The Quebec Act (2)

Well, it’s been a little more than a week since my last post dealing with the Quebec Act. So, if you need a refresher regarding the subject, you can check out the first blog post here.

Today I’ll tell you what the Protestant British decided to do with the largely Catholic Province of Quebec. After it was discovered that most settlers in the Thirteen Colonies had no desire to move up North (as the British parliament hoped would happen when they wrote the Proclamation of 1763) the British decided to draft a policy of toleration to the Catholics: The Quebec Act (1774). The Quebec Act was quite remarkable in the amount of freedom and rights it gave the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, such rights would not be given the Roman Catholic Church in the mother country until the 19th Century. Noll writes:

This legislation gave up the pretense of anglicization [inherent in the Proclamation of 1763] and formally bestowed a number of rights and privileges on the Catholic Church. It was given clear title to its hereditary land, it was granted the right to tithe its members, and French civil law was recognized as the legal procedure of the colony (though at the same time English criminal law was instituted). Most remarkably, Catholic citizens received full civil rights – fifty-five years before their fellow religionists in Britain received a similar dispensation.[1]

The toleration that was granted to Catholics in the Quebec Act was viewed with great suspicion, anger, and hostility by the majority of the Thirteen Colonies. It was quickly declared one of the Intolerable Acts. Americans seethed with anger at this declaration. Joseph Reed (a lawyer and delegate to the Continental Congress) wrote to Dartmouth saying:

The idea of bringing down the Canadians and savages upon the English Colonies is so inconsistent not only with mercy but justice and humanity of the Mother Country, that I cannot allow myself to think that your lordship would promote the Quebec Bill, or give it your suffrage with such intentions. Should it unhappily be applied in this way, it will wound the feelings of every man in this country so sensibly that I doubt whether any future accommodations or length of time would obliterate it.[2]

Now it may surprise some to find out that one of the main men behind this legislation was an ardent Protestant and Evangelical (a close friend of George Whitefield). His name was Lord Dartmouth and he was Secretary of State to the Colonies in the years just prior to the American Revolution.

In writing up the Quebec Act, Lord Dartmouth had no intention of causing troubles in the American Colonies. It was not his intent for it to be deemed an “Intolerable Act.” It was his steadfast desire to secure the peace, happiness, and loyalty of the French people. In a sense, the Quebec Act was a question of money. It costs money to protect and defend a worldwide empire. England was already suffering from the costs of its previous war with France. Thus, it made much more sense (from a financial perspective) for England to secure the loyalty of the French people rather than having to station additional garrisons in Quebec to prevent riots and rebellion. This seems to be the primary reason that Dartmouth (as a firm Protestant) supported the Quebec Act. His duties as a politician demanded that he secure the loyalty of the French Catholic people, though it went against his religious convictions.

The Quebec Act is fundamental in coming to a proper understanding of Canadian religious culture. It is because of the Quebec Act that Canada is multicultural. The French Catholics were granted the freedom of religion and culture in the Quebec Act. French Catholics and English Protestants were called to live side by side in relative peace – or not, as will be seen in the next post on Charles Chiniquy.  

Footnotes:

[1] Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, 123-124.

[2] Quoted in Historical Manuscripts Commission: Report XI, Appendix, Part V. (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1887), 363.