"No king unless it be a constitutional king": rethinking the place of the Quebec Act in the coming of the American Revolution

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Date: Fall 2011
From: The Historian(Vol. 73, Issue 3)
Publisher: Phi Alpha Theta, History Honor Society, Inc.
Document Type: Essay
Length: 7,919 words
Lexile Measure: 1800L

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IN JANUARY 1775, the Reverend William Edmiston of Baltimore caused a political uproar by simply stating his loyalty to the British government. Baltimore County's Committee of Observation, which now held significant authority in the city, accused Edmiston of several offenses, including undermining the "measures, recommended for the preservation of America, and her liberties, and that it is their [the Committee's] duty to take notice of persons guilty of such offenses." (1) The committee also took exception to his opinion that those who mustered in the county militia against British authorities were guilty of treason, and lastly, that he had "approved publicly of the Quebec bill." (2) Amidst the public furor created over his views, in a prepared statement Edmiston disavowed his stance against resistance to British authority and unequivocally denounced the Quebec Act. Instead, he now claimed to disapprove of the legislation on the basis that "it establishes the Roman catholic religion in the province of Quebec, abolishes the equitable system of English laws, and erects a tyranny there, to the danger (from so total dissimilarity of religion, law and government) of the neighboring British colonies, by the assistance of whose blood and treasure the said country was conquered." (3) Edmiston's retraction acknowledged that his views were "different from what most people think at this time," and contained profuse apologies for his "political sentiments." (4) That Edmiston felt compelled to make amends with the political views of his fellow Marylanders illustrated an important point in the politics of Revolutionary America by 1775: that an individual's stand on imperial legislation held tangible effects for their personal well-being.

It is also important to note that the Committee of Observation chose to make Edmiston's public approval of the Quebec Act a part of the indictments brought against him. In doing so, the Committee defined which side an individual supported in the crisis with the British government, demonstrating a process that was by this point well under way in the American colonies. In this sorting out, the Quebec Act provided patriots with yet another tool to use against their political opponents. Patriots depicted defenders of legislation like the Quebec Act as dangerous elements in American colonial society, while simultaneously claiming that their own opposition upheld Whig traditions long associated with the success of the British nation. For many, the Quebec Act served as a sort of litmus test to gauge the political leanings of their fellow colonists. Those supporting it were dangerous subversives who sought to undermine resistance against British policies. Those who condemned the legislation were supporters of British rights and liberties and sought to keep in check an increasingly corrupt and arbitrary ministry. While patriots saw previous pieces of imperial legislation, such as the Townshend duties, Tea Act, or Boston Port Bill, as evidence of these tendencies, the Quebec Act added its own unique elements to this volatile mix. In this legislation, Patriots now claimed they had concrete proof of the British government's desire for absolute rule over its colonies, lending credence...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A269228814