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Lower Canada Rebellion: The Patriots War of 1837-38


This war is also known as the Lower Canada Rebellion that took place in 1837 to 1838. This war resulted from girded conflict and rebellion from rebels in Lower Canada who opposed British colonial rulers in this part of Canada. According to history, this war broke primarily when some members of the rebels who were accused of engaging in illegal activities resisted arrest. After this, a cascade of events followed by these rebels seeking to drive out the British army. However, the incidences of this war have been misreported with different people coming out with different reports and opinions. This paper deals with two reports, one from Allan Greer, and the other one from Andrew Boethius.

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Allan Greer

According to Allan Greer, many people have missed the point in reporting about the Patriot’s War of 1837-38. This is primarily because historians did not like the rebellion in the first place; therefore, they only give sketchy details about the events that took place during this war (Greer, 1995, p. 1). Even though many historians knew what this war meant and why it happened, they chose to give rough accounts on what happened. According to Greer (1995), many historians focused on the ‘distorted’ meaning of rebellion (p. 1). Interestingly, the form of rebellion that was behind the war was very different from what the majority perceived. What is Allan Greer’s argument?

Allan Greer begs to differ with the mainstream historians and reporters on how they account for this war. Allan Greer argues that many historians reported from a reactive point of view rather than a reflective approach. In his view, however, a time has come to have some elemental rethinking about the events of this war. “In my view, we should pause in the search for causes and effects and concentrate first on identifying more clearly the phenomenon that is to be explained. Surely, the ‘what’ question is prior to the ‘why’ question (Greer, 1995, p. 6). This is the author’s stand and view of this war.

According to Greer (1995), the Patriot’s war of 1837-38 involved both Upper Canada and Lower Canada (p. 8). In these two regions of Canada, the need for large farming lands was on the increase as populations became large; therefore, the British’s colonial policies, which restricted natives from farming new lands, caused a lot of anxiety in these two regions. Tensions mounted between towns where the colonial government resided and the rural areas where natives occupied. These tensions advanced conflicts, and fighting ensued in 1837. Greer (1995) posits that, especially in Lower Canada, there were racial divisions with French and American people opposing English immigrants (p. 9). These events fuelled conflict and the resulting fighting that came to be known as the Patriot’s war.

However, Allan Greer samples the events of this war from another perspective. In early 1938, the Lower Canada region was plunged into a political crisis when divisions arose between the appointed and the elected people in the legislature. For instance, a portion of legislature appropriated government spending without the mandate of the Assembly, and this widened the rift because it infracted the precept that ‘no representation, no taxation’ (Buckner, 1985). These events were likely to spark angry reactions; consequently, the colonial office ordered for deployment of more troops in Lower Canada.

Greer (1995) posits that, even though this decree was to affect the lower province, the upper region followed the events closely (p. 13). In the wake of these events, Mackenzie stood out as the leader of the Lower region, while the Upper Canadians, led by Papineau, started movements like ‘French republicanism.’ As the events of rebellion rolled out in Lower Canada, the British Empire moved troops from Upper Canada to the Lower province to quell the insurgents. As civil strife broke out in the District of Montreal and all troops gone to the battle, the Upper province rebels marched to support their Lower province colleagues. However, these rebels dispersed as soon as they gathered, after it became clear that the resistance was futile (Greer, 1995, p. 15).

Nevertheless, after the first round defeat, many people escaped to the United States, a factor that helped to keep the insurgency alive. What ensued was the imposing of Martial Law, which saw the arrest of many Lower Canada insurgents and the dissolution of the Provincial Assembly of Lower Canada (Buckner, 1985).

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Andrew Boethius

According to Bonthius (2003), the Patriot’s War resulted from quest for freedom, fight for land, and sheer hate of British colonial rule (p. 1). Boethius compares the post-events of this war to those of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842.1 However, what is Bonthius argument? According to Bonthius (2003), this war was a military action that involved rebels like Mackenzie and Papineau (p. 7). On December 13, 1837, a united force composed of Americans and Canadians was poised to take action against the British colonial rulers in Canada. From Boethius’s point of view, this was one of the many unsuccessful wars, which Canadians waged war against the British colonial empire. However, this war broke out primarily due to differing opinions about the type of government and economy issues.

“Resistance was possible because US capitalists had not achieved what Marx described as the ‘dull compulsion of economic relations,’ which under advanced relations of capitalist production develops a working class which by education, tradition, habit, looks upon the conditions of that mode of production as self-evident laws of Nature” (Bonthius, 2003, p. 48). This stresses the point of view that Boethius had towards this war. By the mid-1830s, there were divisions and confrontations concerning the best form of governance in Canada. Critiques held the view that the banking sector, supported by the colonial government, created a privileged class, which was against the rule of equal rights and good administration (Bonthius, 2003, p. 49).

Evidence Base

These two authors have diversified sources of evidence to substantiate their arguments. Bonthius depends largely on newspaper reports. Over 60% of his quotations are from newspaper articles. For instance, he quoted The American Democrat, Cleveland Herald, and Gazette, the Cleveland Daily Advertiser and Democratic Standard, among many other newspaper articles. On the other hand, Greer mostly uses peer-reviewed materials to support his arguments. For instance, he quotes “The Yonge Street Rebellion of 1837,” which was a thesis statement for a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto in 1976. He also quotes journals and books.

The Most Convincing Interpretation

Allan Greer offers the most convincing interpretation. He starts by analyzing what the majority of historians have put across concerning this war. He pinpoints weaknesses in the majority of works and then offers his stand. He uses a reflective approach to explain this war as opposed to many historians who take a reactive stand to explain the same. He explores the contingency of events leading to this war as opposed to Boethius, who focuses on one dimension; money matters.

The analysis by Greer is more informative and encompasses different issues that give the reader an insight into what might have happened. In conclusion, he says, “this was a single historical phenomenon, and no phase of it can be fully understood in isolation from the whole” (Greer, 1995, p. 18). On the other hand, Andrew Bonthius adopts one dimension to explain the cause and the events of this war. He gives sketchy information that does not provide the reader with enough information. Actually, he admits, “I have presented only the broad brushstrokes of a hypothesis that needs more fleshing out” (Bonthius, 2003, p. 50).

From this reading, I learned a lot about Canadian history. First, I realized that French and American immigrants mostly occupied Canada and Britain Empire colonized her. It came to my realization that there were many attempted revolts against colonial power, but most of them were futile. I also learned that the famous Patriot’s war came because of different issues as opposed to what many historians like to describe it.


The Patriot’s war of 1837-38 was one of the many anti-colonial rule fights that never succeeded. This war mainly took place in Lower Canada even though Upper Canada tried to help its allies in the war. There are different reasons why this civil strife broke out, including quest for freedom, poor governance, and native-unfriendly policies, among other reasons. Regrettably, the events of this war have been misreported for long, and readers are unlikely to get the right information about the war. Nevertheless, with people like Allan Greer coming to the scene, learners can now access reflective analysis about this war.

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Reference List

Bonthius, A. (2003). The Patriot War of 1837–1838: Locofocoism with a Gun? The Canadian Committee on Labour History, 52(3), 47-50.

Buckner, P. (1985). The Transition to Responsible Government British Policy in British North America. Westport: Conn Greenwood.

Greer, A. (1995). 1837-38: Rebellion Reconsidered. Canadian Historical Review, 75(1), 1-18.

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