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James Cockburn


In office
1867 – 1874
Succeeded by William Kerr
In office
1878 – 1881
Preceded by William Kerr
Succeeded by George Guillet

Born February 13, 1819(1819-02-13)
Berwick-upon-Tweed, England
Died August 14, 1883 (aged 64)
Ottawa, Ontario
Political party Conservative
Portfolio Speaker of the House of Commons (1867-1874)

James Cockburn, QC (February 13, 1819 – August 14, 1883) was a Canadian Conservative politician, and a father of Canadian Confederation.

He was born in a small town on the English -Scottish border and emigrated to Canada with his family at the age of 13. After attending Upper Canada College and Osgoode Hall, he established a law practice in Cobourg, Ontario. In the 1850s, Cockburn was elected to the town council. In 1861, he was elected to the Province of Canada's legislative assembly as a Reformer representing Northumberland West. Despite elected as an opponent of the Macdonald - Cartier administration, Cockburn switched allegiances and became a supporter of Macdonald's Liberal-Conservative Party.

Cockburn attended the Quebec Conference of 1864 as a supporter of Confederation. After Confederation, he was elected to the new Canadian House of Commons in the country's first election. He was nominated by Sir John A. Macdonald to be Canada's first Speaker of the House of Commons, a position in which he served from 1867 to 1874.

His performance as Speaker was hindered by the fact that he spoke no French in a chamber in which both English and French were official languages. He did however understand French. In 1872, Cockburn was nominated for a second term as Speaker despite reservations by the Opposition that he had been too favourable to the government in his rulings. Cockburn lost his seat in the 1874 election that had been precipitated by the Pacific Scandal and that brought down the Macdonald government.

Cockburn won back his former seat in the 1878 election but did not take an active role in Parliament. He resigned in 1881 when he was appointed to collect and classify Canadian statutes. He was still working on this assignment when his death occurred on August 14, 1883. His cause of death is unknown.

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