National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

It was a big day in Kingston on this date in 1878 with both Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Charles Tupper making a joint appearance in the Limestone City. Both these Fathers of Confederation would soon be leading their party back to power in that year’s general election.

Before the main speech, Kingstonians read out a tribute to both men… “By your valuable labours in Parliament you have earned the gratitude and esteem of all lovers of good government,” Macdonald and Tupper were told. “Your attention to your duties has been unremitting. Your able and exhaustive speeches in condemnation of the maladministration of the Government, your expos of the blunders of its members and the jobbing practiced in its various ramifications have been read all over the country with pleasure and profit, speeches which attest as well your great industry and your oratorical power. The young men of the country may learn from you the useful lesson that vigour in debate is not incompatible with courtesy to an opponent.”

Tupper then took to the stage and spoke for three hours. At the conclusion of his colleague’s remarks, Macdonald of Kingston mounted the stage to thank his comrade-in-arms.

“In the few words in which I addressed you at the opening of the meeting, I said I was sure that if you heard the Hon. Charles Tupper you would be thankful to me for bringing him here,” Sir John A said. “I think you must be grateful. You have heard his speech and the facts he has detailed, and I think you may hold me excused from keeping you here any longer. I am not going to inflict another speech on you tonight, as my honourable friend has gone over the whole field in his own peculiar manner a manner in which no man can approach him in the whole Dominion of Canada.”

“Gentlemen,” Macdonald continued, “I want you to know, as most of you do know, that the facts referred to by my honourable friend are not made behind the backs of the Administration. They are not for the first time thrown before a friendly audience such as the majority of the audience present. I have heard my hon. friend leading the Opposition in effect state the same facts, use the same arguments and go into the same discussions, and the Government were obliged to admit the truth of the facts, and the whole country the force of the arguments …. I have long been anxious to retire from the position I have held, and I am sure you will say from the acquaintance you have formed with my friend, the Hon. Dr. Tupper, he is a man who will fill my place. Still, although it is suggested that politicians are sometimes jealous of one another’s places, I can tell you this, that the man who has urged me to retain my position, who said that if I gave it up, he would give up too, is the Hon. Dr. Tupper.”

Of course, Macdonald and Tupper and their party were returned to power that fall.

Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist.  He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy.  A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.
The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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