The History of Politics in Victoria County

The history of politics in this county during the early period, while it still formed part and parcel of the electoral division of Durham. is substantially identical with the history of the great political issues which, for many years prior to the union of the Provinces in 1841, engrossed public attention, increasing in interest from year to year until the body politic, writhing under the rule of the Family Compact, gave vent to their overwrought political feelings in 1837 in the form of an armed insurrection against the constituted authorities, being led in that venture by William Lyon MacKenzie and several lieutenants, including Dr.Rolph, Hon. Marshall Spring Bidwell, and others.

But the intimacy of the average Canadian with the political history of that period of governmental oppression renders unnecessary any extended reference in this connection, either to the insurrection itself or the "Compact" to whose acts that deplorable event was directly attributable. Suffice to say that in a military sense it was a failure, being soon crushed by the assistance of those to whom political revolt, however unjustly provoked by continued opression, appeared too extreme a measure to adopt. In a political sense, however, and as an agent of civil liberty, the MacKenzie Insurrection was a grand success, as it resulted, by no means indirectly, in the acquisition of the Canadian public of the numerous inestimable priviledges attending the practical application of the principal of responsible government - priviledges long and strenuously opposed by the irresponsible Compact, who never recognized the advanced principles which have become incorporated in the political system now so highly prized by Canadians.

The more minute events of a local political nature which characterized the period under review have been found most difficult of description, owing to the non-evidence of any data on these points among the gentlemen who took part in the local contests of that political era. It is known, however, that from 1830 to 1840 (prior to which first date no active interest in politics pervaded the very few settlers in Victoria County of the present) Durham was represented by George Strange Boulton and John Brown, concurrently, and later by G.S. Boulton and George Elliot. All these gentlemen were supporters of the Compact. Elliot was a Cavan man. Boulton and Brown are below referred to at greater length. Among the notable Reform candidates of that period was Cheeseman Moe, a retired navy officer, of Peterborough, who was defeated by the election of Boulton and Brown. With the advent of the Union in 1841, the representation of constituencies which before sent two members was reduced to one, the list of those who were subsequently elected for the constituencies, including the present County of Victoria, appearing below.

In accordance with the suggestions of Lord Durham, to whom the British Goverment had assigned the task of examining into and reporting upon the political status and needs of Canada, after the close of the insurrection, the two Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada were united under one Government in 1840; the Act of Union ( which had previously received the assent of the Upper Canadian Assembly) coming into effect February 10th, 1841. The first Parliament of United Canada was elected the March following, from which date the existence of that compound of political pollution, before referred to as the Family Compact, may be said to have ceased, though its partizans waged a fierce battle, in a double sense, over the elections which ensued at that time.

Victoria of the present was still annexed to Durham, and the poll was held at Newtonville, in Clarke township. The candidates were John Tucker Williams, of Port Hope, father of Lieut.Col. Williams, the present representative of East Durham in the Commons, and George Strange Boulton. The former appeared on that occasion as the candidate of the Reform party, and the advocate of the reforms proposed by Lord Durham. Mr. Boulton was a member of the odious "Compact."

There had been a third candidate in the field up to within a few days of the election - John Brown, the famous ( or rather noted) Port Hope merchant. He was also a Tory of the pure, or rather the proverbial stripe, and as such had made elaborate preparations for the battle. As the campaigns were then conducted upon a plan very radically different from that now pursued, a brief description of the 'modus operandi' will not be out of place. The provision of free whiskey by a candidate was considered a 'sine qua non' to his success, and in order to place the whiskey where it would do most good, (?) the candidates distributed kegs and barrels of the 'ardent' at the houses or taverns of political friends, at convenient distances along the roads most frequented by voters coming to the polls, and at each of these places "open house" was kept during the continuance of the voting, which then lasted a week. The places of free entertainment were to be found all the way from the rear to the front of the County, and were liberally patronized by the 'free and independent,' among whom temperance principles were not as strongly developed as in the present age.

Another provision then considered essential to the successful and 'orderly' conduct of an election (though this idea, so far as the traditions of parties in this county affords evidence of facts, appears to have been confined to Tory minds), was the supply of a large number of clubs and bludgeons for protection against a too numerous adverse vote. Axe helves were invariably in good demand for these purposes about election times, as their efficiency in bridging over the chasm of a narrow Tory vote had been frequently demonstrated.

On the occasion referred to John Brown is said to have prepared and distributed an unusual quantity of whiskey, and provided a prodigious number of hickory clubs for use in an emergency; but noting signs of his defeat, his interest and influence ( including the whiskey and clubs) were transferred to the support of Boulton, notwithstanding which auxiliaries the last named gentleman suffered defeat at the hands of Mr.Williams.

As is too often the case, the possession of weapons led to their unneccessary and inexcusable use on the occasion referred to, and resulted in a tragedy, the like of which has seldom or never since marred the record of Canadian elections. An excess of party spirit, intensified by an excess of ardent spirit, precipitated a riot around the hustings, in which the clubs before referred to were freely and even murderously used. In the cours of the melee a Reformer named John Marshall was struck on the head by a Cavan Tory named Joseph Huston, causing his immediate death. It is alleged by some of the more charitably inclined, that the blow was struck by a slight rod upon the jugular vein, without felonius intent, but unfortunately the circumstances will scarce support this view. Upon the death of Mr.Marshall, Huston was surrounded by his political friends, and spirited away to a place of concealment, returning to stand his trial after public excitement had somewhat subsided, when he was acquitted by the jury, to the intense disgust of the community.

As concerning the voters of the present Victoria County (1881), it should be here remarked that the Scotch electors from Eldon marched to the polls at that time clad in navy blue, to the stirring strains of the bagpipes, and voted almost to a man against Boulton and the Compact.

to be cont'

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