You Were Duped, Man!

English: Sir George Etienne Cartier.
Sir George Etienne Cartier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was a cute political trick pulled by John A. Macdonald on his old rival, George Brown.  After a few days of fast footwork, it reached a climax on August 6, 1858.

John A. Macdonald and George Etienne Cartier formed a government dependent on the support of Cartier’s French-Canadian followers.  In December 1857, Queen Victoria announced her choice of Ottawa as the capital of Canada.  This displeased a number of centres.  On July 28, 1858, with Parliament meeting in Toronto, Clear Grit leader Brown saw an opportunity to defeat the Macdonald-Cartier government.  He proposed a motion that the City of Ottawa should not be the permanent seat of government.  As expected, enough French-Canadian members voted for the motion to defeat the Government.

Brown then proposed a motion to adjourn, which would have meant the resignation of the government, but the French-Canadian members voted against it.  Macdonald and Cartier could have taken this as authorization to stay in power, but decided instead to trap Brown.  They took the stand that their government had been defeated on a matter of policy and should resign.  Governor Sir Edmund Head then called on George Brown to tell the ministry.  It was sworn in an August 2 at noon, and defeated that afternoon by a majority of forty.  Brown then asked Governor Head to dissolve Parliament and call an election.  Governor Head refused and asked A. T. Galt to form a ministry.  When he failed, George Etienne Cartier was invited to try.

The new Government formed on August 6 was the old Macdonald-Cartier ministry with the positions reversed.   In those days when a member of Parliament joined the cabinet, he had to resign his seat and run in a by-election.  Macdonald used a law that had been passed the previous year, avoiding the necessity of a by-election if a cabinet minister resigned his post but took a new one within a month.  He had been attorney-general.  Now he became Postmaster-General for one day and then he and Cartier reverted to their former posts!

George Brown yelled, “trickery” and “collusion” but to no avail.  After the “double shuffle,” the Macdonald-Cartier government remained in power untilMay 1862.

To learn more about today’s post, I suggest going to Ged, and another very well written article, I suggest Uniformly At Random blog.


      • As if they don’t get away with it always! Canada was a wasps nest of deal making and money making back then. Macdonald did a great deal of tricking and he, of course, was also tricked by others. Looking back it is kind of embarrassing that they thought all this behavior would go unnoticed. But here you are telling old tales!


          • It warms my heart and makes me happy that you are going to parse through Canadian history. I have many a question and many a thought. I LOVE your blog.

            Have you looked at the History Hut segments on YouTube – Canadian history – I keep thinking Hollywood should find these two and make them hot history commodities. For some reason their videos relax me and teach me! A total fan!


  1. Given the nature of politics and oneupmanship, it always amazes me that Canada even exists. Our founders had no common enemy. They did not go to war to separate from a colonial overlord.

    They sat in a lot of rooms. They no doubt drank a lot of alcohol. The argued vociferously. And then, many of them put their political futures aside to form a confederation (and many of them paid dearly for that decision).

    In many respects, Canada is a miracle of the human spirit.


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