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The Idea of Liberty in Canada during the Age of Atlantic Revolutions, 1776-1838

The Idea of Liberty in Canada during the Age of Atlantic Revolutions, 1776-1838

Michel Ducharme
Translated by Peter Feldstein
Copyright Date: 2014
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    The Idea of Liberty in Canada during the Age of Atlantic Revolutions, 1776-1838
    Book Description:

    In Idea of Liberty in Canada during the Age of Atlantic Revolutions, 1776-1838, Michel Ducharme shows that Canadian intellectual and political history between the American Revolution and the Upper and Lower Canada rebellions of 1837-38 can be better understood by considering it in relation to the broad framework of revolution in the Atlantic world between 1776 and 1838. Inspired by intellectual histories of the Atlantic world, Ducharme goes beyond the scholarly focus on Atlantic republicanism to present the rebellions of 1837-38 as a confrontation between two very different concepts of liberty. He uses these concepts as lenses through which to read colonial ideological conflict. Ducharme traces political discourse in both colonies, showing how the differing fates and influence of republican and constitutional notions of liberty affected state development. He also pursues a number of important revisionist historical claims, including the idea that nationalist politics were not at issue in the period and that "responsible government" was never a Patriote party platform or interest. Taking a wider view allows Ducharme to provide a solid understanding of the ideological substance of political conflict and shows that, starting in 1791, Canadian colonial political culture revolved around an ideal of liberty that differed from the liberty at work within the revolutionary movements of the late eighteenth century but was nonetheless born of the Enlightenment.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9625-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[ix])
  3. [Maps]
    (pp. [x]-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    ON 4 JULY 1776, thirteen of the sixteen British colonies of North America declared their independence. The Province of Quebec (1763–91), along with Nova Scotia and Saint John’s Island (renamed Prince Edward Island in 1798), did not join the rebel colonies. This decision had profound implications for its development and would colour subsequent interpretations of that development. The American, French, European, and South American revolutionaries of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had waved the banner of liberty; as a result of the loyalist outcome in Quebec, its history has long been interpreted as one of having been...

  5. 1 Liberty and Revolution in the Atlantic World
    (pp. 14-36)

    IN THE LATE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, Europe and the Atlantic world underwent profound political, economic, social, and religious upheavals, representing the culmination of a hundred years of vibrant intellectual debate. Throughout the Enlightenment century, philosophers had challenged the social and political order of the ancien régime, questioning the power relations that existed in society. This led them ultimately to call for the abolition of privilege, the recognition of freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of association, and even at times to defend the right of subjects to political participation. That these philosophers demanded certain reforms was not in...

  6. 2 Liberty in the Province of Quebec, 1776–1805
    (pp. 37-53)

    CANADA’S HISTORY has been inscribed within the framework of Atlantic history from the very beginning of European colonization. Acadia and New France, which became Nova Scotia and the Province of Quebec, were outposts of empire – France followed by Great Britain. They were managed for the benefit of the mother country and administered and populated by its subjects. The relationship between centre and periphery was not merely political and economic in nature; it was also cultural and intellectual. Administrators and colonists brought with them their value system, their understanding of power and social relations, and their cultural practices. These were perpetuated...

  7. 3 The Birth of Reform Movements in the Canadas, 1805–1828
    (pp. 54-92)

    FOLLOWING THE PASSAGE of the Constitutional Act in 1791, the two Canadas developed in accordance with the ideals of modern liberty. No one seriously questioned them – unsurprisingly, given that war had been declared on the empire. Until 1805, the legitimacy of political power and the colonial state went basically uncontested; there was no reform movement to speak of. Lower Canadians set about learning the rules of the parliamentary system while Upper Canadians accustomed themselves to the new constitutional order. As for the assemblies, they were quite docile with respect to the executive branch. Not until the first decades of the...

  8. 4 “We, the people”: Republican Liberty in the Canadas, 1828–1838
    (pp. 93-127)

    THE YEAR 1828 marked the start of the ten years of greatest turmoil in Canadian history. Never had the colonies witnessed such intense agitation, such a fundamental challenge to the state. At this time, a number of crises – political, colonial, economic, social, ethnic, structural, and conjunctural – all came together. Yet the period had begun under rather favourable auspices, with the British authorities recalling Dalhousie and Maitland, a gesture appreciated by reformers in both provinces. Nevertheless, the opposition between the reformist assemblies and the governors, assisted by their councils, would intensify throughout the 1830s.

    In Lower Canada, relations eased between the...

  9. 5 The Primacy of Rights: Modern Liberty in the Canadas, 1828–1838
    (pp. 128-159)

    IN THE 1830s, Upper and Lower Canadian republicans presented themselves as the champions of liberty. They claimed to be defending the people against the tyranny of the colonial oligarchy, and they demanded fundamental constitutional reform. Their demands fit clearly within the overall thrust of Atlantic republicanism. Squaring off against this revolutionary protest movement was a powerful group of adversaries determined to defend the colonial constitution. This conflict has long been presented as one between conservatives and reformers, defenders of order and aspirants to liberty. The scheme is not incorrect per se, but it does give the impression that order and...

  10. 6 Citizens, to Arms! The Rebellions of 1837–1838
    (pp. 160-184)

    AFTER 1828, the political situation in the Canadas degenerated. Historians have traditionally interpreted the crisis of the 1830s as the crystallization of an opposition between conservatives and liberals, between partisans of the status quo and promoters of reform, between retrograde and progressive forces (though which were which depends on the observer). To this political clash, historians of Lower Canada have added an ethnic one: British versus French Canadians.¹ While ethnicity has been given less emphasis in accounts of Upper Canada, the presence of Americans in the rebel camp has not gone unnoticed. Historians such as Donald Creighton have explained the...

  11. Conclusion: Liberty As the Foundation of the Canadian State
    (pp. 185-186)

    THE YEAR 1837 could have been for Canada what 1776 and 1789 were for the United States and France. It was the year when republicans in the two Canadas tried to overthrow the government. They sought to establish a new, republican ideal of power and social relations in which all citizens are equal and politically independent. Both these characteristics would be rooted in the economic independence afforded by small landholding. In such a society, the incorruptible, virtuous, patriotic citizens would be duty bound to put the public interest above their private interests. From an institutional standpoint, they would be free...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 187-236)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-264)
  14. Index
    (pp. 265-280)