, Research Paper
The Causes and Reasons for the Rebellion of 1837-38
The rebellions of Upper and Lower Canada were in the interests of self-government but were doomed to failure from their beginning. Each of these two colonies encountered a great deal of problems right from the institution of the Constitution Act of 1791 and the problems continually got worse until the only choice to some seem to be rebellion. There were several problems that lead to the rebellions of 1837-38. In Lower Canada there was the agricultural crisis that caused a large number of starvations, to the French and English political and social problems within the colony. There were several different reasons that caused the rebellion in Upper Canada but these caused were mainly rooted in the idea of Anti- Americanism that was held within the Family Compact. Both rebellions had valid causes and noble intentions but they lacked the most necessary part for a rebellion to succeed in its intentions, the support of the people. Without support these two rebellions could never succeed.
There were several reasons for the rebellion in Lower Canada that included the agricultural crisis, immigration and the British America Land Company. The first cause of importance was the agricultural crisis that was “caused by the very low production of wheat due to the cold weather, the wheat fly epidemic and the fact that the land had been harvested from the beginning of the century”. “ The low amount of wheat caused the cost of living to soar and left many people staving and without their homes because they were unable to pay their creditors or their rent.” This infuriated the French assembly because the funds that could be used to improve the conditions of the French people were being divided among the Chateau Clique. They were living the high life and enjoying all the comforts while the rest of the population suffered. The next major issue was that of immigration which brought tens of millions of people from Europe. These people would be heading to the United States, Upper Canada or Lower Canada. When these immigrants came they would land in Quebec and with them they would bring disease that killed a large amount of French Canadians. This aggravated the French people because “they saw this as a plot of the English to get rid of the French Canadians”. Adding to these problems was the establishment of the British America Land Company. This new land company was given over 500 acres of Lower Canada’s prime land. The company would not allow French people to buy this land; only the English and Americans could purchase the land. The French people found it increasingly difficult to get land and the government wasn’t doing anything about this. All of these problems lead to the assembly issuing the ninety-two resolutions that had two main points that were responsible government and control of money. The ruling English class didn’t want the French people to gain this power because they wanted to French to remain oppressed and out of the upper class “The Chateau Clique in Lower Canada wanted to prevent the French from winning complete control over the government and English speaking people would be under the control of the French.” The response to the ninety-two resolutions was the issuing of the ten resolutions from Britain that stated that there would be no responsible government and the assembly would not have control of money. All of these incidents increased the tension within the colony until there was no turning back and the government pushed the lower assembly too far and the rebellion started in Lower Canada.
The rebellion in Upper Canada has different reason than that of Lower Canada. This rebellion was not as large as the rebellion in Lower Canada but was destined to happen due to all the problems in the colony. The problems that caused the “rebellion to happen in Upper Canada were deeply rooted in the Anti-American attitude that was held by the Family Compact.” The reasons were the issue of land, education and the bank of Upper Canada. The first issue of importance was the land issue and land reform. All the immigrants that were coming into the colony were farmers looking for their own land to harvest. The problem was that it was a real hassle to acquire land, “first they had to wait 7 year before they could own the land and then they would have to buy the land on credit because the bank wanted to make money off of the land”. This all meant that a large amount of the land available was not being harvested because people were waiting on this process. Many people looked at the United States system because it took only a matter of minutes for them to purchase the land. The problem that held back this reform was that it was an American idea and it would make more of the common people equal with the upper class. The next issue of importance was that of public education, many people wanted their children to be educated but the problem was that the Anglican Church controlled the education. “They did not teach literacy but rather discipline and loyalty to the crown”. This system was also costly and the people had to pay for the education when many didn’t have the money to do this. They saw in New York another education system that was free and not controlled by the church and they wanted this system in the colony but again this idea was too much of an American idea and was rejected by the Family Compact also free education was not a concern for them because their children were sent to private schools. The next problem was that of the Bank of Upper Canada and it’s building of canals. “The building of canals resulting in the bankruptcy of the bank” and the people who had money in the bank lost it all, the only ones who lost nothing were the upper class they received all of their money back. The people of the colony saw that instead of one large bank they should use a lot of small independent banks but the compact also rejected this idea. This lead to the bank being seen as a “sign of oppression” and the assembly began to demand reform in the way that the government was being run and this lead to William Lyon Mackenzie issuing the seventh report on grievances to Britain. When Britain received this report they realized that the colony was on the road to rebellion. The British took action but it only settle the problem for a short time and after it Mackenzie realized that Britain wasn’t going to help them. After this realization they decide to join Lower Canada in rebellion.
The two rebellions had valid causes but they were not effective in bring about the results that the leaders of the rebellions wanted. The British eventually crushed both rebellions. There were two reasons for the failure of the rebellion in Lower Canada. The rebellion in Lower Canada was more violent than that of Upper Canada but one of the reasons for its failure was the lack of support from the people. The French people were “told too be loyal to the British by the church and not to get involve in a rebellion.” The second reason for the rebellion’s failure was the British largely out numbers the rebels in forces and munitions. These large forces and the help of the church help to greatly reduce the spread of the rebellion in Lower Canada. The reason for the failure of the rebellion in Upper Canada was the rebellion only had passive support and so the people did not support the rebellion physically or rebellious manner. This was more of a drunken brawl in downtown Toronto that was easily squashed by amateur policemen than a rebellion. In fact it is not even called a rebellion in the Canadian Encyclopedia but rather “an uprising with limited support and was largely a historical accident.”
In conclusion the rebellions of 1837/38 were defeated due to a lack of public support but it opened the eyes of the British to a problem in the colonies. The British began to realize that the system within the colonies was not working and something needed to be done. If these rebellions had not happened the British would never have taken notice to the problems and who knows we could still be living under the same system. Although these rebellions failed they did succeed in getting the attention of the British and put us on the road towards responsible government in Canada and the system we now have in place.