(CANADA and the UNITED STATES, 1814-46 – continued)

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CANADA and the UNITED STATES, 1814-46 (7 of 7)

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Rebellion and Reforms in Canada to 1846

The British had been ruling the French of Lower Canada since 1763, the British government in London maintaining constitutional rights for the French, including the right of worship as Roman Catholics. In Lower Canada the British maintained a mix of French Civil Law and English Criminal Code.

In both Lower and Upper Canada, the British allowed legislative assemblies, the representatives of these assemblies elected by eligible male voters. But these bodies were overseen by British crown authorities and could be overruled by Britain's governors-general. Ultimate power in Britain's colonies remained with the government in London. The legislative assemblies in Lower and Upper Canada were largely places of talk.

British North America suffered a decline in wheat exports in the 1830s, which impoverished many of its small farmers, especially in Lower Canada. And in the mid-thirties an economic recession appeared in both British North America and the United States. In Lower Canada, aggravations fueled French nationalism. A movement led by Louis-Joseph Papineau demanded political and economic reforms that were rejected by the British government, and from March through August, 1837, people gathered to protest Britain's recalcitrance. On September 5, five hundred young French speakers in Montreal organized what they called the Fils de la Liberté, (Sons of Liberty). And, in November, brawls erupted between backers of the Fils de la Liberté and those loyal to the British.

On November 23, six companies of British infantry attacked armed French rebels at Saint-Denis, on the St. Lawrence River, 120 kilometers northeast of the town of Quebec. After seven hours of fighting and losing 6 men killed and 11 wounded, the British retreated. The French rebels lost 12 killed and 8 wounded, but they were elated by what they believed had been a victory. Two days later came the Battle of Saint-Charles, 20 kilometers east of the town of Quebec. The rebels were routed after two hours of fighting, the British losing 7 dead and 23 wounded, the rebels losing 28 killed and more than 30 wounded. The rout discouraged the rebels. Papineau fled to the United States. On December 12 the British offered a reward for the capture of Papineau. For more than a year he remained in hiding in Albany, New York, and then he moved to Paris.

During the 1837 revolt, some Anglos in Upper Canada were encouraged and joined the revolt against the British. In the western part of Upper Canada a rebel force of from 500 to 600 was on the move. At the town of York (later called Toronto) a local militia was called out against the rebel force led by William Lyon Mackenzie. The militia won and Mackenzie fled to the United States.

In January, 1838, the United States government affirmed its neutrality concerning the struggle taking place in Canada. In February, sporadic fighting broke out at Amherstburg – a town in Upper Canada bordering the U.S. and about 20 miles south of the town of Detroit, with the rebels assisted by U.S. supporters. Another rebellion was taking shape as a force of 600, mainly French Canadians, assembled at Plattsburg in New York state, on Lake Chaplain. They crossed the lake into Vermont and then into Lower Canada. Their leader declared Quebec independent of British rule, but in March they were forced back into the United States where their leaders were arrested by US authorities.

In March, another skirmish occurred between British regulars and Anglo rebels in Upper Canada. The rebel leaders were captured, and in April they were hanged for treason. Another armed rising was attempted in June. Twenty-six rebels crossed into Upper Canada from Grand Island on the south bank of Lake Superior, where they were joined by 22 others, and they defeated a force of 13 British soldiers. Then a second force of loyalist troops arrived and crushed the rebels. The leader of this armed rising was hanged and others were sent to a penal colony across the Pacific Ocean on the island Tasmania south of Australia.

In early November the British defeated yet another rebellion in Lower Canada, first against 300 armed rebels at Lacolle (five miles north of the US border and Vermont), and four days later they defeat 600 rebels at Odeltown.

Two days later from the state of New York rebels crossed Lake Ontario into Upper Canada – a force of about 200 men, most of them US citizens, led by a Swedish soldier of fortune, Nils von Schoultz. They attacked Fort Wellington, beginning what was called the Battle of the Windmill, and after a four-day siege they surrendered.

The rebellions had ended. In Lower Canada, 855 were arrested. On December 8, Nils von Schoultz and 11 other rebels captured at the Battle of Windmill were executed. On December 12, twelve rebels in Lower Canada were executed and fifty-eight were deported to penal colonies across the Pacific. And on December 21, two more rebel leaders, Joseph Cardinal and Joseph Duquet, were executed.

Meanwhile, the British had sent a new governor-general to Lower Canada: Lord Durham. He recommended more self-government for Upper and Lower Canada, and he recommended the unification of the two colonies in order to better assimilate the French. In 1840 the British government passed the Act of Union, uniting Upper and Lower Canada, which became law in 1841. A parliament was created in Canada, with equal representation between Upper and Lower Canada. And in 1846, Britain granted Canada self-government for internal affairs.


Andrew Jackson: His Life and Time, H W Brands, 2006

The Oxford History of the American People, by Samuel Eliot Morison, 1965

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