OTD: John Abbott sworn in as Canada’s third prime minister

On today’s date in 1891, John Joseph Campbell Abbott was sworn in as Canada’s first Canadian-born prime minister.

The country’s third prime minister, serving after John A. Macdonald and Alexander Mackenzie, Abbott was also named the president of the privy council at the swearing-in ceremony.

Abbott was appointed the leader of the former Conservative Party of Canada following Macdonald’s death on June 6, 1891; however, because of health reasons, Abbott was unable to complete his term.

In August 1892, after serving only 17 months in office, he was told by doctors to take an extended rest to recover from his ailments. He never returned to the office of prime minister and was followed by John Thompson, Mackenzie Bowell and Charles Tupper.

Abbott “certainly did not want the prime ministership; in his opinion Thompson was the best person to lead the party,” according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

“A large backlog of work awaited him when he assumed power on 15 June 1891,” adds Abbott’s biography, which explains the “serious problems” at the time of his term were “severe depression in trade, the Manitoba school question, the removal of Honoré Mercier from the premiership of Quebec, the Bering Sea dispute, and the Bond-Blaine convention.”


A graduate of McGill College, Abbott was called to the bar in 1847 and taught at McGill beginning in 1853. He also served as dean of the law faculty from 1855-80.

From 1857 until he was appointed to the Senate in 1887, he sat in the House of Commons (except for a period from 1874-80). In 1887, he entered the Cabinet as government leader in the Senate and minister without portfolio. That same year, he became mayor of Montreal, where he would serve until 1889.


During the 1970s, Shell Canada featured Abbott in a 15-medallion set dubbed “The Prime Ministers of Canada 1867-1970,” which included each Canadian prime minister between 1867 and 1970. The set was issued for distribution from Shell dealers across Canada.

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