Quebec Act

Quebec Act (An Act for making more effective Provision for the Government of the Province of Quebec in North America) was a British statute which received royal assent 22 June 1774 and became effective 1 May 1775. The Act enlarged the boundaries of the PROVINCE OF QUEBEC to include Labrador, Ile d'Anticosti and Iles de la Madeleine on the east, and the Aboriginal territory south of the Great Lakes between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers on the west. The colony was to be governed by a governor and a council consisting of 17 to 23 appointed councillors; an elected assembly was not contemplated in the Act. Religious freedom was guaranteed for the colony's Roman Catholic majority, and a simplified Test Oath, which omitted references to religion, enabled them to enter public office conscientiously (see CATHOLICISM). The Act restored French civil law and British criminal law and provided for continued use of the SEIGNEURIAL SYSTEM.

Interpretations of the Act

The Quebec Act was framed largely by Governor Sir Guy CARLETON, although not all of his policies were incorporated into it. The Quebec Act has been interpreted in a number of ways. Some felt it was an attempt to rectify some of the problems created by the ROYAL PROCLAMATION OF 1763, which dramatically reduced the size of NEW FRANCE, by creating an untouchable Aboriginal territory out of the vast western interior and promising an elected assembly. Others saw it rather as an attempt to demonstrate greater fairness toward the colony's French Catholics, perhaps with the aim of ensuring their loyalty in the event of troubles with the American colonies, and it effectively guaranteed the survival of the ancien régime society in North America. Territorial expansion was a recognition of Montréal's role in the continental economy, and the Act enabled the Québec economy to rely again on the fisheries and the traditional FUR TRADE.

The Quebec Act and the American Revolution

Anglophones in Québec were very pleased with the territorial expansion but were unhappy with the fact that no elected assembly was provided for.

For their part, American settlers were enraged when Québec acquired the Aboriginal territory, which they considered to be theirs by right; they regarded the Quebec Act as one of the "Intolerable Acts" which contributed to the outbreak of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION.

When the Americans attacked Québec in 1775, the francophone upper classes allied themselves with the British. As a result, despite the capitulation of Montreal, the siege of Québec failed, prompting Benjamin Franklin’s famous statement that it would be easier to buy Canada than to try to conquer it.

Following the victory of the American revolutionary forces and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, approximately 50,000 LOYALISTS arrived in the province of Québec. The newly arrived anglophones were dissatisfied with the privileges granted by the Quebec Act to the French language population, and they put pressure on the British administration. The Quebec Act was eventually replaced by the CONSTITUTIONAL ACT, 1791, which created UPPER CANADA and LOWER CANADA.