Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
February 2005

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


John Sandfield Macdonald


Macdonald, John Sandfield (1812-1872), prime minister of Canada (1862-4) and prime minister of Ontario (1867-71), was born at St. Raphael, Upper Canada , on December 12, 1812, the son of Alexander Macdonald. He was educated at the grammar school in Cornwall, Upper Canada ; and in 1840 he was called to the bar of Upper Canada. In 1841 he was elected to represent Glengarry in the Legislative Assembly of Canada, and he sat for this constituency continuously until 1857, and from 1857 to 1867 he sat for Cornwall . His course in politics was independent and somewhat erratic. He leaned at first toward Conservatism, but in 1844 he sided with the Reform leaders against Sir Charles Metcalfe, and he was henceforth rated as a Reformer. From 1849 to 1851 he was solicitor-general in the second Baldwin-Lafontaine administration; but he was not included in the Hincks-Morin government, and was relegated in 1852-4 to the position of speaker of the Assembly. He opposed the MacNab-Tach6 and succeeding Liberal-Conservative governments; but, being a Roman Catholic and an advocate of the "double-majority" principle, he was not in harmony with the wing of the Reform party led by George Brown. He was included in 1858 in the short-lived Brown-Dorion administration as attorney-general west; but this was merely a temporary rapprochement, and when Sandfield Macdonald was invited to form a government in 1862, George Brown was not a member of it. As first minister in the Macdonald-Sicotte government (1862-3), and in the Macdonald-Dorion government (1863-4), he carried on the administration with considerable adroitness under difficult circumstances; but his defeat in March, 1864, and the subsequent defeat of the Taché-Macdonald ministry in June, 1864, brought about the deadlock from which issued Confederation. Sandfield Macdonald opposed Confederation, and fought against it vigorously; but once it had become an accomplished fact, he accepted it, and in 1867 he was persuaded by Sir John Macdonald to undertake the prime ministry of Ontario. He formed in Ontario a coalition government, known as "the Patent Combination"; and for over four years he administered the affairs of the province with great prudence and economy. At the end of 1871, however, he was defeated in the House by the Liberals under Edward Blake, and resigned. His health, never robust, had given way; and he died soon afterwards at Cornwall, Ontario, on June 1, 1872. In 1840 he married a daughter of the Hon. George Waggoman, United States senator from Louisiana ; and had three sons and four daughters. See M. O. Hammond, Confederation and its leaders (Toronto, 1917); and Proceedings at the unveiling of the statue of John Sandfield Macdonald (pamphlet, Toronto, 1909).

[For more information, consult Sandfield Macdonald's biography 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., p. 167.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College