IV: 'Never Among Us', 1867-1874


‘NEVER AMONG US’: 1867-1874

The Coming of Confederation

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, by the early eighteen sixties, the initial chapter of John A. Macdonald’s political career was running out of plot.

The kind of politics that he had practised since entering public life in 1844 was becoming sterile, and maybe out of date. In the new railway era, it was difficult for a single local representative to deliver real benefits to his constituents. One demonstration of this was the failure of a Quebec City politician, J-E. Cauchon, to bludgeon the system into delivering a North Shore railway, which would run along the economically unpromising left bank of the St Lawrence to link his own power base to Montreal.[1] Pork-barrel projects required province-wide political alliances and, as Macdonald had found over the choice of Ottawa, the broader the interests a leader had to satisfy, the harder it became to favour his own constituency.


            In any case, John A. Macdonald’s ability to broker a government coalition was waning. For eight years from 1854, he had been close to the heart of an alliance with the French-Canadian Bleus constructed to carry specific practical reforms. But once those substantial issues, the clergy reserves and seigneurial tenure, were resolved, the majority grouping had drifted and then ─ as Upper Canada increasingly rallied behind the demand for representation by population ─ fragmented into confrontational sectional blocs. In short, Confederation came along at just the right moment to provide new horizons and a fresh phase to the political career of John A. Macdonald.            It seems that Macdonald felt this himself. ‘For twenty long years I have been dragging myself through the dreary wastes of Colonial politics,’ he told an audience at Halifax in September 1864, immediately after the Charlottetown Conference had outlined the Confederation scheme. He had believed that there was ‘no end, nothing worthy of ambition’, but the union of the provinces was ‘something which is well worthy of all I have suffered in the cause of my little country.’[2]

However, this is not to advance the cynical argument that Macdonald threw himself behind the project in order to give his political career a new lease of life. He had in fact been noncommittal, even taciturn, on the subject for several years past. In 1860 he had called the union of the provinces a question in which Cartier’s government ‘is to some extent interested, and to which it is to some extent committed.’[3] The following year he had called the project the ‘only feasible scheme’ to carry the existing province forward from its increasing sectional stand-off, although he made it clear that he opposed a United States-style federal scheme, with its dangerous element of state sovereignty. ‘The true principle of a confederation lies in giving to the general Government all the principles and powers of sovereignty, and in the provision that the subordinate or individual States should have no powers but those expressly bestowed upon them.’[4] In his 1861 election manifesto, Macdonald had briefly promised to work for the union of the British North American provinces, but he proposed no major constitutional project on the hustings in 1863.[5] (Indeed, the legislature elected in 1863 was scarcely mandated to commit the province to Confederation  even though it proved to be the last parliament of the Union.) None the less, when he returned to office in 1864 as Upper Canada leader in the minority Taché administration, he blandly claimed that the ministry ‘had done all in its power to have this federation remedy adopted’, explaining that their initiative had been blocked by the indifference of the Maritime provinces. Once again, he signalled his own distaste for a federal rather than a centralised structure. ‘Recent events in the United States [a curiously mild allusion to the three year-old civil war] had made him still more disinclined to a federation, believing that a stronger form of union and government was requisite.’[6] But, as he had once explained his political philosophy, ‘we can’t have all we want, and we must endeavor to get as nearly what we want as possible.’[7] When the union of the provinces became a practical proposition in and after the Fall of 1864, he willingly embraced the larger cause.

Macdonald’s central role in the achievement of Confederation between 1864 and 1867 is well attested. But what were the implications of this new policy for his relationship with Kingston? It is symbolic that the city barely features in Donald Creighton’s masterly Road to Confederation, while in the first volume of Creighton’s biography of Macdonald mentions only one Kingston episode, the controversial testimonial dinner of September 1866, in the four years after the 1863 election.[8]  It was probably no accident that Macdonald confessed himself frustrated by the ‘dreary wastes of Colonial politics’ to an audience in Halifax, remote from his own constituents. From the start of the movement for Confederation, it was likely that two aspects of this new dazzling aim that he found so ‘worthy of ambition’ would complicate and probably weaken the Macdonald-Kingston relationship.

First, the re-division of the existing province would mean that some of the affairs of Upper Canada would be handled by a devolved authority. Since John A. Macdonald’s support within Upper Canada had waned thanks to his opposition to representation by population, he could not count on being able to manipulate the new dual structure. Hence the people of Kingston might well find themselves looking to a regional government controlled by rival politicians when they sought public funds for local projects as happened after 1871, when the Liberals took control of Ontario. Furthermore, because the pressure for population-based representation stemmed from the rapid growth of areas west of Toronto, Kingston in the less dynamic eastern section would probably suffer in the face of a shift in the internal power balance. At the last minute the new province was unexpectedly named ‘Ontario’, and this may well have been Macdonald’s own choice to ensure that the new Lower Canadian province of Quebec was not balanced by an Upper Canadian province of ‘Toronto’.[9] Unfortunately, the new name could not blot out the fact that much of its population lived closer to the shores of Lake Erie, too far west of Kingston to be interested in the city’s hopes and plans.

The second aspect of Confederation that would impinge upon Kingston lay in the considerable enlargement of interest groups that would be created by the proposed merger with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In return for their hardly enthusiastic agreement to join with the province of Canada, Maritimers insisted on building in to the deal a firm promise of a railway linking Halifax to the St Lawrence valley. Since the proposed ‘Intercolonial’ line would in effect extend the Grand Trunk to the Atlantic seaboard, there might at first sight be some potential gains for Kingston. However, even if the extended network generated an overall increase in traffic, this would probably simply mean that more trains would skirt the edge of the city, adding nothing to its wealth and little to its employment. In any case, the Intercolonial was widely seen as a political project, and it was argued that it would be uneconomic to transport bulk freight such as wheat and timber by rail ─ for, even in winter, when the far cheaper St Lawrence water route was frozen, the cost of operating so long a railway would be prohibitive. A more direct prospect of gain for the city might be seen in the Kingston Locomotive Works, described in 1863 as ‘one of the largest and most complete establishments in the Province.’ The business had evolved from the Ontario Foundry which by 1858 had become the city’s largest employer. In 1864, the business was reorganised and control transferred to a Montreal group closely associated with the Grand Trunk. Unfortunately, the Locomotive Works, although outwardly impressive, was an unstable commercial enterprise, perhaps because it was geared up to produce a large and specialised product that railway companies only ordered intermittently. The 1864 reorganisation stemmed not from the prospect of new business horizons in the Maritimes but from the bankruptcy of its previous owner, James Morton. Nor did the new management fare much better, despite the inclusion of some of Montreal’s sharpest business brains.[10] Nor was a railway in the Maritimes ─ the nearest point would be 600 kilometres to the east ─ likely to bring locomotive repair work to Kingston. In the event, it was Moncton in New Brunswick which became the service centre for the Intercolonial.

On a larger canvas, the centrality of the Intercolonial railway in the Confederation deal highlighted a more fundamental irony about the new structure. Upper Canadians had demanded representation by population not merely because they were more numerous but ─ a point not always highlighted in modern textbooks ─ as the most prosperous and commercially active section of the province, they believed that they generated the lion’s share of tax revenues. Put bluntly, Upper Canadians complained that the existing system of equal representation permitted unenterprising French Catholics to vote themselves cash from the sporrans of hard-working Scots Presbyterians. The paradox was that Confederation, the means of achieving representation by population, involved taking aboard New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, two provinces that had barely managed to afford the construction of a handful of short local railway lines. Macdonald drove home the point in an exchange with another Kingston politician. Richard Cartwright, scion of a prominent local family, had been elected to the Assembly for nearby Lennox and Addington in 1863 and was at that time a political ally. On one occasion Cartwright was ‘rather exulting at the prospect of getting rid of the financial millstone’ of Lower Canada once Confederation re-established Upper Canada’s freedom to spend its own money. Macdonald sharply rebuked him: ‘Do you think you will be better off with three mill-stones round your neck instead of one?’[11]

          Thus both of the core aspects of Confederation were likely to weaken the Kingston-Macdonald relationship: within the re-created province of Upper Canada, the city would probably find itself looking to alternative political benefactors for favours, while at federal level, the need to subsidise the Maritimes would reduce the overall resources available to localities. Although in 1864, John A. Macdonald could not call upon the cynical services of an image-maker for a political makeover, the way forward was at least tacitly clear enough. If he hoped to seek a leading position in central rather than provincial politics, he would have to have to direct his constituents’ gaze away from those dreary wastes of local wheeling and dealing towards the inspirational vision of nation-building. In 1864, it was by no means certain that he would emerge as the first prime minister of the Dominion, and he would certainly do whatever he could to direct benefits to his home city ─ he made that clear on the hustings when he coasted through his ministerial by-election that April. But, essentially, he needed to re-brand himself from local politician to continental statesman, and hope that Kingston would bask in his reflected glory and trust in his continuing patronage. Unfortunately, far from using his emerging status as the key father of Confederation to enhance his standing among the people of Kingston, he was forced to draw deep upon their goodwill to survive a crisis that threatened to destroy in his own political career. Worse still, the circumstances which led to the hurriedly-organised testimonial banquet in September 1866 were not only humiliating but largely self-inflicted.     


1866: ‘Kingston’s Member and Canada’s Statesman’

The problem was a recurrence of Macdonald’s weakness for alcohol. Once again, it is as well to stress that the censorious notion that occasionally surfaces in modern Canada, that John A. Macdonald was permanently drunk, is utter nonsense. A politician who was constantly inebriated could not possibly have equalled either Macdonald’s workload or his achievements. It is also fair to note that his general health was not always good. He was seriously ill in 1862, ‘ill in earnest’ as the Globe tactfully put it.[12] He collapsed again in 1864, laconically reporting to a friend ‘I was very near going off the books’.[13] At this distance in time even qualified medical practitioners would be hard put to determine whether occasional binge-drinking was to blame, or alternatively whether poor health rendered him incapable of coping with a diet in which alcohol seems to have played a conspicuous part. What is incontestable is that his occasional incapacity could have disastrous consequences. In 1862, Cartier’s ministry went down to defeat partly because Macdonald mishandled its attempts to carry a major reform of Canada’s militia laws at a time when the American Civil War placed the province in considerable danger. The Globe took to placing heavy inverted commas in referring to ‘Mr. Macdonald’s "illnesses"’. The governor-general, Lord Monck, privately reported to London that Macdonald’s absence from parliament was caused ‘nominally by illness, but really, as every one knows, by drunkenness’.[14]                                                                                                           

        As in 1858, Macdonald responded to the public scandal by promising to reform. In July 1862, ‘fully convinced of the evils of the drinking customs of society’, he was reported ‘to renounce them on his own part’. However, rather than join the Sons of Temperance at Quebec, the seat of government, he preferred ‘to associate with his own townsmen’ in Kingston. The gesture was no doubt sincere, and there are two specific reports in the next eight months that he was keeping the pledge.[15] However, it does also have the appearance of an attempt to rebuild his support base among Kingston Protestants, for the city was unusual in having an Orange temperance lodge.[16]

         Return to political office in 1864 seems to have been quickly followed by renewed recourse to the bottle.[17] The most charitable interpretation is that Macdonald was one of those remarkable people (the classic example is Winston Churchill) who consumed prodigious amounts of alcohol to fuel massive quantities of work. True, it was embarrassing to the governor-general’s suite when he was found in his hotel room during the Quebec Conference that October, with a rug thrown over his nightshirt, ‘practising Hamlet in a looking glass’.[18] On the other hand, he was skilful in his management of the delegations from the different colonies, most of them politicians who were working together for the first time, and everybody recognised that the blueprint for government that emerged in the Quebec Resolutions was largely his work. No doubt he was treading a fine line, but throughout 1865 there are few suggestions that his drinking was a problem.

         In 1866, however, a combination of circumstances propelled his weakness into the public arena and dramatically placed his political career in jeopardy. The chain of events began just before Christmas 1865 when George Brown resigned from the Great Coalition. The proprietor of the Globe had never felt comfortable as a ministerial colleague of his old enemy John A. Macdonald throughout the eighteen months they had served in cabinet together. Ostensibly Brown walked out over a disagreement about how best to handle trade negotiations with the United States. However, he was probably also positioning himself for post-Confederation politics, so that he could simultaneously portray himself as an  architect of the new system but equally as a critic of a discredited ministry that had failed, as it was evidently destined to fail, to secure renewal of the Reciprocity Treaty in Washington. While Brown rejoiced in recovering his freedom, his room for manoeuvre was in reality uncomfortably circumscribed. The most natural mode of the Toronto Globe was one of swinging denunciation and unrestrained attack. But Brown remained committed to Confederation, and hence could hardly assail the ministry he had just left without risking his own aims.[19]

         As it happened, a political hiatus quickly developed that gave him an opening for attack. New Brunswick had voted against Confederation in March 1865, but the ‘Anti’ ministry in Fredericton quickly began to disintegrate. Nothing could be done to carry Confederation forward until New Brunswick voters had reversed their opposition and fallen into line ─ after which it might be hoped that Nova Scotia would also abandon its opposition to the scheme.[20] Indeed, so far as the province of Canada was concerned, nothing should be done, since any discussion of the practical aspects of Confederation would probably trigger local disagreements that would be capable of exploding in Maritime political debate. As Macdonald put it, if the Canadian parliament had met before the crucial vote in the Maritimes, ‘the subject would be discussed here by the enemies of the measure in such a way as to have an injurious effect on the scheme in New Brunswick.’[21] The 1864 Quebec Conference had left Canadians to decide how to re-divide themselves into two provinces, but Macdonald and his colleagues were in no hurry to bring forward their plans. The new provinces would take control of education, and it could be confidently predicted that discussion of their constitutions would trigger renewed battles over the respective rights of Catholic schools in Upper Canada and Protestant schools in Lower Canada ─ an issue which could all too easily spread to the Maritimes. All this made for a tight political timetable, especially if the provinces were to send delegates to London to secure imperial legislation during the Westminster session of 1866. (The Westminster parliament’s Thames-side location was an impressive piece of cityscape. Unfortunately, the dignified river also functioned as an open sewer and, as London had a population of over three million people, legislators made a point of completing their business by the beginning of August. It was always possible that even an English summer might bring some hot weather, and Britain’s politicians had no intention of holding their noses while they ratified Canada’s new constitution.) To add to the pressures of timing, early in June the Fenians, an Irish terrorist force, invaded the Niagara peninsula and then, at the end of July, there was a ministerial crisis in England and a new and inexperienced cabinet took office. It was all too tempting for George Brown and the Globe to combine protests of undying support for the aim of Confederation with denunciations of ministerial inefficiency in moving the project forward.

        Sad to relate, John A. Macdonald was once again providing a plausible focus for such attacks. During the winter of 1865-66, the apparatus of government made its final migration and at last settled permanently in Ottawa. Unfortunately, the new capital was very different from the showpiece of city of today. Ottawa lacked social amenities and, with accommodation in short supply, few politicians were tempted to bring their families for the parliamentary session. ‘The town itself is so utterly destitute of occupation, not to speak of in-door attractions, for strangers,’ the Globe was to report a few months later, ‘that hardly one even of the Cabinet Ministers has taken up his residence in the place.’[22] (All this would have made sour reading in Kingston.) Perhaps most ominously of all, Ottawa lacked even a piped water supply: the politicians simply found it safer to consume liquids in fermented form. As the Toronto Leader was to put it, ‘the Canadian capital is not the most favourable place in the Province for the encouragement of total abstinence among members of Parliament’, although this Conservative newspaper offered the mild defence that ‘the evil is confined to no one side of the House’.[23] The governor-general, Lord Monck, privately expressed concern that ‘the fact of seat of government being in such an isolated place will have a damaging effect on public men’.[24] Two in particular gave cause for concern: John A. Macdonald and his cabinet colleague D’Arcy McGee.

         By the end of June 1866, it was ‘the common talk of Ottawa’ that Macdonald was ‘out of order’, a coded allusion to heavy drinking.[25] The combination of the boredom of Ottawa life and the pressure of walking a tight-rope on the Confederation timetable seem to have pushed him, from time to time, into consuming more alcohol than he could handle. Most damaging of all were reports that ‘Mr. Macdonald was not in a position to transact business’ during the Fenian raid in June ─ damaging indeed, since Macdonald was minister of militia at the time.[26] (In a later attack, in 1870, the Globe graphically alleged that ‘telegram after telegram was left unanswered, because he was in such a state of intoxication that he could not comprehend them’.[27])  For George Brown, denouncing Macdonald’s inebriation offered a way of attacking the ministry without damaging the chances of Confederation. Indeed, the Globe could even charge that lack of progress towards carrying the scheme into effect was caused by personal incapacity, a specious argument since everything really depended upon the still-squabbling Maritimers. In broadening the assault to condemn Macdonald’s ministerial colleagues, the Globe adopted a classic ploy that later generations would associate with tabloid journalism, pleading a reluctant duty to raise a distasteful issue that Macdonald’s own colleagues had failed to grasp. ‘All the members of the Cabinet … have long known the road Mr. Macdonald was travelling, and they should have intimated to him long ago that they would withdraw their support if he did not reform.’ Sadly, they had ‘allowed him to drift downwards until his opponents, who have treated with great forbearance, are compelled to speak out by a sense of the damage he is doing to the country.’[28]

An attack of this kind on the personal conduct of a politician was unprecedented. Even the Reform politician, Alexander Mackenzie, later Canada’s second prime minister and usually Brown’s faithful echo, was reported to be shocked. Almost thirty years later, Macdonald’s equal loyal biographer Joseph Pope ignored the content of the Globe’s diatribes to dismiss the assault as ‘more than usually vile’.[29] One particularly unpleasant aside confirmed that Macdonald faced a bare-knuckle fight to save his reputation. ‘We speak not of Mr. Macdonald’s private life,’ the Globe loftily but salaciously remarked, ‘─ from first to last there has been reference to that in this journal, and under no provocation shall there be’. The following year, Macdonald’s eccentric and outspoken opponent for the representation of Kingston, W.J. Stewart, was to include adultery in his list of Macdonald’s sins. A subsequent historian can only record the smoke and wonder whether there was a genuine fire.

It is doubtful that the Globe’s campaign did much for the political standing of George Brown: by the close, the paper editorially denied that its proprietor had written the offensive articles. (It is unlikely that the disclaimer fooled anyone: as Alexander Mackenzie put it, George Brown and the Globe were ‘convertible terms’.[30]) But if Brown did himself no favours from the unprecedented virulence of the assault, the allegations against Macdonald were devastating. The Globe began its attack with the charge that Macdonald had appeared in the Assembly on August 14 ‘in a state of gross intoxication’, his speech ‘wild and incoherent … so thick as to be almost incomprehensible’. It was unprecedented for a minister to be ‘seen to hold on to his desk to prevent himself from falling’ and ‘so utterly gone at mid-day as to be unconscious of what he was doing’ ─ he even moved the same item of business twice in succession. Worst still there were ‘two Ministers of the Crown seen at one time rolling helpless in the Ministerial bench’.[31] The other offender was almost certainly D’Arcy McGee, by now not merely Macdonald’s ally but his devoted friend. It is presumably from this episode that we may date the legend of Macdonald telling his colleague, ‘this government can’t afford two drunkards, and you’ve got to stop.’[32] Unfortunately, at the time, there was not much to joke about. Macdonald was in serious trouble and needed to so something to limit the political damage. It was rare for any Canadian journalist to be sued for defamation, and although Macdonald went through the motions of threatening legal action, he was obviously not going to risk going into court, for nobody dared deny the charges outright.[33] His only hope of riding out the crisis lay in persuading his political allies to engage in a public display of support and solidarity designed to demonstrate their intention to face down the campaign against him. The appropriate mid-Victorian media event was a testimonial banquet, a public dinner organised as a tribute from well-wishers, the vehicle for endless after-dinner speeches designed to crowd the columns of the contemporary press. Given the nature of the allegations, an evening of dining and wining could only be regarded as a high risk strategy, and obviously it required careful management.

Above all, because Macdonald needed to mount a rapid riposte to the campaign against him, he also had to call upon some form of pre-existing organisation. Hence the location of the banquet was as important as the fact that it was being held at all. Ottawa was doubly unsuitable. The city’s lack of adequate social amenities was a major cause of his alleged problems in the first place, and a public dinner held in the new capital would probably be denounced by the Globe as a backwoods Bacchanalia intended to mock the decent people of Canada. A Toronto venue would be a dangerously provocative incursion into George Brown’s personal lair. Montreal was Lower Canadian political turf. There really was no organisational alternative but to turn to Macdonald’s old stamping ground in Kingston. ‘Your friends in Kingston tender you a banquet as a manifestation of their confidence and esteem,’ ran the invitation.[34] Creighton’s comment that the September 6 banquet was ‘as if in answer’ to the campaign of denigration seems uncharacteristically innocent: the claim that the event was a celebration of the achievement of Confederation was obviously open to the comment that the revellers were a little premature.[35] In the circumstances, of course it made sense to project himself, in the words of the banquet motto, as ‘Kingston’s member and Canada’s statesman’. The problem was that he was being forced to invert the implied strategy of repositioning himself politically. In the new post-Confederation world, he would need the prestige of being Canada’s statesman in order to dazzle Kingston into retaining him as its member of parliament. In fact, to rescue his career, he was obliged to draw deep on his political credit in the city he had represented for over twenty years. The managers of the Globe certainly spotted the weakness. Thanks to the Grand Trunk, Toronto morning papers were available in Kingston by mid-afternoon.[36] On September 5, the Globe ran the story of Macdonald’s alcoholic lapses one last time, broadening the indictment out from the parliamentary session to bring in embarrassing episodes from previous years ─ including the specific charge that he had been drunk during the stand-off over the aborted visit of the Prince of Wales to Kingston in 1860.

The 160 participants at the Kingston banquet included a notable sprinkling of the great and maybe even the good of ministerial politics.[37] Some had evidently travelled long distances to be present: Cartier and McGee from Montreal, John Carling from London, deep in the western peninsula. The list of speakers highlighted the breadth of Macdonald’s political and personal support. Cartier insisted that Kingston was ‘highly favoured’ and rejoiced that it had been ‘his happy lot to fall in with their member in public life, and to form an alliance with him which had lasted longer than any similar alliance in Canada.’ Perhaps less tactful was Cartier’s verdict that that their success in government ‘arose from the fact that they had left out of sight all mere sectional views; they had endeavoured to find out what was needed for Canada as a whole.’ It may be that some of the diners would have welcomed a little more narrow sectionalism from their parliamentary representative. William Howland, a Reformer who had broken with George Brown, spoke of the personal warmth that he had come to feel for Macdonald during their time as coalition colleagues, which had led him ‘to know that the people of Kingston had good reason for the confidence so long shown in their member.’[38] Five years earlier, during the 1861 election, D’Arcy McGee had been urged to come to Kingston to oust Macdonald from the constituency. Now he praised the city’s representative with his characteristic ebullience, probably speaking for too long and, as it would transpire, making at least one incautious admission. The one-time Irish revolutionary who had turned his back on violence, McGee’s leading position in the Canadian Irish community had put him at the centre of events during the Fenian crisis. He praised John A. Macdonald’s ‘activity, sagacity, and firmness’ in charge of the militia, although he did not go so far as to assert that his friend was sober. But the speech of the evening came from Macdonald himself.

Chosen as chairman no doubt to symbolise both civic endorsement and Conservative unity, Thomas Kirkpatrick had been Kingston’s first mayor back in 1838, and had unsuccessfully tried to oust Macdonald from his seat in 1847. His speech proposing the health of the guest of honour was commendably brief, but perhaps unintentionally highlighted the increasing mismatch between the city’s material needs and the developing political trajectory of its member of parliament. ‘Kingston had been called a sterile and unprogressive district’, he began, ‘but they had at least the honour to have produced a statesman they should be proud to have sent into the councils of the country ─ a man who had long been a guiding star there.’ Welcomed with ‘enthusiastic and prolonged applause’, Macdonald drew deep upon his local popularity to throw a smokescreen over the Globe’s campaign against him. Accustomed as he was to ‘a kindly welcome’ from his constituents, ‘never had be felt such pride and such gratification as at the present moment, for reasons which they all knew’ but upon which he refused to comment. The attacks, he implied, were not just upon himself, but upon Kingston itself. ‘It was the fate of almost all public men some time in their career to be made a target to be shot at, but never perhaps in the life of any public man was there ever such a series of wanton and unprovoked attacks as had lately been made upon the representative for this city.’ It was noteworthy that he did not actually deny the allegations, implying only that a time would come ‘when and where he would be face to face with his traducer, when he would be able to meet and answer those attacks’. If he was hinting at a parliamentary counter-attack, the ploy was safe enough. It was unlikely that the Assembly of the province of Canada would ever meet again. By the time the first House of Commons of the new Dominion assembled over a year later, the shortcomings of the newly minted Sir John Macdonald were forgotten and, by a further stroke of luck, George Brown failed even to get elected.

While there is no reason to dissent from the contemporary verdict that the banquet was a ‘great success’,[39] it may also be argued that Macdonald was drawing on a goodwill account which might not prove bottomless. It was an appropriate occasion for nostalgia as he celebrated ‘the unwavering constancy with which his old friends in Kingston stood by him for twenty-five years … from the time when first, as a young man, they thought they saw something in him that might be useful to the country, until now, when he stood before them as an old man, whose hair was becoming grey in their service.’ (He was 51, and if he was indeed turning grey, other reports from the time imply that he was dyeing his hair.) But even Macdonald recognised that the basis of his support was changing. He spoke wistfully of old friends who had been ‘swept away as if by a pestilence’, adding that their deaths made him all the more appreciative of support from ‘a younger generation which knew him, perhaps, little more than by name.’ It was an intriguing admission from a man who acknowledged that ‘public affairs had called him much away from the city’, for it was to be defections among the younger element that would undermine him in elections from 1872.

In short, for all its ‘media’ impact, the banquet may have given an illusory impression of the depth of his local support. Of course it would be utopian to expect that everyone who voted for Macdonald would also wish to turn out and carouse in his honour. But if we discount from the reported total of 160 diners the cohort of visiting politicians and journalists, maybe around 140 tickets were sold locally. Since Macdonald had polled 785 votes in 1863, and would notch up 735 in the low-key Confederation election just twelve months after the banquet, it would seem that only about one supporter in every five was prepared to attend a demonstration in his favour. Indeed, the Kingston banqueters were almost precisely equal in number to the hard core of 142 citizens who would cast their votes a year later for his frankly ludicrous opponent, W.J. Stewart. Beneath the surface of local politics, hard core supporters and opponents may have been evenly balanced.

As it happened, in a bizarre tailpiece unknown to the people of Kingston, their banquet triggered a crisis in the very heart of the British empire that yet again placed Macdonald’s whole career in jeopardy. With characteristic oratorical overkill, D’Arcy McGee had announced during his panegyric that the guest of honour had been personally responsible for no fewer than fifty of the seventy-two resolutions that constituted the plan of union drafted at Quebec in 1864. Heading a Nova Scotian campaign to block Confederation in England, Joseph Howe could not resist linking this information to the reports of Macdonald’s drunkenness. Howe claimed that McGee’s evidence explained the ‘incoherent and defective character of the whole scheme’ and he argued that since Canadian politicians could not govern themselves, they should not be permitted to take control of Nova Scotia. This line of attack caused consternation within the British government, and one civil servant even suggested that John A. Macdonald should be barred from the delegation that was travelling to London to finalise the British North America Act. If he had been excluded from the London talks, Macdonald would of course have had little chance of emerging as prime minister of the new Confederation. Fortunately, the threat was not carried out, and Macdonald rescued himself with a Houdini-like escape. He impressed British policy-makers with his deft handling of the last round of negotiations, and his ability to hold together the disparate and potentially quarrelsome colonial delegations marked him out as the potential leader of the new Dominion.[40]

1867: ‘not such a bad fellow after all’

A few months after the Kingston banquet, Macdonald also took another step which contributed hugely to his political rehabilitation, by suddenly marrying Susan Agnes Bernard, sister of the civil servant who accompanied the Canadian delegation to London. Although more than twenty years his junior, the new Mrs Macdonald had long since discarded ‘Susan’ as reflecting the irresponsibly feminine side of her personality. The formidable Agnes would in time find herself struggling with the wifely responsibility she had accepted, but at first all promised well for the couple.[41] Thus he returned from England in the spring of 1867 with a new constitution in his pocket and a young bride on his arm. When he took Agnes to meet his constituents in May 1867, the city stage-managed the event in a manner fit for an imperial statesman.[42] The couple arrived by steamer to be greeted by flags and holiday crowds. There was an artillery salute from Fort Frederick, and Kingston’s volunteer soldiers mustered in honour of the minister of militia. Macdonald himself was given a formal address of welcome at City Hall. Indeed, the welcome accorded to the couple was almost a pastiche of the aborted reception that had been planned for the Prince of Wales, and was perhaps tacitly intended to exorcise the sour memories of 1860. Certainly there was a large turn-out by the women of Kingston, that section of the community reportedly most aggrieved by the debacle of the royal visit. One local journalist patronisingly remarked that the opportunity to inspect the new Mrs Macdonald was ‘extremely alluring to the fairer, and of course less inquisitive, portion of the citizenry’ ─ although it was perhaps a step forward that females should be regarded as citizens of any type at all.

For his part, Macdonald lifted the veil on the high imperial politics he had encountered in London, encouraging Kingston to share in the reflected glory. He spoke of his private audience with Queen Victoria herself, revealing that Her Majesty had praised the new Confederation. ‘I have the greatest gratification to make this pleasing statement in Canada,’ he announced, ‘and first to my own constituents.’ They cheered, but there was little doubt that the woman who most took their hearts was the one he was proudly showing off as his bride. Thanks to their warm welcome, he assured his Kingston friends, ‘she will be inclined to think I am not such a bad fellow after all.’ (This was an inverse coded message. In reality, it was the voters of Kingston who were expected to take an indulgent view of the failings of a man who had just wooed and won a bride barely half his age.) The formidable Agnes was no mere trophy wife, but she was an asset in the riding. They were back again in mid-July 1867, holding what Agnes called ‘a levée’ on board their steamer on a stopover en route to Toronto: ‘all day people introduced ─ people to be talked to, ladies calling … and exciting political talk.’ The following year, the ‘good people of Kingston’ organised a subscription to present her with a piano: in what must be one of the earliest occasions in Canada at which a woman spoke in public, Agnes nervously replied by reading aloud a message of thanks.[43]

Thus during those years 1864 to 1867 that were so crucial to the building of a new Canada, Kingston had tended to fade into the background of John A. Macdonald’s career, and it was not immediately apparent how the relationship between the citizens and their parliamentary representative would evolve on the more crowded stage of Confederation. The natural evolution of his political persona would seem to have been towards adopting the aura of a statesman, operating at a more Olympian national and even imperial level, although still capable of channelling unspecified benefits towards his own people. Such indeed was the role that he projected during his visit to the city in May of 1867, and in the first flush of political success, Macdonald could afford to take the high ground. Unfortunately, there was another and darker side to the man who faced the voters as Sir John in August, when his natural combativeness led him to descend from his dignified perch to trade vulgar insults with his opponent.   

In Ontario, at least, the first Dominion elections were held, during the late summer of 1867, in something close to a political vacuum. Uniquely, Macdonald – now Sir John A. – had formed a cabinet but had yet to meet a House of Commons. By forging an alliance with Sandfield Macdonald, who became the first provincial premier, he had once again split the Reform party, and at a handy moment when ideological issues would take second place to the practical need to establish the new system.[44] Hence it was not surprising that the 1867 election aroused little excitement in Kingston. Indeed, Macdonald was elected in circumstances of near-farce that obscured the fact that there was effectively a nine-year gap between the hard-fought contests of 1863 and 1872 – long enough for his position to weaken significantly.

The surreal flavour of the 1867 election in Kingston was splendidly captured in a Centennial lecture by W.J. Coyle.[45] Macdonald’s opponent was W.J. Stewart, a fellow-Scot and professor of anatomy at Queen’s University, where he contributed generously to faculty quarrels and fully earned the distinction of becoming the first professor to be dismissed. At intervals Stewart also published his own scurrilous newspaper.  According to Kingston folklore, Macdonald once successfully defended him against a charge of defamation by proving that nobody took the publication seriously and hence it was incapable of damaging anybody’s reputation. On another occasion Stewart was less lucky, and was sent to jail.[46] He is most generously described as eccentric, as seen in his explanation that he was a Canadian Reformer because he was a British Tory. Styling himself ‘the Doctor’, Stewart ran as an independent although the 142 votes that he garnered presumably indicates tacit Reform support, if only to force the prime minister to face ‘the annoyance and the expense’ of a poll. On nomination day, Macdonald faced persistent and disruptive heckling, which provoked him on one occasion to liken one tormenter to a donkey. ‘Now, is it not a pity,’ he began one sentence, only to be interrupted: ‘Yes, to talk such nonsense.’ In charging Macdonald not only with drunkenness but also with adultery, Stewart himself hardly invited conventional politeness. Yet Macdonald almost certainly made a tactical error in too openly indicating contempt for his opponent, cruelly applying to Stewart lines from Alexander Pope’s vitriolic poem, the Dunciad:

Say what revenge on Stewart could be had?


Too mean for laughter; for reply too bad;

On one so poor you cannot take the law,

On one so old you scorn the sword to draw,

Uncaged, then, let the wanton monster rage,

Secure in madness, meanness, want and age!

Macdonald once remarked that, had he received a university education, he might well have made a career in literature. He had a retentive memory and good ear for quotation, but on this occasion he would have better have heeded Pope’s crushing dismissal of another minor target: who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?  It was disproportionate and counter-productive: for all his faults, Stewart was widely respected for the medical care he bestowed upon the city’s poor. The quotation was too long and obviously pre-polished to seem spontaneous, and Kingston opinion was evidently uneasy that the prime minister of the Dominion should have demeaned himself by such a petty and premeditated assault. He was sternly lectured by the Daily News: ‘Sir John A. Macdonald ought not to forget the responsibilities of his position nor the example which it is his duty to set before the people of Canada.’[47]


            ‘Very little interest was manifested in the city election to-day,’ a Kingston journalist reported on polling day ─ for voting was no longer spread over two exciting days.[48] Macdonald, of course, won comfortably, polling 734 votes. However, support for him as the first prime minister of the Dominion was certainly less impressive than he had registered ten years earlier on becoming premier of the province. This was probably because the flat condition of politics hardly made it necessary to organise an electoral triumph. The late-August election aroused little interest, and some of the city’s wealthiest citizens may have been away on holiday. Nonetheless, in comparison with 1857, Kingston’s enthusiasm for its most famous son does seem muted. As the first prime minister of the Dominion, he garnered over 400 votes fewer than he had won as incoming premier of the province ten years earlier. In the sole election where Dominion and province polled at the same time, Macdonald tallied only thirty votes more than his provincial running mate or, to adopt Stewart’s labelling, the ‘Majority for Scoundrelism’ was barely larger than ‘The Majority for Tom Foolism’.[49]

          Despite the fact that the mid-eighteen sixties saw one of the greatest upheavals in Canadian political history, in the form of Confederation, there is a curious lack of focus and structure to the two Kingston elections of the period. Neither of the polls of 1863 and 1867 was fought on major issues of political principle, leaving a sense of a lost electoral decade between 1861, when Macdonald had first been forced to undertake a serious defence of his seat, and 1872, when it first became clear that he might lose it. Perhaps he had relied too comfortably upon his ‘old and tried friends’. By 1872, they had become older, and many had been tried to the limits of their support.

          Sir John A. Macdonald was fortunate in the timing of the Kingston poll, which was safely over by the end of August 1867. ‘He had sold Kingston,’ Stewart had alleged.[50] This might seem a curious charge, since somebody who had been a director of the city’s leading financial institution for the previous twenty-eight years would surely have the community’s interest at heart. In fact, the Commercial Bank was in trouble that summer. It had never fully rationalised its bad debts in the wake of the economic depression of 1857, and the collapse of the Toronto-based Bank of Upper Canada the previous year had damaged consumer confidence. Although apparently unreported at the time, it may be that unease about the Bank’s prospects contributed to the comparative lack of enthusiasm for Macdonald’s election that summer. By October, the Commercial Bank was in serious trouble. On October 21, the Dominion finance minister, Alexander Galt, travelled to the country’s financial capital, Montreal, to convene a meeting of leading bankers to discuss a bail-out. When the powerful Bank of Montreal played hardball, the deal collapsed, and Galt telegraphed to Ottawa making a desperate appeal to the cabinet for last-ditch intervention. In his later years, especially after 1878, Macdonald would come to dominate his ministers, but in 1867 he had been appointed prime minister for his skills in chairmanship and consensus. Many of the members of his team hardly knew one another, and ministers from the Maritimes in particular would have been sensitive to the suspicions of their own constituents that the new Dominion was a central Canadian scheme to monopolise public funds. In any case, failed attempts to prop up the Bank of Upper Canada the previous year had cost the taxpayer a million dollars. The cabinet refused to intervene.

‘Information as to condition of Bank, character of security offered, and reasons why other Banks declined to help,’ ran Macdonald’s bleak telegram to Galt, ‘insufficient to warrant any action by Government.’ Although Macdonald later claimed that the wording was designed to prod the banking sector into submitting proposals of its own, the telegram was enough to force the Commercial Bank to close its doors on October 22. Galt resigned, further isolating the beleaguered prime minister. ‘Among those who know the facts, much exasperation is felt against Macdonald…’, he wrote. ‘They say had he stood by the Bank as I did, it would have been saved, and this is true.’ The paradox was that his association with Kingston had made it harder, not easier, for John A. Macdonald to save the city’s bank. The impact of the failure on the community was devastating. Local citizens were hard hit both as individual depositors and as municipal taxpayers, while Queen’s lost two-thirds of its endowment income. The Commercial Bank will be considered again in Chapter Seven as part of a discussion of the longer-term problems and potential of the Kingston economy. In the immediate term, the disaster brought home to Macdonald’s constituents that there was a price to be paid for the prestige of electing Canada’s prime minister to represent the city.[51] The telegram that finally killed Kingston’s bank bore the signature of Kingston’s member of parliament. Not many politicians could overcome such a disaster.

Never Among Us’: Macdonald’s Seat Under Threat, 1872-1874


 In two and a half years from July 1872 to December 1874, Macdonald found himself increasingly on the defensive as he fought three close elections to retain his Kingston seat. In the first of these, Macdonald, as prime minister, faced huge difficulties running a campaign on the larger as well as the local stage.[52] His underlying achievement in building what was now a transcontinental Dominion was less obvious to many voters than their own regional discontents and failed expectations. Indeed, the duality of the new federal and provincial system meant that his very successes were turned against him in a ferocious and not over-scrupulous assault.


           John A. Macdonald explained that his intention in forming his alliance in 1867 with his former Reform opponent, Sandfield Macdonald, had been ‘to checkmate & defeat the Globe faction in Upper Canada’.[53] Hence the one Macdonald became prime minister of the Dominion, while the other was first premier of Ontario. They won their elections in 1867, but their collaboration came at a price. In the years that followed, neither was responsible for the actions of the other, but each was held by their opponents to be answerable for the alleged shortcomings of his political partner. Moreover, a shared surname certainly did not translate into similarity of temperament, and relations between the two men were sometimes strained.

         One problem was that, initially, nobody knew whether the new province could function efficiently on the basis of the per capita tax subsidy it would receive from the Dominion. At first, it seemed that Ontario would have to operate a tight budget, even in the sphere of education for which the provinces were solely responsible. Sandfield decided to cut out public grants to denominational colleges, a move which forced Regiopolis, Kingston’s Catholic college, to close its doors, and drove already financially battered Queen’s to launch its first major fund-raising campaign. Writing to Principal Snodgrass, John A. Macdonald excoriated ‘the bigoted and extremely narrow-minded stand taken by Sandfield Macdonald’, raging that his provincial ally’s ‘only claim to public support is his reputation for economy, and to keep that up he sacrifices every principle of justice and every consideration of policy.’[54] But he could not intervene on behalf of Kingston’s university any more than he could save Kingston’s bank.  

Even when it had become clear that Ontario could live prosperously, Sandfield remained parsimonious. In 1871 he was able to put aside no less than $1.5 million for railway grants, in a fund to be allocated by the cabinet without reference to the legislature. Then, unaccountably, he delayed spending the money, an exercise in prudence that cost him votes (and vital seats) at the 1871 provincial election, and contributed to the downfall of his government in the provincial Assembly in December 1871.[55] Sir John A. Macdonald grumbled that it was ‘vexatious to see how Sandfield threw away his chances.’ Had he added extra ministers to the provincial cabinet and spent the railway money, he could have bought over the dissidents and ‘had the game in his own hands.’[56] Thanks to Sandfield’s defeat, his Dominion namesake would have to face a hostile Ontario government when he took Canada to the polls in 1872.

         In contrast to modern Canadian politics, which usually operates at distinct federal and provincial levels, the two spheres were intermingled in the early years of the Dominion. As John A. Macdonald put it himself in 1868, ‘until the new constitution shall have stiffened in the mould,’ it was desirable to maintain ‘a certain sympathy’ between them.[57] However, he made it clear that he regarded the provincial governments as junior partners: in those early years, he referred to the legislature of Ontario not as the provincial parliament but as ‘the Local’. The overlap was reinforced by the fact that, until dual representation was banned in 1872, politicians such as Sandfield Macdonald could hold seats simultaneously at both levels. Even Sir John A. Macdonald himself briefly contemplated running in a provincial by-election (in Frontenac in 1868), explaining that ‘if I were a member of the Local I could make all things pleasant for Sandfield in the Dominion Parliament.’[58]  All too often, the relationship functioned the other way around. At Ottawa, Sandfield Macdonald generally supported the ministry, so much so that that in 1868 the Globe tired of accusing him of failing to protect Ontario’s interests and charged him instead of plotting to abolish provincial autonomy altogether.[59]

By contrast, the Ottawa government did not go out of its way ‘to make all things pleasant’ in return. In 1868, Sir John A. Macdonald prevailed upon the Ontario premier to accompany him to Halifax to take part in negotiations to quieten Nova Scotian separatists. Sandfield’s role was to persuade the discontented Bluenoses of the merits of autonomy as a province within the Dominion, this at a time when Canada’s prime minister was making it clear he would use the Ottawa veto to override provincial legislation. Nova Scotians settled for ‘Better Terms’, which included an increase in financial subsidies. This in turn was so vigorously denounced by Ontario Liberals as a sell-out that Sandfield himself was obliged to blunt their assault by switching sides. Another example of an external issue that was dragged into Ontario politics was the fall-out from the Red River troubles. A charitable assessment might have concluded that, allowing for innate difficulties, the episode had proved to be a John A. Macdonald success. The absorption of the North West in 1869-70 had been a prolonged and distinctly bumpy affair, but a crisis that had alarmingly begun with an armed confrontation by the Métis had peaceably ended with the creation of a new province in Manitoba and the annexation of its vast hinterland. Unfortunately, the shooting of an Orangeman, Thomas Scott, by the French-speaking and Catholic insurgent leader Louis Riel had inflamed Ontario Protestants, and the Liberals took care to probe the wound of Orange distrust that had first engulfed Macdonald back in 1860-61. On the eve of the 1871 Ontario election, the Liberal opposition moved a resolution deploring the failure to convict anyone of Scott’s ‘cold-blooded murder’, forcing Sandfield’s government to block the resolution by disclaiming the right of the provincial legislature to interfere in Dominion affairs. One year later, Ontario’s new Liberal government offered its own reward for the capture of Riel. As Sir John A. Macdonald later put it, in a sarcastic third-person reference to his own record, the Ontario Liberals pretended ‘that they were to bring the murderers to justice, while John A. Macdonald, sitting in Ottawa, and his colleagues, were wholly regardless of their duty’.[60]

Historians can record the issues which politicians and journalists believed would sway elections, but it is much harder to discover the reasons that influenced the choice of the voters, either individually or en masse. Macdonald himself believed that the failure to prosecute Riel was one of ‘the topics we have to fear on the stump & on the Hustings’, because the Orangemen had have ‘quite lost their heads’ over ‘that infernal Scott murder case’.[61] However, when the newly arrived governor-general, Lord Dufferin, decided to brief himself on current issues shortly after the election by ‘steadily reading all the election speeches with which the Canadian public had been so recently gratified’, he found the exercise ‘as pointless as it was laborious’. Not only did the parties appear to lack definite policies, but ‘the issues raised in every Borough and County were either of a local or personal nature.’[62] There were certainly urgent local issues in Kingston. The city’s economy had been stagnant throughout the previous decade, and between years of 1861 and 1871 the census population had actually fallen.[63] The withdrawal of the imperial garrison in 1870 had created an atmosphere close to panic about the city’s future in some quarters. Campaigning in favour of a municipal subsidy for a railway project in March 1870, the British Whig thundered forth apocalyptic warnings that the city might have to be totally abandoned if it could not bring the project to fruition.[64] Since the projected railway was to terminate at Madoc, the rhetoric of catastrophe seems overwrought: the city that had so recently dreamed of becoming the entrepot of the Great Lakes was now frantic to tap into the trade of Hastings County. In the circumstances, there was likely to be something of a mismatch between Kingston’s modest but desperate communications schemes and Sir John A. Macdonald’s plans to build a railway to the Pacific Ocean.

Macdonald’s developing problems in Kingston were compounded by long periods of absence from the city. A near-fatal illness kept him out of action throughout the summer of 1870, and then from late February to mid-May 1871 he was absent in Washington performing an awkward dual role as both an imperial negotiator and prime minister of Canada. There he was obliged to sign a treaty which sacrificed Canadian fisheries to quieten American anger at British lack of sympathy during the Civil War. In later life he was to attribute the defection of supporters that unseated him two years later to his absence from the House of Commons during the session of 1871.[65] The same was true of the Ontario provincial election, which Sandfield Macdonald, whose health was poor, decided to hold in March 1871. Although Sir John A. Macdonald initially thought he could help ‘as well from Washington as from Ottawa’, and even hoped to get home to vote himself, it was not to be.[66] ‘Had Sandfield been well & I been in Canada’ he wrote of the ensuing setback, ‘I think we would have saved several Counties.’[67] This was no mere conceit: a modern study of the 1871 election persuasively attributes the result to a high rate of abstention among disillusioned Conservatives, who might well have been rallied to the polls by their popular Dominion leader.[68]

When Ontario went to he polls in March 1871, Kingston experienced for the first time in three decades a lower house parliamentary election without its most distinguished citizen as the central participant. Both candidates pledged their support to the latest scheme to open the city’s hinterland, the Kingston and Pembroke railway project. (As the K&P would run entirely within Ontario, it was eligible for a provincial subsidy, not Dominion funding.) Parodying a celebrated aphorism attributed to Sir Allan MacNab, John Breden declared his politics to be ‘chiefly Railways, Railways’ and aspired to make Kingston ‘one of the first cities of the Dominion’. His victorious opponent, William Robinson, offered less grandiose commitments to develop ‘our sparsely settled back townships’ through support for such schemes as the railway to Pembroke.[69] In party terms, it was not immediately clear who had won. Robinson promised ‘to support the Ministry on their railway policy’, and Sandfield Macdonald initially included him among the ‘doubtful’ members whom he hoped to lure to his side.[70] However, Robinson had seconded Oliver Mowat’s nomination ten years earlier,[71] and was firmly labelled by the Toronto Globe as an opposition candidate. It soon became clear that effectively Kingston was a Liberal gain. Robinson’s narrow 22-vote majority was an ominous portent for the Dominion election of 1872, ‘a great triumph for Kingston ... by breaking up the faction which has so long ruled it and kept it back.’[72]

The August 1872 Dominion election in Kingston needs to be placed in the context of Sir John A. Macdonald’s wider priorities. ‘Confederation is only yet in the gristle,’ he had written to a close ally five months earlier, ‘and it will require five years more before it hardens into bone.’[73] His parliamentary seat in Kingston was of course important to him as a means to another term in office but, compared with the transcontinental railway, Kingston’s particular concerns did not loom large in his mind. For the brief moment of the election, the city would play something more than a walk-on role in his great Canadian drama, but it was important that it should be reconciled to its walk-off role immediately afterwards. It was no longer possible, as it had been during pre-Confederation elections, to put the day-to-day work of government on hold for electioneering. As the campaign began, he was deep in negotiations to persuade the Toronto entrepreneur, D.L. Macpherson, to take part in a company led but not dominated by Montreal’s Sir Hugh Allan which would build an all-Canadian railway to the Pacific. Macdonald was forced to take to the stump across his own province, heading a campaign that proved to be unexpectedly expensive. Unfortunately, in this transitional stage of Confederation, he had to act as national leader without in fact being able to control the activities of his allies outside Ontario. While Macdonald was trying to resist Allan’s demands for control of the Canada Pacific project, Cartier was making concessions to secure his support in the bitterly contested riding of Montreal East. Both men would end up at least morally indebted to Allan for his extensive financial contributions to party coffers. It is not surprising that in the face of these multiple pressures, Macdonald was drinking heavily. The big picture was challenging enough when, just five days before nominations, his local campaign manager Alexander Campbell told him he would have to come to Kingston and fight for votes ‘as of yore’.[74]

In a thoughtful review of Kingston politics in this period, W. Michael Wilson has argued that a root cause of Conservative problems was poor organisation.[75] This may be so, so long as we remember that organisational defects often reflect deeper problems of unpopular candidates and policies. Macdonald had informally delegated his role as regional election manager to his former business partner, Senator Alexander Campbell, while he campaigned across the province.[76] Campbell succeeded in mobilising the Catholic bishop, Monsignor Horan – an achievement for a committed Orangeman – but he was unable to stop the British Whig from moving into opposition. At least since 1861, Macdonald’s support had been drawn from a disparate range of sources, and perhaps only his energetic presence could have held the coalition together. Almost at the last minute, Campbell warned him that the seat was at risk thanks to defections by ‘some of the Catholics, some of your former friends and a lot of younger men’. (Defections among the Catholics once again proved that their vote was not controlled by the bishop.)[77] Macdonald broke off his campaign in western Ontario and hurried to defend his seat against John Carruthers, whom even the pro-Macdonald Daily News described as Kingston’s ‘most prosperous merchant, its greatest employer of labour, a man deservedly popular in every way.’[78] When Campbell tried to persuade absentee property-owner Edmund Boyle to come from Picton and cast his vote in the city, he drew a blank. Boyle regarded Carruthers as a friend, and felt that he had received only unfulfilled promises from Macdonald. Torn between them, he opted to abstain.[79]

The revolt of the British Whig added to Macdonald’s problems. Under its founder, Edward Barker, the Whig had been a steady ally, its ‘moderate and flexible’ Conservatism in tune with Macdonald’s own political philosophy. Early in 1872, Barker handed control to his grandson, E.J.B. Pense. Aged just 24, Pense was one of the new generation that Campbell noted was turning against the prime minister, who quickly became the target of the Whig’s vitriolic criticism. Meanwhile, James Shannon, Macdonald’s political agent in the city, had acquired the Daily News.[80] There is always a chicken-and-egg question about the relationship between a newspaper’s opinion and the views of its readers: did Pense identify a constituency of discontent that would buy his paper, or did he help to convert unease into outrage? Either way, Macdonald no longer enjoyed the cosy support of the Kingston press. Shannon’s desperate pleas for financial support to Alexander Campbell may be taken with a pinch of salt: every newspaper run as a politician’s mouthpiece was hungry for subsidies. More revealing were Shannon’s complaints that government advertising continued to flow into the columns of the Whig ‘altho’ it pitches into Sir John daily. I suppose he doesn’t care a ───.’ Even Macdonald’s own political henchman suspected that he no longer cared what went on in the city. The Whig, on the other hand, twice moved to larger premises during the eighteen-seventies.[81] Essentially, the Whig denounced Macdonald as the man ‘who is never among us; who has no stake in the city; who neglects our just claims to public benefits’. Specific charges included his failure to speak up for Kingston’s claims ‘as the most eligible seat of Government’ and a paltry investment in harbour facilities. More widely, speakers at opposition meetings attacked ‘the extravagance and corruption of the Administration’ and ‘the partiality invariably shown to the Lower Provinces over Ontario’.[82]                                                              

John A. Macdonald adopted two contrasting strategies during his brief visit to Kingston, one as statesman and the other as street-fighter. Unfortunately, as in 1867 when he had demeaned himself in his denigration of the hapless Stewart, the second took the shine off the first. At one campaign meeting, he dwelt on his landmark role in helping to negotiate the Treaty of Washington. ‘It was the first time in the history of the British Empire that such an honour had been conferred upon a Colonial Minister.’ Peerages had been conferred upon his fellow negotiators ‘and he presumed he could have had the same by seeking for it, but his ambition was to die as he had lived, the member for Kingston.’[83] Whether Kingston was impressed is hard to say, but it is likely that Macdonald’s pose as an imperial statesman was a liability. In 1860-61, he had attempted to shrug off the ‘Orange difficulty’ by insisting that the Prince’s itinerary had been purely a matter for the British government. Now he was parading his international standing at just the moment when Kingston had lost its imperial garrison – costing the city, in one estimate, $400,000 a year.[84] Voters might have wondered why the colonial statesman so respected at the heart of the British empire had failed to hang on to their redcoats. Had he even tried? ‘What keeps you out of Kingston?’, yelled a heckler who put Macdonald uncharacteristically and awkwardly on the defensive. ‘As Minister of Justice, supervising the management of the entire Dominion, his office was at Ottawa, and there he was obliged to remain, his duties seldom permitting of his absence’. Addressing his own supporters, Macdonald had derided the argument with a characteristic but dangerous sneer against his opponent: there would be no danger of Carruthers becoming an absentee member, because he would never get a job in Ottawa. It was this kind of attitude that prompted an opposition supporter to complain at the ‘cavalier’ attitude that treated Kingston as ‘his pocket borough.’[85] The combative side of John A. Macdonald was on full display at the hustings, in the face of a concerted attempt to shout him down. He began with the banter that had so often calmed a hostile crowd. ‘It is no use to disturb me ─ I am bound to talk and will be heard.’ This soon turned to bombastic belittlement of his Grit opponents. ‘For twenty-eight long years they had swallowed John A.; he would force them to swallow him for five years more.’ Then followed a deplorable incident, a personal attack not merely verbal but physical. The strong point of the Carruthers candidacy was that he was a leading city merchant. Macdonald sought to turn this around by alleging that his opponent had cornered local supplies of coal oil to create a monopoly and so force up the price of a fuel widely used for lighting and heating. Given the size of his business, it was likely that Carruthers did trade extensively in coal oil, but this did not make him a profiteer, and the allegation that his co-conspirator was Alexander Mackenzie, leader of the Liberal party, was too fantastic and convenient to be credible. Carruthers ‘indignantly and forcibly’ denied the charge, at which point Macdonald struck him with ‘a back handed slap’ and tried to grab him by the throat. Friends restrained the prime minister, while Carruthers was reported to have walked quietly away from the confrontation. For any man of 57, let alone the prime minister of his country, this was hardly dignified behaviour. The Daily News attempted to gloss over the ‘slight contretemps’ but the British Whig which described Macdonald as ‘much excited’, a contemporary code for ‘drunk’, made the most of the lapse. ‘A Disgraceful Act – Sir John As A Bruiser,’ it proclaimed, asking, ‘Tories of Kingston, what do you think of your figure head!’[86]

It is clear from Macdonald’s own letter books that the flare-up of opposition in Kingston could hardly have come at a worse moment. He continued to attempt to direct the province-wide campaign, but had to decline appeals for personal appearances in other ridings. ‘They had got up a formidable opposition to me in my absence,’ he explained to one supporter, ‘and I was forced to come down and face it.’ ‘The Grits are giving me employment at home just now’, he wrote to another, and, to a third, ‘I have my hands full here and cannot leave for a moment until my own election is secured.’[87] Obviously, the Liberals (‘Grits’) had scored a tactical success in unexpectedly confining the government’s biggest vote-pulling asset within his own riding for a few crucial days, so removing him from the larger stage while he fought to hold his own seat. In fact, without knowing it, they had inflicted far greater long-term damage, which within eighteen months of Macdonald’s narrow Dominion-wide victory would be sufficient to drive him out of office altogether. By ill coincidence, those final days of July also saw the climax of the fraught manoeuvring for the control of the proposed Pacific railway syndicate. Since Sir Hugh Allan held most of the cards, negotiations had to be conducted on his home ground in Montreal. If Macdonald could have handled the matter face-to-face, he would probably have secured not merely his preferred outcome but, even more important, explicit recognition that his terms had prevailed. He was able to persuade Macpherson to stop off in Kingston on his way down from Toronto, to be lobbied into a more flexible frame of mind, but the situation on the ground was simply too fraught for him to abandon his own canvass. ‘I am in the heart of my contest with Carruthers & cannot leave,’ he pleaded to Allan. Sensing that he had the politicians at his mercy, Allan remained obdurate. At the very last moment, on the eve of voting, Macdonald came close to deserting his constituents in a last-ditch mission to Montreal. In the event, the grasping magnate did not get everything he demanded. But with Cartier desperate to save his seat (which he lost) and Allan lavishly bank-rolling government candidates, there was the appearance of a straightforward corrupt bargain. So at least it was to be made to seem as the Pacific Scandal unfolded, revelation by juicy revelation, throughout 1873.[88] It is hardly too much to say that five years in opposition from November 1873 was the price Macdonald paid for a week spent fighting for votes in Kingston in July 1872.  

In the immediate term, however, Macdonald was right to stay in Kingston for the poll. In another of the city’s electoral coincidences, he polled 735 votes, the same as he had collected against the ludicrous Stewart, and fifty votes short of his tally in 1863. Carruthers ran him hard, with 604 votes, up 131 on Gildersleeve nine years previously. Coincidence again: Macdonald’s majority had fallen to 131 votes, another downward step in the decline of his local dominance. The Daily News promptly explained the reduced majority as the result of secret advance organisation by the Grits, although it also credited them with a respected candidate and the acquisition of the support of the British Whig.[89] Wilson paints a persuasive picture of defective Conservative organisation, with factionalism, lack of money and over-reliance upon Macdonald himself as reasons for the party’s showing in 1872. In some respects, however, explanations based on poor organisation are puzzling. ‘The most energetic exertions were made on both sides,’ reported the New York Times, ‘and nearly the entire vote of the city was polled.’[90] That does not sound like inefficient organisation on the ground. Macdonald himself had for some time past encouraged the formation of ‘Liberal-Conservative’ riding associations: as Wilson, demonstrates, such a structure had operated in nearby Frontenac in 1867. But there may have been reasons why he did not see the need for such a body in Kingston. By organising local conventions, riding associations were useful devices for preventing the ever-feared ‘splits’, in which rival candidates divided the party vote.[91] But no Conservative had challenged Macdonald in Kingston for twenty-five years and it was unthinkable that anyone from within his own party would seek to unseat the prime minister of Canada. Riding associations were useful in rural areas where like-minded voters might not come into frequent contact. This was not a problem in the city, and Macdonald ran his campaigns through ward committees which, presumably, could be activated at short notice in the various neighbourhoods. But it probably did not help that Macdonald was inclined to micro-manage riding affairs such as the distribution of patronage from a distance. (In any case, there were few enough government jobs to allocate in a city of 12,000 people.) Even the devolution of authority to Alexander Campbell was perhaps not entirely smooth. Campbell was not universally popular and he too was a cabinet minister based in Ottawa. 'I had a hard fight in my own town,' Macdonald reported to a former governor-general. 'I left it in charge of Campbell and went off to the west [i.e. western Ontario]. Some of the electors were displeased at my neglect'.[92] Certainly it was dangerously late in the 1872 campaign before he appreciated that the wheels were coming off the Macdonald battle bus. Perhaps predictably, the Toronto Globe subsequently alleged that the 131 majority had been ‘achieved by a very large expenditure of money and the most unscrupulous use of the influence of the Government.’[93]

In the autumn of 1872, as Canada’s second parliament assembled in Ottawa, the brief but fraught election campaign in Kingston probably faded into the background. John A. Macdonald had been re-elected for a five-year term, and his Dominion ministry had secured a small but apparently safe majority. Yet within a year, he had been forced from office by allegations of corruption that linked the Pacific railway contract to party fund-raising. The incoming Liberal government of Alexander Mackenzie decided to cleanse the political stables by seeking a fresh mandate and so, just eighteen months after defeating Carruthers, John A. Macdonald found himself back on the hustings, this time as a discredited opposition leader struggling to defend a seat that was no longer safe. 



[1] B. Young, Promoters and Politicians: the North Shore Railways and the History of Quebec, 1854-85 (Toronto, 1978), pp. 3-22.

[2] E. Whelan, ed., The Union of the British Provinces (Gardenvale, Quebec, 1927), p. 45.

[3] Address, p. 91.

[4] Pope, Memoirs, I, pp. 228-29.

[5] ML II, p. 347; Daily News, 13 June 1863.  

[6] Montreal Gazette, 24 May 1864.

[7] Address, p. 49. This speech, in 1860, was a defence of his clergy reserves settlement.

[8] Donald Creighton, The Road to Confederation: The Emergence of Canada 1863-1867 (Toronto, 1964),  p. 402 and YP, p. 449 both refer to the Kingston banquet, which is discussed below. Of course, Macdonald made other visits to Kingston, where he would almost certainly have engaged in low-key briefings to his supporters, giving them a sense of being close to the momentous events of Confederation. He was in the city on Good Friday 1865 when news arrived of the murder of Abraham Lincoln in Washington. Macdonald already believed that the close of the Civil War was a moment of crisis in British-Canadian-United States relations. It was probably to avoid spreading panic that he sent an associate to the telegraph office who returned with confirmation of Lincoln’s death. ‘A few moments afterwards he left us without a single word.’ McCarroll, ‘Some Social and Other Characteristics of the Late John A. Macdonald’, Belford’s Magazine, August 1891, p. 406; Creighton, Road to Confederation, p. 275.

[9] The name ‘Ontario’ emerged at a late stage in the drafting of the British North America Act, apparently sometime between January 23 and February 2 1867. In September 1866, a senior official at the Colonial Office had suggested ‘Quebec’ for Lower Canada and ‘Toronto’ for the upper province. Historians of Ontario have not much speculated on the origin of the name, but it seems likely that John A. Macdonald, the chief constitutional draughtsman from Upper Canada, would have wished to avoid subordinating Kingston to its traditional rival. In 1860, he had discouraged moves by the city of Hamilton to change its name to ‘Ontario’, and perhaps assumed that the name would also be acceptable there. J. Pope, ed., Confederation (Ottawa, 1895), pp. 141-78; UK National Archives, CO42/656, fos 368-69; ML II, p. 250.

[10] KBP, p. 194; TPD, pp. 157-61. George Richardson notes the mystery of its poor performance in the early 1870s, when the Intercolonial was sufficiently advanced to be ordering rolling stock. The Montreal financier George Stephen lobbied Macdonald, in his role as Dominion prime minister, for business in 1870. TPD, p. 161.

[11] R. Cartwright, Reminiscences (Toronto, 1912), p. 305.

[12] YP, p. 332.

[13] LAC, J.R. Gowan Papers, M-1898, Macdonald to Gowan, private, 15 November 1864

[14] Globe, 14, 19 May 1862; YP, pp. 327-33; LAC, Newcastle Papers, A-308, Monck to Newcastle, private, 23 May 1862.

[15] C.B. Sissons, Egerton Ryerson: Life and Letters (2 vols, Toronto, 1937-47), II, pp. 480-81.

[16] Glenn J. Lockwood, ‘Temperance in Upper Canada as Ethnic Subterfuge’, in C.K. Warsh, ed., , Drink in Canada: Historical Essays (Montreal & Kingston, 1993), p. 63. In August 1863, Macdonald took part in a steamboat excursion to a picnic on Amherst Island, organised by the Sons of Temperance. An estimated attendance of 600 people suggested potential political dividends among people who might naturally vote Reform. Kingston Daily News, 5 August 1863. One of the officers of the Orange temperance lodge was William Shannon, apparently the same man whose thefts from the Post Office caused Macdonald some embarrassment in 1889.

[17] Ged Martin, ‘John A. Macdonald and the Bottle’, Journal of Canadian Studies, 40, 2006, pp. 162-85.

[18] W.L. Morton, ed., Monck Letters and Journals, 1863-1868: Canada from Government House at Confederation (Toronto, 1970), pp. 158-59.

[19] Careless, Brown of the Globe, II, pp. 208-20,

[20] If New Brunswick joined Confederation but Nova Scotia remained aloof, then the Intercolonial Railway would surely terminate in Saint John, the regional rival to Halifax.

[21] Canadian News, 27 September 1866, p. 197.

[22] Globe, 1 January 1867.

[23] Toronto Leader, undated, quoted Globe, 22 August 1866.

[24] Sandra Gwyn, The Private Capital: Ambition and Love in the Age of Macdonald and Laurier (Toronto, 1989), p. 39.

[25] J.M.S. Careless, Brown of the Globe: II, The Statesman of Confederation 1860-1880 (Toronto, 1963), p. 228; Globe, 22 August 1866.

[26] Although the volunteer militia showed courage in confronting the Fenians at the battle of Ridgway on June 2 1866, they were disorganised in the face of the paramilitary invaders, many of them veterans of the American Civil War. Effectively, the militia lost the battle but, since the Fenians withdrew, they won the campaign. It might be argued that, as the political head, Macdonald had no operational responsibility. However, perhaps to give him a military standing to deal on an equal basis with commanding officers, he had been designated an unattached lieutenant-colonel the previous year. Either way, it was hardly reassuring that he should have been drunk at the time. H. Senior, The Last Invasion of Canada: The Fenian Raids, 1866-1870 (Toronto, 1971), pp. 59-89; Canadian News, 13 April 1865, p. 225.

[27] Globe, 30 April 1870. In 1870, the Globe’s campaign against Macdonald’s alcohol problem rebounded when he suddenly collapsed suffering from a kidney stone and came close to death. But Cartwright revived the charge in 1886: ‘to my own certain knowledge when the Fenian raiders menaced our frontiers he was very considerably fuddled.’ Globe, 3 November 1886.

[28] I have not traced the August 17 issue of the Globe which first broke the story, but the charges were reiterated on August 22, 24, 25 and 5 September 1866. Unless otherwise noted, the quotations that follow are taken from those dates

[29] Pope, Memoirs, I, pp. 325-26.

[30] A. Mackenzie, The Life and Speeches of the Hon. George Brown (Toronto, 1882), p. 53.

[31] Globe, 22, 24 August, 5 September 1866.

[32] Biggar, Anecdotal Life, p. 191. McGee eventually cleared out his wine cellar in September 1867.  T.P. Slattery, The Assassination of D’Arcy McGee  (Toronto, 1968), p. 418

[33] Macdonald went through the motions of commissioning his former secretary, Robert Harrison, to move for criminal libel ‘against the Globe if it does not cease its slanderous course’, but there would have been little prospect of such a case reaching court. P. Oliver, ed., The Conventional Man: the Diaries of Ontario Chief Justice Robert A. Harrison, 1856-1878 (Toronto, 2003), p. 282 (31 August 1866).

[34] Canadian News, 13 September 1866, p. 169.

[35] YP, p. 449.

[36] KBP, p. 159.

[37] The event was widely reported, e.g. in the Globe and Montreal Gazette, 7 September 1866 and in the London, England, digest Canadian News, 20 September, pp. 184-85 and 27 September 1866, pp. 196-99.

[38] Another Reform member of the Great Coalition, Fergusson Blair, also spoke, but after midnight by which time the journalists present were either exhausted (for whatever reason) or preparing to telegraph their reports.

[39] Canadian News, 20 September 1865, pp. 184-85.

[40] YP, pp. 448-50; Ged Martin, ‘Macdonald and the Bottle’.

[41] The reasons behind the apparently sudden marriage are explored in Ged Martin, Canadian History: a Play in Two Acts? (Edinburgh, 1999), pp. 10-12. Louise Reynolds, Agnes: The Biography of Lady Macdonald (Ottawa, 1990) is a revealing portrait.

[42] Kingston Daily News, 17 May 1867.

[43] Reynolds, Agnes, pp. 48, 86, quoting her diary entries for 14 July 1867 and 27 August  1868

[44] For the 1867 election, Beck, Pendulum, pp. 1-12; D.G.G. Kerr, ‘The 1867 Elections in Ontario: The Rules of the Game’, CHR, 51, 1970, pp. 369-85.

[45] W.J. Coyle, ‘Elections in Kingston in 1867’, HK, 16, 1968, pp. 48-57.

[46] Biggar, Anecdotal Life, pp. 53-54; DCB, 12, p. 990. Stewart displayed personal courage during a typhus epidemic in 1847. For Stewart’s academic battles, Hilda Neatby, Queen’s University, I: 1841-1917 (Kingston and Montreal, 1978), pp. 89-92.

[47] Kingston Daily News, 20 August 1867.

[48] Globe, 28 August 1867.

[49] Coyle, ‘Elections in Kingston’, HK, pp. 51-55.

[50] Kingston Daily News, 20 August 1867.

[51] Max Magill, ‘The Failure of the Commercial Bank’, TPD, pp. 169-81; O.D. Skelton (ed. G. MacLean), Life and Times of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt (Toronto, 1966), pp. 200-07; Neatby, Queen’s University, I, p. 113. The Commercial Bank brand-name disappeared when it was swallowed by the Merchants Bank of Montreal, which reopened the old premises in March 1868.

[52] Beck, Pendulum, pp. 13-21; OC, pp. 133-42.

[53] C.B. Sissons, ed., My Dearest Sophie: Letters from Egerton Ryerson to His Daughter (Toronto, 1955), p. 128 (23 July 1867).

[54] Queen’s University Archives, John A. Macdonald Correspondence, Macdonald to Snodgrass, private, 14 December 1868.

[55] B.W. Hodgins, John Sandfield Macdonald 1812-1872 (Toronto, 1971), pp. 103-17.  ‘I admit that I am niggardly,’ Sandfield Macdonald is reported to have said. ‘I deal with the public money as though I were dealing with my own personal funds.’ Noel, Patrons and Brokers, p. 220. John A. Macdonald might have echoed the second sentence, but not the first.

[56] Pope, Memoirs, II, pp. 142-43 (letter of 23 December 1871).

[57] Pope, ed., Correspondence, p. 75.

[58] Memoirs, II, p. 20n (letter to Campbell, September 1868)

[59] B.W. Hodgins, ‘Disagreement at the Commencement: Divergent Ontarian Views of Federalism, 1867-1871’ in Donald Swainson, ed., Oliver Mowat’s Ontario (Toronto, 1972), pp. 52-68, esp. p. 63.

[60] Hodgins, Sandfield Macdonald, p. 112; Joseph Schull, Edward Blake: I, The Man of the Other Way (Toronto, 1975), pp. 73, 85; Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada (1875), pp. 77-8 (11 February 1875).

[61] LAC, Macdonald Papers, vols 519 (letter to A.G. Archibald, 30 November 1871) and 520 (letter to C.J. Brydges, 19 February 1872).

[62] C.W. de Kiewiet and F.H. Underhill, eds., Dufferin-Carnarvon Correspondence 1874-1878 (Toronto, 1955), p. 11 (letter of 18 March 1874).

[63] The withdrawal of the British garrison explains part, but not all, of the population loss between 1861 and 1871. Alan G. Green, ‘Immigrants in the City: Kingston as Revealed in the Census Manuscripts of 1871’, TPD, p. 315.

[64] P. Maroney, ‘Municipal Bonusing in Kingston, Ontario, 1873-1914’, OH, 85 (1993), p. 122.

[65] Memoirs, II, p. 88.

[66] Hodgins, Sandfield Macdonald, p. 113 (letters of 24, 26 February 1871).

[67] LAC, Macdonald Papers, vol. 518, Macdonald to John O’Connor, private, 31 March 1871.

[68] J.D. Livermore, ‘The Ontario Election of 1871: A Case Study of the Transfer of Political Power,’ OH, 71 (1979), pp. 39-52, esp. p. 43. This important article primarily focuses upon events after the election.

[69] KBP, pp. 178-79. Breden had been active in municipal politics at least since 1846, and was later a substantial investor in the Kingston and Pembroke railway. TPD, pp. 373, 162.

[70] Sandfield Macdonald to Sir John A. Macdonald, 24 March 1871, quoted in Livermore, ‘The Ontario Election of 1871’, p. 43.

[71] TPD, p. 255.

[72] Globe, 22 March 1871.

[73] Macdonald to Rose, private, 5 March 1872, in Pope, ed., Correspondence, p. 165.

[74] LAC, Macdonald Papers, vol. 194, Campbell to Macdonald, 20 July 1872.

[75] W.M. Wilson, ‘Eleven Years of Dissention: The Conservative Party in Kingston, 1867 to 1878’, HK, 32, 1986, pp. 46-56.

[76] D. Swainson, ‘Alexander Campbell: General Manager of the Conservative Party (Eastern Ontario Section)’, HK, 17, 1969, pp. 78-92.

[77] Swainson, ‘Alexander Campbell’, HK, pp. 79-80; DCB, 12, p. 153.

[78] Daily News, 2 August 1872.

[79] AO, Alexander Campbell Papers, Boyle to Campbell, 29 July 1872.

[80] In 1888, Macdonald publicly described James Shannon as ‘a friend of mine and a most respectable man ... the trusted book-keeper of my firm and accountant of my firm for many years; he took care of my money, took care of my accounts, and managed my affairs’. Official Report of the Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, 26, pp. 1014-15 (26 April 1888).

[81] KBP, p. 267; Roy, Kingston: The King’s Town, pp. 280-89; F.B. Pense, ‘Kingston’s Newspapers’, HK, 4, 1955, pp. 33-36; 1871-72 letters from Shannon in AO, Alexander Campbell Papers, F23, esp. 30 May 1872. Macdonald was still not responding to Shannon’s demands that the Whig’s government advertising be cut off even after the election. Eventually in October 1872, Campbell intervened with the Customs Department. Bouchette to Campbell, 21 October 1872.

[82] Daily British Whig, 23 July 1872.

[83] Daily News, 26 July 1872. This meeting was held at the hotel belonging to Mrs Eliza Grimason, who may have been the focus of Stewart’s allegation of adultery (although she was in fact a widow).

[84] TPD, p. 118.

[85] Daily News, 26 July 1872; Daily British Whig, 23 July 1872; Roy, Kingston: The King’s Town, p. 281.

[86] Daily News, 26 July 1872; Daily British Whig, 25 July 1872. Agnes Macdonald, normally strait-laced, approved of her husband’s defence of his action to her: what else, he asked, could he do ‘when a man tells you in public that you have told a fib?’. She amended the last word of the sentence to omit the word ‘lie’, as  improper for a lady’s use. In London, the Colonial Secretary Lord Kimberley called the episode ‘delicious’ and tried to imagine Britain’s staid prime minister W.E. Gladstone slugging an opponent. L.C. Newman, The John A. Macdonald Album (Montreal, 1974), p. 73; LAC, Kimberley Papers, C-315, Kimberley to Dufferin, private, 28 August 1872.  The following year, during a vicious by-election campaign in Lennox and Addington, Richard Cartwright taunted Macdonald over the incident, and tried to goad him into lashing out again.

[87]  LAC, Macdonald Papers, vol. 521, Macdonald to W.J. Graham, 24 July; to W.H. Ruby, 28 July; to H. Abbott, private, 28 July 1872.

[88] OC, pp. 130-43; LAC, Macdonald Papers, vol. 521, Macdonald to Allan, private, 24 July 1872.

[89] Daily News, 2 August 1872.

[90] New York Times, 2 August 1872.

[91] LAC, Macdonald Papers, Vol. 509, Macdonald to J.P. Martyn, private, 31 March 1864; Wilson, ‘Eleven Years’, HK, p. 46.

[92] Wilson, ‘Eleven Years’, HK, pp. 53-54, Pope, Correspondence, 175.There was some party pressure on Macdonald to follow up his Kingston victory by running in South Bruce, where Liberals were planning to elect Ontario premier Oliver Mowat in his absence. Mowat was visiting England for his health, and his ten month-old daughter had just died. It became clear that Macdonald would lose and the scheme was abandoned.  Given the growing criticism that he was treating his Kingston seat as a personal convenience, this was a wise decision. OA, Campbell Papers, F23, C.J. Campbell to A. Campbell, 18 August 1872;  Schull, Edward Blake: I, The Man of the Other Way, pp. 95-8.

[93] Globe, 13 January 1874.