Rebellions

 

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The Constitution Act of 1791 set up the system of government of the British North American colonies: a governor appointed by the Crown and responsible to Britain; an appointed council whose role was to confirm laws; an elected assembly whose role was to pass laws and especially to vote taxes (this assembly could be dissolved by the governor). This was consistent with the social organization of Britain at the time: crown, aristocracy, commoners. The Canadian history from the 1790s to the 1840s was characterized by the emergence of the democratic principle and government by local people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Lower Canada the system worked at first. Most elected representatives were English merchants and conservative French seigneurs who supported the British crown. Little by little, however, the Assembly passed under the control of the French-speaking middle class, while the appointed council was controlled by the English. The ethnic division was worsened by divergent economic  interests (merchants/seigneurs versus small farmers). The English merchants, unable to push their programs in the assembly, because of the French majority there, concentrated on the appointed council and governor. The Assembly was controlled by the French upper middle class, mainly lawyers, doctors, who were rivals of the old elite of seigneurs and merchants. A new view emerged in the Assembly, who wanted a government fully responsible to the people (the French Canadian people). This led to many conflicts between the legislative assembly and council/governor and the Assembly was dissolved many times. In the early 1830s, a new political movement called the "Patriotes" emerged in the Assembly under the leadership of Louis Papineau. In November 1837, after yet another dissolution of the Assembly, the Patriotes rebelled. The rebellion was broken by British troops, 70 Patriotes were killed, the leaders deported. The Assembly was suspended until 1841.

 

 

 

 

In Upper Canada, there no ethnic divisions but other problems existed. The American loyalists and the new American immigrants who came later were used to more self-government. There was also the problem of the established church of England, which did not exist in the old American colonies and benefited from land reserves. In addition, the Crown attempted to create an aristocracy on the British model through huge grants of lands to a few selected aristocrats. Little by little, the appointed council passed under the control of aristocratic conservatives, supporters of the established church, called the Family Compact, while the elected Assembly was controlled by the Reform Party, made up of recent immigrants from the US, used to democracy and opposed to established churches, who wanted the land to be redistributed. This caused frequent conflicts in the 1820s and 1830s. The Reform leader, William Lyon Mackenzie, was expelled several times from the Assembly. In fall 1837, Mackenzie and 1,000 partisans influenced by rebellion in Lower Canada, marched on York (the future Toronto). The demonstration was quickly dispelled, Mackenzie escaped to the US where he was greeted as a hero, and the Assembly was suspended.