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Macdonald’s double shuffle

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In 1858, Canadian Premier John A. Macdonald (later, first prime minister of the Dominion of Canada) pulled off one of the most brilliant (and underhanded) political manoeuvres in Canadian history. This feat of parliamentary trickery is known as the “double shuffle”.

It began with a debate over the proposed location of Ottawa for the new capital of the province of Canada. Previously, the capital of the province rotated every four years among Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. This state of affairs was clearly impractical, so it was decided that there should be a permanent capital. The town of Ottawa was proposed, ostensibly at the suggestion of Queen Victoria. However, there were many Canadian parliamentarians who opposed this location. In 1858, Brown, the leader of the opposition, passed a motion in the Canadian parliament expressing reservations regarding the choice of Ottawa as the capital. The premier, Macdonald, declared that the motion was an insult to the Queen (since Ottawa was supposedly her choice), and resigned his position along with his entire cabinet in protest. The Macdonald government thus fell.

In response, the Governor-General approached the opposition leader Brown and requested him to form a government. Unfortunately, Brown ran afoul of a constitutional technicality: at that time, any incoming cabinet minister was required to temporarily resign his seat in parliament and seek re-election in a by-election. With his cabinet temporarily absent from parliament, Brown would not have enough members to retain a majority in the house. His government was thus doomed to fall in short order.

Indeed, Brown’s goverment was promptly defeated. It was now once more up to the Governor-General to decide what would happen next. Brown requested that he dissolve parliament and call a general election, but instead the Governor-General decided that he would ask Macdonald to try to form a government once more. However, if Macdonald attempted to form a cabinet, he would find himself in the same situation as Brown: his cabinet would be forced to give up their seats and seek re-election to the house, and their temporary absence would cost Macdonald his control over parliament. His government would surely fall by the same sequence of events that led to the demise of the Brown government.

However, Macdonald found a constitutional loophole that would allow him to break this cycle: even though incoming cabinet ministers were required to resign their seats and run for re-election, there was a special exception that stated that if a minister resigned a cabinet position and took up a new cabinet position within one month’s time, he was not required to seek re-election. Clearly the intent of the provision was to allow a premier to make adjustments to his cabinet without incurring the cost of a by-election every time. Macdonald however exploited this exception in a very clever and devious manner: he swore in his old cabinet ministers, but each one was appointed to a ministry different from the one he had previously held (Macdonald appointed himself postmaster general). Since his cabinet ministers had resigned their offices just a few days earlier (certainly less than one month) and since they were now each taking up entirely different cabinet portfolios, Macdonald claimed that they were exempt from having to resign their seats and run for re-election. The very next day, Macdonald then moved all of his cabinet ministers back into their original portfolios (the ones they held during the previous Macdonald government). Macdonald thus avoided the need to have any of his cabinet ministers resign his seat.

Clearly Macdonald’s “double shuffle” was in no way in keeping with the spirit of the law, but he had technically complied with the letter of the law, and had thereby manage to completely outmanoeuvre Brown.

Written by uncudh

February 27, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Posted in history

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Motivations for Iroquois warfare

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Hunt, in his 1940 book, The Wars of the Iroquois: A Study in Intertribal Trade Relations, described the Iroquois Wars as being fought principally so that the Iroquois could establish themselves as middlemen in the fur trade. For instance, according to this interpretation, since the Hurons had established themselves in this role in the trade between the nations living further west in the Great Lakes regions and the French at Montreal, the Iroquois made war on the Hurons in the 1640’s in order to drive them out of this preferential position and divert the fur trade southward, through the Iroquois country, to the Dutch (later English) at Albany. In this way the Iroquois could control the west-east flow of furs. Hunt presents these economic forces as the central impulse driving Iroquois policy.

As a non-expert, after reading Hunt’s account his arguments seemed rather convincing to me. However, many later historians have severely criticised his explanations of Iroquois behaviour. For example, Brandao’s book, ‘Your fyre shall burn no more’: Iroquois Policy towards New France and its Native Allies to 1701, rejects such economic motivations and instead presents the thesis that the principal motivations behind Iroquois warfare were cultural in nature. For instance, in his view, motives for Iroquois warfare included the need to acquire captives for adoption into Iroquois society in order to recoup losses due to epidemics or previous military conflict, or the desire of Iroquois men to acquire prestige in the only way available to them, namely by displaying prowess in battle.

Brandao therefore takes an almost diametrically opposite point of view to that of Hunt. Again, as a non-expert, after reading Brandao I found his arguments to be rather convincing. However, other historians do not subscribe to his interpretation either. Trigger writes in the preface to the 2000 printing of The Children of Aataentsic:

Very different in its objectives is Jose Brandao’s rancorous and polemical book […] Like his mentor, William J. Eccles, Brandao accuses the majority of Iroquoian ethnohistorians, myself included, of being economic reductionists who underestimate the resilience and importance of traditional Iroquoian culture and fail to interpret Iroquoian behaviour in ways that would have made sense to these peoples. A wide range of materialist approaches are caricatured as being based on the false belief that during the period of the fur trade the Iroquois were motivated by a universal desire for economic gain. While it is true, as I observed long ago, that the economists George Hunt and Harold Innis paid little attention to indigenous beliefs, Brandao’s claims seem based on biased and selective readings of even these scholars. He certainly misrepresents the more nuanced, multifaceted, and culturally informed arguments of most anthropologists and historians who have written about Iroquoian groups in recent decades.

Other interpretations of the Iroquois Wars are out there as well: Jennings suggests a desire on the part of the Iroquois to acquire hegemony over the nations of the Ohio, Susquehanna, and Hudson River valleys, etc.

Written by uncudh

December 10, 2008 at 9:50 pm

Allies and enemies

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Champlain’s new settlement was founded in the summer of 1608 at “Kebec” or the “narrows” of the St. Lawrence.  (Thus making this the year of its 400th anniversary.)  The same year he was invited by a Montagnais-Algonquin-Huron coalition to join forces with them in an raid on their old enemies, the Iroquois.  The attack was to take place the next year.  Champlain agreed to join the coalition, expecting that a sufficiently impressive demonstration of force against the Iroquois would deter them from future attacks against his Indian allies.  Establishing such a peace would in turn be congenial to the development of the fur trade.

In 1609 Champlain set out with his Indian allies and began his journey to the Iroquois country.  They traveled up the St. Lawrence, then, just below Montreal, took the Richelieu River southward into Lake Champlain.  They encountered a Mohawk war party at the southern end of the lake.  Only two other Frenchmen had made it this far with Champlain.  The allies engaged the Mohawks on shore.  The battle began with Champlain discharging his arquebus to devastating effect: a single shot took out three Mohawk warriors.  When the other Frenchmen fired their weapons with similar effects, the Mohawks turned and fled.  The allies pursued, winning a remarkable victory and capturing several prisoners.  The victory was followed by the standard (among the particular nations involved) torture and cannibalism of (some of) the captives.

After his return from Mohawk country to Quebec, Champlain left the colony in the hands of subordinates and returned to France.  He returned the following year, 1610, to Quebec, and again, when his Indian allies requested his aid, fought another battle against the Mohawks.  The allies were again victorious.  After suffering two severe defeats, the Mohawks avoided further conflict with the French for many years.

Written by uncudh

November 29, 2008 at 3:16 am

The Ile-Ste-Croix settlement

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The French made several attempts throughout the 1500’s to establish colonies in North America.  Without exception they all failed.  Champlain’s exploratory expedition of 1603 was followed in 1604 by a new French project to establish a colony in the Americas.  This expedition was led by Pierre Dugua, sieur de Mons.  He established in 1604 a settlement on the tiny island of Ile-Ste-Croix, just off the American coast at approximately the Maine-New Brunswick border.  The location was poorly chosen.  After a terrible winter, the settlement was relocated across the Bay of Fundy to Port-Royal, in what is now Nova Scotia.  In each of the years 1604, 1605, and 1606, the French sent out ships to explore the New Brunswick and New England coasts.  The expeditions were led by Champain, de Mons, and Poutrincourt respectively.  Only Champlain’s was reasonably successful; the latter two were spoiled by certain . . . unpleasantness with the Indians that the French met during the expeditions.

Unfortunately for the settlement at Port-Royal, the fashion of hats changed in Paris.  Beaver pelt hats were now wildly popular.  Increased demand for beaver furs allowed certain business interests to pressure King Henri IV to revoke de Mons’s monopoly of the fur trade, which had allowed him to provide financial backing for the settlement project.  With the loss of the monopoly, de Mons’s company failed.  The settlers were recalled to France and the settlement abandoned in 1607.

in 1608 de Mons convinced the king to give him another chance.  The king complied, granting him a 1 year monopoly.  De Mons put together a new expedition, this time led by Champlain, who planned his new settlement in the St. Lawrence valley rather than the coast of Acadia.

Written by uncudh

November 28, 2008 at 6:11 pm

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The Tabagie at Tadoussac

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Samuel de Champlain made his first voyage to Canada in 1603 as part of an expedition led by Pont-Gravé.  The expedition sailed up the St. Lawrence, stopping at the harbour of Tadoussac, at the junction of the Saguenay River and the St. Lawrence.  By a curious coincidence, at the same time a large number of Montaignais, Etchemins and Algonquins had gathered nearby to celebrate a great victory over their enemies, the Iroquois.  They were celebrating with a great tobacco-feast, or tabagie.  The French were invited to participate: they smoked tobacco with the leaders, joined in the feasting, and watched the celebratory dances.  Of this chance meeting between the French and the Indians, David Hackett Fischer writes in Champlain’s Dream:

Here was a moment of high importance in the history of North America.  Nobody had planned these events, but both French and Indian leaders were quick to see an opportunity.  The Great Tabagie marked the beginning of an alliance between the founders of New France and three Indian nations.  Each entered willingly into the relationship and gained something of value in return.  The Indians acquired a potential ally against their mortal enemies, the Iroquois.  The French won support for settlement, exploration, and trade.  The alliance that formed here would remain strong for many years because it rested on a mutuality of material interest.

Written by uncudh

November 24, 2008 at 10:23 pm

The Great Peace of Montreal

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The French and Iroquois wars of the 1600’s came to an end in 1701 with the Great Peace of Montreal.  In the late 1680’s and throughout the 1690’s the Iroquois suffered devastating losses in attacks by the French and their Indian allies, notably the Ottawa.  They were ready to make peace with the French, but New York was insistent that the Iroquois not enter into any negotiations with the French that did not go through the mediation of Albany.  The French insisted that the Iroquois treat directly with them and not involve the English.  The English were very much opposed to the idea of a separate peace between the French and the Iroquois.  Any such peace might allow the French to claim the Iroquois as French subjects by right of conquest, which would manifestly be contrary to the interests of New York.  Moreover, New York needed the Iroquois as a “buffer” between them and the western Indians.  The Iroquois were in an untenable position: either they would continue to suffer the raids of the French allies or they would risk losing the alliance and the trade with New York by making a separate peace with the French.  In the end they decided that they could not continue to fight and they entered into negotiations with the French.  An agreement was reached in 1701 at Montreal whereby the war would end and the Iroquois were required to remain neutral in any conflict between the French and English.

Written by uncudh

November 21, 2008 at 6:44 pm

The Iroquois Wars cont’d

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The war between the Iroquois and the French began in the early 1640’s with Iroquois raids against the Indian nations of the Canadas allied to the French, notably the Hurons.  It lasted, with some intervening periods of peace, until the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701.  In 1648 the Dutch began to supply the Iroquois with firearms.  Now possessing superior firepower, the Mohawk and Seneca launched a massive raid into Huron country in 1649 and crushed the Huron confederacy.  Many Hurons were captured and “adopted” into Iroquois society; the remainder were dispersed.  Whether the Iroquois sought to replace the Hurons as the favoured trading partner of the French, or whether they wished to increase their numbers by capturing prisoners for “adoption”, or whether for some other reason, seems to be a matter of debate among historians.  This attack on the Hurons was followed by Iroquois raids against the Tobacco nation (allied to the Hurons) and the Neutral nation in 1649-50, with similar successes for the Iroquois.  Concerning the defeat of the Hurons, Jennings writes:

The Iroquois had a carefully planned strategy that exploited Huron weaknesses.  The Hurons acted as logically in the end as anyone could be expected to do in their circumstances.  In reality they had lost before the Iroquois began to attack.  What defeated them was the very strategy of alliance with New France by means of which they aimed to grow strong, for it brought within their homeland the disintegrative force of the Jesuit mission.  With the missionaries came disease, faction, and demoralization.  In the end, many traditionalist Hurons blamed the Black Robes more than the Iroquois for their troubles, and some went so far as to join the Iroquois in order to take revenge upon all Frenchmen.

Written by uncudh

November 17, 2008 at 2:25 am