Following the War of 1812 (1812–15), the rapid influx of English, Irish, and Scottish immigrants caused many French Canadians to fear that their cultural heritage and special political status in Lower Canada (Quebec) would be lost. With the French controlling the legislature and the English controlling the legislative council, it was difficult to reach a political consensus. In Upper Canada (Ontario), farmers and minority religious groups were dissatisfied with the heavy-handed political control of the landowners, merchants, and clergy of the Church of England. Loss of faith in the colonial government led to revolts in Lower Canada (November 1837, November 1838) and Upper Canada (December 1837). Though the colonial militia was able to quickly defeat the insurrectionists, it was clear to British officials that the colonial system of government in Canada needed reform.
In order to facilitate a thorough reform, Lord Durham was given unprecedented powers. He was appointed governor in chief of the Canadas, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, as well as being given the new title of governor-general, which also covered Newfoundland. As high commissioner, he had responsibility “for the adjustment of certain important questions . . . respecting the form and future government” of Lower and Upper Canada. Durham arrived in Quebec at the end of May 1838, spending most of his time in Lower Canada until his departure on November 1. Durham’s report, completed by the end of January 1839, acknowledged a deeply rooted hostility between British and French interests, recommending that the old policy of endeavoring “to preserve a French Canadian nationality in the midst of Anglo-American colonies and states” should be abandoned. As a result, Durham recommended that the two Canadas be combined, giving English speakers (550,000) a clear majority over the French (450,000) and one that would naturally be increased “by the influence of English emigration.” Durham also recommended that provisions be made for other North American colonies to join a Canadian confederation. In the Act of Union (1840), the British government followed Durham’s recommendation to unite the colonies, but they chose not to grant responsible government, fearing loss of colonial control. Although responsible government was not immediately granted, the union led to a united reform movement and an eventual grant of selfgovernment under Durham’s son-in-law, James Bruce, Lord Elgin, in 1848.