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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor



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Sir John Alexander Macdonald

MACDONALD, Sir John Alexander, Canadian statesman, born in Glasgow, Scotland, 11 January, 1815. His father, Hugh Macdonald, emigrated from Sutherlandshire to Canada and settled in Kingston, Ontario, in 1820. Young Macdonald was educated at the Royal grammar-school, Kingston, adopted the law as his profession, and was called to the bar of Upper Canada in 1836. Ten years later he was appointed Queen's counsel, and afterward became a bencher, ex officio, of the Law society of Ontario. As counsel he achieved distinction by his memorable defence of Von Schultz, who raided Canada in. 1836 at the head of a small band of marauders. But it is as a politician and statesman that he has won his place in Canadian history. He entered public life in 1844 as the representative of the city of Kingston in the house of assembly, and continued to sit for this constituency until the union of 1867, when he was elected to the house of commons of Canada by the same electorate until 1878, when he was defeated. Marquette in Manitoba, and Victoria, British Columbia, afterward returned him, and in 1882 Lennox and Carleton counties chose him as their member. He sat in parliament for the former county, and at the general election of 1887 Carleton and Kingston both elected him. In May, 1847, he was first appointed to office, becoming receiver-general and subsequently commissioner of crown lands in the Draper ministry. Early in the following year the government was defeated by the Reformers, and Macdonald and his colleagues remained in opposition until 1854. During the interim he developed powers of assiduity and tact, familiarized himself with all the great questions of the day, and acquired a knowledge of procedure and practice which served him well in after-life. He took a first place at once among the debaters of the time, and his speeches on the rebellion losses bill and the secularization of the clergy reserves attracted marked attention. The former measure he opposed with vigor and energy. In September, 1854, the latter question proved the issue before the people, and Macdonald entered the coalition cabinet of MacNab-Morin, pledged to settle the vexed problem at once and forever. He accepted an office for which his training well fitted him--that of attorney-general--and during the sway of the coalition the clergy reserves were secularized on a fair and equitable basis. Seignorial tenure in Lower Canada was also abolished. In 1856 the nominal leader of the Conservatives, Sir Allan MacNab, succumbed to gout, and, much to his chagrin, his young and active lieutenant, Macdonald, was chosen to succeed him as chief of the party. This post he has held ever since, and in office and out of it he has exercised a degree of personal influence over his followers that has never been equalled in the case of any other public man in Canada. In 1858 the government was defeated on the seat of government question. Macdonald resigned, and George Brown was called on to form a new administration. He succeeded in the task, but, being defeated on the first vote in the house of assembly, he made way for Macdonald, who again resumed power, taking the office of postmaster-genera!, which he resigned the next day in order to assume his more congenial office of attorney-general. His ministers also changed offices, and this incident in Canadian politics is known as the "double shuffle." Macdonald held the attorney-generalship until 1862, when his government was defeated on the militia bill. With Sir George Etienne Cartier he led the opposition until March, 1864, when, on the fall of the Sandfiehl Macdonald-Dorion ministry, he formed a new government, with Sir Etienne P. Tache leading the Lower Canadian contingent. He resumed the attorney-generalship, but it was found, however, impossible to carry on affairs with comfort. The government, owing to frequent deadlocks, was quite unable to command the confidence of parliament, and the proposition to federalize Upper and Lower Canada and the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward island was received with enthusiasm as a way out of the difficulty. A conference took place between the leaders on both sides, and the question was very fully discussed. In 1864 Macdonald attended as a delegate the conference that had been called at Charlottetown, Prince Edward island, where the smaller confederation of the seaboard provinces was under consideration. Macdonald and his associates turned the tide, and succeeded in convincing most of the gentlemen present that the larger union of all the British North American provinces was much the more desirable scheme of the two. Another convention was held a few months afterward in the city of Quebec, delegates from all the provinces being present, and at this meeting the plan of union was formed. In bringing about confederation, Macdonald took an active part, and in 1866-'7 he was chairman of the London colonial conference, when the British North America act was passed by the Imperial parliament. In 1865 Sir Etienne P. Tache died, and his colleague was asked to take the premiership; but he declined in favor of Sir Narcisse F. Belleau. Macdonald held the office'of minister of militia jointly with that of attorney-general from January to May, 1862, and from August, 1865, until the union. On 1 July, 1867, the new constitution came into force in Canada, and Macdonald was sworn as a privy councillor and appointed minister of justice and attorney-general. In recognition of his services, he was created a knight commander of the bath (civil) by the Queen, and in 1884 he received the grand cross of the same order. He remained prime minister until 1873, when his government resigned on the Canadian Pacific charges. Alexander Mackenzie accepted the responsibilities of office, and Sir John was leader of the opposition for nearly five years, and as such gave the administration the benefit of his ability and long experience in perfecting, among other measures of importance, the insolvent act and the act that constituted the supreme court of the Dominion. In September, 1878, the Liberal party was defeated at the polls on the cry of protection to native industries, and Sir John was sent for by the Governor-general, and invited to form a government. He accepted the charge, and, true to his promises, a high tariff on imported goods at once became the fiscal policy of the country. The new tariff discriminated in favor of no nation, the products of all. not even excepting Great Britain, being placed on the same footing. Sir John took the portfolio of the interior, and subsequently became president of the privy council and superintendent of Indian affairs. In 1882 and 1887 he was alike successful at the polls, though in the latter year, owing to defections from his party on the Riel rebellion question, his majority in the house of commons was considerably reduced. Sir John has been charged at various times with the execution of delicate diplomatic missions. He has been a delegate to England and to other countries on public business very frequently. In 1871 he was appointed one of her majesty's joint high commissioners with Earl de Grey, Sir Stafford Northcote, Sir Edward Thornton, and the Right Hon. Mon-tague Bernard, to settle the Alabama claims question, then pending between Great Britain and the United States. The treaty of Washington, signed May, 1871, was the outcome of this conference with the American commissioners. For this service Sir John was called to the privy council of Great Britain (July, 1872), an honor seldom conferred on a colonial statesman. In 1865 the University of Oxford conferred on him the degree of D. C. L., and later Queen's university, Kingston, and McGill university, Montreal, that of LL. D., and Trinity college, Toronto, made him D. C. L. During his long political career Sir John has carried to a successful issue very many measures of the highest importance, besides those that have been briefly referred to here. Chief among them are the improvement of the criminal laws of Canada; the consolidation of the statutes: the extension of the municipal system; military organization; the establishment of direct steam mail communication with Europe; the inspection of reformatories, prisons, penitentiaries, and asylums; the reorganization of the civil service on a permanent basis; the construction of the Intercolonial and the Canadian Pacific railways; the enlargement of the canals; the enactment of a stringent election law; the extension of the franchise; the ratification of the Washington treaty; and the extension and consolidation of the Dominion. At the time of the Riel outbreaks in the northwest territories of Canada, Sir John was at the head of affairs, and under his direction the insurgents were crushed and punished, the operations being conducted with spirit and determination. Sir John has natural abilities of the highest order, is an authority on constitutional law, and ranks high as a public speaker and parliamentary debater, he has always devoted himself to the public interest, as he has understood it, and his bitterest opponents cannot charge him with being governed by avarice or personal ambition in his conduct of public affairs.--His wife, SUSAN AGNES, whom he married in 1867, is a daughter of Thomas J. Bernard, member of the Queen's privy council, Jamaica, Wisconsin, and is known as a writer for periodicals.

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