The Bank of the People, 1835-1840: Law and Money in Upper Canada

58 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2023

See all articles by Dan Rohde

Dan Rohde

Harvard University, Harvard Law School

Date Written: February 24, 2023


Recent global financial crises have resurrected debates over money and its provision, not only in economics but in law and history. This presents an opportunity to revisit past moments when money and banks were viscerally political and considered central to our legal order. This paper looks at one such moment: the conflict between Upper Canada’s Conservatives and Reformers leading to rebellion in 1837. While little mentioned in the literature, the legal architecture of money and banks played a central role in the Reform movement. The British had previously flooded the colony with publicly issued notes to fund the war of 1812. By the 1830s, this government monetary issue was fully redeemed and replaced with notes issued by the colony’s first three chartered banks. The reformers saw those banks as public agents, playing a public role, but without democratic accountability. After several failed attempts to reform that system, they turned to establishing their own institution, named the Bank of the People. In doing so, they saw themselves not as merely engaging in private commerce, but as directly contesting this fundamental public provision. This article provides a legal-political history of that early contest over Canadian money and sovereignty, and explores the way in which Upper Canada’s Reformers put forth a critique of bank-issued money that remains relevant today.

Keywords: Money, Banks, Monetary Sovereignty, Monetary System, Upper Canada, Legal History, Legal History of Capitalism, Canadian Legal History, Financial Institutions

Suggested Citation

Rohde, Dan, The Bank of the People, 1835-1840: Law and Money in Upper Canada (February 24, 2023). Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper No. 4369752, Available at SSRN:

Dan Rohde (Contact Author)

Harvard University, Harvard Law School

United States

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