Place Published: London
Publisher: Charles Eyre and Andrew Strahan
Date Published: 1791
Edition: 1st Edition
Binding: No binding
ENGLISH "UPPER CANADA" & FRENCH "LOWER CANADA" CREATED
First edition. 1791. Folio (11-1/2 inches). General title leaf imprint from series t.p., pages -1296. Woodcut Royal coat of arms, headpiece ornament, and decorative initial. Text in black letter. Neatly extracted from a bound volume and expertly mended. Very good. TPL 629
The bill was introduced in the House of Commons by William Pitt in March of 1791. The act was passed by the British Parliament on June 10, 1791, and was to take effect on December 26, 1791. This was a first step towards Canadian Confederation.
The Constitutional Act also called Canada Act, reformed the government of the Province of Quebec from what had been outlined by the Quebec Act in 1774 to accommodate the influx of 10,000+ English-speaking Empire Loyalists that had fled the United States after the American Revolution to settle and develop the country west of the Ottawa River. These new settlers weren't happy living under French law and the Roman Catholic church. They wanted to hold their lands outright, not as part of the seigneurial system and they wanted privileges for their Protestant churches similar to those granted to Roman Catholics. Also they were used to having democratic institutions like an elected Assembly to give them a say in how they were governed.
The ACT divided Quebec into two provinces: the predominantly English-speaking western region of Upper Canada and the eastern French-speaking region of Lower Canada. Representative governments were established for each province through the creation of Legislative Assemblies. Each Assembly consisted of a Legislative Council (equivalent to an Upper House, or Senate, consisting of wealthy landowners, appointed by the King for life) and an elected Assembly (equivalent to a Lower House, or House of Commons). Government was overseen by a Governor General, who acted with the advice and consent of the Executive Council (a subset of the Legislative Council). Upper Canada also had a Lieutenant Governor and adopted English common law. Lower Canada retained French civil law (including seigneurial land tenure) and the right to practice the Roman Catholic religion. Both provinces were subject to English criminal law.
The Act was also notable for a voting franchise vastly ahead of its time that included women who were naturalized persons 21 years of age, had not been convicted of a serious criminal offence, and who owned property. The voting privilege was applicable most particularly to Lower Canada, where women were able to own property as a result of the prevailing French civil law system, which permitted the transfer of property from husband to wife.