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WHITE, THOMAS (1830-88) – Volume XI (1881-1890)

d. 21 April 1888 at Ottawa, Ont.


Responsible Government

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HUNTINGTON, LUCIUS SETH, lawyer, journalist, businessman, politician, and author; b. 26 May 1827 at Compton, Lower Canada, the son of Seth Huntington, a farmer, and Mary Hovey; d. 19 May 1886 in New York City.

Both the paternal and the maternal ancestors of Lucius Seth Huntington moved from New England to the Eastern Townships at the turn of the 19th century. Because they were part of a wave of settlers more attracted by cheap and plentiful land than by British political institutions, it was perhaps natural that Huntington would become an “advanced Liberal” and warm admirer of the United States. Educated in local grammar schools and at Brownington Seminary in Vermont, Huntington studied law under John Sewell Sanborn*, Sherbrooke’s annexationist mla. To support himself while studying, he became principal of Shefford Academy in Frost Village. After his admission to the bar in 1853 he married Miriam Jane Wood. The legal profession in the western section of the Townships was overcrowded, so Huntington decided to supplement his income by becoming a merchant. Commerce had begun to boom in the Townships after the construction of the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1852.

The railway freed the region from economic isolation, and each town clamoured for a branch line in order to partake in the prosperity. The Montreal politicians who represented the area found themselves unable to satisfy the demands of their “backwoods” constituents, who also requested local courts, financial institutions, and higher education facilities. The voters of the Townships resolved to elect local residents to gain these improvements. The ambitious young Huntington quickly put himself at the head of the regional protest movement by founding the Advertiser and Eastern Townships Sentinel in Knowlton, Canada East, in January 1856. He was assisted by a local entrepreneur, Hiram Sewell Foster, and given full support by the county’s two members of the Legislative Council, Paul Holland Knowlton* and Philip Henry Moore*. As a Conservative, Knowlton allayed suspicions that the newspaper was simply a Liberal organ. The Advertiser’s main goals were to develop a sense of local pride in the human and natural resources of the region and to have that spirit forcefully expressed in political life. When George-Étienne Cartier*’s law reform bill of 1857 decentralized the courts, the Advertiser boasted that it was “the direct result of Eastern Townships agitation for practical reform” and proof that the people could “redress the social and political evils which oppress them.”

In 1857 the newspaper moved from Knowlton to Waterloo, Canada East, because Huntington had become secretary of the Stanstead, Shefford and Chambly Railroad Company. Huntington’s political sympathies clearly lay with the Liberals, but they did not interfere with his ambitions for the region and himself. In 1858 he successfully supported Asa Belknap Foster*, a local candidate in a by-election in Shefford County, against Lewis Thomas Drummond, who had just been appointed attorney general in the short-lived Liberal ministry of George Brown* and Antoine-Aimé Dorion*. Publicly Huntington claimed that Drummond’s only sin was that he was from Montreal, but like Foster he probably felt that Drummond had jeopardized the Stanford, Shefford and Chambly Railroad (of which he was president) by joining the Liberals.

Drummond’s defeat in Shefford marked the end of absentee representation in the western section of the Townships. When Foster resigned in 1860 to seek election to the Legislative Council, Huntington decided to become a candidate in the by-election himself. But like most Townships people sympathetic to the Liberals, he found it difficult to defend a party which under George Brown advocated the sectional interests of Canada West. Huntington’s solution was to launch the Eastern Townships Party. The Montreal Tories, frustrated by Huntington in their attempts to represent the Townships directly, turned to the francophone population, now two-thirds of the Shefford electorate, as a source of voting strength. They offered as their candidate Michel-Adrien Bessette, the popular mayor of North Stukely, who embittered the campaign by declaring that the French Canadian majority should elect one of their own nationality and religion. The result was a tie vote, and before the matter could be settled, the legislature was dissolved. In the 1861 general election Huntington managed to win a comfortable majority over Flavien-R. Blanchard, the mayor of Ely.

In the house, Huntington became a regular supporter of the Liberal party. He was an effective speaker, and by 1863 had proved himself a capable enough parliamentarian to be appointed solicitor general in the John Sandfield Macdonald*–Dorion government. In 1864 he, like the other Lower Canadian Liberals, refused to support the Great Coalition [see George Brown] and its confederation project. No guarantees, he felt, could ensure the future of the English-speaking minority should Canada East acquire its own legislature.

The return of the Liberals to the opposition benches in 1864 enabled Huntington to devote more time to his private interests. By this time he had stopped managing the Advertiser and had moved to Montreal where he wrote occasional editorials for the Montreal Herald, edited by Edward Goff Penny. But his financial interests continued to be centred in the Eastern Townships, especially after 1865 when the demand which had been created by the American Civil War enabled him to profit from copper mines he owned in Bolton Township. His personal economic well-being and that of his region clearly depended upon trade with the Americans. In 1867 he declared that confederation would prematurely sever the Canadian connection with England, but by 1870 he agreed with Alexander Tilloch Galt* and the French-speaking Liberals that the continuing diplomatic tie with Great Britain was hindering the renewal of a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States such as had existed between 1854 and 1866. For such a purpose he was particularly anxious that Canada acquire independent treaty-making powers.

Huntington had reason to be concerned for by 1871 his fortunes had reached a low ebb. The short wooden railway built to his mine proved to be impracticable, the bottom fell out of the copper market, and his wife and one of his sons died in rapid succession. Furthermore, his stand on Canadian independence did little except embarrass the Liberal party hierarchy. Huntington was fading into political obscurity when in 1873 he uncovered the famous Pacific Scandal. In the House of Commons he charged that the government of Sir John A. Macdonald* had granted Sir Hugh Allan’s American-financed company the charter to build the Canadian transcontinental railway in return for contributions towards the Conservatives’ 1872 general election campaign. Macdonald suspected that Huntington’s old partner in the Eastern townships railway, the Conservative Asa Foster, had played a key role in publicizing certain incriminating documents. These suspicions were reinforced after the Conservatives resigned in November 1873 and met defeat at the polls, for Foster, Huntington, and George Stephen* soon formed a syndicate to acquire the Pacific railway construction contract. Huntington planned to resign his post as president of the Privy Council in Alexander Mackenzie*’s newly formed cabinet in order to devote all his energies to this project, but he soon became involved in a scandal of his own. The Conservatives, anxious for revenge, charged that Huntington had made false representations in selling his and other Townships copper mines in Great Britain. Luther Hamilton Holton*, a powerful Montreal Liberal, persuaded Huntington not to step down as the cabinet’s Protestant Quebec representative because to do so might be interpreted as a confession of his guilt. The British company involved eventually dropped a law suit it had instituted, and Huntington remained in the cabinet as postmaster general after October 1875. Because he continued as a minister, he ended his involvement in the syndicate seeking the railway construction contract.

Huntington soon precipitated another national controversy. During the Argenteuil by-election of December 1875, which came amid the controversy following the death of Joseph Guibord* in 1869, Huntington warned Quebec’s Protestants that they could not hope to defend themselves against the encroachments of ultramontane Catholics unless they supported the Liberal party. A. T. Galt poured oil on the resulting fire by endorsing and elaborating upon this theme in two published pamphlets. This episode was the beginning of the end of Huntington’s political career, because Holton had now decided that he wanted Huntington’s cabinet post. Using the Argenteuil speech as his lever, Holton informed Alexander Mackenzie that Huntington should be forced to resign if the ministry did not share his views and then demanded in the House of Commons that the government make a public announcement on the issue. Mackenzie confided to George Brown that he indeed agreed with Huntington’s sentiments, “but I fear we are not strong enough with the English in Quebec hostile to us to carry that principle into effect.” Although the Catholic hierarchy demanded, and the Liberal government eventually delivered, an official disavowal of Huntington’s speech, he did remain in the cabinet.

The rift in the Quebec wing of the party was not quickly healed, nor could Huntington live down the suspicion that he was a less capable minister than Holton would have been. In spite of the Liberal defeat nationally in 1878, he managed to retain his seat against both Conservative and French Canadian Liberal opponents. However, he was continually hounded as a hypocrite and a francophobe, and personal misfortunes drew him further away from active politics after 1879. He felt deeply the loss of his second son, Russell, who had been a member of the Montreal Herald’s editorial staff, and a severe throat infection kept him from speaking either in parliament or during his 1882 election campaign. When the Conservatives in Shefford united behind the French Canadian Liberal candidate, Huntington was defeated at last. He then moved to New York, the home of his second wife, Mrs Marsh, in order to receive special medical attention. During his remaining four years of life he made only brief visits to Canada, in order to oversee his business interests in the Laflamme, Huntington and Laflamme law firm and the Mutual Life Association of Canada.

Partly to help pass the time, and partly to keep his views before the public, Huntington in 1884 published a rather prosaic novel entitled Professor Conant in which he stressed the importance of what he called an independent public opinion. Not surprisingly, ultramontanism was singled out as one of its greatest enemies. Abstract as Huntington’s arguments were, it is nevertheless clear that his liberal philosophy was tailored to fit his own social and economic interests as an English Canadian entrepreneur in the Eastern Townships. In fact the declining influence of the anglophone population in the region had a good deal to do with his ultimate failure as a politician.

J. I. Little

[Lucius Seth Huntington was the author of The independence of Canada; the annual address delivered before the Agricultural Society of the County of Missisquoi, at Bedford, Sept81869 (Montreal, 1869) and of Professor Conant: a story of English and American social and political life (Toronto, 1884). Among the papers of politicians, the most useful for Huntington’s career are the following: at PAC, the George Brown papers (MG 24, B40) and the Alexander Mackenzie papers (MG 26, B); and at AO, the Blake (Edward) papers (MU 136–273).  j.i.l.]

Can., House of Commons, Debates, 1867–69, 1876–82. Advertiser and Eastern Townships Sentinel (Knowlton and Waterloo, Que.), 1856–60. Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette, 20, 22 May 1886. Canadian directory of parl. (J. K. Johnson). CPC, 1867–81. Dent, Canadian portrait gallery, IV: 56–61. J. P. Noyes, Sketches of some early Shefford pioneers ([Montreal], 1905), 15–64, 77, 83. R. P. Frye, “Resident representation; a political problem of the Eastern Townships of Quebec as seen from the pages of the Waterloo Advertiser and Eastern Townships Sentinel(ma thesis in preparation, Univ. of Ottawa). W. R. Graham, “The Alexander Mackenzie administration, 1873–78: a study of Liberal tenets and tactics” (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1944). O. D. Skelton, The life and times of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (Toronto, 1920). Thomson, Alexander Mackenzie (Toronto, 1960). J. S. Willison, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberal party; a political history (2v., Toronto, 1903). Y.-F. Zoltvany, “Les libéraux du Québec, leur parti et leur pensée (1867–1873)” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1960). T. A. Burke, “Mackenzie and his cabinet, 1873–1878,” CHR, 41 (1960): 128–48.

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Cite This Article

J. I. Little, “HUNTINGTON, LUCIUS SETH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/huntington_lucius_seth_11E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/huntington_lucius_seth_11E.html
Author of Article:   J. I. Little
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   April 21, 2024