Quebec Studies

Landownership and Access to Political Power in Lower Canada, 1791-1838

Quebec Studies (1988), 7, (1), 87–97.

Abstract

Québec Studies, N o 7 , 1 9 8 8 LANDOWNERSHIP AND ACCESS TO POLITICAL POWER IN LOWER CANADA, 1791-1838 by Gerald Bernier In general, one might say that Lower Canadian historiography suffers the severe lack of a sociological perspective in studying the evolution of its institutional framework prior to 1867, as well as those social actors called upon to fill the available positions within it. Our knowledge of the socio-economic background of Lower Canada's political personnel prior to Confederation is very limited. Yet the nature and working processes of political institutions and their political personnel can become a major focal point for the observation and understanding of profound changes taking place in a given society. 1 This study concerns the Executive and Legislative Councils and the Judiciary during the period between 1791 (enactment of a new Constitu­ tional Act) and 1838 (suspension of the existing Constitution in the aftermath of the 1837 and 1838 Rebellions and the creation of a Special Council that assumed the governance of Lower Canada until the Union Act took effect in 1841). A Society in Transition As we have shown elsewhere, this particular interval is part of a longer period in which the transition from a precapitalist economy to the capitalist mode of production is taking place (Bernier and Salée 163-94). On the political front, one should expect to find an institutional framework and recruitment of political personnel reflecting this precapitalist eco­ nomic order: the presence of non-democratic political institutions and, more precisely, a set of institutions and an exercise of State power at least antecedent to bourgeois liberal democracy, if not more closely akin to those of Absolutism as known within the Western European context. With regard to social actors exercising political power, landed property would be expected to be an essential component of their socio-economic background. 2

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Bernier, Gérald