The 1860 election held for the Second Legislative Assembly of Vancouver Island was beset with controversy. Accusations of fraud and illegal votes were swiftly followed by an unprecedented challenge based on religion.
Three candidates in the Victoria City constituency put forward their names for the January 1860 election: George Cary, Selim Franklin, and Amor De Cosmos.
George Cary was the Attorney General, Selim Franklin was the official government auctioneer and Amor De Cosmos was the publisher of the British Colonist newspaper. There were only two seats for that area in the Legislative Assembly of Vancouver Island so competition was fierce. What tactics would the candidates use to gain the votes they needed?
Early on in the gold rush, a large wave of African-Americans came from California and settled around Victoria. Cary argued that since these people were not considered citizens of the United States, they were not actually ‘foreign citizens’ and could therefore become British subjects by proof of three months’ residence and taking an oath of allegiance to the Queen.
Cary sought to take advantage of the situation and get the loyalty of these newly minted British subjects. Franklin also endeavoured to gain the favour of the black voters of Victoria by giving away concert tickets amongst other ‘gifts’.
The election was held and the candidates counted their votes. The final count was Cary 137, Franklin 106 and De Cosmos 91.
Amor De Cosmos immediately pressed charges that several votes were obtained fraudulently. He attempted to gain access to the ‘Polling List’ but he was unsuccessful.
The Second Assembly opened on March 1, 1860. The newly elected members were sworn in by Chief Justice Cameron and took an oath of office “on the true faith of a Christian.” Franklin who was Jewish, objected to that phrase.
The British Parliament had just recently allowed the House to alter its own form of oath by resolution in order that Baron Rothschild could sit. However, only Acts passed before 1852 extended to Vancouver Island. What to do? Franklin said that he had taken the oath (except for that one phrase) and therefore claimed his seat. Other members said that there could be no change in the wording of the oath.
A committee of five was formed to look into the faulty oath. In the meantime, De Cosmos presented a petition claiming the seat of Franklin.
On March 15, 1860, the committee presented its report and found that “the oath administered to Selim Franklin was offered to him in good faith by the Chief Justice.” The passing of the Oaths Bill also allowed De Cosmos to challenge the legality of Franklin’s election.
Afterward Franklin made a lengthy speech:
“…I most earnestly object to receiving the report…my feelings with regard to this oath, have been outraged, and I ask that some reparation be made me by the rejection of this report. There was no fault in the oath, it was offered me in good faith by the Chief Justice. By this report just made, the inference is that there was some underhand work with regard to it; and casts a reflection upon my personal character…I object to this report, because I firmly believe that a wrong construction has been placed upon my position, and my views, and my religion…
It was not until July 24th that Franklin was officially allowed to take his seat. The Elections Committee had yet to come up with its report. De Cosmos, who had sought to challenge Franklin’s win, faced a legal hurdle himself when it was revealed that he hadn’t officially changed his name from William Smith.