The struggle for Responsible Government in Newfoundland, 1846-1855

Wells, Elizabeth A. (1966) The struggle for Responsible Government in Newfoundland, 1846-1855. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Newfoundland Liberals, because they lacked dynamic leadership when the Whigs were granting responsible government to the neighbouring colonies, had to wait until 1855 for their share of power and patronage. The 1840’s in Newfoundland were a period of political apathy. Under the amalgamated system Governor Harvey maintained harmony and weakened party ties by distributing patronage to both parties, a policy continued after the restoration of the bicameral system, by his successor, Sir Gaspard LeMarchant. Thus, until 1850, the Liberals were lulled into silence by the inducements of office, and political calm prevailed. -- Eventually economic discontent gave rise to political excitement which, after 1850, centred around the question of responsible government. By 1852 the Liberals were threatening to cut off supply, and denominational strife was as bitter as it had been in the 1830’s. The reason for this renewal of politics was the rise to prominence of Philip Francis Little, a young Roman Catholic lawyer who entered politics in 1850 to find a few straggling reformers dissatisfied with the exclusive control of the local Conservative oligarchy. Supported by Dr. Mullock, the outspoken Roman Catholic Bishop, Little quickly became the leader of a disciplined Liberal party, which refused to settle for anything less than responsible government. -- The population of the colony was almost equally divided into Protestants, who tended to support the Conservatives, and Roman Catholics, who supported the Liberals. Protestant Conservatives, fearing the loss of their privileged position and the establishment of a permanent Roman Catholic oligarchy, opposed responsible government. Roman Catholics, on the other hand, regarded it as a means of bettering their economic and social position. The Conservatives, exploiting the sectarian issue, depicted the question solely as the struggle of Roman Catholics for power and patronage, whereas the Liberals saw themselves as the champions of the working classes, regardless of denomination. -- After the 1852 election, in which responsible government was the main issue, the Liberals held a majority of seats in the House of Assembly. In 1853 Little led a delegation to London, which persuaded the Colonial Secretary, against the advice of Governor Hamilton, to concede responsible government. Even then its introduction was delayed by the failure of the Liberal Assembly and the Conservative Council to agree on the fulfillment of certain preliminary conditions, by the Governor's refusal to mediate, and by the preoccupation of the British government with the Crimean situation. The House of Assembly found it necessary to stop the supplies and to send Mr. Little across the Atlantic a second and a third time before they secured the removal of the obstructive Mr. Hamilton and his replacement by Charles Henry Darling, whose ability and tact made for a smooth transition to responsible government. -- Finally, after a Liberal victory at the polls in May, 1855, P.F. Little formed the first responsible government, and a Roman Catholic administration took office.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5552
Item ID: 5552
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 271-283.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: 1966
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Newfoundland and Labrador--History--1763-1855; Newfoundland and Labrador--Politics and government--1763-1855

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