M930.50.6.5 | John Dougall and Sir John A. Macdonald

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John Dougall and Sir John A. Macdonald
John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
1850-1885, 19th century
Ink on paper on supporting paper - Wood engraving
13.8 x 11.3 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Cartoon (19139) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John Alexander Macdonald (1815-1891) is famously, or perhaps infamously, recalled as an alcoholic. Macdonald is depicted in this cartoon sharing a drink with John Dougall, editor and founder of the daily newspaper The Montreal Witness. The artist, John Henry Walker (1831-1899), might be poking fun at the newspaper's preoccupation with temperance and its founder's differences with Macdonald and his party. Macdonald is remembered for the crucial role he played in bringing about Canadian Confederation. During parliamentary debates on the proposed Confederation of British North American Colonies in 1865, Macdonald, a staunch advocate for centralized government, offered this reflection:

"Now, as regards the comparative advantages of a legislative and federal union, I have never hesitated to state my own opinions. I have again and again stated in the house that, if practicable, I thought a legislative union would be preferable. (Hear, hear.) I have always contended that if we could agree to have one government and one parliament, legislating for the whole of these peoples, it would be the best, the cheapest, the most vigorous, and the strongest system of government we could adopt. (Hear, hear) [However], the whole scheme of Confederation bears upon its face the marks of compromise..."

-Legislative Assembly, February 6, 1865

  • What

    Macdonald would go on drinking binges for weeks on end, often appearing inebriated in public. Once, during an election campaign, he vomited on stage as he got up to answer an opponent. He is reported to have won back the crowd by saying, "I don't know how it is, but every time I hear Mr. Jones speak it turns my stomach."

  • Where

    Macdonald did not keep his affection for patronage a secret. While campaigning across the country, he would spend lavishly buying votes. As Prime Minister, he made appointments and awarded contracts to supporters of the Conservative Party. Patronage was easily monitored through the casting of election ballots in public and Macdonald made the practice a matter of party policy, calling it the "long game".

  • When

    Debates on Confederation flourished in 1865. The proposal to create a new country awaited parliamentary approval following the successful conferences in Charlottetown and Quebec the year before. After Confederation in 1867, Macdonald would serve as the first Prime Minister of Canada.

  • Who

    Sir John Alexander Macdonald (1815-1891) was a lawyer, businessman and politician. At the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, Macdonald signed the guest book as "cabinet maker", a description of himself that history would soon confirm. Charismatic and skillful, Macdonald built the alliances and made the deals that brought about Confederation. He remained a dominant force in Canadian politics until his death in 1891.