The Concept of Freedom in Canada in the Age of Revolutions (1791-1838)



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The Concept of Freedom in Canada in the Age of Revolutions (1791-1838)
Michel Ducharme

Department of history

University of British Colombia

By declaring their independence in 1776, the American rebels launched a general revolutionary movement in the Atlantic world. They were joined in their revolutionary endeavors by the Dutch patriots (1783-1787), the reformers of the Austrian Low Countries (1787-1790), and the French revolutionaries (1789). The French Revolution in turn triggered a wave of revolutions in the French Caribbean and throughout Europe during the 1790s. Years later, the Spanish American colonies followed suit by declaring their independence from a far-away government in Madrid. Even if all these revolutionary movements remained distinct, most shared a common ideal, especially in North America and Europe: Atlantic revolutionaries questioned the legitimacy of the state and power relations in the name of freedom.1

The British North American colonists who inhabited what eventually became Canada did not join the rebels of the Thirteen Colonies in their revolution. They did not take the opportunity to declare their independence during the French Revolution, nor did they do so during the French Revolutionary War or when Spanish American colonists declared independence. But this is not to say that the revolutionary ideals did not spread throughout the colonies during the 1780s and 90s. For instance, Fleury Mesplet, a French printer who had come from Philadelphia to Montréal in 1776, remained in the city after the withdrawal of American troops in May 17762. He indirectly promoted revolutionary ideals through his newspaper, La Gazette de Montréal / The Montreal Gazette, between 1785 and his death in 1794.3 Despite this (limited) campaign, British North American colonists did not join the Atlantic revolutionary movements during the Age of Revolutions.

Because the Province of Quebec and, later on, Upper and Lower Canada (which succeeded it) remained loyal to the Crown and the Empire at the end of the 18th century, it has been easy to maintain that these colonies had remained at the margin of the debates and struggles which characterized the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions. But while eighteenth-century revolutionaries fought in the name of freedom, the inhabitants of the Province de Quebec and the two Canadas were certainly not opposed to freedom. By rejecting revolution, they simply rejected one particular concept of freedom, without necessarily embracing counterrevolution.

Drawing inspiration from the work of intellectual historians of the British Atlantic world such as Bernard Bailyn, J.G.A. Pocock, Quentin Skinner and Gordon Wood4, as well as from Benjamin Constant’s distinction between ‘la liberté des Anciens’ (republican freedom based on citizens’ participation in the political process) and ‘la liberté des Modernes’ (liberal freedom based on individual rights), I argue that there were two competing concept of liberty in the 18th-century Atlantic world: one was republican, the other, modern.5 The revolutionaries launched their attacked on the Ancien Régime and colonial dependency based on the republican concept of freedom. Republican freedom focused on the relationship between liberty and equality: politically, it was based on popular sovereignty, the primacy of the legislative power over the executive power and the right of the citizens to participate in political life.6

The more modern concept of freedom that appeared at end of the 17th century was based on the idea of individual autonomy and the importance of basic individual rights, including private property. Politically, it was structured around the sovereignty of Parliament (a representative institution) and the autonomy of the executive power. Although it had been very influential during the first generation of the Enlightenment, it had lost its prominence in the second half of the 18th century.

While the Province of Quebec many not have been influenced by the republican concept of freedom during the Age of Revolutions, it certainly felt the effects of the modern concept of freedom. In fact, the foundations of Upper and Lower Canada as laid out in the Constitutional Act of 1791 rested on a concept of liberty that, while different from the one at work during the Atlantic Revolutions, still proceeded directly from the Enlightenment.
* * *
In 1791, a few years after the Versailles Treaty by which the British acknowledged American Independence, the British government granted a new constitution to the Province of Quebec: the Constitutional or Canada Act. One of the conscious goals of the British government in adopting the Constitutional Act was to stop the dissemination of republican principles in the province. To achieve this, the British Parliament split the province into two distinct colonies: Upper Canada (what is now Ontario) was mainly settled by refugees from the United States or, as we know them, Loyalists, while Lower Canada (what is now the Province of Quebec) was comprised of French Canadians with a vocal English speaking minority. Thus, the Crown made sure that the Upper Canadian Loyalists could no longer complain that they were living in a French colony, while French Canadians in Lower Canada could feel less afraid of being outnumbered in their colony, could continue to live under their civil laws, and had the free exercise of their Roman Catholic faith. The division of the colony also allowed for the granting of rudimentary parliamentary institutions to the two new colonies. The British Government organized these colonial governments along the principles of ‘mixed’ government, a system in which the king (represented by the governor, or the lieutenant governor, in the colonies) wielded executive power and the Provincial Legislatures (composed of the governor, an appointed Legislative Council and an elected Legislative Assembly) had legislative authority. The system of government conferred on Canadians in 1791 respected the modern concept of freedom and followed the usual British political system and practices as far as colonial status would allow.

Since one of the objectives of the British government was to prevent republicanism from becoming a real threat in the Province of Quebec in order to prevent the colony from falling into an American style of revolution, the Constitutional Act can be considered a great success. It effectively prevented the spread of the republican concept of freedom and republican practices into the colonies. Looking at their new Legislative Assemblies, Canadians thought that they were enjoying an excellent form of government. The fact that the Assembly shared the legislative power with a British governor and an appointed Legislative Council did not seem to bother anyone at first7. French speaking Lower Canadians were too busy trying to exercise their new rights in the Parliamentary system to pay attention to such ‘details’, while Upper Canadians were too busy trying to eke out a living in the Ontario forests to give their constitution much thought.

If the last decades of the eighteenth century were more or less quiet in Upper and Lower Canada, things changed during the first decade of the nineteenth century. In both colonies, reform movements appeared in 1805 06, although the Lower Canadian movement was better organized, more coherent and more efficient than its Upper Canadian counterpart. While these movements were created at the same time as Central and South American colonies were fighting for their independence, their objectives were very different. On the whole, Canadians did not fight to obtain independence and did not articulate republican demands, although there were a few exceptions in Upper Canada.

Most of these reformers did not question their place in the British Empire or the legitimacy and form of their government. Until 1828, their demands, inspired by their reading of Locke, Blackstone and De Lolme, were articulated in a modern framework. The reformers were most interested in giving their Assemblies genuine control over the executive branch through a kind of ministerial responsibility, impeachment trials and budgetary management (all three of which were political mechanisms that had allowed MPs in British House of Commons to exercise power over the government)8. The republican concept of freedom therefore did not have a direct or positive impact in the colonies before 1828.

Until 1828, Upper and Lower Canadian reformers, as their label implies, were not demanding revolution. But after more than 20 years of political struggles in both colonies, they had achieved nothing. By 1828, the reformers understood that they needed to use tougher vocabulary if they were to convince the British to reform the Canadian system. This is how colonial reformers re discovered the power of the republican concept of freedom and republicanism. The republican rhetoric did not only give them stronger arguments against the status quo, it also encouraged them to question the legitimacy and the organisation of the colonial political structure. After 1828, republicanism as discourse and ideology became the main source of inspiration for Lower Canadian patriots and Upper Canadian radicals. From that moment, until 1838, Canadian colonies went through a political process that matched the general pattern of Atlantic Revolutions. The Upper and Lower Canadian unrest of the 1830s, and its culmination in the 1837 1838 rebellions in both colonies, must be considered, in my view, as the last chapter of the Atlantic Revolution, a chapter that simply did not end happily for Canadian republicans.
* * *
During the 1830s, all colonial republicans invoked the ideas and authority of well known Atlantic republicans. By making these references, they were trying to gain respectability, credibility, and legitimacy. It is interesting to note that they did not often refer directly to Greek or Roman republicanism. Unlike the American patriots, Canadian republicans did not try to connect their movement to ancient times. They were instead consciously trying to connect it to the Atlantic republican tradition that had developed during the eighteenth century. During the 1820s, their inspiration came mainly from the United Kingdom and later (during the 1830s) from the United States and Ireland. Republicans sometimes mentioned and celebrated Central and South American revolutions in their newspapers, but they were not particularly inspired by them. Rousseauian style rhetoric about the social contract was widely used, especially in Lower Canada, but its author was rarely mentioned or quoted extensively, nor were other French republicans. The painful memory of the Terror and the ultimate failure of the Revolution, heralded by the Restoration, lead the Lower and Upper Canadian republicans to turn to Anglo American references.

The American example was seen as particularly useful for two reasons. Firstly, the American Revolution had been a success and the resulting republic was already an emerging power by the 1830s. Secondly, the Canadian republicans hoped that, by presenting their cause in a distinctly American manner, the Americans would eventually side with them, should a conflict arise between Canada and the British. In 1835, Louis-Joseph Papineau, the Lower Canadian French-speaking Patriot leader, argued that if the British Parliament tried to dominate Lower Canada as it had tried to dominate the Thirteen Colonies during the 1770s, many new Jefferson or Washington would rise in Lower Canada9. In Upper Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie, an important radical leader, sometimes referred to Scottish heroes, such as William Wallace, the marquess of Argyle and William Russell, to promote Canadian autonomy10. But, as in Lower Canada, it was the American Revolution and the American Republic that were his real sources of inspiration. In his Sketches of Canada and the United States (1833), Mackenzie did not hide his admiration for America’s independence and institutions.

In 1836 1837, the American Revolution was clearly used by republicans to encourage Canadians to fight for their rights: it had then become the example to follow. In Lower Canada, the Patriots organized the boycott of British products in the colony during the summer of 1837 as the American Patriots have done during the 1770s. In October 1837, they organized a ‘militia’ called Les Fils de la Liberté (the Sons of Liberty)11. An important public assembly was held in October 1837, a few weeks before the rebellion, which saw the adoption of many resolutions. Interestingly, the first of these was to translate the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence, beginning with ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.’12 At this same public assembly, a few of the patriots promoted violent actions against the state, although Papineau, their leader, was not in favour of it. He fled the colony a few weeks later, just before the rebellion. In Upper Canada, Mackenzie defended the right of Canadians to choose their form of government as a ‘right [that] was conceded to the present United States at the close of a successful revolution.’13 He went as far as to reprint, in the summer of 1837, in his newspaper The Constitution Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, first published in 1776 to promote American independence14. Mackenzie also wrote in his newspaper in July 1837: ‘Canadians! It has been said that we are on the verge of a revolution. We are in the midst of one; a bloodless one, I hope, but a revolution to which all those which have been will be counted mere child's play.’15 By November, he published a short text entitled INDEPENDENCE in which he openly promoted rebellion.

Not only did Lower Canadian Patriots and Upper Canadian Radicals appeal to the example of the republican thinkers of the Atlantic World, but they also adopted their ideals and principles based on the republican concept of freedom. Therefore, they were Atlantic revolutionaries. For Lower Canadian Patriots and the Upper Canadian Radicals, as for all other republicans, freedom and equality were very closely linked. For them, individuals needed to be equal in order to be free. When republicans talked about equality, they were did not simply mean equality under the law or equality of rights. They were talking about moral equality and a certain amount of material equality. This is why both Papineau in 1823 and Mackenzie in 1833-34 were shocked by the inequalities they saw in the United Kingdom during their visit in the metropolis16. Canadian republicans were certainly not social levellers, but they thought that it was impossible for individuals to be free (to participate equally in political life) if there was too great a disparity between citizens, because the rich could bribe the poor and establish a form of clientelism. Amury Girod, a Swiss immigrant who had come to Lower Canada in 1831, who took the side of the Patriots during the 1830s and who fought as a ‘general’ in Saint Eustache in 1837, considered that ‘Property is the cause of all good and all evil in society. If it is equally distributed, knowledge and power will be also […] liberty will sooner or later be the inevitable result.’17 Mackenzie thought the same, and he quoted Raynald: ‘People of America! [...] Be afraid of too unequal a distribution of riches, which shows a small number of citizens in wealth, and a great number in misery, whence arises the insolence of the one and the disgrace of the other.’18

In order to ensure the economic and social equality of citizens, Canadian republicans envisioned a society of small landowners, all independent of each other. Mackenzie himself said: ‘Agriculture the most innocent, happy and important of all human pursuits, is your chief employment B your farms are your own B you have obtained a competence, seek therewith to be content.’19 This economic independence was seen as ensuring political independence. For most Canadian republicans, life in Canada was already characterized by social equality. Their main goal was to reform the political institutions to fit this social reality. In this context, colonial republicans were very suspicious of accumulation of wealth, of capitalism, of primogeniture, and of bank monopoly, things that destroyed the equality between citizens and which then might allow corruption to destroy freedom.

Canadian republicans incorporated these principles into a sophisticated set of political proposals. For them, the right of the citizens to participate in the political process was their first and most important right. The importance given to political participation implied that the citizens should have the right to elect their representatives. These representatives were the only ones that could legitimately adopt laws for the well being of the community. In this context, the Patriots and the Radicals focused on the constitution of legislative power during the 1830s. Their efforts had two objectives. The first was to improve the representativeness of the Legislative Assembly in Upper Canada. In this colony, unlike in Lower Canada, the Radicals could not gain control of the Assembly, except between 1834 and 1836. It was clear to them that if they could not obtain a majority of the seats in the Assembly, the problem was the way that representative system itself20. In both colonies, colonial reformers attempted to make the Legislative Councils elective bodies rather than assemblies composed of appointed members drawn from the elite. During the 1830s, colonial republicans did not give any legitimacy to the appointed Legislative Councils, the upper houses of the Upper and Lower Canadian Legislatures. If a few demanded their outright abolition, most wanted to make them elective. This was the Lower Canadian Patriots’s main claim. Thirty-four of the ‘Ninety-Two Resolutions’ (the charter of Lower Canadian republicanism) adopted by their Assembly in February 1834 concerned this reform (resolutions 9-40, 51, 54)21.Upper Canadian republicans also fought for this reform, though not with the same energy of the Lower Canadians. In the Seventh Report on Grievances of 1835 (the charter of Upper Canadian republicanism), a committee of the House of Assembly, chaired by Mackenzie, presented the ‘elective institutions [as] the only safeguards to prevent the Canadas from forming disadvantageous comparisons between the condition of the colonists and the adjoining country.’22

By contesting the authority of the actual Legislative Councils of the two colonies, the colonial republicans were contesting the existing constitutional order based on the British principle of mixed government. They were demanding the re configuration of power relations in both Canadas according to a model of state legitimacy drawn from republican principles. They were asking the British government to acknowledge the sovereignty of the people rather than the sovereignty of Parliament.

Yet, in this context, as in the past, Canadian republicans were loathe to criticize the legitimacy of the British monarchy or the governor’s presence in the colony. If they did not do so, it was because they thought that once the legislative power was changed so as to truly represent the ‘people’, the Legislature could then be able to impose its will on the governor. The governor would then be transformed into the first of all civil servants, without having an independent voice. The People would become, effectively, The Crown.

* * *
While the Patriots and the Radicals attacked the legitimacy of the State, the Canadian constitution based on the modern concept of freedom had its partisans. Opposing the republicans in the 1830s were the constitutionals. If some of these constitutionals had been in favour of reform before 1828, most were not by the 1830s. Like the republicans, the constitutionals based their arguments on a specific concept of freedom.

The freedom the constitutional were advocating was the modern concept of freedom, based on a respect for certain individual rights which are often reduced to the trio of liberty, property and security.23 For the constitutionals, being free meant having the State protect individual autonomy and guarantee individual rights. In spite of assigning this important role to the State, Constitutionals did not want to control it (in fact, they did not want anybody to control it), nor did they want it to exert too much power over citizens. For constitutionals, the right to liberty meant religious freedom, freedom of the press (although they encouraged a certain self-censorship by allowing victims of libel to sue), freedom of association, and trials by jury. The right to security meant the security of persons and of property. It was however property that was the principal value associated with modern freedom.

The constitutionals believed in equality, but only in equality of rights. Unlike the Republicans, their definition of freedom did not include material equality. In fact, they saw inequality of wealth as the normal result of the competition that was supposed to exist within society. This was beneficial since wealth supposedly served as an object of emulation. The importance attached to property also meant that the defenders of modern freedom became promoters of the accumulation of the wealth. This meant that Constitutionals promoted trade, the development of infrastructures and the institutions necessary for capitalism.

The protection of individual rights (civil liberties) was more important for the constitutionals than the participation of the individuals to political life (political liberty). Of course, political and civil liberties were not mutually exclusive in constitutional discourse. But the Constitutionals emphasized civil liberties rather political freedom. For them, political freedom should only exist to protect individual autonomy.

Less preoccupied by the equality of individuals than by their autonomy, the supporters of the modern concept of liberty conceived was political institutions as ways of ensuring that it would be impossible for the State to alienate individual rights. Constitutionals therefore tended to be fervent defenders of the British form of mixed government. This model was based on the assumption that many different interests existed in the British society and that the common good was simply the sum of all these interests. To allow all these interests to coexist in a single state, the British had recognized the Parliament as the sovereign legislative power because the will of Parliament was the sum of the will of the three traditional estates of the realm, meaning the monarchy (king), the aristocracy (lords) and the democracy/ people (commons). Political life in Britain had been organized to allow competition between the various interests that existed in society. To ensure that Parliament would not overreach itself and would always protect individual rights, the king was left in control of executive power (and also given certain prerogatives). The Canadian colonial state was based on this system of mixed government, and the Constitutionals wanted to preserve it as much as possible. They wanted the legislative power to be divided between the governor, the appointed legislative councils and the elected legislative assemblies of the colonies. In Lower Canada, English-speaking Constitutionals also believed that their rights were i protected from the French majority by the Legislative council.

There were five major points over which Constitutionals sharply disagreed with republicans:



  • they did not recognize the people as the source of all legitimate power;

  • they did not recognize the local legislature as the supreme power within the colony;

  • they did not recognize the supremacy of the members of the Assembly over the councillors. For the constitutional, the powers of the councillors were as legitimate as those of the representatives

  • they did recognize the limited autonomy of an executive power that was independent from the will of the legislature

  • they did consider acceptable for individuals to work in their own interests even if this meant working against the majority of the population.

* * *
By 1837, the political struggle between the republicans and Constitutionals was both political and ideological since it based on two different concepts of freedom. In 1836 and 1837, the republicans were challenging the very foundations of their state with the same arguments that had been used by the American, French and European revolutionaries at the end of the eighteenth century. Their opponents, who controlled the Legislative Councils of the colonies, defended their constitution and form of government (and also their interests) by making references to John Locke, the great British constitutionalists, and the American federalists. They denounced the republicans as traitors on the base of Blackstonian arguments. This opposition between constitutionals (who believed in the modern concept of freedom) and republicans (who promoted a republican concept of freedom) eventually paralysed the political system, at least in the lower province.

By the fall of 1837, the Patriots of Lower Canada and the Radicals of Upper Canada had launched an assault on the legitimacy of the colonial State in British North America. These two groups were not simply looking to overthrow the existing government. At a more fundamental level, they were trying to refashion the existing constitutional order of the colonies and to reconfigure power relations in both Canadas, according to a model of State legitimacy drawn from republican principles. In accordance with their republican ideals, the Patriots and the Radicals fought for, among other things, the ultimate sovereignty of the people, the primacy of legislative power over executive power and the economic and political independence of all citizens. In this way, the Canadian rebellions participated in the larger revolutionary movement that was fundamentally reshaping the Atlantic World at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Although the Canadian uprisings occurred much later, they were not ideologically different from the upheavals that preceded them. And had they succeeded, they would have been known as the Canadian Revolution. However, these rebellions failed. In 1837-38, superior British military decided that the Canadas would still continue to be developed according to the modern concept of freedom.

Comparison between two concepts of freedom (principles and institutions)



Fundamental Principles


Republican Freedom


Modern Freedom

Thinkers / Philosophers


- Commonwealthmen (James Harrington, John Milton, Algernon Sidney)

- English radicals (Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine)

- American Republican (Thomas Jefferson)

- French girondins (Antoine de Condorcet)

- French republicans

(Jean-Jacques Rousseau, abbé de Mably, Joseph Emmanuel Sieyès and Maximilien Robespierre)

- First generation philosophers of the Enlightenment (John Locke, Voltaire, Montesquieu)

- English, or anglophile, legal scholars (William Blackstone, Jean-Louis de Lolme)

- English Whigs (Charles James Fox, Edmund Burke, John Russell)

- Scottish thinkers (Adam Smith)

- American federalists (Alexander Hamilton, John Adams)

- French liberals (Constant)

Basic definition of freedom


Participation in political life (political freedom)


Individual rights and autonomy (civil freedom)


The relation that exists between political freedom (the participation of citizens) and civil liberties (individual rights)


Political freedom grants civil liberties (or not)


Civil liberties are guaranteed by political freedom


Two values associated with freedom


Equality and community (fraternité)


Property and security


The organization of political power


The legislative power is the centre of all political life because freedom means participation in political life


The executive power is very powerful and autonomous because it is the only entity which can protect individual freedom


Sovereignty


The People


Parliament


The elected representatives stand for...


The Electors


The Nation


The economic basis of society


Agriculture


Commerce

An ethic of...

Independence


Accumulation of wealth


International relations


The independence of sovereign people


The possibility of being part of an empire





NOTES

1 The idea of an Atlantic Revolution was first developed by Robert R. Palmer and Jacques Godechot in ‘Le problème de l=Atlantique du XVIIIème au XXème siècle,’ in Relazioni del X Congresso Internazionale di Scienze Storiche, vol. V, Storia Contemporanea (Florence: G. C. Sansoni Editore, 1955), 219-239. Each wrote a history of the Atlantic Revolution: Robert R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution. A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (Princeton, 1959), 2 vol.; Jacques Godechot, Les Révolutions (1770-1799) (Paris, 1963). See also David Armitage and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (eds), The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760-1840 (Houndsmills, Basingstoke, 2010); Annie Jourdan, La Révolution, une exception française? (Paris, 2004); Wim Klooster, Revolutions in the Atlantic World: A Comparative History (New York, 2009); Martin Malia, History’s Locomotives: Revolutions and the Making of the Modern World (New Haven, 2006); Jacques Solé, Les Révolutions de la fin du XVIIIe siècle aux Amériques et en Europe (Paris, 2005). For the Netherlands, see Pieter Geyl, La révolution batave, 1783-1798 (Paris, 1971); Simon Schama, Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands, 1780-1813 (New York, 1977). For the Austrian Low-Countries, see Janet Polasky, Revolution in Brussels, 1787-1793 (Hanover, 1987). For France, see Keith Michael Baker, Inventing the French Revolution: Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1990). For Switzerland, see EricGolay, Quand le peuple devint roi : Mouvement populaire, politique et révolution à Genève de 1789 à 1794 (Genève, 2001). For Ireland, see Stephen Small, Political Thought in Ireland 1776-1798: Republicanism, Patriotism and Radicalism (Oxford, 2002). For the revolution in the French Caribbean, see Robin Blackburn, “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly 63: 4 (2006): 643-674; Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: the Story of the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge, 2004); David P. Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Bloomington, 2002). For the impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic world, see David P. Geggus (ed.), The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World (Columbia, 2001); David Barry Gaspar, David P. Geggus and Darlene Clark Hine (eds.), A Turbulent Time: The French Revolution and the Greater Caribbean (Bloomington, 2003). For the Spanish American Revolutions, see Jaime E. Rodríguez O. (ed.), Mexico in the Age of Democratic Revolutions: 1750-1850 (Boulder, 1994); Rodríguez O, The Independence of Spanish America (New York, 1998); Jeremy Adelman, Sovereignty and Revolution in the Iberian Atlantic (Princeton, 2006). For an overview of the American revolutions, see Lester D. Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolution: 1750-1850 (New Haven, 1996).

2 For a biography of Mesplet, see: Jean-Paul de Lagrave, Fleury Mesplet, 1734-1794 : diffuseur des Lumières au Quebec (Montréal: Patenaude, 1985).

3The promotion of republican and revolutionary principles was not only the work of people within the colony. In June 1793, Edmond-Charles Genêt, the French minister in Philadelphia, strongly urged Canadians to join the French struggle for freedom in an appeal entitled Les Français libres à leurs frères les Canadiens. His appeal failed to rouse his ‘brothers’ in the colony. Genêt’s text is reproduced in Michel Brunet, ‘La Révolution française sur les rives du St-Laurent,’ Revue d=histoire de l=Amérique française 11: 2 (1957), 158-162.

4See Zera S. Fink, The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of Thought in Seventeenth-Century England (Evanston, 1945); Caroline Robbins, The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman: Studies in the Transmission, Development, and Circumstance of English Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II until the War with the Thirteen Colonies (Cambridge, 1959); Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution; J. G. A. Pocock, Politics, Language and Time. Essays on Political Thought and History (New York, 1971 (1960)); Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, 1975); Pocock, Virtue, Commerce and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1985); Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776 1789 (Chapel Hill, 1969); Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York, 1992); Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Cambridge, 1978); Gisela Bock, Quentin Skinner and Maurizio Viroli (eds.), Machiavelli and Republicanism (Cambridge, 1990); David Armitage, Armand Himy and Quentin Skinner (eds.), Milton and Republicanism (Cambridge, 1995); Quentin Skinner, Liberty before liberalism (Cambridge, 1998); Martin van Gelderen and Quentin Skinner (eds.), Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage (Cambridge, 2002).

5 Benjamin Constant, ‘De la liberté des anciens comparée à celle des modernes’ (1819) in Marcel Gauchet (ed.), Écrits politiques (Paris: 1997), pp. 589-619.

6For England and Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, see Jonathan Scott, Commonwealth Principles: Republican Writing of the English Revolution (Cambridge, 2004); H.T. Dickinson, Liberty and Property: Political Ideology in Eighteenth-Century Britain (London, 1977). For the United States, see Lance Banning, The Jeffersonian Persuasion: Evolution of a Party Ideology (Ithaca, 1978); Drew R. McCoy, The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America (Chapel Hill, 1980); Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic (Oxford, 1993). For an overview of the American historiography, see Robert E. Shalhope, ‘Toward a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American Historiography,’ William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 29 (1972), pp. 49-80; Shalhope, ‘Republicanism and Early American Historiography,’ William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 39 (1982), pp. 334-356. For the United Provinces in the 1780s, see Nicolaas C.F. van Sas, ‘The Patriot Revolution: New Perspectives’ and J.G.A. Pocock, ‘The Dutch Republican Tradition,’ in Margaret Jacobs and Wijnand W. Mijnhardt (eds.), The Dutch Republic in the Eighteenth Century: Decline, Enlightenment and Revolution (Ithaca, 1992), pp. 91-119, 188-193. For Irish patriots, see Small, Political Thought in Ireland 1776-1798. French history has been integrated into the framework developed by the Atlantic intellectual historians mainly by historians who are not French. See Johnson Kent Wright, A Classical Republican in Eighteenth-Century France: The Political Thought of Mably ( Stanford, 1997); Merja Kylmäkoski, The Virtue of the Citizen: Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Republicanism in the Eighteenth-Century French Context (Frankfurt ain Main, 2001); Baker, Inventing the French Revolution; Keith Michael Baker, ‘Transformations of Classical Republicanism in Eighteenth-Century France,’ Journal of Modern History, vol. 73 (2001), pp. 32-53; Andrew Jainchill, ‘The Constitution of the Year III and the Persistence of Classical Republicanism,’ French Historical Studies, vol. 26 (2003), pp. 399-435; Raymonde Monnier, ‘Républicanisme et Révolution française,’ French Historical Studies, vol. 26 (2003), pp. 87-118.

7 Samuel Neilson, a whig reformer, and Fleury Mesplet, a republican, welcomed the Constitutional Act by publishing the same text promoting the new constitution in their respective newspapers: La Gazette de Québec/ The Quebec Gazette (February 23, March 1, 8, 15, 1792) and La Gazette de Montréal/ The Montreal Gazette (March 15, 22, 1792). Its author, Solon, was Jonathan Sewell, the future Chief Justice of Lower Canada (1808-1838): John Hare, Aux origines du parlementarisme québécois 1791-1793 (Sillery: Septentrion, 1993), 46, 131.

8 In Lower Canada, Pierre Bédard was the first to ask for the introduction of a kind of ministerial responsibility in the colony between 1806 and 1810 in his newspaper Le Canadien. In Upper Canada, this claim was first articulated by William Baldwin in 1828-29 in a petition to the king and then in a letter to the Duke of Wellington: ‘Petition To the King=s Most Excellent Majesty,’ reproduced in Appendix to Journal of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada, 1835, 1st session of the 12th Provincial Parliament (January 15 –April 16, 1835), vol. 1, 51; ‘William Warren Baldwin to the Duke of Wellington, January 3rd, 1829’ in Documents Relating to the Constitutional History of Canada 1819-1828, eds. A. Doughty and Norah Story (Ottawa: J.O.Patenaude, 1935), 482. Lower Canadian reformers asked for the creation of a system of impeachment trials against judges and civil servants during the 1810s. In Upper Canada, Baldwin mentioned the installation of such a system in his 1828 petition to the king. During the 1800s, in Upper Canada, and the 1820s, in Lower Canada, the reformers in both provinces saw the vote on supplies as their only means to influence the executive power. The confrontation between the Lower Canadian House of Assembly, on the one hand, and the governor and the upper house of the Legislature, on the other, on this issue during the 1830s paralysed the political life in Lower Canada.

9 Papineau, ‘Nécessité de nommer un délégué de la Chambre d=Assemblée à Londres’ (House of Assembly, November 17, 1835), in Un demi-siècle de combats: Interventions publiques, eds. Yvan Lamonde and Claude Larin (Montréal: Fides, 1998), 367.

10 The Constitution, October 19, 1836.

11 See the ‘Adresse des Fils de la liberté de Montréal aux jeunes gens des colonies de l=Amérique du Nord,’ October 4, 1837, reproduced in Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, ed. Jean-Paul Bernard (Ville St-Laurent: VLB éditeur, 1988), 216.

12 This resolution was reprinted in La Minerve, October 30, 1837.

13 The Constitution, August 2, 1837.

14 The Constitution, July 19 and 26, August 2 and 9, 1837.

15 The Constitution, July 26, 1837.

16 Even if Papineau was not a republican in 1823, he was shocked by what he saw in Britain. See the letters he wrote to his wife, between April 5 and September 22, 1823: Louis-Joseph Papineau, Lettres à Julie, eds. Georges Aubin and Renée Blanchet (Sillery: Septentrion, 2000), 72-91. For Mackenzie, see Colonial Advocate, June 27, 1833.

17 ‘La propriété est une des causes premières de tout bien et de tout mal dans la société. Si elle est également distribuée, les connaissances et le pouvoir le seront aussi [...] la liberté en sera tôt ou tard le résultat immanquable.’ Amury Girod, Notes diverses sur le Bas-Canada, Village Debartzch, J.P. de Boucherville, 1835, p. 63.

18 Raynald qoted by Mackenzie, Sketches of Canada, p. 60.

19 Colonial Advocate, le 9 septembre 1830.

20 Mackenzie began to contest the state of representation in Upper Canada in 1831. An inquiry committee was created the same year, with Mackenzie as its chair. Its report was introduced in the House on March 16, 1831. Its conclusions were predictable. For the committee, ‘the imperfect state of the representation in the House of Assembly is and has been the cause of much evil to the Community’ [First Report on the State of the Representation of the People of Upper Canada in the Legislature of that Province (York: Toronto Office of the Colonial Advocate, 1831), 4 for the quotes]. Major reforms were necessary. Notwithstanding this report, no major changes were brough to the representation in Upper Canada before the 1837 rebellion.

21 Journals of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, 4th session of the 14th Provincial Parliament (January 7 – March 18, 1834), 311-35.

22 ‘Seventh Report on Grievances,’ Appendix to Journal of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada, 1st session of the 12th Provincial Parliament (January 15 –April 16, 1835), vol. 1, 11.

23.Blackstone, Commentaries, I, 1, 1: 125. The Quebec Constitution Association (an association created in 1834 to defend the constitution) argued its position by explaining that ‘the enjoyment of equal rights with our fellow subjects, and that permanent peace, security and freedom for our persons, opinions, property and industry [...] are the common rights of British Subjects.’QCA, «Declaration of the causes which led to the formation of the Constitutional Association of Quebec» (December 1834) in First Annual Report of the Constitutional Association of Quebec, 14. As for the editor of the Montreal Gazette, he argued that these rights were sacred (June 19, 1838).


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