Canadian Political Assassination: Thomas D’Arcy McGee, 1868

February 4, 2008

thomasdarcymcgee_pubdomain.jpgThomas D’Arcy McGee, Member of the Canadian Parliament, was attending a late night session of the House of Commons on April 7, 1868. D’Arcy, as he was more commonly known, had just finished delivering a passionate speech to the House on national unity.

McGee was walking home to his rooming house on Sparks Street in the capital, Ottawa, after his speech. His thoughts were on leaving politics and returning to public life. He had told his friends of his plans. Tired, McGee was looking forward to turning in for the night. It had been a long day. (Above: Thomas D’Arcy McGee)

mcgee_assasin_gun.jpgHe put his hand on the doorknob and was just entering his refuge, when someone shot him point-blank from behind. Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Canadian patriot, died instantly. He became the victim of the first Canadian political assassination.

(Above, right: The murder weapon)

Thomas was born April 13, 1825 in Carlingford, Ireland. In 1842 the family left Ireland and arrived in Boston where he joined the staff of the Boston Pilot. Within two years he was the editor and began supporting Irish independence from Britain. He worked to protect the rights of Irish immigrants to America., and also supported American annexation of the British Colony of Canada.

After a stint back in Ireland, he moved to Montreal, Canada in 1857 at the request of the large Irish community in that city. There he became the editor of the New Era which promoted independence for Canada from Britain. He no longer supported American annexation of Canada.

He became one of the father’s of Canada’s Conferation and a hated enemy of the Fenian’s. This was a group of radical Irish republicans who were against an independent Canada. With his strong support of Canadian nationalism he alienated large sections of the Irish community in Canada and elsewhere.

patrickwhelan_assassin_pubdomain.jpgPatrick James Whelan was arrested for McGee’s murder and it was widely believed that McGee was killed as part of a Fenian plot. Whelan was convicted and hanged for McGee’s assassination. However, during the trial the prosecution never accused Whelan of being a Fenian, nor did Whelan acknowledge being connected to the group. (Right: The accused assassin Whelan)

Today many historians believe Whelan was wrongfully convicted. The government needed a scapegoat and Whelan fit the bill. The evidence against him was sketchy and he denied his guilt all the way to the gallows.

Further Reading:
“The Trial of Patrick J. Whelan for the Murder of Thomas McGee.” reported by George Spaight for the Ottawa Times, 1868.

“The Honorable Thos. D’Arcy McGee: a sketch of his life and death.” by Fennings Taylor, Montreal, John Lovell, 1868

Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (

A History of the Irish Settlers in North American from the Earliest Period to the Census of 1850 (

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