Sir John Alexander Macdonald

Sir John Alexander Macdonald

Glasgow, Glasgow City, Scotland
Death 6 Jun 1891 (aged 76)
Ottawa, Ottawa Municipality, Ontario, Canada
Burial Kingston, Frontenac County, Ontario, Canada
Memorial ID 2145 · View Source
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First Prime Minister of Canada. He served in this capacity from 1867 to 1873 and again from 1878 to 1891, for a total of 6 terms. He 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. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, the third of five children of an unsuccessful merchant, he emigrated with his family in 1820 to Kingston, Upper Canada (now eastern Ontario). His father operated a local store which soon failed and the family moved to Hay Bay, west of Kingston and operated a store there which also was unsuccessful. He attended local schools until the age of 10, when he attended the Midland District Grammar School in Kingston. His formal schooling ended when he was 15 and he apprenticed with a local lawyer who died in 1834 before he could become qualified, but opened his own practice before he was entitled to do so. In February 1836 he was called to the Bar and officially became an attorney who developed a sound reputation and became a popular public figure. In February 1843 he became a candidate for alderman in Kingston's Fourth Ward, winning the seat, and in March 1844 he ran as a Conservative for a legislative seat in the colonial Province of Canada and won. In 184, he was made a Queen's Counsel and was offered the non-cabinet post of Solicitor General, but declined it. In 1847, the Joint Premier, William Henry Draper, appointed him as Receiver General. Accepting this position required him to give up his law firm income and spend most of his time in Montreal. When elections were held in December 1847 and January 1848, he was easily reelected for Kingston, but the Conservatives lost seats and were forced to resign when the legislature reconvened in March 1848. The Liberals, or Grits, maintained power in the 1851 election, but soon were divided by a parliamentary scandal. In September of that year, the government resigned, and a coalition government uniting parties from both parts of the province under Sir Allan MacNab took power. Macdonald did much of the work of putting the government together and served as Attorney General. The coalition which came to power in 1854 became known as the Liberal-Conservatives (referred to, for short, as the Conservatives). In 1855, George-Etienne Cartier of Canada East (today Quebec) joined the Cabinet and became Macdonald's political partner until his death in 1873. 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 Etienne-Paschal Tache as premier. In July 1857 he travelled to England to promote Canadian government projects. On his return to Canada, he was appointed premier in place of the retiring Tache, just in time to lead the Conservatives in a general election. He was overwhelmingly elected in Kingston but other Conservatives did badly in Canada West, and only the French-Canadian support kept him in power. In February 1858 English Queen Victoria announced the isolated Canada West town of Ottawa would become the Canada's capital and 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. He resigned, and the Governor General, Sir Edmund Walker Head, invited opposition leader George Brown 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-elections. 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 and 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. By 1864 no party proved capable of governing for long, and Macdonald agreed to a proposal from his political rival, George Brown, that the parties unite in a Great Coalition to seek federation and political reform. He 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. He was designated as the first Prime Minister of Canada, serving in that capacity for most of the remainder of his life, losing office for five years in the 1870s over the Pacific Scandal (corruption in the financing of the Canadian Pacific Railway). After regaining his position in 1878, he saw the Canadian Pacific Railway through to its completion in 1885, that helped to unite Canada as one nation. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Canada's national parks system and the North West Mounted Police (precursor of today's Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or "Mounties"). In March 1891 he called for an election amid political unrest due to the poor economic situation. During the campaign, he collapsed. The Conservatives won the popular vote but relinquished some of their majority seats in the legislature. Several weeks of rest after the election seemed to restore him to health but, in late May, he suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed and he lingered for days at his home in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, remaining mentally alert, before dying there at the age of 76. In 1927 he was honored on the Canadian 1-cent stamp. His portrait is on the current Canadian ten-dollar currency note.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 2145
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Sir John Alexander Macdonald (11 Jan 1815–6 Jun 1891), Find a Grave Memorial no. 2145, citing Cataraqui Cemetery, Kingston, Frontenac County, Ontario, Canada ; Maintained by Find A Grave .