The resignation in March 1836 of Baldwin and the other councillors over Lieutenant-Governor Francis Bond HEAD's refusal to consult them plunged the colony into the gravest political and constitutional crisis prior to the REBELLION OF 1837. Baldwin remained neutral during the uprising. In its aftermath, he and his father met briefly with Lord Durham during Durham's visit to Toronto in July 1838. Baldwin then submitted to Durham a detailed memorandum dealing with the principle of RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT which probably influenced Durham's adoption of the principle in his famous Report. Baldwin became the rallying figure in rebuilding the postrebellion Reform opposition and forging an alliance with L.H. LAFONTAINE's Lower Canadian Liberals.
Although not a natural politician or a towering intellect, Baldwin commanded respect and exercised moral leadership by reason of his character. In a preindustrial society that revered the code of gentlemen, he embodied the cherished virtues of adherence to honour, duty and principle. Each time he gained office he left it by resignation rather than compromise his principles. Solicitor general in Governor General Lord SYDENHAM's ministry and an executive councillor in 1841, Baldwin resigned that June when the governor refused to implement responsible government.
In the Assembly, Baldwin and LaFontaine steadily attracted members to the cause of responsible government until they had built a majority. They attained office in 1842-43 and again in 1848-51, the latter the so-called "Great Ministry." The first government was active and successful, but a conflict with Governor METCALFE over his refusal to consult them on patronage led to their resignations in November 1843. During this, and the subsequent ministry Baldwin served as co-premier and attorney general (Upper Canada).
In the second ministry his great accomplishments were the formal attainment of responsible government and its confirmation during the REBELLION LOSSES crisis of 1849, the establishment of UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, reform of the Upper Canadian judiciary, and establishment of an adequate system of municipal government in the upper province. Baldwin's hold on power was weakened, however, by a left-wing revolt in the party (by the CLEAR GRITS), by his own deteriorating health, and by differences over economic policy with Francis HINCKS.
Discouraged and wracked by depression Baldwin resigned on 30 June 1851. Later that year he sought re-election but was defeated. The tormented figure withdrew to his home, to give himself over to the rituals of his preoccupation with his dead wife. As a man Baldwin was little understood or loved by contemporaries, or historians. He had failed to preserve the social order he sought to defend, but his reputation is secure as the popularizer of responsible government and one of the first, if not the first, proponents of a bicultural nation.
Author MICHAEL S. CROSS AND ROBERT L. FRASER
J.M.S. Careless, ed, The Pre-Confederation Premiers (1980); M.S. Cross and R.L. Fraser, "'The Waste that Lies Before Me': The Public and the Private Worlds of Robert Baldwin," Historical Papers (1983).
Links to Other Sites
Baldwin and Lafontaine
Watch the Baldwin and Lafontaine Heritage Minute from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
A biography of Robert Baldwin with photographs and other archival resources. This “Canadian Confederation” website is from Library and Archives Canada.
Click on the brief profiles of "extraordinary Canadians" and the authors who wrote about them in this Penguin Group (Canada) series. Also includes bios of artists who created the cover art for each book.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...