John Alexander Macdonald

Sir John Alexander Macdonald was the first prime minister of Canada between the years 1867–73, 1878–9. He was a professional lawyer, businessman and politician. Macdonald was born on the born on January 10, 1815 in Glasgow, Scotland; died June 6, 1891 in Ottawa. John’s personal life consisted of his first wife, who was an invalid during most of their married life and died in 1857.


His first son died at the age of 13 months, while a second son, Hugh John (born in 1850) survived. In 1867 Macdonald married Susan Agnes Bernard, who gave birth in 1869 to a daughter, Mary. Sadly, Mary was afflicted with hydrocephalus and never walked, although she lived to until 1933.


At age 15 Macdonald began to article with a prominent Kingston lawyer. Both at school and as an articling student, he showed promise. At 17 he managed a branch legal office in Napanee by himself, and at 19 opened his own office in Kingston, two years before being called to the Law Society of Upper Canada.


Macdonald’s early professional career coincided with the rebellion in Upper Canada and subsequent border raids from the US. He was in Toronto in December 1837 where, as a militia private, he took part in the attack on the rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern. In 1838 he attracted public notice by defending accused rebels, including Nils von Schoultz, leader of an attack on Prescott.


Macdonald political career began in February 1843; he announced his candidacy for the post of alderman in Kingston’s Fourth Ward. On March 29 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 an over-sentimental 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 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 a conversationalist, and especially disliked the bombastic addresses of the time. Instead, he found a position in becoming an expert on election law and parliamentary procedure.


Macdonald served just less than 19 years as Prime Minister, a length of service only surpassed by William Lyon Mackenzie King. Unlike his American counterpart, George Washington, no cities or political subdivisions are named for Macdonald (with the exception of a small Manitoba village), nor are there any massive monuments. 


A peak in the Rockies, Mount Macdonald at Rogers Pass, 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.


He also gives his name to Ottawa’s Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway,Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport and Ontario Highway 401 (the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway), though these facilities are rarely referred to using his name.


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