Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
March 2006

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


George Brown


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[This text was written before Confederation, in 1862. For the full citation, see the end of the document.]

Mr. BROWN, the late leader of the Upper Canada radical reform party, and formerly representative of the capital of Western Canada in the Legislative Assembly, is Scotch in origin, feeling, sentiment, and religion, being a member of the Free Church, and it will not be too much to say that he owed his late position, not only to his great abilities, but also to the depth and breadth and intensity of his nationality, as well as that of his countrymen in Canada.


Mr. Brown was born in 1821, in the city of Edinburgh, where his father was engaged in business, and held at one time a public office. At the age of thirteen, he left home, and we believe, became connected with some business pursuit in London. About twenty-one years ago, the family having suffered some reverse, emigrated to New York, where they engaged in business; and had also, if we mistake not, at the same time, a store in Albany. The business in which Mr. Brown's family engaged on coming to New York did not succeed to their satisfaction, and in December, 1842, four years after their arrival in the United States, Mr. Peter Brown, the father of the subject of our present memoir, a man of considerable general information, commenced the publication of a weekly newspaper in New York, called the British Chronicle. The character of this paper is indicated by the title. It was far more British than Galignani's Messenger, in Paris, and was to the United States what Le Nord is to Western Europe. It was more than an advocate of everything British in opposition to everything American, and it never ceased to criticise, in a severe spirit, the institutions and the manners of the people in whose commercial metropolis it was issued. Not being able to compete with the Albion, another English organ published at New York, and then owned and conducted by Dr. Bartlett, British consul at that port, its duration did not extend beyond eighteen months. While Mr. Peter Brown remained in New York, he published a reply to Les­ter's " Shane and Glory of England," under the title of the " Fame and Glory of England Vindicated."


In 1843, the family came from New York to Toronto, under cer­tain offers held out to them by the Free Church party, who required an organ to represent their views at the critical period of the dis­ruption which added another to the list of Presbyterian churches. In the same year a weekly paper called the Banner was started in Toronto, as an organ of the Free Church party; the elder Mr. Brown being editor, for which task he was well qualified, and his eldest son, George, being constituted the proprietor. But it was soon found that, as a political organ, the Banner could never obtain a general circulation, since it addressed itself mainly to one of the religious divisions into which Upper Canada was divided ; and in 1844, the reform party wanting an organ that would be more directly under the control of its leaders than any paper which then existed, the Globe was projected. The first number appeared about the beginning of April. It was at first published weekly, then tri-weekly, and for some years has been a daily, in which form it is issued, and enjoys with the Leader the largest circulation of any newspaper in Canada. On the 28th of the preceding November, the resignation of the Lafontaine-Baldwin administration had taken place, and there being no other minister than that of one secretary, upon whom devolved the whole administration of the country, it may easily be understood, from the nature of the crisis, that party spirit ran high. At this time, although Mr. George Brown was not as practised a writer as subsequent experience has made him, and although Mr. Brown, senr., lay under the disadvantage incident to the want of acquaintance with the past history of the country, political parties, and individual politicians, the paper was, never­theless, conducted with much vigor, and for four years it was deservedly looked upon as being, in a special manner, the great organ of the reform party of Upper Canada.


In 1848, the Lafontaine-Baldwin party found themselves again victorious after a general election ; and in February of that year they were restored to power. The Globe now became the organ of the government, and as a general rule defended its policy till 1851.


In 1849, Mr. George Brown was appointed, in conjunction with two others, a commissioner to investigate certain alleged abuses in the Provincial Penitentiary. This commission sat several months, and ended in effecting considerable changes in the management of that institution.


There is reason to believe that Mr. Brown cherished the desire of one day becoming a member of the government long before he made an attempt to secure a seat in Parliament. In April, 1851, he stood, but was defeated, for Haldimand, (the representation of which had become vacant by the death of Mr. Thompson), in opposition to the late Mr. W. L. Mackenzie and Mr. Ronald McKinnon. The Papal aggression agitation was then at its height in England, and Mr. Brown energetically echoed the cry of resistance. Thereafter he declared he would only support a political policy based on broad Protestant principles. As a natural consequence of the expression of these views, his course as a journalist turned from being the defender of the government, the ruling element in which was French Canadian Catholic. He took a vigorous stand against everything Roman Catholic ; from being an opponent of Orangemen and the Orange society, he became its advocate. In the session of 1859, he voted for a bill to incorporate the order, but since the formation of his ministry, he has not taken the same prominent part in politico-religious questions as in previous years.


In December, 1851, Mr. Brown was first elected to the LegisIa­tive Assembly for the county of Kent, and he took his seat at Quebec, in the following August. At that time his position was peculiar. He had broken with his party, denounced its leaders, and being in opposition, was obliged constantly to vote with the conservatives, in opposition to the party whom he had for several years represented and defended in the press. In the western peninsula of Canada the democratic element was sufficiently strong to create a relish for almost any amount of opposition to the government, no matter how the government was conducted nor of whom composed. The American element strengthened this feeling, of which Mr. Brown became the organ. His opposition was vigorous, though not always discriminating, and complaint was made of his tendency to assail personal character. This was particularly so after he had been elected for Lambton, in the summer of 1854. The charges which he made were investigated by committees of both branches of the legislature, and although the evidence which he brought forward was far from complete, there is no doubt but that their effect upon the elections of 1854 was considerable, and that they thus indirectly tended to bring about, if they did not actually effect, a change of administration.


In December, 1857, Mr. Brown achieved a great triumph by being returned for the city of Toronto, and the north riding of Oxford at the same time; and in the following July, on the resigna­tion of Mr. Macdonald's administration, on the seat of government question, he was entrusted by the then governor-general with the formation of a new administration. He succeeded in bringing together into his government a dozen gentlemen, who had pre­viously been opposed to one another on almost every leading question in the country, but his ministry, as our readers will remember, only lasted two days. He was again returned for the “Queen City,” after a keen contest, having been opposed by the Hon. J. H. Cameron, Q. C., the present member for Peel, and a leading conservative. This constituency he continued to represent until the general election of 1861, when he was defeated, and has now retired into private life. Previous to the last session of Parliament he was seized with a dangerous illness which confined him to his bed, and prevented him from taking part in public affairs and occupying his seat in Parliament; this, together with the unpopularity of his party, and the reaction which has taken place in the public mind in favor of the present administration, no doubt contributed in a great measure to his defeat, and to that of the leading members of his party.


As a journalist, Mr. Brown has at one time and another attacked with great severity, and with an equal amount of ability, almost every public man in the country. He has not, perhaps, been subject to an unusual number of actions for libel. In April, 1854, he was sued by Mr. John White, M.P.P. for Halton, who had been charged in the Globe with having "sold his vote for money." Mr. Brown defended himself with great ability. The jury failed to agree, and there the matter was allowed to drop. In 1849, in an action for libel brought by Colonel Prince for some remarks upon the alleged mismanagement by the latter, as counsel for the defence, in a case of no great importance, damages were recovered, but only to the amount of thirty pounds. In April, 1857, Dr. Workman, superintendent of the Lunatic Asylum in Upper Canada, brought an action against Mr. Brown for having published some remarks reflecting upon his management of that institution. Here, as in the action brought by Mr. White, the jury failed to agree. The steward of the same institution also sued him for libel at the same time, on account of the same publication ; but he was unable to obtain a verdict.


Mr. Brown belongs to the class of men to whom journalism has been a means of personal political advancement. Mr. Hincks, as editor, first of the Examiner, in Toronto, and afterwards of the Pilot, in Montreal, had set the example, and in this respect both can quote as their models Guizot, Thiers, and several of the most eminent statesmen of France, who had similarly profited by their connection with the political press of Paris during the reign of Louis Philippe. Mr. Brown undoubtedly weakened his position as opposition leader for the Upper Canada section by taking office in 1858. The incongruous opinions of his ministers and their wide difference laid them peculiarly open to attack.


As a speaker, Mr. Brown possesses a robust, although not highly refined eloquence. He possesses unflagging energy, industry and perseverance, qualities which have frequently called forth the praise not only of his admirers, but also of his political opponents ; as well as a species of uncontrolled enthusiasm, which sometimes, though not often, unconsciously betrays him into rude­ness. His manner, when speaking, is chiefly remarkable for daring courage. He always seems as if he were throwing defiance on all around him. He is fully six feet in height, and he bears, in his outward demeanour and appearance, many of the characteristics which tend to make a prominent as well as an eminent man in Canada.

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Source: Henry J. MORGAN, "Hon. George Brown", in Sketches of Celebrated Canadians, and Persons Connected with Canada from the Earliest Period in the History of the Province Down to the Present Time, Quebec, Hunter, Rose & Co., 1862, 779p., pp. 769-773.


© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College