The Quebec Delegation in London was established in 1962. It was the third foreign delegation to be opened by the province, after New York and Paris. In opening an office in London, the Quebec government was recognizing the importance of the province’s cultural and economic connections with Britain, as well as its interest in maintaining an official presence in the capital of a nation with which Canada continued to possess formal constitutional ties. Leading officials also believed that Quebec’s interests abroad were not necessarily served by the federal government of Canada and that the province needed a form of foreign representation that allowed it to speak with its own voice.
In some ways, the delegation’s distant roots can be traced back to the individuals who travelled to London in the wake of the 1760 conquest of New France in order to lobby the British government on behalf of the French-speaking and Catholic population of Quebec. These delegates believed that colonial officials in Quebec City were not necessarily serving French-Canadian interests and that French Canada needed to speak with its own voice in London. They sought to represent les nouveaux sujets de Sa Majesté and entered or attempted to enter into negotiations with imperial officials.
This article examines the individuals who travelled to London in order to lobby the imperial authorities in favour of the expansion of French-Canadian rights from the 1763 Treaty of Paris to the 1840 Act of Union, and who were delegated to represent a significant body or institution within French Canada. Some delegates were appointed by the Roman Catholic Church, French Canada’s leading institution before the 1960s, while others were selected by Lower Canada’s Legislative Assembly or by various ad hoc committees and assemblies.
The study is thus only concerned with individuals who travelled to the metropole with the mandate to represent a wider body, not those who happened to be in London on private business. For instance, dissident Pierre du Calvet (1735–1786), who travelled to London in 1783 to clear his name in the wake of his three-year detention without trial, and who is sometimes referred to as a French-Canadian delegate, was not appointed to speak on behalf of any particular group. Likewise, Michel Chartier de Lotbinière (1723–1798) was in London vainly pressing the Board of Trade to recognize his title over two seigneuries when he was hastily called as a witness for the opposition during the House of Commons hearings to examine the 1774 Quebec Bill. Although he was the first French Canadian to testify before the Parliament at Westminster, de Lotbinière was certainly not speaking on behalf of his fellow seigneurs when he voiced his opposition to the proposed legislation.
I have identified 10 French-Canadian missions to London (see Appendix) that were carried out between 1763 and 1840, during the British regime in Canada, when the need to directly lobby the imperial authorities was most acute.1 This need did not dissipate after the 1848 granting of responsible government to the Province of Canada, but later delegations, like the one that travelled to London in 1866 to negotiate the final details of the Confederation, were not French Canadian in nature; they were Canadian delegations that contained French-speaking representatives. The roots of these mixed delegations can nevertheless be traced to the missions that were sponsored by Lower Canada’s Legislative Assembly in the 1820s and 1830s, and which generally included a representative of the colony’s English-speaking community.
I have chosen to examine French-Canadian lobbying efforts in London as part of a wider research programme focused on loyalism in French Canada. Lobbying attempts, even in the 1830s, when anti-colonial sentiment rose sharply in Lower Canada, were predicated on ideas of loyalty. An attachment to British institutions and a belief that the British conquest had been providential were widely held among French-Canadian elites in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Among the idées fortes of French-Canadian loyalism we also find the notion that the imperial authorities, and especially the Crown, were inherently just and liberally-minded, and that their sense of fair play made them well-disposed towards French-Canadian requests for greater rights. This notion informed French-Canadian attempts to lobby London. However, as Colin Coates has noted, ‘French Canadians used the British connection in ways that provided them with as much autonomy as possible’ and ‘the language of loyalty could mask a discourse of defiance.’2
This study is accordingly interested in what French-Canadian missions reveal about Quebec’s place within the British Empire. French Canadians could be counted among what Donal Lowry calls the Empire’s ‘ethnic outsiders’.3 Delegates from Quebec were British subjects, but they were also travelling to what was in most ways a foreign country. This was especially true for those who came to London in the years that immediately followed the British conquest of New France.
By the early nineteenth century, however, Quebec had been part of the British Empire for several decades and French Canadians had come to embrace British institutions and aspects of British culture. English was widely spoken as a second language among the French-Canadian elite, British literature was read with some appreciation, and British politics were followed closely. French-Canadian delegates requested rights as British subjects and insisted that French-speaking Catholics in Quebec were entitled to equal treatment before the law. They believed that the loyalty that French Canadians had shown to the British Crown underpinned their requests, and that fostering French-Canadian distinctiveness within the British Empire would be of mutual benefit to Britain and Quebec.
Delegates were ultimately seeking to negotiate a place within the British Empire for French Canada. They lobbied London to allow French Canadians to fully participate in civic life within the framework of British political institutions while also allowing Quebec to retain its particular religious and social institutions. They experienced some success, especially when they enjoyed the support of the colonial authorities at Quebec, but often failed to achieve their goals because these ran counter to British policy or because their English-speaking opponents had greater access to Whitehall.
The goals of the various missions to London that were organized between 1763 and 1840 mirror the shifting priorities of French Canada’s elites. The issue of religious rights was present throughout the period under study, as a Catholic people attempted to negotiate its place within a Protestant empire. It was most acute in the 1760s, however, when religious leaders sought to ensure the basic survival of Catholicism in Quebec. The perpetuation of Quebec’s legal and social institutions, including French civil law and the seigneurial system, was also the object of early lobbying efforts. The issue of political reform moved to the forefront of lobbying efforts in the 1780s. Delegates initially requested that Quebec be granted representative government, which occurred in 1791, and later missions focused on defending or expanding the colony’s political autonomy.
French-Canadian delegates sought direct and unmediated access to the British government. They laboured under the assumption that most British officials were liberally minded and would no doubt give justice to French Canada if they were properly apprised of its grievances. For their part, imperial officials and legislators were generally interested in obtaining first-hand information on Quebec, and colonial delegates were usually granted a measure of regard, even when London did not intend to conciliate their views.
Delegates also sought to build support for colonial reform within British society and to acquire direct insight into British affairs. For instance, the committee that dispatched John Neilson, Denis-Benjamin Viger and Augustin Cuvillier to London in 1828 gave them the following instruction: ‘Rendus en Angleterre, ils y puiseront, mieux que nous ne le pouvons faire ici, des lumières sur les vues des ministres de Sa Majesté.’ It also sought to influence public opinion in the metropole, enjoining the delegates to form ‘quelque liaison durable avec quelque établissement d’imprimerie, dans lequel ils donneront, s’ils le jugent à propos, leurs observations au public anglais sur l’état de la province, et dans lequel la même mesure pourra être continuée après leur retour en Canada.’4
Delegates were prominent figures within French-Canadian religious, political and business life, and most possessed significant intercultural and linguistic skills. Clerics dominated lobbying efforts in the 1760s. In the absence of representative government, the leadership exercised by the Catholic Church was vital to political affairs during the early years of the British regime. Merchants, especially those with business contacts in Britain, came to play a key role in lobbying efforts in the subsequent decades, while elected leaders were generally selected as delegates after the establishment of representative government.
Prominent colonists sometimes travelled to Paris under the French regime and lobbied the Crown on various matters, but the tradition of appointing delegates with a broad representative mandate was born with the British conquest. In London, delegates usually presented petitions to Parliament or to the Crown. They also sought meetings with prominent officials, especially with the colonial secretary, and submitted memoirs outlining their grievances. Some delegates sought to influence Parliament or the British public by publishing pamphlets or by giving testimony before a House of Commons committee.
Networking opportunities were also pursued, though French-Canadian access to British circles of power was limited. This can be attributed to an array of factors, not the least of which being that French-Canadian missions to London were usually meagrely funded. Most could count on a modest sum raised by an ad hoc committee or drawn on diocesan funds. Delegates were expected to live frugally and certainly did not have the resources to organize lavish receptions or engage in the sort of activities that would have been practised by established British lobbies. Some delegates were able to combine lobbying with commerce, but funding was a perennial problem for French Canadians in London. Jean-Baptiste-Amable Adhémar subsisted on the edge of poverty during his final months in Britain and finances are a recurring theme in Msgr Joseph-Octave Plessis’s account of his 1819–20 voyage to Europe. Denis-Benjamin Viger, who was independently wealthy, stands out among his fellow delegates. He entertained guests and lived comfortably at the London Coffee House while he was serving as the agent for Lower Canada’s Legislative Assembly.
Delegates engaged in émigré sociability while in London. A handful of French Canadians, usually clerics or merchants, could be found at any given time in London in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Some were transiting through Britain on their way to France, which did not enjoy any direct communication links to Canada in the decades that followed the British conquest. Delegates usually sought out their countrymen while abroad. They also established relationships with other émigrés and outsiders. François-Xavier Garneau joined the Société littéraire des Amis de la Pologne while in London and was involved in Polish nationalist circles.
French émigré circles were frequented above all others, and many French-Canadian missions to London involved an attendant visit to France. Msgr Plessis, for instance, was in close contact with the remaining community of French Catholic and royalist exiles while in London. He had previously employed Father François Bourret, a French Sulpician and royalist refugee, as his agent in the capital.5 Like previous clerical delegates, the bishop of Quebec travelled from one Catholic community to another while in England. British by right, French-Canadian delegates were nevertheless alienated from mainstream society in the metropole, and their sense of kinship with English and Irish Catholics heightened their status as outsiders, as did their tendency to associate with French émigrés.
But delegates did not live en retrait from British society. They socialized daily with Britons, particularly with individuals who had connections to Canada, like MP John Arthur Roebuck, who was raised in the colony. A radical with a great deal of sympathy for colonial reform, Roebuck is emblematic of the sort of ally that French-Canadian delegates courted in the 1820s and 1830s. Delegates’ interests tended to align with groups that were marginal within British politics. These included English Catholics, Irish nationalists, and British radicals. Delegates were not generally successful in forging alliances with powerful British lobbies and interest groups, especially those tied to commerce and industry, and their lobbying suffered accordingly.
French-Canadian delegates nevertheless achieved some success in London, though perhaps not as much as is credited to them in the single overall study devoted to the subject, Georges Bellerive’s Délégués canadiens-français en Angleterre (1913). Bellerive, a Quebec City lawyer and editor of three volumes of speeches given abroad by French-Canadian political leaders, regarded the lobbying done by delegates as crucial to the expansion of French-Canadian rights. His work, though useful in identifying French-Canadian missions to London, is essentially a series of narratives connected by the following thread: ‘Nous présentons au public ce modeste opuscule, où nous avons voulu faire revivre, dans un cadre nouveau, le souvenir de ceux qui sont allés défendre nos droits jusqu’aux pieds du trône, en Angleterre, et qui ont le plus contribué à nous obtenir les libertés civile, politique et religieuse dont nos ancêtres furent dépouillés lors de la cession du Canada à la Grande-Bretagne.’6
Subsequent historical writing has examined certain specific missions to London. Nationalist authors like Michel Brunet have tended to emphasize the futility of colonial lobbying. The Montreal historian presented the failure of the Adhémar–De Lisle mission to London as symptomatic of the powerlessness of the French-Canadian elite in the face of British intransigence.7 By contrast, critics of nationalism have proved less inclined to regard the British as pathologically ill-disposed towards French-Canadian demands for redress. Fernand Ouellet argued for instance that the 1823 Papineau–Neilson mission was essentially superfluous since Whitehall had already withdrawn its support for a scheme to unite Upper and Lower Canada.8 More recently, some historians have cited colonial lobbying efforts as evidence that pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec was hardly an insular society.9
By examining French-Canadian missions over time, the present study seeks to go beyond the examination of individual delegations, each of which merits further study in its own right, and instead offers an overall assessment of French-Canadian lobbying in London. It seeks notably to understand the goals and effectiveness of this lobbying. The study, which is based on secondary sources, published accounts and archival material preserved in the British Library, fits into new currents in Quebec historiography that point to the complicated and ambivalent relationship between Britain and French Canada in the decades that followed the conquest of New France.10 Nationalist scholars have long insisted, with good reason, on the struggle for autonomy in Quebec. This struggle was advanced, in part, through the efforts of French-Canadian delegates in London. We should be careful, however, not to assume that their objectives were consistent with those of the modern Quebec nationalist movement. French-Canadian delegates sought greater autonomy for Quebec, but they did so within an imperial framework, demanding that their rights as British subjects be recognized and seeking to negotiate a place for their nation within the British Empire.
The present study also contributes more generally to our understanding of colonial lobbying within the British Empire. Alison Olson’s work on American lobbying in London shows how the Empire was managed largely through informal means in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She argues that British interest groups, principally commercial, religious, agricultural and professional, provided a bridge between London and the Thirteen Colonies, supplying Whitehall with, among other things, valuable information on far-flung colonies.11 French-Canadian delegates also provided British officials with vital intelligence on colonial affairs, but they did not have ready access to metropolitan networks of power. The interests of metropolitan lobby groups often aligned with those of Quebec’s Protestant merchants, and the efforts of French-Canadian delegates suffered accordingly. Nevertheless, as C.A. Bayly noted, ‘the creation of colonies was never simply a question of domination. It involved a long process of political dialogue, of challenge and response, and of accommodation.’12 French-Canadian delegates sought both to contest and to accommodate the British colonial project. This study is thus concerned, in a wider sense, with the process of mutual adaptation that allowed Quebec to become integrated within the British Empire.
The Continuity of the Episcopate, 1763–1766
The most pressing issue for the first French-Canadian delegates concerned the continuity of the Quebec episcopate. The Catholic bishop of Quebec, Mgr. de Pontbriand, had died a few short months before the September 1760 surrender of Montreal, leaving the colony without a bishop during the difficult transition from French to British sovereignty. A system of collective leadership was established in the interim by the vicars general of the colony, but this arrangement could only be temporary. Without a bishop, new priests could not be ordained. This situation was exacerbated by the British authorities, who had forbidden the recruitment of priests abroad. No ordinations and no recruitment abroad would essentially condemn the Catholic Church in Quebec to a slow death. This was a calamitous prospect in a Catholic society where the Church was tasked with providing education, healthcare and social services, and where social and cultural norms were regulated according to Catholic values. It was vital that the British allow the nomination of a new bishop of Quebec and recognize his jurisdiction, but British law and anti-Catholic prejudice made such an appointment difficult.
Hostility to Catholicism was fundamental to British identity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; it acted as the glue that held together the constituent groups that formed the British nation.13 Anti-Catholic prejudice was generally less intense among the governing elite than among the popular classes, yet various British officials hoped to establish the Anglican Church in Quebec, and preventing the appointment of a Catholic bishop at Quebec was essential to that plan. The 1763 Treaty of Paris provided for the free exercise of the Roman Catholic faith in Canada, but only insofar as permitted by British law.
At the time of the British conquest, leading Canadian-born cleric Joseph-Marie de La Corne (1714–1779) had already been in France for several years representing the clerical authorities at Quebec in a lawsuit. He remained in contact with his colleagues after the fall of Quebec, however, and was appointed vicar general of Quebec in France in September 1760. Once the Treaty of Paris was signed in February 1763, La Corne was immediately dispatched to London to lobby the British government to allow the appointment of a Roman Catholic bishop at Quebec. This first mission by a French-Canadian delegate was not a success, however. La Corne received the full support of the French ambassador to the Court of St. James, who pressured Secretary of State Lord Egremont to enter into discussions with the delegate. But the ambassador’s involvement effectively doomed La Corne’s mission. Lord Egremont refused to receive the cleric and insisted that France had no right to interfere in the relationship between the British Crown and its new Canadian subjects.14
The clerical authorities in Quebec were undeterred, though they now realized that French support was likely to be prejudicial to their lobbying efforts. Accordingly, without a mandate from either Rome or Paris, the leading clerics of Quebec assembled to select a new bishop in September 1763. They chose to nominate Étienne Montgolfier (1712–1791), vicar general of Montreal and superior of the Sulpicians, as the Catholic bishop of Quebec. Joseph-Marie de La Corne was in turn appointed ‘procureur spécial pour notifier la susdite élection’.15 Montgolfier was quickly dispatched to join La Corne in London in order to negotiate his appointment and to secure the continuity of the episcopate from the British authorities. He was also tasked by his religious order to travel to Europe to ensure the continuance of the Sulpician title over its extensive property in the Montreal area.
The cleric’s negotiations were not fruitful. His nomination as bishop-elect aroused the ire of Governor James Murray, who wrote to Lords Shelburne and Halifax that the Sulpician was an unsuitable candidate for the episcopate. Murray regarded Montgolfier, who had arrived in the colony as a young priest, as insufficiently pliant and too well connected in France. The British government refused to recognize his nomination and went as far as to force him to resign as vicar general of Montreal. Moreover, Rome took issue with Montgolfier’s method of nomination, which ran counter to the rules adopted at the Council of Trent, though the Holy See was nevertheless willing to proceed with his appointment as bishop.16
Montgolfier and La Corne were quickly joined by a third delegate, Étienne Charest (1718–1783), seigneur of Lauzon and one of Quebec City’s most prominent residents. Although he had served with great distinction during the siege of Quebec, Charest nevertheless pledged his loyalty to his new sovereign after the 1763 cession of Canada. In September 1763, the church wardens of Quebec City met to endorse a plan to send Charest to London to present an address to King George asking him to allow the appointment of a new bishop for Quebec and to maintain the colony’s male and female religious orders. In essence, prominent laymen sought to support the lobbying already undertaken in London by church leaders: ‘Il est indispensable d’envoyer un député à Londres pour présenter à Sa Majesté les vœux de toute la colonie. L’assemblée ne croit mieux faire que de proposer M. Charest l’aîné, présent à l’assemblée, qui est prié d’accepter cette députation par le zèle qu’on lui connait pour sa religion et sa patrie. Il agira de concert avec les deux grands vicaires qui se trouveront à Londres au nom du clergé.’ A budget of 6,000 French livres was proposed for the mission and a successful appeal was made to the ecclesiastical authorities in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and Montreal to release parish funds for the journey.17
It is interesting to note the use of the word député in reference to Charest’s role and his appointment through a process that approximated a deliberative assembly. As Christian Dessureault and Christine Hudon have noted, before the emergence of local and representative government in Quebec, the corps de marguillers represented, along with the militia, ‘des lieux de representation et d’exercice du pouvoir’. Likewise, Allan Greer has listed the church vestry among the institutions that endowed French Canada with an incipient republican spirit in the early nineteenth century.18
Charest was appointed to a clerical mission by Catholic laymen who drew their legitimacy in part from their role as church wardens, and yet his appointment was meant to reflect ‘les vœux de toute la colonie’, while the two other delegates were in London ‘au nom du clergé’. His appointment was nevertheless part of a calculated effort, on the part of Quebec’s clerical authorities, to mitigate the ‘priestly’ nature of their lobbying. Leading French-Canadian clerics were all too aware of the strength of anti-Catholic prejudice in Great Britain, so they resolved to place a layman at the forefront of their campaign in favour of the nomination of a bishop. ‘Il faut laisser croire aux autorités britanniques que cette demande vient du peuple plutôt que du clergé’, wrote the vicar general of Quebec.19
Charest’s mission was destined for failure, however. The day before leaving for Europe, news arrived at Quebec that La Corne had failed to convince London to allow the appointment of a Catholic bishop. Charest left nevertheless, carrying a letter from Governor Murray to Lord Halifax, the colonial secretary. The letter praised Charest as an individual but condemned the object of his mission. While Charest was en route to London, further news arrived at Quebec that George III had issued a proclamation voiding French law in the colony and establishing British law in its place. Instructions were also given to the governor to prepare the groundwork for the establishment of the Anglican Church.20
Charest’s mission now acquired a new urgency. In a December 1763 letter to Lord Halifax, which he signed as the ‘député du Canada’, Charest acknowledged that the practice of Catholicism was not fully legal under British law, but he also insisted that French Canadians deserved distinct treatment. ‘Leur qualité de sujets fidèles et nouvellement conquis parait être un de ces cas particuliers qui semblerait exiger à cet égard de nouvelles lois’, he wrote. Charest believed that current rules, which had been crafted ‘dans les temps de troubles et des plus grandes agitations de l’État’, now needed to be revised. ‘Vos nouveaux sujets du Canada se croient dans le cas de pouvoir les espérer, et ils s’attendent à être traités avec la plus grande condescendance que l’État ait jamais eu pour les catholiques romains dans quelque partie que ce soit de sa domination,’ he insisted.21
Charest’s appeal did not move the colonial secretary, and the seigneur of Lauzon returned to Quebec in the spring of 1764, after having spent some time at La Rochelle in France. He was returning home to settle his affairs. The ‘député du Canada’ had become convinced that French Canadians could not expect redress from the British Crown. He accordingly sold his seigneurie to Governor Murray and settled his family in Tourraine, where he was decorated by the French Crown for his actions during the siege of Quebec.
Once it became evident to Étienne Montgolfier that his nomination as bishop was threatening the episcopal succession, the Sulpician resigned in favour of Jean-Olivier Briand (1715–1794), vicar general of Quebec. Like Montgolfier, Briand was born in France, but he was nevertheless on excellent terms with Governor Murray, and his good relations with the British authorities predated the fall of Montreal. During the year that separated the Battle of the Plains of Abraham from the surrender of Montreal, Briand had administered the portion of the diocese of Quebec that was under British occupation and had earned the respect of the British authorities through his willingness to compromise and his solicitude towards injured soldiers, regardless of their religion or nationality. Moreover, after the capitulation of the French forces, Briand had urged his flock to accept the dictates of Providence and to submit to the British authorities.
Briand was one of the architects of French-Canadian loyalism. He recognized that British rule was likely to be permanent – indeed, he believed that it had been ordained by God – and planned accordingly.22 The vicar general understood the urgency of re-establishing episcopal continuity, but he also recognized that the future bishop of Quebec would operate under a number of restrictions. In a 1763 memoir intended for the leading clerics of Quebec, Briand noted for instance that a future bishop would have to adopt a modest demeanour, since ‘le gouvernement ne veut pas que l’évêque tienne état et ait le faste extérieur de cette dignité.’23
Briand left for London to secure his nomination shortly after Montgolfier’s return. Like Montgolfier, Briand enjoyed the full support of Quebec’s leading clerics, but unlike his predecessor he could also count on the support of Governor Murray, who wrote a letter recommending him to Lord Shelburne and whose secretary, Hector Cramahé, had been dispatched to London to lobby the imperial authorities on a number of matters, including the need to appoint Briand as bishop of Quebec. The governor, who had once toyed with the idea of allowing the Church to operate indefinitely without a bishop, in the hope that this would hasten Quebec’s conversion to Protestantism, now believed that the appointment of a bishop should be allowed and went so far as to lobby various figures within the Anglican Church to that effect.24 He had come to regard Briand as a valuable ally in governing the colony and no longer believed that the conversion of French Canada to Protestantism was a realistic short-term objective.
Briand’s mission was nevertheless complicated by a change in government in Britain and by the actions of an apostate Jesuit, Pierre Roubaud, who had arrived in London a few months earlier and was encouraging British officials to believe that French Canada might be converted to Protestantism in the near future. Moreover, the influence of Briand’s champion, James Murray, had declined in the face of intense lobbying on the part of Quebec’s Protestant merchants, who sought to have the governor removed from his post.25 For 13 months, Briand remained in England, trying to no avail to receive official approval for his nomination. With the support of Cramahé, the cleric was able to make his case to the British government, and his appeals were met with a measure of sympathy, but his appointment as bishop would essentially violate British law. Finally, Briand was led to understand through informal channels that the British government would not oppose his consecration if it were done quietly in France. He promptly left London on the pretext of visiting his aged mother in Brittany.26
In France, Joseph-Marie La Corne had already been negotiating Briand’s appointment with the Holy See, and the relevant bull was issued in January 1766. In compliance with British wishes, Pope Clement XIII agreed that the new bishop of Quebec would not be in direct relations with either Rome or France, and Briand was privately consecrated near Paris in March by the bishop of Blois. Msgr Briand returned promptly to London, where he renewed his pledge of loyalty to George III and was informed that he would heretofore be regarded officially as the ‘superintendent of the Romish Church’ at Quebec. Satisfied, he then returned home, where his arrival in June was greeted with great joy by the population. Governor Murray, who was leaving for London to defend his policies at Whitehall, wrote to congratulate the new bishop: ‘I have ardently wished to take you by the hand and sincerely congratulate you on your promotion, an event which has made me very happy, as I did everything in my power to contribute to it both by my public letters to the King’s ministers and my private solicitations to my friends.’27
While in France, Msgr Briand had secured permission from the Holy See to appoint a co-adjutor with right of succession. He regarded this measure as integral to maintaining episcopal continuity in Quebec and also to limiting British meddling in future nominations, though it would be some time before the British authorities would agree to allow the bishop to make such an appointment.
The missions of La Corne, Montgolfier, Charest and Briand revealed that the support of French officials could be detrimental to lobbying efforts, but they also revealed that success was difficult to achieve without the support of the British governor at Quebec. James Murray was initially hostile to the appointment of a Roman Catholic bishop at Quebec, but he eventually came to support the measure. His change of heart both mirrored and prompted wider shifts in British policy. Indeed, by the mid-1760s, attitudes towards Quebec among higher officials in Britain had begun to evolve. The hope of rapid assimilation was fading, and lobbying requests that fostered the long-term maintenance of order and British rule could be successful if they were advanced with caution. British administrators increasingly understood that they could not hope to govern Quebec without the support of the Roman Catholic Church. They consequently sought to ally themselves with this powerful institution, while at the same time continuing to work towards its long-term subjugation.28
The Path to Emancipation, 1773–1786
By the late 1760s, it had become increasingly obvious to a number of British officials that various provisions contained in the Royal Proclamation that had framed Quebec’s political and legal order since 1763 were unworkable and indeed unjust towards the French Canadians.29 The new governor of Quebec, Guy Carleton, was among those who pressured the British government to grant the colony a new constitution. The growing turmoil in the Thirteen Colonies provided further incentive for London to secure the allegiance of French Canada.
Quebec’s elites were by no means passive observers when it came to the province’s political future and actively sought to make their voices heard in London. In late 1773, a group of French-Canadian merchants and seigneurs delegated François Baby (1733–1820) to present a petition to the British government calling for the restoration of traditional laws and customs in the colony, for the expansion of Quebec’s borders in order for the colony to encompass much of the former territory of New France, and for the lifting of the various barriers that prevented Catholics from entering the military and public service in Quebec. At heart, the document expressed a desire on the part of the French-Canadian elite to enjoy British freedoms and participate in public affairs while also retaining ‘nos anciennes lois, privilèges et coutumes’. The petitioners framed their request as a matter of equity: ‘Nous finissons en suppliant votre majesté de nous accorder, en commun avec ses anciens sujets, les droits et privilèges des citoyens anglais. Alors nos craintes seront dissipées : nous filerons des jours sereins et tranquilles ; et nous serons toujours prêts à les sacrifier pour la gloire de notre prince et le bien de notre patrie.’30
Baby was one of the few French-Canadian merchants who had been able to establish solid business connections in Britain after the conquest of New France. Sent to England as a prisoner of war in 1760, he was able to forge a business relationship with one of London’s leading commercial houses, and his 1773–4 lobbying mission was in fact attendant to a business trip to Britain and France. The seigneur of Bécancour was also tasked by the religious authorities at Montreal to obtain London’s permission for the Collège de Montréal to recruit two priests in France.
Baby’s mission received Carleton’s backing, and was indeed of great assistance to the governor of Quebec. The delegate’s lobbying lent support to Carleton’s vision of an expanded and bijuridical colony governed with the concert of local elites. The former attorney general of Quebec, Francis Masères, who opposed Catholic emancipation in the colony, believed that the 1773 petition that Baby presented to the British government ‘has been made the foundation of the Quebec Act.’31 The seigneur of Bécancour returned to Quebec in May 1774, shortly before the parliamentary debate began on the Quebec Bill. He had successfully settled his family’s affairs in France, having redeemed, at a tolerable discount, a large amount of French bills of exchange, and he had also successfully transferred his accounts in London.32 Baby’s lobbying on behalf of the clergy had been less successful, however. Lord Dartmouth informed him that the recruitment of two priests would have to wait ‘jusqu’à ce que fussent définitivement arrêtés les règlements concernant notre colonie’.33
While the Quebec Act was generally popular among French-Canadian elites, democratic ideas gained greater currency in Quebec during the American Revolution and, by the 1780s, a growing number of colonists were agitating for the establishment of an elected assembly. Petitions were drafted by both English- and French-speaking subjects calling on the imperial authorities to reform Quebec’s constitution, and appeals for greater religious freedom were also made. In Montreal, where the calls for reform were most intense, a petition was drafted in 1783 by a group of leading French-speaking laymen asking London to allow French priests to emigrate to Canada and to permit the establishment of an episcopal see in the city. The petition also dealt with civil affairs, though it did not specifically call for the establishment of representative government, since opinions diverged on the appropriateness of such a measure. Instead, the petitioners asked London to ensure that French Canadians be allowed to fully participate in political affairs ‘under whatever form of government’ the Crown chose to establish in Quebec.34
Though the petition and the adjoining memoirs do not appear to have enjoyed the active support of Bishop Briand, they were nevertheless drafted with the assistance of Étienne Montgolfier, who remained one of Montreal’s leading clerics in the 1780s.35 Montgolfier’s involvement may explain why the petition did not specifically call for the establishment of an elected assembly, since Quebec’s Catholic Church maintained an ambiguous stance regarding representative government until well into the nineteenth century.
Two leading Montreal merchants, Jean-Baptiste-Amable Adhémar (1736–1800) and Jean De Lisle (1724–1814), were selected to present the petition in London and to lobby the British government for greater religious and political freedom. In order to raise funds for their mission, they wrote to the various militia captains in the Montreal area, asking them to take up collections in their parishes. They also informed Governor Frederick Haldimand that they had been ‘lawfully elected’ as delegates and asked for his assistance in dealing with officials in London.36
General Haldimand, who governed Quebec during much of the American Revolution, was prone to view legitimate political movements as potentially seditious, and it was in this mindset that he greeted Adhémar and De Lisle’s mission. The general was especially concerned that the delegates had reached out to militia captains, a gesture that appeared subversive in light of Britain’s recent experience with political dissent in America. He informed Lord North of his suspicions regarding the delegates but did not prevent their departure for London.37
Adhémar and De Lisle sailed for Britain in October 1783. They were accompanied by William Dummer Powell, a Montreal merchant who was carrying a petition against the Quebec Act drafted by a group of English-speaking colonists. The three delegates did not form a joint mission, though they recognized that they shared some common goals regarding political reform. Adhémar in particular was already on record as opposing aspects of the Quebec Act.
Without the support of the British authorities at Quebec, the delegates received a chilly reception in London. The colonial authorities had long prevented clerical recruitment in France, and because the French-Canadian Church was not yet self-sufficient in manpower, a large number of parishes in Quebec were now lacking a priest. Governor Haldimand had in fact recently expelled two French priests who had arrived in the colony without official authorization. Adhémar and De Lisle were nevertheless able to meet with Lord North in December 1783 and present him with a memoir on clerical recruitment – they had already dropped the idea of lobbying for the establishment of an episcopal see at Montreal, a measure which Msgr Briand was cool to at any rate. They were accompanied in their meeting with the prime minister by Thomas Hussey, an Irish cleric who had lately served as a diplomatic conduit between Britain and Spain, and who was representing Msgr Briand. A change in government prevented an official response from Whitehall, however.38
While waiting for a response to their memoir, Adhémar and De Lisle went to France and began to recruit clerics for Canada. They were unable to send the priests they had selected to the colony, however, because Lord North’s successor, Lord Sydney, also opposed clerical recruitment in France. A second memoir was prepared in March 1784 by the delegates. It reminded Lord Sydney of the loyalty that the clergy had displayed during the American Revolution and suggested that the Catholic Church was a pillar of British rule in Quebec. The request to allow the Quebec Church to recruit priests in Europe was not framed as strictly clerical, but rather as one that was emanating from the Canadians as a whole:
Le culte de l’église de Rome est légalement établi dans la province de Québec par un acte émané du Parlement en mil-sept-cent-soixante-quatorze. Étant légalement établi il est légalement libre : or la liberté du culte emporte nécessairement avec elle la liberté des moyens de l’exercer et de conserver ce culte (comme nous avons déjà eu l’honneur de l’avancer dans notre premier mémoire) ; il s’en suit donc évidemment que les Canadiens ont à présent par le dit acte, le droit légal de se procurer eux-mêmes les moyens en toute liberté ; d’ailleurs elle leur était déjà acquise par le droit naturel, par le droit des nations et par deux conventions solennelles et sacrées, la capitulation de Montréal et le traité définitif de Paris. Appuyés par des principes aussi incontestables ils supplient avec respect qu’il leur soit permis de tirer d’Europe des prêtres catholiques romains.39
The delegates’ requests fell on deaf ears, however. Lord Sydney was intractable when it came to recruiting clerics in France. In a long letter outlining his instructions on various matters to Haldimand, he informed the governor that:
Mssrs. Adhémar and De Lisle have, since their first arrival in England, paid a visit to the Continent, and on their return have made application for the admission of three young ecclesiastics, whom they proposed to take out with them from the Seminary of St. Sulpice, at Paris, but the same reasons which operated with you, have produced a negative to that requisition. These gentlemen have met with very little countenance here, and His Majesty, from your representation of their character, as well as some other reports which have come to my knowledge of their sentiments, has chosen rather to receive the petition they were charged with, through my hands, than that it should be presented to him by them.
Lord Sydney was not opposed to the recruitment of European priests for Quebec, but insisted that they hail from states like Savoy, that were ‘unconnected with the House of Bourbon’ (original emphasis).40
Adhémar and De Lisle were nevertheless able to meet with Guy Carleton, who was soon to be reappointed governor of Quebec, and they remained optimistic on the outcome of their mission. Msgr Briand had previously intervened in their favour with Carleton, who was not categorically opposed to clerical recruitment in France. The bishop would contribute to Adhémar’s living expenses while in London, though he remained discreet in his support for the delegate’s mission.41
In February 1784, Francis Masères, the agent in London of Quebec’s Protestant merchants, publicly reached out to Adhémar and De Lisle to consult them on several matters, including on the need to establish Habeas Corpus and the right to a jury trial in civil cases in Quebec.42 The delegates were favourable to both reforms, which the British government would implement in short order. Masères also hoped to build an Anglo-French alliance to lobby the British government to establish an elected assembly in Quebec. In an April 1784 letter to their sponsors, which De Lisle brought back to Canada in the summer of that year, the delegates asked for further instructions to clarify their position on the introduction of representative government in the province. They believed that the British government was poised to grant this reform to Quebec:
Nous devons vous faire observer que tout parait en ce moment tourner en notre faveur. Le gouvernement conçoit aisément que nous formons la généralité des individus de notre province. La disproportion, de dix-neuf à un, est trop frappante pour n’être pas observée par la partie généreuse et impartiale du reste de la nation. Ajoutez que notre gracieux Souverain, étant juste et bienfaisant, ne veut pas d’un peuple libre en faire un peuple esclave, et que Sa Majesté au contraire veut le rendre heureux et content.
Adhémar and De Lisle urged their sponsors to make a clear statement in favour of an elected assembly:
Ne vous laissez pas entraîner par aucune vue particulière. N’ayez d’autre but que celui de procurer le bien général de tous les individus de notre province. Vous êtes Anglais, sujets libres, et comme tels, vous avez l’incontestable droit de représentation.43
Although the British government was not quite poised to grant representative government to Quebec, Adhémar and De Lisle’s counsel did not fall on deaf ears. In November 1785 petitions were drafted and signed by a number of prominent English- and French-speaking subjects, including De Lisle, calling for this reform to be implemented. These documents are the first instance of significant English–French collaboration in petitioning the Crown for political reform.44
Adhémar remained in London until early 1786. His official mission in favour of clerical recruitment had failed, though he was able to counter some of apostate Pierre Roubaud’s lingering influence in official circles. The destitute Roubaud, in turn, took it upon himself to spy on Adhémar and Pierre du Calvet and report their dealings to Governor Haldimand, who had returned to Britain in late 1784.45 Adhémar also successfully lobbied against Haldimand’s plan to replace Msgr Briand, who had resigned as bishop of Quebec that same year, with a pliable English monk.
Although Adhémar lived modestly (he ‘was residing quietly and out of sight in his inn, little known, visited by no one’, wrote Roubaud, scornfully), his two-year mission had ruined his finances.46 In the end, he was reduced to soliciting Haldimand for official favours, which the retired governor refused to grant him. ‘J’ai fait depuis longtemps mais trop tard la triste expérience que j’ai eu tort d’accepter contre le gré de votre excellence la députation canadienne,’ he admitted in a 1785 letter asking the general to intercede on his behalf with Lord Sydney. Adhémar hoped that Haldimand could have him appointed judge at Detroit. ‘Je suis heureusement sans ambition,’ he insisted.47 The former delegate died in poverty some years later at Montreal.
Adhémar and De Lisle’s officious mission in favour of representative government achieved some measure of success. It showed imperial officials that support for an elected assembly existed among French Canadians. The delegates also played a role in organizing an Anglo-French lobby in favour of political reform. To the extent that Adhémar and De Lisle achieved any success whatsoever, it was because they drew on the support of French Canada’s various institutions and interest groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, the merchants and the seigneurs. Significantly, however, unlike Baby, Adhémar and De Lisle did not enjoy the support of the British governor of Quebec. They did, however, inaugurate a new lobbying tradition by associating with English-speaking colonists to advance their claims, which would prove to be an effective tactic in the next century, when after a lull of over 30 years, delegates would once again be dispatched to London.
Msgr Plessis’s Mission, 1819–1820
The best known French-Canadian mission to London during the British regime is undoubtedly the one led by Quebec Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis (1763–1825) in 1819–20, in part because the prelate kept a detailed diary during his voyage. Msgr Plessis aimed to build on the achievements of his predecessors, most notably on those of Msgr Briand, and further expand the autonomy and authority of the Catholic Church. In particular, he sought to obtain permission from the imperial authorities for Rome to divide the ungainly Catholic diocese of Quebec, which ran from the Great Lakes region to the Gulf of St Lawrence. He also sought to secure the title over the extensive property held by the Sulpicians in Montreal and to obtain a charter for the recently established seminary at Nicolet.
The bishop’s situation had improved significantly as a result of his indefectible support for the Crown during the War of 1812. Governor General James Craig had attempted to subjugate the Catholic Church in the years that preceded the conflict, but his departure and the outbreak of war had improved the Church’s standing in the eyes of the colonial authorities. Msgr Plessis was officially recognized as the Catholic bishop of Quebec, his annuity from the Crown was increased fivefold, and he was appointed to the Legislative Council of Lower Canada.
Msgr Plessis’s plan to divide his diocese had been reasonably well received in London, which allowed the Holy See to create apostolic vicariates in Upper Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. But the bishop wished to obtain further concessions from the imperial authorities. He believed that the political climate in Quebec and London was favourable to his endeavours and he was encouraged in his lobbying by Governor General John Coape Sherbrooke, who insisted that Msgr Plessis go to London to make his case directly to Lord Bathurst, the colonial secretary. Sherbrooke left Quebec before the bishop departed for Europe, but he nevertheless proved to be a valuable ally. He received Msgr Plessis at his English estate and provided him with letters of recommendation to various public officials in London. Before leaving Quebec, the bishop had also obtained the support and recommendation of Sherbrooke’s successor, the Duke of Richmond.
Msgr Plessis headed up a delegation of three clerics that included the future bishop of Montreal, Jean-Jacques Lartigue (1777–1840), who had been dispatched by the Sulpician order to plead its case in London, and the future archbishop of Quebec, Pierre-Flavien Turgeon (1787–1867), who acted as Msgr Plessis’s secretary. A black domestic servant, Jean-François Cazeau, also known as John Casot, accompanied the delegation. He had been tasked by his employer, the sœurs de l’Hôpital-Général de Québec, to attend to the bishop during his voyage.
The delegation’s plans were thrown into disarray, however, when they learned that Rome had elevated Quebec City to the status of an archdiocese containing two suffragan dioceses – without London’s consent. Msgr Plessis immediately wrote to Cardinal Fontana, in Rome, to inform him that he would not assume the title of archbishop without the approval of the British government and that all future adjustments concerning the archdiocese of Quebec should be made in consultation with Whitehall.48
In spite of Msgr Plessis’s diffidence, Rome’s unilateral actions sparked anger in British official circles. The Colonial Office was irritated, and Sir John Coape Sherbrooke warned the new archbishop that his appointment would damage relations between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. Lord Bathurst nevertheless received Msgr Plessis at his estate and entered into negotiations regarding the Nicolet seminary, the Sulpicians estates, and the further division of the archdiocese of Quebec, which Plessis hoped would include a diocese of Montreal.49
Bathurst, who was married to the Duke of Richmond’s sister, was immediately open to securing a charter for Nicolet. He was less disposed to ensuring the Sulpicians the title over their estates, however. In a memoir prepared for the occasion, Msgr Plessis nonetheless reminded the colonial secretary that the clergy was the mainstay of British rule in Lower Canada and that any attempt to weaken its financial resources would necessarily affect its standing among the general population:
Attaquer les biens du clergé, c’est paralyser son influence sur les peuples ; or dans un pays presque tout catholique, où depuis soixante ans de conquête les efforts du clergé ont été constamment et efficacement dirigés à inspirer aux fidèles la dépendance, la soumission due au roi et à son gouvernement, on ne peut affaiblir cette influence sans blesser le nerf le plus puissant qui attache le peuple de ce pays au gouvernement de Sa Majesté, celui de la religion qu’il professe.50
Bathurst appears to have accepted this line of argument, which had gained greater currency in the years that followed the War of 1812. Indeed, unlike the Jesuit estates, which had previously been seized by the Crown, those of the Sulpician order would not be confiscated. The colonial secretary also grudgingly allowed Msgr Plessis to petition Rome to further divide his archdiocese, though he withheld official British recognition for the archbishop’s new title, which Msgr Plessis never in fact assumed. Bathurst was experiencing pressure to this effect from Jacob Mountain, the Anglican bishop of Quebec, who believed that recognizing Msgr Plessis as an archbishop would diminish the status of the Anglican bishop and would, in effect, establish the Catholic Church in Canada.51
Msgr Plessis shrugged off this slight and promptly left for Rome with Pierre-Flavien Turgeon and Jean-François Cazeau in order to secure the bulls to reorganize his archdiocese, which were obtained in February 1820. In their absence, the Catholic Vicar Apostolic of London, Msgr William Poynter, a key ally of the archbishop of Quebec and an important conduit between London and Rome, and Jean-Jacques Lartigue further petitioned the Colonial Office regarding the Sulpician estates.52 On his return from Rome, Msgr Plessis was presented to King George IV and received assurances from Lord Bathurst that the Crown would grant Nicolet’s charter and would allow the further division of the archdiocese of Quebec.53
On the whole, Msgr Plessis’s mission was a success. He had achieved most of what he had set out to accomplish and had proven himself once again to be a most capable negotiator – Plessis had served as Msgr Briand’s secretary during his youth and had no doubt absorbed some of that prelate’s cautious approach to politics.54 The archbishop was able to harness the political capital that he had gained in previous years in order to obtain the support of key officials in Quebec which, in turn, allowed him to craft a series of compromises with the Colonial Office. But these were indeed compromises, not clear-cut victories. Lord Bathurst never formally withdrew plans to seize the Sulpician estates and the British government would only recognize the establishment of the diocese of Montreal in 1835. Still, the archbishop could appreciate the measure of his success and felt that it reflected the extent to which the status of the Roman Catholic Church had improved in Quebec since the 1760s. The Crown would allow for the creation of two new dioceses within the archdiocese of Quebec, he noted in his diary:
Mais le mot d’évêque n’était articulé en faveur ni de l’un ni de l’autre. Quiconque aura quelque idée du ministère Britannique, concevra l’embarras où ces sortes d’affaires mettent les ministres, d’après les restes de préjugés existants et les ménagements qu’ils sont forcés de prendre pour ne pas se compromettre. Le premier qui fut évêque de Québec après la conquête du Canada, se serait estimé très heureux s’il eût obtenu pour sa consécration une autorisation égale à celle que contenait cette dépêche, en faveur des deux sujets dont il était question. Mais après 18 à 20 mois de postulation, il n’obtint rien du tout. Seulement on lui fit savoir indirectement que, s’il se faisait consacrer, le gouvernement n’en dirait rien et fermerait les yeux sur cette démarche. Ah! quel changement en mieux depuis cette époque, et combien l’Église du Canada ne doit-elle pas à la divine Providence pour avoir amené doucement et fortement les choses au point où nous les voyons!55
Lobbying for Reform, 1823–1840
The establishment of representative government in 1791 opened a new chapter in Quebec’s political history. With the creation of an elected legislative assembly in the colony of Lower Canada, as Quebec was known from 1791 to 1841, political parties emerged and political debate was increasingly channelled towards electoral goals. The introduction of representative government was hailed as a fundamental reform and as proof of British munificence at the turn of the nineteenth century, though as time wore on calls were heard for greater political change.
The creation of a legislative assembly controlled by French Canadians and able to voice the concerns of the French-speaking bourgeoisie did not obviate the need, by the 1820s, to appoint delegates in order to directly lobby the British government. By that decade, the limits of the 1791 constitution had become increasingly apparent to reformists. As a result, the Legislative Assembly occasionally sought to override the governor and engage directly with the colonial authorities through the time-honoured tradition of appointing delegates and, eventually, by appointing an agent in London. Moreover, since the colonial legislature was frequently prorogued or not in session, ad hoc committees were occasionally formed in Montreal and Quebec City to select delegates in order to petition London.
These delegates generally lobbied for political reform, though they also sought to counter projects that aimed to curb the power of Lower Canada’s elected assembly. The first lay delegates appointed under the new regime were given the task of lobbying against an 1822 bill that provided for the union of Upper and Lower Canada. The idea of uniting the two colonies was not new. During the political crisis of 1810–11, Governor General Craig had considered it as a means to diminish the political power of the French Canadians and hasten their assimilation. The project did not disappear with Craig’s departure; it continued to be promoted as a solution to various ills by some of Lower Canada’s leading Protestant merchants. In the early 1820s, they were able to convince the Colonial Office to introduce a bill at Westminster to unite Upper and Lower Canada. The bill not only provided for a political union, but also contained clauses to increase the political representation of English colonists, suppress the official use of French and further subjugate the Roman Catholic Church.
The bill’s passage through Parliament was slowed by opposition MPs who sought to allow colonial subjects to express their opinion on its contents – the bill’s sponsors had wrongly assured Parliament that political union enjoyed wide support in both Upper and Lower Canada.56 As soon as news of the bill reached Canada assemblies were organized to protest against it. Public meetings were held in Montreal and Quebec City and an address to the king and to Parliament protesting the union bill received 70,000 signatures. A committee in each city selected a delegate – Louis-Joseph Papineau (1786–1871) for Montreal and John Neilson (1776–1848) for Quebec City – to present the address in London. Both delegates were leading parliamentarians and members of the Parti canadien, the reformist party which enjoyed the support of most French-Canadian voters, and the Legislative Assembly prepared an address of its own for Papineau and Neilson to bring to London in January 1823. The delegates were also tasked with transmitting three Upper Canadian petitions against the union bill to the British government.57
Their mission enjoyed a broad level of support in Lower Canada. Even the upper house of the colonial legislature, which was controlled by English-speaking interests, passed a resolution against the union bill. The Roman Catholic Church was appalled by the proposed legislation, which contained a clause that would have effectively granted the governor the power to appoint parish priests, and leading clerics joined the protest.58 Msgr Plessis wrote to Papineau to inform him that he had sent letters to his contacts in Britain, most notably to former Governor General John Coape Sherbrooke and to Msgr Poynter, asking them to support the delegate in his efforts.59
Papineau and Neilson arrived in London via New York in February 1823. Papineau had previously written to Colonial Undersecretary Robert Wilmot to inform him of the opposition that existed to the union bill in Lower Canada. The colonial reformer also sought to dissipate ‘the preposterous calumny against Canadians of French origin, as to their supposed attachment to France’, which was being circulated by the bill’s supporters to justify the union of Upper and Lower Canada. ‘They are not foreigners in this the land of their birth; they claim rights as British subjects, in common with every other subject of His Majesty in these colonies. These are birth rights.’60
In London, the delegates prepared a memoir for the colonial undersecretary. They outlined the union bill’s complete iniquity and insisted on the near-unanimous opposition that it elicited in both Upper and Lower Canada. ‘No bill introduced in Parliament relating to the colonies ever met with a more general opposition, on the part of those immediately concerned in its enactments, than the present’, they wrote.61 Papineau and Neilson also entered into contact with several leading Whigs, with whom they shared a number of viewpoints and whose opposition to the bill had given Lower Canadians the chance to voice their own opposition to union with Upper Canada. Within a matter of weeks, the delegates received assurances from Lord Bathurst that the bill in its current form would be withdrawn. Neilson promptly returned to Quebec City, though Papineau remained in London until Parliament was prorogued to ensure that a new union bill was not introduced.62
The delegates were celebrated as heroes on their return home. It was widely assumed that they had been able to convince the British government to withdraw the union bill in the face of the overwhelming opposition of Lower Canada. In truth, Whig opposition to the measure played a far more significant role in its demise.63 Nevertheless, Papineau and Neilson’s mission was significant. It convinced Papineau – whose leadership of the Parti canadien was further strengthened by his apparent success in London – that the colonial legislature needed to employ a permanent agent in the British capital. The mission also played an important role in radicalizing the future rebel, who had hitherto adhered to the loyalist consensus that had characterized the French-Canadian upper and middle classes for many years. In London, Papineau was exposed to the harsh realities of early-nineteenth-century British society, most notably to its gaping social inequalities, which shocked and appalled him. ‘J’étais vraiment passablement bon sujet en Canada, sincère admirateur des Anglais et de leur gouvernement, mais j’y remarque tous les jours de si insupportables abus que j’y deviens assez mauvais sujet,’ he wrote to his wife Julie in July 1823. Papineau was also shocked to realize that the union bill garnered a great deal of support among British elites, whom he had hitherto assumed to be astute and liberally minded towards French Canada. Indeed, the idea of uniting Upper and Lower Canada into a single colony remained in the air, and it would indeed be enacted in 1840. On his return to Canada, Papineau steadily abandoned the British political model in favour of that of the United States.64
Governor General George Dalhousie could be counted among the supporters of union. He lobbied the British government to reintroduce the measure in the mid-1820s and was hostile to the cause of political reform during the length of his administration, which lasted from 1820 to 1828. In November 1827, he refused to recognize Louis-Joseph Papineau as speaker of the Legislative Assembly and prorogued the colonial legislature a mere three days into its session. He later had two leading reformist newspaper editors arrested for libel. In response, public meetings were held in Montreal and Quebec City to protest Dalhousie’s actions and to prepare a petition to the British government outlining various grievances against the governor general. The address also called on the British government to facilitate the appointment of a Lower Canadian agent in London.65 More than 80,000 Lower Canadians signed the petition and a collection was taken up to fund a delegation tasked with presenting the document in London. John Neilson, Denis-Benjamin Viger (1774–1861) and Augustin Cuvillier (1779–1849) were selected as delegates. All three were leading figures of the Parti canadien, which had begun to refer to itself as the Parti patriote, a change which reflected the party’s growing radicalism.
The delegates arrived in London in March 1828 and were received favourably by the colonial authorities. Public opinion in Britain was sympathetic to the cause of reform, and the government had already acted to remove Dalhousie from his post. Colonial Secretary William Huskisson informed the delegates that a House of Commons committee would be convened over the summer to examine Canadian affairs and propose solutions to various problems. Viger, Neilson and Cuvillier were invited to testify before the committee and did so at length, especially Neilson, who provided the committee with an expert overview of Canadian affairs.
The Scottish-born delegate was questioned about a possible union of Upper and Lower Canada and on a scheme to annex the district of Montreal to the upper province. He argued in favour of the status quo and likened the British Empire to a federal state where only issues of general colonial concern should be dealt with at Westminster. When asked whether this would require Lower Canada to have some form of representation in Parliament, he replied that the appointment of an agent in London would suffice.66 For their part, Viger and Cuvillier insisted, among other things, on the need to maintain French laws and customs in Lower Canada. Cuvillier argued that the constitution of Upper and Lower Canada should be regarded ‘as a compact between the mother country and the colonies, a kind of compact which cannot be changed without the consent of all parties’, and Viger stressed that ‘the present natives of Canada are all natural born British subjects and they conceive they have the common rights of British subjects.’67
Generally speaking, the testimony given by the delegates, which reflected their views as moderates within the Parti patriote, was well received. By contrast, the testimony given by colonists hostile to political reform, including by leading bureaucrat Samuel Gale, was largely discounted by the Canada Committee. The committee had come to be dominated by MPs who favoured reform, and it blamed Dalhousie for many of the political tensions that had plagued Lower Canada in recent years. It also recommended that the colony’s Legislative Assembly be granted greater control over public funds.68 The delegates returned to Lower Canada in late 1828, and Dalhousie’s successor, Sir James Kempt, appointed Denis-Benjamin Viger to the colony’s Legislative Council in an effort to further conciliate the Parti patriote.
British attempts to conciliate the patriotes ultimately failed, as Louis-Joseph Papineau and his followers pursued increasingly radical change. Their demands now sought to empower le peuple through major democratic reforms, most notably by achieving an elected Legislative Council and, eventually, a republican system of government for Lower Canada. In the early 1830s, however, Papineau and his followers believed that the establishment of a Lower Canadian republic could occur with British blessing, and they continued to appeal to London for reform.
It was in this spirit that the Legislative Assembly appointed Denis-Benjamin Viger as its official agent in London in March 1831. Viger arrived in London in the summer and soon thereafter hired François-Xavier Garneau (1809–1866), future author of a seminal Histoire du Canada, as his secretary. The young Garneau, who had been travelling in Europe, was promptly put to work copying reports. The agent’s first major assignment was to press the British government to dismiss Lower Canada’s attorney general, James Stuart. The patriote majority in the Legislative Assembly accused Stuart, who had once been a leading figure of the Parti canadien, of conflicts of interest and abuse of power. Governor General Matthew Aylmer had already reviewed the charges against Stuart and found them sufficiently valid to suspend him as attorney general. Lord Goderich, the colonial secretary, concurred and Stuart was dismissed in November 1832.
This apparent victory has led some historians to regard Viger’s tenure as the agent of Lower Canada’s Legislative Assembly as a resounding success.69 In fact, it was not. Viger submitted several memoirs regarding the actions of Attorney General Stuart to Lord Goderich, but he also encountered significant obstacles to his mission from its inception. His appointment had been made without the assent of the colonial Legislative Council – the Legislative Assembly had naively hoped that Viger’s membership in the upper house would make his appointment more acceptable to that body70 – and the governor general consequently refused to write him a letter of introduction to the colonial secretary. In spite of Stuart’s dismissal, by the early 1830s, British officialdom was no longer as willing as it had been in the past to conciliate an increasingly radical colonial movement. The change was most evident among the moderate Whigs, who seemed less and less inclined to regard the patriotes as friends and allies. Viger instead courted British radicals and Irish nationalists, including John Arthur Roebuck, Joseph Hume and Daniel O’Connell. He also liaised with William Lyon Mackenzie, the Upper Canadian radical, who had been delegated to London to plead for political reform.71
The assembly’s agent nevertheless maintained official contact with the Colonial Office. He pressed Lord Goderich to grant control of the Jesuit estates to the colonial legislature, sought justice against the officials who ordered British troops to fire on a patriote crowd during an 1832 election riot in Montreal, and lobbied for crown land in Lower Canada to be granted with greater ease to individual freeholders. His efforts met, however, with little success.
Viger exchanged regular correspondence with Lower Canada’s Legislative Assembly, sending home reports of his activities and copies of official letters relating to colonial affairs.72 These reveal that his standing in official circles dwindled after Lord Goderich left the Colonial Office. The viscount’s successor, Edward Stanley, refused to grant the agent any measure of official recognition. In May 1833, Stanley directed his personal secretary, R.W. Hay, to inform Viger that he would ‘be happy to receive any statement you may desire to make to him in your individual capacity’. But, Hay continued, in response to a previous letter from the colonial agent:
With reference to the following expression in your letter, wherein you describe yourself as ‘chargé de représenter les intérêts des habitants du Bas-Canada’, I am desired to inform you that Mr. Stanley cannot consent to recognize you as an official agent. I am to observe that your mission to this country related to particular circumstances which you were entrusted to bring under the consideration of Viscount Goderich, and upon which an opinion has already been pronounced; and I am to add, that Mr. Stanley would deem the admission of a permanent agent, deputed by one branch only of the Legislature of a colony, as an innovation upon ordinary practice, inconvenient in its operation and dangerous as a precedent.73
Undeterred, Viger continued to address letters and memoirs to the Colonial Office. In October 1833, he sent a memoir to Edward Stanley outlining ‘some of the subjects of complaint of the Canadians’. He insisted that patriote demands for political reform be understood, not as the sort of ‘dangerous innovations’ so dreaded by the colonial secretary, but as a means to establish sound principles of British government.74
Viger’s last major assignment as the agent in London of Lower Canada’s Legislative Assembly was to present Papineau’s 92 Resolutions to Parliament. The 1834 resolutions called on the British government to move forward on a variety of political reforms, including on extending the elective principle to the colony’s legislative council. The tone employed was often confrontational, and the document contained ominous references to the American Revolution, but it was the demand for an elected upper house that most rankled the British authorities. London regarded this reform, which was of central importance to the patriotes, as incompatible with Lower Canada’s status as a colony and, indeed, with British constitutional government.
Viger was joined in London by another delegate, Augustin-Norbert Morin (1803–1865), the young editor of La Minerve, the patriote organ in Montreal and a leading member of the Legislative Assembly. In May 1834, Morin testified at length in front of a House of Commons committee that had been established to examine various Lower Canadian grievances. The committee was convened at the behest of Edward Stanley, now Lord Stanley, in response to a vehement speech in the House of Commons by John Arthur Roebuck, who supported the 92 Resolutions. Roebuck’s calls for an official inquiry into Lower Canadian affairs were bolstered by Daniel O’Connell, who urged the British government to ‘act wisely, and give to the Canadians the appointment of the Legislative Council, as well as of the Legislative Assembly’, and by Scottish radical Joseph Hume.75 Roebuck and O’Connell were appointed to the Select Committee on Lower Canada, though so was MP Edward Ellice, who had been a key figure in the 1822 attempt to unite Upper and Lower Canada. Hume was not appointed, though Viger and Morin consulted with him in the lead up to the committee’s hearings.76
Morin’s testimony before the committee covered a range of topics. He called for the Legislative Assembly to be granted control over all sources of public revenue in Lower Canada, including the proceeds from the sale of crown land, and he insisted that the colonial authorities ‘conciliate the good-will of the people, by treating them as free British subjects’, most notably by ensuring ‘an equal and fair distribution, without distinction, among the classes of the inhabitants, of the places of profit and honour in this province, and also of the unsettled waste lands in the country.’ However, Morin was most insistent in his testimony on the issue of extending the elective principle to the Legislative Council. He warned that failure on Britain’s part to move forward with this reform would threaten the colonial bond.77
The 1834 committee was not especially sympathetic to the cause of colonial reform. Morin was questioned at length by Sir Robert Grant on the level of support that the 92 Resolutions enjoyed among the general population, and he conceded that the English-speaking community was not overly supportive of the document. He further conceded that none of the delegates who had come to testify before the Canada Committee in 1828 had voted for the resolutions – Neilson and Cuvillier had voted against them in the Legislative Assembly and Viger was in London acting as the assembly’s agent when they were passed.78
Viger and Morin met with the new colonial secretary, Thomas Spring Rice, while the Select Committee on Lower Canada prepared its report. Spring Rice was conciliatory in his tone, but made no concrete promises to the delegates, who returned to Canada once the committee had issued its report.79 The report itself contained no specific recommendations, but it nevertheless prompted the appointment of a commission to examine the merits of the colonial assembly’s grievances and to recommend appropriate measures to the British government. Though some English-speaking colonists feared that the commissioners might recommend that concessions be made to the patriotes, they would instead advise against major political reform.
Viger and Morin had been handed an impossible mission. Unlike in 1828, their delegation did not include an English-speaking member – Neilson had broken with Papineau over the 92 Resolutions – and its demands were too radical to be seriously entertained by the British government. Viger indeed regarded his mission as a failure and began to question the wisdom of sending delegates to London.80 By 1834, the patriote movement had entered its endgame. Moderate figures like Neilson and Cuvillier fell away as patriote rhetoric and demands became ever more republican and radical. Viger himself was replaced in 1835 as the colonial assembly’s agent in London by John Arthur Roebuck, who had encouraged the patriote leadership to pursue the path of intransigence.
The recommendations made by the British commissioners appointed in 1835 and the subsequent refusal by Whitehall to contemplate major political reform would move Lower Canada closer to revolt, as would the social and economic tensions generated by epidemics, agrarian issues and financial turmoil. Loyalist sentiment faded among the French-speaking population and demands for reform were increasingly founded on the principle of nationalities, rather than on British notions of justice and equity. In the lead-up to rebellion, various popular assemblies issued inflammatory addresses, but these texts would not be brought to London by appointed delegates. Instead, radical patriotes hoped to use these gatherings to initiate a parallel revolutionary regime in Lower Canada. The agitation of the summer and early autumn of 1837 gave way, briefly, to open rebellion in November and December. After a second round of hostilities, in 1838, the British government indicated that it would unite the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada into a single province of Canada.
The proposal to unite Upper and Lower Canada was received with great consternation in French Canada. In Quebec City, where the population had resisted the call to rebellion, a committee was organized to protest the union. John Neilson and François-Xavier Garneau were among its leading members. With the support of the Catholic clergy, which had warned against patriote radicalism in the 1830s, the committee drafted an address in January 1840 calling on the British government to reverse course. Vital Têtu (1799–1883), a former member of the Legislative Assembly with a reputation as a moderate, was tasked with presenting the committee’s address in London, but the delegate’s mission, about which we know very little, was pointless. The die was already cast and the union of Upper and Lower Canada entered into force in February 1841.
Têtu’s mission was doomed from the start, as Viger’s final mission had been. Like many others, they failed because French-Canadian delegates were often denied the support of the British authorities at Quebec, or because their requests ran contrary to British policy. They also failed because they did not enjoy the support of powerful British lobbies and interest groups. For instance, unlike the representatives of Quebec’s Protestant merchants, French-Canadian delegates were not successful in cultivating support among Britain’s business community. By and large, delegates from Quebec, a Catholic society that had recently been integrated into the British Empire, did not have entrées to Britain’s circles of wealth and power. Instead, the allies that they were able to cultivate tended to come from groups who were politically marginalized within the United Kingdom, like English Catholics, Irish nationalists and radical reformers.
But the story of French-Canadian efforts to directly lobby London is not by any means characterized by unrelenting failure. On the contrary, several missions achieved notable successes. When success was achieved, it was usually because delegates had the support of the British authorities at Quebec. Successful missions also enjoyed the support of the Roman Catholic Church and civil society in French Canada. They advanced moderate claims that ultimately fostered Britain’s long-term goal of maintaining order and British rule in Quebec.
Though their influence on British public opinion was exceptionally limited, French-Canadian delegates were usually able to garner official attention and provide metropolitan authorities with vital intelligence on local conditions. They developed a paradiplomatic tradition, building on past lessons and achievements, and cultivated allies in the metropole. French-Canadian lobbying in London often involved related efforts directed at Rome and Paris and was a notable facet of Quebec’s interaction with the wider world. It is thus hardly surprising that two of the province’s most important nineteenth-century travelogues, Msgr Plessis’s Journal d’un voyage en Europe and François-Xavier Garneau’s Voyage en Angleterre et en France were written in the context of lobbying missions.
Overall, the present study reveals the extent to which elites in French Canada sought to negotiate a place for Quebec within the British Empire. Delegates wished for French Canadians to participate in public life as British subjects, but on terms that allowed for the preservation of their religious, legal and cultural specificities. In doing so they developed an essentially civic notion of Britishness, one that rested on political institutions and on British notions of equity and the rule of law. This view clashed, however, with more prevalent notions of Britishness, which rested instead on Protestantism and the English language, and anti-Catholic prejudice proved a significant obstacle to French-Canadian lobbying efforts.
Post-conquest Quebec was not merely British by right; French Canadians participated in a loyalist framework that, according to Jerry Bannister, structured British North American political culture.81 And loyalism in French Canada was not confined to the clerical hierarchy of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; it was also expressed in the liberal and constitutional discourse of the middle classes. Even the increasingly radical Parti patriote clung to the language of loyalty in the early 1830s. At the 1831 banquet celebrating Denis-Benjamin’s imminent departure for London to serve as the agent for Lower Canada’s Legislative Assembly, the party’s leading figures enthusiastically toasted the king, the royal family, the British constitution and the British army and navy.82
Loyalist assumptions underpinned French-Canadian lobbying, and some delegates were dazzled by London. Others returned to Quebec with a diminished respect for Great Britain, however. Louis-Joseph Papineau and François-Xavier Garneau began to shed their loyalist views on their return to Canada. They were shocked by the gaping social inequalities that they had encountered in London and no longer considered Britain to be a model of political and social development. On his return from London, Garneau wrote:
Une chose conséquemment qui doit frapper beaucoup l’Américain en Europe, c’est la diversité des rangs et la soumission constante des classes inférieures aux classes supérieures, c’est-à-dire à l’aristocratie et aux rois. Depuis une suite de siècles les mêmes familles voient la nation entière répandre ses sueurs et son sang pour les soutenir dans le luxe et le haut rang où elles sont placées, et se soumettre à leur domination comme par une fatalité inévitable.83
The efforts of French-Canadian delegates in London reveal the complicated and ambivalent relationship of Quebec’s elites towards Britain and the British colonial project in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The French-Canadian struggle for autonomy was nevertheless conceived within an imperial framework during this period. The British Empire functioned with the tacit acceptance and sometimes with the active support of its subject peoples, and Quebec was not an outlier in this regard.