“Canada’s Real Home Rule”

May 3, 1879

Thomas Nast

“Canada’s Real Home Rule”


Disraeli, Benjamin;

Canada; Great Britain;

Beaconsfield (to Lorne). "Good boy, not to act on your own responsibility, but to come and ask your mamma first. But we are rather too busy just now with civilizing colonial savages."

Cartoons in Harper's Weekly and similar nineteenth-century American publications rarely dealt with Canadian issues, except when the United States was involved.  Here, cartoonist Thomas Nast portrays Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Earl of Beaconsfield, paternalistically rebuffing Canada's governor general, the Marquis of Lorne (John Douglas Sutherland Campbell).

In 1867, the British North America Act consolidated the colonies of Canada into the Dominion of Canada and granted home rule to the new political entity.  Canada was still part of the British Empire, and acted in consort with Britain in foreign affairs, but thereafter ruled itself in domestic matters.  The position of governor general was largely ceremonial, but was invested with certain discretionary powers, including the ability to dismiss a government for taking unconstitutional action.  Under the act, governor-generals were appointed for a period of five years by the British monarch, on the advice of the British prime minister.  In 1878, Disraeli convinced Queen Victoria to name her son-in-law, the Marquis of Lorne, to the position.

Soon after he arrived in Canada, Lorne became embroiled in a political controversy.  Luc Letellier, the lieutenant governor of the province of Quebec (a post appointed by the Crown), interfered with provincial elections, which provoked Quebec's attorney general, Auguste-Réal Angers, to refuse attendance at official functions at Letellier's residence.  Letellier further outraged Angers and others when he dismissed the provincial government because of a controversial railroad policy.  Since the lieutenant governor was a Crown official, Lorne, as governor general, intervened in the affair to request Disraeli's attention to the matter.  Sir John MacDonald, the Canadian prime minister, delivered a statement in parliament that some interrupted as critical of Lorne.  MacDonald later clarified his position so as to smooth over relations with the governor general and the Crown.  MacDonald himself forced Letellier out of office in July 1879.

In this cartoon, Nast disdainfully emphasizes the dependence of Canada on Britain through the sarcastic title, depiction of Lorne as a small boy to the fatherly Disraeli, and reference to Britain as Canada's mother.  The cartoonist's symbol for Canada, a buckskin backwoodsman, appears in the doorway.  The poster on the wall and Disraeli's mention of "civilizing colonial savages" allude to the aggressive foreign policy of his ministry.  In 1876, he sponsored a bill declaring Victoria to be Empress of India.  The next year, when the ruler of Afghanistan resisted British authority, Disraeli resumed a policy of expanding northwest from India into Afghanistan in order to send a signal to the Russians to halt their southern expansion.  The British move sparked the Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880 (at the same time that the Russians were fighting the Russo-Turkish War).  In South Africa, the Zulus also rejected British control.  In January 1879, Disraeli ordered British troops to attack, beginning the six-month Zulu War (which the British won).

Robert C. Kennedy

“Canada’s Real Home Rule”
December 6, 2023

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