BECK index

Canada’s Struggle for Democracy 1817-44

by Sanderson Beck

Canada under British Rule 1817-29
Canada and Mackenzie 1830-36
Canadian Rebellion and Reforms 1837-39
Canadian Union 1840-44
Newfoundland, Nova Scotia & New Brunswick

Canada under British Rule 1817-29

Canada under the British 1763-1817

      John Adams had first proposed disarming the Great Lakes region in 1782, and John Jay brought it up again at London in 1794. When John Quincy Adamswas ambassador to London, he favored this and suggested on 21 March 1817 that only vessels be maintained that were necessary for the collection of revenue. The Rush-Bagot Treaty was signed in Washington in April and banned warships from the Great Lakes after it was ratified by the United States Senate on 16 April 1818. A Convention in October established American fishing rights on the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, set the western boundary as the 49th parallel to the Rocky Mountains, opened the Oregon territory west of the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, confirmed the Anglo-American Convention of 1815 that regulated commerce, and recognized American claims to compensation for the slaves taken to British territory or on British ships. The British army in Canada, which had been 29,000 in 1815, would be reduced to 3,000 by the 1850s.
      John Sherbrooke was Governor General of British America from 1816 and persuaded the Assembly to increase revenues in 1818. He left because of poor health on August 12. On July 30 he had been replaced by Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond. He brought with him Peregrine Maitland and on August 13 appointed him Governor of Upper Canada. Maitland stayed in Quebec until Dalhousie arrived in June 1820. The House of Assembly could not agree with the Governor on government salaries, and he prorogued them in April and censured them. Richmond visited Upper Canada which was the southern portion of Canada north of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and east of Lake Huron.
      The Free Port Act of 1818 assisted shipping from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The population of Canada was about 796,000 people. Steam engines improved ships, locomotives, and lumber mills. Canadian lumber was shipped to Britain, and the ships returned with immigrants. Immigration into British America from Britain increased from 3,370 in 1816 to 23,534 in 1819 and then to 66,000 in 1832. More than half came from Ireland, though of these Protestants were twice as many as Catholics.
      Robert Gourlay was well educated in Scotland and arrived in June 1817 to claim the land in the Niagara District that his wife inherited. He promoted emigration of the poor into Upper Canada by proposing a land agency. In April 1818 he published a pamphlet addressed to resident landowners warning that the constitution was in danger because laws had been thwarted for three years. He held several meetings in May and June urging appeals to the government in England. Representatives from 14 districts met at the capital York in July, and they prepared a petition to the Lieutenant Governor Peregrine Maitland; but he persuaded the Assembly to ban seditious meetings. Gourlay was tried in Kingston on August 15 but was acquitted then and a second time. He argued that Canadian corruption was the worst in the British empire, and many complained that grants of land were given to non-residents who paid no taxes. Attorney General Robinson proposed a bill to assess unoccupied lands, but the Assembly voted it down. Gourlay led a campaign to protest the conditions of land settlement by using questionnaires and statistical methods. He was arrested on December 21 along with the editor of the Niagara Spectator, and the officials expelled him from Upper Canada on 1 January 1819. Gourlay refused to leave and was arrested again on the 4th. He applied for a writ of habeas corpus but languished in jail in an unhealthy cell until 20 August 1820 when he was sentenced to leave Canada within 24 hours on pain of death. Gourlay left the next day and returned to England where he published A General Introduction to a Statistical Account of Upper Canada in 1822. His exile was not annulled until 1836 when his imprisonment was declared illegal.
      The bank of Montreal was established and opened for business on 3 November 1817 with $350,000 in capital. Montreal merchants formed the Bank of Canada on 25 August 1818 with £200,000 ($800,000) in capital, but an attempt in Quebec was denied incorporation by the legislature in 1819. The merchant James McGill had financed McGill College in 1813, and in 1821 a royal charter established McGill University. Montreal became the largest city in British America, and in 1832 they got a mayor and a city council.
      Barnabas Bidwell was a politician in Massachusetts who was charged with speculation and forgery and fled to Upper Canada in 1810. He was elected as a reformer in 1821, but he was expelled from the Assembly the next year.
      In 1818 Governor General John Sherbrooke did not have enough revenue to meet the regular expenditures of the government, and the Assembly of Lower Canada voted to make up the difference. Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond, became Governor General on July 29, and he tried to suppress the powers of the Assembly by limiting its funding power to providing for provincial objects. Richmond was bitten by his pet fox and died of rabies on 28 August 1819. The Assembly used the interval to bring the members of the Chateau clique to account by reducing their remuneration. Bathurst wrote to Lt. Governor Dalhousie of Nova Scotia to replace Richmond, but he could not go to Quebec then and wrote to Peregrine Maitland to assume authority in Quebec. Maitland arrived on 17 March 1820 and governed for the dominant clique supporting the Family Compact. That year Cape Breton was reunited with Nova Scotia.
      The native people outnumbered Europeans in the interior ten to one, but a smallpox epidemic decimated their population from 1818 to 1821. In 1818-20 the Brandon Assiniboine lost half their tribe from measles and whooping cough, and the Western Cree lost a third. Cree and Assiniboine traded furs to Europeans and migrated south to find more buffalo on the plains. They came into conflict with the Blackfoot and Mandan who had acquired horses and guns from the Americans. By the 1830s the Blackfoot would dominate the trade of buffalo hides that provided 80,000 robes per year. In 1838 smallpox wiped out about two-thirds of the Assiniboine, Blackfoot, and North Saskatchewan Cree while HBC men helped those on the plains and woodlands with a new vaccine.
      George Ramsey, 9th Earl of Dalhousie, who had been Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia since 1816, became Governor General of Canada in June 1820, and he held the position for eight years. Robert Baldwin led the reform movement in Upper Canada that began in the Assembly in 1820. The Assembly continued to use its power of the purse to limit the corruption of the bureaucracy, especially in the depressed year of 1823 when the arrears were £100,000. An investigation led to the suspension of Receiver-General Caldwell for defaulting. In October Dr. Charlton Fisher began editing the Quebec Gazette as the organ of the government. After the attack on the Bidwells the opponents of the oligarchy elected a majority in the Assembly in 1824.
      On 2 May 1818 Bishop Plessis sent the first Catholic missionaries to the Red River in the northwest. The North-West Company merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in a deal designed by Andrew Colville on 26 March 1821 at Fort William. On July 2 Parliament recognized HBC’s monopoly over Rupert’s Land and the Northwest Territory. Nicholas Garry negotiated the merger of HBC with the North-West Company, and George Simpson facilitated the absorption of the Northwesters that established the monopoly and resulted in peace on the frontier. Garry was deputy governor of the HBC 1822-35. West of the Rocky Mountains the Oregon territory had no government except the posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company among the tribes.
      Lower Canada was a larger territory northeast of Upper Canada, and it produced much wheat that was exported; but by the 1820s most farmers had turned from wheat to mixed farming. On 5 August 1822 the Trade Act allowed the United States to import goods into Upper and Lower Canada and gave the Governor power to regulate ports of entry. That year Lower Canada had 427,465 people, and Upper Canada had increased from 95,000 in 1814 to 150,000. In 1824 the Canada Company purchased 2.5 million acres of land in Upper Canada including a million acres next to Lake Huron, and by 1830 they had sold 50,000 acres to about 2,500 people. The Scottish novelist John Galt (1779-1839) was the Company’s superintendent 1826-29, and he founded the town of Guelph in 1827. He published his Autobiography in 1833 and moved to Edinburgh in 1834. In 1827 the Upper Canada government granted 1,322,010 acres from the Crown and Clergy Reserves to the Canada Company for considerations, and by 1836 they had sold 364,428 acres of the 2,254,668 acres of the Reserves.
      After the American War of Independence the Six Nations of the Iroquois confederation under Joseph Brant were given 570,000 acres by Grand River, but by 1838 they had only 187,000 acres left.
      The Lachine Canal was built 1819-24 at public expense and opened for navigation in 1825. Upper Canada began a regular census in 1824 when they counted 150,066 people. That year New Brunswick had 74,000, and Commissioner of Crown Lands Thomas Baillie tried to end free cutting of timber to get money for the Crown and himself. Completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 helped New York City draw business away from Montreal which was blocked by ice for about five months each year. The Welland Canal was constructed 1824-1829 and connected ship travel between the lakes Ontario and Erie. The Rideau Canal was built 1826-1834, cost £800,000, and connected the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario at Kingston. Canals helped people move to eastern Upper Canada to stimulate the timber industry. On 7 October 1825 a fire in Miramichi, New Brunswick devastated 3,078 people; 160 lost their lives, and it caused £250,000 in damages.
      In May 1827 the government sued William Forsyth for his fence around a government reserve by his popular tavern that blocked the view of Niagara Falls, and Maitland used force against him. Forsyth sued the sheriff and for the removal of his fence, but he lost his assets and was expelled.
      In 1827 Judge John Walpole Willis published A Practical Treatise on the Duties and Responsibilities of Trustees, and he was appointed to the Court of King's bench in Upper Canada. He arrived in Canada in September. Francis Collins became the legislature’s official reporter in 1820, and he published the Weekly Gazette. In 1825 he began publishing the Canadian Freeman which opposed the Executive in vehement terms, and in 1826 the Executive withheld his stipend. In 1827 Collins lost the printing contract which was given to William Lyon Mackenzie, but in January 1828 the Assembly divided the House printing between Collins, Carey, and Mackenzie. That spring Maitland charged Collins with libeling Attorney General John Robinson, and Judge Willis allowed Collins to criticize the prosecuting Robinson. Willis announced that he judged based on the merits of the case without regard to political feelings, and he urged the Attorney General to establish a court of equity. Willis was removed from his judgeship on June 26. On October 25 Collins was sued for libeling the Attorney General by accusing him of “open, palpable falsehood” and “native malignancy.” He was found guilty, fined £50, and sentenced to six months in prison. Yet he managed to edit the Canadian Freeman from jail. After he got out, he tended to criticize Ryerson, Methodists, and Mackenzie for republicanism. Collins died of cholera in August 1834. In July 1829 Robinson replaced William Campbell as Chief Justice and served in that capacity until March 1862.
      In 1827 the conservative Anglican priest John Strachan helped get a grant of Crown lands to found King’s College at Toronto in Upper Canada, and he served on the Executive Council of Upper Canada 1815-36. The Methodist minister Egerton Ryerson edited the Christian Guardian and helped the reformers win control of the Assembly again in 1828, the year the Methodist Church separated from the American conference. Methodists and other Protestants demanded equal treatment from the government. Farmers wanted lower taxes, better roads, and schools for their children.
      In the spring of 1828 the British House of Commons appointed a Select Committee to investigate the government of Lower Canada, and they recommended giving the Assembly control over all government revenues and expenditures except for the Executive and Judiciary. Dalhousie retired on June 8. Petitions with thousands of signatures from several provinces were given to the Colonial Secretary William Huskisson. British politics were becoming more liberal and the Committee recommended granting townships separate courts and judicial districts. The Committee also censured Dalhousie for mistreating Speaker Louis Joseph Papineau. Maitland governed Upper Canada for ten years, and then in 1828 he became Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia until 1834. During the 1830s the Executive Council of Nova Scotia was dominated by five families which had intermarried.
      Lt. General James Kempt was the Governor of British America 1828-1830, and he confirmed Louis Joseph Papineau (1786-1871) who had been elected Speaker of the Lower Canada Assembly in January 1815 and would hold it for most of 22 years. Robert Christie represented Gaspé in the Assembly from 1827 until they expelled him in 1829. He favored the British, and the French accused him of buying judges and other corruption. They would not let him in the House, and this made the inhabitants of Gaspé Peninsula angry. To be impartial Kempt was fair to the French, and they passed the Civil List of salaries. Reformers won the elections in 1828, but they would lose them to the British Tories in 1830. While the conservative John Colborne was Lt. Governor of Upper Canada 1828-35, he promoted British immigration which helped the population of the province increase by 70%. He angered Protestants when he endowed 44 Anglican rectories with 9,000 hectares of land.
      Robert Baldwin’s father, Dr. William Baldwin, urged adopting a Provincial Ministry that would be responsible to the Provincial Parliament. The reformer John Neilson of Lower Canada edited The Quebec Gazette, and in 1828 he went to London with a delegation to demand reforms. He produced 16 resolutions on the accountability of ministers in December that were printed in 1829 in the Upper Canadian Herald.
      Thousands of settlers who had been born in America lived in Upper Canada, and the government had been trying to suppress their rights since the 1820s. This provoked more opposition. Mackenzie was elected to the Assembly that opened in January 1829, though Barnabas Bidwell’s son Marshall Bidwell, who was elected to the Upper Canadian Assembly in 1824, was Speaker 1829-30.

Canada and Mackenzie 1830-36

      William Lyon Mackenzie was born in Scotland on 12 March 1795. He emigrated to British North America in 1820 and worked on the Lachine Canal in Lower Canada and wrote for the Montreal Herald, but he soon moved to York in Upper Canada to write for the Observer. In 1822 he married Isabel Baxter in Montreal, and they had 14 children. Mackenzie started the Colonial Advocate at Queenstown in May 1824, but he moved the office to Toronto in November 1825, the month that Parliament met. He became known for criticizing the status quo. The Assembly voted to dismiss the King’s printer Charles Fothergill. On 8 June 1826 while Mackenzie was away from the city, 15 young Tories disguised as Indians led by Samuel Jarvis destroyed his printing equipment and threw type in the street and the press in the bay. Mackenzie with a legal team that included Marshall Spring Bidwell sued them, received £625 for damages, and used the money to revive his newspaper in December. These events gained support from others who had also suffered outrages.
      After the death of King George IV on 26 June 1830, new elections were held. When the Whigs took control in Britain, they appointed General Matthew Whitworth-Aylmer in 1830, and he reached Quebec in October 1831. That year a famine in Ireland stimulated 50,000 people, who were mostly Catholics, to emigrate to Canada. Britain passed a law that gave control over Crown revenues to assemblies if they voted to pay official salaries by a civil list that could not change during the life of King William IV. Papineau considered this an old policy by the new Whig government, but by 1831 he had accepted Roebuck’s idea of an elected Legislative Council. Bidwell tried to limit office-holders to removal for misconduct by the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly and not let judges sit on the Executive or Legislative Councils; but his bill failed 17-25. Mackenzie tried to ban ecclesiastics from the Executive Council, and that lost 16-24.
      The Assembly denied Mackenzie the right to take his seat five times on 12 December 1831, January 6 and 2 November 1832, 17 December 1833, and 10 February 1834, but he kept getting elected.
      During an election riot in Montreal on 21 May 1832 British troops killed three Canadians, and the Lower Canadian Assembly refused to vote for any supplies for the next three years.
      By 1832 the capital at York had 13,000 people. On June 8 a ship from Dublin arrived in Quebec with 133 passengers, and 59 had died on the voyage. The cholera epidemic broke out in Montreal, York, and other places, and 3,292 died by September 30. During the summer reformers started the St. Thomas Liberal, and by November they had over 600 subscribers. In December reformers in York formed a political union similar to those in England seeking to extend democracy through elections.
      Led by Papineau and his supporters, the Assembly in Lower Canada passed 92 resolutions on 21 February 1834 so that elections would give people more control over the government. One of them called for the impeachment of Governor Aylmer for favoring the English over the French, and he was removed in 1835. Mackenzie in Upper Canada was elected and supported the reform majority. Mackenzie also dismissed another proposal in 1834 for “responsible government” which he considered aristocratic and inadequate.
      Conflicts between the French and English increased, and in 1834 the House of Commons selected a committee to investigate Lower Canada. They began working in May, and on July 3 they reported that the governors had done well but that the two Houses could not agree. This made those led by Speaker Papineau angry. He lost support after 1834 from Quebec but retained the radicals in Montreal and the Richelieu Valley. Reformers won elections again in 1834. When the House was prorogued on March 6, the town of York became the city of Toronto. Mackenzie was elected its first mayor, serving until 14 January 1835, and he was also appointed director of the Welland Canal Company. On January 15 the House elected Bidwell Speaker again. Mackenzie proposed a select committee on grievances that produced the 500-page Seventh Report on Grievances in which he wrote,

  The almost unlimited extent of the patronage of the Crown,
or rather of the Colonial Minister for the time being
and his advisers here,
together with the abuse of that patronage,
are the chief sources of Colonial discontent….
  The patronage of the Crown,
as now exercised in this Province,
includes the payments of gifts, salaries, pensions,
and retired allowances to the Clergy of the Methodist,
Presbyterian, Protestant Episcopal & Roman Catholic orders,
and to nearly the whole
of the civil officers of the government….
  The present system is altogether inefficient
for ensuring the application of the revenue
to the purposes for which it is intended to be applied.
The House of Assembly,
acting by one or more of its committees in a session,
cannot examine the accounts
and vouchers of the several public accountants….
  The Governors of colonies, like other men,
are individually liable to all the infirmities of human nature,
and in their political capacity,
when left to act without restraint,
they, no doubt, sacrifice occasionally
the interests and happiness of the people,
to the gratification of their own passions and caprices….
  This country is now principally inhabited
by loyalists and their descendants,
and by an accession of population from the mother country,
where is now enjoyed the principles
of a free and responsible government;
and we feel the practical enjoyment of the same system
in this part of the empire to be equally our right;
without which it is in vain to assume that
we do or can possess in reality or in effect
“the very image and transcript of the British Constitution.1

      British Prime Minister Melbourne sent the Earl of Gosford, Charles Grey, and George Gipps to investigate Lower Canada, making Gosford the Governor-General. They did not reach Quebec until 23 August 1835. Gosford tried to befriend the French. When Parliament met on October 27 he proposed giving control of revenues to the Legislature, but the Assembly would have to guarantee that the Civil List repay £81,000. Papineau rejected this, and they passed grievances and made Parliament member Arthur Roebuck their agent in London. They passed more defiant resolutions and voted down the Supply Bill which caused Gosford to prorogue Parliament.
      Francis Bond Head was appointed Lt. Governor of Upper Canada in 1835 and arrived in January 1836. Wealthy landowners in the Family Compact won enough seats in the Upper Canada election in November to give the Conservative Party control. After leaving office Head in 1839 would describe the Family Compact this way:

  This “FAMILY COMPACT,” is nothing more nor less than
that “social fabric” which characterizes
every civilized community in the world.
It is that social fabric, or rather fortress, within which
the British yeoman, farmer, and manufacturer is enabled
to repel the extortionate demands of his labourers;
and to preserve from pillage and robbery
the harvest of his industry after he has reaped it!...
  The “family compact” of Upper Canada
is composed of those members of its society who,
either by their abilities and character have been honoured
by the confidence of the executive government, or who,
by their industry and intelligence, have amassed wealth.
The party, I own, is comparatively a small one;
but to put the multitude at the top and the few at the bottom
is a radical reversion of the pyramid of society which every
reflecting man must foresee can end only by its downfall.2

      Lt. Governor Head criticized the government of the United States where he believed “the will of the people has become stronger than the power of the law.” Yet he asked the reformers Robert Baldwin and Dr. John Rolph to join his Executive Council. When he asked their advice during a dispute, all six members including four Tories resigned. Head also confronted the Assembly and then dissolved them and called an election. Ryerson was alarmed by the radicals and in his Christian Guardian persuaded Methodists to support the government. Recent British immigrants, both Catholics and the anti-Catholic Loyal Orange Order, voted for the Conservative Party. Mackenzie and agrarian radicals became the leaders of the reform movement and opposed real estate speculators, bankers, and merchants, and on 4 July 1836 Mackenzie founded the Constitution newspaper in Toronto; but the Tories won most of the elections again in 1836. That year the radical wing of the Democratic Party formed a Permanent Central Committee. They were influenced by the American Revolution and formed committees of correspondence and secret councils. Lt. Governor Head sent his province’s garrison to help handle the crisis in Lower Canada.
      In March 1836 Papineau had written a letter that accused the government of “naked deformity of the colonial system,” and he called royal commissioners “deceitful agents.” On May 28 Lt. Governor Head responded to this letter by writing infamously the following:

The people of Upper Canada detest democracy.
They revere their constitutional charter,
and are consequently staunch in allegiance to their king.
They are perfectly aware that there exists
in the lower province one or two individuals
who inculcate the idea that this province
is about to be disturbed by the interference of foreigners,
whose power and whose numbers will prove invincible.
 In the name of every regiment of militia in Upper Canada,
I publicly promulgate, Let them come, if they dare!3

On June 20 the elections in Upper Canada gave the government party a 44-18 advantage. Head proposed annexing Montreal to Upper Canada and Gaspé to New Brunswick. On October 5 Governor-General Gosford prorogued the Parliament. Their main demand was for an elected Legislative Council. The new Parliament met on November 8 and elected Archibald McLean the Speaker.

Canadian Rebellion and Reforms 1837-39

      In March 1837 British Home Secretary John Russell introduced Ten Resolutions in the House of Commons to empower the colonial Executive to override the Assembly and to provide supplies that were blocked in 1833. They included refusing to make the Legislative Council elected or give responsibility demanded by the House of Assembly. Dr. E. B. O’Callaghan responded in The Vindicator of Lower Canada with “unmixed INDIGNATION” to Russell’s infamous resolutions writing,

Our rights must not be violated with impunity.
A HOWL of indignation must be raised
from one extremity of the Province to the other,
against the ROBBERS,
and against all those WHO PARTAKE OF THE PLUNDER.
no quarter for the plunderers.
Agitate! Agitate!! AGITATE!!!
Destroy the Revenue; denounce the oppressors.
Everything is lawful
when the fundamental liberties are in danger.
“The guards die—they never surrender.”4

      Failed wheat farming in the intensely populated Montreal and Richelieu Valley led to a commercial crisis. On May 7 about 1,200 people met at Saint Ours with Dr. Wolfred Nelson presiding. They supported resolutions with strong language that led to the rebellion six months later. They denied the right of the English Parliament to legislate for their internal affairs, declared they would not use imported tea, tobacco, wine, rum, and other items with high duties, and they formed an association. On June 15 Governor-General Gosford proclaimed he would defend against these unlawful assemblies. On July 31 several thousand people attended a similar meeting at Quebec.
      Speaker Papineau was also stirring up revolutionary feeling, and they formed the Fils de la Liberté (Sons of Liberty) society in August. That month young Napoléon Aubin began publishing the satirical journal Le Fantasque. Papineau in October presided at a meeting at St. Charles where six counties adopted revolutionary resolutions. The Roman Catholic bishops of Quebec, Montreal, and Trois Rivières urged their parishioners to obey the government, but the patriotes objected to clerics interfering in politics. John Colborne in January 1836 had become commander-in-chief of the military in British America, and in 1837 he persuaded Governor Gosford to concentrate Canadian troops at Montreal but not at the Quebec garrison.
      On June 30 Mackenzie and about 50 farmers met in Lloydtown and resolved that every reformer should arm oneself to defend their rights. A meeting at Doel’s house sent out a call for public meetings of reformers, and they planned a constitutional convention of delegates in Toronto. About 300 people gathered at Doel’s brewery in Toronto on July 28 and expressed sympathy for patriots in Lower Canada and admiration for Papineau. John Elliot acted as secretary, and Mackenzie was made their agent and corresponding secretary. Mackenzie attended well over a hundred meetings in the next four months. Lt. Governor Head transferred Toronto’s garrison to Kingston. The last legislature of Lower Canada was dissolved on August 26. People established local tribunals to resolve disputes. Mackenzie issued a Call to Revolution 1837 in which he wrote,

God has put into the bold and honest hearts
of our brethren in Lower Canada to revolt—
not against “lawful” but against “unlawful authority.”
The law says we shall not be taxed without our consent
by the voices of the men of our choice,
but a wicked and tyrannical government
has trampled upon that law—robbed the exchequer—
divided the plunder—and declared that, regardless of justice
they will continue to roll their splendid carriages,
and riot in their palaces, at our expense—
that we are poor spiritless ignorant peasants,
who were born to toil for our betters.
But the peasants are beginning to open their eyes
and to feel their strength—
too long have they been hoodwinked by Baal’s priests—
by hired and tampered with preachers,
wolves in sheep’s clothing, who take the wages of sin,
and do the work of iniquity,
“each one looking to his gain in his quarter.”
  CANADIANS! Do you love freedom? I know you do.
Do you hate oppression? Who dare deny it?
Do you wish perpetual peace,
and a government founded upon
the eternal heaven-born principle of the Lord Jesus Christ—
a government bound to enforce the law
to do to each other as you would be done by?5

      On September 4 the Constitutional Association warned the situation was dangerous, and they noted that the French Canadians outnumbered the British 390,000 to 210,000 in Lower Canada. On October 1 some forty men signed a manifesto declaring a Canadian republic. Supporters of the Assembly formed volunteer companies of militia, elected officers, and began drilling. In Montreal a public meeting issued a manifesto pledging themselves to support the British Empire. On October 23 about 5,000 people met at Saint Charles on the Richelieu representing six counties. Wolfred Nelson presided; Papineau, who opposed armed resistance, attended; and they passed 13 resolutions. They invited the counties to elect pacificators, justices of the peace, and militia officers. They declared they would not obey Gosford’s officers. On the same day 7,000 people met in Montreal to back Great Britain while others gathered in the city of Quebec.
      On November 4 a crowd of 1,000 supported Robert Nelson as he declared the independence of Lower Canada at Napierville with himself as head of the provisional government. On the 6th a mob in Montreal destroyed the printing office of the Vindicator and threw the type, paper, and presses into the street. The Riot Act was read, and two French Canadian magistrates led the march of the 1st Royals with artillery. On the 8th about 800 Patriotes fought loyalists at Baker’s Farm, and 250 from Saint-Timothée reinforced them on the 10th. On that day the British unit of 71st Highlanders with loyalist volunteers defeated about 500 Patriotes at Beauharnois. Some 35 houses were damaged, and 108 Patriotes were tried and sentenced to death with 12 hanged and 58 transported to Australia. Warrants were issued for Papineau and several other leaders. Some were jailed, but the main leaders escaped. An armed party of 20 helped rescue arrested Demaray and Davignon. In response 13 French Canadian magistrates in Montreal advised parishioners to avoid violence.
      Some British bureaucrats started the Constitutional Society and the more violent Doric Club whose members fought the Fils de la Liberté in the streets of Montreal, and the government had the Fils leaders arrested. Papineau organized a boycott of British imports into Lower Canada, and he formed the Conseil des patriotes and urged them to fight on November 15. He left Montreal the next day and crossed the American border on the 25th. John Colborne declared martial law, and his soldiers kept down an uprising in the Montreal and Richelieu parishes. Governor Gosford resigned in November and left early in 1838.
      Mackenzie published a draft constitution in the November 15 issue of The Constitution. On the 18th he and a few others decided to attack Toronto on December 7. On November 23 about 600 rebels and 200 militia led by Wolfred Nelson defeated 300 regulars led by General Gore at Saint-Denis. Two days later 406 infantry with 20 cavalry and two cannons defeated about 225 patriots who had only 50 rifles, killing 56 of them at Saint-Charles in Quebec. On November 29 a proclamation offered £500 for the apprehension of Wolfred Nelson, Dr. O’Callaghan, and three others, and two days later £1,000 was offered for Papineau. Mackenzie called for a constitutional convention to be held on December 21. His November 29 issue of the Constitution was considered “highly seditious” by the Executive Council which decided on December 2 to have him arrested. The merchant Allan McNab was the Tory Speaker of the house, and he recruited 65 volunteers and took a steamship across Lake Ontario to Toronto. There the government increased his force to about 1,200 loyalists, and he learned of the rebellion on the 5th.
      On December 4 Col. James Fitzgibbon as militia-general was put in charge of defending Toronto, and he urged dispersing 500 men gathered in the city; but Lt. General Head refused. On the 5th the Government declared martial law, and Robert Baldwin and Dr. Rolph carried a flag of truce to the rebels’ camp where Mackenzie had 750 men. Mackenzie asked for their independence and a convention, but they were rejected. That day farmers from Yorktown tried to march down Yonge Street but were stopped by 27 men in Sheriff Jarvis’s picket. That night some 150 deserted. On December 7 about 210 armed men tried to attack the capital; but a thousand regulars and militia met them at Montgomery’s Tavern, and the rebels quickly retreated and fled across the border to the United States. Only four men were killed with ten wounded in the brief battle. The government offered a reward of £1,000 for Mackenzie and £500 for four others. On December 8 Mackenzie, Charles Duncombe, and Eliakim Malcolm decided to raise as many men as they could, and soon 80 men were being drilled. A vigilance committee was formed led by Duncombe. Malcolm and school-teacher William McGuire recruited rebels in Oakland and spoke to a meeting in the Oakland village of Scotland, Ontario on the 7th. On the December 12 Malcolm and his brother James led a force of 80 men to Townsend, and soon they had about 400 men in Oakland. That day 50 rebels gathered at Sparta.
      On December 14 Colborne’s force of 1,500 troops overwhelmed 200 French militia north of the city, and they killed 70 rebels and captured 120 at Saint Eustache in the Deux Montagnes municipality. Then his army ravaged Saint-Benoît and the countryside, looting and burning as hundreds of Canadians fled across the American border. Two days later the British troops were cheered as they returned to Montreal.
      Mackenzie offered hard money, and he with Charles Duncombe and Rolph gathered nearly 200 men on Navy Island in the Niagara River on December 15. On the 29th they captured and burned the US ship Caroline and sent it over Niagara Falls. The government gathered a force of 2,500, and Lt. Governor Head ordered them to act only on the defensive.
      The Vindicator editor O’Callaghan went to Burlington, and La Minerve editor Duvernay also fled to Vermont. The government suspended habeas corpus from 1837 until 1840 in order to detain suspected rebels without charges. Wealthy Denis-Benjamin Viger financed the failed revolt and spent two years in jail. Rebels in the United States gained support and invaded Upper Canada several times. The British garrisoned the border and raised more troops. Two rebels were hanged in 1837, and a few more would be in 1838 including a Swede who was defended by John A. Macdonald.
      In 1838 Upper Canada a census counted 397,489 people, and Toronto had about 12,000. Governor-General Gosford resigned on January 13 but did not leave the province until February 26. His successor General John Colborne proclaimed the continuation of martial law in the Montreal district. On January 26 British Home Secretary Russell announced that the ministry decided to suspend the constitution of Lower Canada for three years, and the House of Commons passed the resolutions 262-16. They sent out John Lambton, the Earl of Durham, with a council and authority to pass ordinances. On January 30 Upper Canada dismissed most of the militia but kept 1,950 volunteers enrolled until July 1.
      Duncombe had fled to Detroit, and on February 23 he led a force of 152 men and landed on Fighting Island in the Detroit River, but three days later two regiments led by Maitland forced them to retreat to the American shore. At least 400 Canadians and American patriots occupied Pelée Island in Lake Erie on February 25, but Maitland sent 126 royal troops who defeated them on March 3. Lt. Governor Head was replaced by George Arthur on March 23, and on April 3 the Council decided to try to avoid death sentences. Yet despite a petition with 4,000 signatures the rebels Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews were hanged on April 12, the day martial law was ended. In the revolt in western Upper Canada more than 1,900 rebels were put on trial; 19 were executed; 644 were imprisoned; and 481 were transported to penal colonies.
      The new Governor General and High Commissioner with special powers Durham landed at Quebec on May 29. Two days later he dissolved the special council named by Colborne. Durham offered a reward of £1,000 for information on who burned the Canadian ship Sir Robert Peel, and he granted clemency to prisoners who wrote an acceptable letter.
      On June 10 about thirty American sympathizers gathered above Niagara Falls. The militia was called out, and they arrested 31 people, but only five were US citizens. Durham managed to prevent more than one man from being hanged. On October 9 he announced and explained his resignation, and he left for London on November 1. His 141-page Report on the Affairs of British North America was presented to Parliament on 31 January 1839 and was printed on February 11. In this brilliant report he wrote,

There is no class or section of Your Majesty’s subjects
in either of the Canadas, that does not suffer from both
the existing disorder and the doubt which
hangs over the future form and policy of the Government….
  I expected to find a contest
between a government and a people:
I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state:
I found a struggle, not of principles, but of races;
and I perceived that it would be idle to attempt
any amelioration of laws or institutions until we could first
succeed in terminating the deadly animosity
that now separates the inhabitants of Lower Canada
into the hostile divisions of French and English….
  The French majority asserted
the most democratic doctrines
of the rights of a numerical majority.
The English minority availed itself
of the protection of the prerogative,
and allied itself with all those of the colonial institutions
which enabled the few to resist the will of the many….
  I know of no mode of doing this
but by repealing all provisions in Imperial Acts
that relate to the application of the clergy reserves,
and the funds arising from them,
leaving the disposal of the funds to the local legislature,
and acquiescing in whatever decision it may adopt.6

  It cannot be a matter of surprise
that in despair of any sufficient remedies
being provided by the imperial government,
many of the most enterprising colonists of Upper Canada
looked to that bordering country in which no great
industrial enterprise feels neglect or experiences a check,
and that men the most attached to the existing form
of government would find some compensation in a change,
whereby experience might bid them hope,
that every existing obstacle would be speedily removed,
and each man’s fortune share
in the progressive spirit of a flourishing state....
  The Governor, if he wished to retain advisers
not possessing the confidence of the existing Assembly,
might rely on the effect of an appeal to the people, and,
if unsuccessful, he might be coerced by a refusal of supplies,
or his advisers might be terrified
by the prospect of impeachment….
  No large community of free and intelligent men will long
feel contented with a political system which places them,
because it places their country,
in a position of inferiority to their neighbours….
But the influence of the United States
surrounds him on every side, and is for ever present.7

John Colborne began administering the government on November 1, and he became Governor General on 16 January 1839.
      Upper Canada’s Lt. Governor George Arthur addressed the new parliament on 27 February 1839, and on March 23 they passed resolutions to unite the two provinces and legislatures of Canada. The seat of government was to be in Upper Canada, and the English language was to be used in the legislature. In Lower Canada the French had a majority with 450,000 people to 150,000 British, but with 400,000 British in Upper Canada the British had an overall majority with 550,000.

Canadian Union 1840-44

      Lt. Governor Arthur was succeeded by Charles Poulett Thomson who opened a parliament on December 3 in 1839. Thomson had been President of the Board of Trade since 1834. Upper Canada was nearly bankrupt with annual revenue of only £78,000 and an annual deficit of £42,000. The legislature passed four resolutions which affirmed the union with equal representation of each province, a sufficient civil list, and charging the public debt to the whole province. The first three parliaments were held in Kingston. On October 16 Secretary of State John Russell had sent out a circular to free colonial governors from executive councilors. This gave Thompson more power.
      The imperial Act of Union passed in spring of 1840. The two Canadas would have equal representation in one legislature with one administration, but two systems of law would continue with an attorney general for each. Representatives were required to have at least £500 of real property, and only a member of the government could introduce a money bill. British budgeting still controlled expenditures. Lower Canada became Canada East, and Upper Canada was renamed Canada West. The special rights of the Catholic Church were retained in the East, and there would be two school systems. English was to be the only official language of the government. Clergy Reserves were to be divided according to denominations. In 1839 the St. Lawrence grain trade had exported only 249,471 bushels of wheat, but in 1840 this increased to 1,739,119 bushels. Montreal with 40,000 people had passed up Quebec City which now had 35,000. The Montreal Gazette was the primary conservative newspaper in the Canadas. Francis Hincks published the liberal Examiner. Later in 1840 Thompson became Baron Sydenham. He preferred moderates and worked to reduce the power of the conservative Family Compact and the radical reformers. In 1840 Canada East had 670,000 people with 510,000 of them speaking French, and Canada West had 432,000; but Durham had argued that the French had become a minority and that the British would continue to increase their domination.
      In 1839 a Temperance Society was begun in Toronto, and by 1841 they would have 1,300 members.
      On 10 February 1841 the Union of the two Canadas began, and three days later Sydenham appointed his Executive Council which included conservative William Draper as Attorney General for Canada West and as its Solicitor General Robert Baldwin who objected to most of the others. On March 4 Sydenham’s electoral districts reduced the French members by four seats. In the Union’s first election in March the Reformers won a majority, but most of them were moderates. Baldwin had two seats and encouraged the French leader Lafontaine to run for the North York seat which he won. In the first Union legislature the government had 19 or 20 out of 42 seats from Canada East, and from Canada West they had 28 or 29 out of 42. The moderates from both parties were in control.
      Liberal members from both sections of the province met on June 13, and Baldwin proposed revising the Executive Council; but Sydenham rejected that, and Baldwin resigned. Sydenham also appointed heads of departments, and he created the Board of Works. Solicitor General Charles Dewey Day was elected to the Assembly in 1841 and in July introduced the Common School Act providing public elementary education which passed. Sydenham’s District Councils Act was approved in August and established local governments in the West. On September 3 Baldwin and Viger proposed six resolutions to make the Assembly and ministry more responsible, and after a moderating amendment it passed.
      Sydenham had his leg shattered in a riding accident on September 4, and he died on the 19th. The first government of the Canadian Union had enacted 102 bills. British Prime Minister Robert Peel chose Lt. Governor Charles Bagot of Canada West to replace Sydenham, and he arrived at Kingston on 10 January 1842. He had been the British minister in Washington after the War of 1812. On April 21 Bagot laid a cornerstone for King’s College in Toronto to begin building toward having classes. In June he appointed Hincks as Inspector General of Public Accounts and also included Baldwin and Lafontaine with two other French Reformers in his council. He spoke fluent French and visited Montreal and Quebec, and he appointed Frenchmen to a fair share of public positions. When parliament opened on September 8, the administration no longer had a majority. Two days later Bagot sent for Lafontaine who became Attorney General East. He invited the French to join his government, and they accepted. On the 13th he offered Lafontaine four places in his council and included Baldwin who became Attorney General West. Lafontaine and his friends revived La Minerve in Montreal. Their coalition was opposed only by the minority Conservatives led by Allan MacNab.
      Conflicts over the northeastern border of the United States heated up in 1839, and in 1840 the US state of Maine began to administer Aroostook County. Neither Canada nor the US wanted a war, and Alexander Baring, the 1st Baron Ashburton, negotiated a treaty with US Secretary of State Daniel Webster that resolved the differences and was signed on 9 August 1842. This treaty also confirmed the border between Lake Superior and the Lake of the Woods and agreed how the Great Lakes would be shared, ended the slave trade on the seas, and defined extradition crimes.
      That summer the British Parliament approved a loan of £1,500,000 to Canada, and the money was to be used for public works. Declining health in the fall of 1842 caused Bagot to resign in January 1843. During his decline the reformers Lafontaine and Baldwin administered the government.
      The next Governor General Charles Metcalfe had governed Bengal in India for one year and was governor of Jamaica 1839-42 when it abolished slavery. He arrived in March 1843 but had difficulty winning the confidence of his ministers. Protestant Irish immigrants supported the Conservatives. When Governor Metcalfe refused to let his ministers exercise patronage, they resigned except for the Provincial Secretary East, Dominick Daly. Metcalfe prorogued the legislature in September and appointed William Henry Draper and the French Denis-Benjamin Viger. Metcalfe persuaded the Colonial Office to give amnesty to rebels of 1837-38, and he gave up trying to anglicize French speakers. In 1843 the British Parliament passed the Canada Corn Act greatly reducing the tariff on Canadian wheat and flour, and it went into effect in October. The Canada Trade Act allowed Canadian wheat and flour to include wheat grown in America.
      Canada’s parliament met in late September 1843. The Lafontaine-Baldwin ministry passed the Common Schools Act for Canada West, and they reformed the judicial system in Canada East. A bill to ban all secret societies except the Masons passed the legislature; but it was disallowed by the British imperial authority because it was aimed at the Loyal Orange Order. On November 24 Lafontaine and Baldwin demanded that Metcalfe not make any appointments without the Executive Council’s advice. He refused, and two days later all those in the Executive Council resigned except Daly. The legislators supported the ex-ministers, and in the debate conservatives Viger, MacNab, and Edward Gibbon Wakefield argued against Lafontaine, James Price, and Baldwin, and Price’s motion regretting the councilors retirement passed 46-23. Metcalfe prorogued the legislature on December 9. On the 12th the provisional government of Daly was joined by Draper and Viger.
      In early March 1844 Hincks began publishing the liberal Pilot in Montreal, and on the same day George Brown and Baldwin’s followers, who had formed the Reform Association in Toronto, began publishing the Globe. The businessman Isaac Buchanan in Toronto supported Metcalfe and financed the British Colonist for “loyal hearts and liberal measures.” Viger announced a new council in August for Canada East with himself as president, Denis Papineau as Commissioner of Crown Lands, and the lawyer James Smith as Attorney General East. Canada West got new ministers in early September led by Draper as Attorney General West. On the 23rd Governor Metcalfe dissolved the legislature and called for elections. They were hotly contested causing riots and bloodshed at the polls in October despite an 1842 law with penalties for election manipulation or intimidation, and troops were called out in various places. Metcalfe’s candidates got 57% of the votes in Canada West where Baldwin’s Reform Association won only 12 seats, but Lafontaine’s party elected 28 members in the East. Metcalfe had a majority in the second Union parliament that he opened on November 29. Conservative Allan MacNab was elected speaker by three votes.

Canada and British Provinces 1845-65

Newfoundland, Nova Scotia & New Brunswick 1817-44

      The Convention of 1818 excluded Americans from Newfoundland’s shore fisheries. Newfoundlanders took 200,000 seals in 1819, and this reached a peak of 700,000 in 1831. William Carson led the effort for representative government in Newfoundland from 1820 to 1832. Their first Assembly met in January 1833, and Carson was the reform leader in the Assembly 1834-43 and was Speaker 1837-41. In 1840 Newfoundland had a population of 60,000. Their constitution was suspended from 1841 to 1843.
      Dalhousie University was founded at Halifax in Nova Scotia in 1818. The merchant John Young of Halifax worked to improve agriculture in Nova Scotia from 1818 to 1826 with soil management, crop rotation, and new farm machinery. In 1835 Joseph Howe was tried for exposing political and police corruption, but the jury acquitted him. In 1837 he persuaded the Nova Scotia Assembly to pass his 12 resolutions for an elective Legislative Council in order to reconstruct local government, and he was Speaker of the House of Assembly 1840-43. In 1844 Howe resumed editing the Nova Scotian and the Morning Chronicle.

      Samuel Cunard of Halifax began the first transatlantic steamship service in 1840. The Central Board of Agriculture was established in 1841. Many Scots, Irish, and British immigrants came to Nova Scotia, and their population would increase from 130,000 in 1840 to 276,854 in 1851. Thomas Chandler Haliburton wrote the first successful novels in British America with The Clockmaker series 1836-40 and The Attaché; or Sam Slick in England series in 1843-44, but he also published a guide for immigrants in 1823, An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova-Scotia in 1829, A reply to the Report of the Earl of Durham in 1839, and Nature and Human Nature in 1855.
      The population of Prince Edward Island increased from 23,000 in 1827 to 71,496 in 1855. Their Governor Charles Douglas Smith mostly stayed in the capital at Charlottetown 1813-24. Violent agitation led to the British sending John Ready to govern the island in 1824, and he learned how to solve problems by touring Prince Edward Island until 1831. He began the Agricultural Society in 1827.
      The British colony of New Brunswick had about 70,000 people in 1820 and 193,800 in 1851. Lemuel A. Wilmot and William Crane persuaded the British to hand over control of Crown lands and territorial revenues in 1837, and the legislature agreed to a fixed civil list with an Executive Council that the Assembly trusted. John Harvey governed New Brunswick for the next five years.

British Provinces in North America 1845-65


1. Canadian History in Documents, 1763-1966 ed. J. M. Bliss, p. 38-43.
2. Ibid., p. 43-44.
3. Ibid., p. 46-47.
4. Quoted in The History of Canada, Volume X [1836-1841] by William Kingsford, p. 356-357.
5. Canadian History in Documents, 1763-1966 ed. J. M. Bliss, p. 46-47.
6. Ibid., p. 50-51, 56.
7. Report on the Affairs of British North America, p. 68, 100, 111.

Copyright © 2020 by Sanderson Beck

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Brazil, Argentina & Chile 1817-44
Venezuela, Colombia & Peru 1817-44

Caribbean & Central America 1817-44
Mexico and Democracy 1817-44
US Era of Monroe & J. Q. Adams 1817-2
Native Tribes, Removal & the West
Jacksonian Democracy 1829-37
US Depression, Van Buren & Tyler 1837-44
Canada Becomes Democratic 1817-44
Slavery and Abolitionists 1817-44
Women Reforming America 1817-44
American Philosophy & Religion 1817-44
Emerson’s Transcendentalism
Literature of Irving, Cooper & Whittier
Summary & Evaluating America 1817-44

World Chronology to 1830
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