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A pragmatic and conservative measure: Catholic toleration in Quebec after the Treaty of Paris

Faculty Advisor




Catholics, Quebec, eighteenth century, civil administration, constitution

Abstract (summary)

In 1763, when Britain acquired the colony of Quebec from France by the Treaty of Paris, the colony’s loyalty could not be taken for granted. How could the quiescence of “His Majesty’s new subjects,” the Catholic Canadiens, be assured, especially if renewed war with France should ensue? Furthermore, the eighteenth-century British constitution was profoundly anti-Catholic. How could it be applied in a colony populated by Catholics? British colonial administrators sought to secure the acquiescence of the Canadiens by offering them a civil administration patterned after a conservative and paternalistic interpretation of the British constitution. But when the exclusion of Catholics from public life made the implementation of the conservative political structure they envisioned unworkable, they chose the structure over anti-Catholicism and moved to permit the Canadiens to participate in public life. Landed men were more important to a stable political order than Protestant men. The Governors promoted religious toleration for the Canadiens, but this toleration reflected pragmatic concerns about security in a frontier colony and a fundamentally conservative view of political legitimacy, rather than the liberal attitudes implied by the term toleration.

Publication Information



Presented on April 15–16, 2011 at the Joint Meeting of the Canadian and American Catholic Historical Associations held at the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, in Toronto, Ontario.

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