Election riot of 1872 — the ringleaders inciting the mob were lawyer Cornish and editor Mulvey

by Bruce Cherney (part 2 of 2)

The 1872 federal election, which ran from July 20 to October 12, was fraught with political intrigue, especially in the context of Métis leader Louis Riel seeking election in Provencher riding and Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald searching for a safe Manitoba seat for his Québec lieutenant, Sir George-Étienne Cartier. Cartier had been 

defeated in the federal election in Montreal East 10 days prior to the Manitoba vote, and Macdonald was anxious to have him returned to the federal cabinet, making his expectations known to Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Adams Archibald. 

Cartier’s value to Macdonald was the Québec MP’s ability to obtain campaign funds from Montreal-based and Chicago-based businessmen who wanted the contract to build the transcontinental railroad. Unfortunately for Macdonald, the cash was acquired by rather dubious means and got him involved in the Pacific Scandal, which resulted in his Conservative Party resigning from government in the wake of corruption charges. In the subsequent federal election, the Liberals under Sir Alexander Mackenzie came to power.

Macdonald told Archibald “get Sir George (Cartier) elected in your province.”

Archibald was a federal patronage appointee and as such was obliged to carry out the prime minister’s wishes regardless of the local consequences.

“Do not however let your late President (of the provisional government, Riel) resign in his favour. That would make mischief in Ontario.”

Archbishop Taché mentioned to Archibald that Provencher was the only seat available to Cartier and that Riel had already announced his intention to seek the nomination in the riding. But Taché also told Archibald that the Métis leader would not run if Macdonald promised to grant him an amnesty for his part in the Red River Resistance  of 1869-70.

On September 12, Macdonald wrote Archibald that Cartier would do all he could “to meet wishes of the parties. This statement should be satisfactory.”

The other man seeking the nomination in Provencher was Manitoba Attorney-General Henry Clarke, a bilingual Catholic originally from Québec. Clarke was hardly anti-Métis, but he was opposed to anyone — Métis or otherwise — who supported Riel. In fact, Cornish convinced him to issue the arrest warrants for Ambroise Lépine and Riel in 1873 for the “murder” of Scott. 

Clarke had tried to dissuade Riel from running  in Provencher, saying it was an embarrassment to the Manitoba government. At one time, his animosity became so virulent that Clarke challenged the former president of the provisional government to a shooting duel at 12 paces. The challenge ended when both men stepped down to provide Cartier with a safe seat.

Macdonald commended Clarke’s action as “very wise and patriotic.”

Riel, who had been persuaded to run in the federal election by lawyer Joseph Dubuc, declined the Provencher nomination even though he had not received an outright declaration of an amnesty. 

As a result of the two men withdrawing from the race, Cartier was elected by acclamation.

Riel and Taché helped get Cartier elected, but there was no indication that the participants in the election riot would be punished. 

In a letter to new Lieutenant-Governor Alexander Morris (January 3, 1873), Riel and Lépine wrote that by not punishing the rioters, “means were found to leave us unprotected against our enemies; and our good service (Cartier’s election), so far from being appreciated, are more than returned to account against ourselves.”

“The Ringleaders inciting the mob are (Francis) Cornish (a lawyer elected Winnipeg’s first mayor under allegations of stuffing ballot boxes) and (Stewart) Mulvey; the latter is the Editor of the Liberal and a captain of the militia company (from Ontario),” wrote Archibald to Macdonald. “Both harangued the mob on the occasion of the row at the Polling Booth, stimulating them to disorder by every kind of foul epithet hurled at the authorities. Mulvey declared to the mob that if the soldiers were ordered to fire, they would not obey their officers, and they need therefore not fear them ...”

The London Free Press on September 20, 1872, commented that it came as little surprise that the former resident of the Ontario city was involved in the riot.

“The outrageous conduct with which Cornish is so distinctly charged is quite in correspondence with his whole career in the past. Upon his departure from London there were many who, while strongly disapproving of his record at home, were disposed to forget his past delinquencies ... We now have convincing evidence that the personal feeling of desperation which promoted his removal, were more deeply seated than at first supposed, and that the boast which he is reported to have made was not an idle one. ‘I am going to Manitoba, and we will raise h--l there!’”

Although he had a good reputation as an able lawyer, Cornish had been accused of “bigamy, assault, drunkenness and boisterous public disputes,” and of padding ballot boxes while he was mayor of London. Under the taint of scandal and charges of corruption, Cornish fled to Manitoba in 1872, where he became embroiled with the Canadian Party led by Dr. John Christian Schultz.

Archibald also told Macdonald of James Farquharson, whom he referred to as a “blackguard.”

“I do not lay much stress upon the fact that that man ‘Farquharson’ who is particularly and improperly known as ‘Old Depravity’ is Dr. Schultz’s father-in-law,” Archibald wrote Macdonald. 

Schultz, who had wisely been on the campaign trail in Lisgar during the riot and so could not be directly connected to the election violence, went to see Archibald and warned him “against making arrests.” He further told Archibald any attempt to make arrests associated with the election riot would result in civil war, as it was his opinion the militia would side with the mob.

Faced with this threat, Archibald asked Macdonald for help. “Are we to take Dr. Schultz’s advice and do nothing? Is property here to depend upon the will of the mob, and life upon the accuracy of aim of such men as Farquharson?”

Archibald received a less than satisfactory reply from Macdonald, who noted what the lieutenant-governor said about Schultz, but said the Lisgar MP had to be treated as a “friend and supporter” of the government.

“This however should not deter you from pursuing a firm course in the way of vindicating the law.”

Vindicating the law was a hard task for Archibald when at every turn he saw it flaunted. After militiamen broke into jail to free one of their members — arrested for gambling and lightly disciplined — Joseph Royal, founder of Le Métis, a law partner with Joseph Dubuc and the speaker of the Manitoba Legislature, asked Archibald, “What protection can we hope for from a government whose soldiers are the first to make fun of the law and its authority?”

Archibald saw no way out of his dilemma. Frustrated by what he was told, Archibald demanded that Macdonald allow him to resign as Manitoba lieutenant-governor — not the first time he had requested to be replaced. On this occasion, Macdonald granted his wish, and Morris, who was the province’s chief justice, was named as the new vice-regal.

Meanwhile, it was Dubuc who pursued justice. He questioned the Protestants known to have taken part in the riot, but they refused to recount their deeds. Instead, Dubuc compiled a list of known participants and submitted it to the court. It was when the list was made public and Dubuc left the courtroom that he was assaulted by Ingram, although none of the men named would be brought to trial.

On June 21, 1873, John “alias James” Ingraham (sic) was called before the court to answer for attacking Dubuc. Cornish entered a plea of guilty of “common assault” on behalf of his client. Cornish was also instructed to offer “a most humble apology for the offense committed against his person, and to express the greatest sorrow and regret for his act.”

As was explained in court, Ingram was drunk at the time and under the “evil influence of bad advice” and “urged on to commit the offence by men altogether unworthy of the name — this young man, or rather boy, assaulted Mr. Dubuc.”

When Ingram sobered up, he reflected on the assault and came to regret it, but still fled to St. Paul, Minnesota, to escape the wrath of the law.

Yet, Dubuc, who represented the Crown during the case, told the court he was not going to press the matter “as he had no personal feeling against the defendant,” and would be satisfied with any sentence imposed.

“I am happy to say to your lordships,” commented Clarke, as Manitoba’s attorney-general, “that Ingraham came back to this country and this town of his own free will, and gave himself up to stand his trial for the offence he committed. This fact speaks volumes in his favor.”

Clarke said he had known the defendant for nearly three years, and Ingram at one time had been a member of the province’s police force where he had displayed “energy and pluck,” performing a dangerous duty which earned him an immediate promotion. Ingram had left the force of his own free will and to better his condition, Clarke added.

Dubuc, Clarke said, by not pressing the case had acted in a manner which did him much credit.

In the end, Ingram was convicted only of common assault, although the beating he administered on Dubuc resulted in the lawyer losing the use of one eye.

As Winnipeg’s first mayor, Cornish appointed Ingram on February 28, 1874, as the first chief constable (police chief) for the city, despite his earlier attack on Dubuc. At the time, Ingram was just 23 years old. He may have felt remorse for beating up Dubuc, but this pugilistic skill was considered an asset in a rough-and-tumble frontier town. Ingram only lasted one year in his new job, as he was forced to resign after being caught in a “house of ill-fame” during a police raid by his assistant David B. Murray, who subsequently was named the new police chief.

In the spring of 1874, Dubuc became the province’s attorney-general.

In the 1870s, many Métis families fled Manitoba for the relative safety of the region that would become Saskatchewan in 1905. 

Archibald told Macdonald, the Métis “have been so beaten and outraged that they feel as if they were living in a state of slavery.”

It is due to their departure that Schultz and his followers undoubtedly felt they had won the battle for Manitoba. 

The victory was abetted by the massive influx of English-speaking and Protestant settlers from Ontario after 1870 — 19 out of every 20 immigrants came from the Eastern province — which overturned the previous balance between English-speaking and French-speaking residents.

Renowned University of Manitoba historian, W.L. Morton, called the political, religious, language and ethnic power transfer, the “Triumph of Ontario.”

Their departure also allowed speculators to acquire Métis scrip at a mere pittance of its true value. In some cases, unscrupulous speculators scammed the Métis out of their scrip, often with the collusion of civil servants and the province’s legal profession. 

The scrip was distributed as certificates for 240 acres each from the 1.4-million-acre land allotment to the children of Métis heads of families under the terms of the Manitoba Act. Later, each Métis head of family was issued a scrip for 160 acres valued at $160, and the allotment to children was decreased to 140 acres or $140. Further amendments to the Manitoba Act in 1873, 1874 and 1875 decreased the overall Métis land allotment and changed the eligibility rules, resulting in the number of eligible  Métis falling from 10,000 to 6,000. A new requirement dealt harshly with “winterers,” those who lived on their land for only a portion of the year — the buffalo robe traders and plains foragers — preventing 1,200 Métis families from obtaining title to the land they occupied. More than 80 per cent of the Métis heads of families settling in St. Laurent in the North-West Territories (Saskatchewan) were landless in their home province, according to a statistical analysis by D.N. Sprague in 1985.

Some historians argue that the scrip’s value was over-inflated since a settler could acquire 160 acres of Dominion land for $10 and the promise to clear a portion for farming and build a house within three years. By comparison, the cost of land from the Canadian government to settlers was just cents per acre as opposed to the value of a dollar an acre placed on the Métis land allotment.

Since their scrip was transferable, many Métis opted to sell the certificates at a fraction of their face value and with cash in hand headed west. 

The motivation for the westward trek included a desire for wide-open spaces in which to pursue their traditional lifestyle, maintain the freedom to use their own language and practice the Catholic faith, the fear of violence in their home province and the collapse of their buffalo-based economy, as well as the erosion of their Red River cart freight monopoly due to the advent of steamboat transportation and the prospect of a rail connection soon arriving.

In the 1870s, nearly 1,000 Métis families had left for the North-West Territories. 

Archbishop Taché became alarmed by the exodus, urging priests to make every effort to convince the Métis not to sell their land and head west. Abbé Dugas predicted that if the exodus continued there would only be English settlers along the Assiniboine River.

Yet, a great number of Métis remained behind in Manitoba, persevering through the irreversible disruptions in their lifestyle, including members of the Riel family.

It was reputed that one speculator held scrip to 40,000 acres in Winnipeg. In fact, a number of Winnipeggers became wealthy speculating in Métis scrip, including Schultz, Smith, Arthur Wellington “A.W.” Ross, Andrew Graham Ballenden “A.G.B” Bannatyne, Will “Bill’ Forbes Alloway and Henry Thompson Champion.

Triumphant, Schultz tempered his former inflammatory rhetoric and continued his lengthy political career at the provincial and federal level, including a 10-year stint as Manitoba’s lieutenant-governor, which began in 1885, the year Riel was executed for treason in Regina.