||The Rebellions of 1837
This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 7 Rebellion and Reform
By the early 19th century, echoes of the American and French Revolutions were reaching Canada. In Upper and Lower Canada, in 1837 and 1838, rebellion struck at the heart of British colonial government.
Lower Canada saw the emergence of the Parti Patriote, led by Louis-Joseph Papineau. Even though it held the majority of seats in the Assembly, the party exercised little real power in Lower Canada. A governor and a legislative council appointed by the governor, approved or vetoed the laws of the Assembly. The system was seen as an affront to democracy. Papineau and increasing numbers of Patriots wondered whether it wouldn't be preferable to adopt a republican democratic system, as in the United States
1832 was a fateful year in Lower Canada. A cholera epidemic decimated the population, and during a by-election riot, British troops killed three French Canadians. Governors opposed the Assembly's demands, creating a political crisis in the colony. In 1834, in an effort to get over the impasse, the Assembly of Lower Canada asked London to accept an agenda of 92 resolutions intended to modify the political situation and accord greater responsibility to the elected Assembly.
London's answer to the 92 resolutions arrived in Lower Canada in March, 1837. It was a definitive "No". The Patriots immediately led a campaign to denounce this response. They called for boycotts of British goods and held mass protest rallies. Britain reinforced its military presence in Lower Canada. Militant member of the Patriots, Les Fils de la Liberté, clashed with members of the British Doric Club. In October, 1837, a bounty was put on the Patriot leaders by the governor, Lord Gosford. Papineau took refuge in St-Denis, in the Richelieu valley, south of Montreal.
Colonial officials sent troops to stop the fleeing Patriot leaders. The British forces attacked at St-Denis. The Patriots were dispersed and Papineau fled to the United States. A few days later, the British attacked the neighbouring village of St-Charles, where the rebels were crushed. In November, British troops sacked the area north of Montreal, from St-Eustache to St-Ours. The rebellion in Lower Canada was over.
Upper Canada was also the scene of a rebellion. Many people, especially American-born settlers, resented the Family Compact, the small number of influential families that dominated the provincial government. In November, 1837, led by journalist William Lyon Mackenzie, 700 rebels armed with pikes, pitchforks, and rifles met up with 20 loyalists. The loyalists fired a musket volley and the rebel front line fell to the ground to begin shooting. Unable to see clearly, the rearguard assumed the worst and fled. Two rebels and one loyalist lay dead. Three days later, Canadian militia men and rebels exchanged fire at Montgomery's Tavern. Mackenzie's men dispersed and the rebel leader fled and took refuge in the United States.
In the fall of 1838, renewed attempts at rebellion in Upper and Lower Canada were crushed. Seventeen of the Upper Canada rebels were hanged; twelve rebels in Lower Canada met the same fate. Other men who took part in the rebellions were exiled or imprisoned.
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