Cobourg's James Cockburn had an extensive political history in our town before ever entering provincial politics. His 1861 campaign in West Northumberland for a seat in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada was directed against the government of John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier; he ran as an Independent and defeated the Postmaster General. Cockburn’s re-election in 1863 as a Liberal–Conservative was by acclamation, and the following year he won a by-election.
In 1864, somewhat surprisingly, he joined the short-lived administration of Macdonald and Sir Étienne Taché as Solicitor General for Canada West. A delegate to the Quebec Conference in 1864, Cockburn was thus a Father of Confederation.
On Confederation be became the first Speaker of the 1st Session of the 1st Parliament of Canada.