Baldwin, Robert (DNB01)

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BALDWIN, ROBERT (1804–1858), Canadian statesman, born in York (now Toronto), in Upper Canada, on 12 May 1804, was eldest son of William Warren Baldwin, a physician of Edinburgh, who settled in Canada in 1798 in company with his father, Robert Baldwin of Summer Hill, Knockmore, Co. Cork, Ireland, and there engaged in practice as a bai'rister. His mother was Phoebe, daughter of William Willcocks, sometime mayor of Cork in Ireland, and later judge of the home district in Upper Canada. Robert received his education at the Home district grammar school under John Strachan [q.v.], and in 1819 began the study of law. On being admitted an attorney and called to the bar of the province in Trinity term, 1825, he was taken into partnership by his father, and from that time conducted a large and profitable business until 4848, when he retired from active practice. Four years previously he had inherited a large property in Canada. On two occasions he was treasurer of the Law Society and honorary head of the Upper Canada bar, holding office for the first time in 1847 and 1848, and again from 1850 till his death.

Baldwin's name is inseparably connected with the introduction and establishment in Canada of parliamentary government. His public life dates from 1828, when he was an unsuccessful candidate for York. He won the seat in January 1830, but was defeated after the dissolution in June following, and did not again enter the legislative assembly until 1841, after the union of Upper with Lower Canada, and the grant to the colony of responsible or parliamentary government.

Meantime Baldwin drew up the assembly's petition to the king, dated 1829, which protested against the governor's dismissal of a judge, John Walpole Willis [q. v.] This document contains what is deemed to be the first request on the part of a British colony for the parliamentary system. But Baldwin's ideas on the subject, though far in advance of those of the men of his time, were still in their formative stage. Seven years later his views were matured. On 26 Feb. 1836 he was selected by Sir Francis Bond Head [q. v.], lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, as one of his executive council. Baldwin's faith in parliamentary government, in its adaptability to colonial conditions, and the right of British subjects in Upper Canada to its enjoyment were communicated to the governor before his appointment, and the acceptance of such opinions formed the condition upon which he consented to take office. But the lieutenant-governor, ignoring the stipulation, continued to act independently of his executive council as his predecessors had done. On 4 March, therefore, Baldwin drew up a minute or memorandum of remonstrance which the council adopted and transmitted to the lieutenant-governor. Sir Francis scouted the limitations of power which his advisers would have imposed on him. They consequently resigned on 12 March. The house was sitting at the time. It embraced at once the cause of the ministers, endorsed their action, and re-affirmed their reasons. This was the earliest conscious adoption of parliamentary principles by a colonial assembly. The resignation of the ministers was accepted, the house dissolved, a new election proclaimed, and the question what form the government should take was debated at the hustings ; the lieutenant-governor took an active part in the contest, holding himself forth as the mainstay of 'British institutions' and denouncing his opponents as 'republicans' or something worse.

Baldwin took no part in the elections, but in April paid a visit to England and spent about a year there and in Ireland. When in London, he sought an interview with the colonial secretary, Charles Grant, lord Glenelg [q. v.], which was declined, but he was invited to send suggestions. They were given in a letter dated 13 July 1836, and constitute probably the best argument extant for the extension of the English governmental system to the colonial possessions. Having done all he could to avert the rebellion which now threatened, Baldwin withdrew from public affairs for nearly four years. In 1837, when Lord Russell's Canada resolutions came up for consideration in parliament, colonial self-government found no advocates. The Upper Canada rebellion broke out on 4 Dec. 1837. The lieutenant-governor sent to Baldwin asking him to meet William Lyon Mackenzie [q. v.] and his misguided followers with a flag of truce. Baldwin at once complied, and, as written authority for his mission was demanded by Mackenzie, returned to obtain it. Sir Francis refused not only to give a written authority but to acknowledge any mission at all. This message Baldwin delivered to the rebels, and retired forthwith to his own house. Sir Allan Macnab [q. v.], relying on statements in the published 'Narrative' of Sir F. B. Head, subsequently attacked in the assembly Baldwin's action on this occasion, but, on hearing Baldwin's account, withdrew his strictures, and approved Baldwin's conduct in the circumstances. The house took the same view (13 Oct. 1842).

At the request of the governor-general, Charles Poulett Thompson, Lord Sydenham [q. v.], Baldwin became solicitor-general for Upper Canada in 1840, and next year (2 Feb. 1841), when the union with Lower Canada came into force. Lord Sydenham invited him to join his executive council. The elections to the united legislative assembly soon followed, and Baldwin was returned for two constituencies. The legislature was summoned to meet in June, but, before that took place, Baldwin's own suspicions of the governor-general's conception of responsible or parliamentary government were aroused. He had no confidence in the majority of his ministerial colleagues, and he approached the governor-general for the purpose of having the council reconstructed on a homogeneous basis. Sydenham declined the proposition, and Baldwin at once retired from office. Lord Sydenham meant by responsible government that his executive should consist of heads of departments who should be solely responsible to him, and that he should in turn be responsible to the imperial parliament. As the session progressed it became evident, notwithstanding the professions of certain ministers, that the rule of government was prescribed by Lord John Russell's despatch of 16 Oct. 1839, which had not been published. Baldwin moved for its production, which was granted. Thereupon, on 3 Sept. 1841, he submitted a series of resolutions which constitute, says Alphaeus Todd [q, v.], 'articles of agreement upon the momentous question of responsible government, between the executive authority of the crown and the Canadian people.' They are not legislative but declaratory, and sanction this principle : that, in local affairs, the local ministers are answerable to the local houses for all acts of the executive authority. During the debate certain verbal alterations, really the work of Lord Sydenham, were suggested and accepted, and the resolutions passed unanimously. In this manner was parliamentary rule formally introduced into the colonies.

Lord Sydenham died shortly afterwards, and was succeeded by Sir Charles Bagot [q. v. Suppl.], who first organised in Canada government by means of a cabinet. The existing administration was threatened with defeat at the opening of the next session (1842). A reorganisation thereupon took place. Baldwin took office with Sir Louis Lafontaine. They accepted the portfolios of attorney-general for Upper and Lower Canada respectively, and became the actual leaders of the government, though their pre-eminence in the council was not official. Lafontaine took charge of the affairs of Lower Canada, while those of Upper Canada and matters common to the east and west fell into Baldwin's hands. Baldwin was defeated on return to his constituents after accepting office, but was chosen by acclamation to represent Rimouski in Lower Canada. The French Canadians seized the opportunity to express their appreciation of his services on their behalf. Baldwin and Lafontaine's administration, which lasted from September of 1842 to September of 1843, marks the first period of cabinet government in Canada.

With Sir Charles Bagot's successor, Sir Charles Theophilus (afterwards Lord) Metcalfe [q. v.], who professed his adherence to responsible government in Lord Sydenham's understanding of the term, Baldwin and his colleagues came into conflict. The occasion was the making of certain local appointments by the governor on his own authority. The council remonstrated, and, as their remonstrances were of no avail, resigned. The house which was then sitting approved their action by a vote of two to one. A session of turmoil was brought to an early close, followed by a ministerial interregnum that lasted nearly nine months. At length Metcalfe gathered together a tolerably complete cabinet, dissolved the house, and entered the electoral arena with all the force he could command. He defeated Baldwin by a small majority, and set William Henry Draper (1801-1877) in power. But Draper proved no less tenacious than Baldwin of the rights of his position, and the ultimate effect of Metcalfe's action was to strengthen responsible government in the parliamentary sense of the term, which was not thenceforth called in question in Canada.

After four years in opposition Baldwin resumed office in March 1848 with Lafontaine under the governor-generalship of Lord Elgin. The administration, known again as the Lafontaine-Baldwin government (although Baldwin was never nominally prime minister), was once more framed on the basis of a double leadership. As in his earlier administration, Baldwin took charge of Upper Canada and matters common to east and west. The amount of constructive legislation effected was unprecedented in Canada. Among the special measures associated with Baldwin's name in his own section, Canada west, now the province of Ontario, are: equal division of intestates' land among claimants of the same degree; the organisation of the municipal system substantially as it now exists; the establishment of Toronto University on a non-sectarian basis; the erection of division or small-debt courts, of the courts of common pleas and chancery. He had a principal share also in the following acts, which were of common benefit to both sections of the colony: the taking over of the post-office from the imperial authorities; the settlement of the civil list question; the freeing and enlargement of the canals; the opening of the St. Lawrence following the repeal of the British navigation laws; the abolition of the old preferential tariff. One act of his administration aroused great opposition in the province. Known as the Rebellion Losses Bill, its purpose was to compensate those persons in Lower Canada who had suffered loss from the rebellion of 1837-8, and were not actually guilty of treason. A similar statute had been passed for Upper Canada. The bill was held to be unjust to the loyal population, but it was really an act of local justice. Out of the agitation arose a movement, chiefly among the English-speaking people, for the annexation of Canada with the United States. Baldwin met this with determined boldness; nor was he less hostile to a demand for Canadian independence, a subsidiary reflex of the same discontent. Since 1850 there has been no serious leaning in either of these directions in British North America.

The occasion of Baldwin's retirement was a motion to inquire into the working of the court of chancery, which had just been established. The house rejected the motion, but, as a majority from Upper Canada favoured it, he interpreted their vote as an expression of non-confidence in him. He resigned his portfolio to the regret both of opponents and colleagues. In the ensuing elections (1801) he again solicited the suffrage of his old constituency, the North Riding of York, but was defeated by one of his nominal supporters. In fact, new issues or phases of issues were arising, and, as time went on, there was a widening breach between Baldwin and the reformers. Withdrawing from public life at the early age of forty-seven, Baldwin steadily resisted all persuasions to return. In 1854 he was made companion of the Bath. On 9 Dec. 1858 he died, as he had lived, a devoted churchman.

On the motion of (Sir) Francis Hincks a marble bust of him was placed in the assembly chamber; his portrait in oil hangs in Osgoode Hall, Toronto.

On 31 May 1827 Baldwin married his cousin, Augusta Elizabeth Sullivan, sister of Mr. Justice Sullivan; she died on 11 Jan. 1836.

[Taylor's Portr. of Brit. Amer. iii. 65–89; Dent's Can. Portr. Gall. i. 17–49; Dent's Last Forty Years, vol. i.; Gerin-Lajoie's Dix Ans au Can. 1840–50; Turcotte's Can. sous l'Union, pts. i. ii.; Morgan's Legal Directory, p. 35; Head's Narrative, pp. 50, 316, 361; Head's Lord Glenelg's Despatches, pp. 51–65; Ann. Reg. 1836, Pub. Doc. 288–300; Houston's Constit. Docs. pp. 292–304; J. E. Coté's Pol. Appmts. pp. 27, 36; Lord Durham's Report, January 1839; Buller's Reponsible Govt. (pamph.). 1840; Lindsey's Life of W. L. Mackenzie, ii. 64 and App.; Scrope's Life of Ld. Sydenham, pp. 229 et seq.; Kaye's Life of Ld. Metcalfe, ii. 343 et seq.; Kaye's Select. from papers of Lord Metcalfe, pp. 412–21; Wakefield's View of Sir C. Metcalfe's Govt. p. 17; Hincks's Reminiscences, pp. 15, 188–200; Hincks's Hist. of Can. 1840–50, p. 18; Grey's Colonial Policy, i. 206 et seq.; Report on Grievances, Upper Canada, 1835, p. 30; Ninety-two Resolutions, Lower Canada, 1834; Todd's Parlt. Govt. in the Brit. Col. p. 76; Hansard's Canada Debate (1837), 3rd ser. vols. xxxvi. xxxvii.; Colonial Policy (1850), 3rd ser. vol. cviii.; Pope's Mem. of Sir J. A. Macdonald, i. 85; David's L'Union des deux Canadas, ch. i.–vii.; Read's Rebellion of 1837, pp. 222–32; Hopkins's Canada: an Encyclopædia, 1898, iii. 28–31, 107–8; Ryerson's Story of my Life, pp. 318–41.]

T. B. B.