Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers

Author: George Arthur  | Date: 1957-59

Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers

Arthur, Sir George

[Sir George Arthur sent a letter to Durham defending the loyalty of the Family Compact.]

I think it proper Your Lordship should be put in possession of every circumstance that can in any way effect the object of your Lordship’s mission—and, therefore, I have the honor to submit the following observations.

Your Lordship naturally wishes to possess all the information that is to be had; and by Yourself and your secretaries many enquiries are directed, and observations of course invited to that end.

Amongst those who have been contributing their quota of intelligence, as I collected on Saturday from himself, is Mr. Buchanan.

It so happened, my Lord, when I landed at New York Mr. Buchanan gave me, what he was pleased to call, an insight into men and parties in this Province; and, of all things, pressed upon me the danger of any alliance with a party which he designated the Family Compact; and, in order to impress the matter more strongly upon my mind, he subsequently addressed a confidential letter to me upon the subject.

The Family Compact, & other persons proscribed by Mr. Buchanan, include the most able men in the Legislative Council, and some of the most prominent public Officers. So that, the recommendation was to exclude myself from the services, and to regard with suspicion, the most influential & powerful party in the Province, by whom mainly Sir Francis Head had been enabled to overthrow the knot of disaffected men composing the last House of Assembly, of whom Mackenzie, Bidwell, and Rolph were, in fact, the leaders.

Her Majesty’s Government urged upon me, before I left London, in a very energetic Dispatch, that I should pursue the Policy and the measures of Sir F. Head, and it was considered a point of some importance that it should be known in the Province that it was my intention to do so—A Despatch of such a nature, however, written at a distance of 4,000 miles and without the Ministers having an accurate knowledge of all the underworking which goes on in every community must leave much to the discretion of the Officer to whom it is addressed, and I have seen reason for acting upon it only to a very limited extent. But Mr. Buchanan’s recommendations were quite of an opposite character, being nothing more or less than to resuscitate a faction that was all but politically extinct, and to commence my Government by giving great Offence to the Constitutional and most powerful section of the Community. During the three months I have administered the affairs of this Province, perceiving they were not times of agitation, I have not entered upon one controversial question, except, that I have amicably discussed with the leaders of each denomination the long contested Clergy Reserve question, and have intimated to them my intention of bringing in a Bill to re-invest those lands in the Crown, if better means cannot be devised; and I have every reason to hope I shall at length successfully carry the measure through the Provincial Parliament.

Under these circumstances I have identified myself with no party, but have seen enough to convince me that Mr. Buchanan’s statements are incorrect—that his opinions are valueless, that his invectives against the Family Compact are most unjust—and that his meddling at all at this time is most mischievous.

Mr. Buchanan read to me I remember, whilst I was at New York the Copies of two letters which he had addressed to Lord Glenelg upon the affair of this Province—unless his Lordship well knows Mr. Buchanan, the communications were calculated however unintentional[ly], to mislead the Minister to whom they were addressed! He is now doing a double mischief, first by endeavouring to prejudice Your Lordship’s mind against some of the most respectable and most highly esteemed men in the Province, and secondly in exciting bad feelings amongst an influential party, by making his advice, and Your Lordship’s intentions the subject of conversation.

Having heard of the impolitic course he was thus pursuing, I requested an interview with Mr. Buchanan on Saturday, and said to him much more than I have expressed in this letter to Your Lordship. He deals wholly in generalities—I could not extract from him one single fact on which he could rest his assertions; and such I am persuaded Your Lordship will find to be the case with the contents of the letter which he says he has addressed to your Lordship.

When Sir Francis Head was at New York on his way to succeed Sir John Colborne, Mr. Buchanan urged upon him successfully the arguments which he used with me, and Mr. Baldwin, brother to Mr. Buchanan’s son-in-law, and some other reformers were in consequence admitted to the Executive Council. The result is a matter of history. They immediately began by disputing for powers which the Constitution has never given to Members of the Executive Council: A rupture took place, and the whole of the reformed party, the real object of the leaders of which was the subversion of the Government was overthrown, and [sic] to their struggle to regain influence, the Rebellion in December last, is to be referred, with all the lamentable train of consequences which are still agitating the Country.

Mr. Buchanan, in conversation with me, after passing the highest eulogium on his character, adverted to the great influence of the Chief Justice, as the Head of the Family Compact, and to the ultra Tory views of that gentleman. This is just the language that has been used by interested parties to the Colonial Department for years, until, at length, the Individual, who for integrity and ability stands the highest in the estimation of all men of all parties, there is reason to fear, must be regarded with apprehension by the Secretary of State.

In this Colony, as in other countries, respectable station, united with superior talents, and good conduct gives a certain degree of influence which is natural and salutary, and it would, indeed, be of all things ungracious and discouraging, as well as impolitic, if the Government were to manifest a jealousy of an influence so honorably acquired. It is, so far as I have been enabled to judge most unobtrusively exercised, and I am satisfied, from what I have experienced, that so far as he can conscientiously do so, Your Lordship will have the most cordial co-operation of the Chief Justice, and of all the Family Compact in all its ramifications throughout the Province.

Mr. Buchanan has not considered, that, what the Family Compact have for years fought against has been the introduction of measures tending to republicanism and the countenance given to individuals who were at least strongly impregnated with republican principles, so that all their views and all their predilections must be deeply interested in the success of your Lordship’s measures, which are destined to strengthen the bond of union between Great Britain and the Canadas.

Not only have the Americans for years looked upon the Canadian Provinces as their own eventually, but many residents in this Province have regarded it almost as a matter of course. But your Lordship’s arrival in North America, and the measures adopted by Her Majesty’s Government within the last six months have given an extraordinary contradiction to this notion, and diffused the highest gratification amongst the loyal part of the community, whilst others are only slowly recovering from their surprise and disappointment.

The idea, therefore, that any Tory Party is being formed for the purpose of opposing Your Lordship’s measures, as Mr. Buchanan asserts to be the case, is so improbable that I can only refer such a rumour to some ignorant or very mischievous person. . . .


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Chicago: George Arthur, "Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers," Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers, ed. Charles Rupert Sanderson in Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers (Toronto: Toronto Public Libraries, 1957-59), Original Sources, accessed March 25, 2019,

MLA: Arthur, George. "Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers." Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers, edited by Charles Rupert Sanderson, in Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers, Toronto, Toronto Public Libraries, 1957-59, Original Sources. 25 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Arthur, G, 'Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers' in Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers, ed. . cited in 1957-59, Governor Arthur’s Letter to Lord Durham, the Arthur Papers, Toronto Public Libraries, Toronto. Original Sources, retrieved 25 March 2019, from