Quebec Act (1774)


The Quebec Act of 1774 was passed by Great Britain on the heels of a constitutional crisis in Massachusetts and the failure of attempts to attract English-speaking immigrants to Quebec, the French culture region they had acquired at the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763).
Following the war, Britain had ruled Canada by military authority. In the Proclamation of 1763, Britain prohibited settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains, hoping to attract English-speaking settlers northward, both to dilute French influence and to halt the expansion of self-governing colonies. Having little success, Governor Guy Carleton determined that Canada would always have a French-speaking majority and that Britain should thus do all it could to gain the loyalty of the inhabitants in the event of rebellion in the thirteen colonies to the south. The Quebec Act acknowledged that “experience” had dictated that 65,000 French Catholics could not be governed according to English principles and that it was “inexpedient” at the moment to form an elective assembly. The king would thus appoint a provincial council that would oversee the continued application of French civil law in the colony and guarantee the right to practice Roman Catholicism. These provisions angered English settlers there, who in 1763 had been promised a representative assembly and a British system of law. More provocatively, the act enlarged Quebec to include much of what is now Quebec and Ontario, the area bounded by the Great Lakes, the Ohio River, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Mississippi River. Although not overtly directed at Massachusetts, the Quebec Act was the final in a series of coercive measures—the “Intolerable Acts” as they were dubbed in Massachusetts—that imposed greater Crown control over colonial politics and justice. These coercive measures led to the calling of the First Continental Congress in September 1774. Most French Canadians remained neutral during the American Revolution, (1775–83), which secured for the newly independent colonies the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys.

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