John A. Macdonald: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 Sir John A. Macdonald 

Monarch Victoria
In office
July 1, 1867 – November 5, 1873
Succeeded by Alexander Mackenzie
In office
October 17, 1878 – June 6, 1891
Preceded by Alexander Mackenzie
Succeeded by John Abbott

Born 10 or 11 January 1815
Glasgow, Scotland
Died June 6, 1891 (aged 76)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Isabella Clark (1st wife)
Agnes Bernard (2nd wife)
Children John Alexander (died in infancy) and Hugh John by Isabella;
Mary by Agnes.
Alma mater none (articled with a lawyer in Kingston)
Occupation Politician, statesman
Profession Lawyer
Religion Presbyterian; later Anglican

Sir John Alexander Macdonald, GCB, KCMG, PC, PC (Can), (11 January[1] 1815 – 6 June 1891) was the first Prime Minister of Canada and the dominant figure of Canadian Confederation. Macdonald's tenure in office spanned 18 years, making him the second longest serving Prime Minister of Canada. He is the only Canadian Prime Minister to win six majority governments. He was the major proponent of a national railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway, completed in 1885, linking Canada from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. He won praise for having helped forge a nation of sprawling geographic size, with two diverse European colonial origins, numerous Aboriginal nations, and a multiplicity of cultural backgrounds and political views.


Early years, 1815–1835

John Alexander Macdonald was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 11 January 1815. Although 10 January is the official date recorded in the Glasgow Registry Office, 11 January is the day Macdonald and his family celebrated his birthday.[2]His father was Hugh Macdonald, an unsuccessful merchant, who had married Helen Shaw, on 21 October 1811.[3] Together, they produced five children. The first-born, William died in infancy. The next was Margaret who was followed a year and a half later by John Alexander, then a younger brother, James and a baby sister named Louisa. After the failure of Hugh Macdonald's business ventures, the family immigrated to Kingston, Upper Canada in 1820 along with thousands of others seeking affordable land and promises of prosperity.[4]

Bad luck followed the family to their new country. Macdonald watched as his younger brother James was struck and killed by a drunken servant who was supposed to be looking after them.[5] Hugh Macdonald's business ventures in the Kingston area were scarcely more successful than they had been in Scotland.[6] The family managed to scrape up the money to send Macdonald to Kingston's Midland Grammar School where, according to biographer Donald Creighton, he studied subjects such as Latin, French and mathematics. "Already he was a voracious reader," Creighton writes, "and he would sit for hours deep in a book, almost oblivious to what was going on."[7] At 14, Macdonald switched to a school for "general and classical education" founded by a newly arrived Presbyterian minister from Scotland. It was one of the few schools in Upper Canada that taught both boys and girls.[8] Macdonald's formal schooling ended at 15, which was common when only the most prosperous were able to attend university.[9] Nevertheless, Macdonald later regretted leaving school when he did, remarking to his private secretary Joseph Pope that if he had attended university, he might have embarked on a literary career. "He did not add, as he might have done," Pope wrote in his biography of Macdonald, "that the successful government of millions of men, the strengthening of an empire, the creation of a great dominion, call for the possession and exercise of rarer qualities than are necessary to the achievement of literary fame."[10]

Law career, 1830–1843

Professional training, 1830–1836

Macdonald's parents decided he should become a lawyer after leaving school.[11] As Donald Creighton writes, "law was a broad, well-trodden path to comfort, influence, even to power." It was also "the obvious choice for a boy who seemed as attracted to study as he was uninterested in trade."[12] Besides, Macdonald needed to start earning money immediately to support his family because his father's business ventures were failing. "I had no boyhood," he complained many years later. "From the age of 15, I began to earn my own living."[13]

A few months after he opened his first law office in 1835, Macdonald moved with his parents and sisters to this two and a half storey stone house on Kingston's Rideau Street.
Library and Archives Canada.

Macdonald travelled by steamboat to Toronto (then known as York), where he passed an examination set by the Law Society of Upper Canada.[14] In 1830, there were no law schools, so prospective lawyers wrote the entrance exam, then learned the trade through on-the-job training by articling with an established lawyer. Macdonald was extremely fortunate to begin his apprenticeship with George Mackenzie, a young lawyer who was a prominent member of Kingston's rising Scottish community. Mackenzie practised corporate law, a lucrative specialty that Macdonald himself would later pursue.[15] A promising law student, Macdonald was managing a branch office for Mackenzie in Napanee at age 17. It meant much more independence and responsibility.[16] In 1833, Mackenzie permitted his articling student to leave his firm to run the law practice of Macdonald's ailing cousin, Lowther Pennington Macpherson, at Picton. By all accounts, the 19-year-old Macdonald did well.[17] But in the summer of 1835, he decided to return to Kingston to open his own practice after George Mackenzie's sudden death during a cholera epidemic.[18] Biographer Donald Swainson writes that Macdonald was determined to step into Mackenzie's shoes as the "leading lawyer within Kingston's Scottish Presbyterian community, a community that was quickly becoming the dominant force in the life of the city."[19]

Early successes, 1836–1837

Macdonald was then called to the Bar on 6 February 1836.[20] Soon after opening his own law firm he took in two students: Oliver Mowat, a future premier of Ontario and like Macdonald himself, a Father of Confederation, and Alexander Campbell, future Father of Confederation, federal cabinet minister and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.[21] With the help of his students, Macdonald "busied himself with lucrative but tedious work, such as chasing down unpaid bills and searching titles."[22] Then suddenly, in 1837, Macdonald switched to criminal law for two years. Biographer Richard Gwyn writes that although there's no documentary evidence, there is a "plausible explanation" for Macdonald's motives:

As a criminal lawyer who took on dramatic cases, Macdonald got himself noticed well beyond the narrow confines of the Kingston business community. He was operating now in the arena where he would spend by far the greatest part of his life --- the court of public opinion. And while there he was learning the arts of argument and of persuasion that would serve him all his political life.[23]

Macdonald unsuccessfully defended a man accused of raping an eight-year-old girl but won praise from a local newspaper for conducting "a very able defence." He then won the acquittal of a man accused of murdering a friend after an argument. Alexander Campbell, Macdonald's student, wrote years later that Macdonald had persuaded the jury by his "humour and strong liking for anecdote more than for his professional knowledge."[24]

Rebellions of 1837

The Rebellions of 1837 in Upper and Lower Canada proved to be a crucial turning point in Macdonald's legal career. In fact, biographer Donald Creighton argues that the rebellions "made him as a lawyer," giving him the "reputation of a conservative who was not afraid to battle for liberal principles."[25] Macdonald showed he was willing to take professional risks first by defending eight political prisoners from nearby counties who had been charged with treason for allegedly participating in the uprisings against colonial authorities. Macdonald succeeded in winning acquittals for all eight earning praise for his "ingenuity and ability" from a Kingston newspaper which also noted that the young barrister "is rapidly rising in his profession."[26]

Then, Macdonald served as co-counsel for John Ashley, the man in charge of a local military jail, who had himself been arrested and briefly imprisoned for allegedly helping 15 political prisoners escape from custody. Ashley sued Colonel Dundas, the military commander for illegal arrest. Dundas was a popular figure, but Macdonald helped persuade the jury to award Ashley substantial monetary damages. Macdonald, Creighton writes, was now associated "with the defence of the plain people against the encroachments of military power. The solid blue of his inherited conservatism was varied now, in a pleasantly interesting fashion, with a few threads of a different and livelier color."[27]

Battle of the Windmill, near Prescott, Upper Canada, November 13, 1838.

Finally, Macdonald took his biggest risk of all by agreeing to advise American raiders who had participated in an abortive invasion to liberate Canada from what they saw as the yoke of British colonial oppression. The inept raiders had been captured after the Battle of the Windmill (1838, near Prescott, Ontario) --- a battle in which 16 Canadians were killed and 60 wounded. Worst of all, the American invaders were accused of mutilating the body of a dead Canadian lieutenant. Creighton writes that Kingston was "mad with grief and rage and horror."[28] At least two other lawyers refused to help when the brother-in-law of one of the Americans pleaded with them to provide legal advice. Macdonald must have hesitated, but eventually said yes after the frantic brother-in-law knocked on his door one morning before he was out of bed.

It was surely wisdom to have nothing to do with the whole affair. And yet, he took the case. Even he might have found it difficult to say why. A curious interest in people, a relish for cases which were odd and difficult, a jaunty recognition of the fact that professional prestige involved publicity, and, perhaps, a certain stubborn, independent conviction that these helpless and deluded men deserved at least the bare minimum of assistance – all these may have helped to move him to his decision.[29]

There was little Macdonald could do to defend the Americans. Under military rules governing courts martial, civilian lawyers were not allowed to question witnesses or address the judge. Macdonald could only give private advice which helped the brother-in-law to ask searching questions during his trial, but did not save him from the gallows. Macdonald also advised "General" Nils Szoltevcky Von Schoultz, the brave and charismatic Polish immigrant who had led the American raiders after their real commanders abandoned them at Windmill Point. Von Shoultz insisted on pleading guilty and wanted to leave Macdonald $100 in his will. Macdonald had to refuse it, but he never forgot the tragic story of the tall, handsome Pole.[30]

Biographer Donald Creighton writes that although the rebellions and their aftermath helped Macdonald's career, they also had lasting psychological effects. "For him, and for Kingston," Creighton writes, "the 'rebellion' had been not so much a native uprising as a succession of American raids; and from then on he never quite lost a certain lingering anxiety for the problem of British North American defence."[25]

Political rise, 1843–1864

John A. Macdonald in 1843

In 1843, Macdonald entered politics, standing for the office of Alderman in Kingston, a position to which he was elected.[31] In 1844 he was elected to the legislature of the Province of Canada to represent Kingston[32], gained the recognition of his peers and in 1847 was appointed Receiver General in William Henry Draper's government. However, Macdonald had to give up his portfolio when Draper's government lost the next election. He left the Conservatives, hoping to build a more moderate and palatable base. In 1854, he helped with the founding of the Liberal-Conservative Party under the leadership of Sir Allan McNab. Within a few years, the Liberal-Conservatives would attract all of the old Conservative base as well as some centrist Reformers. The Liberal-Conservatives came to power in 1854 and under the new government Macdonald was appointed Attorney-General. During his time in cabinet, Macdonald was usually the most powerful minister, even when other men held the premiership. In the next election Macdonald continued his rise in politics by becoming Joint Premier of the Province of Canada with Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché of Canada East for the years 1856 and 1857.

Taché resigned in 1857, and George-Étienne Cartier took his place. In the election of 1858, the Macdonald-Cartier government was defeated and they resigned as Premiers. In an interesting piece of politics, the Governor General of Canada asked Cartier to become the senior Premier, only a week after his defeat. Cartier accepted and brought Macdonald into office along with him. This was legal as any member of the cabinet could re-enter the cabinet provided they did so within a month of resigning their previous position. Macdonald focused on communications and defence, especially the Intercolonial Railway. Canada had to pressure the Colonial Office, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island to, as one historian notes, "consider an ambitious scheme proposed by their pushing and turbulent neighbour, Canada." [Creighton, 1956, p. 273]

The coalition government was again defeated in 1862. Macdonald then served as the leader of the opposition until the election of 1864, when Taché came out of retirement and joined ranks with Macdonald to form the governing party yet again.

The Confederation of Canada, 1864–1867

Sir John A. MacDonald's arms[33]

To resolve the frequent legislative deadlocks in the Province of Canada, George Brown, the leader of the Clear Grits (the forerunners to the Liberal Party of Canada) and an extremely vocal opponent of Macdonald's Conservatives, joined with Macdonald's Conservatives and George-Étienne Cartier's Parti Bleu in 1864 to form the Great Coalition. The coalition sought to reform the political system of Canada, and was a crucial step in achieving a consensus to support future reform. However, the Parti Rouge of Canada East, led by Jean-Baptiste-Éric Dorion, still refused to join the coalition. Macdonald then spent 1864 to 1867 organizing the legislation needed to confederate the colonies into the country of Canada. In September 1864, he led the Canadian delegation at the Charlottetown Conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to present his idea to the Maritime colonies, who were discussing a union of their own. In October 1864 delegates for confederation met in Quebec City, Quebec, for the Quebec Conference, where the Seventy-Two Resolutions were created – the plan for confederation. By 1866, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada had agreed to confederation. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island were opposed. In the final conference of confederation held in 1866 in London, England the agreement to confederate was completed.

In 1867 the agreement was brought to the British Parliament, which passed the British North America Act creating the Dominion of Canada. Upon the creation of the Dominion of Canada, the Province of Canada was then divided into the individual provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Macdonald was asked by the first Governor General of Canada Charles Monck, to form the first government. He was subsequently knighted on Canada Day, 1 July 1867, the only colonial leader ever to receive that honour.[citation needed]

Macdonald in 1870, age 55

First term as prime minister, 1867–1871

Queen Victoria knighted John A. Macdonald for playing an integral role in bringing about Confederation. His appointment as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George was announced at the birth of the Dominion, 1 July 1867. An election was held in August which put Macdonald and his Conservative party into power.

Macdonald's vision as prime minister was to enlarge the country and unify it. Accordingly, under his rule Canada bought Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory from the Hudson's Bay Company for £300,000 (about $11,500,000 in modern Canadian dollars). This became the Northwest Territories. In 1870 Parliament passed the Manitoba Act, creating the province of Manitoba out of a portion of the Northwest Territories in response to the Red River Rebellion led by Louis Riel.

Second term and resignation over Pacific Scandal, 1871–1873

Macdonald in November 1883, age 68

In 1871 Britain added British Columbia to Confederation, making it the sixth province. Macdonald promised a transcontinental railway connection to persuade the province to join, which his opponents decried as a highly unrealistic and expensive promise. In 1873 Prince Edward Island joined Confederation, and Macdonald created the North-West Mounted Police (now called the "Royal Canadian Mounted Police") on the advice of the Northwest Territories government, to act as a police force for the vast Northwest Territories.[34]

In 1873, Macdonald was accused of taking bribes to award contracts for the construction of the railway. The Pacific Scandal broke and Macdonald was forced to resign on 5 November 1873. Liberal leader Alexander Mackenzie formed a caretaker government. After New Years, 1874, the Liberals called an election. Macdonald's Tories were unable to recover from the scandal and the Liberals formed a majority government. This election was also the first in Canada to use a secret ballot.

Final years as prime minister, 1878–1891

1890 painting of Macdonald, age 75, by Robert Harris

In 1878 on the strength of the National Policy, a plan to promote trade within the country by protecting it from the industries of other nations. He also promised to renew the effort to complete the previously promised Canadian Pacific Railway. Macdonald won re-election as prime minister again in 1882. In 1884, Macdonald introduced a bill that would have given unmarried women with the required qualifications Dominion franchise, but the bill was defeated by the house. The CPR was completed in 1885, after several refinancing plans to cover shortfalls for the very expensive project, plunging Canada heavily into debt. Also in 1885, Louis Riel returned to Canada from exile in the United States, and launched the North-West Rebellion in the District of Saskatchewan (at that time part of the Northwest Territories) in a bid for independence, but now that there was a railway through the area, militia were quickly sent to put it down; troops travelling from central Canada reached the site in eleven days.[35] The success of this operation gave the CPR enough political capital to garner sufficient support to complete its construction. The trial and subsequent execution of Riel for treason caused a deep political division between French Canadians, who supported Riel (a culturally French Métis and devoutly Catholic) and English Canadians, who supported Macdonald.

A Conservative election poster from 1891

In 1891, Macdonald won the elections again, but by this time, the 76-year-old political warhorse started to feel the years of overwork, stress, drink and several bouts of severe illness, including a gallstone problem in 1870 that turned his office into a sick room for two months. On 29 May 1891, Sir John A. suffered a severe stroke, which robbed him of the ability to speak, and from which he would never recover. He died a week later on 6 June 1891 at the age of 76. He would lie in state in the Canadian Senate Chamber (prime ministers now lie in state in the Hall of Honour in the Centre Block) where grieving Canadians turned out in the thousands to pay their respects. His state funeral was held on June 9, attended by hundreds of thousands of people.[citation needed] He is buried in Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston, Ontario. None of his children left heirs; he is survived by relative Hugh Gainsford.[citation needed]

Personal life

Tragic first marriage

Portrait Isabella Clark Macdonald, artist unknown. Donald Creighton writes that within two years, her marriage to John A. became "a grey, unrelieved tragedy."
Library and Archives Canada.

John A. Macdonald's adult life was marked by sickness, death, drunkenness and tragedy. Yet, he rose above his private unhappiness and personal failings to become a well-loved and highly successful public figure, applying "all his passion to politics".[36] He officially became head of his family on 29 September 1841, with the sudden death of his father Hugh from a brain hemorrhage.[37] Now, John was solely responsible for the financial support of his mother and two unmarried sisters. Fortunately, his law practice was going well and his income was supplemented by extensive business activities. He served for example, as a director of the prosperous Commercial Bank of the Midland District as well as its lawyer. The Bank provided him with a large part of his income.[38] He also bought real estate and eventually became a director of a dozen Kingston companies.[39]

But at the same time, he frequently suffered from an undiagnosed illness. The symptoms, weakness and listlessness, began in 1840 and continued sporadically throughout 1841.[40] Macdonald decided he needed a complete rest, and in January 1842 he set sail for Britain, his pockets full of the money (about two thousand dollars) he had won during three nights of playing the card game Loo.[41] Macdonald's trip proved to be fateful. He recovered his health and met his first cousin Isabella Clark.[42] Isabella's features were gentle and tranquil, according to biographer Donald Creighton, "her hair brushed smoothly away from its centre part in the demure fashion of the 1840s."[43] She also had "large, beautiful blue eyes with an imploring expression that melted more than one observer's heart."[44] "Isa," as Macdonald called her, followed him home to Kingston and on 1 September 1843, they were married. Macdonald was 28, Isabella, 34.[45]

For the first year, the Macdonalds lived the life of a happy, successful couple. John had been elected city alderman a few months before his marriage, so he was now a prominent local politician, and his law partnership with his former student, Alexander Campbell, continued to flourish.[46] In the fall of 1844, Macdonald was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament for Kingston.[47] Then, in 1845, everything changed when his beloved "Isa" got sick. She suffered periodic attacks that included severe headaches and numbness. Biographer Patricia Phenix writes that Isabella was diagnosed "as suffering everything from tic douloureux, a devastating pain in the fifth nerve of her face, to 'uterine neuralgia.'"[48]. To relieve the pain, she drank liquid opium as well as sherry. The opium and alcohol combined with the painful attacks left her groggy, exhausted and bedridden.[49] Her chronic illness may also have had psychological causes rooted in an "hysterical personality" compounded by migraine headaches and her dependence on opium.[50] As the illness continued, Macdonald feared Isabella would die. "The warm, pleasant edifice of his domestic happiness," Donald Creighton writes, "was crumbling towards utter ruin."[51]

Macdonald's two sons

John responded to his wife's protracted illness by taking her to Savannah, Georgia where he hoped the warm climate and the company of her sisters would restore her health. They set off on their journey in the summer of 1845. The trip turned out to be long and grueling with Isabella often unable to walk and suffering excruciating pain. They first joined Isabella's sisters in New Haven, Connecticut, finally reaching Savannah in late November. John A. was anxious to return home to continue his political career. He had to remain in the American south however, until Isabella's sisters arrived in mid-January 1846. He would not see his wife again until Christmas when they were reunited in New York City.[52] There, Isabella became pregnant. After Macdonald returned to Canada, she remained under medical care in New York.[53] Their first son, John Alexander, was born in New York on 3 August 1847, after a long and agonizing labour.[54] "His eyes are dark blue, very large & nose to match," Macdonald wrote to his sister-in-law. "When born his length was 1 foot 9 inches & was strong and healthy, though thin."[55]

Miniature of an oil painting depicting the infant, Hugh John Macdonald in a gold locket.
Library and Archives Canada.

Macdonald rented Bellevue House in Kingston in 1848 in the hope that the fresh suburban air and quiet would help Isabella's condition after her return from New York. This experiment, however, was a failure. Worse still, shortly after the Macdonalds moved into their new home, 13-month-old John Alexander was found dead in his crib, a possible victim of SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome.[56] Isabella became pregnant again in 1849, yet another miracle for a 40-year-old chronically ill woman.[57] Their second son, Hugh John, was born on 13 March 1850. "We have got Johnnie back again," Macdonald wrote to his sister. "I don't think he is so pretty, but he is not so delicate. He was born fat & coarse."[58]

Hugh John and his father were never close. The boy was raised by Macdonald's sister Margaret and her husband, James Williamson, after Isabella's death in 1857.

Debt and drinking

Macdonald's frequent absences from his law practice to care for Isabella and the expenses of providing medical and nursing care drove him into heavy debt. Salaries for politicians during this period were meager stipends. His partner objected to his casual habit of using law firm revenues to pay his expenses and in 1849, Alexander Campbell decided to leave the partnership.[59] Macdonald had already turned to the bottle for solace during the 12 lonely years of Isabella's illness. They were years in which, according to Donald Creighton, he had become "a bachelor husband who had to go for companionship to bars and lounges and smoking rooms; a frustrated host who drank too much on occasion, partly because it was the only way he could entertain, and because it passed the empty time, and because it was an easy way to forget."[60] According to Richard Gwyn, a biographer, Sir John was not a steady alcoholic but rather a binge drinker. Long periods of abstinence would precede bouts of intense inebriation lasting weeks. Once while debating an opponent the drunken Sir John flooded the speaker's podium with vomit. He apologized to the crowd by explaining that whenever he heard his opponent speak he would lose his stomach. Macdonald was well known for his wit and also for his alcoholism. Two apocryphal stories are commonly repeated; the first describing an election debate in which Macdonald was so drunk he began vomiting while on stage. His opponent quickly pointed this out and said: "Is this the man you want running your country? A drunk!" Collecting himself, Macdonald replied "I get sick ... not because of drink [but because] I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent."[62] The second version has Macdonald responding to his opponent's query of his drunkenness with "It goes to show that I would rather have a drunk Conservative than a sober Liberal."

Second marriage and daughter

In 1867, at the age of 52, Macdonald married his second wife Susan Agnes Bernard (1836–1920). They had one daughter, Margaret Mary Theodora Macdonald (1869–1933), who was born with hydrocephalus and suffered from physical and mental disabilities. Macdonald always hoped she would recover, but she never did. She died in 1933.

Supreme Court appointments

Macdonald chose the following jurists to be appointed as justices of the Supreme Court of Canada by the Governor General:


Macdonald was a Freemason, initiated in 1844 at St. John’s Lodge No. 5 in Kingston. In 1868, he was named by the United Grand Lodge of England as its Grand Representative near the Grand Lodge of Canada (in Ontario) and the rank of Past Grand Senior Warden conferred upon him. He continued to represent the Grand Lodge of England until his death in 1891. His commission, together with his apron and earmuffs, are in the Masonic Temple at Kingston, along with his regalia as Past Grand Senior Warden. Among the books in his library was a very rare copy of the first Masonic book published in Canada, A History of Freemasonry in Nova Scotia (1786).[61][62]


  • Macdonald played an integral role in the trial of John Anderson, an escaped slave from Missouri.
  • Macdonald's temper sometimes got the better of him, such as in one incident in the House of Commons when Donald Smith angered him so much, that he charged across the Commons floor to physically attack him. While he was restrained, Macdonald was unrepentant, proclaiming "I'll lick him faster than Hell can scorch a feather!"
  • Macdonald resembled British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. At Disraeli's funeral in 1881, another British official thought that he saw Disraeli's ghost in attendance, although it was actually Macdonald.
  • The Vancouver Sun reported on June 30, 2005, that Macdonald's birthplace in Glasgow, Scotland, was under threat of demolition.
  • Macdonald's private train car, which he named The Jamaica, was given to him by the Canadian Pacific Railway for his work on the railway.
  • According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Macdonald's nicknames included Old Chieftain and Old Tomorrow, for his habit of putting off any large political problems until conditions were personally favourable to him.[63]
  • Macdonald's nephew Newton Ford was the father of iconic Canadian-born American actor Glenn Ford.[64]
  • As of 2008, Macdonald was the first of two Canadian Prime Ministers to die in office (The other was John Thompson).
  • Macdonald was the favourite target of the "Grip" magazine's premier cartoonist John Wilson Bengough, who came to fame by ridiculing Macdonald's government during the Pacific Scandal.


Statue of John A. Macdonald outside the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto.
Macdonald's funeral train carried his remains on 10 June 1891, from Ottawa to Kingston.

Macdonald is depicted on the Canadian ten-dollar bill. He also has bridges (Macdonald-Cartier Bridge), airports (Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, and highways (Macdonald-Cartier Freeway) named after him, as well as statues and a plethora of schools across the country. In Kingston, Macdonald Park and Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard are both named in his honour, and a large bronze statue of the man stands at the corner of King and West streets, in the southeastern corner of Macdonald Park. The law building at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario is named in his honour. The Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton and Macdonald House, part of Canada's high commission in London, are also named for him.

Our Premier [music] / words by George Frederick Cameron; music by Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann Kingston, Ontario C.J Cameron, c 1885 in honour of John A. Macdonald [65] Macdonald and his son, Hugh John Macdonald, briefly sat together in the Canadian House of Commons before the elder Macdonald's death.

In 1999, after a survey of Canadian historians covering all the Prime Ministers up through Jean Chrétien, J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer showed that Macdonald was ranked second, only beaten out of first place by William Lyon Mackenzie King.

In 2004, Macdonald was nominated as one of the top 10 "Greatest Canadians" by viewers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is considered by some Canadian political scientists to be the founder of the Red Tory tradition.

The Bellevue House National Historic Site of Canada in Kingston, Ontario was Sir John Alexander Macdonald's home from 1848 to 1849.

Schools named after him:

Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate Institute, Scarborough, Ontario
Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School, Hamilton, Ontario
Sir John A. Macdonald High School, Upper Tantallon, Nova Scotia
Sir John A. Macdonald School, Calgary, Alberta
Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School, Waterloo, Ontario
Sir John A. Macdonald High School, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Sir John A. Macdonald School, Belleville, Ontario
Sir John A. Macdonald Public School, Pickering, Ontario
Sir John A Macdonald Middle School, Brampton, Ontario

Biographical and historical studies

  • Bliss, Michael. (1994) Right Honourable Men: The Descent of Canadian Politics from Macdonald to Mulroney.
  • Bowering, George. (1999) Egotists and Autocrats: The Prime Ministers of Canada.
  • Careless, J.M.S. (1963) Canada: A Story of Challenge. (Revised Edition) Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
  • Collins, Joseph Edmund. (1883) Life and times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald: Premier of the Dominion of Canada
  • Creighton, Donald. (1952) John A. Macdonald: The Young Politician vol 1: 1815–1867. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited.
  • Creighton, Donald. (1955) John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain vol 2: 1867–1891. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited.
  • Creighton, Donald. (1964) The Road to Confederation: The Emergence of Canada: 1863–1867. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
  • Granatstein, J.L. and Hillmer, Norman (1999) Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders. Toronto: HarperCollinsPublishingLtd. P. 15-28. ISBN 0-00-200027-X.
  • Guillet, Edwin C, (1967) You'll Never Die, John A!. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
  • Gwyn, Richard. (2007) The Man Who Made Us: The Life and Times of Sir John A. Macdonald. vol 1: 1815–1867. Random House Canada.
  • Hutchison, Bruce. (1964) Mr. Prime Minister 1867–1964. Toronto: Longmans Canada.
  • Johnson, J.K. (1969) Affectionately Yours: The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald and His Family. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada.
  • Johnson, J.K. and Waite, P.B. (2007) "Sir John Alexander Macdonald," in Canada's Prime Ministers, Macdonald to Trudeau: Portraits from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • McSherry, James. (1984) The invisible lady: Sir John A. Macdonald's first wife. In Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, pp. 91–97.
  • Phenix, Patricia. (2006) Private Demons, The Tragic Personal Life of John A. Macdonald. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.
  • Pope, Joseph. (1894) Memoirs of the Right Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald, G.C.B., First Prime Minister of The Dominion of Canada, Vols. 1&2. Ottawa: J. Durie & Son.
  • Pope, Joseph. (1915) The Day of Sir John Macdonald: A Chronicle of the First Prime Minister of the Dominion. Toronto: Brook & Co.
  • Pope, Joseph (1921) Correspondence of Sir John Macdonald: selections from the correspondence of Sir John Alexander Macdonald. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
  • Sletcher, Michael. (2004) "Sir John A. Macdonald," in James Eli Adams, and Tom and Sara Pendergast, eds., Encyclopedia of the Victorian Era. 4 vols., Danbury, CT: Grolier Academic Reference.
  • Swainson, Donald. (1989) Sir John A. Macdonald: The Man and the Politician. Kingston, ON: Quarry Press.
  • Waite, P. B. (1971) Canada 1874–1896: Arduous Destiny. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
  • Waite, P. B. (1975) Macdonald: His Life and World. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited. ISBN 0-07-082301-4.
  • Waite, P. B. (1976) + (1999) John A. Macdonald. Don Mills, ON: Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited.
  • Wallace, W. Stewart. (1924) Sir John Macdonald. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited.


  1. ^ Pope, Sir Joseph (1930) Memoirs of The Right Honourable John Alexander Macdonald. Toronto: ON: The Musson Book Company Ltd., p.3. Pope relates that Hugh Macdonald recorded the time of Sir John's birth as 4:15, January 11, 1815.
  2. ^ Waite, P.B. (1976) John A. Macdonald. Don Mills: ON: Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited, p.7.
  3. ^ Phenix, Patricia. (2007) Private Demons: The Tragic Personal Life of John A. Macdonald. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd. p.6.
  4. ^ Swainson, Donald. (1989) Sir John A. Macdonald: The Man and the Politician. Kingston, ON: Quarry Press, p.17.
  5. ^ Pope, Joseph. (1894) Memoirs of the Right Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald, vol.1. Ottawa: J. Durie and Son, p.5. The death was treated as an accident.
  6. ^ Pope, p.3.
  7. ^ Creighton, Donald (1952) John A. Macdonald: The Young Politician. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited, p.14–15.
  8. ^ Creighton, pp.17–18
  9. ^ Creighton, p.18.
  10. ^ Pope, pp.4–5.
  11. ^ Swainson, p.19.
  12. ^ Creighton, p.19.
  13. ^ Pope, p.6.
  14. ^ Gwyn, p.34.
  15. ^ Gwyn, pp.46–47.
  16. ^ Creighton, p.25.
  17. ^ Swainson, p.21.
  18. ^ Creighton, p.34.
  19. ^ Swainson, pp.21&23.
  20. ^ Johnson J.K. and Waite P.B. (2007) "Sir John Alexander Macdonald" in Canada's Prime Ministers, Macdonald to Trudeau: Portraits from the Canadian Dictionary of Biography, p.1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  21. ^ Pope, p.8.
  22. ^ Gwyn, pp.48–49.
  23. ^ Gwyn, p.49.
  24. ^ The details of these cases are recounted in Gywn, pp.49–50.
  25. ^ a b Creighton, p.68.
  26. ^ Quoted in Creighton, p.54.
  27. ^ Creighton, pp.55–58
  28. ^ Creighton, p.63.
  29. ^ Creighton, pp.63–64.
  30. ^ Creighton, pp.65–68. The information about the $100 legacy appears in Pope, p.10.
  31. ^ "Sir John A. Macdonald – Canadian Confederation". Libraries and Archives Canada. 
  32. ^ "Sir John A. Macdonald". The Quebec History Encyclopedia. 
  33. ^ Royal Heraldry Society of Canada
  34. ^ "The North-West Council". Vol II No. 197 (Manitoba Daily Free Press): pp. 8. February 19, 1876. 
  35. ^ Mr. Prime Minister 1867–1964, by Bruce Hutchison, Toronto 1964, Longmans Canada.
  36. ^ Gwyn, p. 86.
  37. ^ Phenix, p.49.
  38. ^ Swainson, p.29.
  39. ^ Gwyn, pp.54–55.
  40. ^ Swainson, p.31.
  41. ^ Creighton, p.84. The two thousand dollar figure is from Gwyn, p.55.
  42. ^ Waite, P.B. (1975) Macdonald: His Life and World. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, p.24. Waite notes that "strictly speaking" Isabella was "a half-second cousin." The two had a maternal grandmother in common.
  43. ^ Creighton, p.85.
  44. ^ Phenix, pp.56–57.
  45. ^ Phenix pp.56 & 59
  46. ^ Swainson, p.33. Macdonald concluded his partnership agreement with Campbell on the same day as his wedding. See, Phenix, p.61.
  47. ^ Creighton, p.99.
  48. ^ Phenix, p.70.
  49. ^ Phenix, pp.69–71, 82 & 86.
  50. ^ McSherry, James. (1984) "The invisible lady: Sir John A. Macdonald's first wife." In Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, pp. 91–97. See also Phenix, pp.71–72 & 77.
  51. ^ Creighton, p.112
  52. ^ Phenix gives a detailed account of the couple's arduous travels, pp.72–79.
  53. ^ Gwyn, p.83
  54. ^ Phenix, p.85.
  55. ^ Johnson, J.K. (1969) Affectionately Yours: The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald and His Family. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, p.53.
  56. ^ Phenix, pp.93–94. Phenix writes: "According to Dr. Josephine Faveraux of the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario, the rate of SIDS increases in infants and toddlers born to mothers addicted to opiates, especially if alcohol has also played a part in the equation."
  57. ^ Phenix, p.100.
  58. ^ Johnson, p.71.
  59. ^ Creighton, pp.147–149.
  60. ^ Creighton, pp.260–261.
  61. ^ Canadian Prime Ministers
  62. ^ Sir John A. Macdonald, Freemason
  63. ^ Sir John A. Macdonald: Architect of Modern Canada
  64. ^ Glenn Ford, Leading Man in Films and TV, Dies at 90
  65. ^|Telgmann|&spi=-&rp=1&vo=1 Our Premier

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

As for myself, my course is clear. A British subject I was born — a British subject I will die.

Sir John A. Macdonald (11 January 18156 June 1891) was the first Prime Minister of Canada.


  • As for myself, my course is clear. A British subject I was born — a British subject I will die. With my utmost effort, with my latest breath, will I oppose the ‘veiled treason’ which attempts by sordid means and mercenary proffers to lure our people from their allegiance.
    • February 3, 1891 as the as the 1891 election was called, fought largely over the issue of free trade with the United States. [1]
  • Let us be English or let us be French... but above all let us be Canadians.


  • Yes, but the people would prefer John A. drunk to George Brown sober.
    • Responding to a heckler. (from John A: The Man Who Made Us by Richard J. Gwyn)
  • He hoped that Britain and Canada would have "a healthy and cordial alliance. Instead of looking upon us as a merely dependent colony, England will have in us a friendly nation, a subordinate but still a powerful people to stand by her in North America in peace or in war." - 1865 [3]
  • I must have another $10,000. Will be the last time of calling. Do not fail me. Answer today.
    • Telegram to Hugh Allan, head of the Canadian Pacific Railway, six days before the 1872 election. The release of this telegram spurred the Pacific Scandal.
  • I get sick ... not because of drink [but because] I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent.
    • During the election of 1863, Sir John A. Macdonald threw up during a campaign speech and when his opponent pointed this out, Macdonald shot back with this answer.



  • We must protect the rights of minorities, and the rich are always fewer in number than the poor.
    • Sir John A. Macdonald said this in the privacy of the Quebec Conference of 1864 when they were constructing the Senate.
  • The scheme as a whole has met with almost universal approval.
    • Talking to the legistlature about confederation.
  • I would be quite willing, personally, to leave that whole country a wilderness for the next half-century but I fear if Englishmen do not go there, Yankees will.
    • Letter to Sir Edward W. Watkin-1865.
  • I say that there is a deliberate conspiracy, by force, by fraud, or by both, to force Canada into the American Union.
    • Speech, Academy of Music, Toronto-1891.
  • Anyone can support me when they think I'm right. What I want is someone that will support me when I am wrong.
  • Yes, In my Canada the rich will always be a minority
    • Asked if he believe in minority rights.
  • Ain't I the old devil though?
    • After being read aloud a long list of political mistakes.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

For other persons named John Alexander Macdonald, see John Alexander Macdonald (disambiguation)
The Right Honourable
Sir John Alexander Macdonald

In office
July 1, 1867 – November 5, 1873
Succeeded by Alexander Mackenzie
In office
October 17, 1878 – June 6, 1891
Preceded by Alexander Mackenzie
Succeeded by John Abbott

Born January 10 or 11, 1815
Glasgow, Scotland
Died June 6,1891
Ottawa, Ontario
Political party Conservative
Spouse Isabella Clark (1st wife)
Agnes Bernard (2nd wife)
Children John Alexander (died in infancy) and Hugh John by Isabella;
Mary by Agnes.
Alma mater none (articled with a lawyer in Kingston)
Profession Lawyer
Religion Presbyterian; later Anglican
Signature File:John A MacDonald

Sir John Alexander Macdonald, (January 11, 1815June 6, 1891) was the first Prime Minister of Canada and the dominant figure of Canadian Confederation. Macdonald's time in office spanned 19 years. So he was the second longest serving Prime Minister of Canada. He is the only Canadian Prime Minister who won six majority governments. He was for a national railway that should link Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. That was completed in 1885.

Other websites

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Allan Napier MacNab
Joint Premiers of the Province of Canada - Canada West
1856 – 1858
Succeeded by
George Brown
Preceded by
George Brown
Joint Premiers of the Province of Canada - Canada West
1858 – 1867
Succeeded by
himself as Prime Minister of Canada and Sir John Sandfield Macdonald as Premier of Ontario
Preceded by
Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada
1867 – 1891
Succeeded by
Sir John J.C. Abbott
Preceded by
Prime Minister of Canada
1867 – 1873
Succeeded by
Alexander Mackenzie
Preceded by
Minister of Justice and Attorney General
1867 – 1873
Succeeded by
Antoine Dorion
Preceded by
Alexander Mackenzie
Leader of the Opposition
1873 – 1878
Succeeded by
Alexander Mackenzie
Preceded by
Alexander Mackenzie
Prime Minister of Canada
1878 – 1891
Succeeded by
Sir John J.C. Abbott
Preceded by
David Mills
Minister of the Interior
1878 – 1888
Succeeded by
Edgar Dewdney
Preceded by
John Henry Pope
Minister of Railways and Canals
1889 – 1891
Succeeded by
Mackenzie Bowell (acting)
Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
Member of Parliament for Kingston
1867 – 1878
Succeeded by
Alexander Gunn
Preceded by
Francis James Roscoe
Member of Parliament for Victoria
1878 – 1882
Succeeded by
E.C. Baker
Preceded by
John Rochester
Member of Parliament for Carleton
1882 – 1887
Succeeded by
George Dickinson
Preceded by
Alexander Gunn
Member of Parliament for Kingston
1887 – 1891
Succeeded by
James H. Metcalfe
Prime Ministers of Canada
Macdonald | Mackenzie | Macdonald | Abbott | Thompson | Bowell | Tupper | Laurier | Borden | Meighen | King | Meighen | King | Bennett | King | St. Laurent | Diefenbaker | Pearson | Trudeau | Clark | Trudeau | Turner | Mulroney | Campbell | Chrétien | Martin | Harper
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