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d. 21 Oct. 1917 in Camiers, France


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The Integration of the Province of Quebec into the British Empire, 1763—91 (cont.)

After numerous changes and transformations the Quebec Bill was introduced in the House of Commons late in May. The determination shown by the ministry in having it voted by parliament before the end of the session leaves no doubt as to the manifest desire to end a long gestation period. The moment chosen, as already noted, was no simple coincidence. The pressure of events was real. “The inducement to adopt that plan of lenity and indulgence was greatly heightened by a consideration of the avowed purpose of the old colonies to oppose the execution of the laws of England, and to deny the authority of the supreme legislature,” William Knox asserted a few months after the Quebec Act received royal assent. In this he was recognizing the influence of the revolutionary crisis, which in large measure determined the act’s exceptional and temporary nature. It is important to remember that this famous charter of Canadian civil and religious rights had been conceived as “essentially a temporary bill,” in the words of Solicitor General Wedderburn to the House of Commons.

There are highly divergent interpretations of the Quebec Act in historical works. Under the influence of contemporary denunciations certain historians have detected in it the instrument of dark, Machiavellian designs to raise an army of Catholic militia for a crusade against the Boston rebels; in contrast, others have never ceased praising it, viewing it, with William Kingsford*, as “a legal monument of British justice and generosity.” There is as much danger of falsifying reality in blackening it as in glorifying it. It is not necessary to regard this legislation as the “great charter of French liberties” to recognize in it a degree of liberality in the context of its period. What must above all be kept in mind, in the light of the variety of arguments used by those who most favoured generous concessions to the conquered people, was their shared objective of maintaining the authority of the British crown over the colony. Any liberality towards the new subjects was intended to reinforce, not weaken, control by London. From this perspective it does not seem paradoxical that the minds reputedly the most conservative were the most liberal towards the Canadians.


The attached bibliography is deliberately selective, containing only the archival and secondary works, studies, and articles most frequently used in the preparation of Part I of this essay; Part II: “ From the Quebec Act to the constitution of 1791” will appear in volume V and will list additional material.

Printed primary sources to be consulted include Docs. relating to constitutional history, 1759–91 (Shortt and Doughty; 1918), its essential counterpart Reports on the laws of Quebec, 1767–1770, ed. W. P. M. Kennedy and Gustave Lanctot (Ottawa, 1931), and NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), particularly volumes VII and VIII which contain a great deal of documentary material on the imperial policy from 1754 to 1774. Volumes IV and V of G.B., Privy Council, Acts of the P.C., col., which cover the years 1745–83, and The parliamentary history of England from the earliest period to the year 1803, ed. William Cobbett and John Wright (36v., London, 1806–20) also proved essential. In the latter series, volumes XV, XVI, and XVII contain the parliamentary debates on imperial legislation relating to the North American colonies from 1763 to 1774. For the Quebec Bill itself, a useful source is the documentary material, based on Sir Henry Cavendish’s notes in the house, published by Wright: G.B., Parl., Debates of the House of Commons in the year 1774, on the bill for making more effectual provision for the government of the province of Quebec  (London, 1839; repr. [East Ardsley, Eng., and New York], 1966).

Because of the importance of King George III’s political role during the critical revolutionary period, the reader should consult his correspondence with his ministers in The correspondence of King George the Third from 1760 to December 1783 …, ed. J. [W.] Fortescue (6v., London, 1928). For the problems resulting from putting the Royal Proclamation into effect, see Correspondence of General Thomas Gage (Carter), and for the Department of Northern Indians, see Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.).

The ordinances of the civil government of Quebec from 1764 to 1791 were published in PAC Report, 1913, app.E, and 1917, app.C. For the ordinances and proclamations of the military régime, see PAC Report, 1918, app.B.

Of the numerous contemporary works, Thomas Pownall, The administration of the colonies (London, 1764) and Sir Francis Bernard, Select letters on the trade and the government of America; and the principles of law and polity applied to the American colonies (London, 1774), proved useful for the views of colonial officials. The pamphlets of William Knox, the undersecretary of state for the American Colonies, should also be mentioned: The controversy between Great Britain and her colonies reviewed &c (London, 1769), The justice and policy of the late act of parliament for making more effectual provision for the government of the province of Quebec … (London, 1774), and Thoughts on the act for making more effectual provision for the government of the province of Quebec (London, 1774). Two works by Francis Maseres, the attorney general, are also invaluable, both for personal observations and as an excellent documentary source: An account of the proceedings of the British, and other Protestant inhabitants, of the province of Quebeck, in North-America, in order to obtain an house of assembly in that province (London, 1775); Additional papers concerning the province of Quebeck: being an appendix to the book entitled, “An account of the proceedings of the British and other Protestant inhabitants of the province of Quebeck in North America, [in] order to obtain a house of assembly in that province” (London, 1776).

Of the general histories of Canada covering the period, the following are essential because of their divergent treatments of political, social, and economic aspects: Brunet, Les Canadiens après la Conquête; Burt, Old prov. of Que.; D. G. Creighton, The commercial empire of the St. Lawrence, 1760–1850 (Toronto, 1937); Neatby, Quebec; and Ouellet, Hist. économique.

For the military régime and the establishment of civil government, Lionel Groulx, Lendemains de Conquête (Québec, [1920]) remains valuable. M. Trudel’s thoroughly documented study, Le Régime militaire, sheds light on the organization and operation of the military régime in the Government of Trois-Rivières; unfortunately there is no comparable source for Montreal and Quebec. S. M. Scott, “Civil and military authority in Canada, 1764–1766,” CHR, IX (1928), 117–36, is essential for understanding the sensitive problem of jurisdictional conflicts between the civil and the military authorities during Murray’s term of office.

V. T. Harlow’s impressive work, The founding of the second British empire, 1763–1793 (2v., London and New York, 1964), is of fundamental importance for placing in global perspective the evolution and transformation of the British empire during the second half of the 18th century. However, as Ronald Hyam has noted in his excellent critical review in Hist. Journal (London), X (1967), 113–24, one cannot subscribe to all of the author’s views.

C. W. Alvord, The Mississippi valley in British politics: a study of the trade, land speculation, and experiments in imperialism culminating in the American revolution (2v., Cleveland, Ohio, 1917; repr. New York, 1959) cleared the way for fruitful exploration of the diverse aspects of the problem of the west, from the Royal Proclamation to the Quebec Act. J. M. Sosin developed a new synthesis of this enormous subject in Whitehall and the wilderness: the middle west in British colonial policy, 1760–1775 (Lincoln, Nebr., 1961). The reader should also consult Harlow’s analysis (I, chap.V) since in the light of his insights one can more sensitively interpret R. A. Humphrey’s article “Lord Shelburne and the Proclamation of 1763,” English Hist. Rev. (London and New York), XLIX (1934), 241–64.

Peckham’s Pontiac is the principal study on Pontiac’s uprising and the Indian question, but for a thorough understanding of the deteriorating relations between the whites and the Indians under the impact of the western expansion of American settlement W. E. Washburn, The Indian in America (New York, 1975) and W. R. Jacobs, Dispossessing the American Indian (n.p., [1971]) should be consulted. The circumstances surrounding the first partition of Indian reserves for the benefit of Americans are carefully analysed by Peter Marshall in “Sir William Johnson and the treaty of Fort Stanwix, 1768,” Journal of American Studies, I (1967), 149–79.

For the fur trade and commercial activity in the west, Innis’ classic, Fur trade in Canada, is still valuable. P. C. Phillips, The fur trade (2v., Norman, Okla., 1961) gives a general North American survey (I, chaps.26–30). M. G. Lawson, Fur: a study in English mercantilism, 1700–1775 (Toronto, 1943) clarifies the role and importance of the fur trade in the colonial economy of North America. W. S. Dunn, “Western commerce, 1760–1774” (unpublished phd thesis, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1971) sheds light on the interests and rivalries at stake as a result of the Royal Proclamation.

For the British régime in the northwest, see N. V. Russell, The British régime in Michigan and the old northwest, 1760–1796 (Northfield, Minn., 1939), a study which is still useful although somewhat outdated. J. M. Sosin, “The French settlements in British policy for the North American interior, 1760–1774,” CHR, XXXIX (1958), 185–208, deals with the French posts at Vincennes and in Upper Louisiana.

I. R. Christie, Crisis of empire: Great Britain and the American colonies, 1754–1783 (London, 1966) gives a brief introduction to imperial policy and the American revolution. By contrast, Merrill Jensen, The founding of a nation; a history of the American revolution, 1763–1776 (New York and Toronto, 1968) presents a solid synthesis. For a deeper understanding of the policies of the imperial government and the thinking of British leaders with regard to the empire, see: Richard Kœbner, Empire (Cambridge, Eng., 1961); Bernhard Knollenberg, Origin of the American revolution, 1759–1766 (New York, 1960); Bernard Donoughue, British politics and the American revolution: the path to war, 1773–75 (London and New York, 1964); and R. W. Van Alstyne, Empire and independence, the international history of the American revolution (New York, 1965).

E. N. Williams, The eighteenth-century constitution, 1688–1815; documents and commentary (Cambridge, 1960) contains well-chosen texts illustrating the workings of the various constitutional elements – king, government, and parliament – in Great Britain. For a more thorough analysis, see L. [B.] Namier, The structure of politics at the accession of George III (2nd ed., London, 1957) and Richard Pares, King George III and the politicians (Oxford, 1953).

G. E. Mingay, English landed society in the eighteenth century (London and Toronto, 1963) is essential for understanding the social and economic bases of the political organization and hierarchical nature of British society. Dorothy Marshall, English people in the eighteenth century (London, 1956) is a good general survey of diverse social and economic aspects of 18th-century England. An excellent introduction to this subject is André Parreaux, La société anglaise de 1760 à 1810 (Paris, 1966).

Since colonial policy was under the secretaries of state for the Southern Department and for the American Colonies, it is important to understand organization and operation of their offices. See M. A. Thomson, The secretaries of state, 1681–1782 (Oxford, 1932); M. M. Spector, The American department of the British government, 1768–1782 (New York, 1940); and F. B. Wickwire, British subministers and colonial America, 1763–1783 (Princeton, N.J., 1966).



Professeur agrégé d’histoire, Université de Montréal, Québec.


Pierre Tousignant, The Integration of the Province of Quebec into the British Empire, 1763–1791; Part I: From the Royal Proclamation to the Quebec Act, in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4 University of Toronto/Université Laval, 1980, http://admin.biographi.ca/en/special.php?project_id=49&p=31.


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