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Canadian Confederation and its Leaders
Sir John A. Macdonald



(1815-1891)

MANY men brought precious gifts for the minting of Confederation; John A. Macdonald brought the supreme gift of leadership. George Brown had paved the way in Upper Canada by years of agitation. George Etienne Cartier, with undaunted courage, overcame the racial opposition in Lower Canada. Samuel Leonard Tilley persisted until New Brunswick’s distrust and suspicion melted away. Charles Tupper battered down Nova Scotia’s hostility, and broke Joseph Howe, the idol of the Province. Each in his role was indispensable, but no other alone could have united the strong men of the scattered colonies. That was the peculiar task allotted by destiny to Macdonald. Brown suspended the political and personal hatreds of a lifetime to become Macdonald’s ally. Cartier, champion of the French-Canadians, who still imagined the slights of a conquered race, rallied to the rival Upper Canadian. Tilley and Tupper were Macdonald’s friends from the first, and, inspired by him, fought the union cause to victory in their owa Provinces. With the exception of Brown the alliance between these four local leaders was enduring. The coalition formed and the foundations for union laid, he left the Cabinet on slight pretext, and the old relations of antagonism were resumed.

Macdonald was richly dowered by nature for duties of leadership. He possessed that rare and indescribable quality called personal magnetism, which attracted men even though political opponents. He had an insinuating voice and manner which commanded affection, down through the decades from his entry into law until, as an old man, his name was surrounded by a party halo. In one of his first cases in a law court the argument became so hot that he got into a fight with the rival counsel. The court constable, who was an admirer, shouted the message of his duty, “Order in the court,” but under his breath encouraged his friend with the words, “Hit him, John.” And so throughout his life he took and gave many hard blows in politics, but compelled a personal following even within the opposing party. He was not a man of eloquence, but he had a ready flow of aggressive argument, and rarely failed to unite and stimulate his party. In a debate in the House he often turned his back on the Speaker to directly address his followers, and the appeal was so personal that when the division bells rang “John A.” was secure against all assaults. He had an uncanny memory for names and details of family history, which bound even a casual acquaintance to him for all time.

Laying aside, therefore, for the moment, Macdonald’s vision and statesmanship, his human qualities gave him a permanent ascendancy. In his day, when the country was smaller and contact with the people more intimate, this was important. Wherever he went he was followed by a crowd who unblushingly addressed him as “John A.” They flocked to his railway coach, they hung about his carriage, and they invaded his hotel rooms. This could not happen to any of his great contemporaries. Edward Blake, despite his great parliamentary ability and his all-encompassing brain, was beside him a cold and austere figure. Alexander Mackenzie inspired confidence by his industry, his integrity and his platform gifts, but he had few social graces. Oliver Mowat was a faithful, honest public servant, who lived, comparatively, behind closed doors. George E. Cartier was a highstrung executive, with few moments of relaxation. Samuel Leonard Tilley, genial and straightforward, was encased in respectability. Charles Tupper was a bulldog for a hard, unpleasant party job, with a face and manner set for his task.

John A. Macdonald lived almost his whole life in the country whose greatness owed much to his vision and statecraft. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on January 11, 1815. His father, Hugh Macdonald, was a manufacturer in a small way. Being somewhat unsuccessful, the family moved to the new world in 1820, settling at Kingston, then the largest town in Upper Canada. It had a population of 2,500 and was adjacent to the Loyalist settlements lining the Bay of Quinte. A stage coach then ran to York (Toronto), which had still another rival in the then busy town of Niagara. Hugh Macdonald lived until 1841, and during his remaining years settled at various points, including Adolphustown and Stone Mills, returning again to Kingston. His peripatetic habits gave the son glimpses of Canadian life in various beautiful settings, in an environment breathing intense loyalty to the Sovereign.

It also bred self-reliance in a boy who had only five years in the Kingston Grammar School as a normal education before he set out in the world for himself and for the assistance of his mother and sister. His subsequent achievements were striking evidence of his natural ability, his observation and experience. The lanky form of Macdonald thus bore more than one point of resemblance to the rail splitter Lincoln of Illinois. “He was the biggest boy in school. I remember how hard he worked in those days,” said Sir Oliver Mowat in recalling their school-days in Kingston.

Young Macdonald began his legal studies at the age of 15 in the office of George Mackenzie of Kingston. By 1836 he was called to the Bar and opened an office of his own. The youth joined the militia during the Rebellion of 1837, and for some years later was a sympathizer with the Tory “Family Compact” party rather than with the agitators for constitutional change. He entered public life as an alderman in Kingston in 1843, and the following year was elected to the Assembly. It is a curious coincidence that at his first election he declared his “firm belief that the prosperity of Canada depends upon its permanent connection with the mother country,” and that in his last campaign, in 1891, he gave his party the rallying cry, “A British subject I was born—a British subject I will die.”

It was not long before he became prominent in his party, and in March, 1847, he accepted the invitation of Prime Minister W. H. Draper to enter the Cabinet, but went out of office a few months later on the defeat of the Government. He joined in the fight in 1849 against the Rebellion Losses Bill, which so roused Montreal that the Parliament Buildings were burned and Lord Elgin insulted by the angry mob. The manifesto praying for annexation to the United States followed, but Macdonald refused to be stampeded into signing it. The Baldwin-Lafontaine Government, which had inaugurated responsible government, was nearing its end and retired in 1851. The Hincks-Morin Government ruled until 1854, when a coalition was formed which, largely through Macdonald’s influence, agreed to abolish seigniorial tenure in Lower Canada and to secularize the clergy reserves in Upper Canada, two reforms which had been sought by progressive men for many years. By the next year Macdonald and George E. Cartier were the real if not the nominal rulers, and their power lasted with few breaks until 1873. Other men, like Sir Allan MacNab and Sir E. P. Tache, held the Premiership for intervals, but Macdonald and Cartier were the master minds.

Now began in earnest the long fight between Macdonald and Brown, which in a measure hastened Confederation, and yet which had to end in a truce before Confederation was possible. Macdonald and Cartier were in a hard-and-fast alliance, and the former would do nothing to offend Lower Canada. Brown, on the other hand, conducted a bitter campaign against the Lower Province and agitated for increased representation for Upper Canada, whose growth was outstripping the other. Macdonald then, as ever after, upheld the French and the Roman Catholics, depending on other means for Protestant support.

On E. P. Tache’s retirement in 1857 Macdonald became Premier, and in the ensuing election the Reformers, led by Brown, advocated non-sectarian schools and representation by population. A defeat on a motion opposing Ottawa as the permanent capital led the Government to resign, but after two days in office their successors, the Brown-Dorion Cabinet, also resigned and the readjusted Cartier-Macdonald Government took the reins.

The country was now approaching its worst state of political backwater. There was neither safe majority nor stability for either party. Added to party warfare were inter-provincial and racial jealousies. Brown was insistent in his demand for the rights of Upper Canada, in view of her more rapidly growing population, and Cartier as strongly insisted on the bond of equal representation as laid down in the Union Act. The United Provinces drifted rapidly towards chaos and deadlock. In three years prior to the coalition of 1864 four Cabinets resigned and there were two general elections. Administrations held office as by a thread; partisanship and personalities clouded reason and prevented progress. In turn, the Cartier-Macdonald, the Sandfield Macdonald-Sicotte, the Sandfield Macdonald-Dorion and the Tache-Macdonald Cabinets were formed and went under.

Though Canada was torn by party strife and the Maritime Provinces were looking for relief by a union of their own, events were shaping for a larger end than most men considered possible. George Brown’s special committee reported on June 14, 1864, that “a strong feeling was found to exist among the members of the committee in favor of changes in the direction of a federative system, applying either to Canada alone or to the whole of the British North American provinces.” The events of this and succeeding days reflect the chaotic and changing state of the times. John A. Macdonald opposed the report submitted by Brown’s committee, though in 1861 he had given it as his opinion that in “a union of all the British North American provinces would be found the remedy for the evils of which Mr. Brown and his friends from Upper Canada complained. Before the end of June, 1864, Macdonald was fighting in the coalition negotiations for the larger union and Brown was striving to confine the scheme to the two Canadas.

The Tache-Macdonald Cabinet was defeated on June 14, and on all sides it was recognized that deadlock had come and only a daring course could save the situation. On the following morning George Brown spoke to several supporters of the administration, “urging that the present crisis should be utilized in settling forever the constitutional difficulties between Upper and Lower Canada and assuring them that he was prepared to co-operate with the existing or any other administration that would deal with the question promptly and firmly.”

Alexander Morris and J. H. Pope carried the message to Macdonald and Galt, and on Thursday afternoon the House had the spectacle, before the Speaker took the chair, of the two bitter rivals, Brown and Macdonald, in the centre of the room in earnest converse. Negotiations continued for several days, resulting in an agreement to form a coalition, to include three Upper Canada Reformers, one of whom must be Brown himself, as a guarantee for the adhesion of his friends.

Brown’s view during the negotiations was that union of all the Provinces “ought to come and would come about ere long; but it had yet to be thoroughly considered by the people, and even were this otherwise there were so many parties to be consulted that its adoption was uncertain and remote.”

Macdonald and Brown threw themselves with vigor into the work of the new alliance. News of a conference at Charlottetown, at which Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were to consider a Maritime Union, reached Quebec, and an order in Council was passed on August 29 permitting participation in that meeting, and after a telegram had been sent a party of eight Canadian Ministers left by the government steamer Queen Victoria for the Island capital. Looking at it now, this course of action appears exceedingly daring, but the Charlottetown conferees graciously suspended action until the Canadian party arrived, when they opened their doors to hear the visitors’ views.

[The delegates to the Charlottetown Conference were:—From Nova Scotia: Charles Tupper, William A. Henry, Robert B. Dickey, Jonathan McCully, Adams G. Archibald. From New Brunswick: Samuel Leonard Tilley, John M. Johnson, John Hamilton Gray, Edward B. Chandler, W. H. Steeves. From Prince Edward Island: Col. John Hamilton Gray, Edward Palmer, W. H. Pope, George Coles, A. A. Macdonald. From Canada: George Brown, John A. Macdonald, Alexander T. Galt, George E. Cartier, Hector L. Langevin, William McDougall, T. D'Arcy McGee and Alexander Campbell.]

There is a touch of irony about the Charlottetown Conference. It was called by the three Maritime Provinces to consider a union of their own. Canada sent its delegates on chance and uninvited, as Sir John Macdonald afterwards said. They were captains adventurous, sailing uncharted political seas in search of a new Canada. The meeting was held in the capital of the Province that was first to withdraw from the scheme after the Quebec Conference. But on the surface all was smooth sailing. Governor George Dundas of the Island welcomed the visitors, the meetings were held in the Provincial Building, which still stands, and, according to a chronicler of the day, “the delegates enjoyed the hospitalities of the town.” The meetings were of the most secret character, and no one outside had the least comprehension of the far-reaching negotiations that were proceeding. Mr. Galt and other Canadians made such a favorable impression on the easterners that a Maritime Union was declared impracticable, and it was decided to continue the deliberations at Quebec in October. Speeches made en route at Halifax, St. John and other points lifted the veil somewhat, and in a few weeks the movement was widely known, though its details were as yet carefully guarded.

At a banquet at Charlottetown Col. John Hamilton Gray, Premier of the Island and Chairman of the Conference, said he “sincerely and profoundly believed that this visit would be productive of much good and serve as a happy harbinger of such a union of sentiment and interests among the three and a half millions of free men who now inhabit British America as neither time or change can forever destroy.”

This felicitous sentiment brought suitable response from John A. Macdonald, who thought the convention would lead to the formation and establishment of a union which would enhance materially the individual and collective prosperity of the Provinces, and give them national prowess and strength which would make them “at least the fourth nation on the face of the globe.”

It appears from the above, and from Macdonald’s speech at Halifax a few days later, that his views and his optimism for the union were rapidly evolving and developing. At the Halifax banquet on September 12 he said:

“The question of colonial union is one of such magnitude that it dwarfs every other question on this portion of the continent. It absorbs every idea as far as I am concerned. For twenty long years I have been dragging myself through the dreary waste of colonial politics. I thought there was no end, nothing worthy of ambition, but now I see something which is well worthy of all I have suffered in the cause of my little country. This question has now assumed a position that demands and commands the attention of all the colonies of British America. There may be obstructions, local prejudices may arise, disputes may occur, local jealousies may intervene, but it matters not—the wheel is now revolving and we are only the fly on the wheel; we cannot delay it—the union of the colonies of British America under the Sovereign is a fixed fact.”

Macdonald pointed to the gallant defence then being made by the Southern republic of four millions, and declared that perhaps in ten years a united Canada would have eight millions, able to defend their country against all comers. Already he appealed for a strong central government for the new union and declared:

“Then we shall have a great step in advance of the American Republic. It can only attain that object— a vigorous general government—we shall not have New Brunswickers, nor Nova Scotians, nor Canadians, but British Americans under the sway of the British Sovereign. ... I hope that we will be enabled to work out a constitution that will have a strong central government, able to offer a powerful resistance to any foe whatever, and at the same time will preserve for each Province its own identity, and will protect every local ambition.”

After sowing the seed of union—but, alas, in stony ground at that time—in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the delegates, proceeding leisurely, made their way up the majestic St. Lawrence, whose autumn-tinted shores were a continuous stimulant for the avid travellers, to Quebec, then the capital of United Canada.

The occasion and setting of the Quebec Conference were worthy of the event. The cradle of New France, where Champlain had set up the first white man’s habitation, in 1608, in what is now Canada, became the base of the great Dominion. The Conference met in the Parliament Building near the Grand Battery, overlooking the St. Lawrence and the Beauport shore, the scene of the first settlements of a great Dominion. The guardian citadel towered above, and a little beyond lay the plains of Abraham where Wolfe wrested an empire from the declining France of that day. On the site of the Parliament Building once stood the Bishop’s Palace, the home of Bishop Laval, and in its chapel met the first Parliament of Canada in 1792, called by Lord Dorchester after the passage of the Constitutional Act. There still lives in Quebec Mr. P. B. Casgrain, aged 90, who in his youth danced with a chaperone who as a debutante had danced with Lord Dorchester at the opening ball in the old building. Thus two lives have spanned and touched 125 fruitful years of Canadian history.

It fell to the veteran Premier of Canada, Sir E. P. Tache, to preside over the Quebec Conference, which opened on October 10. Sir Etienne was a respected and experienced statesman, but he was now 69 years old and was past his prime as a political force. His selection was a compliment to his race, not without significance. John A. Macdonald was a vital influence in shaping the proceedings. He was now almost 50 years old, and at the height of his powers. He knew when to “take occasion by the hand,” and had thrown all his ardor into the cause of union. He had quietly made friends with the Maritime leaders, a circumstance of much value later on.

Macdonald moved, on the second day, the main affirmative resolution of the Conference, which was seconded by Tilley. This was to the effect that “the best interests and present and future prosperity of British North America will be promoted by a federal union under the Crown of Great Britain, provided such union can be effected on principles just to the several Provinces.”

Speaking to this motion Macdonald said the time for union had arrived, and if the opportunity were let slip the scheme might be abandoned in despair. “Canada,” he said, as reported in Pope’s Memoir, “cannot remain as she is at present, and if we come to no decision here, we Canadians must address ourselves to the alternative and reconstruct our government. Once driven to that, it will be too late for a general federation. We cannot, having brought our people to accept a Canadian federation, propose to them the question of a larger union.” He remarked that in England federation would be considered as showing a desire for independence, and maintained that the colonial question had never been fairly represented to the people of England.

“If organized as a confederacy, our increased importance would soon become manifest,” he went on. “Our present isolated and defenceless position is no doubt a serious embarrassment to England. If it were not for the weakness of Canada, Great Britain might have joined France in acknowledging the Southern Confederacy. We must therefore become important, not only to England but in the eyes of foreign states, and especially of .the United States, who have found it impossible to conquer four millions of Southern whites. Our united population would reach that number. For the sake of securing peace to ourselves and our posterity, we must make ourselves powerful. The great security for peace is to convince the world of our strength by being united.”

Macdonald then laid down his beliefs in centralization of power, a principle which brought him into conflict with Oliver Mowat later on. “In framing the constitution,” he said, “care should be taken to avoid the mistakes and weaknesses of the United States system, the primary error of which was the reservation to the different states of all powers not delegated to the general government. We must reserve this process by establishing a strong central government to which shall belong all powers not specially conferred on the provinces. Canada, in my opinion, is better off as she stands than she would be as a member of a confederacy composed of five sovereign states, which would be the result if the powers of the local governments were not defined. A strong central government is indispensable to the success of the experiment we are trying. Under it we shall be able to work out a system having for its basis constitutional liberty as opposed to democratic license.”

With the spectacle of a rent and bleeding republic before them, with the possible menace of its vast military machine, once released from its deadly duties, the Conference proceeded rapidly to an agreement on the essentials of union. John A. Macdonald’s view prevailed in regard to reserving the unallotted powers to 30 -the central government. An overwhelming majority favored a nominative Upper House, while provision was made for the admission of the great unknown Northwest Territories and British Columbia “on such terms as might be deemed equitable or agreed upon when they.were admitted or applied for admission into the contemplated union.”

The financial question caused much vexation, because the systems in Canada and the Maritime Provinces differed so widely. The former had local government and local taxation, while in the latter there was no such thing and the Provincial Government was the source of all. public wealth and benefactions. When the effort to reach an agreement was all but abandoned a sub-committee of Finance Ministers reached a basis upon which all subsequently came together, resulting in the federal subsidy to the provinces according to population.

The memorable Quebec Conference closed on October 28, and the delegates travelled in a body to Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, Niagara Falls and intervening points, shedding light as they went, encouraging support in the west but causing misgivings in the east. The Conference had been purely unofficial, and the delegates from each province returned to secure endorsation of the proposals.

Canada’s Ministers faced Parliament early in 1865 and the stage was set for the greatest debate in the history of the country. Appreciating its importance, the Government arranged for a full report of it, which fortunately is available to posterity in a volume of upwards of 1,000 pages. Parliament opened in old Quebec on January 19, and early in February the Quebec resolutions were up for debate. Sir E. P. Tache moved them in the Legislative Council and John A. Macdonald in the Assembly. Attorney-General Macdonald’s speech was an exposition of the scheme in general terms; more detailed figures and arguments were left for succeeding speakers. Macdonald was able to say that the Quebec resolutions had met with general, if not universal, approbation in Canada. The subject was not a new one, he declared, but had attracted attention of statesmen and politicians for years. It had first been pressed on the attention of the Legislature by Mr. Galt some years before in an elaborate speech, but had not been taken up by any party as a branch of its policy until the formation of the Cartier-Macdonald Government a few months later in 1858. The deadlock in the United Provinces had reached its climax the previous year (1864), with “a danger of impending anarchy,” and a succession of governments, weak in numbers, in force and in power of doing good. The coalition government was formed, though the gentlemen composing it had been for many years engaged in political hostilities to such an extent that it affected their social relations. But the crisis was great, the danger imminent, and they laid aside their personal feelings to reach a conclusion satisfactory to the country in general.

“The very mention of the scheme,” said Mr. Macdonald, whose speech was marked by plain reasoning and devoid of eloquence in the accepted sense of the word, “is fitted to bring with it its own approbation."

Supposing that in the spring of the year 1865 half a million people were coming from the United Kingdom to make Canada their home, although they brought only their strong arms and willing hearts; though they brought neither skill nor experience nor wealth, would we not receive them with open arms and hail their presence in Canada as an important addition to our strength? But when by the proposed union we not only get nearly a million of people to join us—when they contribute not only their numbers, their physical strength and their desire to benefit their position, but when we know that they consist of old-established communities having a large amount of realized wealth— composed of people possessed of skill, education, and experience in the ways of the new world—people who are as much Canadians, I may say, as we are—people who are imbued with the same feeling of loyalty to the Queen and the same desire for the continuance of the connection with the mother country as we are, and at the same time have a like feeling of ardent attachment for this, our common country, for which they and we would alike fight and shed our blood if necessary. When all this is considered, argument is needless to prove the advantage of such a union.”

Mr. Macdonald explained the main features of the proposed constitution, the differences of opinion that arose, and towards the end of his speech made this prophetic utterance:

“The colonies are now in a transition state. Gradually a different colonial system is being developed, and it will become year by year less a case of dependence on our part and of overruling protection on the part of the mother country, and more a case of healthy and gradual alliance. Instead of looking upon us as a small 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.”

The debate was rudely interrupted a month later by the news that the pro-Confederation Government in New Brunswick had been defeated, thus giving the scheme a decided set-back at the outset. Macdonald took a bold stand and declared to the Canadian House that the Government, “instead of thinking it a reason for altering their course, regard it as an additional reason for prompt and vigorous action.”

By March 11 the resolutions were adopted in the Assembly by 91 to 33 and in the Legislative Council by 45 to 15.

For more than a year thereafter the union cause lay in the balance. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island had definitely renounced the Quebec scheme for the time. The battle was yet to be won in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, but by June, 1866, the former had voted “yes” and the latter was committed to at least further negotiation in London. Lord Monck, Governor-General of Canada, became impatient, and in a letter of admonition to Macdonald threatened to resign, but Macdonald somewhat tartly asked him “to leave something to my Canadian Parliamentary experience.” Progress was further delayed by the Fenian raid into Canada, and it was late autumn before the Canadian delegates left to join those from the Maritime Provinces in London. The patience of the latter was sorely tried, for they had waited in England for several months. The British North America Act, founded on the Quebec resolutions, was framed by the delegates at a conference in London, lasting from December 4 .to 24, at which, according to Lord Blatch-ford, Macdonald was “the ruling genius and spokesman.” The bill was passed as drafted by the Imperial Parliament, and received assent on March 29, 1867, becoming operative on July 1, following. During his stay in London Macdonald’s second marriage took place, his bride being Miss Bernard, daughter of Hon. Thomas J. Bernard of the Jamaica Privy Council. Baroness Macdonald still (1917) survives.

Macdonald’s conspicuous part in the achievement of Confederation, as well as his experience and knowledge of conditions, marked him as the natural choice for first Premier of the Dominion. He retained the coalition idea in his first Confederation Cabinet, though the diverse elements caused him no end of irritation. In the general elections that autumn he swept all the Provinces excepting Nova Scotia, which remained in a state of smouldering rebellion until the next election in 1872. An armistice was arranged in 1868 when Sir John Macdonald—who had been knighted at Confederation—undertook a delicate mission to Halifax, and with the offer of “better terms,” moved Joseph Howe to his Cabinet and modified the discontent.

Peace in the East was followed by inevitable expansion in the West. The rights of the Hudson’s Bay Company over the Northwest Territory were purchased and the Province of Manitoba founded in 1870. British Columbia was equally necessary to give the Dominion a frontage on the Pacific, where a harassing boundary dispute was causing uneasiness. Terms, involving the construction of a railway from Canada to the coast, were agreed upon, and the Pacific Province entered the union in the summer of .1871. In the same year Macdonald took part in framing the Washington Treaty, for the settlement of disputes arising out of the Civil War, between Britain and Canada on the one hand and the United States on the other. The incident was an indication of the growing power of the Dominion in the councils of the Motherland.

The coalition government which began in June, 1864, with such a noble object ended suddenly in December, 1865, so far as George Brown was concerned, by his abrupt retirement. The ostensible cause was a difference of opinion as to the method of conducting the reciprocity negotiations with the United States. It was more likely the explosion of a condition, due to incompatibility. The two men were too headstrong to pull together in harness. Brown was not addicted to compromise and Macdonald was undoubtedly a jealous guardian of his own sway as leader. It is to the credit of both that the breach did not endanger Confederation, to which Brown continued to give his loyal support. But the pleasant relations were ended and the old enmitv was resumed. Years afterwards Macdonald described their attitude during and after coalition in the following words:

“We acted together, dined at public places together, played euchre in crossing the Atlantic, and went into society in England together; and yet on the day after he resigned we resumed our old positions and ceased to speak.”

That Nemesis which pursues all governments and sooner or later brings them down overtook the Macdonald Government in 1873. Like a thunderbolt, one spring day, Lucius Seth Huntington, Liberal member for Shefford, rose in Parliament and charged that the Government, in consideration of large sums of money supplied for election purposes, had corruptly granted to Sir Hugh Allan and his associates a charter for the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He asked for a committee of seven members to investigate, but the Government on a vote at once defeated this by 107 to 76. A few days later Macdonald carried a resolution for a committee of five. This body, however, owing to a technicality, never made an inquiry and was succeeded by a commission of three Judges. Meantime the country was rent asunder by the charges of the Liberals and the denials of the Ministerialists. Party feeling was intense, but the accusers made headway through the purloining and publication of some confidential documents. Macdonald’s own name was freely connected with the negotiations with Allan, while Cartier’s reputation suffered even more severely.

It was plain that the Government was losing ground. Sir John, in a lengthy explanation to the Governor-General, the Earl of Dufferin, contended that two companies had wanted the charter, one in Ontario and one in Quebec, that the Government had told them it could only go to an amalgamated company, that notwithstanding this Sir Hugh Allan had subscribed to the party fund, although he could gain nothing thereby.

Writing a cheery letter to Cartier, who was ill in England, a week after the charges were made, Sir John said: “The imprudence of Sir Hugh in this whole matter has amounted almost to insanity. His language has been as wild as his letters, and between you and me the examination must result greatly to his discredit.”

After the commission had closed its inquiry, Parliament met on October 23 and immediately plunged into a bitter debate on the revelations. Sir John called his friends to speak in the defence, but the party’s ranks were thinned by desertion, and disaster was seen to lie ahead. The Premier made a four-hour speech on the afternoon of November 3 and called to his aid the familiar human appeals which had never before failed to stifle discontent or rouse enthusiasm.

“I throw myself upon this House, I throw myself upon this country, I throw myself upon posterity,” he said, grandiosely; “and I believe and I know that notwithstanding the many failings in my life I shall have the voice of this country and this House rallying round me. And, sir, if I am mistaken in that, I can confidently appeal to a higher court—to the court of my conscience and to the court of posterity.”

It was the swan song of the Macdonald regime of that day. The forces of national indignation concentrated in the succeeding speeches of Donald A. Smith and David Laird, and the Government resigned the next day. Alexander Mackenzie formed a Cabinet, and Sir John Macdonald packed up and moved to Toronto to practice law during his five years in Opposition. By the elections which followed his defeat Macdonald was left with a party of only 45 in a House of 206 members.

Defeated and crestfallen, people said Macdonald’s day of power was over. But they did not know their man. He recovered his buoyancy, and his party profited by external conditions. After several years of prosperity, a severe depression overtook the United States and Canada about 1873, a condition greatly to the disadvantage of whatever government might be in power. Alexander Mackenzie, as upright and zealous a Premier as ever served a country, was timid and devoid of the arts making for popularity. By 1876 Sir John Macdonald determined, after much pressure from Tupper and others of his own party, to adopt the “National Policy.” This form of protection, which he presented in a resolution on March 10 of that year, called for increased protection for mining, manufacturing and agricultural interests. During the succeeding two summers, with such lieutenants as Tupper and Tilley, he addressed a series of “political picnics.” Aided by the hard times prevailing, the cause gained momentum and swept Macdonald back to power in September, 1878, where he remained until his death, thirteen years later. His second term in office was marked by the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, by the building of canals, and various public works, and by many items of general legislation of a constructive character.

Sir John Macdonald was in harness to the very end. Early in 1891 Parliament was dissolved, and the party, though weakening under the burden of its lengthy record, passed successfully through another election aided by the magic of its leader. Sir John denounced what he termed the anti-British trend of the reciprocity policy of the Liberals, which had been adopted as a remedy for the wearisome trade depression which then existed. He was now an old and feeble man, whose asset was his record and his personality rather than any future work he might do. Opening his campaign at Toronto on February 17, he referred to himself as “the aged leader, and perhaps the weak and inefficient leader (Cries of ‘No' ‘No,’), but the honest and well-intentioned leader.” He warned the people against the policy which if adopted “would lead to absorption into the United States,” though his own Government had sought a renewal of the reciprocity treaty —a more limited measure, it is true—in 1866. “I believe,” he said, “that this election, which is the great crisis on which so much depends, will show the Americans that we prize our country as much as they do, that we would fight for our existence as they would.”

Sir John won his last fight, but the lease of power given on March 5 was but a few weeks old when the country heard with a shock of his fatal illness. Though he was 76, his youthful spirits had seemed to suggest a draft at the mythical wells of Ponce de Leon. He was taken ill on May 22. For days the people of the Dominion waited and read the bulletins from Earnscliffe, the family residence by the banks of the Ottawa. When the end came on June 6, there was national mourning, and A memorable state funeral with burial at Kingston, amid the scenes of his youth in his adopted country.

“I think it can be asserted,” said Wilfrid Laurier, then Opposition leader, speaking in the House, “that for the supreme art of governing men Sir John Macdonald was gifted as few men in any land or in any age were gifted—gifted with the highest of all qualities, qualities which would have made him famous wherever exercised, and which would have shown all the more conspicuously the larger the theatre.”

“From the grave of him who above all was the Father of Confederation,” Laurier concluded, “let not grief be barren grief, but let grief be coupled with the resolution, the determination that the work in which the Liberals and Conservatives, in which Brown and Macdonald united, shall not perish, but that united, though Canada may be deprived of the services of her greatest men, yet Canada shall and will live.”

Lord Rosebery, a year later, unveiling a bust of Macdonald in St. Paul’s Cathedral, said:

“We know nothing of party politics in Canada on this occasion. We recognize only this, that Sir John Macdonald had grasped a central idea that the British Empire is the greatest secular agency for good now known to mankind; that was the secret of his success, and that he determined to die under it and strove that Canada should live under it.”

When “John A.” died it was more than the loss of a statesman; it was the loss of a man as well. His very frailties, so freely admitted by himself, endeared him to many. His reply to an attack for intemperance was that he was sure his audience “would any day prefer John A. drunk to George Brown sober.” He had made his way by his own merits and he lived and died a poor man. He was simple but distinctive in dress, His summer wear was a grey top hat, grey Prince Albert coat and grey trousers, with the inevitable red necktie. He was full of life, good humor, and enlivened many a dry debate by a spontaneous joke.

Sir John was no saint and did not pretend to be. He was fond of power and kept the old idea that a politician’s chief end in life was to hold office. He used the means at hand to attain it, without scruples, and made no hypocritical declarations. In his day he was supreme, and as his life recedes his stature enlarges. He was slow to adopt a policy, but resolute to execute it. He followed others’ lead in Confederation and in Protection, but no other could have carried them without his adroitness and tenacity. He extended the Dominion across the continent and then devoted his life to laying foundations for the commonwealth that becomes more solid as each year passes.


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