By the early 1860s, the British colonies of North America were considering the benefits of a union. The American Civil War had created a new military power and a renewed threat to the small, divided colonies to the north. And British public opinion had been in favour of reducing, if not eliminating government spending in North America, especially for defence.
In September 1864, British North American politicians met in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to discuss the possibility of a union. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
In September 1864, the Atlantic provinces - Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland - organized a conference to discuss a union among themselves. Governor General Monck asked that the province of Canada be invited to their talks, "to ascertain whether the proposed Union might not be made to embrace the whole of British North American Provinces."
Canada's most prominent politicians journeyed down the St. Lawrence River on a 191-ton steamer, with $13,000 of champagne in its hold, to attend the conference in Prince Edward Island. Those on board included John A. Macdonald, and George Brown from Upper Canada and George-Étienne Cartier, Thomas D'Arcy McGee and Alexander Galt from Lower Canada. Each journeyed to Charlottetown with a different motive in mind.
Cartier felt that if he could persuade the Maritimes to join in a union, together their population would balance that of Upper Canada. In contrast, Brown wanted an end to what he considered French domination of English affairs - the end of a political stalemate. Macdonald was worried about American aggression and felt that the united British colonies, perhaps, could resist their powerful neighbour.
In the 1860s, John A. Macdonald was instrumental in creating the Dominion of Canada and became its first prime minister. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
The group of eight...