Why didn't Canada join in the American revolution?

Why didn’t Canada join in the American revolution?

I would think, first of all, that the British (initially, at first) treated their Canadian colonies pretty much the same as the American ones (as regarding government, taxation, quartering of troops, etc.). In fact, I would assume that there was no real distinction of “13 American colonies” vs. “four or five Canadian colonies,” and that they would have all been lumped together as the “twenty or so North American colonies.”

Furthermore, at the outbreak of the American revolution, much of Canada had been a British possession for less than twenty years. I can’t imagine that the French Canadians were all that reconciled to British rule in such a short period of time; how come we don’t hear of large numbers of them joining in the revolt, possibly with the aim of reestablishing French rule over the area?

I do know that at one point the Americans actually tried invading Canada (and were repulsed), and that probably stiffened Canadian resolve not to have anything to do with “those damned uppity rebels, eh.” :wink: But that kind of begs the question, because there were American colonies that were pretty ambivalent about the whole affair too - IIRC, Georgia didn’t send any delegates to the Continental Congress until mid-'76 - but the Continental Army apparently saw no need to invade those areas. Apparently they figured that Georgia might eventually come around on their own to the Patriot point of view, but Canada would not. So why the difference?

The jury will please disregard the double post title…

I suppose Quebec didn’t join because the Protestant colonists didn’t like the Catholic Quebecois, though the former eventually called upon the Catholic French. Someone more knowledgable than I will probably be along to explain about the rest of Canada.

I think there were two reasons. The first was the Quebec Act, passed in 1774, which you can read here:

The Quebec Acy guaranteed equal rights to Catholics in Quebec, and also that Quebec would be governed under French civil law and British criminal law. The Act molified the Quebecois and did a lot to reconcile them to British rule.

Also, Canada’s population at that time was pretty small, which meant first, they relied more heavily on immigration and aid from the rest of the empire, and secondly, that the Canadians hadn’t built the institutions of self government and colonial power that the colonies to the south had.

To a first approximation, think of “Canada” at the time of the American Revolution as equal to “Quebec”. There weren’t that many Anglos, at the time, in the land which later became Canada. And Captain Amazing has already discussed the reasons why the Quebecois weren’t eager to join the Revolution.

Such Anglos as there were lived mostly around Halifax, which was the primary British naval base in North America. The inhabitants depended on the British for jobs, and were under British guns if they had been inclined to revolt.

That’s correct. What is now called Canada did not receive its first significant injection of Anglos until AFTER the American Revolution: the so-called “Loyalists” who settled in the Maritimes and southern Ontario and Quebec. Before and during the revolution, the population was almost entirely French, and relationships between these French colonists and the “13 colonies” had been antagonistic at best for several decades (the “Indian Wars,” etc.)

Let’s bear in mind that a great many AMERICANS didn’t join in the Revolution. Quite a few, in fact, opposed it, either because they didn’t believe in independence or because they didn’t believe in violent means to get it. The Canadian colonies simply didn’t have a large enough critical mass of interested people to start a revolution, since they just didn’t have many anglos at all. In the 13 Colonies, with larger population centres, you could get enough people together to actually start a revolution.

Once Canada started to get enough people living under foreign rule you immediately started having, whaddyaknow, rebellions! Simultaneous rebellions in Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) in 1837, both drawing on many of the same ideals as the American version. The difference was

  1. The rebellions were unsuccessful (in the case of Upper Canada, comically so) and
  2. After the fact, Great Britain began to move Canada towards self-government, partially because they figured it might happen again.

More rebellion broke out in Manitoba in the 1880s, but by then it was Canada’s fault, not Britain’s, and the rebellion was crushed anyway.

To expand on Captain Amazing’s point: After the British captured Quebec, they provided that the common law of England would apply in Quebec, rather than the French civil law that the colony had operated under since it was instituted. This caused all sorts of problems, creating great uncertainty in commercial contracts, wills and estates, property transactions and so on. It was a major source of grievance for the Québécois.

In response, the British government eventually passed the Quebec Act which addressed this grievance as well as others. Section VIII of the Quebec Act re-instituted the customary civil law of Quebec. In addition, section V of the Act guaranteed the free exercise of the Roman Catholic religion in Quebec. Overall, the Act helped to reconcile the Québécois to British rule.

So what’s wrong with that? Well, the revolutionaries down south, meddling in matters that were none of their business, didn’t see the Quebec Act as a measure of restoring autonomy to the Québécois. They saw it as another example of the British taking away the rights of Englishman. They were so upset by it, in fact, that they listed it in the Declaration of Independence, as one of their greivances against a tyrannical king:

So, the American revolutionaries’ own basic document essentially called for the repeal of a law that had restored Quebec’s customary civil laws and guaranteed freedom of the Roman Catholic religion. It was pretty easy for the British to use that to their own advantage, and to argue that those primarily Protestant revolutionaries wanted to take away the rights that the British had recently guaranteed to their Catholic Quebec subjects.

Well, even as late as 1775, Boston still had an annual “Kill the Pope Day”, or whatever they called it, where the Pope would be lynched and burned in effagy, and anti-Catholic sentiment was pretty strong in the English speaking world, especially the North American colonies, not to mention anti-French sentiment. The Quebec Act was also passed around the same time as the Boston Port Act, which closed the Port of Boston, and the Quartering Act, which let troops board in private homes, so the contrast was fresh in the American revolutionaries’ minds…you know, Parliament toadies to the damn papist frogs, while they oppress good Protestant Engishmen. If you add to that the fact that the Act deliberately failed to give Quebec an elected legislature, but instead a council appointed by the crown (anathema to the revolutionaries…the American colonial legislatures were centers of revolutionary activity, and the revolutionaries stressed colonial legislative autonomy), and the fact that the Act extended the borders of Quebec into what’s now Ontario and the American midwest, which was all at that time claimed by New York and Virginia, the Act was seen as a slap in the face.

Also, a lot of credit for keeping Canada out of the American revolution has to go to Sir Guy Carleton, who was governor of Quebec from 1768-1778, and then again 1785-1795. Carleton was an extremely able administrator, and also an extremely tolerant person. He was one of the major advocates of accomodation of Quebecois concens (and, in fact, one of the main shapers of the Quebec Act), and extremely well liked in Quebec. If Quebec had had a governor who was a strong advocate of assimilating Quebec…making English mandatory in government, keeping English common law, etc., things might have been different.

Also, in regards to Canada outside of Quebec, I believe that Nova Scotia sent delegates to the First Continental Congress, but they didn’t do much, and wouldn’t sign the various declarations the Congress made.

Also, looking further, I find reference to Eddy’s Rebellion, in Nova Scotia. Apparently, in 1776, a New England farmer named Johnathan Eddy, who was living in Nova Scotia at the time, got together about 300 Nova Scotians, and tried to siege Fort Cumberland. The attack fell apart, a few of the rebels were killed, most went home, and a few, including Richard John Uniacke (who would go on to become Attorney General of Nova Scotia) were tried for treason and acquited.

If Nova Scotia sent delegates to the First Continental Congress, they must have come in disguise,

I believe some Nova Scotians petitioned the Continental Congress to be allowed to join, but the Congress never acted on the petition.

The first Continental Congress had representatives from 12 of the original 13 states, with Georgia not attending.

Earlier threads that addressed this topic, (covering much of the same ground, but including some other perspectives), include:

Why isn’t Canada part of the U.S.A.? June, 2000

Why only 13 colonies in the Continental Congress? June, 2001

Thirteen colonies? Weren’t there 16? July, 2001

There seems to be some confusion on this issue. (Probably not among serious scholars, but among those who write easily accessed popular histories. I have read both that Nova Scotia never participated and that one region from Nova Scotia sent observers who did not choose to join the rebellion (whether because they did not represent the whole colony or because they disagreed with the direction the Continental Congress was proceeding is not made clear).

In the second link I provided, above, Bibliophage noted

Canada had a different adminsitration than did the Thirteen Colonies, all the way up to which Secretary of State was in charge immediately below the Cabinet.