One of the first attacks of the War of 1812 occurred in present-day Ontario, in a place named Sandwich (out of all possible names to name a town). However, the Americans, at war with Britain, decided to attack Upper Canada’s mainly francophone neighbours in Lower Canada as well. However, far from being the easy conquering that they thought of, the Americans found that Lower Canada was a difficult colony to beat.
Starting in November 1812, Major General Henry Dearborn’s invasion of Lower Canada was almost doomed from the start. Dearborn, sixty-one at the time, had some health issues that delayed the expedition by a week. When they started, their path was blocked by numerous fallen trees in their war path. A coincidence, maybe, but an impediment nonetheless. As the Americans trekked forward towards Montreal, one question must have been on the British administrators’ minds: Would the French Canadians accept to ally with the British or would they rather join the Americans?
The French Canadians had been ill-treated by the Lieutenant Governor, James Craig, whose wish to give power out to the Protestant English people of Lower Canada alienated many of the French Canadians and minorities; Craig also had a hand in expelling Ezekiel Hart from the Legislative Assembly. However, Craig died in January of 1812, and he was hastily replaced by somebody that could make it back to Lower Canada in the speediest manner possible. This somebody, George Prevost, originally from Nova Scotia, was more sympathetic to the French Canadians and gave the Catholic bishop of Lower Canada, Joseph-Octave Plessis, a raise in salary and prestige, and helped the bishop gain more clergy from the masses that had fled France during the French Revolution.
Turns out, Prevost’s gamble worked and in turn, the French Canadians became somewhat uneasy allies with the British in defence of their homeland. One of the reasons why Lower Canada was difficult to conquer was in fact a French Canadian defence force. It turns out that the adage of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” in this case: with the British, the French Canadians had the guarantee of the Catholic Church, their laws, and their language, though tensions still brewed with their English occupiers since the Conquest. In contrast, the Americans were openly hostile to Catholics who dared to remain within the United States after the Revolution (not that Revolution), who wanted them to become Protestant and English and assimilate into the country. At least this time, English and French would unite to defeat a common enemy, though internally things might not have gone on as well as it seemed, both politically and socially. Ironically, the call for assimilation of the French Canadians by the English would be called for not even thirty years later.