WETMORE, ANDREW RAINSFORD, lawyer, politician, and judge; b. 16 Aug. 1820 in Fredericton, son of George Ludlow Wetmore* and Harriet Rainsford; m. 12 Sept. 1848 Louisa Elizabeth Lansdowne in Saint John, N.B., and they had nine children; d. 7 March 1892 in Fredericton.
Andrew Rainsford Wetmore was the grandson and great-grandson of prominent loyalist barristers who established a law firm at Saint John in 1788. His grandfather, Thomas Wetmore*, served as attorney general of New Brunswick for 19 years. Andrew attended the Fredericton Collegiate School and then studied law, first with Edward Barron Chandler* and then with George Jarvis Dibblee. He became an attorney on 14 Oct. 1841 and was admitted to the New Brunswick bar on 21 Oct. 1843. From 1842 to 1847 Wetmore practised law at Oromocto; he then moved to Saint John where he maintained his residence and law practice until 1870. Over the years he acquired a reputation as one of the finest trial lawyers in the province.
Despite his prominence in the legal community Wetmore’s role in the province’s politics before the mid 1860s was a small one. The Quebec conference of 1864 changed that. Wetmore did not oppose British North American union but did object to the terms offered to the province. When government leader Samuel Leonard Tilley decided to go to the electorate on the issue in the winter of 1864–65, the anti-confederates of Saint John approached Wetmore and prominent shipowner Jacob Valentine Troop* to challenge Tilley and his running mate in the Saint John City constituency. The campaign was a bitter one, and Wetmore brought his formidable debating skills to it. His most effective platform performance was an imaginary conversation between himself and his young son. The child asked, “Father, what country do we live in?” To this Wetmore would reply, “My dear son you have no country, for Mr. Tilley has sold us to the Canadians for eighty cents a head.”
Wetmore won election on 4 March 1865 and sat as an anti-confederate back-bencher in the first session of the new legislature. Then, in the middle of the second session, he led the move to abandon the government of Albert James Smith*, and from then on he sat as a confederate. A few months later he was Tilley’s running mate in the 1866 election and was returned on 7 June. The motives for his abrupt about-face have been a matter of considerable controversy, which has not been lessened by his cynical comment that, since he had been on both sides of the confederation question, he was certain to have been right at least once. His action gave rise to a persistent notion that he was a trimmer.
Confederation afforded more opportunities for politicians than had existed at any time since the foundation of the province. Virtually all of the most able and ambitious New Brunswick leaders chose the federal option. Sixteen of 41 assemblymen became members of parliament, senators, or judges. Most important, their number included all but one member of the Executive Council, John McAdam, and he left office within two years following charges of corruption. Under the circumstances, a man who was willing to participate in the now limited sphere of provincial politics might emerge at the top even though he had little experience and virtually no proven leadership qualities. In the summer of 1867, with only two years of public service, Wetmore was chosen premier. On 16 August he was sworn to the Executive Council as attorney general, joining six other novices on that body.
His government lacked ambitious legislative objectives, and the reasons are not difficult to find. The confederation debate in 1864 had blurred the provincial party traditions that had formed over the previous two decades. The government of 1867, like those of 1865 and 1866, was structured around the confederation issue and contained both liberal and tory elements. Coupled with this political disorientation was the inexperience of the new leaders. Consequently the administration simply continued and sometimes completed the railway initiatives of its predecessors, tried to cope with the presence of anti-confederates, and, as the fiscal realities of confederation became apparent, introduced stringent economies.
Using federal debt allowances. Wetmore’s government provided considerable financial assistance to the Western and Eastern extensions of the European and North American Railway; for example, it purchased $300,000 worth of stock in the Western Extension in addition to granting subsidies. It also supported the Fredericton and the Woodstock railway companies. Wetmore was involved in the arrangements. He spent much of the winter of 1868–69 negotiating an agreement by which the federal government was to acquire the assets of the Eastern Extension to form part of the Intercolonial line. With regard to the Intercolonial itself, New Brunswick failed in its efforts to persuade the federal government to abandon the Robinson route along the North Shore and construct the railway down the Saint John River valley. Instead the province offered a subsidy of 10,000 acres of land for each mile of track to any private company which would construct a line from Rivière du Loup to Fredericton.
Wetmore’s treatment of the anti-confederates was Draconian, especially given his own earlier association with the movement. At the opening of the 1868 session a prominent anti-confederate, Bliss Botsford*, was elected to the speakership of the assembly by the confederate majority. But when in 1869 John Waterbury Cudlip* gave notice of a resolution calling for the annexation of New Brunswick to the United States, the premier rose in his place and, crying treason, chased the smaller Cudlip from the chamber. Cudlip’s motion was even expunged from the notice-book. The following year Wetmore removed George Botsford, the clerk of the Legislative Council, for expressing similar sentiments. Enraged at this indignity and the slight to their independence, a majority of the councillors threatened to deadlock the business of the legislature. Wetmore made his point in removing Botsford but later consented to his reappointment.
As a result of the constitutional changes associated with confederation, the provincial revenue was reduced to about $400,000 a year. In order to control the costs of government, in 1868 a ceiling was placed on membership in the Legislative Council, limiting it to 18. The office of solicitor general was abolished and legal advice was obtained by recourse to lawyers in private practice. The receiver-generalship was merged with the function of the provincial secretary.
Wetmore’s values and his mark on the province were as much reflected in the legislation which his government supported as in his administration of the province. He was involved to varying degrees in all of the principal measures brought forward between 1868 and 1870. Many were mildly populist. In the 1868 session the legislature exempted all family homesteads valued at under $600 from sale on execution, an act designed to protect small farmers from the worst actions of their creditors. The same session incorporated the College of St Joseph [see Camille Lefebvre], the forerunner of the Université de Moncton. The following year the government extended its family legislation by granting full property rights to all married women living apart from or deserted by their husbands.
Despite his growing involvement in government during the years after 1867, Wetmore never abandoned his professional interests. He took his role as attorney general seriously and continued the active practice of law in that capacity. On some occasions he personally conducted the prosecution of offenders in the courts of the province.
Although he headed the government for three years Wetmore cannot be regarded as a successful politician. A tall, imposing man with a strong, distinguished face, he had a supple mind capable of grasping the gist of an argument and responding easily. Yet in his manner he was the prosecuting attorney rather than the conciliator of diverse views. His considerable gifts were used to score points instead of to persuade. In debate he was hectoring, sarcastic, and self-possessed. The government’s declining popularity in the assembly owed something to the leadership style of the premier. On the critical votes of the 1868 session, it had the support of 31 of the 37 assemblymen. By 1870 Wetmore’s resolutions on the removal of George Botsford were sustained by votes of only 21 to 15. Wetmore had never fought an election as a government leader and likely did not relish the prospect. In any event he had faithfully sustained confederation and could rightly make a claim on the gratitude of the federal government. After only five years in public life, on 25 May 1870 he surrendered his position on the Executive Council and retired to the honour and security of the bench, accepting appointment to the Supreme Court of New Brunswick. He was succeeded as premier by George Luther Hatheway* and as attorney general by George Edwin King*.
Wetmore had a long and undistinguished tenure on the bench. Jeremiah Travis*, a contemporary barrister who had pleaded before him, described him as “the worst judge that has ever disgraced the Bench of our Province.” It is difficult to know whether Travis was more outraged by Wetmore’s failings as a jurist or by the quick wit and language that “could disgrace a brothel,” which had been employed so effectively in the confederation debates. Following the death of the incumbent in December 1880, Wetmore was appointed to the New Brunswick divorce court and he remained there until a few weeks before his death, which occurred at his Fredericton residence on 7 March 1892. His funeral was held from nearby Christ Church Cathedral. He had never fully lived down his ambiguous role at the time of confederation. The writer of his funeral notice stated, “In the great political struggle . . . he was not as consistent as some other public men of that day but he was nonetheless an important factor in the political battles then going on.”
In addition to the sources cited below, details of the life and times of Andrew Rainsford Wetmore may be found in Waite, Life and times of confederation; Hannay, Hist. of N.B., vol.2; MacNutt, New Brunswick; the Graves papers at PANB, MC 1156; N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1865–70; and provincial newspapers.
NA, MG 27, I, D15, 27. PANB, RG 2, RS6, A, 16 Aug., November, 12 Dec. 1867; 10 Jan., 10, 25 March, 8, 18 Oct. 1868; 9 July 1869. N.B., Acts, 1868, c.25, c.63; 1869, c.133. Daily Gleaner, 8 March 1892. St. John Daily Sun, 8 March 1892. N.B. vital statistics, [1847–52] (Johnson). D. [G.] Creighton, The road to confederation; the emergence of Canada: 1863–1867 (Toronto, 1964). Lawrence, Judges of N.B. (Stockton and Raymond), 261–62. James Hannay, “The premiers of New Brunswick since confederation,” Canadian Magazine, 9 (May-October 1897): 213–21.