Borden was a self-made man. After a brief formal education, he spent 5 years teaching at private academies in Nova Scotia and New Jersey. Returning to NS in 1874 to article in law, he was admitted to the bar in 1878 and by 1890 headed a prestigious Halifax law firm. He was elected to Parliament in 1896 and in 1901 was selected by the Conservative caucus to succeed Sir Charles TUPPER as leader of the Liberal-Conservative Party. Over the next decade he worked to rebuild the CONSERVATIVE PARTY and establish a reform policy (the Halifax Platform of 1907).
In 1911 he led the opposition to the Reciprocity Agreement negotiated by Sir Wilfrid LAURIER's government with the US and forced a general election. By skilful political management Borden brought together a coalition of anti-Laurier groups (Liberal businessmen opposed to RECIPROCITY, French Canadian Nationalistes opposed to the Naval Service Act, Conservative provincial administrations and his own parliamentary party) which defeated the Liberal Party.
Borden's leadership during WWI was remarkable. At home, his wartime government was responsible for the Emergency WAR MEASURES ACT (1914), the first measures of direct taxation by the Ottawa government (the Wartime Business Profits Tax, 1916, and the "temporary" Income Tax, 1917), the nationalization of the Canadian Northern Railway as the first step in the creation of the CNR and, after the collapse of the voluntary recruiting system, the Military Service Act, 1917. Conscription was accompanied by the creation of a UNION GOVERNMENT of pro-conscriptionist Conservatives and Liberals which won the bitterly contested general election of 1917.
Overseas, the Canadian Expeditionary Force grew from one division to a full Canadian Corps commanded after 1917 by a Canadian, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur William CURRIE. Borden believed that the distinguished record of the CEF at Ypres, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele and in the final 100 days was the ultimate proof of the maturity of Canadian nationhood.
Principal author of Resolution IX of the Imperial War Conference of 1917, he argued that Canada and the other dominions deserved recognition "as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth." As leader of the Canadian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he was primarily responsible for international recognition of the autonomous status of the Dominions.
Borden retired as PM in 1920. In his last years he was recognized as an international statesman and firm advocate of the League of Nations. He pursued a successful career in business and served as chancellor of Queen's 1924-30.
Author ROBERT CRAIG BROWN
H. Borden, ed, Robert Laird Borden: His Memoirs (1938) and Letters to Limbo (1971); R. Borden, Canadian Constitutional Studies (1922) and Canada in the Commonwealth (1929); R. Craig Brown, Robert Laird Borden, 2 vols (1975, 1980).
Links to Other Sites
First Among Equals
Learn about the private lives and political careers of Canada’s Prime Ministers. Includes biographies, speeches, and other historical documents. A Library and Archives Canada website.
Grave Sites of Canadian Prime Ministers
Check this site for photos and information about specific grave sites of former Prime Ministers of Canada. From the website for the National Program for the Grave Sites of Canadian Prime Ministers.
Sir Robert Laird Borden
This biography of Sir Robert Laird Borden includes interesting details about Canada's role in the First World War and related issues. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Canada’s National Army, Canada’s National Interest 1918, 2008
This paper offers some comparisons between decisions taken by Prime Minister Sir Robert Laird Borden and Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie in the last years of the First World War and contemporary foreign and defence policy in the era of Prime Minister Harper and General Hillier. From the "Journal of Military and Strategic Studies".
Canada and the peace
View a digitized copy of "Canada and the peace," a speech on the Treaty of peace, delivered by Prime Minister Robert Borden in the House of Commons on Tuesday, September 2, 1919. From the "Internet Archive" website.
1914 - 1921: The Crucible of War
A brief history of Canada's role on the world stage during peace and wartime from the website for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Scroll down the page for historical notes and photographs of major events.
Sir Samuel Hughes
A biography of Sir Samuel Hughes, teacher, militia officer, newspaper proprietor, and politician. Offers interesting details about government policies concerning Canada's involvement in the First World War. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.