In a book of this character, where our space is limited, we can only briefly sketch the principal events of Mr. Mackenzie’s life, laying the foundation for the more extended notice which will occupy an important place in the history of Canada.
He was born near Dunkeld on the 28th of January, 1822, being third son of the late Mr. Alexander Mackenzie, of Logierait, Perthshire, Scotland, by Mary, second daughter of Mr. Donald Fleming, of the same parish, both well known families in Athol and Strathtay. His paternal grandfather was Mr. Malcolm Mackenzie, of Strathtummel.
Our subject was educated at the public schools of Moulin, Dunkeld, and Perth, enjoying no higher facilities, owing to the death of his father, which left him, at the age of fourteen, to push his own way in life. Mr. Mackenzie, however, has made up for the lack of a University course, by being a hard student ever since, and has acquired not only an accurate knowledge of general literature, but of political, constitutional, industrial, and social history, such as few possess. Previous to emigrating to Canada, in 1842, he learned the business of, a builder and contractor, and after settling at Sarnia, Ontario, where he first made his home in Canada, he engaged in the business of a contractor. There was, however, something in Mr. Mackenzie’s nature which destined him for other spheres of usefulness than pursuing private affairs. Liberal in sentiment, and thoroughly imbued with the spirit of reform, a good speaker and a logical and ready writer, he took a prominent part in the political movements of the Reform party, under the leadership of Messrs. Baldwin and Lafontaine. For some years he very ably conducted at Lambton, Ont., a Reform journal, called the Lambton Shield, and in every way he could largely contributed to the successful results of the exciting political movements, from 1850 to 1864. In 1861 Mr. Mackenzie was elected from Lambton to represent that constituency in the Canada Assembly, and held his seat until Confederation was accomplished, after which, at the first general election (1867) he was returned to the Commons for the same seat. By repeated re-elections, whenever an election took place, he still continues to serve in this capacity. He also represented West Middlesex in the Provincial Parliament of Ontario, from the general election in 1871, until October, 1872, when he resigned. In Parliament he at once became a recognized leader of the Reform party, simply by individual force of character and natural ability. From the time he entered the Commons until 1873, he was the leader of the Ontario opposition, and in this year was elected leader of the whole opposition party. November 5, 1873, upon the resignation of Sir John Macdonald, Mr. Mackenzie was called on to form a new administration, which he succeeded in doing within two days, when he and his colleagues were sworn of the Privy Council, Mr. Mackenzie taking, in addition to the Premiership, the office of Minister of Public Works, and continuing in office until his resignation after the defeat of the Reform party at the general election in September, 1878.
Several important public measures owe their existence to Mr. Mackenzie as a private member, viz: the Act amending the Assessment Act of U. C. (1863); that consolidating and amending the Acts relating to the Assessment of Property, U. C. (1866); and the highly useful measure for providing means of egress from Public Buildings (1866). As chairman of committee on municipal and assessment laws (1866), he wrote and framed the greater part of the General Act on Municipal Corporations, &c. All the measures of his Government, including the enactment of a stringent election law, with the trial of election petitions by judges, and vote by ballot; the abolition of the real estate qualification of members; the inspection of produce and weights and measures; the better administration of penitentaries; the enactment of the marine telegraph law, which virtually abolishes the monopoly of the cable company; the establishment of a Dominion military college, and the improvement of the militia system; the enlargement of the canals; the permanent organization of the civil service; the establishment of a Supreme Court for the Dominion; the reduction of postage to and from the United States; the free delivery of postal matter in cities and towns; the opening of direct mail communication with the West Indies; the construction of a transcontinental telegraph line; the better administration of Government railways; an improved copyright law; the adoption of a final route for the Pacific Railway; the opening of negotiations, conducted on our behalf by our own delegate in person, between Canada and the United States, for the establishment of an equitable reciprocity treaty between the two countries; a new Insolvent law; and the establishment of a territorial government for the great North West, have all been more or less molded and directed by him. In addition, two very important questions, which for some time agitated the public mind and threatened the gravest complications the Manitoba amnesty and the New Brunswick school questionswere satisfactorily adjusted during Mr. Mackenzie’s administration.
He is a member of the Baptist church, and holds his religious opinion conscientiously and firmly. Mr. Mackenzie has been twice married. His first wife was Helen, daughter of the late William Neil, Esq., of Irvine, Scotland, who died January 2, 1852. His second wife is Jane, eldest daughter of the late Robert Syne, Esq., of Perthshire, Scotland, to whom Mr. Mackenzie was married June 17, 1853. He has only one child, who is the wife of Rev. John Thompson, Presbyterian minister of Sarnia.