not necessarily because the British possessed some magic power by which recalcitrant Maritimers could be smacked into line -- but because to involve the British government would buy him the precious commodity of time. The appeal to the Creightonian Caesar also brought into play the one element which Brown had almost certainly overlooked, the reluctance of British ministers to ask Westminster to endorse any form of representation by population for the province of Canada while they were resisting demands that industrial Manchester should have a larger voice in the nation's affairs than bucolic Thetford. It remains a remarkable testimony to British support for Confederation that the British North America bill got through Westminster in the midst of a major crisis over parliamentary reform. It is unlikely that a bill to clothe rep. by pop. in federal garb would have become anything other than a surrogate battle ground for British factions in the early months of 1867. Indeed, it is improbable that either the cautious Cardwell or the excitable Carnarvon would even have attempted to introduce such a provocative measure. To portray Brown and Macdonald as factional manipulators is not necessarily to diminish their historical standing. It would be as foolish to condemn politicians for negotiating with enemies and adapting their ideas to changing circumstances as it would be to condemn surgeons for shedding blood when they operate. It is also an attitude which is profoundly corrosive of all forms of free government. They may have acted for reasons which included petty self-interest, and it is as well that we should penetrate and understand their motives and their options. George Brown could strengthen the position of his section equally through a federation of the two Canadas or within a wider union of all the provinces. If he saw Confederation as merely as a blind in June 1864, he allowed himself to be converted within months as soon as it appeared to be an achievable option. The difference between Brown and Macdonald was that one had room to manoeuvre and adapt, the other did not. Macdonald's role as a nation-builder depended on his brilliance as political manipulator. Certainly one British observer of the final stages of Confederation recalled John A. Macdonald as "the ruling genius and spokesman" and "was very greatly struck by his power of management and adroitness." The senior civil servant at the Colonial Office, Frederic Rogers was a friend of such giant personalities as Gladstone, J.A. Froude and Cardinal Newman. At the Colonial Office in January 1867 he observed Macdonald surrounded by suspicious allies from French Canada and the Maritimes, who watched "as eager dogs watch a rat hole; a snap on one side might have provoked a snap on the other, and put an end to the concord. He stated and argued the case with cool, ready fluency, while at the same time you saw that every word was measured, and that while he was making for a point ahead, he was never for a moment unconscious of any of the rocks among which he had to steer."[98] Macdonald himself would put it more succinctly: "I have always been able to look a little ahead". Macdonald, then, used the British, even when he appeared to be prostrate at Caesar's feet. There had been a British consensus for at least two decades in favour of Confederation, but that consensus by itself could achieve nothing. Colonies and colonials were anything but puppets; the disapproving might of the British empire could not even bully Prince Edward Island into joining a union which the tiny island rejected. The imperial card was probably more useful to Macdonald in outflanking Canadian rivals than in trumping Maritime opponents. However, if the British needed Macdonald, the inverse was also true. Without a firm consensus in Britain that the union of British North America would not only "conduce to the Welfare of the Provinces" but also "Promote the Interests of the British Empire",[99] there would have been no imperial card to play, no Caesar to ponder appeals.





1. The major accounts of the coming of Confederation remain D.G. Creighton, The Road to Confederation: The Emergence of Canada 1863-1867 (Toronto, 1964) [cited as Road to Confederation]; W.L. Morton, The Critical Years: The Union of British North America

 1857-1873 (Toronto, 1964) [cited as Critical Years] and P.B. Waite, The Life and Times of Confederation 1864-1867: Politics, Newspapers, and the Union of British North America (Toronto, 1962) [cited as Life and Times]. See also Ged Martin, ed., The Causes of Canadian Confederation (Fredericton, 1990). Other general textbooks are cited in the notes below. It may be objected that to label a selection of statements from a range of books by various academics a "consensus" is an over- simplification. Of course there are differences of interpretation and of emphasis, but overall I believe that anyone reading the works cited will find major common threads of explanation contained within them. Overall, it seems reasonable to argue, first, that their explanations constitute an overall consensus and, secondly, that the consensus is fundamentally misleading.


2. Goldwin Smith, Canada and the Canadian Question (ed. C.

Berger, Toronto, 1971), p. 114.


3. Robert C. Vipond, Liberty and Community: Canadian Federalism and the Failure of the Constitution (Albany, 1991), p. 17. Ronald L. Watts attempts to invoke the golden age to inspire modern Canadians to emulation. "Once before, in 1864-67, Canadians responded to a constitutional impasse by overcoming their differences and agreeing upon an imaginative and creative solution -- the Confederation of 1867. Now, after a century and a quarter during which conditions have changed so much, it is time for us to rise again to the challenge by creating a new and imaginative resolution." Ronald L. Watts and Douglas M. Brown, eds, Options for a New Canada (Toronto, 1991), p. 12. A view of the 1860s which acknowledged the role played by rivalries and self-interest might be more encouraging for the 1990s.


4. Road to Confederation, ch. 9; Phillip A. Buckner, "The Maritimes and Confederation: A Re-assessment", in Ged Martin, ed., Causes of Confederation, pp.86-113.


5. This section draws upon Ged Martin, History as Science or Literature: Explaining Canadian Confederation, 1858-1867 (London, 1989; Canada House Lecture Series no. 41) and Ged Martin, "The Case against Canadian Confederation, 1864-1867" in Ged Martin, ed., Causes, pp. 19-49.


6. Cf Frederick Madden with D. Fieldhouse, eds, Imperial Reconstruction 1763-1840: The Evolution of Alternative Systems of Colonial Government (Select Documents on the Constitutional History of the British Empire, vol. iii) (New York, 1987), p. 577n. Section 5 17 & 18 Vic. cap. 118 repealed section 26 of 3 & 4 Vic. cap. 35, which entrenched the equal representation provided for in section 12 of the Act of 1840. See Frederick Madden, ed., Imperial Constitutional Documents, 1765-1965: A Supplement (Oxford, 1966), p. 21. Cf. also Chester Martin, Foundations of Canadian Nationhood (Toronto, 1955), p. 309. For R.B. Somerville, see Robert Hill, "Introduction" to Robert Sellar, The Tragedy of Quebec (Toronto, 1974 ed.), p. viii.


7. Globe, 15 March 1864; J.M.S. Careless, Brown of the Globe: ii, Statesman of Confederation 1860-1880 (Toronto, 1963), pp. 120-121.


8. Paul G. Cornell, The Great Coalition (Canadian Historical Association Historical Booklet no. 19, 2nd ed., 1971 [first published 1966]), p. 17.


9. James Young, Public Men and Public Life in Canada: The Story of the Canadian Confederacy (2 vols, Toronto, 1912 ed.), i, pp. 197-198.


10. Monck to Henry Monck, 28 March 1864, in W.L. Morton, ed., Monck Letters and Journals 1863-1868: Canada from Government House at Confederation (Toronto, 1970), pp. 42-43.


11. Public Record Office, London [cited as PRO], CO 42/640, Monck to Cardwell, no. 43, 31 March 1864, fos 378-383.


12. Bruce W. Hodgins, "Adam Johnston Fergusson Blair", Dictionary of Canadian Biography, ix, p. 253.


13. PRO, CO 42/641, Monck to Fortescue, private, 21 April 1864, fos 132-133.


14. Critical Years, pp. 143-44 and cf. W.L. Morton, The Kingdom

 of Canada (Toronto, 1969 ed.), pp. 315-16.


15. Careless, Brown, ii, p. 122.


16. Road to Confederation, p. 51.


17. Except where specified, this analysis of the Taché-Macdonald ministry is based on articles in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. The description of Buchanan comes from W.S.Wallace, ed., The Macmillan Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto, 1963), p. 90.


18. Macdonald to Lindsey, 24 June 1860 and Macdonald to Lindsey, confidential, 24 September 1858, in J.K. Johnson and C.B.Stelmack, eds, The Papers of the Prime Ministers; ii, The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald 1858-1861 (Ottawa, 1969), pp. 218, 84; Young, Public Men and Public Life in Canada, i, p. 201; Donald Swainson, "James Cockburn"in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, xi, pp. 195-197.


19. Macdonald to Gillespy, 2 August 1861, in Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 355.


20. Macdonald to Galt, 2 November 1857, in O. D. Skelton, Life and Times of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (ed. G. MacLean, Toronto, 1966), p. 86.


21. Macdonald to Buchanan, private, 12 August 1861 in Johnson and Stelmack, eds, op. cit., p. 359


22. Careless, Brown, ii, pp. 69-70 and cf. D.G.Creighton, John A. Macdonald: i, The Young Politician (Toronto, 1965) pp. 336-

337; Brown to Gordon Brown, 12 February 1863, in Careless, Brown, ii, p. 92.


23. Speech of 22 June 1864, quoted ibid., pp. 142-143; Joseph Pope, Memoirs of the Right Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald (Toronto, n.d.), p. 683.


24. Brown to Holton, 26 June 1863, quoted in Careless, Brown, ii, p. 97. Immediately after Brown's famous gesture of locking the committee room door from the inside, to emphasise that his select committee on the state of the constitution had to reach agreement, J-E. Turcotte promptly declared "that the war between Upper and Lower Canada must now cease". It seemed that he would support a federal solution. Turcotte had previously "spoken of wading knee-deep in blood rather than submit to Representation by Population". Brown was reported to have said that "nothing surprised him more". Young, op. cit., i, p. 211.


25. Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North American Provinces (Quebec, 1865) [cited as

CD], p. 28. See also P.B. Waite, ed., The Confederation Debates in the Province of Canada: 1865 (Toronto, 1963 ed.), p. 40.


26. Macdonald to Lynn, private, 10 April 1866, in Joseph Pope, ed., Correspondence of Sir John Macdonald (Garden City ed., 1921), p. 31, also quoted with differences of capitalisation in J.K.Johnson and P.B.Waite, "Sir John Alexander Macdonald", Dictionary of Canadian Biography, xii, p. 597.


27. Joseph Cauchon, L'Union des Provinces de l'Amérique Britannique du Nord (Québec, 1865), p. 18.


28. Sir Edmund Head's memorandum on the seat of government, 1857, quoted in D.G.G.Kerr, with J.A.Gibson, Sir Edmund Head: A Scholarly Governor (Toronto, 1954), p. 173.


29. La Minerve, 30 August 1864; Montreal Gazette, 2 September 1864, in Creighton, Road to Confederation, p. 98.


30. CD, p. 794; Dawson to Howe, 15 November 1865, quoted in Life and Times, p. 135.


31. Bruce W. Hodgins, John Sandfield Macdonald 1812-1872 (Toronto, 1972), p. 68.


32. Quoted in Careless, Brown, ii, p. 42.


33. Chester Martin, Foundations of Canadian Nationhood, p. 303.


34. Careless, Brown, ii, p. 47.


35. CD, pp. 28-29 and cf. Waite, ed., Confederation Debates, p. 40.


36. Creighton, John A. Macdonald: i, p. 97.


37. Desmond Morton, A Short History of Canada (rev. ed., Edmonton, 1983), pp. 72-73.


38. Kenneth McNaught, The Pelican History of Canada (London, 1978 ed.), p. 122; J.L. Finlay and D.N. Sprague, The Structure of Canadian History (2nd ed., Scarborough, Ont., 1984), p. 174.


39. e.g. R.D. Francis, R. Jones and D.B. Smith, Origins: Canadian History to Confederation (Toronto, 1988), p. 380.


40. Memoranda summarising the negotiations were printed in Pope,Memoirs of Macdonald, pp. 680-687 and Alexander Mackenzie, The Life and Speeches of Hon. George Brown (Toronto, 1882), pp. 88-94.


41. Road to Confederation, p. 64


42. Cf. note 8.


43. Memoranda in Pope, Memoirs, pp. 680-87; Young, op. cit, p. 4.


44. Creighton, Macdonald, i, p. 357.


45. Globe, 12 May 1860, 6 January 1863, quoted in Careless, Brown, ii, pp. 23, 111.


46. Globe, 27 June 1864.


47. Quoted in J.M.S.Careless, Brown of the Globe; i, The Voice of Upper Canada 1818-1859 (Toronto, 1959), pp. 253, 315, 321


48. Quoted in Careless, Brown, ii, pp. 142-144


49. Globe, 23 June 1864, reporting ministerial explanations of 22 June.


50. Donald Swainson, John A. Macdonald: The Man and the Politician (Toronto, 1971), p. 62.


51. Globe, 24 June, 6 August 1864.


52. Quoted in Joseph Pope, ed., Confederation: Being a Series of Hitherto Unpublished Documents Bearing on the British North America Act, (Toronto, 1895), p. 55 and in G.P.Browne, ed., Documents on the Confederation of British North America (Toronto, 1969), p. 95.


53. Quoted in Edward Whelan, comp., The Union of the British Provinces (Charlottetown, 1865), p. 29. Brown was speaking at a banquet in Halifax on 10 September 1864.


54. Cornell, op. cit., p. 18.


55. Gordon to Cardwell, private, 30 January 1865, quoted J.K.Chapman, The Career of Arthur Hamilton Gordon First Lord Stanmore 1829-1912 (Toronto, 1964), p. 28. The wording varies slightly in the copy (or draft) in University of New Brunswick, Stanmore Papers, microfilm, reel 2.


56. Morton, ed., Monck Letters and Journals, pp. 158-59, entry for 20 October 1864. But what was Macdonald declaiming? The soliloquy from Act III beginning "To be or not to be" is one of the best known of all Shakespearean passages, and would have been instantly recognisable if overhead, but it deals not with the founding of a new nation but rather with the issue of suicide. My guess would favour Act I, Scene 5: "The time is out of joint; O cursed spite,That ever I was born to set it right!" My colleague Ian Revie favours Act II, scene 2:"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."


57. Cf. his reference to "New Brunswick revolting against the Confederacy" in Ottawa, National Archives of Canada [cited as NAC], Macdonald Papers, Letter Book, vol. 8, Macdonald to Watkin, private, 27 March 1865.


58. CD, p. 657.


59. Brown to Anne Brown, 8 March 1865, quoted in Careless, Brown, ii, p. 190


60. Correspondence and memoranda in Pope, Memoirs, pp. 700-706


61. Careless, Brown, ii, pp. 176-180; NAC, Brown Papers, MG24, B40, vol. 5, Brown to Anne Brown, 6 December 1864, pp. 1107-

1110. Brown's speech on the policy of the new ministry was extravagantly praised by the Spectator, no. 1886, 20 August 1864, pp. 954-955.


62. Diary, 19 January 1865, in Morton, ed., Monck Letters and Journals, p. 209.


63. Quoted in Careless, Brown, ii, p. 218.


64. Ibid., pp. 211-220; Pope, Memoirs, p. 281.


65. Thanks to the late departure of a train, James Young had a long discussion with Brown immediately after his resignation. Brown insisted that the cause of Confederation "would not be imperilled by his withdrawal, as he would support it as heartily without a seat in the Cabinet as with one", and had never wished to be part of the ministry in the first place. "Whilst his resignation was caused by the differences with his colleagues on the Reciprocity negotiations, however, he frankly admitted that other circumstances had had some influence in determining his course." In particular, Brown felt that his personal position in the cabinet and in particular his relations with Macdonald had deteriorated since the installation of Belleau as nominal leader had made his rival "Premier de facto". Young, op. cit., i, pp. 264-65.


66. Quoted in Careless, Brown, ii, p. 215. For Brown's role in New Brunswick at this time, see ibid., pp. 208-211; Chapman, Career of Gordon, p. 38.


67. Brown to Cartier, 19 December 1865, quoted in Careless, Brown, ii, pp. 217-218. The correspondence is printed, with slight variation, in Pope, Memoirs, pp. 708-709.


68. Road to Confederation, p. 339.


69. Macdonald to M.C. Cameron, 3 January 1872, in Pope, ed., Correspondence, p. 161.


70. Globe, 23 June 1864.


71. Monck's throne speech of 19 January 1865 is in British Parliamentary Papers, 1867, xlviii, p. 8.


72. E.McWhinney, Canada and the Constitution 1979-1982: Patriation and the Charter of Rights (Toronto, 1982), p. 68.


73. Macdonald to Knutsford, 18 July 1889, in Pope, Memoirs, p. 332.


74. Quoted in Donald Southgate, "The Most English Minister...: The Policies and Politics of Lord Palmerston (London, 1966), p. 528.


75. J.B.Conacher, The Aberdeen Coalition 1852-1855: A Study in

 Mid-Nineteenth-Century Party Politics (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 99-101.


76. Quoted in Careless, Brown, i, p. 348.


77. F.B.Smith, The Making of the Second Reform Bill (Melbourne, 1966), p. 16


78. Quoted in G. Kitson Clark, The Making of Victorian England (London, 1965 ed.), p. 209; Pope, Memoirs, p. 683.


79. R. Shannon, Gladstone: i, 1809-1865 (London,, 1982), pp. 506-512.


80. Globe, 13 June 1864, and cf. 18 June 1864.


81. C.Seymour, Electoral Reform in England and Wales (New Haven, Conn., 1915), pp. 335-346; Smith, Second Reform Bill, p. 225.


82. For the correspondence, see G.W.Martin, "Britain and the Future of British North America, 1837-1867" (PhD thesis, Cambridge, 1972), pp. 316-318.


83. NAC, Galt Papers, MG27, I28, vol. 3, Galt to Mrs Galt (typescript copy), 14 January 1867, 1153.


84. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, 3rd series, clxxxv, 4 March 1867, cols 1310-1316. The bill did not complete its progress through Parliament until 12 March, when the Lords accepted minor amendments made by the Commons. These included the insertion of the word "male" before the phrase "British subject" in the definition of the qualification to vote in the District of Algoma. Ibid., cols 1316, 1701.


85. Macdonald to Tupper, private, 14 November 1864, in Pope, Memoirs, pp. 287-288.


86. John Willison, Reminiscences: Political and Personal (Toronto, 1919), p. 177; Careless, Brown, ii, p. 74. Frederic Rogers of the Colonial Office called Newcastle "a thorough gentleman ... and considerate of all about him. ... It was said of him that he did not remember his rank unless you forgot it". G.E.Marindin, ed., Letters of Frederic Lord Blachford Under Secretary of State for the Colonies 1860-1871 (London, 1896), p. 225.


87. The importance of this despatch, of 6 July 1862, is discussed in Ged Martin, "Launching Canadian Confederation,1836-1864; Means to Ends", Historical Journal, xxvii (1984), pp. 595-597. For the despatch, see Joseph Pope, ed., Confederation, pp. 303-304 and extract in Browne, ed., Documents on the Confederation of British North America, pp. 30-31. Macdonald cited this despatch at the Quebec Conference when R.B. Dickey of Nova Scotia asked: "What authority from the Home Government have we to consider this subject?" (Pope, ed., Confederation, p. 59).


88. Globe, 24 June 1864.


89. Ibid., 29 June 1864.


90. The Times, 21 July 1864. In October, The Times described the Charlottetown conference as "somewhat singular", while the Examiner grumbled that the colonies were "revolutionizing the Government and forming a Federation, without leaving to Her Majesty the Queen a solitary voice in the matter." The Times, 15 October; Examiner (London), no. 2960, 22 October 1864, pp. 673-674.


91. Globe, 6 August 1864.


92. Brown to Macdonald, private and confidential, [Edinburgh], 22 December 1864, in Pope, Memoirs, pp. 289-90; NAC, Monck Papers, microfilm, A-755, Cardwell to Monck, private, 16[?] December 1864.


93. PRO, CO 194/173, minute by Cardwell, 11 October 1864, fo. 7. [Abbreviations written out in full].


94. NAC, Monck Papers, microfilm, A-755, Cardwell to Monck, private, 18 November; private and confidential, 3 December 1864.


95. Rogers to Miss Rogers, 23 December 1864, in Marindin, ed., Letters of Blachford, pp. 252-253, and recollection, p. 226.


96. Globe, 28 January (quoting The Times, 7 January), 30 January 1865.


97. For British support for the aim of Confederation, see Ged Martin, "An Imperial Idea and Its Friends", in Martel, ed., Studies in British Imperial History, pp. 49-94.


98. Marindin, ed., op. cit., pp. 301-302.


99. From the preamble to the British North America Act, 30 Victoria cap. iii, as quoted in Pope, ed., Confederation, p. 248.

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