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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XVI.—British Rule—To 1774


Beneficial Effects of the Conquest—State of the Country—Military Government—1760. The Peace of Paris transfers most of the French Colonial Possessions to Great Britain — Conspiracy of Pontiac—Siege of Detroit—Massacres in the West—Law Reforms-Seigniorial Land Tenure obnoxious to the British—1763. The Quebec Act extends the Boundaries of Canada to the Mississippi, and secures Civil and Religious Immunities to the French—1774.

The conquest of Canada by the British was the most fortunate event in its history. It supplanted the institutions of the middle ages by those of modern civilization. It gave local self-government for abject submission to a foreign power and a corrupt court. It gave the protection of Habeas Corpus and trial by jury instead of the tribunals of feudalism. For ignorance and repression it gave free schools and a free press. It removed the arbitrary shackles from trade, and abolished its unjust monopolies. It enfranchised the serfs of the soil, and restricted the excessive power of the seigniors. It gave an immeasurably ampler liberty to the people, and a loftier impulse to progress, than was ever before known. It banished the greedy cormorants who grew rich by the official plunder of the poor. The waste and ruin of a prolonged and cruel war were succeeded by the reign of peace and prosperity; and the pinchings of famine by the rejoicings of abundance. The one hundred and fifty-seven years of French occupancy had been one long struggle against fearful odds—first with the ferocious savages, then with the combined power of the British colonies and the" mother country. The genius of French Canada was a strange blending of the military and religious spirit. Even commerce wore the sword, and a missionary enthusiasm quickened the zeal of her early explorers. The reign of peaceful industry was now to succeed that of martial prowess, and was to win victories no less renowned than those of war.

As, a provisional measure, a military government was organized in Canada. The free exercise of their religion was accorded to the people, and their more pressing necessities were generously relieved. The militia were sent to their homes, and the regular soldiers, three thousand in number, were conveyed to France. A considerable exodus of the noblesse, officials, and merchants also took place. Financially, the colony was bankrupt. Bigot's paper currency, which had flooded the country, was worthless, and great commercial depression ensued. M. de Vaudreuil, the late Governor, together with Bigot and other members of the " Grand Company," 011 their return to „ France were thrown into the Bastile, for alleged malfeasance of office. The Governor was honorably acquitted. After fifty-six years faithful service of the crown, he returned to his native country poor, having sacrificed his private fortune for the public weal. The crimes of the Intendant were more than proven. He and his fellow-cormorants were compelled to disgorge their ill-gotten plunder, to the amount of nearly twelve million francs, and were exiled from France forever.

In October, 1760, George III. became King. The very eminence of Pitt made him obnoxious to the crown and nobles. The Great Commoner resigned office, and was offered the government of Canada, but the not very tempting offer was declined. Still, the impulse of Pitt's policy enabled England, Prussia, and little Portugal to withstand the combined power of Europe. The awful ravages of the Seven Years War had desolated a large part of the Continent, had slain a million of men, accumulated a mountain of debt, and produced a heritage of international hate and domestic grief, when the Peace of Paris again gave rest to the war-wearied world, 1763. France surrendered to Great Britain the whole of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Canada, and the Great West, as far as the valleys of the Wabash and the Illinois, and several West India islands and her East India possessions; and Spain gave up Florida and all her territory east of the Mississippi. "Never," exclaimed the exultant King, "did any nation in Europe sign such a peace before." Yet there were not wanting prophets to foretell that these great colonies would not always remain subject to the little island beyond the sea.

Soon after the cession of Canada, the red cross of St. George supplanted the lilied flag of France on the wooden redoubts of Presqu' Isle, De Boeuf, Venango, Detroit, Miamis, Mackinaw, and other forts in the west. But a widespread dissatisfaction soon prevailed in the forest wigwams. This was fanned to a flame by-the arts and eloquence of Pontiac, a noted chief, who sought to exterminate the English and restore the supremacy of his race. He laid a deep conspiracy for the simultaneous rising of all the tribes on the shores of the upper lakes and in the Ohio valley. For fifteen months the savages beleaguered the fort at Detroit— an unexampled siege in Indian warfare—defeating successive forces sent to its relief. To obtain food for his warriors, Pontiac, in imitation of European finance, issued promissory notes, drawn upon birch bark and signed with his own totem, an otter; all of which, on their maturing, were faithfully redeemed.

The other forts throughout the west, with scarce an exception, were reduced by stratagem, by assault, of by siege, and the frontier was ravaged with fire and scalping knife. Strong expeditions under General Bradstreet and Colonel Bouquet defeated the savages, rescued several hundreds of prisoners from their cruel captors, and restored them amid scenes of touching pathos and rejoicing to their anxious friends.

After the peace of Paris, Canada was formally annexed to the British possessions by royal proclamation. British subjects were invited to settle in the province of Quebec by the promise of the protection of British laws, and of the establishment, as soon as the circumstances of the country would admit, of representative institutions. Liberal land grants were also made to military settlers. A civil government, consisting of Governor and Council, was formed, and courts were established for the administration of justice in accordance with the laws of England. The printing press — that palladium of free institutions — was first introduced into Canada in 1764, and on the 21st of June, the-first number of the Quebec Gazette, which is still published, made its appearance.

The ''new subjects," as the French were called, soon found themselves placed at a disadvantage as compared with the British settlers, or "old subjects." The latter, although as regards numbers an insignificant minority—less than five hundred in all, chiefly half-pay officers, disbanded soldiers, and merchants—assumed all the prerogatives of a dominant race, engrossing the public offices to the exclusion of the sons of the soil. The terms of the proclamation were interpreted, like the law of England for sixty-five years later, as excluding Roman Catholics from all offices in the gift of the state. The French were willing to take the oath of allegiance to King George, but even for the sake of public employment would not forswear their religion.

The British privilege of trial by jury, that safeguard of popular liberty, was little appreciated, accompanied as it was by increased expense and by the inconvenience of being conducted in an unknown language. The- simple habitants preferred the direct decision of the judge in accordance with their ancient customs.

General Murray, by his conciliatory and equitable treatment of the conquered race, evoked the jealousy and complaint of the English place-hunters, many of whom were thoroughly mercenary and corrupt. His policy was approved, however, by the Home Government, and was adopted by his successor in office, Sir Guy Carleton. As to legal matters, in criminal cases trial by jury and English arms were observed; in civil cases—those affecting property and inheritance—the old French laws and procedures were allowed to prevail. The English settlers, however, objected strenuously to several features of the land laws. The feudal tenure, by which, on every transfer of real estate, one-twelfth of the purchase money must be paid to the seignior within whose seigniory the land lay, was especially obnoxious. This was a heavy tax on all improvements, buildings and the like; and greatly discouraged the growth of towns, and drainage of land or other modes of increasing its value. The French also opposed the registration of deeds, either from ignorant apathy or 011 account of the, as they conceived, needless expense. Consequently British land purchasers or mortgagees sometimes found themselves defrauded by previous mortgages, to which the French law permitted a sworn secrecy. Notwithstanding these and other anomalies, the country entered on a career of prosperity, and began to increase in population, agricultural and commercial.

At length, after long delay, in 1774, as a definite settlement of the government of the colony, the Quebec Act was passed by the British Parliament. It extended the bounds of the province from Labrador to the Mississippi, from the Ohio to the watershed of Hudson's Bay. It established the right of the French to the observance of the Roman Catholic religion, without civil disability, and confirmed the tithes to the clergy, exempting, however, Protestants from their payment. It restored the French civil code, and established the English administration of law in criminal cases. Supreme authority was vested in the Governor and Council, the latter being nominated by the crown, and consisting, for the most part, of persons of British birth.

The English-speaking minority felt that their rights were sacrificed. They were denied the promised elective Assembly, deprived of the protection of the Habeas Corpus Act, and, in certain cases, of trial by jury, and were subjected to the civil code of a foreign country. Fox, Burke, Chatham and Townshend -protested against the injustice in the Imperial Parliament, as did also the merchants and Common Council of London. But the Act was received with delight by the French population, and continued for seventeen years the rule of government.


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