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Governor-General Kenneth Parkes.

The Era of Faceless Men was a period in the history of the Confederation of North America between the end of the Rocky Mountain War in 1853 and the elevation of John McDowell in 1878. The term was coined by historian Lewis Duane in his 1931 survey The Era of Faceless Men: The C.N.A. from 1845-1880. Sobel states that North American politics was bland in this period, and that no Governor-General who served from 1853 to 1878 was either memorable or forceful in his programs. The era also saw the rapid industrialization of the C.N.A., and endemic political corruption which gave rise to a radical reformist party called the People's Coalition.


The Era of Faceless Men can be said to have begun with the victory of the Conservative Party in the 1853 Grand Council elections and the elevation of Councilman William Johnson to the governor-generalship in February 1853. Johnson campaigned on a peace platform, and within months he and Mexican President Hector Niles had agreed to send negotiators to The Hague, and to enact a cease-fire on 1 August. While negotiations went on, Johnson sent his Minister of State, Montgomery Harcourt, to London to solicit British investment in the C.N.A. from Prime Minister John Temple. Harcourt was successful, and British investment in the C.N.A. increased every year from 1855 to 1879, except for a period of recession in Great Britain from 1861 to 1863.

Selected C.N.A. Statistics, 1840-1878
1840 n.a. 1,101 4,448 5 1,419
1845 n.a. 2,230 4,879 19 2,420
1850 2 3,854 8,793 18 2,945
1855 10 7,902 11,980 19 3,298
1860 68 10,980 16,486 29 4,765
1865 104 12,042 21,095 22 5,762
1870 298 17,960 32,768 52 7,982
1875 359 22,324 52,689 106 9,802
1878 562 28,794 n.a. 259 12,938

(Source: C.N.A. Statistical Abstract, pp. 543, 592, 796, 2320. Steel and anthracite coal per hundred tons; railroads per miles; foreign investments and GNP per million N.A. £.)

Due in part to British investment, the Era of Faceless Men saw the rise of several large corporations, including Edwin Bromfield's North American Steel Corporation (1871) and John Rockefeller's Consolidated Petroleum of North America (1875). The pre-war railroad boom continued with the establishment of Thomas Scott's Grand National Railroad, Andrew Carnegie's North American United, and Patrick Gallivan's Indiana Northern Railroad. Other notable industrialists included Ralph Davis's shipping line, Gail Borden's Borden Provisions, Ltd., Philip Peabody's Peabody Chemical Works, Samuel Holt's textile mills, and Thomas Edison's various inventions.

The rise of the corporations was paralleled by the rise of labor unions among their employees. Workers from the railroad and steel industries formed the Mechanics National Union in 1874, while William Richter worked to organize factory workers, culminating in the formation of the Consolidated Laborers Federation in Philadelphia in 1870. A smaller, more radical union called the United Workers of the World appeared in New York City, inspired by the theories of the German socialist philosopher Karl Marx.

Population Growth[]

Population growth continued in the C.N.A., augmented by immigration from Europe, and particularly from Great Britain and Ireland. The confederation of Vandalia saw particularly high growth, from less than 80,000 on the eve of the war to over half a million in 1850 and 4.5 million in 1870. However, growing conflicts between white immigrants from Indiana and the Northern Confederation on one side, and Negroes from the Southern Confederation, led to the division of the confederation in 1877 into Northern Vandalia and Southern Vandalia. In addition, the rising population led to slums in the major cities, with gangs forming in New York, Philadelphia, and Michigan City by 1868. In 1869, a predominantly Irish gang called the Merry Walkers seized the City Hall in New York and held it for two weeks before the provincial militia could drive them out, and this led to similar disturbances in other North American cities.

The exception to the general population growth was the confederation of Quebec. The French-speaking population included a significant minority of radical secessionists called the Patriotes who carried out terrorist attacks on English-speakers. Quebec Anglophones responded by creating a rival organization called the Anti-Papists that targeted French-speakers and Catholic churches for attacks. The result was a de facto civil war leading to an exodus of both Anglophones and Francophones, the former emigrating to the other confederations, the latter moving to New Orleans, the United States of Mexico, and France. Quebec's population actually declined from 5.9 million in 1855 to 4.8 million in 1870.

C.N.A. Population Statistics, 1840-1880
1840 2 28 85 20.6
1845 24 39 101 24.3
1850 88 58 92 29.0
1855 143 72 83 33.5
1860 89 75 62 38.4
1865 116 83 71 43.8
1870 107 65 62 47.2
1875 98 82 57 53.9
1880 123 94 67 60.2

(Source: C.N.A. Statistical Abstract, pp. 98, 382. Immigration in thousands; total C.N.A. population in millions.)


The "faceless men" of the era were the political leaders of the Liberal and Conservative Parties, who were lackluster and corrupt. Governor-General Johnson's resignation in 1856 led to the elevation of his Minister of the Exchequer, Whitney Hawkins, whose administration was plagued by corruption, particularly Minister of Resources Bruce King, who embezzled more than N.A. £500,000 from the government. Hawkins was defeated in 1858 by the Liberal Party's equally corrupt Kenneth Parkes, thanks to vote-buying and extortion by the Liberals. Parkes sold government offices to wealthy businessmen, and awarded large areas of Vandalia to his cronies. Additional vote-buying allowed Parkes to win a second term in 1863, which was spent enlarging his personal fortune.

Parkes chose not to run for a third term in 1868. Instead, he called a national convention of the Liberals in Burgoyne, where he used his wealth to gain the nomination for his protege Victor Astor of the Northern Confederation. The Conservatives responded by holding their own convention in New York, where they chose Councilman Herbert Clemens of Indiana, himself a wealthy businessman, as their nominee for governor-general. Clemens proved more adept than Astor in buying votes, and this allowed the Conservatives to gain a majority in the 1868 Grand Council elections.

Under Clemens, the Conservatives passed electoral reform bills in 1869 and 1870 to expand the franchise and reapportion Grand Council seats, both of which were designed to solidify Conservative control of the government. However, Clemens' reforms backfired when a new party called the People's Coalition was founded in the Southern Confederation in 1869 and quickly spread to the other confederations. By the 1873 elections, the P.C. was able to run a full slate of candidates for the Council, winning ten seats, along with control of the provincial governments of New Hampshire, Virginia, and North Carolina. The Conservatives' majority in the Council fell from 85 seats to 77, and the Liberals' minority fell from 65 seats to 63.

The People's Coalition continued to expand during Clemens' second term, and in the 1878 elections, the older parties responded to the threat by resorting to political violence, beating P.C. candidates, burning down Coalition headquarters, and kidnapping Richter. By election day, the Coalition was retaliating against the other parties, and 15 February 1878 saw an unprecedented wave of political violence sweep the C.N.A. The result was a hung Grand Council in which no party had a majority of the seats. Despite losing an additional three seats, the Liberals had a plurality, but their nominee for governor-general, John McDowell of Manitoba, refused to consider a coalition government with one of the other parties. Instead, he formed a minority government, relying on crossover votes by members of the other parties to gain passage of his legislation. McDowell's reform agenda, which came to be known as the Age of Renewal, ended the endemic corruption of the national government, and put an end to the Era of Faceless Men.


Sobel's sources for the Era of Faceless Men are his own A Statistical Survey of North American Business, 1855-1910 (New York, 1957) and The Epic Age of North American Industry (Melbourne, 1960); as well as Simon Hall's How Much? (New York, 1890); Philip Davis's Second But To God: The Works of Thomas Edison of Indiana (New York, 1911); Duane's The Era of Faceless Men: The C.N.A. from 1845 to 1880 (New York, 1931); Julius Carter's The People Want Bread: A History of the People's Coalition (New York, 1937) and Voices of Reform and Bigotry: The People's Coalition Speaks (New York, 1940); William Harris's The Bloody Ballot: The C.N.A. Elections of 1878 (New York, 1943); Franklin Packard's Plenty for Everyone: Corruption in the C.N.A. in the Age of Prosperity (New York, 1950); Milton O'Casey's I Never Told a Lie: The Political Career of Victor Astor (New York, 1950) and The Hawkins Administration (New York, 1953); Edwin Doe's The Last Days of C.N.A. Conservatism (Burgoyne, 1952); Horace Medill's The American Da Vinci: Edison and His Works (New York, 1954); Howard Hopkins' Saints in Overalls: The Consolidated Laborers Federation in Confederation of North America History (London, 1955); Edward Hetherington's Urban Riot: The N.C. Cities in the 1870s (London, 1956); Sidney Bostwick's Every Man Has His Price: The Elections of 1858 (Burgoyne, 1958); Max Finnigan's "The Origins of the People's Party, and the Writing of the Norfolk Resolves" from The Journal of Politics, 4 December 1958, Organizing the Elite: A History of the M.N.U. (New York, 1968), and While the Iron Is Hot: The Early Years of the U.W.W. (London, 1970); James Queen's North America's Age of Genius: 1855-1880 (London, 1959); Arthur Kurtz' Clemens of Indiana: Pirate with a Clerical Collar (New York, 1960); George Ryder's And There Was Light! (New York, 1962); Etienne Bayard's The Decline of Quebec (New York, 1965); Chester Winslow's The Race Problem in the N.C.: 1857-1892 (New York, 1965); Simon Rabbino's The Invasion of the Pound: British Investments in the C.N.A. from 1840 to 1880 (London, 1965) and The Impact of the Rocky Mountain War on the North American Economy (London, 1967); John Flaherty's Builders of North America (London, 1967); Richard Maxwell's The Prostitutes of Burgoyne: Conservative and Liberal in the Glory Years (Mexico City, 1967); Leland Turner's The Tin Cup Governor-General: The Parkes Estate (New York, 1967) and Three Bags Full: The King Conspiracy (New York, 1970); William English's New Friends in an Old Bed: The Immigrant-Conservative Alliance of 1878 (New York, 1969); Bernard Sennett's The Growth of the North American Steel Industry (New York, 1970); Theodore Kirk's "An Analysis of the Redistricting Bill of 1870, and its Implications in Indiana, the Northern Confederation, and the Southern Confederation, with a Note on Vandalia" from The Journal of Politics, 12 January 1970; and Philip Bullard's "New Perspectives on North American Economic Growth During the Rocky Mountain War" from the London Economics Review, Vol. XXVII (June, 1970).

This is the Featured Article for the week of 23 March 2014.

C.N.A. Historical Eras
American CrisisNorth American RebellionFour ViceroysBritannic DesignDickinson EraTrans-Oceanic WarEra of Harmonious RelationsCrisis YearsRocky Mountain WarEra of Faceless MenAge of RenewalBloody EightiesCreative NationalismStarkist TerrorYears of the PygmiesMalaise YearsDiffusion EraGlobal WarNew DayWar Without War