Joseph Howe 1869

Joseph Howe (1804-1873) in 1869. Photo by William Topley. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Honourable
Joseph Howe
Joseph Howe, PC, MP, MLA

5th premier of Nova Scotia
In office
August 3, 1860 – June 5, 1863
Preceded by William Young
Succeeded by James William Johnston

MP for Hants
In office
Preceded by none
Succeeded by Monson Henry Goudge

MLA for Halifax County
In office
1836 – February 24, 1851

MLA for Cumberland County
In office

Speaker of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly
In office
Preceded by Samuel George William Archibald
Succeeded by William Young
Personal details
Born December 13, 1804
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Died June 1, 1873 (aged 68)
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Political party Reformer
Spouse(s) Catherine Susan Ann McNab (1806-1890)
Signature Joseph Howe's signature

Joseph Howe, PC (December 13, 1804 - June 1, 1873) was a Nova Scotia journalist, politician, and civil servant. He is one of Nova Scotia's greatest and best-loved politicians. His considerable skills as a journalist and writer have made him a Nova Scotia legend.[1]



Howe was born at Halifax, and inherited from his loyalist father an undying love for Great Britain and her Empire.[2] At age 23, the self-taught but widely-read Howe purchased the Novascotian, soon making it into a popular and influential newspaper. He reported extensively on debates in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly and travelled to every part of the province writing about its geography and people.[1] In 1835, Howe was charged with seditious libel, a serious criminal offence, after the Novascotian published a letter attacking Halifax politicians and police for pocketing public money. Howe addressed the jury for more than 6 hours citing example after example of civic corruption. The judge called for Howe's conviction, but the jurors acquitted him in what is considered a landmark case in the struggle for a free press in Canada.[3]

The next year, Howe was elected to the assembly as a liberal reformer, beginning a long and eventful public career. He was instrumental in helping Nova Scotia become the first British colony to win responsible government in 1848. He served as premier of Nova Scotia from 1860 to 1863 and led the unsuccessful fight against Canadian Confederation from 1866 to 1868. Having failed to persuade the British to repeal Confederation, Howe joined the federal cabinet of John A. Macdonald in 1869 and played a major role in bringing Manitoba into the union. Howe became the second Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia in 1873, but died after only 3 weeks in office.


Joseph Howe was born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the son of Mary {Edes) and John Howe. The Howe family was of Puritan stock from Massachusetts. Having remained loyal to the crown during the American Revolution, the family of John Howe joined the flood of United Empire Loyalists out of the United States after the American revolutionaries succeeded in their claims of independence. On arrival at Halifax, John Howe was rewarded for his loyalty by appointment as Postmaster-General. Since he was in the printing business, John Howe was appointed also the King's Printer.

Like many lads of that time, Joseph received only a limited formal education before beginning an apprenticeship at the age of 13. He served his apprenticeship at the printing shop that the senior Howe had established in 1781. They published a newspaper, the Halifax Journal.

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In 1828 he went into the printing business himself with the purchase of the Novascotian, a Halifax newspaper. Howe acted as its editor until 1841, turning the paper into the most influential in the province. Not only did he personally report the legislative assembly debates in its columns, he also published provincial literature and his own travel writings, using the paper as a means for educating the people of Nova Scotia, and himself.


Joseph Howe married Catherine Susan Ann McNabb, daughter of Captain John McNab of the Nova Scotia Fencibles, on February 2nd, 1828. She was born in 1808 in the barracks at the entrance to the harbour of St. John's, Newfoundland, where her father was in command of the troops. She lived with her father on McNab's Island, which had previously been occupied by her uncle, Peter McNab. In Joseph Howe's "Poems and Essays" (Montreal: 1874), there are 2 poems addressed to his wife. Towards the close of her life, the Legislature of Nova Scotia granted her a small pension. She died at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, July 6th, 1890, and is buried alongside her husband in Camp-hill Cemetery, Halifax. The couple`s son, Mr. Sydenham Howe .lived in Middleton, Nova Scotia. [4]

Libel trialEdit

On January 1, 1835, Howe's Novascotian published an anonymous letter accusing Halifax politicians and police of pocketing £30,000 over a thirty-year period. The outraged civic politicians had Howe charged with seditious libel, a serious criminal offence. Howe's case seemed hopeless since truth was not a defence. The prosecution had only to prove that Howe had published the letter. Howe decided to act as his own lawyer. For more than 6 hours, he addressed the jury citing case after case of civic corruption. He spoke eloquently about the importance of press freedom urging jurors "to leave an unshackled press as a legacy to your children." Even though the judge instructed the jury to find Howe guilty, jurors took only 10 minutes to acquit him. The decision was a landmark event in the slow evolution of press freedom in Canada.[5]

Political careerEdit

Eventually, Howe decided to run for office in order to effect the changes he championed in his newspaper. He was first elected in 1836, campaigning on a platform of support for responsible government. Howe initially proposed only an elected legislative council but he was quick to agree with the concept of a fully representative government. He was suspicious of formal political parties feeling that they were too restrictive. It was, however, largely his doing that members favouring Liberal principles were able to dominate assembly from 1836 to 1840. He formed a coalition with Conservative leader James William Johnston in 1840 hoping to further the cause of responsible government. His writings in the Novascotian at that time so enraged John Haliburton (son of the judge in Howe's libel trial) that Haliburton called Howe out for a duel. The duel took place on March 14, 1840 at Point Pleasant. When Haliburton missed with his shot, Howe "deloped," deliberately missing by firing his gun in the air.[6] Howe held the office of Speaker of the assembly in 1841 and collector of excise for Halifax in 1842.

The coalition collapsed under various political conflicts, leading to Howe's resignation from the Council in 1843. The promotion of political ideas in his newspapers were rewarded with a seven-seat Liberal majority in the 1847 election. This led to the formation of the first responsible government in Canada in January 1848. While James Uniacke was officially the Premier, many regarded it as Joseph Howe's ministry. Howe assumed the post of Provincial Secretary, adapting existing institutions to the new system of government. He also began a campaign of railway construction, resigning as Provincial Secretary in 1853 to become Nova Scotia's first Chief Commissioner of Railways; as Commissioner he oversaw the initial construction of the Nova Scotia Railway. In addition, Howe was involved with recruiting American troops for the Crimean War.

In 1854, he resigned as the provincial secretary in order to head a bi-partisan railway commission. He never completed the whole project but did however, succeed in completing lines from Halifax to Windsor and Truro.

These activities left him with little time to campaign in the 1855 general election which he lost to Charles Tupper in Cumberland. This election also led to conflict with Catholic members of the Liberal party because Howe had ridiculed their religious doctrine. This resulted in a Liberal defeat in 1856.

The Liberals did not return to power until 1860 at which time Howe became provincial secretary. When the Premier, William Young, was appointed as a judge later that year, Joseph Howe assumed the leadership of the party and therefore became Premier. He served as Premier until 1863 when he accepted the position of Imperial Fisheries Commissioner.

Confederation debateEdit


Howe's fisheries duties prevented his attendance at the Charlottetown Conference. By the time he returned to Nova Scotia in November 1864, the Quebec Conference had taken place, and the Quebec Resolutions widely disseminated. He had had no chance to influence their content. He led Nova Scotia's anti-Confederation movement believing the Quebec Resolutions to be bad for the province. Because he was still linked with the imperial fishery he expressed his initial opposition anonymously through the Botheration Letters, a series of 12 editorials that appeared in the Morning Chronicle between January and March 1865. This was the extent of his participation in the union debate until March 1866. He learned that Charles Tupper planned to force the Confederation Resolution through the legislature. When he failed to prevent passage of the resolution Howe began a vigorous campaign for repeal by delegations to London and then publishing a variety of anti-Confederation papers and pamphlets. This strategy failed to prevent the Imperial Parliament enacting the British North America Act in 1867. Nova Scotians elected 18 out of 19 anti-Confederation candidates as members of the first Dominion Parliament. Joseph Howe led the anti-Confederates in the Canadian House of Commons where he made a speech about his opposition to confederation.

Having failed to win repeal of Confederation in 1868 Howe recognized the futility of further protests. He refused to contemplate secession from the Canadian Confederation nor American annexation because of his loyalty to Britain. He ran in the great Hants County byelection of 1869 to create better terms for Nova Scotia within Canada rather than continue to seek repeal of Confederation. The Great Hants Campaign of 1869 was very difficult and compromised Howe's physical health. Many Nova Scotians continued to support the anti-confederation efforts but the Hants County electorate continued to support Joeseph Howe.

In 1869 Howe joined the Canadian Cabinet as President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada after receiving a promise of "better terms" for Nova Scotia. In November 1869, he became secretary of state for the provinces in which post he played a role in Manitoba's entry into Confederation. He resigned his Cabinet post to become Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia in 1873. He died in office only a few weeks after his appointment. He is buried in Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax.


As a poet, Howe is mainly noted for his long poem, "Acadia." "Acadia" and Howe's other poems were published in Montreal in 1874, a year after his death, in Poems and Essays, a volume edited by his son, Sydenham. Poems and Essays was reprinted in facsimile, edited and with an introduction by M.G. Parks, in 1973. "Acadia" was also included, with modernized spelling, in the 1972 anthology Nineteenth-Century Narrative Poems. [7]



Statue of Howe, Province House, Nova Scotia. Photo by Verne Equinox. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Legacy Edit

  • Joseph Howe Drive, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Joseph Howe Building, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Joseph Howe School, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Joseph Howe Falls, Victoria Park Truro
  • Joseph Howe Senior Public School, Scarborough (Toronto), Ontario

Film Edit

  • The Night They Killed Joe Howe (1960) (TV drama), starring Douglas Rain, Austin Willis (as William Annand) and Star Trek's James Doohan (Film Review)
  • Apr 26, 1961 - The place of Joseph Howe in Canadian history (TV drama). James Barron plays Howe[8]
  • Nov 7, 1956 - The Case of Posterity versus Joseph Howe, (CBC Folio) a dramatic argument by Joseph Schull [9]
  • Joseph Howe: The Tribune of Nova Scotia (1961 Short Film) [10]
  • Joseph Howe - Heroes of Hants County Series by Shawn Scott





  • Nineteenth-Century Narrative Poems (edited by David Sinclair). Toronto and Montreal: McClelland and Stewart (New Canadian Library), 1972.[7]


  • My Dear Susan Ann: Letters of Joseph Howe to his wife, 1829-1836. St. John's, NL: Jesperson Press, 1985.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[11]

See alsoEdit


  • J. Murray Beck, Joseph Howe: Conservative reformer, 1804-1848. (v.1). Kingston & Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-7735-0387-0
  • J. Murray Beck, Joseph Howe: The Briton becomes Canadian, 1848-1873. (v.2). Kingston & Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-7735-0388-9


  1. 1.0 1.1 Beck, J. Murray. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  2. Beck, J. Murray. (1982) Joseph Howe: Conservative Reformer 1804-1848. (v.1). Kingston & Montreal: McGill-Queen's University pp. 8-9.
  3. Kesterton, W.H. (1967) A History of Journalism in Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, pp. 21-23.
  4. Morgan, Henry James Types of Canadian women and of women who are or have been connected with Canada : (Toronto, 1903) [1]
  5. Kesterton, pp. 21-23.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Introduction, Acadian by Joseph Howe, Canadian Poetry Press, UWO, Web, Nov. 26, 2011.
  11. Search results = au:Joseph Howe, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Sep. 3, 2013.

External links Edit

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