THE idea of a federation of the colonies had been mooted many times. Indeed, so early as the time when the New England colonies separated from the empire, an article was introduced into the constitution of the new confederacy authorizing the admission of Canada to the union, should the latter seek such alliance. In 1810 an enterprising colonist put forward the federation scheme, but political opinion was in a crude state, and nothing more was heard of the proposition till four years later, when Chief justice Sewell, of Quebec, submitted a plan of confederation to the Duke of Kent. The Duke, in a very cordial note, agreed with the suggestions. In 1827 the Legislative Council of Upper Canada originated resolutions aiming at a union of the two Canadian Provinces, suggesting likewise a "union of the whole four Provinces of North America under a viceroyalty, with a facsimile of the British Constitution."
Nothing more was heard of the scheme in public places till Lord Durham had been disgraced and had presented his report. From that hour the question engrossed the public mind, and in 1849 the North American League met in Toronto and discussed the question, though the immediate object of the gathering was an application of the federal principle to the two Provinces of Canada. In 1854 the Legislature of Nova Scotia adopted resolutions recommending a closer union of the British North American colonies. From this period statesmen warmly recommended the measure in the House of Commons, and the foremost newspapers took up a similar tone. But the plan approved by the Nova Scotia Legislature was not for a federation of all the Provinces, but a maritime union, comprehending under one government Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. In 1864 the Legislatures of these Provinces passed resolutions authorizing the appointment of delegates to meet in the autumn, to discuss the project of maritime union.
At once it occurred to the Premier, Mr. [afterward Sir] John A. Macdonald, that the meeting could be turned to account by the Government of Canada in promoting the general-confederation scheme. The Maritime Province delegates were to meet in September at Charlottetown, and thither repaired eight members of the Canadian Administration.
The Canadian ministers, not having been appointed to confer respecting legislative union, had no official standing at the Island conference, but they were invited to join in the discussion, of which courtesy they vigorously availed themselves. "The Canadians descended upon us," said one of the Islanders; "and before they were three days among us we forgot our own scheme and thought only about theirs," No longer did anyone speak of maritime union; all were absorbed by the greater project of a general federation, guaranteeing local and joint control. So completely did the general-confederation scheme absorb the maritime idea that the convention closed only to reassemble at Quebec, on a date to be fixed by the Governor-General of Canada.