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Quebec Act

From Academic Kids

The Quebec Act of 1774 was an act by the British Parliament setting out procedures of governance in the area of Quebec.

After the Seven Years' War, a victorious Great Britain achieved a peace agreement through the Treaty of Paris (1763). Under the terms of the treaty, the Kingdom of France chose to keep the islands of Guadeloupe for its valuable sugar crops instead of the strip of land France controlled along North America's St. Lawrence River known as Canada. After the conquest the British had renamed this province Quebec, after its capital.

With unrest growing in the colonies to the south, which would one day grow into the American Revolution, the British were worried that the French Canadians might also support the growing rebellion. In order to secure the allegiance of the approximately 70,000 French Canadians to the British crown, first Governor James Murray and later Governor Guy Carleton promoted the need for action. There was a need to compromise between the conflicting demands of the new subjects and that of the newly arrived British subjects. This eventually resulted in the Quebec Act of 1774.

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Effects on the Province of Quebec

The Quebec Act restored the former French civil tradition for private law, which had been ended in 1763 (although constitutional and criminal law remained of the common law tradition), and allowed for the Roman Catholic faith to be practiced. It replaced the oath to Elizabeth I and her heirs (which included references to the Protestant faith) with one to George III (which had no reference to the Protestant faith). This allowed for the majority of the population of Canada to participate in the public affairs of the colony.

The enacting of the Quebec Act was the single most important historical event relating to the failure of the American revolutionaries to gain the support of the Canadians during the American Revolution and later U.S. attempts to invade both Upper and Lower Canada. Although the majority of the Canadian population chose to remain neutral in the conflicts, the Catholic Church recognized the value in the removal of the oath to a Protestant God and assurances of free worship of their faith. Fearing the consequences to the Church of an alliance with the revolutionaries, and later the U.S., the Church consistently councilled loyalty to the British Crown. The gambit paid off, with Lower Canada, and later Quebec, remaining one of the most Catholic of regions in the world up until the time of the Quiet Revolution.

The act also changed the boundaries of Quebec to include the Ohio Country and Illinois Country, from the Appalachian Mountains on the east, south to the Ohio River, west to the Mississippi River and north to the southern boundary of lands owned by the Hudson's Bay Company, or Rupert's Land.

Effect on the Thirteen Colonies

While it is clear that the Quebec Act did much to secure the allegiance of the Canadians to the British, it had other unforseen consequences. Its application in the south led to it being termed one of the Intolerable Acts by the American colonists, contributing to the open American Revolution to follow.

There were several American concerns with the provisions of the act. For one, guaranteed that residents of the Ohio Country were free to profess religion of the Roman Catholic church. Settlers from Virginia and other colonies were already entering that area. Land development companies had already been formed to exploit the territory. The colonies were still engaged in or had just finished their own struggles with an established church, and now from their view, they had to deal with another, one of their most feared. The lack of understanding between the two groups would later lead to a virulent hatred of Catholics and the burning of numerous Catholic churches in the region.

The act confirmed the Indian territory to the west of the Appalachians that had been established by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This showed them that Parliament still sought to cut off their plans for western expansion.

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