Robert Baldwin (May 12, 1804 - December 9, 1858)

Robert Baldwin was a Toronto lawyer who was called to the bar in 1825. He first became a member of the Upper Canada House of Assembly on January 30, 1830. However the death of King George IV forced the dissolution of Parliament; an election was called, and Baldwin lost his seat. He made a brief comeback in 1836, but the government resigned en masse when Governor Head refused to consult his advisers on the administration of the colony.

Following the Durham Report, which recommended the union of Upper and Lower Canada, the new governor, Lord Sydenham, recruited Baldwin for the government of the new Province of Canada. In February 1841, date that union came into effect, Baldwin joined the Executive Council. The governor's refusal to grant responsible government to the colony pushed Baldwin to tender his resignation. He remained in opposition, where he and his ally, Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine were able to bring together a large number of reformers. They would form the government in 1842-43.

Wanting to work with his Lower Canadian ally at all costs, Baldwin offered the reform seat of 4th York to La Fontaine when the latter was defeated in the 1841 election. La Fontaine returned the favour several years later. The reformers were only in power for one year, but in that short period managed to undertake a number of ambitious projects. These included reforming the Upper Canada school system, obtaining right of review of the civil list, transferring the capital from Kingston to Montréal and drafting a bill to create a nondenominational university, the University of Toronto. Following Governor Metcalfe's refusal to consult Cabinet about partisan appointments, however, the reform government resigned on November 26, 1843.

The reformers served in opposition until 1848, when they were returned to power until 1851. This second La Fontaine-Baldwin government is known as the "Great Ministry" because of the high level of co-operation between reformers from Upper and Lower Canada. Baldwin's most significant contributions during this second mandate were the reform of the Upper Canadian judiciary and the creation of the University of Toronto. The reform government also granted amnesty to the participants in the 1837-38 rebellions, voted to compensate those who suffered financial losses in the rebellions, made changes to the municipal government system and implemented a system of responsible government.

A complex man, Robert Baldwin left his mark on Canadian politics of that era. He was somewhat of a romantic, preferring poetry to politics. His later life was plagued by depression and ill health. He never fully recovered from the death, in 1836, of his wife, and his last thoughts were of his soul mate. He died near Toronto on December 9, 1858.


  • Cross, Michael S. ; Fraser, Robert L. "Baldwin, Robert". The 1999 Canadian encyclopedia : world edition. Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1998.

  • Cross, Michael S. ; Fraser, Robert L. "Baldwin, Robert". Dictionnaire biographique du Canada. vol. VIII. Québec : Presses de l'Université Laval, 1985. P. 49-65.

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