Empire & Commonwealth: Studies in Governance and Self-Government in Canada

By Chester Martin | Go to book overview
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FOR the British provinces the American Revolution left 'the American question' still unsolved. It continued without intermission in Nova Scotia, it arose in the Assemblies of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick after 1773 and 1785, and it was resumed in the Canadas after the Constitutional Act of 1791 almost where the Revolution had left it except for the false lessons that were drawn from that still incomprehensible disaster. The course of the second Empire for fifty years is thus not only reminiscent of the first but scarcely distinguishable from it.

The auguries at least for the old system were more favourable. The loyalists--30,000 in the Maritime Provinces and 10,000 in Upper Canada--could be relied upon, as William Knox reflected, to be 'abhorrers of Republicanism'. Many of them, as we have seen, had 'had enough of Assemblies'. Burke's 'unsuspecting confidence' was again in the ascendant. If the first Empire, as Knox maintained, had failed through lack of 'system', the second could now be systematized at leisure. The virtues of the old colonial system, it seemed, had sprung from the executive; the disasters, from the Assemblies and a Continental Congress. Carleton himself, now Lord Dorchester and Governor-General, could fortify the first; the disintegration of the remaining provinces seemed to forestall the others. Nova Scotia was broken into four fragments, three of which were never to be reunited. One was denied an Assembly altogether. Prince Edward Island, as we have seen, narrowly escaped the same fate. Knox proposed a fifth province on the St. Croix. Quebec was broken into Upper and Lower Canada. Permanent revenues robbed 'the power of the purse' of its terrors or transferred it bodily to the executive.

Not only the American Revolution but the French soon cast its shadow over colonial policy. Aristocracy and an established church--bulwarks against revolutionary Europe--were to be planted in the American wilderness. The good sense of Dorchester and the wit of Fox saved Canada from Pitt's scheme of an hereditary aristocracy as 'the true poise. . . of the constitution',1 but with the strengthening of the councils 'the American question' trans

'The sort of titles meant to be given were not named in the bill; he pre


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