The Revolt of French Canada, 1800-1835: A Chapter of the History of the British Commonwealth

By Helen Taft Manning | Go to book overview

XII
The Attack on the Councils

I

It is one of the axioms of British imperial history that William Pitt and his advisers, in framing their constitution for the Canadas, failed to see the handwriting on the wall and, instead of accepting as inevitable the march of democracy on the American continent, sacrificed the success of their experiment to the principle of aristocratic control. That William Grenville's heart was set on creating and developing an aristocracy across the seas, to play the same role as that played by the House of Lords in the English political structure of the eighteenth century, is easily shown from his own writings and speeches, but that the clauses which embodied these ideas -- namely those which dealt with the selection and perpetuation of the legislative councils -- made very much difference in the operation of the Act of 1791 is much more open to question. It is true that the restrictions on the royal prerogative in the removal of councillors created some difficulties for the Whig ministers when they tried to reform the councils after 1830. On the other hand the councillors who were most under fire in Lower Canada at that time were the judges of the Courts of King's Bench, and when the Colonial Secretary at last decided that the complaints of the Canadians on this score were reasonable, those worthies were informed officially that they had better absent themselves from council meetings, which they did. This method was also employed, after more than ten years delay unfortunately, to rid the upper house of the presence of Sir John Caldwell, the ex-receiver general, whom James Stephen described as the 'very Coripheus of defaulters'.1

Except for the restrictions on the removal of councillors the rules governing the legislative councils in the Canadas were almost exactly the same as those laid down in the Governor's instructions for the councils of Nova Scotia and the West Indian colonies when they sat as part of the colonial legislature, and it should be noted that in other British colonies, when there was a contest between the two houses of

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The Revolt of French Canada, 1800-1835: A Chapter of the History of the British Commonwealth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations ix
  • Maps x
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - The Setting 1
  • I - The Province of Lower Canada 3
  • II - Lord Grenville's Act 23
  • Part II - The Struggle in the Colony: Governor Versus Assembly 39
  • III - Governor, Electorate, Assembly 41
  • IV - The Popular Party 58
  • V - Sir James Craig, 1807-11 77
  • VI - The Francophile Governor Sir George Prevost, 1811-15 95
  • VII - Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, I816-I8 109
  • VIII - Lord Dalhousie, 1820-28 124
  • Part III - The Struggle in the Colony: The Fundamental Issues 149
  • IX - The Question of Union 151
  • XII - The Question of Representation 187
  • XII - The Attack on the Councils 207
  • Part IV - The Reaction in England 223
  • XIII - Reaction in War 225
  • XIV - Reaction in Peace 243
  • XV - The Politics of the Colonial Office 260
  • XVI - The Mind of Parliament 277
  • Part V - The Ascendancy of French Canada 297
  • XVII - The Triumph of the Assembly 299
  • XVIII - The Work of the Assembly 311
  • XIX - The Forces Dividing 321
  • XX - The Catastrophe 335
  • XXI - The Election of 1834 355
  • Conclusion 374
  • Appendix 378
  • Bibliographical Notes 384
  • Notes 390
  • Index 419
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