LONGWORTH, JOHN, lawyer, land agent, politician, and judge; b. 19 Sept. 1814 at Charlottetown, P.E.I., fourth son of Francis Longworth* and Agnes Auld; m. 31 Aug. 1847 Elizabeth White Tremaine, and they had six children; d. 11 April 1885 in Charlottetown.
Born into an affluent Anglican family, John Longworth was educated at Alexander Brown’s grammar school in Charlottetown and then studied law under Attorney General Robert Hodgson*. Admitted as an attorney of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island in October 1837, Longworth became a notary public and opened his own Charlottetown law office the following year. He quickly built a reputation as a land conveyancer and acted as agent for a variety of British and American insurance firms. By the mid 1840s John Longworth was, by both birth and qualifications, a rising member of Charlottetown society.
In 1846 he won a seat in the Island House of Assembly. Unlike the riding represented by his brother Francis in Charlottetown, John’s constituency in the rural 2nd District of Queen’s County could not be guaranteed by the Charlottetown oligarchy or Family Compact. Thus, although elected as a Conservative, John was conscious that as a representative of tenant farmers in a rural riding he could not afford to give unqualified support to a party dominated by an urban or propertied class. The tensions inherent in such a situation rendered his position in the house difficult, especially during the debates over responsible government in 1847 and 1849.
In Prince Edward Island, responsible government was less a political principle than a means for asserting the rights of the small freeholders and tenantry against absentee landowners and the local oligarchy. The precise method by which the goal was to be achieved remained ill defined, but the problem eventually came to focus on the Executive Council and its ultimate responsibility to either the lieutenant governor, as the representative of the crown, or to the assembly, as the representative of the people. In this debate Longworth occupied a position considerably more moderate than that of some of the extreme Conservatives, including his brother Francis. Unlike them, John was willing to give wider representation in the assembly to the tenantry by increasing the number of rural ridings. He was also ready to concede the assembly’s right to select at least four members of the nine-man Executive Council. However, he was not as willing as the Reformers to see the lieutenant governor become a tool of the assembly, and he wanted to reserve the crown’s right to appoint and retain on the Executive Council the treasurer, colonial secretary, and attorney general, even if they could not command a majority in the assembly. John Longworth embodied his thoughts in an 1847 assembly resolution which became known as the Longworth amendment (and which is often mistakenly attributed to his brother Francis). As a compromise it was attractive enough to win several Reform votes in 1847 and again in 1849, but as the Reformers grasped the need for the assembly’s complete control over the Executive Council, and as the Conservatives hardened in their opposition to significant change, John Longworth found himself occupying a lonely position in the middle. Others found his proposals “neither one thing nor the other . . . , [a] mongrel system.”
Longworth was defeated in 1850 in the electoral sweep by the Liberals led by George Coles*. Subsequently, attempts were made to win him over to the Liberal cause. When in April 1853 Coles needed a lawyer for the office of solicitor general, Joseph Hensley*, the attorney general, recommended Longworth for the position. He took the office but only on condition that it not be regarded as a political appointment and that he not sit on the Executive Council. In the partisan atmosphere of the times such an arrangement could not be maintained and Longworth quickly resigned in order to run as a Conservative candidate in the July election. When he lost again, this time badly, he temporarily removed himself from politics. His law practice was building a fine reputation; by now he was a deputy judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court and a master and examiner in chancery. He was also increasing his interest in the commercial life of the colony. In 1856 he was chosen a founding director of the Island’s first bank, the Bank of Prince Edward Island, and later became a shareholder, then director, of the Charlottetown Gas Light Company. He also helped to form the local mechanics’ institute, was a trustee of the Central Academy, and was active in several religious societies.
In 1858 a Conservative resurgence permitted Longworth to recapture Queen’s County, 2nd District. When Edward Palmer formed a Tory government in April 1859, Longworth was appointed to the Executive Council, a position he maintained until his and his party’s defeat in the election of 1867. During his eight years in power three issues were to be of special interest to him: educational reform, confederation, and the tariff. In all three areas he was motivated by a practical concern for the economic well-being of the Island. In 1863 he sponsored an act to reduce by £15 the government grant to each school district, arguing that the free education system absorbed an inordinate 38 per cent of the £42,000 annual revenue and that parents would take a more active interest in the schools if they paid directly for their support. The same concern for economy made him an opponent of reciprocity, and later union, with the other colonies of British North America. Prince Edward Island was an agricultural colony and Longworth could see no benefit in joining with Canada, whose unbounded agricultural capabilities would render the Island industry redundant. American trade was the natural complement to the produce of the Island, and he worked hard to keep alive the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 with that nation. He sought to promote free trade with the Americans as a delegate to the Detroit Convention in 1865 and, after Prince Edward Island joined confederation in 1873, he split with the federal wing of the Conservative party over its high-tariff National Policy.
In 1865 riots occurred in Queens County when the new and radical Tenant League withheld payments of rent to landlords. Longworth had been sympathetic to the plight of the tenants, many of them his constituents, but as a member of the government he could not condone violence. In 1866 he acted as a prosecutor of the agitators, and the following year was defeated at the polls. He never ran for political office again.
John Longworth had an active public life outside of polities. Appointed qc in 1863, he was active in many important cases tried before the Island’s supreme court, a body for which he became protonotary in 1883. Continuing his interest in education, he was made chairman of the newly formed Charlottetown Board of School Trustees in 1878. He also acted as aide-de-camp to several lieutenant governors between 1863 and 1879. His last years were marred by the collapse in 1882 of the Bank of Prince Edward Island, whose presidency he had recently assumed. The cashier (general manager) had given false reports of the bank’s transactions and had absconded when discovered. Longworth bore the ultimate responsibility for the collapse, and while he was foremost amongst his co-directors in rendering assistance to those most seriously affected, the collapse broke his health and spirit and hastened his death.
John Longworth was an able and intelligent debater and a definite asset to the Conservatives in the assembly. He did not enter into the religious controversies vehemently argued by William Henry Pope* and Father Angus McDonald, and by maintaining the moderate proprieties of a gentleman, he avoided the opprobrium of the partisan. Longworth was greatly respected in the legal profession and it was felt that his work was always thorough and correct.
PAPEI, Bank of Prince Edward Island, Minute book, 1856–82; RG 1, Commission books, I–V; RG 5, Minutes, 1853–67; RG 16, Land registry records, Conveyance registers, 1767–1885. Prince Edward Island Heritage Foundation (Charlottetown), Longworth geneal. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Charlottetown), Register of baptisms, 1827–1929; Register of burials, 1827–72 (mfm. at PAPEI). Abstract of the proceedings before the Land Commissioners’ Court, held during the summer of 1860, to inquire into the differences relative to the rights of landowners and tenants in Prince Edward Island, reporters J. D. Gordon and David Laird (Charlottetown, 1862). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1859–67; Journal, 1859–67. Examiner (Charlottetown), 1860–67, 1881–85. Islander, 1850–60. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 1832–55. Canadian biog. dict., II. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1888). Dominion annual register, 1886. F. W. P. Bolger, Prince Edward Island and confederation, 1863–1873 (Charlottetown, 1964). W. R. Livingston, Responsible government in Prince Edward Island: a triumph of self-government under the crown (Iowa City, 1931). MacKinnon, Government of P.E.I. Past and present of P.E.I. (MacKinnon and Warburton). J. B. Pollard, Historical sketch of the eastern regions of New France . . . also, Prince Edward Island: military and civil (Charlottetown, 1898). Robertson, “Religion, politics, and education in P.E.I.” Waite, Life and times of confederation. David Weale and Harry Baglole, The Island and confederation: the end of an era (n.p., 1973). D. C. Harvey, “Confederation in Prince Edward Island,” CHR, 14 (1933): 143–60; “Dishing the Reformers,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 25 (1931), sect. ii: 37–44. I. R. Robertson, “The Bible question in Prince Edward Island from 1856 to 1860,” Acadiensis, 5 (1975–76), no.2: 3–25.