Macdonald, Sir John A.


Macdonald, Sir John A.
(1815–1891)
   The first prime minister of the Dominion of Canada, John Macdonald had established himself in a law practice at Kingston, Ontario by the age of 21. As a young man, he served in the militia on the loyal side against the rebels of 1837, and in the subsequent Fenian raids. First elected to the assembly of the province of Canada in 1844, as a Tory he opposed responsible government and the extension of the franchise. But when a Reform government passed the Rebellion Losses Bill of 1848, effectively introducing responsible government and provoking riots among Montreal Tories, Macdonald remained among the moderate conservatives who resisted calls for annexation to the United States. Within a short space of years, he was a leader of the so-called Liberal Conservatives, holding office as attorney general almost constantly from 1854 to 1867.
   Macdonald initially opposed proposals to create a federal union of the British colonies in North America. The victory of the north in the American Civil War and a subsequent spate of Fenian raids, however, moved him toward support for a British North American federation. Macdonald became the first prime minster of the Dominion of Canada, holding office from the creation of the Dominion in 1867 to 1873, when he was forced to resign because of allegations that he had accepted favors from the leader of a railway syndicate. During his first term as prime minister, the Dominion purchased the Hudson ’ s Bay Company ’s lands in western Canada, part of which became the province of Manitoba. Although Macdonald supported French and Catholic rights in Manitoba, his government also put down the Métis Red River rebellion of 1870. Elected again in 1878, “the old chieftain” died in office in 1891.
   During this final decade in office, Macdonald saw the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the incorporation of British Columbia into the Confederation, and the suppression of the Northwest rebellion of 1885. He implemented a “national policy” of tariffs aimed at supporting domestic industry, thus cementing Tory support in the industrializing central provinces. Macdonald was a keen supporter of Canada’s ties to the British Empire and an admirer of his contemporary, the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Although his opponents accused him of sheer opportunism, he played a central role in creating the self-governing Dominion of Canada.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Creighton, Donald. John A. Macdonald. 2 vols. Toronto: MacMillan, 1955.
   MARK F. PROUDMAN

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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