Pacific Scandal

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The Pacific Scandal was a political scandal in Canada which ultimately led to the resignation of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and a transfer of power from his Conservative government to a Liberal government led by Alexander Mackenzie.

The Pacific Scandal involved allegations of bribery being accepted by the Conservative government in the attempts of private interests to influence the bidding for a national rail contract. As part of British Columbia's 1871 agreement to join Canadian Confederation, the government had agreed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway, a transcontinental railway linking the Pacific Province to the eastern provinces. The proposed rail project, when completed, was the most intensive and ambitious of its kind ever undertaken to date. However as a new nation with limited capital resources, financing for the project was sought after both at home and abroad, naturally attracting interest from Great Britain and the United States. American interests in financing the project ultimately killed the scandal.[citation needed]



For a young and loosely defined nation, the building of a national railway must be put within the context of active attempts at state-making.[1] Canada, a nascent country with a population of 3.5 million in 1871, lacked the political jurisdiction to meaningfully control its political boundaries within its recently acquired Rupert's Land -- building a transcontinental railway was national policy of high order in changing this situation.[2] Moreover, the post civil war era was a period of rapid expansion for the American frontier, as land hungry settlers poured west, exacerbating talk of annexation. Indeed, sentiments of Manifest Destiny were abuzz in this time: in 1867, year of Confederation, US Secretary of State W.H. Seward surmised that the whole North American continent "shall be, sooner or later, within the magic circle of the American Union."[3] With sentiments of this nature in mind, it is little wonder that national interest fell within preventing the infusion of American investment into the project. Established by this point was the purposeful alignment of an "all Canadian route" -- discussion of a less costly route to bypass the rugged Canadian Shield of northern Ontario by passing south through Wisconsin and Minnesota was, within the rubric of national interest, scrapped.[citation needed]

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