When petitions shape the political agenda: The abolition of seigneurial tenure in French Canada (1849–1854)

By Daniel Carpenter

Petitions are often criticized for being ineffective in the real policy arena. However, the political history of North American democratization shows us that petitioners can make a difference and shape the political agenda. In the 1840s and 1850s, Lower Canadians (now Quebecers) debated the issue of seigneurial tenure and the mechanisms for replacing it with allodial tenure (either through immediate abolition, commutation, or more gradual reform). After decades of debate, Lower Canada had failed to reform seigneurial tenure. But from 1849, reformers petitioned massively, with requests increasingly written in French and making increasingly radical demands. The political agenda changed, and Lower Canada abolished seigneurial tenure in 1854.

  • Lower Canada
  • nineteenth century
  • neo-feudal system
  • petition
  • seigneurial tenure
  • anti-seigneurial complaint
  • political agenda
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