BLANCHARD, JOTHAM, lawyer, editor, and politician; b. 15 March 1800 in Peterborough, N.H., eldest son of Jonathan Blanchard and Sarah Goggins; m. 7 Aug. 1832 Mrs Margaret Spears in Truro, N.S.; they had no children; d. 14 July 1839 in Pictou, N.S.
At 15 months Jotham Blanchard arrived with his parents in Truro, where his grandfather, Colonel Jotham Blanchard, had settled in 1785. While at school in Truro he fell on the ice, hurt his knee, and was left permanently lame. In 1813 the family moved to the West River of Pictou and ran Ten Mile House for seven or eight years before establishing itself in the town of Pictou. A member of the first class of Pictou Academy and one of its first graduates, Blanchard came under the lasting influence of its principal, Thomas McCulloch. Following the study of law, largely in the office of Thomas Dickson* in Pictou, he was enrolled as an attorney on 18 Oct. 1821 and was admitted to the bar a year later.
According to judge George Geddie Patterson, Blanchard refused to be “cribbed, cabined and confined by the four walls of a dusty law office.” Although it did not become public knowledge until 1830, he was editor of the Colonial Patriot of Pictou when Jacob Sparling Cunnabell and William H. Milne began to publish it on 7 Dec. 1827. The Patriot was the first Nova Scotian paper of any significance outside Halifax and the first to espouse liberal, even radical, principles. Although it has been suggested that the Patriot’s basic object was to promote the interests of Pictou Academy, that role was entirely subordinated to general political and governmental concerns. At the outset Blanchard was an ultra-liberal whig, seemingly most akin to Joseph Hume, John Arthur Roebuck*, and other British radicals. Their ideology being foreign to anything in the Nova Scotian political tradition, he was charged with republicanism and disloyalty by reactionaries such as Richard John Uniacke* Jr, who wanted him haled before the House of Assembly.
At the masthead of the Patriot was the motto Pro rege, pro patria (For king and country), and Blanchard contended that anyone who supported the dignity of the crown at the expense of the general happiness “alike commits treason against the King and his subjects.” For him the root of all evils in Nova Scotian government and society was “the system which prevails among the Provincial authorities to keep all the good things among themselves and their families,” in other words, the tory labyrinth of patronage distribution. Occasionally the Benthamite in him would show through, as when he maintained that the American government was the only one that had “yet acted upon the Glorious principle that the true end of Government, is the greatest happiness to the greatest number.”
Without revealing his identity, in late May and June 1828 Blanchard entered into a wordy battle with Joseph Howe*, joint publisher of the Acadian, and General Advertiser in 1827 and, by the start of 1828, proprietor of the more prestigious Novascotian, or Colonial Herald. It began when the radical Canadian Spectator of Montreal published extracts from a letter of a Nova Scotian – actually it was Blanchard – to the Lower Canadian reformer James Leslie*, stating that “our papers and our parliament are servile in the extreme.” An indignant Howe asked “The Writer of the Canadian Letter” to point out “one abject sentiment” in his newspaper. Still hiding his identity, Blanchard replied in the Patriot that the Acadian had been conducted by “a young man connected with the Post Office, and, of course, tied to a party” and that later he would “pull the mask from [his] face.” As good as his words, he pictured Howe as the agent of a long-standing system that was designed to stifle freedom and discussion. The controversy got nastier as it proceeded: Howe accused the Patriot’s writers he called them the “Pictou Scribblers” – of being “the mere speaking trumpet” of Pictou Academy; Blanchard alleged that a recent article by Howe on Lord Byron and James Henry Leigh Hunt had been purloined from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. If nothing else, Blanchard was helping to develop Howe’s talents for repartee and invective.
From March to July 1828 Blanchard was in Halifax gaining a deeper insight into the working of the province’s politics, and from then until May 1829 he did the same thing in a larger sphere in Britain. McCulloch appears to have performed the editorial chores of the Patriot until November of that year, even though Blanchard was in Pictou in June, holding out “the olive branch of peace” to Howe – in Howe’s words – and admitting that he had written the “Canadian Letter.” There is no evidence at this time for the often quoted but probably apocryphal admission of Howe that the “Pictou Scribblers” had converted him from the error of his ways. But the two men did see eye to eye on the celebrated “Brandy Dispute” early in 1830 [see Enos Collins*] when the assembly refused to let the Council deprive it of the sole right to determine “the amount of the burthens to be borne by the people whom they represent,” even at the cost of losing the appropriation bill. In the Patriot Blanchard called the assembly’s stand the “Glorious Emancipation” of Nova Scotia and printed material from the Novascotian with approval. Blanchard and Howe were still far apart, however, on the remedy to be applied, for while Blanchard was thinking in terms of an “organised party against misrule in Nova Scotia,” Howe, fearful of party and the party spirit, was still writing that “the party to which we belong is the Province of Nova Scotia.”
Later in 1830 Blanchard decided to contest one of the four seats for Halifax County and was identified as one of the “popular” candidates in perhaps the province’s best-known election. In Halifax, where “official” influence was strong, Blanchard was behind by more than 700 votes, but he received a majority of almost 1,000 in the district of Colchester. However, the real drama occurred in Pictou, where the religious differences between anti-burghers of the Secession Church who supported McCulloch and Kirkmen opposed to McCulloch and Pictou Academy led to the killing of a man and the need to protect the academy and Blanchard’s home from violence. Although the Kirkmen outpolled the secessionists in Pictou, Blanchard won the county by 139 votes.
In the 1830–31 session of the legislature Blanchard exerted himself primarily as a legal reformer, wanting especially to establish the entire town of Pictou as jail limits so that, as the Novascotian reported, incarcerated debtors could “labour through the Town” and pay their debts during their confinement. Shocked when his efforts were blocked, he then gave his full support to a “cheap law bill,” designed to reduce lawyers’ fees and reform legal practice generally, which William Henry Roach of Annapolis County had been introducing for some time without success. Although as Nathaniel W. White, a tory, observed, he took “a terrible maulling” from Charles Rufus Fairbanks, William Blowers Bliss*, Uniacke, and Alexander Stewart*, the leading lawyer-assemblymen, he “still bellows on, nothing daunted by the array of talent marshalled against him . . . & is carrying a sweeping majority with him.” Indeed, he gave as well as he got, calling his opponents “vulgar,” “more . . . blackguards than gentlemen,” and the champions of “a dirty, pitiful, self raised aristocracy, who want to keep down every body but themselves.” Though in December 1830 Blanchard carried the assembly by 23 to 16, the Council blocked the passage of the bill. White noted that, although “a feverish agitator,” Blanchard had a clear head which would prevent his espousing “ultra-liberalism” or going “beyond the constitutional barrier.” Since he “speaks out boldly and skews foot, tail & all,” he was not likely to be dangerous; indeed, “barring his crooked leg [he] looks somewhat like a gentleman.” But he had “all the hardihood and obstinacy of . . . the Doctor [McCulloch], whose disciple he is . . . & will in following the temper of the times become the favorite of the herd.”
Blanchard himself was decidedly unhappy with the session. The older assemblymen, he said in the Patriot, “seemed disposed to rest satisfied with previous laurels,” while the newly elected were “unskilled in legislation, and distrustful of their own judgment.” But, like Howe, he had misinterpreted the significance of the “Brandy Dispute,” in which even the more conservative assemblymen had opposed the Council’s intemperate action, and hence he expected the new assembly to be much more liberal than it actually was. During the session word had got out that McCulloch, frustrated by years of pressing the legislature unsuccessfully for an unfettered charter and permanent financial support for Pictou Academy, had decided to approach the Colonial Office directly and that Blanchard had volunteered as his emissary. As a result, a hundred “most respectable gentleman” of Pictou burned Blanchard in effigy in the middle of the town and drew his jocular response in the Patriot of 19 Feb. 1831: “To be ranked with Popes, and Kings, and Dukes, and Governors, is an honour which does not come the way every day to Editors.”
To McCulloch and Blanchard the time seemed propitious since their counterparts, the whigs, had come to power in Britain. Leaving Halifax on 3 March, Blanchard first went to Scotland, where he secured the support of the United Associate Synod of the Secession Church for his mission. But his relations with Lord Goderich, the colonial secretary, were unexpectedly cool because he was not following recognized procedures. Consequently he had to spend some months kicking his heels in London awaiting an official statement by the Nova Scotian government before being permitted to present his own memorial. Still, according to Patterson, “he was the pioneer and Howe but his follower” in breaking the exclusive connection between the Council and the Colonial Office. Goderich eventually gave “a half and half message”: he wanted a permanent grant to the academy and expected it to be made without unacceptable conditions being attached to the constitution of the academy’s board of trustees, but he hoped to have it done so as to “meet and conciliate the wishes and feelings of both Parties,” something that was clearly unrealizable. For Blanchard personally the trip had one significant consequence: in Scotland he had fallen ill at the home of Mrs Margaret Spears, where he was lodging; the following year his father went to Britain and brought her back to marry him.
Likely Blanchard’s health was already beginning to deteriorate as the session of 1832 began and its frustrations may have accelerated a decline. Opposing him at every turn was James Boyle Uniacke*, who, he said, sought to exterminate his opponents by pure bombast and whose “low and paltry remarks” were “an insult to [the members’] understandings and feelings.” Despite the implacable opposition of 15 assemblymen he got a Pictou Academy bill from the assembly that he could have lived with, only to have the Council render it utterly objectionable. As finally passed, the act not only facilitated the appointment of Kirkmen to the academy’s board of trustees, but limited financial support to ten years and allocated it so as to leave only a small portion for the higher branches of learning.
Blanchard’s greatest trouble in 1832, however, was with the bill to incorporate the Bank of Nova Scotia, which many of his constituents wanted him to support in order to provide competition for the private Halifax Banking Company, five of whose directors sat on the Council. When he found that the assemblymen generally knew little about banking, he resorted to a study of the authorities on the subject and then told his friends in the assembly that not until they had devoted as many hours to it as he had “will I quail before them.” His particular object was to ensure a large paid-up capital and heavy shareholder liability to prevent the losses which widows and orphans in the United States had suffered because of bank failures, and to that end he engaged in vigorous debates with the assemblymen who were shareholders of the new bank. He might have spared his efforts, for on its own the Council made certain that the Bank of Nova Scotia started in August 1832 with “more safeguards against disaster than any bank of its time in British North America.” But he did not escape charges of being in league with Enos Collins and the directors of the Halifax Banking Company. No less annoying was Howe’s description of him and other assemblymen as “Legislative Fourteen Pounders” for voting themselves a fortnight’s extra indemnity at £1 a day. Frustrated, Blanchard replied that the town of Halifax should be the last to complain since the bank bill, designed primarily to promote its interests, had unduly prolonged the session. Besides, too many non-Halifax seats were held by Haligonians and nothing should be done to discourage country residents from offering themselves as candidates.
At least the session led to acceptance of a modified version of Roach’s legal bill and, although Blanchard did not initiate them, of provisions he had long advocated for insolvent debtors which remained unaltered for many years: in future, no debtor could be kept in jail who, without fraud, had given up all his property. During the summer of 1832 Blanchard rejoiced in the reinstatement of the Grey ministry in Britain and the passage of the Reform Bill; he was also pleased to write two signed editorials advocating the introduction of the itinerating libraries he had observed working so well there. But the rest of his life brought him little satisfaction. In the autumn he was again in conflict with Howe, who accused him unfairly of upholding the abuses of the Court of Chancery. If all editors were “as ready to run a tilt” as Howe, he replied, the press would “degenerate into a mere outlet for the spleen of professional ill will.”
In 1833 the economic and currency crises dominated the assembly’s proceedings and Blanchard presented a logically reasoned proposal which would have forbidden banks to issue notes of less than £5 in value. This proposal was eventually incorporated in a bill which required banks to redeem their notes in specie. Late in the session, however, he accepted the Council’s amendments which permitted both banks to make the redemption in provincial treasury notes. The councillors appeared to some to be legislating in their own interest, and Blanchard had scorn heaped on him for suggesting that men like Enos Collins and Samuel Cunard* would not place “their little twopenny bank” before their larger interests. Derisively Howe denounced Nova Scotia’s legislators who “with a stroke of the pen turned every thing to paper.” Did Blanchard not know that some assemblymen were “moved like puppets by the wires from the other end of the building – and that in no two Sessions had the ancient system of feasting and drenching with Champagne . . . been carried to such an extent” as in 1832 and 1833?
Editorially Blanchard continued to be a strong supporter of Louis-Joseph Papineau* and William Lyon Mackenzie*, contending that the North American colonies would never be “as they ought to be, until every species of internal management is transferred to the Colonists themselves.” But generally his editorial writing had lost its old sting and he was showing an increasing tendency to shun extreme solutions. He thought it “brutish” to raise an outcry against such men as Earl Grey and Lord Brougham because they did not “at one swoop, destroy all existing Institutions.” In July 1833 he denounced the radicals – even though “we hold the same opinions in the main, which they do” – for their “reckless course” in putting undue pressure on the whig government. That September he advocated settling the Secessionist–Kirk dispute peaceably, even to the extent of religious union, all of which was anathema to McCulloch, who privately suggested that Blanchard’s manner of gaining his assembly seat would have been enough to turn anyone’s head and who complained because Blanchard, after promising to present Pictou Academy’s case in London for £250, had demanded £560. Because of Blanchard’s almost too fulsome praise of Thomas Nickleson Jeffery, who was acting as administrator of the province, even the Tory Hugh Denoon wondered if “the limping editor . . . expects favours from [Jeffery].”
In 1834 Blanchard still showed a few vestiges of vigour in the house. He strongly supported Fairbanks’s proposal to borrow £100,000 in England to fix up the great roads once and for all: “We must come to it at last – and I think the sooner the better.” He told Alexander Stewart that mere tinkering with the Council would not reform the province’s constitution: “The principle of election is the only one by which [the basic defects] can be completely remedied. From this opinion I have never deviated, and am unwilling to depart.” He wanted the judges’ fees, which were sanctified by no law and which he contended bore most heavily on the poor, to be commuted. To Howe’s disgust, he favoured acceptance of the British government’s proposal to commute the quitrents for an annual payment of £2,000 to the crown as a means of relieving the minds of thousands of Nova Scotians, but he would have reduced the burden to £890 by making the payment of £2,000 bear the cost of commutation of the judges’ fees and the salaries of the attorney general and solicitor general.
It was almost his last gasp. The Patriot ceased publication in mid 1834, perhaps because of his physical incapacity, and he did not make one appearance during the session of 1835. McCulloch, never kindly disposed towards one who failed to do his bidding, suggested privately that if Blanchard had been of “sterner stuff,” he could have made himself the “first political man in the province.” But he had wanted “a judgeship or something like it,” and began to “puff up” Bishop John Inglis and other academy opponents, accepted a few dinners, and became a “harmless man” without “one particle of influence” in the assembly. A much more sympathetic Howe wrote to Blanchard that he had hoped he would supply the knowledge and leadership that ordinary people lacked, and he was shocked when he seemed to become “a covert enemy to popular measures” or at least “a very suspicious and languid supporter” of principles he had long advocated. Only recently had he learned that Blanchard’s health had deprived him of the energy which the times demanded and he regretted the harshness of his criticism.
Tradition has it that in 1836 Blanchard travelled to Halifax in a covered carriage equipped with a small stove and that he was content to do his constituents’ business from his quarters. Actually he was in the assembly on a score of days when divisions took place, although he intervened actively only once. Fearful of an act passed the previous session in his absence which allowed a single judge to travel the Supreme Court circuits, he emphasized the danger of giving one man omnipotent power without adequate means of appeal. A sympathetic house let him speak sitting down, referred the matter to committee, but took no positive action. With that Blanchard disappeared from public view; in 1838 he lapsed into imbecility and died a year later.
Suggestions that Blanchard “left his mark writ large upon the history of Nova Scotia” are not borne out by fact; indeed, he ended up as a largely tragic figure. Starting with the belief, held also by McCulloch, that education would bring the liberalism that was dominant in everyone to the surface, he quickly found out that the factions in the legislature were impervious to facts or persuasion, and that any amount of logical argument was ineffectual against entrenched religious and economic interests. Elected one assembly too early, he was the only member of advanced political views and more often than not beat his head against a stone. Later, when he was more accommodating, deteriorating health rendered him less effective. Open-minded, he was not averse to complimenting his usual opponents when he thought they deserved it and on that account incurred criticism for inconsistency. Nevertheless, he did have at least limited success as a legal reformer, and although he did not “convert” Joseph Howe singlehanded he did contribute significantly to opening Howe’s eyes to the magnitude of the province’s political ills. Only his limited physical resources prevented him from being more than someone who would hint at the major political changes which were to come in the 1840s.
PANS, MG 1, 553, 955. Colonial Patriot, 1827–34. Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, 1828–36. B. F. MacDonald, “Intellectual forces in Pictou, 1803–1843”
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Cite This Article
J. Murray Beck, “BLANCHARD, JOTHAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/blanchard_jotham_7E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||J. Murray Beck|
|Title of Article:||BLANCHARD, JOTHAM|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1988|
|Year of revision:||1988|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|