John A. Macdonald
Overview
 
Sir John Alexander Macdonald, GCB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

, KCMG
Order of St Michael and St George
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is an order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later George IV of the United Kingdom, while he was acting as Prince Regent for his father, George III....

, PC
Privy Council of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the United Kingdom...

, PC (Can)
Queen's Privy Council for Canada
The Queen's Privy Council for Canada ), sometimes called Her Majesty's Privy Council for Canada or simply the Privy Council, is the full group of personal consultants to the monarch of Canada on state and constitutional affairs, though responsible government requires the sovereign or her viceroy,...

, QC
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

(11 January 1815 – 6 June 1891) was the first Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Canada
The Prime Minister of Canada is the primary minister of the Crown, chairman of the Cabinet, and thus head of government for Canada, charged with advising the Canadian monarch or viceroy on the exercise of the executive powers vested in them by the constitution...

 of Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. The dominant figure of Canadian Confederation
Canadian Confederation
Canadian Confederation was the process by which the federal Dominion of Canada was formed on July 1, 1867. On that day, three British colonies were formed into four Canadian provinces...

, his political career spanned almost half a century. Macdonald served 19 years as Canadian Prime Minister; only William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King, PC, OM, CMG was the dominant Canadian political leader from the 1920s through the 1940s. He served as the tenth Prime Minister of Canada from December 29, 1921 to June 28, 1926; from September 25, 1926 to August 7, 1930; and from October 23, 1935 to November 15, 1948...

 served longer.

Macdonald was born in Scotland; when he was a boy his family emigrated to Kingston
Kingston, Ontario
Kingston, Ontario is a Canadian city located in Eastern Ontario where the St. Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario. Originally a First Nations settlement called "Katarowki," , growing European exploration in the 17th Century made it an important trading post...

, Upper Canada
Upper Canada
The Province of Upper Canada was a political division in British Canada established in 1791 by the British Empire to govern the central third of the lands in British North America and to accommodate Loyalist refugees from the United States of America after the American Revolution...

 (today in eastern Ontario
Ontario
Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

).
Quotations

Yes, but the people would prefer John A. drunk to George Brown (Canadian politician)|George Brown sober.

Responding to a heckler. (from John A: The Man Who Made Us by Richard J. Gwyn)

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|Pacific Scandal.

Encyclopedia
Sir John Alexander Macdonald, GCB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

, KCMG
Order of St Michael and St George
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is an order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later George IV of the United Kingdom, while he was acting as Prince Regent for his father, George III....

, PC
Privy Council of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the United Kingdom...

, PC (Can)
Queen's Privy Council for Canada
The Queen's Privy Council for Canada ), sometimes called Her Majesty's Privy Council for Canada or simply the Privy Council, is the full group of personal consultants to the monarch of Canada on state and constitutional affairs, though responsible government requires the sovereign or her viceroy,...

, QC
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

(11 January 1815 – 6 June 1891) was the first Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Canada
The Prime Minister of Canada is the primary minister of the Crown, chairman of the Cabinet, and thus head of government for Canada, charged with advising the Canadian monarch or viceroy on the exercise of the executive powers vested in them by the constitution...

 of Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. The dominant figure of Canadian Confederation
Canadian Confederation
Canadian Confederation was the process by which the federal Dominion of Canada was formed on July 1, 1867. On that day, three British colonies were formed into four Canadian provinces...

, his political career spanned almost half a century. Macdonald served 19 years as Canadian Prime Minister; only William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King, PC, OM, CMG was the dominant Canadian political leader from the 1920s through the 1940s. He served as the tenth Prime Minister of Canada from December 29, 1921 to June 28, 1926; from September 25, 1926 to August 7, 1930; and from October 23, 1935 to November 15, 1948...

 served longer.

Macdonald was born in Scotland; when he was a boy his family emigrated to Kingston
Kingston, Ontario
Kingston, Ontario is a Canadian city located in Eastern Ontario where the St. Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario. Originally a First Nations settlement called "Katarowki," , growing European exploration in the 17th Century made it an important trading post...

, Upper Canada
Upper Canada
The Province of Upper Canada was a political division in British Canada established in 1791 by the British Empire to govern the central third of the lands in British North America and to accommodate Loyalist refugees from the United States of America after the American Revolution...

 (today in eastern Ontario
Ontario
Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

). He articled
Articled clerk
An articled clerk, also known as an articling student, is an apprentice in a professional firm in Commonwealth countries. Generally the term arises in the accountancy profession and in the legal profession. The articled clerk signs a contract, known as "articles of clerkship", committing to a...

 with a local lawyer, who died before Macdonald qualified, and Macdonald opened his own practice, although not yet entitled to do so. He was involved in several high-profile cases and quickly became prominent in Kingston, which enabled him to seek and obtain a legislative seat in 1844. He served in the legislature of the colonial Province of Canada
Province of Canada
The Province of Canada, United Province of Canada, or the United Canadas was a British colony in North America from 1841 to 1867. Its formation reflected recommendations made by John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham in the Report on the Affairs of British North America following the Rebellions of...

 and by 1857 had become premier under the colony's unstable political system.

When in 1864 no party proved capable of governing for long, Macdonald agreed to a proposal from his political rival, George Brown
George Brown (Canadian politician)
George Brown was a Scottish-born Canadian journalist, politician and one of the Fathers of Confederation...

, that the parties unite in a Great Coalition
Great Coalition
The Great Coalition was a grand coalition of the political parties of the two Canadas in 1864. The previous collapse after only three months of a coalition government formed by George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown and John A. MacDonald. The Great Coalition was formed to stop the political deadlock...

 to seek federation and political reform. Macdonald was the leading figure in the subsequent discussions and conferences, which resulted in the British North America Act and the birth of Canada as a nation on 1 July 1867.

Macdonald was designated as the first Prime Minister of the new nation, and served in that capacity for most of the remainder of his life, losing office for five years in the 1870s over the Pacific Scandal
Pacific Scandal
The Pacific Scandal was a political scandal in Canada involving allegations of bribes being accepted by the Conservative government in the attempts of private interests to influence the bidding for a national rail contract...

 (bribery in the financing of the Canadian Pacific Railway
Canadian Pacific Railway
The Canadian Pacific Railway , formerly also known as CP Rail between 1968 and 1996, is a historic Canadian Class I railway founded in 1881 and now operated by Canadian Pacific Railway Limited, which began operations as legal owner in a corporate restructuring in 2001...

). After regaining his position, he saw the railroad through to completion in 1885, a means of transportation and freight conveyance that helped unite Canada as one nation. Macdonald is credited with creating a Canadian Confederation despite many obstacles, and expanding what was a relatively small colony to cover the northern half of North America. By the time of his death in 1891, Canada had secured most of the territory it occupies today.

Early years, 1815–1830

John Alexander Macdonald was born in Glasgow
Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

, Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, on 11 January 1815. His father was Hugh Macdonald, an unsuccessful merchant, who had married Helen Shaw on 21 October 1811. John Alexander Macdonald was the third of five children. After Hugh Macdonald's business ventures left him in debt, the family emigrated to Kingston
Kingston, Ontario
Kingston, Ontario is a Canadian city located in Eastern Ontario where the St. Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario. Originally a First Nations settlement called "Katarowki," , growing European exploration in the 17th Century made it an important trading post...

, in Upper Canada
Upper Canada
The Province of Upper Canada was a political division in British Canada established in 1791 by the British Empire to govern the central third of the lands in British North America and to accommodate Loyalist refugees from the United States of America after the American Revolution...

 (today the southern and eastern portions of Ontario) in 1820, where there were already a number of Macdonald relatives and connections.

The Macdonalds initially lived with another family, but then resided over a store which Hugh Macdonald ran. Soon after their arrival, John's younger brother James died from a blow to the head by a servant who was supposed to look after the boys. After Hugh's store failed, the family moved to Hay Bay, west of Kingston, where Hugh unsuccessfully ran another shop. His father, in 1829, was appointed a magistrate for the Midland District
Midland District, Upper Canada
Midland District was one of four districts of the Province of Quebec created in 1788 in the western reaches of the Montreal District and partitioned in 1791 to create the new colony of Upper Canada. Known as Mecklenburg District until 1792, it was abolished in 1849...

. John Macdonald's mother was a lifelong influence on her son, helping him in his difficult first marriage and remaining a force in his life until her 1862 death.

John initially attended local schools. When he was aged 10, his family scraped together the money to send him to Midland District Grammar School in Kingston. Macdonald's formal schooling ended at 15, a common school-leaving age at a time when only children from the most prosperous families were able to attend university. Nevertheless, Macdonald later regretted leaving school when he did, remarking to his private secretary Joseph Pope
Joseph Pope
Sir Joseph Pope, KCMG CVO ISO was a Canadian public servant. He was Private Secretary to Sir John A. Macdonald from 1882 to 1891 and Assistant Clerk to the Privy Council & Under Secretary of State for Canada from 1896 to 1926.He married Marie-Louise-Joséphine-Henriette Taschereau in...

 that if he had attended university, he might have embarked on a literary career.

Legal training and early career, 1830–1837

Macdonald's parents decided he should become a lawyer after leaving school. As Donald Creighton (who penned a two-volume biography of Macdonald in the 1950s) wrote, "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." Besides, Macdonald needed to start earning money immediately to support his family because his father's businesses were again failing. "I had no boyhood," he complained many years later. "From the age of 15, I began to earn my own living."
Macdonald travelled by steamboat to Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

 (known until 1834 as York
York, Upper Canada
York was the name of Old Toronto between 1793 and 1834. It was the second capital of Upper Canada.- History :The town was established in 1793 by Governor John Graves Simcoe, with a new 'Fort York' on the site of the last French 'Fort Toronto'...

), where he passed an examination set by the Law Society of Upper Canada
Law Society of Upper Canada
The Law Society of Upper Canada is responsible for the self-regulation of lawyers and paralegals in the Canadian province of Ontario, Canada. Founded in 1797, it is known in French as "Le Barreau du Haut-Canada"...

, including mathematics, Latin, and history. British North America had no law schools in 1830; students were examined when beginning and ending their tutelage; between the two examinations, they were apprenticed, or articled to established lawyers. Macdonald began his apprenticeship with George Mackenzie, a prominent young lawyer who was a well-regarded member of Kingston's rising Scottish community. Mackenzie practised corporate law, a lucrative speciality that Macdonald himself would later pursue. Macdonald was a promising student, and in the summer of 1833, managed the Mackenzie office when his employer went on a business trip to Montreal and Quebec in Lower Canada
Lower Canada
The Province of Lower Canada was a British colony on the lower Saint Lawrence River and the shores of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence...

 (today the southern portion of the province of Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

). Later that year, Macdonald was sent to manage the law office of a Mackenzie cousin who had fallen ill.

In August 1834, George Mackenzie died of cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

. With his supervising lawyer dead, Macdonald remained at the cousin's law office in Hallowell (today Picton, Ontario
Picton, Ontario
Picton is an unincorporated community located in Prince Edward County in southern Central Ontario, Canada. It is the county seat and largest community. Picton is located at the south-western end of Picton Bay, a branch of the Bay of Quinte, which is along the northern shoreline of Lake Ontario...

). In 1835, Macdonald returned to Kingston, and even though not yet of age nor qualified, began his practice as a lawyer, hoping to gain his former employer's clients. Macdonald's parents and sisters also returned to Kingston, when Hugh Macdonald became a bank clerk.

Soon after Macdonald was called to the Bar
Call to the bar
The Call to the Bar is a legal term of art in most common law jurisdictions where persons must be qualified to be allowed to argue in court on behalf of another party, and are then said to have been "called to the bar" or to have received a "call to the bar"...

 in February 1836, he arranged to take in two students; both became, like Macdonald, Fathers of Confederation
Fathers of Confederation
The Fathers of Confederation are the people who attended the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences in 1864 and the London Conference of 1866 in England, preceding Canadian Confederation. The following lists the participants in the Charlottetown, Quebec, and London Conferences and their attendance at...

. Oliver Mowat
Oliver Mowat
Sir Oliver Mowat, was a Canadian politician, and the third Premier of Ontario from 1872 to 1896, making him the longest serving premier of that province and the 3rd longest in all of Canadian history...

 became premier of Ontario, and Alexander Campbell
Alexander Campbell (Canadian politician)
Sir Alexander Campbell, PC, KCMG, QC was an English-born, Canadian statesman and politician, and a father of Canadian Confederation....

 a federal cabinet minister and Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
The Lieutenant Governor of Ontario is the viceregal representative in Ontario of the Canadian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who operates distinctly within the province but is also shared equally with the ten other jurisdictions of Canada and resides predominantly in her oldest realm, the United...

. One early client was Eliza Grimason, an Irish immigrant then aged sixteen, who sought advice concerning a shop she and her husband wanted to buy. Grimason would become one of Macdonald's richest and most loyal supporters, and may have also become his lover. Macdonald joined many local organisations, seeking to become well known in the town. He also sought out high-profile cases, representing accused child rapist William Brass. Brass was hanged for his crime, but Macdonald attracted positive press comments for the quality of his defence. According to his biographer, Richard Gwyn
Richard Gwyn
Richard John Philip Jermy Gwyn, is a Canadian civil servant, journalist and author.-Early life:Richard Gwyn was born on May 26, 1934, in Bury St. Edmunds, England, and was the second son to his parents Brigadier Philip Eustace Congreve Jermy-Gwyn, an Indian Army officer, and Elizabeth Edith...

:

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.

Legal prominence, 1837–1843

All Upper Canadians between 18 and 60 years of age were members of the Sedentary Militia, which was called into active duty during the Rebellions of 1837
Rebellions of 1837
The Rebellions of 1837 were a pair of Canadian armed uprisings that occurred in 1837 and 1838 in response to frustrations in political reform. A key shared goal was the allowance of responsible government, which was eventually achieved in the incident's aftermath.-Rebellions:The rebellions started...

. Macdonald served as a private in the militia, patrolling the area around Kingston, but the town saw no real action and Macdonald was not called upon to fire on the enemy.

Although most of the trials resulting from the Upper Canada Rebellion
Upper Canada Rebellion
The Upper Canada Rebellion was, along with the Lower Canada Rebellion in Lower Canada, a rebellion against the British colonial government in 1837 and 1838. Collectively they are also known as the Rebellions of 1837.-Issues:...

 took place in Toronto, Macdonald represented one of the defendants in the one trial to take place in Kingston. All the Kingston defendants were acquitted, and a local paper described Macdonald as "one of the youngest barristers in the Province [who] is rapidly rising in his profession".
In late 1838, Macdonald agreed to advise one of a group of American raiders who had crossed the border to liberate Canada from what they saw as the yoke of British colonial oppression. The inept invaders had been captured after the Battle of the Windmill
Battle of the Windmill
The Battle of the Windmill was a battle fought in November 1838 in the aftermath of the Upper Canada Rebellion. Loyalist forces of the Upper Canadian government defeated an invasion attempt by Hunter Patriot insurgents based in the United States.-Background:...

 (near Prescott, Ontario
Prescott, Ontario
Prescott is a town of approximately 4,180 people on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River in Leeds and Grenville United Counties, Ontario, Canada. The Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, 5 km east of Prescott in Johnstown, connects it with Ogdensburg, New York...

), in which 16 Canadians were killed and 60 wounded. Public opinion was inflamed against the prisoners, as they were accused of mutilating the body of a dead Canadian lieutenant. Macdonald biographer Donald Creighton wrote that Kingston was "mad with grief and rage and horror" at the allegations. Macdonald could not represent the prisoners, as they were tried by court martial and civilian counsel had no standing. At the request of Kingston relatives of Daniel George, paymaster of the ill-fated invasion, Macdonald agreed to advise George, who, like the other prisoners, had to conduct his own defence. George was convicted and hanged. According to Macdonald biographer Donald Swainson, "By 1838, Macdonald's position was secure. He was a public figure, a popular young man, and a senior lawyer."

Because of the unrest, Parliament
Parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

 merged Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada
Province of Canada
The Province of Canada, United Province of Canada, or the United Canadas was a British colony in North America from 1841 to 1867. Its formation reflected recommendations made by John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham in the Report on the Affairs of British North America following the Rebellions of...

 effective in 1841; Kingston became the initial capital of the new province; Upper Canada and Lower Canada became known as Canada West and Canada East.

Macdonald continued to expand his practice while being appointed director of many companies, mainly in Kingston. Macdonald became both a director of and a lawyer for the new Commercial Bank of the Midland District. Throughout the 1840s Macdonald invested heavily in real estate, including commercial properties in downtown Toronto. Meanwhile, he was suffering from some illness, and in 1841, his father died. Sick and grieving, he decided to take a lengthy holiday in Britain in early 1842. He left for the journey well supplied with money, as he spent the last three days before his departure gambling at the card game loo and winning substantially. Sometime during his two months in Britain, he met his first cousin, Isabella Clark. As Macdonald does not mention her in his letters home, the circumstances of their meeting are not known. In late 1842, Isabella journeyed to Kingston to visit with a sister. The visit stretched for nearly a year before John and Isabella Macdonald married on 1 September 1843.

Parliamentary advancement, 1843–1857

In February 1843, Macdonald announced his candidacy for the post of alderman
Alderman
An alderman is a member of a municipal assembly or council in many jurisdictions founded upon English law. The term may be titular, denoting a high-ranking member of a borough or county council, a council member chosen by the elected members themselves rather than by popular vote, or a council...

 in Kingston's Fourth Ward. On 29 March 1843, Macdonald celebrated his first election victory, with 156 votes against 43 for his opponent, a Colonel Jackson. He also suffered what he termed his first downfall, as his supporters, carrying the victorious candidate, accidentally dropped him onto a slushy street.

In March 1844, Macdonald was asked by local businessmen to stand as Conservative candidate for Kingston in the upcoming legislative election. Macdonald followed the contemporary custom of supplying the voters with large quantities of alcohol. In the era preceding the secret ballot
Secret ballot
The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voter's choices in an election or a referendum are anonymous. The key aim is to ensure the voter records a sincere choice by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery. The system is one means of achieving the goal of...

 when votes were publicly declared, Macdonald defeated his opponent, Anthony Manahan, by 275 "shouts" to 42 when the two-day election concluded on 15 October 1844. At that time, the Legislative Assembly met in Montreal. Macdonald was never an orator, and especially disliked the bombastic addresses of the time. Instead, he found a niche in becoming an expert on election law and parliamentary procedure.

In 1844, Isabella fell ill. She recovered, but the illness recurred the following year, and she became an invalid. John Macdonald took his wife to Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is the largest city and the county seat of Chatham County, in the U.S. state of Georgia. Established in 1733, the city of Savannah was the colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. Today Savannah is an industrial center and an important...

, in the United States in 1845, hoping that the sea air and warmth would cure her ailments. Although John Macdonald was able to return to Canada after six months, Isabella remained in the United States for three years. He visited her again in New York at the end of 1846, and returned several months later when she informed him she was pregnant. In August 1847 their son John Alexander Macdonald Jr. was born, but as Isabella remained ill, relatives cared for the infant.

Although he was often absent due to his wife's illness, Macdonald was able to gain professional and political advancement. In 1846, he was made a Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

. The same year, he was offered the non-cabinet post of Solicitor General
Solicitor General of Canada
The Solicitor General of Canada was a position in the Canadian ministry from 1892 to 2005. The position was based on the Solicitor General in the British system and was originally designated as an officer to assist the Minister of Justice...

, but declined it. In 1847, the Joint Premier
Joint Premiers of the Province of Canada
Joint Premiers of the Province of Canada were the leaders of the Province of Canada, from the 1841 unification of Upper Canada and Lower Canada until Confederation in 1867....

, William Henry Draper
William Henry Draper
William Henry Draper was a lawyer, judge, and politician in Upper Canada later Canada West.-Personal life:...

, appointed Macdonald as Receiver General. Accepting the government post required Macdonald to give up his law firm income and spend most of his time in Montreal, away from Isabella. When elections were held in December 1847 and January 1848, Macdonald was easily reelected for Kingston, but the Conservatives lost seats and were forced to resign when the legislature reconvened in March 1848. Macdonald returned to Kingston when the legislature was not sitting, and Isabella joined him there in June. In August, the child John Jr. died suddenly. In March 1850 Isabella Macdonald gave birth to another boy, Hugh John Macdonald
Hugh John Macdonald
Sir Hugh John Macdonald, PC was the only surviving son of the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, and was a politician in his own right, serving as a member of the Canadian House of Commons and a federal cabinet minister, and briefly as the eighth Premier of Manitoba.-Early...

, and his father wrote, "We have got Johnny back again, almost his image." Macdonald began to drink heavily around this time, both in public and in private, which Patricia Phenix, who studied Macdonald's private life, attributes to his family troubles.

The Liberals, or Grits
Clear Grits
Clear Grits were reformers in the Province of Upper Canada, a British colony that is now the Province of Ontario, Canada. Their support was concentrated among southwestern Ontario farmers, who were frustrated and disillusioned by the 1849 Reform government of Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte...

, maintained power in the 1851 election, but soon, they were divided by a parliamentary scandal. In September, the government resigned, and a coalition
Coalition
A coalition is a pact or treaty among individuals or groups, during which they cooperate in joint action, each in their own self-interest, joining forces together for a common cause. This alliance may be temporary or a matter of convenience. A coalition thus differs from a more formal covenant...

 government uniting parties from both parts of the province under Sir Allan MacNab
Allan MacNab
Sir Allan Napier MacNab, 1st Baronet was a Canadian political leader and Premier of the Province of Canada before Canadian Confederation .-Biography:...

 took power. Macdonald did much of the work of putting the government together and served as Attorney General
Attorney General
In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, or attorney-general, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions he or she may also have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.The term is used to refer to any person...

. The coalition which came to power in 1854 became known as the Liberal-Conservatives
Liberal-Conservative Party
The Liberal-Conservative Party was the formal name of the Conservative Party of Canada until 1873, although some Conservative candidates continued to run under the label as late as the 1911 election and others ran as simple Conservatives prior to 1873...

 (referred to, for short, as the Conservatives). In 1855, George-Étienne Cartier
George-Étienne Cartier
Sir George-Étienne Cartier, 1st Baronet, PC was a French-Canadian statesman and Father of Confederation.The English spelling of the name, George, instead of Georges, the usual French spelling, is explained by his having been named in honour of King George III....

 of Canada East (today Quebec) joined the Cabinet. Until Cartier's 1873 death, he would be Macdonald's political partner. In 1856, MacNab was eased out as premier by Macdonald, who became the leader of the Canada West Conservatives. Though the most powerful man in the government he remained as Attorney General, with Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché
Étienne-Paschal Taché
Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché was a Canadian doctor, politician and one of the Fathers of Confederation.Born in St. Thomas, Lower Canada, in 1795, the third son of Charles Taché and Geneviève Michon, Taché studied at the Séminaire de Québec until the War of 1812 when he joined the 5th battalion of the...

 as premier.

Colonial leader, 1857–1864

In July 1857, Macdonald departed for Britain to promote Canadian government projects. On his return to Canada, he was appointed premier in place of the retiring Taché, just in time to lead the Conservatives in a general election. Macdonald was elected in Kingston by 1,189 votes to 9 for John Shaw, who was subsequently hanged in effigy; however, other Conservatives did badly in Canada West, and only French-Canadian support kept Macdonald in power. On 28 December, Isabella Macdonald died, leaving John A. Macdonald a widower with a seven-year-old son. Hugh John Macdonald would be principally raised by his paternal aunt and her husband.

In 1856, the Assembly had voted to move the seat of government permanently to Quebec City. Macdonald had opposed that, and used his power to force the Assembly to reconsider in 1857. Macdonald proposed that Queen Victoria decide which city should be Canada's capital. Opponents, especially from Canada East, argued that the Queen would not make the decision in isolation; she would be bound to receive informal advice from her Canadian ministers. Nevertheless, Macdonald's scheme was adopted, with Canada East support assured by allowing Quebec City to serve a three-year term as the seat of government before the Assembly moved to the permanent capital. Macdonald privately asked the Colonial Office
Colonial Office
Colonial Office is the government agency which serves to oversee and supervise their colony* Colonial Office - The British Government department* Office of Insular Affairs - the American government agency* Reichskolonialamt - the German Colonial Office...

 to ensure that the Queen would not respond for at least 10 months, or until after the general election. In February 1858, the Queen's choice was announced, much to the dismay of many legislators from both parts of the province: the isolated Canada West town of Ottawa
Ottawa
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, the second largest city in the Province of Ontario, and the fourth largest city in the country. The city is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River in the eastern portion of Southern Ontario...

.

On 28 July 1858, an opposition Canada East member proposed an address to the Queen informing her that Ottawa was an unsuitable place for a national capital. Macdonald's Canada East party members crossed the floor to vote for the address, and the government was defeated. Macdonald resigned, and the Governor General, Sir Edmund Walker Head, invited opposition leader George Brown
George Brown (Canadian politician)
George Brown was a Scottish-born Canadian journalist, politician and one of the Fathers of Confederation...

 to form a government. Under the law at that time, Brown and his ministers lost their seats in the Assembly by accepting office, and had to face by-election
By-election
A by-election is an election held to fill a political office that has become vacant between regularly scheduled elections....

s. This gave Macdonald a majority pending the by-elections, and he promptly defeated the government. Head refused Brown's request for a dissolution of the Assembly, and Brown and his ministers resigned. Head then asked Macdonald to form a government. The law allowed anyone who had held a ministerial position within the last thirty days to accept a new position without needing to face a by-election; Macdonald and his ministers accepted new positions, then completed what was dubbed the "Double Shuffle" by returning to their old posts. In an effort to give the appearance of fairness, Head insisted that Cartier be titular premier, with Macdonald as his deputy.

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, Canada enjoyed a period of great prosperity. The railroad and telegraph improved communications. According to Macdonald biographer Richard Gwyn, "In short, Canadians began to become a single community." At the same time, the provincial government became increasingly difficult to manage. An act affecting both Canada East and Canada West required a "double majority"—a majority of legislators from each of the two sections of the province. This led to increasing deadlock in the Assembly. The two sections each elected 65 legislators, even though Canada West had a larger population. One of Brown's major demands was "rep by pop", that is, representation by population, which would lead to Canada West having more seats, and was bitterly opposed by Canada East.

The American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 led to fears in Canada and in Britain that once the Americans had concluded their internecine warfare, they would invade Canada again. Britain asked the Canadians to pay a part of the expense of defence, and a Militia Bill was introduced in the Assembly in 1862. The opposition objected to the expense, and Canada East representatives feared that French-Canadians would have to fight in a British-instigated war. At the time, Macdonald was drinking heavily, and he failed to provide much leadership on behalf of the bill. The government fell over the bill, and the Grits took over under the leadership of John Sandfield Macdonald
John Sandfield Macdonald
John Sandfield Macdonald, QC was the first Premier of the province of Ontario, one of the four founding provinces created at the confederation of Canada in 1867...

 (no relation to John A. Macdonald). John A. Macdonald did not remain out of power long; the parties remained closely matched, with a handful of independents able to destroy any government. The new government fell in May 1863, but Head allowed a new election, which made little change to party strength. In December 1863, Canada West MP Albert Norton Richards
Albert Norton Richards
Albert Norton Richards, QC was a Canadian lawyer and political figure. He represented Leeds South in the Canadian House of Commons as a Liberal member from 1872 to 1874...

 accepted the post of Solicitor-General, and so had to face a by-election. John A. Macdonald campaigned against Richards personally, and Richards was defeated by a Conservative. The switch in seats cost the Grits their majority, and they resigned in March. John A. Macdonald returned to office with Taché as titular premier. The Taché-Macdonald government was defeated in June. The parties were deadlocked to such an extent that, according to Swainson, "It was clear to everybody that the constitution of the Province of Canada was dead".

Confederation of Canada, 1864–1867

As his government had fallen again, Macdonald approached the new Governor General, Lord Monck, and obtained a dissolution
Dissolution of parliament
In parliamentary systems, a dissolution of parliament is the dispersal of a legislature at the call of an election.Usually there is a maximum length of a legislature, and a dissolution must happen before the maximum time...

. But before he could act on it, he was approached by Brown through intermediaries; the Grit leader felt that the crisis gave the parties the opportunity to join together for constitutional reform. Brown had led a parliamentary committee on confederation among the British North American colonies, which had reported back just before the Taché-Macdonald government fell. Brown was more interested in representation by population; Macdonald's priority was a federation that the other colonies could join. The two compromised and agreed that the new government would support the "federative principle"–a conveniently elastic phrase. The discussions were not public knowledge, and Macdonald stunned the Assembly by announcing that the dissolution was being postponed because of progress in negotiations with Brown—the two men were not only political rivals, but were known to hate each other.

The parties resolved their differences, joining in the Great Coalition
Great Coalition
The Great Coalition was a grand coalition of the political parties of the two Canadas in 1864. The previous collapse after only three months of a coalition government formed by George-Étienne Cartier, George Brown and John A. MacDonald. The Great Coalition was formed to stop the political deadlock...

, with only the Parti Rouge
Parti rouge
The Parti rouge was formed in the Province of Quebec, around 1848 by radical French-Canadians inspired by the ideas of Louis-Joseph Papineau, the Institut canadien de Montréal, and the reformist movement led by the Parti patriote of the 1830s.The party was a successor to the Parti patriote...

 of Canada East, led by Jean-Baptiste-Éric Dorion
Jean-Baptiste-Éric Dorion
Jean-Baptiste-Éric Dorion was a journalist and political figure in Canada East.He was born in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Lower Canada in 1826, the son of Pierre-Antoine Dorion. In 1842, he found work as a clerk in a store at Trois-Rivières. He was editor and publisher of a small newspaper there,...

, remaining apart. A conference, called by the Colonial Office, was scheduled for 1 September 1864 in Charlottetown
Charlottetown
Charlottetown is a Canadian city. It is both the largest city on and the provincial capital of Prince Edward Island, and the county seat of Queens County. Named after Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, Charlottetown was first incorporated as a town in 1855 and designated as a city in 1885...

, Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island is a Canadian province consisting of an island of the same name, as well as other islands. The maritime province is the smallest in the nation in both land area and population...

; the Maritimes
Maritimes
The Maritime provinces, also called the Maritimes or the Canadian Maritimes, is a region of Eastern Canada consisting of three provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. On the Atlantic coast, the Maritimes are a subregion of Atlantic Canada, which also includes the...

 were to consider a union
Maritime Union
Maritime Union is a proposed political union of the three Maritime provinces of Canada to form a single new province which would be the fifth-largest in Canada by population...

. The Canadians obtained permission to send a delegation to what became known as the Charlottetown Conference
Charlottetown Conference
The Charlottetown Conference was held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for representatives from the colonies of British North America to discuss Canadian Confederation...

. Macdonald, Cartier, and Brown led the Canadians in Charlottetown. At the conclusion of the conference, the Maritime delegations expressed a willingness to join a confederation if the details could be worked out.

In October 1864 delegates for confederation met in Quebec City for the Quebec Conference
Quebec Conference, 1864
The Quebec Conference was the second meeting held in 1864 to discuss Canadian Confederation.The 16 delegates from the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island had agreed at the close of the Charlottetown Conference to meet again at Quebec City October 1864...

, where the Seventy-Two Resolutions were agreed to—they would form the basis of Canada's government. The Great Coalition was endangered by Taché's 1865 death: Lord Monck asked Macdonald to become premier, but Brown felt that he had as good a claim on the position as his coalition partner. The disagreement was resolved by appointing another compromise candidate to serve as titular premier, Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau
Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau
Sir Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau, KCMG, QC was a Canadian politician, lawyer and businessman.He was born in Quebec City in 1808. He studied at the Petit Séminaire de Québec and went on to article in law, receiving his license to practice in 1832. In 1835, he married Marie-Reine-Josephte, the daughter...

.

In 1865, after lengthy debates, Canada's Legislative Assembly approved confederation by 91 votes to 33. However, none of the Maritimes had approved the plan. In 1866, Macdonald and his colleagues financed pro-confederation candidates in the New Brunswick general election
New Brunswick general election, 1866
The New Brunswick general election of 1866 was held in May and June 1866 to elect 41 members to the 21st New Brunswick Legislative Assembly. This was the 21st general election for the British colony of New Brunswick, but is considered the 1st general election for the Canadian province of New...

, resulting in a pro-confederation assembly. Shortly after the election, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the most populous province in Atlantic Canada. The name of the province is Latin for "New Scotland," but "Nova Scotia" is the recognized, English-language name of the province. The provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the...

's premier, Charles Tupper
Charles Tupper
Sir Charles Tupper, 1st Baronet, GCMG, CB, PC was a Canadian father of Confederation: as the Premier of Nova Scotia from 1864 to 1867, he led Nova Scotia into Confederation. He later went on to serve as the sixth Prime Minister of Canada, sworn in to office on May 1, 1896, seven days after...

, pushed a pro-confederation resolution through that colony's legislature. A final conference, to be held in London, was needed before the British Parliament
Parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

 could formalise the union. Maritime delegates left for London in July 1866, but Macdonald, who was drinking heavily again, did not leave until November, angering the Maritimers. In December 1866, Macdonald both led the London Conference
London Conference of 1866
The London Conference was held in the United Kingdom and began on 4 December 1866, and it was the final in a series of conferences or debates that led to Canadian confederation in 1867. Sixteen delegates from the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick gathered with officials of the...

, winning acclaim for his handling of the discussions, and wooed and won his second wife, Agnes Bernard. Agnes Bernard was the sister of Macdonald's private secretary, Hewitt Bernard
Hewitt Bernard
Hewitt Bernard, was a Canadian lawyer, militia officer, editor, and civil servant.Hewitt was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, educated in Bath, England and practiced law in Jamaica until the death of his father in 1850. He came to Canada and settled in Barrie, Upper Canada where he became part of...

; the couple first met in Quebec in 1860, but Macdonald had seen and admired her as early as 1856. In January 1867, while still in London, he was seriously burned in his hotel room when his candle set fire to the chair he had fallen asleep in, but Macdonald refused to miss any sessions of the conference. In February, he married Agnes at St George's, Hanover Square. On 8 March, the British North America Act
Constitution Act, 1867
The Constitution Act, 1867 , is a major part of Canada's Constitution. The Act created a federal dominion and defines much of the operation of the Government of Canada, including its federal structure, the House of Commons, the Senate, the justice system, and the taxation system...

, which would serve Canada as a constitution for over a century, passed the House of Commons (it had previously passed the House of Lords). Queen Victoria gave the bill Royal Assent
Royal Assent
The granting of royal assent refers to the method by which any constitutional monarch formally approves and promulgates an act of his or her nation's parliament, thus making it a law...

 on 29 March 1867.

Macdonald had favoured the union coming into force on 15 July, fearing that the preparations would not be completed any earlier. The British favoured an earlier date, and on 22 May, it was announced that the Dominion of Canada would come into existence on 1 July. Lord Monck appointed Macdonald as the new nation's first Prime Minister. With the birth of the Dominion, Canada East and Canada West became separate provinces, known as Quebec and Ontario. Macdonald was knighted
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

 on that first observance of what came to be known as Canada Day
Canada Day
Canada Day , formerly Dominion Day , is the national day of Canada, a federal statutory holiday celebrating the anniversary of the July 1, 1867, enactment of the British North America Act , which united three British colonies into a single country, called Canada, within the British Empire...

, 1 July 1867.

First term, 1867–1871

Macdonald and his government faced immediate problems upon formation of the new country. Much work remained to do in creating a federal government. Nova Scotia was already threatening to withdraw from the union; the Intercolonial Railway, which would both conciliate the Maritimes and bind them closer to the rest of Canada, was not yet built. Anglo-American relations were in a poor state, and Canadian foreign relations were matters handled from London. The withdrawal of the Americans in 1866 from the Reciprocity Treaty had increased tariffs on Canadian goods in US markets. Much of present-day Canada remained outside confederation—in addition to the separate colonies of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and British Columbia
Colony of British Columbia
The Colony of British Columbia was a crown colony in British North America from 1858 until 1866. At its creation, it physically constituted approximately half the present day Canadian province of British Columbia, since it did not include the Colony of Vancouver Island, the vast and still largely...

, which remained governed by the British, vast areas in the north and west belonged to the British and to the Hudson's Bay Company
Hudson's Bay Company
The Hudson's Bay Company , abbreviated HBC, or "The Bay" is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world. A fur trading business for much of its existence, today Hudson's Bay Company owns and operates retail stores throughout Canada...

. American and British opinion was that the experiment of Confederation would quickly unravel, and the nascent nation absorbed by the United States.

In August 1867, the new nation's first general election
Canadian federal election, 1867
The Canadian federal election of 1867, held from August 7 to September 20, was the first election for the new nation of Canada. It was held to elect members to the Canadian House of Commons, representing electoral districts in the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec in the...

 was held; Macdonald's party won easily, with strong support in both large provinces, and a majority from New Brunswick. Parliament convened in November, surprisingly without Brown, who was defeated in Ontario and never served as a member of the House of Commons of Canada. By 1869, Nova Scotia had agreed to remain part of Canada after a promise of better financial terms—the first of many provinces to negotiate concessions from Ottawa. Pressure from London and Ottawa failed to gain the accession of Newfoundland, whose voters rejected a Confederation platform in a general election in October 1869.

In 1869, John and Agnes Macdonald had a daughter, Mary. It soon became apparent that Mary had ongoing developmental issues. She was never able to walk, nor did she ever fully develop mentally. Hewitt Bernard, Deputy Minister of Justice and Macdonald's former secretary, also lived in the Macdonald house in Ottawa, together with Bernard's widowed mother. John Macdonald himself fell ill in 1870 with a gallstone which took him two months to pass. He convalesced in Prince Edward Island, most likely conducting discussions aimed at drawing the island into Confederation at a time when some there supported joining the United States. The island joined Confederation in 1873.

Macdonald had once been tepid on the question of westward expansion of the Canadian provinces; as Prime Minister he became a strong supporter of a bicoastal Canada. Immediately upon Confederation, he sent commissioners to London who in due course successfully negotiated the transfer of Rupert's Land
Rupert's Land
Rupert's Land, or Prince Rupert's Land, was a territory in British North America, consisting of the Hudson Bay drainage basin that was nominally owned by the Hudson's Bay Company for 200 years from 1670 to 1870, although numerous aboriginal groups lived in the same territory and disputed the...

 and the North-Western Territory
North-Western Territory
The North-Western Territory was a region of British North America until 1870. Named for where it lay in relation to Rupert's Land, the territory at its greatest extent covered what is now Yukon, mainland Northwest Territories, northwestern mainland Nunavut, northwestern Saskatchewan, northern...

 to Canada. The Hudson's Bay Company received $1,500,000, and retained some trading posts as well as one-twentieth of the best farmland. Prior to the effective date of acquisition, the Canadian government faced unrest in the Red River Colony
Red River Colony
The Red River Colony was a colonization project set up by Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk in 1811 on of land granted to him by the Hudson's Bay Company under what is referred to as the Selkirk Concession. The colony along the Red River of the North was never very successful...

 (today southeastern Manitoba
Manitoba
Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province with an area of . The province has over 110,000 lakes and has a largely continental climate because of its flat topography. Agriculture, mostly concentrated in the fertile southern and western parts of the province, is vital to the province's economy; other...

, centred on Winnipeg
Winnipeg
Winnipeg is the capital and largest city of Manitoba, Canada, and is the primary municipality of the Winnipeg Capital Region, with more than half of Manitoba's population. It is located near the longitudinal centre of North America, at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers .The name...

). The local people, including the Métis
Métis people (Canada)
The Métis are one of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada who trace their descent to mixed First Nations parentage. The term was historically a catch-all describing the offspring of any such union, but within generations the culture syncretised into what is today a distinct aboriginal group, with...

, were fearful that rule would be imposed on them which did not take into account their interests, and rose in the Red River Rebellion
Red River Rebellion
The Red River Rebellion or Red River Resistance was the sequence of events related to the 1869 establishment of a provisional government by the Métis leader Louis Riel and his followers at the Red River Settlement, in what is now the Canadian province of Manitoba.The Rebellion was the first crisis...

 led by Louis Riel
Louis Riel
Louis David Riel was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political and spiritual leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first post-Confederation Prime Minister, Sir John A....

. Unwilling to pay for a territory in insurrection, Macdonald had troops put down the uprising before the 15 July 1870 formal transfer, but as a result of the unrest, the Red River Colony joined Confederation as the province of Manitoba, while the rest of the purchased lands became the North-West Territories
Northwest Territories
The Northwest Territories is a federal territory of Canada.Located in northern Canada, the territory borders Canada's two other territories, Yukon to the west and Nunavut to the east, and three provinces: British Columbia to the southwest, and Alberta and Saskatchewan to the south...

.
Macdonald also wished to secure the Colony of British Columbia
Colony of British Columbia
The Colony of British Columbia was a crown colony in British North America from 1858 until 1866. At its creation, it physically constituted approximately half the present day Canadian province of British Columbia, since it did not include the Colony of Vancouver Island, the vast and still largely...

. There was interest in the United States in bringing about the colony's annexation, and Macdonald wished to ensure his new nation had a Pacific outlet. The colony had an extremely large debt that would have to be assumed should it join Confederation. Negotiations were conducted in 1870, principally during Macdonald's illness and recuperation, with Cartier leading the Canadian delegation. Cartier offered British Columbia a railroad linking it to the eastern provinces within 10 years. British Columbia quickly agreed and joined Confederation in 1871. The Canadian Parliament ratified the terms after a debate over the high cost that cabinet member Alexander Morris
Alexander Morris
Alexander Morris, PC was a Canadian politician. He served in the cabinet of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald , and was the second Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba...

 described as the worst fight the Conservatives had had since Confederation.

There were continuing disputes with the Americans over deep-sea fishing rights, and in early 1871, an Anglo-American commission was appointed to settle outstanding matters between the British (and Canadians) and the Americans. Canada was hoping to secure compensation for damage done by Fenians raiding Canada from bases in the United States. Macdonald was appointed a British commissioner, a post he was reluctant to accept as he realised Canadian interests might be sacrificed for the mother country. This proved to be the case; Canada received no compensation for the raids and no significant trade advantages in the settlement, which required Canada to open her waters to American fishermen. Macdonald returned home to defend the Treaty of Washington
Treaty of Washington (1871)
The Treaty of Washington was a treaty signed and ratified by Great Britain and the United States in 1871 that settled various disputes between the countries, in particular the Alabama Claims.-Background:...

 against a political firestorm.

Second term and Pacific Scandal, 1872–1873

In the run-up to the 1872 election
Canadian federal election, 1872
The Canadian federal election of 1872 was held from July 20 to October 12, 1872, to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 2nd Parliament of Canada. Prime Minister Sir John A...

, Macdonald had yet to formulate a railway policy, or to devise the loan guarantees that would be needed to secure the construction. During the previous year, Macdonald met with potential railway financiers such as Hugh Allan
Hugh Allan
Sir Hugh Allan, KCMG was a Scottish-born Canadian shipping magnate, railway promoter, financier and capitalist...

 and considerable financial discussion took place. Nevertheless, the greatest political problem Macdonald faced was the Washington treaty, which had not yet been debated in Parliament.

In early 1872, Macdonald submitted the treaty for ratification, and it passed the Commons with a majority of 66. The general election was held through late August and early September (future Canadian elections would be conducted, for the most part, on one day). Redistribution had given Ontario increased representation in the House; Macdonald spent much time campaigning in the province, for the most part outside Kingston. Widespread bribery of voters took place throughout Canada, a practice especially effective in the era when votes were publicly declared; in future elections the secret ballot
Secret ballot
The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voter's choices in an election or a referendum are anonymous. The key aim is to ensure the voter records a sincere choice by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery. The system is one means of achieving the goal of...

 would be used. Macdonald and the Conservatives saw their majority reduced from 35 to 8. The Liberals (as the Grits were coming to be known) did better than the Conservatives in Ontario, forcing the government to rely on the votes of Western and Maritime MPs who did not fully support the party.
Macdonald had hoped to award the charter for the railway in early 1872, but negotiations dragged on between the government and the financiers. Macdonald's government awarded the Allan group the charter in late 1872. In 1873, when Parliament opened, Liberal MP Lucius Seth Huntington
Lucius Seth Huntington
Lucius Seth Huntington, PC was a Quebec lawyer, journalist and political figure. He was a Liberal member of the Canadian House of Commons representing Shefford from 1867 to 1882. He also served as President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Postmaster General.He was born in Compton,...

 charged that government ministers had been bribed with large, undisclosed political contributions to award the charter. Documents soon came to light which substantiated what came to be known as the Pacific Scandal
Pacific Scandal
The Pacific Scandal was a political scandal in Canada involving allegations of bribes being accepted by the Conservative government in the attempts of private interests to influence the bidding for a national rail contract...

. The Allan-led financiers, who were secretly backed by the United States's Northern Pacific Railway
Northern Pacific Railway
The Northern Pacific Railway was a railway that operated in the west along the Canadian border of the United States. Construction began in 1870 and the main line opened all the way from the Great Lakes to the Pacific when former president Ulysses S. Grant drove in the final "golden spike" in...

, had donated $179,000 to the Tory election funds, they had received the charter, and Opposition newspapers began to publish telegrams signed by government ministers requesting large sums from the railway interest at the time the charter was under consideration. Macdonald had taken $45,000 in contributions from the railway interest himself. Substantial sums went to Cartier, who waged an expensive fight to try to retain his seat in Montreal East
Montreal East (electoral district)
Montreal East was a federal electoral district in Quebec, Canada, that was represented in the Canadian House of Commons from 1867 to 1892.It was created by the British North America Act of 1867. It consisted of the St. Lewis Ward, St. James Ward and the St. Mary's Ward. It was abolished in 1892...

 (he was defeated, but was subsequently returned for the Manitoba seat of Provencher
Provencher (electoral district)
Provencher is a federal electoral district in Manitoba, Canada, that has been represented in the Canadian House of Commons since 1871. It is largely a rural district, the largest community being the city of Steinbach, Manitoba.-Demographics:-History:...

). During the campaign Cartier had fallen ill with Bright's disease
Bright's disease
Bright's disease is a historical classification of kidney diseases that would be described in modern medicine as acute or chronic nephritis. The term is no longer used, as diseases are now classified according to their more fully understood causes....

, which may have been causing his judgment to lapse; he died in May 1873 while seeking treatment in London.

Even before Cartier's death, Macdonald attempted to use delay to extricate the government. The Opposition responded by leaking documents to friendly newspapers. On 18 July, three papers published a telegram dated August 1872 from Macdonald requesting another $10,000 and promising "it will be the last time of asking". Macdonald was able to get a prorogation of Parliament
Prorogation in Canada
Prorogation is the end of a parliamentary session in the Parliament of Canada and the parliaments of its provinces and territories. It differs from a recess or adjournment, which do not end a session, and from a complete dissolution of parliament, which ends both the session and the entire...

 in August by appointing a Royal Commission
Royal Commission
In Commonwealth realms and other monarchies a Royal Commission is a major ad-hoc formal public inquiry into a defined issue. They have been held in various countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Saudi Arabia...

 to look into the matter, but when Parliament reconvened in late October, the Liberals, feeling Macdonald could be defeated over the issue, applied immense pressure to wavering members.

On 3 November, Macdonald rose in the Commons to defend the government, and according to his biographer P.B. Waite, gave "the speech of his life, and, in a sense, for his life". He began his speech at 9 p.m., looking frail and ill, an appearance which quickly improved. As he spoke, he consumed glass after glass of gin and water. He denied that there had been a corrupt bargain, and stated that such contributions were common to both political parties. After five hours, Macdonald concluded,
I leave it with this House with every confidence. I am equal to either fortune. I can see past the decision of this House either for or against me, but whether it be against me or for me, I know, and it is no vain boast to say so, for even my enemies will admit that I am no boaster, that there does not exist in Canada a man who has given more of his time, more of his heart, more of his wealth, or more of his intellect and power, as it may be, for the good of this Dominion of Canada.


Macdonald's speech was seen as a personal triumph, but it did little to salvage the fortunes of his government. With eroding support both in the Commons and among the public, Macdonald went to the Governor General, Lord Dufferin
Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava
Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, KP, GCB, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, PC was a British public servant and prominent member of Victorian society...

 on 5 November and resigned; Liberal leader Alexander Mackenzie
Alexander Mackenzie
Alexander Mackenzie, PC , a building contractor and newspaper editor, was the second Prime Minister of Canada from November 7, 1873 to October 8, 1878.-Biography:...

 became the second Prime Minister of Canada. Following the resignation, Macdonald returned home and told his wife Agnes, "Well, that's got along with", and when asked what he meant, told Agnes Macdonald of his resignation, and stated, "It's a relief to be out of it." He is not known to have spoken of the events of the Pacific Scandal again. When Macdonald announced his resignation in the Commons, Conservative and Liberal MPs traded places on the benches of the House of Commons, though one Conservative MP, British Columbia's Amor de Cosmos
Amor De Cosmos
Amor De Cosmos was a Canadian journalist, publisher and politician. He served as the second Premier of British Columbia.-Early life:...

 remained in his place, thereby joining the Liberals.

On 6 November 1873, Macdonald offered his resignation as party leader to his caucus; it was refused. Mackenzie called an election
Canadian federal election, 1874
The Canadian federal election of 1874 was held on January 22, 1874, to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 3rd Parliament of Canada. Sir John A...

 for January 1874; the Conservatives were reduced to 70 seats out of the 206 in the Commons, giving Mackenzie a massive majority. The Conservatives bested the LIberals only in British Columbia; Mackenzie had called the terms by which the province had joined Confederation "impossible". Macdonald was returned in Kingston but was unseated on an election contest when bribery was proven; he won the ensuing by-election by 17 votes. According to Swainson, most observers viewed Macdonald as finished in politics, "a used-up and dishonoured man".

Opposition, 1873–1878

Macdonald was content to lead the Conservatives in a relaxed manner in opposition and await Liberal mistakes. He took long holidays and resumed his law practice, moving his family to Toronto and going into partnership with his son Hugh John. One mistake that Macdonald believed the Liberals had made was a free-trade agreement with Washington, negotiated in 1874; Macdonald had come to believe that protection was necessary to build Canadian industry. The Panic of 1873
Panic of 1873
The Panic of 1873 triggered a severe international economic depression in both Europe and the United States that lasted until 1879, and even longer in some countries. The depression was known as the Great Depression until the 1930s, but is now known as the Long Depression...

 had led to a worldwide depression; the Liberals found it difficult to finance the railroad in such a climate, and were generally opposed to the line anyway—the slow pace of construction led to British Columbia claims that the agreement under which it had entered Confederation was in jeopardy of being broken.

By 1876, Macdonald and the Conservatives had adopted protection as party policy—part of the so-called National Policy
National Policy
The National Policy was a Canadian economic program introduced by John A. Macdonald's Conservative Party in 1876 and put into action in 1879. It called for high tariffs on imported manufactured items to protect the manufacturing industry...

, which was widely promoted in speeches at a number of political picnics, held across Ontario during the summer of 1876. Macdonald's proposals struck a chord with the public, and the Conservatives began to win a string of by-elections. By the end of 1876, the Tories had picked up 14 seats as a result of by-elections, reducing Mackenzie's
Alexander Mackenzie
Alexander Mackenzie, PC , a building contractor and newspaper editor, was the second Prime Minister of Canada from November 7, 1873 to October 8, 1878.-Biography:...

 Liberal majority from 70 to 42. Despite the success, Macdonald considered retirement, wishing only to reverse the voters' verdict of 1874—he considered Charles Tupper
Charles Tupper
Sir Charles Tupper, 1st Baronet, GCMG, CB, PC was a Canadian father of Confederation: as the Premier of Nova Scotia from 1864 to 1867, he led Nova Scotia into Confederation. He later went on to serve as the sixth Prime Minister of Canada, sworn in to office on May 1, 1896, seven days after...

 his heir apparent.
When Parliament convened in 1877, the Conservatives were confident and the Liberals defensive. After the Tories had a successful session in the early part of the year, another series of picnics commenced in a wide belt around Toronto. Macdonald even campaigned in Quebec, which he had rarely done, leaving speechmaking there to Cartier. More picnics followed in 1878, promoting the National Policy: high tariffs, rapid construction of the transcontinental railway (the Canadian Pacific Railway
Canadian Pacific Railway
The Canadian Pacific Railway , formerly also known as CP Rail between 1968 and 1996, is a historic Canadian Class I railway founded in 1881 and now operated by Canadian Pacific Railway Limited, which began operations as legal owner in a corporate restructuring in 2001...

 or CPR), rapid agricultural development of the West using the railroad, and policies which would attract immigrants to Canada. These picnics allowed Macdonald venues to show off his talents at campaigning, and were often lighthearted—at one, the Conservative leader blamed agricultural pests on the Grits, and promised the insects would go away if the Conservatives were elected.

The final days of the 3rd Canadian Parliament
3rd Canadian Parliament
The 3rd Canadian Parliament was in session from March 26, 1874 until August 17, 1878. The membership was set by the 1874 federal election on January 22, 1874, and it changed only somewhat due to resignations and by-elections until it was dissolved prior to the 1878 election.It was controlled by a...

 were marked by explosive conflict, as Macdonald and Tupper alleged that MP and railway financier Donald Smith
Donald Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal
Sir Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, GCMG, GCVO, PC, DL was a Scottish-born Canadian fur trader, financier, railroad baron and politician.-Early life:...

 had been allowed to build the Pembina
Pembina, North Dakota
Pembina is a city in Pembina County, North Dakota in the United States. The population was 592 at the 2010 census.The area of Pembina was long inhabited by various indigenous peoples...

 branch of the CPR (connecting to American lines) as a reward for betraying the Conservatives during the Pacific Scandal. The altercation continued even after the Commons had been summoned to the Senate to hear the dissolution read, as Macdonald spoke the final words recorded in the 3rd Parliament: "That fellow Smith is the biggest liar I ever saw!"

The election
Canadian federal election, 1878
The Canadian federal election of 1878 was held on September 17 to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 4th Parliament of Canada. It resulted in the end of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie's Liberal government after only one term in office. Canada suffered an economic depression...

 was called for 17 September 1878. Fearful that Macdonald would be defeated in Kingston, his supporters tried to get him to run in the safe Conservative riding
Electoral district (Canada)
An electoral district in Canada, also known as a constituency or a riding, is a geographical constituency upon which Canada's representative democracy is based...

 of Cardwell; having represented his hometown for 35 years, he stood there again. In the election, Macdonald was defeated in his riding by Alexander Gunn
Alexander Gunn
Alexander Gunn was a Scottish grocery wholesaler who immigrated to Canada and was elected to the Canadian House of Commons in the 1878 election defeating incumbent Leader of the Opposition Sir John A. Macdonald. He was re-elected in 1882 then lost in 1887 and again in 1891 to Macdonald....

, but the Conservatives swept to victory. Macdonald remained in the House of Commons, having quickly secured his election for Marquette
Marquette (electoral district)
Marquette was a federal electoral district in Manitoba, Canada, that was represented in the Canadian House of Commons from 1871 to 1979.This riding was created in 1871 following the creation of the province of Manitoba in 1870....

, Manitoba; elections there were held later than in Ontario. His acceptance of office vacated his parliamentary seat, and Macdonald decided to stand for the British Columbia seat of Victoria
Victoria (electoral district)
Victoria is a federal electoral district in British Columbia, Canada, that has been represented in the Canadian House of Commons from 1872 to 1904 and since 1925....

, where the election was to be held on 21 October. Macdonald was duly returned for Victoria, although he had never visited either Marquette or Victoria.

Third and fourth terms, 1878–1887

Part of the National Policy was implemented in the budget presented in February 1879. Under that budget, Canada became a high-tariff nation like the United States and Germany
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

. The tariffs were designed to protect and build Canadian industry—finished textiles received a tariff of 34%, but the machinery to make them entered Canada free. Macdonald continued to fight for higher tariffs for the remainder of his life. As the budget moved forward, Macdonald studied the railway issue, and found the picture unexpectedly good. Although little money had been spent on the project under Mackenzie, several hundred miles of track had been built and nearly the entire route surveyed. In 1880, Macdonald found a syndicate, led by George Stephen
George Stephen, 1st Baron Mount Stephen
George Stephen, 1st Baron of Mount Stephen , known as Sir Stephen, between 1778 and 1891.-Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate:...

, willing to undertake the CPR project. Donald Smith (later Lord Strathcona) was a major partner in the syndicate, but because of the ill will between him and the Conservatives, Smith's participation was initially not made public, though it was well-known to Macdonald. In 1880, the Dominion took over Britain's remaining Arctic territories, which extended Canada to its present-day boundaries, with the exception of Newfoundland, which would not enter Confederation until 1949. Also in 1880, Canada sent its first diplomatic representative abroad, Sir Alexander Galt
Alexander Tilloch Galt
Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, GCMG, PC was a politician and a father of Canadian Confederation.He was born in Chelsea, England, the son of Scottish novelist and colonizer, John Galt, and Elizabeth Tilloch Galt. He was a cousin of Sir Hugh Allan.Alexander Galt is interred in the Mount Royal Cemetery...

 as High Commissioner to Britain. With good economic times, Macdonald and the Conservatives were returned with a slightly decreased majority in 1882
Canadian federal election, 1882
The Canadian federal election of 1882 was held on June 20, 1882 to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 5th Parliament of Canada.Prime Minister Sir John A...

. Macdonald was returned for the Ontario riding of Carleton
Carleton (Ontario electoral district)
Carleton was a federal and provincial electoral district in Ontario, Canada, represented in the Canadian House of Commons from 1867 to 1968, and in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1867 to 1987...

.

The transcontinental railroad
Transcontinental railroad
A transcontinental railroad is a contiguous network of railroad trackage that crosses a continental land mass with terminals at different oceans or continental borders. Such networks can be via the tracks of either a single railroad, or over those owned or controlled by multiple railway companies...

 project was heavily subsidised by the government. The CPR was granted 25000000 acre (101,171.5 km²; 39,062.5 sq mi) of land along the route of the railroad, and $25,000,000 from the government. In addition, the government was pledged to build $32,000,000 of other railways to support the CPR. The entire project was extremely costly, especially for a nation with only 4.1 million people in 1881. Between 1880 and 1885, as the railway was slowly built, the CPR repeatedly came close to financial ruin. Not only was the terrain in the Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States...

 difficult, the route north of Lake Superior
Lake Superior
Lake Superior is the largest of the five traditionally-demarcated Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded to the north by the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of Minnesota, and to the south by the U.S. states of Wisconsin and Michigan. It is the largest freshwater lake in the...

 proved treacherous, as tracks and engines sank into the muskeg
Muskeg
Muskeg is an acidic soil type common in Arctic and boreal areas, although it is found in other northern climates as well. Muskeg is approximately synonymous with bogland but muskeg is the standard term in Western Canada and Alaska, while 'bog' is common elsewhere. The term is of Cree origin, maskek...

. When Canadian guarantees of the CPR's bonds failed to make them salable in a declining economy, Macdonald obtained a loan to the corporation from the Treasury—the bill authorizing it passed the Senate just before the firm would have become insolvent.
As the transcontinental railway neared completion, the Northwest again saw unrest. Many of the Manitoban Métis had moved into the territories. Negotiations between the Métis and the Government to settle grievances over land rights proved difficult, Riel had lived in exile in the United States since 1870, he journeyed to Regina with the connivance of Macdonald's government, who believed he would prove a leader they could deal with. Instead, the Métis rose the following year under Riel in the North-West Rebellion
North-West Rebellion
The North-West Rebellion of 1885 was a brief and unsuccessful uprising by the Métis people of the District of Saskatchewan under Louis Riel against the Dominion of Canada...

. Macdonald put down the rebellion with militia troops transported by rail, and Riel was captured, tried for treason, convicted, and hanged. Macdonald refused to consider reprieving Riel, who was of uncertain mental health. The hanging of Riel proved bitterly controversial, and alienated many Quebecers (like Riel, Catholic and culturally French Canadian
French Canadian
French Canadian or Francophone Canadian, , generally refers to the descendents of French colonists who arrived in New France in the 17th and 18th centuries...

) from the Conservatives—they would realign with the Liberals by the turn of the 20th century. Transporting troops helped the CPR raise money. The railroad was completed on 7 November 1885; Macdonald was notified by CPR manager William Van Horne
William Cornelius Van Horne
Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, KCMG was a pioneering Canadian railway executive.-Life and career:Born in 1843 in rural Illinois, he moved with his family to Joliet, Illinois when he was eight years old...

, who wired him from Craigellachie, British Columbia
Craigellachie, British Columbia
Craigellachie is a locality in British Columbia, located several kilometres to the west of the Eagle Pass summit between Sicamous and Revelstoke...

, where the last spike
Last Spike (Canadian Pacific Railway)
The Last Spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was the final spike driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway at Craigellachie, British Columbia at 9:22 am on November 7, 1885...

 was driven home.

In the summer of 1886, Macdonald traveled for the first and only time to western Canada, traveling from town to town by private railway car, and addressing large crowds, until reaching Vancouver
Vancouver
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. It is the hub of Greater Vancouver, which, with over 2.3 million residents, is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country,...

. Macdonald traveled with his wife, and to get a better view, the two would sometimes sit in front of the locomotive on the train's cowcatcher. On 13 August 1886, Macdonald used a silver hammer and pounded a gold spike to complete the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway.

In 1886, another dispute arose over fishing rights with the Americans. United States vessels had been using treaty provisions allowing them to land in Canada to take on wood and water as a cover for clandestine inshore fishing. Several vessels were detained in Canadian ports, to the outrage of Americans, who demanded their release. Macdonald sought to pass a Fisheries Act which would override some of the treaty provisions, to the dismay of the British, who were still responsible for external relations. The British government instructed the Governor General, Lord Lansdowne
Henry Petty-FitzMaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne
Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, PC was a British politician and Irish peer who served successively as the fifth Governor General of Canada, Viceroy of India, Secretary of State for War, and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs...

, to reserve Royal Assent
Royal Assent
The granting of royal assent refers to the method by which any constitutional monarch formally approves and promulgates an act of his or her nation's parliament, thus making it a law...

 for the bill, effectively placing it on hold without vetoing it. After considerable discussion, the British government allowed Royal Assent at the end of 1886, and indicated it would send a warship to protect the fisheries if no agreement was reached with the Americans.

Fifth and sixth terms, 1887–1891; death

Fearing continued loss of political strength as poor economic times continued, Macdonald planned to hold an election by the end of 1886, but had not yet issued the writ when an Ontario provincial election
Ontario general election, 1886
The Ontario general election, 1886 was the sixth general election held in the Province of Ontario, Canada. It was held on December 28, 1886, to elect the 90 Members of the 6th Legislative Assembly of Ontario ....

 was called by Macdonald's former student, Liberal Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat
Oliver Mowat
Sir Oliver Mowat, was a Canadian politician, and the third Premier of Ontario from 1872 to 1896, making him the longest serving premier of that province and the 3rd longest in all of Canadian history...

. The provincial election was seen as a bellwether for the federal poll. Despite considerable campaigning by the Prime Minister, Mowat's Liberals were returned in Ontario, and increased their majority. Macdonald finally dissolved Parliament on 15 January 1887 for an election
Canadian federal election, 1887
The Canadian federal election of 1887 was held on February 22, 1887 to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 6th Parliament of Canada.The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Sir John A...

 on 22 February. During the campaign, Macdonald suffered another blow when the Quebec provincial Liberals were able to form a government (four months after the October 1886 Quebec election
Quebec general election, 1886
The Quebec general election of 1886 on October 14, 1886 to elect members of the 6th Legislative Assembly for the Province of Quebec, Canada. The Parti libéral du Québec, led by Honoré Mercier, won a majority of seats against the Parti conservateur du Québec, led by John Jones Ross.The...

), forcing the Conservatives from power in Quebec City. Nevertheless, Macdonald and his cabinet campaigned hard in the winter election, with Tupper (the new High Commissioner
High Commissioner
High Commissioner is the title of various high-ranking, special executive positions held by a commission of appointment.The English term is also used to render various equivalent titles in other languages.-Bilateral diplomacy:...

 to London) postponing his departure to try to bolster Conservative hopes in Nova Scotia. The Liberal leader, Edward Blake
Edward Blake
Dominick Edward Blake, PC, QC , known as Edward Blake, was the second Premier of Ontario, Canada, from 1871 to 1872 and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada from 1880 to 1887...

, ran an uninspiring campaign, and the Conservatives were returned nationally with a majority of 35, winning easily in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba. The Tories even took a narrow majority of Quebec's seats despite resentment over Riel's hanging. Macdonald became MP for Kingston once again. Even the younger ministers, such as future Prime Minister John Thompson, who sometimes differed with Macdonald on policy, admitted the Prime Minister was an essential electoral asset for the Conservatives.

Blake, whom Macdonald biographer Gwyn describes as the Liberal Party's "worst campaigner until Stéphane Dion
Stéphane Dion
Stéphane Maurice Dion, PC, MP is a Canadian politician who has been the Member of Parliament for the riding of Saint-Laurent–Cartierville in Montreal since 1996. He was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and the Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons from 2006 to 2008...

 early in the twenty-first century", resigned after the defeat, to be replaced by Wilfrid Laurier
Wilfrid Laurier
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, GCMG, PC, KC, baptized Henri-Charles-Wilfrid Laurier was the seventh Prime Minister of Canada from 11 July 1896 to 6 October 1911....

. Under Laurier's early leadership, the Liberals, who had accepted much of the National Policy under Blake while questioning details, rejected it entirely, calling for "unrestricted reciprocity", or free trade, with the United States. Advocates of Laurier's plan argued that north–south trade made more economic sense than trying to trade across the vast, empty prairies, using a CPR which was already provoking resentment for what were seen as high freight rates. Macdonald was willing to see some reciprocity with the United States, but was reluctant to lower many tariffs. American advocates of what they dubbed "commercial union" saw it as a prelude to political union, and did not scruple to say so, causing additional controversy in Canada.
Macdonald called an election for 5 March 1891
Canadian federal election, 1891
The Canadian federal election of 1891 was held on March 5 to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons of the 7th Parliament of Canada. It was won by the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald....

. The Liberals were heavily financed by American interests; the Conservatives drew much financial support from the CPR. The 76-year-old Prime Minister collapsed during the campaign, and conducted political activities from his brother-in-law's house in Kingston. The Conservatives gained slightly in the popular vote, but their majority was trimmed to 27. The parties broke even in the central part of the country but the Conservatives dominated in the Maritimes and Western Canada, leading Liberal MP Richard John Cartwright
Richard John Cartwright
Sir Richard John Cartwright, PC, GCMG, PC was a Canadian businessman and politician. He was born and raised in Kingston, Ontario in a United Empire Loyalist family, the son of Harriet Dobbs Cartwright and the grandson of Richard Cartwright...

 to claim that Macdonald's majority was dependent on "the shreds and patches of Confederation". After the election, Laurier and his Liberals grudgingly accepted the National Policy, and when Laurier himself later became Prime Minister, he adopted it with only minor changes.

Several weeks of rest after the election seemed to restore Macdonald to health. However, in late May, he suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralysed. Vehicles and vessels passing his Ottawa home, Earnscliffe
Earnscliffe
Earnscliffe is a Victorian manor in Ottawa, Ontario. It is currently home of the British High Commissioner to Canada, and it was previously home to Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. The manor overlooks the Ottawa River just east of the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge. It is located...

, did so as quietly as possible, while the nation followed the reports from Macdonald's sickroom. "The Old Chieftain" lingered for days, remaining mentally alert, before dying in the late evening of Saturday, 6 June 1891. Thousands filed by his open casket in the Senate Chamber; his body was transported by funeral train to his hometown of Kingston, with crowds greeting the train at each stop. On arrival in Kingston, Macdonald lay in state again in City Hall, wearing the uniform of an Imperial Privy Counselor. He was buried in Cataraqui Cemetery
Cataraqui Cemetery
The Cataraqui Cemetery, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, is the city's largest with over 46,000 interments and growing. The Cemetery is most noted as being the burial site of Canada's first prime minister and a Father of Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald...

 in Kingston, his grave near that of his first wife, Isabella.

Wilfrid Laurier paid tribute to Macdonald in the House of Commons:
In fact the place of Sir John A. Macdonald in this country was so large and so absorbing that it is almost impossible to conceive that the politics of this country, the fate of this country, will continue without him. His loss overwhelms us.

Legacy and tributes

Macdonald served just under 19 years as Prime Minister, a length of service only surpassed by William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King, PC, OM, CMG was the dominant Canadian political leader from the 1920s through the 1940s. He served as the tenth Prime Minister of Canada from December 29, 1921 to June 28, 1926; from September 25, 1926 to August 7, 1930; and from October 23, 1935 to November 15, 1948...

. Unlike his American counterpart, George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, no cities or political subdivisions are named for Macdonald (with the exception of a small Manitoba village
Macdonald, Manitoba
Macdonald is a rural municipality lying adjacent to the southwest side of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. It is part of the Winnipeg Capital Region, but is not part of the smaller Winnipeg census metropolitan area. Macdonald's population as of the 2006 census was 5,653.-External links:**...

), nor are there any massive monuments. A peak in the Rockies, Mount Macdonald
Mount Macdonald
Mount Macdonald is a mountain peak located in the Selkirk mountains of British Columbia, Canada, immediately to the east of Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park. It is notable as the location of the Canadian Pacific Railway's Connaught and Mount Macdonald Tunnels. At 14.7 km, the Mount...

 at Rogers Pass
Rogers Pass
Rogers Pass is a high mountain pass through the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia used by the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trans-Canada Highway. The pass is a shortcut across the "Big Bend" of the Columbia River from Revelstoke on the west to Donald, near Golden, on the east...

, is named for him. In 2001, Parliament designated 11 January as Sir John A. Macdonald Day, but the day is not a federal holiday and generally passes unremarked. Macdonald appears on the present Canadian ten-dollar bill
Canadian ten-dollar bill
The Canadian ten-dollar bill is one of the most common banknotes of the Canadian dollar. It was the first bill printed when Canada changed its banknotes in 2001....

. He also gives his name to the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport
Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport
Ottawa/Macdonald-Cartier International Airport or Macdonald-Cartier International Airport , in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada is named after Sirs John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier...

, and to Ontario Highway 401 (the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway), though those facilities are rarely referred to using his name.
A number of sites associated with Macdonald are preserved. His gravesite has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Bellevue House
Bellevue House
Bellevue House National Historic Site of Canada was the home to Canada's first Prime Minister Sir John Alexander Macdonald from 1848 to 1849. The house is located in a residential neighbourhood bordering the Queen's University student housing area in Kingston, Ontario...

 in Kingston, where the Macdonald family lived in the 1840s, is also a National Historic Site administered by Parks Canada
Parks Canada
Parks Canada , also known as the Parks Canada Agency , is an agency of the Government of Canada mandated to protect and present nationally significant natural and cultural heritage, and foster public understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative...

, and has been restored to that time period. His Ottawa home, Earnscliffe, still stands and is today the official residence of the British High Commissioner to Canada. Statues have been erected to Macdonald across Canada; one stands on Parliament Hill
Parliament Hill
Parliament Hill , colloquially known as The Hill, is an area of Crown land on the southern banks of the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. Its Gothic revival suite of buildingsthe parliament buildings serves as the home of the Parliament of Canada and contains a number of architectural...

 in Ottawa. A statue of Macdonald stands atop a granite plinth originally intended for a statue of Queen Victoria in Toronto's Queen's Park, looking south on University Avenue. Macdonald's statue also stands in Kingston's City Park; the Kingston Historical Society annually holds a memorial service in his honour.

Conservative
Conservative Party of Canada
The Conservative Party of Canada , is a political party in Canada which was formed by the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. It is positioned on the right of the Canadian political spectrum...

 Senator Hugh Segal
Hugh Segal
Hugh Segal, CM is a Canadian senator, political strategist, author, and commentator. Segal is credited with helping Stephen Harper become Prime Minister by moderating his image.-Life and career:...

 believes that Macdonald's true monument is Canada itself: "Without Macdonald we'd be a country that begins somewhere at the Manitoba-Ontario border that probably goes throughout the east. Newfoundland would be like Alaska and I think that would also go for Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. We'd be buying our oil from the United States. It would diminish our quality of life and range of careers, and our role in the world would have been substantially reduced." Macdonald's biographers note his contribution to establishing Canada as a nation. Swainson suggests that Macdonald's desire for a free and tolerant Canada became part of its national outlook: "He not only helped to create Canada, but contributed immeasurably to its character." Gwyn said of Macdonald,
[H]is accomplishments were staggering: Confederation above all, but almost as important, if not more so, extending the country across the continent by a railway that was, objectively, a fiscal and economic insanity ... On the ledger's other side, he was responsible for the CPR scandal, the execution of Louis Riel, and for the head tax
Head tax (Canada)
The Chinese head tax was a fixed fee charged to each Chinese person entering Canada. The head tax was first levied after the Canadian parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 and was meant to discourage Chinese people from entering Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific...

 on Chinese workers. He's thus not easy to scan. His private life was mostly barren. Yet few other Canadian leaders—Pierre Trudeau
Pierre Trudeau
Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau, , usually known as Pierre Trudeau or Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was the 15th Prime Minister of Canada from April 20, 1968 to June 4, 1979, and again from March 3, 1980 to June 30, 1984.Trudeau began his political career campaigning for socialist ideals,...

, John Diefenbaker
John Diefenbaker
John George Diefenbaker, PC, CH, QC was the 13th Prime Minister of Canada, serving from June 21, 1957, to April 22, 1963...

 for a time, Wilfrid Laurier—had the same capacity to inspire love.

Further reading



External links

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