Gladstone and the limits of Canadian self-government, 1849: the Rebellion Losses Bill in British politics

"The Canadian Rebellion Losses Bill of 1849 in British Politics" appeared early in 1978, published in the slightly delayed Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, vi (1977), 3-22. The article sought to interweave several themes around the central question of the lack of definition in the limits of colonial autonomy, raised by Canada's recent transition to responsible government.

The issue arose in specific form following the decision of new Reform cabinet, led by Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, to introduce legislation to provide compensation for damage incurred during the rebellions of 1837-8, an episode that remained a raw memory for Canada's Tories, so recently ousted from control of the province. This central concern could not be fully explored without taking account of the factional manoeuvres in an unstable parliamentary situation at Westminster, where Lord John Russell's Whig ministry depended upon the split in the opposition Conservatives between protectionists, who opposed Britain's post-1846 swing towards free trade, and the more liberal followers of Sir Robert Peel, who were prepared to allow political foes to hold office rather than risk a return to tariffs. This political chess game was played out through a further layer of 'high politics' personal priorities, which involved the tactics of the chief challenger to the Canadian legislation, Gladstone – which were predictably complex, and probably disguised even from himself – and of other notable participants, Peel, Russell, the embattled Colonial Secretary, Lord Grey, and the saturnine and manipulative opposition leader, Lord Stanley.

Thus, the article combined several thematic layers, each of them substantial in its own right. The editors of the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History were supportive, but the requirements of publication dictated that the material had to be presented within a framework of around 8,000 words. The challenge was one familiar to most working historians. A draft at an earlier stage of the research had exceeded 30,000 words, and that was written before the papers of the prominent Conservative, J.C. Herries, became available. This source revealed how the protectionists ambushed Gladstone in the House of Commons by proposing a formal motion to veto the Canadian legislation, a course of action that he had hoped to avoid. (Shortly after the article appeared, the publication of the first instalment of the diaries of Edward Stanley, son of the party leader, threw further light upon Conservative manoeuvres.) Journal editors (and publishers) also liked to avoid excessive numbers of endnotes, which meant that the references, like much of the evidence that they supported, had to be compacted. In this reconsideration, I have re-written some of the more infelicitously telescoped phrases in the original text, and added new material in square brackets, mostly in the endnotes. An Afterword suggests ways in which historians might seek to take the material forward.

"The Canadian Rebellion Losses Bill of 1849 in British Politics"

The first responsible government cabinet in Canada, under Louis LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, was formed in March 1848. Lord Grey, the British Colonial Secretary, avoided definition of the spheres of colonial and imperial authority, relying on the influence of the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, to avoid the clashes which had hindered the smooth working of parliamentary government in the early eighteen-forties.[1] Nonetheless, the issue was soon raised. Between February and April 1849, LaFontaine carried a measure to compensate for losses incurred in Lower Canada during the rebellions of 1837-8. Gladstone and Brougham attempted to have the bill vetoed in Britain, and so made it an issue in party politics. Their campaign has been described as "the only true parliamentary test responsible government ever received".[2]  

The success of responsible government in keeping Canada tranquil throughout 1848, the year of upheaval in Europe, quickly gave the system the status of some­thing of a panacea. Gladstone, perhaps predictably, began to invest it with a religious meaning, while Cobden made the equally sweeping secular claim that Englishmen were as entitled to self-government in Montreal or Sydney as in his West Riding constituency. Although rightly dismissed as "a mere high-sounding phrase", Cobden's argument indicated that defence of colonial self-government was likely to discount imperial supremacy altogether.[3] Newspaper articles similarly showed that defenders of responsible government were muddled in their ideas about ultimate imperial control. "Such a self-government as England desires for herself she should accord to her colonies", The Times proclaimed just three weeks after insisting that self-government "be made to accord with the Imperial predominance of Great Britain". George Cornewall Lewis, a Whig intellectual and junior minister, was similarly ambivalent. In 1841 he had called the idea of a self-governing dependency "a contradiction in terms". Now he believed that "responsible government, though it may be defective in theory, may nevertheless be worked in practice, if the parties concerned are reasonable". But the logical contradiction remained, and Lewis added that responsible government could not work "unless people in this country see that, pro tanto, it is a concession of virtual independence to the colony".[4]

A major obstacle to British understanding of Canadian affairs was the general ignorance about all aspects of the province – something of which Canadians bitterly complained. London newspapers published little regular news from the colony, and evidently found difficulty in identifying trustworthy sources. Canadian correspondents were invariably partisan, and the Montreal press was widely condemned for its distortion. The lack of reliable information encouraged journalists and politicians to interpret Canadian events according to their own preconceived stereotypes. "The Canadians" were often referred to as an undifferentiated mass: Lord John Russell noted that "People argue . . . as if a million & a half of people were like one man, who wished for British rule or were against it".[5] The prevailing optimistic stereotype of Canada regarded the English-speaking colonists as loyal, and the French as sleepy and conservative. The pessimists, represented chiefly by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and reflected in the Morning Chronicle and the Spectator, regarded English Canadians as just as republican as their American neighbours, and stressed the "blind anti-Anglicism" of the French. The Morning Chronicle referred to "the French (or disloyal) party" and interpreted the fact that LaFontaine had taken no part in the 1837-8 risings as evidence not of his innocence but of his cunning.[6]

Compensation for rebellion losses had been an issue in Canadian politics for a decade. All parties had accepted that the question must be settled, but most agreed that former rebels should be excluded from compensation. In 1845 a Conservative ministry had passed legislation to settle the question in English-speaking Upper Canada, where there had been only minor uprisings. In February 1846, the Commissioners appointed to deal with claims enquired how they were to carry out the Act's professed intention to exclude rebels from compensation. The Provincial Secretary replied that they should ignore "any other description than that furnished by the sentences of the courts of law". However, in the confused conditions of 1837-8, very few insurgents had been brought before the courts. Many of the leaders had escaped across the border, a few were transported to Bermuda simply by Lord Durham's Ordinance. In Upper Canada this mattered relatively little, but in predominantly French Lower Canada, where disaffection had been widespread and juries refused to convict, sentences of law courts (or their absence) were no guide to rebel sympathisers.[7]

In February 1849 LaFontaine carried a series of resolutions, and then a bill, for compensation of losses in Lower Canada. Section 11 of the Rebellion Losses bill, empowered the Commissioners to examine claims "subject always to the limitations and exemptions contained in the preamble to the Act". This defined losses as "the total or partial, unjust, unnecessary or wanton destruction of the dwellings, buildings, property, and effects of the said inhabitants" but specifically excluded from compensation anyone convicted of a treasonable offence or transported by Lord Durham's controversial Ordinance to Bermuda. Defenders of the bill stressed the words "unjust, unnecessary or wanton". Much of the destruction of property by troops and militia in 1837-8 had been neither unnecessary nor wanton, since it had occurred in attacks upon rebel strongholds, but it was unjust to the owners of the buildings who were therefore entitled to compensation. It was also argued that the Lower Canada bill was stricter in defining and excluding rebels than the Upper Canada act. Critics however claimed it was not strict enough, since complicity in the risings had been so much more widespread in French Canada. Much of the damage done during the rebellions had been motivated by revenge. Did the bill entitle notorious French Canadian rebels to claim compensation for "unjust, unnecessary or wanton destruction" merely because their equally disaffected neighbours had refused to convict them? Accordingly, an English Canadian member, John Wilson, had attempted to amend the LaFontaine resolutions to exclude anyone "who aided, assisted or abetted" the rebellion. Although the amendment failed by 44 votes to 28, it attracted a small majority of English-speaking members. However, a majority of English-speaking members also supported the substantive resolutions, which were carried by 50 votes to 22, and the bill itself, which passed by 47 to 18. The Reformers could claim that they had not only followed but strengthened their predecessors' measure, and in fact reappointed the Upper Canada Commissioners. But Canadian Tories saw their chance of regaining office, either by splitting the two communities, or by forcing British intervention.[8]

On 19 March 1849, the Morning Chronicle made Rebellion Losses an issue in British politics. The Chronicle, formerly a semi-official Whig organ, had been purchased by a syndicate of the younger Peelites in 1848. By March 1849, it was rumoured to be in financial difficulties. If true, this may have encouraged the paper to sensationalise the story, on the basis of incomplete accounts from Canada. The leader of 19 March alleged that the province was "on the verge of a war of races" and accused the Colonial Office of being "virtually committed" to the infliction of a "most deadly blow on the authority of the British Government, and the integrity of the Empire". Confronted with "this monstrous bill", Elgin should have dismissed his ministers and dissolved parliament, the course followed by Sir Charles Metcalfe in 1843-4. This was no happy precedent, and the Chronicle recognised that if the voters supported the bill at a general election, there would be no alternatives but force or a British withdrawal, "making Canada a present of her Government and her rebels". The Chronicle made the tactical error of associating itself too closely with the Canadian opposition, for instance in the virulence of its criticism of Elgin, and within a few days it attempted to back away from its own extremism, admitting that it was difficult to disentangle the truth from transatlantic reports. However, it had publicised the inflammatory views of Sir Allan MacNab, the Canadian opposition leader, and appeared to encourage English Canadians to rebellion. "They are tolerably well able to take care of themselves; and we very much misconstrue the tone adopted by the English press and English public in the province, if they do not find some means of resisting the heavy blow and great discouragement which is aimed at them." Such sentiments detracted from the Chronicle's more sober arguments. It pointed out that, "plausible" though the exemptions seemed, the bill did not even exclude Papineau and Mackenzie, the rebel leaders of 1837, emphasising the key point that only "a very small proportion indeed" of those who "notoriously and avowedly" took part in the rebellions had ever been convicted.[9]

A colonial issue was a potentially dangerous irritant in British politics in 1849. Lord John Russell's Whig government had no real parliamentary majority, and relied on the support of about one hundred Peelites. However, the Peelites could not be counted on for united action. Their leading figures, Peel himself and Sir James Graham, were content to accept the role of elder statesmen with no further ambition for office. Peel not only refused to act as a party leader but had successfully discouraged Graham from joining the cabinet in January 1849. Yet some realignment of political parties was increasingly likely, since the free trade question, which united Whigs and Peelites, was – in legislative terms – virtually settled. The younger Peelites, notably Gladstone and Lord Lincoln, evidently did not relish an indefinite future in the wilderness. If free trade could be regarded as an accepted fact, it would also be possible for the Conservatives to reunite, marrying Peelite talent to the vacuum in Protectionist leadership. Attempts had already been made to coalesce under Lincoln, and in 1849-50 rumour nominated Gladstone for the same task. The two men occupied a frustrating position, since they were clearly committed to the free trade policy of the Whigs. It was probably no accident that they chose to devote (or divert) much of their energy to colonial questions.[10]

Their choice was natural enough. Gladstone had briefly served as Colonial Secretary in 1845-6, and Lincoln's interest in the colonies stemmed from his period as Irish Secretary under Peel, when emigration had seemed one response to famine. Colonial policy was an area in which Russell's government was invitingly weak. Despite his achievements, Earl Grey was unpopular. Harsh in voice and features and abrupt in manner, he seemed to personify the "old Whig leaven" of aristocrats, which obstructed union with the Peelites. Grey had twice resigned in the eighteen-thirties, and his objection to serving with the bellicose Palmerston had wrecked Russell's attempt to form a ministry in 1845, principled stances which fostered the impression that he was headstrong and "crochetty".[11] There were two complicating elements in the situation. One was that there was strong antipathy between Grey and Gladstone.[12] The other was that Grey's Under-Secretary, Benjamin Hawes, added little strength in the House of Commons. Small in stature, and one of the first middle-class men to enter parliament following the Reform Act, Hawes was an able administrator but, "an underbred man in manner, something of a shopkeeper", whose "excessive humility" made him an easy target.[13]

On 19 March, Hawes was asked in the Commons what information the Colonial Office had about press reports that the Canadian parliament was about to compensate rebels. Hawes had to admit that the Colonial Office had no official information, an answer which he repeated to Gladstone on 22 March. Another of the Greys, the Home Secretary, Sir George, "manifestly felt the impolicy of this, for he whispered to Mr Hawes, who thereupon admitted that Earl Grey had received a private letter on the subject from Lord Elgin". The incident was unfortunate, for it made Hawes look a mere puppet. When Herries, for the Protectionists, asked similar questions the next day, Hawes was absent, and it was Sir George Grey who replied, stating his belief that the Colonial Office had only a press report and a private letter. Although private communication between governors and ministers was an accepted channel for discussing matters too sensitive for formal despatches, this revelation of the Grey-Elgin correspondence gave an unfortunate impression of aristocratic exclusiveness and Whig complicity in suspect colonial legislation. Gladstone had asked whether Elgin had received any instructions about the bill, and how quickly it would come into force if he assented to it, drawing attention to the fact that Canada followed the British practice by which no money bill could be introduced without the prior consent of the Crown. There would be little point in British disallowance if the news of it had only reached Canada after the public treasury had been plundered by rebels. An irregular contribution followed from Joseph Hume, who had been closely associated with the Canadian opposition in the eighteen-thirties. Gladstone attempted to reply to Hume, but was called to order by the Home Secretary. "This Canadian business has unquestionably created considerable excitement", one correspondent reported. "The house was full while Mr Gladstone was putting his questions" and "the somewhat hurried way in which Sir George Grey interrupted him attracted considerable attention".[14]

This parliamentary skirmishing was probably discouraged by a mounting press campaign against intervention. The Daily News led the way, alleging that "very monstrous conclusions have been precipitately formed in certain quarters on very slender foundations". The Times similarly pooh-poohed the excitement, which it attributed to the frustrated energies of Sir Allan MacNab. The Times also advanced a more selfish reason for avoiding involvement. "To inflict upon the British public an interminable squabble about the local appropriation of the Colonial revenues would, indeed, be an unnecessary addition to the existing miseries of British life." Other London newspapers indicated concern at the bill, but none thought the matter worth a separate article. Most leading provincial newspapers followed The Times. The Morning Chronicle's most significant supporter was the weekly Spectator, which delivered itself of a long article, "The Canada Question made Easy". Both were influenced by Wakefield, one of Grey's most vicious critics.[15]

The lack of wide support for the Morning Chronicle's campaign probably owed more to the argument that Britain had enough problems of its own than to genuine confidence in the integrity of the Rebellion Losses Bill. "A more nice and difficult case can hardly be conceived", confessed The Times. Elgin himself feared that the bill was "not indeed altogether free from objection" and declined to report officially while it was still under consideration in order to preserve his neutrality. Grey had expected "a sharp attack upon this subject in a more regular way by & bye", but April passed with no more than newspaper rumblings. A major triumph for the defence was the publication of a letter from L. H. Masson, a rebel leader of 1837. Having been transported to Bermuda, Masson was excluded from compensation, but he claimed that Metcalfe had promised he would be eligible, because of the illegality of his sentence. Grey felt confident of repelling parliamentary attack, particularly since Masson's letter proved that the new Reform government had been more scrupulous in its exemptions than its Conservative predecessors.[16] Press attacks became fewer and less convincing. The Morning Chronicle confined itself to a cry against French domination, paraphrasing the inflammatory language of the Montreal Courier: "You may pass this odious tax, is the language of not a few amongst them, but so long as there is an axe or a rifle on the frontier, and Saxon hands to wield them, not a sixpence shall be paid." Grey condemned this as a "wicked and malignant Article", designed to stir up rebellion in Upper Canada.

Although the Protectionists probed the government in both houses about the mystery of Elgin's private letters early in May, the affair seemed to be dying. The Times congratulated the Colonial Office on the condition of Canada and on 11 May rejoiced that Rebellion Losses had not "been brought forward too prominently in the Parliament of England".[17] Until the transatlantic liner Europa docked at Liverpool on 14 May, it seemed that Canadian issues were not going to disturb British politics.

Britain awoke on 15 May to learn than an insurrection had broken out in Montreal. Later it was realised that "insurrection is surely the wrong term" and that Roebuck was right to call it "a row", but at first there was considerable alarm. Lord Elgin had been pelted after giving his assent to the Rebellion Losses bill, and a mob had burned down the Parliament buildings. Two former lieutenant-governors of Upper Canada, Sir George Arthur and Sir Francis Head, promptly blamed the whole system of responsible government. Head was reported to have been "cock-a-hoop" at the news from Montreal, but had quickly "let the subject drop, like a hot potatoe" upon realising "that his conservative friends there have made a mess of it".[18] The Montreal riots provoked a crescendo of outrage in the British press. "The Canadian Tories have given us another touch of their quality. They have proved their abhorrence of tumult and secession by pelting Her Majesty's representative with rotten eggs, and burning down the House of Assembly."[19] There were frequent comparisons with the Gordon riots of 1780, and Canadian Tories were unfavourably contrasted with Chartist and Irish insurgents, who had at least fought for an underprivileged majority, not for a colonial oligarchy.[20] In the confusion of partisan reports from Montreal, journalists resorted to the rival stereotypes of Canada. The liberal press alleged that MacNab had fomented the riots, while the Morning Chronicle and Morning Post dwelt on the opposition leader's bravery in saving part of the parliamentary library from the flames.[21]

The controversy over the Rebellion Losses bill had been essentially about the limits of colonial autonomy. The riots now made the very existence of responsible government the central issue. The Conservative press in general fostered this by attempting to exonerate the rioters by blaming the system, which coincided with the liberal verdict that the loss of their privileged position by the old 'Family Compact' was the real cause. Once responsible government itself became the issue, the question of its limitations was largely discarded. The riots strengthened the anti-interventionist case in three main respects. First, there was a stout refusal to be bullied. It seems likely that there had always been an undercurrent of dislike of the fawning nature of colonial 'loyalism' and suspicion of its true motive. Now that they had attempted to bite the hand which had ceased to feed them, there was a revulsion against "self-styled" or "soi-disant" loyalists. "Every political question connected with the Montreal riot has already been definitively settled." Two London newspapers abandoned their criticisms of the Rebellion Losses bill. One of them, the Sun, struck the note of public opinion: "In the presence of Rioters, Not One Shadow of a Concession." After a correspondence with Russell on the merits of the bill, the influential Whig and Canadian landowner Edward Ellice complained of the Prime Minister's "constant references" to the "disgraceful riots at Montreal", and alleged that his only defence of responsible government was abuse of "misconduct" produced by it.[22] Few were so subtle. Second, the determination not to be bullied was strengthened by the belief that the riots had been an isolated phenomenon, for Rebellion Losses disturbances elsewhere in the province were barely reported. Luckily, no one had been killed – a fortnight later there were thirty deaths in a theatre brawl in New York. The Canadian Tories were thus seen to be just as much rebels as their opponents, without actually facing Britain with the real challenge of a revolt. The Montreal British aroused contempt rather than fear. Indeed, some felt that Elgin had purchased considerable political strength for relatively little personal risk. Lady Grey told his sisters that eggs were better than bullets, and Monckton Milnes thought an "insulted waistcoat" was a cheap price to pay for British government support.[23] Third, it was now easy to grasp that the 1837-8 rebellions had not been a black-and-white affair in which malevolent insurgents had risen against the British empire, but more of a civil war in which unnecessary damage had been caused. "The Tories of Canada are rather addicted to that class of demonstrations which in this country are confined to the 5th of November. They like an excuse for a good bonfire. The same pyrotechnic ardour which lately proved so fatal to the Parliament House was equally conspicuous in 1837."[24]

The publication of Elgin's despatch describing the riots brought fresh strength to the Canadian and British governments. Grey thought it "most excellent" and promptly had it printed for parliament, taking care to send advance copies to the court and The Times, where it was generously praised. Francis Hincks, the Canadian finance minister, who arrived in England on 25 May, reported to Elgin that publication of his despatches had produced "a most beneficial effect on public opinion".[25] In contrast, attacks on Elgin in the Conservative press were self-defeating. The Morning Post contented itself with calling him "a cold and stupid blunderer, whose prejudices are as strong as his apprehension is weak". The Morning Chronicle abandoned all restraint. Elgin had quoted from "a London Journal of influence" the passage from the Chronicle's inflammatory leader of 19 March. The Chronicle indignantly repudiated the imputation that it had somehow instigated the riots, and dismissed the despatch as a "slovenly and absurd production" which proved that Elgin had written so many private letters that he was unable "to express himself with the decent reserve proper to a public despatch". Not only were such attacks likely to create sympathy for Elgin but they could easily be shown to misunderstand his position as the personal representative of the monarch, rather than as an executive officer of government. Nor was the Conservative cause helped by the Morning Herald's predictable ascription of all Canada's problems to "the wild theory of universal philanthropy and barren speculations of free trade".[26] Both publicly and privately the Whigs claimed that Stanley's Conservatives had fanned the Canadian flames. Now the Canadian and British oppositions were coming to be seen as two heads of the same monster. "Toryism is unchangeable by time or place".[27] The increased political temperature made it less likely than ever that the British parliament would be persuaded to intervene in the Rebellion Losses affair. However, it equally made it almost impossible to discuss the significant issue raised by the Morning Chronicle – how far did colonial autonomy extend?

Shortly before the news of the riots, the liberal press had begun to rely heavily on the responsible government cry. "If responsible government . . . means anything", asserted the Daily News while begging the question, "it means that the Canadians should be left to manage their local affairs", while The Times insisted that the Canadians had "learned that they are governed by their own representatives, not by a majority in St. Stephen's, or a back room in Downing-Street". The riots merely strengthened a view which already had little room for an active imperial element. Rebellion Losses was Canada's affair, "and England has really nothing to do with it". Responsible government had become all or nothing. Definition was indistinguishable from destruction. "To interfere now would be simply to suppress the Canadian Parliament, and to prove that the constitutional system we have given to Canada is a mere fiction, granted and withdrawn at the pleasure of the Colonial Secretary." The Morning Chronicle pointed to the weakness of this argument. "Given 'responsible government' say they – and Imperial interference ceases as a matter of course; if you advocate Imperial interference, you are an enemy to 'responsible government'. Really? Then what is the meaning of a Colonial dependency and of Imperial sovereignty? If there are literally no colonial questions in which we may interfere, we must beg to decline the honour of having a colonial empire."[28]

The liberal press was also muddled in its attitude to imperial supremacy and the role of the governor-general. There was widespread criticism of Elgin – not his ministers – for the deficiencies of the Montreal police.[29] The Times reassured itself that Elgin had unspecified reserve powers to prevent his ministers from oppressing the loyalists, and liberals were generally convinced that he had the power and the duty to veto any Canadian protective tariff. "No Canadian or Australian Lowell can be fostered for the sake of colonial protected manufactures", wrote Russell.[30] Yet even in 1849, Grey was obliged to acquiesce in a high Canadian tariff, mildly protesting but accepting the fiction that it was a revenue and not a protectionist measure. Here, as in the better-known dispute over the 1859 tariff, it was clear that Canada could do very much as it pleased, so long as it raised the cry of responsible government and provided the British government with some face-saving explanation.[31] While the scope of responsible government remained undefined, almost any degree of practical independence could be reconciled with mythical imperial control. Elgin in fact reserved six Canadian bills in 1849 for the consideration of the British government. They dealt neither with tariffs nor with rewards to rebels, but with such matters as the construction of a suspension bridge over the Niagara River, to which there might be military objections. No legislation was disallowed but appearances were maintained.[32]

Grey took great care in drafting a reply to Elgin's despatch describing the riots. He was particularly concerned to discount any idea of communal conflict in Canada, and to express undiminished confidence in Elgin. A reference to "the Canadian people of all races" was altered to "the people of Canada", indicating a careful refusal to acknowledge internal differences. Several drafts were made of a final section repudiating any possibility of allowing Elgin to resign.[33] A week after news of the riots, Elgin's despatch of 5 May arrived, which for the first time formally explained the terms of the Rebellion Losses bill. Once again Grey drafted a strong endorsement of Elgin's conduct, but was pressed at a cabinet meeting on 25 May to modify his wording. Never a malleable personality, Grey preferred to delay his reply: Elgin's despatch was not acknowledged until 13 June, after further stiff disagreement over Grey's "peremptory" tone.[34] There was also a difference of opinion between Grey and Russell. The Prime Minister thought that Elgin should not take the advice of his ministers in appointing the Commissioners who would administer the compensation fund. By choosing them on his own responsibility, Russell believed that Elgin would raise them above suspicion – not realising that this would imply a damaging lack of confidence in the integrity of the Canadian ministers. Grey tactfully opposed "embarrassing" Elgin with specific instructions. It was "purely a Canadian quest[io]n" which could "be judged far better on the spot than at this distance". These disagreements did not affect the main issue. Grey arranged for Russell to meet Hincks on 31 May, and the finance minister was able to assure Elgin of the "most cordial support" of the British government.[35]

Soon before the arrival of Hincks in Britain, the case for the Rebellion Losses bill was strengthened by the publication of Alexander MacKay's pamphlet, The Vindication of Lord Elgin. The Times, complaining at being "deluged" with parliamentary papers on Canada, evidently hoped that MacKay's contribution would close the case. It described the Vindication as "able" if "rather partisan". The visiting Canadian minister took the hint. "Mr MacKay's pamphlet has done good, and so much has been written that until some new movement is made, it is thought better to be quiet". The Vindication provided further ammunition for newspaper writers. Its rapid appearance was something of a tour-de-force, but close analysis reveals strong similarities to leading articles in the Daily News. Hincks commented that MacKay had "access" to the paper, and he probably wrote their Canadian articles.[36] Hincks himself was an impressive addition to the bill's defenders. He was active in briefing ministers and MPs on Rebellion Losses and gave useful advice to officials on various matters. Grey, never free with enthusiasm, went so far as to call him "a sensible man". Russell thought Hincks a person of ministerial calibre by British standards, and even Edward Ellice, although critical of the bill, found him "a very sensible and reasonable man".[37]

By contrast, the arrival of Sir Allan MacNab, the "Canadian exotic", on 5 June, did his cause little good. Far from rekindling British gratitude for the loyalist heroics of 1837, MacNab's arrival helped to brand the Canadian opposition as a relic of a bad past. Even the Spectator, formerly a strong critic of the bill, reacted strongly against the idea of overriding the Canadian legislature at his bidding.[38] Even from his own point of view, MacNab had made a tactical error in crossing the Atlantic. A genuine loyalist, he was too open to the subtle influences of the imperial capital. Grey found MacNab more reasonable than he expected, and promptly had him invited to a ball at Buckingham Palace. Flattery in official circles weakened his position almost as much as abuse in the press.[39] Grey politely declined his deceptively innocent request that the bill be strengthened in line with Wilson's amendment, while Elgin indignantly refused to bow to the intrigues of a minority leader.[40]

Although it was increasingly obscured by passions and personalities, there remained the central question of how far colonial autonomy could extend. Gladstone insisted that colonial self-government "must necessarily confine itself to local concerns, and imperial questions it cannot and ought not to touch". He regarded Rebellion Losses as a vital test case, claiming that the government's argument meant that if Canada decided to vote a subsidy to a foreign power at war with Britain, there could be no imperial veto because no imperial expenditure was involved.[41] By resolving to raise the issue in parliament, Gladstone thrust it more substantially into the interplay of party warfare. His motives for raising the issue were far from straightforward, and he evidently failed to foresee that he could not control the outcome of his initiative. Success or failure came to depend on the reactions of two prominent independent politicians, Peel and Lord Brougham, and the two party leaders, Russell and Stanley.

On 2 June, Gladstone called on Peel, hoping to enlist his support. Peel seemed open-minded although anxious to avoid a frontal assault on the government. He approved Gladstone's decision to alert Russell to his intentions. However, the following day Peel wrote firmly disapproving Gladstone's objections. Peel explained that when Gladstone had called on him, he had not "sufficiently adverted" to the papers presented to parliament on 25 May, which included correspondence about the Upper Canada indemnity. Peel laid much stress on the instructions of 1846 to the Upper Canada Commissioners to exclude from compensation only those actually convicted by the Courts. "It appears to me that these Instructions go very far to transfer the Responsibility for any improper Compensation in Lower Canada from Lord Elgin to Lord Metcalfe". Peel – whose ideas of ministerial responsibility in Canada were perhaps vague – thought Elgin had "placed restrictions upon compensation" stricter than those of 1846, a point that had "a most material bearing in my opinion upon his vindication". Gladstone's reply to this setback was understandably chilly, insisting that Peel's argument "does nothing I think to diminish our responsibility on this side of the water". He was also anxious to point out that the damaging letter was not written on behalf of Metcalfe but in the governorship of his successor, Cathcart. Here were the first signs of self-deception which in a less complex man would be regarded as hypocrisy. Gladstone had been the Colonial Secretary who appointed Cathcart, and Gladstone as Colonial Secretary had not proposed any imperial veto to exclude unconvicted rebels from the Upper Canada Act. Peel at least was consistent. In 1843 the Canadian government had wished to pay the former rebel leader Louis-Joseph Papineau his arrears of salary as Speaker of the Lower Canada Assembly before the 1837 rising. Peel had given his "reluctant acquiescence", even though he believed this settlement of provincial accounts was "not a mere Canadian question". Rebellion Losses caused a political breach between the two men which was not to be fully healed: in the last year of Peel's life they did not correspond on any political matter.[42]

Bereft of the possibility of a concerted Peelite attack, Gladstone was steadily becoming isolated. The government offered no way out. Russell was "much obliged" for Gladstone's notice of intention to raise the issue, and robustly hoped to find "that your opinions do not differ from the views formed by the Gov[ernmen]t on this question". On 8 June Gladstone discussed his view of the affair with the Prime Minister. "This view, I fear, differs from ours in some respects", Russell reported to Grey. Gladstone's minimum requirement was that Elgin should be instructed to hold over the bill until the next session, with a view to amending it in line with Wilson's resolution. The government refused Gladstone's request as they were to refuse MacNab's.[43] The loss of Peel's support was hardly made good by the adhesion of Lord Brougham, a man well described as "not so much a master of language as mastered by it". Exiled to the political wilderness since 1834, Brougham had entertainment value but carried little political weight. One journalist only bothered to attend the Lords "when Brougham is expected to make a set speech", but Elgin was assured that "to have him against you is rather an advantage so far as public opinion of right and wrong goes".[44] A further problem was that Gladstone was unaware of Brougham's intentions until a late stage. On 5 June, Brougham had pressed Grey on the subject, but not until Friday 8 June was Gladstone "accosted" by him at an evening party and the two men compared notes. Gladstone found him very reasonable, "disposed to admit the principle of responsible government though rather misliking the phrase in which I cannot help concurring: clinging however to the notion that the minority might claim some degree of protection against the majority from us." They agreed that "responsible government in the case of a Colony must be modified by the Colonial relation" and that there was "a certain class of questions imperial of which the Colonial Parliament has no right to dispose in the last resort".[45]

Gladstone's strategy was complicated. He did not intend to offer any formal motion when he spoke in the Commons, partly because he was reluctant to force the government into a more inflexible position but, more significantly, he doubted that he could win majority support. Gladstone feared that a setback in the Commons would hamper the Lords, where he expected that the government's weakness would ensure its defeat. At this stage it seemed likely that Brougham would divide the Lords on Monday June 11, while Gladstone would not speak until the Commons went into committee on supply at the end of the week. In a note on the affair, significantly made in February 1855 when the resignation of the leading Peelites from Palmerston's cabinet placed them back in the wilderness, Gladstone explained that defeat in the Lords would have forced the government to call for a vote of confidence in the Commons. Under those circumstances he believed that they would have been defeated and "in all likelihood" driven to resign.[46] Did Gladstone go on to speculate that a government would then have to be formed to safeguard free trade? With his colonial policy rejected in his own House, Grey would go out as the cause of his colleagues' downfall, and the "Grey party" be made the symbolic sacrifice of the old Whiggery that seemed to stand in the way of fusion with the Peelites – as was to happen in December 1852 when the Aberdeen coalition was formed. Equally, if Russell could be pressed into giving way on the bill, Grey's position would be weakened, and on his previous "crotchetty" form he might even resign, perhaps even breaking up the government. There is no reason to doubt Gladstone's assertion that Rebellion Losses was an issue "about which I must say I have felt and do feel as deeply, as about any question with which in political life I have ever had to do". What is harder to decide is how far Gladstone saw the possible political advantages of the situation. In 1896 he was to recall how he had caused consternation among the Protectionists in 1849 by first proposing and then withdrawing an amendment to the repeal of the Navigation acts. He later came to realise that he "had thought of things only and not taken persons into view", and so had "failed to perceive that, as my personal position at the time was one which would greatly have helped the chances in their favor, I had in effect given them [the Protectionist Tories] a kind of vested interest in my conduct". This was certainly a startling confession of naiveté from an ex-cabinet minister who was almost forty, but his Rebellion Losses bill campaign bears it out.[47]

Gladstone's plan was wrecked by Brougham's waywardness and Stanley's superior tactics. "My plan was entirely thrown out by Lord Brougham's strange postponement". Instead of inviting the government to commit suicide in the Commons after a defeat in the Lords, Gladstone was now committed to presenting a curtain-raiser in the lower house.[48] The position was delicate, but might be turned to use still, provided a division could be avoided in advance of the Lords debate. On 13 June, at Brougham's suggestion, Gladstone called on Lyndhurst, who gave his legal construction of the Canadian act, and supported Gladstone's intentions. The next day, encouraged by Grey, Hincks called on Gladstone, whom he found "very courteous" and seemingly more moderate than his speech that evening would indicate, "but it was too late to hope for any change in his part".[49]

If Gladstone wished the Rebellion Losses issue to break up the existing Whig government without rendering a new Liberal alignment impossible, Stanley's aim was the direct opposite. By 1849 he was beginning to consider the eventual formation of a government, which made him well aware what a "pack" his own followers were. To have a hope of forming a reasonable ministry, he needed to widen his support, or – at the very least – exploit disagreements between the Peelites and the Whigs to have some chance of surviving without a Commons majority. Gladstone himself was probably unaware of the extent to which Stanley was also trying to draw Brougham into his net.[50] On 11 June, Stanley and Gladstone discussed Rebellion Losses at a chance meeting outside the Lords chamber. Stanley remarked that Grey would drive the government to an extreme course, but left Gladstone with the impression that he approved his intention not to move a motion. In fact, when the Conservative leaders met the following day, they agreed that if Gladstone would not propose a motion, they should be ready with one of their own. Stanley himself sent a draft to Herries, the Protectionist leader in the Commons.[51]

On 14 June, Gladstone delivered his lengthy speech on the Rebellion Losses bill. He was evidently embarrassed by the Montreal riots, and also anxious to avoid any personal attack on Elgin, who had been a contemporary at Oxford. He created a devious impression by simultaneously protesting his desire to be assured that rebels were excluded from compensation while asserting they were not. Both he and Lord John Russell, who followed, covered well-trodden ground. Russell was "very effective" and even Arthur Gordon, Gladstone's young admirer, who followed the debate from the gallery, thought he had put "a much stronger case for the government policy in Canada than I had any idea could be made out".[52] However, it was Herries who changed the course of the debate. Herries agreed with Gladstone. Indeed, so strongly did he agree that he moved a formal motion to withhold the royal assent from the Canadian legislation. There was much amusement in the House as Gladstone, "caught in a trap", remonstrated with the Protectionist spokesman. The debate rapidly ceased to be a calm discussion of colonial theory, and it was with some difficulty that the government had proceedings adjourned to the following evening. The second night was enlivened by Peel's brief but convincing rebuttal of Gladstone's case, which probably contributed to the large majority in the government's favour when the House adjourned in the small hours. Peel, Graham and Goulburn were among the 291 members who supported a wrecking amendment to the Herries motion, while Gladstone and Lincoln perforce voted with the minority of 150.[53] By 2 a.m., Hincks and Ben Hawes were back at the Colonial Office writing hasty notes to Elgin for the outgoing Canadian mail. Both stressed the value of Peel's speech. "Gladstone was placed in a very false position, as all admitted", reported Hincks, adding that the ministers were "all in high spirits".[54]

There was a widespread feeling that Gladstone's "false position" was his own fault, and that his reputation was damaged by the affair. The Globe remarked that conduct which in anyone else would be denounced as "dishonest juggling" had to be accepted from Gladstone "as the result of a peculiar mental organisation".[55] Gladstone himself was shaken and hurt by the outcome, although he confided to his diary "I must not hastily assume that I have not myself to thank"—a sentiment which he concealed even from his wife.[56] He turned for sympathy to his mentor, Aberdeen, righteously reviewing his own conduct. "One fatal error I am afraid that I committed: for it did not occur to me that my language publicly and solemnly used, would be disbelieved." If the Protectionists had wished to test his sincerity, they could have moved a motion in the Commons immediately after the debate in the Lords. Instead, the Lords would now tackle the issue "under the embarrassments which we have thus contrived for you", and Gladstone could only offer apologies for "what I feel to be a public disaster and disgrace". On his own initiative, Aberdeen passed the letter to Stanley, who replied with an unsympathetic but accurate analysis of Gladstone's tactics. Gladstone, he pointed out, might reasonably have asked a simple question about the government's intentions, and reserved his future conduct. Instead he made "a very long, very detailed, and most able" speech, to which Russell gave a discouraging reply. It would have been "a most lame and impotent conclusion" to have let the matter drop at that point. Even if a formal motion could have been put a week or more later, Gladstone had so exhausted the subject that a second debate would "fall perfectly flat". Stanley was "very far from imputing insincerity to Gladstone". It was simply that he had done "too much or too little" – a three-hour speech could hardly be a mere question and obviously had to be followed by a specific proposal for action. Aberdeen forwarded Stanley's reply to Gladstone with a kindly letter of his own. He confessed himself "so bad a tactician that my opinion on such matters is of little value", but expressed approval of the younger man's action. "Your misfortune was in making so great a speech and the case being so strong, that a motion was its natural conclusion." Gladstone was not mollified.[57] Yet Gladstone's bitterness against the Protectionists was partly a measure of his own self-deception. He continued to believe that Peel approved his conduct, and had voted with the government despite "his own personal leanings or disposition".[58]

The issue was still to be raised in the Lords, but Aberdeen felt the government would be "comparatively indifferent about the result" after their triumph in the Commons. Brougham assured Gladstone that "the Lords would not mind us much" and Stanley promised "to make the best fight they could". Gladstone was not optimistic, although he persuaded one wavering Peelite, Lord Canning, to vote with Brougham.[59] In the event, the government managed to defeat Brougham by only three votes, and were actually in a minority among peers present. The Lords, however, allowed proxy voting, and this saved the ministers. They were even luckier than they knew, for two of Brougham's supporters decided to go to Brighton for the day, and they took four proxies with them.[60] Arthur Gordon, again watching from the gallery, described Brougham's speech as "long rambling strings of assertions" on "almost every conceivable subject". Brougham had in fact attempted to borrow Gladstone's notes, only to learn that they had been passed to the Morning Chronicle. The Daily News was thus probably correct in alleging that Brougham had "got up a one-sided case in a great hurry".[61] He claimed an inability to understand the concept of responsible government, but insisted that Britain should "interfere as little as possible with the powers and workings of colonial assemblies, in respect to the making of roads, bridges, and canals, and as to all matters of a like nature". A decade earlier, this idea of 'municipal self-government' for colonies had seemed radical. Now it sounded almost ludicrously antiquated. However, Brougham was ably supported by Stanley and by Lyndhurst, in a rare speech from the Tory veteran. Grey on the other hand felt he had spoken "detestably", although Gordon thought him "good but dull". Another minister, Campbell, aroused the disgust of the clubbable chamber by sneering at the elderly Lyndhurst. The most effective contributions for the government almost certainly came too late to influence the result. St. Germans, a Peelite, gave a useful support, and Grey was grateful for a "very good" speech from the elder statesman, the Marquess of Lansdowne, whose father, Lord Shelburne – as Brougham generously pointed out – had fought to retain Canada for the British crown in the peace negotiations of 1782-3. Hincks was assured that another elder statesman, Wellington, would have been prepared to support the government, although the duke, perhaps because of growing deafness, had been reluctant to attend for some time.[62]

The Rebellion Losses affair was doubly inconclusive, failing to define either a clear division of parties or the scope of colonial self-government. It was of course only one of a series of contemporary political issues, but it is worth stressing the degree of feeling which it aroused – isolating Gladstone, for instance, from both his past and his future allies. Perhaps a colonial question was uniquely suited to create the maximum of disagreement coupled with the minimum of permanent division. However if each of the other 27 Commons votes between 1847 and 1852 in which Conacher analyses a similar Peelite split, produced similar manoeuvring and distrust, it becomes easier to understand why the two-party system remained fractured for so long.[63] Certain features of the episode confirm recent studies of politics in the period: Peel's refusal to organise his own followers (or even, perhaps, to recognise their existence), Stanley's close if perhaps over-artful tactical control over his. Yet the major political aspect of the Rebellion Losses affair in Britain was its exposure of Gladstone's lack of sophistication and self-knowledge. Hence it is worth stressing the extent to which this episode, generally passed over by historians, complicated the relations of politicians.

First reactions suggested that the Rebellion Losses controversy had settled the question of colonial self-government. Even Grey, never an optimist, believed the large Commons majority would more than outweigh the narrow escape in the Lords.[64] The liberal press hailed the debates as a victory. Responsible government had been established "beyond the possibility of recall", in British North America at least. Once established there, no reason existed for opposing its extension to other settler colonies. There had been a "sudden illumination" of the nature of responsible government, and it was felt that an important corner had been turned. In fact the debates had answered very few of the real questions.[65] Rebellion Losses proved to be a landmark, but one from which different conclusions could be drawn. In 1854, Derby argued that it should represent the limits of British concession to Canadian autonomy, while Goldwin Smith in 1862 claimed that after accepting such a measure there was no point in pretending to exercise any degree of control at all.[66] Others disavowed their opposition to the bill, and came to see the Rebellion Losses episode as proving that colonial self-government was the real cement of imperial unity. Gladstone referred to the Commons debate when he introduced the first Home Rule bill in 1886, while Arthur Gordon recalled Lyndhurst's speech when 57 years later, as Lord Stanmore, he spoke in favour of responsible government for the Transvaal.[67] Certainly there was less opposition to the next surrender of imperial pretensions, the transfer of control of the Anglican clergy reserves to Canada in 1853. Lincoln, as Duke of Newcastle, was the Colonial Secretary who sponsored the measure, while Gladstone announced that 3,000 miles of ocean which God had placed between parliament and the Canadians meant "that they, and not you, should take management of their concerns, with which they are better acquainted than you can possibly be".[68]

Yet if Rebellion Losses had made British politicians more reluctant to interfere in Canada, there was still no certainty about the scope of colonial autonomy. The Morning Chronicle pointed out that there was an inconsistency between the ministerial defence of the bill that it excluded rebels and the more extreme argument that it was for the colony to decide its own affairs. The Manchester Examiner applauded the decision not to intervene, but observed that if the precedent gave Britain some future choice between acquiescing in more obnoxious legislation or provoking a Canadian rebellion, "then where is the use of retaining the veto?"[69] Despite the apparent triumph of responsible government, the substantive questions remained unanswered. And they went unanswered partly because it was convenient that they should be. When, on 26 June, Sir William Molesworth tried to secure a royal commission to examine imperial–colonial relations, the government easily defeated him. Molesworth argued that "it would not be difficult to classify and define the powers which ought to be reserved as Imperial ones; and then all other powers not so reserved should be held to be local powers". Others were not so sure. There was a deep suspicion of anything resembling a written constitution, and The Times added the revealing comment that parliament could no longer unilaterally set limits to Canada's autonomy. "I believe the distinction between Local and Imperial legislation to be one which cannot be drawn", Hawes wrote in a confidential memorandum shortly afterwards.[70] By refusing to intervene in Canadian affairs in 1849, parliament no doubt helped ensure the success of Canada's recent constitutional experiment. By declining to specify under what circumstances it would ever intervene, it contributed to the longer-term achievement by which responsible government peacefully evolved into full independence.


     a. Canada in 1849: Contexts

The compressions needed to fit material into the confines of a journal article did not leave much space to set the wider scene. Fully to appreciate the events of 1849, it is necessary to stress three areas of context, two of them contributing to the instability that underlay the explosion in Montreal, the third indicating a way forward towards their eventual resolution. The first, of surpassing importance, was the massive economic dislocation of British North America's transatlantic trading system caused by Britain's switch to free trade, an upheaval which coincided with an economic recession triggered by the financial panic of 1847. This interplay was described in one of the classics of Canadian historical writing, D.G. Creighton's The Commercial Empire of the St Lawrence, first published in 1937.[71] Creative, comprehensive and curmudgeonly, Creighton portrayed the Montreal merchant class as a kind of "collective hero", inspired by the vision of a transcontinental dominion anchored on their mighty river. The imperial connection was vital to protect this embryonic Canadian nation from United States expansionism. However, one of the sub-themes of the book is the obtuse failure of the British themselves to support the men who were so visionary in the cause of Empire. British statesmen abandoned Montreal's natural hinterland, the Ohio country, to the Americans in 1783, sacrificed most of the Oregon teritory in 1846 and, at the same time, abolished the tariff protection that had safeguarded British North American access to the British market. Far from seeing the Rebellion Losses bill as the culmination of the transition to local self-government, Creighton regarded it as a final insult which "provoked" the Montreal Tories into violent disorder. (His description of the Tory view of Westminster's refusal to intervene as "incredible" is carefully ambiguous: as a historian, he captured their attitude, but did nothing to dissociate himself from it.)[72] The Commercial Empire of the St Lawrence became a foundational work in Canadian historical writing. The shortcoming in its basic analysis lay not in its integration of the economic sphere with the theatre of politics – far from it – but in the perverse perspective that Creighton imposed upon it, legitimising the disorder of the Rebellion Losses crisis as part of a Wagnerian tragedy. The burning of the Parliament buildings was a form of Götterdämmerung, as "the hopes of successive generation of Canadians, consumed in a last blaze of anger, were reflected in the red sky over Montreal".[73] The artificiality of Creighton's confection has perhaps made it too easy to separate the political and constitutional story on the one hand from the commercial and economic underpinning on the other (my own article being an unwitting example of this). Barbara J. Messamore, a modern constitutional historian, has reminded us that Rebellion Losses cannot be isolated from its economic context. "It cannot be sufficiently stressed that in the midst of this ostensible political crisis, economic events exercised as much influence on the discontent of the merchant class". Messamore outlines the elements of "a commercial policy that seemed at once punishing and capricious" but – unlike Creighton – she did not imply that they justified the violent response to the Rebellion Losses bill.

The second area of implicit context was the United States – always, of course, an overshadowing neighbour to Canada and very often a threatening influence. In 1849, the American continental factor loomed in a particularly destabilising form. Within the previous four years, the United States had not only nudged the British out of their share in the condominium over the Oregon Territory, but the republic had also swallowed a huge chunk of territory from Texas to California. Exploitation of the Pacific North-West was not an urgent priority, but the breakneck gold-rush in a California that was being fast-tracked towards statehood spoke of a dynamic society whose expansion would not be easily curbed. In the event, with the exception of a small boundary adjustment in 1853, the continental United States had reached its outer limits. Rapid territorial expansion sharpened the issue of the spread of Southern slavery, placing an internal block upon the American political process that inhibited further external acquisitions. In the context of 1849, it is easy enough to see why some Canadians thought of annexation as the logical convergence between their perceived abandonment by Britain and the 'Manifest Destiny' rhetoric of their neighbours. In the context of 1850, when the United States was paralysed by the problem of slavery – a challenge that it deferred rather than solved – it becomes equally simple to understand why the movement failed. Yet the Montreal Annexation Manifesto was a sober and closely argued document, and one that attracted almost one thousand signatures, both from disillusioned and impoverished Tory traders and from a sprinkling of Francophone radicals.[74] Confronting the undoubtedly alluring economic attractions of incorporation into the American republic was a necessary stage in the evolution of a separate Canadian national identity. The dissipation of the annexation mirage left the field of ideas clear for one of the alternatives that the Montreal movement had specifically rejected, the union of the British North American provinces themselves, dismissed in 1849 because its attainment would be "problematic" and it would produce an internal market "too limited to absorb our means of supply". However, in the aftermath of the Montreal riots, Upper Canadian Tories took the lead in re-establishing their party's respectability by holding a convention in Kingston to endorse the idea. In London, MacNab talked of joining "all the British N[orth] American provinces in one league, with a single Governor and legislature": Edward Stanley doubted if the plan was "feasible".[75] A more serious objection in 1849 was that it was too obviously an Anglo-Tory project designed to consign the French to the impotence of permanent minority status. But, within five years, changing times would allow it to re-emerge for discussion on a broader, consensus-minded scale.[76] Thus, no doubt to the surprise of both participants and observers, 1849 would produce a peculiarly Canadian paradox. Although Washington seemed poised to extend its rule from Panama to the Pole, underlying obstacles in fact pointed towards the eventual consolidation of a second transcontinental polity in North America.[77]

The third area of context in which we might view the events of 1849 in Canada is necessarily more tentative, for it notes that British North America was on the verge of entering the railway era, a major change that would provide incentives to mitigate the confrontations over Rebellion Losses. Too often, when historians appeal to developments that were just around the corner, they are indulging in the condescension of hindsight, implicitly ridiculing the people they study for pointless fury over some issue that would soon become irrelevant. The difference in this case is that the key players were fully aware of the technological potential of the new form of transport, and keen to seek the necessary investment – which, in practice, could only come from Britain. For Hincks, the most important legislation carried during the 1849 parliamentary session was not Rebellion Losses but the Railway Guarantee Act, which allowed the Canadian State to provide a partial debt guarantee in support of any company that was actually laying down track. Naturally, he used his visit to London to market Canadian securities, lobbying that helped secure a substantial loan, with debentures actually sold slightly above par. MacNab was also engaged in promoting a railway, although his Great Western of Canada project – intended to funnel trade through his home city of Hamilton – had engaged in only token construction work. MacNab also used his expedition to Britain to seek investment: one bank was interested, provided that the Canadian government would provide the lion's share of the cash required. This led to a curious crossover situation, in which the two men clashed over Rebellion Losses, but MacNab approached Hincks seeking public funding for the Great Western.[78] There was thus a sense in which neither of them needed a dispute over the limits of colonial autonomy, and certainly neither had reason to welcome the bad publicity caused by the destruction of the Parliament buildings.[79] 

Canada's railway era arrived quickly, fostering unprecedented alliances between politicians. Hincks became leader of the Reform ministry, but was succeeded in 1854 by an equally centrist coalition, led by MacNab, who in 1851 had discovered – thanks, it was said, to drinking a whole bottle of port – that his politics were railroads. His Lower Canadian partner in government was Augustin-Norbert Morin who, as Speaker of the Assembly in 1849, had taken a firm line against protesters during the Rebellion Losses controversy, and was said to have coolly moved the adjournment of the House as the curtains in the chamber went up in flames.[80] Moreover, railways provided Canadian political culture with something more than a short-term fix. If political shotgun-weddings were necessary to get the tracks laid, more enduring alliances were required to keep them operating. In Upper Canada, serious construction only began in 1852, yet by 1856 it was possible to travel by train the 330 miles between Toronto and Montreal. This represented impressive progress. Unfortunately, building a trunk railway parallel to one of the finest water routes on the continent did not prove a sure-fire way of generating a profit, and the struggling project quickly quartered itself upon the Canadian taxpayer, to a far greater extent than Hincks had envisaged in his original guarantee scheme. There can be no doubting the bitterness aroused by the Rebellion Losses controversy. Nonetheless, even in 1849, there were large hopes and small signs that railways might permit the regrouping of politics and politicians.

     b. Canada 1849 in long-term perspective: endemic violence or political peace process?

These three areas of context – economic dislocation, American expansionism and the prospect of a railway revolution – extend the background necessary to a rounded understanding of the events of 1849. In addition the article has a context of its own. When it was published in 1977, Canada's constitution, the British North America Act, was still formally subject to the control of the parliament at Westminster, an anomaly that was eliminated with patriation five years later. In practice, this anomaly placed no restriction upon Canada's sovereign independence, but continuing discussion of the issue threw into relief the Commonwealth history narrative of the country's predominantly peaceful path to nationhood. Thus the interplay of the issue of the limitations of colonial self-government with the factionalism of British party politics carried echoes of a longer story of constitutional evolution.  Forty-five years later, Canadians – and especially their historians – are more likely to focus on the elements of conflict, such as outright street-fighting, at the centre of the events of 1849. In headline terms, it is certainly remembered as a violent year, with major riots not only in Montreal but also in the backwoods town of Bytown (soon to be renamed Ottawa) and in the New Brunswick city of Saint John. However, Scott W. See, an authority upon social disturbances in nineteenth-century British North America, has cautioned against being misled by these undoubtedly dramatic events into "characterizing 1849 as a particularly intensive or even unique year of social conflict".[81] Montreal itself had experienced several fatalities in street-fighting during the elections of 1843-4 – the model that Elgin contemptuously refused to replicate. However, as Dan Horner has emphasised, the 1849 outbreak in Montreal was "more than just another election riot".[82] Indeed, it may be viewed as the only large-scale attempt to intimidate an elected legislature in Canadian history.[83] There are eerie parallels between the attack on Canada's parliament house in April 1849 and the Washington riot of 6 January 2021.[84] The Montreal crowd does not seem to have been predominantly drawn from the city's marginal rabble, but included well-dressed rioters who were presumably drawn from the middle class. However colourful and absurd the Capitol Hill insurgents appeared, they too saw themselves as respectable citizens. Both mobs felt themselves to be victims of economic injustice that they could neither forgive nor even comprehend. Both saw themselves as representatives of the true people, refusing to accept the legitimacy of adverse majorities based upon French Canadians on the one hand, and Blacks and Latinos on the other. As Canada's legislators filed, with remarkable dignity, from their smouldering chamber, one rioter seated himself in the Speaker's chair and announced the dissolution of "this French House", while others wrestled with the serjeant-at-arms to seize the mace, which they symbolically deposited at the lodgings of Sir Allan MacNab, thereby compounding the embarrassment he would face in London. However dramatic the unrest in Montreal, the comparison with Washington in 2021 should include one positive element which the United States cannot yet claim: 1849 marks the only episode in which a violent mob attempted to coerce legislators and frustrate the political process.[85]

One reason for this lies in the fact that turbulent Montreal was promptly punished by the loss of Canada's 'seat of government'. After a temporary phase of migration, it eventually settled at Ottawa, the renamed Bytown.[86] The result of a predictably Canadian series of complicated compromises, Ottawa was to some extent chosen as a surrogate for Montreal: with only one hundred miles between them, communication between the two cities was relatively straightforward, and there were phases during post-Confederation history, such as the eighteen-eighties, where Montreal banking elite and the Dominion political cadre worked in very close partnership. Maybe it is worth asking whether Canada would have developed along different lines had its capital not fled in 1849. For instance, there are some indications that Anglo-Montreal was more open to bilingualism in the mid-nineteenth century than it would become decades later, as a narrowly imperial outpost and the city of dreadful knights.[87] From the nineteen-sixties, the campaign for the secession of the province of Quebec would have faced a greater challenge had its largest city doubled as the capital of a transcontinental federation.

Yet, overall, the legacy of Montreal's loss of its status as the national capital in 1849 has been its partial eclipse from those textbook narratives of Canadian history based upon political events. Despite remaining the country's business and manufacturing capital and its largest urban area until the nineteen-seventies, Montreal seems somehow to dip in and out of the general story of Canada's development.[88] Perhaps there is space in Canadian historiography for an account (and analysis) of the country's history focused upon its role and its inter-relationships – its contest with Toronto for control over the economy of western Canada, its links to Saint John and Halifax on the Atlantic seaboard, its rivalry with the city of Quebec within the heartland of French Canada, along with its longer-range connections, commercial to Liverpool, financial to London, cultural to Paris. Such a review would throw new light on familiar landmarks, perhaps revealing an unsuspected framework underpinning the development of Canada that has been hidden by concentration upon the Ottawa-centred political saga. Yet it would also risk a repetition of Creighton's over-simplification of a monolithic Montreal, somehow acting out foreordained roles in the unfolding of Canadian destiny. The country's largest city was also its most divided community, its internal contrasting identities rarely in dialogue, or even in mutual recognition of its own duality.[89] Early in 1853, barely three years after the Annexation Manifesto, it became the first city in the province to acquire the terminus of a long-distance railway. With the United States border barely thirty miles away, it was hardly surprising that the St Lawrence and Atlantic line reached the ocean on American territory, at Portland in Maine. Yet the city's elite never repeated its sober and cerebral analysis of the tempting advantages of absorption into the Republic. For all its ambiguity, and despite its political marginalisation, Montreal remained essentially a Canadian city.

In a year marked by such dramatic acts of violence, a scuffle in the parliamentary library on the last day of February 1849 could hardly seem to be an episode of much historical importance – certainly not compared with the riots of six weeks later that destroyed 20,000 volumes, the finest collection of books in the province. In fact, the incident marked a symbolic closure of the rebellions that had split Canada just over a decade earlier. Most of the leaders of the uprisings had fled to the United States after the failure of their bid for revolution. Generally finding life south of the border uncongenial, they took advantage of amnesties offered during the eighteen-forties to return home. Louis-Joseph Papineau, the Lower Canadian radical leader, had even managed to secure election to the Assembly, where his tirades against the new responsible government regime gave LaFontaine helpful political capital as a moderate.[90] Early in 1849, his Upper Canadian counterpart, William Lyon Mackenzie, made a reconnaissance from New York to prepare the way to bring his family back to Canada. As a political animal lobbying for employment, he was naturally drawn to Montreal, where he watched the early debates on the Rebellion Losses legislation from the gallery. An official assured him that, as a former member of the Upper Canadian Assembly, he was entitled to use the parliamentary library. There he encountered the reactionary and excitable Colonel John Prince, who threatened to kick him downstairs. Mackenzie retreated into the lobby, followed by Prince, whose blazing anger encouraged bystanders to join in abusing Mackenzie as a rebel and a murderer.[91]

Strictly speaking, Prince had not fought against the rebels of 1837, because he lived in the far south-west of the province, opposite the city of Detroit, where there was no armed insurgency. However, throughout 1838 there was an external threat, from American-based paramilitaries who called themselves Patriots. Prince, in command of a militia unit, helped repel several incursions, the last of which was mounted by a force large enough to seize the Canadian border town of Windsor. In the successful counter-attack, 27 of the invaders were killed. Technically, as irregulars, they had no combatant rights under the laws of warfare. In fairness to Prince (an exercise that is necessary but difficult), he believed he was facing "no less than 400 of these Scoundrels", more than double the actual number, he had lost five of his own men, one of them "cruelly Murdered", and he simply lacked the resources in the thick of combat to guard prisoners. Nonetheless, most contemporaries were shocked to learn that he had "resolved upon shooting at once and without a moment’s hesitation every bandit who happened to be captured". Five of those captured were shot in summary executions.[92] Thus Prince's equally impetuous threat to kick Mackenzie out of the parliamentary library may be seen as a continuation of the conflicts of 1837-8. However, what makes the episode stand out is that it seems to have been the final echo of those confrontations: the era of the rebellions petered out in the reading room of a library that was about to be destroyed by rioters angered by the perceived wrongs of the present. A sympathetic member of the Assembly quickly arranged for Mackenzie to be issued with a library ticket. A formula was even found that enabled the irascible but isolated Prince to acknowledge that the Mackenzie of 1849 was not the Mackenzie of 1837.

Of course, memories of the rebellions did not vanish overnight. Not surprisingly, there were angry exchanges during the debates on the Rebellion Losses bill, with each side accusing the other of responsibility for the crisis of a decade earlier.[93] Insofar as the events of 1837-8 themselves remained a live issue, it was largely because another returned exile, Wolfred Nelson, accused Papineau of cowardice in the face of British regulars during the bloody engagement of Saint-Denis.[94] Mackenzie, too, eventually returned to Canada, to find that few were interested in his journalism, and that he could exercise only marginal influence in politics. His renewed campaign from 1858 for independence and annexation to the United States only underlined the extent to which he was trapped in the politics of two decades earlier, stranded in a now-distant past by the rapid pace of change. He was treated as a monument to the past: a public subscription purchased him a house. In 1859, two years before his death, Mackenzie attended the reburial of the bodies of Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, two rebel leaders hanged for treason in 1838.[95] In Ireland, such funerals were accompanied by fiery pledges to struggle for freedom, however remote its achievement might be.  By contrast, the reinterment of the two rebellion martyrs was a low-key event, the closure of a chapter rather than a reaffirmation of a crusade.[96]

An Irish contrast and an Irish parallel may further help to place the excitements of 1849 in perspective. There are striking similarities between the Canadian rebellions of 1837-8 and Ireland's civil war of 1922-3, which threatened the stability of the newly created Free State. Both episodes were relatively brief in time, and largely confined to sporadic clashes, some of them vicious and destructive. In Ireland, the civil war left not only a legacy of bitterness, but even shaped the country's two-party system, based not at all upon ideological differences or strategic policy, but essentially upon attitudes to the legitimacy of the State.[97] Yet, in Canada, the wounds ceased to fester within the political process: the rapid and near-total eclipse of the divisions of 1837-8 is so striking a feature of Canadian history that, paradoxically, it seems never to have been noticed.[98] Here, it may be helpful to view the events of 1849 through another Irish prism, this time drawn from the other segment of the divided island where, from the perspective of 2022, the last thirty years have been dominated by the Northern Ireland Peace Process.[99] It would be a massive understatement to claim that it has been easy to achieve the accommodations and the compromises necessary for two opposed communities to accept not only the right of their neighbours to exist, but to exist within apparently incompatible frameworks of self-identification: indeed, at the time of writing, the Peace Process seems under seismic threat. Yet something similar took place in the Canada of 1849. The Rebellion Losses bill was undoubtedly a difficult measure for most English Canadians to swallow. Its great merit was that it drew the line under past events, by recognising that the injustices suffered by Francophone Canadians were equally as deserving of compensation as the claims for damage inflicted in Upper Canada that had been settled in 1846. Nor did the settlement of the Rebellion Losses issue happen in a vacuum. The removal of prohibitions on the use of the French language in public life represented a powerful gesture towards parity in esteem, as Elgin showed when he delivered the throne speech in a bilingual format.[100]

Unfortunately, a large segment of the Anglophone population of Montreal was not prepared to acknowledge its French-speaking neighbours as equal partners in the creation of a new Canada. One reason for this was that responsible government embodied a form of power-sharing that was regional rather than communal: the provincial cabinet combined a local majority of Upper Canada Reformers in partnership with a similar majority from Lower Canada, to the exclusion of Tories and Loyalists. That, of course, is how parliamentary government works. But the experience of Northern Ireland over the past thirty years indicates that consociational institutions cannot in themselves generate cross-cultural harmony. Politicians require positive incentives to transcend deeply entrenched barriers of mutual antagonism. Once again, in Canada, we should look to the imperatives of railway building – and the desperate need to keep uneconomic lines in operation – which required broad and consensual coalition groupings. Perhaps, too, some emphasis should be placed on the convenient fact that, outside a few explosive interface areas, such as Montreal, French- and English-speaking Canadians rarely experienced sufficient contact to become either friends or foes. In this, there is a marked contrast with what the historian A.T.Q. Stewart called the "narrow ground" of Ulster, where Protestants and Catholics reinforced barriers simply because they functioned within the same space.[101] It is not surprising that historians should have seen the events of 1849 through by the leaping flames that destroyed the parliament buildings. Perhaps of greater significance, or least of more enduring symbolism, was the fact that the legislature reconvened in temporary premises within hours of the riot: the structure had been destroyed, but the institution survived. From our longer perspective, perhaps the events of 1849 call for re-examination, not through the prism of violence, but as part of a peace process, with all the obstacles and the pain that any structured attempt at communal reconciliation will entail.

    c. Britain in 1849: understanding Gladstone in the longer term?

The Peelites The multi-party aspect of the Westminster debate on Canada's Rebellion Losses bill might strike a chord in twenty-first century Britain, where general elections can no longer be relied upon to return stable majority governments. Unfortunately, the era of the Peelites can throw little light upon modern United Kingdom, where two of the three groupings that may potentially hold the balance in a hung parliament are regionally based, in Scotland and Northern Ireland and – an even more important element – all three are disciplined, each generally functioning as a united force.  In contrast, the followers of Sir Robert Peel never functioned as a party, Peel refused to lead them, and even the most careful historical analyses are puzzled to identify their precise number. Defence of free trade was their major unifying principle, which left each individual free to take an independent line on other issues.[102] Thus Gladstone's opposition to the Rebellion Losses bill did not represent an innate Peelite point of view, nor was his initiative likely to trigger the solidarity of kindred support.[103] Not surprisingly, their numbers declined. If it was difficult to defect from a party that had no formal existence, it was also challenging to maintain an abstract loyalty, although it was the voters at successive general elections who inflicted the lethal process of attrition. There may have been as many as 113 Peelites returned at the 1847 election; their numbers were certainly halved in 1852, and may have fallen as low as 31-34.[104]  Their place in the textbooks was rescued by the formation, in 1852, of the Aberdeen Coalition, in which they dominated the cabinet. "A very tiny party had entirely swallowed up the great Whig party", commented an amused Lord Brougham.[105] But Brougham's witticism is only applicable if the term 'party' is interpreted in the older sense of 'cabal', an allusion to a loose alliance of prominent individuals, not to any kind of formal organisation. The Peelites would have been neither willing nor capable of forming a coalition in the modern political sense that would have involved pacts and agreements: for once in his addiction to hair-splitting definitions, Gladstone was on firm ground in referring to the Aberdeen cabinet as a "mixed government", not a "fusion of parties".[106] The Peelites took the leading cabinet posts because, as individuals, they combined ability with experience, especially at the moment of the exhaustion and discrediting of the Grey faction, so emblematic of tradition Whiggery.

Overall, the Peelites cannot help us understand the labyrinthine interplay of twenty-first century British politics. Indeed, they generally owed their election to specific local interests, often in small borough constituencies where policy questions were not the only, or often the most important, determinant of electoral support. Even forty years later, as Britain moved towards a broad-franchise, single-member electoral system, hardly any of them would have won seats in parliament, and those isolated few could have exercised little influence.

The Rebellion Losses episode: a revealing insight into the Gladstone of 1849?  From the point of view of historians of nineteenth-century Britain, any continuing importance of the Rebellion Losses episode must surely lie in its capacity to throw light on the personality, ideas and political skills of William Ewart Gladstone. The completion of the multi-volume publication of the Gladstone Diaries in 1994 has, if anything, made him an ever more intriguing, even incomprehensible, figure than he had appeared through the sometimes bland pages of John Morley's official portrayal, back in 1903. Yet biographers seem to have taken little account of Gladstone's bruising encounter with the internal politics of Canada. Part of the reason for this may be that 1849 has appeared to be a year in which domestic politics was somehow awaiting new beginnings. The most notable event of the year seemed to be the repeal of the Navigation Laws, an episode of little intrinsic interest except that it completed the free trade revolution. Historians seem to have been bracing themselves to launch into the new agendas of 1850: Don Pacifico would pose the issue of British power in the world and papal aggression of the definition of liberalism, while Gorham's case shook the Anglican Church and Peel's untimely death injected a new element of instability into the potential alliances of factions. The very fact that so much energy was devoted to the mirage of colonial reform, a cause championed by lightweights like Adderley and mavericks like Roebuck, has created a sense of a political world that was merely marking time. Hence it has been tempting to filter out an apparently marginal Canadian issue. More to the point, Gladstone's attempt to secure British intervention in a self-governing dependency does not fit with the overall theme of a public figure moving from Tory darkness towards the light of liberalism. Thus Morley himself had relegated Rebellion Losses to a neutrally worded footnote.[107] Feuchtwanger in 1975 gave a useful summary of the issue, noting that "Gladstone's budding colonial liberalism had clearly not yet burst into full bloom"; Shannon in 1982 concluded that he "was in a great muddle about colonies".[108] It may be argued that the episode merits more attention from biographers because it reveals a great deal about two aspects of Gladstone. One is the tactical naivety that he displayed throughout his endeavour to challenge the Canadian legislation. The other interweaves two elements, Gladstone's ability to learn from his mistakes, and his attitude to the definition of imperial supremacy. In the case of Rebellion Losses, he seems never formally to have acknowledged that he was wrong in 1849, indeed reasserting his position that the legislation "compensated the losses of rebels as well as those of loyalists" as late as 1881.[109] Viewed as a stage in the evolution of Canadian independence and Commonwealth partnership, no doubt the story has come to lack dramatic historical. However, seen through an inverted prism that focuses not upon colonial self-government but upon the larger issue of Westminster sovereignty, the unresolved questions of 1849 may be projected forward to the episode that now looms as the central crisis of Gladstone's career, his attempt to carry Irish Home Rule in 1886.

On the first heading, Gladstone's high-minded but ham-handed conduct of his parliamentary campaign, there is little to add to the 1977 article. Indeed, such material as has appeared since merely confirms the impression of a political novice sleepwalking into an obvious trap. Having been a member of the parliament, with one short break, for sixteen years, he had plenty of opportunity, both as a backbencher and as a minister, to observe the unpredictable moods of the House of Commons, yet somehow he persuaded himself that he could control the unfolding of the issue that he chose to raise in a manner that was both prolix and tentative. It is a fundamental rule in both committees and legislatures that a formal proposal of some specific course of action is the best way of shaping the framework of the discussion of any issue. By leaving his oration in effect hanging in the air, Gladstone practically invited the Protectionists in the Commons to seize the initiative and widen the divide within the already antagonistic ranks of the free traders. His subsequent claim that he intended to engineer a government defeat in the Lords, which would be followed by their failure to secure a vote of confidence in the Commons, sounds like a self-deluding rationalisation. Given the innate Tory strength in the upper house, Russell and his colleagues might well have ignored the passage of a hostile motion that carried no legislative force. With a majority of 141 on the Rebellion Losses issue in the Commons, they would probably have been safe enough had they chosen to seek the endorsement of MPs: who would have welcomed a general election barely two years into a parliament? If Gladstone was indeed planning a bicameral pincer movement against the Whig ministry, he could hardly have chosen a worse collaborator than Brougham, unreliable, discredited and – at the time of the Rebellion Losses issue – supporting the Lords resistance to the final plank of the movement towards free trade, the repeal of the Navigation Acts.[110] True, there were hardly any Peelite peers, but the fact that even the ludicrous Brougham came so close to defeating the government in the upper house suggests that, with a more authoritative spokesman, the case for intervening in Canada might have scored an embarrassing, if nonetheless irrelevant, triumph.[111]

Research for "The Canadian Rebellion Losses Bill of 1849 in British Politics" persuaded me that the episode was a much more important episode in Gladstone's career than biographers and historians had recognised.  Subsequent studies of his life have done little to fill the gap. In the short term, Gladstone's virtual isolation in the House of Commons illustrated the impossibility of mobilising the Peelites to act as a united and potentially controlling parliamentary force: coalition with the Whigs in 1852 and absorption into the Liberals in 1859 were both predicated by his humiliating failure.  Yet it was of equal importance that Rebellion Losses threw into relief his attitude to imperial supremacy, thereby constituting a pivotal moment in the development of his attitudes to the British-Canadian relationship. This larger question is explored in the accompanying essay, "Gladstone and Canada: a reconnaissance".[112]


[1] J. M. S. Careless, The Union of the Canadas: the Growth of Canadian Institutions 1841-1857 (London, 1968), 113-31. For Grey's despatch (31 March 1847), W. P. M. Kennedy, ed., Statutes, Treaties and Documents of the Canadian Constitution 1713- 1929, (2nd ed., Oxford, 1930), 496-500. For the influence of the governor, Ged Martin, The Durham Report and British Policy: a Critical Essay (Cambridge, 1972), 61-2. [B. Messamore, Canada's Governors-General 1847-1878… (Toronto, 2006), 31-70, is the authoritative study of Elgin, including his handling of Rebellion Losses. M.S. Cross, A Biography of Robert Baldwin … (Don Mills, Ont., 2012), 261-71 is a useful recent discussion of the events of 1849. Although he devoted only a brief space the events of 1849, J. Monet, The Last Cannon Shot: a Study of French-Canadian Nationalism 1837-1850 (Toronto, 1969) remains an important study of the background to the transfer of power in 1848-9. Monet's DCB essay on the premier, L-H. LaFontaine is excellent: J. Monet, "La Fontaine, Sir Louis-Hippolyte", Dictionary of Canadian Biography ,ix. Dictionary of Canadian Biography entries are available via

[2] J. W. Cell, British Colonial Administration in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: the policy-making process (New Haven, 1972), 116. [Phillip Buckner has similarly concluded that parliament's decision not to intervene was "an event of crucial importance. … The critical issue was whether the Imperial Parliament would use its authority in a case where no tangible Imperial interest was involved. After the debate on the rebellion losses bill, it was clear that Parliament was unlikely to respond to petitions from colonial interest groups." P.A. Buckner, The Transition to Responsible Government … (Westport, Conn., 1985), 316, and see 313-16 for Buckner's summary of the debates.]

[3] For Gladstone, Morning Chronicle, 28 March 1849; for Cobden, Manchester Guardian, 14 April, 26 December 1849.

[4] The Times, 11 May, 20 April 1849; G. C. Lewis, An Essay on the Government of Dependencies (London, 1841), 295-6; Lewis to Head, 5 April 1849, in G. F. Lewis, ed., Letters of the Right Hon. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Bart. to Various Friends (London, 1870), 201-4.

[5] University of Durham, Grey Papers, Russell to Grey, 16 March 1848. [For The Times as a source of Canadian news, Ged Martin, "'Our Advices from Canada are Unimportant': The Times and British North America, 1841-1861" in C.C. Eldridge, ed., Kith and Kin… (Cardiff, 1997), pp. 61-93.]

[6] Morning Chronicle, 5 April, 1 May, 16 June 1849, and cf. Spectator, 12 May 1849, 439-41, and E. G. Wakefield, A View of the Art of Colonization (London, 1849), 189-90. [D. J. Moss, "Wakefield, Edward Gibbon (1796–1862)" offers a sympathetic outline in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I stand by my own view, that Wakefield was a scoundrel, and his theory of colonisation pretentious nonsense: Ged Martin, Edward Gibbon Wakefield: Abductor and Mystagogue (Edinburgh 1997), available in two sections on martinalia.]

[7] For earlier Rebellion Losses legislation, British Parliamentary Papers, 1849, XXXV, 387-434, esp. 430 for D. Daly to Commissioners, 27 February 1846.

[8] For the bill, United Kingdom National Archives (cited as UKNA), CO 42/558, Elgin to Grey, 5 May 1849, fos 134-47, printed British Parliamentary Papers, 1849, xxxv, 352-9 and in A. G. Doughty, ed., The Elgin-Grey Papers, (4 vols, Ottawa, 1937) iv, 464-9 [cited as Elgin-Grey Papers]. Also Library and Archives of Canada, Elgin Papers, A-389, Hincks to Hawes, copy, 29 May 1849, and Careless, Union of the Canadas, 123-6. For the resolutions, bill and divisions, Elgin-Grey Papers, i, 300n-301n, British Parliamentary Papers, 1849, xxxv, 305-6, 479-90. Both Gladstone and the Colonial Office collected their own material; British Library, Add. MS. 44566, fos 22-4; UKNA, CO 880/1, fos 27-38. [I stand by my description of John Wilson as an English-Canadian in terms of language, but note that he was a Scot, from Paisley.]

[9] Morning Chronicle, 19, 22, 24 March 1849. For the newspaper's politics and prosperity, J. B. Conacher, The Peelites and the Party System 1846-1852 (Newton Abbot, 1972), 47-8, 187; Grey Papers, Journal, 18 March 1849. Hayward, the editor, believed in 'instant' journalistic comments on events. Colonial leaders were apparently written by J. R. Godley. H. E. Carlisle, ed., A Selection from the Correspondence of Abraham Hayward, Q.C. from 1834 to 1884 (2 vols London, 1886), i, 136-8; Extracts from Letters of John Robert Godley to C. B. Adderley (London, 1863), 127-9.

[10] Conacher, Peelites, 21-2, 39-40; W. F. Monypenny and G. E. Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli Earl of Beaconsfield (6 vols, London, 1910-20), iii, 206-7; Lewis, ed., Lewis Letters, 226. [For a recent overview of the Prime Minister's career, J. Prest, "Russell, John [formerly Lord John Russell], first Earl Russell (1792–1878)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. For another attempt to define and to count Peelite MPs, W.D. Jones and A.B. Erickson, The Peelites 1846-1857 (Columbus, Ohio, 1972), 70-8.] The biography of Stanley by Angus Hawkins makes a brief allusion to discontent in Canada in 1848, but does not discuss Rebellion Losses. A. Hawkins, A. Hawkins, The Forgotten Prime Minister: the 14th Earl of Derby (2 vols, Oxford, 207-8), I, 370.

[11] G. H. Francis, Orators of the Age (London, 1847), 160-82; Wakefield, Art of Colonization, 30-6; Manchester Guardian, 4 April 1849 (London letter). [For a recent overview, P. Burroughs, "Grey, Henry George, third Earl Grey (1802–1894)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.]

[12] Duke of Argyll, Autobiography and Memoirs (2 vols, London, 1906) i, 486; Grey Papers, Journal, 21 March 1836, 18 June 1849, 14 May 1850.  [As Lord Howick, Grey had campaigned for the abolition of slavery, citing John Gladstone's plantation in Demerara (British Guiana / Guyana) as an example of exceptional cruelty. Gladstone delivered his maiden speech in June 1833 in defence of his father. Gladstone's performance was generally praised, and his ability to present statistics pointed to front-bench potential. His arguments were perhaps less persuasive: he pointed out that his father had only purchased the Demerara property five years earlier, and insisted that "while honourable and respectable branches of his family had held West-India property, they were not inattentive to the wants, the wishes, the feelings, and the interests, of the [N]egro population connected with their plantations". Howick replied that on the Demerara estates "there was a great temptation to exact an undue quantity of labour, and slaves were fast perishing". Hansard, 3 June 1833.

[13] Francis, Orators, 345-50; T. Wemyss Reid, The Life, Letters and Friendships of Richard Monckton Milnes, First Lord Houghton (2 vols London, 1890) I, 380-2, 391-2; Cambridge University Library, Diary of James Stephen, Add. MS. 7511, 12 July 1846; Spectator, 10 March 1849, 226. [For a recent sketch, Ged Martin, "Hawes, Sir Benjamin (1797–1862)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.]

[14] Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, 3rd series (cited as Hansard), ciii, 19, 22, 23 March 1849, 957, 1124-8, 1189-90; Manchester Guardian, 24 March 1849 (London letter). [for the importance of the unofficial channel of communication, Ged Martin, "'The Workings of My Own Mind': Private Correspondence of the Governor-General of Canada, 1839-1867", British Journal Of Canadian Studies, xxi (2009), pp. 63-86:]

[15] Daily News, Morning Herald, Standard, 22 March; The Times, Globe, 23 March; Sun, 24 March; Morning Advertiser, 26 March; Spectator, 31 March 1849, 297-8.

[16] The Times, 11 April 1849; Elgin-Grey Papers, Elgin to Grey, private, 1 March, 11 April 1849; Grey to Elgin, private, 23 March, 5 April 1849, i, 299-301, 306, 316-18, 329-30. For Masson's letter, ibid., i, 307-9, The Times, 13 April 1849. [For Masson, A. Désilets, "Masson, Luc-Hyacinthe" in Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

[17] Morning Chronicle, 20 April 1849, and cf. Montreal Courier, quoted Elgin-Grey Papers, i, 335-6; Grey to Elgin, private, 20 April 1849, i, 328-9; Hansard, civ, 2, 4 May 1849, 1102-4, 1250-5; The Times, 4, 11 May 1849.

[18] Lord Malmesbury, Memoirs of an Ex-Minister, (3rd ed., 2 vols, London, 1884) i, 249; British Library, Stanmore Papers, Diary of Arthur Gordon, Add. MS. 49254, fo. 38; Manchester Guardian, 19 May 1849 (London letter); R. E. Leader, ed., Life and Letters of John Arthur Roebuck P.C., Q.C., M.P. with Chapter of Autobiography (London, 1897), 223-4; C. R. Sanderson, ed., The Arthur Papers (3 vols, Toronto, 1957-9) iii, 505; Library and Archives of Canada, Elgin Papers, A398, Edmund Head to Elgin, private, 20 June 1849, quoting family letter. [The cerebral Sir Edmund Head, lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, was a cousin of Sir Francis Bond Head, the ebullient lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada at the time of the 1837 rebellions.]

[19] The Times, 16 May 1849. [The Parliament buildings were probably not intentionally burned down: they caught fire because gas lighting was damaged in the riot.  I have been unable to consult Dan Horner, Taking to the Streets: Crowds, Politics, and the Urban Experience in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Montreal (Kingston and Montreal, 2020). Luckily, Dr Horner's important York University doctoral dissertation of 2010 is available on the Internet. He makes clear that the Rebellion Losses bill riot was wholly different in character to the disturbances associated with elections in the city during the 1840s, most notably in being a deliberate policy move by members of the elite, rather than anarchic outbursts by an urban rabble.]

[20] The Times, Daily News, 16 May; Spectator, 19 May, p. 453; Wemyss Reid, Milnes, i, 430-4; The Times, 17 May 1849.

[21] The Times, Daily News, Morning Chronicle, 16 May; Morning Post, 18 May 1849. Cf. MacNab's denial, The Times, 23 June 1849. [MacNab had famously cut the portrait of Queen Victoria from its frame and thrown it to safety. This probably explains the conciliatory gesture of his invitation to a ball at Buckingham Palace. There is now a major biography: D.R. Beer, Sir Allan Napier MacNab (Hamilton, Ont., 1984), 254-63 for the Rebellion Losses episode.]

[22] The Times, 17 May; Sun, 16 May, and quoted Birmingham Mercury, 19 May; Morning Advertiser, 16 May 1849; UKNA, Russell Papers, PRO 30/22/7E, Ellice to Russell, 8 June 1849, fos 2,224-5. ['Family Compact' was a term of abuse for the Upper Canada Tory elite, intended to smear them with the selfish stupidity of the Bourbon dynasties. It has been generally discounted by historians since the publication of G. Patterson, "An Enduring Canadian Myth: Responsible Government and the Family Compact", Journal of Canadian Studies, xii (1977), 3-12, reprinted in J.K. Johnson and B.G. Wilson, eds, Historical Essays on Upper Canada …(Ottawa, 1991), 485-512.]

[23] Leader, ed., Roebuck, 224; Wemyss Reid, Milnes, i, 430-4. For comments on Montreal, Globe, 16 May, The Times, 5 Sept., 20 Nov. 1849; Simmonds Colonial Magazine, xvi (June 1849) 451-2. [The "insulted waistcoat" theme seems to have been a contrived device to belittle the rioters. In fact, stones weighing a kilogram were hurled, one of which struck Elgin, and his carriage was badly damaged.]

[24] The Times, 15 June 1849.

[25] CO 42/558, Elgin to Grey, 30 April 1849, fos 55-68, printed in British Parliamentary Papers, 1849, xxxv, 301-4 and Elgin-Grey Papers, iv, 1,458-63. For its reception, ibid., i, 350-3; Elgin Papers, A398, Hincks to Elgin, 1 June 1849; Grey Papers, Russell to Grey, 16 May 1849. The dispatch was widely published in the London press, 17-18 May 1849.

[26] Morning Post, Morning Chronicle, 18 May; Morning Herald, 17 May 1849. The attempted assassination of the Queen on 19 May perhaps underlined Elgin's position as representative of the Crown.

[27] Daily News, Sun, 16 May 1849; Grey in Hansard, cv, 15 May, 467-71; Wemyss Reid, Milnes, i, 430-4.

[28] Daily News, 12 May; The Times, 11, 17, 28 May; Morning Chronicle, 23 May 1849.

[29] Morning Advertiser, Morning Herald, Morning Post, 16 May; John Bull, 19 May, 308; Weekly Chronicle, 19-20 May; Observer, 20 May 1849, and cf. Grey in Elgin-Grey Papers, i, 355-6.

[30] The Times, 11 April; Daily News, 22 August 1849; Grey Papers, Russell to Grey, 19 August 1849. [Lowell was the centre of the Massachusetts cotton textile industry, fostered since the 1820s by a protectionist tariff.]

[31] CO 42/558, Grey to Elgin (draft), no. 426, 11 Oct. 1849, fos 220-1, and cf. letter in The Times, 8 Nov. 1849.

[32] British Parliamentary Papers, 1864, xl, 529-77.

[33] CO 42/558, Grey to Elgin (draft), no. 365, 18 May 1849, fos 69-72, printed British Parliamentary Papers, 1849, xxxv, 338.

[34] CO 42/558, Elgin to Grey, 5 May 1849, fos 134-7. For Grey's draft reply, University of Nottingham, Newcastle Papers, NeC 9552, and final version, (no. 372, 13 June 1849) printed Elgin-Grey Papers, iv, 1,475-6. For ministerial discussions, ibid., i, 353, 358; Grey Papers, Russell to Grey, 9 June 1849; Journal, 25 May, 6 June 1849. [Presumably the document was borrowed by Newcastle, a later Colonial Secretary and ally of Gladstone in 1849, who failed to return it.]

[35] Grey Papers, Russell to Grey, 20 May 1849; Russell Papers, PRO 30/22/7F, Grey to Russell, 20 May 1849, fos 2,156-7; Elgin Papers, A398, Hincks to Elgin, 1 June 1849. [Russell was closely informed on the situation in Canada, since he was a silent third-party in the private correspondence between Elgin and Grey – a piece of information that was never communicated to Elgin, although he probably guessed that his letters were shared: Ged Martin, "The Elgin-Grey Papers 1846-1852:a Triangular Correspondence", British Journal Of Canadian Studies, xxviii (2015), pp. 1-22:]

[36] Alexander MacKay, The Crisis in Canada; or the Vindication of Lord Elgin and his Cabinet as to the Course Pursued by Them in Reference to the Rebellion Losses Bill (London, 1849); The Times, 28 May 1849, and cf. News of the World, 10 June; Sun, 16 June 1849; Elgin Papers, A398, Hincks to Elgin, 1, 8 June 1849. [Alexander MacKay had worked as a journalist in Canada and the United States. He wrote for the Morning Chronicle, but broke with the paper over its campaign against the Rebellion Losses bill: G. Goodwin (revised H.C.G. Matthew), "Mackay, Alexander (1808–1852)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.]

[37] R. S. Longley, Sir Francis Hincks (Toronto, 1943), 167-71; Elgin-Grey Papers, i, 355-6; Grey Papers, Russell to Grey, 19 August 1849, Ellice to Grey, 13 June 1849. [A Presbyterian from Cork, Francis Hincks was appointed governor of Barbados in 1856, a gesture by the British government apparently designed to indicate that the highest levels of patronage appointment were potentially open to colonists: W.G. Ormsby, "Hincks, Sir Francis", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, xi.

[38] Manchester Guardian, 30 June 1849; Spectator, 2 June 1849, 511, printed in P. Burroughs, ed., The Colonial Reformers and Canada (Toronto, 1969), 173-4.

[39] Russell Papers, Grey to Russell, 10 June 1849, fos 2,195-6; Grey Papers, Journal, 9 June 1849; Elgin-Grey Papers, i, 359-61. Cf. CO 42/563, fo. 233. [A second Canadian Tory, William Cayley, also crossed the Atlantic to lobby against the Rebellion Losses bill. Although he seems to have made little public impact, Cayley was in contact with Gladstone. Cayley was not unusual in being a relatively recent immigrant (he had settled in Toronto around 1838 after qualifying as a barrister in England), but he was atypical in being an Oxford graduate. Indeed, he was a member of Gladstone's college, Christ Church, where the two had overlapped in 1829-30. Christ Church was notorious for gilded undergraduates (of whom Gladstone was one), but Cayley (one of 11 children of the British consul in St Petersburg) probably moved in humbler circles, as his decision to seek a career in the colonies demonstrated. Gladstone noted a visit from "Mr Cayley (from Canada)" on 25 May, the formality suggesting that they had not been friends in their student days. Gladstone saw him again on 31 May. M. R. D. Foot and H. C. G. Matthew, eds, Gladstone Diaries, iv: 1848-1854 (Oxford, 1974), 124-5. Cayley probably invoked their college connection to gain access, while Gladstone may have used him as a channel of communication that avoided direct contact with the controversial MacNab. In 1974, the editors of the Gladstone Diaries were unable to identify Cayley, but see P.G. Cornell, "Cayley, William" in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, xi. Cayley's influence is impossible to assess: Gladstone had indicated his unease about the Rebellion Losses bill in March, before his arrival in Britain. However, the connection is intriguing. MacNab had wished to call on Gladstone, but was dissuaded by Edward Stanley, son of Lord Stanley (later Earl of Derby), the Protectionist party header. J. Vincent, ed., Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: Journals … of Edward Henry, Lord Stanley 1849-1869 (Hassocks, Sussex, 1978), 9-10. MacNab probably hoped to keep open lines of communication to the government, hoping that they might accept his compromise proposal of support for the Wilson amendment: too close an association with Gladstone would have been damaging. Disraeli showed a marked lack of regret when MacNab was obliged to refuse an invitation to a formal breakfast on 9 June because of a prior engagement at the Colonial Office. M.G. Wiebe et al., Benjamin Disraeli Letters, v: 1848-1851 (Toronto, 1993), 186.]

[40] PRO, CO 43/112, Hawes to MacNab, 13 June 1849, 3-7, and draft by Grey, CO 42/563, fos 223-6. For the discussions, Elgin-Grey Papers, i, 372-4, 376-8, 393-4, and copies in Elgin Papers, A397.

[41] Hansard, civ, 16 April 1849, 356; cv, 16 May 1849, 566-7.

[42] Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44275, Peel to Gladstone, 3 June 1849, fos 311-16; British Library, Peel Papers, Add. MS. 40470, Gladstone to Peel, 4 June 1849; fos 449-50; Add. MS. 40468, Stanley to Peel, 26 Dec. 1843, Peel to Stanley (copy), 28 Dec. 1843, fos 95-102. For Gladstone's preparations, Foot and Matthew, eds, Gladstone Diaries, iv: 1848-1854, 125-30. [The care that both Gladstone and Peel took to preserve correspondence seems to justify the statement that the Rebellion Losses issue caused a breach between them.]

[43] Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44291, Russell to Gladstone, 4 June 1849, fos 1-2; Grey Papers, Russell to Grey, 9 June 1849. [In a further brief conversation with Russell on 8 June, Gladstone noted that the Prime Minister "considered the Upper Canada Act was not intended to authorize the payment of compensation to rebels. Nothing passed from which I could divine his views: as far as a presumption could be raised, it would have been rather unfavourable than otherwise". Gladstone's meaning is not entirely clear, but it seems that Russell was still hoping to avoid a parliamentary confrontation. Foot and Matthew, eds, Gladstone Diaries, iv, 128.]

[44] J. Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (3 vols, London, 1903), i, 149; Birmingham Mercury, 19 May 1849 (London letter); Elgin Papers, A398, Edmund Head to Elgin, private, 20 June 1849. [Brougham, who spent much of his time at Cannes, had become a subject of ridicule the previous year, when he had unsuccessfully applied for French citizenship, with a view to seeking election to the revolutionary National Assembly.]

[45] Hansard, cv, 5 June 1849, 1148-9; memorandum, 8 June 1849, in Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44777, fos 294-6, printed Foot and Matthew, eds, Gladstone Diaries, iv, 128.

[46] Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44777, memorandum, 15 June 1849, with addendum, 28 February 1855, fos 303-6, printed in J. Brooke and M. Sorensen, eds, The Prime Ministers Papers: W. E. Gladstone, iii: Autobiographical Memoranda 1845-1866  (London, 1978), 43-5. [Colonial issues could become the focus of discontent sufficient to undermine an already weakened ministry: defeat over Jamaica in 1839 forced the temporary resignation of Melbourne's government, criticism of the handling of frontier wars in South Africa contributed to Russell's downfall in 1852. (Peel's reported comment in 1839, "Jamaica was a good horse to start" indicates that colonial issues were not championed exclusively on their merits.  Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, i, 222.) But a government majority of 141 in the Commons suggests that Gladstone deluded himself in believing that a Lords defeat would have led to defeat on a motion of confidence: radicals in particular would have resented Lords' pretension to dictate the choice of a cabinet. There is no evidence that Gladstone entertained this theory before his February 1855 addendum.]

[47] British Library, Aberdeen Papers, Add. MS. 43070, Gladstone to Aberdeen, June 1849, fos 193-6; J. Brooke and M. Sorensen, eds, The Prime Ministers Papers: W. E. Gladstone, i: Autobiographica (London, 1971), 251.

[48] Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44777, addendum, 28 Feb. 1855, fos 303-6. Stanley had at first urged Brougham to move "a really substantive motion" but then persuaded him to postpone it from 7 June, because the date clashed with Ascot races, a much more alluring attraction for Britain's hereditary legislators.  On 11 June the Encumbered Estates (Ireland) Bill came on in the Lords, and Brougham, who spoke several times, presumably did not wish to curtail consideration of the measure. University College, London, Brougham MSS, 10270, Stanley to Brougham, private, 19 May 1849; 16826, Stanley to Brougham, 30 May 1849.

[49] Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44777, fos 294-6, 303-6. The account that Hincks gave at the time (Elgin Papers A398 [22 June 1849]) was more sympathetic to Gladstone than he recalled in F. Hincks, Reminiscences of his Public Life (Montreal, 1884), 197. [However, when MacNab and Edward Stanley consulted Lyndhurst, he "rather threw cold water on our expectations". J. Vincent, ed., Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: Journals … of Edward Henry, Lord Stanley 1849-1869, 9 (7 June 1849).]

[50] R. Blake, Disraeli (London, 1969 ed.), 288-9; H. Reeve, ed., The Greville Memoirs (Second Part) (3 vols, London, 1885) iii, 283-4, 287-8, 290, 293; Brougham MSS, 24324, Stanley to Brougham, 12 May 1849; Lady Dorchester, ed., Recollections of a Long Life by Lord Broughton (6 vols, London 1909-11) vi, 236-8; Grey Papers, Journal, 17 May 1849. [Jones and Erickson,in The Peelites 1846-1857, 98-109, analyse relationships between Peelites and Protectionists in Commons voting for 1849. The authors did not comment on the Rebellion Losses debate, presumably regarding it as a solo effort on the part of Gladstone.]

[51] Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44777, fos 303-6; British Library, Herries Papers, Add. MS. 57409, Stanley to Herries, 13 June 1849, fo. 105. [P.J. Jupp, "Herries, John Charles (1778–1855)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, portrays Herries as a more talented public figure than he appears in other sources. Stanley's use of Herries confirms Blake's assessment that, in 1849, Disraeli had not become the undisputed House of Commons leader of the Protectionists that an admiring tradition has claimed. Herries had a reputation on financial matters, the Rebellion Losses bill involved the expenditure of public funds, and Disraeli lacked standing on matters related to money. R. Blake, Disraeli, London, 1966), 267-8.]  

[52] Hansard, cvi, 14 June 1849, 189-225 (Gladstone), 225-43 (Russell); Elgin-Grey Papers, Grey to Elgin, 14 June 1849, i, 359-61; Stanmore Papers, Add. MS. 49254, diary, 14 June 1849, fo. 82.

[53] Hansard, cvi, 14 June 1849, 243-53 (Herries); 281-3 (division); 15 June 1849, cols. 346-54 (Peel), 373-6 (division); Spectator, 16 June 1849, p. 549. For an analysis of the final vote, Conacher, Peelites, 222-5. The government's decision not to press for a vote on the first night was perhaps a tactical error: only six members who voted for the adjournment (which caused the postponement of the budget) voted with Herries the next night. [In his diary, Gladstone noted that "we had sad blundering & squabbling wholly caused by Mr Herries's friends." Foot and Matthew, eds, Gladstone Diaries, iv, 129. MacNab supplied papers from which Disraeli spoke, effectively, according to Edward Stanley, but "in his peculiar style". Stanley reckoned that the opposition failed to muster 25 votes on which they had counted, "but gained some converts, from the other side. … Many were influenced by distrust and dislike of Gladstone". J. Vincent, ed., Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: Journals … of Edward Henry, Lord Stanley 1849-1869, 10. Disraeli affected disdain that the debate had clashed with a fashionable concert. Wiebe et al., Benjamin Disraeli Letters, v: 1848-1851, 189.]

[54] Elgin Papers, A398, Hincks to Elgin, 16 June 1849; A397, Hawes to Elgin, 16 June 1849. But Roebuck (with characteristic immodesty) believed his contribution swung the debate. Leader, Roebuck, 227-8.

[55] Globe, 15 June, and cf. Examiner, 23 June, 385-6; Manchester Spectator, 16 June; Liverpool Mercury, 19 June 1849. [The Globe was a London newspaper which generally supported the Whig government. It should not be confused with the powerful Toronto newspaper of the same name.]

[56] Foot and Matthew, eds, Gladstone Diaries, iv, 130; A. T. Basset, ed., Gladstone to His Wife (London, 1936), 77-8.

[57] Aberdeen Papers, Add. MS. 43070, Gladstone to Aberdeen, June 1849, fos 193-6, 21 June 1849, fo. 197; Add. MS. 43072, Stanley to Aberdeen, 18 June 1849, fos 143-4; Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44088, Aberdeen to Gladstone, 19 June 1849, fos 69-70. Stanley repeated his opinion to Gladstone on 19 June, Basset, ed., Gladstone to His Wife, 77-8.

[58] Quoted Conacher, Peelites, 62-3, and cf. Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44777, fos 303-6.

[59] Gladstone Papers, Add. MS. 44088, fos 69-70; Basset, ed., Gladstone to His Wife, 77-8. [Gladstone commented on Brougham's optimism, "I am not aware whether he knows". A young Whig peer, Lord Kimberley, refused to vote against Brougham's motion. In 1850, he described Canada as "a striking and melancholy example of the consequences of statesmanship in which forethought has no part … a liberality which gives only when refusal is impossible". J. Powell, ed., Liberal by Principle … (London, 1996), 30, 68.  Kimberley was Colonial Secretary from 1880 to 1882: Canada's Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, commented that he was "not celebrated for cordiality of manner". D.G. Creighton, John A. Macdonald: the Old Chieftain (Toronto, 1955), 290.]

[60] Hansard, cvi, 19 June 1849, 547-8 (division); E. G. Collieu, 'Lord Brougham and the Conservatives', in H. R. Trevor-Roper, ed., Essays in British History: presented to Sir Keith Feiling (London, 1965 ed.), 212-13. Brougham himself had criticised the use of proxies in the Lords, Hansard, XLIII, 26 June 1838, 1088-9. [The practice was ended in 1868.]

[61] Stanmore Papers, Add. MS. 49254, diary, 19 June 1849, fos 87-8; Brougham MSS, 36870, Gladstone to Brougham, 17 June 1849; Daily News, 21 June 1849.  [Brougham had "contrived to get a fair knowledge of the case" during a working breakfast with MacNab, despite the complication that the two had "talked both together the whole time". Vincent, ed., Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: Journals … of Edward Henry, Lord Stanley 1849-1869, 9 (9 June 1849).]

[62] Hansard, cvi, 19 June 1849, 450-83 (Brougham), 483-505 (Grey), 505-14 (Lyndhurst), 514-18 (Campbell), 518-34 (Stanley), 534-7 (St. Germans), 537-46 (Lansdowne). Elgin-Grey Papers, i, 372-4; Stanmore Papers, Add. MS. 49254, fos 87-8; Trevor-Roper, ed., Essays, 212-13; Elgin Papers A398, Hincks to Elgin, 22 June 1849; Reeve, ed., Greville Memoirs, III, 287; Dorchester, ed., Broughton, vi, 232, 239. [The son of the American portrait painter John Singleton Copley, Lyndhurst had been born in Massachusetts in 1772, and thus could claim some moral authority in discussing colonial rebellions. He spoke in the Rebellion Losses bill debate at the age of 77, when he was virtually blind. G.H. Jones, "Copley, John Singleton, Baron Lyndhurst (1772–1863)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.]

[63] Conacher, Peelites, 220-32.

[64] Elgin-Grey Papers, i, 372-4. [But Grey later claimed that the parliamentary debates, and "especially … the close division in the House of Lords … had naturally the effect of keeping up the excitement which had previously been created". Earl Grey, The Colonial Policy of Lord John Russell's Administration (2 vols, London, 1853), i, 229. In fact, further disturbances in Montreal during August 1849 followed the belated arrest of some of the April rioters. On 9 July, Elgin had reported that the emphatic majority in the House of Commons had produced "a marked and so far as it goes satisfactory change in the tone" of the Montreal  English-language press. Elgin-Grey Papers, i, 393.]

[65] The Times, 16 June, Daily News, 21 June 1849.

[66] The Times, 16 June, Daily News, 21 June 1849. 66. Hansard, cxxxiv, 29 June 1854, 827; Goldwin Smith, The Empire (Oxford, 1863), 128-9 (letter of 27 August 1862).

[67] Hansard, cccvi, 7 June 1886, 1223-4; Hansard, clii, 27 February 1906, 953-62. But even in 1886, Gladstone did not formally disavow his stand, and he did not include Rebellion Losses in the list of political mistakes he compiled in retirement. In December 1849, he still regarded the bill as the worst blow to the authority of the Crown since the Boston Tea Party. W. S. Childe-Pemberton, Life of Lord Norton, (London, 1909), 76. [For Gladstone's attempt in 1855 to defend his challenge to the Rebellion Losses bill, P. Knaplund, Gladstone and Britain's Imperial Policy (London, 1927), 221-2.]

[68] Hansard, cxxiv, 4 March 1853, 1,138-52.

[69] Morning Chronicle, 16 June; Manchester Examiner, 20 June 1849. [The point was made with some sarcasm by Thomas Carlyle in his Latter Day Pamphlets of 1850: "A Canadian Lumber-log may as well be made Governor." The timber-totem could be fitted with a "shoulder-crank (a thing easily contrivable in Birmingham) for signing his name to Acts of the Colonial Parliament":]

[70] Hansard, cvi, 26 June 1849, 937-1,004; H. E. Egerton, ed., Selected Speeches of Sir William Molesworth (London, 1903), 216-64; Martin, Durham Report, 60; The Times, 2 July 1849; UKNA, CO 885/1, no. vii.

[71] Now better known through the title of its reissue, The Empire of the St. Lawrence (Toronto, 1956): 374-81 for Rebellion Losses.

[72] D. Wright, Donald Creighton: a Life in History (Toronto, 2015), 124-34. Creighton's evident irritation with the failure of British elite to match Anglo-Canadian imperial vision may perhaps be linked to his experience as a 'colonial' student at Oxford.

[73] Creighton, Empire of the St. Lawrence, 385.

[74] For the manifesto, H.E. Egerton and W.L Grant, eds, Canadian Constitutional Development … (London, 1907), 336-43. In its published form, the Annexation Manifesto carried 969 signatures. Some of these were disavowed under ministerial pressure. In A. Porter, ed., The Oxford History of the British Empire, iii: the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1999), 530-2, I attempted to sketch deeper obstacles to annexation, notably the absence of recognised constitutional mechanisms on either the American or the British sides that might have facilitated so major a transfer of sovereignty and territory. 

[75] Vincent, ed., Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: Journals … of Edward Henry, Lord Stanley 1849-1869, 10.

[76] Ged Martin, "The Idea of British North American Union 1854-1864", Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies, i (2008), pp. 309-333:

[77] I explored this theme in "1849: Year One in the History of British North America?", D. Pollard and G. Martin, eds, Canada 1849 (Edinburgh, 2001), pp. 7-27:

[78] Ormsby, "Hincks, Sir Francis", Dictionary of Canadian Biography; Beer, Sir Allan Napier MacNab, 261-2.

[79] Hincks criticised his government colleagues for failing to adopt sanctions against signatories to the Annexation Manifesto, complaining that it had introduced a note of insecurity about Canada's future that deterred British investors.

[80] In 1851, Morin succeeded LaFontaine as head of the Lower Canada section of the ministry.  Jean-Marc Paradis, "Morin, Augustin-Norbert", Dictionary of Canadian Biography, ix.

[81] S.W. See, "Rethinking 1849: Collective Conflict in British North America", in Pollard and Martin, eds., Canada 1849, 209-23. Some academics have gone further, arguing that violence was "an integral part of the political process" in 19th-century Canada: J. A. Frank, M. J. Kelly and T. H. Mitchell, "The Myth of the 'Peaceable Kingdom': Interpretations of Violence in Canadian History", Peace Research, xv (1983), 52-60.

[82] Horner, "Taking to the Streets…", York University PhD thesis (2010), 252.

[83] The Red River Metis occasionally acted on the principle that the people armed could enforce their will, by intimidating a court in 1849 and taking control of the Settlement in 1869. There were, of course, proclamations of independence by rebel leaders in 1837, but overall it remain striking how little Canadian history has been affected by ideas of sovereignty rooted in the people that underlie the existence of the United States.

[84] The parallel is deftly defined by Dan Horner in a posting, "The Fury of the Betrayed…" on the website (13 April 2021).

[85] A Communist-organised protest from western Canada, the 1935 On-to-Ottawa Trek, was blocked at Regina in Saskatchewan. By a strange coincidence, during the writing of this Afterword, on 6 February 2022, the Mayor of Ottawa declared a state of emergency after Canada's capital was occupied by protesters demanding the removal of vaccination regulations. The federal government did not directly engage in dialogue with the demonstrators.

[86] A colony could not have a full-scale capital. The choice of Ottawa was made in 1858 (allegedly by Queen Victoria), and the capital moved there in 1865. Bytown had been renamed Ottawa (after its river) in 1855, city fathers perhaps wisely rejecting the facetious alternative of Byzantium.

[87] This is explored in "French in the Canadian public sphere, 1763-1969":

[88] Surely it is curious that there should have been no major Montreal figure on the national political scene between George-Étienne Cartier, who died in 1873, and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who burst forth in 1968? Montrealer J.J.C. Abbott, Prime Minister 1891-2, hardly fills the gap.

[89] In 1992, Paul-André Linteau could conclude a comprehensive and thoughtful history of the city by stressing that it had played a central role in the emergence of modern Quebec, but we might equally ask why this should not have extended to some form of pan-Canadian influence. P-A. Linteau, Histoire de Montréal depuis la Conféderation (Montreal, 1992), 560. The Montreal History Group, a lively collective of scholars based across Canada, is primarily interested in social questions.

[90] Monet, The Last Cannon Shot, 292-3, 314-16, 329-30; F. Ouellet, "Papineau, Louis-Joseph", Dictionary of Canadian Biography, x. A divisive figure even in his own camp, Papineau had been shunted off to France in 1839: like many Quebec exiles, he found that even community of language did not allow him to feel at home in France. His antipathy to LaFontaine was sharpened by the reformers' desire to abolish the traditional landholding system of Lower Canada. This helped Papineau, a seigneur himself, to discover the limits of his radicalism. He was sympathetic to the Annexation Movement, but had enough self-awareness to realise that his overt support would be counter-productive.  

[91] L.F. Gates, After the Rebellion… (Toronto, 1988), 157-8.

[92]  R.A. Douglas, ed., John Prince: a Collection of Documents (Toronto, 1980), 26, 102; R.A. Douglas, "Prince, John", Dictionary of Canadian Biography, ix is unusually effective in combining the outline of a career with an evocation of an unattractive personality.

[93] Folk memories of 1837-8 in French Canada were stirred by the hanging of Metis rebel Louis Riel in 1885, and probably by the conscription crisis of 1917. The use by a small 1960s terrorist group, the Front de libération du Québec, of an image of an armed habitant of 1837 on its communiqués was an intellectual construct designed to claim a spurious historical legitimacy. The original, of an old man complete with rifle, pipe and tuque, was the 1904 creation of the illustrator Henri Julien:

[94] Monet, The Last Cannon Shot, 323-5. In his DCB essay, Monet concludes that Papineau's explanation of his course of action at Saint-Denis "does not stand up against a serious examination of the facts".

[95] Gates, After the Rebellion, 254-342. But Mackenzie did have one major achievement during this postscript to his career: he was instrumental in securing Canada's adoption of a dollar-based decimal currency in 1858.

[96] I cannot even trace a report of the event in Toronto's leading newspaper, the Globe. A memorial to the two men was erected in 1893.

[97] Fine Gael emerged from the pro-Treaty Cumann na nGaedheal party in 1933. Fianna Fáil, formed in 1926, fully accepted the State after rewriting its constitution upon republican lines in 1937. The two parties formed a reluctant coalition in 2020. Their names, which respectively mean "children of the nation" and "soldiers of destiny", leave open a wide range of policy options.

[98] During the political crisis of 1844, when Sir Charles Metcalfe strained to keep a Tory ministry in office, the Methodist leader Egerton Ryerson warned that the political temperature was reminiscent of ten years earlier, when polarised political positions were adopted that triggered the events of 1837, "to the ruin of many and the misery of thousands. What took place in 1837 may be but a preface of what maybe witnessed in 1847." The Toronto Globe ridiculed his warning, but its editor, George Brown, had only arrived in Canada the previous year. Even in 1844, Ryerson's pessimism does not seem to have been widely shared. J.M.S. Careless, Brown of the Globe, i… (Toronto, 1959), 53-4. In 1887, John A. Macdonald, who had fought against Mackenzie's rebel force, deplored the episode as "days of injustice, days of humiliation", adding that "we can all look back and respect those men who fought on one side or the other, for we know that there was a feeling of right and justice on both sides". The rebellions had been "a war of fellow-subject against fellow-subject, which should, as much as possible, be forgotten". Ged Martin, Favourite Son… (Kingston, Ont., 2020), 23:

[99] I make no attempt to refer to the extensive (and rapidly changing) perspectives on the Northern Ireland Peace Process in academic and government publications. A comment to me by Dr Laurence Marley is pertinent: most people optimistically emphasise the term "peace", but the key word in the phrase is "process". That could be said of relations between Canada's two founding language groups since 1848-9.

[100] Monet, Last Cannon Shot, 327-8. One veteran radical, Denis-Benjamin Viger, wept during Elgin's delivery in French. Viger had been an ally of Papineau in 1837. Although not directly involved in the rebellions, he had subsequently suffered 18 months' internment. The parallels with Ireland since the 1990s might be extended to comparisons with nation-building through confrontation with past injustice in post-apartheid South Africa.

[101] A.T.Q. Stewart, The Narrow Ground: the Roots of Conflict in Ulster (rev. ed., London, 1989, cf. 1st ed. 1977). In 1981, Edward A. Aunger made an interesting attempt to compare Northern Ireland with Canada's equivalent of the "narrow ground", the bilingual province of New Brunswick, but this was before the Peace Process. I do not know of any attempt to examine the introduction of responsible government in the province of Canada through a similar lens. E.A. Aunger, In Search of Political Stability: a Comparative Study of New Brunswick and Northern Ireland (Montreal, 1981).

[102] Conacher, Peelites, 220-5. Most leading Peelites were liberals on religious matters, generally supporting the Maynooth grant (1845) and opposing the Ecclesiastical Titles bill (1851).

[103] J.B. Conacher, a distinguished Canadian scholar, devoted a page to Rebellion Losses (Peelites, 54-5); the American professors Jones and Erickson did not regard the matter as a Peelite issue at all.

[104] Jones and Erickson, The Peelites 1846-1857, 74-7, 140. The latter estimate was by Sir John Young, one of the few politicians who attempted to organise the Peelites in the House of Commons. From 1868 to 1872 he was Governor-General of Canada. 

[105] D. Southgate, The Passing of the Whigs 1832-1886 (London, 1962), 243.

[106] R. Shannon, Gladstone, i: 1809-1865 (London, 1982), 264. The entire difference between the Peelites and any modern political party is summed up in a comment by the Duke of Newcastle to Gladstone in December 1851. Their parliamentary group had recognised no leader since the death of Peel 17 months earlier (and Peel, as noted, had refused to lead in any active sense). "The election of a leader of a Party would I think be a novel Measure & I incline to think it a dangerous experiment." (A caucus election would also have raised questions about party membership and strategy.) University of Nottingham, Newcastle Papers, NeC111706, Newcastle to Gladstone (copy), 8 December 1851. The writer was Gladstone's Oxford friend, Lord Lincoln, who had succeeded his father, the 4th duke, earlier that year.

[107] Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, i, 353n.

[108] E.J. Feuchtwanger, Gladstone (London, 1975), 66-7; Shannon, Gladstone, i: 1809-1865, 191. Shannon's own brief reference to "Gladstone's partisanship for Elgin" is itself lacking in clarity.

[109] Hansard, cclxiii, 25 July 1881, 1860. Dr Andrew Jones points out to me that compensation issues intruded intermittently throughout Gladstone's political career, from payments to slaveholders in the 1830s to provisions for Irish tenants in the 1880s.  

[110] A contemporary jest claimed that Brougham had become an authority on the Navigation Acts because he had spent so long fishing for seals [of office]. R. Stewart, Henry Brougham ... (London, 1985), 347-8.

[111] Studies of the Peelite party concentrate on the House of Commons, and do not mention peers. Of possible Peelite allies, St Germans (with whom Gladstone seems to have had no personal relationship) spoke in support of the government, while Canning was only reluctantly persuaded to vote with Brougham. Interestingly, there were some low-level negotiations between Stanley and the most senior Peelite in the Lords, Aberdeen, for a common front against Palmerston's assertive foreign policy. On 2 May, Aberdeen dined with the Stanley family and "strongly censured the Canadian policy of ministers". By mid-May this proposed alliance had fallen apart. It is possible that Gladstone was trying to construct an alternative anti-Grey combination, but there is no contemporary evidence to suggest any such deep strategy.  Vincent, ed., Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: Journals … of Edward Henry, Lord Stanley 1849-1869, 5-8; M.E. Chamberlain, Lord Aberdeen … (London, 1983), 418-19.

[112] [August 2022: to be added to martinalia]

Copyright © 2022 Ged Martin. All Rights Reserved.
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU General Public License.