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Why Do I Not Have US Citizenship?

without comments

I’m going to break out of the usual for­mat of this blog today for a cou­ple of rea­sons. First of all, today is July 1st, and while I’ve been out­side of Canada on Canada Day before, this is the first time I’ve actu­ally been liv­ing else­where (and not just on vaca­tion). But it also seemed to be a per­fect day on which to respond to a ques­tion that Roy posed on Facebook in response to my post on the first marker titled Arnold’s British Defenses, 1781.

In that response, he said:

You know, I’ve never actu­ally under­stood why the British colonies from Georgia to Maine declared inde­pen­dence, but those in Canada didn’t.

And I don’t know that I’d ever really thought about it before. And I admit that the first place I turned in try­ing to draft my response was Google. And the first page I found was on a web­site from the Faculty of Law at McGill University in Montreal titled “Why Canada Did Not Join the American Revolution.”

His first point brought up a law that would fig­ure in the other responses I read about that day, the Quebec Act, 1774:

1) The British Parliament in London adopted the Quebec Act, 1774 which implies the right to the French lan­guage, and con­firms the right to the Roman Catholic reli­gion and to the French civil law, and the right of the Catholic Church and the seigneurs to impose taxes. The test oath was abol­ished. The pur­pose of the Act was to encour­age the “cana­di­ens” not to join the American rebellion.

And to me as a schoolkid in Canada (espe­cially one in a French immer­sion his­tory class­room), I can hardly think of how a civ­i­lized nation could gov­ern Quebec with­out allow­ing for the French lan­guage and the Catholic reli­gion. I don’t think it occurred to me even to link the time period too much in my head to the Revolution that would take place around the same time to our south.

But it didn’t take long for me to find a con­trary point of view:

Resolved, N. C. D. That the fol­low­ing acts of Parliament are infringe­ments and vio­la­tions of the rights of the colonists; and that the repeal of them is essen­tially nec­es­sary in order to restore har­mony between Great-Britain and the American colonies, viz:

Also the act passed in the [last] ses­sion [of par­lia­ment] for estab­lish­ing the Roman Catholick Religion in the province of Quebec, abol­ish­ing the equi­table sys­tem of English laws, and erect­ing a tyranny there, to the great dan­ger, from so total a dis­sim­i­lar­ity of Religion, law, and gov­ern­ment of the neigh­bour­ing British colonies, by the assis­tance of whose blood and trea­sure the said coun­try was con­quered from France.

Those words are from the Journals of the Continental Congress, an entry dated Friday, October 14, 1774.

In the inter­ests of brevity, I’ll turn to Wikipedia for an expla­na­tion of some of these feelings:

The Quebec Act was a piece of leg­is­la­tion unre­lated to the events in Boston, but the tim­ing of its pas­sage led colonists to believe that it was part of the pro­gram to pun­ish them.…The Quebec Act offended a vari­ety of inter­est groups in the British colonies. Land spec­u­la­tors and set­tlers objected to the trans­fer of west­ern lands pre­vi­ously claimed by the colonies to a non-representative gov­ern­ment. Many feared the estab­lish­ment of Catholicism in Quebec, and that the French Canadians were being courted to help oppress British Americans.

So I’m going to say that, in the con­text of feel­ing like they had no say, American colonists felt that this set up rel­a­tively close to them a colony under the same gov­ern­ment that pro­tected a reli­gion they didn’t trust, and prob­a­bly worst of all, expanded the bor­ders of that colony to include land they were eye­balling for west­ward expan­sion. Wikipedia explains that the Quebec Act expanded Quebec’s bor­ders “to take over part of the Indian Reserve, includ­ing much of what is now south­ern Ontario, plus Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota.”

Also, given what I would guess of Protestant sen­ti­ment of the time towards the Roman Catholic church, I would guess that those colonists who had served in the British forces dur­ing the French and Indian War to gain con­trol of New France (now Quebec) for the British felt betrayed by allow­ing the “French-ness” and “Catholic-ness” of this ter­ri­tory to pre­vail despite their defeat.

(A word of digres­sion here: until yes­ter­day morn­ing, when I was writ­ing this piece, I couldn’t have told you any­thing about the French and Indian War. Why? Because it wouldn’t have been taught to me under that name. Wikipedia explains that in Canada, it would be called part of the Seven Years War that was going on in Europe, and in Quebec is often known sim­ply as the Guerre de la Conquête (War of the Conquest). Another reminder to me that his­tory is always viewed through a lens and that even such a triv­ial detail as the name of a war does not escape those lenses.)

So, if I had to sum up in a few words my answer to why the Canadian colonies didn’t sep­a­rate, it would come down to the Quebec Act, where Britain granted the peo­ple of Quebec the most impor­tant things they desired from their (rel­a­tively new) European col­o­niz­ers while con­tin­u­ing to not give what the American colonists were seek­ing from them.

I know I’m still quite early in under­stand­ing American his­tory and at look­ing at this ques­tion, so I expect that as I con­tinue to study over the years, I’ll come to greater under­stand­ings of var­i­ous aspects of this ques­tion, and it wouldn’t sur­prise me if my answer a year from now is some­what dif­fer­ent, but for today? That’s what I’m thinking.

To my fel­low Canadians, enjoy your day today (and I hope to watch the noon show from Parliament Hill online later today). To my fel­low Americans (if you’ll per­mit me to call myself one of you, as I await my green card), enjoy your long week­end com­ing up. I know that I owe a lot of who I am today to both countries.

Written by cafemusique

July 1st, 2009 at 8:32 am