« AnkstesnisTęsti »
Lord Elgin in Canada.1
ARLY chapters in the history of the British Empire have as their heroes desperadoes, soldiers, men of exciting personality and external achievement; for in an irrational world the drum and trumpet play a very real part. But when warfare has died down into administration, and administration has begun to assume its more democratic forms, the new leaders, who lack the bustle and circumstance of the earlier men, make less impression on the popular mind, and the modern world enters into the fruit of their labours forgetful of men too civilized to be impressive.
Of such too readily forgotten statesmen, the eighth earl of Elgin and Kincardine is one of the foremost. He dominated Canada during seven critical years in the most critical period of Canadian history-1841-1867; but since his work was not that of war but only of its prevention, and of the creation of Canadian self-government, he has been relegated to the background of history, to make room for more romantic figures. It is time to restore him to his rightful place of pre-eminence.
The Canadian episode in Elgin's career furnishes the most perfect and permanently useful service rendered by him to the
1I desire to acknowledge the debt which this sketch owes to Dr. A. G. Doughty of the Dominion Archives, Ottawa, through whose courtesy I was permitted to read all the Elgin Papers deposited with him. The volumes of Elgin-Grey Correspondence, at present being prepared at Ottawa for publication by Dr. Doughty and Dr. Adam Shortt, will be one of the most important contributions to the history of the Empire made in recent years.
S.H.R. VOL. X.
Empire. Although he gathered laurels in China and India, and earned a notable place among the diplomatists of Britain, nothing that he did is so representative of the whole man, so useful to others, and so completely rounded and finished off as are the seven years of hard work in Canada. Elsewhere he did work which others had done, or might have done, as well. But in the history of the self-governing dominions of Britain, his name is almost the first of those who assisted in creating an Empire the secret of whose strength was to be local autonomy.
Elgin belonged belonged to the greatest group of nineteenth century politicians early Victorians their self-appreciative critics now call them. With Gladstone, Canning, Dalhousie, Herbert, and others, he served his apprenticeship under Sir Robert Peel. All of that younger generation reflected the sobriety, the love of hard fact, the sound but progressive conservatism, and the high administrative faculty of their great master. It was an epoch when changes had to come; but the soundest minds tended, in spite of a vehement English party tradition, to view the work ahead of them in a non-partizan spirit. Gladstone himself, for long, seemed about to repeat the party-breaking record of Peel; and three great proconsuls of the group, Dalhousie, Canning, and Elgin, found in imperial administration a more congenial task than Westminster could offer them. Elgin occupies a mediate position between the administrative careers of Dalhousie and Canning, and the Parliamentary and constitutional labours of Gladstone. He was that strange being, a constitutionalist proconsul; and his chief work in administration lay in so altering the relation of his office to Canadian popular government, as to take from it much of its initiative, and to make a great surrender to popular opinion. Between his arrival in Montreal at the end of January, 1847, and the writing of his last official despatch on December 18, 1854, he had established on sure foundations the system of democratic government in Canada.
Following on a succession of short-lived and troubled governorships, Elgin was faced, on his accession to power in 1847, with the three great allied problems with which Canada then confronted her English governors-the character of the government to be conceded to the colonists, the question of the recognition to be given to, or withheld from, French nationalist feeling, and the nature of the connection with her colonies, which surrenders to local feeling on the first and second points, would leave to the mother country. All three difficulties took additional significance