Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Thomas D'Arcy McGee



McGee, Thomas D'Arcy (1825-1868), one of the Fathers of Confederation, was born at Carlingford, county Louth, Ireland, on April 13, 1825 , the son of James McGee, a coast guardsman, and Dorcas Catherine Morgan. He was educated at a day-school in Wexford , Ireland ; and in 1842 he emigrated to America. He joined the staff of the Boston Pilot, a weekly journal for Irish-Americans, and became its editor. In 1845 he returned to Ireland, and became the editor of Freeman's Journal in Dublin. The policy of this newspaper proved too moderate for him, and he transferred his services to the Nation, the organ of the "Young Ireland" party. Though not actually in arms, he was implicated in the rebellion of 1848, and escaped to America in the disguise of a priest. In New York he founded in 1848 the New York Nation, a short-lived weekly newspaper; in 1850 he moved to Boston, and founded the American Celt, and in 1852 he moved to Buffalo, where he published the American Celt for five years.


In 1857 he moved from Buffalo to Montreal, Lower Canada, at the invitation of some leading Irish Canadians. In Montreal, he founded a newspaper called the New Era (1857-58), and in 1858 he was elected, as an Irish Roman Catholic, to the Legislative Assembly of Canada for Montreal West. This constituency he represented until 1867; and he was re-elected for it to the first House of Commons of the new Dominion. He first aligned himself with the Reformers, and in 1862-3 he was president of the council, and later provincial secretary, in the S. Macdonald-Sicotte administration. When the government was reorganized in 1863, however, he was omitted from it; and he then transferred his allegiance to the Conservatives. He became minister of agriculture in the second Taché-Macdonald government of 1864, and he continued to hold this portfolio in the "Great Coalition" until 1867. He was a delegate to the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences in 1864, and he contributed in a peculiar degree to the success of the Confederation movement. From the moment of his arrival in Canada, he had preached the doctrine of "the new nationality"; and his eloquent advocacy did more than anything else to create the psychological basis for union. In 1867, when the first cabinet of the Dominion of Canada was being formed, he stood aside, with Charles Tupper, in a spirit of rare self-abnegnation, in order that the claims of the Irish Roman Catholics and the people of Nova Scotia might be combined in the appointment to office of Edward Kenny. In the first parliament of the Dominion, therefore, he was merely a private member of the House of Commons. But his claim to the title of having been the chief apostle of Canadian national unity was even then secure.


Even before he came to Canada, he had begun to shed many of his youthful anti-British ideas; and in Canada he became a loyal subject of the Crown. In 1866 he condemned with vehemence the Irish-American Fenians who invaded Canada ; and in so doing he incurred the enmity of the Fenian organization in the United States. As a result, he was assassinated at Ottawa, in the early morning of April 7, 1868, by a Fenian named Whalen, as he was returning from a late session of the House.


One of the most brilliant orators who have graced Canadian public life, McGee was also a writer and poet of no mean order. Before coming to Canada he published several books dealing with Irish affairs, notably A history of the Irish settlers in North America (Boston, 1852), and Historical sketches of O'Connell and his friends (Boston, 1854); and in Canada he published A popular history of Ireland (New York, 1863) and The Irish position in British and in republican North America (pamphlet, Montreal, 1866). In connection with Confederation he published Speeches and addresses, chiefly on the subject of British American union (London, Montreal, 1865 ; tr. into French by L. G. Gladu, St. Hyacinthe, 1865), and The mental outfit of the new Dominion (pamphlet, 1867). He was also the author of Canadian ballads, and occasional verses ( Montreal , 1858) ; and after his death his poetical work was collected by Mrs. J. Sadlier under the title The poems of Thomas D'Arcy McGee (New York, 1869), with a biographical sketch.


See Isabel Skelton, The life of Thomas D'Arcy McGee (Gardenvale, Quebec, 1925) ; A. Brady, D'Arcy McGee ( Toronto, 1925); H. J. O'C. French, Life of the Hon. T. D. McGee (pamphlet, Montreal, 1868) ; M. O. Hammond, Confederation and its leaders (Toronto, 1917); and W. S. Wallace, The growth of the Canadian national feeling (Can. hist. rev ., 1920). [Further information on McGee may be found at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and at the Canadian Encyclopedia.]


Source : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. IV, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 400p., pp. 177-178.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College