On August 24, 1791, the British Parliament passed the Constitutional Act. It divided Canada into two provinces, Upper and Lower Canada, each having its own lieutenant-governor and legislature. This system was kept in effect until the Act of Union in 1840.
Britain has been criticized for not taking the opportunity to unite all the British North American colonies, as they were in 1867. Confederation was suggested as early as 1794 by Colonel Robert Morse of the Royal Engineers, whose letter on the subject is in the National Archives. He predicted “a great country may yet be raised up in North America.” Confederation was also urged by a New York Loyalist, William Smith, who later became Chief Justice of Quebec, and Jonathan Sewell, another Chief Justice of the same province.
William Pitt, who sponsored the Canada Act, and other British statesmen who supported it, thought that the Confederation suggestions were ahead of their time. They felt it would be better if Confederation was worked out by Canadians themselves than by Britain.
This Act was made necessary by the great influx of United Empire Loyalists after the American Revolutionary War. The new English-speaking settlers did not want to live under French law, despotic governors, or the Roman Catholic Church. In order to help the Protestants, the act provided that every eighth acre of land should be set aside to give revenue for the clergy. These were called “the clergy reserves.” When Pitt was asked what he meant by the “Protestant clergy, ” he replied that it was the clergy of the Church of England. This caused great problems later because many of the new settlers were Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and Congregationalists.
Actually, Pitt wanted to make Canada like Britain, with a hereditary nobility. He said there was “something in the habits, customs and manners of Canada that peculiarly fitted it for the reception of hereditary honours.” Some of the governors had similar ideas.
“And whereas His Majesty has been pleased to signify, by his message to both Houses of Parliament, his Royal intention to divide his Province of Quebec into two separate Provinces, to be called the Province of Upper Canada and the Province of Lower Canada; Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that there shall be within each of the said Provinces respectively a Legislative Council and an Assembly, to be severally composed and constituted in the manner hereinafter described; and that in each of the said Provinces respectively, His Majesty, His Heirs, and Successors, shall have power during the continuance of this Act, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Assembly of such Provinces respectively, to make laws for the peace, welfare and good Government thereof, such laws not being repugnant to this Act; and that all such laws being passed by the Legislative Council and Assembly of either of the said Provinces respectively, and assented to by His Majesty, His Heirs or Successors, or assented to in His Majesty’s name by such person as His Majesty, His Heirs or Successors, shall from to time appoint to be the Governor or Lieutenant-Governor of such Province, or by such person as His Majesty, His Heirs or Successors, shall from time to time appoint to administer the Government within the same, shall be, and the same are hereby declared to be, by virtue of and under this Act, valid and binding, to all intents and purposes whatever, within the Province in which the same shall have been so passed.” – Section II, The Constitutional Act.