The Fight for Empire Unity

J. B. MACLEAN June 15 1932

The Fight for Empire Unity

J. B. MACLEAN June 15 1932

The Fight for Empire Unity



How the Annexationists were defeated and how close Canada was to invasion from the South

IN MY last article I introduced Colonel George Taylor Denison, the third of the trio who led the movement for Empire unity and preference in Canada. Unlike the others. Colonel Denison was native-born of the third and fourth generation, and hence more truly representative of the real Canadian spirit. Of his great-grandparents, on one side Captain Lippincott, a loyalist officer from New Jersey, came here after the Revolution, and the other was English. Captain John Denison, of ll.M.’s 2nd York Regiment, who came here in 17%.

Of the other two, Jehu Mathews was North Irish, and Sir John Macdonald Highland Scotch.

The suppression of the Imperial Federation League in London left the Empire movement without any aggressive leadership until Colonel Denison took hold. There is no doubt in my mind that but for Sir John Macdonald and Colonel Denison, Canada would have been absorbed by the United States soon after.

The secrecy surrounding the final disappearance of the league and the desperate efforts put forth in London to prevent its revival in any form is a mystery we in Canada have never been able fully to fathom. (A later article will partially lift the lid.) It is well known that when Canadians refused to allow it to be a propagandist instrument for English battleship builders and war promoters, they came in for much offensive criticism in England, and it is equally well known that the Empire preference policies advocated in the league by Canadians met much opposition from foreign influences working secretly in London.

In Canada, the activities of important leaders in public and business life favoring commercial union leading to annexation with the United States, had become very active from 1886 to 1892. The majority of the Independence party had joined them. Their misrepresentations led many important men in*the United States to give sympathetic support and considerable financial aid to the movement. A letter from the Premier of Quebec, Honoré Merrier, to Charles Dana, editor of The New York Sun, pleading for contributions to carry on the work was among those captured in New York. Great American leaders like Theodore Roosevelt. Elihu Root, one of their greatest statesmen, Chauncey Depew, and several hundred others of the same type, were among those who were misled. In the light of present knowledge I do not blame them.

While my newspaper and political associations kept me more or less in the thick of the campaign, it was not

until nearly a quarter of a century later that I learned how very seriously the Americans took the misrepresentations as to Canadian sentiment, and how actual plans had been made for the military occupation of Canada “to help Canadians throw off the galling British yoke.” The then U. S. Secretary of the Navy, Hon. W. C. Whitney, announced that four armies of men 25,000 each would take Canada. As a further encouraging hint, it was suggested that those armies would be allowed to seize or have what they wanted of Canadian properties as their reward.

Invasion Planned

■\>fAJOR-GENERAL JAMES H. WILSON, a railroad builder, presented a statement to the United States Senate in which he said:

“The best and most thoughtful citizens are coming to look upon the existence of Canada, and the allied British possessions in North America, as a continuous and growing menace to our peace and prosperity, and that they should be brought under the constitution and laws of our country as soon as possible, peacefully if it can be arranged, but forcibly if it must.”

As I shall show later, this is the man who was to direct the expeditionary forces for the subjugation of Canada.

With the desertion of The Mail under Farrer, who was directing the propaganda work for the Commercial Unionists, Sir John Macdonald required a daily as his national organ, and a new paper was founded which he named The Empire. It had as its two main policies: The development of Canadian agriculture, commerce and industry by protective tariffs, and the strengthening of British connections. The capital was raised among business men in larger sums and from Loyalists came smaller subscriptions. Before this I had left The Mail to establish the first of my own series of national business newspapers. Sir John had always been very kind to me and I worshipped him. He had entrusted me with several confidential political missions.

His last was sending me to track to its source an irritating national campaign against him based on the Jesuit Estates matter. Delegates from across Canada were to meet at Goderich with resolutions ready to condemn him for truckling to Quebec and the Catholics. Farrer, chief propagandist of the annexationists, had seized the opportunity to give

them strong press support. Atkinson, now of The Toronto Star, was there from Farrer’s paper.

I was fortunate in finding at once very loyal co-operation. In the hotel which was headquarters for the conspirators were three or four maids, who, speaking my own and Sir John’s mother tongue, Gaelic, were enthusiastically back of him. They posted me on the little gatherings of the plotters and their gossip. A county judge, a local lawyer and a telegraph operator and her father—a Crimean veteran of the 60th Rifles—helped me complete the story. It led to a self-seeking officeholder, a fiery agitator, then enjoying a fair amount of political power. I íe was using this agitation to make himself a party leader. Sir Mackenzie Bowell, one of Sir John’s ministers, was there but was not helpful. I had wired Sir John suggesting that Mr. Taylor, Conservative Whip, come at once. He took hold and very quickly put an end to the fillibuster. The delegates were nearly all Conservatives, and needed only the leadership he gave them to swing them back from the thrall of the agitators.

My legal helper had spoken of his ambitions and the County Judge thought highly of his ability and character. I told Sir John, who asked to see him. Not long after he was appointed County Judge in Algoma.

Talks With Sir John

SIR JOHN had several talks with me about business matters relating to the new paper. He was particularly anxious that it should appeal to the business interests of the country, and finally asked me to take the commercial editorship until the paper had a good start. It was impossible for any one to resist Sir John, and as my brother, Major H. C. Maclean, had joined me in my own enterprise, I agreed to give a good part of my time to The Empire for six months. But I remained until after Sir John’s death, giving it practically all my time.

The Empire, due to inexperienced management, was not a

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success, «and in the course of years those When we were unscrambled I found

Imperialists who contributed to its establishment lost all their money. But it was money spent to very good purpose, as The Empire fought valiantly and successfully for its objectives. It rendered several great services to Canada and the Empire such as the initiation of a campaign for the flying of flags over all public schools—now a general practice—and the creation of respect for the flag as an emblem of the nation.

I This was one of many good ideas we adopted ! from the United States. The Empire also offered flags as prizes to schools for the writing of patriotic essays. The whole country became interested. For the first time the children of Canada had a national emblem. The flag to them represented the Queen, the head of Canada, the centre of the Empire. But, most unfortunately, the flag selected by The Empire was not the ; beautiful Union Jack but the big Canadian merchant shipping ensign with its waste of red cotton and only the little Union Jack j up in the corner. The explanation was that it was not permissible to fly the Jack except officially.

Some years later word came from London that the Union Jack was the proper flag to be used on schools and by all British citizens throughout the Empire. But the red shipping ensign is still ignorantly used by a majority in Canada as a national flag; now sometimes with a confusing conglomeration of provincial emblems.

A year or two later, after The Empire was well under way, we began to hear in our inner editorial circles stories of the activities of the Commercial Unionists and Annexationists, who now' had three important daily papers backing them. There were whisperings of negotiations, hence of treasonable doings, between them and important United States leaders. Sir John always prided himself on the high character and ability of the men he appointed to positions of public trust, especially in the administration of the law-. Colonel Sherwood, as Chief of Dominion Police, was an outstanding example. As far as I know,. Sir John made but one mistake—a High Court Bench appointment. He would always appoint an opponent if he were the best man for the post.

Consider Farrer’s Arrest

A"\NE forenoon in February, 1891, Colonel j Sherwood unexpectedly appeared at J The Empire office. I remember clearly j walking upstairs with him. He knew' I had I an inkling of w'hat was going on, for Colonel Denison had made a very serious statement about the situation, from information ! brought to him, at a confidential gathering ! of senior officers a few days before—Sheri wood told me that they now had definite j evidence of the treasonable activities of the Commercial Unionists. Later, Colonel j Denison came in, and finally Sir John himi self. They gathered in the managing editor's room just opposite mine. We learned later they had been considering the arrest for treason of Edward Farrer, Sir Richard Cartwright, John Charlton and several of their associates. The rest of the day we were all on the qui rive. Something sensational was in the air. Sir John was to address a great rally that night.

It was the greatest political gathering in his career, perhaps the greatest in the history of Canada. Four thousand crowded the theatre, and when we arrived the doors w'ere closed and fifteen or tw-enty thousand were assembled outside. It was the last and greatest tribute to the old Chieftain. The crowd was so dense, and the enthusiasm for Sir John so great, that it took him fully fifteen minutes to make his way to the doors. Men wanted to shake his hand, women to kiss him. The police allowed the doors to open just enough to admit himself and the chairman, W. R. Brock, who was our President. Then they closed for the evening.

myself with Sir Charles Tupper, who was to be the first speaker, and Ned Clark, M.P., then mayor of Toronto, with no possible hope of getting in. We went round to the stage door on a lane. A very high board fence—it must have been ten feet—had just been erected, possibly for the evening. Things seemed hopeless, but fortunately some one came to our rescue with a ladder which reached just to the top. Several others had joined us, and one after another we climbed the ladder, the generously weighty “old war horse," Sir Charles, included, and we had to perch on the top edge of the fence like a lot of swallows on a wire until all were up. Then the ladder was pulled over and down we went on the other side and found our way to the stage, already so crowded that with difficulty we got Sir Charles to the front of the platform, just as the chairman had announced that something had happened and was regretting his unavoidable absence.

Sir John, in the course of a great speech, exposed the treasonable doings, particularly of Farrer and Cartwright. The latter he said was the guiding force working with James G. Blaine at Washington. He quoted from documents, which showed that a carefully organized, far-reaching conspiracy was under way, by which the United States authorities and business interests were to unite in ruining us commercially and punishing us politically—by tariffs, by withdrawal of bonding privileges and in many other ways; expecting thus to weaken numerically the opposition to Commercial Union. Our “trade was to be injured” and our “people impoverished.” Washington was also to cause Britain to withdraw her support from Canada as she had done in 1871.

Farrer was himself in the audience. He had no suspicion of what was coming, or that he was under close surveillance of Sherwood’s men. From the meeting they followed him and his then associate, John Willison, to a near-by hotel. The two went direct to the room of S. J. Ritchie, from Akron, Ohio. Ritchie was an enterprising promoter who did much toward the development of Canadian resources— one of many Americans to whose experience and inspiration we always will be deeply indebted. He was President of the Central Ontario Railway, and one, if not the earliest leader in the development of our coppernickel resources, but, unfortunately, instead of building on a sound basis, he was everlastingly intriguing with public officials and cabinet ministers to adopt policies that were considered as decidedly detrimental to Canadian development. In consequence, for thirty years there was a running fight between the Nickel interests and my newspapers, excepting during the short period when Charles M. Schwab, President of the United States Steel Corporation, was in control. Possibly the early Nickel policies may have been considered necessary in selfdefense, as they had two serious competitors in the Vivians of Wales and a Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate.

I knew Ritchie quite well. He came to see me from time to time, bringing news of mining progress and developments in Central Ontario, and always wanting me to support him. The year before the Farrer exposure, I had been, with some others, his guest on a tour of the Nickel district. We were allowed through the Vivian properties, but we were positively refused admittance to the C. P. R. mines, then perhaps the best equipped in Canada, with electric lighting as a great novelty. Later the C. P. R. manager came to see me in Toronto to explain why they had found it necessary to forbid the Ritchie party, and to invite me to make a special visit. Their relations certainly were very unfriendly.

The Americans refused to do any manufacturing in Canada, and they feared an export duty on raw material, that is the matte. There was also a C. P. R. and

Imperialist campaign for the British Government to take over the mines as a War Office measure to ensure nickel supplies for battleships. Mainly, the American interests were themselves to blame for the antagonism they created. For many years their policy was offensive and autocratic toward Canada. The United States tariff was manipulated so that Canada received a very small part of the income from this great natural resource. In Ontario, taxation was secretly arranged to give them special advantages, and when our editors asked for information, every effort was made by Government officials to prevent it getting out. This is only part of that phase of the story. But all these doings were in accordance with and typical of the detailed plans arranged by the plotters to force Canadians to seek commercial union, as their only hope, as shown in the original documents in Farrer’s handwriting which had been cleverly captured by Colonel Sherwood. Thirteen copies had been secretly prepared for the guidance of Washington. The same policy was going on in our other basic resources—lumber, fishing, asbestos, iron, coal. Shortly before, Sir Oliver Mowat had the manager of The Mail, some Conservative members of the Ontario Legislature and others arrested for attempting to bribe Liberal members to aid an American group seeking to control lumber.

Ritchie was associated with, and apparently the secret agent of, very important Cleveland, New York and Washington interests. For many years they manipulated the United States tariff so that Canada received only an infinitesimal part of the income from this great national resource. When Mr. Schwab, with the financial assistance of Mr. Carnegie and other friends, secured control, intending to develop nickel in conjunction with steel, he invited me to go on the board of directors. I thought it a great honor and opportunity, but had to explain that because of the position of my papers in Canada I had up to that time always refrained from accepting directorships. I explained to him the treatment Canada had been receiving from the Nickel Company. He was greatly surprised, said it was most unfair, and that one of the first steps he proposed to take was to develop the plants in Canada to the highest point. He also said his associates were opposed to any Canadian representation. Mr. Carnegie supported him. He had begun plans for carrying out his intentions when illness compelled him to resign from the Steel Corporation.

Based on Mr. Schwab’s very great services to the Allies in the war—for which he has never received proper recognition—I am quite sure that Canadian nickel in such important quantities would never have reached enemy countries had he been in control at the outset of war.

It has often been stated that certain highly placed Canadians indirectly associated with nickel were responsible. I am happy to have this opportunity to say that I have never seen the slightest evidence to indicate this. It is known in Washington and London that the chief culprit was a British subject and war profiteer associated with British and foreign financial interests in London and New York. And the extraordinary thing is that Lloyd George’s Government gave this man a hereditary title "for war services.” Further, the American-Canadian interests in control of nickel resisted all pressure from English interests to advance prices or profiteer in any way during the war.

Letters confirming this were brought to me in 1919, which I turned over to MajorGeneral Perry, chief of our own secret service. In 1922 Colonel Thomas Felder of the U.S. service in Paris added more evidence of how nickel was also getting through.

Some years after the war, in 1922, Charles Hayden, a Harvard graduate, assumed the chairmanship of Nickel. I had known him for many years; we had many mutual friends

among United States financiers and indus! trialists. Everywhere he was highly regarded j for his financial ability and personal standing. By chance, we sat together at dinner ! at a friend’s house just as he was about to ! accept the appointment. We spent the ¡ evening discussing the situation. I told him of the great dissatisfaction that existed in Canada, of which he had not hitherto been aware. He told me of his plans, which were, in effect:

(11 To develop and expand the Nickel properties in Canada on a sound basis as a peace and not a war industry: that is. on business and not political lines.

(2) Fair play to all Canadian and British interests.

(3) Appointment of Canadians to the directorate. This had hitherto been opposed by the United States interests.

(41 Opportunities for and encouragement of Canadians to acquire stock.

These were the policies for which we had fought for over thirty years. They are j simply the policies that have always been pursued by all decent Americans who have I come into Canada to develop our resources and who have always had a cordial welcome. Under Mr. Hayden and his executives these have been faithfully carried out. And hence ' the situation has been completely changed. Between our own editors and the Company ! relations have ever since been most cordial and satisfactory.

In addition, the Company, which had all ' along been a New Jersey Corporation, is now Canadian. The last annual report | shows stockholders to be 36 per cent | Canadian, 19 per cent British, and 45 per cent American and other foreigners.

Within a few days after the great meeting : and the exposure of the traitors, to which I referred above. Sir John fell ill. He had feared a winter campaign but felt it absolutely necessary to bring it on as quickly as ! possible in order to bring to a head and j defeat, before they went too far, the intrigues | of the important disloyal Canadians and ! misinformed Americans. Colonel Denison, ! leading the loyalist forces, had been con| suited and strongly urged an immediate j general election. Sir John was returned with j a good majority, but I do not think he ever again appeared in the House. He sacrificed himself for the Empire he loved ¡ so dearly, but he died victorious. Ontario, in which the Commercial Unionists had carried on their most intense campaign against Imperialism, and against the Roman Catholics of Quebec as part of their policy j to weaken Sir John’s hold on the Protestants. | gave him fewer supporters, but Quebec and the other provinces more than made up the j losses. Farrer soon after disappeared, taking ¡ up his home in Washington, but making j constant trips to Ottawa.

In this campaign, Canadians finally defeated the independence advocates and the continental commercial unionists, and we concentrated our future hopes on Empire business relations and a world-wide Empire. With more experience and a larger vision, important Canadians and leading Americans who originally thought our greatest hope lay in annexation, swung completely round to Empire unity. John Willison, who accompanied Farrer that night to meet S. J. Ritchie, later became one of my most intimate friends, a great Imperialist, and was finally honored with a title from His Majesty, which he well deserved.

The fight for Empire was now transferred to the Mother Country, and it was here that Colonel Denison put forth his greatest effort and builded successfully on Empire plans put forth nearly seventy-five years ago by Sir John Macdonald and a century earlier by New England leaders, among whom were American Denison connections.

Editor's Note: This is the third of a series of gossipy recollections by Colonel Maclean. The fourth will appear in an early issue.