With the steady approach of Sir John A. Macdonald’s 200th birthday on January 11th, 2015, the circumstances of his death might not loom large in most celebrators’ minds. But the resilience that characterized Macdonald—from his birth on Scottish soil, through his political and personal challenges this side of the Atlantic, to his final election victory as Canadian Prime Minister—deserves recognition as a life principle that time and again propelled him through obstacles that would have felled a lesser man. Just what circumstances, beyond corporeal weakness, could seal the demise of so dogged a fighter?
According to historian Ged Martin, Macdonald’s death was precipitated by stress in the face of probable scandal. During his final election drive, in a situation paralleling the Pacific Scandal over fifteen years earlier, Macdonald and his Conservatives accepted campaign contributions from a firm of contractors in exchange for the right to build a dry dock in his hometown, Kingston. Just as the opposing Liberals exposed the campaign bribery through which Sir Hugh Allan secured the Canadian Pacific Railway contract, they seized on the nominal awarding of the dry dock job to Andrew C. Bancroft, a non-existent person whose signature had been fabricated.
Perhaps Kingstonians can best sympathize with Macdonald’s feelings in this period: surely the prospect of ignominy in one’s hometown would prove overwhelming? So spare a kind thought for the ultimately fatal fallibility of this feisty man next January, as you stroll along Kingston’s frozen waterfront to recognize his day of birth two hundred years ago.
For more information see Ged Martin’s Favourite Son? John A. Macdonald and the Voters of Kingston 1841-1891 and Mike Norris’ article “Sir John A. ‘scam’?” in the Kingston Whig-Standard.