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Christian father of Confederation: Sir Adams George Archibald (1814 – 1892)

Christian Father of Confederation – Adams George Archibald

Claim To Fame: Established the Province of Manitoba

Early Life and Influences

Sir Adams George Archibald was a politician and a lawyer born in Truro, Nova Scotia in 1814. He descended from a family of Irish Protestants from Londonderry where the Protestant / Catholic animosity ran high.

His forebears first settled in New Hampshire, and were Loyalists who moved to Nova Scotia after the War of American Independence. Many of his forebears served as elders in the Presbyterian Church, and were known to be very religious people.

According to The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, “six members of his family had previously sat in the House of Assembly, and the family had long been prominent politically, economically, and socially.” His father, Samuel Archibald was a politician whose father, James Archibald, was a Judge of the Court of Common Plea.

A.G. Archibald was influenced by a passionate Presbyterian Minister / Educator – Thomas McCullough who was steeped in Calvinism and philosophical liberalism. McCullough advocated a school of higher education focusing on Liberal Arts which he believed was necessary to educate ministers, especially Presbyterian ministers for Nova Scotia.

Archibald was known to be a firm Presbyterian. He was known for living by his beliefs and sticking to his convictions. His wife, Elizabeth Burnyeat, was the daughter of an Anglican priest – Rev. John Burnyeat – whose colourful life included being thrown in jail many times for preaching to Catholic priests and at Scottish conventicles.

Public Character

Archibald became active in public service as a young man in his 20’s and continued serving his country in various capacities well into his 70’s. He was a Member of the Legislative Assembly for the Liberal Party when they were still known as the “Reformers.”

It is said that he made every effort to build consensus, but once he took a position on any policy, he did not care about the political consequences. That resulted in him supporting many Conservative positions which did not line up with his party’s position.

For example, he supported the government of the Conservative Premier James William Johnston “to limit the power of the executive.” Archibald expressed the same desire as Premier James William Johnston.

He also supported the Conservative decision to establish elected municipal governments so as to limit their role of influence. He believed in decentralization of power to reduce corruption of cabinet-appointed magistrates.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Archibald spoke quietly in the Assembly and relied on logic and sound arguments to make his case rather than resorting to flamboyant drama.

Timeline of Sir Adams George Archibald’s Life

When Archibald was 22 years old he became a Notary Public. At 24, he was called to the Bar in Prince Edward Island and at 25, to the Bar in Nova Scotia. At 27, he became the Commissioner of Schools in Nova Scotia.

When he was 29 years old he married Elizabeth Burnyeat. At 34, he was appointed as a Judge of Probate Court, and at 35, he was appointed as one of five commissioners to oversee the building of the telegraph link from Halifax to New Brunswick.

In 1851, when he was 37 years old, Archibald gave up his legal career for politics, winning his first seat in the legislature of Joseph Howe’s Reformers (Liberals) cabinet. By the time he was 58 years old, he had held many positions in the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia and in Canada’s First Parliament.

Even though he would often take positions which were unpopular with the Liberal caucus, in support of the Conservatives, one area where he did not support the Conservatives was their position on adult male suffrage.

In 1854,  Nova Scotia became the first British colony to institute adult male suffrage – under the Conservative government of J.W. Johnston.  Before that, the law only allowed people to vote if they paid 40 shillings, or owned property or assets of that value.

Archibald opposed the new law on the premise that the population had not developed economically and morally enough to benefit from adult suffrage.

His fundamental beliefs were:

Education leads to a better life; technology promotes progress, and society rests on moral principles. 

Human development will follow resource development.

The progress of society should be a two-phase process, with Phase 1 being education of the populace and Phase 2  being economic development.

Phase 1: The Education of the Populace

In 1853, Archibald proposed to the legislature that schools should be established and paid for by levying taxes. In 1854, the legislature approved the first school in Truro with Archibald as one of the Directors. He was 40 years old. 

In 1864, Sir Charles Tupper – another Christian Father of Confederation as Provincial Secretary of Premier J.W. Johnston’s Conservative government, established “free” province-wide education. The mandate included compulsory assessment of the students, with the Cabinet taking on the supervisory role of Council for Public Instruction. In 11 years, Archibald’s desire for a more educated citizenry was on the road to being achieved.

Although Archibald supported province-wide, taxpayer-funded education, he opposed the hands-on supervisory role of the Cabinet, stating that the government (and politics) should stay out of education, as the way to nurture social harmony.” 

Education seems to be one of those institutions in Canada, which was begun in many provinces by Christians with godly intentions, but without a biblical, generational vision to sustain it. 150 years later, many are making the case, with compelling evidence, that even taxpayer funding of education is a political intervention too far, intervention which does not nurture social harmony.  

Were taxpayer funding and compulsory attendance the first signs of the erosion of a biblical vision rather than examples of a Christian approach to education? Even Christian homeschooling, a frontier for independence in education, seems to be increasingly susceptible to the long tentacles of the government.

Christian institutions like education, with a strategy for generational endurance is a glorious vision to strive for.

Phase 2 (a): Economic Development Through a Reciprocity Agreement With the United States

Archibald believed that the second phase of progress in a society was economic development. In 1852, when he was 38 years old he advocated a reciprocity agreement with the United States to increase trade, He promoted trade with the Maritime United States and suggested an inter-colonial railway system to boost trade. 

In late 1854, a reciprocity agreement of sorts was worked out between the United States and the British North American colonies, which was brought before the Nova Scotia House of Assembly for ratification with Archibald’s full support. 

His Party Leader, Joseph Howe, opposed the agreement because he felt Nova Scotia was slighted when it was left out of the discussions with the other colonies. Archibald argued that it was no reason to reject the agreement based on the potential long term benefit to the colony. 

Two years later in 1856, at age 42, Archibald was appointed as Solicitor General. 

Archibald resigned his seat in 1857 following a scandal over treason that led to ten Liberal (Reformer) politicians defecting to the Conservatives, resulting in the collapse of the Liberal government. 

Phase 2 (b):- Economic Development Through Railway Construction 

Since 1851, when he was just 37 years old, Archibald had been espousing the need for railway construction in the province to boost its trade especially with the Maritime United States. 

By 1854, he had come to the firm belief that the government should not be the one to build the railway, contrary to his party leader Howe’s position. 

However, in 1861, his desire to bring about economic development and trade through railways seemed to convince him that the government should play a key role in such efforts. 

In his position as Attorney General, Archibald accompanied Premier Howe and Railway Commissioner Jonathan McCully to Quebec for a meeting with the governments of the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada, and New Brunswick to jointly submit a proposal to Britain for an inter-colonial railway that would connect all 3 colonies.The railway development failed because provincial revenues were declining. 

Eventually, the Inter-colonial Railway system gained traction with the Confederation talks, because it was used as a condition for the Maritime Provinces to join Confederation. Construction began shortly after 1867, with most lines completed by 1870. 

It operated from 1872 to 1918, connecting Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. 

Phase 2 (c):  Economic Development Through Natural Resource Development 

Archibald supported provincial ownership and exploitation of natural resources such as coal. In 1852 Archibald sought to change the way business was done in the coal mining industry. 

Since 1827, when he was yet a teenager, a British company, the General Mining Association, had held the monopoly on coal mining in the province. Archibald saw this as a drain on provincial revenues and a negative impact on provincial trade. 

In 1856, Liberal Premier William Young, sought to negotiate changes to the agreements between the mining industry and the British government, but he was unsuccessful. 

In 1857, the new Conservative Premier, J.W. Johnston, wanting bipartisan support for approaching Britain again, invited Archibald to accompany him at fresh negotiations. A small political victory was won for Johnston’s government when the General Mining Association agreed to give up its monopoly – 25 years from the conclusion of the negotiations. The company was not willing to surrender much of its wealth to the province as royalties, and the provincial government of the day had no means of forcing them to do so. 

On The Road To Confederation 

The Liberals lost the 1863 election to the Sir Charles Tupper-led Conservatives. Archibald was the Leader of the Opposition from 1863 to 1867. 

Sir Charles Tupper, invited two representatives from the Liberal Party, Archibald and Tupper’s former teacher, Jonathan McCully, to the first Inter-colonial Conference on Confederation in Charlottetown, P.E.I., in 1864.  Even though the Liberal Party was wholly against Confederation, both politicians attended the Charlottetown AND Quebec Conferences – as the only Liberal supporters of Confederation. Archibald also attended the London Conference.  

At the several Conferences, Archibald insisted on the retention of provincial legislatures without altering their structure so that the interests of regions and minority populations would be protected and defended. This provision was included in the final terms of Confederation, and it was an important provision for the making of Manitoba as a future Canadian province. 

Archibald was also the financial expert in the delegation and was given the responsibility by Sir John A. MacDonald, Premier of Canada West, to convince Nova Scotians of the financial arrangements agreed upon at the Quebec Conference. For this he was rewarded by Sir John A MacDonald. with an appointment as the Secretary of State for the Provinces on July 1st, 1867.  Jonathan McCully was also rewarded with an appointment to the Senate. 

It appears that Confederation reinforced Archibald’s broader vision than Provincial politics, of strength in union, and the possibility of a rail link with the Canadas. He realized that there was a changing relationship with Britain and her colonies over the previous 20 years which should be reflected by some kind of readjustment of the relationships between the colonies. 

Archibald continued to leave his mark in Canadian society following Confederation. He advocated the holding of conciliation talks with the Métis, after the Red River Rebellion. Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald was recovering from a serious illness, and Sir Georges Etienne-Cartier was the Acting Prime Minister. Archibald was appointed by Cartier as the first Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. 

From 1870 to 1872, Archibald single-handedly carried out a census, called an election, laid the foundations for all the legal institutions in Manitoba, became the first Premier of the province, divided up the land into counties, and made it the first province to join Canada following Confederation. He is considered “a son of Manitoba” and is highly regarded in Manitoba history. 

More will be said about him in a blog about “The Making of Manitoba.” 

So Here’s the Deal…  Do you think that the historical record reinforces Archibald’s profession of Christian faith? Do you think he governed Christian-ly? Is the legacy of his public life and leadership consistent with how the Bible calls men to lead in the roles he played? 

If you find any other interesting facts to add to this research, we would be happy to include it. Be a Berean. Search it out yourself.

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