John Alexander MacDonald, Prime Minister of Canada, was born in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, January 11, 1815. He is the eldest son of Hugh Macdonald, of Kingston, Ont., and formerly of Sutherlandshire, Scotland. He was educated at the Royal Grammer School, Kingston, under Dr. Wilson, a fellow of the Oxford University; read law with the late George Mackenzie, and was called to the Bar, U.C., at Hilary term, in 1836. He was created Queen’s Counsel in 184G; is a Bencher, ex-officio, of the Law Society of Ontario. He early distinguished himself in civil law, and, in 1839, in a very important criminal case, we refer to his services in behalf of “General” Von Schultz, a noted American sympathizer in the rebellion. Mr. Macdonald was then but twenty-four years old, and his defense of a man who had forfeited his life in trying to revolutionize Canada, was a masterly effort for so young a man, and led observers to prognosticate a brilliant career for him.
Since 1844, as we gather from the “Canadian Parliamentary Companion,” whence we obtained portions of the data for this sketch, its subject has been almost constantly in office. He was a member of the executive council of Canada from May 11, 1847, to March 10, 1818; from September 11, 1854, to July 29, 1858; from August 6, same year, to May 23, 1862; from March 30, 1864, until the union, in the Tache MacDonald and the Belleau-Macdonald Administrations; and was, during these several years, Receiver-General from May 21 to December 7, 1847; Commissioner of Crown Lands from the latter date to March 10, 1848; Attorney-General for Upper Canada from September 11, 1854, to July 29, 1858, when, as Prime Minister, he and his Cabinet resigned, being defeated on the seat of government question. On the 6th of August, same year, he returned to office as Postmaster-General, but resigned that office the following day, he being reappointed Attorney-General of Upper Canada, a position which he continued to hold until the defeat of the Administration on the Militia Bill, in May, 1862, at which time he and his colleagues once more retired from office. He and Sir George E. Cartier led the opposition in the Assembly till the defeat of the Sandfield Macdonald-Dorion Government, when the Tache-MacDonald Government was formed on the 30th of March, 1864, and he returned to the office of Attorney-General, and, was Government leader in the Assembly from that,date until the union of the British American Provinces, in 1867.
While Attorney-General, he also held the office of Minister of Militia affairs from January to May, 1862, and from August 1865 until the union two years later. He was offered the position of Prime Minister in 1865, on the death of Sir E. P. Tache, then holding that office, but generously waived his claim in favor of Sir N. F. Belleau.
The present Prime Minister has performed many important duties as delegate to England and other countries. In 1864 he was a member of the conference held at Charlottetown, for the purpose of effecting a union of the Maritime Provinces; to that which succeeded it in Quebec in the same year, to arrange a basis of union of the British American colonies, and was chairman of the London Colonial Conference in 1866-67, when the Act of union, known as the “British North America Act,” was passed by the Imperial Parliament. When the new constitution took effect July 1, 1867 he was invited to form the first government for the New Dominion, and was sworn of the Privy Council and was appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada, holding that office until he and his ministry resigned on the Pacific Railway charges, November 6, 1873. Two years prior to this date he was appointed one of Her Majesty’s five joint High Commissioners and Plenipotentiaries, to act in connection with five Commissioners named by the President of the United States, for the settlement of the Alabama claims, and of matters in dispute between the two countries; the labors of this Commission resulting in the treaty of Washington, D. C., where it was signed on the 8th of May, 1871.
The present Prime Minister was appointed a member of Her Majesty’s Most Honorable Privy Council, in July, 1872; was unanimously elected leader of the Canadian Liberal Conservative Opposition, on the 6th of November, 1873; sat for Kingston, in the Canadian Assembly, from November, 1844, until the union; was returned for the same seat in the House of Commons at the general elections in 1867, 1872 and 1877; was unseated on petition; November 21, 1874, and re-elected December 29, same year. He became Prime Minister, the position he now holds, on the defeat of the Reform party at the general elections held in September, 1878. During the many years that Sir John has been a member of Parliament, he has carried through a large number of important measures besides the confederation of British North America and the ratification of the Washington Treaty, already indicated. Among the other measures, are the secularization of the clergy reserves; the improvement of the criminal laws; the promotion of public instruction; consolidation of the statutes; the extension of the municipal system; the reorganization of the militia; the settlement of the seat of Government question; the establishment of direct steam mail communication with Europe; the establishment of additional penitentiaries, lunatic asylums and reformatory prisons; the providing for the internal economy of the House of Commons; the reorganization of the Civil Service on a permanent basis; the construction of the Inter-Colonial Railway; the enlargement of the canals; the enactment of a stringent election law; and the extension and consolidation of the Dominion.
Sir John is the Grand Canadian representative of the Grand Lodge of Ancient and Accepted Masons of England, and holds the rank of Past Grand Senior Warden of the order in Canada. He received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from Oxford University, in 1865, and holds the titles of LL.D., from Queen’s University, Kingston, and D.C.L. from the University of Trinity College, Toronto. He was created Knight Commander of the Grand Cross of the Bath by Her Majesty, in 1867, and was created a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Isabella Catolica of Spain, in January, 1872.
Sir John was first married in 1840, to Isabella, daughter of the late Alexander Clark, Esq., of Dalnavert, Scotland, she dying in 1856, and the second time in 1867, to Susan Agnes, daughter of the Hon. T. J. Bernard, a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council of the Island of Jamaica.