1774: The Quebec Act & Other Quebec Curios

Part of “A Colony in Transition, 1763-1791”

1774 dissolution of parliament 1774 dissolution of parliament

In most respects, the Quebec Act (Acte de Québec) was a consolidation of reforms and tolerances pushed by Guy Carleton during his time as Governor of Quebec. The Act would declare religious freedom for the French Canadians, that is, the ability to freely practice Catholicism. It would also endorse the continuation of civil law for civil matters and English common law for criminal matters (sound familiar?). Finally, the Act permitted the continuation of the seigneurial system, a system whose effects would, surprisingly, only die out in the 1970s. The Act also increased the Province of Quebec’s size, extending it down past the Ohio Valley, effectively cutting off the Thirteen Colonies from any hopes of westward expansion.

Most importantly, the Quebec Act introduced one notable reform on the structure of the Province of Quebec’s government: within the Act lay an ability for the French Canadians to enter public service. However, in order to do so, they would have to take an oath of allegiance towards Britain and her King. Absent within this oath was any of the dubious Protestant faith clauses that were present in previous oaths, such as the dubious “serment du test” that effectively prohibited Catholics from taking public office due to its negation of the main tenants of Catholicism. However, the Quebec Act did not include any form of legislative assembly, which would allow the Governor and his Council to continue to deal with the affairs with little to no consultation of the public; a legislative assembly would only come in the 1790s.

With the French Canadians’ rights recognised came, of course, dissatisfaction for parties who were not favoured by the Quebec Act, namely “not-Quebec”, otherwise known as the Thirteen Colonies. For the Americans, the Quebec Act is commonly regarded by most elementary history books as the last straw towards Revolution, though it was hardly the penultimate act on Britain’s part. Tensions had been brewing in the Thirteen Colonies for a while, mostly due to duties and taxes waged upon the colonists due to the heavy debt that Britain had incurred during the Seven Years’ War (thanks to William Pitt, no less). The Boston Tea Party, as erudite American historians know, occurred about a year prior to the Quebec Act, in 1773. The Quebec Act would be another annoyance to the soon-to-be American colonists, though hardly something to sneeze at: revolutionary colonists would have by then stopped listening to Britain altogether. Less than a year later, these colonists would engage in the first military operation that would start off the American Revolution, and the Province of Quebec would also have its part to play.

Celebrate the English language’s wonderfully archaic use of Capital Letters for Important Words and read epic run-on sentences by reading the Quebec Act here.

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