Local Government In the Maritime Provinces

Out of the territory east of the Penobscot and south of the St. Lawrence were carved the three Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The French called the district Acadie, and the Scottish King of England, in his grant to Sir William Alexander in 1621. Nova Scotia. The Isle of St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island) was granted a separate government in 1769, but was not renamed until 1799 after the visit of Prince Edward. The Loyalists on the river St. John, exasperated by delays in the issue of land patents and by apparent neglect, demanded and got separation from Nova Scotia in 1784 and in the name of the new province the House of Brunswick was honoured.1 In 1784 the island of Cape Breton was granted a separate government, but was reannexed to Nova Scotia in 1820.

The Settlers

To the character and traditions of the early settlers must be traced the nature of the struggle for self-government and the character of the institutions. At the outset physical features naturally determine the localities of settlement. The sheltered slip between the mainland and the peninsula offered the best haven. Here the French entered and settled at Port Royal and on the St. Croix. Later they spread to Cape Breton fortifying Louisbourg. Along the shores, in the bays and up the creeks and rivers of the eastern coast of these provinces the tide of population moved, at first impelled by the love of adventure and the prospects of hunting, later by political necessities.

The second inflow of settlers came from New England in search of cod and commerce. Convenient stations they found in the harbors of Chebucto and Canso and in those of the Bay of Fundy. Later on the arrival of Cornwallis and the prospects of trade attracted large numbers to Halifax. And in 1759 the proclamation of Goovernor Lawrence brought from Massacussetts and Rhode Island an excellent band of settlers to take up the fertile lands from which the Acadians had been driven.

The fear of French aggression impelled New England to attack and capture Louisbourg in 1745. When Britain returned it to France in 1748, there was but one thing to do — to build a stronger fortress between the French in Cape Breton and the people of New England. Accordingly Lord Cornwallis was sent out to Nova Scotia to establish a fortress and a colony. In 1749 he landed in Halifax with a following of 1,176 settlers and their families. Here he built fortifications and from here he ruled the province.

From the first it was recognized that a garrison without a colony could not hold the French in check. Inducements were accordingly offered to immigrants from England, Germany, Scotland and New England. The colonists, particularly those from New England, soon clashed with the garrison. When political necessities made the colonist almost indispensable, as was the case after the expulsion of the Acadians, liberal promises of land and of self-government were made. But with the coming of security from the enemy, the merchants and farmers found the rule of the Governor-in-Council at Halifax irksome.

The relation of Halifax to the province, it may be remarked, has always been peculiar. At the first it was a garrison in a hostile colony, later when the New Englanders began to settle in the west and the Scotsmen in the east. Halifax remained a military station and a trading-post. In war times its garrison made it a safe harbour for captured vessels and a profitable place for the sale of supplies. In times of peace, apart from fishing, trade languished. Before the opening of the railways the position of Halifax tended to isolate it from the rest of the province.

Situated on a bay about the middle of the Atlantic Seaboard, remote from the old capital, Annapolis, in the west, and from the fishing station at Canso in the east; separated from the fertile valleys to the north by a rough ridge of granite boulders and a surprising number of small lakes and ponds, Halifax was forced to look across the ocean for its trade and its people. The conservatism of the old ward settled upon its military government and long resisted the reforms of the new. The struggle for self-government was more prolonged and bitter, and the victory more fragmentary than elsewhere. St. John is a striking contrast. Situated at the mouth of a magnificent river, which drains three-fifths of the province and with its broad and deep tributaries provides an unrivaled waterway through the length and much of the breadth of the country, St John could not fail to grow with the prosperity of the province and through its commercial interests keep in the closest touch with its agricultural and industrial life. Although Fredericton was the political capital, St. John from the first dominated the province, and its reforms became those of the province.

The American revolution profoundly affected Nova Scotia. The struggle between the ruling and military element from the old England on the one hand and the commercial and colonizing element from New England on the other had resulted in the grant of a Legislative Assembly and some minor reforms. The reforming party however suffered severely when the Revolution broke out by the departure from Nova Scotia of several of the most ardent friends of reform and by the suspicion of disloyalty which fastened upon those who remained. At the close of the war the arrival of the Loyalists immediately brought about the division of Nova Scotia into two provinces and local government for the City of St John; but in the end it strengthened the conservative forces already at work.


Feudal ideas imported from France played little part in the municipal life of Nova Scotia. The compromise of deputies for the French and justices of the peace for the English during the period of discordant rule seems to have left no perceptible trace in the forms of local government. The formative ideas were those brought over by Cornwallis and those introduced by the New Englanders, and in the case of New Brunswick, by the Loyalists. Those of Cornwallis and the Loyalists had a common origin. The practices of the Loyalists had but suffered a sea-change. They grew out of the adaptation of English ideas and practices to the problems of government in the southern colonies of America, Virginia, and New York. As for the New Englanders, they advocated the principles of the chartered government of the Massachusetts Bay. In each of the types – the Virginian and Massachusetts – the powers granted to the governing body of the colony came direct from the Crown and not from the Parliament at Westminster; and in each case these powers were granted to a council or company which had the right to choose its subordinate officers.

The fortunes of the two companies, however, were different. The Massachusetts company migrated to the new land. The election of the assistants to the Governor by the freemen of the company became the election of the representatives for the government of the community. The interests of company and colony merged. The Virginian Council ruled from London through local councils. The interests of the council and the colonist diverged; which state of affairs led the Crown to intervene and take over the council’s rights. The Crown governed through a deputy or governor who called to his assistance a small number of men as councillors but theoretically did not necessarily follow their advice m all things. Together they made and administered laws and also acted as a court of justice. This was the system Comwallis introduced into Nova Scotia. But the fishermen and the traders from Cape Cod who preceded Comwallis, and the settlers from Massachusetts and Rhode Island who accepted Lawrence s invitation to occupy the lands vacated by the Acadians were strongly imbued with the ideas of Massachusetts They became the advocates of self-government.

The Loyalists of New Brunswick seem to have kept before them the provincial system of New York. Their first Governor Thomas Carleton, was the brother of Sir Guy, for a time Commander of the British forces in New York; and their first Provincial Secretary, Rev. Jonathan Odell, was a New Yorker and former private secretary of Sir Guy. The fidelity with which New York was imitated is seen in the resemblance between the city charters of New York and St. John, and between the charters of the College of New York and the College of New Brunswick In a letter to the Secretary of State Governor Carleton makes special reference to New York.’ The prominence of New Englanders in Nova Scotia and the predominance of the Loyalists in New Brunswick will perhaps account for certain differences in the two provinces.

The Loyalists landed at Parrtown in 1783; New Brunswick was separated from Nova Scotia in 1784; St. John was granted a charter in 1785 ; and a representative Assembly was summoned in 1786 to be elected on practically a manhood suffrage Comwallis landed at Halifax in 1749. With great reluctance Lawrence summoned an Assembly in 1758, and Halifax, though petitioning in 1765 and 1790, was denied a charter until 1841 Apparently New Brunswick was dominated by the most democratic ideas and Nova Scotia by the reverse; and yet Governor Carleton claimed that ” New Brunswick had improved upon the constitution of Nova Scotia where everything originated, according to a custom of New England, with the Assembly. But here, where a great proportion of the people have emigrated from New York and the provinces to the southward, it was thought most prudent to take an early advantage of their better habits and by strengthening the executive powers of the Government discountenance its leaning so much on the popular part of the Constitution.”

It is possible that Governor Carleton thought that the Loyalists could be trusted to govern themselves, and since they outnumbered all others ten to one. there was little danger of their liberty becoming license. He accordingly granted a charter tn St. John but reserved to the Crown the right of appointing the chief executive officers, the mayor, sheriff, recorder and clerk. ” He was,” however, ” rapped over the knuckles ” for it by the Secretary of State.

Things were different in Nova Scotia. The ruling class was in a minority. Governor Lawrence wrote of the members elected to the first assembly in 1758 that “he hopes he shall not find in any of the representatives a disposition to embarrass or obstruct His Majesty’s service or to dispute the Royal prerogative,” though “too many of those chosen are such as have not been the most remarkable for promoting unity or obedience to H.M. government here, or indeed that have the most natural attachments to the provinces.” Yet in Nova Scotia greater opportunity was given to the people to express their opinion through the Grand Juries. The township and county officials were all appointed by the sessions from the nominees of the grand juries. The grand juries could by presentments censure public officials and ask for public work. In certain cases the justices of the sessions could not act except upon the presentment of the grand jury. Further town meetings were regularly held until 1879, though for a time after 1770, when suspicion was rife, they were suppressed.’ These and similar provisions are rot found in New Brunswick. In only two Acts (and those were in the first ten years) was the grand jury required to make a presentment before the Court could act. One had regard to the altering of a road, the other to the prevention of thistles. The privilege of nominating officials seems not to have been enjoyed by the grand juries of New Brunswick.

French and English

Feudalism in Acadia, as in old Canada, was a mild copy of that of old France. The Governor was all-powerful and the seigniors were feeble and few. Governor Philipps, writing to the Duke of Newcastle in 1730, said, ” Here are three or four insignificant families who pretend to the right of seigniories, that extend almost over all the inhabited parts of the Country.'” In 1703 the King of France confirmed grants of seigniories at Cape Sable, Port Royal and Mines.’ Mention is also made of seigniories at Cobequid and Chignecto. The rights of the seigniors in Nova Scotia became little more than claims for rents which, under English rule, were transferred to the Crown.

From the capture of Port Royal in 1710 the mainland of Nova Scotia was subject to the English. Protests and resistance on the part of the French, however, made government extremely difficult and finally led to the expulsion of the Acadians. Finally the second capture of Louisbourg in 1758 left the English the undis- puted masters of the peninsula and the island. Prior to the founding of Halifax in 1749 there were two British garrisons — one to overawe the Acadians around Annapolis and the other at Canso to protect the New England fishermen. The seat of the govern- ment was at Annapolis, near the French settlements at old Port Royal (now Annapolis), Cobequid and Chignecto. The Governor’s task was by no means an easy one. The willingness of the Acadians to comply with his demands varied inversely with their distance from the cannon of the fort, and the collection of rents and the settlement of disputes about land were the causes of perennial trouble.

The French were governed through elected deputies. Each community was required once a year, early in October, to select a number of deputies from the ” ancientest and most consider- able in lands and possessions.” The community about Annapolis was required to select twelve, the other communities at least four or five each. If the business on hand was very important a large number might be demanded. The Governor might refuse to accept the deputies, if they were not of the oldest and richest in the community.’ After receiving the Governor’s instructions the deputies were required both to publish them and to assist in carrying them out. Mascarene summed up their duties as follows :

  1. Deputies having fixed times for meeting and consultation should act together in the execution of the orders, etc.. of the
    Government in the interests of justice and of the good of the community.
  2. They should ” in their meetings make joint reply to the letters of the Government addressed to them in common and propose measures for the common good.”
  3. They should watch and keep in hand restless spirits who could turn the habitans from their duty and lead them contrary
    to their oath of allegiance. They were expected to restrain the Indians.
  4. They were to enforce the regulations for keeping up the fences and to prevent the trespass of unruly cattle.
  5. They were to concert measures for the improvement and upkeep of bridges and highways. They were to assign to each
    habitant what according to custom he must contribute in material, labour, carriage or payment.
  6. They were to keep an account of the mills, those erected by the seigniors and those erected ” without leave since the King has been in possession of the seigniory.” and the dues that should be paid so that ” the King may get his rights.”
  7. They were to arbitrate in land disputes, but appeal to the Governor-in-Council was permitted. They were to redress
    wrong and recover stolen property.

In short the deputies were practically mediators, with little real power but great opportunity to facilitate or clog the work of administration. In only one instance is there evidence of the appointment of an Acadian to be a justice of the peace.” Prudent Robicheau was the honoured name. A Prudent Robicheau, once before, had been rejected by tlie Governor as a deputy because of lack either of ancientness or possessions.’

The independent fishermen of Canso were not disposed to brool< much interference from the Governor Their local affairs were managed by justices of the peace (and it is worth noting) ” with a committee of the people of Canso.” These justices seem at least to have been acceptable to the people. On one occasion the Governor sent three commissions for justices of the peace in blank, which the other justices and probably the committee were to fill in.* On another occasion there was a vigorous protest against Captain Aldridge. who seems to have been anxious to introduce something not far remote from military rule.* The Governor reproved him.

The system of deputies (or rather hostages) for the French and justices of the peace for the English was a rather happy compromise. It was lacking in power to coerce, but it provided good machinery for informing the people of the Governor’s instructions and the Governor of the people’s wants.

Government by Courts of Sessions

In 1749 Governor Cornwallis in accordance with his instructions erected three courts of justice, ” The first was a Court of General Sessions similar in its nature and conformable in its practice to the Courts of the same name in England.” “The second was a County Court having jurisdiction over the whole province (then a single county) and held by those persons who were in the Commission of the Peace at Halifax.”‘ ” The third was a General Court. This was a Court of Assize and general jail delivery in which the Governor and Council, for the time being, sat as judges.”‘ In 1754 a Supreme Court with a chief justice specially appointed for judicial work took the place of the General Court. These three courts were primarily courts of law, and yet one, the Court of Sessions, discharged important administrative functions, and another, the highest, was primarily not a court of law but an administrative body. To understand the Court of Sessions and its diverse duties one should turn to its history in England.

Unusual as is today the merging of judicial and administrative functions, it was not novel to Nova Scotians one hundred and fifty years ago. When Halifax was founded, the Governor-in-Council was a legislative, administrative and judicial body in one. Although it was relieved of its judicial functions in 1754 the chief justice still remained a member of the Council, became a governor, and exercised administrative powers until driven out of the Council in 1838 by Howe. The Council claimed the sole right to legislate until the chief justice questioned the legality of its acts and caused the Secretary of State to direct the Governor to summon an Assembly. Still the Council continued to discharge executive and legislative duties until separation was forced in 1838. And it was not until 1848 that Howe completed his great task and made the Executive Council dependent upon the will of the majority of the Assembly.

In the courts of general sessions, it may be explained, the sheriff as appointee of the Crown was the executive officer ; the justices were the guardians of the peace, also appointed by the Crown; and the grand jury was the people speaking through a select few. From the earliest times these courts were administrative as well as judicial bodies. Obviously the transition is easy from inquiries into how the King’s peace was observed to inquiries as to measures to secure its better observance, e.g.. the establishment of court-houses, jails, etc., bridges for the improvement of the King’s highway and the like.

In 1749 Cornwallis appointed four justices of the peace for Halifax. In addition to these there were those who by virtue of their office were conservators of the peace. At one time the captains of the ships in the harbour were justices of the peace for Halifax. Ordinarily those justices were appointed by special mandate of the Governor. According to English practice they must be residents of the county. Their number seems to have been unlimited, and they held office during the pleasure of the .Crown, In the days of Howe’s battles the larger counties had forty or fifty and when the Municipalities Bill became law some counties were credited with between one and two hundred. The general sessions of the peace were usually not well attended except by a few who took an active interest, but on occasions when some matter of widespread interest, such as the granting of liquor licenses or some questions of political moment were up, the attendance was large and the meetings frequently tumultuous.

The grand juries were composed of residents of at least three months standing having freehold in the county of the clear yearly value of $10 or personalty of $100. The sheriff was required each year to prepare a list of those qualified to serve. Their names were to be written on similar pieces of paper and put in a box. At a stated time the names of those to be summoned to serve were to be drawn out of the box. This method prevented jury-packing, and if it did not secure for the people the spokesmen whom they might have chosen it prevented the sheriff from stopping the questions of the people by summoning subservient tools.

The sheriff was appointed by the Crown each year. Previous to 1778 there was one provost Marshall for the province of Nova Scotia. Thereafter a sheriff was appointed for each county with the usual powers of Sheriffs in England. The chief justice or presiding justice selected three names, one of which was the retiring sheriff (unless a majority of the justices of the peace protested) and the Governor-In_Council must select one of these Sheriff for the year. In New Brunswick the provost Marshall disappeared about 1790, and the appointment of Sheriffs does not seem to have been hedged about with restrictions.

Local Divisions

There is considerable diversity in the three provinces with respect to municipal divisions. In all three the county divisions are the most important. New Brunswick was divided into counties, and the counties were subdivided into parishes, first by letters patent and later by Act of Parliament. In Nova Scotia the townships and settlements were the first to appear; and later out of or about these the counties were constructed. Nova Scotia also recognized other units such as “Divisions” and “Districts.” Prince Edward Island was divided into “Counties,” Parishes,” “Lots,” and three towns with royalties and commons attached.

Nova Scotia.- The “Division” in Nova Scotia was merely a circuit for the Court of Common Pleas reconstructed in 1824. The province, excluding Halifax and Cape Breton, was divided into three divisions.
In 1749 there was but one county. When the question of representation in the Assembly came up, the township as well as the county was considered worthy of representation. In 1833 Murdoch wrote: “Some of the counties are divided into Districts to facilitate the local business of the county, giving each district a set of public officers nearly equivalent to those of a separate county,” e.g., a court of general sessions of the peace.” “In Halifax county there are three districts-Halifax proper, Colchester, Pictou, each of which has every arrangement for the administration of justice, the registry of deeds, etc., as if it were a separate county wanting only the name and a county representative in the Assembly.” “Each district,” says Haliburton, “is or should be furnished with a court house, but the jail belongs to the county. The sheriff’s authority is commensurate with the county and the commissions of the peace extend throughout the same. The localities of the juries both in real and personal have also a reference to the county; and the election of representatives is in no way affected by this local arrangement of districts.”

“The settled parts of the province,” wrote Murdoch in 1833, “and those where settlements are attempted have been further divided into Townships, some as large as the smaller counties and many more of smaller dimensions, and it is probable that this mode of division will be extended over the whole surface of the country as it is a favourite manner of allotment in North America, and it is very useful as a guide to the arrangement of the representation, the local assessment and a variety of other purposes.” Haliburton stated in 1829 that a “township contains no certain definite quantity of lands nor assumes any prescribed shape as in Upper Canada where it is generally under- stood to extend nine miles in front and twelve miles in the rear; nor is it endowed with all those various corporate powers which the townships of New England possess, beyond the election of a representative; which privilege is not enjoyed by all. The inhabitants have no other power than holding an annual meeting for the purpose of voting money for the support of their poor.” Governor Lawrence in his proclamation of 1758 declared that “townships are to consist of 100,000 acres.” This seems to have been the usual size for those in the valley and on the Atlantic coast. On the other hand, the three townships of Pictou county contain over 200,000 acres each. Governor Lawrence also declared that every township containing fifty families would be entitled to send one representative to the Assembly. At the first Assembly it was proposed to restrict the qualification to twenty-five voters, but the Home Government insisted on fifty. Since Lawrence’s proclamation was addressed to New Englanders it is probable that their views about townships were adopted. In 1829 the province contained 10 counties (5) counties being subdivided into 12 districts) and 50 townships.

Murdoch’s expectation that the “townships” division would extend over the whole province has not been realized. Today they are important only as marks of land grants. The decline of the “township” began with the Electoral Act of 1847. Previous to this, simultaneous elections had been impossible because of the difficulty of polling the entire vote of a township or settlement in one day. To meet this difficulty the counties were divided into electoral districts or polling sections. Where townships existed this Act respected their boundaries in the setting off of the electoral districts. When no townships were recognized the electoral district provided a useful unit. In time the polling section became the constituency of a county councillor, and a poor division. In 1843 and 1844 two large and unwieldy townships in Pictou county were subdivided for poor purposes. In 1855 an Act provided for the incorporation of townships. No advantage was taken of its permission. When the right of sending a representative to the Assembly was taken from the townships in 1857 or 1858 the township lost the last shred of political importance. Henceforth it was but a name known to those who were interested in land titles.

New Brunswick.-Before New Brunswick was erected into a separate province the county of Sunbury and the township of Sackville were granted representation (1767) in the Assembly of Nova Scotia. The boundaries of the parishes or tow is of what afterwards became the county of Westmorland were defined by the boundaries of the lands granted by Nova Scotia.
By letters patent in 1785 Governor Carleton set off the boun- daries of the counties of St. John, Westmorland, Charlotte, Northumberland, Kings, Queens, York and Sunbury; and for the better administration of justice subdivided them into towns or parishes. The Legislature confirmed this division in 1786.

The plan was simple. The whole province was divided into eight counties. The settled portions were Sunbury on the St. John, Westmorland west of Nova Scotia, and St. John, the landing-place of the Loyalists (1783). The new counties were set off and Sunbury was the residue. Some of the boundaries were defined with reference to townships, e.g., St. John began from Hopewell township, York from Maugerville, Queens from Burton. The counties again were divided into ” towns or parishes.” The term “parish” rapidly supplanted that of township.” The “township” may be traced to Massachusetts, the “parish” to New York and Virginia. In England the parish was of course originally an ecclesiastical division, the township a civil.

The blending of the ecclesiastical and the civil appears as late as 1790 in New Brunswick. Governor Carleton in a letter (dated Aug. 20th, 1790) to the Secretary of State says of the provision made for education and religion: “There are now six ministers of the Church of England, having salaries from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in addition to £100 allotted to each by an annual grant of Parliament, the glebe lands still being unproductive. The province has been divided into eight counties with thirty-nine parishes, all of which, how- ever, do not require a permanent minister at present.”

It is worth noting that in New Brunswick the county is sub- divided, and that in Nova Scotia the county is apparently a group of townships or settlements, as Mr. McEvoy states to be the case in Ontario. This difference had important consequences. It gave the township an independence in the public mind not possessed by a mere subdivision of the county (the parish). This is seen in the town meetings which were a feature of the Nova Scotia townships and electoral divisions down to 1879, although temporarily suppressed in 1770, as already remarked, through fear of revolution. This feature survived in the charters granted to such towns as Dartmouth (1873), Pictou (1873), New Glasgow (1875), which required an annual meeting of the ratepayers to receive the reports of the town’s officials and to authorize expenditures. In 1905 again, for example, Dartmouth held a town meeting to consider the increase of water supply and other matters. There were parish or town meetings in New Brunswick, particularly in the eastern portion, but they seem to have been due partly to the Nova Scotia example and partly to the movement for responsible government which secured an Act (in 1850) giving parishes or towns the privilege of electing their officials. This privilege seems not to have been generally taken advantage of, for pro- vision is made for appointment by the justices should there be no election; and in 1854 the consolidation of the statutes makes no mention of election.

The care of its own poor was the first, the primary and, as Haliburton said in 1829, practically the only duty of the parish or township; yet it is worth noting that the early schools in New Brunswick were parish schools and that the trustees were parish officials. The Superintendent of Education in 1904 recommended a return to the larger unit for school purposes, and suggested the parish as a suitable unit.

Prince Edward Island.-The Island was divided into 67 lots, usually containing about 20,000 acres each. These were grouped into three counties and in each county a town site with royalty and common was laid out for a capital. “The intention was that the man who held a lot in the town should be allowed a lot in the royalty for pasturing purposes. The common was situated between the town and the royalty and was for pasture purposes in common.” The counties were sub-divided into 14 districts or parishes. The “parish lines are but little recognized.” “These local divisions became practically useless and are seldom mentioned now except in legal proceedings connected with old land titles.” With the exception of the capital city, Charlottetown, there is but one other municipality, the town of Summerside. Local affairs are thus-doubt- less on account of the smallness of the island province-in the hands of the provincial Legislature and its local officials.

Appointment of Local Officials

Nova Scotia.-In Nova Scotia various methods of appointing local officials have been followed at different times. Before the establishment of courts of sessions the Governor-in-Council stared the privilege with the town meeting. Upon the institution of the courts the appointment of the great majority of the officials was delegated to them, in some cases without restriction, in others subject to the nomination of the grand juries. In a few instances the grand juries appointed, subject to the ratification of the justices. Of the five methods: (1) the Governor-in-Council, (2) popular election, (3) the court of sessions, (4) the sessions upon nomination of the grand jury, (5) the grand jury subject to the ratification of the justices, the mast common was the appointment by the sessions on the nomination of the grand jury. The Governor-in-Council appointed the sheriff, coroners, justices of the peace, commissioners of sewers and dykes, gaugers (from 1761 to 1769), commissioners for schools in each county and district (from 1828).

In January, 1751, the Governor-in-Council ordered that the “town and suburbs of Halifax be divided into eight wards and the inhabitants be empowered annually to choose the following officers for managing such prudential affairs of the town as shall be committed to their care by the Governor-in-Council, viz., eight town overseers, one town clerk, sixteen constables, eight scavengers.” In 1763 the town meeting (which was held twice a year) chose the assessors of the poor rate. This practice was also authorized by an Act passed in 1851. The assessors appointed the collectors of the poor rate, which, wrote Murdoch in 1833. “is the only regular fund managed by the township authorities without the intervention of the sessions and grand juries of the county.” From 1859 to 1878 the town meeting could choose the collectors.

In 1762 the grand juries in sessions were empowered to appoint annually cullers and surveyors of dry fish, surveyors of lumber, and surveyors of cordwood; and three years later the appointment of the county treasurer, subject to certain restrictions, was placed in their hands. The usual method of appointment by the sessions required the juries to nominate. At first twice as many candidates as there were offices were to be nominated; but later (1811) the number was to be as many as the justices in sessions might direct,” as the numbers before limited by law were found insufficient.” Apparently the juries by nominating impossible candidates could force the justices to appoint those whom they desired.

The officials appointed by the justices on the nomination of the grand juries, as given by Murdoch’ in 1832, with the dates of the Acts giving the power were as follows: In 1765 surveyors of lines and boundaries of townships and overseers of the poor (“both offices united in the same persons “), a town clerk, constables, surveyors of highways, fence viewers, clerks of market, poundkeepers, cullers and surveyors of fish, surveyors of lumber, sealers of leather, gaugers of casks, hogreaves (1792), measurers of grain, salt, coals, inspectors of lime and bricks, inspectors and repackers of beef (1794), surveyors and weighers of hay (1777), inspectors of flour and meal (1796), inspectors of red and smoked herrings (1798), inspectors and weighers of beef (1829), inspectors of thistles (1791), and inspectors of butter in Cumberland county (1802). The local trustees of schools were, according to the Act of 1828, appointed by the commissioners of schools who were nominees of the Governor-in-Council.

After Howe became prime minister an Act was passed in 1850 dividing Halifax into townships, and giving each township the right to elect a warden and four councillors who were to have all the powers “now exercised by the justices of the peace”; and empowering the ratepayers at the annual meeting to elect all township officers whether “now appointed by the sessions, town meetings or others as considered necessary.” This Act was per- missive and seems never to have been put into effect. A similar Act (1856), intended for the other counties, was put into effect in but one county, Yarmouth, and then only for three years.

The method of appointment by the justices on nomination by the grand juries continued until incorporation was made compulsory for all counties and districts in 1879.

New Brunswick.-Governor Carleton and the Assembly from the first decided to give the people, either directly or indirectly through the grand juries, as little power as possible in the appointment of local officials. In the draft of the Highways Bill submitted to the House in 1786 provision was made for the nomination of road surveyors or commissioners of the highways by the grand juries. This provision was struck out before the bill became law. New Brunswick was to “improve upon the constitution of Nova Scotia.”

The justices of the peace were empowered to appoint, at the first sessions of the court each year, “out of every town or parish in the said county three overseers of the poor, a clerk of the town or parish, a clerk of the market, a sealer of leather, three assessors, two or more constables, two or more fence viewers, a sufficient number of poundkeepers, cullers and surveyors of fish, surveyors of lumber and cordwood, gaugers of casks, hogreaves, surveyors and weighers of hay, surveyors and examiners of any staple commodity and (in 1805) parish school trustees.

In addition the Governor-in-Council appointed a great many officials, e.g., commissioners of sewers (1786), supervisors of great roads (1822), commissioners for the almshouse in Fredericton (1822) and Northumberland (1828), grammar school trustees (1829), firewards in Fredericton (1824), Newcastle and Chatham (1828), St. Stephen (1833), boards of health (1833), marine hospital trustees (1822), commissioners to collect dues for disabled seamen (1826), commissioners for the provincial House of Correction (1841), also for the asylum for the insane.

In 1850 the parishes were granted the privilege of electing the town or parish officials hitherto appointed by the sessions, except the treasurer, auditors, trustees of schools, overseers of fisheries, inspectors of fish, wharfingers, port warden, harbour master, pilots and firewards, who were to be appointed as before by the sessions. In the following year the same privilege was granted to parishes organized as municipalities. But failing election, appointment was to be made by the sessions or the council. When the statutes were consolidated in 1854 this privilege of election was withdrawn from the parishes. Probably little use had been made of it. It is possible that this introduction of the township idea was suggested by what Howe had done in Nova Scotia. It is well to remember that it was in 1848 that Nova Scotians gained responsible government.

Prince Edward Island.-As Bourinot remarks, “no system of local government ever existed in the counties and parishes as in other parts of America. The Legislature has been always a municipal council for the whole island.” In 1833 the representatives of Charlottetown in the Legislature were instructed to summon the inhabitants to vote money for local purposes and to appoint assessors and collectors. The following year the inhabitants of each school district were required to choose five trustees.

The Powers and Municipal Labours of the Sessions

Nova Scotia.–In the exercise of their administrative functions the justices of the peace appointed officials, ordered assessments and controlled expenditures, controlled certain licenses such as those for the sale of liquor, and made regulations about a variety of subjects. The list of subjects is similar to that given below for New Brunswick. In New Brunswick the justices in sessions were less restricted in the exercise of their powers by the grand juries than were their fellow justices in Nova Scotia.

In 1877 the committee appointed to revise the statutes prepared a draft summarizing the powers of the courts of sessions. But apparently after the draft had been printed and submitted to the Legislature it was decided to make the Municipalities Act compulsory and to abolish the courts of session. In that draft these courts were (1) given power to appoint and define the duties of the parish officials; (2) given charge of jails, lockups, workhouses or almshouses (unless entrusted to special commissioners) and village police; (3) required to prevent vice, dis- orders and disorderly driving, Sabbath profanation, nuisances, noises; (4) required to regulate the sale of liquor, circuses, exhibitions; (5) required to make regulations concerning trespass by domestic animals, the marking of cattle, pounds, dog tax, destruction of mad dogs, noxious weeds, fires, bush burning, trucks, depositing of ballast, markets, measuring and inspecting such commodities as bread, salt, coal, hay, iron, lumber; (6) required to have charge of ferries, streets, public wharves, bridges, booms, timber driving, commons, marshes, school reserves, river banks. At an earlier date they had had charge of inland fishing (1799), grazing on the commons (1814). parish schools (1823), lunatics (1824), the prevention of infectious diseases (1799).

The care of the poor was a parish charge and was in the hands of overseers appointed by the sessions.

The sessions assessed upon the presentment of the grand jury of the county setting forth the sums required for (1) the expenses of criminal justice, such as the building and maintenance of county court houses, jails, stocks, pillories, pounds, conveyance and support of prisoners, salaries of clerk of the peace and jailor; (2) the support of the or; (3) the building and repairing of bridges and other public works authorized by parliament; (4) the expenses for preventing fires. “The sessions apportion the sum presented fixing on each township and settlement the portion they think it should bear” (1765). It also appointed two collectors and three assessors for each township on the nomination of the grand juries (1777). The moneys collected were handed to the treasurer, who was chosen by the grand jury, and approved by the justices in sessions, to whom also the treasurer accounted quarterly (1813), and to whom appeals lay from the assessors.

Other sources of revenue were from rents from public buildings, fines and forfeitures, license fees from hawkers and pedlars (1782) and liquor sellers (1787). The liquor license fees were collected by a clerk of licenses appointed in Halifax by the Governor, elsewhere by the justices of the peace, who selected one of three candidates nominated by tire grand jury. Three-fifths of the license fees (liquor and hawkers) in Halifax went to the commissioner of streets; two-fifths to the police department. When money was to be borrowed permission had to be received from the Legislature.

The various officers were accountable to the sessions for the moneys entrusted to them. The grand juries had the right to inspect the accounts and to make a presentment upon the administration of the justices or their officials. The way in which the latter discharged their duties in Halifax was exposed in a painful manner by Howe in 1835.

New Brunswick.-The sources of revenue and the administration of it were similar to those of Nova Scotia. Apparently (though the evidence is not clear) the grand juries in the early days were not so influential in New Brunswick as in the sister province. In 1833 the justices in session were required to cause accounts of public moneys to be laid before the grand jury, and the grand jury was empowered to “make such presentment thereupon as they see fit.” In 850 stress was laid upon the recommendation of the grand jury for buildings and contingencies as a necessary condition to an assessment by the sessions. Further, the accounts of the county and parishes were to be laid before the grand jury, when the town or parish officers were to be appointed. Also at the time of the election of town or parish officers, the overseers of the poor, collectors of rates, and commissioners of highways were required to lay their accounts before the ratepayers for examination. The growing influence of the grand jury and the open examination of accounts were due to the demand for representative government.

It is worthy of note that today in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each poor district or parish must bear the cost of the maintenance of the poor who have “settlement” within it. Every other charge, even the support of the insane poor at the provincial hospital, is a county charge. The sole exception in New Brunswick is the charge of opening up a new road.


In 1835 Joseph Howe published in the Nova Scotian a number of letters attacking the Halifax County Sessions, for which he was arrested on a charge of criminal libel; he was, however, finally acquitted in triumph in spite of the charge of the judge to the contrary. The repeated declarations of successive grand juries and the chorus of popular approval that greeted him seem to warrant one in believing that Howe’s severe arraignment was justified. He charged’ them with unfair assessment, mismanagement of public accounts, “miserable but costly corruptions of the Bridewell (Prison) and Poorhouse,” inefficient and dilatory administration of justice, all of which were supported by quotations from reports of grand juries and of a special committee appointed by the Governor-in-Council.

In its report published shortly before Howe’s trial, the grand jury stated that “but £36 of the whole assessment of the year had been collected and that from persons much less able to pay than many who stand in the list of defaulters.” Howe gave examples of the effect of the failure of the sessions to collect rates in the county outside of the city and from a large number of favoured or careless ratepayers. Although the city contained 14,439 people as compared with 10,437 in the county, from 1825 to 1835 not one shilling had been received from the county outside the city. Apart from the large amount of uncollected taxes, the management of funds collected was careless and irregular. Instead of paying into the treasury, collectors of taxes were permitted to pay to other persons, who appropriated the funds to suit their own convenience, causing much hardship to civic officials and creditors. “The credit of the county is absolutely so bad that an advance of forty or fifty per cent. is. required in all purchases made on account.” The grand jury returned the county treasurer’s accounts as being incomprehensible, not so much from fault of the treasurer as from the con- fused manner in which public accounts were kept. Examples of the inefficiency of the police, of the unequal administration of justice and of the indifference of the magistrates were cited. Although the law required all magistrates to attend general and quarter sessions under penalty of removal from office, “from the record of five years it appeared that not more than three justices had usually attended the general sessions of the peace in Halifax, frequently but two and sometimes only one.” The grand jury, which in effect was the organ of the people, Howe declared had been frustrated in its attempts to detect and remove abuses. Sometimes the magistrates refused it access to public documents and at other times ignored its recommendations. Finally the grand jury refused to assess, and thus brought matters to a head.

It should be said in fairness to other courts of sessions that there is little doubt that Halifax stood alone in its bad preeminence. Yet enough remains to show that the system had many serious defects. It was not, however, unacceptable elsewhere. For nearly thirty years a permissive Act for municipal incorporation held open a door of escape for the several counties in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In Nova Scotia one county only took advantage of it and that for but a brief period.

Government by Elective Councils

Nova Scotia.-Responsible government for the province logically implied self-government in the municipalities. In Nova Scotia, since 1763, the township had the right to meet and vote money for the support of the poor and to elect the assessors required to get this money. This right the townships, or settlements as they were sometimes called, continued to enjoy until 1879.

It was natural for Howe to begin at home with his municipal reform. Halifax city had been given the right to govern itself in 1841. Halifax county, however, was still governed by the court of sessions when the victory for responsible government brought Howe into power. Whatever the cause, whether it was Howe’s New England ancestry, or the prominence of the township in western Nova Scotia, or the difficulty of combining the very diverse and widely separated sections of Halifax into one county, Howe adopted the township as the unit of municipal government in the Act of 1850. This Act provided for the appointment of commissioners to divide Halifax county into townships, each township to elect a warden and four councillors, who were to assume all the powers and duties of justices of the peace for the county. But little or nothing seems to have resulted from this Act.

In 1855 there was passed an elaborate Act providing machinery for municipal government in the four counties of Yarmouth, Annapolis, Kings and Queens, the four counties in which New England influence was strongest. The following year this restriction was removed and all other counties and a number of districts, such as the French districts of Clare and Argyle, the Scottish St. Mary’s and the pre-loyalist Barrington were given an opportunity, should they wish to transfer the government of the locality from the quarter session to elective councils.

In the same year another Act providing for the self-government of townships was passed. A reeve and four councillors were to be elected by the township, and the reeves in the county were to form the county council. The township councils were to exercise the power of county councils with reference to roads, the poor, prevention of vice and assessment, with the following exceptions. The expenditure of the government grants for roads, the erection of bridges, the control of liquor licenses, the regulation of ferries, wharves, markets and fairs were with- held from them. The annual town meeting was expressly provided for.

Both the County and the Township Acts were permissive and remained in force until the compulsory Act was passed in 1879. Yarmouth was the only county to apply for the privileges of the Act. But after three years’ trial, in 1858, it petitioned for the old order of local government; yet Yarmouth has always been noted for its sympathy with New England ideas.
The towns were more anxious to secure the privilege of self-government, more particularly the privilege of assessing for local purposes and of borrowing money. Each town sought incorporation by a special Act. Pictou and Dartmouth in 1873.

Municipal Organizations

Rural municipalities, towns and cities are incorporated under different Acts. The Municipalities Act applies to counties and, in the case of Nova Scotia, to districts as well, i.e., to divisions (never more than two) of a county. The Towns Incorporation Act of Nova Scotia provides for towns whether previously or subsequently incorporated: in New Brunswick the Towns Incorporation Act applies only to the towns incorporated subsequent to the passing of the Act. Each city has a special charter.
In Nova Scotia six of the eighteen counties are divided into two districts, making altogether twenty-four rural municipalities. These are again divided into polling districts, each of which is entitled according to population to at least one representative in the council. Only in one instance has a polling district as many as three representatives. The qualifications of municipal councillors and of voters are the same as those required of members and voters for the House of Assembly, except that since 1887 the franchise has been given to unmarried women, assessed for $150 realty or $300 personalty.
The elections are held on the same day throughout the province. Councillors previously sat for one year; but since 1892 their term is three years. Like the provincial Assembly the council chooses its presiding officer (the warden) at the first session after election, grants an indemnity ($2 a day and 5 cents a mile) to its members and an additional sum ($50) to the warden. It has power to assess for enumerated purposes, chief among which are the support of the poor, prevention of disease, administration of justice, court house and jail, protection from fires, bounties for certain wild animals, ferries and markets, roads and bridges (not exceeding $1,000 unless with the approval of the Governor-in-Council). Districts within a municipality may petition for the privilege of assessing for specified purpose: and be rated accordingly. Loans for current purposes are limited to $2,000 subject to the approval of the Governor-in-Council. A contingent fund of $500 is permitted. All by-laws are, however, subject to the approval of the Governor-in-Council.

The Towns Incorporation Act of Nova Scotia was passed in 1888, revised in 1895, and embodied in the consolidation of 1900. It requires a majority vote of the ratepayers of the town in favour of incorporation before such incorporation can be granted by the Governor-in-Council. A further condition was subsequently added. There must be at least 700 persons dwelling within an area of five hundred acres of land.

A mayor and six councillors are to be chosen at the first election by the entire town. The council has power to divide the town into wards and assign two councillors to each ward, these to be elected by the rate, ayers of the ward. The mayor holds office for one year, the councillors for two years; but one-half of the council retires each year.
Both mayor and councillor must be British subjects, at least twenty-one years of age, and ratepayers, the mayor’s assessment reaching at least $500 real or $1,000 personal property.

The council has power to assess for the poor, schools, streets, sewers, water, fire, the courts, police, salaries and the county fund. But before it can grant a bonus, or make a permanent loan, the sanction of the town meeting and the authority of the Legislature must be secured. A loan for school buildings need not be specially authorized by an Act of the Legislature. Exemption from taxation cannot be granted unless sanctioned by a special Act of the Legislature. And all the by-laws or ordinances passed by the town council are subject to the approval of the Governor-in-Council.

The council appoints all officials save the stipendiary magistrate, who is appointed by the Governor-in-Council. The town clerk holds office during good behaviour. The town solicitor may be dismissed by a two-thirds vote. But an official who holds office during good behaviour may appeal to a judge of the County Court or Supreme Court to call upon the mayor and town council to show cause for his dismissal or the reduction of his salary. All other officials save one are appointed for one year. The council appoints three revisers to revise the electoral lists.

Local Problems

Revision of electoral lists, liquor license control and assessment are responsible for most of the local municipal conflicts. As the burdens of taxation increase, the inequalities of the systems become more galling, and the demand for reform more insistent. The control of the sale of liquor has divided the community into two factions, while the revision of the electoral lists opens and keeps open the door to party politics and determines whether a road shall be ditched or a sewer laid according to the great principles of rival national policies.

Electoral Revisers.-Accordingly the revision of the electoral lists is jealously watched. The provincial lists are now used for federal elections, and are prepared by local authorities. The introduction of federal politics into municipal affairs is due partly to this, partly to the patronage placed in the hands of the councillors by the road grants, and partly to the tendency of co-workers in the federal and provincial contests to assist each other in municipal contests.

In Nova Scotia the three electoral revisers are appointed like other municipal officials. They are usually selected from the councillors for the districts concerned. The revisal section in rural municipalities consists of not less than two or more than five polling districts, as the council may determine, each polling district being usually represented by one councillor. Each town. constitutes a single revisal section. The city of Halifax has a registrar of voters, who is appointed by the council, but cannot be removed except for cause.

In New Brunswick the revisal section is the parish. In 1854 the law directed that the revisers be appointed or elected like other parish officers. In 1877 the county councillors of each parish were to be the revisers. If they were but two in number, the council selected another; if more than three, the council selected three. In cities and towns the councils elected the revisers. In 1899 the provincial Government secured the right to appoint the chairman, the other two being councillors.
Sale of Intoxicating Liquors.-The sale of intoxicating liquors is prohibited or regulated by municipal ratepayers in accordance with either the Canada Temperance Act, usually called the “Scott Act,” or a provincial prohibitory law (in Prince Edward Island) or a provincial license law. Compared with the federal Act the provincial prohibitory Act of Prince Edward Island is more stringent. It forbids. the sale except for specified purpose and then through a regularly appointed agent. It gives greater powers with regard to searching, and it provides that any one arrested for drunkenness may be required under oath to state where he received the liquor. In Nova Scotia six counties and Halifax have adopted the provincial license law, the remainder the Dominion prohibitory law. In New Brunswick the provincial license law is in force in the five northern or French counties and in the city of St. John, and the Dominion prohibitory law in. he remainder.

The enforcement of the law is placed in the hands of an inspect or inspectors appointed in Nova Scotia by the municipality. The appointment of an inspector or inspectors must be confined or vetoed by the Governor-in-Council. In New Brunswick the license inspector is appointed by the Governor-in-Council, the “Scott Act” inspector by the municipal council. In Prince Edward Island the police in towns are also inspectors under the law. Their vigilance varies, however, with the complexion of the council as reflected in the com- mission or committee controlling them.

The number of licenses granted is restricted in the following ways. In New Brunswick a distinction is drawn between counties or rural municipalities, incorporated towns and cities. In counties one license is permitted for each full 400 of the first 1,200 population and one for each 1,000 thereafter; in towns one license is permitted for each full 250 of the first 1,000, and one for each 500 thereafter; in the city of St. John the number is limited to 75 shop or tavern licenses and 7 hotel licenses. Since 1877 any parish in a county or any ward in a city has the right of vetoing the granting of licenses within its bounds by recording a majority vote of its ratepayers against it. In Nova Scotia the number is not limited by law, except in Halifax, but the town or the polling district in the county or in the city of Halifax must first express its willingness for the granting of a license by a petition signed by a certain proportion of the ratepayers. In the county or the incorporated town the proportion is two-thirds in favour. In Halifax three-fifths of the ratepayers of polling districts are required for a retail license, a majority for a wholesale. The licenses are granted in Nova Scotia by the council, town or county; in New Brunswick by three commissioners appointed by the Governor-in-Council. Each commissioner holds office for three years, one retiring each year. In each province stringent conditions must be complied with before a license can be granted, and in New Brunswick a commissioner may be subject to a heavy fine for the illegal granting of a license.

The license fees and fines in Nova Scotia go into the municipal treasury. In New Brunswick the spoil is divided with the provincial treasury.

Assessment.-General Acts govern the assessment in counties and towns in each of the three provinces and special Acts the assessment in cities. The provincial Act of Nova Scotia declares all real and personal property and income (subject to certain exemptions) liable for taxation. The assessment law of Hali- fax omits income. A fixed poll tax of 60 cents in the country, $2.00 in towns or $5.00 in Halifax is also exacted. Exemptions are numerous and important. Among others may be mentioned the property of widows to the value of $400, implements or tools of farmers, mechanics or fishermen to the value of $200, the produce of the farm and of the sea; income up to $400 in the country and $600 in the towns. Ships are rated at half value. Funds in provincial debentures, the income from provincial or municipal debentures, the property of railways, and other property by special Act, are exempt.

The New Brunswick provincial Act requires one-sixth of the tax to be raised by a poll tax and the remainder to be levied equally on real and personal property and income. Fredericton until 1907 enjoyed the distinction of retaining a provision whereby income is rated at full value and real and personal property at one-fifth. The exemptions granted are similar to those of Nova Scotia. Corporations are assessed on their paid- up capital less their real estate.

In Prince Edward Island the confusion of provincial and local obligations has produced a distinct type of assessment. The absence of mines, forests and important industries leaves that pastoral island without the great sources of revenue of the sister provinces. The heavy burden of the schools is principally borne by the provincial treasury and not by the district assessment. The principal sources of revenue are the Dominion subsidy, the land, income and road taxes, license fees and succession duties.

The land tax was introduced in 1894. At first it was levied at from one to six cents per acre according to value, but in 1897 this was changed to a percentage tax of one-fifth of one per cent., or twenty cents on every $100. The value of the land includes the value of buildings, but after the first year improvements are not assessed. A rate of one and a half per cent is levied upon income, but income due to manual labour, not exceeding $300, is exempt. The road tax is simple. A poll tax of $1.00 is levied on men between 21 and 60, and twenty-five cents for each horse over three years of age.

In the cities and towns generally there is much dissatisfaction over the system of taxation. Fredericton vigorously protested against the heavy burden placed upon income. John and Halifax complain of the hardships suffered by merchants and manufacturers who carry large stocks of goods. Partial relief was given in Halifax by placing merchandise at three-fourths value and by exempting by special legislation certain industries. Wharf property and shipping were granted similar relief. In St. John the heavy burdens which that ambitious city has incurred its efforts to equip the harbour with ample docks and facilities have aggravated the unequal pressure of its system; and an assessment commission has just reported in favour of a change to a tax on rentals very much as in Ontario. Another commission is sitting in Fredericton. Halifax has had its full share of committees and commissions, yet more are demanded. Fredericton’s preposterous income tax was neutralizing the great advantage of central position and natural beauty and was driving many away. And in both St. John and Halifax municipal taxation is unduly checking manufacturing and trading enterprise.

1 The name of New Ireland was proposed at different times for each of these new provinces. The legislature of Prince Edward Island in 1780 adopted the name, but the Sovereign disapproved. Later it was proposed for New Brunswick (N.B. Historical Collections No 6, p.441), but again prejudice prevailed over the passion for symmetry.

Murray, Walter C. (Walter Charles), 1866-1945. Local Government In the Maritime Provinces. [Canada?: s.n., 1907] https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100296416/Home, https://www.forgottenbooks.com/en/books/LocalGovernmentintheMaritimeProvinces_11146177

Their common country

Howe was forward looking for his time and he had a vigorous interpretation of justice, certainly as it relates to the British Constitution and its role in Nova Scotia — it’s what framed his defense against charges of seditious libel which eventually led to his acquittal.

The “races” he speaks of here were likely that of the United Kingdom’s parts ⁠— that is the settlers of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish origin, perhaps French in terms of the Acadians, most likely as represented through a prism of religious denominations as was the custom at the time. That isn’t to say he was disinterested in the plight of “others”, it speaks to his spirit that he believed in the buoyant action of education, that its effects were enjoyed without regard to creed or color, that all had the potential to share in its bounty and that of the country.

I’m sure there’s an academic army currently working on cancelling Joseph Howe but there’s no reason his spirit can’t be interpreted as broadly as possible today. Equality of opportunity, the power of “the Nation” coming from that of “the people” through the obligations of citizenship, a commonality as it connects all people, regardless of creed, color or station in life.

From what was a pre-Marxian time it seems reminiscent of something else, perhaps he was influenced by the spirit of the US Constitution, embodied by the motto as it appears on the Great Seal. Individuals working together, the body of the state as actuated by the people in their pursuit of happiness, the basis of the safety and security afforded by “the commonwealth”.

Howe, Joseph. An Address Delivered Before the Halifax Mechanics’ Institute. November 5th, 1834. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/aeu.ark:/13960/t9d51gg7j

Coalition Government on Trial (The New Constitution Defined)

The political landscape of Nova Scotia in the 1840s was marked by a struggle for power and influence between various factions. The newly appointed Lieutenant Governor expressed concerns over the perceived excessive political power of the populace due to low suffrage qualifications. He advocated for maintaining the Crown’s power and prerogative within local government to balance this.

A coalition government was formed, with Liberal leaders strategically included in the Executive Council to win elections, but they lacked control over the Lieutenant Governor’s actions and policies. While the Liberal party held sway in the House of Assembly, the old Conservative party retained influence in the Upper House and public offices.

When the new government convened in February 1841, Joseph Howe, a Reform leader, became Speaker of the House. The Lieutenant Governor’s speech emphasized cooperation between branches of government while asserting the preservation of royal prerogative.

Debates ensued over the meaning of the new constitution, with Howe defending the coalition government as a step towards responsible government. However, disagreements persisted within the government regarding the interpretation of the constitution and the extent of its reforms.

Conservative leaders in the Legislative Council challenged Howe’s assertions, arguing that the Executive Council remained independent of the legislature. This disagreement highlighted the uncertainty surrounding the government’s responsibilities and authority.

“The new Lieutenant Governor had warned Lord John Russell that the people of Nova Scotia “possessed too great a degree of political power” because of the low suffrage qualifications and that it should be held in check by preserving in the local government the power of the Crown and the influence of the prerogative.

The Liberal leaders had been cleverly brought into the Executive Council and by their influence the elections had been won for the new administration; but they had not gained control over the actions of policies of the Lieutenant Governor. Reform and constitutional opposition had been swallowed up in a coalition arrangement in which the avowed enemies of democratic self-government held the majority control. But while Howe and his friends were a minority in Council, their party held the power in the House of Assembly. The old Conservative party, therefore, remained under cover entrenched in the Upper House and in possession of the public offices of the province.

On February 3, 1841, the new Assembly and the new government of Nova Scotia met to begin their work, and to justify the hopes and expectations of the friends and supporters of the new constitutional program. Joseph Howe, already a member of the new Executive Council, was elected Speaker of the House of Assembly.

In the speech from the throne Lord Falkland studiously avoided a direct statement in regard to the responsibility of the Executive Council to the majority party in the House, suggesting rather that the prosperity of the province made it indispensable “that a sufficient degree of reciprocal confidence should exist between the three branches of the Legislature to insure from each a fair and candid construction of the acts of the other constituent powers.” Cooperation was also necessary, he said, to enable the representative of the Crown to carry out the beneficent intentions of the Queen. While he was prepared to cooperate fully with the Legislature in all matters purely local, it was his purpose to maintain inviolate the royal prerogative.

The reply of the Assembly was couched in terms equally diplomatic. They assured Falkland of the warm attachment of the citizens to British institutions, and of the earnest desire to maintain the prerogative, “while guarding and preserving the rights of the people.” They assured him also that the “most effective means of securing the cooperation of the Commons will be at all times a conviction that the British principle has been observed, and Your Excellency surrounded by advisers enjoying the public confidence.”

On February 11 the House, organized as the committee of the whole, debated the meaning of the new constitution. The task of defending the principles on which the new government had been constructed fell naturally to the Reform leader, Joseph Howe, and his speech was something of a defense of his own act in accepting a place in the new organization. He declared that the changes had not been exactly according to his views and those of his party, but were the best that could be obtained under the circumstances. The British government had conceded to them the principle that harmony must be the rule as between the Executive Council and the Assembly.

The Governor-General had given them all to understand that no one was to sit in the Council unless he occupied a seat in one of the legislative bodies. Thomson had urged him to enter the Council, and he had done so reluctantly, with the “distinct understanding” that harmony was to prevail between the Executive and the Legislative departments. This principle would lead ultimately to the establishment of responsible government as understood by the Liberal party and its leaders, and the new system was a long step in that direction. To Howe the Coalition was simply a temporary convenience, out of which would come in time a permanent system under which the will of the people would be recognized as the supreme law. Meanwhile, a good and efficient government would be carried on concerning itself primarily with the peace and prosperity of the province.

Falkland evidently was following an entirely different point of view. To him it seemed that Howe’s acceptance of a seat in the Executive body had broken the back of the Liberal opposition. He had even taken in some of Howe’s friends and followers in order to strengthen the popular leader, to make of him a stronger support for the government, and to keep in line the Liberal members of the newly elected Assembly. Herbert Huntington, however, refused to accept either a seat in the Council or the compromise of principle. He continued to insist that the control of the casual and territorial revenues should be in the hands of the local government and that the Executive Council should be reorganized by dismissing all those who had opposed the Reform program. But Huntington’s following was small, and Falkland’s government, with the support of Howe and Uniacke, could easily command a majority in the Assembly.

The leader of the old Conservative party, Solicitor-General J. W. Johnston, spoke in the Legislative Council, the strong citadel of the old order, on February 17. His speech may be taken as a reply to Howe’s attempt in the Assembly to define the constitution. He thought it impossible to recognize any fundamental change whatsoever. No statute existed which defined the power of any part of the British government, and the same principle held true for their local constitution. The “good sense” and “good feeling” of all branches explained the success of its operations. “Direct responsibility” was entirely “inconsistent with the circumstances of a colony,” because of a lack of proper checks and balances, such as existed in the mother country; the well defined orders of society, and nicely balanced economic interests did not exist in Nova Scotia.

“The change cannot be defined in specific terms. It is not a change of the constitution as has been said elsewhere. The three branches will continue as before; the change simply is that it becomes the duty of the representatives of Her Majesty to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the people through their representatives and to make the measures of Government conform to these so far as it is consistent with his duty to the mother country. This is not to be effected by any declaration that he should do so; nor any power of the assembly to say that it has not been done, but by calling to his Councils individuals possessing influence in the Legislature, who may advise measures that would secure confidence and harmony. Supposing they did not command the confidence, is the Governor bound at the bidding of the people, to change his Councils? If that question were put in writing it would receive a negative from the Home Government. Yet who will say, that in the present position of the Executive, some such power exists . I cannot lay my hand on any theoretic change. The system is not that sought last year by the action of the Assembly on the vote of want of confidence.”

This was a calm explanation by the Conservative leader of the new order of things in Nova Scotia, and a flat repudiation of the claims of the Liberal members of the Government. The will of the Assembly was only a matter of convenience for the Lieutenant-Governor. His responsibility was to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and through him to the Crown of England; to go beyond this was to court the disruption of the Empire. Could Nova Scotia continue moving in the direction of self-government and still remain loyal to the British King? If so, a constitutional revolution was certainly in progress.

Alexander Stewart, another member of the new government with a seat in the Legislative Council, was even more outspoken against the claims asserted by Howe. The Executive Council was completely independent of the other branches of the government. Responsible government in a colony would mean independence, severing the bonds of the empire, and in his opinion, it was “responsible nonsense.”

The view thus expressed by the Conservative leaders was a challenge to Joseph Howe. He had entered the government with these men, understanding that a new constitution had been established. He met the issue, therefore, emphatically and at once, in a statement from the floor of the Assembly in which he said that “if any man in the colony, in this House or the other, says that there is no change in the constitution, the person so speaking does not state what is the fact.”

The principle had been established if the House was true to itself, that the Executive Council depended for its continuation upon the support of the popular branch, and must resign in case of a vote of censure by that body. The next day he spoke at length on the same question asserting again with considerable spirit that the constitution sought by the Liberal party had been fully established. It was the British system, and now, in case of an adverse vote by the Assembly, the Lieutenant-Governor must do one of three things: discharge the Executive Council, change his policy, or appeal to the people by dissolving the Assembly.

It is clear from these statements that the members of Falkland’s government did not agree as to the meaning of the constitution under which they served, and that there was a serious lack of harmony among the members of the new Executive Council. Each side claimed that the British constitution had been granted to Nova Scotia, but each had a different interpretation as to its fundamental meaning. The same difference of opinion would have been found at the same time even among the members of the British Parliament.

The whole question of the responsibility of the ministry was quite unsettled, and at this time Lord John Russell himself would hardly have dared to venture an opinion as to the exact definition of that responsibility. The task of the ministry in England was not to quibble over a theoretical point, but to carry on the government as successfully as circumstances would permit. This same task faced the coalition government of Nova Scotia. In most instances an opposition party would have debated with the members of the government the theories upon which it rested, but in the case of Nova Scotia the opposition was now a part of the government, so the argument was carried on among its own members.”

Livingston, Walter Ross. Responsible Government In Nova Scotia: a Study of the Constitutional Beginnings of the British Commonwealth. Iowa City: The University, 1930. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89080043730https://archive.org/details/responsiblegover0000livi

Nova Scotia and her People (The Family Compact)

There was a spark of academic interest from south of the border that coincided with the abolition of Nova Scotia’s Senate, known as the Legislative Council. It was a change that seemed to signal a final split from its once-colonial brethren who had chosen Statehood and Constitutions for themselves rather than life as subjects under an unwritten, forever fungible constitution. The split can be seen clearly enough in many of the legal libraries of American schools who negated to stock yearly Provincial acts going forward from 1929, as they had up until that point.

I really appreciate Livingston’s perspective, perhaps owing partially to his geographical situation in Iowa, but also as it relates to the American lens and “republicanism” — less so with regard to capital R in terms of the party, more generally as a concept, self government and popular sovereignty. That Nova Scotia is the only legislature instituted before the revolution that survived beyond creates a unique opportunity in terms of studying its constitutional mechanics.

I share some of the concerns of the Family compact of the old days in terms of an elected Senate, certainly one that is directly elected, that it pollutes a branch which should be relatively free of public feeling unlike the lower house. The disappearance of such an institution doesn’t disappear those it was traditionally meant to represent, no doubt these interests are well-served by the present circumstance but under a kind of cover in a unicameral house. That Nova Scotia and all Canadian provinces for that matter now operate without a bicameral check with executives essentially inseparable from the judicial is the antithesis of the protection of liberties and safe government that Howe tried to impart.

Propelled by a pandemic in what has become an all-encompassing green light to unilateral state action, today we plunge headlong into authoritarianism and totalitarianism with no institution or mechanism left to prevent it. Representatives of “the crown” in complete and perfect opposition to “the people”, the people’s management conducted by a government monopoly bureaucracy regulated so as to purport its emanations are that of the people not an insular ruling class. The spirit of the star chamber propels the machinations of its gears, the King’s tea as a concept as applied to an ever-increasing number of its services for which anything but the most inconsequential competition is against the law, the ultimate return to form in what is or has become or has returned to being a proprietary vessel in its entirety.

“The government of Nova Scotia in 1830, like that of the other British provinces having representative institutions, was, as far as conditions would permit, a replica of the government of the mother country. Pitt had spoken of the Constitutional Act of 1791 for Canada as the “very transcript of the English constitution” and the constitution of Nova Scotia was very nearly the same. But according to the British constitutional system as it was understood and interpreted by the British statesmen in the closing years of the eighteenth century, representative institutions in a colony as well as at home did not mean that the government was in any way democratic or responsible to the people of the state. Indeed it was understood by many that the great advantage of the English system was that it was so checked and balanced that any direct control by the people would be virtually impossible. In Nova Scotia the balanced mixture of Monarchy, aristocracy, and representation was characterized by one observer as “John Bull, a farce in three acts.”

The Lieutenant-Governor and the Council acted as sufficient checks upon any pretensions to power which might find expression in the popular branch… The wealthy merchant class, the members of the Established Church, the officials and employees of the government, with their relatives and friends constituted a party, known here as it was known in the Canadas, as the “Family Compact.” In no province was this group so completely entrenched in power as in Nova Scotia, but it must be said also in their favor that the members of this party were able and efficient in the administration of the local government.

The third part of the “farce in three acts” was a House of Assembly elected by the freeholders of the several counties. Supposedly this was a miniature House of Commons, but according to the Whig theory of responsibility, it was the mistake in the whole system. In England the House of Commons was in no sense a democratic assembly, nor was it representative, directly, of the great mass of the English people.

In this body, as in similar bodies in Massachusetts and Virginia a half century earlier, the popular will found expression and the spirit of reform made itself manifest. To be sure the power of this Assembly was sufficiently checked and properly balanced by the Governor and the Council, but even so, it made a breeding place for the germs of reform and discontent which developed out of their local problems, or were brought in either from the United States or the mother Country. It was indeed hardly necessary to introduce this spirit from the outside, for it had been planted by the early settlers, and there were many good reasons for its growth and development. The dissenting pioneers from Scotland and Ireland, and those from early New England, would never be content with a government patterned upon the unreformed oligarchy of eighteenth-century England and administered by a secret Council supported by a “Family Compact” and an Established Church.

The Baptist churches, having come from the Congregationalists of New England, understood the principles of popular representative government, and the Presbyterians not only practiced self-government in their church organizations, but taught it openly for the government of the state. (It is said that Joseph Howe learned first of the principles of responsible government from a Scottish minister by the name of MacCulloch, who founded Pictou Academy as a liberal educational institution in 1820). The Roman Catholics also opposed a government in which they had no voice and which proscribed for them as severely in the colony as it did in the mother country. Indeed, class government by the Halifax aristocracy was almost as much out of place in the growing life of Nova Scotia as had been John Locke’s Grand Model in the wilderness of old Carolina. (The Fundamental Constitution, 1669, see H.R. Fox Bourne, The Life of John Locke (2 vols., New York, 1876), Vol. I, pp. 339 et seq.)

On several occasions prior to 1835 the spirit of reform and opposition showed itself in the local assembly. One of the first of these outbreaks came in an attempt to regulate the financial and banking facilities of the province. In 1825 a group of merchants in Halifax organized a private banking concern, the Halifax Banking Company. It had no charter from the government and proceeded to issue notes without the legal requirement that they should be redeemed in specie. The members of this company were also members of the provincial council, which meant that for a number of years the company possessed a monopoly of the banking business of the province.

The Halifax Banking Company was organized on July 1, 1825, as follows:

Hon. Enos Collins  £10,000
Henry H. Cogswell £10,000
Andrew Belcher £10,000
James Tobin £5,000
Samuel Cunard £5,000
John Clark £5,000
William Prior £5,000
Joseph Allison £5,000
Martin Gay Black £5,000

From 1832 to 1837 five members of the Halifax Banking Company were members of the Council of twelve:

Enos Collins appointed in 1822
Samuel Cunard appointed in 1831
H.H. Cogswell appointed in 1832
Joseph Allison appointed in 1832
James Tobin appointed in 1832

Enjoying the protection and cooperation of the local government, the enterprise was profitable for its stockholders. The province was soon flooded by their paper notes, which led naturally to a serious economic and financial maladjustment. The result was a movement for the incorporation of a regularly chartered banking institution. The liberal reforming elements in the Assembly supported the move, while the Council and Family Compact, as might be expected, opposed it. The agitation resulted in a temporary victory for the reformers and the incorporation in 1832 of the Bank of Nova Scotia, destined in time to be one of the great banking institutions of the new world. The old private company continued, however, and the consequent rivalry of the two banks became a factor in the movement for a reform in the local constitution. (Short accounts of this early episode are give in A.M. Saunders, Three Premiers of Nova Scotia (Toronto, 1909), p.61, and in W.S. Grant, The Tribune of Nova Scotia (Toronto, 1915), pp. 26-27).

From Three Premiers of Nova Scotia: “After the miscarriage of the resolution initiated and supported by the Reformers before Mr. Howe had a seat in the Legislative branch, and which were intended to effect a change in the constitution of the Council, Mr. Howe took a bolder stand in his paper. His editorials attracted much attention, and he was denounced by the old school. In his newspaper work he evidently resorted to the device of writing anonymous articles, purporting to come from different parts of the Province. This awakened much interest in the places where, they were supposed to have been written; and men in these localities not wishing to be outdone by their neighbors, tried their hand at writing for the press. By this stratagem the people were aroused, and latent talent developed. By this and various other schemes Mr. Howe rapidly gained influence with the people. As his opponents became bolder, his friends and popularity increased.
About this time the currency question was a burning subject in the minds of the people. Neither the bank then established in Halifax nor the Government was by law bound to meet their paper by specie payment. This principle soon produced its legitimate fruits. Gold and silver were withdrawn from circulation, and paper money was depreciated. Mr. Howe denounced both the bank and the Government as enemies of the people. In this he was not alone. Among prominent men, Bliss, Huntington, Fairbanks and others stood with him. This abuse, after a short struggle, was removed.”

From The Tribune of Nova Scotia: “Early in the nineteenth century, when there was no bank in the province, the government had issued notes, for the redemption of which the revenues of the province were pledged. In 1825 some of the more important merchants founded a bank, and issued notes payable in gold, silver, or provincial paper. The Halifax Banking Company, as this institution was called, was simply a private company, with no charter from the province, and that it was allowed to issue notes is an instance of the easy-going ways of those early days. No less than five of its partners were members of the Council. Thus the state of affairs for some years was that there was but one bank in the province, that its notes were redeemable in provincial paper, and that the Council was largely composed of its directors, who could order the province to print as much paper as they wished. The Halifax Banking Company was of great benefit to the provincial merchants, and, though its partners made large profits, there is no proof that they abused their position on the Council to aid them in business. But the general feeling in the province was one of suspicion, and the combination of financial and legislative monopoly was certainly dangerous. Soon some other citizens endeavored to found another bank and to have it regularly incorporated by provincial charter, with the proviso that all paper money issued by it should be redeemable in coin. The directors of the Halifax Banking Company fought this proposal fiercely, both in business circles and in the Council, arguing that as the balance of trade was against Nova Scotia, there would rarely be enough ‘ hard money ‘ in the province to redeem the notes outstanding. In 1832, however, popular clamor forced the legislature to grant its charter to the second bank, the Bank of Nova Scotia. The Halifax Banking Company also continued to do a flourishing business, and during the struggle of Howe and his fellow-reformers against the Council, the influence of its partners was one of the chief causes of complaint. In 1873 it obtained a charter from the Dominion, but in 1903 was absorbed by the Canadian Bank of Commerce (CIBC).”

In 1830; the attempt of the Council to prevent an increase of the duty; on brandy by the Assembly brought the two bodies into violent conflict. The Assembly under the leadership of S. G. W. Archibald held that the regulation of taxes, under British precedent, belonged solely to the representatives of the people. The Council on the other hand catered to the wealthy brandy merchants of Halifax who were evidently trying to escape the tax barrier. The controversy was one of considerable warmth and led to a general election in which the party of the Assembly won a signal victory, electing all of their candidates with one exception. For the moment it seemed that the Reform party would be able to control the whole government. Their leader, however, Archibald, was elected to the speakership which removed him from active participation in party politics, and the Family Compact group continued in power. (Parts of the debate on the brandy tax are quoted in Nova Scotia, in its historical, mercantile and industrial relations, Duncan Campbell (Montreal, 1873), pp. 268-276).

From Nova Scotia, in its historical, mercantile and industrial relations: “Since the revolution of 1688 the Lords had ceased to claim a privilege which the Commons had resisted so frequently, and at the time of the collision between the Assembly of Nova Scotia and His Majesty’s Council, it was a settled principle of the constitution, that all charges or burthens on the people must begin with the Commons, and cannot be altered by the Lords.
Much dissatisfaction was expressed in all sections of the country with the Council for the rejection of the revenue bill, and the general feeling was so forcibly evinced in various ways that no doubt could be entertained as to the result of the coming election, which was that all the leaders of the opposition to the action of the Council were re-elected, with the exception of Mr. Beamish Murdoch.
Mr. S. G. W. Archibald was again elected Speaker, and in returning thanks stated his determination to preserve inviolate the privileges of the House.”

In 1829 Howe began to write definitely on political questions. He studied the English papers and pamphlets, and became familiar with the reform movement in the mother country. In 1830, during the brandy dispute, he championed the cause of the Assembly against the Council and the Family Compact. The election of that year was a victory for the Reform party, but the triumph was wasted through want of proper leadership. Howe saw the need of educating the people, particularly those in the rural sections, along political lines, and to that end gave his attention to the publication of what he termed his “Legislative Review,” a series of articles on the political issues of the day. Laboring under a burden of debt, with the success of his paper yet to be won, with no friends among those of the inner circle of Halifax, the young editor attacked the problems of the province with courage and ability. When the new Assembly, elected in 1830, failed to accomplish the reforms for which it had been chosen, he informed his readers and urged them to continue the fight for their just rights and privileges in the control of the local government.

The masses of the plain people caught the inspiration of his zealous appeals and a new party feeling and a new party solidarity began to gather around his leadership. His zeal also brought down upon his head the wrath of the powerful Family compact.

On January 1, 1835, an important date in the history of reform in Nova Scotia, a letter appeared in Joseph Howe’s paper, The Nova Scotian, accusing the magistrates of the city of Halifax of corruption in the management of municipal affairs. (Halifax had not been incorporated as a city but was still under the old system of municipal control, i.e. under a body of magistrates appointed by the Crown).

As might be expected the city government was entirely in the hands of the members of the Family Compact party who had already felt the sting of the opposition of the young editor. In fact the letter had been written and contributed by a friend, but as publisher, Howe was obliged to take the legal responsibility for its appearance and suffer the wrath of the city fathers. This was their opportunity; they could now crush him completely; a heavy fine would mean financial ruin; a jail sentence would cool his zeal, and both would shatter forever his influence as a reformer. At a meeting of the Grand Inquest of the County, therefore, a true bill was lodged again Joseph Howe for criminal libel. (At that time in criminal libel the truth of the libel could not be introduced as evidence. This was changed in England in 1843 by Lord Campbell’s Act).

This meant that the law officers of the Crown would prosecute him as a dangerous character in the community in which he had grown to manhood and where he was respected and loved by a large majority of the population. It was in some respects a cowardly proceeding on the part of the magistrates of the city. Because of the legal circumstances Howe was thus caught in a dangerous and difficult situation. First he went to his friends of the legal profession, but no one of them would take the case of his defense. They were ambitious and did not wish to endanger their future by opposing openly the powers of the inner circle. Their advice to Howe was to admit the guilt of the charge and trust to the mercy of the court for leniency.

Howe was made of finer and stronger stuff and refused positively to entertain the idea of guilt. He would prepare and handle his own defense. It was a brave stand for the odds were heavy against him. He had no legal training, nor even the advantage of a higher education, and his experience in court had been only that of a newspaper reporter. Moreover, the very judges before whom he was to be tried, while men of character, were all friends of the same group that sought his destruction. Undaunted, he borrowed the law books of his friends, and, by the time his case was called, had mastered the law; of libel and was ready for the ordeal of his own defense.

Joseph Howe had many friends among the more democratic elements of the community, and to them the issue of the trial was an important political matter. The government was bent upon destroying the champion of popular interests, one who had lifted up his voice in criticism of maladministration. On the day of the trial crowds of people came to the court to hear the arguments in the case. Howe had written and memorized two paragraphs of his address to the court and jury. With the skill of a trained and experienced lawyer, he convinced his hearers of his innocence and of the injustice of the charges placed against him. For six hours his eloquence and wit held the unbroken attention of the jury and the onlookers. He lifted the case out of the narrow grooves of legal technicalities and placed it beside the great issues over which had been fought the battles for British liberty. The freedom of the press was at stake; one of the fundamental rights of all Britishers had been questioned; and his speech was a plea for its vindication.

He claimed for himself the “impenetrable shield of the British law,” and “those invaluable principles” which “our forefathers fixed and have bequeathed.” When he had finished Howe returned to his humble home where the great emotion, which had filled his soul poured itself out in a flood of tears. He had not known before or even suspected that he possessed such power.

The next morning the Crown’s attorney closed the case with a strong argument in support of the law against public slander and for the conviction of the young editor. But in spite of his efforts and the stern and straightforward instructions of the Chief Justice5 the jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty. The joy of the community was unbounded and the feelings of the people could no longer be held in check. Howe was carried to his home on the shoulders of his friends and admirers and the victory was celebrated by a two days’ holiday. Politically Joseph Howe had been born. The leadership had at last been found which the reforming forces of Nova Scotia were to follow gladly for a generation. In this simple triumph a movement was started which was to produce ultimately a method of government under the Crown more freely democratic than that sought and established by the patriots of 1776 under republican institutions. But no man who celebrated the vindication of young Howe, realized the ultimate importance of the occasion.

Howe was already a statesman of the Empire and his vision embraced a world wide organization, based upon “a right understanding” of the ancient Constitution of England. He was seeking not only to adapt the English system to the growing life of Nova Scotia, but also to every other colony under the British Crown. The life of Nova Scotia was fundamentally democratic, and in this quest his great object was self-government without independence; he was seeking all that Dickinson and Jefferson had sought before the fateful hour of 1776, and he knew it could be accomplished without resorting to secession or to republicanism. In short, Joseph Howe, in seeking to adapt the English system to the conditions of life in the new colonies was in reality propounding the question of colonial responsible government, which was the first step in the transformation of the constitution of the Empire. The cornerstone of the Commonwealth was in the making.

The Resolutions were opposed by the Family Compact with all its strength. Some of the best leadership, and some of the most thoughtful people in the province were of that group. The program of the Reform party, they argued, would lead to independence and republicanism. Their liberties were preserved by monarchical institutions, and they pointed to the sad state of the government of the United States as an example of a self-governing democracy which they did not care to follow. The proposal to make the Council elective would “substitute for the high minded independence of Englishmen, the low and groveling subservancy of democracy.” The elective principle should ever be discouraged in order to preserve to Nova Scotia and to posterity the constitution of the mother country.”

Livingston, Walter Ross. Responsible Government In Nova Scotia: a Study of the Constitutional Beginnings of the British Commonwealth. Iowa City: The University, 1930. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89080043730https://archive.org/details/responsiblegover0000livi

Halifax Harbour from near the Narrows. Windmill on Dartmouth side the only one in the Province

The Windmill seen on what is now Windmill Road, house at right perhaps Fairfield, Howe’s House, at far right is Black Rock Point, now the foot of Lyle Street.

“Halifax Harbour from near the Narrows. Windmill on Dartmouth side the only one in the Province”, Mercer, Col. A.C. 1840. https://archives.novascotia.ca/photocollection/archives/?ID=663

The Hon. Joseph Howe, His Reception… In Dartmouth

In Dartmouth the people surpassed themselves, the whole town being a blaze of light. Conspicuous among the houses illuminated were those of John Cronan, Esq., Donald Rosa, Esq., and Joseph H. Weeks, Esq. Several others also whose names we did not learn, made a very fine display. Several large bon. fires shed a light almost ne bright as day over the town and harbor.

On his arrival in Dartmouth Mr. Howe was again met with a torch-light procession, accompanied by the Dartmouth Brass Band. A deputation of the most prominent gentle- men of Dartmouth also waited on him, and an address was presented on their behalf, by Alex, James, Esq., of which the following is & copy:–

We your neighbors and friends residents of Dartmouth heartily congratulate you on the important and unparalleled victory which has crowned our united efforts to vindicate our rights, our liberties, and our honor.
We rejoice to know that our country although small, has given to the world many distinguished men, and it is our happiness, not only to claim as a member of our own community the noblest of her gifted sons, but at this happy moment to welcome him to his home as the victor over his and our enemies, and the vindicator of our dearest rights.

For very many years you have stood first in the affections of your countrymen-and jestly so for you bare net only excelled all others in conferring blessings upon them, but your public conduct has been marred by a disinterested patriotism worthy of the imitation of every lover of his country.

Recent events have caused us to feel more deeply than language can express the value of these qualities, and to rejoice with thankfulness to Divine Providence that one who possesses them in so eminent a degree has been spared, again in the hour of his country’s trial, to place himself at her head and conduct her in triumph to an honorable if not an enviable position,

We pray that your life and energies may be still further spared to labor for your country, until these days of trial are fully past, and our beloved Nova Scotia restored to the political tranquillity and public happiness and prosperity which she formerly enjoyed. We trust also and confidently rely that the colleagues whom the people have given you and the members of the Local Legislature, may without exception be inspired by the example of your public life, and that patriotism unity and courage may distinguish all their exertions until we shall be fully revived from the unfavorable and degraded position in which we have been placed by our late rulers.

We beg that you will convey to Mrs. Howe and your esteemed family our heartfelt sympathy in the happiness which they now enjoy, not only in their country’s triumph, but in this fresh and forcible demonstration of public confidence, in one to whom every patriot has long looked as a father and a friend.
WM. J. FRASER, Chairman of Committee.

Mr. Howe was then escorted to his house by about, to judge their numbers, two thirds, of the population of the town. An immense crowd assembled in front of his residence, and he addressed them for a short time, when the band played a few appropriate airs, and the crowd dispersed with three cheers for Mr. Howe and family, and three for the Queen.
The whole affair passed of very quietly, and the only interruption noticed was on the Parade, where a few persons, who seemed from their manner to have been paid to do, attempted to prevent the speaker from being heard by cries and yells, which were however drowned by the cheers of the crowd. The Colonist this morning says the pro- cession “was principally composed of ragged boys, and the very dregs of the city,-and a cavalcade including some of the most notoriously bad chasauters in the city, on a lot of broken-kneed animals which the knacker’s yard should have claimed months ago.”
In fact their whole notice of it was a tissue of falsehoods, and it will be remembered we daresay by many, that these same parties who are now so despised, were a very short | time ago, courted by the Union party and most abjectly solicited for their votes and influence. The old fable of “sour grapes,” is particularly applicable to the Union party Just now.

Halifax Citizen, Sep 28, 1867. https://books.google.com/books?id=0XE7AAAAIBAJ&pg=PA3&dq=dartmouth,+nova+scotia&article_id=977,11577999&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiEjerTp4SGAxXoJhAIHaXtJ5A4qgEQ6AF6BAgFEAI#v=onepage&q=dartmouth%2C%20nova%20scotia&f=false

Grand Demonstration


The bubble has burst! The great Confederation meeting at Dartmouth has come off. The broadside of four guns has been fired, and we still live.

We are informed that all the disposable carriages in the village had been employed throughout the day in gathering in the intelligent electors in the union interest from the country parts, and they, together with the few friends of the Government in Dartmouth, and the great body of Antis who had come from curiosity, filled the building to its utmost capacity. Our old and respected friend, Mr. Synnot, (lime burner to the Government), was called to the chair, and John Tobin, Esq., led off with an eulogy on Mr. Howe, which was received with rapturous applause by the large assembly. He, and indeed all the speakers of the evening, gave Mr. Howe credit for the great invention for which they now claim a patent, Mr. Tobin did not deny that he had forfeited his arm that the scheme should not have his consent without a reference to the people, but he said that a petition had been presented to him in favor of Union, and that a midnight demonstration had been got up in Halifax, and he mistook that for the voice of the people of Nova Scotia. He dwelt very largely in figures, and endeavored to prove by rule of three, the opposite of the axiom hitherto received, that the “whole is greater than its part.” His opinion was that we would have more money for our roads and bridges after the Canadians got the greater part than we have under the existing arrangement. He contended that there was no similarity between this union and the union of Ireland with England, but he forgot to tell his bearers that it had been effected by the same disgraceful expedients. He also told us that O’Connell struggled for a Confederacy r something like what we have got, and concluded that it was the duty of the good people of Dartmouth to send him up to Ottawa. His speech was followed by cheers from the union benches. (By the way we should have said that the side seats were reserved for the Confederates, but a great many Antis squeezed in also.)

Mr. Shannon followed next with an attack! upon Mr. Annand concerning the road money, which Mr. Annand must himself meet, as I am not acquainted with the facts of the case, but this we all know that this is the first year that the local members have had no hand in tho division of the road money. Mr. Shannon dwelt largely on the will and wish of our Gracious Sovereign, but forgot to say that the Queen and Parliament of Great Britain had been misled by the selfish” and interested office-seekers. He gave us a piece of piper’s news that we were now united and could not help ourselves, as if that would be some consolation. He concluded by saying that we must send up to Ottawa the men who betrayed us, provided we desired the Intercolonial Road, ignoring the fact that Howe and his friends were the originators of the railway system.

Mr. Hill followed in a labored speech, the drift of which went to show that the people of Nova Scotia had nothing to do with the matter of union since it was a matter that belonged entirely to the Provincial and Imperial Legislatures. He referred to the repeal of the Corn Laws, the extension of the duration of Parliament, the alteration of the Franchise, and a host of other things in support of his position.

The juvenile Tobin brought up the rear, and made a desperate effort to show that he was one of Mr. Howe’s converts. He wished for a seat in the Local Legislature in order to make roads, bridge the Halifax harbor, banish the ferry boats, and make McKenzie post s captain in the Dominion Navy. He labored hard to show that Mr. Howe was inconsistent, but he said not a word about Miller; indeed, Miller’s name was not mentioned by any of the speakers. Mr. Tobin abounded in promises,-doubtless he has in this respect taken pattern by Tupper. The young man spoke of the expensive fringes for Government House, and thought the Antis bad people for finding fault.

The poor fellow was tied to time in consequence of the steam-boat crossing so early. This was a pity, as we did not know but what he might have said something but for this.

Mr. Symonds was called to the chair for the purpose of passing a vote of thanks to the Chairman, but before this could be done. some vile Anti proposed a cheer for Howe, which was received with such enthusiasm and such heart-rending applause that it was some time before the original vote was taken. Three hearty cheers were then given for the Queen, and a faint echo came from the union benches for the union, after which the meeting dispersed. The whole was entirely satisfactory to the friends of the Nova Scotia party, as showing that the union candidates have nothing on which they can rest a claim to the suffrages of the people of Nova Scotia.


Morning Chronicle, May 30, 1867. https://books.google.com/books?id=CtEJAAAAIBAJ&pg=PA3&dq=dartmouth,+nova+scotia&article_id=3464,4152632&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiPxIPmhoSGAxX1MhAIHXzKBtU4ggEQ6AF6BAgFEAI#v=onepage&q=dartmouth%2C%20nova%20scotia&f=false

Meeting at Dartmouth

Last night a public meeting was held at Dartmouth. Messrs. Jones, Cochran, and Northup addressed the meeting, after whom the Hon. Joseph Howe made one of the most telling and effective of his speeches. He reviewed the past of Nova Scotia, and showed that heretofore we had never, in our annals, been able to point to one willing to transfer our government and our revenues to another people, alien from us in sympathies, and separated un-mistakeably from us by the hand of nature. Our financial position under Confederation, and the unmistakeable injustice done us by legislating away from us, without our consent, the control of our revenues, and the constitutional liberties for which we had made such a stout fight in years not so far distant, next came under his review, and the unanimous applause which greeted his almost every word, showed that in Dartmouth, at least, there is no sympathy for the party which tramples on the Province, and denies to Nova Scotians the right of pronouncing whether they will remain independent Colonists, or mere subjects of a new Dominion, whose people know nothing about us and care less. He referred to the probable expenses of the Dominion, and expressed his belief that not only Nova Scotians, but Canadians as well would rebel against the monstrous charges laid upon them for the support of unnecessary officials in unnecessary departments.
The meeting broke up with cheers for the Queen, and afterwards for Jos. Howe and the people’s candidates.
N. Russell, Esq., J. P., occupied the chair, and discharged his duties as a “people’s man” in the most satisfactory manner. The Mechanics’ Institute, where the meeting was held, was crowded to its utmost capacity.

Morning Chronicle, May 23, 1867. https://books.google.com/books?id=BNEJAAAAIBAJ&pg=PA2&dq=dartmouth,+nova+scotia&article_id=4472,3904369&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiqx_6ahISGAxUnPxAIHXFnBAg4bhDoAXoECAsQAg#v=onepage&q=dartmouth%2C%20nova%20scotia&f=false

Joseph Howe to Lord John Russell

My Lord,-The business of factious demagogues of all parties is to find fault with everything, to propose nothing practical, to oppose whatever is suggested, Lo misrepresent and to defame. The object of honest and rational politicians ought to be to understand each other-to deal frankly, abhorring concealment, that mistakes may not be made about facts, terms or intentions; to deal fairly, giving credit for a desire to elicit truth, and a wish to weigh in a just balance both sides of every question. Having put before you such evidence as I hope will lead your Lordship’s mind to the conclusion that the system by which the North American Colonies are at present governed, must be abandoned, it is not improbable that your Lordship may inquire what it is that we are desirous to substitute for that system? The demand is a reasonable one. The party who seek this change are bound to prove that they have a safe and intelligible remedy for the evils of which they complain. If I cannot show your Lordship that, without endangering the authority of the mother country over her Provinces, weakening the constitutional powers of the Crown, or trenching on the high privileges and wide range of duty assigned to the Imperial Parliament, a better form of government than that which I am anxious to overturn-one more nearly conforming to the practice and spirit of the Constitution, as understood at home-to the wants and peculiar situation of these Colonies, and less repugnant to the feelings and prejudices of Englishmen everywhere, can be established, then I must quit the field of argument, and cannot complain if your Lordship adheres to your own opinions. From what has been already written, it will be seen that I leave to the Sovereign, and to the Imperial Parliament, the uncontrolled authority over the military and naval force distributed over the Colonies; that I carefully abstain from trenching upon their right to bind the whole empire, by treaties and other diplomatic arrangements, with foreign states; or to regulate the trade of the Colonies with the mother country, and with each other. I yield to them also the same right of interference which they now exercise over Colonies and over English incorporated towns; whenever a desperate case of factious usage of the powers confided, or some reason of state, affecting the preservation of peace and order, call for that interference. As the necessity of the case, the degree and nature of this interference, would always be fully discussed by ail parties concerned, I am not afraid of these great powers being often abused, particularly as the temptations to use them would be much lessened if the internal administration were improved. The Colonial Secretary’s duties should be narrowed to a watchful supervision over each Colony, to see that the authority of the Crown was not impaired, and that Acts of Parliament and public treaties were honestly and firmly carried out; but he should have no right to appoint more than two or three officers in each Province, and none to intermeddle in any internal affair, so long as the Colonial Government was conducted without conflict with the Imperial Government and did not exceed the scope of its authority. This would give him enough to do, without heaping upon him duties so burdensome and various that they can not be discharged with honour by any man, however able; nor with justice or safety to the millions whose interests they affect. His responsibility should be limited to the extent of his powers; and as these would be familiar to every Englishman, exposure and punishment would not be difficult, in case of ignorance, incapacity or neglect. I have shown, in the illustration drawn from the city of Liverpool, that most Governors come out to Colonies so ignorant of their geography and topography, climate, productions, commerce, resources and wants; and above all, of the parties, passions and prejudices which divide them; and of the character, talents and claims of the men by whom the population are influenced and led, that for the first six or twelve months they are like overgrown boys at school. It is equally clear, that while the business of government must move on, and the administration commence from the day on which the new Governor arrives, the schoolmasters, from whom all his facts are derived-from whom he gathers his views of internal affairs, and his impressions, not only of different parties, but of individuals in each party,-are the irresponsible Executive Councillors, whom the present system cals around him; and who, possessed of such advantages, rarely fail, before he can by any possibility escape from their toils, to embroil him with the popular branch of the Legisiature, and the mass of the people by whom it is sustained. Now let us suppose, that when a Governor arrives in Nova Scotia, he finds himself surrounded, not by this irresponsible Council, who represent nothing except the whims of his predecessors and the interests of a few families (so small in point of numbers, that but for the influence which office and the distribution of patronage give them, their relative weight in the country would be ridiculously diminutive), but by men who say to him: ” May it please your Excellency, there was a general election in this Province last month, or last year, or the year before last, and an administration was formed on the results of that election. We, who compose the Council, have ever since been steadily sustained by a majority of the commons and have reason to believe that our conduct and policy have been satisfactory to the country at large.” A Governor thus addressed, would feel that at all events he was surrounded by those who represented a majority of the population; who possessed the confidence of an immense body of the electors, and who had been selected by the people who had the deepest interest in his success, to give him advice and to conduct the administration. If he had doubts on this point-if he had reason to believe that any factious combination had obtained office improperly, and wished ,to take the opinions of the country; or if the Executive Council sought to drive him into measures not sanctioned by the charter; or exhibited a degree of grasping selfishness which was offensive and injurious, he could at once dissolve the Assembly and appeal to the people: who here, as in England, would relieve him from doubt and difficulty; and, fìighting out the battle on the hustings, rebuke the Councillors if they were wrong. This would be a most important point gained in favour of the Governor; for lie is now the slave of an irresponsible Council, which he cannot shake off; and is bound to act by the advice of men, who, not being accountable for the advice they give, and having often much to gain and nothing to lose by giving bad advice, may get him into scrapes every month, and lay the blame on him. Tie Governors would, in fact, have the power of freeing themselves from thraldom to the family compacts, which none of them can now escape by the exercise of any safe expedient known to our existing Constitutions. It will be seen, too, that by this system, whatever sections or small parties might think or say, the Governor could never, by any possibility, become, what British Governors have of late been everywhere, embroiled with the great body of the inhabitants over whom he was sent to preside. The Governor’s responsibility would also be narrowed to the care of the Queen’s prerogative, the conservation of treaties, the military defence, and the execution of the Imperial Acts; the local administration being left in the hands of those who understand it, and who were responsible. His position would then be analogous to that of the Sovereign-he could (o no wrong in any matter of which the Colonial Legislature lad the right to judge; but would be accountable to the Crown, if he betrayed the Imperial interests committed to his care. Executive Councillors now are either heads of departments, or members of the two branches who are generally favourable to the policy of these, and disposed to leave their emoluments intact. One or two persons, of more independent character, and slightly differing from the others upon a few points are sometimes admitted; but a vast preponderance in favour of the views of the official compact, is always, as a matter of course, maintained. The heads of departments are always very well paid for their trouble in governing the country, by the enormous oflicial salaries they receive; their colleagues are either looking for office, or have means of providing for their relatives and friends; while, if it should so happen, that such a thing as a Colonial Executive Councillor can be found for any length of time, in office, who has not served himself or his friends, the title, and consciousness of possessing for life the right to approach and advise every Governor, and give a vote upon every important act of administration, without a possibility of being displaced or called to account for anything said or done, is no mean reward for the small amount of labour and time bestowed. Formerly, these people, in addition to other benefits, obtained for themselves and their friends immense tracts of crown land. This resource is now cut off, by the substitution of sales for free grants; but, looking at the Executive Council, or Cabinet, as it exists in any of the North American Provinces at present, we find a small lot of individuals, responsible neither to the Queen, the Secretary of State, the Governor nor the people; who owe their seats to neither, but to their relatives and friends through whose influence and intrigues they have been appointed; and who, while they possess among them some of the best salaries and nearly all the patronage of the country, have a common interest in promoting extravagance, resisting economy, and keeping up the system exactly as it stands. It will be perceived, that such a body as this may continue to govern a Colony for centuries; like the Old Man of the Mountain, who got upon Sinbad’s back, ordinary exertions cannot shake it off. To understand more clearly how un-English, how anti-constitutionally how dangerous this body is, it is only necessary to contrast it with what it ought to resemble, but never does. In England, the government of the country is invariably carried on by some great political party, pledged to certain principles of foreign or domestic policy, which the people for the time approve; but the cabinet in a Colony is an official party, who have the power for ever to keep themselves and their friends in office, and to keep all others out, even though nineteen out of every twenty of the population are against them. What would the people of England say, if some twenty families, being in possession of the Treasury, Horse Guards, Admiralty, Colonial Office, lad the power to exclude Whigs, Tories, and Radicals; to laugh at hostile votes in the Commons, and set the country at defiance; to defend each other against the crown and the people; to cover ignorance, incapacity, corruption, and bad faith? Would they bear such a state of things for a week? And yet your Lordship seems to think that we should bear it, for an indefinite period, with patience. Now for this body I propose to substitute one sustained by at least a majority of the Electors; whose general principles are known and approved; whom the Governor may dismiss, whenever ,they exceed their powers; and who may be discharged by the people whenever they abuse them; who, instead of laying the blame, when attacked, upon the Governor, or the Secretary of State, shall be bound, as in England, to stand up and defend, against all comers, every appointment made and every act done under their administration. One of the first results of this change would be to infuse into every department of the administration a sense of accountability, which is now nowhere found-to give a vigorous action to every vein and artery now exhibiting torpidity and languor-and to place around the Governor, and at the head of every department of public affairs, the ablest men the Colony could furnish; men of energy and talent, instead of the brainless sumphs, to whom the task of counselling the Governor, or administering the affairs of an extensive department, is often committed under the present system. In England, whether Whigs, Tories or Radicals are in, the Queen is surrounded, and the public departments managed, by some of the ablest men the kingdom can produce. But suppose a mere official faction could exclude all these great parties from power, how long would the government possess the advantage of superior abilities to guide it? Would it not at once fall far below the intellectual range which it now invariably maintains? But, it may be asked, would not the sudden introduction of this system work injustice to some who have taken offices, in the expectation of holding them for life? Perhaps it might, but even if this were unavoidable, the interests of individuals should give way to the public good. The Borough mongers had the same objections to the Reform Act, recorders and town-clerks to that which cleansed the corporations. This, like all minor difficulties, might easily be provided for; and I am sure that there are but few of those seeking to establish responsible government who desire to overturn even a bad system in a spirit of heartless vindictiveness. The Colonies, having no hereditary peerage, the Legislative Council has been constructed to take its place. From the difficulty of making it harmonize with the popular branch, some politicians in Lower Canada-and it was said that the Earl of Durham, at first, inclined to the opinion-thought it might be abolished. I think there is no necessity for this; first, because it would destroy the close resemblance which it is desirable to maintain between our Institutions and those of the mother country; and again, because a second legislative chamber, not entirely dependent upon popular favour, is useful to review measures and check undue haste or corruption in the popular branch. Besides, I sec no difficulty in maintaining its independence, and yet removing from it the character of annual conflict with the representative body, by which it has been everywhere distinguished. The main object of the Executive Council being the preservation of a system by which they enjoy honours, office and patronage, uncontrolled and uninfluenced by the people; and they having the nomination of Legislative Councillors, of course, they have always selected a majority of those whose interests and opinions were their own, and who could help them to wrestle with, and fight off the popular branch. Hence the constant collision, and general outcry against the second chamber. The simply remedy for all this appears to be, to introduce the English practice: let the people be consulted in the formation of the Executive Council; and then the appointments to the Legislative will be more in accordance with the public sentiment and general interest, than they are now. I should have no objection to the Legislative Councillors holding their seats for life, by which their independence of the Executive and of the people would be secured, provided they were chosen fairly by those to whon, from time to time, the constituency, as at home, entrusted the privilege; and not as they are now selected, to serve a particular purpose, and expressly to wrangle, rather than to harmonize with the popular branch. The House of Lords includes men selected by all the administrations which the people of Britain have called into power. The Houses of Lords, in the Colonies, have been created by ail the administrations which the people never could influence or control. Some members of the second branch should, of course, have seats in the Executive Council, because in that Chamber also, the acts and the policy of the government would require to be explained; but here, as in England, though very desirable, it would not be essential that the administration should always be sustained by a majority in the Upper House. One of the first effects of a change of system would be a decided improvement in the character of all the Colonial Assemblies. The great centre of political power and influence would in the Provinces, as at home, be the House of Commons. Towards that body the able, the industrious, the eloquent, and the wealthy, would press with ten times the ardour and unanimity which are now evinced; because then, like its great prototype in Britain, it would be an open and fair arena, in which the choice spirits of the country would battle for a share in its administration, a participation in its expenditure, and in the honour and influence which public employment confers. Now a bon vivant, who can entertain an aide-de-camp; a good looking fellow, who dances with a Governor’s lady; or a cunning one, who can wheedle a clerk or an under-secretary in Downing Street, may be called to take a part in governing a Province for the period of his natural life. Then, these disreputable and obscure channels of advancement would be closed; and the country would understand the reason, and feel the necessity for every such appointment; and the population would be driven to cultivate those qualities which dignify and adorn our nature rather than debase it. Now, any wily knave or subservient fool feels that his chance is as good as that of the most able and upright man in the Colony; and far better if the latter attempts to pursue an independent course; then, such people would be brought to their proper level, and made to win their honours fairly before they were worn. Another improvement would be the placing of the government of a Colony as it always is in England, in a majority in the Commons, watched, controlled, and yet aided by a constitutional opposition. Under the present system, the government of a colony is the opposition of the Commons and often presents in that body the most unseemly and ridiculous figure. Numberless instances might be given of this. The three Executive Councillors who sit in the Assembly of Nova Scotia have been resisting, in miserable minorities, on a dozen divisions during the last two sessions, votes by which the Commons recorded a want of confidence in them and their party; and, in fact, the government, instead of taking the lead in public measures with the energy and ability which should belong to a government, cannot take a single step in the Assembly without the sanction of its opponents. Every emergency that arises and for which an administration ought to be secure of a majority, presents some absurd illustration of the system. When the border difficulties with the State of Maine occurred last winter, the Government of Nova Scotia had not the power to move a single man of the militia force (the laws having expired), or to vote a single shilling, until the majority came forward, as they always have done, in the most honourable manner, and, casting aside all political differences, passed laws for embodying the militia, and granted £100,000 to carry on the war. But, will your Lordship believe, will it be credited in England, that those who voted that money; who were responsible to their constituents for its expenditure, and without whose consent (for they formed two-thirds of the Commons) a shilling could not have been drawn, had not a single man in the local cabinet by whom it was to be spent, and by whom, in that trying emergency, the Governor would be advised? Nor are things better when the Legislature is not in session. In consequence of the establishment of steam navigation, a despatch was sent out this spring, after the House was prorogued, requiring the Governor of this Province to put the main roads in thorough repair. Of course he had no means to accomplish the object, nor could his Executive Council guarantee that a single shilling thus expended would be replaced or that a vote of censure would not be passed upon him if he spent one; and to obviate the difficulty, they were seen consulting and endeavouring to propitiate the members of the majority, whose places, upon such terms, they were contented to occupy and to which, as far as I am concerned, if such humiliations are to be the penalty, they are heartily welcome. It has been objected to the mode proposed, that it would lead to the rotation of office, or extensive dismissals of subordinates, practised in the United States. But no person abhors that system more than myself, nor has it found any favour in the Colonies, where the British practice is preferred, of removing the heads of departments only. To those who are afraid of the turmoil and excitement that would be produced, it is only necessary to say, that if upon the large scale on which the principle is applied at home, there is no great inconvenience felt, how much less have we to fear where the population is not so dense, the competition not so active, nor the prizes so gigantic. A ministry that in England lasts two or three years is supposed to fulfil its mission; and a quadrennial bill is considered unnecessary, because Parliament, on the average, seldom sits longer than three or four years. As, under a systen of responsibility, the contest for power would be fought. out here as it is in England, chiefly on the hustings; an administration would, therefore, last in Nova Scotia until the quadrennial bill was passed, for six years certainly-two years more than the Governor, unless specially continued, is expected to hold his appointment; and if it managed judiciously, there would be nothing to prevent it from holding the reins for twenty or thirty years. Of course, an Executive Council in the Colonies should not be expected to resign upon every incidental and unimportant question connected with the details of government; but, whenever a fair and decisive vote, by which it was evident that they had lost the confidence of the country, was registered against them, they should either change their policy, strengthen their hands by the accession of popular talents and principles, or abandon their seats and assume the duties and responsibilities of opposition. If there was any doubt as to what the nature of such votes should be, the Parliamentary usage would be the guide on this as on all minor matters. One of the greatest evils of the present form of government is, that nothing like system or responsibility can be carried into any one branch of the public service. There are, exclusive of military and road commissions, nearly nine 4 hundred offices to be filled, in the Province of Nova Scotia alone; ail essential to the administration of internal affairs, not one of them having anything to do with Imperial interests. And will it be believed in England, that the whole of this patronage is in the hands of a body whom the people can never displace? that the vast majority in the Commons have not the slightest influence in its distribution? while the greatest idiot who gives his silent and subservient vote in the minority, is certain of obtaining his reward? But the evil does not stop here. It is utterly impossible for the people either to bring to punishment or to get rid of a single man of the whole nine hundred, if the local government chooses to protect him. Perhaps the most cruel injury that the system inflicts on the Colonists, arises from the manner in which they are compelled to conduct their internal improvements. This has been noticed by Lord Durham. But perhaps his Lordship did not fully comprehend the reasons which render the mode-however anomalous and injurious-in some degree acceptable to the constituency, in order that other evils may be prevented, which might be a great deal worse. It will be perceived that the nine hundred offices already referred to, are generally distributed by the irresponsible official party in such a way as to buy their peace or to strengthen their influence in the country3 Let us see how this operates in practice. Suppose a county sends to the Assembly four representatives, all of whom support the local government; the patronage of that county is of course at their disposal, to strengthen their hands, and to keep down all opposition; but should the whole be hostile to the compact, then it is used to foster opposition and create a party to displace them. If there is a division of sentiment among the members, those who support are always aided in mortifying and getting rid of those who attack the Government. Though but one of the four is an adherent of the compact, every man in the county knows, that his influence is worth much more than that of the other three; that, while one can obtain any favour that he wants for a friend or partisan, the others cannot, unless by the barter of a corrupt vote or the sacrifice of principle, even obtain justice. Now, if besides these nine hundred offices, about five hundred commissions for the expenditure of the surplus revenues of the country upon roads, bridges and internal improvements, were given over to be disposed of in the same way, the hands of the compact would be so nuch strengthened that it would be still more easy to create a party in a county, to endanger the seat of any member who ventured to give an independent vote. To obviate this risk, which was seen at an early period to menace the independence of the Commons, it was determined that the members from each county should recommend the commissioners for the expenditure of moneys within it; and this, being acquiesced in by the Governors for some time before its political bearing was much regarded lby the compact, has grown into usage which they have not ventured openly to attack; although, as they still contend that the right of appointment is in the Executive they seldom fail to show their power and vent their feelings, by petty alterations almost every year. The advantages of this arrangement are that the majority of the constituency-and not the minority, as in every other case-distribute the patronage under this branch of expenditure; and, as the members who name commissioners have a great deal of local knowledge, and are, moreover, responsible to the people, they can be called to account if they abuse this trust. But still, from the very nature of things, it is liable to abuse. Road commissions may be multiplied and sums unwisely expended to secure votes at the next election; or to reward, not a good road maker but a zealous partisan. The Executive has not the control it would have if these men were selected by the Government; and the legislative power, which should be used to unmask corruption, is sometimes abused to afford it shelter. The remedy which our compacts always suggest, like all their remedies for political discrepancies, aims at the extension of their own influence and the irimer establishment of their own power. They are loud, upon all occasions, in denouncing the corruption of the road system. The minority in the Assembly are cloquent on the same theme; while, through the columns of some newspaper in their pay, they are always pouring forth complaints, that the roads are wretchedly bad and that they will never be better until the expenditure is placed in their hands. It will be perceived, however, that to follow their advice, would be to make what is admitted on all hands to have its evils, a great deal worse; because, if these nominations are taken from those who posesss local information, and given to men who have little or none, who will not be advised by those who have, and who can be called to account by no power known to the Constitution ;- besides a great deal more of blundering being the result, the partial responsibility, which now makes the system barely tolerable, would be entirely removed. Political partisans would still be rewarded; but, instead of ail parties in the country sharing the patronage (for members of the minority, as well as of the majority, make these appointments), it would be confined only to those who supported the compact; and who, however imbecile, ignorant or corrupt, would then be, as every other officer in the Colony is now, independent of any description of public control. If any doubt could be entertained as to whether the public would lose or gain by the change, evidence enough might be gathered; for some of the vilest jobs and most flagrant cases of mismanagement that disgrace the history of the road service in Nova Scotia, have been left as monuments of the ignorance or folly of the compact, whenever they have taken these matters into their own hands. But, make the Governor’s advisers responsible to the Assembly, and the repre- sentatives would at once resign to them the management of such affairs. It would then be the business of the Executive, instead of leaving the road service to the extemporaneous zeal or corrupt management of individuals, to corne prepared, at the commencement of each session, with a general review of the whole system; and, supported by its majority, to suggest and carry a compre- hensive and intelligible scheme, embracing the whole of this service, accounting for the previous year’s expenditure and appointments, and accepting the sug- gestions of mermbers as to the plans of the current year. We should then have an Executive to which every commissioner would be directly accountable; to which he could apply for instructions from January to December; and which, being itself responsible, would be careful of its proceedings; and yet, being more independent than individual members are in dealing with their own constituents, would be more firm and unyielding where it was right. This is the simple, and I am satisfied the only safe remedy for the abuses of the road system. To take the distribution of commissions from fifty men, possessed of much local knowledge ,and partially responsible, to give it to twelve others having less information and subject to no control, would be an act of madness. Fortunately, in this, as in all other cases, we have no occasion to seek for new theories, or try unsafe experiments; let us adopt the good old practices of our ancestors and of our brethren; let us “keep the old paths,” in which, while tiere is much facility, there is no danger. My Lord, there is an argument used against the introduction of Executive responsibility, by Sir Francis Head, which it may be well to notice, because it has been caught up by shallow thinkers everywhere, and is often urged with an air of triumph, that, to those who look beyond the surface, is somewhat ridiculous. It is said, that if this principle had been in operation, Papineau and Mackenzie would have been ministers in the respective Provinces they disturbedi But, do those who urge this objection ever stay to inquire whether, if there had been responsibility in the Canadas, either of these men could have assumed so much consequence as to be able to obstruct the operations of Government and to create a rebellion in a British Province? Nothing made a dictator tolerable in ancient Rome but a sense of common danger arising out of some unusual and disastrous posture of affairs, which rendered it necessary to confide to an individual extraordinary powers-to raise one man far above all others of his own rank-to substitute his will for the ordinary routine of administration, and to make the words of his mouth the laws of the land. When the danger passed away, the dictator passed away with it. Power, no longer combined in one mighty stream, the eccentric violence of which, though useful might be destructive, was distributed over the surface of society, and flowed again through a thousand small but well-established channels, everywhere stimulating and refreshing, but nowhere exciting alarm. In political warfare, this practice of the ancients has been followed by the moderns with good success. O’Connell in Ireland, and Papineau and Mackenzie in Canada grew into importance, from the apparent necessity which existed for large masses of men to bestow upon individuals unlimited confidence, and invest then with extraordinary powers. I wish that the two latter, instead of provoking the maddest rebellions on record, had possessed the sound sense and consummate prudence which have marked every important step in the former’s extraordinary career. But, who believes, that if Ireland had had “justice” instead of having it to seek, that ever such a political phenomenon as the great agitator would have appeared to challenge our admiration and smite the oppressors with dismay? And who dreams that, but for the wretched system upheld in all the Colonies, and the entire absence of responsibility, by which faction or intrigue were made the only roads to power, either of the Canadian demagogues would ever have had an inducement, or been placed in a position to disturb the public peace? I grant that even under the forms that I recommend, such men as Papineau and Mackenzie might have existed; that they might have becone conspicuous and influential; and that it is by no means improbable that they would have been Exccutive Councillors of their respective Provinces, advising the Governors and presiding over the administration of their internal affairs. But suppose they had; would not even this have been better than two rebellions-the scenes at Vindsor, St. Charles and St. Eustache-the frontier atrocities-and the expenditure of three million sterling, which will be the cost before the accounts are closed? Does any man in his senses believe, if Mackenzie or Bidwell could have guided the internal policy and dispensed the local patronage according to the British mode, that either of them would have been so mad as to dream of turning Upper Canada into a Republic; when, even if they succeeded, they could only hope to be Governors for a few years, with powers very much more restricted and salaries not more ample than were theirs for life or as long as they preserved their majority? Possessed of honours and substantial power, (not made to feel that they who could most effectually serve the Crown, were excluded by a false system fron its favour, that others less richly endowed might rise upon their ruins), would these men have madly rushed into rebellion with the chances before them of expatriation or of an ignominious death? You well know, my Lord, that rebels have become exceedingly scarce at home, since the system of letting the majority govern has become firmly established; and yet they were as plentiful as blackberries in the good old times, when the sovereigns contended, as Sir Francis Head did lately, that they only were responsible. Turn back and you will find that they began to disappear altogether in England about 1688, and that every political change that makes the Executive more completely responsible to the Legislature and the Legisiature to the country at large, renders the prospects of a new growth, “small by degrees and beautifully less.” And yet, my Lord, who can assure us, that if the sovereigns had continued, as of old, alone responsible; if hundreds of able men all running the same course of honourable ambition, had not been encouraged to watch and control each other; and if the system of governing by the minority and not by the majority, and of excluding from power all who did not admire the mode, and quarrelled with the court, had existed down to the present day ;-who, I ask, will assure us, that Chatham and Fox, instead of being able ministers and loyal men, might not have been sturdy rebels? Who can say that even your Lordship, possessed of the strong attachment to liberty which distinguishes your family, might not,-despairing of all good government under such a system,- instead of using your influence to extend by peaceful improverents the happiness of the people,-be at this moment in the field at their head and struggling, sword in hand, to abate the power of the Crown? So long as the irresponsibility principle was maintained in Scotland, and the viceroys and a few bishops and courtiers engrossed the administration, there were such men as Hume and Lindsay, and such things as assembles in Glasgow, general tables in Edinburgh, and armed men in every part of that noble country, weakening the Government, and resisting the power of the Crown; and up to the period when Lord Normanby assumed the government of Ireland and it became a principle of administration that the minority were no longer to control the majority and shut them out from all the walks of honourable ambition, what was the attitude in which Mr. O’Connell stood towards the Sovereign? Was it not one of continual menace and hostility, by which the latter was degraded and the former clothed with a dangerous importance? And what is his attitude now? Is it not that of a warmhearted supporter of the Queen, whose smiles are no longer confined to a faction but shed over a nation, every man of which feels that he is free to obtain, if he lias the ability and the good fortune to deserve, the highest honours in her power to bestow? Daniel O’Connell (and perhaps it may be said that his tail suggested a comparison) is no longer a political cornet blazing towards the zenith and tilling the terror-stricken beholders with apprehensions of danger and a sense o! coming change; but a brilliant planet revolving in an orbit with the extent of which all are familiar, and reflecting back to the source of light and honour the beams which it is proud to share. Who any longer believes that O’Connell is to shake the empire and overturn the throne? And who doubts, had he despaired of justice, but he too might have been a rebel; and that the continued application to Ireland of the principles I denounce, would have revived the scenes and sufferings through which she passed in 1798? If, my Lord, in every one of the three great kingdoms from which the popula- tion of British America derive their origin, the evils of which we complain were experienced and continued until the principles we claim as our birthright became firmly established, is it to be expected that we shall not endeavour to rid ourselves, by respectful argument and remonstrance, of what cost you open and violent resistance to put down? Can an Englishman, an Irishman or a Scotchman, be made to believe, by passing a month upon the sea, that the most stirring periods of his history are but a cheat and a delusion; that the scenes which he has been accustomed to tread withi deep emotions are but mementoes of the folly, and not, as he once fondly believed, of the wisdom and courage of his ancestors; that the principles of civil liberty, which from childhood he has been taught to cherish and to protect by forms of stringent responsibility, must, with the new light breaking in upon him on this side of the Atlantic, be cast aside as useless incumbrance? No, my Lord, it is madness to suppose that these men, so remarkable for carrying their national characteristics into every part of the world where they penetrate, shall lose the most honourable of them al, merely by passing from one part of the empire to another. Nor is it to be supposed that the Nova Scotians, New Brunswickers and Canadians-a race sprung from the generous admixture of the blood of the three foremost nations of the world-proud of their parentage and not unworthy of it, to whom every stirring period of British and Irish history, every great principle which they teach, every phrase of freedom to be gleaned from them, are as familiar as household words, can be in haste to forget what they learnt upon their parents’ knees; what those they loved and honoured clung to with so much pride, and regarded as beyond ail price. Those who expect them thus to belie tleir origin, or to disgrace it, may as soon hope to see the streams turn back upon their fountains. My Lord, my countrymen feel, as they have a riglit to feel, that the Atlantic, the great highway of communication with their brethren at home, should be no barrier to shut out the civil privileges and political rights, which more than anything else, make thiem proud of the connection; and they feel also, that there is nothing in their present position or their past conduct to warrant such exclusion. Whatever impression may have been made by the wholesome satire’ wherewith one of my countrymen has endeavoured to excite the others to still greater exertions; those who fancy that Nova Scotians are an inferior race to those who dwell upon the ancient homestead or that they will be contented with a less degree of freedom, know little of them. A country that a century ago was but a wilderness and is now studded with towns and villages, and intersected with roads, even though more might have been done under a better system, affords some evidence of industry. Nova Scotian ships, bearing the British flag into every quarter of the globe, are some proofs of enterprise; and the success of the native author, to whom I have alluded, in the wide field of intellectual competition, more than contradicts the humorous exaggeration by which, while we are stimulated to higler efforts. others nay be for a moment misled. If then our right to inherit the Constitution be clear; if our capacity to maintain and enjoy it cannot be questioned; have we done anything to justify the alienation of our birthrighit? Many of the original settlers of this Province emigrated from the old Colonies when they were in a state of rebellion-not because they did not love freedom, but because they loved it under the old banner and the old forms; and many of their descendants have shed their blood, on land and sea, to defend the honour of the crown and the integrity of the empire. On some of the hardest fought fields of the Peninsula, my countrymen died in the front rank, with their faces to the foe. The proudest naval trophy 2 of the last American war was brought by a Nova Scotian into the harbour of his native town; and the blood that flowed from Nelson’s death wound in the cockpit of the Viclory mingled with that of a Nova Scotian stripling’ beside him struck down in the same glorious fight. Am I not then justified, my Lord, in claiming for my countrymen that Constitution, which can be withheld from them by no plea but one unworthy of a British statesman-the tyrant’s plea of power? I know that I am; and I feel also, that this is not the race that can be hoodwinked with sophistry, or made to submit to injustice without complaint. Ali suspicion of disloyalty we cast aside, as the product of ignorance or cupidity; we seek for nothing more than British subjects are entitled to; but we will be contented with nothing less. My Lord, il has been said, that if this system of responsibility were established, it would lead to a constant struggle for office and influence, which would be injurious to the habits of our population and corrupt the integrity of the public iien. That it would lead to the former I admit; but that the latter would be a consequence I must take leave to deny, until it can be shown, that in any of the other employments of life, fair competition has that effect. Let the bar biecome the bar only of the minority, and how long would there be honour and safety in the profession? Let the rich prizes to be won in commerce and finance 1e confined to a mere fragment, instead of being open to the whole population; and I doubt whether the same benefits, the same integrity, or the same satisfaction would grace the monopoly, that now spring from an open, fair and rnanly comipetition, by which, while individuals prosper, wealth and prosperity are Lrathered to the State. To be satisfied that this fair competition can with safety and the greatest advantage be carried into public as well as into private affairs, it is only necessary to contrast the example of England with that of any Continental nation where the opposite system has been pursued. And if, in England, the struggle for influence and olice has curbed corruption and produced examples of consistency and an adherence to principle extremely rare in other countries, and in none more so than in the Colonies, where the course pursued strikes at the very root of manly independence, why should we apprehend danger from its introduction or shrink from the peaceful rivalry it may occasion? But, my Lord, hiere is another view that ought to be taken of this question. Ought not British statesmen to ask themselves, is it wise to leave a million and a half of people, virtually excluded from all participation in the honourable prizes of public life? There is not a weaver’s apprentice or a parish orphan in England, that does not feel that lie may, if ho has the talent, rise through every grade of office, municipal and national, to hold the reins of government and influence the destinies of a mighty empire. The Queen may be hostile, the Lords may chafe, but neither can prevent that weaver’s apprentice or that parish orphan from becoming Prime Minister of England. Then look at the United States, in which the son of a mechanic in the smallest town, of a squatter in the wildest forest, may contend, on equal terms, with the proudest, for any office in twenty-eight different States; and having won as many as content him, may rise, through the national grades, to he President of the Union. There are no family compacts to exclude these aspirants; no little knot of irresponsible and self-elected councillors, to whom it is necessary to sell their principles, and before whom the manliness of their nature must be prostrated, before they can advance. But, in the Colonies, where there are no prizes so splendid as these, is it wise or just to narrow the field and 1onine to little cliques of irresponsible politicians, what prizes there are? No, my Lord, it is neither just nor wise. Every poor boy in Nova Scotia (for we have tie feelings of pride and ambition common to our nature) knows that he has the saine right to the honours and emoluments of office as lie would have if he lived in Britain or the United States; and lie feels, that while the great honours of the empire are almost beyond his reach, he ought to have a chance of dispensing the patronage and guiding the administration of his native country without any sacrifice of principle or diminution of self-respect. My Lord, I have done. If what has been written corrects any error into which your Lordship or others may have fallen, and communicates to some, either in Britain or the Colonies, information upon a subject not generally understood, i shall be amply repaid. Your Lordship will perhaps pardon me for reminding you, that, in thus eschewing the anonymous and putting my name t, an argument in favour of Executive responsibility for the North American colonies, I am acting under a sense of deep responsibility myself. i well know that there is not a press in the pay of any of the family compacts, that will not misrepresent my motives and pervert my language; that there is not an over-paid and irresponsible official, from Fundy to the Ottawa, whose inextinguishable hostility I shall not have earned for the remainder of my life. The example of your Lordship will, however, help me to bear these burdens with patience. You have lived and prospered, and done the State good service, and yet thousands of corrupt borough mongers and irresponsible corporators formerly misrepresented and hated you. Should I live to sec the principles for which I contend, operating as beneficially over British North America, as those immortal acts, which provoked your Lordship’s enemies, do in the mother country, I shall be gratified by the reflection, that the patriotic and honourable men now contending for the principles of the British Constitution, and by whose side, as an humble auxiliary, I am proud to take my stand, whatever they may have suffered in the struggle, did not labour in vain.-I have the honour to be, with the highest respect, your Lordship’s humble admirer, and most obedient servant, JOSEPH HOWE.

Kennedy, William P. Statutes, Treaties and Documents of the Canadian Constitution: 1713-1929. Oxford Univ. Pr., 1930. https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_03428

Joseph Howe to Lord John Russell

My Lord, The next passage of the Speech of the 3rd of June, which I am bound to notice, is that in which you say:- “The Governor might ask the Executive Council to propose a certain measure. They might say that they could not propose it unless the members of the House of Assembly would adopt it, but the Governor might reply that he had received instructions from home commanding him to propose that measure. How, in that case, is he to proceed ? Either one power or the other must be set aside; either the Governor or the House of Assembly; or else the Governor must become a mere cipher in the hands of the Assembly, and not attempt to carry into effect the measures which he is commanded by the Home Government to do.” This objection is based upon the assumption, that the interests of the mother country and those of the colonies are not the same; that they must be continually in a state of conflict; and that there must be some course of policy necessary for the Imperial Government to enforce, the reasons for which cannot be understood in the colonies, nor its necessity recognized. This may have been the case formerly in the West Indies, where the conflict was one between the ideas engendered by a state of slavery and a state of freedom; but it is not true of the North American Provinces, to the condition and claims of which my observations are chiefly confined. Of all the questions which have agitated or are likely to agitate Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, of Prince Edward Island, how few, when rightly understood, can be said to involve any Imperial interests; or trench upon any principle dear to our brethren at home, or the concession of which could disturb the peace of the Empire? Have any of these colonies claimed the right to regulate the foreign trade or foreign policy of the Empire? lave they ever interfered, except to carry out the views of 1-er Majesty’s Government, with any of the military or naval operations? Have they exposed a grievance, the continued existence of which is indispensable to the well-being of the British Islands; or demanded a right, the concession of which would not be serviceable to themselves, without doing the least injury to the people of Britain? For what have they asked? For the control of their own revenues and the means of influencing the appointment and acts of the men who are to dispense them; and who are, besides, to distribute hundreds of petty offices, and discharge functions manifold and various within the Colony itself? The people of England have no knowledge of these matters, nor any interest in them, to give them the right to interfere. Interference does much mischief to the Colonists, and can do no good to their brethren across the water. If British statesmen would let these things alone-and it is over these only that we claim to enforce responsibility and confine themselves to those general arrangements affecting the whole Empire, of which we admit them to be the best judges, and in the conduct of which we never asked to take a part, it would be impossible to conceive how such a case could arise as that supposed by your Lordship, or how the Governor could be charged with “a measure which his Executive Council would not dare to propose.” Admitting that there might be some subjects requiring discussion in the Provinces, but which the Colonists were not prepared to adopt, surely an Executive Councillor could be got, even if he were opposed to the views of the ministers, to submit the measure and explain those views to the popular branch; or might there not be ” open questions” in the Colonies as at home? The conclusion at which my mind arrives, then, after the best attention that I can give to this branch of the subject, is, that if the duties and responsibilities of government are fairly and judiciously divided between the Imperial and Colonial authorities, no such case as that assumed by your Lordship can occur; and, if it should, surely the good sense of all parties concerned may safely be trusted, to avoid any violent or unpleasant collision. But did it never occur to your Lordship to inquire, whether the very evil anticipated, as an insuperable objection to the new system, does not disfigure and annually occur under the old? What else were the Executive Councillors in Upper and Lower Canada doing for a series of years but “proposing certain measures,” to be as certainly rejected by the popular branch? What else are they about now in Newfoundland? What but this were they doing in New Brunswick, down to the close of Sir Archibald Campbell’s Administration? In all these Provinces a state of constant collision between the Executive and the popular branch, which could by no possibility arise under the system I contemplate, would answer the objection, even if the difficulty suggested could be fairly taken into account. If it be said that the Councillors now do not refuse to propose measures, I answer, But if the Legislatures invariably reject them, does government gain anything, or is public business advanced by the system? What a figure did the Executive cut in Nova Scotia, in 1838, when the Councillor who brought down from the Governor a grave proposition, led the opposition against it? And how stand things in this Province now? Are not all the Councillors selections from a lean ninority of the commons, in which body almost every debate terminates in a vote of implied want of confidence in them; and where the Governor they surround bas, on several occasions, only been saved from an insulting vote of censure by the good temper and moderation of the majority? This is a state of things too ridiculous to be long continued. To me it seems essential that, Her Majesty, in every colony, should be represented by an Executive not only willing “to attempt” but ” able to carry” any measures that it may be necessary to propose. The next objection taken by your Lordship to the introduction of Provincial responsibility, one eminently calculated to have weight with the body you addressed, and to alarm the timid everywhere, was drawn from an application of the principle, to the management of foreign affairs. ” If,” says your Lordship, ” the Assembly of New Brunswick had been disposed to carry the point in dispute with the North American States hostilely, and the Executive Council had been disposed to aid them, in my opinion the Governor must have said that his duty to the Crown of this country, and the general instructions which he had received from the minister of the Crown, did not permit him to take that course, and, therefore, he could not agree with the Executive Council to carry into effect the wish of the Assembly. That is allowed. Does not, then, its very exception destroy the analogy you wish to draw, when, upon so important a point as that of foreign affairs, it cannot be sustained?” Your Lordship, in delivering this passage, of course, was not aware that, without the alteration of a single syllable, you answered the very objection that yourself had raised. If the Executive Council of New Brunswick advised Sir John Harvey to declare war upon the State of Maine, “he must have said that his duty to the Crown and his instructions did not permit him to take that course.” Most certainly lie would, if a measure so ridiculous had been attempted in New Brunswick, which nobody, who knows anything of that Province, could for a moment imagine. I do not believe that there are ten men in it, certainly there are not fifty in all the lower Provinces put together, who do not know that the Sovereign alone lias the right to declare war upon foreign powers; and who are not willing that, upon all the relations of the Colonies with these, and with each other, the Imperial Government shall decide. A few of the New Brunswickers blamed Sir John Harvey for not acting upon Her Majesty’s instructions to maintain exclusive jurisdiction over the disputed territory, notwithstanding the advice received from the Minister at Washington; but, if those instructions had not existed, and had not been positive, no one would have been idiot enough to suppose that Sir John Harvey would have been bound to make war, on a point of honour or policy newly discovered by his Executive Council, and upon which ler Majesty’s government had had no opportunity to decide. Suppose, when Parliament was granting a charter to Hull, it was objected that the Mayor might be advised to make war upon Sweden (and, in the case of an elective officer, Lhe danger would be greater than if lie were appointed by the Crown,) would not the same louse of Commons that thought it unsafe to let a Colony manage its internal affairs for fear it would engage in foreign wars, laugh at the possibility of such an absurdity being committed by any body of Englishmen out of Bedlam? Why then should it be taken for granted that we are not English in our habits and opinions, our education and training, our capacity to discern the boundaries of authority; and that therefore it would be unsafe to depend upon our wisely exercising powers, which, in the British Islands, millions exercise for their own security and without danger to the state? In the case of Hull, if the objection were gravely urged, the ready answer would be, “No greater powers can be exercised than are granted in the bill; and if there is the least danger of the city authorities doing anything so ridiculous, put in a clause that shall restrain them.” And I say-after soberly protesting that the very suspicion of such an attempt is an insult to the understanding, and an imputation upon the character of our population, which they do not deserve-that if you wish “to make assurance doubly sure,” put a clause into the bill which concedes the principle of responsibility so far as relates to domestic affairs, and by which all such belligerent Councillors shall be expressly restrained. Whether this point were or were not thus defined, that any Executive Council, merely because they were responsible to the people, would, after receiving such an answer as your Lordship admits a British Governor must give, proceed in defiance of his authority, to levy war upon a friendly state, I cannot for a moment believe. If they did, they would certainly so completely fail, and render thenselves so supremely ridiculous, that the attempt would not be likely to be repeated, at least for a century to come. Let us suppose the case to have occurred in New Brunswick: that the Executive Council being responsible, had advised Sir John Harvey to proceed hostilely; and that, on his declining, they had levied war. In the first place, as all the regular troops were at Sir John’s disposal, as Commander-in-Chief within the Province, and not merely as civil Governor, they not only could not have moved a soldier, but would have had the whole military force of that and the adjoining Provinces against them. As the Gover- nor’s order to the colonels and officers commanding the militia is indispensable before a single step can be taken, under the laws by which that force is embodied, of course no hostile order would have been given, nor could those laws have been inodified or changed without Sir John’s assent. And if it be urged, that volunteers would have flocked to the aid of the Executive Council, may I not inquire where tiey would have obtained arms and ammunition, when all the military munitions and stores were deposited in military warehouses, under the care of commissaries and officers of ordnance responsible only to the Crown ? Oh! no, my Lord, whatever effect such imaginary cases as these may have on men at a distance, unacquainted with the state of society in British America and the general intelligence which prevails; here they are laughed at, as the creations of a fertile imagination taxed to combat political improvements that were feared without being understood. If, even under the federative government of the United States, in which each state is much more independent of the central authority than any Colony would be under the system I contemplate, this right of private war has only been once asserted, by a single State, in more than half a century, and then was scouted all over the Continent, is it to be supposed that British subjects will pay less respect to the authority of their Queen than do republican Americans to that of their President? There is one bare possibility, which your Lordship bas not suggested, in opposition to the new system, and yet it is scarcely more ridiculous than some that have been urged; that the Colonial Councillors might claim the control of the squadron upon the North American coast, as well as of the land forces, in their anxiety to engage in foreign wars. The danger in this case would be nearly as great as in the other; for, in modern warfare, a fleet is nearly as necessary as an army; and yet, it is certain that the admiral upon the station would know how to treat such a claim, should it be preferred by a Council, who, in the wanton exercise of authority, were disposed to transgress all bounds. The next objection which i am bound to notice, is given in the report: “Let us suppose that an officer of the militia in Upper Canada, after an action, was to order that the persons taken in that action should be put to death on the field. I can conceive it possible, in a state of exasperation and conflict with the people of the neighbouring States, that the Assembly might applaud that conduct, and might require that it should be the rule and not the exception,-that all invaders of their territory should be treated in that manner, and that the parties should be put to death without trial. Supposing that to be the case; could the Government of this country adopt such a rule? Could the Secretary of State for the Colonies sanction such a rule, and not decide, as my honourable friend the under-secretary has done, that the practice should meet with his decided reprehension?” Now, my Lord, admitting that such a case might occur once in half a century, under the new system, let me remind your Lordship that it has already occurred under the old. If it is to have any weight, the fact of its occurrence in a Province in which the Executive Council is irresponsible and the Colonial Secretary is in the exercise of his full powers, makes in favour of my argument; while I have a right to deny, until proof is furnished, that it could occur, if matters were more wisely ordered, and a more rational system established, by which all temptations to foreigners to make inroads into British Provinces, speculating upon the disaffection of the people, would be removed. But, my Lord, life bas been taken under your system-” death” has been inflicted “without trial,” illegally, as you infer-and has any punishment followed? Have the laws been vindicated? No! Then why not? Simply, I presume, because your beautiful mode of government has produced such a state of things in a British Province, that the ministers of the Queen dare not bring the man charged with this high offence to trial. Under a system of responsibility, by which the population were left to manage their domestic affairs, I hold that no such violation of law would be likely to occur, and that, if it did, investigation would be as safe, and punishment as certain, as though a crime had been committed in Middlesex, or Surrey. I have thus disposed, my Lord, of the military questions; and, as I have left Her Majesty and her representatives in full control of the army and navy and of the militia force of British America, and have asserted no claim of the Colonists to interfere with foreign treaties and diplomatic arrangements affecting the empire at large; I think, if peace be not maintained with foreign states, the punishment for offences strictly military be not awarded, the blame will not rest with the Executive Councillors, who are to exercise no jurisdiction over these matters, and cannot be responsible if others fail in their duty. Let me now turn to another class of objections, arising out of our Colonial and foreign trade. “Again,” says your Lordship, “neither could this analogy be maintained with regard to trade between Canada and the mother country, or Canada and any other country. How then can you adopt a principle from which such large exceptions are to be made? If you were to do so, you would be continually on the borders of dispute and conflict; the Assembly and the Executive, on the one hand, requiring a certain course to be pursued, while the Governor, on the other hand, would be as constantly declaring that it was a course he could not adopt; so that, instead of furnishing matter of content and harmony in these Provinces, you would be affording new matter for dispute and discontent if you were to act upon this supposed analogy.” Now, my Lord, i feel it my duty to state, that you may take from any part you please to select, of England, Ireland, or Scotland, two hundred thousand persons, and among them you will not find a larger number than are to be found in Nova Scotia, well informed as to the degree of authority in matters of trade, which, for the good of the whole empire and the preservation of the advantages in which all are to participate, it is necessary to confide to the care of the Sovereign and the wisdom of the Imperial Parliament. The great corporations of London, of Bristol, and of Liverpool, do not presume to interfere with these, except by petition and remonstrance, neither do we. Each of these cities bas the right to levy small duties within their own limits, for matters of internal regulation, or to aid public improvements; and these rights they exercise, in common with us, when they do not contravene any British statutes necessary for the protection of the trade of the empire. But, if it can be shown that a law bears unequally upon London or Halifax, and that a flagrant case of hardship exists; or if the industry of any portion of the people, either in England or the Colonies is taxed, while no corresponding advantage is reaped by any other portion; or that, if reaped, it is an unfair and illegitimate advantage,-an appeal is made to Parliament. We have hitherto been contented, although not directly represented in that Assembly, to abide the result of that appeal; or to pass bills, taking our chance of their being assented to in England. The same thing would occur, even if the Executive Council was responsible; for, upon this point, there is no part of our population prepared to set up absurd or irrational claims. If Parliament should undertake to legislate directly against our interests; to cut up our commerce, and prevent the growth of domestic industry; and, after fair notice and ample proof of injury, were to persist in such a course; why then a state of things would arise, which similar policy produced elsewhere, in other times, and upon the results of which either responsible or irresponsible Councils would exercise but little influence. But, as political economists at home are every day becoming convinced that the more liberty they afford to the Colonist to conduct his commercial operations the greater will be his demand for British manufactures; and as, under the guidance of this enlightened policy, the laws of trade and navigation are annually becoming less restrictive, it is not probable that difficulties, which were never insuperable, will all of a sudden admit of no rational remedy; or that the boundaries of Colonial and Imperial authority, now so well understood, and the recognition of which is so easily enforced, will often be called in question on either side. If the Colonists assert rights which do not belong to them, and persist in their contumacy, disturbing solemn treaties and setting acts of Parliament at naught; why then they have broken the social compact: it is a case of rebellion and they must be put down. Let us reduce the difficulty to practice, for the purpose of illustration. Suppose that both branches of the Legislature pass a law by -which a heavy duty is laid on British broadcloths, and those from the United States are admitted duty free; and that the Executive Council, being responsible, advise the Lieutenant Governor to assent to it. Such an absurd piece of bad faith as this could never be attempted in the lower Provinces; for public opinion would never sanction any interference with the general laws not intended to remedy abuses, or that struck at Colonial without promoting British prosperity; nor would any changes be popular which violated the fraternal comity by which British subjects everywhere are bound to encourage and protect each other. But I have supposed the law passed and presented. The Governor would say in this case, as he now invariably says-as your Lordship admits he must say, if urged to provoke a foreign war: “Gentlemen, you are exceeding your powers. To legislate for your own advantage is one thing; to legislate directly against your brethren at home, for the advantage of foreigners, is another. This bill must be either modified or rejected, or reserved for Her Majesty’s assent, before it can go into operation.” If the parties urging it persisted, a dissolution might be tried; and an appeal to British subjects, in a case where the Governor was clearly right and his advisers wrong, would never be made in vain; particularly when aided by the Constitutional opposition, which, under a system of responsibility and manly competition, would exist in every Colony. But if it failed; and such an almost impossible thing were upon the cards, as that a majority could be found in Nova Scotia to sustain such an act, or anything bearing a resemblance to it, then a case would have occurred for the interference of the Imperial authorities, who should say to us frankly: If you will come into unnatural and hostile collision, the weakest has the most to fear. Had your Lordship been as familiar with the mode of dealing with such subjects as most Colonists are who have watched the proceedings of Colonial Assemblies, you would have been satisfied that no danger was to be apprehended from violent collisions about matters of trade. When a new duty is proposed in Nova Scotia or a reduction suggested, the first question asked on all sides is, Will the proposition violate the letter or does it even run counter to the spirit of the Imperial Acts? If it does, in eight cases out of ten, the person bringing the measure forward drops it, on being assured of the fact. In the ninth case, where a doubt exists as to the policy and wisdom of Imperial legislation is found, on inquiry, that the clause which seemed to press upon us, originated in a wide view over the whole field of commerce, which British statesmen, often better than others whose positions afford fewer advantages, are enabled to take and that its repeal would inflict an injury and not confer a benefit. The tenth case is perhaps one in which the Imperial Parliament, either from haste, or prejudice, or insuflicient information, has committed an error in political economy, or inflicted a wound upon Colonial without benefiting British industry. In this case (and they only occur once in a great while) no one ever dreams, that, as your Lordship expresses it, the Imperial Legislature is to be “overruled” by that of the colony. We never doubt but that an appeal to the good sense and the justice of our brethren over the water will be successful. A bill is passed, perhaps, to meet the difliculty; and an explanation of the facts and reasoning in which it originated, is sent with it, in the form of an address to the throne, and in most cases is found to be successful. This is the mode at present. What reason is there to suppose that it would be much changed, if we had an Executive Council, whose powers and responsibilities did not extend to matters of general commerce, already provided for by Imperial legislation? If we are so fond of violent conflicts and factious opposition, what hinders us from indulging our propensities now? Shall we be less considerate the more kindly we are treated? Shall we have less respect for Imperial legislation, when we see that it leaves us the entire management of our domestic affairs and only deals with those great interests which transcend our authority and are beyond our control? Suppose twelve Nova Scotians, who are not responsible to any authority under Heaven, are made accountable to the rest of their countrymen, shall we have a man the more for forcible resistance than we have now or a gun, a pike, a bomb, or a barrel of powder? I have thus, my Lord, gone over the arguments urged by your Lordship in the speech of the 3rd of June. I have omitted none that appear to me to have the slightest bearing upon the great question at issue, and I trust I have given to each a fair and satisfactory answer. I have written not only under a solemn sense of duty, but with a full assurance that sophistry, woven around this question, either on one side of the Atlantic or the other, would be torn to shreds in the conflict of acute and vigorous minds now engaged in its discussion. Had your Lordship, in announcing the decision of the Cabinet, forborne to state the reasons upon which that decision was founded, 1 might, like counsel at the bar under similar circumstances, have felt myself compelled to acquiesce in a judgment, neither the justice nor the policy of which I could fathom. But when the arguments were stated, and when I saw a question involving the peace and security of six extensive Provinces, and the freedom and happiness of a million and a half of British subjects, disposed of by a mode of reasoning which I knew to be deceptive and unsound,-when I saw, in fact, that the parties claiming their rights were to be turned out of court, with all the arguments and ail the evidence on their side, I felt that to remain silent would be to deserve the social and political degradation which this unjust decision was to entail on my countrymen and myself; to earn the Helot mark of exclusion from the blessings of that Constitutional freedom, which our forefathers struggled to bequeathe; and which we should never cease to demand, as a patrimony that runs with our blood, and cannot be rightfully severed from our name…. JOSEPH HOWE.

Kennedy, William P. Statutes, Treaties and Documents of the Canadian Constitution: 1713-1929. Oxford Univ. Pr., 1930. https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_03428

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