Today on January 11, 1815, Canada’s architect of confederation and first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, was born in Glasgow, Scotland.
John Alexander MacDonald was one of Canada’s leading founding fathers. He led a successful political career that spanned nearly half a century. MacDonald played a pivotal role in shaping the future of the young nation of Canada. He was born in Glasgow to a largely unsuccessful merchant family. As a young boy, his family immigrated to the city of Kingston in the Province of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). MacDonald studied law and eventually became a lawyer in 1834. He formally entered politics after a twenty-year career practicing law. Recognized for his distinctive fashion style, he often separated himself from others with flashier clothing. He was also typically found clean-shaven during a time when beards were common for men.
At the age of 46, John A. MacDonald was elected as the colonial premier. He had the difficult task of navigating a largely unstable political climate, particularly between the English and French populations. Throughout his early career, MacDonald became increasingly concerned about the threatening tone of Canada’s neighbor to the south, the United States. To ensure independence from America, he believed the four remaining British colonies needed to confederate. He allied himself closely with an influential francophone politician, George Etienne Cartier. Historians have noted that these two politicians were the only ones with enough dynamism and political skills to turn confederation into a reality.
MacDonald and Cartier championed the British North America Act, calling for an independent country. On July 1, 1867, the act was formally approved by Britain. The small, yet independent, country of Canada was born. The four separate provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia emerged under a centralized government. MacDonald is remembered for establishing a strong federal seat of power, forging the Conservative Party of Canada, and connecting western Canada with an impressive national railway. In 1873, he resigned from office over the Pacific Scandal but was re-elected in 1878. John A. MacDonald served as Prime Minister until his death in 1891.