William lyon mackenzie
William lyon mackenzie
William Lyon Mackenzie is remembered in history not only for the offices he held, but also for his belief in the natural rights of man as expressed in the 1837 Rebellion to reform the government of Upper Canada and dedication towards bringing responsible government. However, a closer look will reveal that Mackenzie's role was insignificant in the introduction of responsible government in Upper Canada. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 406)
Born on March 12 1795 at Springfield, Dundee, Scotland. Mackenzie is one of history's most frequently misunderstood figures of all time. Only if the man and the legend are separated can one understand his role in history. As a legend, Mackenzie has a role and importance that Mackenzie the man could never achieve. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 406) This becomes evident when looking at his irresponsible leadership, through examining his ignorant behavior, and a thorough analysis of responsible government and its origin in Upper Canada. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 406)
In his early years, Mackenzie led a dissipated life of wondering among the streets and was reduced to booze and gambling. At an age of 17 to 21, he claimed that he had given up on drinking and gambling. On July 17, 1814, his illegitimate son was born. What he had done to Isabel Reid, mother of his son, was a sinful deed. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 407) He did not assume responsibility for the child; he abandoned his son and his mother-Elizabeth. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 407)
This exceptional horrid flaw in his character was carried on into his career later on as a mayor. Mackenzie was named Toronto's first mayor by his fellow councillors, defeating John Rolph. As mayor, Mackenzie was both head of council and chief magistrate for Toronto. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 500) However, despite his definite influence on the city, he could not gain the support of the public. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 500) The city was deeply in debt and due to his inadequate assessment, he failed to realize the city needed many factories. Mackenzie failed to apply himself to solving the city's problems. Instead he spent his time on his own causes and concentrated on preparing for the next provincial election. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 500) These behavioral patterns can be seen through out his career. Parallels can be drawn to many aspects of his role in history, which reveals that he can be labeled as irresponsible.
Moreover, besides his irresponsible character flaw, Mackenzie did not have a thorough understanding of how the government worked. Although he is documented in the history books as a flawless heroic figure, this is an exaggerated and inaccurate viewpoint. In fact, Mackenzie never clearly understood the basic principles of responsible government by which the executive would carry out the wishes of the elected government that would only hold office as long as it retained the support of the people's elected representatives. Thus, when the government failed to address the long series of grievances that he listed, Mackenzie began to call for the independence of Upper Canada. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 504) The attempt to reform the government in Upper Canada was grim when considering the fact that the leader of the rebellion wasn't sure what he wanted to change. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 503) One may think that, because of the rebellions in Upper Canada, he was accountable for the on set of responsible government, however his heroic image should be revoked since he did not bring upon or had any influential role in the introduction of responsible government. ("Mackenzie" 1976: 505) He had no clue what aspect of the government to change; Mackenzie didn't understand what responsible government was.
Attempts to obtain responsible government by means of force were impossible because the Rebels did not have enough power; it required a higher power. The sovereign power to bring change to the governments in both Upper and Lower Canada resided with a sovereign state, the British Empire. The notion that Mackenzie had initiated responsible government is inadmissible. Moderate reformers at the time, presented the issues to the Colonial Secretary, along with foregoing legislative procedures, to achieve responsible government. Through Mackenzie's unnecessary efforts, such as the Rebellion in 1837, he actually set back the onset of responsible government. After Mackenzie's rebellion, nothing resulted, until 12 years later. Lord Durham reviewed the problems in Upper Canada and wrote the infamous report in 1839. That was when it was suggested there should be a change in how the government in Upper Canada should be governed, by the people. Despite Durham's Report, responsible government did not come until 1849. Why the delay? The most common error people make, but condone to realize, are that they initially assume what they think is correct. The delay was no coincidence; there were specific reasons. The reason for the 10-year delay was not due to the process, but rather a change in a higher power, namely the governor-general. Even after Mackenzie's rebellion, there had been no change. Instead, a higher authority, the Colonial Secretary in Britain, achieved responsible government for Upper Canada. Without the Colonial Secretary approving the notion for reform, Upper Canada would never get responsible government. This was the case because the governor general in Upper Canada, or any other British colony for that matter, listens to the Colonial Secretary. The Colonial Secretary's instructions are just as powerful as the King's are. Thus, it is understandable that Mackenzie's efforts, clearly displayed in his rebellion, were inadmissible. Therefore, one can see that only a higher authority had the ability to reform government; Mackenzie or not, it did not matter.
After Durham, several other governor-generals were appointed to govern Upper Canada. The most common reason for an appointment of a new governor general was that they often died. First, there was Sydenham. (Finn 1999) He felt that he was only responsible to the Colonial Secretary in Britain and not the people. He did not favor responsible government. After Sydenham's death, Bagot took over and like Sydenham, he too did not favor responsible government but attempted to get along with the people. Bagot dies soon after. Metcalf assumes the position of governor general. (Finn 1999) He was instructed by Britain not to give the people responsible government. He did as he was told, but it was not long before he died too. (Finn 1999)
In 1846, a new governor general was appointed for Canada after Metcalf's death. He was Lord Elgin, the son-in-law of Lord Durham. (Finn 1999) He shared many of Lord Durham's ideas about how the colonies should be allowed to govern themselves. He believed in the idea of responsible government. (Finn 1999)
Over in Britain, Lord Grey assumed the position of Colonial Secretary. He was the Colonial Secretary that controlled what the governor general in Canada was allowed to do or not do. (Finn 1999) Grey was reform minded. He came to power as a result of the Liberals winning 1845 election in England. Responsible government was Grey's decision to allow the colonies to govern themselves. (Finn 1999) As a Colonial Secretary, he reserves the right to order Elgin to listen to the people. Moreover, in the election of 1848, more Reformers than Tories were elected to the Assembly. Therefore, Lord Elgin asked the Reform leaders, Robert Baldwin and Louis Lafontaine, to recommend which elected officials should advise him. It is obvious that they chose members of their Reform party in the Assembly. (Finn 1999) Lord Elgin promised that he would take their advice as long as the Reformers held a majority in the Assembly. Elgin did as he was told, by Grey. (Finn 1999) He listened to the people, and responsible government was achieved. This displays perfectly how reform was only eventually attained through a higher power, and not that of rebellions led by Mackenzie.
Through an extensive analysis of Mackenzie's role in Canadian history, one can see that Mackenzie is not what he seems to be portrayed as in documentations. A legend is one thing, but what really happened is what is important. Mackenzie, is generally considered an agitator that did not bring responsible government. Hence, as a concluding notion, it is understandable that: "Mackenzie was not a hero, by far!"