“Le Conseil spécial est mort, Vive le Conseil spécial!” The Special Councils of Lower Canada, 1838-1841

Title: “Le Conseil spécial est mort, Vive le Conseil spécial!” The Special Councils of Lower Canada, 1838-1841
Authors: Dagenais, Maxime
Date: 2011
Abstract: Although the 1837-38 Rebellions and the Union of the Canadas have received much attention from historians, the Special Council—a political body that bridged two constitutions—remains largely unexplored in comparison. This dissertation considers its time as the legislature of Lower Canada. More specifically, it examines its social, political and economic impact on the colony and its inhabitants. Based on the works of previous historians and on various primary sources, this dissertation first demonstrates that the Special Council proved to be very important to Lower Canada, but more specifically, to British merchants and Tories. After years of frustration for this group, the era of the Special Council represented what could be called a “catching up” period regarding their social, commercial and economic interests in the colony. This first section ends with an evaluation of the legacy of the Special Council, and posits the theory that the period was revolutionary as it produced several ordinances that changed the colony’s social, economic and political culture This first section will also set the stage for the most important matter considered in this dissertation as it emphasizes the Special Council’s authoritarianism. During this period, Lower Canadians lost all political rights and the decisions taken by the Special Council were made by non-elected councilors. The second section therefore considers the various ordinances the council passed, its obvious favoritism and authoritarianism, and the opinions of Lower Canadians towards them. The following questions are considered: did the British and French-Canadians react differently to the dissolution of their legislature and the suspension of their constitution? Considering the fact that many people, habitants and British alike, did not support the rebellion, did they view the council as a necessity in restoring peace and stability to the colony, and therefore accepted its authoritarianism, and even supported it? More importantly, did French-Canadians submit to the Special Council and all of the new laws and institutions it imposed in the years following the failed rebellions? Evidence suggests that French-Canadians were very vocal in their opposition to the Special Council.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/20164
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