Favourite Son?: Names and Numbers, Sources, Abbreviations

Favourite Son?: John A. Macdonald and the Voters of Kingston 1841─1891


by Ged Martin


This is a book about the political relations between Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John Macdonald, and the city of Kingston which he represented in parliament for over thirty-eight years between 1844 and his death in 1891. 

Favourite Son? was published, in a handsome volume, by the Kingston (Ontario) Historical Society in 2010. I am grateful to the Kingston Historical Society for permission to re-publish on my website.

This text is taken from working chapter files, and accordingly varies slightly from the book version, which was carefully edited by the KHS team of John Abbott, Keith Johnson, Brian S. Osborne, Elizabeth Andrews and Robert Andrews.








Table 1:                       JOHN A. MACDONALD AND KINGSTON ELECTIONS


Chapter One                ‘MACDONALD OF KINGSTON’

Chapter Two               ‘MY DUTY AND MY INTEREST’, 1841-1857


Chapter Three             ‘KINGSTON HAD NOT BEEN A SUFFERER’, 1857-1864                             

Chapter Four               ‘NEVER AMONG US’: 1867-1872 

Chapter Five               ‘A WORN OUT RELIC OF DECAYED TORYISM’: 1874-1891


Chapter Six                 VOTERS AND VOTER MANAGEMENT






 This is a book about the political relations between Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John Macdonald, and the city of Kingston which he represented in parliament for over thirty-eight years between 1844 and his death in 1891. Kingston politics in the nineteenth century operated at several levels ─ municipal from 1838, provincial from 1867 ─ so that a study of parliamentary elections could not claim to be a complete political history of the city. Nor is this book a biography of Macdonald himself, although the ‘John A.’ who emerges from its pages may sometimes startle his admirers. Rather it is argued that we cannot fully evaluate the man and his career unless we build the story from the bottom up, and understand the pressures and constraints operating on his power base.


            Newspapers form the principal sources for this study, both those published in Kingston and those which commented and harangued from afar. It is as well to remember that newspapers do not always tell the full truth and, in the partisan hot-house of nineteenth-century Canadian elections, they did not always attempt even that laudable aim. The same newspaper might use different versions of its title even from year to year, such as (in Kingston) British Whig and Daily Whig. I have generally cited newspapers by the form used on the masthead of the particular edition. I have also used private correspondence, both in published and manuscript form. The chief collections consulted are the papers of John A. Macdonald himself, in Libraries and Archives Canada, Ottawa, and the collections of Alexander Campbell, J.R. Gowan and T.C. Patteson in the Ontario Archives, Toronto.  Since my intention has been to provide a half-century overview of personalities, issues and trends, I have no doubt that there are many stories that might still be uncovered. Unfortunately, there is much that we shall never know, not least because the participants themselves were careful to cover their tracks.

            My obligations are many, but my primary thanks are due to the Kingston Historical Society for supporting the publication of this book. I am especially grateful to Dr Brian D. Osborne for his encouragement, his counsel and, not least, his patience. Because I have written this book in my study in Ireland, I have imposed upon generous friends for help in various ways. Among them, I thank Terry Barringer, Colin M. Coates, Barbara J. Messamore, Simon J. Potter and Donald A. Wright. A Government of Canada research award supported an early phase of the project.

More generally, I have been impressed by the fact that Kingston has been unusually well served by its historians. I have come to admire the scholarship of a number of people most of whom are known to me only through their published work, among them J.D. Livermore, Max Magill, George Richardson, Donald Swainson, William R. Teatero and W. Michael Wilson. Two friends have contributed to sustaining this project in ways which they might not recognise. Thanks to another celebrated public representative of Kingston, the Honourable Flora MacDonald, I have felt a sense of the continuity of past, present and future. From a notable Queen’s University alumnus, Jeffrey Simpson, I have imbibed not only something of the zest that underlies democratic life in Canada. Most important of all, from both of them I have learned, as an outsider needs to learn, that Canadian politics matters, because without politics there would be no Canada. Perhaps that is a principle that needs to be remembered on those occasions where it may strike us that John A. Macdonald was inclined to bend the strict rules of ethics to hold on to power.

Above all, I offer not merely appreciation but homage to three distinguished Canadian scholars who have told us so much about Sir John A. Macdonald.  I am proud to be able to call Peter B. Waite a friend of long standing, but even so it is hard to find adequate words of gratitude not simply for the bonhomie and goodwill that he has always infused into the Canadian past, but for the unusual generosity with which he helped me launch this project. The contribution of J.K. Johnson to our understanding of Canada’s first prime minister is so pervasive that it may never be fully recognised. Time and again, students of John A. Macdonald find themselves benefiting from Dr Johnson’s detective work in the archives and their interpretations enriched by his analytical skills and remarkable ability to reconceptualise this fascinating historical personality. It was fitting that Johnson and Waite collaborated to produce the 1990 essay in volume 12 of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography that now forms the starting point of any assessment of Sir John A. Macdonald, for both began their academic careers as graduate students under the supervision of Donald Creighton, whose two-volume life of Macdonald, published in 1952 and 1955, crafted an awesome portrait of a great Canadian. In the present work, I mildly but impertinently take Creighton to task for playing down the Kingston element in the Macdonald story, even though I have good reason of my own to plead that nobody can tell the entire story. But I shall not be surprised if many Canadians continue to prefer Creighton’s portrait of John A. Macdonald as a nation-builder to my snapshots of the member for Kingston hustling for votes.



The magnetic personality at the heart of this study, John Alexander Macdonald, is usually referred to by his surname. Given the number of men called Macdonald who were loose in British North America at the time, this was not a very precise identifier. For instance, in 1865, out of 130 members of the Canadian Assembly (around one-third of whom bore French names), there were three John Macdonalds. Not surprisingly, contemporaries resorted to nicknames, and Macdonald of Kingston was widely known as ‘John A.’. It is the genial and politically amoral ‘John A.’ who still looms last in popular memory of Canada’s first prime minister, and the remarkable ascendancy that he established during his first two decades in Kingston politics cannot be fully understood without appreciating the attractive aspects of his character. But he was a complex man with a darker side, one that contributed to another legendary personality trait, a susceptibility to alcohol abuse that intermittently undermined his performance for twenty years from 1856. Hence, except in a few specific contexts, he appears as ‘Macdonald’ in these pages, even though this sometimes causes stylistic repetition. The usage is not without its downside. ‘Great men’ (Churchill, Roosevelt) are generally referred to by surnames only, but so too are very wicked ones (Hitler, Stalin). Neither labelling is intended here, although the first would be far more justifiable than the second. More inconvenient are the implications of gender stereotyping. The public world of politics in nineteenth-century Canada was exclusively male, although we may suspect that women exercised due influence behind the scenes. If John A. is ‘Macdonald’, then it becomes necessary to identify the women of his family by their given names. It is important to stress that identifying formidable personalities such as Helen, his mother, or Agnes, his second wife, in this way does not imply that they were ornamental ciphers. The whole matter is complicated by the modern Canadian practice of alluding to all politicians, female and male, by their surnames as a democratic way of cutting them down to size. To repeat, calling the subject of this study ‘Macdonald’ does not imply that he was a great man or a bad man nor that he was a superior being by version of his masculinity.


            The Kingston of these pages is, of course, the Canadian city at the eastern end of the Great Lakes and apologies are offered to anyone opening these pages in search of information about the many other Kingstons around the English-speaking world. The largest, with two-thirds of a million people, is the capital of Jamaica, founded back in 1693, while one of the smallest is the administrative centre of Norfolk Island in the south Pacific. The oldest, Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey, England, was the royal headquarters of the West Saxon dynasty. Recorded as early as 838, it was the scene of the first recorded English coronation, the crowning of king Athelstan in 925. By contrast, Kingston-upon-Hull only acquired the name when Edward I acquired the place in 1282, and the modern city is usually known simply as Hull. The other twenty-five examples in England are villages, some of which have asserted their identities by adopting the names of long-vanished feudal landlords: Kingston Bagpuize, Kingston Lacy, Kingston Lisle. Also tiny are most of the two Kingstons in Scotland, seven in Australia, two in New Zealand and one apiece in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Most unexpected of all, the name turns up on the maps of fifteen American states, even as far west as Utah which never had anything to do with George III. Kingston on the Hudson River claims to have been briefly capital of the colony of New York, while according to legend its Tennessee namesake was state capital for one day in order to cheat local Indians, who thought they would gain government investment through a land deal.

Given the potential for confusion, it is hard to understand why Little Rest, Rhode Island, and Apple Tree Cove in Washington State should have adopted the name. By contrast, New Brunswick had two places called Kingston until 1901 when one community showed off its knowledge of Latin and renamed itself Rexton. However, the multiplicity of namesakes does not seem to have impinged upon the nineteenth-century Ontario city. However, curiously enough, two individuals who played an important part in John A. Macdonald’s life had connections with its overseas namesakes. Alexander Campbell, his first law partner and long-time political associate, was born ten kilometres from Kingston-upon-Hull, and returned to the area as a young man to find a bride. Macdonald’s second wife, Agnes Bernard, grew up in the Caribbean and lived for a time in the Jamaican Kingston. These were coincidences, but perhaps subconsciously they underlined the fact that the Loyal Old Town at the eastern end of Lake Ontario was part of a world-wide imperial network.

Upper Canada, the colony in which John A. Macdonald grew up, is the core of today’s Ontario, although the modern province extends much further to the west and north. In 1841, Upper Canada was joined by the British parliament to Lower Canada, later the province of Quebec, and the two sections were renamed Canada West and Canada east. However, the old names remained in general use, and in 1849 the legislature officially reinstated them. The Province of Canada administered two separate legal systems, one of English and the other of French origin. The Justice portfolio for Upper Canada, which Macdonald took over in 1854, continued to be called Attorney-General West. At Confederation in 1867, the two sections re-emerged as Ontario and Quebec.

At first sight, the electoral politics of nineteenth-century Canada will seem familiar to twenty-first century Ottawa-watchers, since elections apparently pitted the ancestors of the modern Liberals against the forebears of the Conservatives. The reality is a little more complicated. In outline, and usually when it came to head-to-head contest on polling day, there were indeed two groupings, from whom the two major Canadian parties can trace their lineage. In pre-Confederation times, Liberals usually styled themselves Reformers, although they had little in common with the political party that so startling burst out of western Canada in the last decade of the twentieth century. They did not make the full transition to calling themselves Liberals until the end of the century, when the Dominion-wide leadership of a French Canadian, Wilfrid Laurier, seems to have encouraged the adaptation of the Quebec label, parti libérale. Informally, Quebec Liberals were nicknamed ‘les rouges’, and the hence Liberal Party of Canada inherited red as its campaign colour. Here the term Reformers is used prior to 1867, and Liberals thereafter. While party animosity was barely restrained in John A. Macdonald’s time, it is essential to grasp that party structures were much more fluid. Without appreciating that basic fact, it becomes impossible to comprehend how it could have been that politicians often seemed to be fighting their allies as ferociously as they resisted their enemies. Reformers covered the ideological spectrum from moderates through to radicals: in the eighteen-fifties, the latter were abused as ‘Clear Grits’, a nickname that has also adhered to the modern Liberal Party. On the other side, Conservatism embraced everybody from those, like John A. Macdonald himself, who combined respect for tradition with support for practical improvement, through to extremists who believed in privilege so long as they were the privileged. In the pre-Confederation period, this latter philosophy was known as Toryism, and Macdonald himself denied being a Tory and worked to limit Tory influence in his party. The confused factional struggles that took place within the two parties often created a common centre ground that united the moderates of both sides. To the end of his life, John A. Macdonald called himself a Liberal-Conservative, although after 1867 he was less sensitive about using the label ‘Tory’ ─ if only because, as an inveterate punster, he could claim satisfac-tory policies.

To any observer of Canada’s British-style political system, Kingston elections in the nineteenth century will seem familiar. American readers may need to note that, while Canada’s legislatures have a maximum life of five years, there was [until 2007] no system of fixed elections.  Canadians could be sent to the polls whenever the government of the day might persuade the governor-general to dissolve the existing parliament. However, two technical terms may cause puzzlement. Nineteenth-century elections began with an open-air Saturnalia called ‘the hustings’, at which the rival candidates were nominated and then addressed the crowd ─ or attempted to do so. The last hustings were held at the general election of 1872, and soon after that Canada switched to the secret ballot. Readers outside Canada may also be unfamiliar with the term ‘riding’, which means a parliamentary constituency. An old English word originally meaning a third, it was applied to the three divisions of the giant county of Yorkshire. However, in Canada, as in Ireland where it was also imported, the word lost of its mathematical precision and was applied to any division of a county. The British North America Act of 1867 employed the term when it defined parliamentary boundaries in rural Ontario. Gradually ‘riding’ became the standard term in Canadian English for all parliamentary constituencies, rural or urban. Macdonald himself, with his unconscious preference for English usage, generally seems to have avoided the term.

Two minor points may also be noted. First, I have used a term that now seems dated, referring to the post-Confederation government in Ottawa as the ‘Dominion’. Of course, the structure of government adopted in 1867 was federal, both in practice and to a large degree also in theory, and contemporaries often used the terminology. But Sir John A. Macdonald intended that the central power should be supreme and in this, our vocabulary should reflect his own. Second, Kingston’s university was founded as Queen’s College in 1842, and only formally adopted the University title in 1912. At the few points where it touches upon the story, I have simply referred to it as ‘Queen’s’. Given its academic standing, this is one usage that should be easily recognised anywhere in the world.

Two points need to be made about the interpretation of numbers. The first relates to the value of money. Until 1857, Canada used the British system of pounds, shillings and pence. The switch to dollars and cents, which took place during John A. Macdonald’s brief term as premier of the province, was intended to reflect the fact that it was mainly American coins that circulated in Canada ─ an object that was undermined when the Northern States opted to finance the fighting the American Civil War by pumping out paper money. Amounts in pounds have been retrospectively converted to dollars by multiplying by four. However, this does not deal with our more subjective to the massive change in the value of money since the Macdonald era. It may seem merely amusing to read of skilled tradesmen working for a dollar a day, while modern-day home-owners may feel envious nostalgia on learning that in 1874, John A. Macdonald assumed he could buy a house in Toronto for $10,000. It is difficult to make real comparisons in the value of money, not least because the components of any measurement of the cost of living have changed so much: we buy gasoline, they paid servants. It is best to keep a few benchmarks in mind. A skilled Canadian worker ─ say a blacksmith, shoemaker, carpenter or printer ─ in the mid-nineteenth century probably made on average $160 a year, an estimate which assumes that he could earn his dollar on around half the days of the year. Since Canada was generally portrayed as an emigrants’ paradise, we have to assume that this was an adequate if hardly a lavish income. At the other end of the scale, John A. Macdonald was paid $8,000 as prime minister in the eighteen eighties ─ and then as now, the combined debts of $79,590.11 that hit him in 1869 constituted very bad news indeed.

The other numerical point to keep in mind is that, by any subjective standard, the population was small in John A. Macdonald’s time. Even during a phase of rocketing demographic expansion in the eighteen-fifties, Upper Canada contained barely one tenth of the people that Ontario would count at the start of the twenty-first century. Kingston numbered around six thousand people when John A. Macdonald first ran for parliament in 1844, and numbers had trebled to just under twenty thousand by the time of his last campaign in 1891. There are more people in some sub-divisions of modern cities. Numbers voting rose from about 300 in 1844 to three thousand by 1891. It would become steadily harder to know every voter personally, but even at the end of Macdonald’s life politics retained a considerable element of personal contact between candidate and citizen of a kind that is hardly possible today.

NOTE ON SOURCES [as of 2009]

 This Note outlines the major source materials consulted but does not attempt to provide a complete bibliography. Where abbreviations are used in endnotes, the short citation is given in square brackets. Resources available on-line as of October 2009 are noted, but as terms of access and Internet addresses may alter, search engines should be used to secure contact information. With so much primary material now coming on line, academic and public libraries should be consulted on the availability of resources. 

            The papers of John A. Macdonald, held by Library and Archives Canada [LAC] in Ottawa, naturally represent an important source for his career, and are now being placed on-line. LAC also holds the papers of J.R. Gowan, the diary of Edmund Meredith and microfilm of the Kimberley Papers. The Archives of Ontario [OA] holds the papers of Alexander Campbell and of T.C. Patteson. There is a small but interesting collection of John A. Macdonald correspondence in the Archives of Queen’s University Archives, Kingston. In comparison with most nineteenth-century Canadian politicians, John A. Macdonald left an extensive archival trail. However, merely because the documentary record tells us a lot about him, we should not assume that it reveals everything. On this point, see Ged Martin, 'Archival Evidence and John A. Macdonald Biography,' Journal of Historical Biography, 1, 2006, pp. 79-115 (on-line journal).

            A great deal of John A. Macdonald's correspondence is available in print, especially for his early life. His secretary published Joseph Pope, Correspondence of Sir John Macdonald (Garden City, NY, 1921), which concentrated on his career after 1864. For the earlier years, see J.K. Johnson, ed., The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald, I: 1836-1857 (Ottawa, 1968) [ML I] and J.K. Johnson and C.B. Stelmack, eds, The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald 1858-1861 (Ottawa, 1969) [ML II]. For his private side, see J.K. Johnson, ed., Affectionately Yours: The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald and His Family (Toronto, 1969). For two specific  episodes, see J.K. Johnson, 'Sir James Gowan, Sir John A. Macdonald, and the Rebellion of 1837,' Ontario History [OH], 60, 1968, pp. 61-64 and F.H. Armstrong, 'The Macdonald-Gowan Letters, 1847', OH, 63, 1971, pp. 11-14.

            A collection of Macdonald's speeches delivered across Upper Canada was published in 1861 with a very long title, Address of the Hon. John A. Macdonald to the Electors of the City of Kingston … (Kingston, 1861) [Address]. His parliamentary speeches can be found in the reconstructed Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada (to 1856) and in the Debates of the House of Commons of Canada (various titles, from 1874, available on-line).

            The press is a major source for the history of the period, but one that needs to be handled with care. Although sympathetic newspapers reported Macdonald's election speeches more fully than would be the case today, journalists and editors were much less scrupulous in observing a distinction between news and opinion. Unfortunately, complete newspaper files do not always survive.  However, contemporary reporters shamelessly copied each others' stories, so otherwise lost Kingston material can sometimes be found in newspapers from other cities. The exact title of as newspaper could vary from year to year, reflecting either mergers with smaller rivals, or the distinction between daily and weekly editions. Endnotes cite the name on the masthead of the issue quoted. The major Kingston newspaper in Macdonald's early days, the Chronicle, faded out in the late eighteen-forties. For much of his career, the leading newspapers in the city were the Daily News and the British Whig. The first two consistently supported Macdonald, but the Whig swung against him in 1872. Of external newspapers, the Toronto Globe circulated beyond its home city. It was virulently anti-John A. Macdonald, but it is hard to assess the influence of its occasional interventions in Kingston affairs. Nineteenth-century newspapers are usually consulted through microfilm, and many are now available on-line.

            The best general survey of the life of John A. Macdonald is the essay by J.K. Johnson and P.B. Waite in Dictionary of Canadian Biography [DCB], 12, 1990, pp. 591-612, which is accessible on-line. The major scholarly biography is the two-volume study by Donald Creighton, John A. Macdonald: The Young Politician (Toronto, 1952) [YP] and John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain (Toronto, 1955) [OC]. 

            Chief among older works is Joseph Pope, Memoirs of the Right Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald (2 vols, Ottawa, 1894) [Memoirs]. The title now seems misleading, since it was a biography by Macdonald's loyal secretary and not an autobiography. His son, Maurice Pope, used the term in the modern sense when he edited Public Servant: The Memoirs of Sir Joseph Pope (Toronto, 1960), which contains revealing glimpses of  Macdonald. Joseph Pope also penned a short and racy invocation, The Day of Sir John Macdonald: A Chronicle of the First Prime Minister of Canada (Glasgow, 1920). J.E. Collins, Life and Times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald (Toronto, 1883) [Collins] was reissued on his death as G. Mercer Adam, Canada’s Patriot Statesman: the Life and Career of ... Sir John A. Macdonald (Toronto, 1891). E.B. Biggar, Anecdotal Life of Sir John Macdonald (Montreal, 1891) [Biggar, Anecdotal Life] is more useful than its title might suggest. Although written by his nephew, J.P. Macpherson, Life of the Right Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald (2 vols, Saint John, 1891) [Macpherson] is less useful than might be hoped. Donald Swainson, Sir John A. Macdonald: The Man and the Politician (Kingston, 1989 ed.) offers not only an excellent overview but also contains a comprehensive bibliography. Three lively and well-illustrated volumes conjure up the man and his times: Lena C. Newman, The John A. Macdonald Album (Montreal, 1974), P.B. Waite, Macdonald: His Life and His World (Toronto, 1975) and Donald Swainson, First Prime Minister: Macdonald of Kingston (Toronto, 1979). Cynthia M. Smith with Jack McLeod published a lively compilation, loosely developed from Biggar, as Sir John A.: An Anecdotal Life of John A. Macdonald (Toronto, 1979). For a general discussion, see Ged Martin, 'John A. Macdonald and His Biographers,' British Journal of Canadian Studies, 14, 1999, pp. 300-19. Recent books include Patricia Phenix, Private Demons: The Tragic Personal Life of John A. Macdonald (Toronto, 2006) and Richard Gwyn, John A. The Man Who Made Us: The Life and Times of John A. Macdonald, I, 1815-1867 (Toronto, 2007). A second volume by Richard Gwyn is eagerly awaited [published 2011].

            A number of articles and essays throw light on aspects and phases of Macdonald's life. His early years are studied in William R. Teatero, 'John A. Macdonald Learns – Articling with George Mackenzie,' Historic Kingston [HK], 27, 1979, pp. 92-111. His pre-Confederation business activities are explored by J.K. Johnson, 'John A. Macdonald: The Young Non-Politician,' Canadian Historical Association Annual Report, 1971 [Young Non-Politician]. There is a parallel study of his political career in J.K. Johnson, 'John A. Macdonald,' in J.M.S. Careless, ed., The Pre-Confederation Premiers: Ontario Government Leaders, 1841-1867 (Toronto, 1980), pp. 197-245. Ged Martin, 'John A. Macdonald: Provincial Premier,' British Journal of Canadian Studies, 20, 2007, pp. 99-122 looks at his brief period as head of government in 1857-58. Problems with alcohol are considered in Ged Martin, 'John A. Macdonald and the Bottle,' Journal of Canadian Studies, 40, 2006, pp. 162-85 and the general question of his health explored by A.A. Travill, 'Sir John A. Macdonald and His Doctors,' HK, 29, 1981, pp. 85-108. There is a delightful portraits in P.B. Waite, 'Sir John A. Macdonald: The Man' in H.L. Dyck and H.P. Krosby, eds, Empire and Nations: Essays in Honour of Frederic H. Soward (Toronto, 1969), pp. 36-53. An important study of Macdonald the politician / diplomat is Barbara J. Messamore, 'Diplomacy of Duplicity? Lord Lisgar, John A. Macdonald and the Treaty of Washington, 1871' in Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 32, 2004, 29-53.

            Of the people around Macdonald, his first wife, Isabella, is remembered mainly for her poor health, in J. McSherry, 'The Illness of the First Mrs John A. Macdonald,' HK, 34, 1986. His formidable second wife comes to life in Louise Reynolds, Agnes: The Biography of Lady Macdonald (Ottawa, 1990). The work of his closest political ally in Kingston is examined in D. Swainson, 'Alexander Campbell: General Manager of the Conservative Party (Eastern Ontario Section),' HK, 17, 1969, pp. 78-92. Studies of his political friends and foes throw little light on Macdonald's relations with Kingston, with the exception of Richard Cartwright, Reminiscences (Toronto, 1912) and Peter Oliver, ed., The Conventional Man: The Diaries of Ontario Chief Justice Robert A. Harrison, 1856-1878 (Toronto, 2003). Among studies of his allies, Brian Young, George-Etienne Cartier: Montreal Bourgeois (Kingston and Montreal, 1981) is valuable for linking business and politics. A useful pioneer work is O.D. Skelton, Life and Times of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (Oxford, 1920). Unfortunately, the more accessible abridged edition by Guy MacLean (Toronto, 1966) omits Galt's attempt to dislodge Macdonald from the Conservative party leadership in 1875. Bruce W. Hodgins, John Sandfield Macdonald 1812-1872 (Toronto, 1971) is excellent, although constrained from fully exploring John A.'s influential contemporary by the insistence on brevity of the Canadian Biographical Series in which it was published. T.P. Slattery, The Assassination of D’Arcy McGee  (Toronto, 1968) ranges more widely than its title suggests, but it is likely to be superseded by the second volume of David A. Wilson's biography of McGee, awaited at the time of writing. For the two principal lieutenants of Macdonald's later years, see E.M. Saunders, ed., The Life and Letters of the Rt. Hon. Sir Charles Tupper, Bart., K.C.M.G. (2 vols, London, 1916) and P.B. Waite, The Man  from Halifax: Sir John Thompson Prime Minister (Toronto, 1985). John A. Macdonald's most determined foe is generously (both in space and sentiment) portrayed in J.M.S. Careless, Brown of the Globe, I: The Voice of Upper Canada 1818-1859 (Toronto, 1959) and J.M.S. Careless, Brown of the Globe: II, The Statesman of Confederation 1860-1880 (Toronto, 1963). Brown's associates in their moral crusade against Macdonald and all his works come to life in D.C. Thomson, Alexander Mackenzie: Clear Grit (Toronto, 1960) and A. Margaret Evans, Sir Oliver Mowat (Toronto, 1992).

            Thanks to one of the great and continuing projects of Canadian scholarship, we can find out a great deal about Macdonald's contemporaries, from the most famous down to many who were notable mainly in their own localities. Entries in the multivolume Dictionary of Canadian Biography [DCB] range from short identifying notes to long interpretive essays. The DCB can be easily searched on-line.

For further reading on the Canada of Macdonald's time, see M. Brook Taylor, ed., Canadian History: A Reader's Guide: I, Beginnings to Confederation (Toronto, 1994) and Doug Owram, ed, Canadian History: A Reader's Guide: II, Confederation to the Present (Toronto, 1994). R.L. Gentilcore, ed., Historical Atlas of Canada: II, The Land Transformed, 1800-1891 (Toronto, 1993) is packed with valuable information which incidentally illustrates how a city so centrally located as Kingston managed to become economically marginalised. Its terminal date was chosen because 1891 was a census year, but it happens to coincide with Sir John A. Macdonald's death. Thanks to the swing away from the writing of political history among Canadian academics, the magnificent volumes of the Canadian Centenary Series retain their authority as the best background for Macdonald's political career. They are J.M.S. Careless, The Union of the Canadas: The Growth of Canadian Institutions 1841-1857 (Toronto, 1967); W.L. Morton, The Critical Years: The Union of British North America 1857-1873 (Toronto, 1964) and Peter B. Waite, Canada 1874-1896: Arduous Destiny (Toronto, 1971).

            J.M. Beck, Pendulum of Power: Canada’s Federal Elections (Scarborough, Ont., 1968) [Beck, Pendulum] outlines general election campaigns Dominion-wide from 1867. This may be supplemented by D.G.G. Kerr, 'The 1867 Elections in Ontario: The Rules of the Game,' Canadian Historical Review, 51, 1970, pp. 369-85 and J.A. Eadie, 'The Federal Election in the Lennox Riding and its Aftermath, 1882-83: A Glimpse of Victorian Political Morality,' OH, 76, 1984, pp. 353-72. For the right to vote, see John Garner, The Franchise and Politics in British North America 1755-1867 (Toronto, 1969) and Gordon Stewart, 'John A. Macdonald’s Greatest Triumph,' Canadian Historical Review, 63, 1982, pp. 3-33. S.J.R. Noel, Patrons, Clients, Brokers: Ontario Society and Politics, 1791-1896 (Toronto, 1990) offers an analysis of the operation of politics, which can be vividly supplemented by Jeffrey Simpson, Spoils of Power: The Politics of Patronage (Toronto, 1988). Also useful is J.D. Livermore, 'The Ontario Election of 1871: A Case Study of the Transfer of Political Power,' OH, 71 (1979), pp. 39-52.

            For Kingston, see Brian S. Osborne and Donald Swainson, Kingston: Building on the Past (Westport, Ont., 1988) [KBP] and Gerald Tulchinksy, ed., To Preserve and Defend: Essays on Kingston in the Nineteenth Century (Montreal, 1976) [TPD]. Useful essays in TPD include Arthur Lower, 'The Character of Kingston,' (pp. 17-35); Brian S. Osborne, 'The Settlement of Kingston’s Hinterland,' (pp. 63-79); John W. Spurr, 'Garrison and Community, 1815-1870,' (pp. 103-18); J.K. Johnson, 'John A. Macdonald and the Kingston Business Community,' (pp. 141-55); George Richardson, 'The Canadian Locomotive Company,' pp. 157-67; Max Magill, 'The Failure of the Commercial Bank,' (pp. 169-81); George M. Betts, 'Municipal Government and Politics, 1800-1850,' (pp. 223-44); J.D. Livermore, 'The Orange Order and the Election of 1861 in Kingston,' (pp. 245-59); Donald Swainson, 'Kingstonians in the Second Parliament: Portrait of an Elite Group', (pp. 261-77); Patricia E. Malcolmson, 'The Poor in Kingston, 1815-1850,' (pp. 281-97) and Alan G. Green, 'Immigrants in the City: Kingston as Revealed in the Census Manuscripts of 1871,' (pp. 311-30).

            KBP and TPD largely supersede the affectionate account in J.A. Roy, Kingston: the King’s Town (Toronto, 1952). Hilda Neatby, Queen's University: I, 1841-1917 (Kingston and Montreal, 1978) is magisterial although notably it says little about John A. Macdonald.

For two views of the question of Kingston's 'decline', see Brian S. Osborne, 'Kingston in the Nineteenth Century: A Study in Urban Decline,' in J. David Wood, ed., Perspectives on Landscape and Settlement in Nineteenth Century Ontario (Toronto, 1978), pp. 159-81 and Donald Swainson, 'Chronicling Kingston: An Interpretation,' OH, 74, 1982, pp. 302-33.

            Two of Macdonald's election campaigns are discussed J.D. Livermore, whose essay on the crisis of 1860-61 is cited above (TPD, pp. 245-61) and W.J. Coyle, 'Elections in Kingston in 1867,' HK, 16, 1968, pp. 48-57. W.M. Wilson, 'Eleven Years of Dissention: The Conservative Party in Kingston, 1867 to 1878'' HK, 32, 1986, pp. 46-56 offers the important thesis that the Conservatives were hampered by poor organisation, although Thomas Brady, 'Sinners and Publicans: Sir John Macdonald’s Trial under the Controverted Elections Act, 1874,' OH, 76, 1984, pp. 65-87 might suggest that at least one Macdonald campaign was unduly enthusiastic in bidding for voter support. F.B. Pense, 'Kingston’s Newspapers,' HK, 4, 1955, pp. 33-36 is a useful note.

            On-line sources multiply, although contact details may change. A good introduction to Macdonald's life can be found in the virtual exhibition by Library and Archives Canada and Parks Canada also offers an overview in connection with Bellevue House, where Macdonald briefly lived in the late eighteen-forties. A walking tour of Kingston sites associated with Macdonald, narrated by Hon. Jean Chrétien and Hon. Peter Milliken, is available through the City of Kingston website. As noted, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography can be accessed and searched, and many nineteenth-century Canadian publications are available through Canadiana.org and Kingston election results from 1867 are given on the website of the Library of Parliament. There has never been a time when it was so easy and so inviting to explore the Canadian past from the comfort of your own home.

 Postscript 2016 The second volume of Richard Gwyn's biography, Nation Maker. Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times 1867-1891 (Toronto, 2011) concentrates on his hero's role as the key builder of Canada ('no Macdonald would have meant no Canada', 316).  There are wide-ranging essays in Patrice Dutil and Roger Hall, eds, Macdonald at 200: New Reflections and Legacies (Toronto, 2014), but no extended discussion of his local power base. My own overview appeared as Ged Martin, John A. Macdonald: Canada's First Prime Minister (Toronto, 2013) in Dundurn's Quest Biography series. I have also further explored one of his closest associates in Ged Martin, 'Alexander Campbell (1822-1892): the Travails of a Father of Confederation', OH, 105, 2013, 1-18, and http://www.gedmartin.net/published-work-mainmenu-11/249-alexander-campbell-1822-1892-the-travails-of-a-father-of-confederation.]


 The following Abbreviations are used in the Endnotes:

 Address: Address of the Hon. John A. Macdonald to the Electors of the City of Kingston … (Kingston, 1861)

 Beck, Pendulum: J.M. Beck, Pendulum of Power: Canada’s Federal Elections (Scarborough, Ont., 1968)


 Biggar, Anecdotal Life: E.B. Biggar, Anecdotal Life of Sir John Macdonald (Montreal, 1891)

 Collins: J.E. Collins, Life and Times of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald (Toronto, 1883)


 Creighton, OC: Donald Creighton, John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain (Toronto, 1955)

 Creighton, YPDonald Creighton, John A. Macdonald: The Young Politician (Toronto, 1952)

 DCB: Dictionary of Canadian Biography

 HK: Historic Kingston

 KBP: Brian S. Osborne and Donald Swainson, Kingston: Building on the Past (Westport, Ont., 1988)

 Knight: D.B. Knight, Choosing Canada’s Capital: Conflict Resolution in a Parliamentary System (Ottawa, 1991)

 LAC: Library and Archives Canada (Ottawa)

 ML I: J.K. Johnson, ed., The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald , I: 1836-1857 (Ottawa, 1968)

 ML II: J.K. Johnson and C.B. Stelmack, eds, The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald 1858-1861 (Ottawa, 1969)


 Macpherson: J.P. Macpherson, Life of the Right Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald (2 vols, Saint John, 1891)

 OH: Ontario History

 Pope, Memoirs:  Joseph Pope, Memoirs of the Right Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald (2 vols, Ottawa, 1894)

 TPD: G. Tulchinksy, ed., To Preserve and Defend: Essays on Kingston in the Nineteenth Century (Montreal, 1976)


 ‘Young Non-Politician’: J.K. Johnson, ‘John A. Macdonald: The Young Non-Politician’, Canadian Historical Association Annual Report, 1971





Year                A                     B         C                     D                     Opponent


1844                282                  42       240                  87.04               Manahan[1]

1847                386                  84       302                  82.13               Mackenzie[2]

1851                by acclamation

1854                437                  265      172                  62.25               Counter[3]

1857               1189                    9      1180                99.25               Shaw[4]

1861                785                  474      311                 62.35               Mowat[5]

1863                785                  473      312                 62.4                 Gildersleeve[6]

1867                735                  142      593                 83.81               Stewart

1872                735                  604       131                 54.9                 Carruthers

1874 (i)            839                  801         38                 51.16               Carruthers

1874 (ii)           889                  872         17                 50.48               Carruthers

1878                847                  991      [-144]               45.93               Gunn[7]

[1882]              797                  889      [-  93]             47.27               Gunn

1887              1368                1351         17                 50.31               Gunn[8]

1891              1784                1301        483                57.29               Gunn[9]


A: Votes for Macdonald; B: Votes Against; C: Majority; D: Percentage for Macdonald.





[1] Macpherson, Life of Macdonald, I, p. 94; Creighton, Young Politician, p. 99 gives 275-42.

[2] Macpherson, Life of Macdonald, I, p. 121; Creighton, Young Politician, p. 129.

[3] Creighton, Young Politician, p. 206, quoting Toronto Globe, 28 July 1854. Macpherson, Life of Macdonald, I, p. 273 reports a majority of 162, apparently following British Whig, 28 July 1854.

[4] Macpherson, Life of Macdonald, I, p. 330; Creighton, Young Politician, p. 259.

[5] Macpherson, Life of Macdonald, I, p. 425; Creighton, Young Politician, p. 314.

[6] Kingston Daily News, 22 June 1863, summarised by Macpherson, Life of Macdonald, I, p. 457.

[7] In addition, 6 votes for Stewart.

[8] Majority not reported by Creighton, Old Chieftain!

[9] In addition, 29 votes for Edwards (socialist).

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