The Quebec Act, 1774

-Viola Zhou

Before the Act--The Royal Proclamation 1763

The Royal Proclamation, 1763 was the document that set out guidelines of territories between "Lands reserved for First Nations" and the British Crown. Although this document recognized the First Nations' right, its responses from both English-speakers and French-speakers were not ideal.

By restricting areas in the west ("Lands reserved for First Nations"), British hoped that their colonists would settle eastward (Quebec) and assimilate the French culture. However, only a small number of colonists moved to Quebec in the years following the Proclamation, and many felt they were being forced to live in a foreign place. Also, it was almost impossible for the British Crown to check the western boundaries of the Proclamation line and their attempt to do so became one of the factors that led to the American Revolution.

For French-speaking populations, even though the Proclamation established the Province Quebec and granted them the first civil government since the conquest, most of them still felt threatened and unprotected--the Proclamation abolished the French civil law, forbidded Roman Catholic Church to hold public offices, and the government was only to be ruled by a governor (appointed by British) and his appointed council (An elected assembly needed to be called as soon as practical). With no longer the protection of their positions in Quebec by the French Laws, many religious elites and seigneurs were not happy with this Proclamation.

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Quebec Act, 1774

Quebec Act, 1774, passed by the British Parliament under Sir Guy Carleton's urging, was a major concession made by the British to the unique status of Quebec in the British Empire.

The purpose of this Act was to:

  • Extend the Province of Quebec (west to Mississippi, north to Hudson's Bay territory, and the island in the mouth of St. Lawrence);
  • Allowed the Roman Catholic Church to hold some public offices, a tithe (tax) will be given to support religious institutions;
  • Allowed the practice of French Civil Law to continue, but kept the British Criminal Law;
  • Denied the right to an elected legislative assembly

Reactions to the Quebec Act

Reaction #1:

The colonists in the Thirteen Colonies were outraged by the Quebec Act. Quickly, this Act was regarded to one of the "Intolerable Acts" objecting its limits to westward territory expansion. They felt like the lands that were signed to the First Nations in the Royal Proclamation belonged to them by rights, and that not only the Quebec Act didn't take their side, it also used this land to expand Quebec. The colonists felt they can't tolerate with the British Crown anymore.

Reaction #2:

The French-speaking population in Quebec was quite satisfied with this Act. Religious institutions were happy with a guaranteed income; and the landholding elites felt more secured that their rights/positions were once again protected by the French civil law.

Reaction #3:

The English settlers in Quebec were pleased with the territory expansion--although they are still demanding for an elected assembly, which could represent them in the government decision-making process.

American Revolution!

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In the Thirteen Colonies, the colonists' dissatisfaction began to grow significantly after the Quebec Act, therefore they united together to stand up against their mother country--British. With the signing of Declaration of Independence in 1774, the American Revolution began.

The American colonists tried to get support from the French-speakers in Quebec, but failed to do so, because although the Quebec Act angered the American colonists, it gained the loyalty of the French population. Due to this reason, most clergies, seigneurs, and upper class in Quebec allied with the British during the War Of Independence. So when the Americans attacked Quebec n 1775, despite the fact of the capture of Montreal, the plan to siege Quebec failed.

The Quebec Act contributed more, perhaps, than any other measure to drive them into rebellion against their sovereign. It led to an ominous step on the road to revolution: the calling of the first Continental Congress.

From Quebec Act to Constitutional Act

During and after the American War Of Independence, lots of people remained loyalty to British--these people were the Empire Loyalists. They immigrated to the province Quebec. With the increase of English-speaking population, more and more anglophones were dissatisfied by the freedom and rights given to the French population. Later in 1791, Sir Guy Carleton was forced to revamp the Quebec Act to the Constitutional Act, which recognized both English and French traditions and culture, and also divided the one big colony into two--Lower Canada and Upper Canada.