Report on the Affairs of British North America

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The Report on the Affairs of British North America,[1] commonly known as the Durham Report, or Lord Durham's Report is an important document in the history of Quebec, Ontario, Canada and the British Empire.

The notable British Whig politician John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham, was sent to the Canadas in 1838 to investigate and report on the causes of the rebellions of 1837–38. Durham arrived in Quebec City on 29 May.[2] He had just been appointed Governor General and given special powers as high commissioner of British North America.

On the first page of his report he stated that "While the present state of things is allowed to last, the actual inhabitants of these Provinces have no security for person or property--no enjoyment of what they possess--no stimulus to industry."[1] He would return to that theme repeatedly throughout his report.


In Upper and Lower Canada, he formed numerous committees consisting of essentially all the opponents of the Patriotes and made many personal observations of life in the colonies. He also visited the United States. Durham wrote that he had assumed he would find that the rebellions were based on liberalism and economics, but he eventually concluded that the real problem was the conflict between the traditionalistic French and the modernizing English elements. According to Durham, the French culture in Canada had changed little in 200 years, and showed no sign of the progress British culture had made. His 1838 report contains the famous assessment that Lower Canada consisted of "two nations warring within the bosom of a single state".


Durham recommended that Upper and Lower Canada be united into one province, with equal representation even though the English Upper Canada had a smaller population. He also encouraged immigration to Canada from Britain, to overwhelm the existing numbers of French Canadians with the hope of assimilating them into British culture.[3] The freedoms granted to the French Canadians under the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774 should also be rescinded; according to Lord Durham this would eliminate the possibility of future rebellions. The French Canadians did not necessarily have to give up their religion and language entirely, but their culture could not be allowed to hinder the progress of British culture.

The proposed merger would also benefit Upper Canada as the construction of canals led to a considerable debt load; while access to the former Lower Canada fiscal surplus would allow that debt to be erased. He also recommended responsible government, in which the governor general would be a figurehead and the legislative assembly would hold a great deal of power. In the responsible government, the legislative assembly would be elected by the people. The party with majority would hold power and as long as they held support, they would keep power. However, this recommendation was not accepted in London and the Province of Canada would not get responsible government for another decade. The Report did not reshape British policy, but it opened years of debate inside Canada.


In exile in France, Louis-Joseph Papineau published the Histoire de la résistance du Canada au gouvernement anglais (History of the resistance of Canada to the English government) in the French La Revue du Progrès in May 1839. In June, it appeared in Canada in Ludger Duvernay's La Revue canadienne as Histoire de l'insurrection du Canada en réfutation du Rapport de Lord Durham (History of the insurrection of Canada in refutation of the Report of Lord Durham). Lord Durham believed to eliminate the possibility of rebellions, they must overwhelm the French Canadians with British culture.

The assertion that the so-called "French" Canadians had no history and no culture and that the conflict was primarily that of two ethnic groups evidently outraged Papineau. It was pointed out that many of the Patriote leaders were of British or British Canadian origin, including among others Wolfred Nelson, hero of the Battle of Saint-Denis; Robert Nelson, author of the Declaration of Independence of Lower Canada, who would have become President of Lower Canada had the second insurrection succeeded; journalist Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan; and Thomas Storrow Brown, general during the Battle of St-Charles. It was also pointed out that an uprising had occurred in Upper Canada where there was only one "race". According to Papineau and other Patriotes, the analysis of the economic situation of French Canadians was biased. Indeed, from 1791 to the rebellions, the elected representatives of Lower Canada had been demanding the control over the budget of the colony.

Impact outside Canada[edit]

The general conclusions of the report (Report on the Affairs of British North America) that pertained to self-governance were enacted[when?] in Australia and New Zealand and other mostly ethnically British colonies. The parallel nature of government organisation in Australia and Canada to this day is an ongoing proof of the long-enduring effects of the report's recommendations.

The report[who?] did not see any of its recommendations come into force in the African and Asian colonies, but some limited democratic reforms in India became possible that otherwise would not have been.[citation needed]


Durham resigned on 9 October 1838 amid controversy excited in London by his decision of the penal questions[4] and was soon replaced by Charles Poulett Thomson, 1st Baron Sydenham, who was responsible for implementing the Union of the Canadas. The report of Durham was laid before Parliament in London on 11 February 1839.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Durham, 1839: "Report on the Affairs of British North America", bound with several appendices that do not appear on this particular link
  2. ^ Canadian Encyclopedia article on Durham
  3. ^ David Mills. "Durham Report". Historica Foundation of Canada. Archived from the original on 30 March 2006. Retrieved 18 May 2006.
  4. ^ a b Lambton, John George, 1st Earl of Durham, in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, University of Toronto, Université Laval, 2000

Further reading[edit]

  • Bradshaw, Frederick (1903). Self-Government in Canada, and How it was Achieved: The Story of Lord Durham's Report, London: P.S.King, 414 p. (online)
  • Brown, George W. "The Durham Report and the Upper Canadian Scene." Canadian Historical Review 20#2 (1939): 136-160.
  • Cameron, David R. "Lord Durham Then and Now." Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'Études Canadiennes 25.1 (1990): 5+
  • Henderson, Jarett. "Banishment to Bermuda: Gender, Race, Empire, Independence and the Struggle to Abolish Irresponsible Government in Lower Canada." Histoire sociale/Social history 46#92 (2013): 321-348. online
  • Mills, David. Durham Report, in The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historical Foundation, 2008
  • Martin, Ged (1972). The Durham Report and British policy: A Critical Essay, Cambridge University Press, 120 p. (ISBN 0521085306) (preview)
  • Smith, William. "The Reception of the Durham Report in Canada." Report of the Annual Meeting. Vol. 7. No. 1. The Canadian Historical Association/La Société historique du Canada, 1928. online

Primary sources[edit]

  • Lucas, Charles Prestwood (1912). Lord Durham's report on the affairs of British North America, Oxford: Clarendon Press (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3)
  • Lambton, John George, Charles Buller, Edward Gibbon Wakefield. The Report and Despatches of the Earl of Durham, Her Majesty's High Commissioner and Governor-General of British North America, London: Ridgways, Piccadilly, 1839, 423 p. (online)
  • Papineau, Louis-Joseph. "Histoire de la résistance du Canada au gouvernement anglais", in La Revue du Progrès, Paris. May 1839 (online in French, online in English)