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Cause and Effect: The Canadian Rebellions of 1837 and 1838

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The research in this proposal primarily focuses on the rebellions that took place in both upper and Lower Canada during 1838. The time line of this proposal will include events prior to the actual rebellions as they are significant to the understanding of the causes of these uprisings. In 1837 and 1838, insurrections against the British colonial government arose in Lower and Upper Canada. Moderates hoped to reform the political system, while radicals yearned for a restructuring of both administration and society (Read , 19-21). During this time period an economic crisis had swept both Upper and Lower Canada.

In Lower Canada many French habitants were suffering from famine and the accumulation of huge debts due to poor harvests. In Upper Canada the leading elite know as the Family Compact had a stranglehold on the Executive Council which in turn held a profound influence on the colonies governor (Outlett, 271-272). Both Canada’s were besieged by conflicts not only in the political and economic spectrums, but more evidently in the division of there social classes. The causes of each rebellion are unique, and in both cases multiple conflicts within the social realm occurred. It is difficult to pin point the exact reasons why each rebellion occurred and the roles that individual classes played.

Historians from various schools of thought continually disagree on the factors of causation leading up to the rebellions. The question driving this research is what caused the insurrections in Upper and Lower Canada during 1837 and 1838. The thesis of this research is that a range of factors attributed to the rebellions in Canada, each conflict had various affects on different social groups. These groups reacted in there own way to the problems that effected them.

This proposal will not offer original information rather a reinterpretation of old knowledge. Many aspects of these rebellions will be explored including class struggles, economic conditions, and racial conflicts, role of the clergy, the nationalistic and liberal movements and the quest for independence. It is important to understand that different scholars defend different views on which causes actually attributed to the rebellion. This proposal will give a broad view of political reality not dominated by a specific school of thought. Many scholars restrict themselves to one perspective when analyzing these rebellions. The reader will gain and understanding of the economic, political and racial discord during this time period and how these affected different levels of the social hierarchy. These rebellions were much more then a simple reaction to Russell’s Resolutions and corruption in the Family Compact (Outlett, 269).

The research for this topic will primarily focus on articles written by historians from several schools of thought including Marxists, socialists, and nationalists. Other sources will include scholarly internet sources, database articles, history text books and online journals. One of the outcomes from these rebellions was the restructuring of the Canadian Parliament. For this reason some sources will be scholars from political science discipline. The economic crisis that dominated upper and Lower Canada also played a large part so commerce scholars will be included as well.

A study of individual scholars an there ideologies is important to the understanding of there viewpoints on which causes affected the rebellions. By taking elements from several different schools of thought and using them to explain the actions of individual classes to there distinct problems it is possible to gain a better understanding of the true nature of these rebellions. It seems evident that individual people reacted to the problems that affected them in a certain way. Some wished to declare Independence where some were fed up with economic conditions; while others wished to have a greater influence in the political realm some had fears of racial discrimination. A grand sweeping theory incorporating 1 or 2 causes does not show the reality of these insurrections. Multiple problems mixed with multiple classes caused for a range of reactions. At the end of the rebellion, in search for the causes the British parliament send Lord Durham who plays a significant role in shaping Canada’s political culture (Read, 67).

The most important aspect of this proposal deals with the aftermath of the Canadian insurrections. This will be of extreme to significance to the reader as the aftermath of the rebellion would change the destiny of Canada. After learning of the uprisings in the Canadian colonies the British parliament sent a commission to study the causes. Lord Durham was named governor on May of 1839 and was in placed in charge of establishing an inquiry into the rebellions. From this inquiry came a list of recommendations submitted to the parliament in London (Outlett, 275). Two recommendations in this report became extremely significant to Canadian history.

The first recommendation would later become known as ‘responsible government’. The colonial governor would have to choose the executive council from elected member of the majority party in the Legislative. As well the governor would have to abide by the general wishes of the elected assembly. The practice of responsible was not put into effect until 1841 but Durham’s recommendations would be the start of reform to the British colonial rule in the Canada’s. This reform was a major step towards Canadian confederation in 1867 (Greer, 135.).

The second recommendation was the Uniting of the Two Canadian colonies into one entity. With the union of these two colonies into one state Upper Canada had the most to gain. The English would gain a slight population majority which would be further reinforced by the arrival of new immigrants. Durham whom was sympathetic to the merchant class believed the French were a threat to the British commerce in Lower Canada. He believed the French people of Lower Canada held a high level of animosity towards the English, and the only solution to the problem was the assimilation of French culture into the soon to be larger British society. This policy would help combat the Dangerous idea of French nationalism, a common theme during this time period. This recommendation was a very significant part in Canadian history as it was the first time in Canadian history the British colonial government attempted to officially assimilate the French people (Bernard, 32).

The overall effect of the Durham report was the establishment of separation of power between Britain and the colonial government. Local affairs would be handled by the colonial government. Issues involving Constitutional reform, foreign relations and trade were in the hands of the mother country. The English would gain a majority and eventually assimilate the French. The large debt Upper Canada had accumulated by the building of expensive canals would be shared by Lower Canada. Another result was the idea of Responsible government and financial accountability. The results of these rebellions are more black and white in comparison to establishing the causes (Coates, 284).

Modern Scholars do not agree on which conflicts started the rebellion. Different schools of thought offer diverse perspectives on the uprisings. An important part of this proposal is dissecting the theories of historians, economist and political scientist from a wide range of diverse ideologies.

For Lower Canada some of the scholars include Thomas Chapis who believed the rebellion was solely the cause the British governor in conflict with the French assembly. Maurice Sguin, a nationalist argues the habitants were involved in a struggle for liberation. Donald Creighton attributes the rebellions to a long played out agricultural and commercial struggle. Fernard Outlett spends significant time analyzing the agricultural crisis in Lower Canada and believed the struggle to be a nationalistic movement for the French habitant, whom supported professional elite ambitious for political gains. Allan Greer a critic of Ouellet suggests the economic conditions in Quebec don’t support Outleet theories. However statistical data of this kind is often incomplete and unreliable. Political Scientist Daniel Salee studied the revolutionary characteristics of the rebellion believed the patriots were a liberal bourgeois whose demands for economic reform and there denunciation of the corrupt seigniorial system won them the support of the habitants.

Murray Green Wood supports the idea of an anti-French attitude in British politics as early as 1791 in the Constitutional Act. He believes this attitude is evident in the tight grasp the British had on the justice system, in there educational reforms, and assimilation politics (Franices, 265-266). The British were extremely fearful of the ideas sprung from Napoleon and the French revolution. These scholars all contribute a different angle to the insurrection in Lower Canada. The causes of the rebellion in Upper Canada are unique and quite different from Lower Canada.

Scholars for Upper Canada such as Stanely Ryerson a Marxist support the idea that the rebellion was a bourgeoisie democratic revolution. Ryerson’s theory is supported by fellow Marxist Leo Johnson who a belief the Family Compacts inequitable system of land grants was responsible for the uprising. Johnson argues the system was designed to create an upper class at the expense of the poor farmers (Franices, 290-291). David Creighton again supports the idea of a long played out commerce battle between Agrarian Interests (represented Mackenzie and his followers) and the Executive and Legislative Council (controlled by the British elite) whom held Commercial Interests. He points out that the rebellion began after a succession of crop failures. Liberal Nationalist scholars support the idea that the rebellion was an attempt to gain independence from Britain (Creighton 323). Colin Read suggest multiple causes for the rebellion including individual family ties and loyalties, as well the rebels ignorance of the militia might. He believed many farmers had American born parents who instilled a hatred for the British administration (Read 123).

Analyzing multiple scholars from different schools of thoughts is essential in order to understand which conflicts affected which people. It is significant to note that no theory is generally accepted on the causes of these rebellions. This proposal suggest that there is no a grand theory that can be placed on these rebellions rather an only study of individual reactions from individual interests. Many factors played a role in these rebellions including the agricultural crisis, rise of nationalism, desire for an independent state, the corrupt seigniorial system, an unresponsive government not willing to cooperate, as well role of individual personalities and class struggles. The ramifications of the Canadian insurrections during 1837 and 1838 would unite two nations and change the future of Canada forever.

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