Sir John Alexander Macdonald (10 or 11 January 1815– 6 June 1891)
JAM was a Scot, a British Empire Loyalist under Queen Victoria, a son, a father, a husband, a lawyer, a businessman.
He was able to unite the parties together to bring about the birth of Canada as a nation,
He was a product of the time, a wheeler and dealer. He created the tone of the Conservative Party of Canada, a nationalistic self–serving, self-protective, tariff-bound, business-framed entity that he saw as a way to serve the Empire and stay separate from the United States.
JAM’s Scot father was a Kingston area businessman after finding his feet in his adopted country.
In December 1837 Macdonald served as a militia private.
He was a defense lawyer.
In 1839 he was appointed solicitor to the Commercial Bank of the Midland District and was made a director. From that point on his practice essentially concerned corporate law, especially after he gained as a client Kingston’s other major financial institution, the Trust and Loan Company of Upper Canada, founded in 1843.
Macdonald was himself an active businessman, primarily involved in land development and speculation.
Throughout the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s he bought and developed urban property, first in Kingston and subsequently in Guelph and Toronto,
What he gained was also lost, when he suffered a reversal of fortune.
His first wife and oldest child died.
Sir John A. Macdonald’s 2nd father-in-law was Thomas James Bernard, a plantation/slave owner.
JAM’s policies were truly Conservative. And many are still found in today’s party. Though he’d roll over in his grave if he knew the party he framed were so pro-USA.
JAM was a British Loyalist to the end.
Today though, he’s only seen as a racist.
There are grounds for that. His party and his chosen empire were responsible for the treatment of the immigrants, esp the Chinese, the First Nations and Métis.
It’d be really easy to blame him for what occurred. But would it be fair?
That is the thing about cancel culture that I dislike, The man was bred in a context where land and people were meant to be conquered, ruled and if they dared to defy the empire, then annihilated. Those who could be assimilated were, and those that couldn’t were ‘dealt with’. By foul means, Which hasn’t changed much, has it?
But these days, the people he tried to keep out of his vision of Canada are justifiably angry. And in their anger, they toppled his statue. Which has Conservative politicians crying. (almost fun to watch)
So do we say they cannot do this? Do we say that accepting his good actions that unified Canada make JAM a racist? Are we racist for being proud of Canada and our first ever PM?
What would Canada have been without men like him fighting for us as a country?
What we are is most profoundly shaped by Tommy Douglas who brought socialism to our safety net, Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s bringing home the constitution and the charter of rights and freedoms. Which build on JAM’s work.
And whatever you think of the beginning, we have progressed from JAM’s early efforts. (Maybe not the Conservatives so much 😋 )
So wouldn’t a better way of dealing with such icons in our history be to put a plaque under the statue? To learn from the reality of what the past was?
Or do we shine light up our asses and say we were always perfect?
Because from that same country also came the person who had the vision to abolish slavery around the world, (John Graves Simcoe) And since our First Nations most benefitted from that, do we erase that as well?
Lots of questions, and wondering what is the right answer. But I more often side with telling the whole story, and letting the chips fall where they may.
Whatever you think of the social crimes he committed and whatever you think of toppling statues, please at least remember none of these things could have been done by one man. It didn’t occur in isolation.
Times have changed and I think knowing the whole story gives us a continuum to chart where we grow from here. Burying it or erasing it teaches us nothing.
George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”