Democratic struggle or national uprising? The Canadian rebellions in British political thought, 1835–1840

Plassart, Anna and Bonin, Hugo (2020). Democratic struggle or national uprising? The Canadian rebellions in British political thought, 1835–1840. Global Intellectual History (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/23801883.2020.1711530

Abstract

This article argues that the role of the 1837–38 Canadian rebellions in early nineteenth-century British political thought has been under-appreciated. It shows that they were the occasion of major reconceptualizations of two important terms that would later become central to the political lexicon of modern Britain: ‘democracy’ and ‘nationality’. From the perspective of the Tories and Whigs who framed the rebellions in terms of ‘nationality’, the Canadian debate required reconfiguring previous uses of the word, in order to argue that some ‘nationalities’ were more worthy of respect than others, and that protecting ‘nationality’ could be compatible with membership of an imperial, multi-national state. Additionally, it also reinforced previous negative uses of ‘democracy’ by critics of the rebellions relying on familiar tropes inherited from the French Revolution. But the debate also showcased the quickly shifting Radical uses of both words. For the Radicals, who framed the Canadian crisis in terms of ‘democracy’, it provided a platform to deploy emerging Tocquevillian understandings of democracy in the North American context and reintroduce the word in British political discourse. Via the Durham report of 1839, it also established more civic-minded Radical redefinitions of ‘nationality’ as a core argument for British imperialist policy.

Viewing alternatives

Metrics

Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions

Export

Recommendations