George Brown (1818-1880) was a political figure instrumental in Confederation, as well as a prominent newspaperman. In fact, his Globe merged with another paper after his death to become The Globe and Mail.
Today's post is not about him.
Instead, we remember his wife Anne Brown (née Nelson, 1827-1906). She is remarkable not for simply being married to George, but for the influence that she was able to exert over him. Before they had met in 1862, George had a reputation for being “cheerless and severe”1. After meeting the more cultured and better educated Anne, George quickly fell for her. Her good nature and intellect began to wear down his curmudgeonly demeanour.
When George re-entered politics shortly after their their 1863 wedding, he wrote to his wife nearly every single day. It is unknown how often she wrote back, as he often destroyed her letters. He was disillusioned with politics and frequently regretted taking office in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. His wife and daughter brought him a great deal of happiness, but being away from them took a toll on him.
By 1864, George was selected as the chairman of a committee that devised a plan for a federal system of government, with a clear division of powers between the national government and their provincial counterparts. He felt the weight of the upcoming negotiations, and wrote the following to Anne:
How I do wish you were here to advise me. You cannot tell how I wish you had been. But never mind, I will try to do my duty to the country in such a manner as you my dearest Anne, will not be ashamed of.2
Although George had executed his work chairing the committee, he remained reluctant to ally politically with George-Etienne Cartier and John A. Macdonald, his longtime political rivals. If not for Anne's level-headed influence over her husband, Confederation would possibly have seen an insurmountable hurdle in the conflict between George and his foes. So strong was Anne's effect in leading her husband to a more rational mindset that it has been suggested that “perhaps the real father of Confederation was Mrs. Brown.” 3
As we've stated in previous posts, there were no official records that survive of the Charlottetown Conference or the subsequent Quebec Conference. Fortunately, for those of us living more than a century and a half after those monumental meetings, George Brown was somewhat of a chatterbox, and sent pretty much everything to his beloved Anne. And by everything, we don't mean just details of the meetings that took place and the progress that was being made that would eventually unite British North America. He also sent the dinner menus.
After the groundwork was laid for Confederation, George and Anne decided as a family that he should resign from politics. Upon his resignation being accepted, he sent a telegram home: “Thank Providence – I am a free man once more.”
Ultimately, the Browns’ tale is a love story. George’s demeanour changed after meeting Anne. Her kindness transformed him from a bitter and disillusioned politician into a man willing to forgive past feuds and consider the bigger picture.
Canada owes a great debt to Anne Brown. Without her positive influence over her husband, there exists a very real possibility that our country would not exist in its current form. Further, without her correspondence with George, the events, and yes, the dinner menus, of the historic conferences in Charlottetown and Quebec may have been lost to history.
George’s biographer referred to Anne not as “a Mother of Confederation”, but as “the Mother of Confederation”4.
1 Julia Skikavich, “Anne Brown” in Canadian Encyclopedia (Historica Canada: 2015) online: <www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/anne-nelson-brown>.
2 Letter from George Brown to Anne Brown (20 June 1864).
3 Richard J Gwyn, John A: The Man Who Made Us: The Life and Times of Sir John A Macdonald (Toronto: Random House, 2009) vol 1 at 272.
4 James MS Careless, “George Brown and the Mother of Confederation” Report of the Annual Meeting Canadian Historical Association (1960) [emphasis added].