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Chapter 14:

How Catholic emancipation began.

October, 1774.

the congress of 1774 contained statesmen of the
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highest order of wisdom. For eloquence Patrick Henry was unrivalled; next to him, the elder Rutledge of South Carolina was the ablest in debate; ‘but if you speak of solid information and sound judgment,’ said Patrick Henry, ‘Washington is unquestionably the greatest man of them all.’

While the delegates of the twelve colonies were in session in Philadelphia, ninety of the members just elected to the Massachusetts assembly appeared on Wednesday the fifth of October at the court house in Salem. After waiting two days for the governor, they passed judgment on his unconstitutional proclamation against their meeting, and resolving themselves into a provincial congress, they adjourned to Concord. There, on Tuesday the eleventh, about two hundred and sixty members took their seats, and elected John Hancock their president. On the fourteenth they sent a message to the governor, that for [154] want of a general assembly they had convened in

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congress; and they remonstrated against his hostile preparations. A committee from Worcester county made similar representations. ‘It is in your power to prevent civil war, and to establish your character as a wise and humane man,’ said the chairman. ‘For God's sake,’ replied Gage, in great trepidation, ‘what would you have me do?’ for he vacillated between a hope that the king would give way, and a willingness to be the instrument of his obstinacy. To the president of the continental congress, he expressed the wish that the disputes between the mother country and the colonies might terminate like lovers' quarrels; but he did not conceal his belief that its proceedings would heighten the anger of the king. To the provincial congress, which had again adjourned from Concord to Cambridge, Gage made answer by recriminations. They on their part were surrounded by difficulties. They wished to remove the people of Boston into the country, but found it impracticable. A committee appointed on the twentyfourth of October to consider the proper time to provide a stock of powder, ordnance, and ordnance stores, reported on the same day, that the proper time was now. Upon the debate for raising money to prepare for the crisis, one member proposed to appropriate a thousand pounds, another two thousand; a committee reported a sum of less than ninety thousand dollars, as a preparation against a warlike empire, flushed with victory, and able to spend twenty million pounds sterling a year in the conduct of a war. They elected three general officers by ballot. A committee of safety, Hancock and Warren being of the number, [155] was invested with power to alarm and muster the
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militia of the province, of whom one-fourth were to hold themselves ready to march at a minute's notice.

In Connecticut, which, from its compactness, numbers, and wealth, was second only to Massachusetts in military resources, the legislature of 1774 provided for effectively organizing the militia, prohibited the importation of slaves, and ordered the several towns to provide double the usual quantity of powder, balls, and flints. They also directed the issue of fifteen thousand pounds in bills of credit of the colony, and made a small increase of the taxes. This was the first issue of paper money in the colonies preparatory to war.

The congress of Massachusetts, in like manner, directed the people of the province to perfect themselves in military skill, and each town to provide a full stock of arms and ammunition. Having voted to pay no more money to the royal collector, they chose a receiver-general of their own, and instituted a system of provincial taxation. They appointed executive committees of safety, of correspondence, and of supplies. As the continental congress would not sanction their resuming the charter from Charles the First, they adhered as nearly as possible to that granted by William and Mary; and summoned the councillors duly elected under that charter, to give attendance on the fourth Wednesday of November, to which time they adjourned. To their next meeting they referred the consideration of the propriety of sending agents to Canada.

The American revolution was destined on every [156] side to lead to the solution of the highest questions of

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state. Principles of eternal truth, which in their universality are superior to sects and separate creeds, were rapidly effacing the prejudices of the past. The troubles of the thirteen colonies led the court of Great Britain to its first step in the emancipation of Catholics; and with no higher object in view than to strengthen the authority of the king in America, the Quebec act of 1774 began that series of concessions, which did not cease till the British parliament itself, and the high offices of administration have become accessible to ‘papists.’

In the belief that the loyalty of its possessions had been promoted by a dread of the French settlements on their northern and western frontier, Britain sought to create under its own auspices a distinct empire, suited to coerce her original colonies, and restrain them from aspiring to independence. For this end it united into one province the territory of Canada, together with all the country northwest of the Ohio to the head of Lake Superior and the Mississippi, and consolidated all authority over this boundless region in the hands of the executive power. The Catholics were not displeased that the promise of a representative assembly was not kept. In 1763 they had all been disfranchised in a land where there were few Protestants, except attendants on the army and government officials. A representative assembly, to which none but Protestants could be chosen, would have subjected almost the whole body of resident inhabitants to an oligarchy, hateful by their race and religion; their supremacy as conquerors, and their selfishness. The Quebec act authorized the crown to [157] confer posts of honor and of business upon Catholics;

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and they chose rather to depend on the clemency of the king, than to have an exclusively Protestant parliament, like that of Ireland. This limited political toleration left no room for the sentiment of patriotism. The French Canadians of that day could not persuade themselves that they had a country. They would have desired an assembly, to which they should be eligible; but since that was not to be obtained, they accepted their partial enfranchisement by the king, as a boon to a conquered people.

The owners of estates were further gratified by the restoration of the French system of law. The English emigrants might complain of the want of jury trials in civil processes; but the French Canadians were grateful for relief from statutes which they did not comprehend, and from the chicanery of unfamiliar courts. The nobility of New France, who were accustomed to arms, were still further conciliated by the proposal to enroll Canadian battalions, in which they could hold commissions on equal terms with English officers. Here also the inspiration of nationality was wanting; and the whole population could never crowd to the British flag, as they had rallied to the lilies of France. There would remain always the sentiment, that they were waging battle not for themselves, and defending a government which was not their own.

The great dependence of the crown was on the clergy. The capitulation of New France had guaranteed to them freedom of public worship; but the laws for their support were held to be no longer valid. By the Quebec act they were confirmed in the possession [158] of their ancient churches and their revenues; so

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that the Roman Catholic worship was as effectually established in Canada, as the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. When Carleton returned to his government, bearing this great measure of conciliation, of which he was known to have been the adviser, he was welcomed by the Catholic bishop and priests of Quebec with professions of loyalty; and the memory of Thurlow and Wedderburn, who carried the act through parliament, is gratefully embalmed in Canadian history. And yet the clergy were conscious that the concession of the great privileges which they now obtained, was but an act of worldly policy, mainly due to the disturbed state of the Protestant colonies. Their joy at relief was sincere, but still, for the cause of Great Britain, Catholic Canada could not uplift the banner of the King of Heaven, or seek the perils of martyrdom. The tendency to revolution on the part of its Roman Catholic hierarchy was restrained, but England never acquired the impassioned support of its religious zeal.

Such was the frame of mind of the French Canadians when the American congress sent among them its appeal. The time was come for applying the new principle of the power of the people to the old divisions in Christendom between the Catholic and the Protestant world. Protestantism, in the sphere of politics, had hitherto been the representative of that increase of popular liberty which had grown out of free inquiry; while the Catholic Church, under the early influence of Roman law, had inclined to monarchical power. These relations were now to be modified. [159]

The Catholic church asserted the unity, the uni-

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versality, and the unchangeableness of truth; and this principle, however it may have been made subservient to ecclesiastical organization, tyranny, or superstition, rather demanded than opposed universal emancipation and brotherhood. Yet the thirteen colonies were all Protestant; even in Maryland the Catholics formed but an eighth, or perhaps not more than a twelfth, part of the population; their presence in other provinces was hardly perceptible, except in Pennsylvania. The members of congress had riot wholly purged themselves of Protestant bigotry. Something of this appeared in their resolutions of rights, and in their address to the people of British America. In the address to the people of Great Britain, it was even said that the Roman Catholic religion had ‘dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder, and rebellion through every part of the world.’ But the desire of including Canada in the confederacy compelled the Protestants of America to adopt and promulgate the principle of religious equality and freedom. In the masterly address to the inhabitants of the province of Quebec, drawn by Dickinson, all old religious jealousies were condemned as low-minded infirmities; and the Swiss cantons were cited as examples of a union composed of Catholic and Protestant states.

Appeals were also made to the vanity and the pride of the French population. After a clear and precise analysis of the Quebec act, and the contrast of its provisions with English liberties, the shade of Montesquieu was evoked, as himself saying to the Canadians: ‘Seize the opportunity presented to you [160] by Providence itself. You have been conquered into

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liberty, if you act as you ought. This work is not of man. You are a small people, compared to those who with open arms invite you into a fellowship. The injuries of Boston have roused and associated every colony from Nova Scotia to Georgia. Your province is the only link wanting to complete the bright and strong chain of union. Nature has joined your country to theirs; do you join your political interests; for their own sakes they never will desert or betray you. The happiness of a people inevitably depends on their liberty, and their spirit to assert it. The value and extent of the advantages tendered to you are immense. Heaven grant you may not discover them to be blessings after they have bid you an eternal adieu.’

With such persuasions, the congress unanimously invited the Canadians to ‘accede to their confederation.’ Whether the invitation should be accepted or repelled, the old feud between the nations which adhered to the Roman Catholic church, and the free governments which had sprung from Protestantism, was fast coming to an end.

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