The Quebec Act of 1774 was also called the Act for Making More Effectual Provision for the Government of the Province of Quebec in North America. It put under the control of the British colony of Quebec all unsettled lands east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River -- lands that had been promised to the 13 American colonies. The Act also allowed for the practice of the faith of the Roman Catholic Church in the area, even though Catholicism was severely restricted in Britain itself. The Act never went into effect, as the war for independence started in 1775.
Quebec was to be governed by an appointive governor and council without benefit of a representative legislative body, and all acts were subject to royal veto. There was no provision for democracy or self-government of any kind, let alone the variety that was flourishing in the 13 colonies.
After the Seven Years' War, a victorious Great Britain achieved a peace agreement through the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Under the terms of the treaty, the Kingdom of France chose to keep the rich sugar islands of St. Domingue, Martinique and Guadaloupe and gave up its vast North American territories east of the Mississippi River known as New France. New France was then considered less valuable, as its only significant commercial product at the time was beaver pelts. The territory located along the St. Lawrence River, called Canada by the French, was renamed Province of Quebec by the British.
With unrest growing in the American colonies to the south, which in a decade grew 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. London intended to win over the French-Canadians clergy and landowners by guaranteeing the Catholic religion and reestablishing French civil law in Quebec.
Effects on the Province of Quebec
The Quebec Act restored the former French civil tradition for private law, which had been ended in 1763 and allowed for the Roman Catholic faith to be practiced. It replaced the old oath with one to King George III which had no reference to the Protestant faith. The act theoretically annexed to Quebec much of what became the American Midwest, but the British never had time to set up an administrative system there.
Effect on the Thirteen Colonies
The Act angered Americans and was a minor cause of the American Revolution. Americans called it one of the "Intolerable Acts," and it was seen as a deliberate effort to hurt the Americans. The frontier was closed to the expansion of the free institutions of the seaboard, and the hopes of colonial land speculators were blasted. Colonial propagandists effectively used the Quebec Act to widen the breach between London and colonies by declaring that the British government intended to employ the "Popish slaves" of Quebec to establish the doctrines of royal absolutism and Roman Catholicism throughout the American colonies.
Frontiersmen from Virginia and other colonies were already entering frontier lands. Land development companies had already been formed to acquire ownership of large stracts and sell land to settlers.
Langston (2006) looked at press reaction in New England. Editors explained how it reorganized Canadian governance, establishing direct rule by the crown and limiting the reach of English law to criminal jurisprudence. Editors such as Isaiah Thomas of the The Massachusetts Spy drew links between the Quebec Act and legislation circumscribing American liberties, such as the Tea Act and the Coercive Acts. Editors shaped public opinion by writing editorials and reprinting opposition letters from both sides of the Atlantic. The First Continental Congress, which met from 5 September to 26 October 1774, addressed the inhabitants of Quebec, warning them of the perils of the increasingly arbitrary, tyrannical, and oppressive nature of British government.
The Act was never enforced outside Canada. Its main importance was to anger the Americans. weaken the King's supporters (the Loyalists) and speed the confrontation that became the American Revolution. When the war started an unsuccessful effort was made in Parliament to repeal the laws in hopes of mollifying the angry Americans, but it was too late and there was no repeal. The Treaty of 1783 gave the lands south of the Great Lakes to the United States.
- Coupland, R. The Quebec Act: A Study in Statesmanship (1925) online review, a British perspective
- Langston, Paul. "'Tyrant and Oppressor!' Colonial Press Reaction to the Quebec Act." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 2006 34(1): 1-17. Issn: 0276-8313
- Lawson, Philip. "'Sapped by Corruption': British Governance of Quebec and the Breakdown of Anglo-american Relations on the Eve of Revolution." Canadian Review of American Studies 1991 22(3): 301-323. Issn: 0007-7720 Fulltext: online in Ebsco
- Miller, John C. Origins of the American Revolution 1943. online version
- Miller 1943