Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Blake, William Hume

BLAKE, William Hume, Canadian jurist, b. in Kiltegan, Wicklow, Ireland, 10 March, 1809; d. in Toronto, 17 Nov., 1870. He was graduated at Trinity college. Dublin, and studied surgery under Surgeon-General Sir Philip Crampton, and also studied theology, but before completing his course he emigrated to Canada. He was for some time a farmer near Strathroy, county of Middlesex, Ontario, before he removed to Toronto (then known as York), and studied law. When the Mackenzie rebellion began in 1837 he was appointed paymaster of the Royal Foresters. In 1838 he was called to the bar of Upper Canada, and at once took a leading place in his profession. In 1847 Mr. Blake was elected to parliament for East York (now the county of Ontario), and became solicitor-general in the Baldwin-Lafontaine ministry. In November, 1849, he was appointed to the chancellorship of Upper Canada. He retired from the bench in 1860. —

His son, Edward, statesman, was b. in Adelaide, Middlesex co., Ontario, 13 Oct., 1833. He is descended, on his father's side, from the Blakes of Castlegrove, Galway, and on his mother's from William Hume, M. P. for Wicklow. He was born on his father's farm, but was taken to Toronto when a year old. The son followed, professionally, closely in his father's footsteps, as did also his younger brother, Samuel Hume Blake, who never entered public life, but was raised at a very early age to the post of vice-chancellor in the court over which his father formerly presided. Edward Blake was educated at Upper Canada college and University college, Toronto, was graduated from the latter with honors in 1857. He was called to the bar in 1859, and rose rapidly to a foremost position as a chancery practitioner. In 1867 he was a candidate for election at once to the House of Commons of the Dominion, and to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Having been elected as a member for South Bruce, he was chosen leader of the opposition in the Ontario Assembly very soon after it began its course, and during the first parliamentary term frequently introduced bills, many of which were voted down, only to be taken up afterward and carried through as government measures. A principle that Mr. Blake always kept before the public was the obligation resting on the government to give the people's representatives detailed knowledge of the destination of public moneys before they are voted by parliament. This very principle was the final issue on which the Sandfield Macdonald government was defeated in 1871, and it therefore became the most important plank in the platform of its successor. Mr. Blake retained the leadership of the opposition until 20 Dec., 1871, when he succeeded the Hon. John Sandfield Macdonald as premier of the Ontario legislature, but only retained the office for one session, when he resigned, owing to the passing of the dual representation act. In 1873 the conservative ministry, presided over by Sir John A. Macdonald, was compelled to resign, and the liberal party came at once into power, with Alexander Mackenzie as premier. In November, 1873, Mr. Blake was made a member of the Canadian cabinet under the Mackenzie administration, and he held, for various periods, the office of minister of justice and the portfolio of president of the council. He was offered successively the chancellorship of Ontario and the chief justiceship of the supreme court of the Dominion, both of which he refused. While he was minister of justice it fell to his lot to discuss, by correspondence with the secretary of state for the colonies, Lord Carnarvon, a somewhat important point in connection with the relation of Canada to the mother-country. Long after the Red river insurrection was repressed, the final disposal of the chief insurgents continued to be a difficult question, owing to uncertainty as to what had been really promised to them. Lord Dufferin undertook to cut the Gordian knot by an exercise of the royal prerogative under his “instructions” (by commuting the death sentence passed upon Lepine into exile), without taking the advice of his ministers. A request was then sent to the imperial government to amend the instructions, so that thereafter the prerogative of pardon, like all other prerogatives, should be exercisable by the governor only on the advice of his ministers. To this Lord Carnarvon demurred, but Mr. Blake's arguments at last convinced the imperial authorities of the absurdity and danger of leaving the way open to a governor to create serious trouble between the two countries, and the obnoxious instruction was modified as desired. The general election of 1878 was disastrous to the Mackenzie administration, and among other defeated candidates was Mr. Blake, who had sat for South Bruce for two parliaments. He remained out of the Commons for one session, and, when he returned to it as member for West Durham, he was chosen leader of the Liberal party. The discarding of Mr. Mackenzie, and the selection of Mr. Blake as the leader of the Liberals, did not take place without a decided protest on the part of many prominent in the politics of the party, as well as among the rank and file, and the result was a lack of unanimity among the liberals after Mr. Blake's assumption of the leadership. He is a very fluent public speaker, and impresses an audience with the consciousness of his exhaustless resources; but he fails to create that enthusiasm and devotion in his followers to which his great political opponent, Sir John A. Macdonald, owes his most signal successes. In the session of the Dominion parliament of 1886 Mr. Blake spoke in favor of the Landry motion, the object of which was to censure the government for the execution of Riel, the leader of the northwest rebellion. The motion was lost by a large majority, many of the leading liberals voting with the government. In 1876 Mr. Blake visited England and received many marks of public esteem. He has always enjoyed the confidence of his fellow-members of the law society of the province, of which he has for years been the presiding and chief executive officer. He has been equally fortunate in securing the suffrages of his fellow-graduates of the Provincial university, who have repeatedly elected him by acclamation to the post of chancellor. He declined the honor of the knighthood in 1877, as his father did in 1853. — Another son, Samuel Hume, jurist, b. in Toronto, 31 Aug., 1835, received his education by private tuition and at Upper Canada college, Toronto. On leaving college he spent four years with the firm of Ross, Mitchell & Co., Toronto, at the expiration of which period he began the study of law, and at the same time took a course in arts in University College, Toronto, being graduated there and admitted to the bar in 1858. He then entered into partnership with his brother, and the firm became known as that of E. & S. H. Blake. He was vice-chancellor of Ontario from 1872 till 16 May, 1881.