AN ALGONQUIN MAIDEN
.


 

CHAPTER XV.

POLITICS AT THE CAPITAL.

 


BUT more was destined to burgeon into blossom than the flowers of spring.  Allan Dunlop’s fame as a politician had grown concurrently with the growth of his love.  In the Legislature he had won for himself a prominent position, and was known as a sagacious counsellor, a persuasive speaker, a ready and effective debater, and a good steady worker on Committees.  No name carried more weight in Parliament than his, and his influence in the country was as marked as was his influence in the House.  This was as readily conceded by his political opponents as it was claimed by his friends.  He had, moreover, a prepossess- ing manner, a comely presence, and a countenance which, when animated, was not wanting in expression or fire.  He was withal, the most modest and lovable of men; and had he not sat on the Opposition benches he would have been courted by the Tory supporters of the Government and been fawned upon by the leading members of “The Family Compact.”
     Allan Dunlop had, however, entered the House as a radical, but of a moderate type; and though he dealt the Executive many trenchant blows, and did yeoman service in advancing the cause of Reform, he was too loyal a man to rank with the “heated enthusiasts” who were threatening to overturn the Constitution and make a republic out of the colony, and too judicious and right-minded to affirm that the Administration of the Province was wholly evil and corrupt.  On the contrary, while he insisted that the Executive should pay more deference to the voice of the Parliamentary majority, and so avoid the ever-cropping-up conflicts between the Administration and the popular Chamber, he recognized the fact that the evils complained [Page 168] of had their origin in defects in the Act which gave the Province its Constitution; and being engrained in the paternal system of government that had long been in vogue could not possibly be at once and satisfactorily remedied.
     It was true that in none of the other Provinces was power so firmly centralized in the hands of a dominant and exclusive class, as was the case in Upper Canada.  But this state of things, Allan Dunlop conceded, was a legacy from the period of military rule which followed the Conquest, and the natural consequence of appointing members to seats in the Executive and Legislative Councils for life.  Dunlop was also well aware that the social condition of the Province, at that early period, tended to centre power and authority of necessity in the hands of a few leading men.  All the public offices were in their gift; and the entire public domain, including the Crown and Clergy Land reserves, was also in their hands.  Hence it was that through the patronage at their disposal the “Family Compact” were enabled to fill the Lower House with their supporters and adherents, and, in large measure, to shape the Provincial Legislation, so as to maintain their hold of office and perpetuate a monopoly of power.  That the ruling oligarchy used their positions autocratically, and kept a heavy hand upon the turbulent and disaffected, was true; but their respect for British institutions, and their staunch loyalty to the Crown, at a time when republican sentiments were dangerously prevalent, were virtues which might well offset innumerable misdeeds, and square the account in any unprejudiced arraignment.
     But though Allan Dunlop possessed a mind eminently fair and judicial, and, Reformer as he was, could dispassionately discuss the “burning questions” of the time, there were abuses connected with the mode of governing which he stoutly strove to remedy, and injustice done to loyal settlers in the iniquitous land system that prevailed [Page 169] which roused his indignation and called forth many a bitter phillipic in the House. These trenchant attacks of the young land-surveyor were greatly feared by the Executive, and were the cause of much trepidation and uneasiness in the Legislative Council.
     For a time Commodore Macleod, who had now returned to his accustomed duties in the Upper House, took pleasure in replying to Dunlop’s attacks in the Lower Chamber; but the young Parliamentarian, though he treated his opponent with courtly deference, had so effective a way of demolishing the Commodore’s arguments and of genially turning the shafts of his invective upon his adversary, that he soon abandoned the attempt to break a lance with his young and able antagonist.  Dunlop’s temper was habitually sweet and always under command, and this gave him a great advantage over his sometimes irascible opponents.  His manner, however, was at times fiery—especially when exposing causes of hardship and injustice, when his arraignment of the Executive was vehement and uncompromising.  But the “Family Compact” was at the period too firmly entrenched and buttressed about by patronage for Allan Dunlop to effect much reform in the system of government, though his assaults were keenly felt in the Upper House, and they made a powerful impression in the country, which heartily endorsed the young land-surveyor’s strenuous appeals for the redress of long-existing abuses, and the concession of Responsible Government.
     “What a noble fellow that young Dunlop is!” said Lady Sarah Maitland to her escort in the House, as the youthful tribune closed an impassioned appeal on behalf of settlers from the United States, who had been subjected to great hardships and outrage by the tools of the Government.
     “A pestilent rascal!” was the testy rejoinder of the old [Page 170] Commodore, who, with his daughter Rose, had accompanied her Ladyship on the day in question to the House of Assembly.
     “Nay! you shall not say that of him, Commodore, for I mean to invite him to accompany us to Stamford Cottage at the close of the Session, if he will give me that pleasure,” said Lady Sarah, warmly.
     “Sir Peregrine will have something to say to that, Madame,” was the Commo- dore’s blunt reply, “and Mr. Attorney-General, here,” he added, “ought to arrest you for wishing to consort with seditious agitators and evil-disposed persons.”
     “I think I ought to take you both into custody,” interposed Attorney-General Robinson, “for spoiling with your quarrel the effect of young Dunlop’s speech.  It was admirable, both in tone and matter, and I shall at once look into the grievan- ces he complained of.  Don’t you think, Miss Macleod, that your father is unreas- onably prejudiced against the member for your section of the Home District?”
     “I think him everything harsh and unpaternal when politics is the subject of conversation,” replied that young lady guardedly.
     “Ah! politics is an unclean game,” observed the courtly leader of the House; “but it would be vastly sweeter and cleaner were all our politicians of the type of Dunlop.  I think him a grand fellow—but, I agree with you, Commodore, that he should be on the other side.”
     “Or we should be on his side, Mr. Attorney-General,” said Lady Sarah, with a meaning glance at Rose Macleod.
     At this juncture, the Attorney-General, having to address the House, took leave of the ladies, and the Government House party rose and left the Chamber.
     Later in the day, the Attorney-General took occasion to refer to Dunlop’s speech, and to commend its temperate [Page 171] and courteous tone, though the matter his young friend brought to the notice of the Government, said the Attorney-General, if true, severely reflected on the management of one of the Departments, which, the speaker added, he would take care at once to inquire into.
     Other matters occupied the attention of the House for the remainder of the afternoon, and when the Speaker rose to retire a buzz of conversation ensued on the stirring topics to be brought up at the evening’s sitting.  Two of these topics related to matters which, at the period, convulsed the community, and threatened to overthrow the fabric of society in the colony, if not the Constitution itself.  One was the case of Captain Matthews, a member of the Assembly, who was charged with disturbing the tranquillity of the Province by requesting the orchestra, at the theatre of York, to play sundry seditious tunes at the close of an entertainment, and thus inferentially to pay disrespect to His Majesty’s crown and person.  The other was the escapade of a number of young people in York, of respectable standing, who had committed a gross breach of the peace in breaking into and ransacking the printing-office of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie, smashing the presses of that martyr to Reform, and throwing into the lake the type which had been used in setting up some pungent articles against the Government.
     “Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” the moralizing bystander of the period might have observed, as he took note of the electrical condition of the political atmosphere of York, and, indeed, of the whole Province—the result of the indiscretion of one man, and the partisan frolic of half a dozen lads, who had inherited, with the bluest of Tory blood, the prejudices of their fathers.  The wrecking of the Mackenzie printing-office was, of course, a serious conspiracy against the peace of a youthful and law-abiding community.  But it will occur to the modern [Page 172] reader of the transaction, that the act was scarcely so heinous as to bring it before the country’s legislature, and become the subject of a grave Parliamentary inquiry.
     The act has to be viewed, however, in the light of preceding events, and with a knowledge of facts in the thrilling drama of Reform, at the time being enacted on the political stage of Upper Canada.  Society in the Province was long wont to poise itself between two opinions, as to the degree of justification for the course which Reform took at the time of the Gourlay agitation, and which, in Mackenzie’s day, culminated in rebellion.  The issues of the conflict have, how- ever, settled that point; and though Tory bias loves still to stand by the “Family Compact,” the popular sympathies are with the actors who were whilom out- lawed, and on whose heads the Crown did them the honour, for a time, to set a high value.
     Chief among these actors, at the time of which we are writing, was he whose printing-presses had just been ruthlessly demolished, and whose fonts of type youthful Torydom had gleefully consigned to the deep.  The provocation had been a long series of intemperate newspaper criticism of the Government, numerous inflammatory appeals to the people to rise against constituted auth- ority, and much scurrilous abuse of leading members of the “Family Compact,” who wished, as a safeguard against revolution and chaos, to crush the “patriot” Mackenzie, and drive him from the Province.  But though thorny as was then the path of Reform, and galling the insult and injury done to its martyrs, Mackenzie did not shrink from pursuing the course he had cut out for himself; and his intense hatred of injustice, and sturdy defiance of those whom he held respon- sible for the maladministration of affairs, gained him many adherents and sym- pathizers.  The outrage that had just been committed on his property vastly increased the number of the [Page 173] latter, while popular indignation com- pelled the Government to disown the act, and to make it, as we have seen, the subject of Parlimentary inquiry.  From the Parliament the matter went to the Courts, and there the scapegraces, who had been concerned in the outrage, were mulcted in a large amount, which their parents, high government officials, had ruefully to pay over to the aggrieved printer and incipient rebel.  Thus ended one act in the drama of these distraught times.  How shall we keep our counten- ance and deal with the other?
     Let us first tell the story, as we gather it, in the main, from the Journals of the House.  For some time previous to the meeting of the Legislature, in 1826, partisans of the Administration had got in the habit of noting defections from the loyal side among men of substance and position in the colony, and particularly among members of the representative Chamber, where the cry for Responsible Government was waxing loud, and where sullen protests were almost daily heard against the system of official patronage and favouritism that prevailed in the government of the Province.  The Administration being now in the minority in the popular Chamber, and “the long shadows of Canadian Radicalism” having begun to settle upon the troubled “Family Compact,” it became important to note the increasing defections, real or fancied, in the Legislative Assembly, so that, if possible, the “bolters” might be coaxed or bribed back, or, failing that, that they might, in some way, be jockeyed out of the House and made to suffer for their defection.  Among those who had recently taken the bit in their teeth was a Captain Matthews, a retired officer, in receipt of a pension, who represented the county of Middlesex, and had of late gone over to Democracy.  For this act he was “put upon the list,” and became a marked man on the mental tablets of the myrmidons of the Executive. [Page 174]
     About this time there came to York a company of strolling actors from the neighbouring Republic, whose fortunes were at a low ebb, and whose dignity had very much run down at the heels.  To revive their fortunes, they gave an entertainment in the extemporized theatre of the town, under the kindly proffered patronage of the members of the Legislature.  It was New Year’s Eve, and the fun—the age was still a bibulous one—waxed fast and furious.  At last the curtain dropped, and the modest orchestra struck up “God save the king!”  Hats were at once doffed, and from among the standing audience came a loud but unsteady voice, calling upon the orchestra to “play up” Hail Columbia! or Yankee Doodle.
     The sober section of the play-house was stunned.  Was it possible that Democracy could go to such lengths—within sight of the “royal arms,” over the Lieutenant-Governor’s box, and with the decaying notes of the national anthem in Tory ears?
     It was but too true.  Again and again rose the shout for the seditious tunes.  Abashed loyalty sought to escape from the house, but the crowd jostled and intervened.  The scene now became uproarious.  Affrighted Conservatives were seen to jam their hats on their heads—the only mark of disapproval possible— and glare defiance at those who impeded the exit.  The Tory member for Stormonth—it was afterwards admitted in evidence—stripped his coat and threatened to knock any two of the opposing Radicals down.  Meanwhile the orchestra, unable to accomplish the higher flight of “Hail Columbia!” struck up the commoner and more objectionable tune; and three grave legislators, it is said, danced while “Yankee Doodle” was played.  The Democratic orgie at last spent itself with the music, and after a while all breathed the outer, communistic air of heaven. [Page 175]
     After the racket comes the reckoning; and Captain Matthews, whose share in inducing the play-house fiddlers to discourse republican music to monarchical ears was reported with due exaggerations and aspersions on his loyalty, to the military authorities, speedily found himself the victim of an infamous plot.  Distor- ted accounts of the scene at the theatre had been sent to the Commander of the Forces, at Quebec; and the member for Middlesex was specially singled out as the seditious rioter on the occasion, and the leader in what was termed “a dis- loyal and disgraceful affair.”  Presently there came an order for Capt. Matthews to report himself to the military authorities at Quebec, and at that port to take ship for England, where he was to be tried by court-martial.  To enable him to obey the summons it was first necessary to obtain leave of absence from the Legislature; and the motion that was to come up in the Assembly that evening, was, whether the House, on the evidence before it, would agree to release the incriminated officer from his Parliamentary duties so as to face the frivolous charge at the “Horse-Guards” in London.
     The discussion opened by the presentation to the House of the report of the Committee of Inquiry that had sat upon the matter—a report which exonerated Captain Matthews from the charge preferred against him, and relieved him from the scandalous accusation of disloyalty.  The report closed with a protest against the tendency, on the part of the Government, to resort to espionage and inquisitorial measures, in endeavouring to rid the Province of those obnoxious to the ruling faction, and in attempting to undermine the independence of the Legislature by scandalizing its members and awing them into political subser- viency.  The conviction was reiterated that there was no ground for the charge against Captain Matthews, [Page 176] the malignity and falsity of which was due to political hostility to that gentleman.
     A lively debate ensued on the motion to receive the report, members of the Government fiercely objecting to its reception by the House, and the Opposition as warmly insisting on its acceptance.  The temper of the Government was not improved when young Dunlop rose, and, in a few quiet and well-chosen words, asserted the right of Parliament to protect its members from officious military arraignment on frivolous and vexatious pretexts.  It was the duty of the Govern- ment, remarked the young tribune, to calm, not to augment, the fever of popular excitement by acts of an arbitrary and autocratic character,—such as instigating ridiculous prosecutions, and casting doubt on the loyalty of men who had long and faithfully served the Crown, and whose only fault was to set their country above their party.
     That the existence of Upper Canada as a colony of the Crown—Dunlop continued—was imperiled by paying some exigent actors from the other side of the line the compliment of calling for a national air dear to republican hearts and ears, he did not for a moment believe.  He was, at the same time, he affirmed, keenly sensitive to the beguiling effects of enlivening music, and—falling into a lighter vein—he confessed that he did not know what might be the consequence if the members of the Government organized themselves into a well-trained minstrel troupe and entered the neighbouring Republic singing the pathetic airs of the Old Dominion, artfully interspersed with the soul-stirring strains of the “British Grenadiers” and “Rule Britannia.”  He thought, moreover, that if the grave and reverend seigniors of the “Family Compact” would blacken their faces as they had blackened their hearts, and “star” it through the lowly hamlets of the Province, singing, say, the Jacobite airs of a previous generation, [Page 177] it would do more to cement the attachment of Canada to the Crown than all the efforts of the combined army of officials, placemen, and henchmen of the Government plus the Judges, the Sheriffs, the Recorder, the Incumbents of fat Clergy Reserves, the Gaugers, Tollmen, Hangmen, Customs Officers, Turnkeys, and Landing-Waiters.
     Seriously, Allan Dunlop added,—and he had no apology to make for indul- ging in levity in discussing this frivolous matter—it was beneath the dignity of the House to occupy itself with the further consideration of the charges against the honourable member for Middlesex.  These charges were so trivial and ill-founded, and they originated in such a trumpery fear lest the Crown should suffer indignity where indignity was in no wise offered to it, that he begged the House to dismiss the matter forthwith and refuse Captain Matthews leave to absent himself from his Parliamentary duties.  After a scattering fusilade of small talk from both sides of the House, the report of the Committee was received, leave was refused, and the disturbing question was laid at rest.
     Those who have followed, it may be with interest, this veracious piece of history, and are curious to learn the fate of the honourable member for Middlesex, will find the story graphically told in Mr. Dent’s “Canadian Rebellion,” Vol. I., chap. 6.  The authors take the liberty of appending Mr. Dent’s closing paragraph: “But though Captain Matthews,” says the historian, “had been cleared by the Legislature, he had still to run the gauntlet of the military inquis- ition.  They could not compel his attendance during the existence of the Parlia- ment then in being, but they possessed an effectual means of reducing him to ultimate submission.  This power they exercised; his pension was stopped—a very serious matter to a man with a large family and many responsibilities.  He continued to fight the battles of Reform with dogged courage and pertinacity as long as his means admitted of his doing so, but he was soon reduced to a condition of great pecuniary distress, and was compelled to succumb.  Broken-hearted and worn out, he resigned his seat in the Assembly, and returned to England, where, after grievous delay, he succeeded in getting his pension restored.  He never returned to Canada, and survived the restoration of his pension but a short time.  Thus, through the malignity of a selfish and secret cabal, was Upper Canada deprived of the services of a zealous and useful citizen and legislator, whose residence among us, had it been continued, could not have failed to advance the cause of freedom and justice.” [Page 178]


[Chapter XVI]