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Political Changes, Growth of Self-Government

John Graves Simcoe, Edward Winslow, Lower Canada, lieutenant governors, British crown

The act of 1791 established assemblies, in both Upper and Lower Canada, that were representative in that most adult males could vote in elections for these bodies. Britain conceded that its colonists were entitled to representative institutions, but it did not want a repeat of the American Revolution. It was widely believed among the British that the revolution had resulted from allowing too much independence in the 13 colonies. Britain therefore wanted to bind the British North Americans more securely to the British Empire—the group of dominions, colonies, and other territories around the world that owed allegiance to the British crown—by establishing a colonial elite similar to the powerful British landed aristocracy. To that end, Britain balanced the power of elected assemblies with the authority of the governor-general and lieutenant governors from Britain, who were assisted by an appointed legislative council for each colony. The council members were drawn from the elite (English speakers in Upper Canada, and both English and French speakers in Lower Canada).

Ties to Britain were fostered by feelings of rivalry toward the United States. Edward Winslow, a Loyalist founder of New Brunswick, believed that his province would be “the envy of the United States.” John Graves Simcoe, first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, welcomed American settlers because he believed that Upper Canada would show them that the British system of government was superior to American republicanism. Even in French-speaking Lower Canada, the church and the aristocracy accepted British rule. The rural population in Lower Canada also had no wish to be assimilated by the alien Americans, since its way of life seemed protected under British rule.

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