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MILLS, Sir THOMAS – Volume IV (1771-1800)

d. 28 Feb. 1793 in London, England


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Separate Schools

Few issues were more controversial or more challenging for politicians in the Province of Canada during the mid 19th century than the relationship between education and religion. John A. MACDONALD handled it by manoeuvering deftly and defending the principle of minority religious rights.

On one side were Roman Catholics who wanted control over their education, such as Bishop Armand-Franҫois-Marie de CHARBONNEL:

“In 1852 Charbonnel complained that in Chatham blacks had been treated more generously than Catholics in the matter of educational financing, that certain textbooks gave ‘mongrel interpretations’ of religious truth, and that Catholic children had to be protected from the triple danger of Protestant teachers, Protestant books, and Protestant fellow-students (he declared that mixed schools were ‘the ruin of religion and a persecution of the Church’).”

On the other side were Protestant reformers such as George BROWN, who rejected the possibility of state support for Catholic schools, which Brown decried:

“[It was] an alarming inroad into the maintenance of one non-sectarian public system.”

Macdonald’s stance on the issue was influenced by the hard political truth that his Canada West Liberal-Conservatives needed the support of the decidedly Catholic Bleus of Canada East (Lower Canada; present-day Quebec), whose majority there allowed the Liberal-Conservatives to retain power.

Anxious to avoid a rancorous response in the closing days of the 1855 legislative session, Macdonald arranged for a separate-schools bill to be introduced in the legislature in Quebec City after many of the members from Canada West had returned home:

“[The bill] was defended by Macdonald on religious grounds – the right of Roman Catholics, according to the Toronto Globe’s report in June, ‘to educate their children according to their own principles.’ The bill itself and the manner of its introduction had been severely criticized by Joseph Hartman* and others and ultimately opposed by a majority of Upper Canadian members, but it had passed on the strength of French Canadian Catholic votes. Macdonald was accused, probably rightly, of parliamentary manipulation and he laid the government open to a charge of ‘French domination’ of the administration. The issue also provided arguments for those in Upper Canada, led by George Brown* of the Globe, who since 1853 had advocated the introduction of a system of representation by population in the provincial parliament, which would have given Upper Canada a greater number of seats than Lower Canada.”

Among those who were appalled by Macdonald’s behaviour was his former law student and a future premier of Ontario, Oliver MOWAT:

“Mowat’s letters to Campbell at this time are the first to disclose that mistrust of Macdonald which was to be a leitmotif of his career. ‘Our friend Macdonald does not pretend to patriotism,’ he wrote in January 1858. ‘In private, he laughs at it, as you must have heard him do yourself.’ Such a government corrupted public men and the public itself; it was every man’s duty to oppose it.”

For more information on Macdonald and the separate-schools issue, please consult the following biographies.

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