John A. Macdonald: Provincial Premier

Neither his biographers nor political historians have much to say about John A. Macdonald's brief period as head of the government in the pre-Confederation province of Canada. He was not wholly responsible for the lack-lustre performance of his ministry, but the experience was certainly no pointer to his later dominance. This article appeared in British Journal of Canadian Studies, xvi (2001), xx (2007), pp. 99-122. I am grateful to Liverpool University Press, which now publishes the BJCS, for permission to reproduce the article here.



As prime minister of the Dominion of Canada for nineteen years, John A. Macdonald is remembered for bold policies and ascendancy over both rivals and colleagues. By contrast, his sole experience as head of the government in the pre-Confederation province of Canada, from November 1857 to July 1858, was marked by political failure and personal setbacks. Had he abandoned public life after briefly grasping its highest prize - and he was tempted to retire late in 1858 - he would occupy only a minor place in the textbooks. During his eight-month term, he lost seats from his own section of the province at a general election, thus revealing the depth of sectional tensions. His ministry proposed no inspiring policies and carried little legislation. It resigned on a technicality, the alleged insult to the Queen of a stray vote against her selection of Ottawa to be the permanent capital. In private life, Macdonald's experience was still worse: his wife died during the election campaign, his health suffered, he had financial worries and he was drinking heavily. So nugatory was the Macdonald premiership that most studies of the period move direct from the inconclusive midwinter elections of 1857-8 to the bizarre episode of the ‘double shuffle' in which,  re-emerging under the leadership of George-Etienne Cartier, Macdonald and his colleagues evaded the usual obligation to fight by-elections on taking office.

There are some mitigating elements to this negative verdict. Most studies of the period note that the distinct administrative systems of the two sections created a ‘system of dual First Ministers'.[1] ‘Premiers under the Union were really co-premiers, each heading his own half of the government and the country.' Hence the hyphenated labelling of successive cabinets: LaFontaine-Baldwin, Hincks-Morin, Cartier-Macdonald. J.M.S. Careless accepted that one co-premier took precedence as technical head of each ministry, ‘but the political necessities that stemmed from sectional differences produced the practical reality of dualism in that cabinet's operation.' According to W.L. Morton, ‘dual leadership ... made it impossible for the office of prime minister fully to develop before 1867.'[2] The internal balance varied according to the power relationships of each cabinet. In the Reform ministry in 1848, Robert Baldwin ‘seemed desirous to yield the first place' to his political partner Louis LaFontaine.[3] Francis Hincks from 1851 to 1854 and John A.'s namesake, Sandfield Macdonald, in 1862-64, were dominant figures in their ministries. From June 1864, the factions making up the Great Coalition accepted the compromise leadership first of Etienne Taché and then, notionally, of Narcisse Belleau. Thanks to his loss of seats in Upper Canada, John A. Macdonald was undoubtedly one the weakest government leaders during the Union period, and he openly admitted that without the support of his Lower Canadian ally, Cartier, ‘he would never have been able to form an Administration which would have been satisfactory to the country.'[4] Even so, Macdonald was recognised and acted as premier.[5]

He did not, however, create the ministry himself. He was the third politician to head a conglomerate cabinet originally formed in 1854 formed by Hincksite Reformers and moderate Conservatives which would hold office, with the brief break of 1858, until 1862. Although Macdonald himself was the only member to serve throughout its eight-year life, this ‘Continuous Ministry' was unusually durable.[6] Thus two notable developments during Macdonald's brief term of office, the adoption of a decimal currency and the Queen's choice of Ottawa, were both the results of initiatives taken in its earlier incarnation.[7] Moreover, Macdonald took over at the point where the going concern was likely to flag. In its first two years, the coalition had carried an impressive programme of legislation: the secularisation of the clergy reserves, the abolition of seigneurial tenure and the introduction of elections to the Legislative Council. The LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry had run through its programme within two years, at which point the Reform movement split between radicals and moderates. It was the latter who had joined with centrist Conservatives like Macdonald in 1854 to enact a specific programme, making it correspondingly harder to identify a second wave of unifying policy proposals. Macdonald made much of the ‘just pride' he felt in the previous achievements of the Continuous Ministry,[8] probably because he had little to propose himself.

Political office in mid-nineteenth-century Canada involved a great deal of desk work. The Canadian Union laid the foundation for the modern civil service, and the Continuous Ministry advanced this trend towards bureaucratisation, but the process had not advanced very far. The Audit Act of 1855 led to the appointment of John Langton as the forerunner of the modern Auditor-General, who began a campaign to eliminate arcane financial practices. The Civil Service Act of 1857 introduced another key official, the deputy minister, but did little to improve the quality of appointments at lower levels.[9] Macdonald was ambivalent towards administrative change: Langton found him ‘too easy' and hence an unreliable ally in the campaign for efficiency. One useful innovation was the secondment of civil servants to act as ministers' private secretaries: Macdonald used Robert Harrison but his own workload evidently remained punishing.[10] As an efficient administrator, he perhaps did not feel the need for bureaucratic restructuring. In any case, the Attorney-General had to take decisions that spanned complex legal issues and sensitive political considerations, which could not be devolved to subordinates. To draft legislation on matters as important as bankruptcy and imprisonment for debt, he turned not to his staff but to his admiring friend, Judge J.R. Gowan of Barrie. Moreover, the developing emphasis upon due process within government had the perverse effect of considerably increasing the routine workload of the two Attorneys-General. Other departments increasingly referred their own problems for solution at the point where the legal and political bucks intersected.[11] The administrative burden of political office was one reason for the high turn-over in cabinet appointments. Outlasting most of his colleagues from 1854, Macdonald had already been in office for three years when he became premier. Even without the shock of his wife's death, it is easy to understand that he was tired.

If the creation of new administrative structures had not yet reduced ministerial workloads, it did underline the absurdity of the alternating seat of government established in 1849 and the need for a permanent capital. Unfortunately, party discipline broke down before entrenched localism, and by March 1857 it was clear that there were majorities against each of the aspirant cities, but in favour of none. Ministers then proposed to refer the choice to Queen Victoria: the device fooled nobody but buried the issue until after the expected elections.[12]

The Canada that Macdonald sent to the polls in the midwinter of 1857-8 was vastly changed from the province of 1854. Two manifestations of steam power, the railway and the mass-produced daily newspaper, had made their sudden impact, especially in Upper Canada. When Toronto's first locomotive was unloaded from a Lake steamer in October 1852, the city's Globe punningly predicted that the first turn of its wheels would be ‘a revolution pregnant with great events.'[13] Just four years later, Toronto was the hub of a railway system that stretched westward to Windsor and Sarnia, eastward through Montreal to the United States, and north to Georgian Bay. This sudden explosion of modern technology fuelled a new Upper Canadian assertiveness. Increasingly, there were demands for an increased share of political power within the province through representation by population and for expansion into the Hudson's Bay Company territories beyond the Great Lakes.

Thanks to the steam-powered printing press and the rapid distribution facilities provided by the railways, Upper Canada's ambitious demands found a strident voice in its newspapers. The first dailies appeared in Toronto in 1853, and by 1865 there were eighteen of them across Upper Canada. Although the Montreal Gazette was a daily from 1854, the impact of the new medium was disproportionately greater in Upper Canada: indeed, the first French-language daily did not appear until 1864. In an era when journalists freely quoted one another, Toronto's status as a communications hub conferred additional influence on its newspapers, especially after November 1855 when the seat of government returned there from Quebec. Unfortunately for Macdonald, one newspaper quickly established a clear ascendancy. The Globe was hostile, arrogant, vituperative, dynamic and mesmerising. Its proprietor, George Brown, particularly disliked John A. Macdonald, a sentiment that had flared into hatred after an angry clash between them during an Assembly debate in 1856. Ministers were generally supported by two other Toronto dailies, but neither was under Macdonald's direct control and they could not match the Globe. The Kingston British Whig thought the ministry was ‘particularly unfortunate' in being saddled with the Leader, ‘an intemperate, scurrilous newspaper, always doing its patrons more harm than good.'[14] In the event, the Toronto Colonist, associated with his Tory rival John Hillyard Cameron, caused Macdonald more problems during his premiership.

The explosion of railways and newspapers might suggest that Macdonald was taking control of a prosperous province, but such was not the case. The railway companies had outspent their capital resources. The Grand Trunk, in particular, had quartered itself on the Canadian taxpayer. Ostensibly, Macdonald was proud that the Continuous Ministry had saved the project. ‘They found the Grand Trunk Railway, for which they were not responsible, lying unfinished and helpless, stopped at Toronto, and valueless.'[15] However, once the line was completed, his ministry refused to commit further cash and when Hamilton's railway, the Great Western, attempted to dump its liabilities on the government by threatening to default, Macdonald was minded to tell the company to ‘go to hell'.[16] Public responsibility for railway finance made fresh demands upon the provincial budget. Since most government revenue was raised through customs duties, Macdonald's finance minister, William Cayley, had little alternative but to increase tariff levels. Thus, in his first term as head of government, Macdonald almost accidentally became associated with a quasi-protectionist policy. During his third period in office as leader, starting in 1878, he would respond to similar pressures by making a positive case for his ‘National Policy'.[17]

Far more serious than the problems of railway finance was the economic crash which engulfed the Atlantic world in the autumn of 1857. The staples-based Canadian economy was especially hard hit, and the consequences were the more devastating because the railway boom had encouraged a bubble in property prices. Macdonald was one speculator who found himself over-extended, having committed himself to buy land through instalment payments, hoping to cover purchase costs out of profits.[18] He survived, but John Hillyard Cameron was almost wiped out. As a result, Cameron abandoned his subsidy to the Colonist, and the paper broke its political moorings. In April 1858, the normally cautious Toronto correspondent of the Canadian News, a fortnightly digest published in England, reckoned that businessmen who had believed themselves to be worth $100,000 the previous year were lucky if they could count $5,000 in cash.[19] Macdonald, in short, took over at one of the lowest points in nineteenth-century Canadian economic history. His government was perhaps lucky to escape a landslide defeat at the polls.


Macdonald formally became premier on 26 November 1857. Taché, his predecessor, was keen to retire. Although the parliament of 1854 would not expire until 1859, elections were generally held at intervals of about three years. Since the government offered no eye-catching initiatives, there was no point in a pre-election session. With increasing Upper Canadian demands for representation by population, it made sense to fight under an anglophone leader. All in all, the decision to go to the polls immediately has a defensive air of damage limitation about it.

There was some reshuffling of portfolios in the Macdonald cabinet and the usual turnover of personnel introduced three new faces, all from Lower Canada and chosen by his lieutenant, Cartier. It was a measure of the Continuous Ministry's success in neutralising contentious issues that Cartier even attempted to recruit the leading Rouge, A-A. Dorion. It is not clear whether F-X. Lemieux was dropped, or opted to retire. The ‘smart, shrewd little lawyer' with a huge power base around Quebec City[20] was to re-emerge dramatically during the ministerial crisis the following August. Cartier's most notable appointment was T-J-J. Loranger, who soon afterwards allegedly told his fellow French Canadians that they had the upper hand in provincial politics and should cash in.[21] Nobody was surprised at Macdonald's succession to the premiership. British readers were assured that he was ‘a liberal and progressive Conservative', the Canadian equivalent of Sir Robert Peel.[22] The Globe agreed, but added that ‘the progress will be in the direction of debt, extravagance, bribery, railway jobbery, general demoralisation, and national bankruptcy.' There could be no better man ‘for the post of corruptionist leader' than John A. Macdonald. ‘Cunning, deceitful, active, and unscrupulous, he is ready for any work that the hungry mercenaries and plotting priests ... may demand.'[23]

General elections were spread over several weeks. With control over timing, the incumbent party polled its safest seats first, to create the illusion of a bandwagon. Macdonald's supporters in Kingston wanted to return him by acclamation, urging that ‘as Prime Minister of Canada', his ‘power to do the city further good is almost illimitable.' In the event, he faced a token opponent on December 16 but was elected by a massive 1189 votes to 9.[24] Elsewhere, however, prospects were less encouraging. Because the ministry was a coalition formed after the 1854 elections, it had never been tested at the polls. Apparently no serious attempt had been made to meld its supporters together at local level, in sharp contrast to the well-organised Reformers. In several ridings, rival candidates came forward as government supporters, and Macdonald had to use his persuasive skills to secure united fronts. Perversely, this restricted his capacity to campaign across the province. ‘I cannot leave here for a moment,' he wrote from Toronto on 6 December, ‘or everything will go to the devil.' ‘We are losing every where from our friends splitting the party,' he complained eight days later. ‘If this continues it is all up with us.'[25]

Macdonald hoped to head off Upper Canadian demands for increased political power with ‘good bunkum arguments'. He advised his ally Sidney Smith that it was ‘all right' to pledge himself for representation by population, provided he added ‘coupled with extent of territory'. He should then warn the farmers that railways would create large cities, and urban voters would demand cheap imports, which would entail low tariffs, which would require a property tax to make up lost revenue - which would fall heavily on farmers. Representation by population would also shift power to the fast-growing areas west of Toronto, and more easterly districts like Smith's riding in Northumberland County would lose out on public expenditure.[26]

Macdonald was taken by surprise by the extent to which the abstract argument for constitutional change was fuelled by Upper Canadian resentment at the way increased privileges for minority Catholic schools had been rammed through by French-Canadian votes. By December 13, he was alarmed at the strength of the ‘fanatical Protestant cry' against the ministry.[27] ‘This "cry" is, unfortunately, likely to have some success,' one observer noted, ‘and there is no saying the extent of the mischief it may effect.'[28] In Upper Canada, the bandwagon was now rolling towards the opposition, and there was no Christmas truce. ‘Brown's "Representation by Population" and "no separate schools" doing the ministry mischief,' Macdonald's secretary noted on December 24. One minister, J.C. Morrison, went down to defeat to a future premier of Ontario after his riding was placarded with the slogans urging electors to vote for Mowat and the Queen not Morrison and the Pope. Bizarrely, Ogle R. Gowan, a prominent Orangeman, was also swept away by similar tactics. For the Globe, the campaign was a crusade: ‘Another Corruptionist Defeated! Prince Edward [County] Redeemed!' was a typical headline.[29] But in Lower Canada, where the Rouges suffered by implied association with Upper Canada's ferocious ‘Grits', the results were diametrically opposite.[30] On 27 December, Taché wryly commented that he began to see the advantages of a Napoleonic benevolent despotism. Even Macdonald, a seasoned political operator, was unsure which way ten Upper Canadian members would eventually jump.[31] By late December the province appeared to be facing into the biggest political impasse since the achievement of responsible government.

At just this moment, Macdonald was overwhelmed by tragedy in his private life. For the past decade, both the women in his life had battled with ill health. His indomitable mother, Helen, had suffered a series of debilitating strokes. His wife, Isabella, was bedridden with a mystery illness and had probably contracted tuberculosis as well. Isabella had accompanied her husband to Toronto in the winter of 1855-56, but the effort had precipitated a serious crisis in her health. Presumably she had recovered sufficiently for Macdonald to feel able to travel to England on government business in the summer of 1857, but she was by then left in the care of Macdonald's sisters in Kingston. On 23 December Harrison noted that Macdonald had ‘hurried off to Kingston - his mother unwell.' In the event, Helen was to live for another five years. But just one week after his dash from Toronto, Macdonald was standing at his wife's graveside.

Such a bereavement would be a terrible blow under any circumstances, but for a party leader on the defensive in the middle of an election campaign it was an unprecedented horror. But political warfare continued. News of Isabella's death that morning had reached Toronto by the evening of Monday 28 December, but no word of it was given to readers of the Globe, which launched a further personal attack on the premier on the day of his wife's funeral. On 3 January Macdonald returned to Toronto: Harrison thought him ‘pretty well under the circumstances'.[32] Within two days, he was back at his desk. He still had an election to fight.

Although it was now opposition seats that were polling, there was an outside chance of a government gain in Haldimand, where William Lyon Mackenzie's late decision to defend his seat had resulted in a plethora of Reform aspirants. Macdonald sent an emissary to secure a united party front.[33] He was already looking beyond the polls, trying to rebuild his cabinet. Macdonald's first task on his return had been to discuss the situation with two of his colleagues, Cayley and Robert Spence, both of whom had lost their seats. ‘What to do I do not know', he wrote despondently on 12 January.[34] ‘Let Mr Macdonald and his corruptionist clique try their hand a little longer,' sang the Globe, ‘- the day of retribution is not far off.' Globe spies monitored activity at the Rossin House, the city's leading hotel and cockpit of political intrigue. ‘Another day and no Government!', it rejoiced on January 21, prompting a tart briefing from the premier to the Colonist to assure the tormenter that ‘the Government will meet Parliament with a perfectly formed Cabinet' commanding majority support.[35]  

Macdonald tried to shore up his ministry by a fresh infusion of Reformers. The obvious person to approach was his namesake, John Sandfield Macdonald, whose political base at Cornwall, in the sluggish eastern end of Upper Canada, left him unsympathetic to Brown's enthusiasm for representation by population. It was a sign of John A's post-election weakness that he was not only prepared to pay a high price for Sandfield's adhesion but that he specifically sought Cartier's endorsement for his formal proposal to reconstruct his own Upper Canadian section of the cabinet. On January 26, Sandfield Macdonald was offered three cabinet places with a choice of offices for himself, and was urged to telegraph his acceptance using the formula ‘All right'. In fact, in a surprisingly modern phrase, Sandfield replied ‘No go'.[36] The Globe, which had some wind of the negotiations, was probably accurate in reporting John A. Macdonald's political tightrope walk. Conservatives, it reported, feared that their admission would ‘destroy the Tory element' in the government, while the ‘sham liberals' insisted on ‘a majority of Upper Canadian Reformers.' ‘Are we always to be at the mercy of petty tricksters like John A. Macdonald, whose highest thought is the preservation of their salaries?'[37] However, the Globe subsequently claimed that Macdonald had wished to resign after his election setback, but that he was dissuaded by the governor-general, Sir Edmund Head.[38]

Macdonald now turned to the depleted ranks of his followers to rebuild the cabinet.  One limiting factor was that newly appointed ministers from the Assembly had to return to their constituents and fight by-elections. Happily this obstacle did not apply to John Ross, a life member of the upper house, who had the convenient advantage of a political past as a Baldwin-Hincks Reformer. From the lower house Macdonald recruited Sidney Smith, who survived his by-election, despite the local handicap that his residence in Cobourg aroused the jealousy of voters in nearby Port Hope. Macdonald again warned Smith against endorsing representation by population, and unveiled a new tactic of making a bogey out of the spectre of a Brown-led ministry. To form a cabinet in Canada's bi-valved system of government, Smith was to point out, Brown would have to strike a bargain ‘for the sake of office' with politicians from Lower Canada. The most likely deal would involve French-Canadian acceptance of representation by population in principle, with the proviso that Brown must ‘wait till they are ready to put the principle into practice which will be slightly after this.'[39]

With the appointments of Ross and Smith, the two defeated ministers, Morrison and Spence, left politics altogether. However, Macdonald decided to hang on to Cayley, breezily telling parliament that it was ‘by no means easy to find a Finance Minister.'[40] A government supporter in the Ottawa valley made way for him, triggering fresh allegations of corruption. By good fortune, news had just arrived of Queen Victoria's decision, guided by Sir Edmund Head, to select Ottawa as the permanent capital. Macdonald gave the scoop to the editor of the Colonist: ‘it should go in at the last moment, to prevent the Globe from having it in the morning.' The Globe obligingly spent the Renfrew by-election campaign abusing Ottawa as ‘entirely unsuited' for the role, and predicting that any public buildings erected there would quickly ‘be abandoned to the moles and the bats.'[41]

Parliament met on February 25 and continued, with a two-week Easter adjournment, until 16 August. This unusually long session reflected the intensity of partisan conflict rather than the content of the government's programme. Its proposals were ‘all of a practical and most of them a commercial character', aimed at dealing with the legacy of the 1857 crash - legislation on bankruptcy, fraud and the abolition of imprisonment for debt.[42] The most important measure was the repeal the Usury Laws, which placed an artificial six percent cap on bank loans. By discouraging investment from Britain and forcing borrowers to turn to illegal money-lenders, these antiquated laws ‘only tend to make money scarcer and dearer.'[43] The issue had long cut across party lines, but reform was now vital: some Canadian banks had only kept afloat in 1857 by borrowing from British counterparts at high interest, and they needed to recoup their costs by charging market rates for lending.

On two other questions, government policy seemed oddly opaque. The Queen's choice of Ottawa had helped Cayley win his by-election, but the seat of government question was only ‘very slightly alluded to' in the throne speech.[44] The Globe alleged that Macdonald had assured the voters of Kingston, a former capital and still an aspirant, that the reference to the Queen was a ‘trick', and in giving the Colonist its scoop the premier had insisted that the paper should say nothing ‘about any action of the Gov[ernmen]t on the matter.'[45] With at least one member of the cabinet, L-V. Sicotte, implacably opposed to Ottawa, the suspicion grew that the ministry would allow a mutinous Assembly to override the royal initiative.

Equally noncommittal was the statement that the laws for conduct of elections were ‘insufficient'. The franchise had been extended in 1853-54, without providing for adequate voter registration machinery. As a result, almost a quarter of the returns to the new Assembly were disputed. In a violent election in Quebec city, which was estimated to have a qualified electorate of 4,000, no fewer than 14,000 votes were recorded.[46] The Macdonald ministry seemed oddly low-key in its response to this massive fraud. There was, in fact, political advantage in leaving the matter to fester. First, the Assembly spent a great deal of time squabbling over disputed returns. Second, while the proper conduct of elections remained unresolved, it would be difficult to plunge the province into a fresh campaign. The new parliament might lack moral authority, but its very inadequacies gave it temporary tenure.

Macdonald described the three-week debate on the Address as ‘a free fight all round'[47] - the opposition could not unite. Alexander Galt, for instance, an independent Reformer from the Eastern Townships, denied supporting the ministry, but felt that ‘any change in the government of the country' would be undesirable. Thanks to its French-Canadian phalanx, the government won a majority of 36 in a House of 130, but as a guide to controlling business this proved illusory.[48] Parliamentary guerrilla warfare took its toll upon the grieving premier. ‘I was very unwell last week,' he reported to his sister the debate on the Address neared its close. He had been ‘confined to bed for three days' and only just managed ‘to crawl to the House'. He spent a weekend with his feet up at the home of his cabinet colleague John Ross, one of the few ministers who lived in Toronto. For once in his long career, Macdonald had lost his zest for politics.  He expected to win the ‘hard fight in the House' but ‘it will, I think end in my retiring as soon as I can, with honour. I find the work & annoyance too much for me.'[49]

‘Few even of the Government measures have made much progress,' one correspondent noted on 26 April.[50] Indeed, ministers were behaving like onlookers in a wider debate about the future of the province. In May, Sandfield Macdonald delivered an impressive speech arguing that the two sections should operate as a de facto federation, through the ‘double majority' principle. In landmark resolutions in July, Galt argued for British North American federation.[51] By contrast the Globe trumpeted that ministers were ‘fast sinking into a position of helpless imbecility'.[52] The truth was even worse. Macdonald was not only tired and ill, but drinking heavily as well. Macdonald had long been noted for conviviality, but by 1856 overwork and fears for his wife had made him an occasional binge drinker. On 26 May the Globe came close to charging him with being drunk during the ‘post-prandial proceedings' of parliament the previous day: he had ‘made no points, got befogged, and ended in a complete break-down.' A few weeks later, the Reform politician and temperance campaigner Malcolm Cameron announced that the premier had admitted that ‘he had not been altogether free from blame in the course he pursued', but that he had now taken the pledge. The Globe called it ‘the funniest thing which has occurred for a long time.'[53]

The Globe's confident announcement in mid-April that the ‘loss of even a few Upper Canadian votes would be fatal to the Government' was simply not true.[54] More damaging to the Macdonald ministry in the upper province was the loss of the Colonist which, bereft of Cameron's subsidy, was looking for a fresh basis of support. In June 1858, George Brown made an impressive personal statement in the Assembly. The family had left Scotland to recoup their fortunes twenty years earlier after his father had defaulted on a large sum of money held in trust for the ratepayers of Edinburgh. Brown easily established that he was a blameless teenager at the time, and gained much credit by portraying himself as affectionately loyal to an incompetent parent. The Colonist joined in the general praise, infuriating Macdonald who no doubt guessed that his enemy was positioning himself to form a government. The Colonist responded to Macdonald's angry demand for a retraction by breaking with him altogether, in an editorial which pointedly asked ‘Whither are we Drifting?'[55] Macdonald retaliated by launching an unsuccessful rival paper, the Atlas, but the defection of a previously friendly journal was another setback.

The Globe sneered that the threat of a radical Grit ministry had ‘carried Macdonald & Co. over many a perilous pass'. But Brown's newspaper hardly attempted to appease French-Canadian suspicions. ‘Another Blow at Upper Canada' was its headline announcing legislation to pay bounties to fishermen, thus sending taxpayers' money, ‘four fifths of which is contributed by Upper Canada' down the St Lawrence. ‘Who will deny that we are ruled by Lower Canada, when she can force such an infamous bill as this through the House?'[56] The Globe was even more indignant when Macdonald and just six other Upper Canadian members proved ‘willing to perpetuate a monstrous evil in order to gratify the priest party' by voting through the ‘Nunnery Bill' to incorporate the Grey Nuns. As a residential order, the nuns naturally sought the authority to own property, a move which suspicious Protestants viewed as a long-term plot to conquer the entire province. The French were ‘actuated as much by a desire to thwart and insult Upper Canadians as by any love for the principle at stake,' the Globe knowingly announced. The day would come ‘when Upper Canada will serve them in the same manner, when she will repay them ... by setting at nought [sic] their most cherished prejudices.'[57] Ten weeks later, Brown was seeking French and Catholic support for his own ministry.

The origin of Macdonald's surprise resignation on 28 July may perhaps be traced to a challenge from the Globe two months earlier. Denouncing the weakness of the ministry, it commented that if such a situation arose in England, the opposition would be challenged to form an alternative government. Should their attempt fail, ‘the old set would come back again and ... they would succeed better than they had done before, because it would be evident that they were the only parties who could govern the country'.[58] This seems to have been a loose recollection of Westminster crises in 1839 and 1851, when opposition parties had abandoned attempts to form alternative cabinets. Since there were special circumstances in each case, and the returning ministries did not survive for long, it was not clear whether these precedents were helpful in Canada. But, proclaimed the Globe, Macdonald knew that he would sink into obscurity once he resigned and so he would never risk the experiment.

In fact, two months later, Macdonald did just that. The struggling imperial ministries of 1839 and 1851 technically retained the confidence of the House of Commons but in practice neither could command the disciplined support of its own followers. Macdonald was in much the same position. ‘We are getting on very slowly in the House and it is very tiresome', he wrote in mid-June. The government survived a July motion of no confidence in a ‘thin House', but the opposition mounted a dogged resistance during the budget debate, including one marathon forty-two hour session. On 22 July, one of the government's proposals was defeated by two votes, which ministers shrugged off as an accident.[59] In the event, Ottawa unexpectedly triggered the explosion. An attempt to reject the Queen's choice had been defeated by eighteen votes in mid-July, but on 28 July, the House voted by 64 to 50 for a bluntly worded motion that ‘the City of Ottawa ought not to be the permanent seat of Government'. Macdonald immediately challenged Brown to a vote of confidence, which the government won by the relatively comfortable margin of 61 to 50. But the following day ministers submitted their resignations, protesting against the insult to the Queen.[60]

Macdonald's tactics in late July have been overshadowed by the sharp practice of the double shuffle that closed the episode in early August.[61] However, this dubious expedient may not have been foreseen when Macdonald played the political ball into George Brown's court. In both the British precedents of 1839 and 1851, the opposition had failed to form an alternative ministry, and Brown was widely regarded as a ‘government impossibility' thanks to his unpopularity in Lower Canada. Technically, Macdonald and his colleagues had not actually ceased to be ministers on 29 July, but had tendered their resignations, so that, as Sir Edmund Head notified Brown, ‘they now retain their several offices only till their successors shall be appointed.'[62] If no such successors could be assembled, Macdonald and his colleagues would resume their positions, as if they had never resigned at all.

However, Brown's ‘apparently exhaustless energy'[63] overcame apparently unassailable obstacles. Although Galt had asserted in March that neither Sandfield Macdonald nor A-A. Dorion could join a Grit ministry, George Brown managed to recruit both.  Equally remarkably, he filled all six Lower Canada posts, assembling a team impressive both in personnel and (at least in sketchy outline) policy as well. Luther Holton represented not only the Montreal business community, but had been for some months past discussing with Brown the possibility of restructuring Upper and Lower Canada on federal lines, something that could give the incoming ministry not only a new policy headline, but also a plausible reason to demand a honeymoon period to work out its detailed implications.[64]

Once it seemed likely that Brown would after all succeed in forming a ministry, so posts in his cabinet suddenly became attractive commodities across a political kaleidoscope of shifting loyalties. Lewis T. Drummond was a Lower Canadian anglophone who had been one of the Baldwin-LaFontaine Reformers who had transferred to the coalition in 1854, serving as Macdonald's sectional opposite number as Attorney-General East. When MacNab had been ousted in 1856, Drummond had reportedly claimed the premiership ‘in consequence of his seniority compared with Mr. Macdonald, and his intimate acquaintance with the French language', which his rival had ‘has not mastered as to be able to speak in the house.'[65] Drummond had been out-manoeuvred, but now he took his revenge by joining Macdonald's greatest enemy. His accession added another potentially attractive policy plank (although one that was never clarified), since Drummond was committed to modifying the terms of abolition of seigneurial tenure to the advantage of small farmers. Even more remarkably, Brown's Lower Canada team was completed by the accession of the Bleu F-X. Lemieux, who had sat alongside Macdonald in Taché's cabinet only a nine months earlier. John A. Macdonald, a well-informed political gossip, was sure that Drummond and Lemieux had come aboard at the last minute.[66]

Although the new ministers would later publicly squabble about the policies they had agreed to pursue, the key point was that, although it was ‘not generally believed that Mr. Brown would be able to obtain any such support in Lower Canada as would enable him to form a Ministry at all',[67] he had succeeded. Even John A. Macdonald's jibe that the arch-foe of the Pope had appointed a record number of six Catholics to his cabinet was a back-handed compliment to Brown's success.[68] The Brown-Dorion ministers would have to contest the usual by-elections under humiliating circumstances, facing their electors after their brief cabinet had been ousted from office. Drummond was defeated on local issues in anglophone Shefford,[69] but the rest of the Lower Canada team easily secured re-election. It seemed that George Brown had hit upon policies that would be attractive to French Canadians. Macdonald and his allies faced an urgent need to strangle the new ministry at birth.

On 2 August Brown was sworn in as premier of Canada, and the John A. Macdonald ministry came to an end. By taking office, Brown and nine of his colleagues who were Assembly members automatically vacated their seats and had to return to their constituents. During their hurried negotiations, the principal members of the new cabinet had reached outline agreement to tackle sectional confrontation and to seek some compromise over the controversial question of Upper Canada's Catholic schools. But with its members barred from explaining their policies in the Assembly, it was tempting for partisans of the outgoing government to denounce the incompatible principles of their supplanters. In five months of parliamentary trench warfare, Brown had failed to carry a formal no-confidence vote against the Macdonald ministry. Now, with ten seats vacant, including his own, he had no chance of surviving one himself. At around midnight on 2 August, the Assembly condemned the ‘Short Administration' by a massive 71-31 vote. Brown advised the governor-general to dissolve, an issue on which Head had already insisted there was ‘no pledge or promise, express or implied'. The election was refused, and on 4 August Brown's cabinet resigned. Even before its downfall, a perceptive observer commented that ‘it would seem that the late Ministry descended from their high horse of power merely to remount more securely.'[70]

‘Gov[ernmen]t. no. 3 pretty much identical with no. 1', was Head's summary of the outcome.[71] However, there was no suggestion that Macdonald himself should resume the premiership. On 6 August, all but two of the old ministers were sworn in once again, this time under the leadership of Cartier. The most important addition was Galt, to whom Head had briefly offered the premiership.[72] The restored ministry evaded the ritual by-elections thanks to a loophole created by legislation in 1857 to permit politicians to change cabinet posts within thirty days. The intention had been to make possible leisurely reshuffles, but the wording of the Act did not exclude (and probably had not foreseen) the possibility of an ousted government bouncing back. To comply with the provision, the returning ministers were sworn into new offices on 6 August before returning to their old ones the following day or, some alleged, a few minutes before and after midnight. One observer doubted whether ‘a thing of this kind will bear calm scrutiny or the judgment of after years'.[73] The double shuffle has generally been seen as shabby and unfair, since Brown and his ex-colleagues were still condemned to fight by-elections to vindicate their right to hold offices they had been forced to resign.[74] Macdonald's biographer guessed that ‘the old master of manoeuvre' had spotted the loophole, although Macdonald himself later hinted that he had opposed the device but had allowed himself to be over-ruled by his colleagues.[75]

Two conspiracy theories may be dismissed. The lesser implies that by ‘ousting their most able opponents from the House,' the Macdonald team had ‘succeeded in securing peace and quietness for the rest of the session, if nothing more.'  Even in the excited atmosphere of the time, this seemed more an incidental benefit than the result of a deep-laid scheme. In a legislature of 130 members, the majority of eleven in the vote of confidence on 28 July was solid enough to render unnecessary any descent into trickery. Resort to the ethically dubious device of the double shuffle suggests that Macdonald expected Brown to fail outright in his attempt to form a rival cabinet, in which case the Reformers would not have vacated their seats by taking the oath of office. In any case, the Continuous Ministry's problems in the twilight weeks of the session lay not in the Assembly, but in the upper house, which threatened to mangle the repeal of the Usury Laws.[76] As a sceptical J.C. Dent put it, ‘why Mr. Macdonald should have specially anxious to "get rid" of them [i.e. Brown and his colleagues] at that particular time ... is a matter not easy to explain.'[77] Timing was perhaps a factor in a different sense. Macdonald probably foresaw that his ministry would become still weaker during subsequent parliamentary sessions. Hence it was preferable to force Brown's hand during the 1858 session, rather than allow him to form a ministry a year or two later when he would have a plausible claim for fresh elections. ‘The great reason why I have always been able to beat Brown,' Macdonald wrote fourteen years later, ‘is that I have always been able to look a little ahead, while he could on no occasion forgo the temptation of a temporary triumph.'[78]

The more serious charge, promptly voiced by the Globe, was that the episode was ‘a deep-laid plot', in which Macdonald conspired with the Queen's representative to lure Brown into a trap. We may smile at Pope's protest that the governor-general was ‘an English gentleman, with all that the word implies', but Head was both a man of principle and intelligent enough to appreciate the damage to his office of underhand conduct. [79] Macdonald, whose political ethics were less elevated, angrily called the charge of collusion ‘false as hell'.[80] If, as embittered Grits complained, Macdonald's colleagues showed cocky confidence in their early return to office, it was because they could guess the governor-general's response to the demand for fresh elections. Although personally reserved, Head freely discussed public affairs within the official circle. In any case, a second election within eight months was obviously undesirable, especially without any reform of the procedures that had produced such chaos in the first.[81] There is no reason to believe that ‘the Queen's representative had actually lent himself to the underhand designs of an unscrupulous party-politician'.[82] Head's misfortune lay rather in appearing to have acted in the interests of his outgoing premier. The senior official at the Colonial Office noted ‘an impression in some people's minds that he is too much under the influence of Macdonald.'[83] The identification of the two men meant that Head's reputation was besmirched by the double shuffle, a device which he did not approve.[84]

The double shuffle was too clever. It diverted attention from the central point that, through tactical resignation, Macdonald had discredited Brown's pretensions to maintain an alternative government. It also gave the opposition an opening to bring multiple lawsuits against Macdonald and his colleagues, alleging that they were sitting in parliament illegally. The ‘State Trials', as the Globe called them, were launched in the name of an undischarged bankrupt, so that the defendants faced ruinous damages if they lost but could not recover costs when, in December 1858, the judges ruled in their favour. The prospect of financial disaster forced Macdonald to reassess his role in public life.[85]

Although the Globe had condemned Cartier's accession to the premiership as a ‘thin veil' for the restoration of the outgoing leader, Macdonald himself claimed that he ‘was unwilling to have anything to do with the new arrangement, but Cartier would not do anything without me.'[86] By the end of November, it was ‘no secret' that Macdonald was ‘on the point of retiring from the Government' and would probably leave public life altogether.[87] The Globe reported panic among ‘the hungry, unprincipled crew who call him leader' and intense pressure on him to change his mind.[88] Friendlier commentators reported that his health was ‘infirm' and that ‘his private affairs' needed his attention. Macdonald's workload was no doubt increased while Cartier was in London seeking funding for the Intercolonial railway. He had his own cash-flow problem, appealing in mid-November to a government official to be ‘a good fellow and get me out of a scrape' by hurrying a promised payment.[89] A Toronto journalist offered a loftier analysis. ‘Having been First Minister, he has no higher point to reach, and therefore not the same object of ambition as a younger and only rising politician.'[90] Since Macdonald was based in Toronto at this time, this report perhaps reflected his own thinking.

In the event, Macdonald remained the key figure in the Upper Canada Conservative party, but Cartier, backed by his Bleu battalions, was his senior partner until the Continuous Ministry fell in May 1862 - when Macdonald lost control over the Militia Bill, the caucus and his own drinking.[91] It was not until August 1865, when Lord Monck tried to make him premier on the death of Taché, that Macdonald overtook his ally. Cartier resented relegation to second place and in 1868 even put out feelers to Brown for a Bleu-Grit alliance.[92] To assess Macdonald's political standing on the eve of Confederation, we need to abandon the hindsight that stresses his dominance in the first quarter century of the Dominion and focus instead upon his fleeting period at the top of politics that was unsuccessful both in electoral and parliamentary performance. Of course, the tragedy of bereavement understandably made his premiership a time of exhaustion and personal unhappiness which could hardly emphasise qualities of leadership. Even so, we must conclude that in the brief career of John A. Macdonald, provincial premier, there were few harbingers of the success of Sir John A. Macdonald, first prime minister of Canada.


Addendum (August 2008)


Correspondence in the Papers of the 17th Earl of Derby confirms contemporary impressions that the governor-general, Sir Edmund Head, did his best to stiffen John A. Macdonald's resolve to stay in office. On 28 October, Head wrote:


'Our session has begun & the Gov[ernmen]t have carried the [S]peaker by a majority of 37 ─ but they were in  a small minority in Upper Canada. The fact is that when all the seats are full the U[pper] C[anada] members are pretty equally divided. ... The present ministry will stand if I can only keep them up to the mark, but they are timid & require constant stimulus. I have urged McDonald [sic] to say boldly ─ "I don't mean to resign so long as I have a majority of the whole House; but I will not attempt to thrust on either section of the Province measures specially applying to that section only, and obnoxious to the majority of those who represent it." He says he will do this & if he does he will probably stand & gain strength.'


A month later, Head reported that politics were 'going on pretty smoothly,' with ministers retaining an overall majority although 'weak' in Upper Canada. 'I have, I hope, indoctrinated the ministers with the true view of the "double majority" question, which they fear far more than anything else.' Governments must depend on a majority of the whole Assembly, since it was the House as a whole that voted the supplies to sustain them in office. But no laws should be passed for either section unless acceptable to a local majority, thus giving 'the sectional majority a negative voice on alterations of the existing Law on local questions'. Head thought the ministry could 'get through very well' provided 'they boldly take this ground & act up to it in good faith'. 'Every day is a gain to them.'

In May, at a time when Head himself was thinking in terms of restructuring the province within a British North American  federation, he remained optimistic that the double majority issue was 'settling itself to some degree at last. The Ministers sometimes have a 2 or 3 Upper Canadian majority against them but still they hold their seats [i.e. places] & their enemies cannot turn them out. This is the practical solution of the difficulty but the principle will be discussed.'[93]





[1] Lord Monck's phrase as he put an end to it, Monck to Macdonald, 24 May 1867, in J. Pope, Memoirs of the Right Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald (2 vols, Ottawa: J. Durie & Son, 1894), I, p. 319.

[2] Donald Creighton, John A. Macdonald: The Young Politician (Toronto: the Macmillan Company of Canada, 1952), p. 471; J.M.S. Careless in Careless, ed., The Pre-Confederation Premiers: Ontario Government Leaders, 1841-1867 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), p. 8; W.L. Morton, The Critical Years: The Union of British North America 1857-1873 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1964), p. 10.

[3] A.G. Doughty, ed., The Elgin-Grey Papers 1846-1852 (4 vols, Ottawa: J.O. Patenaude, King's Printer, 1937), I, p. 135.

[4] Speech in the debate on the Address, 12 March 1858, in J.P. Macpherson, Life of the Right Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald (2 vols, Saint John: Earle publishing House, 1891), I, p. 337.

[5] Textbooks so routinely refer to the heads of government as ‘co-premiers' that contemporary reference to a single head of government may seem surprising. The Globe, which had no reason to flatter, used the term, and Macdonald used the term to refer to himself in the third person. A Kingston newspaper more grandiloquently called him ‘Prime Minister of Canada'. A correspondent of the Canadian News (London, England) noted that ‘the people of Kingston appreciate the honour of being represented by the Premier'; its Toronto correspondent later referred to Macdonald as former ‘First Minister'.

Globe (Toronto), e.g. 23 November 1857, 1 July 1858)  J.K. Johnson and C.B. Stelmack, eds, The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald 1858-1861 (Ottawa: Public Archives of Canada, 1969), p. 20, letter of 5 February 1858; Kingston British Whig, 8 December 1857; Canadian News (London), 23 December 1857, p. 654; 22 December 1858, p. 413. The use of such terminology suggests that it conveyed something more than honorary precedence, even though the reality remained that John A. Macdonald was an Upper Canadian faction leader who depended upon Lower Canadian support. Presumably somebody had to chair cabinet meetings.

[6] I borrow the term from a long-lasting ministry in New Zealand which held office (with changes in personnel) from 1869 to 1891.

[7] Decimal currency, based on dollars and cents, was introduced on 31 December 1857: Canadian News (London), 20 January 1858, p. 28.

[8] Macpherson, ed., Life of Macdonald, I, p. 351.

[9] J.E. Hodgetts, Pioneer Public Service: An Administrative History of the United Canadas, 1841-1867 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1955), pp. 42-9, 91, 66-7, 99-112, 159-60, 194. Some stereotypes of mid-Victorian Canada are challenged by the fact that French Canadians were prominent in this modernising process: Joseph Cauchon and L-V. Sicotte attempted to shake up the administration of Crown Lands and Public Works. Another French Canadian, J-C. Taché, took charge of the vital work of statistics gathering. Bruce Curtis, The Politics of Population: State Formation, Statistics, and the Census of Canada, 1840-1875 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. 238-49.

[10] Harrison was a future chief justice of Ontario.

[11] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, pp. 37, 39; Hodgetts, Pioneer Public Service, pp. 103, 83. For the bureaucratic development of the post-Confederation Department of Justice out of the Attorney-Generals' offices, J. Swainger, The Canadian Department of Justice and the Completion of Confederation, 1867-78 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000).

[12] David B. Knight, Choosing Canada's Capital: Conflict Resolution in a Parliamentary System (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1991), pp. 155-263.

[13] Globe, 5 October 1852.

[14] Weekly British Whig (Kingston), 10 December 1857.

[15] Macpherson, Life of Macdonald, I, p. 350.

[16] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 66 (14 July 1858).

[17] The process was taken further by Cayley's successor as finance minister, A.T. Galt, in 1859. A.A. den Otter, ‘Alexander Galt, the 1859 Tariff, and Canadian Economic Nationalism', Canadian Historical Review, 63, 1982, pp. 151-78, and cf. pp. 164-68 for a positive view of Cayley's budget strategy.

[18] J.K. Johnson, ‘John A. Macdonald: the Young Non-Politician', Canadian Historical Association Historical Papers, 1971, pp. 138-46.

[19] Canadian News, 12 May 1858 (Toronto correspondent, 26 April), pp. 150-51.

[20] J.K. Johnson, ed, The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald 1836-1857 (Ottawa: Public Archives of Canada, 1968), p. 235 (letter of 2 February 1855);  Andrée Désilets suggests Lemieux left office voluntarily, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 9, p. 463.

[21] J.M.S. Careless, Brown of the Globe, I: The Voice of Upper Canada 1818-1859 (Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada, 1959), p. 256. (‘Nous avons l'avantage. Profitons-en!') Loranger was dropped in when the cabinet was reconstructed in August.

[22] Canadian News, 9 December 1857 (Toronto correspondent, 23 November), p. 635.

[23] Globe, 23 November 1857.

[24] Kingston Daily British Whig, 8 December 1858; Creighton, Macdonald: Young Politician, pp. 258-59.

[25] J.K. Johnson, ed., The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald 1836-1857 (Ottawa: Public Archives of Canada, 1968), pp. 467-8, 472.

[26] Johnson, ed., Letters of Macdonald 1836-1857, pp. 468-69. The Globe had a low opinion of Sidney Smith: ‘vulgar and unpleasant in manner, incorrect in his pronunciation, trifling in his arguments, and loose in his statement of facts.' In one debate, he ‘made as good a speech as he has the brains for, which is rather contemptible at best.' Globe, 20, 26 May 1858. This may explain why Macdonald felt the need to coach him.

[27] Johnson, ed., Letters of Macdonald 1836-1857, p. 470.

[28] Canadian News, 6 January 1858 (Toronto correspondent, 21 December 1857), p. 5.

[29] Globe, 31 December 1857. Macdonald told the story of the placards, to much laughter, in his speech to the Assembly on 12 March 1858, Macpherson, ed., Life of ... Macdonald, I, pp. 344-46.

[30] As Taché reported to Macdonald on 18 January 1858, ‘les rouges ... ont été battus, comme vous le diriez en anglais, "horse, foot, and artillery".' Pope, Memoirs of Macdonald, I, p. 175.

[31] J.M.S. Careless, The Union of the Canadas: The Growth of Canadian Institutions (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967), p. 208, quoting Taché's letter of 31 December 1857; Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, pp. 6-7 (12 January 1858).

[32] P. Oliver, ed., The Conventional Man: The Diaries of Ontario Chief Justice Robert A. Harrison, 1856-1878 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), pp. 144-45. Macdonald had left his son, aged seven, in the care of his family in Kingston. For the resumption of his official correspondence, Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 1.

[33] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 1 (5 January 1858); L.F. Gates, After the Rebellion: The Later Years of William Lyon Mackenzie (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1988), pp. 290-92.

[34] Oliver, ed., The Conventional Man: Diaries of Harrison, p. 145 (3 January 1858); Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, pp. 12-13. Taché's advice on 18 January 1858 was more robust:  thanks to the ministry's overwhelming support in Lower Canada, ‘vous seriez aujourd'hui plus fort qu'aucun des gouvernements qui vous ont précedé depuis nombre d'années.' Hence Macdonald should press ahead, relying on ‘le common sense' of the people of Upper Canada, who would soon rally to his support to secure their influence on policy. Pope, Memoirs of Macdonald, I, p. 175 (letter of 18 January 1858).

[35] Globe, 11, 21 January 1858 and passim; Macdonald's private letter of 21 January to Charles Lindsay, editor of the Colonist, mentions the Globe's spies, Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, pp. 12-13.

[36] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 14 (26 January 1858); B.W. Hodgins, John Sandfield Macdonald 1812-1872 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971), pp. 36-37. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Dickens had used ‘no go' in Pickwick Papers (1837) and Thackeray in Vanity Fair (1848).

[37] Globe, 23 January 1858. Declining an offer to join the ministry, Alexander Campbell argued that ‘something should be done to beget more friendly feelings towards the Government amongst the old Conservative party' although, typically, Campbell could not suggest ‘anything definite'. Undated correspondence from January 1858, Pope, Memoirs of Macdonald, I, pp. 180-81.

[38] Globe, 23 April, 1 July 1858.

[39] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 20 (9 February 1858). Rivalry between the adjacent towns was especially sharp in 1858 because both were building railways to capture the trade of the inland town of Peterborough. P. Ennals, ‘Cobourg and Port Hope: The Struggle for Control of "The Back Country"' in J.D. Wood, ed., Perspectives on Landscape and Settlement in Nineteenth Century Ontario (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1978), pp. 182-95.

[40] Macpherson, ed., Life of Macdonald, I, p. 340.

[41] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 14 (26 January 1858); Globe, 20 February 1858.

[42] Canadian News, 17 March 1858 (Toronto correspondent, 1 March), pp. 86-87.

[43] ‘A Canadian Yeoman' in Globe, 22 April 1858. The Usury Laws were uneven in their application. The Trust and Loan Company of Upper Canada, a farm mortgage company of which Macdonald was a founder, had secured exemption in 1850. Creighton, Macdonald: Young Politician, p. 158.

[44] Canadian News, 17 March 1858 (Montreal correspondent, 1 March), p. 83.

[45] Globe, 18 January 1858; Pope, Memoirs of Macdonald, I, pp. 173-74; Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 14 (26 January 1858).

[46] Canadian News, 17 March, 20 January 1858 (Montreal correspondent, 1 March, 4 January), pp. 83, 19; J. Garner, The Franchise and Politics in British North America 1755-1867 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), pp. 108-13. In the absence of electoral registers, would-be voters took an oath that they were qualified. Returning officers were intimidated into accepting bogus claims: hence the Quebec City voters called Lord Palmerston and Julius Caesar. The turn-out at the 1857-8 election was almost double that of 1854.

[47] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 37. The editors date this letter to 30 March, but parliament had been in recess since 22 March.

[48] Despite its numerical ascendancy, there were strains within the Bleu caucus. The newly elected deputy for Quebec City, H-L. Langevin, took an independent line, while there were both policy differences and a clash of personality between Cartier and his cabinet colleague L-V. Sicotte: Andrée Désilets, Hector-Louis Langevin: un père de la confédération canadienne [1826-1906] (Québec: les Presses de l'Université Laval, 1969), pp. 100-5, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 9, p. 822.

[49] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 33 (20 March 1858).

[50] Canadian News, 12 May 1858 (Toronto correspondent, 26 April), p. 150.

[51] Hodgins, John Sandfield Macdonald, pp. 37-38; O.D. Skelton, Life and Times of Alexander Tilloch Galt (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1966, ed. G. MacLean), pp. 79-82, 283. Galt's resolutions were not put to a vote.

[52] Globe, 23 April 1858.

[53] Globe, 26 May, 16, 17 June 1858. On 8 June, the Globe also reported Macdonald as ‘depressed' when speaking in the House. For Macdonald's problems with alcohol, Ged Martin, ‘John  A. Macdonald and the Bottle', Journal of Canadian Studies, 40, 2006, pp. 162-85.

[54] Globe, 16 April 1858.

[55]  Globe, 28 June 1858 and A. Mackenzie, The Life and Speeches of the Hon. George Brown (Toronto: The Globe Printing Co., 1882), pp. 74-75; Careless, Brown of the Globe, I, p. 261.

[56] Globe, 23 April, 16 June 1858.

[57] Globe, 19 May 1858.

[58] Globe, 31 May 1858.

[59] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 59 (17 June 1858); Canadian News, 4 August 1858 (Toronto correspondent, 19 July), pp. 245-46; Globe, 23 July 1858.

[60] For accounts of the ministerial crisis, Barbara J. Messamore, Canada's Governors General, 1847-1878: Biography and Constitutional Evolution (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), pp. 71-93; Creighton, Macdonald: Young Politician, pp. 265-72; Careless, Brown of the Globe, I, pp. 263-80.

[61] Désilets attributes the label ‘double shuffle' to Dorion. Désilets, Hector-Louis Langevin, p. 105.

[62] Head to Brown, 29 July 1858, in Mackenzie, Life of George Brown, p. 59 and Pope, Memoirs of Macdonald, I, p. 187, and pp. 337-41 for the Head-Brown exchange on dissolution.

[63] Henry C. Klassen, Luther H. Holton: A Founding Canadian Entrepreneur  (Calgary, University of Calgary Press, 2001), p. 120.

[64] Klassen, Luther H. Holton, pp. 104-5.

[65] Canadian News, 25 June 1856, pp. 22-23 (Toronto correspondent, 9 June).

[66] Careless, Brown of the Globe, I, pp. 298-99; Macdonald Letters II, p. 84.

[67]  J.C. Dent, The Last Forty Years: Canada Since the Union of 1841 (2 vols, Toronto, 1881), p. 381.

[68] Address of the Hon. John A. Macdonald to the Electors of the City of Kingston [1861], pp. 25, 79.

[69] Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 11, p. 283.

[70] Canadian News, 18 August 1858 (Toronto correspondent, 2 August), pp. 262-63.

[71] D.G.G. Kerr, Sir Edmund Head: A Scholarly Governor (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1954), p. 191 (9 August 1858).

[72] Galt had little prospect of forming a ministry. Head probably commissioned him because he favoured the union of the provinces, which the Cartier ministry adopted as a policy aim. It was also important to avoid the impression of an automatic reversion to the old ministry. Since Galt was a new appointment, he was condemned to fighting a by-election.

[73] Mackenzie, Life of George Brown, p. 62; Canadian News, 1 September 1858 (Montreal correspondent, 16 August), pp. 274-75. Thus Macdonald briefly became postmaster-general before returning to his law portfolio.

[74] For historians and the double shuffle, Ged Martin, Britain and the Origins of Canadian

Confederation, 1837-1867 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1995), pp. 36-37.

[75] Creighton, Macdonald: Young Politician, p. 268 J.C. Dent, The Last Forty Years: Canada since the Union of 1841 (2 vols, Toronto: George Virtue, 1881), II, pp. 387-88.

[76] The Legislative Council imposed a confused package of amendments which raised the maximum permitted interest charged from 6 to 7 percent, but with exemptions that rendered any fixed rate a dead letter. Canadian News, 1 September 1858, p. 233.

[77] Dent, The Last Forty Years, II, p. 379n. The 173-day session of 1858 was a record which was still standing half a century later. James Young, Public Men and Public Life in Canada (2 vols, Toronto: William Briggs, 1912), I, p. 111n.

[78] Donald Creighton, John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain (Toronto, 1955), p. 126.

[79] Pope, Memoirs of Macdonald, I, p. 196. Head resigned himself to ‘a course of hanging & burning (in effigy).' Kerr, Sir Edmund Head, p. 191.

[80] Creighton, Macdonald: Young Politician, p. 269.

[81] Pope, Memoirs of Macdonald, I, pp. 337-41. Harrison, the young private secretary, recorded ‘a long talk  ... on affairs generally' with Head on 24 December 1857. Oliver, ed., The Conventional Man: Diaries of Harrison, p. 144. In English history, 1640 was the only example of two general elections in the same year - hardly an encouraging precedent since they had been followed by civil war.

[82] Dent, Last Forty Years, II, p. 379.

[83] Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, Harpton Court Collection, C/2028, H. Merivale to Sir G.C. Lewis, 23 September 1858. Even Alexander Mackenzie, who denounced Head as a ‘shameless partisan', accepted that there was ‘no proof' that he consulted ‘back stairs advisers'. Mackenzie, Life of George Brown, pp. 64-68.

[84] Messamore, Canada's Governors General, pp. 71-93. Richard Cartwright claimed that the double shuffle ‘cost Sir Edmund Head the peerage which he would otherwise have received on ceasing to be Governor-General.' But in 1861 landed property was still usually essential for a title, and Head owned no country estate. R. Cartwright, Reminiscences (Toronto; William Briggs, 1912), p. 11.

[85] Pope, Memoirs of Macdonald, I, p. 204.

[86] Globe, 7 August 1858; Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p. 70 (10 August 1858). But Macdonald's accounts of his own actions should not be treated uncritically. Cf. Ged Martin, "Archival Issues in John A. Macdonald Biography", Journal of Historical Biography [], I, 2007, pp. 79-155.

[87] Canadian News, 8 December 1858 (Toronto correspondent, 21 November), p. 398. Macdonald's hopes to improve his finances possibly hinged upon a shadowy project known as the ‘Morton contract', a bid to construct a railway from Fort Erie to Windsor. The Globe hinted that his cabinet colleagues threatened to torpedo its charter if he abandoned them.

[88] Globe, 30 November 1858.

[89] Johnson and Stelmack, eds, Letters of Macdonald 1858-1861, p.  100 (15 November 1858).

[90] Canadian News, 22 December 1858 (Toronto correspondent, 6 December), p. 413.

[91] Creighton, Macdonald: Young Politician, pp. 325-33.

[92] J.M.S. Careless, Brown of the Globe: II, Statesman of Confederation, 1860-1880 (Toronto, 1963), pp. 262-67.

[93] ENDNOTE TO ADDENDUM. Liverpool Central Library, Derby Papers, Head to Labouchere, private, 28 February and private, 7 March 1858; Head to Stanley, private, 10 May 1858. In a private letter to Lord Stanley on 3 May 1858 he described Macdonald as 'calm & sensible' about the future of Hudson's Bay Company rule in the West: 'he sees the difficulties & the stumbling blocks in the way; but this is not, I fear, the case with all his Colleagues.'

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