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John McDowell of Manitoba.

The Age of Renewal was a was a period in the history of the Confederation of North America between the Era of Faceless Men and Creative Nationalism. The name comes from a speech given by Governor-General John McDowell in New York City on 11 October 1882, and is applied to McDowell's two terms as governor-general from 1878 to 1888. The Age of Renewal overlaps to some extent with the period of international social upheaval called the Bloody Eighties.

Election and Early Reforms[]

The 1878 Grand Council elections gave rise to an unprecedented wave of political violence in the C.N.A. as the established Conservative and Liberal Parties sought to prevent the radical new People's Coalition from increasing its membership in the Grand Council. In spite of the violence directed against it, the Coalition won 39 seats in the Council, an increase of 29, while the Liberals fell from 63 to 62 and the ruling Conservative Party fell from 77 to 49. For the first time under the Second Britannic Design, no party in the Council had a governing majority. As the leader of the party with a plurality of the seats, it fell to McDowell to determine how to proceed. He ignored proposals from members of all three parties to form a coalition with one of the other parties; instead, he allowed the balloting to continue until a sufficient number of Councilmen from the other parties voted for him simply to break the deadlock. Afterwards, McDowell announced, "I come to this office without a single pledge to any man."

For the first two years of his tenure as governor-general, McDowell pursued a reform agenda that partially mollified the People's Coalition (and presumably passed with Coalition votes). One such bill was the Railroad Control Commission Act of 1878, which established a regulatory body with the power to investigate complaints and to make recommendations for rate adjustments. Another was the Williamson Anti-Monopoly Act, which gave the Minister of Home Affairs the right to prosecute any large railroad or corporation "engaged in unfair or unethical practices." A third was the Civil Rights Act of 1879, which guaranteed all North American citizens "the full protection of law in their public pursuits." A fourth was the Morgan Act, which "encouraged management and labor to reach equitable solutions to their common problems." Finally, McDowell created the Confederation Bureau of Investigation, which was charged with investigating and prosecuting government corruption.

The C.B.I. proved effective at uncovering corruption, and McDowell was widely praised for fostering honest government. However, it turned out that most of McDowell's reform bills lacked effective enforcement provisions, allowing the abuses they were meant to end to continue. Despite this, McDowell's reputation as a reformer allowed the Liberals to post major gains in the confederation-level elections of 1879, winning control of five of the seven confederation councils.

The Great Depression and the Bloody Eighties[]

While McDowell was passing his reform bills, events were under way in Europe that would alter the direction of Western civilization. Nine months after McDowell's elevation, war broke out between the Kingdom of France and the Germanic Confederation. Europe's financial markets were taken by surprise, and the result was a financial panic that began in Paris and Berlin but soon spread to London and New York. In Great Britain, Prime Minister Geoffrey Cadogan responded to the outbreak of the Franco-German War by mobilizing the army and increasing naval appropriations. The combination of higher taxes, rising interest rates, and war jitters brought a sharp reduction in British investments in the C.N.A. The result was a wave of bank failures and business bankruptcies in the early months of 1880, particularly the failure of the Northern Confederation Trust in April and the bankruptcy of Thomas Edison's National Electric the following month.

In Europe, the French Army suffered a series of defeats, and within a year of the war's outbreak two German armies had surrounded Paris. The French capital fell into anarchy as rioting broke out, and the government of King Louis XX proved incapable of maintaining control. Louis himself abdicated in early December 1879, and was succeeded by his son, Louis XXI. However, this proved insufficient to quell the mobs, who stormed the Royal Palace on 25 December, murdering the young king, his parents, and his sisters. German troops entered Paris on 27 December and attempted to restore order, but within days two German regiments had joined the rioters, and by the middle of January 1880 the entire German army of occupation had become demoralized and radicalized. In February, the uprisings spread to the Germanic Confederation itself, and from there to Austria, the Italian kingdoms, and the rest of Europe.

In the C.N.A., McDowell was confronted by both a financial panic that resulted in the Great Depression, and a wave of European refugees fleeing the chaos of the Bloody Eighties. Following the failure of the Northern Confederation Trust, McDowell ordered the Treasury to make deposits in key financial institutions throughout the C.N.A., thus ensuring their liquidity. After the bankruptcy of the National Electric, McDowell created the National Financial Administration, headed by Howard Carson, to offer low-interest loans to failing corporations. Over the next four years, the N.F.A. made 354 loans totalling more than N.A. £3.5 million, heading off the threatened wave of bankruptcies. N.F.A. loans were credited with reviving the Northern Confederation Trust, and preventing the bankruptcy of North American Steel and a series of threatened foreclosures in Michigan City. McDowell also established the Rural Credit Association to assist farmers threatened with foreclosure. The R.C.A. was empowered to grant loans of up to N.A. £400 to farmers whose holdings were endangered by foreclosures, but who had sufficient collateral to have received loans under normal circumstances.

McDowell's measures against the Great Depression won him praise from the C.N.A. Businessmen's Association, which called him "the strongest and wisest leader our nation has ever had." Likewise, Carl Bok of the Mechanics National Union ended his union's traditional neutrality by pledging McDowell "the support of our members throughout our land, and this definitely extends to the political campaign of 1883."

The refugees were drawn by Manitoba's reputation as a "rustic paradise," a place of peace and calmness where people could go about their business undisturbed by lawless mobs. However, the unsettled areas of Manitoba were difficult to reach, and many potential immigrants turned back and returned to Indiana and the Northern Confederation, while some chose the more accessible Fowler region of Northern Vandalia. Some 1.5 million immigrants had arrived by the time McDowell closed the C.N.A. to immigration in 1882.

With the international economic situation continuing to deteriorate, McDowell and Cadogan jointly sponsored the First Imperial Conference in 1881, in which representatives from the various governments of the British Empire met in London to discuss mutual concerns. The participants agreed to maintain free trade between the member nations; affirmed their loyalty to Queen Victoria; established the Imperial Monetary Fund, which had the power to make low-interest loans to member governments; and initiated discussions on the creation of a common defense force. The success of the conference led to the convening of a Second Imperial Conference in New York City the following year.

A new threat to the C.N.A. appeared in September 1881 when the United States of Mexico underwent a coup d'etat led by Benito Hermión. Since the 1875 Mexican elections, the U.S.M. had been suffering an increasingly severe uprising by a revolutionary group called the Moralistas. Two Mexican Presidents died in less than two years, and the country had become an armed camp by the time Hermión seized power. McDowell feared that Hermión would seek to re-ignite the Rocky Mountain War and launch a war of conquest against the C.N.A. However, far from being aggressive, Hermión went to great lengths to reassure North Americans of his desire for friendship. He encouraged cultural exchanges between the two countries, and named Simon Cardenes, a popular Mexican novelist, as his ambassador to Burgoyne. Cardenes worked well with Minister for Foreign Affairs Malcolm Kitteridge, and the two were able to negotiate several mutually beneficial agreements, culminating in the 1884 Kitteridge-Cardenes Treaty.

The Age of Renewal Speech[]

In the fall of 1882, with the 1883 Grand Council elections approaching, McDowell faced increasing accusations that he was an unprincipled trimmer whose only real commitment was to his own empowerment. It was to address these criticisms that McDowell spoke in New York on 11 October of his political philosophy and plans for the future. He began by speaking of the chaos and political upheaval that had been troubling Europe since the outbreak of the French Revolution two years before: "We are living at a time of momentous change, one which has seen the decline of monarchies and the end of empires we once thought immortal. The faiths and truths of yesterday seem outworn and curiously meaningless. Our way of life is being threatened as never before."

McDowell then contrasted Europe's chaos with the continued stability of the C.N.A. under his administration. "Yet we hold on, we organize, we persevere. We shall pass through this dark corridor, just as we did the Rebellion, the Crisis Years, and other times of distress. Our fathers had problems, which they solved. Ours may appear greater than theirs, but so are the resources we command. Even now our problems are being resolved, our wounds healed, our nation renewed. More will be needed before we achieve our ambitions, and we shall sacrifice much in order to save; we must change in order to preserve."

McDowell reviewed the accomplishments of his administration. "This administration has done much to preserve the North American farm, the North American business firm, the North American banking system, and has succeeded in all its efforts, as the N.F.A. and related agencies prove." Then, having established his credentials as a reformer, McDowell laid out an agenda for a second term. "But more must be done in the future. Every North American has the right to hold a job, to a fair wage, to a fair return on his investment, to a decent place in which to live, to security in his home, to the knowledge that his government knows of his needs, and is prepared to help him help himself."

McDowell concluded his speech by calling on his audience to dedicate themselves to the task of building a better future. "Few of these goals have been reached, and some may appear impossible of achievement in our lifetime. But we must make the effort. For this reason, I call upon all North Americans to undertake a time of soul-searching, to go into the Wilderness and then return, better prepared and more willing to work for a better nation and world. North America is in the midst of its Age of Renewal, from which it will emerge greater and more powerful than before."

The Age of Renewal speech was the subject of much discussion and analysis. Some of McDowell's hearers interpreted his words to mean that he intended to accellerate the pace of reform. Others believed that his desire "to work for a better nation and world" meant that he intended to have the C.N.A. replace Great Britain as the leading nation in the British Empire. However, when he was questioned about these matters, McDowell was vague and evasive.

The Conservatives denounced the Age of Renewal as too radical, and accused McDowell of tyranny and of wishing to destroy the rights of the individual. Theodore Lindsay, publisher of the New York Herald, claimed that "Such talk is not only dangerous, it is cruel. Our country is in grave danger. We have more than one million men out of work, our factories are operating sporadically, our trade is declining, and there are revolutionaries at work in all the states. And the Governor-General talks of progress, of his accomplishments, and of his plans for the future! Any more such plans, and we shall have no future, but go the way of France and Austria into national oblivion!" Lindsay urged the North American people to reject McDowell's leadership and instead support "a man who will recognize the old values of our nation, those cherished by Burgoyne and Dickinson, and not be moved to accept every nostrum that comes along." Lindsay clearly considered himself that man.

The People's Coalition saw the Age of Renewal as an attempt by McDowell to upstage their own thoroughgoing reform agenda by offering the nation "the form of change, but not the substance." Since the coming of the Great Depression in 1880, Coalitionist leaders in the Grand Council had denounced McDowell as "a tool of the big banks, the big corporations, the reactionary unions." The Coalitionists also feared that McDowell was planning an assault on freedom and the rights of free speech generally by stressing the need for "security in the home." The Coalitionists had some cause for concern, since McDowell had doubled the size of the C.B.I. and repurposed it into a national police force under Colonel Mark Forsyth aimed at combating "subversives." Sobel concluded that rather than being a blueprint for a new society, the Age of Renewal was simply a meaningless rubric for any future programs McDowell might pursue.

The 1883 Grand Council Elections[]

Following the Age of Renewal speech, McDowell traveled across the eastern confederations delivering speeches on the subject of reform. At the same time, the Liberals introduced a series of bills in the Grand Council designed to implement some of his proposed reforms. The bills were poorly drafted and managed, and all of them were defeated by party-lines votes, with the Conservatives and the Coalitionists voting against them.

This was just what McDowell had expected, and on 8 January 1883 he gave a speech in Burgoyne in which he denounced "men of the past and radicals who would destroy our future, who have hindered every attempt at justice I have made in the past five years." McDowell listed the bills that had just been defeated, saying, "Each of these measures was designed to better the lot of our people. Each, if passed, would have alleviated misery, created jobs, raised wages, or provided cleaner and better places in which our people could live and work. But they have been rejected by the merchants of fear and hate. The people know who their enemies are, and the people will reject them at the polls in February."

The Liberals held their national convention shortly afterwards, jubilant at the success of the McDowell administration and convinced that they were on the verge of achieving an outright majority in the Grand Council. McDowell was renominated as party leader, and in his acceptance speech he pledged himself to the "creation of the Age of Renewal in North America, one that will bring benefits for all citizens, in every part of the nation."

The Conservatives, by contrast, were close to panic at their convention in New York. The previous five years had seen their support collapse as Negroes and radicals had switched to the People's Coalition and more moderate reformers had joined the Liberals. Three of their candidates for party leader were Councilmen, all over 65. The fourth was Lindsay, who was brilliant, dynamic, and one of the most influential men in the country. The Conservative delegates were fearful enough to choose Lindsay, who swore in his acceptance speech "to carry the message of the New Conservatism to every part of the Confederation, and before I am done, the people will know of our dangers and how McDowell has deceived them, of their own hidden resources, and of the government's attempts to steal them from their rightful owners."

At the People's Coalition convention in Boston, a new generation of more moderate leaders appeared, led by Northern Confederation Councilman Scott Ruggles and recently-elected Michigan City Mayor Ezra Gallivan. Gallivan was the son of Patrick Gallivan, President of the Indiana Northern Railroad. Working at his father's company sparked Gallivan's concern for the working conditions of the employees, and caused him to sympathize with the poor and seek to improve their lot. When Ezra Gallivan joined the People's Coalition in 1878, his father disowned him and made a large contribution to the Conservatives, and the two never spoke again. Gallivan had won election as mayor the year before at the age of 32, and he was the rising star in the P.C. However, he recognized that the Liberals were unstoppable, and that the most the Coalition could hope for was to displace the Conservatives as the main opposition party. He backed Ruggles for party leader, and when he won Ruggles pledged himself "to the quest for social justice in our land."

On election day, 15 February 1883, McDowell led the Liberals to an 82-seat majority in the Grand Council. Ruggles and Gallivan also saw triumph as the Coalition successfully fought the rising Liberal tide to win an additional six seats for a total of 45. The Conservatives under Lindsay, on the other hand, saw their strength fall from 49 seats to 23. When the new Ninth Grand Council met for a special session after the election, the Conservatives were unsure where to sit. Most chose to sit behind the Liberals, but five Conservative Councilmen, all from Quebec and the N.C., went over to the Coalition, boosting its strength to 50 seats.

McDowell's Second Term[]

With a majority in the Grand Council, McDowell was able to pass all of his proposed legislation for 1883: a guaranteed employment act that made the government the employer of last resort; a guaranteed minimum wage of N.A. £1 a day; a reform of the school system offering universal secondary education; the Transportation Act of 1883 gave the Railroad Control Commission the power to order changes in railroad policy; the Fair Trade Act of 1883 creating the North American Export Council to subsidize exports; the establishment of the North American Bank; an expansion of the National Financial Administration allowing more and larger loans to distressed corporations; expansion of the Rural Credit Association; expansion of the Confederation Bureau of Investigation into a national police force; and increased appropriations for the army and navy.

Pro-administration newspapers proclaimed McDowell the greatest reformer in the history of the C.N.A. The Burgoyne Times wrote, "With these new laws, our nation has forged into the lead in the area of social benefits"; the Michigan City Dispatch called McDowell "the greatest reformer the English-speaking world has known since Kensington"; and the Boston Word called him "the leading light of the century."

Lindsay claimed that McDowell "will destroy our moral fibre with his nostrums, and our exchequer with his taxes." Scott Ruggles, now the Minority Leader of the Grand Council, criticized the expansion of the N.F.A. and R.C.A., claiming they would help large businesses and ignore smaller ones. He also stated that the North American school system could not support the new education program, and that the government was no place "to dump, unceremoniously, those whose skills are other than paper-pushing." Gallivan allowed Ruggles to focus on specifics, while his own criticisms were more general. He asked rhetorically why McDowell chose to increase military spending "since we are not being threatened by any outside foe," and why the C.B.I. should be enlarged "when the dislocations of the early part of our decade have diminished, and our nation fortunately has been spared the pains of our neighbors across the Atlantic."

Ruggles' predictions proved correct, and by 1885 there was growing opposition to McDowell's reforms. The school system was indeed overwhelmed by the numbers seeking to enter it; the C.B.I.'s investigative methods provoked a public outcry, and tax rates were at an all-time high, while inflation became an increasing problem. In 1887, Ruggles declared, "Let Mr. McDowell ask us for what he will. He has a majority in the Grand Council, and can have anything he wants from it. Indeed, we would be willing to support his plans, for the People's Coalition wants peace and harmony as much as anyone else. The truth is, the Age of Renewal is, and always has been, a sham. The Liberals have had their chance, and have failed. Now it is time for true reform, and not just fancy maneuverings."

McDowell sought the Liberal nomination for a third term as goveror-general, the first incumbent to do so. He claimed that he needed more time "to correct the abuses of a century." At the Coalition's national convention, Gallivan received the nomination over Ruggles. Over the course of the campaign season, he appeared at many large meetings at which he would praise McDowell for his many achievements, but subtly criticize him as "a man worn out by the burdens he has carried for so long." Gallivan's agents organized well, and his manager, Senator Peter Higbe, personally coordinated the Coalition's programs throughout the C.N.A., allowing the P.C. to achieve an internal consistency and efficiency that the Liberals would not show for another two elections. Meanwhile, the fading Conservatives, although led by the able moderate Abraham Reese, were running poorly behind the other two parties.

Although both the New York Herald and the Burgoyne Times predicted another victory by the Liberals, on election day, 16 February, the People's Coalition won a 73 seat plurality in the Grand Council, while the Liberals won only 66 and the Conservatives 9. McDowell chose not to challenge Gallivan for the Governor-Generalship, instead arranging for several Liberal Councilmen to vote for Gallivan, giving him an 81-seat majority.


Sobel's sources for the Age of Renewal are McDowell's memoirs, The Age of Renewal (New York, 1892); as well as Worthington Fowler's John McDowell and the Fruits of Reform (New York, 1899), McDowell in Retirement (New York, 1901), and Reform at Flood Tide: McDowell's Year of Glory, 1883 (New York, 1908); Arthur Watkins' The Great Depression of 1880-1883 (London, 1915); Paul George's John McDowell: An Appreciation and Assessment (Burgoyne, 1930); William Harris's The Bloody Ballot: The C.N.A. Elections of 1878 (New York, 1943); Egbert Pierce's John McDowell and the Press: A Study in Manipulation (Burgoyne, 1947); Jay Phister's Front Man for Reform: The Ruggles Opposition (New York, 1949) and The Age of Renewal: McDowell at His Prime (New York, 1952); Reuben Fenton's And Close the Door: The Decline of C.N.A. Conservatism (New York, 1955) and McDowell: Appearance and Reality (New York, 1957); Frederick Powell's The Black and the Blue (New York, 1956); Barbara Montez's A History of the People's Coalition (London, 1960); George Schultz's The Great Migration: The Dispersion of the 1880s (London, 1963); Maxwell Stuart's The Trap Is Set: Gallivan in Opposition (London, 1966); Hector Welles' The People's Coalition During the Great Depression (London, 1967); Abner LeFevre's The Age of Renewal: The First McDowell Administraion (New York, 1968); Milton Hull's The Politics of 1883: McDowell and His Campaign (New York, 1970); and Sir Monte Barkins' Long-Term Dislocations in the C.N.A. Economy in the Great Depression (London, 1970).

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C.N.A. Historical Eras
American CrisisNorth American RebellionFour ViceroysBritannic DesignDickinson EraTrans-Oceanic WarEra of Harmonious RelationsCrisis YearsRocky Mountain WarEra of Faceless MenAge of RenewalBloody EightiesCreative NationalismStarkist TerrorYears of the PygmiesMalaise YearsDiffusion EraGlobal WarNew DayWar Without War