What was the Family Compact?

John Robinson

John Beverley Robinson: As a member of the Family Compact, Robinson was a defender of the imperial connection and a social hierarchy headed by a chosen elite. Drawing by George Berthon (courtesy Metro Toronto Library).

Historical definition:

Family Compact, disparaging epithet applied by contemporaries to the small group of officials who dominated the executive and legislative councils, senior bureaucratic positions and the judiciary of UPPER CANADA until the 1830s. The group emerged after John Graves SIMCOE, UC’s first lieutenant-governor, attempted to create a local aristocracy by appointing his Loyalist friends to government posts and granting them land.

The next generation, including John Beverley ROBINSON, was supplemented by Britons, including John STRACHAN, who arrived before 1812 and were drawn into the governing TORY elite. The compact, centred at York [Toronto], was linked by family, patronage and shared political and social beliefs to the professional and mercantile upper middle class. It was sustained by conservative groups throughout the province.

The compact gave vitality to the political ideology that shaped UC: drawing upon Loyalist beliefs, the Tories envisaged the development of a society strengthened by the imperial connection and hostile to the US. It idealized British institutions such as a balanced constitution, a hierarchical society and an established church.

By the 1830s the compact was losing influence. Its exclusiveness provoked opponents to seek to reform the political system, and helped provoke the discontent that led to the REBELLIONS OF 1837. The rebellion was easily crushed, but the victorious Family Compact Tories in the government were soon squeezed out of politics by a new group of moderates who accepted the legitimacy of political opposition and the development of a PARTY SYSTEM.

 — The Canadian Encyclopedia


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