The Durham Report, the
Union Act and the Birth of the Separatist/Federalist Attitudes
Department of History,
entering into details that need not concern us here, Lord Durham broadly proposed
three major changes in his famous report in 1839. In some manner, all three of
these proposals were interconnected. He proposed
Unite Upper and Lower Canada into a single province to stimulate the economy and
create conditions of prosperity as well as to reduce to dominant position of the
French, render them increasingly politically powerless and, eventually, assimilate
- to institute Responsible
Government so as to remove a major source of friction that had existed between
the government and elected officials prior to 1837.
assimilate the French.
His proposal of Union, especially as it was to be applied by the British Government
in the Union Act, was perceived in Quebec as an act of oppression
or, in the words of historian Maurice Séguin, as a New Conquest. It
was evident that one of the purposes of the Union Act was to remove from the French
the little amount of self-government, of control over their political institutions,
that they had had between 1791 and 1837. It was also evident that various clauses
the Act aimed at assimilating the French or introduced a threat to their
survival in the future. Especially objectionable to Quebec were the following
debts of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were now merged into one. Upper Canada
had a large debt when Lower Canada had an accumulated surplus.
Union Act provided for equal representation of the two parts of the new province
in the new House of Assembly when in fact Lower Canada contained 60% of the population
and Upper Canada had only 40%. This had been done to ensure an English majority
in the House of Assembly right from the start of the Union.
financial requirements to vote in elections, or to be elected, had been raised
making it more difficult to the poor to exercise their franchise. As the French
tended to be poorer than the English, more of them were adversely affected by
- The new legislature
to be elected would decide on the laws to be used. As the majority was English,
there was fear that French laws and the Seigneurial system would be put into jeopardy.
was no requirements for French to be used in the laws and by the government of
the Province. French could be used in the debates of the House but was slated
to disappear within 15 years.
did Durham suggest assimilation?
exists a mistaken view that the main reason for the assimilation suggestion by
Durham comes from an intolerant, racist attitude. While it is clear that Durham
shared the commonly held views of his time regarding the superiority of the
Anglo-Saxon race, and that one finds evidence in the Report that this view
coloured his vision of things in Lower Canada, nevertheless the assimilation suggestion
was not primarily based on racist grounds. After all, upon reflection,
suggestion of assimilation is usually not made by racist individuals who prefer
to see the separation of races continued and perpetuated, as the higher
race cannot possibly countenance melding with the lower race...
had primarily three reasons to propose assimilation:
- There was, for a variety of reasons,
some of which disclose intolerance on the part of Durham, a deadly animosity between
the English and the French and this made efficient government of the province
- One should consider
who will dominate eventually on this continent; the French of Canada will suffer
the fate of the Acadians of Louisiana. If the French cling to their ancestral
ways and language, in a continent more and more dominated by the English, they
will be put increasingly in a position of hopeless economic and social inferiority.
they are French, a spirit of exclusion (read: they have been victims of discrimination)
has kept them out of the better positions in government and business and has furthered
their position of inferiority.
of the Union Act in Quebec
were primarily three long-term consequences to the Union Act:
- It furthered immediately group solidarity
among Francophones in Quebec. All the members of the nation had to work for the
preservation of the group, protect it against those who wished to do harm to it.
Politically, all French Canadians had to support the French Canadian Block
( a group of Francophones elected after 1841 to oppose the Union, assimilation,
and defend French Canadian rights; French Canadians have continued to vote as
a block federally ever since). From 1841, the main focus politically in Quebec
- How best to protect
- How best to
assure the survival of the French language and culture.
priority became group survival and the necessary solidarity of its members to achieve this
goal; individualistic goals became secondary. The focus of all political
action will be the survival of Quebec, not that of Canada.
the fight for survival, the role of the elite was seen as essential; from 1841,
the leadership of French Canadian society was assumed by the Roman Catholic Church.
- religion was
increasingly stressed as the primary characteristic distinguishing the French
Canadian people from their Protestant environment. It became the prime
focus of survival, the first pillar of survival (as will be
explained later in the course). It will be the duty of French Canadians to spread
the religion and the values associated with it. This is what Michel Brunet called
values came to predominate; the focus is on preserving the past, what
there was rather than development in the future.
values will be preached; the 'Anglo-Saxon' world was a capitalist, urban and industrial
world. To enter such a world is to put on the line your faith, hence your survival.
It is best to remain on the land where conservative, rural values, belief in God
still predominate. This is what Michel Brunet called agriculturalism.
- the Church preached the distrust of
the state (Brunet calls this anti-statism); the state was seen as foreign to the
group, dominated as it was by a majority alien in culture and religion to the
Québécois. Those who control this state often are seen as attempting to destroy
French Canada; sometimes, they were called 'Negro-Kings'. It is best to rely on the Church to provide the services which
one would normally associate with the State (charity, health, welfare, education);
the Church is the guardian not just of the faith of the people but of the nation as well.
tendencies, the rejection and fear of others will also appear from
this time. Gone were the days of liberal and tolerant views toward others. Others will be perceived as a threat to the nation.
of the most important consequences was the birth of the separatist and federalist
attitudes or ideologies. For explanation, see the discussion below.
Birth of the Federalist and Separatist attitudes following the
passage of the Union Act
As French Canada
focused increasingly on the existential question of its survival in a foreign
and somewhat hostile environment, two attitudes arose to the question of how best
to assure the survival of the community: the federalist and the separatist. These
were typified by the two great political leaders in Quebec at that time: Louis-Hippolyte
Lafontaine and Louis Joseph Papineau.
had been a former follower of Papineau during the time of the Rebellions of 1837-38.
He had fled to the USA during the Rebellion of 1837 and upon his return in 1838
he had been arrested and jailed, though he was eventually released without the
benefit of a trial. After 1841 emerged as the leader of the French Canadian
Block in the new legislature of the United Province of Canada. While voicing the
discontent of his compatriots against a union devised to
destroy them, he
believed that the way to assure the survival of French Canada was to seek to
cooperate with English Canada. By supporting goals (economic development and
Responsible Government) that both the English and the French had in common, he hoped to gain
support from his allies in Upper Canada to make the Union more acceptable to the
French, and especially to gain rights for the French language and laws. In his
view, the best way to assure the survival of French Canada was to cooperate with
English Canada, to develop common bonds, to focus on what united all Canadians.
He typified the federalist attitude: cooperate to gain rights, the
survival of French Canada is dependant on the survival of Canada. The union of
Lafontaine and Baldwin, and later of Macdonald and Cartier, typified this federalist
attitude that later leaders like Laurier, Lapointe, St. Laurent and Trudeau are
going to follow.
a second attitude that could be taken to the threat of assimilation posed by the
new Union of 1840-41: the separatist attitude. To the question of how best to
assure the survival of French Canada, Louis-Joseph Papineau answered increasingly
by destroying the union, withdrawing cooperation and creating a separate
state controlled by the Quebecois and dedicated to the sole proposition of the
preservation of this state and people. To Papineau, cooperation would only eventually
bring about the subordination of his nation and its assimilation to the English
speaking world. He preached a form of isolationism although he was himself rather
internationalist in outlook. In the rest of his political career, he fought bitterly
the Union and his political rival Lafontaine.
what must be seen above the apparent differences, is that both attitudes share
much in common: both wish to assure the survival of French Canada and both made
of this survival their priority politically; both made the survival of Quebec
their priority and not that of Canada. This is, in part, what most distinguishes
the French Canadian federalist attitude from the federalists of the rest of Canada.
One is primarily focused on Quebec, the other on Canada.
1998 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College