The French-in-Canada

THE Supreme Court of the United States, in the famous case of Johnson versus McIntosh, judicially ascertained and declared the fact to be that the Seven Years’ War, as to North America, “terminated in the conquest by Great Britain of the whole country east of the Mississippi.” So far as judicial expression can go, this decision, of course, is conclusive. It lies not, indeed, in the province of courts to take cognizance of forces other than those relating to government and social economy, and yet what conduits of history run more freely and continuously than court records and judicial decisions ? The whole of human life, even to its poetry and romance, is transferred by them from the past to the future, and thus it is that this case has such significance to him who would get at the truth of our history, and learn what we really are and how we became so. For if Canada, at the time of the fall of Quebec, was little more than a mere military dependency of France; if all government issued from a citadel, and British occupation was British conquest, then this judicial decision sets the seal of truth upon the historical assertion that when Montcalm fell, the whole French power east of the great river fell with him.

Of the stubborn moral forces that transferred resistance to alien domination from the field to the cabinet, the court could take no account; and, indeed, down to the advent of the British there are few which even the keen eye of the social and political observer could recognize, for during the French occupation these forces had little chance of development. The French - Canadians could hardly be said to exist; they were the Canadian-French only, or, still more accurately, the French-in-Canada. Their social structure was slow in building; so slow, indeed, that for the greater part of the occupation their imperfect organization, their disproportionate elements, their political dependence, their indisposition to social development, and their inability to multiply scarcely permitted them the name of colonies. They were really garrisons, and they “occupied” the land.

Our Anglican notion of a colony is that of a band of men and women containing all the germs of a future state, and which, when planted in new soil, no matter how remote from the mother country, grows right on, developing all the characteristics of the original stock, modified only by the new conditions of existence. This hand or swarm, moreover, as far as its internal life is concerned, is entirely dependent on its own resources, and takes on an individuality of character which is the expression of its own forces, and of none other. It is hard for an English-speaking man to conceive of a colony that does not rely upon itself, that does not govern itself, that does not develop itself, or that does not display in all their manifold variety the same characteristics, in kind if not in degree, as those displayed by the mother race. In these respects the race-blood tolerates no shortcomings. Taking, then, this Anglican notion of a colony as the standard of estimate and comparison, we see that the French-in-Canada, from their first appearance to the fall of Quebec, a period of two centuries and a quarter, do not conform with its requirements. We need observe them only in their chief locality, the valley of the St. Lawrence; and a glance betrays the fact that, from the fort of Frontenac to the little church of Tadoussac, the constitution of society — if society it can be called, so scattered is the population — is military where it is not ecclesiastical. The other constituents necessary to social and political development are well-nigh wanting.

Throughout the vast expanse of wilderness we naturally expect to find military posts, as we do find them eventually from Quebec to Du Quesne, and from Du Quesne to the Mississippi; but when, after a century has gone by, we still find these and nothing else, unless it be a few more clearings within gunshot of their walls, we are forced to the conclusion that the constitution of society is still naught but military, and that, after all, the French colonization is nothing more than what the historians have called it, the French occupation. Such, in fact, is the case. Perched upon Donnacona’s rock, where, in coming from the sea, the great river suddenly narrows, stands a stockade, which, expanding and strengthening with the expansion and growth of the French, at last takes its place among the four great fortresses of the world. Even in the old French days it was impregnable to the attacks of enemies. Here French power was intrenched just as to-day British power is intrenched, and this bald and barren rock was the head, not of Canada merely, but of La Nouvelle France; and from and to this stony heart poured all the impulses of the French-in-America.

These impulses were not multiform in character, and their monotony was broken only by the irregularity of their action. The governor was a commandant ; the courts were courts - martial; sentinels took the place of watchmen; enterprise found scope in “ expeditions; ” and trade counted its gains from the spoils of the forest and of the enemy. Every place, save the church, rung with arms; and the eye, tired of plume and glitter and color, turned for relief to the black cassocks of those soldiers of Christ who were yet to whiten with their bones the country of the Hurons. In the little town that huddled beneath the stockade were to be seen soldiers, priests, nuns, and savages; but where were the people ? They made a beggarly account. A few tilled the scanty fields, the many waged war against the beasts of the forest. Society outside of the forts was thus divided into two classes: the few who dwelt in one place, and were thence called habitans; the many who roamed, and on this account were called voyageurs. We find here a social condition in which, apart from those devoted to arms or religion, the few were stable, the many unstable. A social condition where the mass of population is not producing, but is consuming and wandering, ill accords with Anglican notions of a colony, — notions which preconceive a colony as a hive, as a fixed abiding - place of producers. In fact, the French-in-Canada were a collection of hunters and soldiers : they did not root themselves in the soil; their possessio pedis was maintained by the sword, and not by the sickle; they reaped where they had not sown, and they returned not to the earth what they had taken from it; they planted no institutions.

Had they no institutions ? Were the descendants of those whose Coutumes de Normandie had infused into the common law of the Angles and Saxons qualities it never before had possessed, and whose language, infused into the objective and rugged dialect of corsairs, gave it the subjective and perspicuous character, the moral element, that makes the two characteristics, united in one tongue, the mastering language of the globe to-day, — were these destitute of social forces ? In leaving their native soil had they left behind them the most precious part of their inheritance, and, discarding the moral forces which generation after generation of a vigorous and noble race had piled up for them, had they come to put their trust solely in sword and arquebus ? Were writs and tenures, personal rights and liberties, and that soul of their souls, the capacity for self-development, forgotten in the hurry of departure ; and had those who were to people a desert failed to bring along the seed garnered against the day of famine and the planting of new fields ? Was tradition left behind? Were the patient furrows of Brittany nothing, that they should be lost to mind amid those “ acres of snow ” ?

At first sight one would fancy that tradition, institutions, the safeguards of personal rights, the means of social development, and all the forces of civilization in which they were so rich had been deliberately discarded for the mere physical force which was to see these adventurers through a life that had no higher object than the control of the fur trade and raids upon Dutch settlements. The commandant dispensed favors at audience; the court sat at the tap of the drum; social forces stirred only at the scent of another expedition ; and human energy expended itself upon the conquest of the beaver. Everything that savored of a better life was left to a handful of priests and nuns. For a century and a quarter the history of the French-in-Canada was written in the orders-of-the-day and the Relations des Jésuites, and there was little more to indicate that the life-giving, the institutional qualities of the most vivacious race of western Europe had been transmitted to these shores. If they were working at all, they were working unseen and unheard in the seclusion of the habitan’s hearth. Surely, as yet, Ephraim is a cake not turned.

A comparison of the French-in-Canada with the British colonists will expose at once the apparent poverty of the former in everything that makes up the common weal. Observe the advent of the Puritans in Massachusetts, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Roman Catholics in Maryland. Before the Mayflower’s decks are deserted, a solemn compact is entered into for the foundation and maintenance of “ a civil body politic ; ” before the Quaker and the Catholic take the first step towards leaving their homes in England they have had the foresight to secure from the Crown enlarged personal rights and liberties, and a guaranty of their inviolability. Observe, too, the action of these little swarms immediately upon their landing on these shores : straightway they set about organizing polities, and before the roofs cover their heads they have taken upon themselves the character of commonwealths. So quickly do the ancient institutions appear that one may fancy they had been brought over in the luggage, and were the first things to be unpacked. Indeed, personal rights are more numerous, more varied in kind, and greater in degree here than in the country left behind, and it is obvious that the adventurers have seized the occasion of emigration to demand and obtain from the Crown, as compensation for expatriation, greater liberty here than they had ever enjoyed at home.

Nor is this all These institutions, these rights, these liberties, striking their roots forthwith into the new soil, grow right on until they cover the whole land. They are planted, watered, pruned, and grafted ; in due time they will produce their fruit. Could any one survey these busy hives side by side, he would be struck by this fact in the appearance of the British, — the absence of the one predominating element that marked the French-in-Canada, the presence and activity of every other element of development that the French had not. There was no standing army among the British colonists, no disproportionate unproductive class, no dependence on the mother country, no lethargy of the social forces. The soldiery consisted of the settlers themselves ; it was a citizen soldiery. Hunting engrossed, not the many, but the few ; and what hunters there were constituted the pioneers who blocked out the paths for settlers to follow. The expeditions that occurred were not offensive operations, but, to use military parlance, offensive-defensive : they had for their object prevention of future attack or the opening of new fields to new ploughs; and where the Briton’s foot went down it stayed down.

There are many anomalies in the chronicles; but, apart from the one of a race devoted to institutions in France doing without them in Canada, there is none greater than that of French field-lovers permitting the woods to stand unhewn, while Teutonic forest-lovers, as the English are, stayed not at laying the axe to the root of the tree. But so it was ; for ship-building was a prosperous handicraft on the banks of the Delaware, before the meadows of Beauport had stretched to the chasm of Montmorenci. Among the British colonies, instead of seigneuries without peasants and barren of incomes, there were farms with husbandmen and laden with crops ; instead of the bugle and the clash of arms, there was the song of the laborer and the creaking of wains ; instead of the drowsy indolence of the barracks, there was the wakeful activity of the workshop. To produce, to produce, to produce, was the sole end of the British colonist’s existence. Were it material production merely, and the end and object of it to store up treasure for moth and rust to corrupt, this exhibition of energy would be more unwholesome and painful than salutary and pleasing. But how can this be said of a people who sowed with their grain the seeds of free institutions, self-government, and freedom of conscience, and reaped with their harvests these fruits of natural instinct and race character? Was the Jesuit of St. Mary’s less eager in the cure of souls than his brother of Quebec, by reason of the Act of Toleration ? Did the acquisition of wealth weaken the Quaker’s zeal for freedom of conscience ? Did the wrench of subsistence from the rocks of Massachusetts turn the Puritan from his steady purpose to establish self-government for his children’s children? No; though the British colonist had not the one thing the Frenchman had, namely, a military-bureaucratic system, he had everything needful to the development of a state : he bad personal rights, institutions, reign of law, self-government, free play of social forces, exemption from repressive classes and meddling cabinets, equable distribution of sex, diversity of interests, and, above all. no overweening sense of dependence upon the mother country, — or, for that matter, upon any power save his own.

It appears, then, that what the Briton had, the French-in-Canada either had not, or, having, was denied the use of. Of what avail are personal rights before courts-martial, or how can institutions flourish and social forces have free play on ground which forms the terre-plein of a fort ? Self-government and military government are contradictory terms; and as for home interference, cabinets that look upon colonists as so many camp followers of an occupying force whose bills they are to settle must be meddlesome. Thus the French colonists were hampered from the start in the work of civilizing America ; their hands were not free for the task of sowing new ground with old institutions.

There was, too, another hindrance to Gallic advance and expansion. If the British government was not insensible to forebodings of colonial independence, neither was the French. The same spectre troubled the dreams of empire at the Louvre ; and to this apprehension must be attributed, to a great degree, the cautious patronage of colonization by the government, and a policy that was not directed with a single eye to the occupation of territory and the forestalling of rivals. It seemed good to the Crown that its colonists should not become a burden to it, nor multiply beyond the limits of absolute and easy control. It was a paternal government, and in sending its children abroad there was no thought of weakening the paternal relations. This constant motive alone would suffer no relaxation of the system of blood and iron. The commandant brooked no brother near his throne ; it was absolutely essential to the government. which he represented that its force should be neither divided nor impaired. There were no Three Estates in his department. He drew neither taxes nor recruits from Canada,—the intendant must see to such things,— and what for him, then, the use of people ? Who ever heard of “ people ” in an army, or what the good of them in a fortress, except to serve the garrison and be lorded over by a town major ? Evidently the commandant of Quebec would have found a man after his own heart in the honest old Counsellor of Naples, when “ the watch of his wit ” was striking : —

“ I’ the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things: for no kind of traffick
Would I admit; no name of magistrate ;
Letters should not be known ; no use of service,
Of riches or of poverty ; no contràcts,
Succession; bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none :
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil:
No occupation ; all men idle, all. ”

Much has been made of the few instances in which private enterprise introduced companies of colonists ; but all has been made of these that can be made. Time and piety have invested with pictnresqueness the erection of shrines around which cities rose long afterwards, not, however, from patriotism or devotion, but from less exalted though more efficient causes. The searching gaze of criticism has not permitted these solemnities to pass without analysis. All tell the same story, all confirm what is already known: that only two classes appear, priests and soldiers, but that of people there are none. In the century and a quarter that covered the occupation, the French-in-Canada had reached the paltry number of 60,000 in the valley of the St. Lawrence and the west, against l,250,000 souls in the thirteen British colonies ; that is, the supply had been greater than the loss by 480 souls per annum. When it is remembered that this is the outcome of four generations ; that the occupation had incurred no serious interruption ; that the people of France vaunted themselves on their American possessions so much that periodical spasms shook the kingdom into giving gifts for the encouragement of emigration and for drumming up recruits for La Nouvelle France, — the result is beggarly. It calls, however, for something more than wonder : explanation is required, and this a slight scrutiny will disclose.

It must not be forgotten, then, that great as the present extent of Canada is, it comprises but a part only of what the French possessions formerly were. France claimed not only the basin of the Great Lakes, but also the valley of the Mississippi, among whose tributaries was the Ohio. In brief, she claimed all of the continent of North America except the narrow strip east of the Alleghanies, then settled by the British, and the far west and south possessed by the Spaniards. This claim embraced the best part of the continent, extending through many degrees of latitude, with every variety of climate and with soil of surpassing fertility. Here, then, if anywhere, was to be her occidental empire. But, as the strip of sea-coast occupied by the British colonies extended north and south, she was debarred from access to these vast possessions, except by the two avenues presented by the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence. These were her two gateways, one northern, the other southern ; and from military and political points of view, each was as valuable as the other. Indeed, as long as she had the St. Lawrence only, which was for the greater part of the time, this valley was a priceless possession, and rendered the military occupation of Canada of the first necessity. It is natural, therefore, that the chief if not the only value that Lower Canada had in the eyes of the French was that of being the entrance to their possessions, and that the chief if not the only motive for the exertion of energy in this direction was that of military necessity.

Beyond this, however, France did not feel warranted in going. The fisheries were valuable, indeed, and the day might come when the forests would be utilized; but, it was certain that the time for populating a continent was not yet at hand, nor were the resources of the mother country then equal to the task; and, moreover, when the day of emigration should dawn, population would make its way to the valley of the Mississippi, without pausing in regions so ungracious as barely to support ten thousand aborigines. Rocks, frost, and jungle held out little inducement to colonize, yet any other would have to be at the expense of the Crown ; but bounties threatened depletion of exchequer, and franchises would surely sap royal prerogative.

The apathy of the government towards the colonization of Canada is thus explained ; nor need it be wondered at that statecraft eyed askance the collecting together of bourgeois, who in time might possibly entertain the same aspirations for independence which, as the courtiers were wont complacently to fancy, infected their British neighbors. Next to the capture of the gate by the British, the greatest calamity would be its capture by the French-in-Canada; in either event the loss was irreparable. Hence the restriction of population to the bare necessities of military occupation became a subject of no little importance to the government. This restriction was best effected by a laissezfaire policy, inasmuch as the natural repugnance to emigration characteristic of the French people, and the uninviting character of the country, would of themselves effect the end desired, — a policy in no wise thwarted by the lukewarm patronage of the sovereign, by the contributions of gold and silver, or by the enthusiasm of devotees for the propagation of the faith in Canadian wilds. Indeed, this religious enthusiasm played directly into the hands of a government that had nothing to fear from a church which, first in possession, would prevent the country from becoming a harbor for Huguenots, which inculcated the virtues of loyalty and self-subjection, and whose rites and endeared traditions bound together as with hooks of steel the children of St. Louis. Though Richelieu himself might be indifferent, Richelieu’s niece might found as many convents as she pleased.

Such are the military and political causes of the retardation of immigration into Canada. There are two others, of a totally different nature, that cannot be passed over. The first of these is that grants of land were made to associations such as the Company of Merchants, the Company of One Hundred Associates, and the like, which engaged to supply the country with a certain number of settlers within stated periods, and, after their arrival, to furnish them with all that was needful until they could support themselves. In return for these services, the sovereign gave the companies control of the fur trade and the monopoly of the trade with the settlements along the St. Lawrence and the sea-coast. The companies, however, once in possession, confined their exertions to the enjoyment of the privileges ; and, shirking the services, turned the cold shoulder to that part of the contract which returned them no immediate profit, and which might end in burdening them with a population that would not hesitate at encroaching upon these franchises. The machinery for supplying colonists failing to act, the colonists themselves failed to come, and thus ended the only attempts made by the government to avoid the imputation of indifference to Canadian colonization.

The remaining reason for retardation of emigration lies in the immense grants of lands to individuals, old officers and the like, who were the seigneurs, — the settlers being tenants, and not freeholders,— and the consequent introduction of seigneurial tenures. Now, the law of seigneurial tenure was in itself adverse to immigration, inasmuch as the settler under it found himself no better off in Canada than he had been in France. He was no more of a freeholder here than lie had been there : he was still not his own man, but had over him a lord who required and enforced services; so that, instead of leaving behind him the burdens of the old country, he found that he had brought them with him. He was not bettering his condition, then, by removing from France to Canada ; and it is apparent that, without an inducement that would overcome the natural indisposition to leave comfort for discomfort and certainty for uncertainty, he would stay where he was. Yet instead of inducement he met repulsion ; for where he was his burdens were lightened by the comfort and security of civilization, but where he was asked to go they would be aggravated by the discomfort and insecurity of barbarism. In a word, the Frenchman was confronted in America with the feudal system, — a system which was on its last legs in the Old World, and than which nothing could be more out of place in the New. Unlike the British colonist, enlarged franchises, titles in fee-simple, and unrestricted trade were not held out to him as compensation for turning his back on civilization, and as incentives to the exercise of his own powers ; and thus it is that, setting aside climatic and all physical causes, when the Queen Anne’s War broke out Canada could muster but 4500 men, while the British colonies could outnumber her by ten to one.

Here it may be observed, in connection with this subject of tenures, that the agriculturists who did come were illfitted for the rough work of institutional development. The habit of dependence engendered by a system in which every one below the highest looked for security to the one above him, and in which avarice augmented the services in proportion to the enhancement of value created by the extraordinary exertions of the tenant, was paralyzing and deadening.

Hence it is that the French-in-Canada increased in numbers so slowly, and that for so long a time the events of their history disclose such remarkable paucity of people. Hence, too, the cause of the marvelous activity of the Jesuits, since their own people did not offer them a field ample enough for their energy. This activity had political results, by at taching the aborigines to the French, and thus making friends and allies of those who otherwise would have been enemies.

It must be borne in mind, moreover, that the French have never occupied a conspicuous place among the colonizing nationalities. They are, rather, more often classified as non-colonizing than as colonizing. This form of social expansion, which seems so natural to the Greeks and English, never appears natural to the French, but sits upon them somewhat like an ill-fitting garment. All their attempts at colonization have not yet produced a single selfreliant, self-developing, self-governing colony: they have a constrained, artificial look ; they impress one as being bad imitations of Old France, and seem frenchy rather than French. This results from the qualities necessary for colonization not being in the French blood. A Frenchman looks upon voluntary expatriation as exile ; his opinion of a new country is that which a Sybarite might have entertained of Scythia, and, so far from eagerly rooting himself in the soil, he joyfully avails himself of the first opportunity to extricate himself from its entanglement.

Even when his interest is sufficiently strong to make a colonist of him, he does not carry with him the notions of government adapted to a colony. How can he do so ? How can he bestow upon a growing community what it needs most, but what he has never had to give, — fixity of governmental principles ? Of all people known to the history of western Europe, none have shown themselves so destitute of practical ideas concerning government, none have proved so wanting in fixity of political purpose, as the French. Not that they lack ideas, but that they have too many of them, with no two alike and all conflicting. From the days of the Encyclopedists to the time of Guizot, Hugo, and Paul Bert, few have been the conceptions of government that have not, at one time or another, thrown the state into the perils of childbirth brought on by their premature efforts at delivery. Such a thing as philosophical analysis, of calm, ruminative deliberation upon the principles of government, for the purpose, not of airing theories, but of making practical application of these principles, seems unknown to them. The French have never been remarkable for taking counsel of time or for making probation in matters of politics. Their main notions of the state are of an arena where the diverse schemes contend until the survival of the fittest puts an end to the fray. Without counting the rule of mobs and of those ephemeral bodies whose existence has been limited by the suggestive word “ days,” but enumerating those only which have represented some principle, and which have kept their place long enough to be classed as historical, it is to be observed that, since the Peace of Versailles, France has had eleven governments; that is to say, she has changed her form of government once in every nine and one quarter years. Surely, the assertion that such a people have no fixed principles of government cannot be denied ; and as they are to-day, such they have always been; it is not principle that has ever given them governmental stability, but the rule of the strongest.

The history of French colonization, as far as it relates to self - development, self-dependence, and self-government, is a history of failure, — of that failure which results inevitably from running counter to race characteristics. In the days of the French occupation, France was under Bourbon rule, and she had nothing wherewith to fit out her departing children but the husks and shriveled kernels and tares of old despotisms. Of life-giving seed she had none to bestow, and her sons might well reproach her with the bitter taunt of Antonio : —

“ Gonzalo. Had I plantation of this isle, my lord —
Antonio. He ’d sow it with nettle seed.”

If, after all the philosophizings, revolutions, and Anglo-manias of the past century, Algiers and Guiana have nothing further to show to-day than the inevitable garrison accompanied by a bureaucracy or a penal colony, or both, then the French-in-Canada were, after all, not so very far behind the times. The only difference discernible between the Richelieu and the Louis Napoleon notions of a colony is, that the former’s conception was a garrison beyond seas, with a church but no people; and the latter’s, a garrison beyond seas, with a bureau or a penal settlement but no people.

One can hardly be accused of unbecoming haste in at once expressing the conviction that, of the two “ systems,” the one with the church is preferable to the one that offers nothing but a bureau or a penitentiary. Nevertheless, it must not be overlooked that in neither is there to be seen what the political observer would call a people ; the scattered, unorganized, and institutionless habitans and voyageurs being no more a people in the eyes of social science than are the clerks of the bureau or the members of the penal settlement. Each constitutes population, but neither a people.

Thus climate, soil, remoteness, indisposition to emigrate, inclination to return home, lack of earnest governmental encouragement, race aversion, faithlessness of monopolies, antiquated system of tenures, want of material and political inducements, and the disproportion of sex in a community chiefly made up of soldiers and hunters account for the paucity of population at the outset and the persistent retardation of natural increase and immigration for a long time thereafter. The military constitution of society, and the fact that the disproportionately large class of hunters and trappers led a life incompatible with civilization in its highest forms, account, too, for the sluggish development of the social forces. An organization so weak, so incomplete, so lacking in resources, so destitute of strengthening institutions, and so wanting in harmonious distribution of constitutional elements depended for its existence on the stability of the bayonets that upheld it. When these were withdrawn, the structure fell to the ground ; and thus, when Montcalm fell, the whole French power east of the great river fell with him.

Eben Greenough Scott.