The Attorney-General of New Brunswick
W. A. CRAICK
FOUR men were lounging in the smoking-room of a St. John club not long ago, when the conversation veered round to a consideration of the question—Who is the most interesting figure of the day in the public life of New Brunswick?
It was a question which none of the four had ever discussed before. It was a problem in personalities that it had never occurred to any of them to try to settle. For a time they were at a loss to put their fingers on the man whose characteristics and achievements would entitle him to the designation. Then one by one, by slow degrees and not without debate, they swung round to the unanimous conclusion that New Brunswick’s most interestingcharacter, from a prospective national standpoint, was the Honorable, the Attorney-General, John Babington Macaulay Baxter.
It would be invidious to enter into the arguments which were advanced by the four club men to prove why Baxter was to be regarded as a more interesting figure than either J. D. Hazen or William Pugsley, Premier Clarke or F. B. Carvell —to mention but four New Brunswickers whose names are familiar to Canadians from coast to coast. The point is that they did pick him out, that they did credit him with possessing strikingly interesting characteristics and that, despite differences of political opinion, they did believe him to be a figure of more than passing importance in the country.
As yet, it is true, the Attorney-General of New Brunswick has won but scanty fame beyond the borders of his own province. Indeed, even there, he has not attained that full measure of distinction which it is certain he will presently
achieve. For, be it known, only about a year has elapsed since he was called upon to accept office in the reconstructed Conservative Cabinet at Fredericton. Prior to that, he was a private member of the legislature, whose legislative experience was limited practically to the life of the present assembly. ."With no lengthy tenure of office to his credit, with no important achievements as a minister of the Crown, public interest in him becomes accordingly of the prospective, rather than of the retrospective kind. Where and how far will he go, are the questions that have been asked of late by not a few of his fellow-countrymen.
Even were he a nobody, so far as his social and professional standing was concerned, there would yet attach a certain peculiar interest to his person on account of his family connection. The Babington Macaulay that has been added to his Christian name was not a mute tribute of admiration accorded by fond parents to the memory of the distinguished author of the History of England. It was rather a recognition of a valued relationship. Mr. Baxter’s mother, who, by the way, is still living, was a Macaulay, whose father was a cousin of the great historian. The Macaulay blood runs in the Attorney-General’s veins and his ability as a public speaker and as a writer, may be directly attributed to the family qualifications for such work. If the day comes, as come it may, when the fates bring it about that he shall enter Parliament, the circumstance will be recalled and emphasized, and Canadians may yet hear a Macaulay Baxter address the House in strains of eloquence that might not shame the great Lord Macaulay himself. But this is presuming on a future that is still on the lap of the gods.
' I 'HE Attorney-General of New Brunswick was born in Carleton on the west side of St. John harbor, forty-seven years ago. His father belonged to an old Loyalist family; his mother, as already noted, was a Macaulay. They were never in affluent circumstances. Indeed, there are stories, for which the authority is but slight, that young Baxter was glad enough in his boyhood years to earn a penny or two delivering groceries and meat for local tradesmen. However this may be, it was with him a case of progress under difficulties. There was very little money to spare and yet he had big ambitions. He
wanted to be a lawyer, which as everyone knows is about the most expensive profession to which he could aspire. To achieve his purpose he did as many another young New Brunswicker, who had similar aspirations, was compelled to do, and that is, took up journalism.
There is a saying, and it is doubtless correct, that the newspapers of St. John are produced very largely by law students. If this is the case, the students are to be congratulated on the opportunities which are theirs to study human nature from a highly advantageous angle. Young Baxter passed through this dual school. By day he was a student of law; by night he was a reporter. He went through his service as a cub on the Telegraph and afterwards worked on the Sun under the guiding hand and eye of S. D. Scott, now editor of the Vancouver News-Advertiser, one of the brightest minds in Canadian journalism. By the time he was called to the bar, with the degree of B.C.L. from the University of King’s College, he was quite as well fitted to edit a newspaper as he was to plead a case in court.
If his nights were spent amid the rush and scramble of disordered news rooms, his days were passed in scarcely less exciting surroundings. The young law student was articled to one of the oddest characters then practising at the New Brunswick bar—the late John Kerr, K.C. The latter was the son of David Shanks Kerr, in his day a great legal luminary in the East, and his son inherited much of his father’s ability. But he had an engrossing hobby that eclipsed his interest in the law. He had a mania for firefighting. As a young man he had joined the fire brigade, which was then a volunteer organization. When it passed from the volunteer to the permanent stage, he continued his connection with it and eventually became Fire Chief of the city. It was an unusual combination, it is true, but John Kerr liked the excitement of directing operations at a fire far more than he did the arguing of a case "before a judge.
Under this fire-fighting lawyer, young Baxter received his grounding in the law and doubtless he cherishes recollections of occasions when the peace of the office was disturbed by an alarm of fire and his preceptor would have to rush off to take command of the brigade. Between the two—the newspaper on the one hand and the Fire Chief on the other—his progress towards the bar was surely performed in a more unusual manner than is generally the case.
THERE are many evidences to prove that John Baxter has become a highly successful lawyer. For one thing he
A Sketch of an Outstanding Figure in Maritime Politics
has, according to popular repute, amassed a neat little fortune as the direct fruit of his work as solicitor and counsel during the twenty-five years that he has been in practice. For another, he enjoys the distinction of being a King’s Counsel. A third proof of his high standing in the profession might be found in the circumstance that he was selected some years ago to deliver lectures to the Law School of King’s College, an institution which honored him last year with the degree of D.C.L. in recognition of his valuable services to the school. Further, his election three years ago as president of the Barristers’ Society of the Province demonstrates the regard in which he is held by the profession at large.
To an endowment of brains, Mr. Baxter has added a great capacity for work and a driving ambition to excel. He had a rather unusual upbringing. Educated largely at home, he was subjected to maternal restrictions as a boy that prevented him from mingling to any extent with other boys. The capacity for work was greatly augmented, while the capacity for fun was diminished. He might, had he been of weaker character, have eventually swung to the opposite pole but devotion to his mother and respect for his mother’s wishes have always been strong with him and he has moved steadily along the path of duty and application, into which his steps were set as a boy. He is to-day a man, deeply learned in the law, quite as much because of hard, persistent work as on account of intellectual brilliance.
Politics as a stepping-stone to distinction early occupied his attention. At the age of twenty-four he sought and gained admission to the City Council and for many years served his home district as an alderman. As in the case of everything he has taken up, he mastered each detail of the municipal work as it arose and became thoroughly posted on its every feature. By this means he attained a local reputation for ability and devotion to duty, an object which he doubtless had in mind, when he began. Then, leaving the Council, he succeeded to the office of Recorder, or city solicitor. Next one finds him essaying to enter the Legislature. A bye-election was called in December, 1911, to fill a vacancy in the representation of the County of St. John. He offered himself for the position and was elected by acclamation. The following year a general election took place. He was again a candidate and, after a contest, was returned at the head of the poll. Finally, his selection as Attorney-General, following the reconstruction of the cabinet after the retirement of the late Premier, Hon. J. K. Flemming, has advanced him to a
position where he begins to loom up as a figure of some consequence on the provincial horizon.
"VX/’HAT is his type? In some respects, ’ ’ Baxter of New Brunswick resembles Cross of Alberta and Premier Bowser of British Columbia, who was Attorney-General of that province for some years. He is deep; he works silently; he does not show his hand. He is content to keep his own counsel and to follow his own course in his own way. And, undoubtedly, he wields great power in the Conservative party in the province.
Very few people really know the Attorney-General intimately. Even his friends admit that there is an inner chamber of his mind to which they have never been admitted. Not that he is lacking in geniality, in friendliness or in kindness, but they have never been able to solve the problem of his meaning or his purposes. He is so reserved that there is no telling what he would be at.
In appearance, Mr. Baxter is prepossessing. He has a good figure, a stalwart bearing, a pleasant face and an agreeable voice. His manner is courteous. He has had military training and carries himself well. He wants to be popular and does his best to prove himself genial and approachable, but he is handicapped by the atmosphere of reserve in which he has become accustomed to move. Unless he can break this down and open up to his fellowmen, it is hardly likely that he will ever be able to achieve real popularity. Such success as he will win must come through sheer merit, unaided by the helping hand of good fellowship.
As a public speaker the Attorney-General has few, if any, peers in New Brunswick. The story goes that as a youth, one of his “stunts” was to attend Sunday School entertainments and recite pieces. He had quite a reputation, especially as a reader of Scotch selections, and his rendering of the Scottie Airlie stuff from Grip was very popular. The facility of speech which such work gave him and the confidence in himself which it imparted, have since stood him in good stead. He can orate vigorously and convincingly, and as a platform artist is frequently compared to the Hon. Arthur Meighen.
O PECULATION as to what the future ^ holds in store for him is divided, but all who know him unite in the belief that he will go far. There are two directions in which he may advance. Recently, it was rumored that the Hon. J. D. Hazen would likely relinquish his portfolio at Ottawa and take a judgeship. As his probable successor, Mr. Baxter is generally regarded as a strong favorite. He is
politically the party’s strongest man in St. John, and that means virtually in the province. New Brunswick must have representation in the cabinet, and the belief is that no more advantageous choice could be made than the Attorney-General.
However, the Minister of Marine may not resign, and so long as he holds office there will be no change in this direction. What is regarded as a much more likely move is that Mr. Baxter will succeed to the Premiership of the Province. The present Premier, Hon. Mr. Clarke, is not physically strong. He was said to have accepted the task of forming a Government much against his will. He was prevailed on as the senior member of the old Government to undertake the duty, but he would be glad to be relieved. The possibility of his withdrawal before the next general election is quite likely, and, if he does step out, there is every reason to predict that the Attorney-General will step
Of course, Mr. Baxter has his enemies and his detractors; nor is this surprising when one recalls the bitterness with which political warfare is waged in New Brunswick. A man, who has watched his career very closely, expressed his regret that the Attorney-General should consider it necessary to stoop to the use of petty partisan methods to achieve his ends. “Baxter has a great chance,” said he. “He has the ability to make himself a first-rate administrator. Yet he seems to fear that unless he schemes and pulls wires and plays the game of politics for all it is worth, he will fail. Such a course fills the mind of the independent electorate with suspicion. It should not be necessary. If he would only come out into the open and go in for big policies, dropping ward politics, he would soon find himself in an invincible position. I am hoping that some day he will shake himself clear of the encumbrances that he has strung about his position.”
Mr. Baxter wields a good deal of political power in an impersonal way through the St. John Standard, of which he is one of the principal owners. His early training in journalism has given him a fondness for newspaper work which he still indulges. If he is in St. John and his legal duties permit, he spends his evenings in the editorial sanctum of the Stayidard, supervising its production and possibly penning an editorial or two himself for the next day’s issue. It is work he delights in and, having a good command of English and a ready style, he can make himself a useful adjunct to the staff.
As a young man, he took a commission as lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment of Canadian Garrison Artillery and rose to be its commanding officer in 1907. The only book which he has as yet written has to do with the history of the regiment, being an account of its existence from 1793 down to 1896. This liking for historical research is one of his characteristics, and he takes considerable interest in acquiring information about the early life of New Brunswick.