Political Experiences in Nova Scotia, 1867-1869

In 1867, Nova Scotia faced a crucial decision on whether to join the proposed Canadian Confederation. Initially hesitant, Premier Dr. Tupper decided against a dissolution of the House of Assembly and instead sought its approval for the plan. Despite protests from various constituencies, the Resolution in favor of Confederation was passed, leading to the formation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1st. However, the subsequent general election revealed overwhelming opposition to Confederation, with only one out of fourteen representatives supporting it in Ottawa and merely two out of forty in the local House of Assembly.

The Anti-Confederate movement gained momentum. The attorney-general passionately defended their cause in the Assembly, expressing confidence in their appeal to the Crown but hinting at seeking assistance from another nation if necessary. The lieutenant-governor condemned disloyal rhetoric as treasonous, reflecting the intense polarization and uncertainty surrounding Nova Scotia’s decision on Confederation.

“It now rested with Nova Scotia to give her decision. When Mr. Tilley’s government were first defeated at the polls, it seemed to Dr. Tupper, the Nova Scotian premier, impolitic and unnecessary to press the question in the sister province. Now, however, that New Brunswick had accepted the principle of union, it became incumbent on Nova Scotia to deal with the matter. For reasons which, no doubt, were in his opinion sufficient, Dr. Tupper decided and Sir Fenwick Williams, the lieut.-governor, acquiesced in the decision-that no dissolution should take place, but that the existing House of Assembly should be asked to pass the requisite Resolution in favour of the plan. Against this course many protests were lodged, and many addresses were sent in from towns and constituencies in the province, but without avail. The Imperial Government accepted the Resolution as that of the legislature of Nova Scotia, and as such representing the people of the province, and declined to go behind the record. Accordingly the Queen’s Proclamation confederating the several provinces was issued, and on the 1st July, 1867, the “Dominion of Canada” came into existence. The Nova Scotian legislature, however, which had passed the Resolution in favour of Confederation with almost its dying breath, now expired by efflux of time, and a general election became necessary. It took place on 17th September/ the same day on which the first elections were held in that province for the House of Commons at Ottawa. The result was startling and dramatic. Of the fourteen members elected to the House of Commons in Ottawa, Dr. Tupper was the only one returned in favour of Confederation, whilst of the forty members constituting the local House of Assembly only two were in favour of that measure! The Anti-Confederate party, as they were called, pledged themselves to use every means in their power to release their country from “the hated yoke of Canada”.”

“One of the first matters that came before me was a formal Memorandum from the attorney-general, gravely advising the governor to order the collectors at Halifax and at all other ports to pay the customs duties into the local treasury!”

“Meetings were held all over the province, at which inflammatory addresses were delivered, a systematic agitation was organized, the Imperial Government, the Canadian Government, and the Confederate party were abused and denounced without stint, and the whole country was in a ferment. The lieut.-governor, as a soldier, waxed more and more indignant at the disloyal and even treasonable utterances in the press and on the platforms.”

“The attorney-general, who was a very clever though eccentric man and by far the best speaker in the House, addressed himself to this point in an impassioned Anti-Confederate speech which he delivered in the Assembly. He professed to believe that their cause was so good and their appeal to the Crown so reasonable that it could not fail of success; “but”, raising his voice for the benefit of the public in the gallery, “if the Imperial Government should”, (he said) “refuse our prayer, we shall then have to appeal to another nation to come to our aid.”

Moody, H. “Political Experiences in Nova Scotia, 1867-1869” Dalhousie Review, Volume 14, Number 1, 1934 https://dalspace.library.dal.ca/bitstream/handle/10222/58419/dalrev_vol14_iss1_pp65_76.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y