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Canadian History for Kids: Sir John Abbott

June 15, 1891 – John Abbott sworn in as Prime Minister after being chosen leader of Conservative Party on John A. Macdonald’s death.

This Canadian History for Kids exclusive looks at Canada’s 3rd Prime Minister, Sir John Abbott.

The man that never wanted to be Prime Minister! And the first Prime Minister to be born on Canadian soil!

Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott was born in St. Andrews, Lower Canada (now Saint-André-d’Argenteuil, Quebec) in 1821. Abbott received an first-rate education from his missionary father.

At age 17, he studied accounting before entering McGill law school, eventually becoming its dean. Serious, informed, and rational, Abbott’s dislike of conflict and distrust of emotion helped establish him as a superb negotiator and one of Canada’s most successful commercial lawyers.

Abbott began his political life with open support for Canada’s annexation by the US in 1849 and then lukewarm support for Confederation. A practical Tory, he was elected to Parliament in 1867, 1872, and 1878 before being appointed Senator and Cabinet Minister without portfolio in 1887.

When John A. Macdonald died in office in 1891, Sir John Abbott became prime minister, mainly because the Tories could not agree on a successor. Abbott himself said he was chosen “because I am not particularly obnoxious to anyone.”

As prime minister, Abbott inherited a weak government that was not ready to meet a crisis over separate schools in Manitoba, tensions with the US over fisheries and trade, and a growing economic misery.

Nevertheless, in the 16 months he held office, Abbott shuffled his cabinet, forced the resignation of his corrupt Minister of Public Works, and undertook reform of the civil service.

The Conservatives won 42 of the 52 by-elections held during Abbott’s tenure, a sign of his effective leadership. But ill and exhausted, he resigned as prime minister in October 1892. Largely forgotten by history, John

Abbott deserves at the least to be remembered as a hardworking and competent prime minister for a government whose first leader could not be easily replaced.

He died on October 30, 1893.

And that’s this week’s Canadian History for Kids, exclusive!

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