Infamously blunt demand for a campaign donation that (temporarily) felled a giant.
Railways, patronage and political donations were three legs of a sketchy stool that supported Canadian politics in the 1870s and 1880s. You couldn’t have one without the other, it seemed.
Money often lubricated decision making in those years. And few things needed more money than building the Canadian Pacific Railway and campaigning, as the federal election of 1872 amply demonstrated. Facing an election he badly wanted to win, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald left no bribery stone unturned. So he looked to Sir Hugh Allan, an enormously wealthy, Montreal-based shipping magnate and railway baron who had endless amounts of cash in his trousers.
Allan, who had contributed more $350,000 to Macdonald’s party, was seen by the PM as an easy touch. And on August 26, 1872, six days before election day, Macdonald left little doubt about his intentions by asking his lawyer, John Abbott, to lean on Allan: “I must have another $10,000. Will be the last time of calling. Do not fail me. Answer today.”
Alas, the “$10,000” telegram was stolen out of Abbott’s office and sold to the Liberals for $5,000. News of the scandal broke on April 2, 1873 when Montreal MP and backbencher Lucius Seth Huntington stood in the House and claimed Allan had been given the CPR by Macdonald in exchange for campaign funds. Macdonald’s stool started to teeter.
The Pacific Scandal, as the affair became known, had it all – bribery, theft, high-profile personalities, enormous wealth and nation-building ramifications. And boy, did it ever sell newspapers. Months later, after endless hours of frothy committee hearings, Sir John resigned and the Liberals won the 1874 election. However, Old Tomorrow would rise again by returning to power four years later.
Cautionary note … burn your telegrams.
Image source: McCord Museum of Canadian History
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