French Nationalism

French Nationalism French and English Clashes in the first decade of the nineteenth century & the Birth of French-Canadian Nationalism For nearly two centuries the inhabitants of New France lived their day to day lives under the French Regime. The colony of New France was shaped by such institutions as the Catholic Church, and the seigneural system. After the Conquest of 1763, the inhabitants of New France now found themselves under the control of the British monarch. However, the life for the inhabitants of New France, virtually remained unchanged.

It was not until the American Revolution, that the inhabitants of New France began to feel the British presence. As a result of the American Revolution many British subjects, who became known as the United Empire Loyalists migrated north to the British colonies. The loyalists who settled in colonies were uneasy by the lack of government and demanded that some form of government be established.The British, who feared another war in North America, were quick to appease the loyalists concerns. Thus in 1791 the Constitution Act was implemented. From its implementation major clashes developed between the French and English populations. These major clashes in Lower Canada in the first decade of the nineteenth century were caused by the implementation of the Constitution Act of 1791. It will be shown that the French-Canadian response to these tensions gave way for the birth of French-Canadian nationalism.

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The Constitution Act of 1791, which was a result of loyalists demands, left some English feeling somewhat dissatisfied, particularly with the division of the colony into Upper and Lower Canada. In Lower Canada the French population held an overwhelming majority with 146, 000 over the English population which was only 10,000. The French population, who were pleased that they were a majority in their own colony, also had concerns with the Constitution Act of 1791.

The French population consisted mainly of habitants, and other lower class trades. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the English population who dominated the industrial and commercial sectors of Lower Canada(particularly the region around the St.Lawrence). This gave the English a huge advantage over the French, economically and socially. The French and English who basically lived independent from one another, did feel immediate tensions, yet for the Canadiens it was the threat of assimilation that always lingered. The implementation of the British Parliamentary system in Lower Canada that saw the tensions between French and English reach a peak. Under the British Parliamentary system there was a governor of Lower Canada, who was appointed by the British; an executive council and a legislative council, which were appointed and an elected assembly. The appointments of these councils were decided by the British and hence a system of heritoscracy was in place.

This developed a situation in which the Canadiens were a distinct minority in the non-elective branches of the government: in the legislative council they had seven out of sixteen members, and in the executive council they had four out of nine. The only possibility that could allow Canadien representatives in the government was the elected assembly. However, with the results of the first election it showed that this was not even guaranteed. With the English population, only a fifteenth of the total had almost a third of the seats in the assembly.

With the English minority having the majority in the government the Canadien were virtually unrepresented within the new political system.To make matters worse the governor had the ability to veto any bill the assembly brought forth. The Canadiens ignorance to the British Parliamentary system demanded their immediate attention or face possible consequences of assimilation. Within the political arena the Canadien representatives were quick to act on the issue on language. In what language was the new government to function? The issue of language managed to creep into the forefront of politics in the first meeting. There needed to be a election for the speaker of the assembly, and of course there was immediate discussion over the need for the speaker to be bilingual.After debates were heard, the vote was taken and Jean-Antoine Panet, the French nominee was elected. However, this was not the last of the languages debates.

The official language of the legislature still needed to be decided. The end result seemed satisfactory to the English and French. The records of the legislature were to be kept in French and English.

The Canadiens were beginning to use the British Parliamentary system in a way that would help secure their own distinctiveness.The majority of the French population of this time was still agrarian based. However, there was an increased awareness of the ability for French to hold other positions in society.

The rise of the lawyers and notaries was a result. An increasing number of French were furthering their education and learning the British political system. These men were described by Governor Craig as the ‘new order of men’, these men were becoming the leaders of the habitants.The lack of experience shown by Canadiens in the representative government, was disappearing. These professional men, held confidence in what they knew and in the system itself. As these professionals grew in the assembly, the seigneurs, who up until this point occupied the seats in the assembly, were being pushed out.

Interestingly enough the seigneurs made allies of the English legislative and executive councils. The seigneur’s were in fear of the new government and wanted to ensure their economic place within Lower Canada.One way for them to do this was by siding with the economic strong holders of Lower Canada. The opposing sides of government were taking on new qualities.

At first the divisions were only French verus English, but the fact that the seigneurs were siding with the English now created lines of economic division. As well, the needs, desires and aims of the assembly became pivoted against those of the executive and legislative councils. Even with the rise of the new class of professionals(middle-class) the English and the councils were considered to be of higher class. The British parliamentary system made clear distinctions between classes.The professional class did not only work though the assembly alone. Political opinions were developed through the newspapers. One newspaper in general Le Canadien, was used as a tool by the new professionals.

The paper reflected the views of this new group, it became an instrument for these men, to get their beliefs out. After further investigation into Le Canadien by the councils, Craig reported that Le Canadien was primarily if not entirely supported by the Leaders of the assembly. Le Canadien explored political and constitutional matters, but it was also found to defend the character of the French Canadians against the malicious attacks of the Quebec Mercury.The Quebec Mercury was the rival paper to Le Canadien. Quebec Mercury’s supporters included the English merchants and many appointees from the executive and legislative councils. At this point in time is where the development of the newspaper as a form of mass communication(for the masses) arises.

The newspapers were key instruments in which the ideas of the professional class were articulated in such a manner as to explain the new system of government as a benefit to the Canadiens. The inhabitants were shown the glories of the their new constitutionalism and instructed in the functioning of its various parts.Le Canadien and the Quebec Mercury quickly began to play out the political tensions.

The debates at one point were so vicious that the Quebec Mercury was charged with libel. The Quebec Mercury was ordered to write a public apology. Obviously this did not go over well with the English and again the tensions peaked. The professional class that began to dominate the elected assembly, received little recognition as educated and worthy politicians. Governor Craig attitudes towards the Canadiens was that they were drunken and grossly ignorant people, ant that their religion should be placed under Anglican hierarchy.

Craig also believed that the assembly was made up of enemies of Britain; petty lawyers and notaries that knew nothing of the British Constitution or legislature, although they confess to the opposite, and that these members were doing all that could be done to bring the loss of Canada to Britain. The animosity felt by Governor Craig towards the Canadiens, was taken with great stride by the members of the assembly at whom they were directed to. Pierre Bedard, seen as a leader of this new professional class and one of the founders of Le Canadien, felt the greatest repercussions from the English. Pierre Bedard along with other members of Le Canadien were jailed.

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