Monday, July 9, 2012

Why did the Canadian colonies not revolt in 1776?

This is based on a comment I made here.

One of the striking questions about the American Revolution is why the Canadian colonies did not join in the revolt against the British Crown, as they suffered as much "no taxation without representation" as did the colonies further South.

A plausible explanation is that they did not care about the implications of Somersett's Case, as slavery was not significant, their population was too low for serious land-hunger, so they did not care about the Royal Proclamation of 1763 protecting Amerindian land, and the division between British and French colonists gave the British Crown a useful role as mediator and protector.

By contrast, the colonies further South did have slaves in significant numbers, did want to grab Amerindian land and did not feel territorially threatened after the smashing British victory in North America in the Seven Years War. So their lack of say in British decisions mattered much more for them and they did not feel they needed British Imperial forces anymore. A judgement summed up brilliantly in the slogan "no taxation without representation"; code for, "we do not get a say in decisions which matter for us, so the Imperial deal does not work for us anymore".

The (slave) colonies, further South in the Caribbean, still felt territorially threatened, so the Imperial deal was still working for them, so they did not revolt.

This analysis also makes the American Civil War very much a continuation of the above. North and South were in dispute over expanding into Amerindian land and the South wanted to protect slavery. So, the American Union deal was no longer working for the South, so they seceded from the Union just as the original 13 colonies had seceded from the British Crown. When the South claimed it was just re-doing the American Revolution, they had a point.

But not as much of one as they liked to claim. After all, they had plenty of representation in the United States. The Southern Revolt was a re-run of the American Revolution, just without the bits that gave the American War of Independence far more resonance than a squabble over keeping slaves and stealing land. On the contrary, where the American Revolt had had the US Declaration of Independence, the writings of Thomas PainePatrick Henry's Give me liberty or give me death speech, it was the Northern cause which produced the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, major contributions to the formulation of modern political democracy. 

There are some unlovely themes in American history, but that is far from all there is.


  1. I wonder, was there any difference in religious affiliation between Canadian and New England colonies?

    1. Not particularly. The French-Canadians were Catholics (which would not in itself endear the Protestant British Crown to them) but so was Maryland.

  2. No taxation without representation was more than a slogan, it is a principal right from the great charter.