Analyze three key events (e.g. conflicts, policy/legislation, reform movements) in the changing political and economic landscape in British North America from 1818 to the 1860s. How was "responsible government" achieved? Was it "top-down" or "bottom-up"?

Three key events/trends in the changing political and economic landscape of British North America which helped lead to responsible government were increased immigration from Ireland and the Scottish highlands, the rebellions of 1837 and 1838, and the global trend in British imperial policy towards local autonomy as a way of ensuring more efficient and compliant forms of colonial administration.

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One of the most important developments in British North America between the War of 1812 and the British North America Act of 1867, which created Canada as a modern country, was increased immigration, particularly of "undesirable" or "surplus" elements of Britain's own population. This was not a new dynamic in...

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One of the most important developments in British North America between the War of 1812 and the British North America Act of 1867, which created Canada as a modern country, was increased immigration, particularly of "undesirable" or "surplus" elements of Britain's own population. This was not a new dynamic in British imperialism. Convicts and debtors had played a major role in settling Australia and the Thirteen Colonies before that. The industrial revolution created both massive inequalities of wealth and a large population of landless, unemployed people, who would have posed a significant challenge to British society had they remained at home. Britain had long made a habit of exporting these people to the colonies, and as the center of Britain's North American empire shifted after US independence, many of these people ended up in what is now Canada. Two significant sources of immigrants were Ireland (which hemorrhaged emigrants during the Great Famine of 1845-49) and the Gaelic highlands in Scotland, which throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century were being cleared of local people in the latest round of the enclosure movement.

Increased settlement by immigrants from the mother country had two major consequences: increasing marginalization of the existing population of French settlers in "lower Canada" (now Québec) and increasing desire for autonomy among the new English settlers, many of them inspired by the republican ideals of the American revolution. Both of these forces reached their high point in the rebellions of 1837 and 1838. However, neither of these rebellions managed to make a significant dent in British dominance in the region and both were put down relatively quickly. It was the British imperial reaction to these rebellions "from above" that created the impetus for responsible government as much as, if not more than, the power of social movements "from below."

Lord Durham's report, published in January 1839, less than a year after the rebellions were put down, argued for responsible government as a way to quell the possibility of future revolts. Because of this, it could be argued that responsible government was a concession won through armed rebellion. However, responsible government was not awarded to the newly created Province of Canada until 1848 and it was far from conciliatory, particularly in its efforts to assimilate French Canadians into a larger British society and politic. The award of Responsible Government has to be viewed, moreover, as part of a global trend in British imperial policy. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, British colonial administrations in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa sought to gradually create parliamentary systems parallel to the one at Westminster, not only to provide representation to local settlers but also for ease of government administration since communication between local governors and Westminster itself was often very slow. Moreover, responsible government arose at around the same time as Great Britain was solidifying its colonial policy of "indirect rule" in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where local leaders were recruited to govern on behalf of the British Empire rather than being replaced by a bulky, inefficient global bureaucracy like the one established by the French.

In other words, while responsible government was one recommendation of Lord Durham's report and a direct response to the rebellions of 1837 and 1838, it was also representative of the direction that British colonial policy, on the whole, was headed anyway. So long as local leaders administered economic policy in ways that were favorable to the Empire and allowed the British military to enforce order, local autonomy, in various forms, whether through Maharajahs in India, "fleas in the queen's blanket" in South Africa, or responsible government in British North America, could be good for Empire.

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