YOUNG, Sir WILLIAM, lawyer, politician, judge, and philanthropist; b. 8 Sept. 1799 in Falkirk, Scotland, son of John Young* and Agnes Renny; d. 8 May 1887 at Halifax, N.S.
Although William Young and his younger brother George Renny* cherished the affection of their mother, it was their father, the well-known “Agricola,” who was altogether predominant in the formation of their characters. William, having by his own account received an honours degree from the University of Glasgow by the age of 14, arrived in Halifax with his family in April 1814. Ambitious for fame and riches, he readily accepted his father’s “idea of accumulating a fortune as quickly as possible, under any flag, and . . . the idea that it was not impossible to be a literary man and a merchant.” When British troops occupied Castine, Maine, in September 1814, John Young was among the Halifax merchants who stationed themselves there and, with a large stock of dry goods brought from Britain, he conducted a thriving trade, both legally and illegally, until the following April. His agent in Halifax was 15-year-old William, who carried out almost faultlessly his father’s meticulous instructions. Between June and October 1815 William acted as the agent of John Young and Company in New York, this time receiving instructions from his father in Halifax, who reported so favourably on his performance that his uncle William Renny in Edinburgh concluded he was “a very extraordinary young man.”
If his father’s instructions taught him anything, it was to be hard-hearted and ruthless, even to border on the unscrupulous, in order to maximize profits. But William and George were “blind to [their father’s] faults” and “united to the world against any criticism of his methods or character”; they were, said D. C. Harvey*, “a compact family in search of fortune.” Late in 1815 William entered into a partnership with James Cogswell in an auction and commission business in Halifax, and he apparently continued commercial pursuits until 1820. By this time he had developed strong opinions of his own; thus he was so certain Pictou Academy was not a proper place for his brother George to attend that he caused Principal Thomas McCulloch* to say “young men . . . do not always consider . . . what injury they may do to persons whose labours deserve well of the community.”
William’s subnormal height – he was so short that he never lost the nickname “little Billy Young” – may have led to his assertiveness. His self-assurance appears in 1820 when, in seeking an indenture of apprenticeship in the legal firm of the brothers Charles Rufus* and Samuel Prescott Fairbanks, he asked that any payment to him should depend on the value of his services. Not expecting to pay him anything, the Fairbanks agreed reluctantly to allow him £30 the first year in preference to “any arrangement which would leave any thing in our discretion.” The apprenticeship ended on a sour note in 1823. In that year John Young, having secured wide recognition through his Letters of Agricola . . . (1822), contested a by-election against C. R. Fairbanks in the township of Halifax. William not only worked strenuously for his father, but allegedly communicated the “secrets” of Fairbanks’ campaign to him, and Fairbanks thereafter would have nothing to do with his apprentice. This was only one of a number of incidents which prevented the Youngs from gaining the respect they wanted; “Timothy Touchstone” in the Pictou Colonial Patriot suggested that John Young was dishonourable in pursuit of his ambitions, and his sons may have learned their father’s lesson all too well.
John Young lost to Fairbanks in 1823, but he was elected for Sydney County in 1824 with William acting as his campaign manager. In his turn John Young secured William’s release from his indenture to an irritated Fairbanks by invoking the assistance of Chief Justice Sampson Salter Blowers* and two other judges of the Supreme Court. Finally admitted as attorney in 1825 and barrister the following year, William began the practice of law in Halifax. By 1830 he had established himself sufficiently to marry Anne Tobin, the daughter of Michael Tobin Sr, in a Church of England ceremony. The staunch Presbyterian groom and devout Roman Catholic bride lived in complete harmony, perhaps helped by the fact that they had no children.
In 1834 William formed a legal partnership and insurance business with his brother George that would last until the 1850s. During the early 1830s William was earning about $8,000 a year, a large sum, and his day books and ledgers are so thorough that household expenses are calculated to the last penny. While not highly learned in the law, he was “an excellent tactician [who] pressed himself strongly on courts and juries,” and as a result he participated in the great majority of appeal cases. Already he had begun his life-long clashes with James William Johnston*, a prominent lawyer and future leader of the Conservative party. Early in 1832 a veritable “explosion” occurred in the Court of Chancery when Johnston stated he would treat Young’s opinions with contempt.
Because an aspiring lawyer needed to get into politics, in 1832 Young contested a vacant seat in Cape Breton County, then encompassing the whole island, against Richard Smith*, manager of the General Mining Association at Sydneoung had already won the gratitude of newly arrived Highland Scotsmen by helping them to find lands, and over the next two decades he would assist his compatriots in other ways. The result at the first three polling places was a tie, but when voting began at the fourth and last, Chéticamp, 150 Scotsmen, armed with clubs, expelled Smith’s friends from the hustings in a celebrated riot and secured Young’s election. Later, however, a committee of the assembly found that George Young was a leading perpetrator of the outrage, and that he had acted “with the concurrence and sanction of . . . William Young” whose election was accordingly invalidated.
In the general election of 1836 Young easily won in the newly created Cape Breton county of Juste-au-Corps, which, largely through him, had its name changed to Inverness in 1837. For two decades he was re-elected with the support of its merchants and, more especially, its Catholic laymen and clergy, who constituted a majority of the population. Like his father, William attached himself to the popular cause which, thanks to Joseph Howe*, had now gained majority support in the assembly. But the Youngs failed to get the recognition they hoped for in the political sphere because of a common belief that they carefully calculated their political course of action in terms of their personal interests. Both were highly annoyed in 1837 when Howe moved to replace John Young’s moderate resolutions with his own twelve resolutions, a tough statement of the Reformers’ grievances and demands which blasted the unrepresentativeness of the Council of Twelve and urged that greater responsibility to the electors be introduced into the political system, especially through an elective legislative council.
That autumn William experienced a traumatic shock in the death of his father who had been his “guide,” “friend,” and “companion.” His sorrow did not deter him from advancing to British officials the claims of himself and George, then in England. Because the Colonial Office was preparing to replace the Nova Scotia Council with executive and legislative councils, he warned his brother to make good use of his presence in England, “a chance wch is not likely ever to recur.” That either could have believed the young and inexperienced George would receive preferment seems preposterous, and he got nothing. But neither did William, and for a time he and the lieutenant governor, Sir Colin Campbell*, were not on good terms. William continued to ponder whether he should remain an assemblyman and hope for an executive councillorship, or go to the Legislative Council and let George take his seat in Inverness.
Nothing during the session of 1838 made him want to stay in the assembly. Plaintively he noted that leading Reformers showed greater respect for the unofficial Tory leader, James Boyle Uniacke*, than for himself: “Uniacke & I had a set-to and are on terms of open hostility – Howe and [Laurence O’Connor Doyle*] cultivate his good graces rather than mine.” He felt somewhat better in September when he was the only Reformer in a delegation of four which went to Quebec City for constitutional discussions with Lord Durham [Lambton*] and Charles Buller*. Like so many others, he became an immediate convert to Durham’s “extraordinary talents . . . irresistible force of reasoning . . . vigorous yet easy flow of ornamental eloquence,” and he was highly indignant when the actions of “the pusillanimous Whigs” in Britain led to Durham’s resignation as governor general.
In 1839, when Colonial Secretary Lord Glenelg seemed to backtrack on his earlier promises of instituting genuinely representative executive and legislative councils and of surrendering the casual and territorial revenues of the crown for a modest civil list, the assembly sent Young and Herbert Huntington* to press its case in London. The ever provident Young was appalled at the expense: “Ordered a suit of clothes & frock coat on Bond Street – The price extravagant, but it is necessary that I shd be fashionably drest.” Occasionally, during that summer in England, Young became optimistic, especially over the Colonial Office’s promise to open five free ports in Nova Scotia, thereby permitting foreign trade to be carried on more expeditiously. “Here is another great point secured & wch would never have been effected without the delegation.” But Young’s impression that the new colonial secretary, Lord Normanby, was ignorant of Nova Scotia affairs and would rely on advice from the official faction, was altogether accurate. A dispatch about which Lord Normanby talked to him would, Young knew, be unsatisfactory to Nova Scotia Reformers on both the civil list question and the composition of the councils.
By 1840 the Reformers had concluded that Lieutenant Governor Campbell was deliberately frustrating their endeavours, and Young was active in securing a resolution for his recall. That action brought the new governor general, Charles Edward Poulett Thomson*, to Halifax where he arranged for a coalition executive council of the species that became his trademark. After Young saw Thomson, he understood that Howe, Huntington, and himself would represent the Reformers in the council, but only Howe received an appointment in the council formed by Campbell’s successor, Lord Falkland [Cary]. Huntington would have to wait until it was decided whether he was “an animal that will run in harness”; meanwhile, Young’s claims would remain in abeyance. Believing that Howe had put his own interests first, Young complained that he had been given no reason for his exclusion. Not until January 1842, after Huntington had resisted all overtures, did Young finally become a councillor and cease his opposition to the coalition of Howe and J. W. Johnston. That year, too, Young, always a friend of Roman Catholic causes, joined Howe in securing the incorporation of St Mary’s College in Halifax, and also in denying to the Baptists a grant towards the capital cost of a building for Acadia College in Wolfville. Thus Young played a part in the alienation of the Baptists from the Reformers which would markedly affect Nova Scotia politics in the years to come.
Because he had accepted the post of collector of excise at Halifax, Howe relinquished the speakership of the assembly in 1843 to be succeeded by Young. But, showing its very different attitudes towards Howe and Young, the assembly required the latter to resign from the council even though it had permitted Howe to be both speaker and councillor simultaneously. As speaker, Young could support the Reformers’ cause only in committee and in the newspapers. But he and his brother may have contributed most to the popular cause in defending Reform newspapermen in a series of libel suits, which were really political trials intended by the Tories to destroy some of their chief critics. Since Young invariably opposed Johnston in these cases, the antipathy between the two men became even more marked; once Chief Justice Brenton Halliburton* threatened to bar them both from his court unless they behaved with proprietoung went so far as to allege in the assembly that the judges were antagonistic towards the Reform party and Reform lawyers because they sought to remove abuses in which the judges had a vested interest: a special meeting of the bar society, seemingly attended only by Tories, repudiated these sentiments.
Young’s involvement in the partisan warfare reached its zenith in 1846 in a personal clash with Lieutenant Governor Falkland over Young’s association with the provisional committee of the Halifax and Quebec Railway, and the naming of himself and his brother George as the railway’s colonial solicitors. Falkland, who seemed to lose all objectivity after the Reformers’ withdrawal from the coalition in December 1843, ordered the tabling in the assembly of a letter that accused the Youngs of associating with dubious English speculators and of naming “some of the most respectable Gentlemen” in railway prospectuses without their authorization. Thoroughly outraged, Howe blurted out that more of such conduct would force some colonist to “hire a black man, to horsewhip a Lieutenant Governor in the Streets,” and even the colonial secretary suggested to Falkland that the publication of the letter must have been an “inadvertence.” But an unrepentant Falkland replied that if the facts hurt the Youngs’ reputation, “the fault is theirs not mine.” Admittedly he had denied William Young the civilities usually accorded the speaker, but he was not called upon to explain his distaste for the Youngs’ society. Nevertheless, it would seem that the Youngs’ impropriety at worst was grossly exaggerated, and that Falkland’s intervention was that of a partisan participant in all-out warfare.
Young campaigned actively in the crucial and, for the Reformers, successful election of 5 Aug. 1847. Early in 1848 he was again elected speaker despite Johnston’s charge that he abused the office by his partisanship. He had no desire to be in the new Reform administration unless it was as attorney general and leader of the first ministry under responsible government. These positions went to J. B. Uniacke, once a Tory but since 1844 the acknowledged leader of the Reformers. The shrewdly calculating Young let his brother George accept an executive councillorship, while he retained the more prestigious speakership and the opportunity to augment his personal fortunes in the practice of law and in business pursuits. He was also in a position to accept favours from the government; thus he was one of four commissioners who in 1851 produced the first series of revised statutes. In one instance, however, his actions were meddling; during a visit to Washington in 1850 he gathered information about the terms on which Nova Scotia might secure a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States. The Nova Scotia Executive Council disliked the terms and disliked more the impropriety of Young’s intervention.
George Young died in 1853, but despite their close relationship, William experienced a sense of relief, for his brother had been having bouts of insanity since 1851. Henceforth, the whirligig of fortune turned strongly in Young’s favour. In April 1854, when J. B. Uniacke was “fairly used up and wholly unfit for public business,” and Howe was about to become chief railway commissioner, Young assumed almost by default the leadership of the government and the attorney generalship. Within days he was finding that “my new job is no sinecure. Every day & almost every night has brought its own occupation.”
While Young’s professed philosophy was to “do what one believes to be right and to leave the result to a Providence wiser than ourselves,” he seemed more likely to follow the line of least resistance. Pressed incessantly for offices by his supporters, he gave way where Howe had not, and patronage in its most blatant form may thus be said to have begun under the Young administration. His desire to avoid the onus of decision making led him to see a coup when in 1854 J. W. Johnston agreed to become the second Nova Scotia delegate to a convention in Washington on reciprocity and the fisheries. Francis Hincks of Canada thought it “absurd” to include the leader of the opposition, but Young considered it a “good move” because it “relieves the government of some part of the responsibility.” When specific instructions to the Nova Scotia delegates did not arrive from the Colonial Office, Young and Johnston remained in Halifax. Again Young was not disappointed. “Now we are free as a Government from the responsibility of the Treaty which is highly unacceptable to a large body of our people and will be resisted I believe à l’outrance by Johnston.” Young carefully concealed his personal opinion of the treaty’s merits, but he was certain that the assembly would accept it.
Young did not let his premiership interfere with a trip to Europe planned for late June 1854; accompanied by his wife and two Scottish nephews, he had “a delightful tour” as far as Vienna, seeing “many curious things.” Late in the same year he called the assembly into session to deal with the Reciprocity Treaty. Although Johnston and Howe both protested that Nova Scotia was being asked to give up the sole use of its fisheries without equivalent concessions and, more especially, without consultation with its government or legislature, Young was a good prophet and the assembly accepted the treaty by a substantial majority. In the same session of 1854–55 Young brought to fruition an objective he had pursued for some time, the abolition of the Court of Chancery. Acting partly on rational grounds, Young was also moved by a burning desire to remove from office an old bête noire, Alexander Stewart*, the master of the rolls. Young’s critics were right that he had “not grasped the basis on which the fusion of law and equity could be brought about,” and the result was a muddle in the administration of justice.
In the election of May 1855 Young and the Liberals improved their standing in the assembly by two or three seats, but it was only a numerical gain, since the election brought from Cumberland County the Conservative Dr Charles Tupper*, a rough-and-tumble fighter for whom Young was no match in the legislature. More than once during 1856 the government was in a state of confusion and even collapse. First, it was during a lengthy debate on patronage in which Young would neither announce nor denounce the principle that “to the victors belong the spoils,” although he denied it had been introduced. Later, it was on a bill to support education by compulsory assessment, to which provisions for separate schools were to be added in committee. Young had spent a vast amount of time on the bill, but it was too much to expect that a measure introducing two highly controversial sets of principles would pass easily. Forced to defer it, he was not in a position to re-introduce it in 1857. Meanwhile, intrigues were going on, allegedly to induce some freshmen Liberal members to bring down the government and establish a no-party or third-party administration. An attempt was then to be made to get Brenton Halliburton to resign and install J. W. Johnston as chief justice. “We have had,” wrote Young, “a series of most unscrupulous & singular intrigues . . . [but] the plot has failed & a good majority . . . [was] secured.”
Something else perturbed him even more. During the session his two Catholic colleagues on the Executive Council, James W. McLeod and Michael Tobin, his wife’s cousin, resigned because they felt the government’s bestowal of preferment on themselves and their co-religionists was not adequate. Although Young got a Catholic to fill one vacancy, Lieutenant Governor Sir John Gaspard Le Marchant* told him he had not “by any means brought [his] ship into smooth water.” Meanwhile, Young could only sit by and wonder if Joseph Howe’s “violent rupture” with Irish Roman Catholics over his American recruitment campaign for the British forces in the Crimean War “may operate however unjustly against the Government.” Unfortunately for Young, his worst fears were realized when Howe alienated the French and Scottish Catholics as well. As a result, on 18 Feb. 1857, ten Catholic and two Protestant Liberals helped to vote out the Liberals and usher in a Johnston government without an election.
Following his ouster, Young visited northern Europe and confessed that “our party fights shrank into small dimensions.” He yearned for the office of chief justice, but when the aged Brenton Halliburton seemed determined to follow the usual course of his predecessors and cling to office until death, Young’s interest in politics revived. In 1858 he strongly opposed the agreement that Johnston and the Liberal, Adams George Archibald*, had made for the return to Nova Scotia of ownership of its mines and minerals which had been conferred on the Duke of York in 1826 and later fell into the hands of the General Mining Association. For years Young had fought for a similar agreement, but he could not now bear to have the question settled by his chief opponent. The mining areas retained by the GMA he thought too extensive and the GMA’s rental and royalty payments inadequate to serve the best interests of Nova Scotia.
The late 1850s were years of political rancour when, to use the parties’ names for each other, anti-Roman Catholic Liberal “proscriptionists” opposed a “Romo-Johnstonite” administration. Although the Catholic historian, Nicholas Meagher*, holds Howe mainly responsible for the religious warfare, he insists that “Young lent himself to Howe’s proscription creed in all its fulness and harshness.” Understandably, then, religion dominated the election of 12 May 1859. Young deserted Catholic Inverness to run in Protestant Cumberland and out-polled Charles Tupper in that three-member riding. The closeness of the results, 29 Liberals to 26 Conservatives, and the near-certainty that the party controlling the government would name the next chief justice meant that the violent political struggle would continue unabated. When Young approached Lieutenant Governor Lord Mulgrave [Phipps] and the colonial secretary for an immediate summoning of the legislature, he was told that Johnston might follow the normal practice and wait until early the next year to convene. The Johnston government maintained that some Liberals elected were disqualified from sitting in the assembly because they held paid offices in the colony, but those whose eligibility was disputed joined the other Liberals in voting out Johnston and installing Young as premier on 10 Feb. 1860. To avoid having to run in a by-election in Cumberland, Young assumed an office hitherto unknown in Nova Scotia, the unpaid presidency of the council.
With the new government installed, the assembly could establish committees to determine whether the supposedly disqualified members had been validly elected. Not surprisingly, a committee over which Young presided confirmed the Liberal Lewis Smith in his seat because he had not been appointed to his paid office according to the prescribed forms. The overall result of the committees’ work was to give the Liberals an additional seat. Furious, the opposition assumed the title “Constitutionalists,” and labelled the Liberals “Usurpers” and Young “the first law-breaker.” Despite the fulminations of Johnston and Tupper, Mulgrave and the colonial secretary replied that the assembly was the sole determinant of its own elections, and any appeal must be to public opinion within the colony itself.
Chief Justice Halliburton died on 16 July 1860, and within days the Tories were insisting that his successor not be Young, whom they charged with shamelessly outraging all the proprieties of public life. The lieutenant governor having approved Young’s nomination, the Acadian Recorder of 28 July came out in mourning, even though the Prince of Wales arrived in Halifax that day to begin his North American tour. Despite all sorts of appeals to London, the appointment stood and Young had attained his highest ambition.
During his 21 years as chief justice, Young was known less for the quality of his decisions than for the “curious chirography” of his written judgements and his vanity – because he could not bear to be at a lower level than his associates on the bench, “his chair was always piled up with a mountain of cushions.” His judgements, like his legal knowledge, lacked profundity and tended to be “showy rather than substantial.” As with all his formal speeches, he normally delivered them in a highly dramatic manner. In his first years on the bench he could not escape the controversy that had always seemed to envelop him. After a long imbroglio with Thomas J. Wallace, Young suspended him from practice for contempt, only to have the Judicial Committee of the Privy .Council declare that he had used a sanction beyond his powers. It took a strong protest from John Sparrow David Thompson* before Young abandoned the practice of letting a client with a grievance against his solicitor express his complaint in open court without sworn testimony or without moving for process to start legal proceedings on the grievance.
Like his fellow judges, Young was accused of haranguing grand juries on the benefits of Nova Scotia’s entry into confederation, and even as he denied it, he admitted that he had never concealed his own opinions. Early in 1867 he acted as the unofficial emissary of Lieutenant Governor Sir William Fenwick Williams to explain to the colonial secretary the state of affairs in Nova Scotia. Young’s services on behalf of confederation may have largely contributed to his being made a kb in 1869.
As late as 1879 Young incurred the wrath of the Morning Chronicle as “an imprudent judge” who criticized juries for not convicting the accused when he thought the evidence was ample. Generally, however, in his later years he basked in the respect flowing from his office. In turn, he engaged in all sorts of good works, and although critics might allege their principal purpose was to ensure widespread credit for the donor, many have had beneficial effects to the present day. The Citizens’ Free Library began when Young purchased the Halifax Mechanics’ Institute library and presented it to the city council; he also gave substantial gifts of books and money throughout the years. He was largely responsible for obtaining the present Point Pleasant Park from the imperial authorities, and having the grant run for 999, rather than 99 years; its handsome gates were his gift in 1886. Next to George Munro*, Young was Dalhousie University’s greatest benefactor in the 19th century. As governor for 42 years and chairman of the board for 36, he strove to make Dalhousie the provincial university, and he contributed generously to its library, scientific apparatus, scholarships, and endowment funds. On 27 April 1887 on the South Common he laid the cornerstone of a university building (now the Forrest Building), made possible through his gift of $20,000, which was the beginning of a new Dalhousie campus. It was his last public act, for he died on 8 May. In his later years, especially after his retirement from the bench in 1881, he had received numerous honours, including an honorary degree from Queen’s College at Kingston, Ont.
Young’s will continued his benefactions to the extent of almost $200,000, out of a total estate of about $350,000. He had probably inherited money from his wife and father, his law practice and business pursuits had been lucrative, and he had been a shrewd moneylender. His will directed that statuary from his extensive gardens be placed in the Public Gardens in Halifax and provided $8,000 to complete and ornament the new road, which was named Young Avenue, from Inglis St to Point Pleasant Park. The will also established Sir William Young’s Benevolent and Charitable Fund, with an endowment of $100,000, the interest from which was to go to ten societies or organizations in which he had interested himself. At Dalhousie he endowed further academic awards and to it went half the residue of his estate. Certainly he had made sure that his name would live on in Nova Scotia.
Through sheer persistence Young had, in the end, secured the public attention and exercised the power he had always craved. His success had come through politics even though the journalist Charles Rohan was partly right that by nature he was “an austere, ungenial being [with hardly] a warm corner in his heart for any other one of God’s creatures.” Undoubtedly his financial resources helped him; his personal outlay in his first ill-fated election in 1832 was about £1,000, and his agents may have spent even more in providing refreshments at the public houses of Cumberland in 1859. To many acquaintances he always remained “little Billy Young,” who, one said, “never failed to keep [an eye] unblinkingly fixed on his own interest,” and who, according to another, was so “tricky a character that he probably never ate his dinner without a stratagem.” Though articulate and eloquent, he had his failings as a public speaker. He was poor at enunciation and his utterances were like “the popping of water from a jug”; he expectorated them “in knots, inextricably tangled and running into each other.” Some, like J. W. Johnston, criticized his exaggerated “manner of seeking notice and applause”; certainly his speeches, especially his public lecture on Robert Burns in 1859, were “generously overdone.” But despite his lack of the usual attributes of the successful politician, cool calculation, moderate, though not outstanding ability, and more than a little luck had carried him to both his main goals, the premiership and the chief justiceship.
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