1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Howe, Joseph

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HOWE, JOSEPH (1804–1873), Canadian statesman, was born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the 13th of December 1804, the son of John Howe (1752–1835), a United Empire Loyalist who was for many years king’s printer and postmaster-general for the Maritime Provinces and the Bermudas. He received little regular education, and at the age of 13 entered his father’s office. In 1827 he started the Acadian, a weekly non-political journal, but soon sold it, and in 1828 purchased the Nova Scotian, which later became amalgamated with the Morning Chronicle. From this date he devoted increasing attention to political affairs, and in 1835 was prosecuted for libelling the magistrates of Halifax. Being unable to find a lawyer willing to undertake his case, he pleaded it himself, and won his acquittal by a speech of over six hours, which secured for Nova Scotia the freedom of the press and for himself the reputation of an orator. In 1836 he was elected member for Halifax in the provincial assembly, and during the next twelve years devoted himself to attaining responsible government for Nova Scotia. This brought him into fierce conflict with the reigning oligarchy and with the lieutenant-governor, Lord Falkland (1803–1884), whom he forced to resign. Largely owing to Howe’s statesmanship responsible government was finally conceded in 1848 by the imperial authorities, and was thus gained without the bloodshed and confusion which marked its acquisition in Ontario and Quebec. In 1850 he was appointed a delegate to England on behalf of the Intercolonial railway, for which he obtained a large imperial guarantee. In 1854 he resigned from the cabinet, and was appointed chief commissioner of railways. In 1855 he was sent by the imperial government to the United States in connexion with the Foreign Enlistment Act, to raise soldiers for the war in the Crimea. Through the rashness of others he got into difficulties, and was attacked in the British House of Commons by Mr Gladstone, whom he compelled to apologize.

In 1855 he was defeated by Mr (afterwards Sir Charles) Tupper, but was elected by acclamation in the next year in Hants county, and was from 1860 to 1863 premier of Nova Scotia. In the latter years he was appointed by the imperial government fishery commissioner to the United States, and thus took no part in the negotiations for confederation. Though his eloquence had done more than anything else to make practicable a union of the British North American provinces, he opposed confederation, largely owing to wounded vanity; but on finding it impossible to obtain from the imperial authorities the repeal of the British North America Act, he refused to join his associates in the extreme measures which were advocated, and on the promise from the Canadian government of better financial terms to his native province, entered (on the 30th of January 1869) the cabinet of Sir John Macdonald as president of the council. This brought upon him a storm of obloquy, under which his health gradually gave way. In May 1873 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, but died suddenly on the 1st of June of the same year.

Howe’s eloquence, and still more his unfailing wit and high spirits, made him for many years the idol of his province. He is the finest orator whom Canada has produced, and also wrote poetry, which shows in places high merit. Many of his sayings are still current in Nova Scotia. In 1904 a statue in his honour was erected in Halifax.

His Letters and Speeches were published in 1858 in Boston, Mass., in 2 vols., edited nominally by William Annand, really by himself. See also Public Letters and Speeches of Joseph Howe (Halifax, 1909). The Life and Times by G. E. Fenety (1896) is poor. The Life by the Hon. James W. Longley (Toronto, 1904) is dispassionate, but otherwise mediocre. Joseph Howe, by George Monro Grant (reprinted Halifax, 1904), is a brilliant sketch.  (W. L. G.)