Irish Radicalism and the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec and Ireland, 1833-1834: O'Callaghan and O'Connell Compared

By Slattery, Maureen | Historical Studies, Annual 1997 | Go to article overview

Irish Radicalism and the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec and Ireland, 1833-1834: O'Callaghan and O'Connell Compared


Slattery, Maureen, Historical Studies


Introduction

Recent historical studies on the Rebellion in the Canadas suggest that we need to look more closely at the crisis of 1837-38 and the years preceding it, as a "complex series of contingent events" rather than a one-dimensional act of criminal revolt. Historian Alan Greer maintains we can do this if we situate our historiography both in the microscopic context of the circumstances as well as in the larger international currents of the times. The latter, Greer says, will help us build some comparative framework within which to "construct an integrated account of the Canadian Rebellion" in both Upper and Lower Canada.(1) Greer observes: "Ireland provides a particularly striking parallel in many respects, and the Patriots were well aware of this connection; Papineau was proud to be known as the `O'Connell of Canada.' "(2)

One element deserving exploration is the affinity between Daniel O'Connell's radical Irish goals and O'Callaghan's views as expressed in his 1833-34 Vindicator editorials. Dr. Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan was the Irish Catholic patriote who became Papineau's right-hand man in the Lower Canadian Legislative Assembly after the doctor's election in the fall of 1834. Helen Taft Manning estimates that Papineau chose O'Callaghan as his lieutenant when he was elected to the Assembly because O'Callaghan was in contact with Daniel O'Connell. Papineau needed the votes of O'Connell and his thirty or forty Irish radical followers in any Canadian reform debate in the British Imperial parliament.(3)

After O'Callaghan's election in 1834 to the Lower Canadian Legislative Assembly, his discourse radicalized in response to the growing intransigence of the British. During the 1837 Rebellion, O'Callaghan escaped with Papineau across the American border where he later became New York State's first official historian. However, in 1833-34 the situation was still fluid. O'Callaghan's bi-weekly editorials during this time demonstrated similarity with the constitutional aims upheld in Daniel O'Connell's "Letters to the Irish people" reprinted in the The Vindicator during 1833.

According to the analysis of political scientists Bernier and Salee, the logic of the rebellion can be found in the social processes more than in the actions of a class or elite. One of the distorting effects of colonial rule, they say, was the absence of "an emerging industrial bourgeoisie that in self-sustaining developed societies was the spearhead of challenges to the landed aristocracy's economic hegemony and its sociopolitical order."(4) In Lower Canada, the torch of liberalism was borne by the petite bourgeoisie separate from the interests of the merchant bourgeoisie allied with the large landowners. Bernier and Salee see the patriote discourse during the 1830s set within a precapitalist colonial environment governed by authoritarian structures and practices of power. They interpret patriotes goals as susceptible to failure because of the lack of an industrial middle class such as existed in England.(5) In this respect, a comparison of O'Callaghan's editorials with Daniel O'Connell's "Letters to the Irish People" takes on added interest. Their words were embedded in Lower Canada and Ireland, precapitalist agricultural societies in a colonial relationship with a rapidly industrializing England. The realization of their liberal goals suffered from the same structural threat. Neither Ireland nor Lower Canada had an indigenous industrial middle class sufficient to impress their democratic aims upon the economy of their mother country.

Political Circumstances in Lower Canada

The first period of the patriote movement is situated between 1827-1834 when "the party was controlled by moderates." (6) At this time, it was known as the "popular" party. O'Callaghan wrote his first editorial in The Vindicator on 14 May 1833, toward the end of this moderate period. Some small hope was still alive that Britain would continue to attend to the democratic reforms requested in the Canadas since 1828. …

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