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Bonds of Union

Isabelle Bour
Antoine Mioche

Union and Partition: the uses of Union in the British Empire

Antoine Mioche

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1There is, as John Pocock reminds us, a good reason why union should be regarded as the organising principle of a comprehensively British history, a history that would encompass both the British Isles and overseas communities of British descent. It is the fact that neither the United Kingdom, nor the British Empire (a phrase which must include the metropolitan multiple kingdom), lend themselves to traditional historiographical analysis as nation-states, but were instead shaped by “an effective sovereignty by which a crown in parliament legislated for a ‘Britain’ larger than ‘England’” (“Limits and Divisions” 320).

2Strictly speaking, the “union” of Crown and Parliament, as Pocock calls it, is not to be confused with legislative union. The notion of Crown and Parliament each buttressing the power of the other in an objective, if at times uneasy, alliance, was itself a late seventeenth-century product of the need to restore the unity of Church and State in England, on which the sovereignty and integrity of the English polity had been predicated since the 1533 Act in Restraint of Appeals. The point, however, is that, once the legislative union of England and Scotland became necessary to preserve the union of the English crown and parliament, and thereby the unity of the English church and state, the legislative union of hitherto separate countries ipso facto became the practical analogue of the monarcho-parliamentary alliance.

  • 1 See also Koenigsberger; and Namier 37, quoted in Greene, “Plunge of Lemmings” 337.

3That both metropolitan and imperial constitutions (in some respects a dubious distinction) rested thus on parliamentary sovereignty, has long led some writers erroneously to predict the demise of the United Kingdom on the basis of the passing away of the Empire. Against that view, the separation from thirteen of the American colonies in 1783—a part of the Empire, be it noted, that was arguably more English than Scotland—shows that union was not a price that England’s governing elite was prepared to pay to preserve the Empire, if the ultimate cost were the unity of Church and State, and of Crown and Parliament, at the heart of the English state (Pocock “Josiah Tucker”; “States, Republics, and Empires”; “Political thought in the English-speaking Atlantic, 1760-1790,” parts 1 and 2; “Empire, State and Confederation”)1 Ireland in the twentieth century holds a broadly similar lesson. From a constitutional standpoint, secession of the periphery not only need not affect the centre, but might be a meaningful strategy for that same centre to pursue. Centre and periphery were just not as tightly knit together as was Scotland to England.

  • 2 “Because English governing institutions were autonomous to the point where they could exercise emp (...)
  • 3 On the Anglo-American connection, see in particular Greene, Peripheries and Center, Clark; and the (...)
  • 4 “J. G. A. Pocock’s appeal for a more thorough look at the British tradition in its overseas posses (...)
  • 5 The founder of imperial history is usually held to be the historian John Robert Seeley, who traced (...)

4Part of the difficulty in dealing with the concept of union is that, once this mistake is corrected, one seems to be left with a union deprived of explicatory value, beyond saying that it shaped the type of relationship which the emphatically British centre could have with its periphery, or that the union, in effect, left centre and periphery connected by the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament, yet neither integrated, nor incorporated them. Though it is no mean achievement to realise even simply that, Pocock himself has noted that, by a sad paradox, the realisation reinforces, rather than diminishes, the tendency of British historiography to divide itself between the study of the métropole (and singularly England, as the core of the core) and the study of the process of emancipation of post-colonial nations, the archetype of which is the United States. Just as the concept of union is acknowledged to be central to an understanding of a truly British history, it threatens to descend into parochialism2. On the one hand, there is a growing historiography of the United Kingdom habitually concerned with the unions of 1707 and 1800, adopting alternately a “making-of” and an “unravelling-of” slant to its subject, and more often than not neglectful of the imperial dimension, except as an ingredient in the formation of a British national identity (Colley; Grant and Stringer; Ellis and Barber; Bradshaw and Morrill; Brockliss and Eastwood; Pittock; Bradshaw and Roberts; Murdoch; Smyth; Weight). On the other hand, attention has concentrated on the Anglo-American connection, while schemes of pan-imperial union, which did not and could not come through, have remained very much a minority interest3 Even Pocock’s own emphasis on elucidating the nature of the link between the union at the heart of the United Kingdom and the future United States contributes to the dual British and American focus which he laments, and it has been rightly criticised for doing so4 Although this dualism is not unreasonable, given the separation of metropolitan and imperial government machinery inherent in the nature of English and British expansion, and the emergence of imperial history as a separate academic specialism from the late nineteenth century5, it is nonetheless regrettable. The connection needs to be revived.

  • 6 “Partition was an answer sometimes adopted by Britain as it sought to resolve the dilemmas of deco (...)

5In order to contribute to this undertaking, the present paper proposes to work in the interstice left between UK-centred and transatlantic studies, and examine the uses, not of the Union, but of the instrument of legislative union, on the periphery itself. If parliamentary sovereignty was indeed the organising principle of British history, and if legislative union was the privileged instrument of its preservation in the metropolitan centre, it may be expected that such a salient trait of British political culture will be found at work in the British Empire. It is hoped thereby to recapture some of the meaning of union in British political thought and to emphasise the need for partition—at the moment a languishing and solitary offshoot of Irish and Indian studies, which sees territorial division merely as a by-product of decolonisation and hardly ever as a deliberate government policy applied at home as well as overseas6—to be brought back to centre stage, not as the antithesis of union, but as sometimes its corollary, sometimes an alternative strategy to the same end.

6As a choice had to be made and both Ireland and India occupy in discussions of union and partition a place, next to the United States, so important as to defy brevity and distort perspective, I have deliberately focused upon British North America to test my case.

7British North America is usefully approached by including at first under that description the colonies which were later to form the United States. Doing so allows one better to appreciate the processes by which legislative union at the centre acts as a partitionist principle on the periphery, and partition on the periphery serves the connection with the centre, while also calling new unions into existence.

8As the historian Randolph G. Adams observed at the height of the debate in the 1920s over the imperial partnership between Britain and her Dominions (as her self-governing colonies were known from 1907), what the American controversy between the Stamp Act and the battle of Lexington had demonstrated, was that only the theory of colonial dependency—the notion that the Lords and Commons at Westminster were an adequate and frilly legitimate representative “of all the outlying portions of the empire as well as of the constituencies which they happened to represent on the island of Britain”—could accommodate the colonies within the Empire as it then worked (43-44). The alternative—the reconstitution of the Empire as a quasi-federal state, or the refashioning of imperial unity through the Crown only—was unacceptable.

9The former possibility entailed erecting the Westminster parliament into an assembly representing all parts of the Empire, possessing supreme legislative power in matters of common concern and exercising ultimate authority over subordinate legislatures to which would be granted, de jure rather than merely de facto, a large degree of autonomy. In it were implied both the admission of overseas communities as equals to the exercise of parliamentary sovereignty at home, and the reduction of the range of matters coming under the purview of the imperial parliament, i.e. a shift of the locus of power across the Atlantic prejudicial to the dominance of the English church-state, as well as a diminution of Westminster’s sovereignty in practice, if not in theory.

10The latter possibility not only dispensed with Westminster’s sovereignty altogether, but, by purporting to replicate many times locally the alliance of the executive and legislative powers at the heart of the British constitution, pointed to a Crown reduced to a mere figurehead role in a multitude of governments upon which it could not hope to impose coherence, short of exercising the most despotic rule—a prospect that lost likelihood in proportion as distance from the imperial centre increased and therefore appeared as advantageous to the colonies as it would be injurious to the metropole. Neither solution would have left the British union intact. So, after some fighting, the rebellious American colonies were allowed to break free from the authority of the British Crown-in-Parliament and there ran through North America a boundary line which separated the United States from a British North America now composed only of Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.

  • 7 A near exception is Séguin, who regards 1783 as a “[g]rand schisme anglo-saxon” (67). It may be th (...)
  • 8 For the background to Franklin’s proposal during exploratory contacts, see Harlow 246-49. John Ada (...)

11The feature of the metropolitan legislative union which requires emphasising here is not that it dictated resort to secession, but that secession was accompanied by the partition of North America. The fact is often overlooked, or at least it is hardly ever described by that name7, for “partition” seems curiously reserved for territories whose integrity is presumed to have been violated. Obviously, the United States were too inchoate, and the British Empire too piecemeal and anglo-centric, for the idea of such a violation to take hold on either side in 1783. To realise that it was partition, however, it is only necessary to consider that, until secession occurred, the whole territory was British North America. It also helps to bear in mind that an American force attempted in vain in 1775-76 to conquer the “fourteenth colony” (Justin H. Smith), and that Benjamin Franklin, as one of four American negotiators at the opening of peace talks in the spring of 1782, entertained the hope of gaining Quebec and Nova Scotia for his country (Franklin, “Journal” 521-23)8. That the settlement of 1783 must have appeared to Americans in the light of a partition—not simply the persistence of a strategic risk north of the (disputed) United States border, but a division as such—is suggested besides by the colonies’ reaction, a few years previously, to the 1774 Quebec Act.

  • 9 Charles Fox on the second reading of the Quebec bill, 26 May 1774 (Debates 62). In a similar vein, (...)
  • 10 Public Advertiser of 19 May 1774, quoted in Lawson, “‘The Irishman’s Prize’” 592.
  • 11 My italics.
  • 12 My italics.

12The Act so enlarged the boundaries of the colony ceded by the French under the 1763 Peace of Paris as to form a barrier to the seaboard colonies’ westward expansion back of the Ohio country. It also made this new buffer highly inhospitable by granting the Catholic Church official status, entrenching French civil law, and denying the colony the benefit of representative government on the ground that it would be gross injustice to place the overwhelmingly Catholic majority of the population, debarred by its faith from taking the parliamentary oath of allegiance to the British monarch, at the mercy of a Protestant minority only a few hundred strong. The measure was greeted on either side of the Atlantic with incredulity and consternation. It was roundly condemned as an attempt upon “the genius and spirit of the British constitution,” the proof of “a settled design to enslave the people of America,”9 and the beginning of a system of arbitrary government that might be blown over to Britain by “[t]he first west wind”10. But, beneath the rhetoric of popery and arbitrary government, what is remarkable is the fear of partition on the American side. Congress’s “Address to the People of Great-Britain” vilified the measure for establishing in Canada “a religion, fraught with sanguinary and impious tenets” and “so extend[ing], modell[ing], and govern[ing]” the country that its inhabitants were “disunited from us, detached from our interests, by civil as well as religious prejudices” and in effect turned into “fit instruments in the hands of power, to reduce the ancient free Protestant Colonies to the same state of slavery with themselves” (83, 87-88).11 Another Address mingled exhortation and threat to call on the inhabitants of Quebec “to compleat the bright and strong chain of union” of the American colonies against despotic government (“Address to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec” 111).12

  • 13 Edmund Burke in the debate on the boundary clause, 6 June 1774 (Debates 192). See also 196.
  • 14 This is particularly clear in another of Burke’s speeches, on 31 May 1774, during the debates over (...)

13It is true that, at about the same time, Edmund Burke, then London agent for the colony of New York, was also particularly exercised by the boundary line between the two colonies, to be fixed by the Act. He saw the boundary, not merely as “a line between New York and some other English settlement,” but as “a line which is to separate a man from the right of an Englishman,” something quite close to an international frontier.13 However, it is clear from Burke’s understanding of the New York-Quebec boundary question that the Americans and the metropolitan Whig opposition were making use of the same popery-and-despotism rhetoric to conjure fears that were not identical. Those Americans who resented the Quebec Act wished for territorial continuity, or geographical unity, in North America, and they saw and resented the Act, not only as yet another parliamentary invasion of their rights, but also as a partitioning of their space. The Whig opposition at home, for their part, wished for constitutional continuity, or national unity across space by means of the very same parliamentary sovereignty which the Americans saw as an infringement of their autonomy, and they objected to the Quebec Act as a denial of Parliament’s legislative authority by the Crown and a division of the British nation (evoking uneasy associations with the age of the Three Kingdoms).14 Yet, there is a deep significance in the confusion of a shared political language. In each case a preoccupation with union and partition is seen to be at work, though it is to be understood in two different contexts, the centre and the periphery, where their meanings diverge. While British opposition thinking remained legal and constitutional, in particular, American concerns were becoming more territorial. As against Patrick Henry’s declaration on the first day’s meeting of the Continental Congress that “Government is dissolved... Where are your landmarks, your boundaries of Colonies?” (Clark 59), Quebec stood as a reminder that a dividing line did cut across British North America.

  • 15 Koenigsberger seems to be the only author who describes the secession as a “partition” (151-53).

14In 1783, therefore, a dual partition was made—one by which Britain and the United States were separated, and one by which British North America was definitively divided into two blocs. The former partition was in nature and intention constitutional and occurred within the imperial framework. It has since been rightly regarded as secession.15 The latter was territorial and took place within a colonial framework. To it must be reserved the term “partition.” The important point is that the latter was no less a function of the metropolitan union than the former.

15Superficially, the division of North America may be regarded, of course, as no more than the consequence of the secession of the Thirteen Colonies. As some colonies were relinquished and others were retained, a line must divide the two sets. On a deeper level, however, it is worth noting that a territorial partition in North America was only possible because the colonial framework, being disconnected from the central union, could be partitioned at will to strengthen the connection with that union. Partition as secession from the imperial centre of authority, as we have seen, was ultimately necessary, from a metropolitan perspective, to escape from the insoluble alternative of colonial representation at Westminster and a return to connection through the Crown only, implied by the rejection of Westminster’s sovereignty. The partition of British North America, by contrast, occurred because, under the Quebec Act, a colony was for the first time constituted, which was administered by a governor and council unaided by a popular assembly, thus overcoming the problem of metropolitan legislative sovereignty. What one is tempted to call “executive partition,” in contradistinction to “legislative partition,” or partition designed to preserve the principle of a single parliamentary authority, may be seen from this perspective as an alternative to separation in order to avoid the equally unacceptable alternatives of incorporation into the metropolitan legislative union and an imperial federation. The two partitions of 1783 may therefore be interpreted as symmetrical and complementary—one proceeding from the legislative, the other from the monarchical, component in the alliance of Crown-in-Parliament; one separatist, the other “unionist.”

16Two objections might reasonably be raised here. The first is that it is stretching the point to claim that British North America was partitioned in 1783 by a piece of legislation passed nine years earlier to settle the government of Quebec. The answer to that is that the effect of the metropolitan union was not so much to determine where partition must occur, as that it must occur under certain circumstances along a line that distinguished inassimilable from assimilable territory. The Quebec Act, as the Americans understood only too well, drew that line. There is an Irish analogy in the (British) Government of Ireland Act 1920, which partitioned Ireland unilaterally in an attempt to forestall a secession that also occurred later.

17The second objection is that Nova Scotia had enjoyed representative government since 1758 and continued to do so after the American War of Independence. It may thus seem arbitrary to focus on the Quebec Act and non-parliamentary government in Quebec as a shaping influence on partition, for Nova Scotia would appear to prove that partition could occur as easily between colonies under parliamentary government, as between colonies under different regimes. This calls for a somewhat more complex answer, but one which must begin by granting that, indeed, partition is not a function of one colonial constitution as against another. The disunity of the American colonies, for instance, was notorious despite the fact that, broadly speaking, they all enjoyed the same type of constitution. This disunity was the main motive behind the 1754 Albany plan of union (Franklin, “Papers” 203-04), and later figured very prominently among the concerns of the Federalist Papers (Madison, Hamilton and Jay 87-128). It underlies Patrick Henry’s declaration quoted above. In addition, however, it is worth remembering that Quebec was by far much the larger of the two colonies, that it had no popular assembly with which Nova Scotians so inclined could have attempted to forge links, and that it was in other ways so foreign that restive Nova Scotians would have had no alternative but to ally themselves to the Americans, who were not likely to start another war on their behalf. Nova Scotian representative government was thus somewhat overshadowed by the fact of Quebec being so apart. If one wishes to emphasize dissimilarities in post-1783 British North America, therefore, one is not thereby contradicting the argument of partition for administrative convenience, nor invalidating the importance of the Quebec Act in effecting that partition, only pointing out that the partition of pre-1783 British North America was accompanied by the partition of post-1783 British North America, which was prevented by Quebec from coalescing in the American manner.

18Last, but not least, Nova Scotia, too, was partitioned. There appear to have been three factors in the decision to partition Nova Scotia in 1784 to hive off from its territory the new colony of New Brunswick—the administrative impasse reached in Nova Scotia, especially in dealing with the influx of 30,000 loyalist refugees and the issue of land grants, a problem made more difficult by the fact that the colonial assembly was principally composed of members who sympathised with the American rebels; the self-interest of a jobseeking loyalist clique; and, most important of all, long-standing British policy. The partition of Nova Scotia was thus envisaged as early as 1778, as was that of Maine in 1780, the latter to form the province of “New Ireland.” That the partition of Nova Scotia in 1784 owed everything to a wish to maintain the imperial connection through royal authority is clearly suggested by the advice proffered in 1783 by Sir Guy Carleton, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America from March 1782, to Lord North. Carleton was of opinion that “the fertile source of much mischief and disorder” in America had been “the democratical part of the colony legislatures” and that Nova Scotia should be “made to exhibit a more substantial representation of the first two great branches of our own legislature” (Gilroy 387). If anything, then, Nova Scotia provides further illustration of partition for executive convenience. That the partition of 1783 left representative government in place is not strictly speaking relevant, except to underline that representative government served as a motor of partition, both as between Quebec and Nova Scotia, and between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (which received its own assembly in 1785), and as a vehicle of enhanced executive authority.

  • 16 There is, of course, a capital difference in the fact that the parliament at Westminster could sti (...)
  • 17 Benjamin Franklin, in a significantly different context which proves the continuity of policy post (...)
  • 18 Lord Russell himself recognised the fact when he said in 1837 that responsible government amounted (...)
  • 19 Edmund Burke, of course, did confront the question, and was anxious that imperial rule overseas sh (...)

19Seeing partition under the prerogative as a solution other than separation to the problem of unity in diversity in the Empire as a whole has interesting implications. Firstly, it shows that what had become anathema in the United Kingdom (a return to the divisions of the age of the Three Kingdoms) was not only possible, but sometimes desirable, on the periphery.16 Containment of the executive at the centre might necessitate an alliance of Crown and Parliament which promptly imposed legislative union there; but, on the periphery, no such containment was possible until the introduction of colonial responsible government from 1848, short of extending the legislative union beyond the boundaries of Britain, itself not a realistic policy, or at least one, as Ireland was to show, that entailed serious difficulties. The periphery, therefore, must not only be held to the metropole at one remove, by the device of parliamentary sovereignty, but left to the executive to divide or unite as it saw fit. Notwithstanding the notion that the secession of the United States had been accepted as a price for refusing the alternative of partition under the Crown and legislative incorporation, partition under the Crown is exactly what happened in the remaining section of British North America, requiring the suppression (or non-introduction) of representative government in Quebec in order to sweep under the carpet for a time the question of parliamentary sovereignty.17 The utmost constraint on the executive, after that, was the introduction of representative government, but, as Carleton’s advice and the partition of Nova Scotia in their different ways make clear, there were means, in such a case, of circumventing or containing the popular element. Responsible government, when it came, did not alter the fact of partition, but merely made the government of the Crown responsible to a local assembly. The heartsearching that went on before even that was accorded, shows indeed that responsible government was considered dangerous precisely because it set up colonial governors as so many heads of independent states.18 Union and partition on the periphery were thus at the discretion of imperial executive authority, illustrating vividly Herbert Butterfield’s pronouncement that in “the story of British expansion overseas” lay “the real tory alternative to the [Whig] organization of English history on the basis of the growth of liberty” (Butterfield 81).19

20Secondly, as a result of this distinction between the uses of union at the centre and on the periphery, the fallacy of the analogy between the Empire and the United Kingdom—on which is often predicated the break-up of the United Kingdom following the contraction and demise of the Empire—should become apparent. At the centre of the Empire, the legislative union of England and Scotland was necessary for the sake of the unity of Crown and Parliament. On the periphery, it was the interest of government, mostly for the sake of holding the colonies to the metropole, which dictated whether partition or legislative union was preferable on practical, rather than constitutional, terms. Legislative union was not, of itself, necessary. The metropolitan government could not choose to undo the legislative union of 1707, but it might opt to sub-divide or unite parts of the periphery. Not only was the Empire compartmentalised, as well as united by parliamentary sovereignty, but the metropolitan and imperial systems operated to different political agendas and constitutional methods.

21Thirdly, seeing the hiving off of thirteen of the North American colonies and the partition of North America as essentially the same mechanism at work, allows us to enlarge our perspective beyond regarding geographical partition only as a consequence of constitutional compartmentalisation between centre and periphery, in circumstances when part of the Empire is allowed to secede. Partition may come to be seen as other than an exceptional phenomenon associated with decolonisation, for partitions for administrative convenience on the periphery abound. Nova Scotia has been mentioned already, but other examples include Quebec in 1791 and Bengal in 1905, to cite only two of the best-known cases. A benefit of this new perspective is that it allows one to view the partitions of 1783 and 1920 within a broader context than that of American or Irish national historiography. This means, in particular, that secession and partition should not be automatically equated. Secession caused partition in the North American case, but there might be partition also to contain such separatism, as was vainly attempted in Ireland in 1920.

22Lastly, the observation that partition was the norm on the periphery raises the question of the uses of union there. As partition comes to be seen as less than exceptional, then legislative union too also takes on a new meaning. Union at the centre was undeniably unique (the point missed by those who predict the demise of the United Kingdom on that of the Empire), but it was also paradigmatic.

23Any examination of union and partition on the periphery of Empire must start from the realisation that they were envisaged and practised in a situation where the paramount concern was to avoid a repeat of the American secession. Secession in 1783 had been acceptable as a last resort, but—except to those Radicals at home who hoped for the end of formal Empire in the name of both political economy and English liberties, threatened by an unconstrained imperial executive—secession must not be allowed to repeat itself. As incorporation into the metropolitan union was rejected, a situation was created in which the margins of Empire were in effect in a situation not unsimilar to that of the United Kingdom before 1707, with the added dimension that the challenge was to maintain a sufficient degree of cohesion in the periphery to hold it to the metropole. This challenge of imperial unity was met by partition, but it is remarkable and significant that colonial legislative union was also thought of as a solution to the same difficulty, both before and after 1783.

  • 20 Such at least seems to be the implication of a remark by the Scotsman James Murray, Captain Genera (...)
  • 21 See for instance Petition for House of Assembly, Nov. 24, 1784, in Shortt and Doughty 502-09. In M (...)

24To illustrate the first part of this remark: not only was Quebec given in 1774 a type of constitution precluding union with Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotia partitioned in 1784 to constitute an ultra-loyal colony, New Brunswick, to the east on the Atlantic seaboard, but Quebec in 1791 was in its turn divided by the Constitutional Act into English-speaking Upper Canada and French-speaking Lower Canada, each with a representative assembly. Until then, there had been on the part of successive British administrations great reluctance to grant Quebec an assembly, for fear, at once, of creating another Ireland by setting up a Protestant minority over a Catholic majority and of allowing non-Anglicans to dominate the assembly and foster secessionist feelings20. The containment strategy of 1774, naturally, had also played a part. Pressure had been relentlessly, yet ineffectively, exerted by a vocal minority on the government to introduce representative government in Quebec.21 The partition of 1791 could thus be portrayed as final victory for the representative principle in a colony where some 20,000 Protestant loyalists had sought refuge and expected to find those customary English institutions—representative government and English land law—denied them under the Quebec Act of 1774. And so it was by Whig imperial historiography, drawing support for its interpretation from Pitt’s own obfuscating tactics during the 1791 parliamentary debates.

  • 22 The master mind behind the Constitutional Act, William Grenville, had this to say: “If these two b (...)
  • 23 For an illustration of whiggish naivety in historians, see for instance W. P. M. Kennedy’s uncriti (...)

25On 4 March 1791, after causing the King’s message to be read, which recommended the adoption of a new constitution for Quebec, Pitt declared his hope that the division of the province “would put an end to the competition between the old French inhabitants and the new settlers from Britain or British colonies” and that it “could be made in such a manner as to give each a great majority in their own particular part” (Gourlay 3).22 He was to return to this theme in the following weeks. Division, he said, would remove the “source of perpetual faction” which a single House of Assembly, either equally balanced between an English and a French party, or dominated by either of them, would have represented. For this reason, it was “in great measure the fundamental part of the bill; and... the most material and essential part of it.” In reply to Fox, who opined “that the French and English inhabitants of Canada should unite and coalesce, as it were, into one body,” so that “the different distinctions of the people might be extinguished for ever” and English laws prevail “universally throughout Canada,” he professed to believe that the two populations of Quebec would eventually be brought closer, as the French subjects were enabled to “look at the operation and effect of [English] laws, compare them with the operation and effect of their own, and probably in time adopt them from conviction” (Gourlay 15-16, 66-67).23

26Pitt was trying to catch Fox at his own game by claiming that partition was the price to pay for the progress of English freedom. In reality, the American rebellion had made the British government wary of granting the elected colonial assemblies too much autonomy, and other parts of the bill strengthened the monarchical and aristocratic elements in the two Canadas by creating nominated legislative councils modelled roughly on the House of Lords in Britain. There is no denying Pitt’s argument that a single assembly would have led either to stalemate (if evenly balanced between the French and English parties) or to accusations of oppression (if unbalanced), but the argument that division was ultimately going to prove conducive to Canadian unity, when set alongside the measures which reinforced executive control and Fox’s suspicions of unity through the Crown, suggests also that partition was a measure designed to hold the colonies to the metropole. This development stands in telling contrast to a variety of plans for some form of legislative union among the British North American colonies between the mid-1750s and the early 1790s.

27The Albany plan of 1754 is perhaps the best known of these. This plan stemmed from proposals drawn up by Benjamin Franklin for a confederal union of the American colonies under a Governor General assisted by a Grand Council. The proposals were debated at a special congress of the northern colonies at Albany, in the colony of New York, in July 1754. In its final form, the plan provided for a President General, instead of a Governor General, to be appointed and supported by the Crown. The Grand Council was “to be chosen by the representatives of the people of the several colonies met in their respective Assemblies.” Together, the President General and Grand Council were to exercise a legislative function, including the right “to lay and levy such general duties, imposts, or taxes, as to them shall appear most equal and just,” and regulate relations with Indians. Laws were to be “as near as may be, agreeable to the laws of England” and to be “transmitted to the King in Council for approbation” and to remain in force if not “disapproved within three years.” The plan was to be legislated for by the British parliament, whence only cohesion could legitimately be imposed on the colonies.

  • 24 To describe the Albany plan as a legislative union may seem confusing, for a confederal union was (...)

28It is, of course, true to say that Franklin wrote in a period of conflict, which had revealed American dissensions and which excused an emphasis on military and executive power (most notably fiscal). It remains that his aim was to constitute, by means of legislative union, a political body which could be brought under the authority of the Crown acting through a representative assembly.24 Here was an attempt to replicate, in the conditions of North America, which involved in particular the preservation of colonial assemblies, the constitutional unity and the constitutional apparatus of the metropole, in order that the colonies might remain connected to the imperial centre through a powerful executive figure. That is precisely the reason why the plan was rejected by the colonies, in whose view it implied excessive Crown control.

  • 25 See extract from “Letter from Benjamin Franklyn, Esq; to Governour Shirley, dated, Boston, Decembe (...)

29In contrast to the ill-fated Albany plan, whose fame might not be so great if the name of Franklin did not attach to it and it did not serve as a foil to his later position, it is plans involving colonial representation at Westminster which have attracted most attention. One such was being discussed by Franklin himself and the Governor of Massachusetts shortly after the Albany plan had fallen through. Franklin believed that the colonies might be united “more intimately with Great-Britain, by allowing them representatives in parliament,” which would then legislate in the interest of the whole Empire, and not just part of it. He hoped “that by such an union, the people of Great-Britain, and the people of the colonies, would learn to consider themselves, not as belonging to different communities with different interests, but to one community with one interest; which, I imagine, would contribute to strengthen the whole, and greatly lessen the danger of future separations.”25 Such an arrangement was considered right up to, and even during, the American War of Independence. It was put forward by James Otis in The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (1764), Considerations on behalf of the colonies (1765), and A Vindication of the British Colonies (1765). The former Prime Minister George Grenville proposed it in The present State of the Nation (1768), drawing upon himself Burke’s mordant retort in Observations on the present State of the Nation (1769). Adam Smith gave it some support in Book IV of The Wealth of Nations (1776). The idea found its way, too, into the royal instructions to the Carlisle peace commission of 1778, although these lay more stress on a continental assembly acting as a devolved parliament to manage the affairs of the colonies.

30But it is plans that avoided popular representation at Westminster which interest us here, for they allow us to consider the idea of union strictly in the context of the periphery. They were all plans for inter-colonial union, based on the idea that, rather than bring the colonies into the metropolitan union, a confederal union should be effected in the colonies to bind them collectively to Great Britain in the manner in which they had until then been bound individually. Prominent among the proponents of such a plan, besides Franklin, were Joseph Galloway and William Smith.

  • 26 This foreshadowed the 1931 Statute of Westminster.

31Joseph Galloway was leader of the Tory loyalists in Pennsylvania. At the first Congress, he tabled a plan for “the establishment of a political union, not only among [the colonies], but with the mother state,” founded on the premise that “the colonies from their local circumstances cannot be represented in the Parliament of Great Britain” (Galloway). In essence, he proposed to revive the Albany plan, except that his project required the assent of both the continental Grand Council and the parliament of Great Britain to give validity to legislation affecting the colonies.26 The plan was rejected by one vote and all trace of it expunged from the journals of Congress.

  • 27 The account which follows is based on Upton I: xxviii-xxxix; and Smith to Dorchester, February 5, (...)

32William Smith, a prominent New York lawyer who declared his allegiance to the British crown in 1778 and went into exile in England in 1783, was Chief Justice of Quebec under Sir Guy Carleton, now Governor of Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick from April 1786 to July 1796 under the title of Lord Dorchester. Between 1765 and 1790, Smith drew up several plans of union.27 In his early plans, up to 1775, a continental assembly was Smith’s solution to the taxation controversy. This assembly would receive and act upon royal demands for tax contributions, which he believed the colonies would find constitutionally acceptable (in lieu of parliamentary demands), and which the multiplicity of colonial legislatures would otherwise make impracticable. Revealingly, his model was Ireland, then not incorporated in the United Kingdom and deprived of legislative autonomy. Smith envisaged a Lord Lieutenant at the head of the new jurisdiction, and under him, a Council and a House of Commons of 141 members chosen by the colonial assemblies, from Nova Scotia and Quebec, right through to the two Floridas, though excluding Delaware and the West India islands (the latter because they were too dependent on Britain to cause her any concern).

33After 1783, Smith’s plans went far beyond the issue of taxation, now removed from the colonial agenda, to consider the rapport de force between Canada and the United States. British North America, in his view, must come under the sway of a single man using the prerogative. The reconstitution of the Empire required that British policy in America “must be directed by but one agent and he should want nothing, to lay hold of the moments of opportunity—find no Shackles in the subordinate Delegations of Power, and be left by the Supreme Power, in great Scope and Confidence, to mature his Designs, in a Correspondence necessary to their Success, as well as safe to all the Instruments, with whom he is to transact.” He envisaged a Governor General of Canada who would combine the functions of Commander-in-Chief of the army, Governor General of all the provinces, and Captain General of the militia. This powerful military and administrative figure was in addition to have control of the navy, as well as plenipotentiary diplomatic powers, and responsibility for either directing or overseeing Indian affairs, commercial regulations and the management of Crown waste lands. He was to have the choice of his public officers and the right to override the advice of his two-chamber assembly—both clear indications that the new pan-American executive would brook no parliamentary obstruction.

34Besides hopes for the reconstitution of the Empire, Smith’s plan was also informed, to some extent, by the belief that only executive authority of this magnitude would overcome party strife in Quebec, and his recommendation, in this respect, clearly owed something to American federalism under the constitution of 1787, which separated executive power from legislative. As regards Quebec, it should be noted that the plan was framed prior to the passing of the Constitutional Act of 1791, and that it thus reveals union and strong executive authority to have been deliberately conceived as an alternative, or a necessary complement, to partition. Such an interpretation is confirmed by the last scheme to be devised by Smith’s indefatigable mind in 1790, when he realised that Quebec was about to be partitioned (a draft bill had been sent to Dorchester in 1789 for comment). This consisted in a counter-proposal in the form of a confederal system for British North America, broadly in line with the previous plan, but extending “to the Southward of Hudson’s Bay” and westwards from the Mississippi, in order “to put what remains to Great Britain of her antient Dominions in North America, under one General Direction, for the united Interest and Safety of every Branch of the Empire,” subject to “the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain as the supreme Legislature of the British Empire.”

35In these plans for inter-colonial union—the Albany plan and plans such as those devised by Joseph Galloway and William Smith—can be seen clearly an alternative to partition as a solution to the problem of imperial, and not simply colonial, unity. Their virtue, from the perspective of this paper, is that, set alongside the policy of partition which was followed in their stead after 1783 (because legislative union with the metropole had ceased to be an option, and inter-colonial union, judging by the recent American experience, seemed likely to undermine the prerogative), they show union and partition on the periphery to have been alternative strategies to the same end—the strengthening of the imperial connection—much as their avatars, imperial federation and the Commonwealth, were to be in the late nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth. Union and partition are not, therefore, antinomic per se, though, in terms of constitutional technique, the one is more Tory (as based on the exercise of the prerogative), and the other more Whig (as based on the exercise of representative government).

  • 28 See John Adams’s letter to William Cushing, dated Philadelphia, 9 June 1776, in C. F. Adams, Works (...)

36In addition, these plans are interesting in showing that legislative union in North America could not be exactly identical to union in the metropole, that is to say, that North American union was always conceived, in pre-1707 Scottish fashion, on a confederal mould, rather than as a legislative merger. The reasons for this are probably to be found in a combination of legal considerations and the purpose of such a union. Of the three unions in the United Kingdom, one was achieved by conquest (Wales), another by international treaty (Scotland), and the third by mutual legislation (Ireland). In North America, conquest was not feasible; an international treaty would have required the colonies to be regarded as independent states, a move that had to be accomplished by the united colonies before they could turn themselves into the United States28, but one that was quite inconceivable for colonies which it was intended to keep under the sovereignty of the Crown and Parliament; and there was no continental legislature with which it was realistic to hope to negotiate an incorporation on the later Irish model (though Congress was approached in that spirit in 1778). As for the purpose of intercolonial union, it was not designed to guarantee the alliance of Crown and Parliament, which dictated metropolitan fusion, but to concentrate power upwards from the colonial assemblies, so that it might be better exercised downwards from the imperial parliament, separately still from the central union. It was to create an assembly that would act as an intermediary (a consideration dictated by the scale of British North America), one that would have been devolutionary from the standpoint of the metropole, but one that must not constitute an overmighty subordinate legislature. It is extremely relevant, in this respect, that schemes for inter-colonial union provided for the continental assembly to be composed of delegates chosen by the colonial assemblies and not by their respective constituent bodies, either separately or in aggregate, for that would have been consonant only with a full legislative merger, or a federal scheme such as that devised by the American constitution of 1787—in either case, raising the inter-colonial union to something quite close to separate nationhood.

  • 29 In the case of the United States, the only exception seems to be Landsman. Landsman points out tha (...)

37Little attention so far has been paid to the debt of America to the British idea of union29, but surely these plans are instances of it. They show union to have been paradigmatic. On the margins of an extended imperial polity which could not be brought under a single legislative union, the question of union arose in a manner reminiscent of the United Kingdom—so much so, that it was possible to think of the American problem in Irish terms. Different solutions were used, or merely proposed, but similar reflexes operated. Partition, on the whole, seemed preferable. Yet it also raised its own difficulties, especially in the exercise of representative government. As in the metropole, when the multiplicity of assemblies became a source of embarrassment, union was contemplated as the solution. The Canadas in the 1830s and 1840s offer a case in point, although the observation is of wider application.

38Trouble erupted in late 1837 in both Upper and Lower Canada over the issue of responsible government. In each of the provinces, governors and their nominated councils exercised complete control over legislation. Not only was this irksome to the elected assemblies, but it seemed to institutionalise unpopular cleavages—in Upper Canada, between the Church of England, which was the sole recipient of Church revenues, and the majority of non-Anglican residents; in Lower Canada, between the French-speaking population and the English-speaking minority which dominated the council. Armed rebellion was put down, but the British government felt compelled to investigate the causes of the dissatisfaction. The result was a new revision of colonial policy in British North America and the legislative union of the two Canadas under the Union Act of 1840.

  • 30 See also Lucas II: 307-08.
  • 31 Coupland, while he identified the union and responsible government as the only two ideas of substa (...)

39It was Lord Durham who most famously, in his Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839), recommended this union in order to assimilate the French population under a single legislature. His model was quite explicitly the metropolitan union. “A legislative union,” he explained, “would imply a complete incorporation of the Provinces included in it under one legislature, exercising universal and sole legislative authority over all of them, in exactly the same manner as the Parliament legislates alone for the whole of the British Isles” (Lucas II: 304).30 Imperial Whig historiography from the 1920s to the 1970s hailed the Report, which proposed to introduce responsible government in British North America, as the embodiment of the principles of freedom through parliamentary self-government, which saved imperial unity. This, however, was achieved at the cost of underplaying the union31, when the point, precisely, was that the union was implemented and responsible government was not. Ged Martin has since shown that the Report at the time of its publication was poorly received in the press and by politicians, that legislative union was not Durham’s idea, and that the Cabinet framed the union legislation without reference either to Durham himself or to his report (Martin, Durham Report; “Influence of the Durham Report”). He also points out that Durham’s notion of freedom might not be anyone else’s, for he reserved to the Governor quasi-despotic powers. Such a re-appraisal is much more consonant with the contemporary emphasis on union. The union of 1840, in this respect, has an analogue in, and arguably owed a debt to, all the plans of American inter-colonial union since the seventeenth century.

  • 32 A mixture of colonial and imperial union also to be found in Masères’s thinking on the question.

40It is significant that Durham came to Canada armed with a plan for a confederal union, of a type by now familiar and only recently reiterated by the Chief Justice of Lower Canada, Jonathan Sewell, and the Attorney General of Upper Canada, John B. Robinson, as a counter-proposal to the legislative union of the Canadas, put forward in 1822 (Sewell and Robinson; Ormsby). Durham contemplated a union of the Canadas that would leave their Legislative Councils unaffected, while it set up a common General Assembly. As in earlier schemes of this sort, of which the profusion is as remarkable as the fact that they never were implemented, the aim was to strengthen the imperial connection. In the present case, this is suggested by the small number of members (a mere ten) Durham planned for the assembly, and by the provision of colonial representation in the Westminster parliament.32 Confusion with outright (incorporating) inter-colonial union, however, is implied by another provision, envisaged by Durham in a confidential letter to Robinson of September 1838, which had the “constituent body” rather than the provincial legislature return the members of the Canadian assembly (Sanderson 274). That a re-orientation was effected from confederal to legislative union, and from general to strictly Canadian union, shows that there was a change in the means, not in the end. But the change aroused fears in Upper Canada that the legislative union of the two provinces would cause secession from Britain, and suggested to conservative and loyalist minds that the partition of 1791 was a better alternative.

41The reason why Upper Canadian loyalists felt concerned is to be found in their apprehension lest Upper Canadian and Lower Canadian reformers, who wished for the introduction of responsible government, should overcome a natural antipathy and associate in their opposition to the executive of united Canada. Responsible government was then still widely believed to be a direct forerunner of imperial break-up, and in June 1839 the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, Sir George Arthur, informed the Colonial Secretary, Normanby, that the Constitutional party of his province, in despair of maintaining the connection with the mother country under the union (because “a third of the Population of Upper Canada... desire Republican Institutions”) contemplated outright secession from Great Britain (Sanderson 164). He returned to this theme in October 1839 in a dispatch to the new Colonial Secretary, Lord Russell. “[B]efore there has been an extensive infusion of British population by immigration,” he explained, “the United influence of the French party in Lower Canada, and of the Republican party in Upper Canada, when brought together in one Legislature, will, I believe, render it impossible to cany on the Government successfully.” What made it worrying was that “[t]he class to which I have alluded in Upper Canada... are unalterably bent on separation from Great Britain...” (Sanderson 289). To opponents of the union of the Canadas in the Upper Province, the separation of the two Canadas was thus a guarantee that the unity of the Empire would be maintained. Put differently, partition was a guarantee of wider (though emphatically not legislative) imperial union by means of a strong executive in the Canadas.

42Union of the two Canadas involved a debate over the composition and mode of designation of the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, which had been designed as a counterweight to the French-dominated assembly. An elective Legislative Council threatened to remove this counterweight and thus to deprive the executive of leverage, while also suggesting something like the abolition of the House of Lords, of which the Legislative Council was the colonial near-equivalent, in England in 1649. In 1836, the third report of the Gosford commission, appointed in 1835 under the chairmanship of the new Governor General of British North America to inquire into Lower Canadian demands of responsible government, came out in favour of legislative union of the Canadas to parry the need to make the Legislative Council in Lower Canada elective. A nominated English-dominated council seemed more acceptable in a United, English-dominated Canada. But, interestingly, the report also considered the alternative of a subdivision of Lower Canada (Burroughs 79). Union in 1840 was thus not at variance with earlier partition, but rather the continuation of the same policy of holding down Canada, this time by merger to outvote the French “centrally but without the nuisance of their own local legislature” (Martin, “Influence of the Durham Report” 78).

43Two difficulties remained—the balance of parties in the united legislature (the Act of Union decided on parity and, as a result, institutionalised paralysis) and the (mostly geographical) inextensibility of legislative union on the 1707 model. Both problems were later to be tackled through confederation, which reconciled partition with unity. In the process was involved the creation of a Canadian nationality.

  • 33 Seeley is, of course, better known for his celebrated pronouncement that “[w]e seem, as it were, t (...)

44The cobbled-togetherness of both the metropolitan and the imperial and Commonwealth constitutions, and its justification by means of the famed English or British pragmatism so respectful of, and conducive to, liberty, have a long and distinguished pedigree. From Edmund Burke’s insistence that civil society is “the offspring of convention” (Burke 150), through John See ley’s observation in 1881 that “[t]here has indeed been little enough of calculation or contrivance in our colonisation” (Seeley 207)33, to Sir Keith Hancock’s judgement in 1937 that the Commonwealth of Nations illustrated the truly British talent for pragmatically striking a balance between imperium and libertas (Hancock 5, 13-20), there runs a theme of English or British exceptionalism, in which haphazard but mostly peaceful development, and muddling through, occupy a place quite unknown in the political discourse of most other countries.

45Yet, there were guiding principles behind pragmatism: union at the centre, union and partition on the periphery. As the colonies could not be incorporated into the metropolitan union, they were partitioned or united as the executive pleased. In British North America, there arose after 1783 a situation in which the union paradigm of 1707 was brought to bear again—so that one moved from partition under the Crown to partition under responsible government, by way of a less than satisfactory attempt at legislative union. Union and partition were not antinomic. Both were used to ensure the stability and endurance of a connection with the metropole that must not itself take the form of a legislative union. When colonial legislative union was felt locally to be too constraining, there were moves to federal union, which alone seemed capable of reconciling unity with diversity and again preserve the connection. This was possible in Canada or Australia, but neither in the metropole, nor, for that reason, in the Empire as a whole, because there was no alternative of union and partition at the centre of imperial authority, where federalism has inherently republican effects (Mioche).

46The Empire, in other words, raised anew some of the constitutional problems once encountered in the British Isles, and suggested similar solutions. Imperial compartmentalisation and colonial partition at first held virtues of constitutional containment (to protect the metropolitan union) and ultimate imperial unity. Yet, in the end, the challenges of partition suggested the constitution of colonial unions. In the process, legislative union served, as at the centre of imperial authority, as the framework for the expression of a composite national identity, although, here too, there were instances of incomplete or failed assimilation (Quebec, Pakistan) and grumbling acceptance of union (Western Australia).



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1 See also Koenigsberger; and Namier 37, quoted in Greene, “Plunge of Lemmings” 337.

2 “Because English governing institutions were autonomous to the point where they could exercise empire over Scots within the parliamentary union and Americans and Irish outside it, their history could be written as if strangers had played no part in it.... An Anglocentricand an Anglophobic historiography, therefore, form two sides of the same medal...” (Pocock, “Limits and Divisions” 313-14).

3 On the Anglo-American connection, see in particular Greene, Peripheries and Center, Clark; and the references in note 1. On schemes for imperial union, see Kendle, Round Table and Federal Britain; as well as Burgess 23-79. It is no coincidence that interest in this topic seems to have initiated, as did John Pocock’s plea for a new British history taking account of the imperial dimension (“British History: A Plea for a New Subject”), shortly after the United Kingdom’s entry into what has become the European Union, and that it has more or less followed the ups and downs in this relation.

4 “J. G. A. Pocock’s appeal for a more thorough look at the British tradition in its overseas possessions has directed students, lemming-like, towards colonial America This approach badly needs to be broadened to include other imperial appendages in the post-1763 world” (Lawson, “The Missing Link” 750).

5 The founder of imperial history is usually held to be the historian John Robert Seeley, who traced in “the extension of the English name into other countries of the globe, the foundation of Greater Britain.” Seeley proposed to study the Empire, a word for which he had no enthusiasm, as “an enlargement of the English State, and not simply of the English nationality,” but the result of his endeavours was merely to raise awareness of the disjunction between the English/British state and “English nationality,” for India, though not English in either character, religion or population, was part of the Empire, while the United States, though descended from a common stock, was not (Seeley 9, 50). A brief but useful summary of Seeley’s ideas may be found in Armitage 16-22.

6 “Partition was an answer sometimes adopted by Britain as it sought to resolve the dilemmas of decolonisation in circumstances where the populations of the emerging nations were irreconcilably divided” (Holland, Bridge and Brasted 257). Holland et al. seek to elaborate on Mansergh, which remains the more substantial of the two analyses of partition per se. See also Fraser.

7 A near exception is Séguin, who regards 1783 as a “[g]rand schisme anglo-saxon” (67). It may be that it takes a partitionist to know partition when he sees it.

8 For the background to Franklin’s proposal during exploratory contacts, see Harlow 246-49. John Adams, another of the American negotiators, also thought along those lines, although he was prepared to consider a kind of demilitarisation of Canada and Nova Scotia instead. See letter of John Adams to Benjamin Franklin, dated 16 April 1782, in C. F. Adams, Works of John Adams VII: 569-71, at 570.

9 Charles Fox on the second reading of the Quebec bill, 26 May 1774 (Debates 62). In a similar vein, Horace Walpole commented darkly: “What may not be attempted when in one bill Parliament abrogates juries and establishes Popery! James II lost his crown for such enormities; the Prince that wears it to the prejudice of that family is authorised by a free parliament to do what James was expelled for doing “(Hoffman 146). See also Hamilton, “Remarks on the Quebec Bill: Part One” and “Remarks on the Quebec Bill: Part Two,” originally published in the loyalist Rivington’s Gazetteer of New York, June 15th and 22nd, 1775.

10 Public Advertiser of 19 May 1774, quoted in Lawson, “‘The Irishman’s Prize’” 592.

11 My italics.

12 My italics.

13 Edmund Burke in the debate on the boundary clause, 6 June 1774 (Debates 192). See also 196.

14 This is particularly clear in another of Burke’s speeches, on 31 May 1774, during the debates over the Quebec Act: “The learned gentleman observes, that it is a tyranny to place over a whole people a law they do not understand. But, Sir, is it not less a tyranny to place a law over them which they do not understand, than to impose upon them a law which we do not understand ourselves? Does this House know what that law and custom is which they are going to impose upon their fellow subjects?” (Debates 85)

15 Koenigsberger seems to be the only author who describes the secession as a “partition” (151-53).

16 There is, of course, a capital difference in the fact that the parliament at Westminster could still legislate for the outlying portions of he Empire in a manner which it did not purport to do for Scotland before 1707.

17 Benjamin Franklin, in a significantly different context which proves the continuity of policy post-1783, gave the rationale for such compartmentalisation in 1760: “The Romans well understood that policy which teaches the security arising to the chief government from separate states among the governed, when they restored the liberties of the states of Greece (oppressed but united under Macedon) by an edict that every state should live under its own laws. They did not even name a governor. Independence of each other, and separate interests, tho’ amongst a people united by common manners, language, and I may say religion, inferior neither in wisdom, bravery, nor their love of liberty, to the Romans themselves, was all the security the sovereigns wished for their sovereignty” (The Interest of Great Britain 74). He was trying to refute the notion that the growth of the American colonies, once relieved of the French threat in Canada, was bound to prove detrimental to the interests of Britain.

18 Lord Russell himself recognised the fact when he said in 1837 that responsible government amounted to “separate independent powers existing in Great Britain and in every separate Colony” (Coupland, Durham Report xxv).

19 Edmund Burke, of course, did confront the question, and was anxious that imperial rule overseas should not breed in the metropolitan executive a taste for despotic government. Butterfield, however, has in mind the Empire which began to take shape just as the Anglo-American connexion was coming under severe strain, and was later comprised of self-governing white colonies, non-white colonies placed under varying degrees and forms of authoritarian rule, and directly administered dependencies.

20 Such at least seems to be the implication of a remark by the Scotsman James Murray, Captain General and Governor in Chief of the Province of Quebec, from 21 November 1763 until his recall on 1 April 1766, when called upon to justify his disregard for the terms of his commission and his instructions in relation to religion. Murray had been instructed in particular (a) to erect the colonial assembly promised by a royal proclamation of October 1763, which held out the prospect of representative government in Quebec, as well as Nova Scotia, the Floridas, and the newly ceded West Indies—all in the unfulfilled hope of increasing British Protestant settlement—and (b) to accept as members of the future legislature only those who had subscribed to the Act of Supremacy. Murray stalled at excluding the vast majority of the population (estimates of the time ran at 90,000 French Catholics as against some 600 English Protestants) from the benefit of law-making and did not set up the assembly. After his recall, he was content to defend his conduct by saying that “he could not be prevailed upon to persecute his majesty’s Roman catholic subjects in Canada,” though he thus “displeased the little protestant traders, who all—Quakers, Puritans, Anabaptists, Presbyterians, Atheists, Infidels, and even Jews—joined in protesting against any consideration being paid to the poor Canadians” (Kennedy 41).

21 See for instance Petition for House of Assembly, Nov. 24, 1784, in Shortt and Doughty 502-09. In May 1788, Adam Lymburner, “Agent of that section of the population in Canada, French and English, desirous of having a House of Assembly,” delivered a speech in defence of that petition at the bar of the House of Commons (Shortt and Doughty 652, note 2). Calls for the setting up of the assembly went right back to the beginning of civil government in Quebec. See in particular Masères. Attorney-General Francis Masères was a bitterly anti-Catholic French Huguenot. The assembly question fuelled a lively debate over the law of conquest

22 The master mind behind the Constitutional Act, William Grenville, had this to say: “If these two bodies, & Classes of Men [the French and the Loyalists], differing in their prejudices, & perhaps, in their interests, were to be consolidated into one legislative body, dissentions, & animosities might too probably prevail; & the success of either party might, in fact, be injurious to the other. It should seem therefore, that the natural remedy, for this, would be, the separation of the province into two districts, having distinct Legislatures, in which, the separate interests of the old, & new Subjects might preponderate, according to the respective proportion of population, & of wealth. If this were done, it would perhaps enable the Government of this country to gratify the wishes of all descriptions of persons in Canada” (Manning 326-29).

23 For an illustration of whiggish naivety in historians, see for instance W. P. M. Kennedy’s uncritical acceptance of Pitt’s argument in Kennedy 85.

24 To describe the Albany plan as a legislative union may seem confusing, for a confederal union was not a legislative merger on the 1707 model. It is nonetheless how a proposal for a confederal union of the five provinces of British North America in 1824 was described by its proponents. See Seweli and Robinson; and also the objections raised to this plan by James Stuart [one of the foremost advocates of the union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1822, later Attorney-General (1825) and Chief Justice (1838) of Lower Canada, and the chief framer of the Act of Union of 1840] in Doughty and Story 245-52, especially 246.

25 See extract from “Letter from Benjamin Franklyn, Esq; to Governour Shirley, dated, Boston, December 22, 1754,” quoted in Masères, Canadian Freeholder 190-92.

26 This foreshadowed the 1931 Statute of Westminster.

27 The account which follows is based on Upton I: xxviii-xxxix; and Smith to Dorchester, February 5, 1790, in Upton II: 270-76.

28 See John Adams’s letter to William Cushing, dated Philadelphia, 9 June 1776, in C. F. Adams, Works of John Adams IX: 390-92: “All the colonies must confederate together in some band of union. The Congress must declare the colonies free and independent States, and ambassadors must be sent abroad to foreign courts, to solicit their acknowledgment of us, as sovereign States, and to form with them, at least with some of them, commercial treaties of friendship and alliance” (391). See also J. G. A. Pocock, “States, Republics, and Empires,” especially 55-60.

29 In the case of the United States, the only exception seems to be Landsman. Landsman points out that “such Scottish officials as Alexander Spotswood [governor of Virginia], William Keith [governor of Pennsylvania], and James Logan were early proponents of inter-colonial co-operation, while [Cadwallader] Colden [a New York physician from southeastern Scotland], [Archibald] Kennedy, [James] Alexander [“a lawyer from the North-east with a Jacobite past”], William Livingston, and others, ranked with their close ally Franklin among the most vocal advocates of the cause of provincial union after mid-century” (304). On the whole, however, Landsman’s emphasis is on the Anglo-American connection, and on the influence of the integration of post-1707 Scotland in a web of cultural and commercial links on Scots and Scots Irish colonial administrators’ preference for imperial integratioa at the cost of “their marked unpopularity in the colonies.” In the case of Canada, the tendency is usually to focus on the process of confederation in the 1860s as a milestone in nation-building and a departure from the Westminster model of union, of which the union of the two Canadas in 1840 was an example. There is little emphasis on the profoundly British (monarchical) cast of the confederation. One exception is D. E. Smith.

30 See also Lucas II: 307-08.

31 Coupland, while he identified the union and responsible government as the only two ideas of substance in the Report, dismissed the former as Durham’s “only first-rate blunder,” because it went against the principle of nationality at the heart of the Commonwealth of his own day (Durham Report lxi, lxiii). That nationality was code for partition is illustrated by the fact that Coupland had, exactly twenty years previously, also hailed the Quebec Act of 1774 as the “the first step... taken towards the future development of the Empire into a world-wide Commonwealth of many nations” (Quebec Act 6). It should also be clear that the attraction of responsible government to a Whig mind was that it did not do away with colonial partition or with imperial compartmentalisation, but merely reconciled them to the principle of parliamentary government.

32 A mixture of colonial and imperial union also to be found in Masères’s thinking on the question.

33 Seeley is, of course, better known for his celebrated pronouncement that “[w]e seem, as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind” (Expansion of England 10).


Université de Versailles/Saint Quentin en Yvelines

Associate Professor in British Studies and former head of the English Department at the University of Versailles. His research bears on the British Empire and its interplay with political thought in the United Kingdom. He has written from a comparative perspective on Ireland, India, Canada, the Empire and the UK. His latest book is Les Grandes Dates de l'histoire britannique (2003). He is currently finishing a book on union and partition in British constitutional practice

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005

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