Why the French Canadians did not join the American revolution

Published: 26th February 2010
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French Canadians opted not to join the American Revolution because of two major reasons. First of all, the American representatives did not do a good job of convincing them to join in. Secondly, the French Canadians were covered by the Quebec Act of 1774 which protected their religious as well as their social rights. Choosing to support Americans could jeopardize the conditions of the Act and leave them at the hands of the Americans. The essay shall look at these issues in further detail in order to set their behavior against the background of the historical occurrences at that time.

Scope of the essay

The essay will encompass a series of historical events that had led to French Canada's surprising reaction to the United States. First of all, a small history of French Canada will be examined with regard to their emigration and settlement in Quebec.

Thereafter, there will be a need to look into the French Canadians, social and religious practices; these will be examined against the background of the general social and religious climate in America. The reason for doing this is to establish the reason behind their participation in the 1774 Quebec Act. (Candaiana.org, 2008)This will also provide an understanding about the possible differences that could have emanated between the French Canada and the rest of the American population.

Afterwards, it will be imperative to look into details that occurred prior to the American revolution and during the revolution when the French Canadians were requested to join in the struggle. All the communication that occurred between the latter group and the Americans will be examined in detail to reveal why the French Canadians took their stance as neutral parties.

Finally, the essay will provide a detailed description of the reasons behind these choices. This means that there should be an in depth description of the repercussions of their refusal to participate in the American Revolution

A plan for the essay

The first aspect of the essay will involve an examination of the history of French Canada. Quebec was one of the Northern colonies. During the year of proclamation which happened to fall in 1763, there were over seventy thousand of them settled there. Additionally, a large percentage of them kept increasing because it was found that Quebec's birth rate was rather high; it was estimated at sixty five for every one thousand of them.

The province was mostly French Catholic at that time. In fact, statistics show that the English speaking inhabitants were British officials or members of the military. (Canadian encyclopedia, 2008)The other small proportion of English speakers in Quebec was mostly located in Quebec's urban centers with the largest percentage of the latter adhering to the Protestant religious faith. In fact, census during the year 1764 indicated that in Quebec and Montreal only two hundred households represented Protestant groups. (Parker, 1983)

It is also imperative to realize that the English speaking population was distinctly different from the French population owing to their economic practices. The French Canadians were mostly interested in agriculture while their English speaking counterparts were largely interested in trade. The English speakers adhered to the following professions

• Artisanship

• Inn keeping

• Commodity Trade

• Merchant trade

As a result, Quebec City itself found that it had become an importer and exporter of commodities. Large percentage of the English traders had arrived in Quebec to provide supplies to British army representatives and officials however, they found that they could engage in fur trade in this area and consequently chose to develop that trade.

It should also be noted that in the fateful year 1763, the British had made a proclamation about Quebec. They wanted to treat this area just like any other province within America. The colonizers wanted Quebec to operate under English laws and they also wanted them to have representative government. Despite the fact that a large percentage of the people in Quebec were French speaking, the British assumed that they would be assimilated by the high proportion of traders that frequented Quebec or even those ones that settled there. (Brault, 1986)

However, the British government had a made a huge assumption; the rest of America regarded Quebec as foes because they spoke different languages and adhered to another religion. Consequently, few of them went to this northern area. Instead, many traders focused their attention on the western parts of the country because they felt that they would be more comfortable there. The few traders who chose to visit Quebec were in fact temporary. This meant that French Canada became a family oriented and close knit community that continued to stick to their traditional ways.

During the late seventeen it could be seen the French Canada was alienated from the rest of America, they had chosen to remain conservative and to stick to their historical ways of doing this.

In the year 1770, the British governor in Quebec - Guy Carleton began looking at French Canada in a different light; he felt that this province would never be made into another English speaking area like all the other colonies. Consequently, after an extended visit during that year, he made a proposal that would ensure increased loyalty from this area. The Governor proposed to the British parliament situation in which the French Canadians would be allowed to maintain their cultural identify i.e. the French language and their Roman Catholic religion. However, they were to be treated as bastions of army strengths representing the interests of the British.

The British parliament considered and analyzed this proposal and eventually came to an agreement in the year 1774. At that time, the latter government agreed that it would be particularly important for the proclamations to be dropped in this area. The proclamation had earlier stated that the French Canadians were to be assimilated and that they would not get any political representation. It should be noted that in the Act, there were a number of freedoms and rights that were covered there. First of all, French Canada was given the right to serve in an official council that was to work under the British governor in ruling Quebec. Also, the Quebec Act meant that French civil law could still apply in Quebec. However, criminal law was still to remain under British rule. (Louder and Waddell, 1993)

The most interesting aspect of the Quebec Act of 1774 to the French Canadians was the fact that Roman Catholicism was to become part of the territory's political system. This was assured by collecting taxes from members of the Catholic Church to support this religion. In other words, the British government was trying to demonstrate just how they were committed to the maintenance of the Catholic faith amongst the French Canadians at Quebec. This also brought out the fact that the British government was able to create exceptions for this particular province owing to the fact that they were actually willing to let them preserve their culture; a direction that the British had not sought in other colonies.

Besides these, the Quebec Act of 1774 was also imperative in letting the French Canadians speak their language; since the policy of assimilation had been abandoned, then the latter group could continue to adhere to their traditional beliefs and practices.

One might assume that this Act only brought positive effects; however, the other American provinces were not at all happy with this special treatment that the French Canadian received. In fact this was one of the reasons that the Americans were propagated into conducting the Revolution. They had cited the fact that the British government was taking part in intolerable acts that would not be tolerated. The Americans felt that they had a right over Quebec because they had fought for that land. However, the northern territory was occupied by French seeking individuals who do not adhere to their same faith. This is what eventually led to their 1775 rebellion between colonial supporters and the American loyalists. This was the point at which the American Revolution began taking shape. (Brault, 1986)

With regard to French speaking Canada, the Mercian leader George Washington and Army represented by Major General Richard Montgomery. The purpose of this army was to go and conquer Montreal and Quebec. Montreal was a relatively easy aspect for the Major because its defeat took part within a short period of time.

Thereafter, the Major decided to send a group of representatives to convince French Canadians to join the American Revolution. The group was made up of the following delegates;

• John Carroll

• Charles Carroll

• Samuel Chase

• Benjamin Franklin

This delegation was given a letter by the Major Montgomery to represent his ideas. In the letter, the French Canadians were being asked to join the Americans in the revolution. However, this delegation failed to achieve its objectives.

There were a series of events that caused the French Canadians to reject this plea. The Quebec Act was created in efforts to keep revolutionary colonies under scrutiny. It was designed to generate a sense of obedience among the Quebec occupants the British expected this as a natural result following the benefits that were receiving from the Act. However, the French Canadians had participated in a series of wars in the past and they felt that they were now tired. Most of their clergy men kept preaching loyalty to the British but this message was not received by these inhabitants. (Canadian Heritage Gallery, 1999)

Additionally, many French Canadians felt that the American Revolution did not concern them. They felt that this was a traditional rivalry between the latter and the British, consequently, most of them asserted that the latter were old foes settling their own matters. They would prefer sitting on the fence watching these groups shooting one another instead of joining them.

The French Canadians were also very apprehensive about the consequences of their actions. In other words, they did not know what would become of them if they chose to support the Americans. This is because a large percentage of them would have to be absorbed under these thirteen English speaking colonies. The notion of belonging to yet another power and not having their own was not a very appealing one. The French Canadians felt that if they stayed out of the American Revolution, then they could have greater chances of perpetuating their own language and religion in the future generations, these reasons caused them to maintain their positions.

Following this refusal to join the American Revolution, Major General Montgomery decided to attack Quebec in the month of December 1775.

His efforts were also not successful; the weather was not conducive as it was cold and then fighting conditions were not favorable. At that time, the army had to tackle sickness which was a very disturbing problem to them. Besides this, their supplies were not adequate enough to cater for the prolonged stay of their attacks. This is because the numbers of cannons that they owned were not enough to deal with the attack. To worsen the situation further, the British naval army chose to protect French Canada through the use of their naval army. They overwhelmed the feeble American army and thus protected Quebec from being overtaken by the Americans. This was the point where Major Montgomery died and was been buried in Quebec.


Brault, G. (1986): The French-Canadian Heritage in New England; Hanover: University Press of New England

This book is a rich source of the Quebec migration, their religious practices, their economic activities and the events that led to the creation of Canada as we know it today. This book will be insightful in placing the French Canada's refusal of the American revolution in context

French America: Mobility, Identity, and Minority Experience across the Continent, edited by. Louder, D. and Waddell, E. (1993): translated by Philip Franklin; Louisiana State University Press

The book addresses the reason that propelled French men to leave their respective homes. This is then followed by the in depth examination of their life in Quebec. The book also highlights how most of them maintained their identities but this came into question in the wake of political challenges there.

Candaiana.org (2008): The Quebec Act, 1774, available at http://www.canadaina.org/ accessed on 29th October

This Quebec Act is instrumental in the research owing to the fact that it outlines all the benefits, risks and the rights that the British empire and the French Canadian were supposed to get form this agreement

Canadian encyclopedia (2008): The united Empire loyalists 1783, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/ accessed on 29th October

This book is essential in understanding some of the reasons behind the Nova Scotia occupants' behavior and the Quebec occupants'. The book will b essential in understanding why French Canadians resisted intense political participation hence the American revolution

Canadian Heritage Gallery (1999): British Empire and American revolution, Montreal, Mc Gill University Press

The Book is a coverage of the issues surrounding the American revolution as far back as the early eighteenth century all the way to the end of the revolution in the year 1783. Also, an examination of the country's response to this matter is also done.


Parker, J. (1983): Ethnic Identity - The Case of the French Americans; University Press of America

Brault, G. (1986): The French-Canadian Heritage in New England; Hanover: University Press of New England

Louder, D. and Waddell, E. (1993): translated by Philip Franklin; Louisiana State University Press

Candaiana.org (2008): The Quebec Act, 1774, available at http://www.canadaina.org/ accessed on 29th October

Canadian encyclopedia (2008): The united Empire loyalists 1783, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/ accessed on 29th October

Canadian Heritage Gallery (1999): British Empire and American Revolution, Montreal, Mc Gill University Press

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