Friday, 25 February 2011

Analysing the Patriote assemblies

This paper considers the resolutions passed at the large Patriote assemblies held between May and October 1837. Often written in advance, these resolutions can appear repetitive.[1] Nevertheless, they do identify the fundamental political issues in the months leading up to the Rebellions and about the inspirations, rhetoric, political platform, and the measures taken by the Parti Patriote and its supporters. Before plunging into an analysis of the resolutions passed by the assemblies, it is important to place them in their context.

Following the passage of the Ninety-Two Resolutions in February 1834, the metropolitan government appointed Lord Gosford as the new governor of Lower Canada and also established a Royal Commission to consider Patriote grievances. Arriving in Quebec on 23 August 1835, Gosford and Grey and Gipps, his fellow commissioners noted that, in effect, colonial government had broken down. [2] Following a fruitless attempt to conciliation, conflict between the Legislative Council and the Assembly reached new depths when in 1836 the Council blocked a law on education passed by the Assembly. The result was that the Parti Patriote refused to sit in the Assembly and threatened that, unless the Council became an elective body, it would refuse to vote the Civil List.[3] The commissioners finished their enquiry at the end of October 1836 and Grey and Gipps left for England. The various reports of the Royal Commission were finally laid before Parliament on 2 March 1837 and was immediately followed by the rejection of the Ninety-Two Resolutions in Russell’s Ten Resolutions. [4]

News of these resolutions reached Quebec on 10 or 11 April 1837 and created vocal opposition among Patriotes and reformers. Four of Russell’s resolutions were especially difficult for the supporters of the Ninety-Two Resolutions to accept. Resolutions 4, 5, 6 and 7 rejected demands for an elected Legislative Council, refused to grant responsible government, supported the position of the British American Land Company and finally, authorised Gosford to use public monies without the approval of the Assembly. In La Minerve on 13 April and in The Vindicator the following day, there were calls both for agitation following what many saw as the British betrayal and to follow the example of the American colonies. Then, on 20 April, La Minerve announced the calling of a great assembly in the comté de Richelieu.[5]

On 7 May 1837, the first anti-coercive assembly was held at Saint-Ours and it served as the model for the subsequent assemblies.[6] Although there were a large number of assemblies across the province, only the Patriote assemblies benefited from widespread coverage in the radical press especially in La Minerve, The Vindicator, Le Libéral and Le Canadien. I intend to focus exclusively on the Patriote assemblies from Saint-Ours on 7 May through to the apogee of the movement, the Grande assemblée de la Confédération des Six Comtés in late October 1837.[7]

It is important to recognise the immense importance of the resolutions of Saint-Ours.[8] Its condemnation of Russell’s Resolution was typically repeated as the first resolution at the subsequent assemblies. It is generally accompanied by constitutional arguments based on traditional rights and privileges accorded to British subjects of the Crown. Among these, the principle of ‘no taxation without representation’ was mentioned most often. Jealously defending the principle that control of the public monies should lie with the Assembly and arguing that it is the only constitutional means for the people, through their representatives, to exert pressure on an irresponsible government, the Patriotes were particularly angered by Resolution 8. This type of resolution can be regarded as a direct reaction to Russell’s Resolutions and especially to what Patriotes saw as its coercive reaction to the question of appropriations. However, these resolutions did not affect the confidence of Canadian reformers in the British authorities and they decided that further appeals to the British Parliament were both possible and necessary.

The second broad category of resolutions was concrete measures taken to counter the Russell Resolutions and put pressure on the British government to think again. There was widespread support for a boycott on British imports to reduce levels of revenue. However, the assemblies were more divided over the question of smuggling. In this respect, no assembly held on the river north of Montreal apart from those at Malbaie on 25 June supported smuggling as a means of exerting pressure.[9] When the assemblies had voted for the boycott, with the exception of Malbaie and later on 16 July at Deschambault[10], they also elected comités de surveillance for each comté to ensure that the boycott was enforced. It is important to emphasise that there was also widespread support for establishing a convention that brought together members from each comté in the province. Linked to this were calls for support from other colonies and the United States as well as a desire to provide information and education on people’s political rights. The first two types of resolution made up the vast majority of resolutions before 6 August and were reinforced by legal action by the Assembly. This is perhaps better explained by the request from the House of Commons on 3 July 1837 to Queen Victoria to renounce Russell’s Resolution. [11]

The third type of resolution related to long-term grievances and generally restated themes from the Ninety-Two Resolutions. These included the classic themes of the Legislative Council, responsible government, land monopoly by the British American Land Company and the colonial aristocracy. To these were appended new attacks such as on Gosford’s good faith and the bias of the Royal Commission.

The question of seigneurial rights made up the fourth type of resolution. It was the assembly at Sainte-Rose on 11 June that proposed abolishing the seigneurial system with compensation.[12] Then the assemblies at Napierville in Acadie on 12 July and 10 September also called for its abolition.[13] On 6 August, at Saint-François-du-Lac there was an assembly uniquely called to discuss seigneurial tenure or reform of the seigneurial system.[14] The same occurred at Saint-Ignace on 10 September.[15] By contrast, at Vaudreuil[16] on 6 August and Saint-Polycarpe[17] on 15 October, there were explicit calls for abolition. It appears that in the comté de Vaudreuil seigneurial rights was a significant regional issue and all its assemblies called either for their abolition or at least reform. This comté also saw the only resolutions that called for the clergy to keep strictly to spiritual matters and not interfere in more worldly affairs.

The last type of resolution was concerned with establishing a parallel system of justice and also the formation of a force of volunteers and paramilitary organisations. Following his proclamation on 15 June banning further assemblies, Gosford began to dismiss justices of the peace and captains of militia who refused to cooperate with the colonial authorities. Others, who were supporters of the Parti Patriote, resigned.[18] To begin with assemblies were satisfied by denouncing Gosford’s actions but on 10 September at Napierville, the assembly recognised the contribution of those officials who had either been dismissed or resigned. In addition to congratulating them on their patriotism, reformers were informed that they should avoid any business with the ‘unworthy people’ who had accepted Gosford’s new commissions. From the beginning of October 1837, the movement became more threatening. At an assembly in the Deux-Montagnes, its comité permanent established a system of parallel justice on 1 October.[19] For the first time, a comité de comté maintained that its authority had been ‘conferred by the people’, a direct stand against British authority. The same comité recommended that its people should organise and arm themselves by parish under the command of a chosen captain of militia. On 4 October, the Fils de la Liberté in their Address to the young people of America invited Lower Canada to rise up and achieve the sovereign independence of America. [20]

Finally, the Patriote movement reached its peak with the Grande assemblée de la Confédération des Six-Comtés at Saint-Charles on 23-24 October 1837. [21] The 4,000 to 5,000 people present reiterated the resolutions passed in the Deux-Montagnes, discussed the possibility of recourse to arms and while the official resolutions had a pacific appearance, the pompous form of the assembly and also the Adresse de la Confédération des Six-Comtés aux habitants du Canada that borrowed from the preamble of the Declaration of American Independence represented a dangerous precedent for colonial government. [22] Ironically, the largest loyalist assembly was held in Montreal[23] on 23 October and less than a month later the Richelieu valley was embroiled in military action.

Appendix 1: List of assemblies held, May-November 1837

Date

Event

Organisation

Media

May 7

Saint-Ours

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on May 11 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 23-28

May 15

Saint-Laurent

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on May 18 in in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 29-37

May 15

Saint-Marc

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on May 22 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 38-41

May 15

Québec

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on May 23 in The Vindicator; Bernard, pp. 42-46

June 1

Saint-Scholastique

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 5 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 47-56

June 1

Saint-Hyacinthe

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 8 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 57-61

June 4

Longueuil

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 12 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 62-66

June 4

Québec

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 8 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 67-77

June 11

Sainte-Rose

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 15 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 78-83

June 18

Berthier

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 22 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 84-91

June 18

Saint-François-du-Lac

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 26 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 92-100

June 23

Saint-Hyacinthe

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 29 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 101-104

June 25

La Malbaie

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 31 in Le Libéral; Bernard, pp. 105-110

June 26

Saint-Thomas

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on July 3 in Le Canadien; Bernard, pp. 111-116

June 28

Montréal

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on June 30 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 117-121

June 29

Rawdon

Loyalist

Resolutions published on July 14 in Le Populaire; Bernard, pp. 122-125

July 4

Stanbridge

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on July 13 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 126-132

July 6

Montréal

Loyalist

Resolutions published on July 8 in The Montreal Gazette; Bernard, pp. 133-134

July 12

Napierville

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on July 20th in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 135-143

July 16

Deschambault

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on July 24 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 144-147

July 24

Napierville

Loyalist

Resolutions published on August 1 in The Montreal Gazette; Bernard, pp. 148-152

July 25

Trois-Rivières

Loyalist

Resolutions published on July 28 in Le Populaire; Bernard, pp. 153-155

July 26

Yamachiche

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on July 31 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 156-160

July 29

L’Assomption

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on August 3 in La Minerve

July 31

Québec

Loyalist

Resolutions published on August 2 in L’Ami du peuple; Bernard, pp. 167-170

August 4

Aylmer

Loyalist

Resolutions published on August 19 in L’Ami du peuple; Bernard, pp. 171-173

August 6

Yamaska

Loyalist

resolution unique published on August 19 in L’Ami du peuple; Bernard, p. 174

August 6

Saint-Constant

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on August 14 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 175-179

August 6

Saint-François-du-Lac on seignorial tenure

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on August 18th in Le Canadien; Bernard, pp. 180-182

August 6

Vaudreuil

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on August 14 in Le Canadien; Bernard, pp. 183-188

September 10

Saint-Denis

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on September 24 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 189-193

September 10

Napierville

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on September 21 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 194-196

September 10

Saint-Ignace

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on September 21 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 197-201

September 16

Milton

Loyalist

Resolutions published on November 29 in Le Populaire; Bernard, pp. 202-203

September 16

Saint-Antoine

Parti patriote

an account of the country lunch published on September 21 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 204-206

October 1

Permanent committee of Deux-Montagnes

Parti patriote

Resolutions of the 8th sitting published on October 9 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 207-213

October 13

Clarenceville

Loyalist

Resolutions published on November 11 in The Montreal Gazette; Bernard, pp. 223-225

October 15

Saint-Polycarpe

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on October 19 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 226-230

October 23

Montreal at Place d’Armes

Loyalist

Resolutions and addresses published on October 24 and 28 in The Montreal Gazette; Bernard, pp. 231-258

October 23-24

Confederation of the Six Counties in Saint-Charles

Parti patriote

Resolutions and addresses published on October 30 and November 2 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 259-285

November 5

Saint-Athanase

Parti patriote

Resolutions published on November 9 in La Minerve; Bernard, pp. 286-290

November 13

Abbotsford

Loyalist

Resolutions published on November 21 in The Montreal Gazette; Bernard, pp. 291-293

November 20

Sherbrooke

Loyalist

Resolutions published November 2 in The Montreal Gazette; Bernard, pp. 294-298

November 23

Granby

Loyalist

Resolutions published on December 4 in The Morning Courier; Bernard, pp. 299-300

Appendix 2: Analysis of assemblies

This table is based on material found on the Patriotes website.

1. Saint-Ours: 7 May
2. Stanbridge: 4 July
3. Napierville: 12 July
4. Deschambault: 16 July
5. Yamachiche: 26 July
6. L’Assomption: 29 July
7. St-Constant: 6 August
8. St-François-du-lac: 6 August

9. Vaudreuil: 6 August
10. St-Denis: 10 September
11. Napierville: 10 September
12. St-Ignace: 10 September
13. Deux-Montagnes: 1 October
14. St-Polycarpe: 15 October
15. Six Comtés: 23 October

RESOLUTIONS

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

 

Russell Resolutions denounced

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

           

7

Denounce attacks on Constitution

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

     

X

X

X

10

People misled, broken confidence

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

         

X

9

Americans as natural allies

X

X

           

X

         

X

4

‘No legislation/taxation without rep’

   

X

 

X

   

X

           

3

Repeal Act of Tenure

                       

X

 

1

Reduce revenues; boycott

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

 

X

           

8

Smuggling

X

X

                         

2

Develop manufactures/commerce

X

X

 

X

X

X

X

 

X

   

X

     

8

Comité de surveillance

X

X

X

 

X

X

X

 

X

           

7

Association patriotique du pays...

X

X

X

 

X

X

X

 

X

         

X

8

Thank friends in London and Toronto

   

X

 

X

X

 

X

   

X

     

5

Attack Legislative Council

 

X

X

 

X

               

X

4

Denounce Gosford

X

X

X

         

X

         

X

5

Petition US Congress to abolish customs

X

                         

1

Not vote subsidies

 

 

X

X

     

X

           

3

Equal citizens without distinction

   

                   

X

X

2

Elected Legislative Council

   

X

X

 

X

X

 

X

   

X

 

X

X

8


[1] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, p. 12.

[2] Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, (L’Aurore), 1975, pp. 161-164.

[3] Greer, Allan, Habitants et Patriotes, (Boréal), 1997, pp. 133-134, Ryerson, Stanley-Bréhaut, Capitalisme et Confédération, (Parti pris), 1978, p. 49.

[4] Ibid, Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, pp. 183, 186.

[5] Leclerc, Félix, ‘1837-1838, dates et événements’, in ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Les Rébellions de 1837-1838. Les patriotes du Bas-Canada dans la mémoire collective et chez les historiens, pp. 92-93.

[6] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 23-28.

[7] See Appendix 2 below.

[8] See above, pp. 297-301.

[9] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 105-110.

[10] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 144-147.

[11] Leclerc, Félix, ‘1837-1838, dates et événements’, in ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Les Rébellions de 1837-1838. Les patriotes du Bas-Canada dans la mémoire collective et chez les historiens, p. 100.

[12] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 78-83

[13] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 135-143, 194-196.

[14] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 180-182.

[15] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 197-202.

[16] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 183-188.

[17] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 226-230.

[18] Ibid, Greer, Allan, Habitants et Patriotes, pp. 200-201.

[19] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 207-213.

[20] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 214-222.

[21] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 259-285.

[22] Ibid, Greer, Allan, Habitants et Patriotes, p. 209; ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 277-285.

[23] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 231-258.

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