Nation Maker

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Nation Maker

Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times
Vol. Two: 1867 - 1891

Reviews of Nation Maker.

Prologue to Nation Maker. The prologue that summarizes Volume Two is available here.

Download Nation Maker Prologue

Contents of Nation Maker.

Source Notes: for Nation Naker.

From Confederation to his death in 1891, Macdonald was guided by a single principle: that Canada, even though in 1867 still only  a colony of Britain and both then and for a long time afterwards utterly over-shadowed by its giant neighbor, would  survive and mature into a distinct, independent, nation-state.

This goal he achieved by daring ventures, most of them severely criticized at the time as over-ambitious and too-risky. Among these were building  an inter-continental railway to give the  largely empty country a spine,  implementing a National Policy of high tariffs  so Canadians would actually do business with each other, and creating  the first distinctively Canadian institution-- the North-West Mounted Police, today the RCMP.

He made mistakes, such executing  Louis Riel for his  rebellion of in 1885. There was, though, far more to him than caricature Canadians have often told of Macdonald as just  a  clever, wily, political leader who drank too much. Although, astoundingly, Canadians have been able to know it until now, Macdonald was the first national leader in the world to try to extend the vote to women. The religion he most admired because of its work with the poor, was the Salvation Army. He endured private disappointments, such as the grievous handicap of his daughter Mary, without ever slackening in his and Lady Macdonald’s care of her. Above all, he fought to almost to his last breath for his country, dying right after he’d won the 1891 election by opposing a  cross-border free trade pact that no less than the U.S. President  himself believed would lead inevitably to political union.

At all times, he was by far, Canada’s wittiest prime minister: when a suffragette demanded to know why he but not she had the vote, Macdonald pondered and replied, ‘Madame, I cannot conceive.’ 

The essence of this story can be found in the reproduction on the next page of the book’s prologue or introduction.

Those wanting to learn more about Macdonald can take either or both of two routes:

-- On September, 19, 2011, CBC-TV broadcast a two-hour drama documentary, John  A; Birth of a Country. This excellent film, shows how the fierce political rivalry between Macdonald and George Brown, a Liberal, led to an alliance out of which came Confederation, (the photo below shows the actor Shawn Doyle as John A.) can be viewed on DVD available from the CBC.

Shawn Doyle as John A MacDonald

Or, read Nation-Maker and then decide whether your judgment is the same as these ones:

  • Winner, Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.
  • Winner, John A. Dafoe Prize.
  • Finalist of Governor-General’s Award; Hilary Weston Prize; B.C. Canadian Non-Fiction Prize.
  • Globe and Mail Book of the Year.