FOUR YEARS HAD PASSED since the hanging of Louis Riel when Premier Honore Mercier of Quebec passed Bill 51-52 entitled An Act respecting the settlement of the Jesuit Estate through the National Assembly of Quebec. The bill was one of over one hundred that Quebec forwarded to the federal Minister of Justice for approval, as all provinces routinely did in the 1880s.

Macdonald's Minister of Justice, rightly or wrongly, paid no special attention to bill #51. But for others, this one was dynamite and it would give an Ontario lawyer and Conservative member of Canada's House of Commons, Dalton McCarthy (1836-1898, image), an opportunity to weigh in on this explosive issue.

Jesuit priests had been among the first European settlers of the continent. Certainly, they had been the most brash, striking inland and fearlessly attempting to convert the Indians. Although they were for the most part tolerated, a number of Jesuit missionaries were killed and others, tortured to death. Still, their legacy as educators held them in good stead in French Canada and they managed to amass real estate in Quebec City.

But European governments were, one by one, banning the religious order, including Great Britain. The society was banned outright by the Pope in 1773.

Dalton McCarthyIn 1791, the King of England stripped the order of their Canadian holdings, but they were allowed to enjoy their land until the last of their priests passed away or left Canada. In 1800, the land devolved to the Crown. The Jesuits succeeded in re-incorporating themselves and began to grumble for the restitution of their estates. The Catholic bishops jumped into the fray and claimed that they should inherit the estates as the official religious order at the time of the royal ban.

For years, this issue was one of great controversy in the province of Quebec and remained unsettled until Premier Mercier's bill. In it, the Quebec government accepted to pay $400,000 to the Pope, ostensibly so that the Pope would settle the dispute among the religious orders.

On February 13, 1889, the member for Victoria-North in Ontario, John Barron asked the Minister of Justice, John Thompson whether the government intended to allow Bill 51-52. "No," answered Thompson. The dreaded motion, that Parliament disallow the provincial bill, was then tabled on March 26, 1889. From its very introduction, it was obvious that the House had before it a Pandora's Box, one that the aging Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald would have preferred not debating. But he had an unlikely ally in the new leader of the opposition, Wilfrid Laurier.

Laurier dared not support the resolution and tried to paint the governing Tories as fomenters of ill-will between Protestant Ontario and Catholic Quebec.

The mover of the resolution was William Edward O'Brien, the commander of the York-Simcoe Regiment during the second Riel rebellion.

WILLIAM O'BRIEN (Muskoka): I beg, Sir, to move that in the opinion of this House, the passage by the legislature of Quebec of An Act Respecting the settlement of the Jesuit' Estate is beyond the power of that legislature. It recognises the usurpation of a right of by a foreign authority, namely, His Holiness the Pope of Rome, to claim his consent was necessary to dispose of a portion of the public domain. The House prays that His Excellency will disallow the said Act.

Sir, I say this government has a right and ought to interfere. A Jesuit is a being abnormal in his conditions. He has no family ties, no home nor country. He is subject absolutely to the will of his superior. Such an order, being subject to an irresponsible power, must be dangerous to every community in which it has existed.

The time has come, we have a right to say to the people of this country and we will say it elsewhere: this Dominion must remain British and nothing else; and no power or authority, no jurisdiction, foreign, civil, religious or otherwise shall be allowed to exercise power which will interfere with its affairs.

Dalton McCarthyO'Brien was followed by Dalton McCarthy, the member for North Simcoe, and political mastermind behind the resolution. McCarthy, President of the Conservative party in Ontario, elevated the debate to the level that both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition had feared.

DALTON MCCARTHY (North Simcoe): We must never forget - I am afraid that some of my friends from Quebec do sometimes forget - that this is a British country, that by the fortunes of war that event was decided and the greater half of North America passed under the British Crown.

Any yet, Sir, here, 100 years afterwards, we find the Premier of the province of Quebec suing humbly to the Pope of Rome for liberty to sell the Jesuits' estates.

Can humiliation go much further?

There was little alternative now but for the ministers of the Crown to respond. John Thompson, Minister of Justice, member for Antigonish and former Premier of Nova Scotia led off for the government. His speech was reads like a long and dreary legal rebuttal, albeit his peers were much impressed. When he finished, Edward Blake crossed the floor to congratulate him.

The next day, Wilfrid Laurier spoke:

"Sir, this is not a party question. It is simply a domestic disturbance in the ranks of the Conservative party."

But, much to the satisfaction of Macdonald, Laurier pledged his party's support behind the government's decision not to disallow the Jesuit Estate bill.

It was close to midnight when the Prime Minister rose to speak, and his statement was much to the relief of Canada.

RIGHT HON. SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD - Prime Minister (Kingston): I am pleased and satisfied with the course taken by hon. friend. It is a bitter pill for my hon. friend to be obliged to vote for us. He dare not do otherwise. He could not face Quebec if he did anything else. He is a young man. I cannot say that he is a fledging politician, but he is a young man.

One cannot but deeply regret that the honourable member for Muskoka felt it his duty to make this motion, which ought not to have been made. This motion will be the cause of a great deal of discomfort in Canada.

Why, there are in all the Dominion of Canada 71 Jesuits!

Are they going to conquer the whole of Canada?

Is Protestantism to be subdued?

They are armed with a string of beads, a sash around their waists and a mass book!

What harm can they do?

I cannot but remember the story of the Jew going into an eating house and being seduced by a slice of ham. When he came out, it so happened there was a crash of thunder and he said: "good heavens, what a row about a little bit of pork!"

I cannot sufficiently picture, in my faint language, the misery and the wretchedness which would have been heaped upon Canada if this question, having been agitated as it has been, and would be, had culminated in a series of disallowances of this act.

At 2 a.m., on March 29, 1889, right after Macdonald had spoken, the question was put to the House.

Laurier, Blake, Mackenzie and Cartwright were part of the 188 who voted against it.

Only thirteen members voted in favour of O'Brien's resolution and they were promptly dubbed the Devil's Dozen.

Dalton McCarthy immediately resigned his Ontario Conservative party presidency and began an anti-French campaign unparalleled in the history of Canadian politics.

After the defeat in the Jesuits Estates controversy, the Devil's Dozen cast their glance on the North-West Territories.

McCarthy died  as a result of injuries suffered when his horse-drawn carriage was in a accident.

His Barrie, Ontario law firm was known as Boulton & McCarthy and it grew and evolved to become, today, one of Canada's largest law firms, McCarthy Tétreault.