WAS THE KING RIGHT
AN ADDRESS BY M. L'ABBIE ARTHUR MAHEUX, F.R.S.C.
Chairman: The President, Mr. Thos. H. Howse
Thursday, February 24th, 1949
HONOURED GUESTS AND GENTLEMEN
In introducing our guest of honour today, I feel that some reference to the subject of Canadian Unity is appropriate.
In the two great Provinces of the Dominion, Ontario and Quebec, we have two peoples, two races, two languages and on their ability to co-operate and work in harmony with a common understanding, so much depends. Unfortunately, it is a subject that has been used as a political football which tends to foster disunity and make the problem more complex.
Today we welcome as our guest speaker, Monsieur L'Abbe Arthur Maheux, who has devoted much time for many years to the cause of better understanding between the French and English cultures in Canada.
Last year he was called to the University of Toronto to succeed Prime Minister St. Laurent as speaker on the Gray Foundation and to initiate a long-term program of exchange of professors between Laval and Toronto Universities. His visit was an outstanding success in creating a greater desire among staff and students for closer contacts and better understanding between Toronto and Quebec. He is considered by many to be one of the great architects of Canadian Unity in our time.
Monsieur L'Abbe is head of the Department of History and Geography, Laval University, President Canadian Historical Association; President-General Canadian Catholic Historical Association; Archivist Grand Seminaire de Quebec, in which capacity he is in charge of some of the most precious historical documents in Canada.
It now affords me very great pleasure to introduce Monsieur L'Abbe Arthur Maheux, F.R.S.C., who has chosen as the subject of his address "Was The King Right?"
What King? of France? of England? or of another country? King of England, of course. A George or an Edward? It was a George, George the Third.
I shall not be cruel to the point of asking you the dates of his reign, but you certainly have an idea that he reigned nearly two centuries ago.
There you might stop me and ask: What's the idea, of taking us the members of The Empire Club so far back in the past?
I confess my guilt. I have quite deliberately chosen that period of British and Canadian History. Quite natural, for a man who writes and teaches History. Yet, that is not the reason.
My only reason is this: having studied for long years the mutual attitudes of French and English in Canada, I have come to the conclusion that one of the main differences between the two groups is the way they look at History.
In both groups History is a part of the curriculum in elementary, secondary and University course. However, History is never an optional subject for the French Canadian, or any part of it; it is compulsory from the first to the last year. That subject is never second rate, but always first rate, in the eyes of the French Canadian teacher or student.
Associations for the study of local and general history have sprung up in every corner of the province of Quebec; they are active and they have amassed much material, which has been or is being printed and circulated at great expense.
Most of the books printed in French Canada, either in the past or in the present time, are concerned with History. The market for such books is always good. Garneau's History of Canada has appeared in some ten editions, more or less revised, during a hundred years. In recent times a History of the Province of Quebec since the Confederation, printed in twenty volumes won a considerable success.
The first literary genre cultivated by French Canadian writers was History.
I would not say that the English-speaking Canadians are not interested in History, but I am prepared to say that it is not in the same degree, or to the same extent, or with the same consciousness.
The French Canadians consider History as a solid basis for their national activities. They need to feel that they are different from the other Canadians, and they try to dig up from historical sources all possible evidence to that effect.
The motto of the province of Quebec is 'Je me souviens'. I remember. The French Canadians want to forget nothing of their past, and to use every little bit of History as a food for their national consciousness.
I hardly need to enlarge upon that, since many of your writers and journalists have often blamed the French Canadians for burying themselves in the past, instead of looking at the present or at the future.
What is the present import of that difference of opinion? The import is that the Canadian citizens of today can hardly understand each other, if they do not attach the same value to the same facts.
The French Canadians agree that they have to move along certain lines if they must meet their fellow citizens. For instance, they saw that you were moving fast in applied sciences; consequently they opened Departments of pure and applied sciences in their universities. They expect that you will move towards the study of Canadian history.
We have noticed that your historians gave prominence to the economic and to the social side of History; wishing to meet you on the same ground we have decided to do the same in our textbooks. In return we expect that your writers will give more consideration to the religious side of Canadian history, for this is a major source of misunderstanding between the two groups.
Some facts of the religious life in Canada are treated in just one or two lines by the English Canadian writers, whilst a French Canadian historian will devote to each of them two or three pages.
Moreover, there is a marked tendency, with some French Canadian writers to blame the British authorities for the wrongs they say were inflicted upon their religion.
To the question: Was the King right? they always answer The King was wrong, whilst most of the time you would say he was right.
You may disregard that situation. You may blame it on Jean-Baptiste; but I think the disregard or the blame will arrange nothing.
Baptiste always remembers something that happened, and that is to be blamed on the English.
Of course, Baptiste is taught to think that he was always right and never wrong.
This we will call the fact number one. Fact number two is that most French Canadian historians show a marked tendency to blame the English at large for the difficulties they have had during three centuries.
Again you may disregard it or pile another blame on Baptiste. But I think the blame or the disregard will arrange nothing. Most of the difficulties between the two Canadian groups arise from those two facts. Baptiste always remembers something that happened and that is to be blamed on the English. Of course, Baptiste is taught to think that he was always right and never wrong.
Any man endowed with common sense will think that it is impossible for any given nation or group to have always been right and that all the troubles of a given people come from one single cause, namely another people or nation.
Somebody has written that in all discussions or problems there are three sides: your side, my side, and the right side. That may he the case for many points of our Canadian history.
Your historians make little of Dollard des Ormeaux, but ours make him a great hero. Your historians present Bishop Laval as a man possessed with bad temper, but ours make him a hero and a saint. Your historians and ours differ much in the way they explain the Dispersion of the Acadians, the Frontenac raid on Schenectady and Corlar, the burning of farms by the English Army, the Riel Rebellion, the Schools question, to mention only a few of the differences.
As long as we do not come to agree about such problems it is better not to mention National unity.
I have chosen one of the differences, one not already mentioned in the above list. It is the relation between England, particularly the King of Great Britain, and the Roman Catholics of Canada at the beginning of the British rule in Canada.
If you met a French Canadian and a discussion would start about that difficulty, you might say: "My friend, that is an old story, please forget it". Yet, Baptiste will rot forget it. He has been taught that Great Britain opposed Catholicism, tried to impose Protestantism, and even did her best to prevent the appointment of a Catholic bishop at Quebec. If all that were true you would only have to say: 'My friend, I confess; my ancestors were wrong and I regret it; I am willing to act quite differently.'
If it were not true you certainly should know the facts and explain to Baptiste that in the instance he is wrong. It may be a surprise to him, but he will be pleased to know that you are interested in the problem, that you have studied it, that you can offer a fair solution. If you speak to him in friendly words you will have done something practical towards the goal of National Unity, and that is worth while.
To that someone might say: 'Do it yourself; it belongs to a French Canadian to enlighten a French Canadian.' I admit. I have done much in that line and I am still working at it. But it takes time to change opinions.
My first attempt was with public lectures at Laval University in 1942. The second was the book I published in French under the title 'Nos Debuts sous le regime anglais', and in English 'French Canada and Britain, a new interpretation'. In the lectures and in the two books I have dealt with the religious problem in Canada at the time of the Cession of New France to Great Britain. Later I discovered new material and I have used it in a paper read before the members of the Canadian Catholic Historical Society. That paper has been printed in the annual Report of that Society.
What is the gist of my research work, that is what I want to say in answer to my question Was the King Right?
The main difficulty for the French Roman Catholics of Canada in 1764 was the appointment of a bishop. They no longer had a bishop, since Bishop de Pontbriand had died in June, 1760, a few months before the Capitulation of Montreal, and no other had been appointed in his place.
Such an appointment was impossible, as long as the war continued in Europe, and it continued till December, 1762. The Treaty of Paris was signed two months later, in February, 1763. Until that time neither King, of France or of Britain, could move a finger about that matter, as nobody knew what would be the issue of the war or of the treaty.
The same remark applies to the following period of eighteen months, since the Treaty allowed such a length of time to the Canadians to decide whether or not they would stay in Canada. Hence, only in August, 1764, could the question be opened.
What was the general attitude on that question at that time? The British people, in the United Kingdom and in the thirteen colonies, had different views between themselves. The dissenters held that a bishop was not at all necessary; the Anglicans believed the contrary, but they met with a first difficulty in that they had never appointed an Anglican bishop in any of their American Colonies. Canada being a new colony added to the Crown, the same situation might apply to it as to the other colonies, so much so that most of the English-speaking persons, military or civilian, from the United Kingdom or from the thirteen colonies, were Dissenters and not Anglican. As for the Roman Catholics, there were some in the Colonies, but they had no bishop there; their only bishop was in London, according to a rule set by the Pope himself.
There was a precedent to apply, if it were known; it was the case of an island in the Mediterranean Sea, Minorca, which had become a British possession, long years before, and where there was a Catholic bishop by express agreement between Spain and Great Britain; but it seemed to be unknown and nobody ever mentioned it.
I have said that the question could be opened only in August, 1764. That is "officially". Yet it was opened before, for the good reason that to Catholics the presence of a bishop is essential to religious life. Immediately after the Treaty of Paris the diplomatic relations between England and France were re-established and there was a French Embassy at London.
France remained interested in Canada, and especially about religion. During the French regime all the Bishops of Quebec had been chosen by the King of France, by virtue of an old Concordat between the Vatican and France. At the Capitulation of Montreal and the Treaty of Paris the Frenchmen had tried to insert a clause to protect that right of the French King, probably for the sole reason that in their opinion it would be very strange if the Protestant King of Great Britain were to choose a Roman Catholic Bishop and ask the Pope to give him ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
The Catholics of Canada had always had in France an official representative under the name of Vicar general. As soon as the Treaty was signed, that representative busied himself with the appointment of a new bishop at Quebec, and the problem came to the fore in the official circles of London. We know, now, that King George the Third himself declared, about a month after the signature of the Treaty, that he would not object to the appointment of a Catholic bishop at Quebec.
The opposition might come from the Anglican archbishop, head of the official church in the United Kingdom. At first glance, one may say that that was to him a queer situation. He, quite naturally, had always opposed the official recognition of a catholic bishop in the British Isles. Was he to approve one in a new colony won by war and treaty? yet, the Anglican Archbishop declared in May, 1764, a little more than a year after the Treaty, that a Roman Catholic bishop would in all probability be given to the Canadians, and that would probably allow the appointment of a first Anglican bishop for the thirteen colonies.
Consequently, the opinion of high political and ecclesiastical circles in London was favourable to the appointment of a catholic bishop at Quebec, even before the end of the military regime in the new Colony.
From London let us go to Quebec. What was the situation there? In the absence of a bishop the administration of the whole diocese was in the hands of three Vicar generals and of the canons. None of these could ordain new priests. It was an abnormal condition, yet it was not new, since it had occurred many times during the French regime, as I have explained in one of my books. But, abnormal it was and it should be redressed as soon as possible. Hence the canons had a meeting and there they elected Mr. de Mongolfier, a prominent Sulpician of Montreal. He proceeded to London in order to have his appointment confirmed by the Crown, and then to obtain jurisdiction from Rome. Mr. de Mongolfier was to meet with two big obstacles.
The first was General James Murray's opposition. Murray's policy was to detach the Canadians from France. In his opinion Mongolfier was a Frenchman by birth, by education and by solid and near family ties. Murray understood well the necessity of a bishop for the Canadians, but he wanted a man with a Canadian, not with a French mind. So he objected to Mongolfier by letters sent to London.
The other obstacle seems almost unconceivable, for it came from the Vatican. The ecclesiastical authorities at Rome severely blamed the Quebec Canons for having dared to proceed to an election, when they had no right to do so. Rome informed Mongolfier that the so-called election was void and null. Mongolfier had no choice, but to return to Canada, which he did,
That was a critical moment. Rome had issued, a few years before, a decree by which all the Roman Catholics in the English colonies were given to the care of the Catholic bishop who resided in London. Consequently, as soon as the Treaty of Paris had been signed, Canada being a new English colony, the Catholics of that Colony were falling under the jurisdiction of that London bishop. Rome might well, to avoid difficulties, have stood by that decree, and it would have been the end of the French-speaking line of bishops in Canada.
Moreover, there was at Rome one Cardinal highly interested in the Catholic affairs of the British Empire. It was Cardinal York, no less than the brother of the Pretender to the British Crown. Cardinal York could easily advise the Pope either not to appoint a new bishop but to let the authority in the hands of the London bishop, or to appoint authority a Vicar apostolic, who might have been an Irish, a Scot or an Englishman; such a solution might well be more acceptable to the British Court and even acceptable to the French Canadians, since the catholic priests in the British Isles received their training in France or Spain and knew the French language. In either hypothesis it meant the end of the French or French Canadian line of bishops at Quebec.
That did not happen. The Quebec canons met again, and that time, instead of electing, they simply named the man who in their opinion was the best to hold the office of bishop in Canada. That man was Olivier Briand, vicar general in Quebec City. James Murray had a high opinion of that priest; though born in France, he was from Britanny, belonged to some humble family, had lived long in Canada and was a Canadian at heart. Murray endorsed the Canons' decision and wrote to the British Court strongly recommending Briand.
Everything should henceforth have worked smoothly. Unfortunately, when Briand arrived at London in 1765 he encountered two difficulties. The first was the political deadlock between the King on one side and the ministers on the other side; nobody wanted to receive visitors or to transact business. The second difficulty was the presence, at London, of an ex-Jesuit, Roubaud, who had come from Quebec, had turned Protestant in England, and was assailing the officials with memoirs, reports and letters about the new colony. He told them that the French Canadians would gladly become Protestants, that even the priests would do so and would marry, and consequently that no bishop was necessary at Quebec.
One can easily imagine the embarrassment of the British officials at London. But Cramahe and Mills, who had been dispatched to London by James Murray, did their best to offset Roubard's insane sayings, and to inform the officials of the real needs of the Canadian Catholics. "They found open minds and finally told Briand to go to France and to arrange with Rome for his consecration as a bishop.
That was done and Briand returned to Quebec as a bishop, though he was told that that title was disliked by Protestants and that they would call him the Superintendant of the Roman Church in Canada.
Those are the real facts. But do not expect to find them all in the handbooks of Canadian history.
Take, for instance, a French textbook; a full page, and even two or three are given to that difficulty; the students are let to understand that the British authorities opposed the appointment of a bishop; that they waited long months before allowing it, and that they are blamed for the danger that threatened the religious life of the Canadians. No mention is made of the King's attitude in March, 1763, of the Anglican Archbishop in May, 1764, of the Vatican's attitude, of Roubaud's activities. Take now an English textbook; one line is enough to say: A bishop was given to the Canadians.
Put together two Canadians, an English Protestant and a French Catholic. How could they agree on that point? Clearly it is impossible. More information should be given to the English Protestant students; and better information ought to be available to the French Catholic student.
This is only an example amongst many, to show how differently History is taught to both Canadian groups. As long as we continue along those lines we will never meet. Yet we have to meet. It is the teachers' main duty to present history as it really is; it is also the common citizen's duty and interest to know the historical facts and to be able to discuss them intelligently, and in a friendly way. By doing this we Canadians will achieve much sooner National Unity.