Love him or hate him,
One fact remains unchallenged:
Dude needed a shrink.
Ah, John A. Canada’s first Prime Minister has been having some public image issues as of late, revolving around shitty policies towards First Nations folk, statues, and what have you. We are not delving into that quagmire today. I am just going to inform you that John A had some shit go down in his life.
Note: What follows should not be considered as apologia for anything.
John A was born in Scotland in 1815, the third of five. His father Hugh was shit at business and in debt, so the family pulled up stakes and sailed off to Canada in 1820.
One evening in 1822, John A (aged 7) and his brother James (aged 4) were under the care of a man named Kennedy, a family servant and friend of their father. Kennedy dragged the two boys to a tavern and forced them to drink gin. The boys did not like the taste. They took each other’s hands and ran for home, but James tripped and fell. This allowed Kennedy to catch up and beat James to death with a cane as John watched. Kennedy disappeared and was never brought to justice. James himself was buried in an unmarked grave.
Time passed. John’s formal education was spotty and his parents shoved onto the lawyer track as soon as possible. (One did not need law school in those days to officially call oneself a lawyer. In Upper Canada, all you had to do was pass a test, go through an apprenticeship, and pass an other test.) His pops was still shit at business, see, so they wanted him to earn money ASAP. Especially after his incompetent dad died in 1841 and he became the breadwinner. He became increasingly involved in controversial cases and politics, then took a break to vacation in Scotland. There he met his first cousin, Isabella Clarke. They married in 1843.
Isabella was not well. We do not know why she was not well, but whatever it was, she developed a laudanum addiction. Most of her time was spent down in the States, as she considered the Land of Freedom (TM) to have a more healthful climate. They met up on occasion and that is how they eventually produced their first son, John A Jr, in 1847. They loved that little mite and he seemed like a pretty robust baby. Nevertheless, Junior died suddenly around his first birthday, from what I’d guess was SIDS. (John A kept his son’s clothes and toys and stored them away and were discovered by a granddaughter many decades later.)
But another kid came in short order, with Hugh John born in 1850, looking much like his predecessor. It’s about this time that John A’s famous drinking ramped up. Isabella continued to be an invalid, dying of something in 1857. John A, unable to deal and increasingly absorbed in politics, sent Hugh John to live with a sister. You’ll be shocked to find out that the two never really developed a a close relationship.
Time passed. John A married his second wife, Agnes Bernard, in 1867. Confederation happened. John A Macdonald became the first PM. Hurrah!
Then in 1868, the only Canadian political assassination on a federal level was carried out – on Thomas D’Arcy McGee, another father of Confederation and John A’s best drinking buddy. He held his dead friend’s head in his lap, returning home in bloody clothes.
But hey, John A and Agnes had a baby girl in 1869! Good, right? Baby Mary, unfortunately, had hydrocephalus – excess fluid in the brain. Treatable these days, not so then. As such, she never could walk (despite the hours her father spent massaging her legs and telling her stories) and had some mental disabilities.
More problems were on the horizon. In 1873, the Pacific Scandal broke, revealing through telegrams John A begging for bribes from railway men for his election campaign. With disgrace on the horizon, on August 3rd, he… disappeared for a few days in Quebec, in the vicinity of Trois-Rivières. Newspapers subsequently reported that he attempted suicide by throwing himself into the St. Lawrence River. Historians are divided over whether this is true or not. It’s only speculation either way.
Regardless, he did get back into power in 1878 and stayed there (with his friend, Alcoholism) until his death in 1891. It was only in his later years that he told his secretary the story of his brother James; he hadn’t spoken of it to anyone, so far as we know, since he was a boy.
Yes. A competent psychiatrist would have been a help to him.
A nice little coda: after she became a full orphan, Mary bloomed. She learned how to write with a typewriter and spent many a happy hour in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. (I don’t blame her. My mom sent me threats when I was in London last year about what would happen if I DIDN’T visit it, so I did. And I was glad for it. Always listen to my mother.)