Assem­bly was ‘filled with friends’

The Gananoque Reporter - - COMMENT - SUSANNA MCLEMCLEOD Susanna McLeod is a writer liv­ing in Kingston.

The au­to­mated sys­tem on the Kingston Tran­sit bus calls out the next street stop. Thema­chine puts its own spin on pro­nun­ci­a­tion, say­ing “Bag-ought” Street. Hmm. Iwon­der if Sir Char­les Ba got would chuck le or cry out in frus­tra­tion at the odd ar­tic­u­la­tion of his­name. Although his time in Kingston as Gover­nor Gen­eral of the Prov­ince of Canada was sadly cut short, Bagot left a last­ing im­pres­sion on Cana­dian pol­i­tics.

A mem­ber of Bri­tish aris­toc­racy from birth, Bagot (born 1781 in Stafford­shire, Eng­land) at­tended the finer schools. Spend­ing less thana year at Lin­coln’s Inn (a pres­ti­gious le­gal in­sti­tu­tion) in 1801, the young man found he did not en­joy law. In­stead, he at­tended Ox­ford to earn a mas­ter’s de­gree then en­tered pol­i­tics, elected mem­ber of Par­lia­ment of Cas­tle Ris­ing, a bor­ough of Nor­folk, Eng­land, in 1807.

Chang­ing jobs, Bagot turned to for­eign af­fairs and diplo­macy. Min­is­ter plenipo­ten­tiary to France in the sum­mer of 1814, the next year, the 33-year-old was ap­pointed min­is­ter plenipo­ten­tiary tothe United States. “It­was a dif­fi­cult as­sign­ment,” Jacques Monet said in Dic­tio­nary of Cana­dian Bi­og­ra­phy, “for the Amer­i­cans kept grudg­ing mem­o­ries of the War of 1812, andthe is­sues aris­ing out of the hos­til­i­ties were com­pli­cated.”

A novice in the diplo­matic world, Bagot learned quickly in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., han­dling “the as­sign­ment with ta ct and sen­si­tiv­ity, won the re­spect and friend­ship of the Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion, and be­came well liked in the Amer­i­can cap­i­tal.”

While there, the young Bagot’s name was for­ever scribed in North Amer­i­can his­tory with the com­ple­tion of the RushBagot Agree­ment. Wish­ing to re­duce naval forces in the Great Lakes af­ter the War of 1812, the Amer­i­cans ini­ti­ated dis­cus­sion with the Bri­tish; Bagot was the ne­go­tia­tor on be­half of His Majesty’ s Gov­ern­ment and James Mun­roe rep­re­sented the United States.

Writ­ing let­ters backand­forth, talks be­gan with apro­posal to end the ship­build­ing race and to re­duce the ves­sels and weapons each coun­try had in the Great Lakes and Lake Cham­plain. Each wrote an ac­count­ing of their ships on the wa­ter, num­berof guns, and ves­sels on the stocks (un­der con­struc­tion). On April 28and29, 1817, both sides agreed:

“On Lake On­tario to one ves­sel not ex­ceed­ing One Hun­dred Tons bur­den, and armed with one eigh­teen-pound can­non. On the Up­per Lakes to two ves­sels not ex­ceed­ing the like bur­den each, and armed with like force, and on the wa­ters of Lake Cham­plain to one ves­sel not ex­ceed­ing like bur­den and armed with like force.” All other ships were to be dis­man­tled “and no other ves­sels of war to be there built or armed.”

The procla­ma­tion of the RushBagot Agree­ment (also called treaty, con­ven­tion or pact) was­made one year later, on April 28, 1818.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing in fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions on fish­eries and land dis­putes, the now ex­pe­ri­enced Bagot re­turned to Eng­land in 1819. In­vested as Knight Grand Cross of the Or­der of the Bath on May 20, 1820, Sir Bagot was then as­signed as am­bas­sador to Rus­sia.

The diplo­mat spent four years in Rus­sia. Bagot was one of the ne­go­tia­tors in the Alaska bound­ary treaty, signed in 1825. His ca­reer took him next to the Hague, Nether­lands, on to Vi­enna, Aus­tria, and then in 1841, Bagot re­ceived an of­fer to fill the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s post for the Prov­ince of Canada in Kingston, Canada West. Gov. Gen. Lord Sy­den­ham, whose gov­ern­ment was strug­gling and about to lose the con­fi­dence of the ma­jor­ity of assem­bly mem­bers, had died af­ter a nasty in­fec­tion from a fall from his horse. Sir Bagot ar­rived at Canada’s first cap­i­tal (1841 to 1844) on Jan. 10, 1842.

Bagot’s “ap­point­ment made sense, de­spite his lack of par­lia­men­tary ex­pe­ri­ence,” Monet said, “for hehad the per­son­al­ity and sound judg­ment re­quired for colo­nial pol­i­tics.… Also, his knowl­edge of the United States was crit­i­cal given that bel­liger­ent ex­pan­sion­ism once more in­flamed Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.”

Eng­land’ s Lord Stan­ley gave his new colo­nial Gover­nor Gen­eral what ap­peared to be a sim­ple set of or­ders: “Hewas to rec­og­nize no dis­tinc­tion of na­tional ori­gin or re­li­gious creed; he was to con­sult the wishes of the mass of the pop­u­la­tion; but hemust refuse to re­open the dis­cus­sion of con­sti­tu­tional doc­trine,” ac­cord­ing to John Hol­land Rose eta lin The Cam­bridge His­tory of the Bri­tish Em­pire, Vol. 1 (Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press, 1930). The task seemed fea­si­ble, ex­cept the colonists were al­ready di­vided into fac­tions and Re­form­ers were vig­or­ous ly de­mand­ing re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment— mem­bers elected, not se­lected by the monarch.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment was un­set­tled, try­ing to find solid foot­ing among many voices, while the Bri­tish Cab­i­net over­seas wished to re­tain con­trol of the colony. The Re­form Party, the Fam­ily Com­pact, the French Cana­di­ans— Bagot’s chal­lenge to bring unity and peace to Cana­dian pol­i­tics seemed nearly im­pos­si­ble. And un­der no cir­cum­stances was he per­mit­ted to sub­mit to Re­form­ers.

Us­ing all his skills as a thought­ful, in­formed ne­go­tia­tor, the Gover­nor Gen­eral put forth con­ces­sions and agree­ments with the par­ties. Fail­ures led to suc­cesses. Rather than us­ing Bri­tish mem­bers, Bagot ap­pointed Cana­di­ans to im­por­tant posts in the gov­ern­ment and courts, in­clud­ing a French-speak­ing Catholic as deputy su­per­in­ten­dent of ed­u­ca­tion in Lower Canada. “He also sus­pended procla­ma­tion of a de­cree that the Spe­cial Coun­cil of Lower Canada had passed to in­tro­duce Bri­tish com­mon law into the courts,” stated Monet. “Such ges­tures he knew would re­as­sure the Cana­di­ans that their ed­u­ca­tion and le­gal sys­tems would be pre­served.”

From his seat in Eng­land, Lord Stan­ley did not com­pre­hend the po­si­tion and needs of Cana­di­ans. Against his boss’s wishes, Bagot de­vel­oped his own poli­cies for the Prov­ince of Canada, at­tempt­ing to con­cil­i­ate while keep­ing re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment at bay.

The Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly ses­sion opened on Septem­ber 1842 in Watkins Wing of the new Kingston Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal. De­mands and ar­gu­ments from ev­ery cor­ner led Bagot to be­lieve both he and gov­ern­ment would fail. Over sev­eral days of threats, hag­gling and of­fers, a new ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil was formed. The ex­ec­u­tive was not built along party lines, and the fight for re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment was put off. “With half a dozen hos­tile com­bi­na­tions pos­si­ble, [Bagot] had fore­stalled them all, and found the assem­bly filled with friends, not en­e­mies,” de­scribes J.L. Mori­son in “Sir Char­les Bagot: An In­ci­dent in Cana­dian Par­lia­men­tary His­tory” (The Jack­son Press, Kingston 1912).

How­ever wor­thy the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s ne­go­ti­at­ing may have been, his Bri­tish coun­ter­parts were an­gry. It was con­sid­ered that Bagot’s con­ces­sions meant “the Canadas had been handed over to ul­tra-rad­i­cals and for­mer rebels who would soon sever the Bri­tish con­nec­tion,” Monet said. The Gover­nor Gen­eral was de­fended, “and in time the cab­i­net came to ac­cept the wis­dom of what Bagot had called ‘his grand mea­sure’.”

While the verve and ex­cite­ment of colo­nial gov­ern­ment en­er­gized the assem­bly, Sir Bagot was suf­fer­ing with ill­ness. To­ward the end of au­tumn, he was too sick to par­tic­i­pate in gov­ern­ment and re­signed his post in Jan­uary 1843. For a time, he con­tin­ued to con­trib­ute fromthe Gover­nor Gen­eral’ s res­i­dence at Al­wing­ton House. Un­able to travel to Eng­land, Sir Char­les Bagot died at the res­i­dence on May 19, 1843, af­ter less than 18 months in Canada. (Al wing ton House was built just off King Street in 1832 by Baron Longueil. In 1958, a fire dam­aged the home on Al­wing­ton Av­enue, and it was de­mol­ished the next year.)

No­mat­ter how­much Bri­tain wanted to avoid re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment, there was no way to avoid the sys­tem. Bagot warned Stan­ley that “whether the doc­trine of re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment is openly ac­knowl­edged or is only tac­itly ac­qui­esced in, vir­tu­ally it ex­ists.”

Shar­ing the glo­ries and ag­gra­va­tions with Bagot was hiswife, Mary Char­lotte Anne Welles­ley-Pole (born Feb. 5, 1786). Mar­ried on July 22, 1806, the Bagots had a large fam­ily of 10 chil­dren. On Bagot’s pass­ing, she took his re­mains home to Bri­tain.

A modern woman, “Lady Bagot was the first wife of a Gover­nor Gen­eral in Canada to as­sume the ti­tle of ‘Her Ex­cel­lency,’ which she did at a draw­ing room held by her, in Mon­treal, Aug. 11, 1842,” ac­cord­ing to Henry J. Mor­gan in “Types of Cana­dian women and of women who are or have been con­nected with Canada,” Vol. 1 (Wil­liam Briggs, Toronto 1903).

Sir Bagot “was the first Bri­tish states­man to bring Cana­di­ans into the gov­ern­ment of their coun­try,” Monet said, “and he thus put a de­ci­sive mark on the his­tory of con­sti­tu­tional gov­ern­ment in the Canadas.”

Re­call­ing Bagot’s time in Kingston, a plaque is lo­cated on Stu­art Street. Kingston Tran­sit stops close by - just lis­ten for “Next stop, KGH and Queen’s Univer­sity.”

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