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Rebellions of 1837
The Rebellions of 1837 were a pair of Canadian armed uprisings that occurred in 1837 in response to frustrations in political reform and ethnic conflict. A key shared goal was the establishment of responsible government.
The rebellions occurred in two Canadian colonies:
- Patriotes Rebellion, also known as the Lower Canada Rebellion - A larger and more sustained conflict between French Canadian and English Canadian rebels and the British colonial government
- The Upper Canada Rebellion - An abortive uprising in Upper Canada against the ruling clique of the colony, known as the Family Compact
The rebellion in Lower Canada began first, in November of 1837, and was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau. This probably inspired the much shorter and much less effective rebellion in Upper Canada led by William Lyon Mackenzie in December.
Although both uprisings were eventually crushed, more moderate reformers like the political partners Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine gained more credibility as an alternative voice to the radicals. They proved to be influential when the British government sent Lord Durham to investigate the cause of the troubles. Among the recommendations in his report was the establishment of responsible government for the colonies, which meant that a key objective of the rebellions was achieved because of the incident despite the defeat.
Historical Debate about the Rebellions
A major point of debate among English Canadian historians is how closely linked the reform movements in Upper and Lower Canada were. The previously popular view, and the one expressed by Lord Durham, was that these two movements were unique and separate, simply coincidental in time. This view usually interprets the rebellion in Lower Canada largely in ethnic and cultural terms, suggesting that it was primarily a conflict between French Canadian nationalists and an English ruling class, while the less-successful rebellion in Upper Canada was a conflict between republican and monarchical ideology. Increasingly, this view has been questioned by historians such as John Ralston Saul. Saul suggests the rebellions were both part of the same broad movement for democratic and republican reform, pointing to the extensive correspondence between the leaders of the rebellion, and the prominence of some English speakers in the rebellion in Lower Canada such as the brothers Wolfred Nelson and Robert Nelson. French Canadian historians often see the rebellions as part of the first international movement for decolonization, which also included the United States, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, and several other Central and South American colonies in the early 19th century, as well as independence movements in Belgium and Greece.
See also: History of Canada
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