Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Notes: memoirs of William Howland

In the United States, it's almost a historiographical joke, the sheer number of Founding Father (plus Lincoln) biographies that pour forth from the presses every season.

In Canada we might get a new biography of John A. Macdonald every fifty years or so, but that's about it. So it's good to be able to take note of newly-published information on a minor, but interesting, confederation politician who has never had a biography beyond the DCB.

Dare to Do What is Right: William Howland Remembers The Birth of Canada and Life in the 1860s is an annotated edition of the manuscript memoir Howland wrote shortly before his death at 95 in 1907. Howland, the only American-born politician among the confederation-makers, had prospered as a miller and merchant just west of Toronto and was a Canada West Reformer in the confederation coalition. In 1865 he and William McDougall broke with George Brown and remained in what was rapidly becoming John A. Macdonald's Liberal-Conservative government. For this he was pilloried by the Toronto Globe and the Reform Party, but rewarded with a dignified retirement: appointment in 1868 as lieutenant-governor of Ontario.

The publication is the work of Michael Freeman and published by the Toronto-area historical society The York Pioneers. Howland gives, natch, a Howland-centred version of all the controversies he was involved in, but with many interesting details.  The everlasting debate on the confederation-makers' intentions for the Senate should be enriched by Howland's account of the London Conference:
During the stay of the delegates in England a question which caused more discussion than almost any other was the mode of appointment of Senators. Some Members of the Imperial Government actually laughed and ridiculed us for entertaining the idea at this time of day of proposing the appointment of a portion of the legislative body. Sir Leonard Tilley, Mr [McCully] of Halifax, Mr. McDougall, and myself were opposed to the method proposed and one suggestion which we made was that Senators should be elected for eight years and from very large constituencies from a high qualification. This plan had succeeded in bringing out prominent and good men to form the former legislative council [of the Province of Canada]. However the position and view of Quebec* stood in the way and we only got a provision giving a little elasticity by leaving it to the option of the Government to add a few of the principles. In this connection I regret very much the loss of my private papers, where I kept an accurate statement of the proceedings of the delegation. 
None of this is corroborated by the official notes on the London conference (and "I could prove it if I only had my papers!" has a familiar ring).  But the official notes are very sketchy, and Howland's memory sounds plausible.

*Where he writes "the view of Quebec," btw, I'm pretty sure he means, not "the view of the province of Quebec," but "the view of the majority at the Quebec Conference" where the appointive process was settled on.

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