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Political Changes, Radicals and Reformers

autocratic rule, responsible government, Lower Canada, parliamentary system, British North America

A colonial aristocracy never developed in British North America. Most colonists were small farmers, fishers, or artisans. In an increasingly commercial society, commerce was a more important source of wealth and influence than land, and egalitarian values were much more strongly entrenched in Canada than in Europe. The appointed councils, as intended, dominated government in all the colonies; however, most Canadians, who criticized them as self-seeking cliques of officeholders, did not accept them as leaders. Council members tried to fend off their critics by pointing to the prosperity and growth achieved under British rule and equating change with disloyalty and Americanism.

Two groups—radicals and reformers—opposed the autocratic rule of the appointed councils. The radicals looked to American and French political models and called for republican institutions, elections for all public offices, and the overthrow of all forms of privilege and inequality. By the mid-1820s, the fiery Scots-born Upper Canadian journalist and politician William Lyon Mackenzie was the most vigorous advocate of the radical platform. The more moderate reformers defended British institutions and ties to the British monarchy and empire. They campaigned for responsible government, meaning a parliamentary system where the monarchy’s advisers in each colony would be picked from, and responsible to, an elected legislature. Prominent reformers included Anglo-Irish lawyer W. W. Baldwin in Upper Canada, French Canadian journalist Etienne Parent in Lower Canada, and journalist Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia.

Article key phrases:

autocratic rule, responsible government, Lower Canada, parliamentary system, British North America, British monarchy, Upper Canada, disloyalty, Americanism, British rule, public offices, colonies, fishers, radicals, Baldwin, colonists, overthrow, prosperity, Nova Scotia, Canadians, artisans, small farmers, empire, elections, ties, critics, influence, commerce, land, growth, government


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