Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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MacNAB, Sir Allan Napier, bart., Canadian soldier, born in Newark (now Niagara), Ont., 19 February, 1798; died in Toronto, 8 August, 1862. His grand father was Captain Robert MacNab, of the "Black Watch." His father was Lieutenant Allan MacNab, of the 3d dragoons, who afterward came to this country as an officer in the Queen's ranger bussars, under Colonel Mira-toe. The rangers took an active part in the Revolutionary war. At the close of the American war Lieutenant MacNab retired on half-pay to Upper Canada with his young wife, the daughter of Captain William Napier, commissioner of the port and harbor of Quebec. Shortly after the birth of Allan Napier the family removed to York (now Toronto), where the father became clerk in the office of William Jarvis, provincial secretary, and the son was sent to the home district-school. As a pupil he did not win high honors, being fonder of play than of study. He was but fifteen years of age when the American invasion of Canada took place, in April, 1813, and he and his father at once volunteered, and were sent to the front with a small regular and militia force. The town was ill prepared to withstand a siege, and the British and Canadian troops were driven back on Kingston. During the retreat, which was successfully accomplished, young MacNab attracted the notice of his commander, and through the latter's influence he was subsequently appointed a midshipman on board the "Wolfe," the flag-ship of Sir James Lucas Yeo. He accompanied Yeo's expedition to Sackett's Harbor and other points along the southern side of Lake Ontario; but the navy had no charm for him, and he relinquished his place after a few months' service and joined the 100th foot, then commanded by Colonel John Murray. He took an active part in several movements, and his prominence in the advanced guard at the storming of Fort Niagara won for him an ensigncy in the 49th regiment and honorable mention in the despatches. Eleven days later he was found at Fort Erie, and on the night of 29 December he took part in Sir Phineas Riall's exploits against Buffalo and Black Rock. At the close of the hostilities of that season, on the Niagara frontier, he went to Montreal, joined his new regiment, and at the affair at Plattsburg led the advanced guard at the Saranae bridge. After the defeat of the British forces young MacNab, greatly chagrined, is said to have broken his sword and vowed that he would never draw blade again under such a leader as Sir George Prevost. After the proclamation of peace, MacNab returned to his home in York on half-pay. He now' began to look about him for a career. Military life was out of the question, he was not well educated, and his capacity was not large. He was a fine specimen of manhood, and a thorough aristocrat in every way. In politics he was a born Tory of the severest school. The influence of friends secured for him an articled clerkship in the office of the attorney-general, and a situation as copying-clerk in one of the government offices. At the Michaelmas term of 1826 he was called to the bar of Upper Canada. In May, 1821, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Lieutenant Daniel Brooke, of Toronto. On being called to the bar, MacNab removed to Hamilton, where he began the practice of his profession. In 1829 a circumstance occurred that proved the direct means of his entrance into public life. The "Hamilton outrage," as the exhibition of Sir John Colborne in effigy through the streets of that city was called, became the subject of parliamentary inquiry. MacNab was summoned as a witness, and, oil certain questions being put to him, he declined to testify, averring that if he did so he might compromise himself. He was declared guilty of contempt, and the sergeant-at-arms promptly took him into custody and brought him to the bar of the house. On motion of William Lyon Mackenzie, the leader of the Upper Canadian rebellion of eight years afterward, the recalcitrant witness was committed to the common jail. He was confined for a brief period only, but the Conservatives chose to regard him as a martyr, and when the general elections of 1830 occurred Mac-Nab was selected as their candidate. He was sent to the house of assembly as the representative of Wentworth county, and one of his first acts in the legislature was to second a motion for the expulsion of Mr. Mackenzie from parliament for breach of privilege, the offence being the publication in Mackenzie's newspaper of some sharp criticism of the government's policy. The conduct of MacNab and his friends was indefensible, but party feeling ran high in those days, and members stopped at nothing. MacNab followed his movement of hostility against Mackenzie with a series of attacks, which hardly ceased during the lifetime of the agitator. In 1837 he was elected speaker of the house of assembly, and he continued to hold that office until the union of 1841. He represented Wentworth county for three terms, and then sat for Hamilton. The Upper Canadian rebellion of 1837-'8 gave him another opportunity to employ his soldier-like qualities. As soon as the uprising took place he put himself at the head of a band of followers, whom he styled his "Men of Gore," and proceeded to Toronto to the assistance of the lieutenant-governor. The rout of the rebels at Montgomery's tavern, the dispersion of the malcontents of the western district, the Niagara frontier episode, and the cutting out of the steamer "Caroline" followed in quick succession. For services that he rendered in the campaign, MacNab was knighted, and received the thanks of the provincial legislature. Later he was created Queen's counsel.
Soon after the union of Upper and Lower Canada, Sir Allan became leader of the Conservatives, then in opposition. On the defeat of the Baldwin-Lafontaine administration, MacNab was elected to the speaker's chair, and he occupied it from 1844 till 1848, when he once more became chief of the Conservative opposition, and Baldwin and Lafontaine succeeded to power for a second time. He opposed with great vehemence Lafontaine's rebellion losses bill, and even went to England to invoke imperial interference. His mission failed, though Mr. Gladstone strongly supported his cause. On the defeat of the Hincks-Morin government in 1854, Sir Allan was asked by the Earl of Elgin to form a cabinet. He called Mr. Morin to his aid, and in the month of September in the same year he succeeded in forming a coalition ministry, taking the offices of president of the council and minister of agriculture. In this cabinet by far the more active spirit was John A. Macdonald, Sir Allah's lieutenant. This government succeeded in negotiating a reciprocity treaty with the United States, abolishing the seigniorial tenure laws, and secularizing the clergy reserves. The premier suffered severely from gout, and his energy and force began to show signs of weakening. On Macdonald's shoulders fell the real work of the government. It was MacNab's wish that John Hillyard Cameron should succeed him in the leadership of his party, but the party itself had decided on Macdonald, and when Sir Allan was forced to yield to disease, in 1856, the latter became the virtual chief. On retiring from office, Sir Allan was created a baronet, and in 1857 he sailed for England in search of rest and health. He went to reside at a place neat' Brighton, and his health was so much benefited that he announced himself as a candidate for the English house of commons, as a supporter of the Earl of Derby's administration. He was defeated, and then determined to return home.
On arriving at Hamilton in 1860 he was prostrated by his old trouble, and forced to keep his bed for several weeks. A vacancy occurring in the western division in the legislative council, Sir Allan was asked to become a candidate. He rallied, promptly accepted the nomination, and was carried to the hustings, where he addressed the electors, and, notwithstanding his feeble condition, he secured his election by a majority of twenty-six votes. A partial reconciliation took place between him and Macdonald, but the old feeling was still strong. While in England, Sir Allan had been consulted by the home government on the subject of colonial defences. For the advice he gave he was made an honorary colonel of the British army. He was also accorded the rank of an honorary aide-de-camp to the Queen, an honor that is never lightly given, and in that capacity he attended the Prince of Wales during the latter's visit to Canada in 1860. When the parliamentary session of 1862 opened, Sir Allan was chosen as the first elective speaker of the legislative council. Failing health and general prostration, however, had done their work, and he was unable to perform the duties of his office. In the declining days of the session he was too ill to be in his place. When prorogation came in June, he was barely able to get to his home in Hamilton, and six weeks later he died. Throughout his lifetime he had been a zealous member of the Church of England, but just after his death his sister-in-law, who had attended him during his closing years, declared that he had died in the Roman Catholic faith, and, as she was the executrix of the estate, by her order he was buried in Roman Catholic ground and according to Roman Catholic rites. This incident created great excitement, and became the subject of controversy in the newspapers. Many men in political and legal life refused to attend the body of their friend to the grave. Sir Allan married in 1831, as his second wife, Mary Stuart, elder daughter of the sheriff of Johnstown district. She died in 1846, leaving two daughters, Sophia Mary, who, in 1855, became the wife of William Coutts Keppel, Viscount Bury, who sits as Baron Ashford in the house of lords, and Mary Stuart, who married, in 1861, a son of the late Sir Dominick Daly.
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