George Eulas Foster

Biography of George Eulas Foster

Sir George Eulas Foster, (Canadian) PC, (Imperial) PC, GCMG (September 3, 1847 – December 30, 1931) was a Canadian politician and academic. He coined the phrase "splendid isolation" to describe British foreign policy in the late 19th century.

Born in Carleton County, New Brunswick, Foster received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of New Brunswick in 1868. He taught in various high schools and seminaries until 1870 when he was appointed Professor of Classics and Ancient Literature in the University of New Brunswick. He shortly afterwards studied in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Heidelberg, Germany, resuming his former studies in 1873. He resigned in 1879.

Foster entered politics with his election to the Canadian House of Commons in the 1882 federal election as a Conservative Member of Parliament (M.P.) representing New Brunswick. He joined the Cabinet of Sir John A. Macdonald as Minister of Marine and Fisheries in 1885, and was promoted to Minister of Finance in 1888. Foster retained this position after Macdonald's death and through the successive governments of Prime Ministers Abbott, Thompson, Bowell and Tupper. He led a group of seven cabinet ministers who resigned temporarily in January 1896 to force the retirement of Bowell, who denounced them as a 'nest of traitors'. Foster's debates with Sir Richard Cartwright, the former Liberal Minister of Finance under Prime Minister Mackenzie, are the stuff of Canadian Parliamentary legend.

With the defeat of the Tories in the 1896 election, Foster retained his seat and joined the Opposition. He was a prominent supporter of Canada's involvement in the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1901. He lost his seat in the 1900 election but returned to parliament in 1904, this time representing the riding of Toronto North in Ontario. He remained an Opposition M.P. until his party returned to government in the 1911 federal election under Robert Borden and he continued in the government under Arthur Meighen.

During his final years in cabinet, Foster served as Minister of Trade and Commerce, and received a knighthood (K.C.M.G.) in 1914 for his work in the Royal Commission on Imperial Trade; he was named to the Imperial Privy Council in 1916, and elevated to G.C.M.G. in 1918. He served as a Canadian delegate to the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference. He was acting Prime Minister in 1920, when Borden was absent due to ill health. From 1920 to 1921, he was chairman of the Canadian delegation to the first assembly of the League of Nations. In 1921, he was appointed to the Canadian Senate, in which he served until his death.

Foster was an M.P. and a Senator in the Canadian Parliament for a total of 45 years, 5 months and 24 days. He enjoys the unique distinction of having served in the cabinets of seven Canadian Prime Ministers: Macdonald, Abbott, Thompson, Bowell, Tupper, Borden and Meighen. Aside from his coldly severe and lugubrious personality, two factors thwarted whatever ambitions he may have had to become Prime Minister himself, namely the curious circumstances of his first marriage in the United States to his previously-married housekeeper, and his later involvement in a trust company scandal.

He and his second wife are buried in Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery, near the grave of Sir Cecil Spring-Rice.

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