The Revolt of French Canada, 1800-1835: A Chapter of the History of the British Commonwealth

By Helen Taft Manning | Go to book overview
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XV
The Politics of the Colonial Office

I

Since the publication in 1842 of Charles Buller's pamphlet Responsible Government, containing the famous chapter on 'Mr. Mother- country', a picture of the Colonial Office has been generally accepted which is in many respects misleading and which must be modified before it is possible to discuss the forces in English administration influencing Canadian history in the first half of the nineteenth century. James Stephen, who was Buller's special target, has found plenty of able defenders, but the generalized description of the Colonial Office as a powerful bureaucracy, dominated by its permanent officials and pursuing a more or less unchanging course despite the many changes in cabinets and cabinet ministers still holds the field in most secondary works.1 Here we are not concerned with what happened after 1835, when the rule of 'Mr. Over-Secretary Stephen' began (if indeed it began at all) but with the many contending forces at work earlier.

In the twenties decisions affecting the colonies were made either by the Colonial Secretary himself or by one of his under-secretaries; this meant that all important dispatches were read, and the replies in most cases drafted by an under-secretary. In the eighteenth century the under- secretaries had represented the personal choice of the ministers and followed them from office to office, but after 1810 one under-secretary was always in the House of Commons and was usually chosen for political reasons. Parliamentary under-secretaries changed fully as often as did Colonial Secretaries; Wilmot Horton was an exception in lingering on after the resignation of his original chief. While Wilmot Horton remained, however, he quite overshadowed R. W. Hay, and it was really not until Sir George Murray succeeded William Huskisson in the summer of 1828 that the new permanent under-secretary had much to say on the important issues which were troubling his chief. Until 1828, therefore, it may be assumed that no member of the permanent staff except James Stephen, the legal counsel for the department, had much influence

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