The Concept of Freedom in Canada in the Age of Revolutions

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 1776 2. 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
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 eighteenthcentury 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
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 18 thcentury 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
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
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 selfcensorship 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
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
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.
Fundamental Principles
Republican Freedom
Modern Freedom
Thinkers / Philosophers
- Commonwealthmen (James
Algernon Sidney)
- English radicals (Richard Price,
Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine)
- American Republican (Thomas
- French girondins (Antoine de
- 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
- Scottish thinkers (Adam Smith)
- American federalists (Alexander
Hamilton, John Adams)
- French liberals (Constant)
Basic definition of freedom
Participation in political
(political freedom)
Individual rights and autonomy
(civil freedom)
The relation that exists between
participation of citizens) and civil
liberties (individual rights)
Political freedom grants civil
liberties (or not)
Civil liberties are guaranteed by
political freedom
Two values
Property and security
The organization of political
The legislative power is the
centre of all political life because
freedom means participation in
political life
The executive power is very
because it is the only entity which
can protect individual freedom
The People
The elected representatives stand
The Electors
The Nation
The economic basis of society
An ethic of...
Accumulation of wealth
International relations
The independence of sovereign
The possibility of being part of an
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).
For a biography of Mesplet, see: Jean-Paul de Lagrave, Fleury Mesplet, 1734-1794 : diffuseur
des Lumières au Quebec (Montréal: Patenaude, 1985).
The 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 StLaurent,’ Revue d=histoire de l=Amérique française 11: 2 (1957), 158-162.
See 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).
Benjamin Constant, ‘De la liberté des anciens comparée à celle des modernes’ (1819) in Marcel
Gauchet (ed.), Écrits politiques (Paris: 1997), pp. 589-619.
For 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Constitution, October 19, 1836.
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.
This resolution was reprinted in La Minerve, October 30, 1837.
The Constitution, August 2, 1837.
The Constitution, July 19 and 26, August 2 and 9, 1837.
The Constitution, July 26, 1837.
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.
‘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.
Raynald qoted by Mackenzie, Sketches of Canada, p. 60.
Colonial Advocate, le 9 septembre 1830.
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.
Journals of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, 4th session of the 14th Provincial
Parliament (January 7 – March 18, 1834), 311-35.
‘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,