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CALDWELL, THOMAS WAKEM, lumberer, farmer, agricultural activist, politician, travelling salesman, and insurance agent; b. 2 May 1867 in Lower Greenfield, N.B., son of Andrew Cunningham Caldwell and Margaret Fulton Wakem; m. first 7 April 1892 Anna (Annie) Henrietta Frances Abeldt (1871–1928) in Menominee, Mich., and they had four sons and one daughter; m. secondly 4 Sept. 1929 Mallissa Mae Clements (1875–1954), widow of Harry Herbert Francisco and Henry Halladay, in Ottawa; they had no children; d. 16 March 1937 in Ottawa and was buried in Florenceville (Florenceville-Bristol), N.B.
Named for Thomas Wakem, his maternal grandfather, T. W. Caldwell came from generations of farmers on both sides of his family. Little is known about his early life, other than that as a young man he emigrated to the United States, where he remained for approximately 12 years. He settled in the lumber town of Menominee, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and while working there he met and married Anna (Annie) Abeldt, a German immigrant. By March 1895 he had returned with his wife and infant son to his native Carleton County, N.B., where he became a successful farmer in East Florenceville (Florenceville-Bristol).
Caldwell was a proponent of organizing farmers to take collective action that would promote their interests [see Edward Alexander Partridge]. To some extent this tendency towards involvement in public issues was bred in the bone, his father having represented his parish on the county’s municipal council for 22 years. In May 1918 Caldwell was made president of the newly founded United Farmers of New Brunswick (UFNB); he would remain in the position until at least 1923. At first he did not favour direct political action by the farmers, whose movement in the Maritimes was strongest in his home province, but he gradually came to believe that its agenda could not be advanced otherwise. During World War I Caldwell (whose two eldest sons, Edward Andrew and Paul Wilmot, both enlisted for active service overseas) was probably a Unionist Liberal; in February 1919 the federal government of Sir Robert Laird Borden appointed him chair of the agricultural qualification committee of the Soldier Settlement Board in the province, as well as a member of its loan committee. He remained in that post until September, when federal politics beckoned.
Caldwell’s opportunity to run for office came suddenly that August, when Frank Broadstreet Carvell*, the Unionist mp for Victoria and Carleton, resigned. Caldwell stood in the resulting by-election for the United Farmers, who had adopted an 11-point political platform the previous March. Borden was determined to retain the seat, which Carvell, a former Liberal and the province’s representative in cabinet, had taken by acclamation in 1917. Indeed, the prime minister dispatched three cabinet ministers to the riding: Arthur Meighen* and Gideon Decker Robertson campaigned on behalf of Weldon Wilbur Melville, a returned veteran, while Pierre-Édouard Blondin* attended to organizing, especially among the large francophone population of Victoria County. It was all to no avail: on 27 Oct. 1919 Caldwell’s margin of victory was 3,544 votes. Historian William Lewis Morton* takes the view that his triumph was due to the Liberals not having fielded a candidate, a step that the party took deliberately to avoid splitting the left-wing vote and risking the return of the Unionist candidate.
As a United Farmer mp, Caldwell was among the first to join the agrarian caucus that coalesced around Thomas Alexander Crerar*, a Unionist from Manitoba. He had resigned as minister of agriculture in June 1919 and crossed the floor of the House of Commons over the issue of high protective tariffs, which hurt farmers as much as Crerar believed free trade with the United States would help them. In 1920 Caldwell took part in founding the Progressive Party, of which Crerar became de facto leader, and he was among the 65 Progressive mps returned in the general election of 6 Dec. 1921. Caldwell was the only Progressive candidate east of Ontario to be elected, aided by the decided advantage of being a popular incumbent whose first allegiance was seen to be to the farmers’ movement. In November 1922 he chaired the Progressives’ conference in Winnipeg, at which Crerar, frustrated by the unwillingness of his mps to accept the need for party discipline in the house, resigned as parliamentary leader. Caldwell was named to a committee meant to serve as the party’s national executive body, but most members preferred the principle of autonomy for the local constituencies.
By the mid 1920s the UFNB was in terminal decline and the Progressives were in disarray. In the federal election of 29 Oct. 1925 the party lost well over half the seats won four years earlier, and Caldwell himself was among the casualties. Standing as an Independent Liberal Progressive, the only incumbent to do so, he had the misfortune of being opposed by James Kidd Flemming*, the former Conservative premier of New Brunswick. In spite of his past – he had resigned from office in disgrace in 1914 – Flemming was a local hero, and he won the seat by 1,901 votes. Unlike Crerar and his successor as the party’s parliamentary leader, Robert Forke, Caldwell did not return to the Liberal Party, which absorbed many Progressives, nor did he stand for office again. He had lost his stomach for politics.
Caldwell went back to Carleton County and to the farmers’ movement, serving as a director and member of the executive committee of the Farmer’s Co-operative Company of New Brunswick. Annie died in 1928 and shortly afterwards Caldwell moved to Ottawa, where he remarried and worked as a commercial traveller and insurance agent. After failing health obliged him to retire, he helped his new wife, Mallissa Mae Halladay, keep her boarding house on Metcalfe Street. In 1932 Caldwell was part of a delegation that travelled to England to protest a British embargo on Canadian potatoes. When he died suddenly of heart failure on 16 March 1937, old political friends and allies such as Agnes Campbell Macphail* and Joseph-Enoil Michaud* paid their respects.
A somewhat reluctant politician, T. W. Caldwell viewed partisan politics as a necessary evil. He was a pragmatic idealist who believed that the Progressives would be more effective as a national political party than as a regionally based agrarian protest movement. For him the party was, or should have been, the voice of all farmers whose interests were not being adequately addressed by either of the old mainstream parties. Though a limited success as a politician, Caldwell was undoubtedly a major figure in both the United Farmers and the Progressive Party. The UFNB executive was seen as too left-wing by many New Brunswick farmers, however, and Caldwell was squeezed out of politics when his supporters hearkened en masse to a discredited voice from the past.