Constitutional Act of 1791
The Constitutional Act of 1791
was a British
law which changed the government of the province of Quebec
to accommodate the many English-speaking settlers, known as the United Empire Loyalists
, who had arrived from the United States
following the American Revolution
. Quebec was divided in two. The western half became Upper Canada
(now southern Ontario
) and the eastern half Lower Canada
(now southern Quebec). Upper Canada received English law and institutions, while Lower Canada retained French law and institutions, including seigneurial
land tenure, and the privileges accorded to the Roman Catholic
church. Representative governments were established in both colonies with the creation of a legislative assembly; Quebec had not previously had representative government. Along with each assembly there was also an appointed upper house, the Legislative Council, created for wealthy landowners; within the Legislative Council was the Executive Council, acting as a cabinet for the governor.
The Constitutional Act also tried to create an established church by creating clergy reserves – grants of land reserved for the Anglican Church. These reserves created many difficulties in later years.
The act was problematic for both English speakers and French speakers; the French Canadians felt they might be overshadowed by English settlement and increased rights for Protestants, while the new English-speaking settlers felt the French Canadians still had too much power. However, both groups preferred the act and the institutions it created to the Quebec Act which it replaced.