Rebellion and Reform
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Rebellion and Reform
The Union of Upper and Lower Canada
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1839 - Lord Durham's Report
By 1839, the rebellions were over but Upper and Lower Canada were plunged into a period of despair and bitterness.
More than two hundred Patriotes and Upper Canadian rebels had died on the battlefield while others had been hanged or sent into exile. The forces of reform were decisively defeated and the economy took a turn for the worse. Poor harvests reduced numerous many farmers to poverty.

Upon his return to London in 1838, John George Lambton, the Earl of Durham tabled his report, which outlined the conclusions he had drawn during his stay in the British colonies of North America. Lord Durham paid particular attention to the relations between the English and the "Canadiens" of Lower Canada. In his opinion, it was necessary to give the elected assembly more power.

"It is not by weakening but in strengthening the influence of the people on their government," he wrote, "that it will be possible, in my view, to bring about concord where discord has so long reigned, and to introduce a hitherto unknown regularity and vigor into the administration of the provinces."

He proposed that the Governor choose his advisers - in effect, his cabinet - from among men who enjoyed the confidence of the Assembly.
In this respect, Durham seemed to agree with the reformists Louis-Joseph Papineau, of Lower Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie, of Upper Canada and Joseph Howe, in Nova Scotia.

Durham realized there was another, more serious problem, in the case of Lower Canada.

"I expected to find a conflict between the government and the people: instead, I found two warring nations within a single State; I found a struggle, not of principles, but of races.
And I realized that it would be pointless to try to improve the laws or institutions without succeeding in extinguishing the mortal hatred which now divides the inhabitants of Lower Canada into two hostile groups: French and English."

To solve the problem, Durham proposed to unite Upper and Lower Canada, as the English party had previously suggested. By uniting the two Canadas, the English would become dominant and the French Canadians would become a minority. He thought that French Canadians, whom he described as a people "without history and without literature", would gradually abandon their identity.

"The language, the laws and the character of the North American continent are English, and every other race than the English race is in a state of inferiority.
It is in order to release them from this inferiority that I wish to give the Canadians our English character."

Despite Lord Durham's recommendations, the British government refused to give the colonists more power. The British ministers worried that colonial autonomy would lead to the disintegration of the British Empire. Nevertheless, the uniting of the two Canadas was an opportunity to solve the French problem once and for all.

In Halifax in 1840, Joseph Howe, who had been a member of the Assembly for four years, was in favour of Lord Durham's reforms and wrote to the British Colonial Minister in London to support them.
Howe was deeply disappointed when the government refused to reform the colonial parliamentary system.

"We must hasten," wrote Howe, "to bring to the colonies the principle of self-government, a government accountable to the people. It is the only straightforward and certain solution capable of curing a deep rooted and far-reaching affliction."

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Lord Durham's Mission

Current Topic:
Rebellion and Reform
The Union of Upper and Lower Canada
1839 - Lord Durham's Report
The Reform Alliance
1841 - The First Election after the Act of Union
A Responsible Government
The Reformers' Victory
The Rebellion Losses Bill: the First Test
1849 - The Burning of Parliament
The End of an Era

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