A Blupete Biography Page

Political Struggles , Part 9 to the Life & Works of
Sir John Wentworth

During most of the years when Wentworth was the governor in Nova Scotia, there was a struggle between him, in his assertion of the prerogative rights of the Crown, and the House containing the elected representatives of the people. As Margaret Ells wrote: "A constitutional struggle typical of colonial legislatures ensued, which culminated in an attack on the right of the house to determine contested elections. When the English crown lawyers [located in London] gave their unqualified opinion in favour of the House, the victory of the 'democratic' elements in the legislature was as complete as the humiliation of the governor and council."26 This struggle, which is to be taken up at another place, really boiled down to the struggle between two persons: John Wentworth and William Cottnam Tonge.
"Tongue's policy was often against the interests of the governor's clique, which increasingly dominated the council. The only councilors who attended regularly were residents of Halifax, most of whom were closely associated with mercantile interests as they were with the provincial administration. Tonge identified himself with the country and raised the ire of Halifax by proposing taxation of absentee landlords, and anti-smuggling laws, and advocating high taxes, an extended programme of road building, and other expenditures which Haligonians considered opposed to their interests. The reform party was led by Tonge; in 1803 Wentworth described it as 'endeavouring to create dissensions with a view to obtain an elective Legislature council.' It has been shown that the council then consisted of Wentworth's friends and the ultra conservative Croke, a combination as antipathetic to Tonge and his radical party as darkness to light. A clash was inevitable."27
The last election in Nova Scotia to have occurred before Wentworth's appointment was that which had brought about the Sixth Assembly which existed between 1785 through to 1793.28 On March 20th, 1793, the Seventh Assembly came into being. This assembly sat for a total of seven sessions over its six-year life (1793-99). And so, we are brought to the election of 1799, one which was to be hotly contested and which saw the birth of the party system in Nova Scotia.

In the days under review, elections were called by the governor after dissolving the existing assembly. The time of the year for the new election was predictable; it was to be in the fall of the year, after the crops were in and before the snow started to accumulate. An election did not back then occur in one day, but rather extended over a number of days. It would appear that a poll traveled from one part of the province to another. The election of 1799 commenced at Halifax on Monday, 18 November, at 11, A.M., and closed there on Saturday, the 23rd. Back then the voters were adult men who owned real property, the so called freeholders.29 During the days leading up to them the province split itself into two camps -- those at Halifax who represented the mercantile interests and the provincial administration, and those outside of Halifax. I quote Wentworth's biographer, Brian Cuthbertson:

"The 1799 election saw the birth of political parties in Nova Scotia; candidates in Colchester and Pictou districts (the two were then part of Halifax County) combined to challenge what they angrily called the 'Government or Court Party' ... The Court Party could generally be relied upon to support both Wentworth's wishes and those of Halifax's mercantile community. ... There had even been talk of moving the capital from Halifax to the more central rural retreat of Windsor. ... At Tonge's urging James Fulton, a prosperous farmer in Londonderry township, and Edward Mortimer, the wealthiest merchant and landowner in Pictou, determined to run and challenge the Court party's control over the county's representation. With Tonge, they formed the nucleus of what became called the Country Party ..."30
As a result of the 1799 election, the "Country" (or "Reform") Party was to dominate the elected assembly at Halifax. Governor Wentworth, however, thought that he and his friends should just continue along with their outdated notion31 that the prerogative rights of the crown, as Wentworth represented, were not to be affected by the resolutions of the elected assembly. To Wentworth, the result of the 1799 election came about, as he inveighed, because of popular meetings "convened in the country [and] composed of uneducated tradesmen, labourers and farmers, who, from the nature of their industry, cannot possibly have any real information - who are persuaded to sign or make their mark to anything, often without knowing the contents, and almost always deceived in its objects and consequences."32 And so we see, on the surface, a great fight between the appointed governor and the elected assembly; a fight, in fact, between two powerful and moving individuals, Wentworth and Tonge.33

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Peter Landry
2012

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