Department of History,
Act of 1791 created two types of difficulties to the British authorities in North America:
- By dividing the old Province of Quebec
into two separate political units (Upper and Lower Canada) it first caused economic
difficulties. The division of the province had been made to primarily satisfy
the Loyalists who had been unhappy to live in a province with a French-Catholic
majority, under a legal system abhorrent to the newcomers and lacking representative
institutions; the Loyalists had desired the reshaping of the institutions of the
province along the lines of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. While the British
government obviously desired to accommodate the Loyalists in most of their demands,
it was faced with the prospect of satisfying 10 000 Loyalists while displeasing
160 000 Canadiens who wished things to continue to remain much as they were. The
solution had been to create two colonies out of the Province of Quebec: Upper
Canada (Southern Ontario of today) would be given the institutions desired by
the Loyalists while the Canadiens would keep control of Lower Canada (Southern
Quebec of today) and retain the institutions that they cherished. In achieving
this compromise very little thought had been given to the economic consequences
of dividing the province.
the early days of New France, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region had been perceived
as a single geographic and economic unit as it was the main avenue of penetrating
to the heart of the continent; the unity of this line of communication had been
essential in the days of the pre-eminence of the fur trade and the early 19th
century reinforced this view further. As the population on the continent moved
further west and the grain trade developed, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence route
became a vital link in the shipping of an increasing number of products to Europe.
Well situated along the communication system, the ports of Montreal and Quebec
City developed tremendously in the first quarter of the 19th century; they drained
not only the commerce of the northern half of the Great Lakes but also that of
the American part of the region; milling facilities were established in Montreal
to refine the grain into flour for re-export to Europe. In time, however , the
commercial interests of the British merchants' class of Lower Canada were threatened
by the establishment of the American Erie Canal system which, completed by 1825,
could transport western products more cheaply to Europe than the all-Canadian
route could. The response of the Canadians was to build a Canadian Canal system
which could rival that of the Americans. This venture necessitated the close co-operation
of the governments and legislatures of the two Canadian colonies.
- The Assembly of Lower Canada, made
up in majority of the representatives of the Canadiens, did not see much advantage
of levying heavy taxes in the province to build canals largely situated in Upper
Canada. If the transportation system was to be modernised, the Canadiens wished
to see improvements in the local transportation system first before any money
was to be diverted into what they perceived as the British merchants' grandiose
continental projects. The frustrations of the merchants' class with what they
perceived as an anti-commercial attitude led them to loudly demand the reunification
of the two Canadas so that a new Assembly, largely composed of anglophones they
hoped, would implement their economic program. This vision of the situation
was strengthened by the difficulties in apportioning the customs revenues between
the two provinces . Governments at the time were largely supported by taxes levied
on products as they entered the territory they controlled. As all imports came
through the ports of Quebec City and Montreal, the province of Lower Canada enjoyed
a favourable economic position as it was in a position to tax not only the trade
of Lower Canada but also that ultimately earmarked for Upper Canada. In 1822,
the British government had intervened and forced a sharing between the two provinces,
of all customs revenues (Canada Trade Act, UK 3 Geo. IV, C. 119); both colonies
of course felt discriminated against and the issue continued to plague the two
colonies until 1840-41 when the Union was achieved.
second set of difficulties created by the Constitutional Act was national in nature.
Implicit in the arrangement of 1791 was the thought that the Loyalists had been
given a province while the Canadiens would control the other. It was thus natural
for the Canadiens to have imagined that, within Lower Canada, they would be able
to do pretty much as they pleased. However, that did not turn out to be the case.
What the British government gave with one hand it removed with the other. While
it is true that a province with a French majority had been created with French
laws and the seigneurial system, on the other hand, judicial appointments,
the civil service, the patronage, the nominations on the Executive and Legislative
Councils continued to be given largely to anglophones. The absence of responsibility
in government permitted the cliques that dominated the Executive and Legislative
Councils to frustrate the desire for reform expressed by the largely francophone
members of the Councils, the Chateau Clique as they were called, also
used their positions of power and prestige to subvert the essentially French character
of the province: attempts were made to introduce English commercial laws to replace
the French legal system, large scale British immigration was encouraged so that
the French majority be diluted, the seigneurial system was threatened with abolition,
new land was largely withheld from the Canadiens, English rather than French laws
were applied in the Eastern Townships, gerrymandering was heavily used to bolster
the anglophone representation in the Assembly, challenges were made to the position
of the French language in the courts from time to time and in the Assembly. When
these, and other measures, failed to produce the result of assimilating the Canadiens
and that the latter started to challenge the economic domination of the merchants
class, the Lower Canadians British resurrected the old idea of a union between
Upper and Lower Canada.
of the union projects (1810, 1822) proposed before 1840 stemmed largely from these
two conditions : the union was necessary to assure the economic health of the
two territories and to dilute the political power of the French. Durham, in his
Report that directly led to the enactment of the Union Act of 1840-41, particularly
stressed the national struggle in Lower Canada and went as far as to state that "Lower Canada must be English, at the expense, if necessary, of not being
British." Several groups of anglophones in Lower Canada encouraged the British
government along this line of thinking; British merchants from Montreal wrote:
"Sans l'union cette population gardera sa prépondérance dans le gouvernement
du pays et naturellement elle ne cessera pas d'elle-même d'être française";
the same sentiments were expressed in a petition from the inhabitants of the Eastern
Townships ("Avec plus de protection, nous pourrions rapidement avoir la majorité
et démentir cette opinion abusive qu'ont les Canadiens français de vouloir rester
un peuple distinct") and in the editorials of the Montreal Gazette where
it was claimed that "the leading object of the Union is to assimilate the
French inhabitants of this Province to the laws, language and institutions of
Great Britain" (Nov. 28, 1839).
the wake of the Rebellions of 1837-38, and of the Durham Report, the British
government yielded rapidly to these pressures and enacted on July 23, 1840 the
Union Act (3 and 4 Vict. C. 35). The Act contained 62 articles of which the most
Art. 1. The
Union of Upper and Lower Canada shall be declared by a Proclamation of the Governor-general
in the next 15 months; this union is made to "secure the rights and liberties
and promote the interest of all classes of Her Majesty's subjects." The province
is to be known as the Province of Canada.
3. There shall be one Legislative Council and one Assembly. "Her Majesty
shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the said Legislative Council
and Assembly, to make laws for the peace, welfare, and good government of the
Province of Canada. "
4. The Governor shall appoint the Legislative Councillors; there are to be at
least 20 such councillors; more may be thereafter appointed.
5. The Legislative Councillors are appointed for life.
12. In the Legislative Assembly of the Province "the parts of the said Province
which now constitute the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada shall [ . . .] be
represented by an equal number of representatives ."
13 to 17. divide the Electoral districts of Upper Canada in such a way as to multiply
their former number .
18 to 20 regroup the Electoral districts of Lower Canada in such a way as to reduce
their former number .
24-25. elections are proclaimed by the Governor .
28. To run in elections, a candidate must own property worth £ 500 "above
all rents , charges , mortgages and encumbrances."
31. Parliament shall last for four years unless the government decides otherwise.
Art. 37. The Governor may
assent, withhold assent or reserve any bill passed by the Legislative Assembly
Art. 38. The
British government may, within two years of its passage, disallow a bill passed
by the Assembly and Council and assented to by the Governor.
4l. All official journals, entries and written or printed proceedings of the Council
or the Assembly, all writs of summons and elections and all writs of public documents "shall be in the English language only: Provided always, that this enactment
shall not be construed to prevent translated copies of any such documents
being made, but no such copy shall be kept among the records of the Legislative
Council or Legislative Assembly, or be deemed to have the force of an original
Art. 42. Final
adjudication regarding Ecclesiastical (clergy reserves, Roman Catholic tithes,
etc. ) or Crown Rights (Crown reserves) shall rest with the Parliament of Great
Art. 43. Questions
of duties, navigation and regulation of commerce with any other parts of the world
are to be decided by the British Parliament; duties collected here are to be applied
for the use of the Province of Canada.
44. Judges are appointed by the Governor "with the advice and consent of
the Executive Council."
45. All the powers of the Governor are to be exercised with the advice and consent
of the Executive Council.
46. All laws, statutes and ordinances which were in effect in Upper Canada and
Lower Canada continue in force "as if this Act had not been made" and
"as if the said two Provinces had not been united." The Legislature
may, however, change them in the future.
50. All duties and revenues of Upper and Lower Canada "shall form one consolidated
revenue fund to be appropriated for the public services of the Province of Canada."
Art. 51. A permanent Civil list of £75 000 is created. These revenues shall be used to pay the salaries of the Governor and judges.
54. In return for the permanent Civil list, the Crown surrenders "all territorial
and other revenues now at the disposal of the Crown."
55. The public debts of Upper and Lower Canada are consolidated into one.
57. All money bills are introduced first in the Legislative Assembly.
58. The Governor may create townships.
several respects, the Union Act showed unfairness toward Lower Canada:
1 Eliminated the small amount of self-government the Canadiens had enjoyed between
1791 and 1838.
Art. 12 Required
equality of representation between the two sections of the province even though
Lower Canada had a population which exceeded that of Upper Canada by 200 000 people
(L.C. had 650 000 people and Upper Canada had only 450 000).
28. With a Lower Canadian population on the average much poorer than that of Upper
Canada, it will be difficult for the average Canadien to run in elections because
of the high property qualification.
41. The French language is reduced to a second class status, that of a translation
Art. 46. The French
civil law system may be threatened by the existence of an anglophone majority
in the House.
Art. 50. Revenues
were higher in Lower than Upper Canada.
55. The consolidation of the public debts of Upper and Lower Canada is in fact
a fictional one since Lower Canada entered the Union with a credit balance of
$190 000 while Upper Canada had a debt of $5 900 000. (Different sources provide
evident from the start that the Union Act did not have a chance to stand the test
of time for three reasons:
lack of responsibility in government was sure to displease every reformer in the
province and the problems evident in the period of 1791 to 1840 were bound to
- The Union of
Upper and Lower Canada could only be successful if both partners saw a distinct
advantage in such a union and if the principle of duality was respected; however,
it is clear from the start that the Union was set up as an instrument of assimilation
founded on the domination of one people over another.
be successful the Union would have had to call on the loyalty of all of the people
in the province; with equality of representation the members of the two sections
will tend inevitably, to speak out in favour of their section of the Province;
thus, sectionalism is bound to appear rapidly because the unity of interests of
the people of the two sections of the Province was not great enough to counterbalance
their great difference.
the failure of the Union Act, as the main cause of Confederation, could have been
predicted from the beginning... The Union, with its clear intent of assimilation,
was to generate trauma and political realignment in Quebec. Its effects were to
be felt for over a century in the ultramontane form of nationalism that dominated
the province for so long and in the ideology of la survivance .
© 1998 Claude
Bélanger, Marianopolis College