Joseph Howe

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The Honourable Joseph Howe, PC (December 13, 1804 - June 1, 1873) was born the son of John Howe and Mary Edes at Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is one of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation.


Early Life

The Howe family was of Puritan stock from Massachusetts. Having remained loyal to the crown during the American Revolution, the family of John Howe joined the flood of United Empire Loyalists out of the United States after the American revolutionaries succeeded in their claims of independence. On arrival at Halifax, John Howe was rewarded for his loyalty by appointment as Postmaster-General. Since he was in the printing business, John Howe was appointed also the King's Printer. Joseph Howe was born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the son of John Howe and Mary Edes. His son, Joseph Howe, like many lads of that time, received only a limited formal education before beginning an apprenticeship at the age of 13. He served his apprenticeship the printing shop that the senior Howe had established in 1781. They published a newspaper, the Halifax Journal. He married Catherine Ann Susan McNab on February 2, 1828. That same year he went into the printing business himself with the purchase of the Novascotian, a Halifax newspaper. Howe acted as its editor until 1841, turning the paper into the most influential in the province. Not only did he personally report the legislative assembly debates in its columns, he also published provincial literature and his own travel writings, using the paper as a means for educating the people of Nova Scotia and himself.

Journalistic Career

Howe purchased the Novascotian, a Halifax newspaper, in 1828 and went into the printing business for himself. He remained its editor until 1841 turning the paper into the most influential in the province. Not only did he personally report the legislative assembly debates in its columns, he also published provincial literature and his own travel writings. He used the paper as a means for educating himself and the people of Nova Scotia. Howe's rise to fame was due to his early prominence as a newspaperman and defender of freedom of the press.

His, at times, harsh editorial commentary and accusations of government corruption resulted in a libel charge in 1835. Howe defended himself against the charges without the help of a lawyer and was acquitted. Afterwards, his editorial writing became increasingly concerned with political issues. It was his involvement with the Novascotian that propelled Howe into the political arena. In order to promote his desire for responsible government, he assumed the editorships of both the Novascotian and the Morning Chronicle from 1844 to 1846, making them rallying points for liberal principles.

Political Career

Eventually, he decided to run for office in order to effect the changes he called for in his newspaper. He was first elected in 1836, campaigning on a platform of support for responsible government. Howe initially proposed only an elected legislative council but he was quick to agree with the concept of a fully representative government. He was suspicious of formal political parties feeling that they were too restrictive. It was, however, largely his doing that members favouring Liberal principles were able to dominate assembly from 1836 to 1840. He formed a coalition with Conservative leader James William Johnston in 1840 hoping to further the cause of responsible government. He held the office of Speaker of the assembly in 1841 and collector of excise for Halifax in 1842.

The coalition collapsed under various political conflicts, leading to Howe's resignation from the Council in 1843. The promotion of political ideas in his newspapers were rewarded with a seven-seat Liberal majority in the 1847 election. This lead to the formation of the first responsible government in Canada in January 1848. While James Uniacke was officially the Premier, many regarded it as Joseph Howe's ministry. Howe assumed the post of Provincial Secretary, adapting existing institutions to the new system of government. He also began a campaign of railway construction, resigning as Provincial Secretary in 1853 to become become Nova Scotia's first Chief Commissioner of Railways; as Commissioner he oversaw the initial construction of the Nova Scotia Railway. In addition, Howe was involved with recruiting American troops for the Crimean War. These activities left him with little time to campaign in the 1855 general election which he lost to Charles Tupper in Cumberland. This election also led to conflict with Catholic members of the Liberal party because Howe had ridiculed their religious doctrine. This resulted in a Liberal defeat in 1856. The Liberals did not return to power until 1860 at which time Howe became provincial secretary. When the Premier, William Young, was appointed as a judge later that year Joseph Howe assumed the leadership of the party and therefore became Premier. He served as Premier until 1862 when he accepted the position of Imperial Fisheries Commissioner.

Confederation Debate

Howe's duties as Commissioner prevented his attendance at the Charlottetown Conference. By the time he returned to Nova Scotia in November of 1864, the Québec Conference had taken place, and the Québec Resolutions widely disseminated. He had had no chance to influence their content. He led Nova Scotia's anti-Confederation movement believing the Québec Resolutions to be bad for the Province. Because he was still linked with the imperial fishery he expressed his initial opposition anonymously through the Botheration Letters, a series of twelve editorials that appeared in the Morning Chronicle between January and March of 1865. This was the extent of his participation in the union debate until March 1866. He learned that Charles Tupper planned to force the Confederation Resolution through the legislature. When he failed to prevent passage of the resolution Howe began a vigorous campaign for repeal by delegations to London and a publishing a variety of anti-Confederation papers and pamphlets. This strategy failed to prevent the Imperial Parliament enacting the British North America Act in 1867. Nova Scotians elected 18 out of 19 anti-Confederation candidates as members of the first Dominion Parliament. Joseph Howe led the anti-Confederates in the Canadian House of Commons where he made a speech about his opposition to Confederation.

Having failed to win repeal of Confederation in 1868 Howe recognized the futility of further protests. He refused to contemplate secession from the Canadian Confederation nor American annexation because of his loyalty to Britain. In 1869 he was persuaded to join the Canadian Cabinet as President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada after receiving a promise of "better terms" for Nova Scotia. In November of 1869, he became secretary of state for the provinces in which post he played a role in Manitoba's entry into Confederation. He resigned his Cabinet post to become lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 1873. He died in office only a few weeks after his appointment. He is buried in Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax.

Railway Promotion

In 1854, he resigned as the provincial secretary in order to head a bi-partisan railway commission. He eventually succeeded in completing lines from Halifax to Windsor and Truro.

External links

Preceded by:
William Young
Premier of Nova Scotia
Succeeded by:
James W. Johnston

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