Quebec Studies

British Imperial Policy and the Québécois in the Nineteenth Century

Quebec Studies (1983), 1, (1), 17–42.


British Imperial Policy and the Qukbkois in the Nineteenth Century Richard M.Porterfield In the early 1530's Jacques Cartier arrived on the Atlantic shores of North America. Ascending the St. Lawrence to the villages of Stadacona and :-Iochelaga, he conceived the idea of a French colony of settlement. By 1612 the concept had become reality. Samuel de Champlain was made the first Governor. However, the French presence in North America grew very slowly. By 1754 there were approximately 80 thousand Frenchmen in North America. In contrast, the British North American colonies had a population of roughly 2 million. In 1759, by battlefield decision, 75,000 of these Frenchmen became British subjects. ' The political decision to retain Nouvelle France was made public in London by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Assimilation was assumed to be the most obvious and desirable course. New France was replaced with Quebec, a colony based on English laws and institutions. Legal uniformity combined with grants of land to discharged British soldiers would eventually achieve the absorption of the French by the English colonists. However, as early as 1765 Sir Guy Carleton was reminding his superiors in London that the Quebec authoritarian structure was a firm anchor. The continuing French threat combined with rebellious behavior in the American colonies necessitated the reconciliation of French Canadians to the British Empire.2 The French Canadian was not to be so easily assimilated. So long as France remained a threat to the maritime commercial hegemony of Great Britain, theories of assimilation had to give way to the expediencies of power conflict. Unreconciled French Canadians invited intervention. Ironically, the first intervention was by rebellious English colonists. The American rebels failed

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Author details

Porterfield, Richard