DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day

FRIEDLANDER, ELIAS – Volume XV (1921-1930)

d. 22 Feb. 1927 in Victoria


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Macdonald’s Financial Difficulties

Stable personal finances could be a problem for party leaders and prime ministers [see Patronage] as Sir John A. MACDONALD well knew:

“At the time of confederation Macdonald had little income. As prime minister and minister of justice he earned $5,000 per year. His income from his legal partnership with James Patton Sr of Toronto, formed in 1864, was $2,700 between 1 May 1867 and 30 April 1868; the next year it was $1,760. What got Macdonald through was pride, and his friends.”


Within two years, the situation had become critical:

“In 1869… Macdonald hit the bottom of his personal finances. He had been fighting off that dénouement for five years. One reason for the elaborate marriage settlement of 1867 was to protect Agnes against his creditors. The problem had begun in March 1864 on the death of his law partner, A. J. Macdonell. In May 1867 an estimated $64,000 (roughly $800,000 at 1988 prices) was jointly owed by Macdonald and the Macdonell estate, mainly to the Commercial Bank of Canada. As long as it would carry him – at rates of interest as high as seven per cent – Macdonald could stay afloat. But in September the bank failed; its assets and liabilities were taken over by the Merchants’ Bank of Canada. Among the assets was Macdonald’s debt, which in April 1869 was almost $80,000. Hugh Allan, president of the Merchants’ Bank, did not press but indicated, when Macdonald raised the matter, that it would be useful to have the debt dealt with.”


The Ontario businessman David Lewis MACPHERSON, a long-time ally of Macdonald’s, often lent him money, believing “it unjust that a prime minister could not support and educate his family on his official income.” Macpherson was appointed to the Senate in 1867, and a few years later he helped both his leader and his party:

“…as an able administrator and a man of financial means and connections, he became a valuable political organizer in Ontario for the Conservative party. It was an appropriate role for Macpherson, who liked the ‘excitement and wire pulling’ of elections but whose ‘magnificent’ manner made him a weak and unattractive platform speaker before most audiences. Aside from his central role during elections, he performed an important service to Macdonald and the Conservatives by leading the effort during the winter of 1871–72 to collect money for a testimonial fund for the prime minister, raising more than $67,000, in part to finance losses incurred by Macdonald.”


Even the large sum Macdonald received through the Pacific Scandal could not sustain him:

“The money acquired in 1872 had never stuck in his pockets; he had bled freely with his own money, as well as with the funds of Allan, C. J. Campbell, Sir Francis Hincks*, and others. He was only five years distant from having been flat broke.”


For more information on Macdonald’s financial difficulties, please consult these biographies.

◀◀  22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30  ▶▶