The election in Nova Scotia in 1830, known as "The Brandy Election," has been marked as "the beginning of the end for the oligarchy in post-Loyalist Nova Scotia."1
A number of matters bothered the citizens of Nova Scotia going into the election of 1830. The three main ones of which were: 1), That marriage licenses could only be given by Anglican priests2; 2), Political patronage such as the appointment of judges; 3), The question of commutation of quit rents.3
The dispute heating up, was, to put it simply, "the interests of the Halifax oligarchy to those of the province." To quote Morison more extensively: "The supporters of the pro-Assembly group were fighting for the constitutional right of the assembly to control the purse, against increasing the value of or number of offices of emolument controlled by the Council, and for the abolition of discrimination against Dissenters."4
From 1784, the year that the province became flooded with supporters of the crown who fled their American home lands, political power was in the hands of the new-comers, the Loyalists. They formed the greater part of the population5 and therefore it should not come as a surprise that they moved into positions of power. There is however another reason, and a better one, as to why they just filed right in and took the seats of power, both political and mercantile: these people held similar seats in the English colonies along the eastern seaboard before things blew up into The American Revolution.
Through the years the Loyalist population was diluted by further immigration particularly from northern England and Scotland, parts of which were not so friendly towards the Crown. The newcomers tended to spread out to the outer regions of the province, not many remained in the capital of Halifax. By the late 1820s, the strength of the Loyalist power had waned but still existed especially at Halifax where the political, mercantile and military leaders resided. His Majesty's Council only ever had, as might be expected, those in it who were loyal to the crown (Tories). In the early years of the Loyalist reign the elected members of the legislative chamber included a number of Loyalists. The Council headed up by the Royal Governor was the executive arm of the government, and, as such, ran things. As British constitutional practice required, the Council looked to the elected members of the legislature to vote funds for the work of the Council. Through the years the legislature had fewer and fewer loyalists, and more and more representatives who were said to represent the people (the Whigs). By the late 1820s the Council and the legislature were at opposite polls. The Council claimed prerogative powers when it came to appointing judges and civil servants. Those in the legislature by 1829 were of the view that the power of the people's representatives should be greater than that of council; the legislature should not only raise the funds to run government but it should, at least, have a say on who are to receive appointments and how the money should be spent.
The election of 1830 was driven by the great differences between those who believed in the rule of the Aristocracy and the Rule of the People. The Rule of the People won out thanks to the ability of the Whigs to get their message around. The election was "a bitter one, with at least one killed and many injured. For the first time the press played a significant role. The Novascotian, Acadian Recorder and the Colonial Patriot all supported the actions of the assembly, only the Free Press gave the council support. The oligarchy arranged to have the Free Press sent to all the justices of the peace in the hopes of influencing opinion in the townships."6
The Colonial Patriot was founded in 1827. It was run by a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Thomas McCulloch. It was located at Pictou where there existed "a core of articulate and determined opposition" who were against the privileged class at Halifax and "by the late 1820s was demanding radical constitutional change."7 Pictou was particularly upset with council for it consistently blocked legislation which would have provided funds for the Pictou Academy (an institution of higher learning but not of the Anglican faith). The Acadian Recorder, as we have previously seen, was owed and edited by Anthony Holland who took a firm stand on the side of the assembly.8 The Novascotian had been under the editorship of George R. Young and up to this point was more interested in promoting the agricultural interests of the province. Joseph Howe had just taken over the paper in January of 1828. In the beginning Howe was "a mild Tory loyalist."9 As the campaign wore on, Howe swung over to the position10 as was taken by McCulloch as expressed in his Colonial Patriot. The Free Press, to conclude our review of the papers and their positions during the election of 1830, edited by Edmund Ward, was the only paper to support the old school as was represented by the members of council.
The battle in 1830 was an old one, "control of the purse." We have already enumerated the big issues being that marriage licenses could only be given by Anglican priests, Political patronage and how the habitable lands were not to be handed out as in the past but auctioned off to the highest bidder with the funds going to the crown to be spent by the council. The fission trigger however was an ardent spirit distilled from wine or grapes: brandy, a drink much favoured by the upper class. It has long been on the government's list of taxable commodities, however, in the Revenue bill of 1830 an extra tax was to be levied against brandy of another four pennies. The bill was returned by council to the legislature as being not acceptable. The Brandy Fight in the legislature moved right along and into the papers during the election campaign.11
(While on the subject of "taxable commodities": It was only with the government machinery put in place by the British Prime Minister, Pitt and the impetus of the Napoleonic wars, as the 18th century turned into the 19th, that it was possible to impose an income-tax.12 In 1816, with the long Napoleonic Wars at an end, tax on income was repealed by the British parliament, but with its removal the burden fell on consumer goods. During the years under review, both in Britain and her colonies, Government revenue was raised by import duties.)
To return to the Brandy Election of 1830, and to conclude our comments on the subject, we turn to Miss Gene Morison:
"But though the county [Halifax, which covered a large territory in those days] had overwhelmingly supported the Assembly, and even though the British government were disposed to make changes, the oligarchical system was not in danger from the new Assembly. The majority were in favour of reform but there was as yet no leader in the Assembly to advocate a democratic system of government."13
We will see that in the coming years, such a leader did step forward.