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Prince Edward Island
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The land question [see Walter PATTERSON] loomed over the politics of the Island for almost a century. Its resolution was complicated and, invariably, advocates of reform sought remedy in the assembly and proposed that a court of escheat be established. The court was intended to investigate whether land grants made to proprietors would revert to the crown for non-fulfilment of the conditions imposed in 1767 [see George R. DALYRMPLE; Robert HODGSON]. The escheated lands could then be redistributed to tenant farmers. William COOPER, a farmer and land agent, led this movement in the 1830s and early 1840s:

“Cooper’s radical and uncompromising position on the land question, enunciated on 27 March 1832 in his first major speech as an mha, set him apart from his fellow assemblymen: ‘The more I consider the Escheat question, the more plain it appears to me, that nothing less than a general Escheat will do justice to, or satisfy the inhabitants of this Island.’... Cooper and his political associates maintained that practically all the land in the Island should be escheated and regranted in small tracts to bona fide settlers. This heady doctrine, promising redistribution of virtually all landed property in the colony, proved attractive to a populace comprised largely of small tenant farmers, who, upon the satisfaction of a modest property requirement, shared with freeholders the right to vote.”

A farmer and politician, George COLES, opposed escheat but supported responsible government:

“The obtaining of responsible government, which Coles supported, dominated the late 1840s, and thrust him into the forefront of Island politics. The struggle was prolonged and intense, for the resident establishment and the Colonial Office were reluctant in the extreme to grant the change: not only was there a small population, but the interests of many members of the establishment were bound up in the land system, which they feared would be the first target of a popularly elected administration.”

For more information on reform politics in Prince Edward Island, consult the following biographies.

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