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MORRIS, CHARLES (1759-1831) – Volume VI (1821-1835)

b. 18 Nov. 1759 in Hopkinton, Mass.

Confederation

Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier

Sports

The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Early Advocates of Union in British North America
 

1806–26

The idea of a general union of the British North American colonies originated with Nova Scotia’s attorney general, Richard John UNIACKE, in 1806:

In the 1820s he expressed fears that the revolutionary ‘heresies’ of atheism and democracy spreading to the ‘hoards of semi-barbarians’ in the south and west of the United States would engulf New England and then British North America.

To avert such a catastrophe, Uniacke advocated unions of the Maritime colonies and of the Canadas, beginning in 1806 when he presented a memoir on British North America at the Colonial Office. By 1821, however, he had concluded that only a general union would save the colonies from republicanism, atheism, and democracy, and in 1822 the introduction in the British parliament of a bill to bring about the union of the Canadas spurred him to propose a general union to Frederick John Robinson, president of the Privy Council committee for trade.

Others in British North America such as Jonathan Sewell*, John Beverley Robinson*, and John Strachan* were also interested in a general union, although not always for the same reasons, and several such proposals arrived in London about this time. In 1826 Uniacke brought his ‘Observations on the British colonies in North America with a proposal for the confederation of the whole under one government’ to the Colonial Office. The ‘Observations’ read in parts like the British North America Act of 40 years later, and were at once the most persuasive of the various schemes and the last attempt to bring about new intercolonial arrangements until the 1839 report of Lord Durham [Lambton*]. By 1826 proposals for any sort of union were not regarded with much favour in Britain, and the ‘Observations’ were never printed, although Uniacke’s son James Boyle gave a copy to Durham.”  

 

1827–41

John George LAMBTON, 1st Earl of Durham, the high commissioner and governor-in-chief of British North America in 1838, addressed the question of union in his 1839 Report on the affairs of British North America:

After the failure of the Union Bill of 1822, the merchants had asked that Montreal be annexed to Upper Canada, without, however, giving up their basic demand. In his report Durham had sought to recommend solutions to the whole problem of the Canadas, which had been perturbing colonial societies for so long and was reverberating in London. Yet neither the idea of responsible government nor that of a legislative union as he had defined it was accepted by the imperial government. Provided as it was with clauses concerning equal representation, the Union Act of 1840 did not respect the priority of principles set forth by Durham. It is none the less true that the debate in which he had engaged, examining the main points more thoroughly than anyone else before or after him, would not come to an end either in 1841 with the union of Upper and Lower Canada or even in 1848 with the attainment of responsible government.”

 

1842–58

During the 1850s some Liberal-Conservatives introduced parliamentary resolutions for British North American confederation, and the Reformer George BROWN proposed a federated province of Canada West (Upper Canada; present-day Ontario) and Canada East (Lower Canada; present-day Quebec). But their plans went nowhere. By the early 1860s the prospects for a confederation were far from promising. Alexander Tilloch GALT pressed on:

Galt had made his acceptance of office in the new ministry conditional upon its adoption of a plan for federation of the British North American colonies. Like others observing the political scene, he was conscious that it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the principles of equal representation of Lower and Upper Canada within the union. But he was one of the few who believed that the solution lay in replacing the union based on equality with a federative system in which New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and other colonies would participate.… He persuaded his colleagues to make this plan for a federal union an explicit aim of the new government. With the encouragement of Governor Head*, three ministers – Galt, Cartier*, and John Ross* – went to Britain in October 1858 to study the proposal with officials in the Colonial Office. However, the imperial authorities had no great enthusiasm for the plan, and the other colonies made little response. Back in Canada early in 1859, Galt himself admitted before the house the impossibility of moving the plan forward for the time being.”

 

For more information on early advocates for a union of the British North American colonies, please consult the following lists of biographies:

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