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LAVIOLETTE, PIERRE – Volume VIII (1851-1860)

b. 4 March 1794 in Boucherville, Lower Canada


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


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CHANDLER, EDWARD BARRON, lawyer, judge, politician, and administrator; b. 22 Aug. 1800 in Amherst, N.S., son of Charles Henry Chandler and Elizabeth Rice; d. 6 Feb. 1880 in Fredericton, N.B.

Edward Barron Chandler’s grandfather, Colonel Joshua Chandler, had been a member of the Connecticut legislature and a relatively wealthy man before joining the loyalist ranks and settling in Nova Scotia in 1783. One of Joshua Chandler’s sons, Samuel, took an active part in the public life of Nova Scotia; two of his daughters married into influential New Brunswick families: Mary married Joshua Upham*, a puisne judge of the Supreme Court and an early member of the Legislative and Executive councils of New Brunswick, and Sarah married Amos Botsford*, first speaker of the New Brunswick assembly. Edward Barron Chandler claimed that he had experienced hardships in his youth; but even if this were the case, his wealth of proper family connections was to prove compensation for any loss of family fortunes.

Chandler’s father was sheriff of Cumberland County, N.S., and he was brought up and educated in Amherst. Later he studied law with his cousin, William Botsford*, at Westcock, near Sackville, N.B., wrote bar admission examinations in Nova Scotia in 1821, and was admitted to the bar of New Brunswick in 1823. In the same year he was appointed judge of probate and clerk of the peace for Westmorland County, N.B., positions which he held until 1862. Chandler resided at Dorchester and within a few years had built his family residence, Rocklyn, a “home of lavish hospitality even for a Colonial magnate.” His law practice and judicial appointments must have been lucrative for Chandler was soon thought to be a man of considerable wealth. In 1822 he had married Phoebe Millidge, a descendant of the Botsfords; they had 11 children, seven of whom lived to maturity.

Chandler’s long association with New Brunswick politics began when he was elected to the House of Assembly in 1827 to represent the county of Westmorland. From his first session in the assembly in 1828, he took an active part in deliberations and, despite his youth, he was soon regarded as one of the leading members of that body. The first issue in which he became involved concerned the control of crown lands and the disposition of the customs revenue in the province. Both were directed by personnel appointed by the Colonial Office, which administered all revenues. To Chandler this arrangement denied the people of the province one of their basic freedoms. During his first year in the assembly he sat on a committee to consider these problems, and in 1833 he and Charles Simonds* went to London as a committee on grievances in an attempt to solve the conflict. The delegation nearly realized its objectives and Chandler gained a great reputation as a champion of the people. He later advocated the granting of a permanent civil list in return for complete control of the casual revenues by the assembly – a step which was taken in 1837.

While he sat in the assembly, Chandler continued to play the role of the tribune, becoming involved in such questions as the quitrents, Catholic emancipation, the rights of the Acadian population, school administration, the revision of provincial laws, and immigration. In all of these issues he adopted a progressive and enlightened attitude to problems and continually pleaded with his colleagues for a rational, calm, and dispassionate approach. During the 1830s, for example, Chandler warmly supported measures which would exempt Acadians from being taxed for poor relief since they cared for their own poor. In addition Chandler argued in favour of a grant for an Acadian school in Kent County to be administered by the Roman Catholic bishop. As might be expected, such a proposal was bitterly opposed by some members of the assembly. In giving the measure his continued support, Chandler displayed a keen insight into the way of life of the Acadian people. Because of their “peculiar habits and manners,” he acknowledged that the French could not send their children to the public schools. It would be in vain, he said, for legislation to endeavour to assimilate them with other groups.

An advocacy of this kind gained for him the reputation of a moderate reformer, although such labels must be read carefully in the context of New Brunswick politics of that period. It would be a mistake, for instance, to compare his role with that played by the principal reformers in the other provinces. The casual revenues–civil list issue illustrates perhaps better than any other Chandler’s theory of government. In his view, democracy would be served when complete control of the provincial revenues was turned over to the assembly, with the important qualification that the initiation of money bills be left with individual members of that body. He felt strongly that the power of the people’s representatives should not be diminished by placing this all-important responsibility with the executive which, in New Brunswick, the assembly could not remove by a want-of-confidence motion. He consistently opposed, during this early period, the principle of party government and cabinet responsibility. Thus, although he was a moderate and responsible representative of the people, and although he advocated a basic form of democracy, he clearly did not accept responsible government in the sense in which it was advocated by Joseph Howe and the Canadian reformers.

Despite his interest in the affairs of the assembly, Chandler aspired to higher things and in 1834, at the age of 34, he applied directly to the Colonial Office for a position on the bench of the Supreme Court of New Brunswick. The application was not successful, but in 1836 he was appointed to the Legislative Council where he remained until 1878. In the upper house, Chandler, despite his youth, played the part of an elder statesman. Whether by accident or design, his appointment came just as the casual revenues–civil list bill was being debated, and he took a strong stand in favour of the measure. He was opposed by men with obvious vested interests such as Thomas Baillie* and Joseph Cunard*, but the bill eventually passed by a vote of eight to five. Chandler’s presence seems to have had a levelling influence on the council whose members were traditionally supporters of the status quo.

In 1843 Chandler joined the Executive Council of Sir William Colebrooke* and, with one brief interruption, remained the acknowledged leader of the “compact” government until 1854. In this position of power he was able to impose his version of responsible government on the province. In November 1846 and March 1847 Lord Grey [Henry George Grey] made his attitudes on colonial government clear. The essence of his policy was that the government of the provinces must not be carried on in opposition to the wishes of the people, and that there should be no obstacle placed in the way of a responsible cabinet system. By 1848 the actual colonial administration of British North America was changing, and Chandler was aware of these events. But such radical change did not seem to be practical given the situation in New Brunswick. With no municipal government and with the assembly’s control of public moneys, the members commanded the powerful tool of patronage, and were not anxious for change. In effect this was a rather benevolent patriarchal form of government in which the great power of the Legislative and Executive Councils was balanced by the assembly’s power over funds. Such a system allowed the members of the “compact” to control major government policy, while leaving to individual members in the assembly the care of matters of purely local interest. Change was counselled from without, but there was no broadly based demand for it within the province.

Into this climate in 1848 came a new lieutenant governor, Sir Edmund Head*, determined to carry out the instructions of Lord Grey. It is significant that the man he chose to lead his government was Edward Barron Chandler. By this time Chandler was publicly supporting the principle of responsible government, and he did make a sincere effort to choose as executive councillors members of the assembly who could be said to enjoy the confidence, if not the active support, of the majority of the elected members. The new government contained an interesting mixture of old “compact” hold-overs, “conservative” members, and two of the most prominent reformers – Lemuel Allan Wilmot and Charles Fisher. It represented the best of the talent available, enjoyed the confidence of the assembly, and was heralded as a “responsible” administration. Beneath the surface, however, little had changed; during the six years in which this government remained in power, the administration of the province was carried on much as it had been in the past. Members of the assembly sacrificed little for they retained the right to initiate money bills and they were not subject to party discipline of any kind. In all of this Chandler emerges as the eternal pragmatist.

During the years when Chandler led the government, New Brunswick was caught up in the great era of railway building, and Chandler became a leading advocate of an improved system of transportation within the province and with its neighbours. Of immediate interest was a line which would connect the east coast of the province with the port of Saint John and the western counties. The proposal had been studied in the late 1840s and in 1850 it received a boost when railway promoters in Maine expressed an interest in tying in to a New Brunswick–Nova Scotia system [see John Poor]. In the summer of that year Chandler and several other legislators from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia attended a great railway convention in Portland, Maine [see J. W. Johnston and Howe]. It was at this meeting that the foundation was laid for the European and North American Railway Company.

At the same time discussions were carried on concerning a railway between Halifax and Quebec running through New Brunswick, but Chandler and his colleagues were sceptical about that scheme. In the first place, this line was being proposed primarily for military and political rather than economic reasons. Secondly, the British government, which would have to bear the brunt of the financing, supported the Intercolonial route, along the east coast and north shore of the province, whereas the majority of influential New Brunswickers favoured a Saint John River valley route. Nevertheless, in 1851 Chandler and Joseph Howe went to Toronto to meet the members of the Canadian legislature, and there they agreed in principle to build the railway. Early in 1852 a delegation of Canadians headed by Francis Hincks* met with Chandler in Fredericton and later, accompanied by Chandler, went on to Halifax to meet with Howe. In these meetings they agreed upon the Saint John valley route and discussed the financial arrangements, taking for granted that the British government would assume its share. They were greatly disappointed, however, when a delegation headed by Hincks and Chandler met the colonial secretary in London in the spring of 1852 and were informed that the British would give no financial support to a line running through the Saint John valley because such a route would not give the military advantages of a coastal railroad.

Chandler was disappointed to see his plans dashed by a stubborn British government, but he stayed on in England in an attempt to salvage something. As far as the New Brunswickers were concerned, the essential part of the scheme was a line to the American frontier, and before returning home Chandler negotiated with the firm of Peto, Brassey, Betts, Jackson, and Company for its construction. Negotiations were completed and approved by September 1852 and work began the following year. Although it would be many years before adequate railways were built in the province, the era of railway construction had at least commenced, and the man primarily responsible for it was Edward Barron Chandler.

The question of a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States was discussed periodically while Chandler was government leader. Many New Brunswickers, including Saint John businessman John Robertson, Wilmot, and John R. Partelow*, a leading Saint John mla, favoured such a proposal in the 1840s and early 1850s. By 1854 there was a certain scepticism that the province would receive sufficient compensation – free admission to the United States of processed lumber, fish, and other natural products, and, most of all, permission for New Brunswick ships to participate in the American Atlantic coastal trade – for its loss of exclusive rights to the inshore fisheries. During that year Chandler, Francis Hincks, and Lord Elgin [James Bruce*] went to Washington for negotiations, and, as a result, signed the reciprocity treaty of 1854. When Chandler returned home, however, he found considerable opposition to the terms of the treaty being expressed by some of the province’s newspapers. Immediately he and Partelow went to Quebec to confer with Elgin and returned with renewed conviction of the potential value of the treaty. By November they succeeded in having it ratified by the legislature.

An election in 1854 heralded great changes in New Brunswick and marked the end of the most active part of Chandler’s career. A relatively cohesive group of opposition members had formed in the assembly under the liberal banner of Charles Fisher, and early in the session Chandler’s “compact” government was defeated. The government resigned, recognizing for the first time the truly responsible nature of the executive, and the new lieutenant governor, John Henry Thomas Manners-Sutton, called upon Fisher to form a government. Chandler, of course, retained his seat in the Legislative Council; he continued to take an active part in provincial affairs as the most prominent member of the “Dorchester Clique” and as leader of the opposition in the upper house. It was in this capacity that he became intimately involved in the confederation movement.

When the conference on Maritime union was convened in 1864, Chandler was appointed as one of the New Brunswick delegates, and he attended the conference in Charlottetown and further meetings in Halifax and Saint John. He had never taken a strong stand on the issue, and from the outset he adopted a questioning attitude. Thirty-seven years’ experience in the political life of New Brunswick had taught him that Maritime politicians would not act contrary to the dictates of local pride and jealousies, which caused disagreement on such an elementary question as the location of a capital. When the possibility of a broader British North American union was raised, however, Chandler warmly supported it and fought strongly for a preliminary union of the Maritime provinces on the grounds that, as a unit, their position in the wider union would be more powerful. Chandler’s enlightened arguments were not popular, and the cause of Maritime union was forgotten, much to the disgust of the lieutenant governor, Arthur Hamilton Gordon*,

In the fall of 1864, Chandler went as a New Brunswick delegate to the Quebec conference and participated in the drafting of the 72 resolutions. He made ardent representations against John A. Macdonald*’s case for a strong central authority, though he soon recognized that he was fighting a losing battle. Faced with the defeat of his stand on provincial rights, Chandler nevertheless acknowledged the inevitability of confederation and took comfort in the strong Maritime representation in the Senate, which he interpreted as an absolute guarantee that the Upper Canadians would not dominate the new union.

During the following year the confederation scheme encountered great opposition among the electorate in New Brunswick and for a time it appeared that achievement of it might be destroyed, or at least indefinitely postponed. Throughout the war of words waged during 1865 and 1866, Chandler, ignoring new political alignments, remained consistent in his support. He taunted the anti-confederates with statistics on the financial situation in the province and warned of the dire consequences of remaining outside confederation. The position of this respected member of the old establishment was simply another factor which militated against the anti-confederation cause. Albert James Smith* and his followers failed to find a viable alternative to confederation and in June 1866 Samuel Leonard Tilley* and the confederates were returned to office. Later that year Chandler went to London for the conference which was to weld the 72 resolutions into legal form. His opposition to investing the residual power in the central government had not changed but the Canadian delegates were irrevocably committed to the Quebec scheme and would allow no major revisions.

Confederation did not bring an end to Chandler’s public career, despite his advanced age. He was offered a seat in the Senate of Canada, but throughout the confederation debate he had maintained that he was not interested in public office for himself and, true to his word, he declined the appointment. In 1868, however, he was asked to become one of the commissioners appointed to oversee the construction of the Intercolonial Railway and he accepted the position. Ten years later, at the age of 78, he received his final public appointment – as lieutenant governor of New Brunswick, succeeding Tilley.

Edward Barron Chandler’s career in the public life of his province must be unique, if only because of its longevity. Between 1823 and 1880 he held public offices continuously in positions ranging from a county clerk of the peace to lieutenant governor. This long experience and a wealth of family, business, and political connections made him one of the most powerful public figures in New Brunswick in the 30 years preceding confederation. Throughout his career, Chandler does not seem to have been motivated by any overriding political principle. A loyalist and a member of the Church of England, he was always identified with the establishment or the “compact,” and yet he displayed democratic tendencies. He was constantly concerned that the will of the people should be upheld, and he consistently supported the rights of the minority Acadians and Irish Catholics at a time when such advocacy demanded a certain amount of courage. It is in this respect more than any other that Chandler, as a representative of the “compact,” differed from his counterparts in Upper Canada. In spite of these tendencies, however, he was not an innovator. His watchwords were reason and caution. In essence, he was a practical man living in a climate that did not produce, or even gladly suffer, novel political theories.

The fact that his views on the nature of responsible government and the party system prevailed for so long in the province is a commentary on the lack of political sophistication in New Brunswick in the first half of the 19th century. The province either did not produce or did not want a Howe, a Robert Baldwin*, a William Lyon Mackenzie*, or a Louis-Joseph Papineau. Responsible government did come, however, and the fact that it came without bloodshed is to some degree attributable to the stability of Chandler’s leadership.

Michael Swift

N.B. Museum, Hazen family papers, E. B. Chandler to Sir John Harvey, 3 Feb. 1840; W. C. Milner coll., Chandler correspondence; Tilley family papers, correspondence between E. B. Chandler and S. L. Tilley; Ward family papers, John Ward and Sons letter book, 1832–36; Webster coll., Chandler correspondence. PAC, MG 27, I, D15 (Tilley papers), 1864–67. PANB, New Brunswick, Executive Council Draft minutes, 1843–56 (microfilm in PAC, MG 9, A1). PRO, CO 188/54–188/55, 188/84–188/85, 188/94, 188/104–188/106, 188/127. New Brunswick, House of Assembly, Journals, 1828–36; Legislative Council, Journals, 1836–67. Speeches delivered in the Legislative Council, New Brunswick, on confederation and the resignation of the government, and correspondence connected therewith, reporter, Samuel Watts (Fredericton, 1866). Colquhoun, Fathers of confederation. M. O. Hammond, Confederation and its leaders (Toronto, 1917). James Hannay, History of New Brunswick; The life and times of Sir Leonard Tilley: being a political history of New Brunswick for the past seventy years (Saint John, N.B., 1897). Lawrence, Judges of New Brunswick (Stockton). MacNutt, Atlantic provinces; New Brunswick. G. E. Rogers, “The career of Edward Barron Chandler – a study in New Brunswick politics, 1827–1854,” unpublished ma thesis, University of New Brunswick, 1953. Waite, Life and times of confederation. Edward Whelan, The union of the British provinces, intro. D. C. Harvey (Gardenvale, P.Q., and Toronto, 1927). W. M. Whitelaw, The Maritimes and Canada before confederation (Toronto, 1934). A. G. Bailey, “Railways and the confederation issue in New Brunswick, 1863–1865,” CHR, XXI (1940), 367–83. D. G. G. Kerr, “Head and responsible government in New Brunswick,” CHA Report, 1938, 62–70. W. S. MacNutt, “The coming of responsible government to New Brunswick,” CHR, XXXIII (1952), 111–28.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Michael Swift, “CHANDLER, EDWARD BARRON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 4, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chandler_edward_barron_10E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chandler_edward_barron_10E.html
Author of Article:   Michael Swift
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   March 4, 2024