Edward Barron Chandler was a prominent figure in New Brunswick politics prior to Confederation, serving as the government leader from 1843 to 1854, during which responsible government was introduced and developed. As a Father of Confederation, he participated in the conferences at Charlottetown, Québec, and London.
Elected to represent Westmorland County in the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly in June 1827, Chandler quickly rose to prominence despite his youth. He was seen as a representative of the Loyalist establishment, but also earned a reputation as a spokesperson for the people due to his support of Acadian and Catholic rights.
Chandler advocated for increased powers for the elected Assembly, particularly in terms of control over crown lands and revenue, though not at the expense of the colonial establishment’s privileges. Although he cautiously supported moderate democratic reforms out of pragmatism rather than high-minded ideals, he was not an advocate of responsible government at this stage.
In 1836, Chandler was appointed to the Legislative Council, New Brunswick’s unelected upper chamber. In 1843, upon his appointment to the Executive Council, he became the recognized leader of the “compact” government. Historian W. S. MacNutt described Chandler as “shrewd and enterprising but cold and unemotional,” a politician who prioritized reason over idealism in decision-making and encouraged colleagues to compromise.
Chandler was actively involved in negotiations for constructing railways connecting New Brunswick with its neighbors in the early 1850s and was part of the delegation that traveled to Washington in 1854 to negotiate a Reciprocity Treaty with American authorities.
Although New Brunswick did not experience the public demand for reform seen elsewhere in British North America, the British were eager to introduce responsible government (see Rebellions of 1837). In 1848, Lieutenant-Governor Sir Edmund Walker Head retained Chandler as leader of the first New Brunswick administration committed to responsible government principles. To ensure the Executive Council had the confidence of the Assembly, Head and Chandler appointed two prominent reformers, Lemuel Allan Wilmot and Charles Fisher. However, beneath this facade, governance continued much as before.
In 1854, opposition leader Charles Fisher challenged the authority of the “compact” government in the Assembly. In response, Chandler and his Executive Council resigned, becoming the first New Brunswick executive truly responsible to the Assembly.
Still a highly respected member of the upper chamber, Edward Barron Chandler was invited to join the New Brunswick delegation to the Charlottetown Conference in 1864. Although he had never taken a strong stand on the issue, Chandler became convinced that Confederation was inevitable and lobbied for terms favorable to New Brunswick. He argued that Maritime union before Confederation would give the region a stronger negotiating position, but the idea was not popular among his colleagues.
At Québec, on 24 October 1864, Chandler argued for provincial rights, proposing that, except for certain clearly defined powers assigned to the central government, the balance of power should rest with the provincial legislatures. While some delegates were sympathetic, Chandler’s suggestion provoked backlash from many others, including John A. MacDonald, who opposed weakening federal authority, arguing that excessive devolution of power to local governments in the United States had resulted in the Civil War.
In 1865, after Samuel Leonard Tilley‘s government was defeated by Albert James Smith’s anti-Confederation coalition, Chandler used his position in the unelected chamber to continue campaigning for Confederation and to undermine Smith’s appeal. When Tilley returned to office after the 1866 election, Chandler was among the delegates who traveled to London to finalize the terms of Confederation.
Edward Barron Chandler was appointed to the Senate on October 23, 1867, but declined the position the next day. In 1868, he was appointed as one of the commissioners overseeing the construction of the Intercolonial Railway from Nova Scotia to Québec, a role he held until 1878. Chandler then accepted an appointment as Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick in 1878, serving in this capacity until his passing on February 6, 1880.
With nearly six decades of continuous public service, Edward Barron Chandler was strongly associated with the “compact.” Although he displayed a cautious approach to moderate democratic reforms, it was driven more by pragmatism than by lofty ideals. After effectively leading the New Brunswick government for over a decade, his resignation in 1854 solidified the establishment of responsible government in the province. Chandler participated in the Confederation debates with the goal of securing favorable terms for New Brunswick.
Edward Barron Chandler lived in the Village of Dorchester in a home built for him in about 1831.
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