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Sir John A MacDonald
Closing Days - Contemporary Estimates - Characteristics


THE election of 1891 was the last great effort of a long political career, and the short remainder of Macdonald's life story may be briefly told. The strain of the winter campaign, with all its excitements, was too much for the strength of a man who was now more than seventy-five years old, and who had never known what it was to spare himself when an emergency demanded an extraordinary effort. He had returned to his own constituency of Kingston exhausted by continuous travel and much speaking in Western Ontario. Carried away by the eagerness of his supporters to see and hear him, he consented to attend a final demonstration at Napanee, and there, driving from one heated hall and crowded audience to another, to address an overflow meeting, he received a chill from which he never thoroughly recovered. For a time his strong will and wonderful vitality held him up, and after a few days of complete rest, insisted upon by his physicians at Kingston, he returned to Ottawa in time to record his own vote, and to receive the reports of the election itself.

Most of the time from the day of the election, March 5th, till the day when parliament opened on April 29th, was spent under medical care. The opening of the session, however, found him in his place in the House. He was cheered by the presence of his son, who had just been elected in Manitoba, and now entered the Dominion parliament for the first time. But the characteristic alertness of his step—the brightness of his humour—the cheeriness with which he greeted the devoted followers who had fought under his banner and shared his victory—the energy he showed in trying to fulfil his accustomed social and official duties, were but the last flicker of fires about to go out. Early in May a slight stroke of paralysis, which affected his speech, warned himself and his friends that his physical powers were failing. He recovered sufficiently, however, from his first attack to resume his social duties and return to parliament.

His last appearance in the House of Commons, which he had ruled so long, was on May 22nd, when, in answer to criticism by a member of the Opposition, he took upon himself the full responsibility for having brought Sir Charles Tupper over from London, where he was at the time filling the office of high commissioner, to take part in the electoral struggle. On the following day he gave the last of his many sessional dinners, and seemed in excellent spirits. But increasing weakness and a return of partial paralysis within the next two or three days made him conscious that his time was short. His secretary and biographer has told in detail of the calm demeanour and quiet dignity which he showed when he realized the gravity of his condition. He insisted on signing at once a document in regard to the disposition of his property, "while" as he said, "there is time." Then he turned to his correspondence and to parliamentary matters, while "neither by voice, look, nor manner did he manifest the slightest disquietude." He continued to interest himself in public business up to May 29th, when a further stroke of paralysis rendered him unconscious. In this condition he lingered for eight days, and on June 6th, 1891, his strenuous life came to a quiet end.

From the moment that the fatal character of his illness was understood, messages of enquiry and sympathy came in on every side—from the queen —from viceroys under whom he had served—from colleagues and friends at a distance with whom he had worked; while, wherever men met together throughout Canada, the impending loss of the country was the absorbing subject of thought and discussion. Parliament was in session when he died; a State funeral was at once ordered, and the Houses adjourned for eight days as a formal expression of the national sorrow. After lying in state in the senate chamber, his body was conveyed with imposing ceremony and with demonstrations of popular respect and affection without previous parallel in Canada, to Kingston, the town where his childhood had been spent, and the constituency which he had represented throughout nearly the whole of his long political career. There, in accordance with his own desire, he was buried beside the grave of his mother, in the Cataraqui cemetery. The emigrant boy of 1820, grown to be a leader of men and the master-builder of a great Dominion, who as a statesman had planned the future of the nation, and as prime minister had often been called "to shape the whispers of a throne," was laid to rest amid the universal sorrow of a people who had come to look upon him as the chief pillar of the State, columen rei publicae.

A wreath of white roses on his breast as he lay in his coffin, "From Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, in memory of her faithful and devoted servant;" a patent of nobility conferred upon his widow as the Baroness Macdonald of Earnscliffe, were marks bestowed by his sovereign—the one of private regard, the other of official recognition of the unique work which he had accomplished for the good of the empire. A memorial service in Westminster Abbey, the first of its kind held in honour of a colonist ; a tablet erected soon after his death in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral, were more public and equally fitting indications of the sense of national loss felt in the motherland.

In its mention of the memorial service held at the greatest of all centres of English history, the London Times accurately interpreted the significance of the ceremony. "Westminster Abbey yesterday offered a spectacle which is without precedent in the long and varied annals of that venerable building. A congregation, eminently representative of all ranks and classes of Englishmen, from the sovereign downwards, assembled to take part in a solemn service held in memory of Sir John Macdonald, and to testify to the strength and sincerity of the sympathy felt in this country with our fellow-subjects in Canada. Many a great Englishman sleeps within the Abbey, and many a requiem sung within its walls has awakened mournful echoes in the hearts of English-speaking peoples beyond the seas. But this is the first time that a great sorrow, primarily falling upon our fellow-subjects abroad, has awakened in the mother country a sentiment so strong as to demand and receive expression in the ancient church that is consecrated by so many of our proudest associations. Our roll of heroes would be sadly curtailed were we to remove from it the names of those who did their work in foreign lands and laid broad and deep foundations of empire on which self-governing communities have since based the fabric of their liberties. But the great soldiers and administrators, whose reward was sealed and perfected by their final entry into the national Pantheon, have always hitherto been the servants of England, directly responsible to the English people; and the conscious aim of their work, whatever might be its indirect issues, has been to extend the power and add to the greatness of their fatherland. Sir John Macdonald has primarily laboured for the greatness of Canada, has been the devoted servant of the Canadian people, and has sought at their hands the guerdon of faithful service. It is in the character of a Canadian statesman that he is now honoured and mourned by the people of this country, as they have been wont to honour and mourn men whose lives were given to their own service. Because he was a Canadian statesman, his bones may not mingle with those of our illustrious dead, but the service at the Abbey is the outward sign of a profound conviction that the great Canadian is also a great Englishman, and that his service to the Dominion ranks him with the most distinguished of those who have served the mother country."

Throughout Canada the intense popular feeling found general and spontaneous expression in many forms; in elaborate tributes from the press of all political shades of thought; in addresses of condolence to Lady Macdonald from almost every corporation of importance in the country; in sermons and speeches dealing with the great leader's work; in movements to perpetuate his memory by statues or portraits in the principal cities of the Dominion. Though the echoes of a fiercely contested election were still in men's ears when he died, criticism seemed hushed and faults forgotten in the prevailing sense of public loss. He had applied to himself the thought that to him "much had been forgiven, because he loved much." It was now made clear that he had in this rightly interpreted the final judgment of his countrymen on his public career. They had not merely forgiven; they returned him love for love.

Macdonald was not a man who had many confidants, or who was effusive in his friendships, yet there were thousands to whom his death brought a sense of keen personal loss. Devotion to the service of his country and innate human sympathy were repaid by the devotion of others to himself. To one who reads the records of the time, nothing seems more striking than the strong note of personal affection which runs through much that was said of him.

The things that are said of a man soon after his death are not always the best helps for forming an accurate judgment of his real worth. But there is reason to think that Macdonald's case furnishes an exception to the rule. The conflict from which he had just emerged—the heat of party passion which had been evoked—the hard blows given and received—the consciousness that every expression would be closely scrutinized by an interested public —created a situation in which men felt bound to measure their words and judgments with peculiar care.

Sir Hector Langevin, to whose lot as senior member of the government it fell to announce to parliament the death of his leader, broke down entirely under his strong emotion, and was unable to proceed. Sir Wilfrid Laurier's speech on the occasion was a generous appreciation of his great opponent, while its phrases, though carefully weighed, bore none the less the stamp of a deep sincerity. Addressing the House after Sir Hector Langevin he said among other things: "I fully realize the emotion which chokes the honourable gentleman. His silence, under the circumstances, is far more eloquent than any human language can be. I fully appreciate the intensity of the grief which fills the souls of all those who were the friends and followers of Sir John Macdonald, at the loss of the great leader whose whole life has been so closely identified with their party, a party upon which he has thrown such brilliancy and lustre. We on this side of the House, who were his opponents, who did not believe in his policy, nor in his methods of government—we take our full share of their grief—for the loss which they deplore today is far and away beyond and above the ordinary compass of party range. It is in every respect a great national loss, for he is no more who was, in many respects, Canada's most illustrious son, and in every sense Canada's foremost citizen and states- man.......

"The place of Sir John Macdonald in this country was so large and so absorbing that it is almost impossible to conceive that the political life of this country, the fate of this country, can continue without him. His loss overwhelms us. For my part, I say with all truth his loss overwhelms me, and it also overwhelms this parliament, as if indeed one of the institutions of the land had given way. Sir John Macdonald now belongs to the ages, and it can be said with certainty that the career which has just been closed is one of the most remarkable careers of this century. It would be premature at this time to attempt to fix or anticipate what will be the final judgment of history upon him ; but there were in his career and in his life features so prominent and so conspicuous, that already they shine with a glow which time cannot alter, which even now appear before the eye, such as they will appear to the end in history. I think it can be asserted that, for the supreme art of governing men, Sir John Macdonald was gifted as few men in any land or in any age were gifted—gifted with the highest of all qualities, qualities which would have made him famous wherever exercised, and which would have shone all the more conspicuously the larger the theatre. The fact that he could congregate together elements the most heterogeneous and blend them into one compact party, and to the end of his life keep them steadily under his hand, is perhaps altogether unprecedented. The fact that during all those years he retained unimpaired not only the confidence, but the devotion—the ardent devotion—and affection of his party, is evidence that, besides those higher qualities of statesmanship to which we were daily witnesses, he was also endowed with those inner, subtle, undefinable graces of soul which win and keep the hearts of men.

16 As to his statesmanship, it is written in the history of Canada. It may be said without any exaggeration whatever, that the life of Sir John Macdonald, from the date he entered parliament, is the history of Canada, for he was connected and associated with all the events, all the facts which brought Canada from the position it then occupied—the position of two small provinces, having nothing in common but their common allegiance, united by a bond of paper, and united by nothing else—to the present state of development which Canada has reached. Although my political views compel me to say that, in my judgment, his actions were not always the best that could have been taken in the interest of Canada, although my conscience compels me to say that of late he has imputed to his opponents motives which I must say in my heart he has misconceived, yet I am only too glad here to sink these differences, and to remember only the great services he has performed for our country—to remember that his actions always displayed great originality of view, unbounded fertility of resource, a high level of intellectual conception, and, above all, a far-reaching vision beyond the event of the day, and still higher, permeating the whole, a broad patriotism—a devotion to Canada's welfare, Canada's advancement, and Canada's glory."

The late Principal Grant, his ardent supporter in the great lines of policy by which Canada was consolidated, his unflinching opponent in lesser matters where the upholder of the moral law and the political leader could not see eye to eye, summed up his final view of Macdonald's character and career in a few weighty words: "Though dead, the ideas that inspired him live. He believed that there was room on the continent of America for at least two nations, and he was determined that Canada should be a nation. He believed in the superiority of the British constitution to any other for free men, and that the preservation of the union with the mother country was necessary to the making of Canada. He had faith in the French race, and believed that a good understanding between French and English people was essential to the national welfare. The people followed him, not only as a leader but as an actual embodiment of those fundamental ideas. . . . . To the doing of his work he brought great qualities, and all were laid unreservedly on the altar of his country. The combination of imaginative power and insight, with a just appreciation of the necessities of the present, made him a statesman. In virtue of a quick judgment and extraordinary grasp of detail, he was a supreme man of affairs. Those who knew him best, knew him also to be essentially just, humane and God-fearing. He loved power, but the people believed that he sought it that he might minister to the country and not to himself. Canadians will not let the memory of this great man die."

There was truth in the description of him given in Blackwood at the time of his death as "one of the greatest of the Conservative forces in the colonial empire."

It was as impossible to question his loyalty to Canada as it was to question his loyalty to the empire. The unique lesson of his life rests in the proof which it furnishes that these two loyalties are not incompatible. To those who watch closely the processes of national development, it seems as if two special dangers threaten the British Empire. One arises from the limited view of a considerable class of public men in Britain, at the centre of imperial influence, it is true, and yet essentially provincial in thought and experience, who fail to grasp what the expansion of the empire means, and find it difficult to look beyond the borders of the United Kingdom in their consideration of national questions. To such men the prospect of national disintegration presents no anxieties, and seems a thing rather to be welcomed than otherwise. The other danger comes from the equally limited vision of many in the colonies who, in questions of difficulty, unduly press the local point of view without considering the necessities of the empire as a whole. Both groups of thinkers fail to see that unity of national purpose and action is for British people the essential condition of national greatness and national safety. Between these two types of men Macdonald stands as an example of the statesmanship to which the nation must look in the future. Even his opponents admitted the truth of his boast, modestly but emphatically made at the gloomiest crisis of his public life, that "there does not exist in Canada a man who has given more of his time —more of his heart—more of his wealth—or more of his intellect and power, such as they may be, for the good of the Dominion of Canada."

Yet it was the same man who had thus devoted his life and powers to the service of Canada who could say to his fellow-Canadians in his last appeal for their political support: "A British subject I was born—a British subject I will die. With my utmost effort, with my latest breath, will I oppose the 'veiled treason' which attempts by sordid means and mercenary proffers to lure our people from their allegiance."

A successor in the premiership of the Dominion, Sir .John 'Thompson, when unveiling Macdonald's statue at Hamilton said: "Addressing the vast assemblage which is here to see that statue unveiled, I beseech that you will learn by looking upon that figure the lessons which he whom it represents desired that his countrymen should learn and practise; devotion to the interest of Canada, our country, and the determination that the banner of England shall continue to wave over this country as long as time shall last."

In like manner it was as a Conservative force in the empire that he chiefly appealed to the statesmen of England. This was the dominant note in the noble tribute paid to him by Lord Rosebery, then secretary of state for foreign affairs, when unveiling the bust erected to his memory in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral the year after his death.

"We are gradually collecting," he said, "within this cathedral the Lares and the Penates—the household gods—of our commonwealth. Up above there sleep Wellington and Nelson, those lords of war who preserved the empire; below here we have effigies of Dailey and Macdonald, who did so much to preserve it. We have not, indeed, their bodies. They rest more fitly in the regions where they lived and laboured; but here to-day we consecrate their memory and their example. We know nothing of party politics in Canada on this occasion. We recognize only this, that Sir John Macdonald had grasped the central idea, that the British Empire is the greatest secular agency for good now known to mankind ; that that was the secret of his success, and that he determined to die under it, and strove that Canada should live under it. It is a custom, I have heard, in the German army that, when new colours are presented to a regiment, the German Emperor first, and then his princes and chiefs in their order, each drive a nail into the staff. I have sometimes been reminded of this practice in connection with the banner of our empire. Elizabeth and her heroes first drove their nails in, and so onward through the expansive eighteenth century, when our flag flashed everywhere, down to our own times, when we have not quailed nor shrunk. Yesterday it wrapped the corpse of Tennyson ; to-day we drive one more nail in on behalf of Sir John Macdonald. This standard, so richly studded, imposes on us, the survivors, a solemn obligation. It would be nothing were it the mere symbol of violence and rapine, or even of conquest. It is what it is because it represents everywhere peace and civilization and commerce, the negation of narrowness, and the gospel of humanity. Let us then, today, by the shrine of this signal statesman, once more remember our responsibility, and renew the resolution that come what may, we will not flinch or fail under it."

To form a complete estimate, at once just and impartial, of a career so varied, a character so many-sided, and a mind so versatile, as those of Sir John Macdonald is no easy task, and a biographer is therefore glad to call in the aid of such deliberately expressed opinions of contemporary men of weight as those which have been given. For the rest, one would willingly and perhaps with advantage leave the individual reader to judge for himself from a study of the facts. But, as we survey this long and chequered career, a few salient features of character or conduct unfold themselves so clearly that they may be spoken of with some degree of confidence.

Whatever other faults Macdonald may have had, he was no hypocrite. He made no pretence of a superhuman virtue in carrying on his work of governing Canada. He always said that it was an exceedingly difficult task, and he freely acknowledged the fact that he was sometimes reduced to great straits, and was compelled to do things that he would rather have left undone, while feeling bound to do the best he could with the material that came to his hand. So he shut his eyes at times to doubtful things rather than lose a useful colleague; he condoned serious shortcomings in faithful followers, and helped to shield them when attacked; he gratified vanities in weak men if by doing so he could gain support for large ends. He studied alike the strength and foibles of men and turned both, with consummate dexterity, towards the accomplishment of his large purposes. But these sins are as old as politics. Are we to blame the leader or the conditions of public life—themselves a reflex of the average tone of society—which force the hands of the leader? A man with large patriotic plans in his mind finds his purposes thwarted or delayed by men whom he must either break or bend. Shall he adapt his methods to the human nature with which he has to deal, or give up the plans? For the moral idealist, confident in the ultimate triumph of right, and counting, in his large way, a thousand years but as one day, there is but one answer. For the practical politician, whose concern is with the interests of to-day or to-morrow, the answer often seems nearly as ambiguous as the response of an ancient oracle. In that ambiguity Macdonald found latitude for a wide range of action. The arts of the politician were ingrained in his very nature and habits of thought as the natural result of long years spent amid the intrigues of provincial politics. To some it even seemed as if the skilful playing of the political game and the out-manoeuvring of an opponent gave him as much satisfaction as did success in gaining the end to which all this was subsidiary.

So, like many another nation builder, he must be pronounced lacking in that delicate scrupulousness which shrinks from using unworthy men and unworthy means for the accomplishment even of great purposes. What opponents branded as political immorality, his apologists considered the necessary concessions of a strong leader to the temper and conditions of the time in which he lived and the weakness of the instruments with which he had to deal. There were those who conscientiously believed that, considering the imperfect development of public opinion in Canada in his time, the methods which he employed were the only ones which could have accomplished the great ends he had in view. Whether any end is worth gaining at such a price is a point upon which opinions will differ. There is reason to think that some of his political methods have, by their very success, left a stamp upon Canadian public life as undesirable as it has proved hard to efface. During his long tenure of power a tradition gradually sprung up that these methods were the only ones by which Canada could be governed. Certain it is that men who climbed into power by denouncing them have silently yielded to the persuasion of that tradition, and have gained and held power by similar means carried out on a larger scale and with more cunningly devised machinery. No honest Canadian, Conservative or Reformer, who knows how elections are conducted, will deny these things. Nor is it likely to be otherwise so long as individuals or communities put themselves up for sale. The temptation to buy is too great for ordinary human resistance. The only complete remedy is in the hands of the electors themselves.

One form of what might be called political corruption has long been used by Canadian politicians and accepted by Canadian constituencies as a more or less justifiable weapon of party struggle. In opening up a vast country like the Dominion the construction of public works on a great scale necessarily falls upon the shoulders of government. The demand for assistance to railways, canals, bridges, harbour equipment, public buildings, and so on, is always far in advance of the means at the command of an administration. A selection has to be made, and that selection lies in the hands of the party in power. That the selection should be made to favour friends seems to many as natural as the distribution of offices and appointments among political supporters. Thus men, who in their individual capacity would scorn a bribe, will in a collective capacity with little compunction give their votes in return for promised expenditure upon a railway or other public work, salving their conscience, perhaps, with the general argument of public utility.

In a closely contested election, such influences have so often proved decisive that they probably account in no slight degree for the prolonged continuance in office of any Canadian government which has once grasped the reins of power. This influence was used freely by Macdonald and his colleagues, as it has been freely used by their Liberal successors in office.

Are we to throw all the blame upon the men who manipulate the constituency, or shall we equally blame the constituency which lends itself wittingly and willingly, nay, eagerly, to manipulation? In these matters, to apologize for Macdonald is to arraign the general condition of Canadian politics. In all his earlier and later struggles the use of money—of patronage in public offices—the indirect subsidizing of the party press by means of government printing and advertising—the diversion of support to public works in such a way as to strengthen at needful points the party in power, were all accepted, tacitly or openly, as counters in the political game. The fact that each party tried to conceal the worst features of what it thus did and to make its opponents appear the more corrupt, may be regarded as a tribute to the general soundness of the Canadian electorate, or at least, of its professed principles. But the fact that each party found it necessary to use such means, proves the existence of an element in the constituencies ready to be swayed by corrupt considerations.

It is doubtful whether it can honestly be said that Macdonald ever vigorously used his great influence to combat this evil, or even thought the contest was one that he was called upon to wage. A statesman of higher ideals might have done so. He accepted men at their own valuation and the world as he found it. But it was admitted on all hands that, if he was ready to offer corrupt inducements to others, he remained incorrupt himself. "These hands are clean," he said, with dramatic earnestness after the Pacific Scandal, and his protestation was believed by the Canadian people so far as any suspicion was concerned that he had made mean gains or been actuated by petty personal motives in what he had done.

But if he was not so much of a political idealist as his best friends would have wished him to be, or as posterity would prefer that he had been, the special virtues which he did possess were such as appealed very strongly to ordinary human nature. A life of party struggle such as his could scarcely be entirely free from bitter animosities. But as a rule, and especially throughout his later life, his good humour and kindliness were well-nigh invincible. The sunshine of his friendly nature shone on opponents as well as on supporters. He had a natural inclination to the use of those arts which so often control men's heads by influencing their hearts. Young members entering parliament were captivated by the friendly notice which, coming from a great leader, was in itself a subtle flattery. He was always ready to relieve the weariness of a long sitting or a dry debate by a joke—not always brilliantly witty, but at least spontaneous, and indicative of high spirits and intellectual readiness, and always gaining something from the manner of its delivery. The ponderous arguments of opponents in deadly earnest were often countered by an epigram or story, which, passing from mouth to mouth, and caught up by the press, seemed as effective, politically, as a reasoned reply, and with the public at large was often more so. An admirer has compiled a volume of anecdote and repartee [Biggar's Anecdotal Biography of Sir John Macdonald.] culled from newspaper reports of his speeches, from the pages of Hansard, or from the personal recollections of friends. The natural kindness of Macdonald's heart is illustrated by this collection even more than the readiness or keenness of his wit. Retorts made even in the heat of party debate are singularly free from the sting which leaves behind the sense of pain.

I have said that he was no hypocrite. Even his own personal shortcomings he was wont to refer to with humorous frankness. On one occasion in the earlier stages of his career when he had been violently attacked in the columns of the Globe by his chief political opponent for some lapse into intemperance, his only rejoinder was to tell a large gathering of electors that, granting the truth of all that had been said, he knew that they would any day prefer "John A. drunk to George Brown sober." The story was current, too, that when D'Arcy McGee first joined his government Macdonald solemnly warned him that he (McGee) must reform his habits, since "no cabinet could afford to carry two drunkards."

In a somewhat similar vein he would at times refer to demands which he occasionally made upon his followers to support doubtful proceedings which in some way stood related to party interests. The late Principal Grant, the head of Queen's University, was one of his strongest and most ardent supporters in the Confederation of Canada, in his railway policy, and in other great measures. But there came a time when with all the good-will in the world he could not continue his support. "How I wish," Sir John said to him one day at a social gathering, "that you would be a steady friend of mine." "But, Sir John, I have always supported you when I felt you were right." "Miy dear man," said the premier, with a friendly touch and a humorous twinkle of the eye, "I have no use for that species of friendship."

He was not an orator in the ordinary acceptation of that term. Few purple patches can be found among his speeches ; few passages either smell of of the lamp or smack of the school; very few lend themselves to striking quotation. In beginning to speak, his manner was usually marked by a certain hesitation ; facility of expression set in with the full tide of thought. He often repeats himself —a fault from the literary point of view—inevitable in a speech not carefully prepared, but often a strength in appealing to the average audience which requires time to grasp an idea, and is glad to survey it at leisure and from slightly varying angles. But as a parliamentary debater he was extraordinarily effective, especially in his later years, when he had learned the art of self-control, and when unrivalled experience gave weight and prestige to all he said. His strength lay in getting at the heart of the matter under discussion. His thought is always of carrying his point—not of winning applause or impressing posterity. If he paid comparatively little attention to the form of his parliamentary speeches, full atonement was made by the careful thought given to the matter. His keen intellect grasped what was essential; and the plain common sense which stamped his views carried more conviction with it than finished oratory could have done. Some of his more important speeches—notably that in which he moved in the legislature the resolutions which led up to Confederation, as also that in which he explained and defended the Washington Treaty in 1872, are models of clear arrangement and convincing exposition. His nearest approaches to eloquence are in passages inspired by patriotism. By nothing else was his imagination so touched as by the thought of his own country growing in greatness and dignity ; of an empire gaining new strength and honour from the upspringing of daughter, nations.

Macdonald has left it on record that in the year after the general election of 1878, when in London with Sir Leonard Tilley and Sir Charles Tupper, they made a formal proposition to the British government of reciprocal trade on preferential terms. He had at that time private as well as official intercourse with Lord Beaconsfield, and the Right Hon. W. H. Smith, then leader of the House of Commons, and there is reason to think, from the correspondence that took place between him and those two statesmen, that had their government been supported in the election that came in the same year, Macdonald's views might have received practical consideration. The defeat of the Beaconsfield administration and the return of Mr. Gladstone to power destroyed any hopes of immediate action that Macdonald may have entertained. But he returned to the question again and again as opportunity offered. To the movement inaugurated by the Right Hon. W. E. Forster and others in favour of imperial federation, he gave a cordial support so far as the general principle was concerned. While he had doubts about the possibility of working out the complete parliamentary federation of the empire, he was a firm believer in an ever strengthening union for trade, defence, and cooperation in questions of national policy. A material bond of mutual advantage in the exchange of products between the motherland and the colonies seemed to him a necessary supplement to the bond of sentiment, and in the last year of his life he mentions in a letter to a friend his intention to renew the formal offer of 1878, in case Lord Salisbury succeeded in the general election. It is an interesting fact that, at about the very time when Macdonald was stricken down by his last illness, another great empire builder, Cecil Rhodes, inditing to him a letter of congratulation on his recent electoral success, was suggesting, as he also did to Sir Henry Parkes in Australia, a united effort to bring about a system of preferential trade within the empire. That letter Macdonald never saw, but it was one with which he would have strongly sympathized, as many of his speeches clearly show. Indeed, through all his public speeches and all his legislation there is to be constantly discerned the central principle of his political faith that the supreme interest of Canada and the supreme interest of the empire are one. In that faith he began, and in that faith he ended, his political career.

He kept in close touch with imperial politics, and with many of the leading minds of the motherland. No doubt the intimate personal relations into which he was necessarily brought, as cabinet minister and premier, with the succession of distinguished public men who filled the post of governor-general during his time, had much to do with his political education and the remarkable grasp which he obtained of the broad principles of government.

He keenly enjoyed his many visits to England on public business, and the opportunity they furnished for discussion with the rulers of the empire. We are justified in believing that in range of national vision he was on the level with the best.

He was made a K.C.B. on the consummation of Confederation in 1867; was summoned to the Privy Council after the Washington Treaty in 1870, though not sworn in till seven years later; and in 1884 he received, on the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone, the Grand Cross of the Bath. But the imperial honours thus bestowed upon him in recognition of imperial service, were, after all, merely ratifications of Canadian judgment of his merits. This was equally true of the peerage conferred upon his widow after his death.

The conditions under which he won his way to commanding place and power are sufficiently striking. None of the adventitious circumstances which in older countries usually smooth the path of the rising statesman, were in his favour. From boyhood he was compelled to earn his own living and that of others. He had no influential family connection to give him support, nor any of that early educative association with the representatives of fixed political tradition which so commonly moulds the principles and gives consistency to the course of public men in the motherland. His political judgment had to be formed in reliance upon his own observation and common sense; his political philosophy by self-directed study. He was not endowed with those compelling powers of oratory which captivate the multitude, nor had university training given finish to his natural ability. His earlier political alliance was with the least popular party in the State, so that the weight of public sentiment as well as the political majority of his own province were often opposed to him.

That, notwithstanding these circumstances, usually regarded as obstacles, he worked steadily forward through so long a term of public life indicates the possession of exceptional qualities. They were qualities which appealed to widely different classes of people. The plodding farmer of Ontario and the plain fisherman or lumberman of the Maritime Provinces recognized in him that common sense in practical affairs which they most value and esteem. The light-hearted Frenchman of Quebec enjoyed his geniality and wit, and on points of national sensitiveness trusted in the sincerity of his sympathy. The strongest among his Canadian contemporaries cheerfully accepted him as their leader. A succession of governors-general, drawn from the highest ranks of English public life, pronounced him one of the ablest men with whom they had ever been called upon to deal.

There is therefore cumulative evidence that he possessed that combination of qualities which, here and there, among the masses of mankind, stamps an individual as an appointed ruler of men. Few statesmen have had more severe tests applied to their capacity for rule. In carrying out the necessary task of reconciling jealousies, not to say animosities, of race he must have had many a moment of great anxiety.

A large parliamentary group which on certain questions votes and acts independently of the motives which actuate the general policy of a party, must always be embarrassing to a party leader. In matters connected with the Church and education this is generally true of the French-Canadian, who for the most part feels bound in these things to take direction from his spiritual advisers, themselves nothing loath to push their influence in the field of politics. On the other hand, to a large part of the English-speaking population of Canada, trained in an entirely different school of thought, the exercise of such ecclesiastical influence is well-nigh anathema.

In Canada, again, the evils of a violent party press have at times been greatly aggravated by difference of language. In the early days of Confederation the French journals of Quebec had few readers in the English provinces ; outside the cities, the French-Canadian never read the papers of Ontario or the Maritime Provinces, and inside the cities very seldom. The circumstances furnished an unrivalled field for the reckless and irresponsible agitator. Translations, garbled or divorced from their context, often presented to the voters of one race false ideas of the acts or opinions of their fellow-citizens in another province. Skill, tact and patience of no ordinary kind were required to allay the whirlwinds of feeling thus originated, which swept over the provinces from time to time. No mere skill, however—nothing but a genuine understanding of and sympathy with the French character—could have done what Macdonald did in the management of Quebec. He appreciated the solid virtues which dwell in the habitant and had a large tolerance for his peculiarities. He recognized his inherited impulsiveness and made due allowance for it. But brought up among people of Scottish descent he understood the Puritan temper as well, though perhaps less in sympathy with it. In his early years he had himself joined the Orange body, and, though the connection did not continue, he understood the spirit of the organization. Between conflicting races and temperaments he acted not only as a buffer, breaking the force of collision, but also, to no small extent, as reconciler and peacemaker.

It was those who best knew the difficulties with which he had to deal, who most fully appreciated in this respect the work which he did. Speaking of Macdonald in 1881, Lord Dufferin, who was governor-general at the time of his overthrow in 1873, said :-

"I am inclined to think that what bears most conclusive testimony to his extraordinary talents has been the even tenor with which Canada has pursued her successful way during recent years, the absence of all serious complications from her history, and the freedom from all anxiety on her account which we have enjoyed during the last half century, notwithstanding the peculiar delicacy of her geographical position and the ethnological diversity of her population, with the conflicting interests it naturally engenders. What might have happened had the affairs of our great dependency been directed by a less cautious and less skilful or a less patriotic pilot, those only who are well acquainted with the intricacies of Canadian political problems can adequately appreciate."

Throughout the whole course of his official life Macdonald was a poor man. His case is not exceptional. It has been a common lot of the largest figures in the public life of Canada. A new country has no large class of men with fixed wealth and hereditary position, such as exists in older lands, to be drawn upon for public service performed merely as a matter of public duty, or for the honours which it brings. Even if such a class did exist the democratic spirit of the people does not favour the absorption of political power by the wealthy alone. The public life of Canada has been largely recruited from the ranks of professional, commercial or industrial ability. But in this, as in other things, it is impossible to serve two masters. The business of a professional or commercial man must suffer when he gives his time and best thought to the service of the public. This difficulty is accentuated in Canada, as compared with England, by the vast size of the country, which compels the man who devotes himself to parliamentary life to remain for months together far removed from his business interests. The result is that political success has usually gone hand in hand with narrowness of private means. The circumstance that nearly all of Canada's premiers have so far been poor men is, from more than one point of view, an honour to the country and the men--to the country which gives an equality of opportunity to merit irrespective of fortune—to the men, no one of whom has used his position as a means of enriching himself. Nor is the fact without its gains to balance manifest disadvantages. The poor man is, indeed, in a less independent position as regards the retention of place and power than one whose wealth makes him indifferent personally to the vicissitudes of politics. On the other hand public men drawn chiefly from a wealthy class can scarcely hope to have an intimate sympathy with the ordinary life of the people, or a full understanding of its conditions. Macdonald had both in a degree that he could never have attained save in that hard school of experience in which his early life was passed. His youth had made him familiar with the lot of the poor; and fortunately these early struggles never made him greedy of wealth.

In one sense he might be considered, at least in his later years, as a professional politician, but no man ever took part in public life who thought less of the material advantages which are supposed to furnish the motive of that type of man. For the service of his country he gave up professional success, which was easily within his grasp, and he put aside, more than once, judicial appointments which would have given him freedom from financial care. His indifference to money for its own sake—his carelessness, indeed, about money in the management of his private resources, were well known. It was only the accident of complete prostration by illness in 1870 that revealed to his friends the fact that the man who had for so many years been giving all the best that was in him to the service of his country was practically penniless, and had made no provision for his family. A sum of about seventy thousand dollars was raised by his friends at the time, but it was wisely placed in the hands of trustees to manage for the benefit of those he might leave behind. To a man of this temper people were ready to forgive that love of power which he never disclaimed.

In nearly all the large towns of Canada statues have been erected to transmit to posterity the figure and the fame of the great premier. They are tributes of admiration from a people, sections of whom often differed widely from the public policy of the politician, but who were united in sincere regard and affection for the man and the patriot. Before his death he had become the "Grand Old Man" of Canadian public life. His long experience in public affairs; his unrivalled knowledge of the conditions with which he had to deal ; his unequalled skill in manipulating the various factors in the political problem; his freedom from fanaticism; his high sense of courtesy in political life; his enthusiastic faith in the future of Canada; his consistent loyalty to the great imperial idea, all combined to make him stand out among his fellows as by far the most conspicuous and influential man in the Dominion.

Slowly, through more than three centuries of difficulty, conflict and doubt, from painful but picturesque beginnings, the history of Canada has gradually unfolded itself, until there has emerged a nationhood of distinct type, the resultant of many contrasted and often conflicting forces. The romantic daring of the early pioneers in war and commerce; the dauntless courage of the Roman Catholic missionary; the Frenchman's loyalty to creed, race and language; the Puritan zeal for spiritual independence; the mingled love of liberty and devotion to noble tradition which stamped the United Empire Loyalist; the opposing passion of the two more virile and dominant races of the last centuries—Celt and Saxon; these and many other streams of influence have gone to mould Canadian institutions and Canadian character. As a net result of all, the present of the Dominion has become a pride, its future an inspiration, to all its sons. The man who drew together all these complicated threads, who welded the northern half of the North American continent into a united whole, who held it true to its British relationship while retaining an individuality all its own, will always live in the grateful memory not only of his own Canadian people, but of the British race.

And if against the greatness of the man history must set the shortcomings which he himself so candidly admitted, Canadians who are just, and who know the conditions, political and moral, under which their great leader wrought out his life work, will not leave him to bear alone the burden of blame.


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