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Towards Confederation

Key Terms

The Constitutional Act, 1791

The Constitutional Act of 1791 repealed parts of the Quebec Act of 1774 and stipulated new provisions for the government of the colony. In this way London set up a constitutional government after 16 years of legislative government.

There were many reasons for this change: a considerable increase in the population, the immigration of American Loyalists, the repudiation of the Custom of Paris, the development of trade, calls from English-speaking Canadians for a House of Assembly, indecision and confusion in applying judicial laws, and increased pressure from the Opposition in the House of Commons.

The Act divided the colony -- the Province of Quebec -- into two new provinces: Upper Canada and Lower Canada. A governor general and members of the legislatives councils of both provinces were appointed by the British Crown. A House of Assembly was established for each province, the members of which were elected by the people. The result was representative but not responsible government. In Lower Canada, French civil laws were maintained, but both provinces were governed by the English criminal code.