Chandler was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia and moved to New Brunswick to study law. He moved to Dorchester, New Brunswick and served in the colony's government. In 1827 he was elected to the New Brunswick legislature as an opponent of responsible government and later served on the province's Legislative Council (the legislature's Upper House) and in Cabinet serving as leader of the "compact" government that ruled the colony from 1848 to 1854 prior to the institution of responsible government.
Later, Chandler was a New Brunswick delegate to the conferences in London, Charlottetown, and Quebec that led to Canadian confederation. Though he supported confederation and the federal Conservatives of Sir John A. Macdonald he was a cautious supporter who opposed a strong central government.
Chandler was a supporter of railway development and was instrumental as a federally-appointed commissioner overseeing construction of the Intercolonial Railway in having its surveys diverted from a direct route between Amherst and Moncton to run through his community of Dorchester. He also supported the policy of reciprocity with the United States. He refused an appointment to the Canadian Senate but accepted an appointment to the position of lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick in 1878.