William Lyon Mackenzie

William Lyon Mackenzie

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William Lyon Mackenzie

William Lyon Mackenzie's life can best be understood if man and legend are separated. William was born on March 12, 1795 in Scotland. Three weeks after his birth, his father, Daniel, supposedly died, but no record of his death has ever been found. William and his mother were said to gone through great hardship, having to move off of Daniel's land.

After moving to Dundee, William, who went by the names Willie or Lyon, entered the Dundee Parish School at the age of five, with the help of a bursary. At fifteen, he was the youngest member of the
commercial newsroom of the local newspaper. He also belonged to a scientific society, where he met Edward Lesslie, and his son, James. These two would be William's patrons throughout most of his life.

In 1820, William sailed to Canada with John, another son of Edward Lesslie. Mackenzie was immediately impressed with Upper Canada. Before the end of the year, Mackenzie was writing for the York Observer under the name of 'Mercator';

In 1824, Mackenzie started his most famous newspaper, the Colonial Advocate. The first edition appeared on May 18, 1824. The sole purpose of this paper was to sway the opinions of the voters in the next election.

On June 8, 1826, a group of fifteen, young, well connected Tories disguised themselves as Indians, and broke into Mackenzie's York office in broad daylight. They smashed his printing press, then threw it into the bay. The Tories did nothing to compensate him, so it was clear that they were involved. Mackenzie ntook them to court, and seeing that their 'disguise'; had been seen through, they offered Mackenzie £200. He refused, and after a bitter trial, the court awarded him £625.

In March of 1829, Mackenzie went to the United States to buy books for resale, and to study the actions of the newly appointed Andrew Jackson. He compared the simplicity and the cost of American government to Canada's, and saw that their spoils system might be a way of doing away with some Family Compact members.

When an assembly met in January of 1831, Mackenzie fully immersed himself into its proceedings. He demanded inquiries into abuse, and insisted on a review of representation in the province. He appointed
people on the council to fight for what he, himself wanted, while what he personally did angered and annoyed the Tory members of parliament.

On December 12, 1831, Mackenzie was voted out of parliament on a vote of 24 to 15.

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Upon his expulsion, the Colonial Advocate became more strident, and a mob of several hundred stormed the assembly. They demanded that Sir John Calborne dissolve parliament. He refused, but the Tories were soon to find that kicking Mackenzie out was one thing; keeping him out was another.


At the by-election on January 2, 1832, Mackenzie was voted back in on a vote of 119 to 1. He was presented with a gold medal valued at over $250, and to the accompaniment of bagpipes, a victorious procession of 134 sleighs made its way down Yonge St. A grand re-entrance back into parliament for one such as Mackenzie.

On January7, after only five days at work, Mackenzie was again expelled, and soon after re-elected. The province was in turmoil. Mackenzie was organizing petitions in dozens of cities. Once again, the Tories were striving to kick him out.

For the next 10 months, Mackenzie went around to various cities, doing presentations to the townsfolk, and in November of 1832, a dispatch was sent to sedate the assembly's vendetta against Mackenzie. But the
Tories had expelled him a third time, earlier that month, only to see him re-elected, again.

A new theatre of operations for Mackenzie appeared with the incorporation of York as Toronto on March 6, 1834. Both Tories and Reformers presented slates of candidates in its first election on March 27. Mackenzie was appointed alderman, and the Reformers obtained a majority on the council. Mackenzie was chosen to be Toronto's first mayor by his fellow councillors. A typically politician of the era, he got rid of Tory officials, gave patronage to his supporters, and was readier to hear contested elections against
Tories than Reformers. He demanded that his dignity be recognized was a mark if his fierce pride.

In the provincial election of October, 1834, months before his term as mayor was completed, Mackenzie won Second Riding of York, and the Reformers a majority in the assembly. In November, sure his seat
gave him a platform from which to seek reform, Mackenzie ceased publication of the Colonial Advocate. When the new Reform-dominated house met, it quickly erased all records of Mackenzie's previous
expulsions.

In July of 1836, Mackenzie wept as his got news of his defeat on the election. He rushed into print a new paper, known as the Constitution although he had foresworn journalism forever in 1834. It's first edition was supposed to appear, symbolically, on July 4. In his new paper, Mackenzie write only constitutional change.

Gradually, experiencing the abuse and physical attacks of the Orange gangs on one side, and the support of large crowds on the other, Mackenzie concluded that the only way to sweep away the rule of Sir Francis Bond Head and the Family Compact was to lead the enthusiastic supporters into Toronto and overthrow the government.

Having done this, Mackenzie printed more editions of the Constitution and distributed them throughout the province. For the next two years, Mackenzie's life was a bitter struggle against the Tories. Many
people supported him, but many fought against him, coming to the aid of his enemies, the Tories. They broke into his office, yet again, but were chased off before any harm could be done.

All the fighting was too much for Mackenzie. He left Canada and settled in New York City in January of 1838. He believed that during this time, the majority of Upper Canadians were ready to rise, if given some sign of substantial aid, such as an invasion by sympathetic Americans.

In January of 1839, Mackenzie moved to Rochester. Later in that year, Mackenzie, beset by personal problems and discouraged by American attitudes and the failure of association, turned his mind from
thoughts of invading the Canada's.

In May of 1839, generous supporters lent Mackenzie enough money to form a new newspaper, which he named Mackenzie's Gazette. This paper was where he first sided with the Americans; he attacked the Whig banking policy. He continued to attack British topics, such as Martin Van Buren being a British tool in a democratic government. Gradually, such comments, and lagging interest cut the number of readers, and left Mackenzie in even more serious financial difficulty.

His trial for breaking the neutrality laws had finally been held in June at 1839. Mackenzie, who fancied himself a legal expert, conducted his own defense. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to eighteen months in jail, and a $10 fine. He found that carrying on his newspaper from prison was extremely difficult, not to mention the fact that he was still in a financial slum. The Gazette appeared erratically.

The jail, which was set in a bog containing factory effluent, made Mackenzie very ill. In November, he got word that his family wasn't well, either. One of his children was near death, his wife was sick, and a month later, his mother, his greatest supporter, died.

In May, 1840, due to his constant bouts of depression and letters of complaint, Mackenzie was pardoned and let out of prison. He hadn't even served one full year in jail! Upon his freedom, Mackenzie started
making new editions of the Gazette. The new editions criticized American life for not being what it claimed, and Van Buren for his shabby treatment of Mackenzie.

In December, 1840, Mackenzie's Gazette died due to lack of funding and the fact that its creator was often in an emotional state of shambles.

In February of 1851, Mackenzie decided to concentrate on running in the up-coming election, and be re-elected into parliament. In the Spring of that year, he won a seat in Haldimand County. In August, 1856, after many failed newspapers, and serious personal and financial problems, Mackenzie resigned his seat in parliament. For the next three years, it seemed that he stopped caring about what he previously fought do hard for. He refused seats in parliament, and even refused the position of mayor of Toronto.

His health started returning in June of 1861, and he toyed with the idea of running for the legislature. His moods brightened, and friends who had run off during his fits of depression returned en mass. He was not a happy man, though. Creditors plagued him, and he suffered bouts of mental illness, until on August 28, 1861, he died of an apoplectic seizure.

William Lyon Mackenzie is what is known as a reformer, but I'm not sure if this label is fully accurate. He wanted responsible government, yes, but it is my view that it wasn't his intention to cause the upset that he did. He just wanted what was right for his fellow man. William Lyon Mackenzie, man, reformer, legend, myth.
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