LAIRD, ALEXANDER, farmer, shipbuilder, and politician; b. in 1797, probably in Stirling, Renfrewshire, Scotland; d. 15 April 1873 at New Glasgow, P.E.I.
Alexander Laird immigrated to Prince Edward Island in 1819 as a member of a colonization party organized by William Epps Cormack*, a prosperous landlord in the New Glasgow area. While aboard ship, Laird met Janet Orr, whom he married; they had two daughters and six sons of whom Alexander* and David* were to become prominent public figures. Upon arrival on the Island, Laird bought a farm in New Glasgow where he continued to live for the rest of his life. A progressive farmer, he was a long-time member of the Royal Agricultural Society of Prince Edward Island.
Laird entered politics in 1850 when he successfully contested Queens County, First District, as a running mate of the Reform leader, George Coles. Both men lost their seats in the defeat of the Liberal government in July 1853 but were returned to the assembly in an election in June 1854. Although he was known to hold certain radical views, Laird acted as a loyal Liberal backbencher until the session of 1855 when, with escheators William Cooper and John MacKintosh*, he began to assume an independent position on the land question. Specifically, he opposed the Coles government for purchasing the Worrell estate from William Henry Pope and his associates. Laird felt that the title of the estate should have been investigated in the hope of finding that at one time or another the landowners had failed to fulfil the requirements of the original grant. If they had so failed, the land could then have been escheated or returned to the crown by default rather than purchase.
As the struggle over the use of the Bible in the public schools developed in the late 1850s, Laird became increasingly immune to the discipline of the Liberal caucus. A prominent Presbyterian layman, he was disturbed by the government’s apparent indifference about the place of the scriptures in the schools. By 1858 he had become so disenchanted with his former colleagues that he ran in Queens County, Second District, as a Tory. He was successful and, when the Tories under Edward Palmer* formed an administration in 1859, Laird was named to the Executive Council. Despite the fact that he was dropped from the cabinet in 1863, Laird remained with the Tories until his retirement in 1866. After withdrawing from politics he lived quietly on his farm.
Although Laird began his career as a Reformer and concluded it as a Tory regular, he was widely credited with basic integrity. Unlike other politicians, who were accused of capitalizing on the dispute over the Bible for reasons of political gain, Laird seems to have been sincere in his position.
PAPEI, Prince Edward Island, Executive Council, Minutes, 1857–62. Prince Edward Island, House of Assembly, Debates, 1855, 57–58, 66, 69; 1860, 11; 1861, 25; 1864, 23; Journals, 1850–67. Examiner (Charlottetown), 28 June 1858, 11 April 1859. Islander (Charlottetown), 19 Nov. 1851, 10 Sept. 1858. Patriot (Charlottetown), 17 April 1873. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 23 Feb., 8, 15 March 1852. Can. parl. comp., 1876. Bolger, PEI and confederation. Frank MacKinnon, Government of PEI; “David Laird of Prince Edward Island,” Dal. Rev., XXVI (1946-47), 405–21.