The Riel Rebellion of 1869: New Light on British Liberals and the Use of Force on the Canadian Frontier

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Within the context of the colonial policy of the first Gladstone government in Great Britain, the Riel Rebellion in the Red River Colony on the Manitoba frontier in 1869 offers a case study in the nature of late nineteenth-century British imperialism. The incident has usually been treated within Canadian history as part of the story of western expansion, or as an example of the continuous thread of Anglo-French tension within the Canadian union. However, this confrontation raised strategic imperial considerations and issues of race and social control to which London authorities felt compelled to respond. This paper offers a reinterpretation of the motives and forces behind the British decision to deploy imperial troops to end the Red River disorders at a time when official policy was set to withdraw British garrisons from Canada and other self-governing colonies. This re-examination offers evidence that London authorities needed little Canadian prodding. Rather, the pattern that emerges shows a consistent Liberal commitment to empire and a continuing belief in the empire's strategic and prestige value to Britain in world politics.

Dans le contexte de la politique coloniale du premier gouvernement de Gladstone en Grande Bretagne, la rebellion de Riel en 1869 dans la colonie de Red River au Manitoba est une etude de cas sur la nature de l'imperialisme britannique de la fin du 19[Symbol Not Transcribed] siecle. Ce fait historique a d'ordinaire ete traite a l'interieur du contexte historique canadien comme faisant partie de l'histoire de l'expension vers l'ouest, ou comme un exemple de la tension constante entre les anglais et les francais a l'interieur de l'union canadienne. Cependant, cette confrontation a souleve des considerations strategiques imperiales et des problemes de race et de controle social auxquels les autorites de Londres se sont senties contraintes de repondre. Dans cet article nous tentons de reinterpreter les motifs et les causes derriere la decision britannique de deployer les troupes imperiales pour mettre fin au desordre de Red River a l'epoque ou la politique officielle etait de retirer les garnisons anglaises du Canada et des autres colonies autonomes. Cette remise en question montre a l'evidence que les autorites de Londres n'avaient aucunement besoin de pressions canadiennes. Il semble plutot qu'il y ait toujours eu un engagement liberal a toute idee d'empire et une croyance continuelle dans la valeur strategique et de prestige de l'empire britannique dans le monde politique.

Within the larger context of the colonial policy of the first Gladstone government in Great Britain, the Riel Rebellion on the Manitoba frontier in 1869 offers an interesting case study in the historiographic debate over the nature of mid-Victorian British imperialism. The first Riel Rebellion has usually been treated within the context of Canadian history as a part of the story of Canada's expansion and the general western resistance to Ottawa's and Ontario's impositions, or as an example of the continuous thread of Anglo-French, Protestant-Catholic tension within the Canadian union. Louis Riel and most of his followers saw themselves as loyal subjects of the British Crown(f.1) who were merely rejecting unsatisfactory terms for union with Canada.(f.2) Moreover, a wide range of English as well as French-speaking residents at Red River shared Riel's objectives. However, in London the Red River resistance movement of 1869 was seen as a French Metis "half-breed" revolt. This "revolt" raised strategic imperial considerations and issues of race and social control to which London authorities felt compelled to respond.

Late in 1868 William Ewart Gladstone and the Liberal Party took office in Great Britain after winning a sizeable mandate in the first elections following the enfranchisement of Britain's urban working class. The slogan "peace, retrenchment, and reform" summarized the intended Liberal program for the country. …