Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
June 2005

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


Robert Baldwin


Baldwin, Robert (1804-1858), states-man, was born at York ( Toronto ), Upper Canada , on May 12, 1804 , the eldest son of William Warren Baldwin and Phoebe Willcocks. He was educated at the Home District Grammar School, studied law under his father, and was called to the bar of Upper Canada in 1825. In 1829 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, but at the general elections of 1830 he was defeated, and he did not again sit in the legislature until after the Union of 1841. His ability and his high character, however, early won for him a general esteem; and in 1836 he was appointed by Sir Francis Bond Head to the Executive Council of Upper Canada. His tenure of office lasted less than four weeks (February 20-March 12), as the result of a disagreement with the lieutenant-governor which brought about the resignation of the whole council. Later in the year, when in England, he submitted to the Colonial Office a memorandum in which, for the first time, the project of responsi­ble government in Canada was fully and clearly elaborated. With the wing of the Reform party led by W. L. Mackenzie he had never, however, much sympathy; and it was significant that during the rebellion of 1837, Head confided to him the task of parleying with the rebels.


In February, 1840, Baldwin was persuaded by Poulett Thomson to accept the post of solicitor-general of Upper Canada, and in February, 1841, he became solicitor-general of Canada West, with a seat in the Executive Council. At the same time he was elected as a Reformer to represent Hastings in the Assembly; and when the governor-general declined to reconstruct the administration to accord with the views of the Reformers, Baldwin resigned from the Council, and went into oppo­sition. In September, 1841, he intro­duced into the Assembly a series of resolutions in favour of responsible government; and when the government was defeated in the House in September, 1842, it was to Baldwin that the new governor, Sir Charles Bagot turned to form an administration. Together with Louis Lafontaine, Baldwin formed a ministry-known as the first Baldwin-Lafontaine administration-which held office until the crisis of November 26, 1843 , when nine of the ten ministers resigned in consequence of a disagreement with Sir Charles Metcalfe. From 1843 to 1848 Baldwin was in opposition; but the defeat of the Draper government in the general elections of 1847 led to the formation in 1848 of the second Baldwin-Lafontaine administration, sometimes called "The Great Ministry". It was under this administration that the principle of responsible government in Canada was finally and indisputably established. Always a moderate Reformer, Baldwin found, however, as time went on, that he was out of sympathy with many of his more radical supporters; and when, in the session of 1851, a resolution favouring the abolition of his own creation, the Court of Chancery, was carried by a majority of Upper Canadian votes, he resigned from office. At the subsequent election, in 1851, he was defeated in North York by a considerable majority; and he thereupon retired to private life. In 1854 he gave his approval to the formation of the union of the Conservatives and the "Baldwin Liberals" in what came to be known as the Liberal Conservative party. The same year he was created a C.B.-a somewhat paltry recognition of his public services.


He died in Toronto on December 9, 1858. In 1827 he married his cousin, Augusta Elizabeth (d. 1836), daughter of Daniel Sullivan; and by her he had two sons and two daughters. The Baldwin papers are in the Toronto Public Library.


See George E. Wilson, The life of Robert Baldwin (Toronto, 1933).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. I, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 398p., pp. 147-148.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College