Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
March 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Clear Grit Party


Clear Grit Party. The name "Clear Grit" was applied in 1849 to a group, or wing, of the Reform party which was dissatisfied with the moderate policies followed by the Baldwin-Lafontaine administration, and particularly with its failure to deal with the questions of the Clergy Reserves, judicial reform, and financial retrenchment. The origin of the name is attributed to David Christie, who is reported to have said that only those were wanted in the party who were "all sand and no dirt, clear grit all the way through". The chief figure in the group was Peter Perry; and in the spring of 1850 it was estimated that the number of Clear Grit members in the House of Assembly was 22, or two-fifths of the total number of Reformers. The opposition of the Clear Grit group brought about in 1851 the resignation of Robert Baldwin, and in the reorganization of the government under Francis Hincks the division in the Reform party was partially healed. When the Hincks-Morin government was defeated, however, in 1854, and the MacNab-Morin administration was formed, the Baldwin Liberals were persuaded to support the new government, and the Clear Grits of Upper Canada and the parti rouge of Lower Canada remained alone in opposition. The Clear Grits became supporters of George Brown, and were the nucleus of the Liberal party in Ontario in later times. Thence comes the common use of the term "Grit" as a colloquial synonym for "Liberal".


The platform of the Clear Grit party was first enunciated at a convention of the most advanced Reformers, held at Markham, C.W., on March 12, 1850, and included the following planks:


1. The abrogation of the rectories, and the secularization of the Clergy Reserves.


2. Retrenchment in provincial expenditure.


3. Abolition of the pensioning system.


4. The appointment of all local officials by local municipal councils.


5. Thorough judicial reform, especially the abolition of the court of chancery.


6. A great extension of the elective franchise, and vote by ballot.


7. Repeal of the law of primogeniture.


8. Abolition of copyright.


9. The right of the people to discuss peacefully any question affecting the government or constitution of the colony.


10. Election of the three branches of the legislature by the people.

[Notes from Claude Bélanger: The Clear Grit Party was organized in the early 1850's in Upper Canada to oppose the moderate wing of the Lafontaine-Baldwin ministry. Led eventually by George Brown, it succeeded, in the late 1850's, in capturing the majority of the seats in the western part of the United Province of Canada. From then on, the party pressed vigorously in Parliament for constitutional reforms and called, in particular, for representation by population, the acquisition of the western territories and the end to "French domination". The party joined with the Liberal-Conservative party to form the Great Coalition in 1864 in support of Confederation. After 1867, the party evolved from a strong centralist point of view - as illustrated by Brown during the Confederation debates - to become, under the name of Liberal Party, the staunchest supporter of provincial autonomy.]


For a fuller account of the history of the group, see G. M. Jones, The Peter Perry election and the rise of the Clear Grit party (Ont. Hist. Soc., Papers and Records, 1914).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., p. 80.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College