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A Prophet in Politics

A Prophet in Politics: A Biography of J.S. Woodsworth

With a new introduction by Allen Mills
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  • Book Info
    A Prophet in Politics
    Book Description:

    McNaught details the life, work, and principles of J.S Woodsworth and shows the powerful moral and political force that the pacifist, Methodist thinker exerted on Canadian politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7042-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xiv)

    Books can tell us about deep and cultured matters, but they have their own cultural and historical background. The author too is a child of time, and his or her thought is embedded in circumstance and context. The person who reads a book draws from it a message that is particular to the moment. The same volume read by the same person at another time will produce a different meaning. I first encounteredA Prophet in Politics(perhaps its third or fourth reprinting!) in Manitoba in the early 1970s – heady times under Ed Schreyer’s recently elected New Democratic Party...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Kenneth McNaught
  5. PART I: 1874–1921

      (pp. 3-9)

      “Applewood” was the name of the fine Ontario farm home in which James Shaver Woodsworth was born in July of 1874. The farm belonged-to the Shaver family, pioneers of the Etobicoke district on the western fringes of Toronto. It had been established by Peter and Esther Shaver who, through their daughter, Esther Josephine, passed on to J. S. Woodsworth a German-Dutch lineage. The Schaeffers had come to New York from “High Germany” in 1765 and had moved on through Pennsylvania to Upper Canada. At Ancaster, near Hamilton, one of the Schaeffer sons, William, obtained a grant of Crown land. William’s...

      (pp. 10-19)

      When woodsworth went overseas he had a background of experience spreading over half a continent and stretching from rudest frontier conditions to the ambitious culture of Ontario’s capital. The young Canadian was probably much better prepared to receive a varied new education than he himself suspected. But there were some qualifications to this. His was not the background, for instance, of a Henry Adams in a search for “education.” What Woodsworth was to see would be received through the eyes of a Methodist and a colonial. The adjustment of focus would require more than one journey overseas and immense effort...

    • 3 TRIAL
      (pp. 20-29)

      Turned aside from the contemplated rôle of church college professor, Woodsworth almost automatically entered work in a western mission field. A year at Carieval in Assiniboia was followed by a similar appointment as pastor of a small church in Keewatm, Ontario.

      Here again was the evangelical work of the frontier, and once more the struggle for conviction. All the old questions recurred. Could he really accept the dogmas of the Methodist “Discipline”? Was the continual effort to “save” the individual, while ignoring his social context, really practical Christianity? Apathy on the part of the members of his congregation, and perhaps...

      (pp. 30-57)

      In the mountains around Revelstoke winter reluctantly gave way to spring and Woodsworth found a physical release for his pent-up emotions of the preceding months. In the last week of April he went to Rogers Pass and in the following two days walked the forty-six miles back to Revelstoke. He found the tramp exhilarating and in a long letter to his wife and parents pictured the excursion for them. No one can read that letter without sensing its author’s pantheistic appreciation of natural beauty. The English poets, he thought, could never have caught the inner turbulence of a Canadian mountain...

      (pp. 58-78)

      With alarming persistence the ideas of the social gospel seemed to permeate Canadian Methodism in the years preceding the armistice of 1918. With immense tenacity those who held to more orthodox theology and to denominational interest took their stand. The prime, or even the only concern of the church, they asserted, was the regeneration of the individual. There were other groups in the national life that could be held responsible for social well-being. If the individuals concerned could be made truly Christian, the social problem would be solved automatically.

      In Woodsworth’s eyes the orthodox approach was barren, for the church...

    • 6 DECISION
      (pp. 79-87)

      The first months of 1917 were not easy. All about him Woodsworth saw society coarsening—a result, in part, of the war. Perhaps, after all, the sensible thing would be to withdraw, at least temporarily, from the vortex of reaction. He thought then of the pacifist Doukhobors. He admired their communal pattern of living and even made tentative overtures toward joining one of their communities. But just as he had earlier rejected the foreign in favour of the home mission field, he could not now persuade himself to abandon the struggle.¹ Nor could the suggestion that he might leave Canada...

    • 7 THE PLUNGE
      (pp. 88-98)

      In the spring and summer of 1918 Canadian domestic affairs were headed toward crisis. The accumulated grievances of the years of war had sharpened class and sectional divisions in the country; these now pointed toward major political and social disturbance. The term “union government” did not conceal either the exceedingly conservative nature of Sir Robert Borden’s administration nor the economic and social discontent. In the cautious words of the Sirois Report, “Differences in the relative position [of economic groups] were extended, and contrasts were emphasized by the war. Canada’s participation in it brought rewards as well as sacrifices and both...

      (pp. 99-131)

      Although many of the older citizens of Winnipeg today prefer to forget the events of the spring of 1919, the Winnipeg strike was a most significant occurrence in Canadian history, if for no other reason than that it was the first and only time in Canadian history that a major city was split clearly into two opposing classes. The strike was of particular importance in the life of Woodsworth, not, as one might assume, because it altered any of his convictions or left him embittered, but because it served as a searchlight focused on the facts which he was already...

      (pp. 132-154)

      Dixon and woodsworth were released from jail on June 28 on two sureties of fifteen hundred dollars each. Their cases were remanded several times thereafter until, in November, the indictments were found to be true bills. Before Judge Galt in the assize court, on December 3, both men pleaded not guilty of publishing seditious libel. The trial was postponed at the request of the Crown counsel and did not actually begin until January 29, 1920.

      While the legal machinery was being put in readiness all of the arrested strike leaders joined in the work of the Labour Defence Committee and...

  6. PART II: 1922–1927

    • 10 OTTAWA
      (pp. 157-164)

      Many people in 1922 began to take stock of the men in Canada’s Fourteenth Parliament. The new cabinet was undistinguished, led by the cautious William Lyon Mackenzie King, who lacked almost completely the confidence of his own Liberal party managers. Arthur Meighen, leader of the opposition, and most of his colleagues, were already in some respects men of the past, identified with policies which had deeply divided the country and too openly favoured big business.

      It was the new group of sixty-five Progressives from Ontario and the prairies, burning with reform zeal, and the two Labour representatives from Calgary and...

      (pp. 165-181)

      Woodsworth’s reaction to the formalities of Ottawa was clear notice that he did not intend to water down the principles which he had enunciated over the preceding decade. Many contemporary journalists and later academic commentators professed to see an unwillingness in Woodsworth to use the term “socialism,” or to press for the full socialist programme—and they suggest that he sailed under false colours. The evidence does not substantiate this charge. His persistent stand on all questions of civil liberties, and on the whole range of public ownership and planning, carried him far beyond the point where any non-socialist could...

      (pp. 182-192)

      The attack from the left, forceful considering the diminutive group that launched it, was perhaps even more penetrating during debate on such matters as fiscal policy and public ownership. Woodsworth’s first speech on a Liberal budget showed that he had applied his socialist principles to Canadian history.¹ He observed that the government proposed to raise most of its revenue from tariff and indirect taxes—those methods which pressed hardest upon the common man and favoured the wealthy. Was this government, he asked, like previous Canadian governments, only concerned with giving a clear field to exploiters? Already the greater part of...

      (pp. 193-203)

      Woodsworth was, perhaps surprisingly, held in high regard by many Quebeckers. For this the main reason was the prominence given to his speeches both inside and outside the Commons on militarism and Canada’s external relations. In the 1925 election campaign, for example, the WinnipegWeekly News(October 23) was able to quote N. K. Laflamme, a Montreal Liberal, who said of Woodsworth: “... a man of absolute sincerity, perhaps a little ahead of his time. But who can tell? Times are changing. We Quebec members were at first astonished and inclined to be suspicious of Mr. Woodsworth; I am glad...

      (pp. 204-214)

      During these years an interesting evolution took place in national politics. The two old parties were recovering their stance after the disruption of the war and the agrarian revolt. On the Left there were skirmishes and the preliminary crystallization of a socialist party. In this, and in the sniping at the defences of political immorality, Woodsworth played a key rôle. Throughout the country he could depend upon organized and vocal support in many areas. The I.L.P. of his own city was perhaps the best example of this, but there were also scores of similar if less efficient groups in other...

      (pp. 215-228)

      The 1926 session opened with Ernest Lapointe as House leader, since King had lost his seat in the 1925 voting. The Liberals were in a distinct minority. Their lines of support reached down through the orthodox Progressives, through the Ginger Group, and really depended upon Woodsworth and Heaps. At the outset of the session Woodsworth analysed the situation and drew the conclusion that a co-operative government was the logical answer. The two-party system had proven itself inadequate, he declared, as even the seating arrangements of the House illustrated. He himself was now on the “government side,” the desk-mate of Henri...

  7. PART III: 1928–1935

      (pp. 231-245)

      Canadian prosperity in the 1920’s moved on to its climax in 1928 and 1929. Yet throughout that whole decade the benefits of prosperity were distributed in total disregard of any principle of equity. Indeed, it was the great inequalities that lent significance to Woodsworth’s appeal and formed the basis of his analysis. With economic depression beginning at the end of 1929 and deepening steadily in the early thirties, more and more people gave heed to his declamations—people to whom he had earlier appeared a Cassandra.

      The “hungry thirties” were a harvest time of political revolt; yet they were certainly...

      (pp. 246-254)

      Thus woodsworth in the debate on the 1931 budget, questioned whether in Canada there would be evolution or revolution. To support his criticism of the “shamelessly arrogant” budget he drew on both Roman Catholic and Protestant statements. From St. Augustine he reminded the House that “they who possess superfluity possess the goods of others”; from the United Church Conference he repeated the claim that the extended idea of corporate private property must be challenged. The budget proposed to relieve the rich of taxation and to increase the taxation of all others, he argued, since it contained no progressive principle of...

      (pp. 255-278)

      The C.C.F. was born in the west, but the West was also acting as midwife at a national event. Much of the writing that has appeared on the origins and nature of the C.C.F. has taken for granted that the movement was, and the party would remain, a prairie farm protest. Already in previous chapters this thesis with its implication has been questioned. The C.C.F.'s ideological background had clear socialist elements; and it sprang from the urban labour movement, from the social gospel of the churches, and from radical intellectuals, as well as from the soil of the wheat belt....

  8. PART IV: 1935–1942

      (pp. 281-297)

      The four years prior to the outbreak of the Second World War were packed with activity for Woodsworth. It was a time of party growth and of ever widening recognition of the stature of the C.C.F. leader. But it was also a period of mounting strain, and this told on Woodsworth’s health. Frictions were developing between sections within the party, particularly in Manitoba. And the exceedingly complex questions of neutrality and pacifism reached their peak intensity in September of 1939. In the twenty-four months preceding the outbreak of war a considerable section of the C.C.F. began to slip away from...

    • 20 WAR
      (pp. 298-312)

      In the preceding chapters considerable attention has been paid to Woodsworth’s attitude to war. This was never an easy thing for his closest friends to define during his lifetime. The passage of time has not simplified the task.

      In many ways Woodsworth was a fighter himself and he had no particular distaste for violenceper se. He believed that there were occasions when one must use force to discipline children, and in his youth we have seen that he could admire the soldiery of Germany. His pacifism, then, was not an inherent repugnance to the use of physical force. It...

    • 21 EPILOGUE
      (pp. 313-318)

      In effect, september, 1939, ended Woodsworth’s political career. Within eight months he suffered the stroke from which he never really recovered. In the final two years of his life he did not relinquish his association with the C.C.F. but of necessity it became increasingly tenuous, and was maintained through individuals more than through organizational channels.

      He could never really accept a party policy which declared that the very existence of democratic institutions throughout the world was at stake—and then said that Canada should send guns but no men. He could and did co-operate to the limit of his strength,...


      (pp. 321-330)
  10. Index
    (pp. 331-339)