Edward Palmer (September 1, 1809 - November 3, 1889)

Photograph : Edward Palmer

Edward Palmer
© Public Domain. Courtesy of the Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island

A lawyer and politician, Edward Palmer was a member of the Prince Edward Island Assembly from 1835 to 1873. Although he attended both the Charlottetown and Québec Conferences, he was a staunch opponent of Confederation.

Edward Palmer was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, the son of James B. Palmer and Millicent Jones. He attended grammar school before studying law at his father's office and was called to the bar in 1830. He worked as a lawyer, land agent, landed proprietor, politician and judge. He married Isabella Tremain in 1846.

Palmer became a member of the Prince Edward Island Assembly in 1835, quickly establishing himself as a leading Conservative. He was often viewed as a champion of the status quo: he was against responsible government, against union with British North America, and, as part of a major land owning family, against land reform. (He eventually sold his land in 1870, after experiencing conflict with his tenants.) He was also much given to conflict in the assembly, frequently arguing with both George Coles and Edward Whelan. In 1849, Palmer became the leader of the Tories in the provincial assembly. In 1859, he became premier, only to be pushed from office by his colleague John Hamilton Gray in 1863.

Palmer was a delegate at both the Charlottetown Conference and the Québec Conference in 1864, where he showed himself to be strongly opposed to union. These views placed him in direct opposition to John Hamilton Gray. The conflict fractured the Tory party and damaged the union cause, eventually resulting in both Palmer and Gray resigning from Cabinet. However, Palmer retained his position as attorney general.

Palmer remained ardently opposed to Confederation after 1864. He was an opponent of the "Better Terms" offer made by Canada in 1869. Instead, he favoured a trade deal between Prince Edward Island and the United States. In 1872, Palmer changed parties and joined the Liberal, anti-Confederation government of Robert Haythorne. When the financial burden of a railway project pushed the Island to the brink of economic collapse in 1873, it was the Haythorne government with Palmer as a member that was forced to seek union with Canada.

After Prince Edward Island joined Confederation in 1873, Palmer became a Queens County judge. He later became chief justice of the same court, a title he held until his death at Charlottetown.


  • "Palmer, Edward". Macmillan dictionary of Canadian biography. Ed. W. Stewart Wallace. 4th ed. Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, 1978. P. 640.

  • Robertson, Ian Ross. "Palmer, Edward". Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. Ed. James H. Marsh. 3rd print ed. Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999. P. 1753.

  • Robertson, Ian Ross. "Palmer, Edward". Dictionary of Canadian biography. Ed. Francess G. Halpenny. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1982. Vol. 11, p. 664-670.

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