TODD, ALPHEUS, librarian and author; b. 30 July 1821 in London, England, son of author Henry Cooke Todd; m. in 1845 Sarah Anne St John, and they had four sons and a daughter; d. 22 Jan. 1884 at Ottawa, Ont.

Alpheus Todd came to York (Toronto), Upper Canada, with his parents in 1833. When York was incorporated as Toronto in the following year, Todd, although barely in his teens, produced an engraved plan of the city. His efforts impressed Robert Baldwin Sullivan*, a prominent lawyer, who helped him obtain an appointment to the library of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada in 1835; Todd became assistant librarian the next year. Self-educated, he showed a keen interest in the study of British parliamentary practice and in its application to Canadian and other colonial situations. Five years after his first appointment he published The practice and privileges of the two houses of parliament. With the union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841, Todd became assistant librarian of the Legislative Assembly on 19 September and his book, the only work of its kind, was officially adopted by the assembly for the use of its members.

Early in the summer of 1854 Todd wrote an important paper for the speaker of the assembly, John Sandfield Macdonald*, agreeing with the speaker’s controversial objection to the dissolution of parliament by Governor General Lord Elgin [Bruce*] on the advice of the premier, Francis Hincks. The house had been dissolved before the new session had conducted a single item of business, indeed before it had even finished the debate on the address in reply to the speech from the throne. In his cold, concise prose, Todd cited numerous precedents in British parliamentary tradition from as far back as the Elizabethan era and “amply vindicated” Macdonald’s behaviour. Furthermore, the brief by Todd became the model for dozens more that he would write for members from both sides of the house during the ensuing years. The research undertaken for these briefs became an integral part of his monumental writings on British constitutional practice.

On 31 March 1856, Todd succeeded Dr W. Winder as chief librarian of the assembly and Antoine Gérin-Lajoie was appointed his assistant. Todd had recently returned from an eight-month trip to Europe where he had been sent by the legislature to acquire books for the library which had suffered in two disastrous fires. The burning of the Parliament Buildings in Montreal during the riots of 1849 had destroyed all but 200 of the library’s 14,000 volumes. Then, early in 1854, when parliament was temporarily located in Quebec City, its buildings were severely gutted. Although close to 9,000 of the 17,000 volumes in the library were saved and moved to the Séminaire de Québec, Todd had to cover the losses and expand the collection. During his trip he secured several hundred volumes as gifts from the British parliament and government, and bought thousands on the market. In France he acquired hundreds more. He returned to Quebec with over 17,000 volumes, having kept well within his relatively meagre budget. Thus Todd had formed the nucleus of a quality collection which by 1865 he had judiciously increased to 55,000 volumes. Late that year Todd took charge of the move to the new, permanent library in Ottawa, employing river barges for transportation. On 1 July 1867, he became librarian of the dominion parliamentary library, a post he held until his death. In 1866 he had published his Brief suggestions in regard to the formation of local governments for Upper and Lower Canada, a small work which considerably influenced the constitutions of Ontario and Quebec incorporated into the British North America Act.

Todd’s most significant work was undoubtedly On parliamentary government in England, published in two volumes in 1867–69. These massive volumes were well received and made him an eminent authority throughout the empire. Indeed the Edinburgh Review declared that it was “a remarkable circumstance that we should be indebted to a resident in a distant colony . . . for one of the most useful and complete books which has ever appeared on the practical operation of the British Constitution.” The Westminster Review called it “the most complete treatise” on royal prerogative and on parliamentary privilege. In his preface Todd indicated that he had misgivings about the increasing “democratic element” in Canada and that “considerable modifications” in British practice would be needed to enable colonial governments “to resist the encroachments of the tide of democratic ascendancy, which is everywhere uprising, and threatening to overwhelm ‘the powers that be.’” His treatise thus emphasized the history of executive authority in the British system and “sought to vindicate for the monarchical element its appropriate sphere.” The second volume was dedicated to Sir John A. Macdonald* and to the late Thomas D’Arcy McGee*, by whose “lamented and untimely decease” the author had lost a devoted friend. The work was translated into French, German, Spanish, and Italian, and was used extensively in the development of parliamentary institutions in late-19th-century Japan. In 1887–89 a new enlarged edition was published by Todd’s son Arthur Hamlyn Todd and in 1892 Spencer Walpole edited an abridged edition.

In 1873 Todd played a major role as special adviser to Governor General Lord Dufferin [Blackwoood*] during the constitutional intricacies relating to the Pacific Scandal and the subsequent fall of the John A. Macdonald government. His second major work, Parliamentary government in the British colonies (1880), was dedicated to Lord Dufferin. In it Todd extended his study of responsible parliamentary government from Great Britain to British North America and, in lesser detail, to Australasia and South Africa, and he stressed the continuing constitutional role of the crown and its representative, the governor general. In his lengthy analysis of Canadian federalism he described the provinces as definitely subordinate but clearly recognized the importance of their local autonomy. He was extremely critical in his book of the way in which Macdonald, both before and after returning to office in 1878, had handled the question of the dismissal of Luc Letellier de Saint-Just, the lieutenant governor of Quebec. Macdonald, he said, had used “rash and ill considered” parliamentary resolutions, “subversive of kingly authority,” as grounds for advising the governor general to dismiss Letellier, when the grave decision should have been that of the governor general in council and should have been accompanied by an explanation of the reasons for dismissal. In 1889 William McDougall*, veteran lawyer and politician, calling Parliamentary government “the only book of the kind as yet available to the political student,” referred to its author as an industrious man of “gentle, unassuming, patient manner towards those who approached him. French or English, Grit or Tory, Government or Opposition were alike to him when in the quest of information.” Todd’s son edited an expanded second edition of this work in 1894.

The Marquess of Lorne [Campbell*] wrote in 1887 that he would never forget Todd’s “anxious, patriotic and conscientious caution in talking over constitutional questions” with him during his period of office as governor general of Canada, and that Todd was a man of “utter disinterestedness, with clear and impartial and yet deeply held convictions.” In 1881 Lorne had personally and successfully recommended him for a cmg. The historian William Kingsford* alleged that it was Macdonald’s pique over Todd’s “unimpeachable” opinion in the Letellier case that prevented him from receiving a knighthood or a Canadian honour. In the same year, however, Todd received an lld from Queen’s College at Kingston, and he was a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada in 1882. He also had a strong interest in theological studies. He was a minister of the Catholic Apostolic Church, to which he was deeply dedicated. At one point he had two congregations in his charge, one in Ottawa, the other in the United States.

As an authority on the operation of the British parliament, Todd’s only contemporary rival was the British writer, Sir Thomas Erskine May. The importance to Canada of his work on the British colonies, however, was soon to be overshadowed by the constitutional writings of Sir John George Bourinot*. Nevertheless, when Sir John Forrest, a senior minister in the Australian government, met Arthur Hamlyn Todd in Ottawa in 1902, he commented to his host, Governor General Lord Minto [Elliot*], that “wherever the British flag flies, every Governor; every Premier; and every Minister is under the deepest obligation to [Alpheus] Todd.”

Bruce W. Hodgins

Alpheus Todd was the author of The practice and privileges of the two houses of parliament: with an appendix of forms (Toronto, 1840); Brief suggestions in regard to the formation of local governments for Upper and Lower Canada, in connection with a federal union of the British North American provinces (Ottawa, 1866), translated as Quelques considérations sur la formation des gouvernements locaux du Haut et du Bas-Canada, dans l’union fédérale des provinces de l’Amérique britannique du Nord (Ottawa, 1866); On parliamentary government in England: its origin, development, and practical operation (2v., London, 1867–69), a new edition of which, published in London in 1892 as Parliamentary government . . . , was translated as Le gouvernement parlementaire en Angleterre . . . (Paris, 1900); On the position of a constitutional governor under responsible government (Ottawa, 1878); Parliamentary government in the British colonies (London, 1880), a second edition of which was edited by his son A. H. Todd in 1894, and of the article “Is Canadian loyalty a sentiment or a principle?” in Rose-Belford’s Canadian Monthly and National Rev. (Toronto), 7 (July–December 1881): 523–30.

PAC, MG 24, B30; 1140. Univ. of Saskatchewan Library (Saskatoon), Special Coll., A. S. Morton coll., A. H. Todd, “Alpheus Todd, 1821–1884” (typescript, 1923). Edinburgh Rev. (London and Edinburgh), 125 (January–April 1867): 578–96. Westminster Rev. (London), new ser., 31 (January–April 1867): 527. DNB. Dominion annual register, 1884: 247–48. William Kingsford, The early bibliography of the province of Ontario . . . (Toronto and Montreal, 1892). Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 373–75. E. R. Cameron, “Alpheus Todd,” Canadian Bar Rev. (Toronto), 3 (1925): 440–47. N.-E. Dionne, “Histoire de la bibliothèque du parlement à Québec, 1792–1892,” RSC Trans., 2nd ser., 8 (1902), sect.i: 3–15.

Cite This Article

Bruce W. Hodgins, “TODD, ALPHEUS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 25, 2024,

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Author of Article:   Bruce W. Hodgins
Title of Article:   TODD, ALPHEUS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   July 25, 2024