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John Strachan: The Holy TerrorMany individuals appear to have honourable intentions but often their objectives are flawed. John Strachan lived through and influenced many key events of Canadian history. He was a highly esteemed teacher of wealthy Loyalist children, a pastoral leader during the War of 1812, a supporter of education, a member of the government, he played a prime role in the Rebellions of 1837 and he eventually rose to become the first Bishop of Toronto. John Strachan had a highly Loyalist view towards the governing of Upper Canada; he was especially faithful to the betterment of the Church of England. Strachan was in favour of a purely British Upper Canada or at least one run according to British standards. Although Strachan believed that the best way was the British way, many individuals in Upper Canada disagreed. Strachan?s attempts to monopolize all opportunities in favour of the British caused public uproar and debate. His controversial role in government was regarded by some as unnecessary and ungodly since he was a supposed man of God. His manipulation of events were protested but usually accepted; his skills of influencing were uncontested. John Strachan used his powerful status to negatively influence Upper Canadian society. John Strachan?s harmful intentions are evident in his supporting of the monopolization of the clergy reserves, controlling of non-British immigration, lobbying strictly for Anglican education in schools, his manipulation of the government and his poor reputation amongst the public.
John Strachan believed that the Anglican control of the clergy reserves was necessary in order to ensure a truly British Upper Canadian society. For example, the Constitution Act 1791 stated that one-seventh of land in Upper Canada was to be reserved for the ?Protestant Clergy?. In a letter to the Bishop of Quebec, Jacob Mountain, Strachan stated, ?The words ?Protestant Clergy??refer exclusively to the Clergy of the Church of England? (Henderson b 86). Strachan refused to acknowledge other Christian denominations because he wanted to ensure the future of the Anglican Church and Anglican educational ideals. When the bishop came to visit in 1820, he established John Strachan as the chairman of the Clergy Corporation; he was made responsible to collect and manage all revenue made from the clergy reserves. For four years, Strachan was in charge of a vast amount of wealth until the Presbyterians launched protests declaring that they had a right to the land. Strachan proposed Horton?s Bill, which would guarantee the Church of England all revenues made from the sale of clergy reserves. The bill ?dealt only with the sale [of land] and did not define the term ?Protestant Clergy?? (Boorman 115). Strachan also wrote a pamphlet entitled ?Observations on the Provision Made for the Maintenance of a Protestant Clergy, in the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada?; the document also included the controversial Ecclesiastical chart. The information in the pamphlet, namely the ecclesiastical chart was biased and ultimately in favour of presenting land to the Church of England because, it seemed to have a larger following. For instance, Strachan downsized the influence of the Methodists claiming, ?there are twenty to thirty Methodist congregations? (Henderson b 45). At the time, there were actually forty-two and the congregation was increasing. Furthermore, Strachan used the death of his comrade Bishop Mountain to incite Anti-American feelings against the Methodists. During Mountain?s eulogy, Strachan said,
Uneducated itinerant preachers who, leaving their steady employment, betake themselves to preaching the Gospel from idleness or a zeal without knowledge; they are induced without any preparation to teach what they do not know?can it be doubted that it is only through the Church and its institutions that a truly English character and feeling can be given to or preserved among the population of any foreign possession? (Flint 89-90)
Strachan labelled the Methodist ministers as ignorant Americans who lectured about republican ideas and lacked moral values. The eulogy was meant to cause the embracing of the Church of England therefore increasing its influence and supporting its claims to the clergy reserves. Strachan left Upper Canada for a year and returned to find much antagonism. Egerton Ryerson a prominent Methodist leader counterattacked Strachan?s claims in a York newspaper,
John Strachan worries about republican principles instilled in minds of people by religious teachers of other denominations. But they do not talk about politics as the Doctor does. They have something else to do-leave others to temporal affairs and give themselves to prayer and ministry of the word. (Flint 97)
Ryerson refuted the Anti-American eulogy made by Strachan establishing that the majority of Methodist ministers were educated in British schools. Ryerson recognized that the attacks on the character of the Methodist Ministers were meant to divert people from following the Methodists. By embarrassing the Methodists, Strachan hoped to gain more followers of his own faith, consequently obtaining more rights to the clergy reserves. The aforementioned documents lead to increased public ridicule over Strachan?s disputed position in Upper Canadian politics. John Strachan?s determination to monopolize the clergy reserves was strictly power driven and subjective.
John Strachan suppressed the immigration of non ? British colonists to Upper Canada. Strachan wrote, ?It was deemed wise to check emigration from the United States for a time until the passions on both sides were a little cooled, and until a sort of foundation or nucleus could be formed of emigrants from the mother country? (Henderson b 67). Strachan did not favour American settlement in Upper Canada. He felt that the only settlers should be British migrants because they had good character and lacked republican attitudes. After the war of 1812 when Americans began settling Upper Canada, ?new laws prevented Americans from obtaining grants of land until they had resided in the province for seven years” (Smith 214). Strachan used the Anti-American sentiments present in the colony to repel American settlers. Moreover, many large-scale land developments were made. These land developers would buy thousands of hectares of land and sell it to the immigrants at inflated prices therefore earning a favourable profit. Colonel Thomas Talbot was an Irish immigrant and a well-known landowner; he settled land around Lake Erie. Strachan fired attacks at Talbot?s settling agreements because his settlers, ?were placed on 200-acre lots, given title to 50 acres and only when they fulfilled certain duties were given the remaining amount of land at the price of 12 shillings per acre? (Flint 69). Strachan accused Talbot of cheating the immigrants out of their land and stealing their money. Ironically, when Strachan monopolized the clergy reserves and was accused of cheating the other Christian faiths he claimed the revenues were rightfully those of the Anglican Church. Strachan despised the fact that non-British settlers were becoming rich and gaining status. In addition, Lord Selkirk?s proposal to settle the Red River was met with strong opposition. The land purchased was along a fur trade route used by the North West Company to trade with the M?tis natives. When Selkirk purchased the land, he forbade the North West Company?s use of the route and as a result, the directors called upon their friend John Strachan to intervene. Strachan published letters stating that Lord Selkirk?s settlement was, ?calculated to divert the stream of emigration from the Canada?s and to cover those who go to the Red River with disappointment and misery? (Boorman 90). Strachan described Selkirk?s settlement as dismal and fruitless; he felt that the colonists in Selkirk?s Red River settlement would pledge allegiance to the Americans and not to Upper Canada and Britain. Strachan eventually achieved his goal of sabotaging Lord Selkirk?s settlement dream in favour of his friends at the North West Company. In addition to interfering with the settlement efforts of others Strachan, under his brother published a book entitled ?A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819?. In the book, he falsely describes Upper Canada only providing information about its good qualities such as cheap land. Strachan also commented that, ?At Cincinnati and in the state of Illinois many diseases prevail, scarcely known in this province? (Henderson b 73). In reality, Upper Canada had its fair share of sickness, but Strachan did not mention this fact so British settlers will be more inclined to migrate. John Strachan lied on many occasions to assure the emigration of British settlers to Upper Canada so he could create an elite society.
Throughout his career John Strachan, sought Anglican influenced education. The Common School Act was introduced in 1816 and instituted a government supported school system, which allotted 6000 pounds a year funding; Strachan saw this as an opportunity to establish religious education. Initially, ?Strachan wanted these common schools under clerical control to counteract dangerous American tendencies? (Smith 219). The school system envisioned by Strachan was one that was purely influenced by British ideals. Teachers would be Anglican and would be hired by Strachan and students would be of the Anglican faith. The assembly opposed the idea but Strachan would not let his dream of clerical education die. Consequently, in 1826 he went to England to petition for a University even though many in the colony were not in favour of the idea. Strachan stayed in England for eighteen months and helped draw up a charter, which was signed by his friend Lord Bathurst the colonial secretary. On March 31, 1827, Strachan had achieved his goal and was permitted to establish King?s College; he was given a 1000 pounds yearly grant. The university would be run by Strachan and according to his principles. When Strachan returned to Upper Canada and the news of his University Charter was known, William Lyon Mackenzie publisher of the Colonial advocate and future mayor of York protested against the University. ?Doctor Strachan procured a clause to be inserted in a former act of the provincial parliament authorizing an university to send a member to sit in the Assembly? (Flint 100). Mackenzie knew Strachan?s motives in trying to appoint one of his University members to the assembly. Mackenzie coined the term ?Family Compact? to describe Strachan?s bureau and recognized that its members would only serve to provide a mouthpiece for Strachan?s opinions. Strachan attributed the public attacks to, ?jealousy of the opponents of the Government?[because he] obtained all the objects for which [he] had gone home? (Flint 102). Strachan believed himself to be impervious to the attacks made by his aggressors and set out to establish his University. Unfortunately, Mackenzie persisted with attacking Strachan in his newspaper and eventually convinced the assembly that the Ecclesiastical chart made by Strachan resulted in the influencing of the unfair University Charter. The assembly challenged the government arguing that, ?its sectarian nature was not suited the charter and circumstances of the people of Upper Canada? (Flint 103). As a result, the charter was altered and the religious component of King?s College were abolished; the university was no longer exclusive and was subject to outer input. Furthermore, Mackenzie also publicly accused Strachan of educating in favour of class rule,
We have been informed that in the most populous country township in the Home District there is not more than one school of ten scholars, although the number of persons between six and sixteen is 600! This is the best practical commentary upon Doctor Strachan?s system of education for keeping the great mass of people in ignorance and educating and instructing a few sons of pensioners and placement to hold them in the chains of mental bondage. (Flint 112)
Mackenzie identified Strachan?s attempt to monopolize education as a scheme that would only benefit those of Anglican decent. John Strachan?s persistence with establishing education was biased since he only wished to educate the children of prominent Anglicans.
John Strachan manipulated the operations of the government in Upper Canada. For instance, Strachan was a member of both the Legislative and Executive Council?s. The Council?s had jurisdiction over the Assembly and could abolish bills that they passed. ?From 1829 ? 1830 alone the overwhelming majority of bills were turned down by the Legislative Council? (Henderson a 56). Strachan?s seat on the Executive Council was increasingly important because this council was in charge of the sale of land; he influenced the councils to grant the best lands to his friends. The wealthy landowners who usually sat on these councils could also manipulate elections in the Assembly; on three occasions, the Legislative Council pressured the Assembly and expelled Mackenzie. Strachan?s seat on both council?s allowed him to control the elected Assembly through himself and his friends. Moreover, in 1818 when Sir Peregrine Maitland was made Lieutenant ? Governor Strachan saw the opportunity to gain definitive authority over Upper Canada. Maitland came from a military background and as a result Strachan became one of his valued advisors and through Maitland, he controlled Upper Canada. It is during this time that Strachan was made the president of the Board of the General Superintendence of Education, which gave him a foothold in directing the future education of the province. Strachan also made many concessions regarding clergy reserves during this time and was given sanction by Maitland to appeal for a University. Strachan controlled Maitland and as a result controlled the government. Additionally, Strachan also had many of his friends otherwise known as the ?Family Compact? appointed to prestigious positions. John Beverly Robinson benefited from Strachan?s presence, ?their careers in Upper Canada had complemented one another. They had withstood the Americans during the war, guided the government, and faced the reformers ? Robinson the lawyer, judge, Chief Justice, and ever-loyal churchman? (Flint 152). Robinson, a former pupil of Strachan held him to be his mentor and thus shared his opinions. John Strachan contaminated the government with people who held his opinions and therefore monopolized the government.
John Strachan?s political reputation was plagued by controversy. For example, Robert Gourlay a Radical landowner attacked Strachan?s government and its influence over the elected assembly. John Strachan was an incredibly narrow-minded individual; he did not value any other opinions besides his own. In the Niagara Spectator Gourlay wrote,
Gentlemen, the constitution of this province is in danger, and all the blessings of the social compact are running waste. What is to be done? Do you expect anything from a new set of representatives? Here again you will be deceived. It is not all the men, it is the system, which blasts every hope of good, and till the system is overturned, it is vain to expect anything of value from change of representatives or governors. (Flint 78)
Gourlay recognized that the elected assembly did not represent the feelings of the public and felt that it should be abolished. He directed his attacks to Strachan because of his influential position in the government and his misrepresentation of immigration in the colony. This twisting of key information resulted in land grants in favour of Strachan?s ideals causing in ridicule amongst the public. Gourlay rallied many followers who shared the same grievances as he did and they publicly protested against Strachan and the government. In consequence, Strachan convinced the government to use the Alien Act of 1804 to deport Gourlay because of his radical opinions. Whenever Strachan felt any pressure, he rallied his friends in government to dispose of it. A previous attack made by Gourlay regarded Strachan?s involvement with Lord Selkirk?s land sales, Gourlay wrote,
Dr. Strachan is fair game before the public?let him never again intermeddle with the free commercial speculations of any individual; let him give up dabbling in politics and trifling with philosophy; let him resign his seat in council, where no priest should ever have a place; let him go into a penitentiary; let him stick to the alter where his utmost zeal and ability has scope ? and then we shall leave him to God and his conscience (Flint 76).
Gourlay felt that Strachan?s position in government was damaging Upper Canada; he publicly demanded that Strachan resign his seat on the Executive Council because a priest should only concern himself with God and the church. It is also evident that Gourlay was disgusted with Strachan?s political involvement and felt that God would condemn him for interfering with sectarian matters. As Strachan increased his political involvement, more questions about his intentions arose. Furthermore, Egerton Ryerson also pointed out the hypocrisy of Strachan?s views. Strachan felt that the travelling Methodist priests were lazy and uneducated, but Ryerson pointed out,
Those indolent covetous men who travel from twenty to three hundred miles and preach from twenty-five to forty times each month?those who continue this labour year after year and are elevated with the enormous salary of twenty-five or fifty pounds per annum? These are the men who teach ?the gospel out of idleness? ? O bigotry, thou parent of persecution! O envy, thou god of injustice! Would to heaven ye were banished from the earth! (Flint 98)
Ryerson condemned Strachan?s view of idle Methodist priest. Compared to Anglican priests the Methodist ministers worked much harder and for considerably less than the 130 pounds annually that the Anglican ministers received. Moreover, during the Cholera outbreak of 1832 Strachan contributed aid to the poor settlers, William Lyon Mackenzie commented,
Be assured that the splendid carriages of your judges and pensioners and governors and gentry will be followed by pauperism, poverty, vice and crime. It adds to the pleasures (mean and grovelling as they are) of such a man as Doctor Strachan to have a hundred poor miserable wretches humbly attending his ?soup kitchen? begging for a morsel. Their poverty forms an agreeable and striking contrast with the coach, the palace, the liveried footman of their Doctor (Flint 116).
Mackenzie resented Strachan for having him expelled from the assembly three times in his career, he saw Strachan as an evil and manipulative individual. Mackenzie believed Strachan?s generous deeds during the epidemic to be political interests and not because Strachan felt the need to help the poor. John Strachan?s reputation suffered during his rise to prominence.
John Strachan?s corrupt objectives were evident in his supporting of the monopolization of the clergy reserves, controlling of non-British immigration, lobbying strictly for Anglican education in schools, his manipulation of the government and his poor reputation amongst the public. Throughout history, the question of whether John Strachan was a man of integrity or of dishonesty remains to be answered. Whatever the answer may be, Strachan helped to push Canada out of its infancy towards establishing an identity. John Strachan?s insistence of the Anglican Church controlling the clergy reserves was ultimately driven by hunger for power and sheer dislike of any opposition. Strachan had no right to falsify documents, which allowed the controlling of all revenues from these lands. If Strachan was really a man of God, he would acknowledge the other Protestant groups claims to the reserves because in the end they all follow the same god. Instead, Strachan chose to fabricate slander about the other groups thus reducing his reputation. In addition, Strachan?s approach to achieving a completely British influenced society was plagued by lies and misrepresentations. Strachan?s interference with the settling of lands was incredibly low for a man in his position. The lies and sabotage produced by Strachan are clearly not principles for a loving and wholesome man of God. John Strachan also extended his prejudice views towards education. Strachan was in favour of a government run education system to educate all children, but only if they were of the ?proper? class. The curriculum taught would be traditionally English in order to instil principles. In essence, Strachan wanted these students to inherit Upper Canada and continue the British rule of government. The act of discriminating by class rule is highly unethical behaviour for a pastoral leader. Moreover, the fact that Strachan held many prestigious and powerful positions clearly illustrates his power hungry nature. Typically, church matters were entirely separate from the secular government; Strachan clearly could not handle this and as a result corrupted the government with his former pupils the ?Family Compact? to express his views. Generally, pastors dedicate their lives to God and to instilling good morals in their communities; John Strachan?s first devotion was to politics, then to God. Strachan actually used his religious prestige to influence public opinions. In effect, Strachan?s poor reputation reflected his poor character and morals. Strachan had many notable enemies who saw him for what he truly was, a widely outspoken bigoted individual. The actions of John Strachan during the early 1800?s lead to the majority of grievances amongst the population. Strachan played an integral role in The Rebellions of 1837; he assisted in providing the reasons to rebel. Strachan caused the population to stand up and fight the government, which eventually lead to the implementation of the idea of Responsible Government. Although Strachan proved to be an egotistical close-minded individual, he was essential in moulding Canadian society.
Works CitedBentley, D.M.R, and Wanda Campbell, ?John Strachan, Versus?1802.? [http://www.arts.uwo.ca/canpoetry/cpjrn/vol32/bentcamp.htm]
Berton, Pierre. The Invasion of Canada 1812 ? 1813. Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2001.
Boorman, Sylvia. John Toronto. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1969.
Flint, David. John Strachan, Pastor and Politician. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Henderson, J.L.H. a. John Strachan. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969.
Henderson, J.L.H. b. John Strachan : Documents and Opinions. Toronto: McLelland and Stewart Ltd, 1969.
Smith, Donald B. Readings in Canadian History: Pre ? Confederation, 3d ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.
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