Quebec Act of 1774: A Complete Account of the Event

Quebec Act 1774

The Quebec Act was agreed upon in 1774 by the British House of Commons and put into action in 1775. It was passed to give the French-speaking population freedom from British rule and access to property and worship rights in North America. The act was passed alongside several other French independence attempts from British legislation, such as the Tea Act of 1773 and the Coercive Acts of 1774.

The Quebec Act is also known to be one of the American Revolutionary War (1775-83). There were serious tensions in the thirteen American colonies. However, suppressing French-Canadians could lead to a revolt or uprising against their treatment by the British legislation.

With the removal of the ban and control on religious activities, the Act allowed the French to practice Roman Catholicism. The Quebec Act also provided for several other policy reforms that suited the French-speaking population of the province. Many provisions of the Act did not sit well with American colonists. ­

The Quebec Act facilitated America’s fight for independence from British rule. However, several provisions of the Act proved beneficial for Quebec’s inhabitants under British rule. The Quebec Act was later followed by the Constitutional Act of 1791 that made major amendments to the Act to satisfy the needs of those colonies.

History of the Quebec Act of 1774

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763 as an end to the Seven-Year War in North America. France surrendered a major part of its North American territory to Great Britain. These regions came under Britain’s American empire. The image below depicts the division of regions and colonies according to the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

Royal Proclamation 1763

Royal Proclamation of 1763

French-speaking colonies under Britain/s America were forced to follow English customs, laws, and regulations. This was done as an attempt to allow English speakers to settle in those areas in large numbers. The Royal Proclamation allowed for the settlement of the English and economic dominance in the form of the fur trade in those regions.

The Treaty of Paris allowed for Catholics in Canada to worship freely, giving them equal rights as the Protestants. The Americans saw this as a threat to their largely Protestant population, with religious sentiments adding to resentment in American colonies. The image below represents the province of Quebec before it was expanded in 1775.

Quebec Act

History of Ontario – Wikipedia

However, after The Proclamation was passed, the French colonies retained dominance. Settlement of English natives was comparatively lower than expected. Thus, a need for the British legislation had to devise other methods to keep North American colonies in check.

The Quebec Act was passed eleven years after The Royal Proclamation. To regain the loyalty of the North American colonies. French customs were recognized and allowed in practice, as Quebec was now seen as a province with a unique culture and distinguished features.

With new recognition, the Quebec province was also enlarged. Regions of Southern Ontario, parts of the thirteen American colonies, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, and other areas were now under Quebec. English-speaking populace and Europeans were banned from settling in the territory of Quebec.

Impacts of the Quebec Act – Who Did it Benefit?

  • The Quebec Act Allowed for French Canadians to Freely Practice Roman Catholicism.

The French got the right to have a strong say in the colony’s affairs and freedom to claim authority. Previously banned, the Quebec Act allowed the entry of Jesuit priests into the province. The Act supposedly gave the locals extensive power to participate in government activities without abandoning their religious faiths.

The American colonies feared the involvement and meddling of British legislation in their own religious policies. Quebec province was viewed as dominant, with Britain in support of Catholics. In particular, this policy instilled fear in American colonists, as the majority of the Americans who practiced Christianity were Protestants. This population felt endangered by the Act.

  • French Civil Law Was restored Under the Quebec Act.

Roman Catholic Church now had the right to collect tithes. This was essentially considered as a ‘legal power’ with the Roman Catholic Church being given the status of a State Church. The colonists were against this idea as it opposed the basic principles of British legislation. This freedom went against their religious tolerance. The English Law enjoyed retainment and was followed in criminal law matters, public law, and freedom of testation.

  • Quebec Was Given Complete Monopoly on Trade.

The province was granted direct trade concessions with the natives, decreasing trade expenses by a large amount. Unlike the Quebec province, the Thirteen Colonies had to trade through commissioners or intermediaries. Trading directly was strictly prohibited. This stopped them from trading commodities at a higher value. Quebec maintained good relations with the natives in this aspect.

Trade was another important aspect that enraged American colonials, as it was unfair to them. The Act did not prove any advantage to the Thirteen Colonies in terms of economic benefit and was seen as a lopsided Act. There was also a fear that the French-speaking colonies would alone progress in trade, especially fur, which was the main local good, leaving the other colonies under British rule behind. Assistance was required for American colonies to follow their own trade policies and succeed economically, without political barriers.

  • The Province of Quebec Was Enlarged Under the Quebec Act.

States of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Southern Ontario, and Minnesota were now under Quebec. The total area under this British Empire increased three-fold than of only French-speaking colonies. Expansion of Quebec’s province came as a major advantage to the British colonists, as they could prove more authority in additional regions.

American colonies were against this move as it meant a decrease in land American colonies could acquire. It also restricted American expansion to a large extent. Americans feared the British would use a similar way of boundary regulation on the American colonies and added to their dissatisfaction with the Quebec Act.

  • The Quebec Act Redefined the Structure of the Government.

Under the new system, the governor was appointed by the Crown and had to govern with a legislative council’s help. No elected assembly represented the Canadian population. British authorities could not impose taxes on inhabitants of Quebec. All ordinances passed from 1764 to 1775 were revoked by the Quebec Act. American colonies mainly feared similar implementation of such policies and reforms in their own colonies. The Americans did not want to be underrepresented or ignored under British legislation. This reform’s execution terrified the Thirteen American Colonies, making them oppose the Quebec Act even more.

It is an official system of land distribution that was introduced in 1627. Under this system, each family was granted a piece of land under the Royalty. It was based on the feudal system and involved tenants. The land was especially granted to colonists who provided tenancies. Re-establishing this system was beneficial only to the officials, as the French inhabitants were reluctant to pay taxes under the system.

American colonies were completely against the idea of adopting the seigneurial system of land distribution. It violated their personal rights. They saw this reform as a threat to their freedom. All the dissatisfactory reforms were built upon the collective feeling of threat and violation of trust and loyalty by the British legislation.

Quebec Act

Quebec Act – Wikipedia

Apart from American colonists who did not seem to benefit from the Act, the Quebec Act was a barrier to British colonials. The Quebec Act stopped the province of Quebec from becoming a complete English colony, which was the main purpose of acquiring the territory.  Expansion of the province was the only major advantage to British colonials after passing the Quebec Act, as it allowed for more new colonies under the British rule.

While most of the Quebec Act reforms did not directly impact the American colonies, it was the fear of similar implementation of policies that were seen as a threat to them. The Americans did not want to fall under the British legislation if they had to give up their autonomy and customs, like Quebec’s province had to go through. Strong resentment towards the Quebec Act led to severe opposition in various forms.

Where Did the Quebec Act Go Wrong? – The Thirteen Colonies

The British saw the Quebec Act as a way to retain the loyalty of North American and French inhabitants, unlike the American colonies, who felt that the Act was a direct attack and would prove dangerous for them shortly. This resentment by the Thirteen Colonies led to the American Revolutionary Way from 1775 to 1783. The Quebec Act was deemed as an ‘Intolerable Act’ by the American colonies.

Quebec Act - Intolerable Acts

Intolerable Acts – Wikipedia

American colonists shared a hostile relationship with British colonists. This could be seen through the Townsend Acts implemented in 1767. Under the Acts were a series of taxes enforced on imports from Britain colonies into America. Common imports included lead, tea, paper, paint, and glass.

The Townsend Acts were resisted by boycotting goods from Britain, protests, and objection of English goods in public that ultimately led to the Boston Massacre. Strong opposition from American colonies led the British to nullify most of the acts passed in the 1770s. The Tea Act remained. Revoking these acts calmed the Americans and made them feel more respected as subjects of the British rule. The British did not try to take over their economic and legal autonomy or rights.

However, the Quebec Act was passed in favor of French-speakers and Catholics, completely disregarding the interests of the Protestants, who were the majority in the Thirteen American Colonies. This irked the American colonies as the Act was unfavorable to them in many ways. Tensions started growing in these colonies with insecurities regarding their autonomy. This broke the bond between American colonists and the British monarch.

To gain the trust and loyalty of the masses in the province of Quebec and North America, the British legislation failed to satisfy the needs of the Thirteen Colonies. They felt betrayed and played on by the authority under the British rule. Despite attempts to revoke the ‘Intolerable Act,’ the legislation was firm on continuing it.

The Thirteen American Colonies’ main impact caused by the Quebec Act was the distrust of loyal American colonies under British rule and the acceleration of the American Revolution. Though unable to invade colonies under Quebec’s province, the Americans pushed the British military out of Boston. France later entered the War as an ally of the American colonies. The Thirteen Colonies successfully defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War, after which the United States of America was established as a constitutional liberal democracy.

Constitutional Act of 1791 – Substitute for the Quebec Act

The Quebec Act was followed by the Constitutional Act of 1791. After the Act was passed, the province of Quebec was divided into two regions concerning their position along the St. Lawrence River – Upper Canada in the west (now Southern Ontario) and Lower Canada in the east (now Southern Quebec). Upper Canada continued to follow English laws and regulations, while Lower Canada followed French civil law and privileges by the Roman Catholic Church.

Both the provinces eventually had to form their own legislative assemblies representative of their citizens. Although several were displeased by the Constitutional Act of 1791, the majority found it better than the Quebec Act of 1774. The Act also facilitated a feeling of French-Canadian nationalism among the French-speaking community of Quebec and Canada.

A series of Acts and reforms followed post the Quebec Act and Constitutional Act of 1791, ending with the Canada Act and Constitution Act of 1982 that marked Canada’s final constitutional setup and its regions. British rule was eliminated, making way for Canada to become a separate country on its own.

The Quebec Act surely is one of the most important events in Canada’s history that shaped its legislation to a large extent. The Roman Catholic Church is a major tourist attraction in Quebec and other structures that bring into light British rule in Quebec and surrounding areas. A beautiful place to be at, the Quebec Act played an important role in shaping the history of Canada and French-speaking inhabitants in and around Quebec.

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