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The development of a garrison mentality among the English in Lower Canada, 1793-1811 Greenwood, Frank Murray

Abstract

The mutual antagonism of French and English speaking Canadians, during the first decade of the nineteenth century has been explained by historians in a variety of ways. Traditional French Canadian historiography attributes much of the trouble to the machinations and religious and racial bigotry of a handful of bureaucrats. The neo-nationalist school of the University of Montreal maintains that the conflict was the inevitable result of the "decapitation" of French Canadian society at the Conquest and the impossibility of two cultural "nations" coexisting harmoniously in the same political entity. A recurrent tendency in English historical writing has been to lay the blame on the irresponsibility of the nationalists who founded Le Canadien. The "Laurentian" school, including both English and French Canadian historians, postulates that the change from a fur trading to a grain and timber exporting colony and the emergence of rival agrarian and commercial interests were the main causes of the ethnic struggle. Without denying the elements of truth in all these interpretations, this study attempts to provide a more comprehensive understanding of English Canadian attitudes towards the French Canadians during the war against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. It contends that such attitudes can be explained only by taking account of the English Canadian fear of an attack on the colony by French troops and an armed uprising by the French Canadians. The English Canadians found themselves in an ambiguous situation. The evidence at their disposal suggested— at almost any time during the period—that France might be planning an invasion of Lower Canada and they had no certain means of assessing the loyalty of the French Canadians. Because of their physical situation as an outnumbered minority and because they held strong convictions on the ease with which revolution could be brought about, they were disposed to make the most pessimistic interpretation of events which the twentieth century historian can see did not warrant serious alarm. While English Canadian fears were exaggerated, they were a major influence on the political history of the period. Dozens of political developments and issues from the language dispute of 1792-93 to governor Craig's Reign of Terror can be understood only by taking this factor into account. More generally, these fears virtually insured the breakdown of the Constitution of 1791, hardened English Canadian attitudes to French Canadian cultural survival, and contributed indirectly to the emergence of French Canadian nationalism.

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