Primogeniture, Military Service, the Established Church and the Franchise

August 10, 2002: Primogeniture, Military Service, the Established Church and the Franchise In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the English class system was perpetrated (in Ireland and in Upper Canada) via four main instruments: 1. Primogeniture which is the practise of having land and property passed on only to the eldest son or male heir at the time of death, i.e. land could not be sub-divided among family members. During the time of the Penal Laws in Ireland, Irish Catholics could only pass land along to the next generation if the landholder converted to the Anglican church. A bill was introduced in the Assembly of Canada West in 1845 which would have provided for the bypassiing of the law of primogeniture in cases of intestate (no will) estates. Sir John A. MacDonald spoke in the house: "The great majority of the people were against this measure as anti-British and anti-monarchical; it ought not to be introduced here for the very reason that it had been introduced in the United States; and it was folly to raise a monarchical structure upon a republican foundation. Primogeniture was an essential basis of the constitution; it was a vital principle of political economy. The measure which is before the House is calculated to make that which was a comfortable farmhouse in one generation, a cottage in the second and a hovel in the third; and under it, agriculture, instead of becoming a science, would be degraded, as it was in Ireland and France, to a mere means of life." (1) While the practise of primogeniture was of great advantage to the eldest sons (winner take all), it imposed serious limitations on younger sons - they were forced to scramble to make a living in the real world. Their best bet was to join the military service... 2. The method of organizing the English military system Officer positions in the British military were purchased, not earned by merit. This was advantageous for families with "old money" - wealth which had been amassed through several generations of promogeniture and who could afford to purchase commissions for their sons. It's interesting to note that George Thew Burke, the commanding officer of the 99th Regiment of Foot (disbanded at Richmond in 1818) had descended from a strong Irish Catholic family in County Tipperary. In order to advance in the military, he converted to Protestantism. In his old age he became Catholic again and is buried in the cemetery at St. Phillip's. Even in the 1828 Carleton County Militia returns, there are only two Catholics holding rank above that of private: Garrett Fitzgerald was an Ensign and James Fallon was Quartermaster. 3. The "establishment" of the Anglican Church An attempt was made in Upper Canada to recognize the Anglican Church as the "established" church. Early on there was a close connection between the government and members of the Family Compact, i.e. no separation of church and state. All minor civil service positions (magistrates, sheriffs, fence-viewers, etc. were political/religious appointments. One seventh of all lands in Upper Canada were allocated to the Anglican church -- the so-called Clergy Reserves. The Reform movement, led by William Lyon Mackenzie, and supported vociferously by the Methodist and Presbyterian churches (who wanted a share of the Clergy Reserves) led to responsible government and the abolishment of the clergy reserves. 4. The Franchise Only property owners were allowed to vote. This effectively dis-enfranchised Irish Catholics (notably the large numbers of canal labourers) women and native Canadians in the early days. All four of the above were used to strengthen and continue the class system in England and also in the Upper Canada, including in the Ottawa area. Land was allocated to the early settlers at Richmond (members of the 99th and 100th Regiments of Foot) proportional to the rank of the soldiers. The higher the rank, the more land was allocated (free) and the soldiers were pensioned off at half-pay. This was a tremendous advantage in a new settlement - free land and a secure salary for life, coupled with the possibility of a local government position, and the private sector employment perks enforced by the Orange Order. Source: (1) Sir John A. MacDonald, the Young Politician, by Donald Creighton, Macmillan Company of Canada, 1952
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