Private Demons

The Tragic Personal Life of John A. Macdonald

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
The first book to expose the turbulent personal life of this fascinating Father of Confederation.

Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald once remarked, “I had no boyhood,” an understatement if there ever was one. Indeed, John A.’s Dickensian childhood, filled with poverty, alcoholism, and the beating death of his five-year-old brother at the hands of a drunken babysitter (a friend of his father, Hugh’s), set the stage for a political power grab that has seen no equal in Canadian history.

In Private Demons, bestselling author Patricia Phenix explores through Macdonald’s family journals, diaries, and never-before-seen letters the troubled man behind Canada’s most successful politician. Phenix describes a man of myriad contradictions: patient, yet prone to settle fights with his fists; ethical, yet capable of pilfering corporate profits to pay private debts; shy, yet wildly flirtatious; sociable, yet so desirous of solitude he built escape hatches into the walls of his homes. She also examines reports that Macdonald’s depression became so deep that he once attempted suicide. Ultimately, in an obsessive need to escape his childhood demons, he sacrificed friends, family members, and financial security to achieve his single greatest ambition — to design and control the destiny of Canada.

Private Demons paints a vivid portrait of nineteenth-century society while exploring the amazingly tumultuous domestic life of our most famous prime minister.

From the Hardcover edition.



In a melancholic mood one evening, an elderly Prime Minister John A. Macdonald revealed to his private secretary, Sir Joseph Pope, a shocking secret. At the age of seven he had witnessed the brutal murder of his five-­year-­old brother, James Shaw Macdonald, at the...
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Private Demons is a thoroughly titillating and, at times, heartbreaking journey through Sir John’s troubled life.”
Ottawa Citizen

“A rollicking, fast-paced yet exhaustive account. . . . Phenix succeeds in page-turning fashion.”
Regina Leader Post

“A real contribution to Canadian history.”

Praise for Olga Romanov:

“An amazing story, with all the sweep and fullness of fairyland and Fabergé eggs.”
Globe and Mail

“A compelling tale, partly because of our perennial fascination with royals and partly thanks to Ms. Phenix’s graceful style.”
Ottawa Citizen

Praise for Eatonians:

“A fascinating popular history. . . . Patricia Phenix’s accessible history, amply illustrated, brings back much of the retail and social giant — warts and all.”
Hamilton Spectator

“A scrapbook in words, something to hold on to. . . . Reams of fascinating trivia and people fill its pages.”
Winnipeg Free Press