Patriots: The Rebellions in Lower Canada 1837-38

Table of Contents

The rebellions of Upper and Lower Canada were the revolts against the British colonial power in Canada, and these rebellions were held between the years 1837 and 1838. The Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837 refers to the armed conflict that ensued when the British Colonial authority clashed with armed rebels of Lower Canada, which is now known as the Province of Quebec.

During that period, the region was facing economic hardships, and the citizens were facing possible famine due to the poor harvests that were recorded in that year. Apart from that, the then lieutenant governor Francis Bond Head implemented policies that were very discriminating against the Non-British residents, especially with the Chateau Clique, and there was the influx of British immigrants, which greatly infuriated the American colonists.

The Chateau Clique was a minor group of public servants in the region of Upper Canada, and this group controlled the executive, legislature, and public administration. This group was unified by various aspects like favoritism, similar ideologies, and family bond. They were very loyal to Great Britain, and consequently, they were very hostile towards the United States of America.

Patriot Party in Lower Canada held the majority seats in the Lower Canada Assembly, and the moderates were calling for a government that was responsible. However, there were the radicals who were also the minorities, and they were lobbying for the independence of the colonies and the establishment of the republics, which had a federal outlook similar to that of the United States of America.

It is important to note that the movement in those regions was following an international trend because many countries around the world were also involved in political movements that were marred by armed struggle, and they were all lobbying for the systematic reforms similar to the rebellions of 1837.

The rebellion of Lower Canada continued up to the year 1838, and it resulted in the Government declaring martial Law. The violence sparked off when twenty-six members of the Patriotic Movement were arrested over allegiance that they were undertaking illegal activities, and they sought to resist the arrest.

In the year 1838, two major conflicts were recorded when the patriots under the leadership of Robert Nelson crossed over to the United States and attempted to attack Lower Canada and Upper Canada and liberate the republics from the British.

The Patriots

The Patriots of Lower Canada were men who assumed military tactics to fight against the British Colonial Power in Lower Canada. These men were determined to bring to an end the rule of the British Colonial government, and this was done through the group actively advocating for political reforms as well as social reforms.

They resulted in armed conflicts to further their interests, and they were involved in a number of armed conflicts with the British Army during the years 1837 and 1838. They called for the British Government to ensure that the territories were independent and the formation of the Republics, which had a federal outlook like those of the United States of America.

The Patriots who were caught were brutally treated, and many of them were killed by the British Army after being tortured. They were executed as deterrence to other patriots, although this did not deter them from achieving their objective of freeing the territories from the British Colonial Government. Some of them were forced to go into exile in the United States of America.

One of the influential leaders of the Patriots was John Storrow, who was a journalist, orator, writer, and revolutionary prior to the Rebellions of 1837. He was an activist of both political and social reforms. In political reforms, he advocated for a more responsible government whereby the legislators would be appointed by the majority party.

In the social reforms, he used to give help to the poor in such ways as giving them aid and also in airing their plight. He was greatly frustrated by the leadership of the colonial Government and was inspired by the American revolution. In 1837, he headed a military faction against the British in the rebellion.

During the various confrontations, he would be wounded and blinded in one eye but did not give up the fight. When he was ultimately defeated, he exiled in the United States and worked as a journalist in Florida.

Another important person was Jean Olivier Chenier, who was a physician and would later lead a military faction in the rebellion. He died at the hands of the British Army when he and his men were trapped in a Church, and the British Army set the church on fire.

He died shouting, ”remember Weir.” Weir was a British spy who had been executed by the Patriots. Jean died while trying to escape from the burning church through a window. His body was badly mutilated by the British army in an attempt to warn other patriots of the plight that they awaited them if they did not give up the struggle.

Another influential personality in the rebellions was Francois-Marie-Thomas, and he fought in the patriotic wars to liberate Lower Canada from the British colonial masters.

He was very influential in the rebellion, and as a result, he was incarcerated in prison and was hanged in prison by the British authorities in an attempt to warn other patriots. He was executed together with other people like Charles Hindelang, who was born in France but was also involved in the Patriotic Wars and the Rebellions of 1837.

Edmund Baily O’CallaghanO’Callaghan was also an important personality in the Rebellions of 1837, and he doubled up as a doctor and a journalist. He worked together with Thomas Storrow Brown in fighting the political situation in Lower Canada at that period, and he did this through the use of newspaper, most notably the Montreal Vindicator.

They worked together with Storrow on the paper and highlighted the need for political and social reforms. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, and he represented Yamaska. During the Rebellions, an arrest warrant was issued for him, but he fled to Saint-Denis and then exiled to the United States of America. He would later become an activist in New York, where he would die in the year 1880.

Other important personalities included Wolfred Nelson, Armury Girod, and Louis Joseph Papineau. The Patriots, although they were defeated in the rebellions, played a very important part in ensuring eventually there was the enactment of a responsible government as well as laying a strong foundation for the country of Canada as it is known in the modern times. In this respect, Lower Canada and Upper Canada were merged into one republic.

History of the Rebellions

Lower Canada rebellions continued from 1837 to 1838, and this led to the declaration of the Martial Law, and the first armed conflict was recorded in 1837 when the Patriote Movement’sMovement’s members who numbered twenty-six had been charged with being involved in illegal activities, and they tried to resist the arrest by the British authorities who were being led by John Colborne.

In the year 1838 there were two major armed conflicts between the patriots and the British armies and Robert Nelson was leading the patriots and they crossed over to the United States in an attempt to attack Lower Canada and oust the British Army and in this way pave the way for the establishment of independent republics.

The events which led to rebellions are often misinformed because the reports of modern history take the attention away from the three decades of constrained relationship which led to political battles between James Stuart’s, Stuart’s Parti Patriote and Louis-Joseph Papineau who was lobbying for the enactment of a responsible government and the British authorities which formed the executive and the legislature of the councils that were in the former colony of France.

It is important to note that the British ruling authority was formed by a small group of people who were mainly businessmen and were referred to as Chateau Clique, which was the equivalent of Family Compact in Upper Canada.

The rebellion took place during a period when the economy of both Upper and Lower Canada was much disenfranchised, especially towards the French-Speaking majority and the working-class citizens who were English speaking.

It is important to note that the rebellion did not focus on the language but on the unfair authority that was imposed on the people, mainly French Speaking people by the English Authorities. Many of the people in authority in many aspects of the economy of the territories were the English speaking citizens.

The situation was worsened by the fact that the Catholic church discouraged the French-Speaking citizens from venturing into commercial activities, and it gave the reason that the Christian God had intended for them to remain agriculturalists.

The Anglophone business leaders were advocating for the Unification of Lower and Upper Canada, and they argued that this would ensure that the entire country of Canada would be as competitive as the United States economically.

This Unification was supported by such people as the governor George Ramsey who was appointed by the British Government. However, the reaction of these sentiments was an aura of nationalism among all the citizens of Canada, both English Speaking and French Speaking, and this resulted in the solidification of the Parti Canadien, which would later be called Parti Patriote.

In the year 1811, James Stuart ascended to become the leader of the Parti Canadien, and in the year 1815, Louis-Joseph Papineau, who was a reformer, was elected. However, the powers of the assembly were very limited, and there was gross vetoing by the British governor and the legislative council.

Papineau and Dalhousie were soon up at arms over the Unification of the two territories and Dalhousie instead of accepting Papineau as the speaker of the assembly forced an election, and this precipitated the removal of Dalhousie from Canada and consequently his transfer to India. This was because of the coercion of the England people who supported the reform movement.

Even after the transfer of Dalhousie, various parties did not come to a compromise on the issue of Unification, and most notable was the Assembly and the Legislative Council. This led to the assembly passing the ninety resolutions, which outlined their grievances at the hands of the Legislative Council. This also led to the Parti Patriote being supported by masses all over Canada, which included both English and French-speaking citizens.

An election held in the year 1834 saw the Parti Patriote sweep more than seventy-five percent of popular votes. In the meantime, Lower Canada reformers could not compromise on several issues.

A moderate reformer by the name of John Nelson had left the party and joined another party after four years, which was known as the Constitutional Association. In the same period, Papineau’sPapineau’s had adopted an anti-clerical position, and the reformers in the Catholic church had been alienated. He also outrightly supported secularism, which antagonized various religious leaders, most notable being Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue.

In this respect Lartigue persuaded all Catholics to reject the movement and in turn support the authorities and this put the people in a dilemma whether to follow their political views or their religion.

This did not deter Papineau to push for more reforms, and in March 1837 the Government under Lord Melbourne turned down all of Papineau’sPapineau’s reforms request which led to Papineau organizing and leading demonstrations and illegal assemblies and finally he approved a military unit known as Societe des Fils de la Liberte at an assembly referred to as Assemblee des Six-comtes.

Due to increased animosity directed to him, Papineau had to escape to the United States while the rebels organized themselves in the countryside, and they were under the leadership of Wolfred Nelson when they defeated a British Force at Saint-Denis on the twenty-third day of November 1837.

The British army soon assumed control and defeated the rebels at Saint Charles on the twenty-fifth day of November the same year. Martial Law was to be declared on the fifth of December, the same year in Montreal.

News of the arrests of Patriote leaders spread fast and reached the territory of Upper Canada, and this precipitated another rebellion in Upper Canada engineered and executed by William Lyon Mackenzie. At around the same time, the filibuster of the United States by the name of Hunter Patriots formed a militia organization in support of the Patriots.

They attacked Windsor in Ontario. However, the revolts were not successful. In 1838 the patriots who had fled to the United States attacked Lower Canada in February, and this precipitated a second rebellion, which was initiated by the Battle of Beauharnois in November the same year. The British army emerged victorious in the second rebellion, also.

As a result of the rebellions, Britain sent Lord Durham to look into what really caused the rebellion. In his report, he recommended that the Unification of the Lower and Upper Canada was of paramount importance and that they should form the Province of Canada, and this would help in the assimilation of the French-Speaking citizens into the culture and the ways of the British Empire.

His most important recommendation was that Britain should accede to the rebels’rebels’ calls of the enactment of a responsible government to rule over the new colony that would be formed.

The aftermath of the rebellions

The British emerged victorious during the rebellions, and the Patriotes were defeated. The British Government merged Lower Canada and Upper Canada through the Union Act.

The Canadiens for some time enjoyed being the majority in the political setting, which had been brought about by the Unification, but due to the increased immigration to the part of Canada which had English speaking citizens, the Canadiens majority diminished over time.

The Unification of the two territories gave rise to the Province of Canada, and after a number of years into the union, there was the enactment of a responsible government in the Province of Canada.

There was a great instability that marred the existence of this new regime, and this led to the establishment of the Great Coalition, and the constitution needed to be changed, and this was afforded to the Province in the Canadian Confederation of the year 1867.

Many historians have argued that the rebellion in Lower Canada is an indication of what would have happened to the United States if the American Revolution had failed in its objective of attaining independence from the colonial masters, which were the Britons. To date, the rebellion is commemorated in Canada and have been incorporated into the Victoria Day.

It is important to note the role that that Patriots played in forming a formidable foundation for modern Canada and their bravery and courage to liberate the French-Speaking citizens from being oppressed by the British Elite paid off with the Unification of the Lower and Upper Canada and also the enactment of a responsible government. Most important was the triumph of the most needed political and social reforms that had fueled the Rebellions of 1837.

Works Cited

Boissery, B. (1995). A Deep Sense of Wrong: The Treason Trials, and Transportation to New South Wales of Lower Canadian Rebels after the 1838 Rebellion, Toronto: Dundurn Press, 367 p.

Bradshaw, F. (1903). Self-Government in Canada, and How it was Achieved: The Story of Lord Durham’s Report, Londres: P.S.King, 414 p.

Buckner, P. A. (1985). The Transition to Responsible Government: British Policy in British , North America, 1815-1850, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 358 p.

Burroughs, P. (1972). The Canadian Crisis and the British Colonial Policy, 1828-1849, Toronto: Macmillan, 118 p.

Decelles, A. D. (1916). The “Patriotes” of ’37: A Chronicle of the Lower Canadian Rebellion, Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Co., 140 p.

Mann, Michael (1986). A Particular Duty: The Canadian Rebellions 1837-1839, Salisbury (Wiltshire): Michael Russel Publishing, 211 p.

Ryerson, S. B. (1968). Unequal Union: Confederation and the Roots of Conflict in the Canadas, 1815-1873, Toronto: Progress Books, 477 p.

Senior, E. K. (1985). Redcoats and Patriotes: The Rebellions in Lower Canada, 1837-38, Ontario: Canada’s Wings, Inc., 218 p.

Sossoyan, M. (1999). The Kahnawake Iroquois and the Lower-Canadian Rebellions, 1837-1838, Montréal: McGill University.

Tiffany, O. E. (1980). The Relations of the United States to the Canadian Rebellion of 1837-1838, Toronto: Coles Pub., 147 p.

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