Robert Baldwin

Baldwin, Robert, 1804–58, Canadian statesman, leader of the movement for representative government in Canada, b. York (now Toronto), Ont. His father, William Warren Baldwin (1775–1844), was a leader of the Reform party and a supporter of the principle of responsible (i.e., cabinet) government in the colonies. In 1836, as a recognized leader of reform in Upper Canada, Robert Baldwin was appointed by Sir Francis Bond Head to the executive council, but he resigned in a few weeks when it became apparent that the governor had no intention of acceding to the demands of the reformers. In England, in 1836, Baldwin sent to the colonial secretary a memorandum that was the first clear enunciation of the tenet of responsible government for Canada. Shortly after his return to Canada in 1837, he served as mediator between Head and the rebels; as a moderate reformer, he had opposed the faction of William Lyon Mackenzie in the rebellion of that year. Again (1841) he hopefully accepted appointment to the executive council under Lord Sydenham, only to resign when the governor showed no disposition to grant responsible government. As a member of the assembly, Baldwin led the opposition group and increased his influence, particularly by effecting an alliance with the French in Lower Canada, whom Sydenham had ignored in forming his council. After the reunion of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841, Baldwin and Louis Hippolyte LaFontaine were allowed to form their first coalition government (1842) under Sir Charles Bagot. With Bagot's death and the arrival (1843) of Sir Charles Metcalfe as governor, the first Baldwin-LaFontaine government resigned, but in the elections of Dec., 1847, the reformers won an overwhelming vote. As a consequence, the second Baldwin-LaFontaine ministry (1847–51) was formed; it is often called "the great ministry." Outstanding among its accomplishments were the Municipal Corporations Act, commonly called the Baldwin Act, for the reformation of local government in Ontario; an act to revise the judicial system; and an act to transform King's College into the nonsectarian Univ. of Toronto (over the violent opposition of Bishop John Strachan).

See biography by G. E. Wilson (1933); S. Leacock, Mackenzie, Baldwin, LaFontaine, Hincks (rev. ed. 1926); R. W. Langstone, Responsible Government in Canada (1931).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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