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Constitutional Act of 1791
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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 support of the Protestant clergy. In practice income from the rent or sale of these reserves, which consituted one-seventh of the territory of Upper and Lower Canada, went exclusively to the Church of England and, from 1824 on, the Church of Scotland. These reserves created many difficulties in later years, making economic development difficult and creating resentment against the Anglican church, the Family Compact, and the Chateau Clique.

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.

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