Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839)

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The Report on the Affairs of British North America, commonly known as Lord Durham's Report, is an important document in the history of Canada and the British Empire.

The notable Whig politician John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham, was sent to the Canadas in 1838 to investigate and report on the causes of the rebellions of 1837-38. Durham arrived in Quebec City on May 27. He had just been appointed Governor General and given special powers as high commissioner of British North America.

Durham had spoken to merchants in Britain who wanted greater English control over the Canadas, as they felt the French Canadians' presence in Lower Canada undermined their economic interests.

Contents

Enquiry

In Canada, he formed numerous committees formed of essentially all the opponents of the Patriotes and made many personal observations of life in the colonies. He also visited the United States. Durham wrote that he had assumed he would find that the rebellions were based on liberalism and economics, but he eventually concluded that the real problem was the ethnic conflict between French and English. According to Durham, the French culture in Canada had changed little in 200 years, and showed no sign of progress like English culture had. His report contains the famous assessment that Canada consisted of "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state."

Recommendations

Durham recommended that Upper and Lower Canada be united into one province, which would give English Canadians a slight advantage in population. He also encouraged immigration to Canada from Britain, to further marginalize the supposedly backwards French Canadians and hopefully assimilate them into English culture. The freedoms granted to the French Canadians under the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1775 should also be rescinded; according to Lord Durham this would eliminate the possibility of future rebellions. The French Canadians did not necessarily have to give up their religion and language entirely, but it could not be protected at the expense of what Durham considered a more progressive English culture.

Reactions

In exile in France, Louis-Joseph Papineau published the Histoire de l'insurrection du Canada (History of the insurrection in Canada) in the magazine Progrès in May. In June, it appeared in Canada in Ludger Duvernay's La Revue canadienne as Histoire de l'insurrection du Canada en réfutation du Rapport de Lord Durham (History of the insurrection of Canada in refutation of the Report of Lord Durham).

The assertion that the so called "French" Canadians had no history and no culture and that the conflict was primarily that of two ethnic groups evidently outraged Papineau. It was pointed out that many of the Patriote leaders were of British or British Canadian origin, including among others Wolfred Nelson, hero of the Battle of St-Denis, Robert Nelson, author of the Declaration of Independence of Lower Canada, who would have become President of Lower Canada had the second insurrection succeeded, journalist Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan and General Thomas Storrow Brown who died in battle. It was also pointed out that an uprising had occurred in Upper Canada where there was only one "race". According to Papineau and other Patriotes, the analysis of the economic situation of French Canadians was biased. Indeed, from 1791 to the rebellions, the elected representatives of Lower Canada had been demanding the control over the budget of the colony.

Conclusion

Durham resigned on September 29 and was soon replaced by Charles Poulett Thomson, 1st Baron Sydenham, who was responsible for implementing the Union of the Canadas. The report of Durham was published in London in February 1839.

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