1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/McGee, Thomas D'Arcy
McGEE, THOMAS D'ARCY (1825-1868), Irish-Canadian politician and writer, second son of James McGee, a coast-guard, was born at Carlingford, Co. Louth, on the 13th of April 1825. He early showed a remarkable aptitude for oratory. At the age of thirteen he delivered a speech at Wexford, and when four years later he emigrated to America he quickly gained a reputation as a writer and public speaker in the city of Boston. He thus attracted the attention of O'Connell, and before he was twenty years of age he returned to London to become parliamentary correspondent of the Freeman's Journal, and shortly afterwards London correspondent of the Nation, to which he also contributed a number of poems. He married in 1847 Mary Theresa Caffry, by whom he had two children. In 1846 he became one of the moving spirits in the “Young Ireland” party, and in promoting the objects of that organization he contributed two volumes to the “Library of Ireland.” On the failure of the movement in 1848 McGee escaped in the disguise of a priest to the United States, where between 1848 and 1853 he established two newspapers, the New York Nation and the American Celt. His writings at first were exceedingly bitter and anti-English; but as years passed he realized that a greater measure of political freedom was possible under the British constitution than under the American. He had now become well-known as an author, and as a lecturer of unusual ability. In 1857 McGee, driven from the United States by the scurrilous attacks of the extreme Irish revolutionaries, took up his abode in Canada, and was admitted to the bar of the province of Lower Canada in 1861. At the general election in 1858 he was returned to parliament as the member for Montreal, and for four years he was regarded as a powerful factor in the house. On the formation of the Sandfield-Macdonald-Sicotte administration in 1862 he accepted the office of president of the council. When the cabinet was reconstructed a year later the Irish were left without representation, and McGee sought re-election as a member of the opposite party. In 1864 he was appointed minister of agriculture in the administration of Sir E. P. Tache, and he served the country in that capacity until his death. He actively supported the policy of federation and was elected a member of the first Dominion parliament in 1867. On the 7th of April 1868, after having delivered a notable speech in the house, he was shot by an assassin as he was about to enter his house at Ottawa. His utterances against the Fenian invasion are believed to have been the cause of the crime for which P. J. Whelan was executed. McGee's loss was keenly felt by all classes, and within a few weeks of his death parliament granted an annuity to his widow and children. McGee had great faith in the future of Canada as a part of the empire. Speaking at St John, N.B., in 1863, he said: “There are before the public men of British America at this moment but two courses: either to drift with the tide of democracy, or to seize the golden moment and fix for ever the monarchical character of our institutions. I invite every fellow colonist who agrees with me to unite our efforts that we may give our province the aspect of an empire, in order to exercise the influence abroad and at home of a state, and to originate a history which the world will not willingly let die.” Sir Charles Gavan Duffy considered that as a poet McGee was not inferior to Davis, and that as an orator he possessed powers rarer than those of T. F Meagher.
McGee's principal works are: A Popular History of Ireland (2 vols., New York, 1862; I vol., London, 1869); Irish Writers of the Seventeenth Century (Dublin, 1846); Historical Sketches of O'Connell and his Friends (Boston, 1844); Memoirs of the Life and Conquests of Art McMurrogh, King of Leinster (Dublin, 1847); Memoir of C. G. Duffy (Dublin, 1849); A History of the Irish Settlers in North America (Boston, 1851); History of the Attempts to establish the Protestant Reformation in Ireland (Boston, 1853); Life of Edward Maginn, Coadjutor Bishop of Derry (New York, 1857); Catholic History of North America (Boston, 1854); Canadian Ballads and Occasional Pieces (New York, 1858); Notes on Federal Governments Past and Present (Montreal, 1865); Speeches and Addresses, chiefly on the Subject of the British American Union (London, 1865); Poems, edited by Mrs M. A. Sadleir with introductory memoir (New York, 1869). See Fennings Taylor, The Hon. Thomas D'Arcy McGee (Montreal, 1867); J. K. Foran, Thomas D'Arcy McGee as an Empire Builder (Ottawa, 1904); H. J. O'C. French, A Sketch of the Life of the Hon. T. D. McGee (Montreal); Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, iv. 116; N. F. Dvin's Irishman in Canada (1887); C. G. Duffy, Four Years of Irish History (1883); Alfred Webb, Compendium of Irish Biography (Dublin, 1878).
(A. G. D.)