Reluctant politician : a biography of Sir Hugh John Macdonald
Guest, Henry James.
In 1850 the future looked bleak to John Alexander Macdonald, then a rising young star on the political horizon of Canada West. As the year began he faced a series of crises which threatened to put an end to his ambitions for the years ahead. His career in politics seemed almost doomed and his law business was on the verge of failure. This state of affairs was complicated further when his invalid wife announced that she was expecting a child. The fortunes of the Conservative party in the province of Canada were seriously imperilled at the end of 1849. The Tories were an impotent minority in the legislative assembly of the province at a time when the traditional colonial system upon which they had relied seemed about to collapse. The repeal of the Corn Laws and Timber Duties removed Canada's exports from the preferential position they had occupied in imperial markets, and the British acceptance of the principle of free trade destroyed the old foundation of the colonial Tories' political supremacy. The passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill by the Canadian assembly, and Lord Elgin's assent to it, completed the ruin of the Tories' philosophy. With their faith and loyalties rattled, the Conservatives groped toward new policies and new principles. No one was more aware of the Conservative dilemma than John A. Macdonald, the Receiver-General in the last Conservative administration. Macdonald had entered public life in 1843 as an alderman in Kingston, and the next year had become that city's representative in the Legislative Assembly of the United Province of Canada. In three years on the back-bench he had gained recognition as a moderate and disciple of William Henry Draper, and in 1847 was elevated to the cabinet. With Draper's resignation, Macdonald remained the moderates' spokesman and undeclared candidate for the party's leadership. However, the victory of the Reformers in the 1848 election, and the subsequent passage of legislation anathema to traditionalist Tories, drove the Conservatives to desperation. The political crisis led many of the Conservative rank and file to form the British American League, which met in convention in Macdonalds's home town in July 1849...