Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history

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It was in the closing years of the great experiment that France devised the bold conception of establishing a line of military settlements on the Mississippi as well as on the St. Lawrence,1616
  Towards the close of her dominion in Canada, France expended about one million sterling on her unprofitable colony, mainly in building forts along the enormous line from Quebec to New Orleans, in order to shut in the English colonists.

and thus confining the English between the Alleghany Mountains and the sea. In view of the extreme inferiority of her strength, the project seems extravagant. It was utterly impossible to restrain, by any forces which France could command, the expansive energy of the English colonies. There were sixty thousand Frenchmen proposing to imprison on the sea-coast two million Englishmen. But the constitution of the French settlements, while it enfeebled them and unfitted them to cope with their rivals in peaceful growth, made them formidable beyond their real strength for purposes of aggression. Canada was a military settlement; every Canadian was a soldier, bound to follow to the field his feudal lord. The English colonists were peaceful farmers or traders; they were widely scattered, and living as they did under many independent governments, their combination for any common warlike purpose was almost impossible. That they should ultimately overthrow the dominion of their rivals was inevitable; but if the French King had been able to reinforce more liberally the arms of his Canadian subjects, the contest must have been prolonged and bloody. Happily, his resources were taxed to the utmost by the complications which surrounded him at home. The question as to which race should be supreme on the American continent was helped to a speedy solution on the battle-fields of the Seven Years’ War.


The condition of the Canadian people at the time of the conquest by the English was exceedingly miserable. Every man was in the ranks, and the fields on which their maintenance depended lay untilled. The lucrative fur trade had ceased, for the Indian hunter and the French trader were fighting against the English. The scanty revenues of the colony no longer yielded support to the officers of the Government, who plundered the wretched people without restraint of pity or of shame. Famine prevailed, and found many victims among the women and children, who were now the occupants of the neglected clearings along the river-banks.

At length the conquest was accomplished, and those sad years of bloodshed closed. The French soldiers, the rapacious officials, were sent home to France, where some of the worst offenders, it is gratifying to know, found their way quickly to the Bastile.

The colonists laid down their arms, and returned gladly to their long-disused industries. At first the simple people feared the severities of the new authority into whose power they had fallen. Some of them went home to France; but these were chiefly the colonial aristocracy, whose presence had always been a misfortune. The apprehensions of the settlers were soon allayed. They had been accustomed to arbitrary and cruel government. The rack was in regular use. Accused persons were habitually subjected to torture. Trials were conducted in secret, and without opportunity of defence. The personal liberty of every man depended upon the pleasure of his superiors. English rule brought at once the termination of these wrongs, and bestowed upon the submissive Canadians the unexpected blessings of peace, security of person and property, and a pure administration of justice. It had been feared that the great mass of the population would leave the province and return to France. But the leniency of the Government, and the open-handed kindness with which the urgent necessities of the poor were relieved, averted any such calamity; and the Frenchmen accepted, without repining, the new sovereignty which the sword had imposed upon them.

The English Government naturally desired to foster the settlement of an English population in Canada. It was not, at first, without hesitation that Britain made up her mind to retain the territory for whose possession she had fought so stoutly. The opinion was widely entertained, especially among the trading class, that united North America would quickly become too powerful to continue in dependence on the mother country; that the subjection of our existing colonies would be guaranteed by the wholesome presence of a rival and hostile power on their northern frontier. But wiser views prevailed, and Britain resolved to keep the splendid prize which she had won. Every effort was made to introduce a British element which should envelop and ultimately absorb the unprogressive French. Large inducements were offered to traders, and to the fighting men whose services were no longer required. Many of these accepted the lands which were offered to them, and made their homes in Canada. The novelty of the acquisition, and the interest which attached to the conquest, brought a considerable number of settlers from the old country. The years immediately succeeding the conquest were years of more rapid growth than Canada had experienced under French rule. In twelve years the population had increased to one hundred thousand. The clearings along the shores of the St. Lawrence increased in number and in area, and stretched backward from the river into the forest. The influx of merchants caused a notable increase of the towns. Thus far no printing-press had been permitted on Canadian soil; for despotism here, as well as elsewhere, demanded popular ignorance as a condition of its existence. But scarcely had the French officials departed when two enterprising men of Philadelphia arrived in Quebec with a printing-press, and began the publication of a newspaper.

The war in Europe continued for upwards of three years after the expulsion of the French from Canada. Wearied at length with the brutal strife, the exhausted nations desired peace. France had suffered enormous territorial losses. The disasters which had fallen on Spain humbled her haughty spirit, and hastened the decay which was already in progress. Austria and Prussia desired rest from a wasteful contest, in the advantages of which they scarcely participated. The enormous gains which Britain had secured satisfied for the time the ambition of her people, and she was contented now that the sword should be sheathed. 1763 A.D. Peace was concluded. Britain added to her dominions several islands of the West Indies, the Floridas, Louisiana to the Mississippi, Canada, and the islands in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, as well as Senegal. “Never,” said the lately-crowned George III., “did England, nor, I believe, any other power in Europe, sign such a peace.”

While the war still lasted, a military Government ruled Canada, and justice was administered by councils of officers. When peace was restored, and the transference of Canada was formally complete, arrangements of a more permanent character became necessary. The situation was full of difficulty. The colony was substantially French and Roman Catholic; only a small minority of its people were English and Protestant. These, however, looked with the pride of conquerors upon the old settlers, and claimed that the institutions of the colony should be framed wholly on English models. Wise statesmanship in this eventful hour would have averted enfeebling divisions, wasteful strifes, discontents swelling at length into rebellion. But wise statesmanship was denied to Canada. October, 1763 A.D. There came a Proclamation in the King’s name, promising to the people self-government such as the Americans enjoyed, so soon as the circumstances of the colony permitted; briefly intimating that for the present the laws of England were the laws of Canada. It was a revolution scarcely surpassed in its violence and injustice; and in its results it delayed for generations the progress of the colony. At one stroke the laws which had been in force for a century and a half were swept away. A new code of laws, entirely new methods of judicial procedure, of which the people knew nothing, were now administered in a language which scarcely any one understood. In their haste the Government did not pause to consider that the laws which they had thus suddenly imposed upon this Roman Catholic colony included severe penal statutes against Catholics. It was desired that the laws, the language and the customs of England should displace those of France, and that the French settlers should become absorbed in the mass of anticipated English immigration. In course of years, by wise and conciliatory treatment, these results would have been gained; but the unredeemed injustice of this assault upon the rights of the colonists postponed for generations the hope of the desirable reconciliation. The French took up at once the position of an oppressed people – holding themselves studiously separate from their oppressors, cherishing feelings of jealousy and antagonism. To uphold French customs, to reject the English tongue, and if possible the English law – these were now the evidences of true patriotism. Henceforth, and for many long and unquiet years, there were two distinct and hostile nations dwelling side by side in the valley of the St. Lawrence.

It was one of the unhappy results of these ill-considered arrangements that no Frenchman could fill any public office, in consequence of his ignorance of the language in which public business was conducted. All such offices were therefore occupied by Englishmen. For the most part the appointments were made in London, with small regard to the fitness of the persons who received them. Men came out to administer the affairs of Canada in absolute ignorance of the country, of the habits of the people, even of the language which they spoke. These officials received no salaries, but were suffered to indemnify themselves by fees, which they exacted rapaciously and ruthlessly. They treated the old inhabitants with harshness and irritating contempt. 1766 A.D. There were even darker charges than these preferred against them, warranting the assertion of the good General Murray, who was then Governor, that “they were the most immoral collection of men he ever knew.” The conduct of these officials aggravated the alienation of the French settlers, and helped to prepare the unquiet future through which the colony was to pass.

But the French Canadians were a submissive people, and although they perceived that they were wronged, they did not on that account turn aside from the path of peaceful industry which opened before them. Trade was prosperous, and steadily increasing; many persons who had left the colony returned to it; agriculture extended; gradually the deep wounds which years of war had inflicted were healed. The people remained long profoundly ignorant. When Volney, the French traveller, visited them towards the close of the century, he found that they knew almost nothing of figures, and were incapable of the simplest calculation. They indicated short distances by telling how many pipes a man could smoke while he walked; a longer distance was that which a man could or could not traverse between sunrise and sunset. But ignorance did not prevent that patient, incessant toil, which year by year added to their possessions and improved their condition.

In course of time a desire for representative institutions sprang up among the English settlers. During all these years they had lived under the despotic sway of a Governor and Council appointed by the Crown. They alone among Englishmen were without part in their own government, and they wished the odious distinction to cease. 1773 A.D. They petitioned for the House of Assembly which the King had promised them ten years before, and for the permanent establishment of English law among them. The French were not sufficiently instructed to care for representative government, but they earnestly desired the restoration of the laws which had been so hastily abolished after the conquest.

It was during a season of anxiety and apprehension that these conflicting opinions were pressed upon the attention of the British Government. The differences which had arisen between England and her American colonies were evidently now incapable of settlement otherwise than by the sword. The men of Boston had already thrown into their harbour the cargoes of taxed tea which England sought to force upon them. All over New England men were hastening to obtain muskets and to accomplish themselves in military drill. A strong English force, which was being steadily increased, held Boston, and waited for the expected strife. In view of impending war, it was the desire of the English Government to satisfy Canada, and gain such support as she was able to afford. The great mass of the Canadians were Frenchmen and Roman Catholics.1717
  According to the best estimates, the population of Canada at this time was composed of 100,00 °Catholics and 400 Protestants.

It was not doubted that in course of years men who were English and Protestant would form the population of Canada. But the danger was present and urgent, and it must be met by conciliating the men who now formed that population. 1774 A.D. An Act was passed by which the Proclamation of 1763 was repealed. The Roman Catholic religion was set free from legal disability, and reinstated in its right to exact tithes and other dues from all persons who owned its sway. French civil law was reimposed, but the barbarous criminal code of England was set up in preference to the milder system of France. The House of Assembly was still denied, and the province – extended now to the Ohio and the Mississippi – was to be ruled by a Governor and Council appointed by the Crown, one-third of the Council being composed of French Canadians. This was the Quebec Act, under which Canada was governed for the next seventeen years. It inflicted many evils upon the colony, but it served well the immediate purpose for which it was intended. It satisfied the old settlers, and held them firmly to the side of England during the years of war which England vainly waged against her alienated children.

Thus far the affairs of the colonies had been administered by the Board of Trade. The administration had been negligent; for the greatness of the colonies was recent, and the importance of the interests involved was not yet fully appreciated. But the variance which was to cost England the greatest of her colonial possessions had already revealed itself. England was impressively reminded of the imperfections of her management, and of the urgent need of a better system. She set up a new but not a better system. 1774 A.D. A Colonial department of Government was created; a Colonial Secretary was appointed; an official regulation of colonial interests began, based upon imperfect knowledge – formal, restrictive, often unreasonable and irritating. For many years, until the growing strength of the colonies enabled them first to modify and then to overthrow it, this strict official government continued to discourage and impede settlements whose prime necessity was wide freedom of action.


The Quebec Act roused much indignation among the American colonists. From Pennsylvania and Virginia twenty thousand persons had already settled in the valley of the Ohio. These suddenly found themselves disjoined from the colonies of which they regarded themselves members, and subjected to the despotic rule which was imposed upon Canada. The American patriots enrolled the new arrangements among their grievances, and hoped that their fellow-sufferers the Canadians would be of the same opinion. 1774 A.D. The Congress which met at Philadelphia opened communication with the Canadians, to whom they addressed a forcible exposition of their mutual wrongs, coupled with the proposal that their neighbours should take some part in the steps which they were meditating in order to obtain redress. The handful of English Canadians sympathized with the complaints of their countrymen, and were not reluctant to have given help had that been possible; but they were an inconsiderable number, living among a population which did not share their views. The French settlers were unaccustomed to self-government, which they did not understand and did not desire. Their own laws had been restored to them, the Government was not oppressive, they were suffered to cultivate their fields in peace, and they were without motive to enter upon that stormy path to which their more heroic neighbours invited them. The American proposals did not disturb for one moment the profound political apathy which reigned in the valley of the St. Lawrence.

1775 A.D. When the war began, the Americans lost no time in taking hostile measures against Canada. They were able, by the superior energy of their movements, to possess themselves of the fortresses of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, which had not yet been prepared to offer resistance. Governor Carleton was taken at a disadvantage by this spirited invasion, for he had been left without an army. For the defence of the vast territory over which his sway extended, he had no more than eight hundred soldiers. He fell back upon the privileges of the feudal law, and summoned the colonists to render to the King that military service which they owed. But the colonists, from whose minds there had not yet passed the memory of the disastrous war which preceded the conquest, decisively repudiated feudal obligations, and maintained that the various seignorial dues which they paid were the full equivalent of the advantages which they enjoyed. The embarrassed Governor invoked the help of the clergy, who exhorted the people to take up arms in defence of their country. But neither could the authority of the priests rouse those unwarlike spirits. The Frenchmen would fight when their own homes were invaded. Meanwhile they had no quarrel with any one, and they would not incur the miseries of war so long as it was possible for them to remain at peace.

The Americans still believed that there existed among the Canadians a feeling of sympathy with their cause. To embolden their secret allies, and give opportunity for the avowal of friendly sentiment, they now despatched two expeditions, one of which was to seize Montreal, and then descend upon Quebec, where it would be joined by the other, approaching by way of the river Kennebec. One wing of the expedition was successful. Montreal fell; the larger portion of the British troops became prisoners; the Governor escaped with some difficulty, and fled to Quebec. In the east the fortune of war was against the invaders. They besieged Quebec, maintaining their attack under severe hardships, imperfectly supplied with food, and cruelly wasted by epidemic disease. After months of this vain suffering, a British frigate appeared one morning at Quebec, and proceeded to land a body of troops. The siege was quickly raised, and the assailants, in much distress, effected a disorderly retreat. Reinforcements soon began to arrive from England, and the continued occupation of Montreal by the Americans was found to be impossible. The invasion of Canada served no good purpose. It was obvious that no help was to be afforded to the party of revolution by the uncomplaining people of Canada. It was possible to hold certain positions on Lake Champlain and elsewhere. But that could be of no service to the American cause; on the contrary, it withdrew useful men from the work for which they were urgently required – the defence of New York and Pennsylvania against the overwhelming strength of the English attack. The invasion of Canada ceased, leaving the Canadians better contented with the Government under which they lived, and less disposed to form relationships with the colonists by whom the authority of that Government had been cast off.


In course of years the English Government fought out its quarrel with the revolted American colonists and was defeated. 1783 A.D. A treaty of peace was concluded, and the independence which America had proved herself able to maintain was now acknowledged. At the opening of the war England had borrowed a suggestion from France, and sought, by attaching the valley of the Mississippi to Canada, to shut in the Americans on the west as on the north by Canadian settlements breathing the spirit of loyalty and submissiveness. The Americans would endure no such restriction. The southern boundary of Canada was now the St. Lawrence river and the great lakes out of which it flows. The vast western region with its boundless capability was made over to the victorious colonists. England held only the north. The two branches of the Anglo-Saxon family had divided in nearly equal proportions the whole enormous area of the North American continent.

As one of the results of the revolutionary war, Canada gained a large accession to her population and her prosperity. There were among the Americans a considerable number of persons who did not sympathize with the aims of the majority, and who had given good wishes and occasionally active support to the royal cause. Congress had given to the British Government a promise that it would endeavour to mitigate the discomforts which the unpopularity of the cause those persons had clung to now entailed. But the victors did not at once forgive those who resisted the national desire, and the position of the royalists became intolerable. It was resolved to make provision for them in Canada, where they could still enjoy those relations with the English monarchy their love for which had cost them so dear.

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