The Colonial Regime and the "Family Compact"
Home Radio Television CBC Learning
The Reformers' Protests
The Colonial Regime and the "Family Compact"
History Home
The Colonial Regime and the "Family Compact"

In the nineteenth century, the colonial regime in Canada angered people who demanded ministerial accountability.
William Lyon Mackenzie, editor of the Colonial Advocate in Upper Canada, advocated more democratic government in British North America. (As portrayed by Martin Neufeld in Canada: A People's History)
William Lyon Mackenzie, editor of the Colonial Advocate in Upper Canada, advocated more democratic government in British North America. (As portrayed by Martin Neufeld in Canada: A People's History)
Men such as William Lyon Mackenzie of Upper Canada, Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia and Louis-Joseph Papineau in Lower Canada supported the right of the colonies to self-government.

At the time, the ideals of justice and freedom, which spread during the French Revolution and the American Revolution, were also fermenting in the six colonies of British North America: Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Since 1791, the inhabitants of the colonies except Newfoundland had the right to elect representatives to the local Houses of Assembly. (London didn't give Newfoundland the privilege of electing a House of Assembly in 1832). These colonial Houses of Assembly adopted laws but had no real power.
Joseph Howe, editor of the Novascotian, accused the Halifax elite of stealing public money. (As portrayed by Randy Hughson in Canada: A People's History)
Joseph Howe, editor of the Novascotian, accused the Halifax elite of stealing public money. (As portrayed by Randy Hughson in Canada: A People's History)
A governor appointed by London and councillors named by him controlled the decision-making process. As a result, there were constant conflicts between the representatives of the people and an unelected government. Power remained in the hands of an elite.

In 1833, William Lyon Mackenzie, a journalist, originally from Dundee in Scotland, denounced the leaders of the colony in an editorial in his newspaper, the Colonial Advocate:

"The family connection rules Upper Canada. A dozen nobodies, and a few placemen, pensioners and individuals of well-known narrow and bigoted principles: the whole of the revenue of Upper Canada are in reality at their mercy; - they are paymasters, receivers, auditors, King, Lords and Commons."

He denounced the privileged families of Canada who grew rich from the colony and controlled its destiny.
The newspapers of British North America were small-scale operations but were able to provoke and irritate the colonial authorities. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The newspapers of British North America were small-scale operations but were able to provoke and irritate the colonial authorities. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
He coined the expression "Family Compact". Mackenzie used his newspaper to publish the names, income and family connections of this circle of people. The Attorney General of Upper Canada, John Beverley Robinson, bitterly criticized Mackenzie's actions and words:

"Another reptile has sprung up in a Mr. William Mackenzie (...) a conceited red-headed fellow with an apron. (...) He said that I am the most subtle advocate of arbitrary power (...) what vermin!"

But remarks from the Attorney General didn't stop Mackenzie, who continued his virulent attacks:

"I had long seen the country in the hands of a few shrewd, crafty, covetous men, under whose management one of the most lovely and desirable sections of America remained a comparative desert.
The most obvious improvements were stayed; dissention was created among classes; large estates were wrested from their owners in utter contempt of even the forms of the courts."

Joseph Howe was the son of a Loyalist but he too attacked the rules in his colony. He caused a scandal by accusing the Nova Scotian elite of stealing public money.

"In a young and poor country, where the sons of rich and favoured families alone receive education at the public expence - where the many must toil to support the extortions and exactions of a few; where the hard earnings of the people are lavished on an Aristocracy, who repay their ill timed generosity with contempt and insult; it requires no ordinary nerve in men of moderate circumstances and humble pretensions, to stand forward and boldly protest against measures which are fast working the ruin of the Province."

The leaders of the colony dragged Howe into court on the criminal charge of defamatory libel. Howe defended himself vigorously.

"I know them, as you know them - as the most negligent and imbecile, if not the most reprehensible body, that ever mismanaged a people's affairs.
They may expect much from the result of this trial; but before I have done with them, I hope to convince them that they, and not I, are the real criminals here."

When Howe was acquitted by a jury, his popularity was greater than ever and, like Mackenzie, he went into politics.

"We are desirous of a change, not such as shall devide us from our brethren across the water, but which will ensure to us what they enjoy...
Gentlemen, all we ask is what exists at home in England - a system of responsibility to the people."

In Lower Canada, the reformists were members of the Patriote party. Their leader's name was Louis-Joseph Papineau

top of page



Current Topic:
The Colonial Regime and the "Family Compact"

Next Topic:
The Reformers and the Patriotes

The Reformers and the Patriotes
The Reformers and the Patriotes
read more ...

The Place d'Armes By-Election
The Place d'Armes By-Election
read more ...

The 92 Resolutions
The 92 Resolutions
read more ...

The Seventh Report on Grievances
The Seventh Report on Grievances
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright 2001 CBC