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The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony: America’s War of Liberation in Canada, 1774–1776 book cover
The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony: America’s War of Liberation in Canada, 1774–1776 by Mark R. Anderson

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In The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony, author Mark R. Anderson explores the Quebec Campaign of 1775-1776. At this time, the American colonists were attempting to bring Canada into the Continental confederation, first through political appeals and eventually by force. They believed they were liberating their neighbors to the north from British tyranny—and solidifying a continent-wide opposition to the British decrees outlined in the newly-issued Intolerable Acts. Today's excerpt reveals the beginnings of this campaign, when the first Continental Congress concluded their session with an approval of a message titled 'Address to the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec.' 


When Congress decided to address the Canadians on 21 October [1774], it was not the first time that patriot organizers recognized the need to communicate with Quebec. Seventeen days earlier at a dinner party, John Adams reported that half-pay British officer and Whig radical Charles Lee had shown him a proposed address to Canada. No copy of this draft has been found, and there is no evidence to indicate whether it was used in any way to develop subsequent messages. Regardless of its content, this draft is significant because it demonstrates an early intent to involve Canada in the growing patriot community.

Less than two weeks after Charles Lee's draft circulated, the first confirmed Quebec-focused patriot message was broadcast by a newspaper, rather than by Congressional action. A patriot group calling itself 'The Sons of New-England' sent a short address to the Canadians in the 19 October Essex Journal. These 'Sons' declared their 'aim to establish a pure system of civil and religious liberty through all America,' in which their northern neighbors 'should in all respects be as perfectly free as ourselves...'

When these New Englanders asked Quebec to support the cause of liberty in the fall of 1774, they were not referring to armed conflict; the common aim was participation in the next Congress and compliance with the impending Association. The Canadians might decline to participate in the Continental Congress, but the economic protest would affect them whether they chose to support it or not. In the Association's enforcement provisions, Congress proclaimed, '[W]e will have no trade, commerce, dealings or intercourse whatsoever, with any colony or province, in North-America, which shall not accede to, or ... [does] violate this association, but will hold them as unworthy of the rights of freemen, and as inimical to the liberties of their country.' Even at this early stage of growing conflict, Canada was being called on to choose sides...

[John] Dickinson, Richard Henry Lee, and [Thomas] Cushing did not receive their task to compose the official Congressional address to Quebec until two days after the 'Sons of New-England' message was published. 'The Penman' Dickinson drafted the formal letter over a single weekend, which after some revision, was finally approved on 26 October, the last day of the Congress.

In composing this letter, Dickinson faced the challenge of addressing an essentially foreign audience, 'educated under another form of government' and 'artfully kept from discovering the unspeakable worth' of British civilian government despite their ten years' experience in the empire. There was little common ground to build on. In addition, Dickinson lacked any firsthand experience with Quebec and did not even have any realistic assessments of Canadian political views and interests in which to form his appeals. Given these hurdles, it is not surprising that Canada was given an eighteen-page address, while Congress sent the other British North American colonies only two long sentences in their equivalent appeal.

As the anonymous author of the 'Sons of New-England' address had done, Dickinson tackled the long history of conflict between the Canadians and the other colonies head-on. The Congressional address proclaimed that the 'old' colonies had 'rejoiced in the truly valuable addition' of Canada to the empire, both for the Canadians' and their own benefit. Since the Conquest, 'brave enemies' had become 'hearty friends.' Dickinson also dealt with the issue of religion, the other serious obstacle to union between the Protestant confederated colonies and Catholic Canada...

The bulk of Dickinson's message to the people of Quebec-with their warring past behind them and their religious differences reconciled-employed a different approach from other Congressional messages. In an attempt to span the gap between their political traditions, Dickinson aimed to use this address as a primer on the characteristics and benefits of English government—a political education for Quebec. By arming Canadians with an adequate understanding of the British political system, Congress could prepare them to join the other colonists as liberty-loving patriot citizens...

Congress reinforced the appeal of their political 'catechization' with a gentle reminder of Canada's security-a thinly veiled threat. The Address warned, 'You are a small people, compared to those who with open arms invite you into a fellowship. A moment's reflection should convince you which will be most for your interest and happiness, to have all the rest of North-America your unalterable friends, or your inveterate enemies.'

After persuading the Canadians of the benefits of British liberty, and the dangers of opposing it, Congress ended the letter by explaining its goal: 'unity' with Quebec. Canada was 'the only link wanting, to complete the bright and strong chain of union' in North America. The ultimate goal of the newly offered confederation was 'the perfect security of the natural and civil rights of all the constituent members... and the preservation of a happy and lasting connection with Great Britain.' Once united with their neighbors, Congress promised the Canadians, 'That we should consider the violation of your rights... as a violation of our own...'

Dickinson also suggested that Quebec adopt the same political pattern already used by the colonies in Congress. The Canadians should 'meet together in your several towns and districts, and elect Deputies'; in turn, these local representatives could meet in a provincial congress and select delegates to represent the province at the second Continental Congress in May 1775. This was the critical point of the address—the ultimate aim—to provide a unique opportunity for the Canadians to join the confederated colonies.

Mark R. Anderson, The Battle or the Fourteenth Colony (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2013), 12-16.

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