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Citizenship and Culture: investing meaning in the word “Canadian”

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by Charles Jeanes

  Map of Canada 1776
 
The map (published in 1776) is the top sheet of a two-part issue covering eastern Canada and Greenland centered on Hudson Bay and extending north beyond the Arctic Circle. It includes a depiction of a passage between Lake Winnipeg and Hudson Bay alluding to a possible passage to the Pacific coast. The map is from Atlas Moderne.

Every thinking Canadian must ask, “Is there anything that makes all Canadians one people? What distinguishes the Canadian way of life (culture?) from all other nations?” I think most Canadians wonder about our way of being and how it is not like others’ — and we think about what might be the best way to continue to enjoy the lives we have in Canada, using politics to promote that objective. We ask who we are, what signifies us, and how to know what, compared to other people, we are not.

Oh no! the reader thinks, this is such a worn-out topic. I promise this is not another navel-gazing “what-is-the-Canadian Identity?” piece. I hope it is more offensive than such a bland subject.

I want to probe whether we can be Canadian enough to say ‘No’ to some kind of cultural imports that might come here with new Canadians, immigrants from places with quite different histories and cultural inheritances. I will investigate whether we have the courage to reject some immigrants entirely.

I will ask argue that independence rests on our cultural distinctions, political will, and economic choices we make. I will risk being called narrow or parochial.

I will argue for allowing religion to be integrated within politics, but rejecting parts of some religious practices. I will probe why political progressives cannot think dispassionately when Christianity is the religion under discussion, but can when any other religion is the topic.

I see by the amount of historical background I need for this piece, that I will present it in two Parts. The first is the historical part, the second is the more political and argumentative.

The experimental option: “This is Canadian, that’s not.”

Paul Martin was painfully awkward in the election campaign of 2006 when he tried to paint Stephen Harper as not as Canadian, as himself. Yet many people I know have the same feelings, about certain qualities they feel sure are Canadian and others that are not. We don’t use the word “unCanadian” as readily as our neighbours say “unAmerican” — but I know Canadians think there is something about us making us a nation distinct from others.

“Nation” is not a word to use loosely, either, and I recall many times in my younger life seeing the word “nationality” on official forms, rather than nation or citizenship. Now “nationality” is out of fashion. The people of Quebec — “Quebecois” — are a nation inside Canada, according to a resolution of the Canadian Parliament. I do not know if that makes Francophones in the rest of the country, or non-Francophone-derived people inside Quebec, a different nation. No one does. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Canadians are a people made by massive immigration within a state created by two Empires, the English and French monarchies. It is a nation-state situated in a territory populated before the immigrants by natives with a culture vastly unlike the European Christians who created the state.

We are an experimental people, new in our territory and still forming our characteristics. Other territories where European immigrants arrived as settlers, and instituted colonial nation-states, can provide plenty of comparative materials: I will employ comparisons to the USA, Ireland, Israel, Argentina, Australia, Brazil and New Zealand in this essay. My emphasis is on the experimental nature of Canadianism. It is not rooted in any history so deep as English, French, Germans or Italians can claim as their fundamental cultural reality.

We are in a very practical sense making it up as we go along. A colonial people has no other option but invent an identity, for it has not inherited one from the soil whereon the people live. Europe is the culture cradle of Canada as a state, Canadians as a people, and our politics as a system. There is no ignoring European history if one wants to probe the meaning of Canadian.

PART ONE

The meanings of “colony” for Renaissance politics

It is well understood that Europeans’ ocean voyages of discovery beyond their continent in the fifteenth century were intimately connected to the intellectual movement in Europe known as the Renaissance. This “rebirth” in the cultural and mental spheres, of the classical heritage of Greek and Roman civilizations, for Europeans had immense significance for how rulers, clergy, and intelligentsia would think about Canada, America, and other New World lands. Newly-invented technology for navigation, war, and cartography that enabled the voyages were also distinct artefacts of a reborn, modernizing Europe. The very meaning of “modern” comes into being in this period of time, in this one place.

Religion became a significant badge of national origin at the dawn of the modern age too, since the Roman Church lost its medieval monolithic status when several Protestantisms came into being. By 1600, nations in Europe’s north and west — Scots, English, Dutch, Swiss, Danes, Germans – were developing nation churches, or state-churches, that would give subjects of a single king a particular religious identity to go with language and ethnicity as part and parcel of a national culture.

A colony in the mind of an educated European was a phenomenon of the ancient Greek political landscape, implying something culturally rich about the people who could send forth colonial enterprises. In the ninth and eighth centuries BCE, Greek colonies were established because the Greeks recognized their need for new lands to settle when a polis grew beyond an optimal size. The citizens of a colony kept the political rights they had enjoyed in the mother polis, and were accounted an asset for the parent state. Europeans of any education were learning this classical history when Columbus made his landings in the western hemisphere.

The Greeks’ political meaning of colony was resurrected in the age of European overseas colonization, when first Spain and Portugal, then the Dutch, Danes, English, Swedes, French and Scots, began to try and populate New World lands with people from the European homelands. A colony was an asset of the mother country, and should make it stronger and more prosperous; this was a fundamental tenet of the theory of mercantilism. But the fact that the ancients, so admired by the intelligentsia for their great civilizations, had established colonies, made the possession of colonies a matter of national pride for the ruling classes of early-modern Europe.

The Greeks were “great;” the Greeks had colonies. Peoples who establish colonies are great nations — so goes the syllogism. Englishmen in Ireland in the 1500’s, like the poet Edmund Spenser, or statesmen Walter Raleigh or Humphrey Gilbert or Philip Sidney, agreed. England’s settler colonies set among the savage, benighted Roman Catholic Celtic natives of Ireland, were regularly heartened by thinking of themselves as bearers of “civility” to the Irish.

At this time, when Englishmen wanted to refer to a grouping of Irish following one lord – such as “the O’Neil” or “the MacCarthy Mor” — the word for the collective was “nation,” in the way the Romans had used the word. Similarly when they encountered aboriginal peoples in the New World, these native peoples were nations, as in the Five Nations of the Iroquois or the Four Nations of the Huron. Later the word would go out of use and the term “tribe” substituted, as in the Five Civilized Tribes.

During the Renaissance, the intellectual class of Europe was beginning to think of the ages between themselves and the classical civilizations as the time between or “in the middle” — and the word “medieval” with its negative connotations would be coined in the 1600’s.

The Medieval Interlude

Having mentioned the Middle Ages, when Canada had no existence but natives lived here in their own states of cultural adaptation to the environment, it would be well to say something about the meaning of nation and citizenship for a medieval European mind. Canada as a colony of Europeans, with a French, English, Cornish, Spanish, Basque, Irish, Portuguese and Scots mixture of Europeans on our Atlantic coasts, got its start in the fifteenth century. Although Scandinavians were briefly in Newfoundland in the eleventh century, and Greenland was a Danish colony until the fourteenth century, these settlements died out before the end of the medieval era, conveniently dated around the year 1500 by historians’ consensus.

Europeans used the word “a nation” synonymously with how we today say “a people.” At the medieval universities of the West, there were four recognized “nations” — French (subsuming the Iberian peninsula and Belgian lands), English (including all the Celts of the British Isles) Germans (under whom were grouped Scandinavians and Slavs from east Europe) and Italians (including also all Mediterranean island people and Greeks). A nation was a people, and its realm was the lands that people inhabited, whether they had one monarch or several lords or nothing but unorganized villages.

All Christians were “citizens in the Christian Republic” in the sense that ancient Roman imperial law called members of the political classes citizens. It had no particular legal meaning, but being Christian (rather than Jew, infidel or pagan) was surely safer than not. Christianity was an absolutely integral part of identity for the mass living in Europe at this time.

But in practical terms, people of any political weight — nobles, warriors, wealthy bourgeois, higher clergy, overwhelmingly males — in the medieval era knew themselves more by whom they called their “lord” than by territory of residence. “I am the man of Duke Henry of Lancaster” was a meaningful political assertion, more so than “I am an Englishman.” Not until the long medieval ages were over did the kings of the West exert such force over their territories that they could call all people therein their “subjects.” And until the 1960’s in Canada, a Canadian passport stated that “a Canadian citizen is a British subject.”

When the kings of France and England were sending forth their nations’ settlers to cultivate land in the colonies, there was no articulated formal concept of “citizen,” although intellectuals knew that this word bore great legal significance in the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. In Italy writers like Machiavelli thought citizenship a crucial concept for residents of Italian cities. Political thought was beginning at his time to become more recognizably modern, and the rule of colonies would need theory from political writers. It was not long in coming.

Mercantilism and Colonists’ sense of self

Colonialism as an agenda of political actions is more than colonizing, or settling, land. It needed a theory for the political men – kings, nobles, bureaucrats, and clergymen — who governed the kingdoms from whence settlers came. Mercantilism was that political-economic theory, and it generated policies.

Mercantilism as a government structure was a phenomenon that marks the arrival upon the stage of European history of the commoner class, particularly of the bourgeoisie, after the medieval era of dominance by the nobles. Politics would never be the same once the special privileges of nobles and clergy, so secure in the Middle Ages, were challenged by the ability of the commoners to make wealth from commerce. Enriching the king and inflating his relative power and glory against his rivals in Europe was the goal of mercantilism. The king would be no longer “first among equals” with his nobles and aristocrats from whom he drew his power in a feudal order. He or she would be addressed now as “Majesty” — not as in medieval protocols. Nobles were warlords, but not creators of wealth.

The economic functions of the nobility were stagnating while the bourgeoisie rose up as creators of social wealth. This rise of bourgeois commercial power within the political order of European nations corresponds in time to the rise of the State as a swollen structure reaching into the lives of subjects in areas where once the State would never have reached. Kings came to stand above all social classes as the embodiment of the state. (“L’etat c’est moi” was the perfect encapsulation of the political theory of the early modern kings, as epitomized by Louis XIV, the king who made New France.) Nationalism as an ideology needed the middle-class State to evolve beyond its primitive medieval origins.

Nationalism, Mercantilism and Absolutism were not classical Greco-Roman political thought. They were intellectual inventions used for empowering a new government administration. Mercantilism describes the activity of practical men who were skilled and knowledgeable about maritime commerce and international banking, more skilled for certain than the old aristocracies of Greece or Rome, and more capable than the nobilities of Europe of operating an imperial economy that would enrich their kings.

The meaning of Nation would be forever altered by the injection into politics of masses of commoners after ages of an elite minority ruling by force of their martial skills and social prestige. Democratic politics and generation of the ideology of nationalism were co-dependent events in Europe’s past. Canada and America are two states where aristocracies would never take root no matter how much the kings of England or France or Spain might have desired that social creation.

National identity, social class, and colonial subjects of Europe

An early internal socio-political struggle in New France, or Canada, was about identity. Is a colonial-born subject of the French King as good as a subject born in France? The short answer: surely not.

Spain’s great nobles, the grandees, never accepted that crioles — subjects of the King of Spain born in his colonies overseas – would ever be their equals. The mystery of how to treat America’s natives perplexed the Spanish in the origins of their empire. Columbus treated them as having no rights. Spain’s King Charles I (also titled Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation in another throne he sat upon) was unsure if natives in Mexico were even humans possessing souls.

Eventually Spanish policy would be predicated on a notion that the natives had souls and should be offered salvation by conversion to Christianity. They were not equal to the Spaniards but they had the right to salvation and to become assimilated to Spanish society as the lowest caste of workers. Crioles were above natives but below a noble born in Spain.

French nobles had the same social prejudices against their creoles, and New France in the eighteenth century was a place where “knowing one’s place” socially began by knowing where one’s birthplace was. The Governor of New France was always a noble born in old France. Not a particularly well-born noble, but a man of the sword – noblesse de l’epee — like Champlain or Count Frontenac, was the choice of kings to rule the colonies. Being a leader in war was deemed a prerequisite for governing a land threatened by the Iroquois and making war against the English in the Atlantic colonies of Boston and New York. One Canadian historian has quipped that Quebec was the Sparta (military colony) of North America, not the Athens (cultured and democratic, like Boston or Philadelphia).

The canadien habitant-settlers were obligated to militia service as a routine part of manhood during the eighteenth century. That experience of war gave them some sense of nation as a collective. Experience of the lack of social constraints that prevailed when men went into the interior to live with natives as part of trade was another potent effect on colonists in New France breaking the habits of Old France.

Bureaucrats who served the French King might be ennobled for service; such a one became by certification a member of the noblesse de la robe and worthy of the polite term of address “monseigneur.” But until the French Revolution in 1789, France would not employ men with non-warlord pedigree as officers in the highest posts of colonial government. The landlord class, the seigneurs of old Quebec, might not have warrior roots, yet their bloodline was deemed better than that of the habitants who were tenants on their land. Seigneurs however claimed little social deference from their tenants.

In New France, nobles noted disapprovingly that the censitaires or farmer-commoners lacked the proper deep respect for their social betters that peasants in France rendered to their lords of the land. The effect of frontier life on the canadien farmer was to raise his own level of self-respect. A French peasant in the homeland could not conceive of the liberty possible for a coureur de bois.

But the Kingdom of England in the seventeenth century underwent a social and political Revolution, and economic evolution, that made English colonies in America less rigidly class-defined. Although the American Revolution was packaged in its own mythology as a battle against monarchic tyranny and aristocratic domination, the fact is that the 13 Colonies were never very good copies of Olde England in terms of the deep-rooted power of landed gentlemen and nobles over the colonists of commoner origin.

One favoured method to settle land in Elizabethan Ireland was the giving of estates to a noble or some man of high enough social rank to lead others. This too was the model France used in Acadia and New France from 1550 to 1660: send out a nobleman, a baronet or count, and give him title to vast acres, stipulating that he must improve the land by cultivation and settling it with farmers. He would live like a lord so long as his tenants paid him well and gave him their social deference.

Nova Scotia — New Scotland, beside Acadia — was one such place where lords were given grants and expected to make the land flourish for the King of England and Scotland (the same monarch ruled both kingdoms after 1603). Settlers were thus by definition of lower social class than the lord. But some colonies were settled by chartered companies and the colonists could negotiate their rights to own land and enjoy freehold. The New World promised a life freer of the old influence of social class and caste and its attendant prejudices, in the seventeenth century.

What is a Canadian? War and National Identity

War is a great motor in the generation of modern national identity — much as one could wish from general principles that war could not ever have positive political consequences.

In Ireland and Wales, England had experience of wars of conquest, and then sending colonizing “plantations,” well before trying to settle lands in Atlantic regions of the future Canada. It is an historical truism to say England was the first modern nation with a highly-developed sense of its national selfhood since the later medieval era when it tried to conquer France for its king.

Shakespeare wrote stirring words of nationalist pride — “this sceptred isle, this England” — in his historical plays, and Milton asserted without any sense of bombast, “Let not England forget her precedence in teaching other nations how to live.” Truly, Englishmen felt particularly chosen by God under Cromwell’s rule. To the Irish the invaders had no rights to be there, but the English since Elizabeth never doubted their right to rule, and brought that self-confident imperial mentality to the New World from the 1580’s on.

The English and the Dutch were the first European peoples to make the breakthroughs into a bourgeois democratic order of politics that would put the power of Absolute monarchy and warlord aristocracy into the first stage of decline, but absolutism and despotism still had a long run ahead of them. So long as kings and nobles were of the first order of importance and the commoners were second rate, then so long would nationalism be less important to mobilize peoples to action. The Dutch overthrew the apparently crushing power of the Spanish Empire and the English overthrew their king in a great struggle in the mid-seventeenth century. But the English had a monarchy again by 1660 and until today.

The democratizing changes in English society came to their fruition in the English Civil War, Revolution, and the Cromwellian Commonwealth (1638 to 1658), and finally the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – ’89. From this time came the phrase, “the rights of a free-born Englishman” — a phrase ripe with a link between a nation and its political constitution.

American colonial thinkers about politics, learned to employ historical arguments for their rights, as a result of the earlier revolutionary events in England. The deep democratic impulses manifested in these events were of immense consequence in inspiring American democracy to evolve after 1700. But there were as yet few English colonists in what would become Canada who might write political manifestos until after 1763.

Old and new subjects were at political odds right after the Conquest of Quebec (1763) because the old subjects from the old 13 Colonies arrived from New England and the other Atlantic settlements with an expectation that they were to be privileged above the canadiens by virtue of the fact that Roman Catholics lacked civil rights in the United Kingdom and in Ireland under the Protestant Constitution of Great Britain. American Protestant businessmen counted on being treated as part of a conquering race over the Francophone people after the Conquest in 1763.

French Catholic priests had indeed warned the canadiens and acadiens before the war with the British Empire in 1754 to ’63 that the British would treat them as virtual serfs as they treated the Irish Catholic peasantry in Ireland from the 1500’s onward.

For the first generation of British colonial Governors-general over the former New France, now called the colony of Quebec, canadien was a word for the Francophone population of Quebec and not for an Anglophone member of colonial society. English-speaking immigrants into Quebec s were British subjects and distinguished from the French-speakers by being “His Majesty’s old subjects,” while the Francophones were “new subjects.”

The anomaly of no civil rights for the Catholic new subjects was addressed in 1774 by the Quebec Act of the British Parliament. By this Act, until another Act in 1791, the canadiens would have partial civil rights; their religion would be respected, its priests would collect tithes with government sanction, and the legal code of the seigneurial system would be upheld by British law. But there would be no elected Assembly to give voice to the popular segment of society, and the old subjects who were arriving in Quebec from New England would not have the voting rights of freeborn Englishmen.

The old subjects of the 13 colonies were outraged by this privilege for the canadiens and the Quebec Act was termed one of the Six Intolerable Acts that American Patriots said justified their Revolution against the British monarchy. The Quebec Act was an instance of the aristocratic bias of social order prevailing over the commoners’ theory that all men of English birth had civil rights; the Act gave privileges to seigneurs and priests that were current in old-regime France but not the practice in England at the time.

Chief Tecumseh
Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee National provided critical military leadership in defending Canada from conquest by the United States in the War of 1812. Tecumseh viewed Canada as nascent cosmopolitan society that would better facilitate the affirmation of aboriginal rights and social justice, relative to the oppressive, racist, and military expansionist American Empire.

The success of the American Revolution meant that the new Republic, the United States of America, would set about creating a new nationalism for Americans, but in British North America — Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton and New Brunswick — there would for awhile be no national identity, other than British subjects under the Colonial Office regime. And soon after America’s success at leaving the British Empire, from the time the French nation rose up in revolutionary democratic masses in the early 1790’s, the meaning of nation for practical politics was altered forever.

The American Colonies provided the most immediate and meaningful foundation for political concepts of identity, nation, democracy, and social egalitarianism among Anglophone colonists in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Upper Canada, and among the minority Anglophone settlers in Quebec. Still, the American Revolution did not bring the British colonies there into the embrace of the new Republic in 1783, and a new British North America was drawn on the map after the peace between the Empire and the USA. It had democrats among its populace, but it had Loyalists who intensely disliked America too.

Against the populist, democratic threads woven into British North America’s political and social fabric, after the Americans had violently separated from the Empire, worked an aristocratic counter-weave. Any noble British gentleman in colonial service did not accept that his status in Canada ought not to stand so high as it had been at home. He and his peers fought to keep their privileged social rank in the new lands. The British Parliament encouraged this class snobbery among the colonial gentlemen and gave this social caste a leader in the Governor set over each colony. Governors surrounded themselves in their Councils with like-minded men, Anglican clerics, lawyers, professional men, real estate barons.

At this time, 1775 to around 1815, who was a Canadian? Social class was still immensely important in the sort of national identity Canadians demonstrated. Upper-class members of Ontario society, men who owned large acreages, were well educated and served as members of government bureaucracy, or were of the Church of England clergy, were bound to be very imperial in their sentiment, wanting Canada to feel beholden to Britain and to identify its freedoms with the British Constitution.

Yet the simple fact was, colonists in Canada and the Atlantic colonies did not have a voice in the Imperial Parliament in Westminster, by virtue of having no Members of Parliament to vote for. Colonists were not represented in that Parliament. Americans had rebelled against that type of rule in 1776; what would Britain do to ensure Canadian colonists would not feel similarly rebellious against the undemocratic character of the colonial regime?

Britain’s Colonial Office and its Governors encouraged the conservative or Tory element in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic colonies, against the Reformers or Whigs in the popularly-elected Assemblies. An Alien Act in Ontario was specifically directed against immigrants to Upper Canada from the USA in 1819; the new immigrants from the U.S. were disenfranchised of full civil rights by this Act, as an initiative of the conservative section of society. Assemblies in British North America were the site of democratic political forces, but Britain’s ruling classes had learned a lesson from the U.S. rebellion and wanted to build up the aristocratic principle by entrenching an upper strata inside the Councils of the Governor appointed from Britain.

National identity of one’s subjects was not much of an issue for European kings in the era of the first colonial empires ( 1500 to 1750) – but then, in a storm of change lasting 25 years, the French Revolution showed rulers the incredible power that could be unleashed by a “nation-in-arms.” Suddenly, the medieval norm, that a monarch could rule as many peoples as he could acquire crowns and titles, was under threat. Nations wanted monarchs who were of their “race.” It was from this time that multi-national empires such as the Austrian Habsburgs and the Turkish Ottomans ruled over, were on the path that eventually led to their disintegration into component parts.

Nation-states and democracies were co-created in the early 19th century wars in Europe when Napoleon, emperor of the French nation, marched his armies all over the Continent “liberating” Italians, Dutch, Belgians, Spanish, Germans and other peoples from their aristocracies and monarchies. The coincidence of mass democracy with national ideology in modern history has meant that participation in democratic government is enabled by the establishment of states whose unity is founded on one national identity.

French nationalism, made powerful by republican democratic institutions, by 1797 had quickly become French imperialism. Emperor Napoleon was brought down as much by his failure to mobilize the non-French subject masses ( e.g. Italians, Germans, Poles, Spaniards) in his support as by the success of the Russian Tsar, Austrian emperor, and the British and Prussian kings, to overpower the French Empire with their armies in 1814.

Back in Canada, the Napoleonic Wars had their manifestation in the War of 1812 between the USA and the British Empire, with the battlegrounds in Upper Canada providing the decisive site for the impasse ending the war. Americans themselves would not act as a united nation in that war, with the Western and Southern states having a pro-war attitude but New England being opposed.

In Canada, the British professional army and navy protected the colonists and the colonial militia made an effort to resist invasions that generated the very first glimmering of a national consciousness that was not simply English but related to their residence on the soil of Ontario and Quebec. Even the canadiens showed some proactive participation in the militia encouraged by their priests and seigneurs. First Nations under the leadership of Tecumseh also helped the Empire against the American militia and army invasions of 1812 and 1813.

Britain’s Second Empire, after the loss of the 13 American colonies and until decolonization in the 1960’s, would be faced with this intractable problem: an English “master race” would try to rule Indians, Asians, Africans and assorted aboriginal peoples, but these nations were perfectly capable of learning and being inspired by the European ideology of nationalism. Nationalism in the twentieth century would terminate old-style imperialism, yet new forms of capitalist exploitation of the former colonial countries would be devised by the first-world Euro-American “free-market” economies.

Canada’s people would learn to be a nation distinct from the British, but thinking itself part of the imperial master race during the 19th century, or roughly from the time of the first Constitutional Act for Canada in 1791 until the end of World War I in 1919. Then in the next war Canadians would first truly appear to be a full partner and a nation of real significance in the alliance with Britain and the USA.

A Canadian Immigration Policy before Confederation?

“No Irish or Dogs.” This was a sign that would be seen in Upper Canada or Ontario in the 1840’s due to an anti-Irish prejudice fuelled by old English attitudes and the new phenomenon of mass emigration from Ireland during the great Famine, 1845 to 1849. In Quebec too, there had been severe riots in Montreal associated with Irish immigrants accused of bringing cholera with them on the voyage to Canada on ships designed to carry timber from North America to the United Kingdom.

Official British policy was that landlords in the UK had perfect rights to clear the serfs and peasants off their estates in order to make their land operate as capitalist enterprises. The Scots and Irish landlord class responded enthusiastically. Impoverished, ill, uneducated, and in the Irish case Roman Catholic, masses began flooding into the Province of Canada from the time the Napoleonic Wars ended. Not all the people of Canada were happy to see them arrive, and many immigrants in fact learned it was best to move on quickly from Canada to the USA once they had arrived at Quebec City or Montreal.

In 1815 the economy of the UK was being restructured by the Industrial Revolution that was not occurring anywhere else but Britain. From 1800 to 1840, Britain alone experienced the first age of steam, railroads, new banks — and extreme Tory repression of popular democracy. People were surplus to the needs of landowners but absolutely needed as urban proletariat in Britain’s bursting factory cities. So population growth was not a bad thing for the British capitalist classes and aristocracy so long as the masses were politically quiescent. Sending them overseas to British settlement colonies kept them within the empire as subjects of the Crown. Additionally the colonists were consumers of British exports and a net asset for the imperial economy by the tenets of classical mercantilist theory. Also because of their economic precocity, the British were the world leaders in the theory of political economy — the names Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Say, Thomas Malthus, James and John Mill, and Jeremy Bentham, earn Britain the title for invention of Economics as a discipline to be studied at the best universities. These men were key in undermining the old colonial mercantilist theory and dragging Britain into its era of Free Trade. Free Trade spelt the end to an empire held together by laws to protect markets, but for all the talk of “little-Englandism” in the period 1850 – ’70, the British never gave up one territory the Empire had come to rule over, after the new free-market policy was instituted. Democracy would make gains in the UK, but that did not translate into the Empire allowing any of the subjects of the Crown to leave peacefully, nor even by revolt as the Americans had.

Three great movements in the UK brought quite significant advances in democracy for the British and Irish: Catholic Emancipation, 1829 (full civil rights for Catholics); the Reform Bill of 1832 (a large extension of the vote downward in society, but still a male preserve); and the failed movements called The People’s Charter in England and the Union-Repeal party in Ireland. All of these were mighty engines of politicization of the masses in the UK, and Daniel O’Connell in Ireland is credited with the modern invention of a politics of mass mobilization, demonstrations and membership-dues-collection. Every one of these political phenomena were of note for Canada; our failed rebellions of 1837 and ’38 in Ontario and Quebec owed their ideological motors to democratizing forces set loose in the UK.

As more people of lower social class became active in politics, the identity of these enfranchised peoples as a collective entity became something that the ruling strata of government needed to guide. It is the role of ideology to keep people all “thinking in the same direction” and that thinking would not seriously challenge the established order. Nationalism was such an ideology for Britain and Germany and France. When socialism rose up to challenge aristocracy in England much later, it was an ideology without a popular base, whereas nationalism and imperialism had roots growing deep into the masses.

After the French Wars (1795 to 1815) philosophers and professors and journalists swung into action in Europe. Their task was to put, into an intellectual and scientific form, the meaning of revolution. They had to theorize why masses of people were awakening to a sense of popular rights after the French had made the noise of The Declaration of the Rights of Man. German and French thinkers were a little swifter than English theorists to write about the National Character and Destiny of Peoples.

The Germans had a whole school of philosophers (Hegel, Goethe, etc.) articulating the significance of German-ness and the French gave the world the term “chauvinism” after Pierre Chauvin, the arch-racist who exalted all things French. Then England’s Charles Darwin presented his study of the evolution of species — and the struggle of “races” for global survival and historical progress was put into populist form as a (pseudo-)science, Social Darwinism, by men like H. Spencer and Rudyard Kipling.

National or ethnic prejudices among the English were, as should be clear by this point in my essay, as natural to “the Anglo-Saxon race” (such terms would become very common after about 1850) as eating roast beef and playing rugby. The nineteenth century was not only the age of Britain’s industrial preeminence, it was the era when John Bull thought of himself as a most superior person. This was entrenched in the social attitudes of Canada’s ruling social layers, and so the Catholic Irish faced serious obstacles to their advancement in the New World where England ruled until some basic changes in the aristocratic character of England and Canada.

  Sir John A. Macdonald
 
Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister.

The Protestant (lowland) Scots were not subject to the same prejudices and were in fact prodigiously important in Canada’s economic development and political leadership cadres. It is no accident that names like Macdonald, Mackenzie, Galt, Molson, and Elliott, were so prominent in our early history, while Darcy Magee and Edward Blake were rare Irishmen in being leaders in the era before 1870.

The Province of Canada had no immigration policy of its own before Confederation in 1867, for the Imperial Parliament reserved that area of legislation to itself. As the Irish became successful farmers and some became businessmen, they had to be accepted into “society” by the elites and so worked out from their status as undesirables in Canada. But there were always some group identified as inferiors.

Aboriginals were without rights and were considered as permanent children, to be wards of the Crown and taken care of by the Reserve system and Christian missions. The Orange Order, an import to Ontario from Ireland and a useful tool to divide Protestant and Catholic working-class people from one another, fanned English-French animosities, and was also bigoted against the Metis and Natives.

Lord Durham, supposedly a liberal progressive member of the English nobility, had all the prejudices of his class and said the “French race” in Canada would be assimilated to the superior race, the Anglo-Saxons. Still the democrats of Canada, united as one colony after 1840, overthrew Durham’s prediction of racial politics, and brought about responsible government, or domestic electoral democracy, by 1850. The stage was set for Canada to project its economic, demographic, and geographic advantages over the rest of British North America in the 1850’s and bring Atlantic, Pacific and Prairie British territory in North America into a vast new Dominion by 1871.

Now for the first time, Canada and Canadians would set their own priorities by quasi-democratic politics for a legislative regime regulating immigration to their land. I end Part One at this pregnant moment.

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Written by thecanadianheadlines

December 11, 2009 at 9:17 pm

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