Quotable quotes of Sir John A.

Here are but a few more memorable quotes to celebrate this great man’s life and accomplishments of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister.

  • If I had influence over the minds of the people of Canada, any power over their intellect, I would leave them this legacy: ‘Whatever you do, adhere to the Union. We are a great country, and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken.’ God and nature made the two Canadas one—let no fractious men be allowed to put them asunder.
  • [An 1860 speech summed up his lifelong political creed and political goals] “. . . one people, great in territory, great in resources, great in enterprise, great in credit, great in capital.”
  • Let us be English or let us be French . . . and above all let us be Canadians.
  • Everyone admits that Union must take place sometime. I say now is the time. [At the Charlottetown Conference 1864]
  • Anybody may support me when I am right. What I want is someone that will support me when I am wrong.
  • My sins of omission and commission I do not deny; but I trust that it may be said of me in the ultimate issue, ‘Much is forgiven because he loved much,’ for I have loved my country with a passionate love.
  • As for myself, my course is clear. A British subject I was born, a British subject I will die. With my utmost effort, with my latest breath, will I oppose the veiled treason which attempts by sordid means and mercenary proffers to lure our people from their allegiance. [on Canadian-American trade]
  • Politics is a game requiring great coolness.
  • The Government are merely trustees for the public.
  • I don’t care for office for the sake of money, but for the sake of power, and for the safe of carrying out my own views of what is best for the country.
  • When a man has done me an evil turn once, I don’t like to give him the opportunity to do so twice.
  • When fortune empties her chamber pot on your head, smile and say, ‘We are going to have a summer shower.’
  • An election is like a horse-race, in that you can tell more about it the next day.
  • A compliment is the statement of an agreeable truth; flattery is the statement of an agreeable untruth.
  • [Macdonald was well known for his wit and also for his alcoholism. He is known to have been drunk for many of his debates in parliament. Here is a story from an election debate in which Macdonald was so drunk he began vomiting while on stage.] His opponent quickly pointed this out and said: “Is this the man you want running your country? A drunk!” Collecting himself, Macdonald replied “I get sick … not because of drink [but because] I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent.”

And a very happy birthday Sir John A.!

Happy Birthday Sir John A. Macdonald!


“If I had influence over the minds of the people of Canada, any power over their intellect, I would leave them this legacy: ‘Whatever you do, adhere to the Union. We are a great country, and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken.”

Happy Birthday Sir John A.! We certainly miss your national vision and your leadership today. For more, click here to see the By George archived articles on this great man.



Happy Sir John A. Day!

John_A_MacdonaldThis January 11, 2015 marks a special anniversary for our country: the 200th birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister.

Since 2002, this day is set aside for Canadians to remember their first Prime Minister, one of the Fathers of Confederation. So it is fitting to that we take this occasion to highlight a few interesting facts and celebrate the man.

Through the years, By George has lamented the ignored legacy of Sir John A in many of our posts (and we have tagged “John A. Macdonald“). We have compiled lists of his quotes and a few years back featured our 10 favourite quotes.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John A., Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrote a stirring piece that commemorates our first PM. PM Harper writes:

Others had ruminated about Confederation but only he saw how to get it done — how to make the case for unity, how to rally common hopes and fears, how to overcome different perspectives and interests.

But Macdonald did more than achieve it; he made it work…. Of the greatest importance for all of us, perhaps, was that Macdonald appropriated from the British constitution its conception of freedom, of “ordered liberty,” of the balancing of popular rule and minority rights, of (in the terms of the era) equality before the law and governments responsible through the legislature to the voters.

Richard Gwyn, the celebrated biographer of John Macdonald wrote in the Toronto Star a column trumpeting: “Sir John A. Macdonald, the greatest PM of all”

Gwyn makes the point that “had there been no Macdonald, there would be no Canada for anyone to be a citizen of.”

Under Macdonald’s leadership as prime minister (1867-1873 and 1878-1891), the country was extended from sea to sea, giving — at last — it a certain geographical coherence. Macdonald also led Canada to achieve the National Dream, a railway the entire way from eastern Canada to the West Coast. The railway, together with Macdonald’s policy of high tariffs to protect Canadian companies from their far more efficient American rivals, made it possible for Canadians to do business with and get to know each other despite all their differences (French vs. English, Catholic vs. Protestant, Aboriginal vs. European) and the immense distances between them.

By other initiatives, Macdonald fashioned a distinctive Canadian way of getting things done that has stayed with us ever since.

In a National Post article noting the significance of this day, Bob Plamondon, respected political observer and author, makes the perceptive comment:
Macdonald’s greatest gift to us, then as now, was to show us how we can be stronger as a nation when we celebrate and respect our diversity.

All of this is by way of hanging our collective heads with the discouraging fact that Canadians really do not know enough about Macdonald and his legacy. On Canada.com, there is a telling release this week: Poll conducted ahead of the 200th anniversary of Macdonald’s birth

One in four Canadians can’t identify Sir John A. Macdonald as the first prime minister of Canada, according to a new poll commissioned by Historica Canada.

The poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, shows Canadians don’t know their history as well as Historica would hope. Twenty-eight per cent of Canadians don’t know the year of confederation, and 44 per cent don’t know Canada turns 150 years old in 2017.

So, today, take a moment and share a story or two about our first Prime Minister. Talk about him. Toast his legacy. Canada is very much a living testament to Sir John A. Macdonald’s vision and efforts. It is so important that more Canadians appreciate this fact.