Puslapio vaizdai

clearly manifest in the general election of 1824 and in the first session of the newly-elected legislative assembly. Probably for the first time in the history of the colony an election contest was carried on in which not so much the individual candidates as the principles which they represented were prominently before the minds of the people. Nothing but the influence of a new political life could have produced this. This consciousness of a distinct issue before the electors was not the result of any of the political agencies of our time. A party or provincial press scarcely existed—Mackenzie's Colonial Advocate was only a few weeks old. No great conventions had been held. There were no clearly recognized leaders of public opinion, and there was no party organization. This movement seemed to be the spontaneous uprising of political manhood against assumptions and injustice which could no longer be endured. The result was the return to the assembly of a majority of members opposed to the ruling party and their policy, and the election of one of their number, John Wilson, as speaker, by a majority of two. This narrow majority by no means represented their influence in the House. Feebler men whose convictions were with them were not yet prepared to cut loose from the old party still in power.

But this return of a majority to the assembly did not introduce an era of political reform. It was only the beginning of an era of political conflict


power to

culminating in the new constitution of 1840. The ruling party represented by the governor and the executive council owed no responsibility to the assembly, and through the legislative council and the governor they held a negative control over all legislation. The direct advantage gained by the triumph of reform at the polls was the prevent any legislation which would further sacrifice the interests of the people. The assembly alone could make no positive progress towards even legislative improvement. But outside of this they gained another important advantage; they could express the sentiment and wants of the people to the people themselves. The popular branch of parliament became at least an organ for the clear and definite expression of political ideas and ideals. In it the people found set forth in speech what they had felt, but scarcely understood, and perhaps, as isolated individuals, would not have dared to utter. It even went further. It soon became the organ for the expression of the same ideas at the foot of the throne and before the parliament of England. It was especially in this latter way that it was able to forward largely and effectively the cause of constitutional reform in the colony.

Another and scarcely less important result of this new political life was the creation of leadership. Four men of conspicuous ability at once came to the front in the assembly, John Wilson, the new speaker of the House, John Rolph, member for

[ocr errors]

Middlesex, and Peter Perry and M. S. Bidwell, members for Lennox and Addington. Three others, the Baldwins and W. L. Mackenzie, were as yet co-workers outside of the House. Mackenzie worked especially through his paper The Colonial Advocate, and the creation of a press through which the people could be kept in touch with the new political life was another most important event of the period.

The new movement from the political side had thus in the course of a very few years risen to commanding influence among the people, had acquired for itself a standing ground and organ of influential work in parliament itself, had called to its front able and energetic leaders, and had created a press through which it could disseminate necessary information among the people.

But important and far-reaching in its results as was this political side of the movement it by no means exhausted its force. From the political point of view, many of the religious questions raised were quite excluded, and others occupied a subordinate place. But the religious interests of a people are too important and lie too near to their hearts to be relegated to any secondary place; and the party in power were at this juncture fated to awaken against themselves the full force of the religious as well as the political sentiments of the people. This was brought about by three or four acts of Dr. Strachan following close on the political events just sketched.


The first of these was the sermon preached at York on July 3rd, 1825, on the death of the late Lord Bishop of Quebec. In this sermon, preached before a sympathetic audience of his own people, he expounded somewhat freely, not only his own ecclesiastical views and policy, but also his sentiments towards the other religious bodies of the country. The main points were the following: (1) The maintenance of the Divine authority and exclusive validity of the Episcopal Church polity; (2) the necessity of a state church and the moral obligation of the government to provide for its establishment and support; (3) the claim of the Church of England to be the established church of this colony and to the exclusive enjoyment of the clergy reserves; (4) disparaging references to other religious bodies, in which he represents them as disloyal, as imbued with republican and levelling opinions, as ignorant, incapable, and idle, and pictures the country which was largely supplied with the means of grace through their services as in a state of utter moral and religious destitution.

The persecution of Gourlay and the expulsion of Bidwell from the House of Assembly were scarcely more effective in arousing the political feelings of the country than was this unfortunate utterance in arousing the indignation of the religious community. This indignation immediately found a voice and a capable leader in the person of Egerton Ryerson, a young Methodist preacher then in the first year of his ministry. He had been received on trial at the conference of 1825 and was stationed with the Rev. James Richardson on the Yonge Street and York circuit. His entrance upon the present controversy is thus described in “The Story of My Life": “The Methodists in York at that time numbered about fifty persons, young and old. The two preachers arranged to meet once in four weeks on their return from their country tours, when a social meeting of the leading members of the society was held for consultation, conversation, and prayer. One of the members of this company

. obtained and brought to the meeting a copy

of the Archdeacon's sermon, and read the parts of it which related to the attacks on the Methodists, and the proposed method of exterminating them. The reading of these extracts produced a thrilling sensation of indignation and alarm, and all agreed that something must be written and done to defend the character and rights of Methodists and others assailed, against such attacks and such a policy. The voice of the meeting pointed to me to undertake the work. I was then designated as “The Boy Preacher,' from my youthful appearance and as the youngest minister in the church (he was then just twenty-three years of age). I objected on account of my youth and incompetence, but my objections were overruled, when I proposed as a compromise, that during our next country tour the Superintendent of the circuit (the Rev. James Richardson) and

« AnkstesnisTęsti »