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Title: 'Ceaseless and watchful readiness to take part' : the Canadian Governors General, 1847-1878
Author: Messamore, Barbara J.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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This dissertation surveys the constitutional evolution of the Canadian governor general’s role between 1847 and 1878. It analyses incidents in the terms of five consecutive governors general—Elgin, Sir Edmund Head, Monch, Lisgar, and Dufferin—and explores how each interpreted his loosely-defined role. While Confederation in 1867 is usually seen as the watershed in Canadian constitutional history, its effect on the viceregal role was limited. The most profound change—the transition to responsible government—had already occurred in 1848. After 1848 it was understood that in internal matters the governor general would follow the advice of his Canadian ministers. Elgin played a key role in putting this new experiment in colonial policy into practice. The advent of self-government for Canada did not mean that the governor general became insignificant, however. The governor retained a role as guardian of the constitution, and the prerogative of refusal of assent to ministerial advice still existed, even if it was infrequently invoked. Elgin, Head, Monck and Dufferin all encountered situations in which at least some political observers believed such refusal would be warranted. In the event, only Head exercised this prerogative. In the formative years of Canadian party politics, the viceregal office afforded an opportunity to exercise informal leadership. Monck in particular played a much-underestimated role in helping to negotiate alliances among political antagonists. Lisgar, by far the most politically seasoned of the five incumbents, paradoxically presided over a stable ministry during his entire term of office. His comparative inactivity in the political realm has led historians to dismiss him as indolent. Lisgar was involved, however, in behind-the-scenes negotiations leading to the 1871 Treaty of Washington. Canadian disappointment over the terms of the treaty, combined with the absence of any archival collection detailing Lisgar’s activities, has unfairly cast Lisgar as a historical scapegoat. The study ends with the drafting of a permanent set of permanent set of Letters Patent and Instructions for the governor general in 1878, a constitutional milestone that has been largely overlooked in Canadian historiography. This initiative on the part of Canada’s Liberal minister of justice, Edward Blake, to more clearly spell out the limits of the governor general’s role was spurred in large measure by Dufferin’s intrusiveness. Throughout this formative period, the evolution of the viceregal role was influenced both by circumstance and the character of the individual office holders.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available