William Lyon Mackenzie
William Lyon Mackenzie
William Lyon Mackenzie, c. 1851-1861
|1st Mayor of Toronto|
March 27, 1834 – January 14, 1835
|Preceded by||Alexander Macdonell (Chairman of York)|
|Succeeded by||Robert Sullivan|
|Member of the |
Upper Canada Legislative Assembly
January 8, 1829 – March 6, 1834
Serving with Jesse Ketchum (1829–1832)
|Succeeded by||Edward William Thomson|
|Member of the |
Province of Canada Legislative Assembly
for Haldimand County
|Preceded by||David Thompson|
|Born||March 13, 1795|
|Died||August 28, 1861 (aged 66)|
Toronto, Canada West (now Ontario, Canada)
|Resting place||Toronto Necropolis|
|Children||James, Isabel, unnamed daughter, Barbara, Janet, Helen, Joseph Hume, Margaret (Tottie), Elizabeth (Lybbie), William Lyon, George, Isabel Grace|
William Lyon Mackenzie (March 12, 1795 – August 28, 1861)[a] was a Scottish-born Canadian-American journalist and politician. Growing up in Dundee, Scotland, he emigrated to York, Upper Canada, and became a publisher. He was elected to the 10th Parliament of Upper Canada as a legislator from York, allied with Reform legislators, and investigated members of the Family Compact and Tory politicians. His critiques of government administrators caused Mackenzie to be expelled from the legislature many times. He brought grievances from Upper Canada citizens to the Colonial Office in London, England, which caused the colonial secretary to propose reforms in the colony.
In 1834 York became the city of Toronto and Mackenzie was chosen as its first mayor. He became disillusioned with the government structure of Upper Canada after losing his seat in the 1836 provincial election and led the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837. Upon the rebellion's defeat, he fled to the United States and tried to overthrow the Upper Canadian government with invasions as part of the Patriot War. He was imprisoned for violating the Neutrality Act of 1794 and stopped organising military campaigns. He became an American citizen and moved back to Upper Canada after receiving amnesty from the Canadian legislature. He represented the constituency of Haldimand County in the Province of Canada legislature from 1851 to 1858. He died on August 28, 1861, from an apoplectic seizure.
Mackenzie's papers aligned with the Reform movement and he wrote editorials that criticised the Upper Canadian government and the Family Compact. He opposed any special status or benefits for religious institutions, particularly clergy reserves given to the Anglican church. He opposed the creation of monopolies and proposed policies that would make it easier for citizens to own parcels of land. Mackenzie's influence on Canadian politics is debated among his contemporaries and historians. Some believe he delayed the establishment of responsible government by making it unpopular among government officials. Others believe he exposed corruption in the executive branch and government administration, which caused citizens to demand reforms to the political process. William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute and a fireboat were named for him, and a journalist used his identity to satirise candidates in the 2010 Toronto mayoral election.
Early life and immigration (1795–1824)
Background, early years in Scotland, and education
William Lyon Mackenzie was born on March 12, 1795, in Dundee, Scotland. His grandfathers were part of Clan Mackenzie and fought for Charles Edward Stuart at the Battle of Culloden. His mother Elizabeth (née Chambers), a weaver and goat herder, had been orphaned at a young age. Mackenzie's father, Daniel, seventeen years younger than Elizabeth, was a weaver. The couple married on May 8, 1794. After attending a public dance, Daniel became sick, blind and bedridden. He passed away a few weeks after Mackenzie was born.
Although Elizabeth had relatives in Dundee, she insisted on raising Mackenzie independently. She was a deeply religious Calvinist, and Mackenzie learned the teachings of the Presbyterian church. Mackenzie reported he was raised in poverty, although the extent of his family's wealth is difficult to authenticate. At five years old, Mackenzie received a bursary for a parish grammar school in Dundee and later transferred to a Mr Adie's school. In 1810, he used the reading room of the Dundee Advertiser and possibly wrote articles for them under various pseudonyms. He was a founding member of a club for scientific discussion called the Dundee Rational Institution.
Mackenzie's mother arranged an apprenticeship for him as a clerk to a businessman. In 1813 he moved to Alyth to help his mother open a general store. Mackenzie had a relationship with Isabel Reid, and she gave birth to his son James on July 17, 1814. His congregation agreed to baptise James after Mackenzie paid a fine of thirteen shillings and fourpence to the church and endured public criticism for his sin of pre-marital sexual relations.
A recession followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and Mackenzie's store went bankrupt. He worked as a bookkeeper for the Kennet and Avon Canal Company. Mackenzie also worked for a newspaper in London. He became a gambler, almost losing his wealth, but abstained from this practice for the rest of his life after he emigrated to British North America in 1820.
Early years in Canada
Mackenzie's friend John Lesslie suggested they emigrate to Canada, and they travelled there aboard a schooner named Psyche. When he arrived in North America, he worked in Montreal for the owners of the Lachine Canal as a bookkeeper and The Montreal Herald as a journalist. He moved to York, Upper Canada, and the Lesslie family employed him at a bookselling and drugstore business where he received the profits from selling drugs. In 1820 he wrote for the York Observer under the pseudonym "Mercator". The Lesslies opened a second shop in Dundas, Ontario, and Mackenzie moved there to become its branch manager.
In 1822, his mother and son James immigrated to Upper Canada with Isabel Baxter, whom his mother had chosen to marry Mackenzie. Although they were schoolmates, Mackenzie and Baxter did not know each other well before meeting in Upper Canada. The couple wed on July 1, 1822, in Montreal and they would have thirteen children. Their first daughter, Isabel, was born in Dundas in 1823.
The Colonial Advocate and early years in York (1823–27)
Creation of the Colonial Advocate
The partnership between the Lesslies and Mackenzie ended in 1823, and Mackenzie moved to Queenston in 1824 to open a new general store. In May 1824 he sold his store and bought a printing press to create the Colonial Advocate. He refused government subsidies and relied on subscriptions, although he sent free copies to people he considered influential. He organised a ceremony for the start of the construction of the memorial to Isaac Brock and sealed a capsule within the stonework containing an issue of the Colonial Advocate, the Upper Canada Gazette, some coins, and an inscription he wrote. Lieutenant-Governor Peregrine Maitland ordered the capsule's removal because the Colonial Advocate was critical of the government. His unnamed second daughter was born in Queenston but died on September 1, 1824.
In November 1824 Mackenzie relocated the paper and his family to York, and on December 22, 1824, his daughter Isabel died of smallpox. In April 1825 he published Rural Rides, an account of his travels in Upper Canada. The newspaper faced financial pressures because of low subscription numbers and late payments from readers. In June Mackenzie suspended publication of the Colonial Advocate for six months and bought a new printing press. Although the paper had the highest circulation among York newspapers, he still lost money on every issue. In 1826, James Buchanan Macaulay accused Mackenzie of improper business transactions and made jokes about Mackenzie's Scottish heritage and his mother. Mackenzie retaliated by announcing his retirement from the paper on May 4, 1826, and publishing a fictitious meeting where contributors selected Patrick Swift as the new editor. Mackenzie continued to publish the Colonial Advocate under the Swift alias.
In the spring of 1824, Mackenzie published articles in the Colonial Advocate under the Swift pseudonym that questioned the Family Compact's governance of the colony and described their personal lives. On June 8, 1826, rioters attacked the offices of the Colonial Advocate in retaliation to these articles. They harassed Mackenzie's family and employees, destroyed the printing press and threw its movable type, the letters a printing press uses to print documents, into the bay. Mackenzie was not in York at the time and avoided returning after friends advised him that his life might be in danger. Jesse Ketchum encouraged Mackenzie to sue the rioters because of public sympathy for the paper. Mackenzie hired James Edward Small as his attorney and sued eight rioters in a civil suit. Before the trial, he offered to settle out of court if the defendants paid £2000 (equivalent to £168,067 in 2016). The defendants' lawyer, James Buchanan Macaulay, counter offered £200, then £300. Mackenzie rejected the offers, and the lawsuit went to trial.
Mackenzie hired Marshall Spring Bidwell to represent him in the court proceedings. Bidwell argued Mackenzie lost income from the damaged property and his inability to fulfil printing contracts. He accused the defendants of violating Mackenzie's right to privacy for destroying his home (which was attached to the printing press) and violating all Englishmen's right to a free press for destroying the newspaper's ability to produce new editions. Upon cross-examination, Mackenzie's employees confirmed he wrote Patrick Swift's editorials in the Colonial Advocate.
The court awarded Mackenzie £625 (equivalent to £1,008 in 2016) in damages which he used to pay off his creditors and restart production of the Colonial Advocate. One year after the riots, he documented the incident in a series of articles, which he later published as The History of the Destruction of the Colonial Advocate Press. At the rioters' criminal trial in April 1828, Mackenzie testified the physical damage to his property cost £12, but this did not include lost revenue from the destruction of his printing press.
In January 1827, Mackenzie applied for membership to the Freemason Lodge in York. He confronted the Master of the Lodge over rituals and obligations described in William Morgan's book on the Freemasons. The Master denied the claims and told Mackenzie he could withdraw his application if he forfeited his two-dollar deposit. Mackenzie did not withdraw his application, but it was rejected on March 7. On March 29 the Colonial Advocate published Mackenzie's first direct negative critique of the Masons, which accused them of killing members who violated their oaths. He published the first Canadian edition of Morgan's book in April. An anonymous Masonic member exposed Mackenzie's Freemason application in The Canadian Freeman and accused Mackenzie of provoking powerful people to sell newspapers. Mackenzie published an account of his application and accused Freemasons of offering him a membership to stop negative reporting. His daughter Barbara was born in May 1827.
Reform member of the Legislative Assembly (1827–1834)
Election to the Legislative Assembly
Mackenzie declared his candidacy for the 10th Parliament of Upper Canada in December 1827 for one of the two seats for York County. Mackenzie decided to run after reporting on Robert Randal's legal debt problems. He believed government corruption forced Randal to sell his property below its value to pay legal fees Randal acquired while trying to defend his property rights. He cited the Types Riot as an example of corruption in Upper Canada and used the incident to explain his anti-corruption platform. The Types Riot settlement was used to fund his campaign. Mackenzie ran as an independent and refused to buy alcohol and treats for supporters or bribe citizens to vote for him. He published weekly articles in his newspaper called The Parliament Black Book for Upper Canada, or Ofﬁcial Corruption and Hypocrisy Unmasked where he listed accusations of wrongdoing by his opponents. He came in second in the election, winning one of the seats for York.
Mackenzie chaired a committee that evaluated the effectiveness of the post office and recommended that local officials obtain control of postal rates. He also chaired a committee that evaluated the appointment process of election returning officers. He was a member of committees that looked at the banking and currency process of Upper Canada, the condition of roads and investigating the Church of England's power. He opposed infrastructure projects until the province's debt was paid. He spoke against the Welland Canal Company, denouncing its close links with the Executive Council and the financing methods of William Hamilton Merritt, the company's financial agent. In April 1829, Mackenzie's daughter Janet was born.
In the 1830 election, Mackenzie campaigned for legislative control of the budget, independent judges, reforming the legislative council, creating an executive government responsible to the legislature, and equal rights for Christian denominations. He won a York County seat in the 11th Parliament but the Reform group lost their majority in the legislature, reducing Mackenzie's influence. He focused on reforming institutions like an agricultural society and St. Andrew's Presbyterian, a congregation organized by Tories who supported the church-state connection. In the legislature he chaired a special committee that recommended increased representation for Upper Canadian towns, a single day for voting in elections, and voting by ballot instead of voice.
During a legislative break, Mackenzie travelled to Quebec City and met with Reform leaders in Lower Canada. He wanted to develop closer ties between each province's reform leaders and learn new techniques to oppose Family Compact policies. He gathered grievances from various communities in Upper Canada and planned to present these petitions to the Colonial Office in England. His daughter, Helen, was born in 1831.
Expulsions, re-elections, and appeal to the Colonial Office
Mackenzie denounced the Legislative Assembly in the Colonial Advocate as a "sycophantic office". For this, the assembly expelled him for libel of the character of the Assembly of Upper Canada. Mackenzie won the subsequent by-election on January 2, 1832, by a vote of 119–1. Upon his victory, his supporters gifted him a gold medal and chain worth £250 (equivalent to £24,272 in 2016) and organised a parade through the streets of York. He was expelled again for printing an article critical of the legislators who voted for his first expulsion.
Mackenzie won the second by-election on January 30 with 628 votes against two opponents—a Tory who received 23 votes and a moderate Reformer (who assumed Mackenzie was barred from becoming a legislator)—who received 96 votes. Mackenzie toured Upper Canada to promote his policies and Tory supporters, unhappy with his agitation, tried to harm him. In Hamilton, William Johnson Kerr organised an assault of Mackenzie by three men. In York, twenty to thirty men stole a wagon he was using as a stage while another mob smashed the windows of the Colonial Advocate office. On March 23, 1832, Mackenzie's effigy was carried around York and burned outside the Colonial Advocate office. The magistrate James FitzGibbon arrested Mackenzie in an attempt to placate the mob. Mackenzie feared for his life and stopped appearing in public until he left for England.
In April 1832, Mackenzie travelled to London to petition the British government for redress. He met with reformers John Arthur Roebuck and Joseph Hume and wrote in The Morning Chronicle to influence British public opinion. He visited Lord Goderich, the colonial secretary, to submit grievances he collected in Upper Canada. In November 1832, Goderich sent instructions to John Colborne, the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, to lessen the Legislature's negative attitude against Mackenzie and reform the province's political and financial systems. Tories in Upper Canada were upset that Mackenzie received a positive reception from Goderich and expelled him from the legislature; he was re-elected by acclamation on November 26. His son, Joseph Hume Mackenzie, was born while the family was living in London but died in the fall of 1833. Mackenzie published Sketches of Canada and the United States in 1833 to describe Upper Canada politics and publish the names of thirty people he considered Family Compact members. In November 1833, Mackenzie was expelled from the Legislature again.
Lord Stanley replaced Goderich as the colonial secretary and reversed the Upper Canada reforms. Mackenzie was upset by this and, upon his return to Upper Canada in December 1833, renamed the Colonial Advocate to The Advocate to signal his displeasure with the province's colonial status. He criticised Upper Canada's colonial government structure and its Tory officials in the by-election campaign after his November 1833 expulsion. He won the election by acclamation, but the Legislature would not let him take his seat and expelled him again. Colborne ordered the clerk of the Executive Council to administer the oath of allegiance to Mackenzie to allow him to take his seat. When Mackenzie returned to the legislature on February 19, 1834, the serjeant-at-arms arrested him and a six-hour debate commenced discussing his status. Mackenzie was not allowed to take his seat for the remainder of that legislative session.
Upper Canada politics (1834–1836)
In 1834 York changed its name to Toronto and elected its first city council. Mackenzie ran to be an alderman for St. David's Ward on March 27, 1834. He won 148 votes, the highest amount among all candidates for alderman in the city. The other aldermen chose him to be Toronto's first mayor by a vote of 10–8. The city council and Mackenzie approved a tax increase to build a boardwalk along King Street despite citizen backlash. He designed the first coat of arms for Toronto and presided over the City Quarter Sessions and the city's Police Court. Mackenzie chose the newly built market buildings as Toronto's city hall and moved the offices of The Advocate into a southern wing of the complex.
In July 1834 Toronto declared a second cholera outbreak. Mackenzie chaired the Toronto Board of Health in his role as mayor and remained on the board when it restructured two weeks into the start of the outbreak. He brought people to the hospital until he was also infected with the disease. He remained in his home until he recovered later that year. Mackenzie declined the nomination for alderman in the 1835 municipal election, printing in his paper that he wanted to focus on provincial politics. Reformers included him on their ticket for the election, and he received the fewest votes in his ward. Mackenzie delayed collecting his mayoral salary of £100 (equivalent to £9,259 in 2016) until April 1836 because he wanted the city council to pass equitable assessment laws.
Mackenzie ran in the October 1834 provincial election for the 12th Parliament of Upper Canada for one of the newly split constituencies in the County of York. He was elected by a vote of 334–178. After the election, he sold the Advocate to William John O'Grady because of its debt and to devote more time to his political career. On December 8, Mackenzie became the first corresponding secretary for the Canadian Alliance Society, whose mandate was to unite Reformers under a common election platform. In 1835, his daughter Margaret (Tottie) was born.
The legislature reversed Mackenzie's previous expulsions, and he was assigned chairman of the Committee on Grievances. He called several members of the Family Compact to answer the committee's questions about their work and government efficiency. The committee documented their findings in The Seventh Report from the Select Committee of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada on Grievances which expressed Mackenzie's concern on the power of the executive branch in Upper Canada and having government officials campaign for Tory politicians. It also criticised companies that mismanaged money given to them by the government and the salary of officials who received patronage appointments. Mackenzie used the Committee on Grievances to investigate the Welland Canal Company and was appointed one of its directors in 1835. He discovered parcels of company land were given to Family Compact members and the Anglican church for low prices or swapped with land that was of lesser value. Mackenzie printed his investigation in a newspaper he created that summer in the Niagara peninsula.
When the new lieutenant-governor Francis Bond Head arrived in Upper Canada, Mackenzie believed he was an ally of the reform movement. After meeting reformers, Bond Head concluded they were disloyal subjects of the British Empire. He wrote, "Mackenzie's mind seemed to nauseate its subjects" and "with the eccentricity, the volubility, and indeed the appearance of a madman, the tiny creature raved". Bond Head called an election in July 1836 and asked citizens to defend their British connection by voting for Tory politicians. Edward William Thomson defeated Mackenzie in his York seat. Mackenzie prepared a petition for a recount and was granted an extension because he became ill. When he turned in his petition, the legislature reversed their extension and rejected it because it was submitted after the original deadline. Feeling disenchanted with the Upper Canada political system, Mackenzie created a new newspaper called the Constitution on July 4, 1836.
Upper Canada Rebellion (1837–1838)
In July 1837, Mackenzie organised a meeting with reformers dubbed the Committee of Vigilance and Mackenzie was selected as the committee's corresponding secretary. He printed their declaration in the Constitution and spent the summer of 1837 organizing vigilance committees throughout Upper Canada. He attracted large crowds but also faced physical attacks from members of the Orange Order. His speech to disgruntled farmers in Newmarket on August 3, 1837, was the first time a violent rebellion was openly discussed. During the fall of 1837, he visited Lower Canada to meet with their rebel leaders. His daughter Elizabeth was born in 1837.
On October 9, 1837, Mackenzie received a message from the Patriotes asking Mackenzie to organise an attack on the Upper Canada government. In November Mackenzie gathered Reformers and proposed seizing control of the Upper Canada government by force, but the meeting did not reach a consensus. Mackenzie tried to convince John Rolph and Thomas David Morrison to lead a rebellion, but the two reformers asked Mackenzie to determine the level of support in the countryside for the revolt. He travelled north and convinced rural Reform leaders that they could forcefully take control of the government. He returned to Toronto and informed Rolph and Morrison that the rebellion would begin on December 7, 1837.
On December 1 he wrote a declaration of independence and printed it at Hoggs Hollow. A Tory supporter reported the declaration to authorities, and a warrant was issued for Mackenzie's arrest. Mackenzie returned to Toronto and learned Rolph had tried to warn him of the warrant, but this message was forwarded to Samuel Lount. Upon receiving the warning, Lount marched a group of men towards Toronto to begin the rebellion. Mackenzie attempted to stop him but could not reach Lount in time.
Leader of the rebellion troops
Lount's troops arrived at Montgomery's Tavern on the night of Monday, December 4. Mackenzie and Rolph met in David Gibson's home and chose to continue the rebellion. During a scouting expedition, Mackenzie encountered John Powell and Archibald Macdonald and instructed Anthony Anderson to escort them to Montgomery's Tavern. After murdering Anderson, Powell raced back to Mackenzie's location and tried shooting him in the face, but the bullet did not leave the gun's chamber. That night, the rebel leaders decided Mackenzie should become the rebellion's leader.
Mackenzie gathered the rebels at noon on December 5 and marched them towards Toronto. At Gallows Hill, Rolph and Robert Baldwin delivered the government's offer of full amnesty for the rebels if they dispersed immediately. Mackenzie and Lount asked that a convention be organised to discuss the province's policies and for the truce to be presented as a written document. Rolph and Baldwin returned, stating the government had withdrawn their offer.
Mackenzie grew increasingly erratic and spent the evening punishing families of leading Tories. He burned down Robert Horne's home and tried to force the wife of the Upper Canada Postmaster to cook meals for his troops. Rolph sent a messenger to Mackenzie to inform him that rebels in Toronto were ready for their arrival, and Mackenzie marched the troops towards the city. During the march, a group of men fired at the rebels, causing them to flee. Mackenzie chased after them, trying to convince them to continue their march. The rebels told him they would continue in the morning.
On December 6, Mackenzie seized a mail coach travelling west of Toronto. He took the passengers' money and searched the coach for funds and information about the rebellion in the western part of the province. He also kidnapped passing travellers, robbed them, and questioned them about the revolt. Mackenzie returned to Montgomery's Tavern and read aloud a letter allegedly written by "Mr. Cotton" from Buffalo, which stated that 200 men were going to arrive to help with the rebellion. Mackenzie also sent a letter to a newspaper called The Buffalo Whig and Journal asking for troops from the United States.
The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern and retreat to the United States
On December 7 Anthony Van Egmond arrived at the tavern and encouraged Mackenzie to stay at the location, but Mackenzie wanted to attack the government's troops. Government forces arrived at Montgomery's Tavern and fired towards the rebel position. Mackenzie was one of the last to flee north, leaving his papers and cloak behind. He went to James Hervey Price's property, and a farmer gave Mackenzie a saddled horse. He rode north, and when he arrived at Hogg's Hollow, told a doctor that rebels should not gather at that location. He continued north and met with Silas Fletcher and Egmond, who agreed the rebellion was over and that they needed to flee Upper Canada.
Mackenzie fled west, gathered at Jacob Shepard's farm with other rebels, and waited until nightfall to continue his journey to the United States. Mackenzie's group went to a farm in Toronto Township and spent the rest of the night there. The next morning he travelled with a farmer named Allan Wilcox and William Comfort gave them a horse, wagon and driver. Mackenzie learned there was a £1000 (equivalent to £94,340 in 2016) reward for his apprehension. In the evening, the party noticed troops pursuing them and the fugitives jumped from the wagon, hid in a forest, and crossed an ice-filled creek to escape their pursuers.
Wilcox was exhausted so Mackenzie left him at a farm in Palermo and continued on to the United States. He spent the Saturday at a reform sympathiser's farm before walking towards Dundas and getting lost in the forest near Binbrook, Ontario. The next morning he met William McWatters, who mistook Mackenzie for a horse thief and wanted to bring him to the local magistrate. Mackenzie revealed his identity and McWatters did not report him. A pair of men reported his presence in Grimsby and Mackenzie hid in another sympathiser's home. He travelled to the border by sleigh and crossed the Niagara River by boat.
Attempted invasion from the United States
Mackenzie arrived in Buffalo, New York, on December 11, 1837, and gave a speech outlining his desire for Upper Canada to be independent of Britain. He blamed the failed rebellion on a lack of weapons and supplies. Josiah Trowbridge, Buffalo's mayor, and a newspaper called the Commercial Advertiser interpreted the speech as a rallying cry for help with the rebellion.
On December 12, Mackenzie asked Rensselaer Van Rensselaer to lead an invasion of Upper Canada from Navy Island. Van Rensselaer, Mackenzie and 24 supporters occupied Navy Island on December 14 and Mackenzie proclaimed the State of Upper Canada on the island, with himself appointed as chairman. Mackenzie sneaked into Canada to distribute his proclamation and encourage Canadians to join him. He wrote another proclamation on December 19 promising $100 (equivalent to $2,411 in 2019) in silver to volunteers.
On January 4, Mackenzie travelled to Buffalo to seek medical help for his wife. On the way he was arrested for violating the Neutrality Act of 1794. He was released on $5000 (equivalent to $120,547 in 2019) bail, paid by three men in Buffalo, and returned to Navy Island in January. British forces invaded the island on January 4, 1838, and the rebels dispersed to the American mainland.
Mackenzie wanted Canadians to lead the next invasion with American assistance. He also contacted Reformers in Lennox and Addington counties in Upper Canada to coordinate a resistance with the Patriots invading Lower Canada. When Van Rensselaer attempted an invasion of Kingston from Hickory Island, Mackenzie refused to participate, citing a lack of confidence in the mission's success. The men from Navy Island were defeated in mainland America, and Mackenzie stopped recruiting for Patriot forces to avoid ridicule. On March 4 he returned to Albany, where his friends tried to convince him to end the rebellion.
Years in the US (1838–1849)
Support for Patriots and Mackenzie's Gazette
Mackenzie and his wife arrived in New York City on March 10, 1838. He launched Mackenzie's Gazette on May 12 after soliciting subscriptions from friends. Its early editions supported the Patriots and focused on Canadian topics, but pivoted to American politics in August 1838. He organised meetings in New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Baltimore and Albany to raise funds for the Patriots. In January 1839 he suspended production of Mackenzie's Gazette and his son, William, was born.
Mackenzie moved to Rochester to rebuild the Patriot forces. He did not want the Patriots to be funded by American land speculators so he created the Canadian Association as a separate organisation. The association struggled to attract Canadian members and unsuccessfully fundraised for Mackenzie to publish an account of the Upper Canada Rebellion. The money was reallocated to Mackenzie's defence fund for his upcoming trial. He restarted Mackenzie's Gazette in Rochester on February 23, 1839, but refused to send papers to clients who had not paid for them.
Neutrality law trial
The trial for Mackenzie's violation of American neutrality laws began on June 19, 1839; he represented himself in the proceedings. The district attorney argued Mackenzie recruited members at his speech in Buffalo and brought the crowd to the Black Rock city hall to steal arms and establish an army. The attorney also argued that Mackenzie violated the Neutrality Act when he wrote and distributed the proclamation calling for an invasion from Navy Island to Upper Canada. Mackenzie stated a committee was going to pay for the stolen arms, and the proclamation was not supposed to be distributed in the United States. Mackenzie contended that Britain and the United States were at war because of the Caroline affair and the Neutrality Act did not apply.
In his defence, Mackenzie gave the history of the Upper Canada Rebellion and compared it to the American Revolution. Mackenzie tried to submit the Durham Report as evidence that Canada was in a state of anarchy, but the judge ruled it inadmissible because Canada's internal affairs could not be used as evidence. He tried to prove that Canada was in a civil war when he committed his alleged crimes, but the judge ruled this evidence inadmissible because only the American Congress could determine if a country was in a civil war. The judge denied letting a witness testify about a letter supposedly outlining the Buffalo Committee's readiness for conflict. This frustrated Mackenzie and he did not call further witnesses.
The judge sentenced Mackenzie to eighteen months in jail and a $10 (equivalent to $241 in 2019) fine. He did not appeal the ruling after consulting with lawyers whom he did not publicly name. He said after the trial that he was depending upon key witnesses giving testimony, but they did not come to the courtroom. He also denounced the application of the Neutrality Law, wrongly stating the law had not been applied for nearly fifty years.
Mackenzie was imprisoned on June 21, 1839. He chose to be jailed in Rochester to be closer to his family. He published The Caroline Almanack and drew an image of the Caroline affair for the cover. He also published issues of the Gazette, in which he described the trial and appealed for his release. Later issues reported on the upcoming New York state elections, the 1840 United States elections and the Durham Report.
While imprisoned, Mackenzie's mother became sick, but he was denied permission to see her, so John Montgomery arranged for Mackenzie to be a witness at a trial. Montgomery convinced the state attorney to hold the trial in Mackenzie's house, and the magistrate stalled the proceedings so Mackenzie could visit his mother. She died a few days later, and Mackenzie witnessed the funeral procession from his prison window. Mackenzie encouraged friends to write to prominent American politicians and petition President Martin Van Buren for a pardon. Van Buren did not want others to believe he supported Mackenzie's actions and increase hostilities with Britain, so he was reluctant to grant this pardon. He agreed to do so on May 10, 1840, after petitions were submitted to Congress and Democrats informed Van Buren that he needed Mackenzie's supporters to vote for him in the 1840 United States presidential election.
After the pardon
After a summer hiatus the Gazette denounced all invasions and supported Van Buren's reelection. Patriots claimed Mackenzie was bribed to support Van Buren and Bill Johnston called him "William Lying Mackenzie". The paper's subscriptions continued to decline and the last issue was published on December 23, 1840. His son George was born in February 1841. He applied to become a lawyer in Monroe County, but was rejected because he had not previously worked as a counsellor. In April, he launched The Rochester Volunteer and printed negative articles on Canadian Tory legislators and how constituencies in Montreal and Quebec were arranged to the disadvantage of French Canadian voters. The Volunteer stopped production in September 1841 and Mackenzie moved back to New York City in June 1842.
Mackenzie worked for various publishers but refused to accept a job as an editor. In August 1842, he was elected as an actuary and librarian at the Mechanics' Institute but resigned because he did not receive his expected salary. Mackenzie's final child, Isabel Grace, was born in February 1843; Mackenzie became an American citizen in April 1843. In October 1843, he launched Examiner, which failed after three issues. He wrote a biography of 500 Irish patriots entitled, The Sons of the Emerald Isle; the first volume was published on February 21, 1844. He co-founded the National Reform Association with the goal of distributing public lands to people who would live on the property, limiting the amount of land an individual could own, and outlawing the confiscation of free homesteads given to settlers. He spoke at many meetings and remained on the association's central committee until July 1844.
In July 1844, he was nominated as an inspector at the New York Custom house, but this was withdrawn after Whig newspapers criticised Mackenzie for being born outside the United States. He was appointed as a clerk in the custom house's archives office, a role with a lower wage. Mackenzie copied the private letters of Jesse Hoyt which described negotiations of the Albany Regency's financial transactions and appointments to government offices. Mackenzie resigned from the custom house in June 1845 and published some of the letters as Lives and Opinions of Benjamin Franklin Butler and Jesse Hoyt. It sold 50,000 copies and made a $12,000 (equivalent to $321,766 in 2019) profit before an injunction stopped the book's sale. Mackenzie gave the pamphlet's profits to the publishers because he did not want to benefit from exposing a scandal. In April 1846, Mackenzie published another book based on Hoyt's letters called Life and Times of Martin Van Buren: The Correspondence of His Friends, Family, and Pupils. This book focused on Van Buren and contained Mackenzie's commentary on American politics with supporting evidence from the letters.
In October 1845, Mackenzie published the second volume of The Sons of the Emerald Isle. Horace Greeley hired him to report on the New York State Constitutional Convention for the New York Tribune. After the convention he returned to New York City to continue working for the Tribune in May 1847. Henry O'Reilly hired him to organise and index James Monroe's correspondence for his memoir in August 1847. In April 1848, Mackenzie resigned from the Tribune; two months later his daughter Margaret died from an illness. O'Reilly paid Mackenzie to write editorials promoting his new telegraph companies and defending him against accusations from Morse telegraph patent holders.
Return to Canada (1849–1858)
Amnesty and return to Canada
The Canadian Legislature pardoned Mackenzie for the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1849 and allowed him to return. He travelled to Montreal in February. His arrival caused his effigy to be burned in Kingston and riots in Belleville and Toronto. In March 1849, he stayed with John McIntosh in Toronto and a mob burned an effigy of him on McIntosh's front lawn. Mackenzie continued touring Upper Canada and returned to New York on April 4. Mackenzie claimed he did not want to live in Canada and documented his visit in A Winter's Journey through the Canadas. Greely hired Mackenzie to assemble Whig almanacs and the Business Men's Almanack, which were published in 1850. Mackenzie was writing weekly letters to the Toronto Examiner and became a reporter for the New York Daily Tribune in Washington, D.C., in April 1850.
He returned to Toronto in May 1850 with his family. He wrote weekly articles for the Tribune and contributed to The Niagara Mail and the Examiner. York County and the provincial government accepted his claim for income he did not receive in the 1830s as a public servant and Welland Canal Company commissioner.
Return to the Legislature
In April 1851, Mackenzie won a by-election in Haldimand County for the Parliament of Canada with 294 votes. He was elected because voters did not like the government's Reform candidates and believed Mackenzie would be independent. In the legislature, Mackenzie proposed an investigation of the Court of Chancery, which Robert Baldwin had reorganised. The majority of Canada West legislators supported the motion and Baldwin resigned from the ministry. In the October 1851 election, Mackenzie campaigned against reformers like Baldwin, Francis Hincks and James Hervey Price while winning his own election in Haldimand County with 63% of the vote.
In 1852 he refused to participate in negotiations to merge the reform movement with George Brown's Clear Grits. On October 5, 1852, Mackenzie wrote a letter to the Examiner that Lesslie wanted to edit before printing. Mackenzie rejected the edits and Lesslie did not publish any of Mackenzie's letters. Losing his only way to communicate with his constituents, Mackenzie began his own newspaper on December 25, 1852, called Mackenzie's Weekly Message which he later renamed the Toronto Weekly Message. Anticipating a surprise election in 1854, he analysed the voting records of Clear Grit legislators and printed 20,000 copies of a Voter's Guide. Mackenzie faced a difficult reelection campaign in 1854 for his Haldimand seat. Local newspapers complained he only came to the constituency during elections and that other legislators had a negative opinion of Mackenzie. His positions against religious school boards caused some voters to withdraw their support. He won the election by 54 votes, a smaller majority than the previous election.
In the 5th Parliament of the Province of Canada, Mackenzie opposed the MacNab-Morin coalition government and denounced Reform members who supported the administration. He believed it was unconstitutional when Governor-General James Elgin did not give reform legislators a chance to form a government before accepting a Tory coalition. He was chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts and its reports criticised the province's disorganised record-keeping of expenditures and exposed government expenditures that Parliament had not approved Parliament. Mackenzie proposed a resolution that condemned previous administrations for similar acts and he was removed from the committee by the Parliament in retaliation.
In 1855, Mackenzie's health deteriorated and in February he closed the Toronto Weekly Message. He wrote columns for Examiner until it merged with The Globe in August 1855. In December 1855 he revived the Message and published the Reader's Almanac in April 1856, outlining his arguments to split the union of Upper and Lower Canada.
In the 1857 election, Mackenzie was narrowly reelected to the constituency of Haldimand with 38% of the vote. He accepted Brown's invitation to caucus with opposition members against the Macdonald-Cartier Administration. When the government was defeated, he supported the Brown-Dorion Administration, although he criticised the differing viewpoints of ministers and was disappointed when he was not given a portfolio. Mackenzie resigned his seat on August 16, 1858, calling the legislature illegitimate after the Governor-General reinstated the Mackenzie-Cartier Administration without an election. However, he might have resigned because his constituents told him they would not support his reelection after his opposition to the construction of a rail line in Haldimand. He had also been suffering from rheumatism and was attending Parliament less frequently.
Later life and death (1858–1861)
At the end of 1858, Mackenzie stopped publishing the Message citing its financial losses and its lack of political influence. He collected petitions for the dissolution of the Province of Canada and planned to deliver them to the Colonial Office in England. The Homestead Fund, set up by James Lesslie to support Mackenzie financially, refused to fund the trip, so he travelled to New York to fundraise. He was unsuccessful, returned to Toronto, and restarted the Message in June.
In 1859, Mackenzie attended a Reform convention organised by Brown as an observer. He disagreed with the convention's decision to advocate for representation by population. On February 17, 1860, his daughter Barbara died while housed in John Howard's Provincial Lunatic Asylum. He wrote Almanac for Independence and Freedom for 1860, which outlined arguments for dissolving the union. In October he moved to a home in Toronto purchased by the Homestead Fund and ended publication of the Message on September 15, 1860, because of a lack of subscriptions.
Mackenzie refused all medication as he became ill. At the end of August 1861, Mackenzie went into a coma and died on August 28 following an apoplectic seizure. His funeral procession stretched a half-mile and included Reformers and Family Compact members. He was buried at Toronto Necropolis with a twelve-foot Celtic cross made of grey granite serving as a grave marker. He is buried with his wife, four of his children, his son-in-law Charles Lindsey and his descendants, and a woman who married a descendant of Mackenzie named Wanda Gzowski.
The topics of Mackenzie's articles were not consistent or linked between issues. He wrote about current events and topics he was thinking about in a particular moment, causing the prose to ramble. His writing format was disorganised, with obscure references difficult for today's readers to understand. Lillian F. Gates struggled to comprehend The Life and Times of Martin Van Buren because he did not describe events chronologically and used too many footnotes and large lists. Frederick Armstrong said Mackenzie used long examples and had "excursions into trivia". William Kilbourn described Sketches of Canada and the United States as unconcerned with conventional storytelling techniques or "a sense of order", while Charles Lindsey described the book as disregarding the order of the stories.
Kilbourn stated the Colonial Advocate's articles were better when read aloud and described Mackenzie's slow pace as "a three-volume Victorian novel". He described The Constitution as "baroque convolutions of style" adding "their harsh jumble of book learning are really not for the printed page". Anthony W. Rasporich believed his writing was exciting for both subscribers in the 1800s and contemporary readers, and John Sewell said his political affairs articles were well written. Albert Schrauwers said Mackenzie chronicled other people's situations to explain complicated financial concepts and called him a "masterful storyteller". Armstrong said Mackenzie was "a great newspaper editor" and a "hard-hitting writer." William Kingsford believed he wrote exciting text that ignored possible consequences. Lindsay called his father-in-law's articles, "mild and playful beside the savagery of the unprovoked attack" and claimed Mackenzie responded to attacks with sharp sarcasm.
Carol Wilton described Mackenzie's journalistic style as "scathing personal abuse of the colony's leaders". The New-York Tribune described Lives and Opinions of Benjamin Franklin Butler and Jesse Hoyt as a surprising report on the political actions of New York State politicians. Mackenzie sometimes plagiarised other newspapers, did not attribute direct quotations, and invented quotations he would misattribute. He also printed information after promising his sources that he would not.
Political philosophy and views
Mackenzie was never the lead advocate on an issue and promoted a wide range of policies. He also changed his stance on policies because he wanted a person's judgement, not predetermined ideas, to decide the best course of action. He constantly disagreed with the province's administration and refused to compromise, believing political institutions were corrupt. Kingsford thought Mackenzie decided his political positions impulsively and replaced rational arguments with energetic actions. John Charles Dent wrote Mackenzie's opinions changed depending on his personal circumstance. John King, Mackenzie's son-in-law, disagreed and said, "If there ever was a man who had fixed and uncompromising views of public policy and public affairs, it was Mackenzie."
The articles Mackenzie wrote in his newspapers favoured radical reform causes. He followed a political theory that believed outlining problems publicly would lead to solutions. He professed in the Colonial Advocate he was a Whig and supported popular sovereignty and the compact theory. He transformed from a radical Whig to Jacksonian democrat of the Locofocos faction after meeting Andrew Jackson in 1829. In the 1830s Mackenzie used John Locke's political ideas to advocate for reforms to the Upper Canadian governance system. He embraced the version of rationalist liberalism that existed at the time and his opponents and historians exaggerated this for their own political gain. Dent said his policies aligned with Conservative Party policies of the 1880s. King disagreed, saying all Canadian political parties adopted Mackenzie's policies and called him a Reform leader and a Liberal. Armstrong described Mackenzie in the 1850s as politically left of the Clear Grits. Sewell said previous biographers described Mackenzie as radical, but current scholars regard him as "an ideologue ranting against the Family Compact".
The social causes Mackenzie supported were conservative for its time. He adopted a puritanical outlook towards gambling and prostitution and wanted women to return to an agrarian lifestyle of taking care of the home. He opposed performers coming to York because of their amoral skits and double entendres. Anthony Rasporich described his editorials on Jewish people, Catholics, French Canadians and black people as prejudiced and in opposition to reform causes. According to Armstrong, Mackenzie's views on minority groups depended on their support for his policies; he was not concerned with the social standing of impoverished or oppressed people. The income gap between the richest and poorest people in Great Britain disturbed Mackenzie and he wanted to avoid this disparity in North America.
Mackenzie wanted the Canadian colonies to keep the Constitution of the United Kingdom but believed British institutions had to be modified for the Upper Canadian social structure and agrarian society. He opposed Upper Canada's lack of representation in the British legislature, especially when they passed legislation governing the province. He believed the government would respond to the people's needs with more efficiency if the province elected lawmakers. He supported responsible government to solve the conflicts between the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council of Upper Canada. He wanted to include American ideas, like the election of town magistrates and governors, but avoided publicising these opinions until 1832 because public sentiment in Upper Canada was against American political institutions. When exiled to the United States, Mackenzie declared himself a believer in social democracy and the equality of everyone in society and the law.
Elizabeth Mackenzie gave her son a Presbyterian seceder education. William rebelled against the religion in his youth, but he returned to it upon his arrival to Canada and remained faithful for the rest of his life. R.A. MacKay said religion was "more formal than vital" to Mackenzie and he was less reliant on faith after reading texts from the Age of Enlightenment. Mackenzie supported the social gospel, believed clergy should advocate for equality among citizens and opposed clergy who tried to maintain the status quo in the United States and Canada. In the 1830 election, he campaigned for equal rights for religious denominations. He was against attacking Catholics or Protestants for their religious beliefs and believed all Christian denominations persecuted other faiths at various points in their history. However, he criticised the Papacy in the Message in 1859.
Mackenzie initially praised clergy reserves and their role in creating a colonial upper class, although he believed all Christian sects should benefit from them. Mackenzie changed his position between 1824 and 1830 and opposed government funding to churches. He criticised a Crown grant given to British Wesleyans to proselytise to Indigenous communities in Upper Canada, causing Egerton Ryerson and Methodists to withdraw their support for the Reform movement in 1833. In his State of Upper Canada constitution, Mackenzie proposed religious equality and a separation of the government and religious institutions. His state would transfer ownership of clergy reserves to the legislature and distribute funds from their sale to municipalities. He wanted to abolish a religious test for employment and services and opposed creating an established church within Upper Canada.
Mackenzie's economic policies focused on an agrarian structure where agriculture was the foundation of an economy. His ideal society contained educated farmers and small business owners served by printing presses. His State of Upper Canada constitution proposed a ban on banks and trading companies, declaring the only way to generate wealth was through labour. He wanted labourers to profit from their work instead of giving payments to privileged politicians, religious leaders or economic institutions. He was against anything perceived as a monopoly and worked to dismantle banking institutions and end a printers union strike in 1836.
Mackenzie struggled to understand how stocks and banknotes denoted wealth. His State of Upper Canada constitution established gold and silver as the only legal tender and would only use coins as currency, whose value the legislature would regulate. He was critical of granting state aid or privileges to companies that would make them monopolies. He wanted tougher laws for lending money to corporations. In 1859, he proposed a requirement for three-fourths of Parliament, and approval from the government leader, before the administration could provide a loan. He opposed farmers buying land on credit because it caused them to buy more land than they could afford. Mackenzie wanted the government to give free plots of land to immigrants or allow people to work in government projects to save enough money for land purchases. He supported tariffs to stop lower-priced products from entering Canadian markets. In the 1830s he advocated letting the province choose which countries it could trade with because it gave farmers access to cheaper goods and reduced Upper Canada's dependence on British markets.
Upon his death, newspapers printed obituaries emphasising his independence, desire for honest public administration, and misguided patriotism. George Brown wrote he was "a man of impulse, prompt in action, full of courage and fire". John King called him "one of the greatest Liberal leaders in Canada". Albert Schrauwers described Mackenzie as the "best-known reformer" of the early 1800s.
John Dent criticised Mackenzie's leadership of the Upper Canada Rebellion and his personal character. His research was refuted by Mackenzie's son James and son-in-law John King, with the latter publishing his opinion as The Other Side of the "Story". A manuscript written by William Dawson LeSueur for the Makers of Canada series was rejected by its publishers because it did not portray Mackenzie as an influencer in Canada's creation. Instead, the publishers asked Lindsey and his son to consense his previous biography for its inclusion in the series.
Mackenzie did not know how to bring reform to government institutions, causing him to become a "moral crusader". His term as mayor was overshadowed by a desire to reform government institutions instead of focusing on the problems of the city. Mackenzie struggled to influence legislation and his amendments to government bills were often rejected by the Assembly. Commentators on Mackenzie's life disagree on whether his leadership in the Upper Canada Rebellion suppressed or hastened democratic reforms. Supporters believe the rebellion highlighted discontent among Upper Canada citizens and forced the government to implement reforms. Detractors believe Mackenzie's actions delayed the implementation of responsible government because of the exodus of reform politicians who would have pushed for a quicker implementation had they stayed in the province.
Mackenzie's last home was designated as a historical site in 1936 to prevent its demolition. The Mackenzie Homestead Foundation turned the building into the Mackenzie House museum and operated the facility until it was sold to the City of Toronto in 1960. The William Lyon Mackenzie Centennial Committee commissioned a statue of Mackenzie. Sculpted by Walter Seymour Allward, it was placed in Queen's Park west of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1940. Dennis Lee included Mackenzie in his poem 1838 and John Robert Colombo called Mackenzie a hero in The Mackenzie Poems. In 1976, Rick Salutin wrote a play about Mackenzie and the Upper Canada Rebellion called 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt. In 1991 a group of volunteers opened the Mackenzie Printery museum in Mackenzie's Queenston home to document the newspaper industry in North America.
In 1960, Southview Collegiate in North York was renamed William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute after students suggested the name. The Toronto Fire Services named a fireboat the William Lyon Mackenzie in 1964. "The Rebel Mayor", a Twitter account which posted satirical comments on various candidates in Toronto's 2010 mayoral election, was written in Mackenzie's persona. Shawn Micallef, a journalist for Eye Weekly and Spacing magazine created the feed.
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