Lord Dorchester
Chapter III - The Quebec Act


CARLETON soon after this returned himself to England, but in the meantime we have anticipated somewhat, and must take note of some of the minor incidents and duties that helped to occupy the busy hours of his first four years of office in Canada. His deputy-governorship ended in 1768, when Murray resigned his titular appointment, a detail, however, without significance in our story. The troubles which were seething in the provinces to the south had affected Canada as yet but little. The Stamp Act and all that followed was a trifling matter among the more vital issues which agitated' the Canadians. While the New Englanders were concerned with the rights of man and splitting hairs on constitutional questions, they were smuggling rum into Canada and sorejy interfering with the revenue on wines and spirits which Carleton was anxious to raise, both on account of his meagre budget and for reasons moral and sanitary. The two chief questions, however, which stood out in Canadian politics, after the more pressing ones relating to legal and military matters, were the Church and the western fur trade with all its Indian complications. Everything concerning the former was under consideration pending the settlement of the affairs of the colony, and in Carleton's opinion it required most delicate handling. The Jesuits had been constantly importuning him for the recovery of their property and influence. The bishop and clergy sent a petition to England in favour of retaining their services for the education of youth and for missions among the Indians, for which last duties they had been accustomed, before the conquest, to receive fourteen thousand livres a year from the king of France. The bishop, Briand, was a loyal and quiet living man, and Carleton writes that far from maintaining any undue state and pretention, as certain persons had reported, he had modest quarters at the seminary at Quebec, even feeding at the common table. He had especially repudiated any pomp and ceremony when he came out, contemporaneously with Carleton, professing only to be an ordainer of priests and wearing a plain black gown, to be exchanged in time, however, for the purple robe and the golden cross—the usual insignia of the Roman Episcopate.

The Indian war in Murray's time had materially upset the western trade. The posts had been re-occupied and secured, but Carleton had constant troubles in dealing with the complaints of the Montreal merchants against the way in which the trade permits and rules were interpreted by the officers of the posts. The French-Canadians in the west were always suspected of intriguing against the British power, while the interests of Canada were materially opposed to those of New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, whose traders were in a sense her rivals.. Carleton had applied for leave to return to England on private affairs for a brief period in 1769. The moment, however, not seeming propitious, he had postponed his departure and it was not till August in^ the following year that he left Canada. He went home in six months but there was much to be done in framing the new constitution. His advice was indispensable and he remained four years. His deputy in Canada was the lieutenant-governor Cramahe, the Swiss officer already frequently mentioned who had done good work as a councillor throughout the administrations of both Murray and Carleton. He had been Murray's secretary and was\ most highly thought of by that officer, and as we know had been sent on a mission to London to represent the condition of the province to the British government. He had also been governor of Three Rivers, the small midway centre of administration between Quebec and Montreal.

Shortly before leaving his government Carleton sent home a report on the manufactures of the country. We gather from this that flax was generally ^ cultivated, but was mainly utilized by the people for a coarse linsey-woolsey, woven of wool and thread for the clothing of the men. All caps were imported from England. A coarse earthenware was in use and there were some tanneries producing an indifferent kind of leather; the best leather being imported from the British colonies. The forges at /St. Maurice turned out forty thousand weight of bar iron annually. Edge tools and axes of a serviceable kind for both whites and Indians were manufactured. A small business in pearl-ash and potash with a rum distillery complete the list. Carleton says nothing of the timber which must have been an article of trade, masts for the navy being one item of export.

For the next four years Carleton was watching over the interests of the Canadians, while measures, momentous in their consequences to the latter, were being discussed and prepared. The Canadians at home under the sufficiently able direction of Cramahe were awaiting those ordinances which were to decide their future with a patience arising from their confidence in a speedy settlement. There would be little to say of the colony during Carleton's absence, even were the subject quite relevant to the title of this book, except that it pursued a tolerably >1meventful life, in spite of the chaotic conditions of its legal machinery. The British party presented another petition for a representative assembly and persuaded a few of their French fellow-subjects to confer with them on the subject, but the presence of eight of them at the conference was the limit of their cooperation. They could not persuade, even had they wished, any more of their people to evince an enthusiasm for a parliament chosen from four hundred British-American Protestants. Ninety-one of the latter, only five of them being freeholders, signed the petition, but Cramahé replied that it was^too important a matter for a lieutenant-governor to decide. This seems only to have been expected, and another petition, somewhat more cautiously framed as regards the exclusion of Roman Catholics, was sent to the king with one hundred and fifty-eight signatures, mainly British. The French had decided to forward a petition of their own. This, however, bore only about fifty signatures and related mainly to matters legal and lingual, for it is hardly necessary to reiterate that the French-Canadians had little interest in representative government, though the document advanced a claim for civil and

military employment. It did, indeed, suggest an assembly, but only on condition of a full representation of the French-Canadians. The desire even for this was expressed in lukewarm fashion, either from the lack of political fervour which distinguished the petitioners at that time, or from a feeling that such a concession was hopeless from a British government. But they evinced no such indifference regarding the prospect of a Protestant parliament, for the seigniors were "utterly unwilling to consent to a House of Assembly from which they should be excluded." They prayed for their own laws, hinting at the financial benefit this would be to the government on account of the feudal dues and profits accruing to it under the old custom. They prayed also for the restoration of Labrador to Canada as well as those portions of the West which the country had lost since it became a British province.

Carleton on reaching England found that his own views, formed on long experience, were practically identical with those of the home authorities derived from equity and theory. Yorke and de Grey, attorney-general and solicitor-general some years before, had already pronounced in a long and learned report against "new and unnecessary and arbitrary rules (especially as to the titles of land, mode of descent, alienation and settlement) which would tend to confound and subvert rights, instead of supporting them." Now in 1772 Thurlow the attorney-general, and Wedderburne solicitor-general, argued on the same lines, declaring the French-Canadians entitled by the jus gentium to their property, as they possessed it upon the treaty of peace, together with all its qualities and incidents by tenure or otherwise. Dr. Marriott, the advocate-general, was of the same opinion, and agreed with the others in thinking it inexpedient under the circumstances to call an assembly. Maseres alone was somewhat opposed to Carleton, taking the view that the habitants on the whole were in favour of English law, as it gave them relief from the "insolent and capricious treatment of their superiors" (the seigniors). He thought they would have expressed this opinion freely but from the fear that their religion would be endangered.

Mas&res' strong prejudices as well as his undoubted integrity and abilities have been already noticed. He had the honesty, however, to avow in answer to a query of Lord North's, that he did not think certain points of English procedure would be followed even if they were introduced. Chief-Justice Hey and-de Lotbinidre, a prominent French-Canadian, also rendered assistance with their advice. Four years seems a long period for the consideration, drafting, and passing of the Quebec Act, a measure which Bourinot calls "the charter of the special privileges which the French-Canadians have enjoyed ever since." But it was not till May 17th, 1774, that the Act was introduced into the House of Lords, a procedure which offended some members of the Lower House and gave them an excuse for taking a brief part in the discussion. But few were qualified to share in it, and but a meagre House took the trouble either to listen or to vote. .Carleton was of course greatly in evidence throughout the whole of this protracted business and, when the bill came down to the Commons, was called as the leading witness, together with Chief-Justice Hey, Maseres, de Lotbiniere and Marriott.

The delimitation of Canada was the weakest part of the bill, for it practically followed the old lines of the French claims extending through contentious territory, outraging the geographical susceptibilities, if not the rights, of Virginia and Pennsylvania, and terminating at the Mississippi, while to the northward the Hudson's Bay Company's territory was the far away limit to this immense region. Canada beyond a doubt in matters of constructive legislation should have been limited to the more immediately occupied regions, terminating, let us say, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. The West, virtually untouched as yet but by hunters, traders, and garrisons, should have been retained under temporary administration to await future lines of development. The emigration of the United Empire Loyalists a decade or two later settled this question in a satisfactory but quite unlooked-for fashion. As it was, those who were hostile to the retention by the French of their laws and religion had some reason in objecting to their establishment over millions of fertile acres yet untouched.

The Quebec Act, speaking broadly, gave sanction and definition to existing usages rather than to new ones—full freedom of religion to the Roman Catholics together with recognition of the ancient means of collecting dues for the support of its priesthood from its own community. In all the branches of civil law the Canadian custom was preserved, while the criminal code of England being more merciful and already popular with the French subjects, was confirmed in perpetual use. An assembly was for the present withheld, the administration as before to be continued vested in a governor with executive and legislative council to consist of not less than seventeen nor more than twenty-three members.

This was the drift of the Act. The minor clauses, conventional or precautionary, are of slight moment here. There was a great deal of opposition. The self-interest of a few in England, the religious prejudices of the many, the wrath of the British-American colonies, were stirred to the depths. The debate on the bill continued through the 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th of June. It was carried in committee by eighty-three to forty and on the third reading was carried by fifty-six to twenty. On June 18th, 1774, it was sent back to the Lords and immediately passed, though opposed by Chatham, by twenty to seven votes.

Some of the comments of members and scraps of the evidence of Carleton and his witnesses merit notice. Among the former Mr. Dunning remarked that he would as soon see the country restored to France at once as that arbitrary government should ) be set up at the back of the colonies where people going in would pass from liberty to despotism. The liberty-loving Mr. Dunning, however, would have cheerfully consigned the lives and liberties of nearly one hundred thousand old inhabitants to the dominion of a few hundred somewhat ill-qualified strangers. There was much more logic in his suggestion, however foolishly expressed, that the vast wilderness about to be added to Quebec by a British Act of parliament would be claimed on that account by France should a retrocession of Canada ever become a question of policy or necessity, and still more in his criticism of the wide geographical extension of the Act.

Lord North said that a legislature was withheld from the lack of eligible people. Mr. Townshend desired a government for Canada, not a despotism, a government, that is, by a Protestant faction. This gives to us of the twentieth century another curious instance of the mental attitude of the eighteenth century British Protestant. It is only perhaps when quite fresh from an excursion into the century preceding that it is possible to feel such a measure of sympathy with these people as is unquestionably their due. The error of judging them from a modern standpoint is too elementary a one perhaps to call for mention. The French government had shewn itself to be even less liberal in matters of religion than our own worst-seeming bigots proposed to be. The attorney-general, Thurlow, on the other hand, thought it unjust to compel the French to use English laws of property and inheritance. Sergeant Glyn considered the nation bound to conform to the generous measures of the king's proclamation of 1763. Wedderburne, the solicitor-general, opined that to force English law upon the Canadians would prove a curse. Fox objected to the Lords having taken the initiative in introducing the bill and professed a proper horror of popery. Two or three members wasted what was really valuable time as the session was closing in discussing the arrogance of the House of Lords in this matter, and asked the speaker for his opinion, whereat that official snubbed them with heat and decision. Colonel Barre declared it to be preposterous to suppose that the Canadians would fail to recognize the superiority of good and just (i.e., English) laws. Another member on the behalf of Pennsylvania complained that the limits of the new province cut right through their territory, but he was assured by North that vested interests would be protected.

Messrs. Mackworth and Townshend demanded that the written opinions of the Canadians and British law officials should be produced, and found many supporters. It was answered that at so late a period the delay would be fatal, whereupon Burke remarked that the delay of a year would be a less evil than to pass a bill without proper information. It was urged that the verbal information to be given by Carleton and other witnesses would be desultory compared to these opinions. Two witnesses from Canada were examined on behalf of the London merchants who affirmed that Canadians as well as English were anxious for English law and trial by jury. Carleton then gave evidence to the effect that Canadians were willing enough for English criminal law, but in other respects objected to a code of which they were ignorant, embodied in a language they did not understand. They were ready enough for the latter when it happened to favour their particular case. As regards an assembly, the French said Carleton, felt little interest in it, while" the Protestants were neither numerous enough nor sufficiently eligible. A characteristic incident occurred during the governor's examination when North asked him if he knew aught of a certain Le Brun. "Yes!" said the downright proconsul, "I know him very well. He was a blackguard at Paris and sent as a lawyer to Canada, where he gained an exceedingly bad character in many respects, was taken up and imprisoned for an assault on a young girl eight or nine years old, was fined twenty pounds, but not being able to pay it he was—"

Townshend here interfered and Carleton was asked to withdraw the statement. Then Lord North explained that Le Brun was sent over to represent Canadians in favour of an assembly and English laws, and that it was necessary to know what sort of a man he was. Carleton had probably said enough. Hey differed somewhat from his chief, and thought a blending of the French and English civil code was the best method. Massres spoke in somewhat the same strain. The habitants objected to juries on the score of expense which could easily be arranged by a small compensation. Any alteration in the laws of inheritance or land would be offensive to them. They could not, however, object to the habeas corpus, while as regards the assembly they had but dim ideas of what it meant. De Lotbiniere said that if their land laws remained untouched he thought they would be contented enough with the remainder of the English code. He had never heard the assembly much discussed but thought they would be satisfied if the noblesse were admitted. Marriott, the advocate-general, though his written opinions were clear enough, proved such a sphinx under examination that Colonel Barr£ declared: "There's no hitting this gentleman."

The corporation of London now appealed to the king to withhold his signature from the bill, professing themselves greatly alarmed for the safety of their Protestant fellow-subjects in the province. That "wonderful effort of human wisdom," trial by jury, not being provided for (in civil-cases), they urged that the bill was a breach of the promises made to the British settlers when invited into the province and not in harmony with the promises of His Majesty's declaration of 1763. They deny that any laws or statutes can be ordained for the said province other than those in use in England. King George is reminded of his coronation oath to maintain the Protestant religion, and that his family was called to the throne for that purpose to the exclusion of the Stuart line, that the Roman Catholic^ religion is known to be idolatrous and bloody, and that the said bill was brought in late in the session when most of the members had retired into the country. It does not seem to have occurred to any of these people that the reconstruction of a community alien in blood and spirit and of ancient origin could not be achieved after the fashion of another Georgia or Virginia, and that no such conditions as now faced the rulers of Canada had been contemplated by those who held these precepts for British people.

"In considering this bill it must be remembered that two things had to be taken into account: the troubled state of the American colonies which made the attachment of the French indispensable, and the probability that the country would remain homogeneously French. To judge of this question by English standards is idle. There is a type of mind so wedded to popular shibboleths that it gives but grudging assent to the success of Carleton and to the Quebec Act in saving Canada. The English settlers, mainly traders, had a bad reputatation, and increased slowly, while the French were prolific. The forecast was justified in providing for the attachment of a French province, rather than for a possible inrush of British immigration that before the war did not seem a likely eventuality.

As for the British colonies, the attitude of the recently summoned congress towards the new Act is always one of the most entertaining incidents in American history; for in formulating their grievances against the Crown, the liberal treatment of the French in leaving them their religion had been a. burning indictment against king and Commons, and floods of indignation were poured out against the Catholic Church. A famous document declared that the new Act gave legality to a religion which had flooded England with blood, and had spread hypocrisy, murder, persecution, and revolt into all parts of the world. This address was circulated throughout the American colonies as a useful stimulant to resistance, and the injury was coupled in Philadelphia with that of the closing of the port of Boston. The reader would not be human who could regard without a smile the endearing address of congress in the autumn of 1774 to the French-Canadians, in which its members recall their joy in 1763, when the King of England granted the Canadians all the rights of Englishmen, in addition to the privileges of their "bloodthirsty, idolatrous, and hypocritical creed," as formerly designated.

The Quebec Act and its indulgences to popish slaves was even now being used as a stick for King George's back in New England, New York, and Philadelphia, by the same men who were shedding documentary tears of a crocodile nature for the woes of the French-Canadians. The latter were treated to lengthy disquisition, indicating under various heads the ideals without which they could neither be free nor happy. The tenure of land in Canada was a monstrous anachronism, so the Canadians were told, in complete oblivion of the fact that this was a concession from, not an imposition by, "this infamous and tyrannical ministry." They were loaded with sympathy for this criminal withholding of juries, and the misery of existence without them; though this very deprivation was a concession to their own prejudices. They were told in elaborate and bombastic periods (what they ought to do, and what they ought to want, in order to become good Englishmen, and whether they were or not they ought to be profoundly miserable, and that their brethren of the other provinces (who had never before in history had a good word for them), were grievously moved at their degradation. Without an assembly, (of Protestants, of course), they would be slaves. There was no guarantee that even the inquisition might not be set up among them! The addressers knew the liberal spirit of the French-Canadians too well to imagine that religious matters would prejudice them against a hearty amity with themselves. From cajolery the address then proceeded to threats, reminding them of their insignificance, and asked them to choose whether they would be regarded as friends by the rest of the continent or as "inveterate enemies."

This address was translated into French, and circulated among the Canadians, a process made easy by the number of English in Montreal and Quebec who sympathized with the Americans, of whom many were already in the province as political propagandists. The Canadians in short were invited to choose delegates to meet the rest at Philadelphia. The peasantry might be bamboozled with all this, and to a great extent were, but the clergy not so. They had not forgotten the hard words used about them in 1763, and they were aware of the insults heaped on their religion within the last few weeks.

Above all they had every reason to be grateful to the British government, and as many reasons to dislike and distrust the British colonists. The seigniors had almost-as-good cause to reject these unblushing overtures, and did so to a man, as we shall see. That immortal composition, "Will you walk into my parlour said the spider to the fly," was written for another political occasion, and at another period, but had it been included in the education of the more instructed French-Canadians of that day, it would, no doubt, have leaped to the lips of all of them and been much in vogue.


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