Causes and effects of the violent outbreaks in Ireland and lower Canada

Essay, 2007

10 Pages, Grade: A (87,5%)


Causes and Effects of the Violent Outbreaks in Ireland and Lower Canada

Political and social conflicts culminate in rebellions when institutions do not succeed in resolving these conflicts. According to Jean-Paul Bernard,

[w]e speak of rebellion when, above and beyond the daily administration of government affairs, the institutions themselves are challenged; when one side considers revolt and the other repression; and when neither side excludes the possibility of armed confrontation.[1]

British colonial rule did not succeed in resolving the political and social conflicts in Ireland in 1798 and Lower Canada in 1837-38, which led to violent rebellions. Nonetheless, the question arises, why do people resort to using a violent solution to conflicts? To analyze the violent outbreaks of the rebellions in Ireland and Lower Canada, a comparison can be made to the sequence of events in an explosion and fire. A spark only causes an explosion if an explosive mixture already exists.[2] Explosive elements were present in both Ireland and Lower Canada. There are remarkable parallels between the Rebellion of 1798 in Ireland and the Rebellion of 1837-38 in Lower Canada. In particular there are political and socio-cultural factors of these rebellions which led to the violent outbreaks and also created, in turn, nationalism in the populations. The causes of the violent outbreaks are interwoven. This essay will demonstrate how political and socio-cultural factors of British rule in Ireland and Lower Canada caused dissatisfaction in both societies. Political, economic, social, religious, and cultural frustration divided the people. Due to that growing discontent, the Irish in 1798 and the people of Lower Canada in 1837-38 were willing to find common ground in a mass mobilization leading to a violent rebellion. The essay not only focuses on the causes of the violent outbreaks, but also shows their effect, namely the creation of nationalism in Ireland and Lower Canada.

Both the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the Rebellion in Lower Canada of 1837-38 belonged to a global movement in terms of democracy and liberalism which started with the American War of Independence of 1776.[3] The Americans’ successful victory encouraged the Irish and the people of Lower Canada to fight for their aims of republicanism and release from the British government. Another important motivation was the French Revolution of 1789 in which the French population fought for the human rights of freedom, equality, and fraternalism. In the context of the time people’s desire for political change can be judged as appropriate and comprehensible. Kevin Whelan describes the impact in Ireland of the American and French Revolutions as a “window of opportunity”[4], which created an awareness of democratic politics. This vision of democracy can also be found in the case of Lower Canada. The fact that these ideas still dominate the political discourse of the Western world more than two centuries later[5] demonstrates their important values for democratic and liberal values in societies. Moreover, Whelan describes the French Revolution as “a fast-track solution to the problems of the Irish Catholics.”[6] His comparison does not only explain the motivation of the Irish population, but can also be adapted to the people’s attitude in Lower Canada. Both populations were willing to start a violent outbreak to change their political dependence on the British Crown. As a result, one can presume that both societies took the French Revolution and the American War of Independence as role models.[7]

The political systems of Ireland and Lower Canada lacked the achievements established by the American and the French Revolutions. Both countries were colonial territory, British colonies.[8] The Irish Parliament and its structure were dependent on the British. The viceroy in Ireland was a member of the British government that restricted Irish sovereignty in two significant ways: firstly, Lord Lieutenants were responsible to the British instead of the Irish government; secondly, the King’s veto depended on the advice of the British instead of Irish ministers.[9] Similar to the Irish Parliament, the Legislative House of Assembly in Lower Canada, elected by the local population, was not able to control the Crown’s administration and representatives for the following reasons: the British named the Governor, who chose the executive advisors and the members of the Legislative Council.[10] In other words, the British Crown had the last say in the Irish and the Canadian colonies. Consequently, the appearance of political involvement of the people was a farce. Crucial incidents in Ireland and Lower Canada illustrate that Westminster made the final decisions. The implementation of the Russell Resolutions in preference to the ‘Ninety-Two Resolutions’, proposed by the Parti Patriote in Lower Canada, is a striking example. The ‘Ninety-Two Resolutions’ claimed constitutional reform to construct the framework of government more democratically.[11] It was a proposal which aimed at enlarging the people’s political authority. The Russell Resolutions, however, ensured that the Legislative Council did not become an elected body and in fact prevented the possibility of limiting the power of the Executive Council.[12] Ireland also faced a similar situation. The rejection of the ‘Ninety-Two Resolutions’ can be compared to the dismissal of Lord Fitzwilliam in Ireland, who fought for the politically disadvantaged Catholics. Despite their majority in the population, Catholics lacked political authority because of the leading Protestant Ascendancy. Fitzwilliam suggested the removal of several Irish Protestant office-holders to grant the Irish Catholics a part of the patronage.[13] His subsequent dismissal from his position shows that one step in the direction of Irish Catholic rights meant two steps backwards. The Irish Catholics reacted wildly to the sudden end of Fitzwilliam’s Lord Lieutenancy. On that issue, the historian Thomas Bartlett quotes George Knox, a political contemporary, as follows:


[1] Jean-Paul Bernard, The Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 in Lower Canada (Ottawa: The Canadian Historical Association, Historical Booklet No. 55, 1996), 1.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Garth Stevenson, Parallel Paths: The Development of Nationalism in Ireland and Quebec (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 75.

[4] Kevin Whelan, “Reinterpreting the 1798 Rebellion in County Wexford,” in Keogh, Dáire and Nicholas Furlong, eds., The Mighty Wave: The 1798 Rebellion in Wexford (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996), 9.

[5] Garth Stevenson, “Adde””The Politics of Remembrance in Irish and Quebec Nationalism,” Canadian Journal of Political Science Vol. 37 Issue 4 (Dec 2004), 911.

[6] Whelan, “Reinterpreting the 1798 Rebellion in County Wexford,” 13.

[7] Stevenson, Parallel Paths, 75.

[8] Bernard, The Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 in Lower Canada, 13.

[9] Lawrence J. McCaffrey, Ireland from Colony to Nation State (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979), 28.

[10] Bernard, The Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 in Lower Canada, 13.

[11] Allan Greer, The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in Rural Lower Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), 137.

[12] Bernard, The Rebellions of 1837 and 1838 in Lower Canada, 14f.

[13] Stevenson, Parallel Paths, 71.

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Causes and effects of the violent outbreaks in Ireland and lower Canada
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Julia Geigenberger (Author), 2007, Causes and effects of the violent outbreaks in Ireland and lower Canada, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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