John A MacDonald
After an illustrious political career that forever rose with time, John A. MacDonald finally became a premier in 1867. He was Canada’s first prime minister. This fact, together with his many radical perspectives, made him a political legend. He instituted policies that forever changed Canada’s political landscape. Upon his death in 1891, he was laid in state- an honorary send-off given only to exceptional individuals in Canada. And in his memory, various institutions were named after him, statues resembling him were made, and several highways also got his name.
Canada, apparently, wasn’t ready to let go of his memory. It still isn’t. This paper describes the accomplishments of Sir John A. MacDonald as the first Prime Minister of Canada. Sir John left one legend: an ability to build loyalty for any issue that could be termed to be of national importance. An analysis of his public reign shows that during disputes, his actions were always targeted at finding a workable middle ground with opponents. Sir John did not strive for wins in an idealistic sense of the word. Rather, he preferred tangible and decisive actions.
While many other politicians strived to be appear right even in their idealistic approach, Sir John would go ahead and implement what he thought was right. Less fanfare, more action, in other words. This action oriented approach to issues saw his time as premier to be one remarkable for all the developments and transformed that occurred in the Canadian landscape. In 1867, Britain was undergoing massive parliamentary adjustments. Some of these adjustments were concerned with jurisdiction. For example, the British North American Act established Canada as a Dominion.
Canada became a unit with its own government. This government could pass and execute laws. Canada became divided into Quebec and Ontario. While all this was happening, there was a call all over North Britain for the formation of a Confederation (City, 2008). The confederation was Sir John’s riding ticket, and would later become a prominent feature of his reign. On the run-up to the premier ship, Sir John got a landslide victory that to the present day has never been broken. He got a total of six majority government wins. This was a resounding statement of just how popular he had become with the people.
To the present day, only two other Prime Ministers have come close to that number: Jean Chretien and Pierre E. Trundeau. Both of them got three majority government wins each (Collections, 2007). It’s clear that Sir John’s lead isn’t likely to be challenged any time soon. But even more importantly, it casts an illuminating light on just what the ideal Premier should be. It’s said that another Prime Minister better than Sir John may once live, but one greater than him will never live. Sir John MacDonald played a primary role in the creation of a confederation within Canada.
This confederation resolved decades-old conflicts, and for this achievement, he was knighted by Queen Victoria in July, 1867. In those days, the knighthood of the order of St. Michael and St. George was a great honor (Macmillan 1978:497). It recognized his irrefutable capabilities, and when an election was undertaken the following month (August, 1867), Sir John and his Conservative party won. Thus began his premiership, in which he based most of his decisions on his overriding goals: to enlarge the country and unify it.
Right from the run-up to his premiership in 1867, Sir John had shown his passion for a united Confederation. His actions after gaining the premier status seemed largely in support of this passion. He squashed several rebellions that threatened to split Canada. He purchased large tracts of land in order to expand Canada’s frontiers. He also launched massive transport projects, most of them related to railway systems, to ease movement within Canada and from Canada to the neighborhood. Yet in all these actions, Sir John had to face up to resistance every step of the way.
Sometimes the resistance was from an observable opposition. Sometimes it came from the very same government he was supposed to be representing. Although Sir John’s ideals would ultimately win in the end, at certain times he was noted for having remarked that with the present trend, the very federation everybody was working so hard for could come apart in their hands, unless perceptions changed (Pope, 1915:124). Sir John’s first phases in Premiership were spent trying to persuade the general public and even government entities, that federation was the best way to work into the future.
The concept of forming a confederation was still a novelty then, and most people were reluctant to embrace it. Sir John had to personally persuade Joseph Howe, a significant figure in government, to see the sense in forming a federation. He later recruited Howe into his cabinet, further strengthening his seat. By so doing, he got the unanimous support of the Maritimes, and engaged them in what was to be called the Great Canadian Experiment (History, N. D. ). During Sir John’s rule, Canada expanded by purchasing Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory.
Both of these were bought from the Hudson Bay Company for a price equitable to about 11. 5 million modern Canadian Dollars. Combined, the two new lands became the Northwestern Territories (Wikipedia, N. D. ). To the present day, these Northwestern Territories are some of Sir John’s biggest legend. They are evidence of his lifetime goal to expand Canada and make it more prosperous. In 1870 an act of Parliament created Manitoba Province out of the Northwestern Territories. It was a timely reaction to a rebellion led by a Louis Riel. The rebellion was called the Red River Rebellion.
But undeterred, Sir John continued his nation building goals, and he added Prince Edward Island and British Columbia as Canadian Provinces. The possession of the present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan are part of his legend (Collections, 2007). A spotless life in the political zones is almost unheard of. Sir John’s moment of such downwind came in 1873, in the form of a political scandal called the Pacific Railway Scandal. In his determination to achieve his nation building goals, Sir John had extended from mere purchasing of land to even building railways to ease transport with the neighboring territories.
As railway building is not a one-man show, some of his subordinates decided to take shortcuts in getting the railway projects done. They got caught in the act. The entire Sir John’s ship sunk. He was forced to resign from his premiership status. In his place, a Liberal called Alexander Mackenzie took over. But as it happened, a nation-wide economic depression followed Alexander’s ascension to power. It was just bad luck for Alexander, but the public associated the depression with his reign (Collections, 2007). Alexander rapidly lost his popularity.
During the court hearings that led to his losing the premier seat, Sir John addressed the public in what was to become his most treasured speeches. During the address, he defended his actions. He admitted that he had his own failings, just like any other man. But he also insisted that he had the best interests of the Canadian future at heart. He said that the future would prove him right, when the public would once again learn to trust him. This speech, at the very least, showed that the fall from grace had not disillusioned Sir John.
Far from it, he turned what would have been his lowest day to a platform of exposing his humane side to the public (Pope 1915:93). Some of the public got drawn towards his side of thoughts because of this. This was made even easier by the fact that Alexander was at the same time rapidly losing the public support. The public mindset thence was that Sir John, with his proven capabilities, was probably better than any other figurehead whose capabilities were as yet untested. While still an outcast in the Political horizons, Sir John worked towards getting back his popularity.
He played on the widely-held anti-American sentiments present in Canada by driving for higher tariffs for anything imported from America. This was done under the guise of protecting Canadian goods and the Canadian market. It brought back the public trust that the Pacific Scandal had cost Sir John. His political career took an upswing, and in 1878, he was once again elected into the premier position. For the second time, the Conservative Party was at the reigns. Alexander later got elected in Victoria as a representative (Collections, 2007).
In the early phases of the second term as Prime Minister, Sir John concentrated on constructing and finishing the Canadian-Pacific Railway. It was no easy task, flaunt, as it was, with detracting incidences every now and then. For example, he got back into the Prime Minister’s spot in the wake of the economic depression. The Railway project, a cash-intensive undertaking, immediately suffered from a lack of funding. Sir John had to use his ingenuity to source for funds. Then there was an uprising by the Metis in 1885.
When Sir John appointed William McDougal as the leader for the Red River territory, the natives of the region did not respond well. Sir John was, in effect, taking over from the British control of the territory. The Red River natives, on the other hand, wanted to rule themselves, led by their fiery leader, Louis Riel (History, N. D. ). The Red River uprising was a rebellion against the government, and if it had progressed, would greatly have affected the reigning government. One way it could have been resolved would have been by having Louis as the leader of the Red River Territories, but under the control of Sir John.
But instead of treating him as an ally, Sir John treated Louis as a rebel, and took decisive action against him. Louis responded with equal force and violence. Sir John took this pending doom and transformed it into his moment of glory. He quickly got together military troops and transported them through the Canadian-Pacific Railway to the areas heavily affected by the rebels. The rebellion was quickly brought under control. The role of the railway in this could not be escaped, and Sir John was thereafter able to get government support funding for the completion of the construction with greater ease (Collections, 2007).
The whole incidence was typical of the man’s ability to turn adversity to opportunities. Sir John’s role in squashing the uprising, though largely commendable, also got some criticism. During the military’s action against the rebels, Louis Riel, the rebellion leader, was arrested. Later, he was executed. This turn of events immediately had Sir John’s ratings drop with the French Catholics and the English Protestants. He could not extricate himself from the execution. At the same time, an issue regarding the Manitoba School System arose.
A recent amendment to the parliamentary acts effectively made it almost impossible for religious minority to open and maintain private schools within Manitoba. Although Sir John wasn’t directly responsible for the parliamentary act, his position as premier necessarily tied him up with any important legal event in the provinces, and this particular incidence stained his premiership. The issue got resolved in 1892 when the law reverted to the way it had been before the parliamentary act (Donald 1998:532).
Legendary to Sir John’s reign was the establishment of the North West mounted police (Susan, N. D. ). These police squads were established to control the observed frequent, and disconcerting, uprisings in the North West region of Canada. The mounted police were better able to deal with the disserting forces, due to their increased mobility and force power- they were also better armed. In fact, the arrest and hanging of Louis Riel, while casting a negative light on Sir John’s administration, would have been harder without these mounted forces.
The mounted police also saw to the opening and settlement of the west sides of Canada by the expanding population. Some of the decisions made by MacDonald shows just what a tricky field politics can be. At one time, he was appointed as a British delegate to a conference held in Washington to deal with Civil War issues that were still festering. During this conference, Sir John quickly earned the dislike of the other delegates because of his staunch protection of Canadian interests.
It was becoming apparent that his passions for his country, though well intentioned, were becoming a barrier to a quick resolution to the Civil War issues. The delegates agreed on a trade off. Sir John was granted compensations for some uncalled-for raids that had occurred in his tuft. In return, he was to grant fishing rights to the Americans in Canadian waters for ten years (History, N. D. ). This compromise showed that even with the best intentions at heart, sometimes the stronger will of the majority would prevail. MacDonald’s achievements kept his popularity ratings high.
He was able to win re-election 3 more times. During this time, he developed a national policy which was based on three basic themes: a transcontinental railway, immigration from Europe to Manitoba and the North West Territories, and the development of farms in West Canada. The immigrants to the West would continue to buy their industrial supplies from Eastern Canada. Eastern Canada, on the other hand, would progressively become more reliant on the Western lands for their food stuff supply (History, N. D. ). This arrangement took hold, and to the present day is still observable.
It was another attachment to Sir John’s long-term vision, and the ability to adapt this vision to the short term accomplishments. In 1891, Sir John won the elections for the last time. By this time, his 76-year-old frame had started to show the signs of wear due to age stress and overwork. Personal issues within his family had turned him into a frequent drinker. A sudden bout of gallstone illness in 1870 and which had lasted two months had clearly taken its toil on him. In May, 1891, Sir John suffered from a stroke, which rendered him unable to speak. For a week afterwards, he lay immobile.
He died after that one week. His passing was noted countrywide. Thousands of mourners came to pay him last respects as his body lay in state in the Canadian Senate Chambers. His consequent funeral was also attended by thousands (Wikipedia, N. D. ). The proceedings during his viewing and subsequent burial befitted the status of a person considered to be the father of Canada. Thus from obscurity, Sir John A. MacDonald built an empire that has stood to the day. It is a statement to his personal dedication that the tragedies associated with his personal life did not deter him from pursuing his national vision.
Starting as a young politician, Sir John A. MacDonald stayed so long in politics that he came to be known as the “Old Chieftain” (Egate, 1996). His lifetime’s achievements, and his selfless dedication, live on as Canada. Works cited: City of Kingston (2008) Sir John A. MacDonald: Father of the confederation Retrieved 19th March 2009 from http://www. cityofkingston. ca/residents/culture/heritage/macdonald/ Collections Canada (2007) Sir John A. MacDonald: Canada’s Patriot Statesman Retrieved from http://www. collectionscanada. gc. ca/sir-john-a-macdonald/023013-3000-e.
html accessed on March 19th 2009. Donald Grant Creighton, P. B. Waite John A. Macdonald: The Young Politician, the Old Chieftain Published by University of Toronto Press, 1998 1216 pages Egate Sir John A- A basic bibliography Retrieved from http://www. macdonald. egate. net/sirjohn/plannerbio. html accessed on 19th March, 2009. History of Canada John A. MacDonald Retrieved 19th March from http://www. canadahistory. com/sections/Politics/pm/johnmacdonald. htm Macmillan dictionary of Canadian biography Macdonald, Sir John Alexander Ed. W.
Stewart Wallace. — 4th ed. — Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1978. — P. 495-496 Pope, Joseph. (1915) The Day of Sir John Macdonald: A Chronicle of the First Prime Minister of the Dominion. Toronto: Brook & Co. Susan Munroe Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald Retrieved from http://canadaonline. about. com/cs/primeminister/p/pmmacdonald. htm accessed on 19th March, 2009. Wikipedia (N. D. ). John A. MacDonald Retrieved 19th March from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/John_A. _Macdonald#First_term_as_prime_minister. 2C_1867. E2. 80. 931871