Galt, Alexander Tilloch (DNB01)
GALT, Sir ALEXANDER TILLOCH (1817–1893), finance minister of Canada, was born at Chelsea, London, on 6 Sept. 1817, the youngest son of John Gait [q. v.] by his wife Elizabeth, only daughter of Alexander Tilloch [q. v.] His elder brother, Sir Thomas Gait (1815–1901), settled, like himself, in Canada in early life, practised successfully at the Toronto bar, and became in 1869 judge of the court of common pleas in Ontario, and in 1887 chief justice of the court, being knighted in 1888, and retiring in 1894 (Times, 1 July 1901).
Educated privately, Alexander is said to have contributed to the early numbers of ‘Fraser's Magazine.’ In 1835 he left England and settled in Sherbrooke, in Lower Canada, having obtained, through his father's influence, a clerkship in the office of a colonisation society called the British American Land Company. It had obtained at a low price from the imperial government a tract of land in the eastern townships of about eight hundred and fifty thousand acres on terms of improvement, sale, and settlement. After nine years' service Galt became commissioner, and for the next twelve years conducted the company's business with marked success, retiring in 1856. During the same period he took an active part in the railway development of the province. He was on the board of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway Company, was instrumental, in conjunction with John Young (1811–1878) [q. v.], in bringing about the amalgamation now known as the Grand Trunk Railway, and became later one of the contractors to extend the system westwards from Toronto. For several years he was the representative of the Canadian government on the company's board.
Galt entered public life in 1849 as liberal member for the county of Sherbrooke, but stoutly opposed the chief liberal measure of that year, the rebellion losses bill. As he saw no guarantee for English and protestant liberties short of union with the United States, he signed the annexation manifesto, and shortly afterwards retired from the assembly. In 1853 he was again elected for Sherbrooke, and continued to represent the constituency from that date till 1872, when he withdrew from political life.
From his second entry into the house he took a leading part in the discussion of financial questions. When the Brown-Dorion government fell in 1858 he was called on to form an administration, but declined the task. He joined the Cartier-Macdonald cabinet, taking the portfolio of inspector-general. He accepted office on condition that the ministry should pledge itself publicly to bring about the federation of British North America. The finances of Canada were at the moment in a bad condition, and he had to face a deficit of 600,000l. He reorganised his office, renaming it the department of finance, consolidated the debt then amounting to 11,661,000l., framed a new tariff, and made preparations to lower the rate of interest and obtain a new loan. He raised his loan without difficulty and at a very low rate. His tariff, which was termed protective, aroused keen opposition in England, where it was complained that the increased duties fell mainly on British goods such as cottons, irons, silks, and woollens. Galt made answer in a pamphlet published in London in 1860—‘Canada from 1849 to 1859’—in which he proved the need of increased revenue to meet obligations already incurred. The Duke of Newcastle, the colonial minister in England, made official objection to Galt's tariff, but he finally accepted Galt's claim to tariff autonomy as the right of a self-governing community. Thenceforth that right has been deemed constitutional under the British system (Can. Sess. Papers, 1860, No. 38).
In 1862 the government fell in an attempt to carry a militia bill. Two years later Galt was finance minister in the Taché-Macdonald administration. A motion of censure which was brought against him personally for a technical irregularity in the conduct of official business by (Sir) Antoine Aimé Dorion [q. v. Suppl.] put an end to the ministry. Thereupon George Brown [q. v. Suppl.] made overtures which led to the realisation of the scheme of British American federation. A coalition cabinet resulted, and in that cabinet Galt was once more finance minister.
Galt was a delegate to the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences, 1864. The financial arrangements for the new dominion were his work. In 1865 he came to England to secure their acceptance by the imperial government. While thus engaged in promoting the union, he suddenly resigned on the ground that certain educational provisions contemplated for Lower Canada were unfair to his co-religionists. Steps were taken to reassure him, and he acted as a delegate to the Westminster conference.
On the inauguration of the dominion in 1867, Galt was sworn of the privy council of Canada, and became first minister of finance. He retired on 7 Nov. following. In the meantime he sought to extend to the whole federation the measures which he had devised in regard to the currency of Canada. These date back to 1858, and are based on the fact that, while Canada has not and never has had gold in circulation, her standard has been gold at least from 1791. When he became minister, the currency, in addition to copper and silver which were legal tenders for small sums, consisted of bank-notes, secured mainly on the Scottish principle of the double liability of shareholders. In a season of panic this security was found to be insufficient. Gait then put forth a government issue of low denomination, well secured and amounting in all to about $2,000,000. It was negotiated by the government bankers, but encountered opposition from other corporations. He increased the amount to $8,000,000 in 1866, and made the notes legal tender for their face value. This portion of his plan, extended to the dominion in 1870, and now expanded to $22,000,000, remains, and is the common currency of the country.
During the first parliament of the federation Gait continued to give the government a general support. He retired from political life in 1872. On several occasions he was engaged in work of a diplomatic nature. He was member of the Council of Commercial Treaties which was organised by the home government in 1865 for the British provinces. The year following he was commissioned to the United States to negotiate a renewal of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. He sat as Canada's nominee on the Halifax Commission (1877), which determined the compensation to be paid by the United States for the use of the British American fisheries under the treaty of Washington (1870).
An unsatisfactory mission to France and Spain to draw up, in conjunction with the resident British ministers, commercial treaties with these countries on Canada's behalf consumed a large part of his time in 1878-9. From 1880 to 1883 he acted as high commissioner for the dominion in England. He was Canadian delegate at the Paris Monetary Conference of 1881, and the International Exhibition of Fisheries of 1883.
In 1867 Gait declined the honour of C.B. (civil), but was created K.C.M.G. on 5 July 1869, and advanced G.C.M.G. in 1878. In the same year Edinburgh University conferred on him the honorary degree of LL.D. He received a diploma in 1883 for his services in connection with the International Fisheries Exhibition.
He died on 19 Sept, 1893, at Seaforth, his country residence near Montreal. He was twice married: (1) in 1848, to Elliott, daughter of John Torrance of St. Antoine Hall, Montreal; (2) in 1851, to Amy Gordon, sister of his first wife.
After his retirement from politics he put forth a number of pamphlets, among which are the following:
- 'Letters to the Hon. James Ferrier,' Montreal, 1872, which deals with local issues of the day.
- 'Civil Liberty in Lower Canada,' and 'Church and State,' Montreal, 1876, both of which follow very closely the general lines of Gladstone's 'Vaticanism' with applications to Canadian conditions.
- 'Future of the Dominion of Canada,' 1881, and 'Relations of the Colonies to the Empire: Present and Future,' 1883, both of them published in London.
[Taylor's Port. of British Amer. ii. 77–94; Dent's Can. Port. Gallery, ii. 181–6; Dent's Last Forty Years, chaps. xxxvii. xxxviii. xxxix.; Turcotte's Can. sous l'union, pts. iii. and iv.; Gray's Confederation, i. 215–226, 297; Confederation Debates, Quebec, 1865; Todd's Parl. Government in the British Colonies, pp. 229, 235, 272, 458–479; Morgan's Dom. Ann. Reg. (1879), pp. 11–21; Hopkins's Can. An. Encyc. i. 288, 341, 363, 415, ii. 119, 128; Pope's Mem. of Sir J. A. Macdonald, i. 198, 201–5, 256, ii. 4, 5, 282, et App.; N. O. Coté's Political Appointments, p. 89; British American Land Company's Report, 1833; St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway, pamphlet, 1847; Halifax Commission, 1877, 3 vols. Washington, 1878; India Currency Committee, 1898, pt. ii. Nos. 6754–6817; Breckenridge's Can. Banking System; Walker's Banking in Canada.]