John A. Macdonald

Overview

A biography of Canada’s first prime minister, a legendary political strategist who helped found a new nation in 1867.

Shocked by Canada’s 1837 rebellions, John A. Macdonald sought to build alliances and avoid future conflicts. Thanks to financial worries and an alcohol problem, he almost quit politics in 1864. The challenge of building Confederation harnessed his skills, and in 1867 he became the country’s first prime minister.

As "Sir John A.," he drove the Dominion’s westward expansion, rapidly incorporating the Prairies and British Columbia before a railway contract scandal unseated him in 1873. He conquered his drinking problem and rebuilt the Conservative Party to regain power in 1878. The centrepiece of his protectionist National Policy was the transcontinental railway, but a western uprising in 1885 was followed by the controversial execution of rebel leader Louis Riel.

Although dominant nationally, Macdonald often cut ethical corners to resist the formidable challenge of the Ontario Liberals in his own province. John A. Macdonald created Canada, but this popular hero had many flaws.

Reviews

Martin's balanced biography is a welcome addition to the growing body of work that is re-examining the life and legacy of Canada's first prime minister.

Canadian Materials

While the book makes attempts to portray Macdonald as a flawed human being, it also strains to demonstrate his role as the great unifier of a segregated Canada.

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About the Author

Ged Martin

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014

Ged Martin

Ged Martin is a graduate of Cambridge University. Awarded the United Kingdom's first chair in Canadian Studies by the University of Edinburgh, he is the author of Britain and the Origins of Canadian Confederation, 1837-67 and Favourite Son? John A. Macdonald and the Voters of Kingston 1841-1891. He is adjunct professor of history at National University of Ireland Galway, and at the University of the Fraser Valley.