Chronicles of America 

French Despotism and English Self-Government

The English colonies had twenty white men to one in Canada. Yet Canada was long able to wage war on something like equal terms. She had the supreme advantage of a single control. There was no trouble at Quebec about getting a reluctant legislature to vote money for war purposes. No semblance of an elected legislature existed and the money for war came not from the Canadians, but from the capacious, if now usually depleted, coffers of the French court at Versailles. In the English colonies the legislatures preferred, of all political struggles, one about money with the Governor, the representative of the King. At least one of the English colonies, Pennsylvania, believing that evil is best conquered by non-resistance, was resolutely against war for any reason, good or bad. Other colonies often raised the more sordid objection that they were too poor to help in war. The colonial legislatures, indeed, with their eternal demand for the privileges and rights which the British House of Commons had won in the long centuries of its history, constitute the most striking of all the contrasts with Canada. In them were always the sparks of an independent temper. The English diarist, Evelyn, wrote, in 1671, that New England was in "a peevish and touchy humour." Colonists who go out to found a new state will always demand rights like those which they have enjoyed at home. It was unthinkable that men of Boston, who, themselves, or whose party in England, had fought against a despotic king, had sent him to the block and driven his son from the throne, would be content with anything short of controlling the taxes which they paid, making the laws which they obeyed, and carrying on their affairs in their own way. When obliged to accept a governor from England, they were resolved as far as possible to remain his paymaster. In a majority of the colonies they insisted that the salary of the Governor should be voted each year by their representatives, in order that they might be able always to use against him the cogent logic of financial need. On questions of this kind Quebec had nothing to say. To the King in France and to him alone went all demands for pay and honors. If, in such things, the people of Canada had no remote voice, they were still as well off as Frenchmen in France. New England was a copy of Old England and New France a copy of Old France. There was, as yet, no "peevish and touchy humour" at either Quebec or Versailles in respect to political rights.

Canada, in spite of its scanty population, was better equipped for war than was any of the English colonies. The French were largely explorers and hunters, familiar with hardship and danger and led by men with a love of adventure. The English, on the other hand, were chiefly traders and farmers who disliked and dreaded the horrors of war. There was not to be found in all the English colonies a family of the type of the Canadian family of Le Moyne. Charles Le Moyne, of Montreal, a member of the Canadian noblesse, had ten sons, every one of whom showed the spirit and capacity of the adventurous soldier. They all served in the time of Frontenac. The most famous of them, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, shines in varied roles. He was a frontier leader who made his name a terror in the English settlements; a sailor who seized and ravaged the English settlements in Newfoundland, who led a French squadron to the remote and chill waters of Hudson Bay, and captured there the English strongholds of the fur trade; and a leader in the more peaceful task of founding, at the mouth of the Mississippi, the colony of Louisiana. Canada had the advantage over the English colonies in bold pioneers of this type.

Canada was never doubtful of the English peril or divided in the desire to destroy it. Nearly always, a soldier or a naval officer ruled in the Chateau St. Louis, at Quebec, with eyes alert to see and arms ready to avert military danger. England sometimes sent to her colonies in America governors who were disreputable and inefficient, needy hangers-on, too well-known at home to make it wise there to give them office, but thought good enough for the colonies. It would not have been easy to find a governor less fitted to maintain the dignity and culture of high office than Sir William Phips, Governor of Massachusetts in the time of Frontenac. Phips, however, though a rough brawler, was reasonably efficient, but Lord Cornbury, who became Earl of Clarendon, owed his appointment as Governor of New Jersey and New York in 1701, only to his necessities and to the desire of his powerful connections to provide for him. Queen Anne was his cousin. He was a profligate, feeble in mind but arrogant in spirit, with no burden of honesty and a great burden of debt, and he made no change in his scandalous mode of life when he represented his sovereign at New York. There were other governors only slightly better. Canada had none as bad. Her viceroys as a rule kept up the dignity of their office and respected the decencies of life. In English colonies, governors eked out their incomes by charging heavy fees for official acts and any one who refused to pay such fees was not likely to secure attention to his business. In Canada the population was too scanty and the opportunity too limited to furnish happy hunting-grounds of this kind. The governors, however, badly paid as they were, must live, and, in the case of a man like Frontenac, repair fortunes shattered at court. To do so they were likely to have some concealed interest in the fur trade. This was forbidden by the court but was almost a universal practice. Some of the governors carried trading to great lengths and aroused the bitter hostility of rival trading interests. The fur trade was easily controlled as a government monopoly and it was unfair that a needy governor should share its profits. But, after all, such a quarrel was only between rival monopolists. Better a trading governor than one who plundered the people or who by drunken profligacy discredited his office.

While all Canada was devoted to the Roman Catholic Church, the diversity of religious beliefs in the English colonies was a marked feature of social life. In Virginia, by law of the colony, the Church of England was the established Church. In Massachusetts, founded by stern Puritans, the public services of the Church of England were long prohibited. In Pennsylvania there was dominant the sect derisively called "Quakers," who would have no ecclesiastical organization and believed that religion was purely a matter for the individual soul. Boston jeered at the superstitions of Quebec, such as the belief of the missionaries that a drop of water, with the murmured words of baptism, transformed a dying Indian child from an outcast savage into an angel of light. Quebec might, however, deride Boston with equal justice. Sir William Phips believed that malignant and invisible devils had made a special invasion of Massachusetts, dragging people from their houses, pushing them into fire and water, and carrying them through the air for miles over trees and hills. These devils, it was thought, took visible form, of which the favorite was that of a black cat. Witches were thought to be able to pass through keyholes and to exercise charms which would destroy their victims. While Phips and Frontenac were struggling for the mastery of Canada, a fever of excitement ran through New England about these perils of witchcraft. When, in 1692, Phips became Governor of Massachusetts, he named a special court to try accused persons. The court considered hundreds of cases and condemned and hanged nineteen persons for wholly imaginary crimes. Whatever the faults of the rule of the priests at Quebec, they never equaled this in brutality or surpassed it in blind superstition. In New England we find bitter religious persecution. In Canada there was none: the door was completely closed to Protestants and the family within were all of one mind. There was no one to persecute.

The old contrast between French and English ideals still endures. At Quebec there was an early zeal for education. In 1638, the year in which Harvard College was organized, a college and a school for training the French youth and the natives were founded at Quebec. In the next year the Ursuline nuns established at Quebec the convent which through all the intervening years has continued its important work of educating girls. In zeal for education Quebec was therefore not behind Boston. But the spirit was different. Quebec believed that safety lay in control by the Church, and this control it still maintains. Massachusetts came in time to believe that safety lay in freeing education from any spiritual authority. Today Laval University at Quebec and Harvard University at Cambridge represent the outcome of these differing modes of thought. Other forces were working to produce essentially different types. The printing-press Quebec did not know; and, down to the final overthrow of the French power in 1763, no newspaper or book was issued in Canada. Massachusetts, on the other hand, had a printing-press as early as in 1638 and soon books were being printed in the colony. Of course, in the spirit of the time, there was a strict censorship. But, by 1722, this had come to an end, and after that the newspaper, unknown in Canada, was busy and free in its task of helping to mold the thought of the English colonies in America.

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