Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott was born on March 12, 1821, in Saint-André-d'Argenteuil, Quebec.
He was a lawyer, professor, businessman, politician, and the 3rd prime minister of Canada. He studied law at McGill University and assisted with the school’s accounting. He was admitted to the bar in 1847 and partnered with a Montreal lawyer William Badgley in 1849. In 1853, he started teaching law at McGill as a lecturer. After receiving his B.C.L. degree in 1854, he became dean of the Faculty of Law in 1855, a title he held until 1880 when he was named emeritus professor. Abbott was made Queen’s Counsel in 1862, received a D.C.L. degree in 1867, and was named to the Board of Governors of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning at McGill in 1881. In his long-standing legal career outside the university, he specialized in commercial law. He held shares and senior positions in a wide variety of companies, e.g., the Merchants’ Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal, Dominion Mineral Co., Intercolonial Coal Mining Co., and the Canada Central Railway. From 1860 to 1867, Abbott represented Argenteuil as a Member of Parliament for the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1867, removed by petition in 1874 following his involvement in the Pacific Scandal, and reelected in 1880. In 1887, he was appointed to the Senate and served as Leader of the Government (1887-1893) and Minister without Portfolio. He also served as Mayor of Montreal (1887-1889). Abbott became the first Canadian-born prime minister on June 15, 1891. Deteriorating health forced him to resign on December 5, 1892. Abbott was president of the Fraser Institute, one of the founders of the Art Association of Montreal, Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the first president of the Board of Governors of the Royal Victoria Hospital. He was named a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1892. The Government of Canada named Abbott a National Historic Person in 1938. John Abbott College, an English-language Montreal-based CEGEP established in 1970, is named in his honour.
In 1849, he married Mary Martha Bethune (1823–1898). He died on October 30, 1893, in Montreal, Quebec.