Sir John Sparrow Thompson - Encyclopedia

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SIR JOHN SPARROW THOMPSON (1844-1894), Canadian jurist and statesman, was born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the 10th of November 1844, of Irish descent. At fifteen he entered a lawyer's office, and in 1865 was called to the provincial bar. In 1871 he incurred much odium by leaving the Methodist Church, in which he had been prominent, and becoming a Roman Catholic, a change dictated solely by religious motives. In 1877 he was elected to the local legislature for Antigonish as a Conservative, and in 1878 became attorney-general. In May 1882 he became premier, but in June was defeated at the general election, though retaining his own seat, and in July was made a judge of the provincial Supreme Court. In September 1885, he was appointed minister of justice in the Federal cabinet, and soon after was elected member for Antigonish. In 1886 he successfully defended in the Federal parliament the hanging of Louis Riel (q.v.), which had greatly angered the French Roman Catholics; in 1887-1888, together with Mr Joseph Chamberlain and Sir Charles Tupper, he arranged a Fisheries Treaty with the American commissioners, which was afterwards thrown out by the United States Senate. During the following years he defended the government with great skill in various politico-religious disputes, and in November 1892 succeeded Sir John Abbott as premier of Canada. The length of time during which the Conservatives had held office had gathered around many parasites, and Thompson was compelled to face charges, some of them true, against prominent Conservatives. He promptly announced his intention to "lop the mouldering branches away," and would probably have reorganized his party, but on the 12th of December 1894 he dropped dead at Windsor Castle, a few minutes after having been sworn in by Queen Victoria as a member of the privy council.

Though a quiet man who did not advertise, few Canadian statesmen have done so much honest and solid work. In 1892 he finished the codification of the Canadian criminal code; in 1893 his firmness and knowledge as British arbitrator at Paris on the Bering Sea dispute between Great Britain and the United States were of great service.

His Life has been written by J. C. Hopkins (Toronto, 1895).

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