Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Terry Copp

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This thesis is a study of one aspect of the public career of James Layton Ralston (1881-1948), soldier, lawyer, politician and Minister of National Defense 1940-1944. Ralston was a man known to all Canadians during the Second World War, but after his forced resignation from the Cabinet in the fall of 1944 he ceased to play a prominent public role and war largely forgotten. Historians, working within the traditional framework of Liberal-national unity historiography, have been content to stereotype Ralston as an Empire-minded conscriptionist whose policies threatened national unity. No biography of this major Canadian politician has been written and no scholarly article seriously examining Ralston’s policies has appeared. Although this thesis was originally intended to examine Ralston’s full term as Minister of National Defence, the complexity of the issues involved and the comprehensive nature of the primary source material necessitated a reduction in the scope of the paper. It was therefore decided that this study of Ralston would be confined to a detailed examination of the period from Ralston’s appointment to the Cabinet to the conscription crisis of 1942 which led to Ralston’s letter of resignation from the Cabinet. In addition, it was decided to retain a biographical chapter on Ralston’s formative years including material on his experiences in the First World War which are of vital importance in understanding basic values. Ralston’s letter of resignation, not to be accepted by the Prime Minister until the second conscription crisis of 1944, serves as an event which allows the author to reach some interim conclusions about Ralston’s role in the wartime administration of Canada.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season