Bagot, Charles (DNB01)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BAGOT, Sir CHARLES (1781–1843), diplomatist and governor-general of Canada, born at Blithfield House in Staffordshire on 23 Sept. 1781, was second surviving son of William, first baron Bagot of Bagots Bromley, by his wife Elizabeth Louisa, eldest daughter of John St. John, second viscount Bolingbroke. William Bagot, second baron Bagot [q. v.], was his brother. Educated at Rugby, he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on 26 Oct. 1797, and graduated B. A. in 1801, and M.A. three years later. On 12 Nov. 1801 he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn. Entering into politics, he took his seat as member for Castle Rising on 22 June 1807. In the following August he became parliamentary under-secretary for foreign affairs under Canning, with whom he formed a close friendship, but at the close of the year he accepted the Chiltern hundreds. Turning to diplomacy he was appointed minister-plenipotentiary to France on 11 July 1814. He gave place to the Duke of Wellington in August, and was sent as envoy-extraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary to the United States on 31 July 1815. Before his departure he was sworn of the privy council (4 Dec. 1815). Besides settling the irritation consequent on the American war of 1812-14 and improving the trade relations between the United States and the British provinces, he secured the neutrality of the great lakes. This arrangement, though it was in the form of exchange-notes between Bagot and acting-secretary Rush (28 April 1817), was ratified as a treaty by the American senate, and was proclaimed by President Monroe on 28 April 1818. It has since subsisted in full force to the common benefit of the neighbouring peoples. On his return to England Bagot was created G.C.B. (20 May 1820).

On 23 May 1820 he was nominated ambassador to St. Petersburg. His chief duty was, in the language of Canning, 'to keep the czar quiet,' because 'the time for Areopagus and the like of that is gone by.' He soon became a persona gratissima with the emperor. His subsidiary work included the withdrawal of the ukase of 16 Sept. 1821, which proclaimed the North Pacific a closed sea. He made some progress also in defining the boundary between the Russian and British possessions in North-west America, though the actual treaty was not signed till 1825.

On 27 Nov. 1824 Bagot went to The Hague. In a letter to Lord Liverpool Canning says of this position: 'It is the best thing the secretary of state has to give, and the only thing he can give to whom he pleases. ... I sent Granville to The Hague only to keep it open for Bagot.' The experiment of the reunited Netherlands was then in course of trial under the guarantee of Europe. The effort of William I to assimilate Holland and Belgium in law, language, and religion by legislative force was bringing about its natural result, separation of the peoples. Bagot had no actual share in the final settlement for the independence of Belgium, which was concluded in London in 1831, but he used his influence to secure favourable terms and an effective boundary for the new kingdom of Belgium. In April 1835 a special mission to Vienna brought his diplomatic career to an end.

On the retirement of Lord Amherst in 1828 from the governor-generalship of India the post was offered to Bagot but declined. He accepted a similar appointment to Canada on 27 Sept. 1841, and entered on his duties on 12 Jan. following. His term of office was short but memorable. The province was in a transitionary state. The Union Act of 1840 had conferred on the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada responsible government, and Bagot's predecessor, Charles Edward Poulett Thomson, Lord Sydenham [q. v.], had opened the first united parliament at Kingston on 13 June 1841, but no efficient ministry was in existence To harmonise the executive, whose members were nominated by the crown, with the elected united legislature of the French and English provinces, was the main object of Bagot's rule. He acted with commendable caution. Deferring the meeting of the legislative assembly, he set himself to strengthen the existing administration. For this purpose he first made a tour of Upper Canada. He visited Niagara, laid the foundation-stone of King's College, received and replied to addresses from municipal bodies, and interviewed leading men. He failed to conciliate the extreme tories, who expected that, as a well-known conservative and the nominee of Lord Stanley, he would assure their power. He accepted the services of an advanced reformer like (Sir) Francis Hincks [q. v.], and held himself aloof from party influences.

He next turned his attention to Lower Canada and the French-speaking population. His cheerful disposition, his readiness to meet all classes of her majesty's subjects, his generous hospitality, coupled with the winning kindness of his wife, captivated the personal regard of a population who were already prepossessed in his favour by reason of their sympathy with the Belgians. The appointment of T. Remi Vallières de St.-Real as chief-justice of Montreal, and of Meilleur as superintendent of education, deepened the good impression. But the politicians for the most part held aloof. Their foremost leader, Lafontaine, who had declined office under Lord Sydenham, again declined, except on terms of reorganising the administration. Having exhausted every constitutional means to meet the views of the French Canadians, he recommended his ministers to meet the assembly on 8 Sept. 1842.

Within a week of the opening of the house the complete reorganisation of the ministry which Bagot deemed needful came, and with it opened the real era of responsible government. The more conservative members (Draper, Ogden, Davidson, Sherwood) quickly retired from the executive, and the reform leaders (Baldwin, Lafontaine, Morin, Aylwin) took office. Thus was formed the first colonial cabinet that was really representative of parliament, and responsible to it. The ensuing session was short, but was sufficient to affirm the new system. Thirty-two acts were passed, the most important of which were a law establishing a polling booth in each township or parish instead of in each county as theretofore, a measure levying a protective duty on American wheat, and a resolution that Kingston should not remain the seat of government. The strength of the new ministry was thoroughly tested, but in a house of eighty-eight members its opponents of all shades could not muster more than twenty-eight votes. From this time the terms appropriate to parliamentary rule, as ministry, cabinet, first minister, premier, opposition, leader of opposition, were in current use in Canada. The new ministers did not return to their constituents for re-election till 12 Oct., when the house was prorogued to 18 Nov. It did not meet again during Bagot's tenure of office.

The acceptance of a purely parliamentary form of colonial government was deemed a hazardous experiment among the extreme tories alike of Canada and of England. Bagot incurred the severe rebuke of Lord Stanley, the colonial minister, who deemed that Bagot had gone too far in his recognition of ministerial responsibility to parliament. Lord Stanley's despatches of censure have not been published. Their receipt proved an irreparable injury to Bagot's health. At all times of a weakly constitution, he at once requested his recall. When his successor. Sir Charles Theophilus (afterwards Baron) Metcalfe [q. v.], arrived, he was too ill to be moved from Alwington House at Kingston, then the residence of the governor, he surrendered the reins of power on 30 March 1843, after he had summoned his councillors to his bedroom; having taken leave of them, he placed a paper vindicating his action in their hands. He died at Kingston on 19 May following. His body was borne to England by H.M.S. Warspite.

On 22 July 1806 Bagot married Mary Charlotte Anne Wellesley-Pole (d. 2 Feb. 1845), eldest daughter of William, fourth earl of Mornington, and niece to the Duke of Wellington. By her he had four sons and six daughters, of whom Emily Georgiana married George William Finch-Hatton, ninth earl of Winchilsea and fifth earl of Nottingham [q. v.]

[Foster's Peerage, p. 50; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Records of Lincoln's Inn, ii. 7; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890; Hansard's Debates (3rd ser.) vol. ix. p. xiii; British and Foreign State Papers, 1815–41; Gent. Mag. 1843, ii. 201; Stapleton's Some Corresp. of G. Canning, i. 182–7; Wellington Despatches, 2nd ser. ii. 470–82; Johns Hopkins Univ. Studies, 16th ser., Nos. 1–4, Neutrality of the Lakes; Dent's Can. Portr. Gall. iii. 77–8; Dent's Last Forty Years, i. 188, 262; Ryerson's Story of my Life, pp. 305–7; Gerin-Lajoie's Dix Ans au Can., pp. 135 et seq.; Turcotte's Can. sous l'Union, pp. 110–38; Hincks's Pol. Hist. of Can. (1840–50), pp. 24–9; Hincks's Reminiscences, pp. 84–6; David's L'Union des deux Canadas, pp. 33–45; J. E. Coté's Pol. Appointments.]

T. B. B.