Richard John Cartwright

Sir Richard John Cartwright GCMG PC (December 4, 1835 September 24, 1912) was a Canadian businessman and politician.

Sir Richard John Cartwright

(Image from the Library of Parliament)
Personal details
Born(1835-12-04)December 4, 1835
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
DiedSeptember 12, 1912(1912-09-12) (aged 76)
Known for'the Rupert of debate' 'Blue Ruin Knight'

Cartwright was one of Canada's most distinguished federal politicians during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a cabinet minister in five Liberal governments. He served in the Canadian Parliament for 43 years and 5 months, being an MP from 1867 to 1904 then a Senator until his death in 1912. Prior to Confederation, he had served 4 years, 1 month and 15 days in the Legislative Assembly of the old Province of Canada. Thus, he was a legislator for more than 47 and a half years. He was a vigorous and trenchant orator, and was known as 'the Rupert of debate'. In particular, his debates with his Conservative counterpart, Sir George Eulas Foster, are the stuff of Canadian Parliamentary legend.

He was a progressive. A free trader he stood against the Conservatives' high-tariff policy. Often propounding on the inalienable right of Canadian freeman to vote for and in support of their patriotic convictions independent of any party.[1] he favoured proportional representation Single Transferable Voting. He was point man in the western farmers' fight for accessible terminal grain elevators in 1910.[2]

Early life

He was born and raised in Kingston, Ontario in a United Empire Loyalist family, the son of Harriet Dobbs Cartwright and the grandson of Richard Cartwright. He was a major landowner in the area, and became prominent in Kingston's financial community as president of the Commercial Bank of Canada. He suffered a major blow when his bank failed in 1867.[3]

Early political career

Cartwright entered politics when he was elected as a Conservative Party member and supporter of John A. Macdonald in the Province of Canada's legislative assembly in 1863. In 1867, the Province of Canada became part of the new Canadian Confederation. Cartwright was elected to the newly formed House of Commons of Canada, again as a Tory.

Crosses floor to join Liberals

In the year 1869, he broke with the Conservatives over Macdonald's appointment of Sir Francis Hincks as Minister of Finance, and crossed the floor to join the Liberal Party of Canada.

Cabinet Minister for Mackenzie

With the Liberal party's victory in the 1874 election, Cartwright was appointed Minister of Finance by Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie. He supported free trade, but sought limited tariffs as a means of generating government revenue.


Cartwright returned to the opposition bench when the Liberals were defeated in the 1878 election. In recognition of his service, he was awarded a knighthood in 1879. From the 1887 election, he represented the riding of Oxford South.

In 1887, he called for the House of Commons to consider proportional representation. [4]

In the 1890s, the Liberals moved away from support for unrestricted reciprocity with the United States, and Cartwright's influence in the party diminished.

Cabinet Minister for Laurier

With the victory of Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals in the 1896 election, Cartwright returned to Cabinet. Laurier denied Cartwright the finance ministry as a way of assuring Canada's business community that the government was not going to adopt free trade. Instead, he appointed Cartwright Minister of Trade and Commerce. Cartwright also served as a Canadian member of the Anglo-American Joint High Commission to resolve diplomatic problems between Canada and the United States in 1898. Cartwright was appointed to the Imperial Privy Council in 1902.


In 1904, he was elevated to the Senate of Canada, but remained Trade and Commerce minister until the fall of the Laurier government in the 1911 election. In this position he introduced, in 1908, a limited system of old age annuities. Additionally, he served as Leader of the Government in the Senate from 1909 until 1911, and as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1911 until his death in 1912.


In the Kingston, Ontario, area, Cartwright Street and Cartwright Point are named for him and his family, in recognition of their longstanding contributions to the region. He is honoured with commemorative plaques in Kingston on King Street (at his former residence) and in Memorial Hall, City Hall.

His memories were preserved in his book Reminiscences, published in 1912.


Sir Richard Cartwright's eldest son, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cartwright, studied at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario from 1878 to 1881, where he won several academic prizes. He was a railway engineer in Manitoba. He served in the 1885 campaign and in South Africa, where he was mentioned in dispatches four times. He served as assistant adjutant-general at militia headquarters and as a musketry officer during World War I.[5]


  1. Edmonton Bulletin, Oct. 26, 1900
  2. Grain Growers Guide Jan. 25, 1911
  3. Cecilia Morgan and Robert Craig Brown. "CARTWRIGHT, Sir RICHARD JOHN". University of Toronto/Université Laval. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
  4. Cartwright, Reminiscences, p. 384
  5. Richard Preston RMC: A History of the Royal Military College


Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
Member of Parliament for Lennox
Succeeded by
Edmund John Glyn Hooper
Preceded by
Horace Horton
Member of Parliament for Huron Centre
Succeeded by
The electoral district was abolished in 1882.
Preceded by
John McMillan
Member of Parliament for Huron South
Succeeded by
John McMillan
Preceded by
Archibald Harley
Member of Parliament for Oxford South
Succeeded by
Malcolm Smith Schell
Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel Tilley
Minister of Finance
November 7, 1873 – October 16, 1878
Succeeded by
Samuel Tilley
Preceded by
William Bullock Ives
Minister of Trade and Commerce
Succeeded by
George Eulas Foster
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Richard William Scott
Leader of the Government in the Senate of Canada
Succeeded by
Sir James Alexander Lougheed
Preceded by
James Alexander Lougheed
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate of Canada
Succeeded by
George William Ross
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