Read CHAPTER IV. THE DAYS OF TRIAL of The Canadian Dominion A Chronicle of our Northern Neighbor , free online book, by Oscar D. Skelton, on ReadCentral.com.

The federation of the four provinces was an excellent achievement, but it was only a beginning on the long, hard road to nationhood. The Fathers of Confederation had set their goal and had proclaimed their faith. It remained for the next generation to seek to make their vision a reality. It was still necessary to make the Dominion actual by bringing in all the lands from sea to sea. And when, on paper, Canada covered half a continent, union had yet to be given body and substance by railway building and continuous settlement. The task of welding two races and many scattered provinces into a single people would call for all the statesmanship and prudence the country had to give. To chart the relations between the federal and the provincial authorities, which had so nearly brought to shipwreck the federal experiment of Canada’s great neighbor, was like navigating an unknown sea. And what was to be the attitude of the new Dominion, half nation, half colony, to the mother country and to the republic to the south, no one could yet foretell.

The first problem which faced the Dominion was the organization of the new machinery of government. It was necessary to choose a federal Administration to guide the Parliament which was soon to meet at Ottawa, the capital of the old Canada since 1858 and now accepted as the capital of the larger Canada. It was necessary also to establish provincial Governments in Canada West, henceforth known as Ontario and in Canada East, or Quebec. The provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were to retain their existing provincial Governments.

There was no doubt as to whom the Governor General, Lord Monck, should call to form the first federal Administration. Macdonald had proved himself easily the greatest leader of men the four provinces had produced. The entrance of two new provinces into the union, with all the possibilities of new party groupings and new personal alliances it involved, created a situation in which he had no rival. His great antagonist, Brown, passed off the parliamentary stage. When he proposed a coalition to carry through federation, Brown had recognized that he was sacrificing his chief political asset, the discontent of Canada West. But he was too true a patriot to hesitate a moment on that score, and in any case he was sufficiently confident of his own abilities to believe that he could hold his own in a fresh field. In this expectation he was deceived. No man among his contemporaries surpassed him in sheer ability, in fearless honesty, in vigor of debate, but he lacked Macdonald’s genial and supple art of managing men. And with broad questions of state policy for the moment out of the way, it was capacity in managing men that was to count in determining success. Never afterward did Brown take an active part in parliamentary life, though still a power in the land through his newspaper, the Toronto “Globe”, which was regarded as the Scotch Presbyterian’s second Bible. Of the other leaders of old Canada, Cartier with failing health was losing his vigor and losing also the prestige with his party which his solid Canada East majority had given him; Galt soon retired to private business, with occasional incursions into diplomacy; and McGee fell a victim in 1868 to a Fenian assassin. From the Maritime Provinces the ablest recruit was Tupper, the most dogged fighter in Canadian parliamentary annals and a lifelong sworn ally of Macdonald.

It was at first uncertain what the grouping of parties would be. Macdonald naturally wished to retain the coalition which assured him unquestioned mastery, and the popular desire to give Confederation a good start also favored such a course. In his first Cabinet, formed with infinite difficulty, with provinces, parties, religions, races, all to consider in filling a limited number of posts, Macdonald included six Liberal ministers out of thirteen, three from Ontario, and three from the Maritime Provinces. Yet if an Opposition had not existed, it would have been necessary to create one in order to work the parliamentary machine. The attempt to keep the coalition together did not long succeed. On the eve of the first federal election the Ontario Reformers in convention decided to oppose the Government, even though it contained three of their former leaders. In the contest, held in August and September, 1867, Macdonald triumphed in every province except Nova Scotia but faced a growing Opposition party. Under the virtual leadership of Alexander Mackenzie, fragments of parties from the four provinces were united into a single Liberal group. In a few years the majority of the Liberal rank and file were back in the fold, and the Liberal members in the Cabinet had become frankly Conservative. Coalition had faded away.

Within six years after Confederation the whole northern half of the continent had been absorbed by Canada. The four original provinces comprised only one-tenth of the area of the present Dominion, some 377,000 square miles as against 3,730,000 today. The most easterly of the provinces, little Prince Edward Island, had drawn back in 1865, content in isolation. Eight years later this province entered the fold. Hard times and a glimpse of the financial strength of the new federation had wrought a change of heart. The solution of the century-old problem of the island, absentee landlordism, threatened to strain the finances of the province; and men began to look to Ottawa for relief. A railway crisis turned their thoughts in the same direction. The provincial authorities had recently arranged for the building of a narrow-gauge road from one end of the island to the other. It was agreed that the contractors should be paid 5000 pounds a mile in provincial debentures, but without any stipulation as to the total length, so that the builders caused the railway to meander and zigzag freely in search of lower grades or long paying stretches. In 1873, which was everywhere a year of black depression, it was found that these debentures, which were pledged by the contractors to a local bank for advances, could not be sold except at a heavy loss. The directors of the bank were influential in the Government of the province. It was not surprising, therefore, that the government soon opened negotiations with Ottawa. The Dominion authorities offered generous terms, financing the land purchase scheme, and taking over the railway. Some of the islanders made bitter charges, but the Legislature confirmed the agreement, and on July 1, 1873, Prince Edward Island entered Confederation.

While Prince Edward Island was deciding to come in, Nova Scotia was straining every nerve to get out. There was no question that Nova Scotia had been brought into the union against its will. The provincial Legislature in 1866, it is true, backed Tupper. But the people backed Howe, who thereupon went to London to protest against the inclusion of Nova Scotia without consulting the electors, but he was not heeded. The passing of the Act only redoubled the agitation. In the provincial election of 1867, the anti-Confederates carried thirty-six out of thirty-eight seats. In the federal election Tupper was the only union candidate returned in nineteen seats contested. A second delegation was sent to London to demand repeal. Tupper crossed the ocean to counter this effort and was successful. Then he sought out Howe, urged that further agitation was useless and could only bring anarchy or, what both counted worse, a movement for annexation to the United States, and pressed him to use his influence to allay the storm. Howe gave way; unfortunately for his own fame, he went further and accepted a seat in the federal Cabinet. Many of his old followers kept up the fight, but others decided to make a bargain with necessity. Macdonald agreed to give the province “better terms,” and the Dominion assumed a larger part of its debt. The bitterness aroused by Tupper’s high-handed procedure lingered for many a day; but before the first Parliament was over, repeal had ceased to be a practical issue.

Union could never be real so long as leagues of barren, unbroken wilderness separated the maritime from the central provinces. Free intercourse, ties of trade, knowledge which would sweep away prejudice, could not come until a railway had spanned this wilderness. In the fifties plans had been made for a main trunk line to run from Halifax to the Detroit River. This ambitious scheme proved too great for the resources of the separate provinces, but sections of the road were built in each province. As a condition of Confederation, the Dominion Government undertook to fill in the long gaps. Surveys were begun immediately; and by 1876, under the direction of Sandford Fleming, an engineer of eminence, the Intercolonial Railway was completed. It never succeeded in making ends meet financially, but it did make ends meet politically. In great measure it achieved the purpose of national solidification for which it was mainly designed.

Meanwhile the bounds of the Dominion were being pushed westward to the Pacific. The old province of Canada, as the heir of New France, had vague claims to the western plains, but the Hudson’s Bay Company was in possession. The Dominion decided to buy out its rights and agreed, in 1869, to pay the Company 300,000 pounds for the transfer of its lands and exclusive privileges, the Company to retain its trading posts and two sections in every township. So far all went well. But the Canadian Government, new to the tasks of empire and not as efficient in administration as it should have been, overlooked the necessity of consulting the wishes and the prejudices of the men on the spot. It was not merely land and buffalo herds which were being transferred but also sovereignty over a people.

In the valley of the Red River there were some twelve thousand metis, or half-breeds, descendants of Indian mothers and French or Scottish fathers. The Dominion authorities intended to give them a large share in their own government but neglected to arrange for a formal conference. The metis were left to gather their impression of the character and intentions of the new rulers from indiscreet and sometimes overbearing surveyors and land seekers. In 1869, under the leadership of Louis Riel, the one man of education in the settlement, able but vain and unbalanced, and with the Hudson’s Bay officials looking on unconcerned, the metis decided to oppose being made “the colony of a colony.” The Governor sent out from Ottawa was refused entrance, and a provisional Government under Riel assumed control. The Ottawa authorities first tried persuasion and sent a commission of three, Donald A. Smith (afterwards Lord Strathcona), Colonel de Salaberry, and Vicar General Thibault. Smith was gradually restoring unity and order, when the act of Riel in shooting Thomas Scott, an Ontario settler and a member of the powerful Orange order, set passions flaring. Mgr. Tache, the Catholic bishop of the diocese, on his return aided in quieting the metis. Delegates were sent by the Provisional Government to Ottawa, and, though not officially recognized, they influenced the terms of settlement. An expedition under Colonel Wolseley marched through the wilderness north of Lake Superior only to find that Riel and his lieutenants had fled. By the Manitoba Act the Red River country was admitted to Confederation as a self-governing province, under the name of Manitoba, while the country west to the Rockies was given territorial status. The Indian tribes were handled with tact and justice, but though for the time the danger of armed resistance had passed, the embers of discontent were not wholly quenched.

The extension of Canadian sovereignty beyond the Rockies came about in quieter fashion. After Mackenzie had shown the way, Simon Fraser and David Thompson and other agents of the NorthWest Company took up the work of exploration and fur trading. With the union of the two rival companies in 1821, the Hudson’s Bay Company became the sole authority on the Pacific coast. Settlers straggled in slowly until, in the late fifties, the discovery of rich placer gold on the Fraser and later in the Cariboo brought tens of thousands of miners from Australia and California, only to drift away again almost as quickly when the sands began to fail.

Local governments had been established both in Vancouver Island and on the mainland. They were joined in a single province in 1866. One of the first acts of the new Legislature was to seek consolidation with the Dominion. Inspired by an enthusiastic Englishman, Alfred Waddington, who had dreamed for years of a transcontinental railway, the province stipulated that within ten years Canada should complete a road from the Pacific to a junction with the railways of the East. These terms were considered presumptuous on the part of a little settlement of ten or fifteen thousand whites; but Macdonald had faith in the resources of Canada and in what the morrow would bring forth. The bargain was made; and British Columbia entered the Confederation on July 1, 1871.

East and West were now staked out. Only the Far North remained outside the bounds of the Dominion and this was soon acquired. In 1879 the British Government transferred to Canada all its rights and claims over the islands in the Arctic Archipelago and all other British territory in North America save Newfoundland and its strip of Labrador. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the forty-ninth parallel to the North Pole, now all was Canadian soil.

Confederation brought new powers and new responsibilities and thrust Canada into the field of foreign affairs. It was with slow and groping steps that the Dominion advanced along this new path. Then as now for Canada foreign relations meant first and foremost relations with her great neighbor to the south. The likelihood of war had passed. The need for closer trade relations remained. When the Reciprocity Treaty was brought to an end, on March 17, 1866, Canada at first refrained from raising her tariff walls. “The provinces,” as George Brown declared in 1874, “assumed that there were matters existing in 1865-66 to trouble the spirit of American statesmen for the moment, and they waited patiently for the sober second thought which was very long in coming, but in the meantime Canada played a good neighbor’s part, and incidentally served her own ends, by continuing to grant the United States most of the privileges which had been given under the treaty free navigation and free goods, and, subject to a license fee, access to the fisheries.”

It was over these fisheries that friction first developed. Canadian statesmen were determined to prevent poaching on the inshore fisheries, both because poaching was poaching and because they considered the fishery privileges the best makeweight in trade negotiations with the United States. At first American vessels were admitted on payment of a license fee; but when, on the increase of the fee, many vessels tried to fish inshore without permission, the license system was abolished, and in 1870 a fleet of revenue cruisers began to police the coast waters. American fishermen chafed at exclusion from waters they had come to consider almost their own, and there were many cases of seizure and of angry charge and countercharge. President Grant, in his message to Congress in 1870, denounced the policy of the Canadian authorities as arbitrary and provocative. Other issues between the two countries were outstanding as well. Canada had a claim against the United States for not preventing the Fenian Raids of 1866; and the United States had a much bigger bill against Great Britain for neglect in permitting the escape of the Alabama. Some settlement of these disputed matters was necessary; and it was largely through the activities of a Canadian banker and politician, Sir John Rose, that an agreement was reached to submit all the issues to a joint commission.

Macdonald was offered and accepted with misgivings a post as one of the five British Commissioners. He pressed the traditional Canadian policy of offering fishery for trade privileges but found no backing in this or other matters from his British colleagues, and he met only unyielding opposition from the American Commissioners. He fell back, under protest, on a settlement of narrower scope, which permitted reciprocity in navigation and bonding privileges, free admission of Canadian and Newfoundland fish to United States markets and of American fishermen to Canadian and Newfoundland waters, and which provided for a subsidiary commission to fix the amount to be paid by the United States for the surplus advantage thus received. The Fenian Raids claims were not even considered, and Macdonald was angered by this indifference on the part of his British colleagues. “They seem to have only one thing in their minds,” he reported privately to Ottawa, “that is, to go home to England with a treaty in their pocket, settling everything, no matter at what cost to Canada.” Yet when the time came for the Canadian Parliament to decide whether to ratify the fishery clauses of the Treaty of Washington in which the conclusions of the commission were embodied, Macdonald, in spite of the unpopularity of the bargain in Canada, “urged Parliament to accept the treaty, accept it with all its imperfections, to accept it for the sake of peace and for the sake of the great Empire of which we form a part.” The treaty was ratified in 1871 by all the powers concerned; and the stimulus to the peaceful settlement of international disputes given by the Geneva Tribunal which followed justified the subordination of Canada’s specific interests.

A change in party now followed in Canada, but the new Government under Alexander Mackenzie was as fully committed as the Government of Sir John Macdonald to the policy of bartering fishery for trade advantage. Canada therefore proposed that instead of carrying out the provisions for a money settlement, the whole question should be reopened. The Administration at Washington was sympathetic. George Brown was appointed along with the British Ambassador, Sir Edward Thornton, to open negotiations. Under Brown’s energetic leadership a settlement of all outstanding issues was drafted in 1874, which permitted freedom of trade in natural and in most manufactured products for twenty-one years, and settled fishery, coasting trade, navigation, and minor boundary issues. But diplomats proposed, and the United States Senate disposed. Protectionist feeling was strong at Washington, and the currency problem absorbing, and hence this broad and statesmanlike essay in neighborliness could not secure an hour’s attention. This plan having failed, the Canadian Government fell back on the letter of the treaty. A Commission which consisted of the Honorable E. H. Kellogg representing the United States, Sir Alexander T. Galt representing Canada, and the Belgian Minister to Washington, M. Delfosse, as chairman, awarded Canada and Newfoundland $5,500,000 as the excess value of the fisheries for the ten years the arrangement was to run. The award was denounced in the United States as absurdly excessive; but a sense of honor and the knowledge that millions of dollars from the Alabama award were still in the Treasury moved the Senate finally to acquiesce, though only for the ten-year term fixed by treaty. In Canada the award was received with delight as a signal proof that when left to themselves Canadians could hold their own. The prevailing view was well summed up in a letter from Mackenzie to the Canadian representative on the Halifax commission, written shortly before the decision: “I am glad you still have hopes of a fair verdict. I am doubly anxious to have it, first, because we are entitled to it and need the dollars, and, second, because it will be the first Canadian diplomatic triumph, and will justify me in insisting that we know our neighbors and our own business better than any Englishmen.”

Mackenzie’s insistence that Canada must take a larger share in the control of her foreign affairs was too advanced a stand for many of his more conservative countrymen. For others, he did not go far enough. The early seventies saw the rise of a short-lived movement in favor of Canadian independence. To many independence from England seemed the logical sequel to Confederation; and the rapid expansion of Canadian territory over half a continent stimulated national pride and national self-consciousness Opinion in England regarding Canadian independence was still more outspoken. There imperialism was at its lowest ebb. With scarcely an exception, English politicians, from Bright to Disraeli, were hostile or indifferent to connection with the colonies, which had now ceased to be a trade asset and had clearly become a military liability.

But no concrete problem arose to make the matter a political issue. In England a growing uneasiness over the protectionist policies and the colonial ambitions of her European rivals were soon to revive imperial sentiment. In Canada the ties of affection for the old land, as well as the inertia fostered by long years of colonial dependence, kept the independence movement from spreading far. For the time the rising national spirit found expression in economic rather than political channels. The protectionist movement which a few years later swept all Canada before it owed much of its strength to its claim to be the national policy.

But it was not imperial or foreign relations that dominated public interest in the seventies. Domestic politics were intensely absorbing and bitterly contested. Within five years there came about two sudden and sweeping reversals of power. Parties and Cabinets which had seemed firmly entrenched were dramatically overthrown by sudden changes in the personal factors and in the issues of the day. In the summer of 1872 the second general election for the Dominion was held. The Opposition had now gained in strength. The Government had ceased to be in any real sense a coalition, and most of the old Liberal rank and file were back in the party camp. They had found a vigorous leader in Alexander Mackenzie.

Mackenzie had come to Canada from Scotland in 1842 as a lad of twenty. He worked at his trade as a stonemason, educated himself by wide reading and constant debating, became a successful contractor and, after Confederation, had proved himself one of the most aggressive and uncompromising champions of Upper Canada Liberalism. In the first Dominion Parliament he tacitly came to be regarded as the leader of all the groups opposed to the Macdonald Administration. He was at the same time active in the Ontario Legislature since, for the first five years of Confederation, no law forbade membership in both federal and provincial Parliaments, and the short sessions of that blessed time made such double service feasible. Here he was aided by two other men of outstanding ability, Edward Blake and Oliver Mowat. Blake, the son of a well-to-do Irishman who had been active in the fight for responsible government, became Premier of Ontario in 1871 but retired in 1872 when a law abolishing dual representation made it necessary for him to choose between Toronto and Ottawa. His place was taken by Mowat, who for a quarter of a century gave the province thrifty, honest, and conservatively progressive government.

In spite of the growing forces opposed to him Macdonald triumphed once more in the election of 1872. Ontario fell away, but Quebec and the Maritime Provinces stood true. A Conservative majority of thirty or forty seemed to assure Macdonald another five-year lease of power. Yet within a year the Pacific Scandal had driven him from office and overwhelmed him in disgrace.

The Pacific Scandal occurred in connection with the financing of the railway which the Dominion Government had promised British Columbia, when that province entered Confederation in 1871, would be built through to the Pacific coast within ten years. The bargain was good politics but poor business. It was a rash undertaking for a people of three and a half millions, with a national revenue of less than twenty million dollars, to pledge itself to build a railway through the rocky wilderness north of Lake Superior, through the trackless plains and prairies of the middle west, and across the mountain ranges that barred the coast. Yet Macdonald had sufficient faith in the country, in himself, and in the happy accidents of time a confidence that won him the nickname of “Old Tomorrow” to give the pledge. Then came the question of ways and means. At first the Government planned to build the road. On second thoughts, however, it decided to follow the example set by the United States in the construction of the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific, and to entrust the work to a private company liberally subsidized with land and cash. Two companies were organized with a view to securing the contract, one a Montreal company under Sir Hugh Allan, the foremost Canadian man of business and the head of the Allan steamship fleet, and the other a Toronto company under D. L. Macpherson, who had been concerned in the building of the Grand Trunk. Their rivalry was intense. After the election of 1872 a strong compromise company was formed, with Allan at the head, and to this company the contract was awarded.

When Parliament met in 1872, a Liberal member, L. S. Huntington, made the charge that Allan had really been acting on behalf of certain American capitalists and that he had made lavish contributions to the Government campaign fund in the recent election. In the course of the summer these charges were fully substantiated. Allan was proved by his own correspondence, stolen from his solicitor’s office, to have spent over $350,000, largely advanced by his American allies, in buying the favor of newspapers and politicians. Nearly half of this amount had been contributed to the Conservative campaign fund, with the knowledge and at the instance of Cartier and Macdonald. Macdonald, while unable to disprove the charges, urged that there was no connection between the contributions and the granting of the charter. But his defense was not heeded. A wave of indignation swept the country; his own supporters in Parliament fell away; and in November, 1873, he resigned. Mackenzie, who was summoned to form a new Ministry, dissolved Parliament and was sustained by a majority of two to one.

Mackenzie gave the country honest and efficient administration. Among his most important achievements were the reform of elections by the introduction of the secret ballot and the requirement that elections should be held on a single day instead of being spread over weeks, a measure of local option in controlling the liquor traffic, and the establishment of a Canadian Supreme Court and the Royal Military College the Canadian West Point. But fate and his own limitations were against him. He was too absorbed in the details of administration to have time for the work of a party leader. In his policy of constructing the Canadian Pacific as a government road, after Allan had resigned his charter, he manifested a caution and a slowness that brought British Columbia to the verge of secession. But it was chiefly the world-wide depression that began in his first year of office, 1873, which proved his undoing. Trade was stagnant, bankruptcies multiplied, and acute suffering occurred among the poor in the larger cities. Mackenzie had no solution to offer except patience and economy; and the Opposition were freer to frame an enticing policy. The country was turning toward a high tariff as the solution of its ills. Protection had not hitherto been a party issue in Canada, and it was still uncertain which party would take it up. Finally Mackenzie, who was an ardent free trader, and the Nova Scotia wing of his party triumphed over the protectionists in their own ranks and made a low tariff the party platform. Macdonald, who had been prepared to take up free trade if Mackenzie adopted protection, now boldly urged the high tariff panacea. The promise of work and wages for all, the appeal to national spirit made by the arguments of self-sufficiency and fully rounded development, the desire to retaliate against the United States, which was still deaf to any plea for more liberal trade relations, swept the country. The Conservative minority of over sixty was converted into a still greater majority in the general election of 1878, and the leader whom all men five years before had considered doomed, returned to power, never to lose it while life lasted.

The first task of the new Government, in which Tupper was Macdonald’s chief supporter, was to carry out its high tariff pledges. “Tell us how much protection you want, gentlemen,” said Macdonald to a group of Ontario manufacturers, “and we’ll give you what you need.” In the new tariff needs were rated almost as high as wants. Particularly on textiles, sugar, and iron and steel products, duties were raised far beyond the old levels and stimulated investment just as the world-wide depression which had lasted since 1873 passed away. Canada shared in the recovery and gave the credit to the well-advertised political patent medicine taken just before the turn for the better came. For years the National Policy or “N.P.,” as its supporters termed it, had all the vogue of a popular tonic.

The next task of the Government was to carry through in earnest the building of the railway to the Pacific. For over a year Macdonald persisted in Mackenzie’s policy of government construction but with the same slow and unsatisfactory results. Then an opportunity came to enlist the services of a private syndicate. Four Canadians, Donald A. Smith, a former Hudson’s Bay Company factor, George Stephen, a leading merchant and banker of Montreal, James J. Hill and Norman W. Kittson, owners of a small line of boats on the Red River, had joined forces to revive a bankrupt Minnesota railway. They had succeeded beyond all parallel, and the reconstructed road, which later developed into the Great Northern, made them all rich overnight. This success whetted their appetite for further western railway building and further millions of rich western acres in subsidies. They met Macdonald and Tupper half way. By the bargain completed in 1881 the Canadian Pacific Railway Company undertook to build and operate the road from the Ottawa Valley to the Pacific coast, in return for the gift of the completed portions of the road (on which the Government spent over $37,000,000), a subsidy of $25,000,000 in cash, 25,000,000 selected acres of prairie land, exemption from taxes, exemption from regulation of rates until ten per cent was earned, and a promise on the part of the Dominion to charter no western lines connecting with the United States for twenty years. The terms were lavish and were fiercely denounced by the Opposition, now under the leadership of Edward Blake. But the people were too eager for railway expansion to criticize the terms. The Government was returned to power in 1882 and the contract held.

The new company was rich in potential resources but weak in available cash. Neither in New York nor in London could purse strings be loosened for the purpose of building a road through what the world considered a barren and Arctic wilderness. But in the faith and vision of the president, George Stephen, and the ruthless energy of the general manager, William Van Horne, American born and trained, the Canadian Pacific had priceless assets. Aided in critical times by further government loans, they carried the project through, and by 1886, five years before the time fixed by their contract, trains were running from Montreal to Port Moody, opposite Vancouver.

A sudden burst of prosperity followed the building of the road. Settlers poured into the West by tens of thousands, eastern investors promoted colonization companies, land values soared, and speculation gave a fillip to every line of trade. The middle eighties were years of achievement, of prosperity, and of confident hope. Then prosperity fled as quickly as it had come. The West failed to hold its settlers. Farm and factory found neither markets nor profits. The country was bled white by emigration. Parliamentary contest and racial feud threatened the hard-won unity. Canada was passing through its darkest hours.

During this period, political friction was incessant. Canada was striving to solve in the eighties the difficult question which besets all federations the limits between federal and provincial power. Ontario was the chief champion of provincial rights. The struggle was intensified by the fact that a Liberal Government reigned at Toronto and a Conservative Government at Ottawa, as well as by the keen personal rivalry between Mowat and Macdonald. In nearly every constitutional duel Mowat triumphed. The accepted range of the legislative power of the provinces was widened by the decisions of the courts, particularly of the highest court of appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England. The successful resistance of Ontario and Manitoba to Macdonald’s attempt to disallow provincial laws proved this power, though conferred by the Constitution, to be an unwieldy weapon. By the middle nineties the veto had been virtually abandoned.

More serious than these political differences was the racial feud that followed the second Riel Rebellion. For a second time the Canadian Government failed to show the foresight and the sympathy required in dealing with an isolated and backward people. The valley of the Saskatchewan, far northwest of the Red River, was the scene of the new difficulty. Here thousands of metis, or French half-breeds, had settled. The passing of the buffalo, which had been their chief subsistence, and the arrival of settlers from the East caused them intense alarm. They pressed the Government for certain grants of land and for the retention of the old French custom of surveying the land along the river front in deep narrow strips, rather than according to the chessboard pattern taken over by Canada from the United States. Red tape, indifference, procrastination, rather than any illwill, delayed the redress of the grievances of the half-breeds. In despair they called Louis Riel back from his exile in Montana. With his arrival the agitation acquired a new and dangerous force. Claiming to be the prophet of a new religion, he put himself at the head of his people and, in the spring of 1885, raised the flag of revolt. His military adviser, Gabriel Dumont, an old buffalo hunter, was a natural-born general, and the half-breeds were good shots and brave fighters. An expedition of Canadian volunteers was rushed west, and the rebellion was put down quickly, but not without some hard fighting and gallant strokes and counterstrokes.

The racial passions roused by this conflict, however, did not pass so quickly. The fate to be meted out to Riel was the burning question. Ontario saw in him the murderer of Scott and an ambitious plotter who had twice stirred up armed rebellion. Quebec saw in him a man of French blood, persecuted because he had stood up manfully for the undoubted rights of his kinsmen. Today experts agree that Riel was insane and should have been spared the gallows on this if on no other account. But at the moment the plea of insanity was rejected. The Government made up for its laxity before the rebellion by severity after it; and in November, 1885, Riel was sent to the scaffold. Bitterness rankled in many a French-Canadian heart for long years after; and in Ontario, where the Orange order was strongly entrenched, a faction threatened “to smash Confederation into its original fragments” rather than submit to “French domination.”

Racial and religious passions, once aroused, soon found new fuel to feed upon. Honore Mercier, a brilliant but unscrupulous leader who had ridden to power in the province of Quebec on the Riel issue, roused Protestant ire by restoring estates which had been confiscated at the conquest in 1763 to the Jesuits and other Roman Catholic authorities, in proportions which the act provided were to be determined by “Our Holy Father the Pope.” In Ontario restrictions began to be imposed on the freedom of French-Canadian communities on the border to make French the sole or dominant tongue in the schoolroom. A little later the controversy was echoed in Manitoba in the repeal by a determined Protestant majority of the denominational school privileges hitherto enjoyed by the Roman Catholic minority.

Economic discontent was widespread. It was a time of low and falling prices. Farmers found the American market barred, the British market flooded, the home market stagnant. The factories stimulated by the “N. P.” lacked the growing market they had hoped for. In the West climatic conditions not yet understood, the monopoly of the Canadian Pacific, and the competition of the States to the south, which still had millions of acres of free land, brought settlement to a standstill. From all parts of Canada the “exodus” to the United States continued until by 1890 there were in that country more than one-third as many people of Canadian birth or descent as in Canada itself.

It was not surprising that in these extremities men were prepared to make trial of drastic remedies. Nor was it surprising that it was beyond the borders of Canada itself that they sought the unity and the prosperity they had not found at home. Many looked to Washington, some for unrestricted trade, a few for political union. Others looked to London, hoping for a revival of the old imperial tariff preferences or for some closer political union which would bring commercial advantages in its train.

The decade from 1885 to 1895 stands out in the record of the relations of the English-speaking peoples as a time of constant friction, of petty pin pricks, of bluster and retaliation. The United States was not in a neighborly mood. The memories of 1776, of 1812, and of 1861 had been kept green by exuberant comment in school textbooks and by “spread-eagle” oratory. The absence of any other rivalry concentrated American opposition on Great Britain, and isolation from Old World interests encouraged a provincial lack of responsibility. The sins of England in Ireland had been kept to the fore by the agitation of Parnell and Davitt and Dillon; and the failure of Home Rule measures, twice in this decade, stirred Irish-American antagonism. The accession to power of Lord Salisbury, reputed to hold the United States in contempt, and later the foolish indiscretion of Sir Lionel Sackville-West, British Ambassador at Washington, in intervening in a guileless way in the presidential election of 1888, did as much to nourish ill-will in the United States as the dominance of Blaine and other politicians who cultivated the gentle art of twisting the tail of the British lion.

Protection, with the attitude of economic warfare which it involved and bred, was then at its height. Much of this hostility was directed against Canada, as the nearest British territory. The Dominion, on its part, while persistently seeking closer trade relations, sometimes sought this end in unwise ways. Many good people in Canada were still fighting the War of 1812. The desire to use the inshore fishery privileges as a lever to force tariff reductions led to a rigid and literal enforcement of Canadian rights and claims which provoked widespread anger in New England. The policy of discrimination in canal tolls in favor of Canadian as against United States ports was none the less irritating because it was a retort in kind. And when United States customs officials levied a tax on the tin cans containing fish free by treaty, Canadian officials had retaliated by taxing the baskets containing duty-free peaches.

The most important specific issue was once more the northeastern fisheries. As a result of notice given by the United States the fisheries clauses of the Treaty of Washington ceased to operate on July 1, 1885. Canada, for the sake of peace, admitted American fishing vessels for the rest of that season, though Canadian fish at once became dutiable. No further grace was given. The Canadian authorities rigidly enforced the rules barring inshore fishing, and in addition denied port privileges to deep-sea fishing vessels and forbade American boats to enter Canadian ports for the purpose of trans-shipping crews, purchasing bait, or shipping fish in bond to the United States. Every time a Canadian fishery cruiser and a Gloucester skipper had a difference of opinion as to the exact whereabouts of the three-mile limit, the press of both countries echoed the conflict. Congress in 1887 empowered the President to retaliate by excluding Canadian vessels and goods from American ports. Happily this power was not used. Cleveland and Secretary of State Bayard were genuinely anxious to have the issue settled. A joint commission drew up a well-considered plan, but in the face of a presidential election the Senate gave it short shrift. Fortunately, however, a modus vivendi was arranged by which American vessels were admitted to port privileges on payment of a license. Healing time, a healthful lack of publicity, changing fishing methods, and Canada’s abandonment of her old policy of using fishing privileges as a makeweight, gradually eased the friction.

Yet if it was not the fishing question, there was sure to be some other issue bonding privileges, Canadian Pacific interloping in western rail hauls, tariff rates, or canal tolls-to disturb the peace. Why not seek a remedy once for all, men now began to ask, by ending the unnatural separation between the halves of the continent which God and geography had joined and history and perverse politicians had kept asunder?

The political union of Canada and the United States has always found advocates. In the United States a large proportion, perhaps a majority, of the people have until recently considered that the absorption of Canada into the Republic was its manifest destiny, though there has been little concerted effort to hasten fate. In Canada such course of action has found much less backing. United Empire Loyalist traditions, the ties with Britain constantly renewed by immigration, the dim stirrings of national sentiment, resentment against the trade policy of the United States, have all helped to turn popular sentiment into other channels. Only at two periods, in 1849, and forty years later, has there been any active movement for annexation.

In the late eighties, as in the late forties, commercial depression and racial strife prepared the soil for the seed of annexation. The chief sower in the later period was a brilliant Oxford don, Goldwin Smith, whose sympathy with the cause of the North had brought him to the United States. In 1871, after a brief residence at Cornell, he made his home in Toronto, with high hopes of stimulating the intellectual life and molding the political future of the colony. He so far forsook the strait “Manchester School” of his upbringing as to support Macdonald’s campaign for protection in 1878. But that was the limit of his adaptability. To the end he remained out of touch with Canadian feeling. His campaign for annexation, or for the reunion of the English-speaking peoples on this continent, as he preferred to call it, was able and persistent but moved only a narrow circle of readers. It was in vain that he offered the example of Scotland’s prosperity after her union with her southern neighbor, or insisted that Canada was cut into four distinct and unrelated sections each of which could find its natural complement only in the territory to the south. Here and there an editor or a minor politician lent some support to his views, but the great mass of the people strongly condemned the movement. There was to be no going back to the parting of the ways: the continent north of Mexico was henceforth to witness two experiments in democracy, not one unwieldy venture.

Commercial union was a half-way measure which found more favor. A North American customs union had been supported by such public men as Stephen A. Douglas, Horace Greeley, and William H. Seward, by official investigators such as Taylor, Derby, and Larned, and by committees of the House of Representatives in 1862, 1876, 1880, and 1884. In Canada it had been endorsed before Confederation by Isaac Buchanan, the father of the protection movement, and by Luther Holton and John Young. Now for the first time it became a practical question. Erastus Wiman, a Canadian who had found fortune in the United States, began in 1887 a vigorous campaign in its favor both in Congress and among the Canadian public. Goldwin Smith lent his dubious aid, leading Toronto and Montreal newspapers joined the movement, and Ontario farmers’ organizations swung to its support. But the agitation proved abortive owing to the triumph of high protection in the presidential election of 1888; and in Canada the red herring of the Jesuits’ Estates controversy was drawn across the trail.

Yet the question would not down. The political parties were compelled to define their attitude. The Liberals had been defeated once more in the election of 1887, where the continuance of the National Policy and of aid to the Canadian Pacific had been the issue. Their leader, Edward Blake, had retired disheartened. His place had been taken by a young Quebec lieutenant, Wilfrid Laurier, who had won fame by his courageous resistance to clerical aggression in his own province and by his indictment of the Macdonald Government in the Riel issue. A veteran Ontario Liberal, Sir Richard Cartwright, urged the adoption of commercial union as the party policy. Laurier would not go so far, and the policy of unrestricted reciprocity was made the official programme in 1888. Commercial union had involved not only absolute free trade between Canada and the United States but common excise rates, a common tariff against the rest of the world, and the division of customs and excise revenues in some agreed proportion. Unrestricted reciprocity would mean free trade between the two countries, but with each left free to levy what rates it pleased on the products of other countries.

When in 1891 the time came round once more for a general election, it was apparent that reciprocity in some form would be the dominant issue. Though the Republicans were in power in the United States and though they had more than fulfilled their high tariff pledges in the McKinley Act, which hit Canadian farm products particularly hard, there was some chance of terms being made. Reciprocity, as a form of tariff bargaining, really fits in better with protection than with free trade, and Blaine, Harrison’s Secretary of State, was committed to a policy of trade treaties and trade bargaining. In Canada the demand for the United States market had grown with increasing depression. The Liberals, with their policy of unrestricted reciprocity, seemed destined to reap the advantage of this rising tide of feeling. Then suddenly, on the eve of the election, Sir John Macdonald sought to cut the ground from under the feet of his opponents by the announcement that in the course of a discussion of Newfoundland matters the United States had taken the initiative in suggesting to Canada a settlement of all outstanding difficulties, fisheries, coasting trade, and, on the basis of a renewal and extension of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. This policy promised to meet all legitimate economic needs of the country and at the same time avoid the political dangers of the more sweeping policy. Its force was somewhat weakened by the denials of Secretary Blaine that he had taken the initiative or made any definite promises. As the election drew near and revelations of the annexationist aims of some supporters of the wider trade policy were made, the Government made the loyalty cry its strong card. “The old man, the old flag, and the old policy,” saved the day. In Ontario and Quebec the two parties were evenly divided, but the West and the Maritime Provinces, the “shreds and patches of Confederation,” as Sir Richard Cartwright, too ironic and vitriolic in his speech for political success, termed them, gave the Government a working majority, which was increased in by-elections.

Again in power, the Government made a formal attempt to carry out its pledges. Two pilgrimages were made to Washington, but the negotiators were too far apart to come to terms. With the triumph of the Democrats in 1899. and the lowering of the tariff on farm products which followed, there came a temporary improvement in trade relations. But the tariff reaction and the silver issue brought back the Republicans and led to that climax in agricultural protection, the Dingley Act of 1897, which killed among Canadians all reciprocity longings and compelled them to look to themselves for salvation. Although Canadians were anxious for trade relations, they were not willing to be bludgeoned into accepting one-sided terms. The settlement of the Bering Sea dispute in 1898 by a board of arbitration, which ruled against the claims of the United States but suggested a restriction of pelagic sealing by agreement, removed one source of friction. Hardly was that out of the way when Cleveland’s Venezuela message brought Great Britain and the United States once more to the verge of war. In such a war Canadians knew they would be the chief sufferers, but in 1895, as in 1862, they did not flinch and stood ready to support the mother country in any outcome. The Venezuela episode stirred Canadian feeling deeply, revived interest in imperialism, and ended the last lingering remnants of any sentiment for annexation. As King Edward I was termed “the hammer of the Scots,” so McKinley and Cleveland became “the hammer of the Canadians,” welding them into unity.

While most Canadians were ceasing to look to Washington for relief, an increasing number were looking once more to London. The revival of imperial sentiment which began in the early eighties, seemed to promise new and greater possibilities for the colonies overseas. Political union in the form of imperial federation and commercial union through reciprocal tariff preferences were urged in turn as the cure for all Canada’s ills. Neither solution was adopted. The movement greatly influenced the actual trend of affairs, but there was to be no mere turning back to the days of the old empire.

The period of laissez faire in imperial matters, of Little Englandism, drew to a close in the early eighties. Once more men began to value empire, to seek to annex new territory overseas, and to bind closer the existing possessions. The world was passing through a reaction destined to lead to the earth-shaking catastrophe of 1914. The ideals of peace and free trade preached and to some degree practiced in the fifties and sixties were passing under an eclipse. In Europe the swing to free trade had halted, and nation after nation was becoming aggressively protectionist. The triumph of Prussia in the War of 1870 revived and intensified military rivalry and military preparations on the part of all the powers of Europe. A new scramble for colonies and possessions overseas began, with the late comers nervously eager to make up for time lost. In this reaction Britain shared. Protection raised its head again in England; only by tariffs and tariff bargaining, the Fair Traders insisted, could the country hold its own. Odds and ends of territory overseas were annexed and a new value was attached to the existing colonies. The possibility of obtaining from them military support and trade privileges, the desirability of returning to the old ideal of a self-contained and centralized empire, appealed now to influential groups. This goal might be attained by different paths. From the United Kingdom came the policy of imperial federation and from the colonies the policy of preferential trade as means to this end.

In 1884 the Imperial Federation League was organized in London with important men of both parties in its ranks. It urged the setting up in London of a new Parliament, in which the United Kingdom and all the colonies where white men predominated would be represented according to population. This Parliament would have power to frame policies, to make laws, and to levy taxes for the whole Empire. To the colonist it offered an opportunity to share in the control of foreign affairs; to the Englishman it offered the support of colonies fast growing to power and the assurance of one harmonious policy for all the Empire. Both in Britain and overseas the movement received wide support and seemed for a time likely to sweep all before it. Then a halt came.

Imperial federation had been brought forward a generation too late to succeed. The Empire had been developing upon lines which could not be made to conform to the plans for centralized parliamentary control. It was not possible to go back to the parting of the ways. Slowly, unconsciously, unevenly, yet steadily, the colonies had been ceasing to be dependencies and had been becoming nations. With Canada in the vanguard they had been taking over one power after another which had formerly been wielded by the Government of the United Kingdom. It was not likely that they would relinquish these powers or that self-governing colonies would consent to be subordinated to a Parliament in London in which each would have only a fragmentary representation.

The policy of imperial cooperation which began to take shape during this period sought to reconcile the existing desire for continuing the connection with the mother country with the growing sense of national independence. This policy involved two different courses of action: first, the colonies must assert and secure complete self-government on terms of equality with the United Kingdom; second, they must unite as partners or allies in carrying out common tasks and policies and in building up machinery for mutual consultation and harmonious action.

It was chiefly in matters of trade and tariffs that progress was made in the direction of self-government. Galt had asserted in 1859 Canada’s right to make her own tariffs, and Macdonald twenty years later had carried still further the policy of levying duties upon English as well as foreign goods. That economic point was therefore settled, but it was a slower matter to secure control of treaty-making powers. When Galt and Huntington urged this right in 1871 and when Blake and Mackenzie pressed it ten years later, Macdonald opposed such a demand as equivalent to an effort for independence. Yet he himself was compelled to change his conservative attitude. After 1877 Canada ceased to be bound by commercial treaties made by the United Kingdom, unless it expressly desired to be included. In 1879 Galt was sent to Europe to negotiate Canadian trade agreements with France and Spain; and in the next decade Tupper carried negotiations with France to a successful conclusion, though the treaty was formally concluded between France and Britain. By 1891 the Canadian Parliament could assert with truth that “the self-governing colonies are recognized as possessing the right to define their respective fiscal relations to all countries.” But Canada as yet took no step toward assuming a share in her own naval defense, though the Australasian colonies made a beginning, along colonial rather than national lines, by making a money contribution to the British navy.

The second task confronting the policy of imperial cooperation was a harder one. For a partnership between colony and mother country there were no precedents. Centralized empires there had been; colonies there had been which had grown into independent states; but there was no instance of an empire ceasing to be an empire, of colonies becoming self-governing states and then turning to closer and cooperative union with one another and with the mother country.

Along this unblazed trail two important advances were made. The initiative in the first came from Canada. In 1880 a High Commissioner was appointed to represent Canada in London. The appointment of Sir Alexander Galt and the policy which it involved were significant. The Governor-General had ceased to be a real power; he was becoming the representative not of the British Government but of the King; and, like the King, he governed by the advice of the responsible ministers in the land where he resided. His place as the link between the Government of Canada and the Government of Britain was now taken in part by the High Commissioner. The relationship of Canada to the United Kingdom was becoming one of equality not of subordination.

The initiative in the second step came from Britain, though Canada’s leaders gave the movement its final direction. Imperial federationists urged Lord Salisbury to summon a conference of the colonies to discuss the question they had at heart. Salisbury doubted the wisdom of such a policy but agreed in 1887 to call a conference to discuss matters of trade and defense. Every self-governing colony sent representatives to this first Colonial Conference; but little immediate fruit came of its sessions. In 1894 a second Conference was held at Ottawa, mainly to discuss intercolonial preferential trade. Only a beginning had been made, but already the Conferences were coming to be regarded as meetings of independent governments and not, as the federationists had hoped, the germ of a single dominating new government. The Imperial Federation League began to realize that it was making little progress and dissolved in 1893.

Preferential trade was the alternative path to imperial federation. Macdonald had urged it in 1879 when he found British resentment strong against his new tariff. Again, ten years later, when reciprocity with the United States was finding favor in Canada, imperialists urged the counterclaims of a policy of imperial reciprocity, of special tariff privileges to other parts of the Empire. The stumbling-block in the way of such a policy was England’s adherence to free trade. For the protectionist colonies preference would mean only a reduction of an existing tariff. For the United Kingdom, however, it would mean a complete reversal of fiscal policy and the abandonment of free trade for protection in order to make discrimination possible. Few Englishmen believed such a reversal possible, though every trade depression revived talk of “fair trade” or tariffs for bargaining purposes. A further obstacle to preferential trade lay in the existence of treaties with Belgium and Germany, concluded in the sixties, assuring them all tariff privileges granted by any British colony to Great Britain or to sister colonies. In 1892 the Liberal Opposition in Canada indicated the line upon which action was eventually to be taken by urging a resolution in favor of granting an immediate and unconditional preference on British goods as a step toward freer trade and in the interest of the Canadian consumer.

Little came of looking either to London or to Washington. Until the middle nineties Canada remained commercially stagnant and politically distracted. Then came a change of heart and a change of policy. The Dominion realized at last that it must work out its own salvation.

In March, 1891, Sir John Macdonald was returned to office for the sixth time since Confederation, but he was not destined to enjoy power long. The winter campaign had been too much for his weakened constitution, and he died on June 6, 1891. No man had been more hated by his political opponents, no man more loved by his political followers. Today the hatred has long since died, and the memory of Sir John Macdonald has become the common pride of Canadians of every party, race, and creed. He had done much to lower the level of Canadian politics; but this fault was forgiven when men remembered his unfailing courage and confidence, his constructive vision and fertility of resource, his deep and unquestioned devotion to his country.

The Conservative party had with difficulty survived the last election. Deprived of the leader who for so long had been half its force, the party could not long delay its break-up. No one could be found to fill Macdonald’s place. The helm was taken in turn by J. J. C. Abbott, “the confidential family lawyer of the party,” by Sir John Thompson, solid and efficient though lacking in imagination, and by Sir Mackenzie Bowell, an Ontario veteran. Abbott was forced to resign because of ill health; Thompson died in office; and Bowell was forced out by a revolt within the party. Sir Charles Tupper, then High Commissioner in London, was summoned to take up the difficult task. But it proved too great for even his fighting energy. The party was divided. Gross corruption in the awarding of public contracts had been brought to light. The farmers were demanding a lower tariff. The leader of the Opposition was proving to have all the astuteness and the mastery of his party which had marked Macdonald and a courage in his convictions which promised well. Defeat seemed inevitable unless a new issue which had invaded federal politics, the Manitoba school question, should prove more dangerous to the Opposition than to the forces of the Government.

The Manitoba school question was an echo of the racial and religious strife which followed the execution of Riel and in which the Jesuits’ Estates controversy was an episode. In the early days of the province, when it was still uncertain which religion would be dominant among the settlers, a system of state-aided denominational schools had been established. In 1890 the Manitoba Government swept this system away and replaced it by a single system of non-sectarian and state-supported schools which were practically the same as the old Protestant schools. Any Roman Catholic who did not wish to send his children to such a school was thus compelled to pay for the maintenance of a parochial school as well as to pay taxes for the public schools. A provision of the Confederation Act, inserted at the wish of the Protestant minority in Quebec, safeguarded the educational privileges of religious minorities. A somewhat similar clause had been inserted in the Manitoba Act of 1870. To this protection the Manitoba minority now appealed. The courts held that the province had the right to pass the law but also that the Dominion Government had the constitutional right to pass remedial legislation restoring in some measure the privileges taken away. The issue was thus forced into federal politics.

A curious situation then developed. The leader of the Government, Sir Mackenzie Bowell, was a prominent Orangeman. The leader of the Opposition, Wilfrid Laurier, was a Roman Catholic. The Government, after a vain attempt to induce the province to amend its measure, decided to pass a remedial act compelling it to restore to the Roman Catholics their rights. The policy of the Opposition leader was awaited with keen expectancy. Strong pressure was brought upon Laurier by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Quebec. Most men expected a temporizing compromise. Yet the leader of the Opposition came out strongly and flatly against the Government’s measure. He agreed that a wrong had been done but insisted that compulsion could not right it and promised that, if in power, he would follow the path of conciliation. At once all the wrath of the hierarchy was unloosed upon him, and all its influence was thrown to the support of the Government. Yet when the Liberals blocked the Remedial Bill by obstructing debate until the term of Parliament expired, and forced an election on this issue in the summer of 1896, Quebec gave a big majority to Laurier, while Manitoba stood behind the party which had tried to coerce it. The country over, the Liberals had gained a decisive majority. The day of new leaders and anew policy had dawned at last.