George Brown, journalist, politician (born 29 November 1818 in Alloa, Scotland; died 9 May 1880 in Toronto, ON). Brown played an instrumental role in Confederation, participating in the Charlottetown Conference in September 1864 and the Québec Conference in October 1864. Brown’s Globe newspaper boasted the largest circulation in British North America in the 1850s and is today one of Toronto’s major daily papers, The Globe and Mail, after having merged with the Mail and Empire in 1936.
Raised in Edinburgh, Brown immigrated with his father to New York in 1837. They moved to Toronto in 1843 and began a paper, the Banner, for Upper Canadian Presbyterians. The next year, Brown launched the Toronto Globe to back Reform efforts for responsible government.
Brown helped win the Reformers' victory of 1848, and made his Globe a vigorous force in Upper Canada. New issues rising in church-state relations (notably Catholic demands for state-aided separate schools) led him into the Assembly as member for Kent in 1851, where he sat as an independent Reformer.
In the then Province of Canada, Brown's pronouncements against church-state ties drew favour within its predominantly Anglo-Protestant Upper Canadian half, but animosity in largely French-Catholic Lower Canada. Moreover, in 1853 he supported the idea of representation by population, which would give the more populous Upper Canada a majority of seats in the legislature. Beset by sectional strains, the Reform regime collapsed in 1854. The Liberal-Conservatives took office, while Brown sought to rebuild the Reform Party.
In the interest of Reform unity, he won over the Clear Grit radicals, strong in rural Upper Canada, whom he had formerly opposed for their sweeping American-style democracy. In January 1857, a reorganized Upper Canadian Reform Party adopted Brown’s policies of "rep by pop" and annexation of the Northwest, the fur trade expanse beyond the Great Lakes. This potent combination of Toronto leadership, the Globe’s influence and agrarian Grit numbers helped Brown’s Reform party sweep the Upper Canada elections of late 1857. In August 1858, Brown formed a government with Antoine-Aimé Dorion, head of the Lower Canada Parti Rouge; but sectional balances were too shaky, and it swiftly fell.
The Upper Canada leader then steered a Reform Convention in 1859 in Toronto to discuss the federal union of the Canadas as a remedy for sectional division. Yet his concept did not carry Parliament, and in 1861, ill and temporarily defeated, he withdrew to recuperate. During a visit to Britain in 1862, he met and married Anne Nelson, daughter of a prominent Edinburgh publisher.
A restored, deeply happy Brown returned to politics in 1863 as member for South Oxford. Here he explored more conciliatory means to achieve reform of the Union. In 1864, he chaired an all-party parliamentary committee on that subject, which on 14 June reported in favour of the "federal principle" to overcome the sectionalism that had brought political deadlock. On the same day that a last, ineffectual Conservative ministry broke down, Brown offered to support a new government ready to pursue constitutional changes. In consequence, he joined with his chief Conservative rivals John A. Macdonald, Alexander Tilloch Galt and George-Étienne Cartier, to form a coalition that would seek a federal union of all the British provinces or, failing that, of the Canadas.
Through this strong new coalition, stemming from Brown's crucial initiative, the movement to Confederation surged ahead. He played a major role at the Charlottetown Conference and the Québec Conference, which formulated the plan; he was first to carry it to the British government in December 1864, and spoke compellingly for it in the 1865 Confederation debates in the Canadian Assembly. In December 1865, however, he resigned from the coalition Cabinet over internal dissensions.
Life After Politics
He continued to support Confederation nonetheless and ran in the first federal elections in fall 1867. Defeated, he then left Parliament. He felt satisfied that his chief aims had been realized and he retired to the Globe office, to his family life with wife and three children, and to the Bow Park estate near Brantford, which he developed as a large-scale cattle-breeding enterprise.
Brown remained a power in Liberal circles as elder statesman and director of a formidable mass-circulation journal. He was active in Ontario party affairs, was a senator from 1874, and was close to Alexander Mackenzie, his former chief lieutenant, who was federal prime minister 1873–78. Brown refused the position of lieutenant-governor of Ontario in 1875 and an offer of knighthood in 1879, instead choosing to focus on his cattle business and his work at the Globe.
Brown's death came in 1880 by tragic accident. A dismissed Globe employee, George Bennett (whom he had never known), accosted Brown in his office and shot him in a sudden struggle. The seemingly minor leg wound grew infected and finally caused his death.
By rising above political differences in his coalition of 1864, Brown helped pave the way for Confederation. He is counted as one of the Fathers of Confederation. Equally enduring is Brown’s journalistic legacy. His influential Globe ushered in the beginning of big newspaper business in Canada. The Globe boasted the largest circulation in British North America in the 1850s and is today one of Toronto’s major daily papers, The Globe and Mail, after having merged with the Mail and Empire in 1936.