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- The Fighting Governor - 1/20 -

CHRONICLES OF CANADA Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton In thirty-two volumes

Volume 7

THE FIGHTING GOVERNOR A Chronicle of Frontenac




The Canada to which Frontenac came in 1672 was no longer the infant colony it had been when Richelieu founded the Company of One Hundred Associates. Through the efforts of Louis XIV and Colbert it had assumed the form of an organized province. [Footnote: See The Great Intendant in this Series.] Though its inhabitants numbered less than seven thousand, the institutions under which they lived could not have been more elaborate or precise. In short, the divine right of the king to rule over his people was proclaimed as loudly in the colony as in the motherland.

It was inevitable that this should be so, for the whole course of French history since the thirteenth century had led up to the absolutism of Louis XIV. During the early ages of feudalism France had been distracted by the wars of her kings against rebellious nobles. The virtues and firmness of Louis IX (1226-70) had turned the scale in favour of the crown. There were still to be many rebellions--the strife of Burgundians and Armagnacs in the fifteenth century, the Wars of the League in the sixteenth century, the cabal of the Fronde in the seventeenth century--but the great issue had been settled in the days of the good St Louis. When Raymond VII of Toulouse accepted the Peace of Lorris (1243) the government of Canada by Louis XIV already existed in the germ. That is to say, behind the policy of France in the New World may be seen an ancient process which had ended in untrammelled autocracy at Paris.

This process as it affected Canada was not confined to the spirit of government. It is equally visible in the forms of colonial administration. During the Middle Ages the dukes and counts of France had been great territorial lords--levying their own armies, coining their own money, holding power of life and death over their vassals. In that period Normandy, Brittany, Maine, Anjou, Toulouse, and many other districts, were subject to the king in name only. But, with the growth of royal power, the dukes and counts steadily lost their territorial independence and fell at last to the condition of courtiers. Simultaneously the duchies or counties were changed into provinces, each with a noble for its governor--but a noble who was a courtier, holding his commission from the king and dependent upon the favour of the king. Side by side with the governor stood the intendant, even more a king's man than the governor himself. So jealously did the Bourbons guard their despotism that the crown would not place wide authority in the hands of any one representative. The governor, as a noble and a soldier, knew little or nothing of civil business. To watch over the finances and the prosperity of the province, an intendant was appointed. This official was always chosen from the middle class and owed his position, his advancement, his whole future, to the king. The governor might possess wealth, or family connections. The intendant had little save what came to him from his sovereign's favour. Gratitude and interest alike tended to make him a faithful servant.

But, though the crown had destroyed the political power of the nobles, it left intact their social pre-eminence. The king was as supreme as a Christian ruler could be. Yet by its very nature the monarchy could not exist without the nobles, from whose ranks the sovereign drew his attendants, friends, and lieutenants. Versailles without its courtiers would have been a desert. Even the Church was a stronghold of the aristocracy, for few became bishops or abbots who were not of gentle birth.

The great aim of government, whether at home or in the colonies, was to maintain the supremacy of the crown. Hence all public action flowed from a royal command. The Bourbon theory required that kings should speak and that subjects should obey. One direct consequence of a system so uncompromisingly despotic was the loss of all local initiative. Nothing in the faintest degree resembling the New England town-meeting ever existed in New France. Louis XIV objected to public gatherings of his people, even for the most innocent purposes. The sole limitation to the power of the king was the line of cleavage between Church and State. Religion required that the king should refrain from invading the sphere of the clergy, though controversy often waxed fierce as to where the secular ended and the spiritual began.

When it became necessary to provide institutions for Canada, the organization of the province in France at once suggested itself as a fit pattern. Canada, like Normandy, had the governor and the intendant for her chief officials, the seigneury for the groundwork of her society, and mediaeval coutumes for her laws.

The governor represented the king's dignity and the force of his arms. He was a noble, titled or untitled. It was the business of the governor to wage war and of the intendant to levy taxes. But as an expedition could not be equipped without money, the governor looked to the intendant for funds, and the intendant might object that the plans of the governor were unduly extravagant. Worse still, the commissions under which both held office were often contradictory. More than three thousand miles separated Quebec from Versailles, and for many months governor and intendant quarrelled over issues which could only be settled by an appeal to the king. Meanwhile each was a spy as well as a check upon the other. In Canada this arrangement worked even more harmfully than in France, where the king could make himself felt without great loss of time.

Yet an able intendant could do much good. There are few finer episodes in the history of local government than the work of Turgot as intendant of the Limousin. [Footnote: Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727-81), a statesman, thinker, and philanthropist of the first order. It was as intendant of Limoges that Turgot disclosed his great powers. He held his post for thirteen years (1761- 74), and effected improvements which led Louis XVI to appoint him comptroller-general of the Kingdom.] Canada also had her Talon, whose efforts had transformed the colony during the seven years which preceded Frontenac's arrival. The fatal weakness was scanty population. This Talon saw with perfect clearness, and he clamoured for immigrants till Colbert declared that he would not depopulate France to people Canada. Talon and Frontenac came into personal contact only during a few weeks, but the colony over which Frontenac ruled as governor had been created largely by the intelligence and toil of Talon as intendant. [Footnote: See The Great Intendant.]

While the provincial system of France gave Canada two chief personages, a third came from the Church. In the annals of New France there is no more prominent figure than the bishop. Francois de Laval de Montmorency had been in the colony since 1659. His place in history is due in large part to his strong, intense personality, but this must not be permitted to obscure the importance of his office. His duties were to create educational institutions, to shape ecclesiastical policy, and to represent the Church in all its dealings with the government.

Many of the problems which confronted Laval had their origin in special and rather singular circumstances. Few, if any, priests had as yet been established in fixed parishes--each with its church and presbytere. Under ordinary conditions parishes would have been established at once, but in Canada the conditions were far from ordinary. The Canadian Church sprang from a mission. Its first ministers were members of religious orders who had taken the conversion of the heathen for their chosen task. They had headquarters at Quebec or Montreal, but their true field of action was the wilderness. Having the red man rather than the settler as their charge, they became immersed, and perhaps preoccupied, in their heroic work. Thus the erection of parishes was delayed. More than one historian has upbraided Laval for thinking so much of the mission that he neglected the spiritual needs of the colonists. However this may be, the colony owed much to the missionaries--particularly to the Jesuits. It is no exaggeration to say that the Society of Jesus had been among the strongest forces which stood between New France and destruction. Other supports failed. The fur trade had been the corner-stone upon which Champlain built up Quebec, but the profits proved disappointing. At the best it was a very uncertain business. Sometimes the prices in Paris dwindled to nothing because the market was glutted. At other times the Indians brought no furs at all to the trading-posts. With its export trade dependent upon the caprice of the savages, the colony often seemed not worth the keeping. In these years of worst discouragement the existence of the mission was a great prop.

On his arrival in 1672 Frontenac found the Jesuits, the Sulpicians, and the Recollets all actively engaged in converting the heathen. He desired that more attention

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