Liberty and British identity: printed reactions to the Quebec Act 1774-1775



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This thesis explores reactions to the Quebec Act of 1774 in pamphlets and newspapers within Britain and the American colonies. The Quebec Act was signed by George III in June of 1774, the bill instituted French Civil Law, put in place a military governor and a executive council, all of whom served at the will of the Crown, and effectively established Roman Catholicism in Canada under the Crown?s control. The rhetoric analyzed for this thesis came from a number of contemporary pamphlets and newspaper commentaries on the Quebec Act specifically,or on colonial policy, which included the Quebec Act, more generally. The pamphlets were written by ministers, politicians, public figures and anonymous individuals. The concepts, ideals, and words used by these various commentators suggest underlying concerns and ideals which they all share and which their audience would understand and identify with. In using the rhetoric employed in these sources this study hopes to show that in their reactions to the incorporation of French Catholics, under their own laws and religious traditions, British contemporaries revealed their conception of what it meant to be British.There is a strong sense that British Protestantism was not so unified that it would serve as an effective foundation to build an identity. Therefore, rather than simply being formed as a reaction against the French and Catholic Other, this identity seems to be rooted in a positive sense of the nature of English liberty, which was then extended to the British people. The rhetoric in the American colonies is used to show how an identity centered on the ideal of liberty functions on the periphery. This thesis hopes to also address the fact that the Quebec Act has been overlooked by many who address the issue of British identity. Such an event, even if overshadowed in popular history by the other Coercive Acts, is a valuable episode in the creation and expression of a British Identity.