There has been a lot of critical (and not so critical) thinking and writing in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as the US president (I’m still having moments of fits where I can’t believe it actually happened). While trying to distract ourselves from the shitshow south of the border, our staff have been doing things like scouring the City of Toronto’s Archives and other institutional databases for photos (one of the best time-killers any Toronto-phile can take part in).
In the Toronto Public Library’s archive we came across this message “to the Electors of Toronto” (circa 1834) from a disgruntled voter warning about the dangers of electing William Lyon Mackenzie, who would eventually become the city’s first mayor. When you read the small text, the concerns sounds like a familiar refrain many anti-Trumpers were sharing on social media during the recent American election (such as attacking an ethnic group (“the low Irish”), how his supporters are divided and fearful of the candidate, or the divisive language used on the campaign trail — “[Mackenzie] tries to excite your feelings against, and alienate your affections from the very men you know to be your best friends”).
While many of us like to mythologize the “rebel mayor”, Mackenzie had his detractors and many of their concerns were valid. And he does seem a little bit like Trump. Below is the text from the letter, in all of its odd phrasing and poor grammar.
You are about to consign your best and dearest interests, as men and as citizens, into the hands of a most violent, intolerant and ignorant faction. Read their own list, and discover for yourselves; if there is one man among them, except Dr. Rolph, that is capable, in any degree whatever, to enact wise laws, to execute those laws when made, to improve your City, and to manage with judgement your finances. The most of them are good citizens, but you want men of ability, of moderation, and who possess a commercial, trading and scientific knowledge. This faction has no claim whatever to your suffrages, except that its members are the tools of Mackenzie, whose only aim is to run you headlong into confusion, anarchy, and perhaps blood; instead of reconciling you to one another, as is most necessary, in order to become good citizens, and as he would have done if he had been your friends. Witness the late declaration of himself and nominee at a Meeting in the Township of Toronto, in which they stated their intention of bringing in a Bill to prevent the future emigration of the Irish, or as they said, the “low Irish.” Any man that would thus sacrifice your interest, sell your future peace, happiness and prosperity, for the sake of getting into power, is your most inveterate Enemy.
Pause, therefore, and consider, before you aim such a deadly blow at your present and future welfare. They are even ashamed themselves at their own nomination of Candidates, contained in Mackenzie’s Print, signed “An Irishman.” And you will, should you vote for those there nominated, before six months pass over, be heartily sorry for such a rash and insane act — Such a Corporation would be a burlesque upon your good sense and intelligence, and a laughing stock to a surrounding and discerning Public. In that Print, and in his late haranguges, he tries to excite your feelings against, and alienate your affections from the very men you know to be your best friends, and who possess experience, ability and will, necessary and indispensably to act for your good.
Will you turn your backs then upon your old, constant and well-tried friends, and enter the ranks of an untried, violent and illiterate faction, because the personification of every thing that is unwise and unstatesman-like, Mackenzie tells you to do so? Will you fly in the very face of reason, justice and religion, and succumb to the poor Printer and circulator of a pitiful newspaper, replete with nothing but error and hostility to commerce and business by inveighing against the monied resource of the country, no public and private scandal, consummate lies and fictitious grievances.
No! Your old tried and respected friends do not believe you will, and therefore call upon you one and all to come forward to a man, and support them, and them only, as the friends of peace, order, prosperity and the economy of your City.
Even Mackenzie’s very friends are terrified that his men, or rather tools will get into those civic offices. They know their weakness, their incapacity, and what is more, that they are divided and at variance among themselves. And are you really and seriously about to place into such hands the highest offices of the City? No! prudence and wisdom forbid it. To the Poll then, and let moderation, candour and justice decide your choice.
An Old and Tried Friend.