Friday, 4 February 2011

Patriotes and British Radicals in the 1830s

More than France or the United States, it was in Great Britain that the strategists of the Patriote Party tried to make links beyond the borders of Lower Canada. The Patriotes estimated, rightly, that it was there that the important decisions regarding their programme would be made and recognised that divisions within both Parliament and the Whig government of Lord Melbourne made it possible to advance the Canadian cause.[1] Since the failed attempt at union in 1822, the strategy of the Canadian party had generally consisted in sending delegates to England with a mandate to contact all those who, especially in Parliament, were sympathetic to their arguments. There were three missions in the 1820s and 1830s: Papineau and Neilson in 1823, Neilson, Viger and Cuvillier five years later and especially the mission of Denis-Benjamin Viger between 1832 and 1834.

In the aftermath of the passage of the 92 Resolutions though the Assembly at the beginning of 1834 and growing intransigence of the reform movement in Lower Canada, the Patriote Party decided that it would be better to persist with its strategy in England largely because of the emergence of a group of radical MPs. Electoral reform in 1832 led to the appearance of a group of MPs, largely middle class and strongly influenced by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and David Ricardo. These Philosophic Radicals denounced the political dominance of the traditional aristocratic elite and called for a democratisation of the political life and social reforms. They did not constitute a ‘party’ because they were too small in numbers and lacked political cohesion. Their electoral failure in July 1837 and the departure of Lord Durham, a possible leader of this loose grouping, for Canada at the beginning of 1838 led to rapid decline of their importance.

Augustin-Norbert Morin was charged with carrying the text of the Ninety-two Resolutions and the petition that accompanied it to England. [2] He left London on 19 August 1834 and was back in Montreal on 5 October. For his part, Denis-Benjamin Viger returned to Montreal on 1 November after two years in London. Immediately after the Assembly elections in the autumn 1834, Robert Nelson and Henry S. Chapman left Montreal on 24 December for New York on their way for London. [3] Chapman was charged with making contact with the English and Irish Radicals, particularly with John A. Roebuck to bring English opinion up-to-date with the Canadian crisis and to inform the Assembly of the progress of the Canadian cause in Great Britain. On 9 March 1835, Chapman and Nelson distributed copies of the text of a petition of Canadian citizens in Parliament. The petition was presented to the Commons the same day followed by a lengthy debate with a second debate the day after in the House of Lords.

Nelson was back in Montreal by the spring of 1835, but Chapman remained in London working with Roebuck and supplying the British press with articles on Canada. However, there were already active and well organised special interest groups in England. Wood merchants lobbied vigorously for the maintenance of preferential rates on Canadian wood to the detriment of wood coming from the Baltic. What gave this lobby its strength was an alliance with Society of Ship-owners, one of the best organised interest groups in nineteenth century England. It was fiercely opposed to the reform agenda and Chapman described it as noisy, active and uninformed. Other special interest groups with commercial interests in Great Britain had less influence on the development of colonial policy. The fisheries and Hudson’s Bay Company, for example, had few defenders in Parliament. Finally, there were family-owned companies that carried out businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. Although, these merchants may have been important in the colonies, they had limited influence at Westminster. During the 1830s, financial companies extend their influence on British North America. In 1836, the Bank of British North America was launched with the support of powerful financial institutions. The large land companies were closely linked to the banks and were beginning to sell their vast land monopolies. The banking and land companies combined with the wood merchants formed a protectionist and elitist group in Canada. Since 1810, these interests had started to meet at Canada Club. In 1831, it became the North American Colonial Association that had interests in finance, land and commerce and controlled three London newspapers: The Morning Herald, The London Post and Morning Chronicle. The official spokesmen of this association to the Commons were George Richard Robinson (Worcester), Patrick Stewart (Lancaster), Henry Bliss and especially Nathaniel Gould, who voted under the Whig banner. This anti-Patriote lobby could also count on the occasional support from the Church of England.

The strength of this network of interests can be contrasted with limited support available to the Patriote lobby whose support came almost exclusively from the radical movement. Apart from occasional aid from the Chartist movement, O’Connell’s Irish nationalists and some Whigs reformers like Henry Labouchere and Edward Ellice, the bulk of Patriote support came from some journalists and MPs with radical leanings. This relationship went back to the campaign against the union of Lower and Upper Canada in 1822 when James Mackintosh defended the position of the Canadian party. From the session of 1834, certain Radicals became increasingly interested in Canadian questions and Roebuck, Hume, Leader and on occasions, Molesworth questioned the government on its Canadian policy.

The defence of the Patriote ideas in England is particularly associated with John Arthur Roebuck, one of the MPs for Bath since 1832. [4] Roebuck lived for ten years in Upper Canada, but was not interested in the particular case of Lower Canada until a meeting with Pierre de Sales Laterrière and then with Denis-Benjamin Viger probably in 1833. It is often assumed that it was Roebuck who presented the 92 Resolutions to the House of Commons; in fact it was Joseph Hume. It was, however, Roebuck’s intervention on 15 April 1834 that led to the setting-up of Canada Commission. A battle took place in Canada over the nomination of Roebuck as official agent of Assembly as the legislative Council vigorously opposed it. The bill appointing an agent in Great Britain was voted on several times but rejected by the Council. However, following a unilateral vote of the Assembly, Papineau announced on 25 March 1835 that Roebuck could now act as the official agent of the Parliament of Lower Canada. It was not until 8 September that Lord Glenelg allowed Roebuck to express the views of the parliamentary majority of Lower Canada. Roebuck was paid a fee of £600 per year with an additional £500 for other expenditure. In fact, because of the dispute over subsidies in Lower Canada, Roebuck did not receive anything and it was ten years later following an expensive legal case before he was actually paid. Despite this, Roebuck continued to promote the Patriote cause in England.

Though Roebuck was central to the pro-patriot activities in England, other MPs were also engaged in this cause. Among those, the most assiduous defender of Canadian freedoms was Joseph Hume who had been the agent of the Upper Canadian Assembly and had presented, on its behalf, petitions questioning the administration of the governors Colborne and then Head. Hume had long been a defender of colonial freedoms and hoped one day to see the colonies represented in Westminster. The Radicals wanted to promote certain democratic reforms even at the price of an alliance with the Whig government. John Temple Leader, the young MP for Westminster since 1835 also defended the Patriote position in the Commons. Like Hume, he accepted the political economy of Adam Smith and believed that independence would be the eventual result of the relations between England and Canada. Leader was, according to Chapman an excellent speaker and very popular in the Commons and after Roebuck’s defeat at the polls in July 1837 became parliamentary spokesman for the interests of Lower Canadians. Henry Brougham was, with Hume, another veteran of the British politics and came from the great Whig tradition of Wilberforce and Lord Holland. Brougham was an important Whig politician under Grey but had broken with Melbourne and acted almost as an independent in the House of Lords where he was virtually the only defender of the Patriote ideas. More important support came from the Irish leader Daniel O’Connell who led about thirty Irish MPs in the Commons. According to Chapman, O’Connell saw the problems of Lower Canada in a similar light to problems of Ireland. The relationship between the Radicals and the Irish MPs was complex at the time of the Rebellions particularly because the Radicals supported the Irish Poor Law Bill. O’Connell and his MPs voted with the Radicals in opposition to the Russell Resolutions in early 1837 but in January 1838 supported the government when it suspended the constitution of Lower Canada. The pro-Patriote lobby could also count on the support of about fifteen less important MPs like William Clay (Tower Hamlets), Thomas Wakley (Finsbury), Henry George Ward (Bridgeport), William Ewart (Liverpool) and especially George Grote and Sir William Molesworth, a close friend of Lord Durham.

Beyond the House of Commons, Henry Samuel Chapman, who acted as Roebuck’s secretary, was critical to the wider expression of pro-Patriote ideas. Born in 1803 in London, Chapman was a merchant initially in Amsterdam and, after 1823, in Quebec. Until 1834, each winter he came to England where he attended the radical circles. [5] In February 1833, he established Montreal Daily Advertiser, the first Canadian daily newspaper in Montreal, a newspaper devoted to economic news. The drafting of the Ninety-Two Resolutions in February 1834 and especially the Patriote victory with the 1834 elections, abruptly made him aware of the nature of the Lower Canadian crisis. In What is the Result of the Canadian Election?, an extremely radical leading article that was reprinted in French and then republished in England, Chapman noted that the Lower Canadian crisis was by no means simply an ethnic dispute but was a contest between two great opposing principles: the aristocratic principle and the democratic principle. On the one hand, there was a largely English political oligarchy supported by protectionist merchants and on the other the Patriote party supported by many Canadians. In his many other writings on the question, Chapman had occasion to refine his thought. In his bipolar vision, there is no place for the moderate opinion either in England or in Canada. He attacked the moderate wing of the Patriote party in Canada as much as it attacked the Whig government. Chapman noted that the Philosophic Radicals, who defended democracy, free trade and certain social reforms, were similar to the Patriote movement of Louis-Joseph Papineau. Disowned by his Tory partners, Chapman promptly gave up publication of the Daily Advertiser. As a result, he agreed to act as emissary of the Patriote party in Great Britain.

Initially the mission of Chapman was to last only until the end of 1835 but his mandate was renewed on 8 September 1835 and he was given an additional £50 to the £300 pounds already paid. Unlike the fees paid to Roebuck, Chapman’s did not have to be authorised by the Council. After 1836, as Roebuck’s secretary, Chapman was occupied forwarding official documents of the British government to the Assembly, receiving letters from Papineau and other Patriote leaders, getting articles on Canada published in the British press and supplying the radical and Irish MPs with documents relating to Canada. [6] Chapman’s most remarkable contribution was the articles he wrote for the Vindicator, a leading radical newspaper in Montreal. Chapman undertook to write on 29 January 1835, five days after his arrival in England and his letters appeared each week with astonishing regularity, a total of 125 letters were published before the Vindicator closed on 6 November 1837. They were translated and re-published in several newspapers such as L’Écho du Pays and Minerve. The work of Chapman cannot be disassociated from that of Samuel Revans, his long-standing collaborator. He was born in Kennington in 1803 and the two men were close from their infancy. Revans arrived in Quebec in 1823 and became involved in the trade of dry goods also making many trips to and from America and Europe. It is from Revans that Chapman acquired the printing equipment in 1833 to launch Montreal Daily Adverstiser and who assumed the losses when it closed. After Chapman moved to England as the agent of the Patriote Party, Revans became a sales representative combining this with his work with the Radicals and Patriotes. His brother John Revans was a convinced free-trader and a future member of Anti-Corn Law Association.

Lastly, Thomas Falconer came from one of the great families of Bath. Roebuck’s marriage to Harriett Falconer and the support of her family were invaluable assets at the time of the election of 1832. Falconer was called to the bar in 1830. He was thirty-two years old at the time of the rebellions and, filled with enthusiasm by the resistance of Mackenzie on Navy Island, went to Canada remaining there until 1840. The group around Chapman was concerned with other causes than the Patriotes. Their names are often associated with reformers such as David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, John Bowring and Edward Gibbon Wakefield. They campaigned against stamp duty of newspaper or the ‘tax on knowledge’, in favour of municipal reform, the abolition of the rotted boroughs and the defence of oppressed Poland. The most important contribution of this group was the publication of the Pamphlets for the People. Thirty-six appeared at each week between 11 June 1835 and 11 February 1836 and it was an important medium for Radical writers such as William Allen, Robert Hammesley and Francis Place. Chapman published twenty-seven articles relating especially to universal suffrage, the tax on the press and colonisation and also contributed to The London Review and The London and Westminster Review. The diversity of interest of these individuals shows that their pro-Canadian activities must be seen within their broader aims of transforming society.

Several Radical MPs opposed Russell’s Resolutions and the debate continued on 8 March. Hume advocated greater autonomy for Canada while Roebuck warned that, if the government provoked a rebellion, the United States of America would almost certainly intervene against Britain. Spokesmen for the ‘colonial reform’ movement, which advocated colonial self-government, maintained that the policy violated Lower Canada’s constitutional arrangements. [7] Thompson argued that withholding of supply was the proper way to have grievances addressed arguing that British public opinion would take the colonists’ side if the dispute escalated. [8] Just as the influence of elected bodies should be extended in Britain, Thompson declared, the same was true of Canada. Constitutional reform was the only way to create a more workable imperial connection. The Commons decisively rejected calls for an elected Legislative Council by 318 votes to 56 and on 14 April 1837 and endorsed the Government’s refusal to subject the Executive Council to the Assembly in Lower Canada by 269 votes to 46. The remaining resolutions were carried over two further nights of debate and were accepted by both Houses in early May. Gosford was instructed to convene the Assembly in a final attempt to obtain the arrears before parliament appropriated provincial funds. Yet, the death of William IV in June 1837 and the need to call a general election, delayed further discussion. The British Government and Papineau’s Patriotes were on a collision course and the Ten Resolutions accelerated the polarisation of opinion. The Government’s position was that there could be no middle way between maintaining British rule and Canada’s separation from Britain while Patriotes recognised that accepting the Resolutions meant acknowledging the sovereignty of the imperial parliament to which they were now obstinately opposed. [9]

One of the most important initiatives taken by the Radicals concerning Lower Canada was a large working-class meeting on 3 April 1837 organised by London Working Men’s Association that formed the core of the Chartist movement. The Russell Resolutions occupied many in the House of Commons in February 1837 and the organised labour followed discussions in the Commons with great interest. The meeting denounced Russell’s Resolutions as a further expression of aristocratic power that the radical MPs had been unable to defeat. Both the speakers and the tone of the speeches suggest close links with the emergent Chartist movement. The principal speakers were William Lovett, William Molesworth and John Temple Leader, two radical MPs, and Henry S. Chapman. The first reports of the rebellions started to arrive to England in mid-December of 1837. Chapman and Roebuck were then in London. Samuel Revans was in Lower Canada and had taken part in some Patriote assemblies. However, he went to the United States as the rebellions began and was back in England early in 1838. The Radicals were surprised but not disappointed by the outbreak of violence and, in fact, it had an invigorating effect on their work. The English press was suddenly interested in the Canadas and the Radicals contributed a series of articles to The Sun, a London newspaper. Once the rebellions started, communications with Canada became very difficult and subterfuge was used to prevent letters revealing Patriote supporters to the authorities.

The fact that colonial grievances had developed into armed struggle prompted many radicals to condemn Melbourne’s government for mis­managing the crisis. A stand could now be made on ministerial responsibility as well as on the Canadians’ claim for political rights. However, a radical campaign would not be easy to set in motion. He questioned the reliability of Roebuck and Hume, for example, and not without reason. Seeking to increase his own influence, Roebuck had encouraged Papineau’s inflexibility. In so doing he had made an insurrection more likely, however much he blamed the government for failing to appease the Patriotes and his main concern subsequently was to obtain the salary that he was owed as agent for Lower Canada. Hume had also encouraged the Canadians to resist. He had been advising Mackenzie since the latter’s visit to London in 1832, and although Hume avoided violence, it was his denunciations of the British government that most impressed the opposition in Upper Canada. Mackenzie’s rising embarrassed Hume, whose reputation among moderates in Upper Canada declined. There were other problems for the radicals. They were divided on tactics and losing influence in the Commons. Some hated the Whig government and cared nothing about keeping out the Tories, while others, including Hume wanted to keep the ministers in place and urged their colleagues not to add to the ministry’s difficulties. Radical numbers in the Commons had fallen after the 1837 general election; Roebuck was among the casualties, as was Thompson. Nevertheless, both in and outside parliament, there were still activists ready to give priority to the Canada question, to denounce the government for causing the rebellion and to campaign against the coercive measures to which the imperial authorities had resorted.[10]

When radical leaders did come together for a decisive show of opposition to the government’s Canadian policy, discord resulted. On 4 January 1838, the Radicals organised the largest pro-Patriote gathering to have taken place in Great Britain. Three to four thousand people gathered at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in London to attend a meeting of London Working Men’s Association. Roebuck, Molesworth, Lovett, Leader, Harvey, O’Connor and Chapman addressed the crowd and, according to Chapman, ‘when it was mentioned that the peasantry had beaten the troops at St-Denis, they gave three Cheers for the honest Canadians. This meeting will the tone to the country …and I am glad to say that the general feeling of sympathy is growing in your favour.’ A committee is set up after the meeting to make 50,000 copies of the report of the speeches and to launch a periodical on the Canadian question called The Canadian Portfolio.

Hume took the chair, explained Canada’s grievances and, eager to maintain good relations with the Whigs, advised against the use of intemperate language. Leader then introduced the main resolution: ‘That the meeting, while they deeply lament the disastrous disturbance now existing in the colony of Lower Canada, are of opinion that this deplorable occurrence is to be ascribed to the misconduct of the British ministry, in refusing timely redress to the repeated complaints of the Canadian people, and in attempting to sustain that refusal by measures of gross injustice and coercion.’ Thompson seconded the resolution, ‘not because he was altogether contented with it, but because he had been asked to do so’, and he disapproved of the manner in which the resolutions had been altered. Thompson was, however, glad that Leader had described Canada as the scene of ‘civil war’ and not merely a disturbance. To cheers, Thompson admitted that he was prepared to go further. He asserted that the attempt of Melbourne’s government to seize the supplies in Lower Canada, against the wishes of the representative assembly, was an act of treason; in the seventeenth century Charles I had lost his head for the same offence. Thompson brushed aside Hume’s warning against ‘hard words’, insisting ‘words were not hard when true’. He viewed the British government as the original aggressor and believed that the Canadians were within their constitutional rights to stop supplies. To execute rebel leaders, moreover, would be like murdering prisoners of war. ‘Oppression cancels allegiance’, Thompson declared. In fact, resistance was a duty when rulers broke with their subjects and ‘unsheathed the sword’. Finally, he hoped that the public would forgive the weak part of the resolutions, strengthen the sound part and press the government to change course[11].

Five numbers of The Canadian Portfolio appeared between the 4 and 23 January 1838 containing many letters on Canada that the Radicals had written for the British press, as well as extracts of speeches by Roebuck in the Commons. Chapman explains to O’Callaghan that ‘The object was to influence in some degree the early discussions in Parliament and to place the case fairly before the public. This they have accomplished to the full extent of their power which it must be confessed in the midst of so much prejudice is but small’. Indeed, the vote on 29 January on the Canada Government Bill that suspended the Constitution of Lower Canada saw radical opposition reduced to eight votes against 110. In addition, the appointment of Lord Durham as governor-general had modified the situation considerably and rendered the campaign of The Canadian Portfolio increasingly unnecessary. Chapman conceded that ‘there is another reason why they cannot be continued. Printing is expensive every where, as you know, your friends here are poor. If I had £300 I could have raised the whole country in favour of Canada.’

The radical MPs seldom spoke specifically about the Ninety-Two Resolutions preferring to stick to general ideas that the English public was able to understand: principally calls for an elective legislative Council, the complete control by the Assembly of money matters, the abolition of the Tenure Act and the concession to the Assembly of Lower Canada of responsibility for distributing Crown lands. In promoting these principles, the Radicals constantly restated the parallels between their own disputes and those of the Patriote deputies arguing that on both sides of the Atlantic, the people and their representatives were engaged in a battle against monopolistic aristocracies and merchants. The Radicals were as convinced as the Canadians that the British government would not introduce reform as long as the Whigs were in power. Therefore, when they used the term ‘Party of the People’, they were making a clear comparison between themselves and the Patriotes and at the same time establishing a clear alliance between the English and Canadian radicals and the mandate of the people.

Why were radical MPs interested in Canadian affairs? According to their Tory critics, it gave them the opportunity to embarrass and attack the Whig government. According to certain historians, the interest of the Radicals in the Canadian question was related to considerations of domestic policy. By denouncing the Lower Canadian oligarchy, they were also denouncing the British aristocratic elite. The Radicals tended to vote en bloc against the government on the questions concerning Canada, in particular during the debate on the Russell Resolutions where they vigorously opposed Melbourne’s government. The debate on Canada gave the radical movement the cohesion and strength necessary to form a ‘party’. However, their support for the Patriote cause left them in an uncomfortable minority and contributed to their alienation from the more progressive Whigs. ‘We want no twilight reformers...’ wrote Chapman. Progressive Whigs like Edward Ellice or Henry Labouchere or those like Charles Buller or Lord Howick, more closely associated with the ideas of John Stuart Mill, were a disappointment to most Radicals on this question and were attacked by Chapman and Roebuck who opposed any suggestion of compromise with the government. Buller wrote to Mill concerning Lower Canada that ‘Your article delighted us all and in particular Lord Durham. I approve your new conserving attitude and I support your principle relating to the need for limiting the power of the majority.’ On the position to be taken on the Lower Canadian crisis, the correspondence between Radicals became sourer. Buller continues: ‘Leader really behaved like a stupid ass. I am happy to note that Molesworth continues to act well. It is said to me that Grote has gone completely off the rails; was it his temperament, his lack of judgement, his stubbornness or the influence of Ritoul that caused this?’ These quarrels contributed to divisions in the party at the time when John Stuart Mill was trying to set it up. The Canadian crisis, according to Mill ‘suspends all united action among Radicals…sets one portion of the friends of popular institutions at variance with another, and interrupts for the time all movements and all discussions tending to the great objects of domestic policy.’ Francis Parkes, a moderate Radical close to Mill went further and implied that the Radicals could harm the Patriote cause in England since ‘Unluckily, the advocates of the Lower Canadians here have damaged their cause’. For him, associating the fight of the Patriotes with that of the English Radicals was a grave error: ‘They hailed the outbreak for its insurrectionary spirit and domestic effect; an ignorant and absurd rejoicing’. Papineau wrote that: ‘By choosing our agent from the opposition, we have made it clear that we do not expect benevolence from Downing Street, but only of its fears…It is by denouncing injustice that we will claim our dues on this side of the Atlantic and the other’. This judgement is confirmed by the majority of the historians, in particular Philip Buckner who stated: ‘In appointing ‘tear ‘em Roebuck as their delegate, the Canadian party, as Papineau admitted, embarked upon its policy of confrontation’. [12]

The task entrusted to the Radicals by the Patriotes was ambiguous. On the one hand, they asked the Radicals to advance the Canadian cause in Great Britain and, on the other hand, to make no concession and to attack the Whig government on the whole of its colonial policy. This approach assumed the continued development of the Radical movement in London. However, as their influence in the Commons declined especially after the election during the summer of 1837, the Radicals suggested that the Patriotes resorted to arms as only means of advancing their cause and embarrassed the government for refusing to act on its warnings. Since 1835, the Vindicator had increased its calls for mobilisation and had invited parishes to organise armed groups. In 1836, it devoted a long article to a plan to seize Montreal without violence and there were only two thousand regular troops scattered over the vast extent of country. By not collaborating with progressive Whigs and, at the same time sticking to its hard line on the Canadian question, the Radicals limited the extent to which the government could resolve the problem. Caught between their populist mandate, their partisan perceptions and their reading of the political scene, they acknowledged that the use of force as the only means of resolving the dispute at the time when the influence of their own ‘party’ in England declined.

The arrival in London, in January 1838, of the Patriote leader Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine is significant and represented a change of strategy by certain Canadian reformers vis-à-vis the metropolis. [13] Following the failure of the rebellion in late 1837, the moderate members of the Patriote Party gave up their connection with the Radicals and sought to establish more constructive contacts with the British government. Papineau and O’Callaghan, in exile in the United States, were unable to assert their leadership over the Patriote movement. This change was at the expense of the strategy until then supported by Roebuck and Chapman.

On 19 November 1837, Lafontaine had written to the governor Lord Gosford to convince him to convene the Assembly urgently in order to avoid the rebellion that seemed imminent. Faced by Gosford’s refusal to do this, Lafontaine left Quebec for London arriving in early 1838. There, he met all those who campaigned for Canadian freedoms: Chapman and of course Roebuck, but also Hume, Brougham and Daniel O’ Connell. Roebuck, who has lost his seat in the 1837 election, was all the same invited to make two speeches to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to explain his position on the Canadian crisis. Lafontaine attended his speech in front of the Lords on 5 February 1838. On the same platform were Samuel Revans, Thomas Falconer and seated just behind Chapman, Lord Durham himself. From the start, relations between Lafontaine and the Radicals were bad. Lafontaine was in London when Lord Durham was appointed governor-general, an appointment he supported and which some Radicals did not. For him, Durham was better placed than anyone to consider the problem. At that time, Roebuck sought to coordinate the efforts of the Radicals in order to influence the members of the Durham Commission. La Fontaine adopted an approach distinct the Radicals. Chapman did not appreciate this at all especially as Lafontaine largely kept his own counsel though he did communicate with Ellice. Thomas Falconer openly reproached Lafontaine for short-circuiting the work of the Radicals writing that ‘he met too many officials; he had even gone to supper with Joseph Parkes, who is nothing less than a government spy. He had met members of the government and discussed the possibility of amnesty whereas the true friends of Canada had been speaking about amnesty since the beginning of the Rebellion.’

In the final analysis, the Radicals were not part of Lafontaine’s diplomacy and this undermined their credibility in England as representatives of the majority of Canadians. Lafontaine was back in New York on 11 June 1838. Probably informed by the letters of O’Callaghan, Papineau met him soon after. We do not have a report of this meeting but Papineau certainly had many issues to discuss with his former lieutenant. However, the authority of Papineau and O’Callaghan was already in decline by the summer of 1838 and they were the major supporters of the English Radicals’ approach to Lower Canada. The establishment of the Durham Commission represented a triple disappointment for the Radicals. [14] First, it made any pressure on the government of little value since Durham was given extensive powers and discretion to resolve the problem. Secondly, the departure of Durham for Canada revealed a deep crisis of leadership inside the English radical party since Durham himself was the most serious candidate for leader. Finally, it represented the triumph of the moderates within the Patriote party who were prepared to enter into a dialogue with the Whig government and who would soon agree to the union of Upper and Lower Canadas.

The fact that it was the radical movement in England that was entrusted with the task of defending Canadian interests between 1834 and 1838 was characteristic of the hardening of attitudes and growing radicalism that occurred within the Patriote Party. However, the Radicals formed only a small group hostile to the Whig government and there are significant doubts about the constructive character of their action in Great Britain on behalf of Lower Canada. After the failure of the rebellion and the eclipse of Papineau, moderate Patriotes reconsidered their alliance with the Radicals and recognised that there needed to be more diffuse action and more cooperation with the English government. The bulk of the Patriote Party no longer needed the Radicals and their influence over Canadian affairs rapidly waned.


[1] Knowles, E. C., The English Philosophical Radicals and Lower Canada, 1820-1830, London, 1929 provides the context. Thomas, William, The Philosophic Radicals: Nine Studies in Theory and Practice, 1817-1841, (Oxford University Press), 1979 is the best examination of this amorphous and highly ambiguous political ‘party’. There is also an interesting discussion of the Canadian question in Turner, Michael J., Independent Radicalism in Early Victorian Britain, (Praeger), 2004, pp. 207-215.

[2] Paradis, Jean Marc, Augustin-Norbert Morin, 1803-1865, (Septentrion), 2005 must be regarded as the best biography of this moderate Patriote.

[3] Laporte, Gilles, Le radical britannique Chapman et le Bas-Canada: 1832-1839, mémoire présenté à l’Université du Québec à Montréal comme exigence partielle de la maîtrise en histoire par Gilles Laporte, (Université du Québec à Montréal), 1987.

[4] Ajzenstat, Janet, ‘Collectivity and individual right in mainstream liberalism: John Arthur Roebuck and the Patriotes’, Revue d`études canadiennes / Journal of Canadian studies, Vol. 19, (1984), pp. 99-111, reprinted in Ajzenstat, Janet, The Canadian Founding: John Locke and Parliament, (McGill-Queen’s University Press), 2007, pp. 163-179.

[5] Chapman, Henry Samuel, Correct Account of the Rise and Progress of the Recent Popular Movements in Lower Canada, (John Childs and Sons), 1837 gave his side of the story.

[6] Dufebvre, B., ‘La presse anglaise en 1837-38. Adam Thom, John Neilson et John Fisher’, La Revue de l’Université Laval, Vol. 8, (1953), pp. 267-274 is a valuable critique of the attitude of the anglophone press to the Canadian crisis and on how the Lower Canadians sought to influence public opinion in Britain.

[7] Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 3rd series, Vol. xxxvi, cols. 1287-1362, (1837); Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 3rd series, xxxvii, cols. 76-147, (1837); ibid, Buckner, Phillip, The Transition to Responsible Government, pp. 218-223; Chancellor, V., The Political Life of Joseph Hume, 1777-1855: the Scot who was for 30 Years a Radical Leader in the British House of Commons, (V. Chancellor), 1986, pp. 80, 106-107; Huch, R. K., and Ziegler, P. R., Joseph Hume: the People’s M.P., Philadelphia, Pa., 1985, pp. 63, 101-102; see also above Burroughs, Peter, (ed.), The Colonial Reformers and Canada, 1830-49: Selections from Documents and Publications of the Times, Toronto, 1969, pp. 109-114; The Spectator, 11, 18 March 1837.

[8] Johnson, L. G., General T. Perronet Thompson, 1783-1869: his Military, Literary and Political Campaigns, (Allen & Unwin), 1957, and Turner, Michael J., ‘Radical opinion in an age of reform: Thomas Perronet Thompson and the Westminster Review’, History, Vol. 84, (2001), pp. 18-40, and Independent Radicalism in Early Victorian Britain, pp. 204-217, passim, consider Thompson’s role in debates on Canada in the 1830s.

[9] ‘To the secretary of the Hull Reform Association’, Hull Advertiser, 21 April 1837; ibid, Burroughs, Peter, The Canadian Crisis and British Colonial Policy, pp. 86-93; ibid, Prest, John, Lord John Russell, p. 129; see also above Buckner, Phillip, The Transition to Responsible Government, pp. 223-225.

[10] Maccoby, S. English Radicalism, 1832-52, (Allen & Unwin), 1935, pp. 354-356; Ibid, Buckner, Phillip, The Transition to Responsible Government: British Policy in British North America, 1815-50, pp. 27-29, 239-240.

[11] Morning Chronicle, 5th January 1838; ibid, Maccoby, S. English Radicalism, 1832-52, pp. 356-357. The Times, 5 January 1838, accused speakers of ‘absurdities, extravagances and calumnies’ and stigmatised the event as an ‘unprincipled and atrocious meeting, which, in so far as it tends to uphold the Canadians in their treason, assists in the shedding [of] every drop of human blood, whether English or Canadian, which may be spilt in the progress of this wanton and cruel strife’

[12] Buckner, Phillip, The Transition to Responsible Government: British Policy in British North America 1815-1850, (Greenwood Press), 1985, p. 28.

[13] Aubin, Georges, (ed.), Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine: Journal de voyage en Europe 1837-1838, (Septentrion), 1999, pp. 12-16, 38-77.

[14] New, Chester, ‘Lord Durham and the British Background of his Report’, Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 20, (1939), pp. 119-161 remains an important paper on this issue.

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