Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day

Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence? If not, you should. It’s a fine piece of writing. The beginning and the end are poetry. But what’s with the middle? All those “he has” sentences. An enumeration of all the terrible things King George did to the colonists to justify their decision to break with Great Britain. And some of them seem to have been written in code.

“For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies”

For all of you living in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio – this part is for you. Yes, your state was an enumerated reason for the 13 colonies to break with Great Britain. It was all because YOU were included within the 14th colony. What? What 14th colony? Quebec of course. Britain defeated France in the Seven Years war and France ceded all of its land east of the Mississippi (except New Orleans) to Britain. Quebec became a part of Great Britain.

But what to do with it? It was full of people. And they all spoke French! And they were all Catholic and they had NO interest in taking an oath of allegiance that referenced protestantism. And they had their own way of doing things including an entire system of contractual rights through which they ran their fur trade.

Hence, the Quebec Act. In 1774 parliament finally got around to passing an act for the administration of all that land that France ceded them. They replaced the oath of allegiance with one that didn’t mention protestantism. They guaranteed the Quebecois the free practice of their Catholic faith. They kept English common law for government matters and criminal matters but restored the French civil law to private matters (i.e. contracts etc.).

And while they were at it, Britain threw all the rest of French North America under the administration of Quebec and put it under the same rules. That’s where Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio come in.

The 13 colonies were furious about this. They called the Quebec Act one of the Intolerable Acts. People in the Ohio Country were free to be Catholic? OMG. That Royal Proclamation of 1763 in which Britain recognized the right of the Indians to the land? They had to be bound by that? And the Virginia and Pennsylvania land companies couldn’t freely drive the Indians out because the Indians “belonged” to Quebec? Are you kidding? Is THAT the American way? What if that happened all over the 13 colonies? What a terrible proposition. Catholics everywhere! And Indians with land rights! And all of our dreams of profiting from the land beyond the mountains dashed. It must be stopped!

You can see why the 13 colonies were compelled to rebel. Right?

So Happy Independence Day to everyone. Go out and live the American Dream, especially you in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio (oh, and Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota, which were also French).