In few other countries would a national hero be so neglected. In comparing Macdonald to Washington it is probably safe to say that Sir John played a greater role in forging the Canadian nation state than Washington did in determining the nature of his United States. In addition, Macdonald was the more interesting personality. The irony is that the interesting human aspects of Macdonald's personality have been allowed to obscure the true greatness of the man.
Britain will never forget her Cromwell, her Pitt and her Disraeli. The hero whose name we add to our list of immortals, John Alexander Macdonald, had much of the force of an Oliver Cromwell, some of the compacting and conciliating tact of a William Pitt, the sagacity of a William Gladstone, and some of the shrewdness of a Benjamin Disraeli. To read the biography of John Alexander Macdonald is, essentially, to read a "new world biography."
His was a great life span. His official life reached back to 1844; think of that. Lord Palmerston was still premier of England when Sir John was an active leader in Canada. When Louis Napoleon was still emperor of the French, when John Tyler was president of the United States, when Bismarck was an obscure country squire, when Lincoln was unheard of, and when Theodore Roosevelt was yet unborn, Sir John Macdonald was well into his life task.
But our wonder grows when we reflect that that career was continued through 47 years of parliamentary life. He was the leader of his party for 36 years; he was a Minister of the Crown for 35 years; he was premier of this Dominion for more than 25 years.
The public life of the average American statesman is very short; Lincoln was before the public but nine years; McKinley was in national prominence but 13 years, Cleveland, 15 years; Sir John Macdonald, 47 years. In those early days he did Canada great service.
I thought I'd place a quote on the record from Laurier's speech in Parliament upon the death of Macdonald: "The place of Sir John A. Macdonald in this country was so large and so absorbing that it is almost impossible to conceive that the politics of this country - the fate of this country - will continue without him. His loss overwhelms us. For my part, I say, with all truth, his loss overwhelms me, and that it also overwhelms this Parliament, as if indeed one of the institutions of the land had given way. Sir John A. Macdonald now belongs to the ages, and it can be said with certainty that the career which has just been closed is one of the most remarkable careers of this century. . .
"As to his statesmanship, it is written in the history of Canada. It may be said without any exaggeration whatever, that the life of Sir John Macdonald, from the time he entered Parliament, is the history of Canada." (Laurier, the House of Commons, June 8, 1891.)
Let us recall Macdonald's famous unity quote: "Let us be English or let us be French . . . and above all let us be Canadians."