Back to top

1848 Speech

A speech made by Mr. Howe on the 25th of January

Labouring under the remains of a severe cold, I had hoped that this debate might close without my being called to take any part in it. I rise to express my sentiments now with extreme reluctance, for it is not in my nature to strike a fallen foe; and, after having been condemned by the country, I had hoped that the-gentlemen opposite would have folded their robes around them and submitted with dignity. The last fight of faction was as unnecessary as it was unavailing. Had the members of the administration submitted gracefully, we might at least have said of them that "Nothing in office became them like the leaving of it"; we might then have suppressed the feelings excited by our conflicts, and been touched with emotion at the fortitude and resignation of those we had overcome. What is it, sir, that gives its charms to the noble statue of the " Dying Gladiator"? The inimitable skill with which the sculptor has depicted a brave man, having done his devoir chivalrously, conscious of his death wound, sinking to the earth which his blood honours, without a spasm or a groan. But if the soul, shaken with coward fear, convulsed the limbs and distorted the features, we should turn from the marble with disgust and take no interest in the escape of a spirit so grovelling and debased. I have at times partaken of the noble pastime of our country and hunted the wild moose through the forest glades. While the bay of the dogs rang through the woodland and the animal, dashing aside the branches with his antlers, had a chance of escape, there was animation, excitement and pleasure in the chase. But when the fatal bullet had brought him down, and he sunk with the steady fortitude which is not uncommon, I have almost shrunk from the reproof of his earnest and expressive eye and have wished the lead back in the tube again. My feelings were very different if he sunk below the dignity of his race; if he kicked and struggled in his last hour, as the gentlemen opposite are doing here, why, of course there was nothing for it but to knock him on the head.

I am sure I would rather put aside the task to which I am compelled by the learned Crown officers. Are we not all sick and tired of the old stories which the Attorney-General has laboured to revive? Have they not been discussed till they can be invested with no feature of novelty by the most fertile imagination? The learned Attorney-General has gone over, point by point, the speeches of my honourable friend from Yarmouth and my leaned friend from Pictou. He has laboured to escape from the farce of the arguments he provoked. He has attempted to answer my honourable friend, but bps b effaced from one man's memory the impression made by his speech? One sentence delivered by my honourable friend with solemn earnestness ought to be remembered by those who go into the new Government as it will never be forgotten by the learned Crown officers. I vote for the amendment, said Mr. Huntington, because "I have hope from the gentlemen who form the Opposition ; from you I have no hope." That sentiment, founded on a ten years' experience of the two parties, animates Nova Scotia at this instant. The people of Nova Scotia have weighed the Attorney-General and his friends in the balance and found them wanting; from them they have no hope, and has the Attorney-General said anything here to show that their confidence should be revived? He complained of the temper which the learned member for Pictou displayed, but had not my learned friend provocation enough in the temper shown by the two Crown officers on the first day of the session ? The fierce and uncalled-for attacks on one near and dear to him were well calculated to create a little animation ; and as to the mode of retaliation,—why, my learned friend may have seen some of his constituents in Pictou dislodging a bear from a hollow tree, by making a fire under it; and his only hope of getting the gentleman opposite out is by making office too hot for him.

The learned Attorney-General thought proper to ridicule our constitutional knowledge. Is he a qualified judge ? Think you, if he were to set himself up as a professor of constitutional lore, that his classes would be very numerously attended or that the rising generation would be largely benefited by his labours ? He complains! that we have not foreshadowed our future policy. I must tell him again, as I have told him before, that "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Let us deal with the matters in hand, and when the proper times arrives, we will favour him with some flashes of illumination. The Attorney-General claims to be judged by English precedents and denies that he has ever violated them. But did he not hold office for a year under Sir Colin Campbell, with a majority of two-thirds of the representative branch against him ? Where will he find English precedent for that? When in 1840 the Liberals came back with a majority, did not the Attorney-General enter the Government with them, adopt their principles, and afterwards when it suited his purpose sneer at the administration of which he was a member? Did he ever hear of any English statesman who thus demeaned himself ? The Attorney-General protracts this debate because he wishes to convince the new members whose opinions he conceives are not yet formed. If so, how came it that all their names were paraded, with reprobation, in the press which supports that gentleman and that all his friends, lay and clerical, did their best to prevent them getting here at all ? Was not the whole Conservative ticket published in the official organ? The majority who are here beat the Attorney-General's best men at the hustings. Is it to be supposed that they did not know what they were about—that the people did not know? The learned gentleman flatters himself that the new members are here to be instructed. I tell him that they are here because the people knew them to be sufficiently well informed. But we are told that we have put a rope around their necks. Oh sir, has the Attorney-General forgotten the pliant majority which he led here for the last four years, many of whom would have voted that black was white and that two and two did not make four ? He complained that my learned friend from Pictou wanted to stop his mouth ; but has he forgotten his own feats in that line? To stop one lawyer's mouth, even if it could be done, would not be so bad as muzzling the whole fourth estate which the learned Crown officer attempted once. Has he forgotten the attempt made to stop all discussion on the vexed question of the Registrars Bill, when his own colleague moved to shut the public and the reporters out of the lobby and put an end to all discussion ? Far be it from me to wish to deny to the Crown officers opportunity for full defence; but when we have made two speeches each, there will be one hundred and two of them and surely that ought to be discussion enough. Where, in England, do we hear of all the lords and members of Parliament being passed over when Cabinet ministers are required? I defy him to quote me the precedent—to show me the example. English precedents ! Sir, did we ever hear of the Sovereign writing and publishing an attack on persons who had left her Cabinet? Where have we seen, at home, letters written to gentlemen inviting them to come into the administration, made the vehicles for conveying a reflection upon third parties not included in the negotiations ? When did we hear of England being governed by a fragment of a Cabinet for three or four years? The Attorney-General can quote no English precedent, but he gives us the opinion of some travelling Canadian with whose name we are not favoured. English precedent ! Show me the English minister who ever published to the world the humiliating evidence of his impotence that he had made in four years three overtures to his political opponents, which had been rejected, and tendered thirteen seats in the Cabinet, which had been refused ?

The Attorney-General asks how we can tell what are the contents of despatches which we have not seen. The question is pertinent, but I judge by what I have seen, of what has been concealed. Are not our journals encumbered by a heterogeneous mass of diplomatic absurdities, accumulated under the present administration ? The Governor's name, it is said, has been introduced into this debate. If so I regret it, and would have checked it had I been here. Nor ought the contents of despatches, not formally laid before the House by his Excellency, to be drawn into discussion. I have not seen the despatch, and have no right to see it. There was one that I should have liked to have seen—that secret and insidious representation upon which the ex-Councillors were charged with "pretensions" because they exercised the common right of Britons, without indelicacy and without offence. Why should we speculate on unpublished despatches ? Have we not on our journals that celebrated state paper which informed the Colonial Minister that the Liberals were disunited ; that they had no leaders ; that Mr. Howe's influence was gone 1 If disposed to waste time and laugh at the gentlemen opposite, I might turn to that vaunting document and contrast its unfounded statements with the humiliating position which the authors occupy on the treasury bench. As respects the despatch referred to in his Excellency's speech, have the gentlemen any objection to give me the date ? [Here there was some bantering and rummaging of the Attorney-General's notes, but the date was not given.] This I may say, sir, that if that despatch bears date last spring, if it explained to the people of this country the views of the Colonial Secretary on responsible government and the departmental system, the men who concealed it and went to the hustings mystifying and vituperating that system neither acted fairly to Her Majesty's Government nor to Her Majesty's subjects. [The Solicitor-General laughingly said they had no objection to go to the country on it now.] Nor I either. There will be lots of snowballs for our constituents to pelt each other with. The Attorney-General is a theologian, but I fear that he has not followed the Scripture injunction, "not to make his flight in the winter." He has let the autumn months go by and retires in foul weather.

The Attorney-General sneeringly referred to Mr. Doyle's remark that Lord Glenelg's despatch was our Magna Charta. But does he not know that the English people had a Magna Charta centuries before they enjoyed responsible government? I really thought my old pamphlet had been worn out by the learned Attorney-General; it has ever been a stumbling-block and rock of offence to him, and I was seriously considering the propriety of writing another for his especial benefit. Two things strike me with some surprise, sir, when-ever I turn to that pamphlet,—I am astonished that a production, so inferior as a piece of composition, should have attracted so much attention ; and I am equally surprised that, writing upon a subject so difficult as the mixed character of imperial and provincial institutions, the principles and views propounded taken as a whole were so sound as they have been proved to be by the test of subsequent experience. The Attorney-General says that in 1839, I was in advance of Lord Durham. He is mistaken. Lord Durham and I perfectly agreed, but I am willing to acknowledge that both might have been somewhat in advance of the views entertained in England. But the Attorney-General tells us that he was for advancing gradually,—yes, sir, so gradually that we were to have freedom by infinitesimal doses and responsible government "by degrees," by which it is said "lawyers get to Heaven." I must confess, I marvel at the Attorney-General going over these old grounds, as though the gentlemen who sit here for the first time were a parcel of schoolboys to be trained ; or fresh hands just shipped, and who required to be touched up with a rhetorical rope's-end, to teach them their duty. He asks us where have the administration violated the new principles, and I answer, everywhere. We asked for the departmental system of England : they refused to bring the sec­retary into the Legislature, they withdrew the treasurer, they legislated the collector of excise out, and they refused to permit us to legislate the com­missioner of crown lands in. In the free use and abuse of the Governor's name, they violated principle and accumulated difficulties ; and in holding their places from August to January, after the country to which they appealed had declared against them. I will not anticipate the contents of Earl Grey's despatch, but I shrewdly suspect that if the elections had gone against us, the people of Nova Scotia would never have seen it. If that was not the policy, the gentleman opposite would have planted the public officers to be affected by it on the hustings and have given them a chance of maintaining their positions.

Allusions have been made to the bench and to the discussions which arose here last year. I know little or nothing of our courts from personal observa­tion, for I rarely go into them ; but I do wish that our judges would so demean themselves as to be not only blameless but unsuspected. And I wish also, sir, that when reflections are cast, here or elsewhere, gentlemen would prefer some definite charge or state some fact, to enable us to decide fairly whether or not blame can attach to the bench. With reference to the representations said to have been made with a view to a new appointment, I know nothing of them ; constitutionally I can know nothing. As a member of Opposition, I am to judge the Government by its acts and have nothing to do with its intentions. But this I may say, that after the discussions which took place here last session, after the confirmation by the constituencies of the charges preferred (for our opponents had the imprudence to mix the judges up with their canvass), those who are called upon to fill up that vacancy should—taking an enlightened view, not so much of the claims of parties as of the state of the bench and the feelings of the country—exercise a sound discretion, that the bench may be strengthened in the affections and respect of the country. Touching the prin­ciples which will ever govern my conduct in reference to judicial appointments, I may be pardoned for saying a few words. Once in a while, an able man, of standing and experience, may be found isolated, by circumstances, from politics ; such an one is, perhaps, upon the roll, but the phenomenon is rare. In general, if we want the best talent of the profession, our judges must be selected from the foremost ranks of our politicians ; and as parties fluctuate, political impressions will come to neutralize each other, as in England. Now, whether political friends or foes are elevated to the bench, this should be the rule,—however distasteful their appointments and however they may be vehemently opposed, when once gentlemen are appointed, political animosities should be buried and only revived if the individuals, after their elevation, forget the dignity of their stations. The Attorney-General thought proper to ridicule the references made by my learned friend from Cape Breton, to the Post Office, railroads, commerce and colonization. I knew my learned friend would catch it, for I saw the Attorney-General's eye glancing at him as he spoke, with expressive intimation of the coming storm. What, we are asked, have all these great subjects to do with the Government of Nova Scotia? Will the new administration carry great measures affecting the whole empire? We have the deepest interest in all these great questions; the honour, the pros­perity and elevation of our country are involved in them all ; a sound prin­ciple, propounded here, may be adopted and acted upon by North America; and plans of improvement suggested in other colonies will require to be met in an enlightened and liberal spirit. Is it not, then, of the utmost importance, whilst such questions are to be dealt with, that his Excellency should be surrounded by a complete and vigorous administration? My learned friend may be enthusiastic upon some of those topics, but he is often in advance of us ; and though I have sometimes lagged behind, as I and others did when, years ago, he boldly propounded our right to control the Strait of Canso, I have learnt to respect rather than smile at a zeal which is often based on statesmanlike conceptions.

But did not the Attorney-General, when he went to Canada as a com­missioner, representing the minority in this Assembly, feel that he was in a false position? And has he forgotten the time when the peace of this con­tinent was endangered, and when, his administration being in a minority, Sir Colin Campbell could not without the aid of the Opposition buy a musket or a barrel of powder? Sir, these principles are of wider application than to the mere internal administration of each colony. That the empire may be strong, the Queen's Government should be strong in the affections of all her people, and ready in each Province to lead public opinion and carry out imperial policy. I might say, in answer to the Attorney-General's taunt, that if we do not construct the railway, we will not write despatches about. it, reflecting on the head of this House, and then bring them down to be read under the Speaker's nose.

The Attorney-General quotes the Whig precedent of 1841 to justify his retention of office ; but what justification does that furnish? Lord John Russell, if my memory serves, held on for five days after the return of the writs; Mr. Johnston for five months! Could there have been a stronger illustration of his folly than the fact which has come out of these discussions that, instead of advising the Lieutenant-Governor to fill the vacancy on the bench, he has commenced some clumsy correspondence with the Colonial Office? But we are told that we have only a majority of seven. Well, that is better than a majority of one. Do the gentlemen opposite doubt their entire defeat? They laughed at us when we assumed, in our letter to Sir John Harvey, that the Liberals owned two-thirds of the property and embraced two-thirds of the population of Nova Scotia. That statement was denied. But look at the returns : twelve counties sustain the Liberals ; the Tories have but five ; and although they may have won several of the townships by small majorities, the analysis which I hold in my hand proves the accuracy of the statement made to Sir John Harvey in 1846. The Attorney-General says his majority increased from 1843 to 1847. If it did, all the patronage of the Government was in his hands for four years, to strengthen himself, but where is his majority now? Where are the prominent and more violent men of his party? Scattered to the winds, while the Opposition have come back strengthened in talent as in numbers.

The Attorney-General says that the coalition Council was sometimes reduced to seven. I am not aware that the number ever fell below eight. But look at the spectacle which the fragment sometimes presented. Mr. Robie in the States; Mr. Wilkins at Windsor; Mr. Dodd fishing in the Margaree River. [Here Mr. Howe threw in a droll parenthesis, comparing the Crown officers to two salmon, securely hooked, but floundering, jumping, and flapping their tails, without a possibility of escape.] Sir Rupert, particularly about election times, sailing down the coast in his boat and the whole government of the country centred in the hands of the Attorney-General and his relative, Mr. Almon. Was that such an administration as could be considered fair to the Governor or to the country ?

[Mr. Howe here defended the coalition which passed the Halifax Incor­poration Act and more measures, in a single session, than the last administra­tion did in four. He also remarked, on the boast that the school money had been increased, that the machinery of the Act was so imperfect, that some excellent schools had been destroyed, and the people had not contributed in proportion to the advances from the Treasury.]

But, says the Attorney-General, it would have been a violation of principle, if I had assumed that a majority was against us—that we would be defeated. Oh, sir, the Attorney-General has a short memory. Did he not assume that Lord Falkland's Government would be defeated in 1843, months before the House met, and dissolve it on a groundless assumption? Did not Lord Falkland assume that Mr. Johnston had a majority when he appointed Mr. Almon? Everything and anything could be assumed in 1843, but nothing in 1847.

Resolution on January 24, 1848 by Mr. Uniacke to include the following paragraph in the address to the Lieutenant Governor.

While we are fully sensible of the importance of the various subjects submitted by Your Excellency for our consideration, we feel that in the course it may be advisable to pursue, with reference to measures so intimately connected with the interests of the people, it is essential to the satisfactory result of our deliberations on these and other matters of public concern, that Her Majesty's Executive Council should enjoy the confidence of the Country ; and we consider it our humble duty respectfully to state, that the present Executive Council does not possess that confidence so essential to the promoting of the public welfare, and so necessary to insure to Your Excellency the harmonious co-operation of this Assembly."

Lieutenant Governor Sir John Harvey's response

"I receive with great satisfiaction this loyal and dutiful Address, and the assurance it conveys of your readiness to co-operate with me in carrying out, as far as a due regard to the circumstances adn condition of the Province may permit, the suggestions which I deemed it my duty to lay before you, and, generally, in doing what may depend on us to promote the interests and prosperity of Nova-Scotia; and, with reference to the concluding paragraph of your address, no time will be lost by me in adopting such measures as may appear to me expedient."

Wednesday, February 2, 1848 - James Boyle Uniacke becomes the leader of the Executive Council and effectively the first Premier of a Responsible Government in Nova Scotia and all of the British Colonies.

February 9 1848 - First Responsible Cabinet reported

"The Hon. Mr. Doyle, by command of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, informed the House that the Hon. James Boyle Uniacke, a member of this House, had been appointed to and had accepted the Office of Her Majesty's Attorney General for this Province ; that the Hon. William Frederic DesBarres, also a member of this House, had been appointed to and had accepted the Office of Her Majesty's Solicitor General for this Province. And, that the Hon. Joseph Howe, also a member of this House, had been appointed to and had accepted the Office of Secretary of the Province."