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Towards Confederation

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The Quebec Act

The main purpose of the Quebec Act of 1774 was to meet the needs of the government of the Province of Quebec more effectively. Governor Carleton also viewed it as a means of satisfying the aspirations of French Canadians. The St. Lawrence commercial empire was to be reconstituted by re-establishing the former borders of the Canadian colony. Clearly influenced by the uprisings among the American colonies, the reintegration of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Great Lake regions into the Province's territory was intended to restore economic unity. London's new strategy was to partly reconstitute the former French empire so that the authority of the British Crown would be established in the interior of the continent and it would be in a better position to deal with rebellious Americans and unmanageable Native people.

The new constitution renewed the guarantees of religious freedom, "within the bounds of English law" and made it possible for Catholic Canadians to hold government positions, as the oath of allegiance was reworded in a way that was acceptable to their religious convictions. It retained English criminal law and reinstated French civil law. At the same time, the legality of the colonial regime and of tithes was re-established.

Although these measures were satisfactory to the French Canadians and the clergy  --  journalist Henri Bourassa described the Quebec Act as the "French-Canadian Charter"  --  they had an opposite effect among the British in the colony. Their discontent was such that they overlooked the business advantages inherent in re-establishing the former borders. Already they considered the Quebec Act intolerable.

First page of the Quebec Act, 1774


First page of the Quebec Act, 1774.