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P.C. nominee Ezra Gallivan.

The 1888 Grand Council elections took place on 16 February 1888 for the purpose of electing the Tenth Grand Council of the Confederation of North America. The elections returned a plurality of 73 seats for the recently-formed People's Coalition, the P.C.'s first electoral victory over the older Liberal and Conservative Parties.

The election served as a referendum on incumbent Governor-General John McDowell of the Liberals. McDowell had been elected to a second term five years before by promising to extend and expand the reforms of his first term. However, McDowell's agenda proved to be too ambitious, and by 1885 it had become clear that most of his Age of Renewal programs were either unworkable or poorly managed. Taxes were at an all-time high, and the C.N.A. was in the midst of a general inflationary wave, while still suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. There was a public outcry against the methods of the Confederation Bureau of Investigation, and small-scale insurrections appeared from time to time in Quebec, the Northern Confederation, and Indiana.

Liberal nominee John McDowell.

McDowell was subjected to a steady barrage of criticism from the leaders of the more radical P.C., especially Minority Leader Scott Ruggles and Michigan City Mayor Ezra Gallivan. Ruggles criticized McDowell's economic programs, claiming they would be used to benefit large-scale enterprises at the expense of their smaller competitors. Gallivan, meanwhile, questioned McDowell's emphasis on foreign policy and his expansion of the C.N.A.'s armed forces; he also concentrated on the administration of Michigan City and worked behind the scenes to build up the Coalition's confederation-level organization.

In a speech on 2 April 1887, Ruggles said, "Let Mr. McDowell ask us for what he will. He has a majority in the Grand Council, and can have anything he wants from it. Indeed we would be willing to support his plans, for the People's Coaltion wants peace and harmony as much as anyone else. The truth of the matter is, the Age of Renewal is, and always has been, a sham. The Liberals have had their chance, and have failed. Now it is time for true reform, and not just fancy maneuverings."

Conservative nominee Abraham Reese.

McDowell sought the Liberal nomination for a third term as goveror-general, the first incumbent to do so. He claimed that he needed more time "to correct the abuses of a century." At the Coalition's national convention, Gallivan received the nomination over Ruggles. Over the course of the campaign season, he appeared at many large meetings at which he would praise McDowell for his many achievements, but subtly criticize him as "a man worn out by the burdens he has carried for so long." Gallivan's agents organized well, and his manager, Senator Peter Higbe, personally coordinated the Coalition's programs throughout the C.N.A., allowing the P.C. to achieve an internal consistency and efficiency that the Liberals would not show for another two elections. Meanwhile, the fading Conservatives, although led by the able moderate Abraham Reese, were running poorly behind the other two parties.

Although both the New York Herald and the Burgoyne Times predicted another victory by the Liberals, on election day the P.C. was able to gain a plurality of seats in the new Grand Council.

The 1888 Grand Council Elections
Confederation Conservative Party Liberal Party People's Coalition independent
Indiana 2 12 15 0
Manitoba 0 10 3 0
Northern Confederation 2 19 24 0
Northern Vandalia 0 8 3 0
Quebec 3 2 5 3
Southern Confederation 1 9 19 0
Southern Vandalia 0 10 3 0
TOTAL 8 66 73 3


Since the P.C. did not have a majority, McDowell might have acted to prevent Gallivan's selection as governor-general. Instead, at a meeting of the Liberal caucus on 19 February, he asked the Indiana members to cast their ballots for Gallivan, saying "This is unprecedented, but new forms may be better than indecision and uncertainty at this time." Although only eight of the members did so, this was sufficient to give Gallivan a majority. Sobel suggests that McDowell might have acted out of an unselfish wish to spare Gallivan the trouble of gaining a majority on his own, or out of a desire to enhance his reputation, or out of fear that Gallivan would be forced to accept a deal from the independent Quebec members.

After his elevation, Gallivan told reporters of his pleasure at being elected, and of his intention "to lead the nation into new paths and continue the drive for national greatness." He also heaped praise upon McDowell for "his graciousness, his selflessness, and his sacrifice."


Sobel's sources for the 1888 Grand Council elections are Worthington Fowler's McDowell in Retirement (New York, 1901); Howard Arthur's The Impossible Victory: The Coalition in 1888 (new York, 1934); Ernest Foy's The Anatomy of North American Politics: An Analysis (New York, 1956); and Reuben Fenton's McDowell: Appearance and Reality (New York, 1957). Election results are from the New York Herald, 18 February 1888.


C.N.A. Grand Council Elections
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