John A. Macdonald

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University of Toronto Press, Jan 1, 1998 - Biography & Autobiography - 1154 pages

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography calls this work 'probably the greatest Canadian biography yet published in English.' Donald Creighton's two-volume account of Canada's first Prime Minister was originally published in the 1950s as 'John A. Macdonald: The Young Lion' (1952) and 'John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain' (1955). Each of the volumes won a Governor General's Literary Award. Creighton's rare combination of rigorous scholarship, magnificent literary style, and romantic and heroic vision gives this work extraordinary power and wide appeal.

Sir John A. Macdonald's flamboyant personality dominated Canadian public life from the years preceding Confederation to the end of the nineteenth century, and the political structures and national policies which developed under his leadership continue to shape public issues today. Creighton's first volume takes Macdonald from his childhood and early years as a young lawyer in Kingston, Ontario, through his swift rise in political life to positions of influence, to the great achievement of uniting the colonies of British North America in Confederation. The second volume traces Macdonald's often tumultuous subsequent career in the context of a growing and often recalcitrant nation. He was Prime Minister from 1867 to 1873 and then again from 1878 until his death in June, 1891. The spectacular and evocative epilogues with which Creighton concludes each volume are widely recognized as having a place among the great passages of literary prose.

P. B. Waite's introduction to this new one-volume republication provides an illuminating account of the impact that Creighton and his biography of Macdonald had on a whole generation of historians and readers.


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About the author (1998)

Raised in a book-filled Toronto home, Donald Creighton acquired an all-consuming taste for literature. After studying both literature and history at the University of Toronto, he pursued graduate work in European history at Oxford University. In 1927 he joined the University of Toronto faculty and soon came under the influence of Harold Innis. Abandoning European history, he devoted most of his life to an amplification of the Laurentian-St. Lawrence River-based interpretation of Canadian history. By the 1960s, Creighton came to be considered Canada's foremost historian by many. His scholarship can be divided roughly into two phases. During the first phase, he focused on the creative role of the post-Conquest Montreal English-speaking merchant community that erected a transcontinental economy along the St. Lawrence river basin. His 1937 work, The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence, has been compared to a theatrical performance. In the first act, the merchants take over the French fur trade but are thwarted by the American Revolution. In the second act, they reconstruct a staples trading system based on lumber and wheat, only to be frustrated by internal political disturbances. During the third act, these conflicts explode into a shortsighted farmers' rebellion that dooms the merchants' vision. Early in the second phase of his scholarship, Creighton produced a magisterial biography of the first prime minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald. Told from the subject's perspective, it is the story of a man who triumphed over a succession of personal and political obstacles. During the remainder of his career, Creighton, celebrated for the elaboration of the Laurentian interpretation, focused intently on the enemies of the Laurentian vision.

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