The state of Canada-US relations 231 yrs ago?
July 4, 2007 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Why did Canada *not* join the American revolution?

The decleration of independence states the declaration of the thirteen colonies of the United States of America.
In the context of the US Revolutionary war, history books tell us about the United Empire Loyalists, and Loyalists populating the Eastern Townships in Quebec, Nova Scotia, PEI, etc. but of course they came *after* the war was decided, so their demographic weight was of no consequence. I cannot find even on Google, a reason why not all the colonies rebelled.
So a few questions. If you are Canadian you can read that as I cannot find even on Google, a reason why the "lower 13" threw a hissy fit and left.

Was there "already" a separate proto-Canadian identity amongst anglophones in say, Halifax distinct from just being American colonials?
That strikes me as being not very likely because the population was so thin then, and there were so many colonists from New England. Nova Scota actually *was* a part of Massachusetts until about 1700 and about half of New Brunswick was part of Maine, which was part of Massachusetts right up to 1776. Massachusetts was one big ass colony in those days!

Were there greater trade relations with England, perhaps more cod fishing etc. that made the ties more binding?

Greater distance, even though it isn't that far from say Portland to Sydney as the crow flies, a sea journey could be treacherous, whereas even in the days of horses and coaches, news and ideas could filter from Boston to Savannah relatively easily? That seems to be obvious in Newfoundland which was (and is) so distinct and at that time so very far away, but I am not sure about the rest.

But still with no large cities like Philadelphia, New York (which was a hotbed of Tory sympathizers), Charleston, Savannah, and Boston, perhaps political movements of any kind were slow to filter up?

Were there actually agitators in what what is now New Brunswick, was there tarring and feathering of proto-Tories on the streets of Halifax?

Was it slavery, the south being afraid of northern colonies "tipping the balance" against slavery?

Was it the quasi-religious nature of the colonists in the thirteen colonies? I think what became Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, etc. were populated by economic migrants encouranged (forced?) there to counter and expel francophones. So they cared less, where the "city on a hill" people or the Quakers cared more?

I know of the aborted attack on Montreal, but Quebec not wanting to be a part of an independent English speaking country, I can understand Quebec not joining up.

Sorry if this is long, sorry if it sounds stupid or boorish, but I am really rather curious about how and why some of Britain's North American colonies decided to break away and some didn't.

Any suggestions of readable histories that explain the loyalist, Iroquois, Quebecuois point of view are most welcome.
posted by xetere to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think there weren't really very many people in Canada then. And remember that in those days long distance travel was difficult and painful and slow. There wasn't a lot of communication between the settlements in Canada with those further south.

The colonies that rose in revolt were moderately well integrated economically; there was a lot of intra-colonial trade then, so they also mixed socially and politically.

And after the Revolution, most of those from the rebel colonies who had remained loyal to the Crown went north, where they remained loyal to the Crown. That's one of the big reasons there was no cascading revolution process.

(I also wonder if the proto-Canadian colonies were subject to the kind of taxation and trade limitations which angered those further south?)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:35 PM on July 4, 2007

Response by poster: (I also wonder if the proto-Canadian colonies were subject to the kind of taxation and trade limitations which angered those further south?)

After posting the question, I was walking my dog and that thought occured to me too.

So after the conclusion of the French and Indian War (7 years war) Britain gained a huge francophone speaking wilderness with lots of pissed off Quebecuois, Acadians, and Iroquois. The king's perception was that this was a threat to the colonies further south. THe trasury was being stretched so from London's perspective, the "free ride" that the colonies enjoyed had to be over. they had to pitch in financially and pay their share for defense. When they refused the British came with the stamp, tea, intolerable acts, etc. which, no matter the truth were percieved as provocations. The future Canada probably didn't have to endure that because settlement was being actively encouraged - it would be stupid to impose taxes there. So the casus belli didn't exist north of the border. And when the tories came after the war's conclusion, the distinctiveness between US and Canada was assured.
posted by xetere at 6:03 PM on July 4, 2007

"While Canada as a confederation wasn't formed until 1867, its genesis as a nation dates directly back to the Revolution. If it hadn't been for the more than 40,000 colonialists who moved north during and immediately after the war, much of the area from Ontario east might have fallen into the hands of the United States in the War of 1812. After all, about 80 percent of Canada's population at the time of that war had been born in the United States.

Contrary to popular belief, not every North American was itching to break away from the Brits. Indeed, two colonies—Quebec and Nova Scotia, which at the time included what is now New Brunswick and part of Maine—refused to join the Revolution. Even in the rebellious American colonies, many people loved their English homeland, and every colony raised troops that fought on the British side. Other people viewed both sides with suspicion; still others became disaffected by the fledgling government's treatment of soldiers (remember Benedict Arnold?). And there was enough tarring and feathering and property seizing by both sides to make others decide to move away from the whole mess. Add in what some saw as anarchy after the war, opposition to a strong federalist government and lucrative land offers, and it's easy to understand why people left. And where better to make their new homes than those neighboring colonies, Quebec and Nova Scotia?

Approximately 35,000 loyalist troops and civilians arrived in Nova Scotia in the first year after the war, doubling the area's population. In response, the area where some 14,000 refugees had settled was separated into New Brunswick in 1784. The influx into Quebec was smaller, but it was enough to help spur the 1791 creation of Lower Canada (Quebec, primarily French-speaking) and Upper Canada (English-speaking Ontario).

That's not to say every loyalist who moved north was English. In fact, the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada's (UEL) Toronto branch found that among its members, 28 percent of loyalist ancestors were from Germany, followed by Scotland (23 percent) and England (18 percent)." *
posted by ericb at 6:24 PM on July 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

According to Wikipedia:
"In addition to the colonies which had sent delegates to the First Continental Congress, letters of invitation were sent to Quebec, Saint John's Island, Nova Scotia, Georgia, East Florida, and West Florida, but they did not send delegates."

This question is much harder to answer than I thought at first. I can make some educated guesses but I can't say why these colonies chose not to respond.

I know Quebec had been French for a centry and was conquered by the British only ten years before. I know the British imposed relatively soft law on their subjects; they were allowed to continue as Roman Catholics, for example. This was codified in the Quebec Act of 1774, whose entire purpose seemed to stem the sedition that was already evident further south. In fact the Quebec Act was one of the contributing factors that led to the American revolutionary war.

I also know the Acadians who lived in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had been tossed between the English and French about three or four times in the last century as prizes after some faraway war, and tended to consider themselves neutral. In 1755 large numbers of them were expelled for refusing to take up arms for the British king; many died, and many ended up in Lousiana. Maybe their backs were already broken. This Wikipedia article suggests a large buildup of British soldiers in Halifax prevented Canada from joining the war.

Newfoundland I would guess was much too far away to get caught up in this conflict.

Now here is really interesting thing: while researching my answer, I was stunned to discover that two Quebec regiments, made up of Quebecers, Frenchmen, Acadians, and Americans living in Quebec, were raised to fight on the American side. Check out the 1st and 2nd Canadian Regiments!
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:26 PM on July 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Very interesting question. I think part of the answer is that (a) in 1776 Canada was Quebec, plus the maritime providence. The colonists had had nothing but trouble from the French and their Indian allies for nearly a century before. So while the invited Quebec's participation in the new nation, they didn't have the inclination to work hard at it. Moreover, the Brits made a smart pre-emptory move:

Shameless lift from Wikipedia (article on Quebec):

In 1774, fearful that the French-speaking population of Quebec (as the colony was now called) would side with the rebels of the Thirteen Colonies to the south, the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act giving recognition to French law, Catholic religion and French language in the colony; before that Catholics had been excluded from public office and recruitment of priests and brothers forbidden, effectively shutting down Quebec's schools and colleges. The first British policy of assimilation (1763-1774) was deemed a failure. Both the petitions and demands of the Canadiens' élites, and Governor Guy Carleton, played an important part in convincing London of dropping the assimilation scheme, but the looming American revolt was certainly a factor. By the Quebec Act, the Quebec people obtained their first Charter of rights. That paved the way to later official recognition of the French language and French culture. The Act allowed Canadiens to maintain French civil law and sanctioned the freedom of religious choice, allowing the Roman Catholic Church to remain. It also restored the Ohio Valley to Quebec, reserving the territory for the fur trade.

The act, designed to placate one North American colony, had the opposite effect among its neighbors to the south. The Quebec Act was among the Intolerable Acts that infuriated American colonists, who launched the American Revolution. A 1775 invasion by the American Continental Army met with early success, but was later repelled at Quebec City.

posted by beagle at 7:14 PM on July 4, 2007

Revolution Rejected: Canada and the American Revoution,1774-1791 (an exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilization).
posted by hangashore at 7:30 PM on July 4, 2007

Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, tried to influence Canada to join forces with the Colonies.

From Colonial Hall:

(Complete with stilted writing and oddly placed commas.)

In the spring of 1776, he was appointed by congress, in conjunction with Dr. Franklin and Mr. Carroll, to a trust of a most important nature. This was a mission to Canada, the object of which was, to induce the inhabitants of that country to withdraw their connection from Great Britain, and to join the American confederacy. The undertaking was attended with great difficulties; but as Mr. Chase, though young, was distinguished for his abilities, and characterized for a most ardent patriotism, he was appointed one of the commissioners. Mr. Carroll, and his brother, afterwards the archbishop of Baltimore, were added to the commission, under an apprehension that they might exercise a salutary influence with the Catholics in Canada. Although the objects of the expedition were not attained, the fidelity of the commissioners was never, for a moment, questioned.
posted by The Deej at 7:40 PM on July 4, 2007

It is funny, I have a degree in History and focused mostly on colonial Canada and had to really think hard for an answer. Most literature on the topic is written after the fact.

The most general answer I think, is that on the Canadian side it was generally thought that the problems with the monarchy would blow over.

The motivation for this reasoning is a little harder to analyze, but here is the opinion I formulated. Canada was, as it is now a resource economy - the people who lived and worked in Canada sold resources: timber, fish, and furs and were closely (if not exclusively) tied to Imperial merchantilist organizations, and required a huge market to sell to (this is also true of the elite). Canada really had no industrial base until the World Wars, and the economy had everything to lose with no domestic market and a small American market.

To put this in the context of a familiar stereotype everyone knows about - the Canadian historical icons being the lumberjack and the fur trader who went to the Hudson Bay Company for supplies/to sell. The American icons are the small merchant in the tri-corner hat, the cowboy, or the frontiersman - people who generally didn't need "globalization" to survive.

The idea has been alluded to above, but the native population, the French and the Acadians held swaying loyalties in this period but generally held to the idea was better to be a minority in a large culturally diverse empire, than a minority in a small largely monocultural new country. This reasoning is still seen in Canada today, the Native population of Quebec today is generally pro-federalist when talk of seperation comes up.

Finally, from a military standpoint, the English population knew that the official position of the French government was to return to North America and English military assistance was much more valuable than anything the American colonies could muster in support. French colonial ambitions in North America were widely communicated to people such as Native tribal leaders on a regular basis. Later on, once Manifest Destiny was in full swing and it was obvious the French weren't returning - natives tended to trust the British over the US government.
posted by Deep Dish at 8:09 PM on July 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

While I was in the garden another reason came to mind - Canada's British population has a big Scottish element (think of names like John A MacDonald, Sandford Fleming, James Murray, TC Douglas, etc etc).

It was much easier for a Scot to reach high levels of Canadian society than it was for a Scot to reach the highest levels of an England-dominated UK, and I probably don't have to tell you why a Scot would not like to be part of "New England".
posted by Deep Dish at 8:37 PM on July 4, 2007

People who have imbibed too deeply of Marxist vapors tend to think that revolutions arise from downtrodden masses of the proletariat, and this often corrupts not only their politics but their view of history.

In reality revolution is a hobby of the bourgeois, and revolutions happen when people who are already prosperous think something they have is going to be taken away from them, or because they want even more than they already have. Revolutions don't happen among people who have nothing. (If you look closely, all "People's Revolutions" are led by members of the bourgeois. They claim to do so in the name of the proletariat.)

The Declaration of Independence is rightly revered as one of the most important documents in history and it does contain enumeration of certain political philosophies which are important to understanding the later history of the US. But the primary reasons for the American revolution were economic, due to a rather heavy-handed (and bone-headed) king.

Partly it was taxation. That was a big piece of it. But on a deeper level it was the basic philosophy of the Crown that the colonies existed to be economically milked for the benefit of the mother country. Another big gripe of the rebels was a law that required all products exported from America to travel to English ports. Americans couldn't export directly to other countries; their products had to be transshipped via England -- with, of course, taxes paid and a markup by some English broker. (And imports too? I think that was the case.)

There were also rules forbidding certain kinds of manufacture in America, mainly so as to preserve markets for those products produced by England. As America grew and its economy became strong and diverse, that kind of limitation chafed, and given that American colonists had no important representation in Parliament, there was a feeling that the citizens in the colonies were effectively slaves of the Crown rather than being treated as full British citizens.

Based on what Deep Dish says above, it sounds like all this was much less of an issue in English-speaking Canada.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:51 PM on July 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

As Steven C. Den Beste points out, revolutions are for the upper classes. Canada was settled by peasants, criminals, soldiers and people whose livelihoods depended on the sale of raw resources to a big market.
posted by acoutu at 9:15 PM on July 4, 2007

People who have imbibed too deeply of Marxist vapors tend to think that revolutions arise from downtrodden masses of the proletariat

Actually, that's people who have lapped too shallowly, as opposed to, say, reading 'The 18th Brumaire'. But that's beside the point.

The lower part of British North America was considered dependent by the mother country, and disagreed. The upper part was pretty much dependent: and there's still a degree of shared outward-looking coastal identity that curves from the Maritimes to the Bay of Biscay. (Boston's position is fascinating in that regard.)
posted by holgate at 10:15 PM on July 4, 2007

To put this in the context of a familiar stereotype everyone knows about - the Canadian historical icons being the lumberjack and the fur trader who went to the Hudson Bay Company for supplies/to sell. The American icons are the small merchant in the tri-corner hat, the cowboy, or the frontiersman - people who generally didn't need "globalization" to survive.

Wood, fur, and cod, I think..

In reality revolution is a hobby of the bourgeois, and revolutions happen when people who are already prosperous think something they have is going to be taken away from them, or because they want even more than they already have.

Howard Zinn would be proud of you :)
(I'm thinking Zinn makes a stab at answering this question, actually, but I can't remember..)
posted by Chuckles at 10:44 PM on July 4, 2007

Do we have a citation for the "peasants, criminals, soldiers" here? Just curious.
posted by rmm at 11:29 PM on July 4, 2007

There is some very good analysis above (although Steven's second comment once again betrays more about his prejudices than anything).

As Canada was still New France as recently as 1763, it is perhaps pertinent to consider these aspects. When Patrick Henry (allegedly) spoke "Give me liberty, or give me death" in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1775, he spoke in an institution with a 156-year history (under varying degrees of power vis-a-vis the crown). Canada had no such institution until the Quebec Act of 1774, and under French rule had actually tried to implement seigneurage, essentially a modernized version of the feudalism still extant in rural France. Thus at the time, Canadians had no tradition of local rule.

Secondly, we must consider the military failure of the Battle of Quebec. Of the American commanders one died, one was wounded, and one taken prisoner, against a well-engineered city defense, all while a British army bore down on them. Even though Montreal had been seized easily and was temporarily governed by a pro-American faction, the inability of the Colonials to secure this city was a poor omen. They hadn't been able to muster the men or materiel for an extended seige and the expedition was really doomed from the start. Had they succeeded against the odds, though, the British would have been in a very difficult position. (As it was, they were forced to essentially occupy both cities, and martial law was applied to traitors.) So this was a military hingepoint that shouldn't be overlooked.

Thirdly, the American diplomatic commission must be considered. Franklin, as a British American newspaperman, had been one of the loudest voices in favor of conquering New France in the first place. The French had enver really had good relations with the Americans (all those "French and Indian Wars", you know) and were suspicious of any calls from the Protestant British colonies for unity with their Catholic brethren. There were most certainly French Canadians with American sympathies, but the Catholic hierarchy was definitively monarchist. They were suspicious of Franklin's republicanism, and regarded the Carrolls -- the most prominent Catholic politicians in the Colonies -- with what can only have been Gallic indifference. They had just managed to secure themselves nearly everything they had wanted, and were generally happy with British rule to date. The merchant classes, with the resource economy, were also much more dependent on Great Britain (for similar reasons, New York City was almost happy to be occupied by the British). Were they the wrong people to go to Canada? I think not; I think they were sent because they were the only ones who could have made the case, which was not strong to begin with (or at least, which favored American interests more than Canadian).
posted by dhartung at 12:08 AM on July 5, 2007

I asked a Similar question a long time ago.

I did some more reading on it-- there weren't any large Anglophone settlements in which to ferment revolution:
  • the west of Canada was hardly settled
  • Halifax was the largest British military station in North America, so any Canadian dissenters in Nova Scotia had to keep their mouths shut
  • St. John New Brunswick was a tiny little town until it got flooded with Loyalists
So the short answer is that the French population had just got done fighting and were broken, and the only other settlement worth mentioning was Halifax, which was packed with British troops.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:39 AM on July 5, 2007

Great question, and both this thread and the Mayor's previous one are extremely educational. I would have answered "because Canada had only been conquered a few years before and had completely different traditions," and that's part of it, but there's obviously a lot more to say.
posted by languagehat at 7:00 AM on July 5, 2007

Effectively there really was no "Canada" until the US's failed invasion during the American War of 1812. Each of the colonies and territories there effectively had previously remained if not entirely pro-British then at least not so explicitly anti-British and had derived individual reasons for not joining the republican confederation in the south. Some cultural, some based on ethnicity or loyalty to monarchism, others on simple lack of cohesive political representation in the border territories. Also, many of the native American nations in the north knew that the US would abrogate their treaties with the British Crown and seize their territories and, as a result, preferred to take their chances negotiating with anyone but the US.

Resistance to the US invasion actually prompted the remaining inhabitants of "British North America" to come to a common sense of a shared political unity. Canadian unity did not emerge fully formed - there were several Canadian rebellions during the 19th century, some against British rule, some protesting territorial oligarchies, and some basically anti-federalist in nature.
posted by meehawl at 12:12 PM on July 5, 2007

Mayor Curley: "St. John New Brunswick was a tiny little town until it got flooded with Loyalists."

Actually "Saint John".

posted by loiseau at 5:15 PM on July 5, 2007

Re: "peasants, criminals, soldiers"

I'm currently reading Stone Country: An Unauthorized History of Canada by George Bowering. So I'll say that's my citation, although I've read/studied about the above in a multitude of books and courses. And I'm descended from all three groups, I suspect.
posted by acoutu at 9:31 PM on July 5, 2007

Thanks for that site, acoutu - will check the book out. Also checked out your consulting web site - good stuff!

And thanks for everyone's comments, especialy meehawl's most recent ones. I only wish the hive mind were around to teach us high school history - most of us might have stayed away if we had more teachers who had a love of the topic...
posted by rmm at 11:42 PM on July 6, 2007

I'd just hop in to second a couple of points and make a couple more. The Quebec Act is crucial. Residents of the thirteen mainland British colonies to the south saw Britain's decision to rule Quebec without a representative legislature as part of an overall conspiratorial plan to crush their liberties. (After all, the Quebec Act was passed at the same time as the Massachusetts Government Act, which in many ways ended representative government in that colony.)

Moreover, many of the colonists saw Parliament's willingness to allow open Catholic worship--which was illegal in most of the 13 colonies that formed the United States--as part of this overall embrace of despotism. It is difficult to overstate how deeply ingrained anti-Catholicism was in Protestant British America, largely because they saw it as a malevolent political force as well as a heretical religion. The same is true for Act's allowance for the maintenance of French civil law in the colony. The English were proud of the fabled rights that their "antient constitution" protected. They believed French law despotic, as it didn't protect the rights like trial by jury, habeus corpus, and the like.

But the denunciations of the Quebec act by the Continental Congress did nothing to endear the Quebecois to those colonies to the south. Attached to their religion and their law, they weren't thrilled to hear them called despotic and weren't eager to join those who had expressed a desire to stamp them out.

And lastly, it's crucial to remember that the colonies that became the United States weren't all of British America. They didn't even comprise a majority of British America. I always remind my students that on July 3rd, 1776 Britain had 26 American colonies, ranging from Newfoundland to Barbados. And the sugar colonies in the Caribbean produced far more wealth for the empire than the mainland colonies did. And they all responded differently to the Stamp Act, the Townsend Acts, the Coercive Acts, and the like. Realizing that only half of these colonies rebelled makes the situation seem different--the question is why those thirteen rebelled as much as why Canada (or Jamaica, for that matter) didn't.
posted by jsmolenski at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

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