Primarily to appease the radicals, PM Lord Melbourne persuaded him to become governor general and high commissioner to British N America with responsibility for preparing a report on the Canadian REBELLIONS OF 1837. On 29 May 1838 Durham landed in LOWER CANADA. His administration was warmly endorsed by the English minority in Lower Canada, the moderate reformers in Upper Canada and the American government, as well as the authorities at home.
But when the British government refused to sanction an illegal ordinance exiling a handful of political prisoners to Bermuda, Durham submitted his letter of resignation 29 Sept 1838 and sailed from Québec 1 Nov 1838 to England where in Jan 1839 he completed his famous Report on the Affairs of British North America. His major recommendation was to reunite the Canadas in order to accelerate the assimilation of the French Canadians, whom he characterized as a people without a history or a culture; the union was brought into effect in 1841. He also recommended a reorganization of the system of colonial government, but the British government refused to accept the principle of RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT (a term for which Durham refused to accept paternity because of its ambiguity) because it was not prepared to accept the inevitability of a form of party government in the colonies.
Although Lord Sydenham and his successors in the United Province of Canada and Lord Falkland in Nova Scotia in practice did accept the necessity of governing through a majority in the assembly, the principle of responsible government was not formally recognized by the British government until 1847, and the first avowedly party governments were admitted to power in 1848, in Nova Scotia by Sir John Harvey and then in Canada by Durham's son-in-law Lord ELGIN.
Recent historiography has tended to be more critical of Durham's behaviour and skeptical of his accomplishments, and he remains a hated figure in French Canada, but he was pre-eminent among the founders of the modern COMMONWEALTH.
Author P. A. BUCKNER
Links to Other Sites
Watch the Heritage Minute about the concept of "responsible government" from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
This overview of the political history of Lower Canada is part of the "Canadian Confederation" website at Library and Archives Canada. Also features historical maps.
The Rebellions of 1837-1838
Learn about the simmering political and social issues that set off the insurrections in Lower and Upper Canada from 1837 to 1838. Features biographies of leading figures, great illustrations, maps and snippets of some of the fiery oratory of the time. Part of the Histori.ca “Peace and Conflict” educational website.
John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham
A biography of John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Queen Victoria's journals
See brief comments about rebellions in Upper Canada in a Tuesday 16th January 1838 entry in a digitized copy of Queen Victoria's journals. Search or browse this site for other references to Canada and political figures involved in Canadian affairs during the reign of Queen Victoria. From the website "Queen Victoria's Journals."