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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Quebec Act - 1774

John T. Christian

From, A History of the Baptists, 1926 pp. 221-224

The hostility of the pope (Pius VI) was well understood by the Americans. John Adams, afterwards President of the United States, writing to the President of Congress, in an official manner, August 4, 1770, says:

"The court of Rome, attached to ancient customs, would be one of the last to acknowledge our independence, if we were to solicit it. But Congress will probably send a Minister to his Holiness, who can do them no service, upon condition of receiving a Catholic legate in return; or, in other words, an ecclesiastical tyrant, which, it is to be hoped, the United States will be too wise ever to admit into their territories" (Adams, Works, VII.).

The reasons for Roman Catholic hostility were manifest. Practically all of the colonies had severe anti-papal laws on their statute books. Likewise, the House of Bourbon had banished the Jesuits from France, and the French favored the claims of the United States. "The rancor of the Jesuits," says Bancroft, "against the house of Bourbon for exiling them from France and Spain was relentless. The Roman Catholic clergy in the insurgent British colonies had been superintended by a person who resided in London; and during the war they were directed by Jesuits who favored the British" (Bancroft, History of the Constitution, I.). Marbois, the French Minister, wrote of Rayneval, from Philadelphia, August 15, 1784, as follows: "The Catholics, always directed by the Jesuits in the country, have been ill-disposed to the Revolution, they are not better disposed toward us." (Bancroft,I.).

It was hoped by some that Canada would make the fourteenth State in the American Union. The Quebec Act was passed by Parliament, June, 1774, the effect of which was to make Canada a Roman Catholic province. Some of the wisest and best men in England opposed this measure. The spirit of the opposition to the Act in England may be seen in the attitude of Sergeant Glynn, backed by many other members of Parliament. He represented Middlesex and was the Recorder of London. Lord Chatham described him as being "a most ingenius, solid, pleasing man, and the spirit of the constitution itself" (Chatham, Correspondence, III.). Mr. Glynn said:

"Considering, therefore, Sir, that the laws about to be given to the Canadians are the French laws; that the religion, as far as it becomes a subject of legal attention, is to be the Roman Catholic religion; that the Protestant religion is no wise taken notice of than as being one that ought to be tolerated; and that, whatever the disposition of the governor from whom they receive those laws may be, the government will be as absolute as any king of France could make it, and that without an irresistible necessity. I am persuaded that no gentleman, who carefully attends to the subject, and reflects upon the consequences, can, as a friend to the British Constitution, give his consent to the bill now before us." (Cavendish, Debates in the House of Commons, A. D., 1774).

Perhaps there was not a prominent Roman Catholic in Great Britain who did not endorse the war against America. There is an important paper to that effect called "an Address of the Roman Catholic Peers and Commons of Great Britain," to the king, dated May 2, 1776, published in the London Gazette. It expresses their appreciation of the constitution and their loyalty to it. And that for years "their conduct has been irreproachable," they are going to stand by the king in "public danger," and are "perfectly ready, on every occasion, to give proofs of our fidelity." The address further says:

"We beg to assure Your Majesty, that our dissent from the legal establishment, in matters of religion, is purely conscientious; that we hold no opinions averse to Your Majesty’s government, or repugnant to the duties of good citizens. And we trust that this has been shown decisively by our irreproachable conduct for many years past, under circumstances of public discountenance and displeasure, than it can be manifested by any declaration whatever.

“In a time of public danger, when Your Majesty’s subjects can have but one interest, and ought to have but one wish and one sentiment, we humbly hope it would not be deemed improper to assure Your Majesty of our unreserved affection to your government, of our unalterable attachment to the cause and welfare of this our common country and our utter detestation of the designs and views of any foreign power, against the dignity of your Majesty’s crown, and safety and tranquility of You Majesty’s subjects.

“The delicacy of our situation is such that we do not presume to point out the particular means by which we may be allowed to testify our zeal to Your Majesty, and our wishes to serve our country; but we entreat leave faithfully to assure Your Majesty, that we shall be perfectly ready, on every occasion, to give such proofs of our fidelity, and the purity of our intentions, as Your Majesty’s wisdom, and the sense of the nation, shall at any time deem excellent" (Almon, The Remembrancer, VI. 133-135). This Address was signed by two hundred and five Peers and Commoners, all Roman Catholics.

The acts of the British government were followed by the most solemn protests from all parts of the country; the crown was asked not to sign the Quebec Act; and there were many riots. The American Congress, October 21, 1774, sent an Address to the people of Great Britain. It not only gives the attitude of the Americans in general; but in particular is clear upon the religious side of the controversy. Altogether it is a fearless and plainspoken expression of convictions. It was signed by George Washington and many others.

At the risk of length, some of the statements are here quoted:

"We think the legislature of Great Britian is not authorized, by the constitution, to establish a religion, fraught with sanguinary and impious tenants, or to erect an arbitrary form of government, in any quarter of the globe. Those rights, we as well as you, deem sacred; and yet, sacred as they are, they have with many others, been repeatedly and flagrantly violated.

“At the conclusion of a late war - a war rendered glorious by the abilities and integrity of a Minister to whose efforts the British Empire owes its safety and its fame: At the conclusion of the war which was succeeded by an inglorious peace, formed under the auspices of a Minister of principles and of a family unfriendly to the Protestant cause, and inimical to liberty: We say, at this period and under the influences of that man, a plan for the enslaving of your fellow subjects in America was concerted, and has been ever since pertinaciously carried into execution.

“Nor mark the progress of the ministerial plan for enslaving us. Well aware that such hardy attempts to take our property from us, to deprive us of that valuable right of trial by jury, to seize our persons and to carry us for trial to Great Britain, to blockade our ports, to destroy our charters, and to change our form of government, would occasion great discontent in the Colonies, which might produce opposition to these measures, an act was passed to protect, indemnify and screen from punishment, such as might be guilty even of murder, in endeavoring to carry their oppressive edicts into execution; and by another act the Dominion of Canada is to be extended, modeled and governed, as by being disunited from us, detached from our interests, by civil as well as religious prejudices, that by their numbers daily swelling with Catholic emigrants from Europe, and by their devotion to administration so friendly to their religion, they might become formidable to us, and on occasion be fit instruments, in the hands of power, to reduce the free Protestant Colonies to the same state of slavery with themselves.

“This was evidently the object of the act; and in this view, being extremely dangerous to our liberties and quiet, we cannot further forbear complaining of it, as hostile to British America. Superadded to these considerations, we cannot help deploring the unhappy condition to which it has reduced the many English settlers, encouraged by the royal proclamation, promised the enjoyment of all their rights, have purchased estates in that country. That they are now the subjects of an arbitrary government, deprived of trial by jury, and when imprisoned, cannot claim the benefit of the ‘habeas corpus’ act, that great bulwark and palladium of English liberty. Nor can we suppress our astonishment, that a British Parliament can ever consent to establish in that country a religion that has deluged your island in blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world. This being a true state of facts, let us beseech you to consider what end they lead." (Journal of Congress, 1774, I. 27, 30).