Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Campbell, Alexander (1822-1892)

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CAMPBELL, Sir ALEXANDER (1822–1892), Canadian politician, born at the village of Heydon, near Kingston-upon-Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England, on 9 March 1822, was the son of James Campbell, a physician of Scottish parentage, who, after residing for some time in Yorkshire, emigrated to Lachine, Lower Canada, in 1824. Alexander was educated first by the presbyterian minister at Lachine, then in the Roman catholic seminary of St.-Hyacinthe, and, on the removal of the family to Upper Canada, at the Kingston grammar school. He began the study of the law in 1836. About the same time he entered into articles, and, having served part of his time with (Sir) John Alexander Macdonald [q. v.], was admitted an attorney in Hilary term 1842, and called to the bar in the Michaelmas following. He was thereupon taken into partnership by Macdonald. In 1856 he became queen's counsel, and in the same year was chosen a bencher of the Law Society. Four years later he was appointed dean of the faculty of law in Queen's University, Kingston.

His first public office was that of alderman of Kingston (1851-2). In 1856, in answer to a keen popular demand, Canada began the experiment of electing her legislative councillors, and Campbell, standing for the district of Cataraqui, which included Kingston and the county of Frontenac, was returned by a large majority in 1858. He was then offered, but declined, a seat in the Macdonald-Cartier cabinet. In February of 1863 he was elected speaker of the legislative council in succession to Sir Allan Napier Macnab [q. v.], and performed the duties of the office for about a year, when he entered the Macdonald-Tache administration as commissioner of crown lands. He occupied the same position in the coalition of 1864, the principal object of which was to bring about confederation. He took part in both the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences. In March 1865 he submitted the resolutions in favour of the Canadian federation to the council, and secured their passage by a large vote.

During 1866-7, when the governor-general and the leading members of the ministry were at the Westminster conference, Campbell stayed in Canada as minister in charge. At the inauguration of the dominion, on 1 July 1867, he was sworn of the privy council of Canada, and became the first postmaster-general, a portfolio which he continued to hold for the next six years. Summoned to the senate on 23 Oct. 1867, he held the seat for twenty years, acting, while the conservative party was in power, as government leader in that body.

In 1868 Campbell was nominated, at his own request, to act on a commission to England which was sent to obtain a transference to Canada of the Hudson's Bay territories and Rupert's Land, but, for some unexplained reason, he declined to go, and counselled delay in the matter. Two years later he undertook a special mission to England in connection with the subjects of Canadian import duties which were then in dispute between England and the United States, and were dealt with by the Washington treaty of 1870. A new department of the interior and superintendent of Indian affairs was created in 1872 and given to Campbell, but his incumbency lasted only for about six months. In November of that year the ministry resigned.

From 1873 to 1878 he led the conservative opposition in the senate and took a very active part against the Mackenzie administration, particularly with regard to its Pacific railway policy and its maintenance of Letellier as lieutenant-governor of Quebec. After Sir John Alexander Macdonald returned to power, Campbell held the following cabinet offices in succession: receiver-general, 8 Nov. 1878; postmaster-general, 20 May 1879; minister of militia, 16 Jan. 1880 ; postmaster-general, 8 Nov. 1880 ; minister of justice, 20 May 1881 ; postmaster-general from 25 Sept. 1885 till 26 Jan. 1887— in all of which he proved himself a painstaking administrator.

His most important department was that of justice. In exercising the dominion supervision over local legislation, a power inherited from the colonial office, Campbell was considered to take an unduly narrow view of the powers of the provincial legislatures as they were defined under the Confederation Act. Two of his decisions aroused much public excitement. One was the disallowance on three occasions (1881-2-3) of a railway measure by which the provincial legislature of Manitoba sought independent connection with the United States system. The province ultimately secured its end, and a compromise was effected with the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Again, the legislature of British Columbia levied certain fines on the immigration of the Chinese. Campbell disallowed the act as well on imperial as dominion grounds (1883). Somewhat later there came a despatch from Lord Derby (31 May 1884) to the effect that similar legislation in Australia was not held to involve imperial interests. The legislature of British Columbia thereupon re-enacted the statute which was duly suffered to come into operation (1885).

The honour of K.C.M.G. was bestowed on Campbell at an investiture held in Montreal by her Majesty's direction on 24 May 1879. On 1 June 1887 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Ontario. He died on 24 May 1892, just before the expiry of his term, at Government House in the city of Toronto, and was buried with public honours.

In 1885 he married Georgina Frederica Locke, daughter of Thomas Sandwith of Beverley in Yorkshire.

[Taylor's Portraits of Brit. Amer. i. 247–58; Dent's Can. Port. Gall. iii. 217–19; Dent's Last Forty Years, ii. 428, 435, 444–5, 470–1, 548; Morgan's Legal Directory, pp. 36, 41; Morgan's Dom. Ann. Reg. (1879), p. 146; J. E. Coté's Political Appts. pp. 3, 38; N. O. Coté's Political Appts. pp. 75–6; Todd's Parl. Govt. in the Col. p. 603; Pope's Mem. of Sir J. A. Macdonald, i. 18, 180–2, 267, ii. 48, 237; Hodgins's Cor. &c. Min. of Justice, pp. 826–39, 1078–94; Confederation Debates, Quebec, 1865; Canadian Hansard.]

T. B. B.