Rebellions in the Canadas

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    Rebellions in the CanadasDespite the lessening of tensions between the United States andBritain after the War of 1812, a combination of factors createdunrest

    in Upper and Lower Canada. A series of rebellions against Britishcontrol broke out in late 1837 and lingered into 1838. The seedsofrebellion in Canadian history are both complex and muchdebated byhistorians. In both Upper and Lower Canada, reformers mountedaggressive campaigns to wrest control over colonial matters fromthecouncils appointed by British governors. Canadian political elites,supported by powerful social and religious connections,

    symbolizedautocratic rule. Called the Family Compact in Upper Canada andtheChteau Clique in Lower Canada, these groups held the lionsshareof power. A historic reform impulse in Great Britain after 1832 tobroaden access to political power provided another irritant forcolonial reformers. It appeared that the British were reluctant toextend similar liberties to their colonies. In addition a soureconomy

    in the 1830s, crop failures in Lower Canada, and mountingpopulation pressures on the ancient seigneuries createdwidespreaddistress in British North America. Finally, colonial reformersadmiredthe republic to the south. Few wanted to join the United States,but anumber of reformersand later rebelswished to emulate someofthe more democratic elements of American governance. In short,the 1830s brought together forces that laid a foundation forconflict. Therebellions were not preordained, but they were utterly shaped bythetimes.Although there were fitful efforts to coordinate the rebellions inthe two Canadas, they were quite distinct events. In addition tothe

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    problems already mentioned, disproportionately greaterrepresentationof British heritage citizens was a glaring annoyance to therelatively few French Canadians who shared the bounty ofpolitical

    power. Galvanized by the leadership of Louis-Joseph Papineau, anassemblyman and landholder, the reformers mounted aconcertedeffort to wrest control from the British. Their convoluted 92Resolutions for change, issued in 1834, led to a harsh Britishresponse. In late 1837 a series of conflicts broke out betweenpatriotes, a varied group that included a number of habitants,andforces representing the government. Although the patriotes faredwell in one skirmish, they met resounding defeat at St. Charles

    andSt. Eustache, communities lying to the east of Montreal.Papineau and other leaders fled to the United States, and some ofthe leaders in 1838 made an unsuccessful attempt to set up arepublic

    just across the border. In addition, some Americans establishedHunters Lodges, shadowy organizations that skirted theneutralitylaw of the United States by gathering money and arms to supportthe

    rebellions. The Lower Canadian rebellions were poorlyorchestratedand easily crushed. Nonetheless, they were at times bloody andin atleast one region along the Richelieu River they drew substantialsupport. A few leaders were hanged. Papineau and others soughtasylum in the United States, and others were exiled to otherBritishcolonies. While support for rebellion was uneven, recentscholarship

    has drawn a compelling picture of a genuine effort on the part ofthelower orders to address glaring class inequities in the province.

    The Upper Canadian rebellions shared some of the dynamics ofthe Lower Canadian conflicts but were not as widespread or asintense. The rebellions antecedents in Upper Canada weremostly

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    political in nature. Representatives of the Family Compact, asmallgroup of conservative elites, essentially held the reins ofgovernment.In addition, an inequitable land distribution system and the

    favoredposition of the Church of England angered Upper Canadians ofmorehumble means or different Protestant denominations. Arepressivegovernor in the 1830s, Sir Francis Bond Head, made an especiallydespised foil for the mounting reform forces. One particularlyvociferous newspaper editor and politician, William LyonMackenzie,challenged elite authority and published a constitution for

    Upper Canada that mirrored the U.S. document. Skirmishes brokeout in December 1837 near Toronto. Much like his French-Canadiancounterpart, Mackenzie escaped and set up a tiny republic in theNiagara area. From this base, Mackenzies group, periodicallyaidedby sympathetic Americans, attempted to keep the rebellion aliveby sponsoring raids into Upper Canada. British andmilitia forceseasilytamped down the conflict by 1838, and Americans arrested and

    temporarily imprisoned Mackenzie. Like their neighboringcompatriots,Upper Canadas rebels seemed dismal failures (see MackenziesCall to Arms in the Documents section).

    Yet their actions helped to turn certain political tides in all ofBritish North America. Upon hearing the news of the uprisings,echoes of an American revolt a half-century earlier, the Britishdispatched a political activist named John Lambton, the Earl ofDurham and a small fact-finding team to the Canadas in 1838.After

    a relatively brief stay in Canada, Durham returned to England anddrew up an extensive report. His recommendation to grant theBritishNorth American colonies more self-governance within the Britishimperial fold, a principle called responsible government, was anearlystatement of the confederation model that Canada would employ

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    in 1867.