Thursday, May 28, 2020

Why do I tell the Franco-American story?


My friends at the French Canadian Legacy Podcast asked a few of us to write on this theme: "Why do I tell the Franco-American story?" Here is my response.

Why questions are ambiguous. The question “Why do you tell this story?” can mean “What was the impetus that gave rise to you telling this story?” Or “why” can mean “What is your purpose in telling this story?” I’ll speak first to how I started telling the Franco-American story and then to what might be some purposes in telling it.

I have always been interested in the origins of things. When confronted by anything from a style of music, to the X/Y coordinate system in algebra, I would wonder how it came to be, how it developed, and who was involved. I’m unclear on the origin of this interest in origins. My mother’s storytelling and her interests certainly influenced me.

I’ve been a storyteller since I can remember. I imagined my own stories and was both the creator and the audience for them. Eventually, I wrote them down. I started writing when I was 11. I wrote about 100 pages of a sci-fi novel around that time, believe it or not. My interests turned toward nonfiction in high school, philosophy and history in particular. I read, researched, and scratched naïve notes in loose leaf notebooks. I’d write, and I did, when the only one who read it was me.

As I recount in the introduction to my book A Distinct Alien Race, it was at age 19, while I was in college, that my father died. He was buried with my mother’s family in Biddeford, Maine where there is a vast Franco-American cemetery where almost all of the text, on almost all of the gravestones, is in French. At least it was at that time. It’s not just a few gravestones, either, but many thousands, spreading out over acres. When the priest who came to read the prayers at the burial asked if we wanted them read in French or in English, I knew I had to explore these origins.

After getting a college degree I slowly developed a career as a researcher, writer and editor for academics, authors, businesses, and consulting firms. I have a small number of academic citations in some of the areas I researched and wrote about for my clients. It seems obvious, in retrospect, that I would combine my interest in Franco-American origins with my profession. But when I started learning in detail about the Franco-American story, I didn’t conceive of myself as a public storyteller of that particular story. 

Starting around the turn of the 21st century, I occupied myself at almost every possible moment at the New England Historic Genealogical Society library in Boston. I filled notebook after spiral bound notebook with handwritten scrawls of genealogical and historical information, extracted from the library like impacted wisdom teeth. My notes dealt with history as much as with genealogy. 

On the Number One bus between Comm Ave., Boston and Harvard Square, Cambridge, I would pour over what I had written in my notebook that day, often typing up and organizing the notes once I got home. I was telling these fragments of Franco-American stories to myself, and then to my sister, and to one or two other people in my family. I wasn’t writing a book yet.  

It was only when people asked if I were writing a book, or suggested I write one, that my interest began to go public. I wrote a couple of articles for publications like Le Forum out of the University of Maine, Orono, and I had a website, and then a blog. I read every year at the gathering of writers and artists under the auspices of the Franco-American Center at the University in Orono. It was the response to these early forays into telling the story that encouraged me to make my research and writing on these topics public, leading to speaking engagements, a book, articles in mainstream publications like Smithsonian and TIME, and more speaking.

That’s a sketch of the series of events that led me to tell the Franco-American story. But why bother telling Franco-American stories?

Why do we tell any story? Because stories make meaning of our lives. It looks as though humans can’t live without making meaning. If anything, we have a glut of meaning. We tell so many stories about ourselves and others that we populate the universe with our meanings.

Let’s not understate the weight of storytelling. The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Bhagavad Gita, The Bible consist, in whole or in part, of stories. Of such are derived entire civilizations and worldviews. Stories bring worlds into existence.

I heard a vague story growing up about my Acadian great-great-grandfather Joseph Doucette and his involvement in the Tenant League Riots on Prince Edward Island. The story, as sketchy as it was, conveyed volumes. The story situated my ancestors in a hierarchy and taught me that there was some “we” who had a prescribed relationship to that hierarchy. 

It also conveyed the perception that our ancestors were the underdogs, struggling against a perceived injustice, and that the “bad guys” were the English. This was different from most of my friends in the good ol’ USA for whom the English were friends and allies, as most Americans in the generations born after World War II regard them. The story also suggested that there was a difference between what was legally binding and what was morally right.

Along with the story came the emotionality of it: we were the ones fighting. There was conflict, loss, hope, pride a whole set of feelings that came along with the story.

I’m also aware of the potentially dangerous limitations of any origin story, storyteller, and storytelling. No telling is comprehensive, none definitively true in an apodictic sense or even in an emotional sense. I have no illusion that my telling of the Franco-American story is complete or definitive.

To craft a narrative is like carving a statue out of marble, a great deal is left on the scrap heap. Stories thrive on omission, on emphasis, on juxtaposition of this detail placed like a diamond in this setting rather than that one. Their incompleteness – the narrative equivalent of negative space – gives them form and life.  

There are so many Franco-American stories that I’m unable or incompetent to tell them all. It is impossible to tell it all and remain coherent. The truth of Franco-Americans is not the fragments I happen to have told, but all of the stories, the sum total of all tales – both real and those we imagined to be true.

So, why do I tell the Franco-American story?

Because my father died when I was 19 and I never had a chance to have an adult relationship with him.

Because I’m a storyteller from way back, and I’ve found a juicy yarn, that I thought I could tell well.

Because it makes meaning for me and, it seems, for others, too.

Because history is for the present. The fact that we never learn from the past doesn’t mean it’s useless to tell the stories.

Because if we don’t tell the stories the people who said “it’s the rabble who are leaving” Québec; the people who said we were a “low and sordid people,” that we had been kept “a distinct alien race”; the Klan, eugenics advocates, and their ilk, will win. Can’t have that.

Because my forebears lived and died in those mill towns and their spirits won’t let me not tell the tale.

Because, now, there’s someone out there listening.

Because it’s mine to tell.

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My book
A Distinct Alien Race is available here

Monday, May 4, 2020

Errata – A Distinct Alien Race: The Untold Story of Franco-Americans


Mistakes. You try to avoid them of course. You check your facts and then check them again and still errors sneak through.

If you read many books about the same subject – as I did when I was researching the textile industry – you will find factual errors in all of them. Without exception. This includes books published by the likes of Harvard and Yale. This is not to make excuses for my own errors. There is no excuse. But I am in good company.

Below are a few mistakes of fact (excluding typos) that we have discovered after publishing the book A Distinct Alien Race: The Untold Story of Franco-Americans.

Page 220: I state that William MacDonald was President of Bowdoin College. He was not the President but a professor of Political Science and History at Bowdoin from 1893 to 1901. The President of Bowdoin in this period was William De Witt Hyde – who, like MacDonald, also wrote about Franco-Americans.

Page 238: I state that “One of the first General Conventions of Canadiens of the United States in October 1868 condemned the then-recently created Dominion of Canada. It censured what the convention saw as undue pressure on Nova Scotia to enter the Confederation. The Convention called for U.S. annexation of Canada or a republican form of government for the latter.”

This passage is based on press reports of the 1868 convention and I cite an article in the New York Times from October 9, 1868 as my source. Apparently, a telegraph press release regarding the convention was issued, and used as the basis of the Times's report and several other press accounts.

Gatineau's History of the Conventions
of the French-Canadians of the U.S.
However, in the October 13, 1868 edition of the New York Times, J.B. Paradis, a Secretary at this convention, in a letter to the editor, corrects that newspaper’s account of the convention’s work. Paradis confirms that political resolutions along the lines indicated by the Times were offered at the convention but voted down. He writes that the convention “was in no respect of a political character. Its only object was to promote the interests of the St. Jean Baptiste societies in this country, and especially to effect a union among them all.”

The book Historique des Conventions Générales des Canadiens-Français aux Etats-Unis 1865-1901 (Félix Gatineau, ed., Woonsocket: L’Union Saint-Jean Baptiste d’Amerique, 1927) has only brief notes about this 1868 convention, but what is there tends to corroborate Paradis’s account. It is as of yet unclear to me exactly what happened at that convention, but I would tend to honor Paradis’s eyewitness report.

In my text, the point of citing this convention was to show support among Franco-Americans of this period for the annexation of Canada by the U.S. The offering of these resolutions, even if voted down, tends to corroborate that annexation was on the minds of at least some Franco-Americans.

Page 296: I place the Whitin Machine Works in Whitinsville, Rhode Island. Whitinsville is in fact a village of Northbridge, Massachusetts, about ten miles from the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border.

None of these factual errors overturn the conclusions of the book. But truth is a high priority. Where mistakes were made, we'll correct them. The mistake regarding William MacDonald was corrected in the second printing of the book. The others will be handled in subsequent editions. I will update this list should further errors of fact come to light.
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Purchase the book here.
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Saturday, December 28, 2019

A French Catholic State in North America? Rescuing Tardivel


“La Vérité,” the organ of the Ultramontane Party, says that confederation is merely a half-way house for the French Canadians; their goal is “the complete autonomy of the French Canadian nationality, and the foundation of a French Canadian and Catholic state, having for its mission to continue in America the glorious work of our ancestors." 
Thus wrote W. Blackburn Harte in a November 1890 issue of a U.S. news magazine called The Forum. Harte's quotation in this passage is a not inaccurate translation from a piece that had appeared in La Vérité, a Québec newspaper, the previous year.1 

La Vérité was frequently cited in both the U.S. and Canada as a source for the notion that the 19th c. French-Canadian Catholics were engaged, in Harte’s phrase, in “open sedition.” Supposedly, they were plotting to separate Québec from its rightful sovereign in Great Britain, perhaps taking part or all of New England with them


An Immigrant Becomes an Advocate


Jules-Paul Tardivel, the founder and editor of La Vérité, was an immigrant to Québec. He was not Québécois de souche. Born in Covington, Kentucky in 1851, Tardivel’s father was French (of France), while his mother was English (of England). His parents were immigrants in the United States. The future Jules-Paul grew up calling himself Julius Tardeville. 

Right across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Covington emerged as an industrial center in the 19th century. Like its neighbor in Ohio, Covington attracted immigrants from Europe, Catholics in particular.

After his mother died, Julius and his sister lived first with an aunt and then with an uncle, a Catholic priest in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Influenced by priests from 
Québec who had come to the Midwest to counter the anti-Catholic agitation of Charles Chiniquy, Tardivel’s uncle sent him to Canada to receive a classical education. He matriculated at the Collège de Saint-Hyacinthe, an ultramontane stronghold. Tardivel did not speak a word of French before he was 18 years old and entered Québec to pursue his studies at the famed seminary. 

Upon completing his education, he made a brief, disappointing reappearance in the U.S. and then returned to 
Québec. He became a French-Canadian by adoption. Like the religious convert who is a more fervent believer than the lifelong adherent, Tardivel became more Canadien-français than the Canadiens-français. He was an outspoken advocate for a conservative, ultra-Catholic strain of Québec nationalism. 

When Tardivel founded the newspaper La Vérité in 1881, after an apprenticeship as a journalist and a literary critic, he intended to remain independent of party politics. Like Saint-Jean Baptiste himself, Tardivel would be a voice crying in the wilderness in the service of a vision of the Canadiens-français as a Catholic nation. This new nation would, proclaimed Tardivel, continue the work of 17th-18th c. France in catholicizing and “civilizing” the continent. 


Jules-Paul Tardivel (1851-1910)
In his long career as the gadfly of Québec, Tardivel took issue with nearly everyone of importance in the province, including members of his own ultramontane set. He stood fiercely alone, inhabiting his own ideological space. 

Yet writers like Harte and the editors of the Toronto Mail made this odd-man-out represent the views of the Québec elite at large. They took a fringe figure – with quite an unusual background by Québec lights – and made him represent the mainstream of French-Canadian opinion. 

Much if not all of La Vérité is available online. The first thing a modern reader notices is that the utterances and writings of the Pope were front-page news. If the paper had a dominant theme it was opposition to Freemasonry. I intuit that a closer scrutiny would reveal the influence of U.S. anti-masonic literature on Tardivel.


There’s much in Tardivel that is bizarre, often objectionable from many of our modern viewpoints. He had a colonialist turn of mind, seeing himself as the possessor of an allegedly superior civilization with expansionist proclivities. Although he hearkens back to the days of Nouvelle-France, his talk of “civilizing” has more the flavor of 19th c. European French imperialism.

I have no intention of defending Tardivel in toto. But the implication that his views on 
Québec's future amounted to “open sedition” was false. Elements of the English-language press misrepresented Tardivel's stance, tearing his statements out of context. 

Tardivel’s Vision


Harte’s quotation from 
La Vérité in his 1890 piece in The Forum appeared in Tardivel's October 12, 1889 issue under the headline “Un pas en avant” (“A step forward”). The subject at hand was Wilfrid Laurier's address to a Liberal group in Toronto. Tardivel shares with Laurier the view that the “current Confederation is not the last word on our national destiny.” But Tardivel differed with Laurier in having a specific post-Confederation future in mind for his people. 

Writes Tardivel,

But we know and we loudly proclaim what we want, the future that we dream of, that we foresee for the French-Canadian race if it remains faithful to its providential mission. Why not say frankly what every patriot wishes from the bottom of his heart? For us, ‘the step forward,’ that we would only wish to take at the hour marked by God, is a more complete autonomy for the French-Canadian nationality, towards which it must lead[:] to the foundation of a French-Canadian and Catholic state having for its mission to continue in America the glorious work of the country of our ancestors.2
However, the “realization of the project” of “a French-Canadian and Catholic state,” continues Tardivel,
…does not suppose the least infringement of the rights of other races which have established themselves on the soil that our fathers conquered for civilization. We desire that the change [in Québec's political status] should be done naturally, peacefully, without shock, without upheaval, by mutual consent; but at last we want French Canada to be a country absolutely autonomous, living its own life, having its distinct place among the nations of the earth. There’s space enough on this continent for us, having our place in the sun, without inconveniencing the other peoples in the process of its formation. We threaten no one; we ask only for our national existence.
Tardivel’s vision is clear. He wishes only that the French-Canadian people will continue to exist, and he imagines that a day will come when a peaceful political change will result in an independent Québec. On that day, “marked by God,” a new French-Canadian nation will emerge that will in no way infringe upon the rights of minorities living in Québec

“We threaten no one; we ask only for our national existence.” But the mere wish for the continued existence of the Canadien-francais, in some post-colonial future, was threatening to Harte and his ilk, despite Tardivel's reassurances. 

New England and the Providential Mission


Did Tardivel’s support for the “providential mission” of the French-Canadians in catholicizing the U.S. mean that he advocated the overthrow of New England by a revived New France?

As early as 1881, Tardivel addressed the question of emigration to New England.3  Far from supporting the New England Canadiens as an advance-guard of Catholic missionary activity in North America, Tardivel sought a means to discourage emigration. He believed that the solution to the population drain was to return to the land, to the rural identity which he assumes is essential to French-Canadian nationhood.  

Tardivel believes that his people must learn to love agriculture once again. They must see in it their best chance for well-being and independence, thought Tardivel. Only the “colonization” of the hinterlands of Québec will discourage the outflow toward New England mills and factories. 

Tardivel's views on this particular subject were, for once, not contrarian. In advocating agriculturalism and the "colonization" of Quebec, Tardivel embraced the conventional wisdom of French-Canadian Catholicism in his day (see the famous work of Fr. Antoine Labelle).

In an 1885 piece, Tardivel explained what he called “our program” regarding emigration.4  This definitive statement shows how Tardivel’s talk of a “providential mission” implied neither an aggressive expansion southward, nor a deliberate subversion of U.S. political institutions. Writes 
Tardivel, 
We do not deny the providential mission of the French-Canadians who emigrate to the United States. If they preserve the Faith…they will certainly contribute, in a large measure, to the conversion of the United States…but beside that beautiful role there is a very real danger, it is the loss, for a great number, of the inestimable gift of that same Faith. 
Tardivel’s recommendation for avoiding this “danger” was to “colonize the province of Québec; we are the true masters here, but it’s necessary to become still more so. Here is our program for the moment.” Tardivel’s “program” did not include the conquest of New England. He sought rather the concentration of French-Canadian forces within Québec, and the consolidation of the province as a Canadien homeland. 

Tardivel calls again for a renewal of agriculture that will serve to fill the crown lands, create new parishes, and put an end to mass emigration. He would direct those who must leave 
Québec toward Manitoba or the Canadian Northwest, reinforcing the “French element” in these regions.

When the notion of a French-Canadian takeover of New England arose, Tardivel rejected it. In an 1881 issue of 
La Vérité, Tardivel discusses the insightful observations of a Frenchman (of France) named Jannet, who commented on the French-Canadians of Québec and New England.5  Jannet noted that some “Canadien enthusiasts” spoke of “Frenchifying” (franciser) New England. For Jannet, such talk was delusional. The vast majority of the emigrants were working class. These poor workers were unable to impose their mores “on a powerful American civilization,” Jannet reasoned. Tardivel found this argument “persuasive.” 

Commenting on Jannet's observations, Tardivel acknowledges that a small number of French-Canadians in the U.S. had acquired political office. But the Kentucky-born journalist thought that the French-Canadians of New England did not understand the U.S. political system. He concurred with Jannet that they did not have the capacity to subvert U.S. institutions even if they wished to do so.
 

Hopes and Dreams Are Not Sedition


Tardivel hoped for nothing more than the continued existence of the French-Canadian people. He also speculated that if they should survive, one day they would establish an independent francophone Catholic state in North America. 

Recognizing that such pronouncements have led to misunderstandings, Tardivel emphasized that he imagined a peaceful political transition to an independent Québec, but only by the hand of le bon Dieu, and such that the rights of other peoples were respected. Mere hopes and dreams for independence, at some indefinite point in the future, hardly constitute the “open sedition” of which Harte wrote. 

Although Tardivel recognized that the French-Canadians in the U.S. had some role to play in catholicizing the States, he preferred that they “colonize” the hinterlands of 
Québec. This was his “program” in 1885 and he never rescinded it. He remained a lifelong opponent of emigration to New England.

Harte and other anglophones who mined La Vérité tended to distort Tardivel’s views in order to agitate their readers and to stigmatize French-Canadians as disloyal citizens and political subversives. 


Political discourse in this period dwelt much more on the U.S. annexing Canada than on Québec annexing bits of the U.S. I’m turning my attention next to this annexation question, that loomed large from about 1890 until the First World War.

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More about the "providential mission" of the French-Canadians in my book
A Distinct Alien Race

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Notes

1. "'Un Pas en Avant,'" La Vérité, October 12, 1889, 12:90.

2. All translations from La Vérité are my own.

3. "Les Canadiens emigres," La Vérité, August 4, 1881, 2:2.

4. "Emigration et Colonisation," La Vérité, January 24, 1885, 27:2.

5. "Le Canada en France," La Vérité, August 11, 1881, 3:2.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

An “Impending Race War” in Canada? Victorian Englishman “Explains” Québec to the U.S.


In a previous post I mentioned The Forum, an eminent U.S. magazine of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This monthly periodical, covering current events and culture, had a point/counterpoint approach. A writer would take a stand and defend a position, to be contradicted by some other author in a later issue. The second writer would often cite the earlier piece and its author by name. Notables of the period such as Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton authored articles in The Forum.

In the two decades before 1900, the emigration from Québec to the U.S., especially to New England, was national news. There was ongoing coverage in The New York Times, and pieces in The Nation and Harper’s for starters. The pages of The Forum saw a number of articles that covered the Canadien influx, either as a story in its own right or as part of a national issue such as labor, immigration, or the U.S. annexation of Canada. Annexation was a hot topic in this era that I plan to explore at length another day.

Among these offerings in The Forum was one titled “French Canada and the Dominion” by W. Blackburn Harte, appearing in the November 1890 issue.1  Harte mentions the French-Canadians of New England as a subtopic in an article attempting to explain Qu
ébec to a U.S. audience. His piece countered an article by journalist and former Montréal mayor Honoré Beaugrand that had appeared in the July 1889 edition.2  Beaugrand sought to rebut the negative portrayal in the U.S. press of the French-Canadians and their compatriots in New England. He claimed to be telling his U.S. audience the truth about political attitudes in Québec. Harte thinks he knows better and his article purports to set the record straight.

An Englishman Becomes An Expert on Canada


Harte was born in London, England in 1868. He was still a teenager when he set out for Canada around 1887. After mercifully brief and luckless stints in the Québec countryside and in New York City, Harte became a writer for Montréal papers, notably for The Gazette, while living in anglophone circles in the city. After a brief return to New York, Harte relocated to Boston in 1890 where he settled and established himself as an American writer specializing in Canadian subjects.3

Let's break this down: A Victorian Englishman living in Boston, with a couple of years of experience as a journalist in Québec, dwelling in an anglophone
milieu, while writing for the notoriously anti “French” Gazette, became the interpreter of the French-Canadian soul for U.S. readers of The Forum. In doing so, he casts aside with condescension the views previously expressed in that publication by the well-traveled, experienced journalist Beaugrand, Canadien born and bred. 

Anti-clerical, republican and a Freemason, the bilingual Beaugrand was an idiosyncratic spokesman for his people perhaps. But he had lived among them, and plied his trade as a journalist throughout the United States as well as in Québec. He had far more experience living and working in both Canada and the U.S. than did Harte. 

Then as today, U.S. press reports about Québec often derive from, and closely mirror, anglophone Canadian perspectives – views Harte imbibed from The Gazette. Typically, the U.S. press doesn't trust the Québécois to account for themselves.


Predicts "Impending Race War"


Harte begins his piece in The Forum by highlighting U.S. ignorance about its northeastern neighbors:
American people, we may safely affirm, know little or nothing of the French Canadians and of the part they play in the national concerns…of Canada….An occasional reference to the unprogressive character of the French Canadian people has been made in American magazines, usually when the question of annexation has been under discussion; but the writers, if Canadians, have usually been reticent for political reasons, and if foreign observers, have been unaware of the real state of affairs.
After dismissing Beaugrand’s article, Harte predicts nothing less than an “impending race war” between French- and English-speakers in Canada. Harte declares that “a collision between the two peoples is imminent and inevitable.”

Historically, the English and the English-Canadians had been conciliatory to a fault toward the conquered French-Canadians, believes Harte. "The English," in Harte's world, were never the aggressors and have allowed "the French" to dominate Canada. French-Canadian institutions, writes Harte,
…are obstacles in the way of all progress in Canada to-day, and…they are, in fact, weapons in the hands of the enemies of the federal system of government. The French Canadian masses, ground under the heel of political Romanism as they are, are emphatically not fit for manhood suffrage. It is necessary to remark here that the racial struggle and the religious struggle are really identical, as the French Canadian leaders have espoused the crusade of the Ultramontane Party, and now preach open sedition in Quebec.
"French Canada and the Dominion"
by W. Blackburn Harte
November 1890
Harte does not say that he would take away votes from “the French Canadian masses” but he finds them unfit to have them. He saw these "masses" as “ignorant," "superstitious” and utterly in the thrall of “political Romanism.” They voted the way their priests commanded them, claimed Harte, holding the rest of Canada hostage to the Church. 

The Church, alleges Harte, “skillfully” directs “French Canadian emigration,” “gerrymandering the electoral districts,” to turn “the public schools of Ontario and Manitoba into French Roman Catholic schools.” He believes that French-language schools in those provinces are illegal incursions into "English" territory.

Harte claims that the French-Canadian masses are illiterate, and that even their own poets and litterateurs are unknown to them. One wonders why they would struggle for French-language schools in Canada or New England if they had so little interest in education, so little care for reading and literate culture.


An Alleged French-Canadian Plot


Eventually, Harte reaches for a trope familiar to readers of that era’s U.S. news: the specter of a French-Canadian Catholic plot to subvert New England. Harte introduces the topic in his polemics against Honoré Mercier’s Parti National, a short-lived coalition that developed in the wake of the furor over Louis Riel's execution in 1885. Mercier’s first priority was a greater degree of provincial autonomy for Québec vis-à-vis the federal government in Ottawa. Harte's article is a response to Mercier's rise, but the young journalist sees an ominous agenda behind the new political movement:
The avowed object of Le Parti National is the establishment of a French papal state on the banks of the lower St. Lawrence, and, if possible, the wresting of the Dominion of Canada entirely out of the hands of the conquering Saxons. The press, the clergy, and the leaders of the French Canadian phalanx in the Dominion House of Commons are very honest about their program. Some go even further than this; they include the New England States in their dream of conquest, hoping to gain them by sheer force of numbers and by insidious undermining of American institutions.
Harte attributes to a French-Canadian speaker at “a recent national celebration” the claim that “in less than fifty years the French Canadians would be able to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the St. Jean Baptiste Society in Boston, which would then be French Canadian, and in the heart of a French Canadian nation. New England would then have become New France, and puritan Boston would be only a memory.”

However, in another sharp contradiction, Harte claims elsewhere in his piece that the “clerical party” of 
Québec “does its best to stem the tide of emigration into the New England States.” Which is it? Does the French-Canadian clerical leadership wish to make Boston an outpost of New France, or do they oppose emigration to New England? Harte saves the truth by a thread by stating that only “some” of the French-Canadian leaders dream of the conquest of New England. The truth is that the preponderance of Québec's leadership sought to prevent rather than to encourage emigration. 

The charge that "some" French-Canadian leaders conspired in an “insidious undermining of American institutions” was intended to sound alarm bells and to ratchet up the fear of the French-Canadian immigrant in Harte’s U.S. audience. His rhetoric is intended to depict a collection of poor workers, looking for a regular payday, as a menace to the Union.

La Vérité 


Continues Harte, warming to his theme:
The French Canadian papers of all political shades are very frank about the aims of the new revolutionary party. “La Vérité,” the organ of the Ultramontane Party, says that confederation is merely a half-way house for the French Canadians; their goal is “the complete autonomy of the French Canadian nationality, and the foundation of a French Canadian and Catholic state, having for its mission to continue in America the glorious work of our ancestors.”
La Vérité was an ultra-Catholic paper edited by the notorious Jules-Paul Tardivel, who was outspoken in this era's debates over Québec’s future. Harte seems to appreciate that there was a distinction between more liberal, secular nationalists and what he calls "the Ultramontane Party," but his genre of article isn't always clear about the different factions in Québec. Tardivel and Beaugrand, to name two, represented sharply opposing views, and Mercier was frequently opposed to both. 

Tardivel's La Vérité was often cited as a source for the view that the French-Canadian Catholics conspired to revive New France. But Tardivel’s views, as expressed in La Vérité, were more measured and far less sinister than accounts like Harte’s suggested. In my next post I will discuss Tardivel's viewpoint, but, in short, what he asked for was little more than the continued existence of the French-Canadian people. But repeated affirmations of survival, even as a mere enclave in North America, were threatening to the “Saxon conquerers.” 

In another contradiction, those pleased to refer to "Saxon conquerers" also wished to portray themselves as victims of alleged French-Canadian aggression. And "Saxons" of the period never doubted, modern revisionists notwithstanding, that there had been a ConquestOr that the French-Canadians should have been happy to stay good and conquered.   

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Have you read my book
A Distinct Alien Race?

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Notes

1. 
W. Blackburn Harte, "French Canada and the Dominion," The Forum 10 (November 1890): 323-334.

2. Honoré Beaugrand, "The Attitude of the French-Canadians," The Forum 7 (July 1889): 521-530.

3. James Doyle, The Fin de Siècle Spirit : Walter Blackburn Harte and the American/Canadian Literary Milieu of the 1890s (Toronto: ECW Press, 1995).
Doyle does not cite Harte's "French Canada and the Dominion" among the latter's "selected writings" while he does cite other articles by Harte in The Forum. I did not see any mention in Doyle's book of Harte's views on the French-Canadians, although it's hard to imagine that his anti-Catholic opinions did not find their way into his other writings.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Must French-Canadians Be Made to Sing Yankee Doodle? A Dialog from Vermont

In its October 10, 1889 edition, The Caledonian, a newspaper out of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, reprinted a piece from the Boston Advertiser under the heading An Immigration Problem.

This editorial from the Advertiser began by citing the views of a French (of France) writer who wrote in English under the nom de plume Max O’Rell. O’Rell gave his impression of the French émigré in Victorian England. “You will meet there," wrote O’Rell, “a type of Frenchman who, after residing 10, 15, 20 years in England, cannot speak English. He is proud of it, and sometimes wonders that, with so many Frenchmen in England, the English do not speak French by this time.”

O’Rell’s characterization, writes the Advertiser, “has a meaning for Americans which, perhaps, they little suspect.” But the Advertiser had a different type of “Frenchman” in mind:

It was not long since that we called attention…to a warning sent up by a writer in the Forum against the French-Canadians, who are flocking into this country in unsuspected numbers. The French-Canadian is the same man as that drawn by Max O'Rell, only, be it remarked, completely lacking in his education and his intelligence. Consequently his refusal to be anything but a Frenchman, to take any interest whatever in his adopted country is even if possible, still more complete. His attitude is one of sullen and dogged opposition to anything that tends to change him from what he is.
The Forum referenced here was a respected national magazine of its day, a competitor with the likes of The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s. The magazine took a lively interest in the French-Canadian influx in this period, and I plan to explore its contents in future posts.

The Advertiser goes on to cite St. Johnsbury’s local paper – no doubt the reason The Caledonian reprinted the piece. Continues the Advertiser,

The following quotation from the St. Johnsbury (Vt.) Caledonian will prove interesting…"The French Canadians," [The Caledonian] says, "are coming into Vermont in great numbers. They already own a good share of the farms in the northern tier of counties and are filling the manufacturing towns with operatives of both sexes, and laborers in all departments of industry and trade. When it is known that in a place no larger than St. Johnsbury (which had but 5800 inhabitants in 1880), the parish priest numbers his parish at between 1900 and 2000 souls, the increase of the Canadian element into Vermont begins to be appreciated."

Now, what is said of Vermont is true also of Massachusetts and other New England states. It is believed to be true, also, that the Roman church is encouraging the emigration, and encouraging also the French determination to remain French. There is danger in this. We do not want a nation within a nation. We want no man here who is not, potentially at least an American. If immigrants won't sing Yankee Doodle, they must be made to sing it. With mature French-Canadians probably nothing can be done ; with the children something is possible. If we wish not to have an alien and connected body among us, armed with great power by a ballot which they will use, if at all, to further their own interests and not those of their adopted country, we must have a stringent school law, and moreover enforce it well.
The “school law” in question would either ban any language but English in schools, or it would abolish private schools, obliging all children to attend a public school where English would be the language of instruction. Several states passed legislation of this ilk in the wake of the First World War. The most "stringent" of these state laws were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.1


Letter From A Priest

Rev. Jean-Antoine Boissonnault of Notre Dame, St. Johnsbury, Vermont from 1874-1909. Defended the French-Canadians of New England.
Source:


In the following week’s edition of The Caledonian (October 17, 1889), Fr. J. A. Boissonnault, the parish priest at Notre Dame des Victoires church of St. Johnsbury, responded to the paper’s coverage of the French-Canadian element in New England.2  Having his parish census cited in the Boston Advertiser and The Caledonian as evincing a sinister French-Canadian invasion of New England, the priest replied to the local paper point by point in a letter to the editor. 

“I find in your issue of last week,” writes Fr. Boissonnault, “…a reference to some writings of Max O'Rell and the Boston Advertiser, in regard to the French Canadian element in the New England states. As both writers seem to have been inspired to speak thus on account of the census of my parish, please let me state the facts as I gave them to you and at the same time, I will answer in a few words the uncharitable remark [sic] of those gentlemen.”

First, the priest corrects the numbers. Although he found 2,080 “souls” in his parish, not all were French-Canadian. Some 400 consisted of Irish families with an admixture of German Catholics. Father Boissonnault claims that the Catholics of these nationalities were “just the same to me as my own [Canadien] compatriots.”

The priest denies any conspiracy on the part of the Catholic Church to take over New England:

They say that Rome is encouraging the French Canadians to emigrate into the New England states, to Catholicize them….On this point I give them a flat denial. I am a missionary among these people for more than twenty years, and I have not met one single family but which has left Canada against the will of its pastor. The Bishops of Canada do all in their power to encourage the settlement of the public lands of Quebec; they have agents of repatriment [sic] in each of the leading cities of New England. The duty of these agents is to try to have the Canadians return to their own country.
Father Boissonnault’s reply bears on the discussion of the conspiracy theory floated in the press and pulpits in the 1880-1900 period, claiming that there was a “tradition,” supposedly known to every French-Canadian, that they were eventually to occupy the Northeast portion of North America and create a new country to be called New France. The priest’s rejoinder is that his French-Canadian parishioners – all of them – left Québec “against the will” of their pastors rather than at their urging. If the priest’s witness is true, then it not only weighs against the conspiracy theory, it also suggests that the French-Canadians were not as controlled by their priests as the U.S. press made out. 


Responses to Emigration from Québec



Anyone familiar with the voluminous literature, from parliamentarians, to newspapers, to the writings deriving from the Church, will attest that the 19th c. Canadien leadership, clerical and secular alike, viewed the emigration to New England as a national disaster. The immigrants were often vilified as sell-outs, as lazy, as money-grubbers or as alcoholics. Father of the Confederation George-Étienne Cartier famously referred to them as the riff-raff (la racaillehe was happy to be rid of. They were not hailed by Québec elites as noble missionaries to Protestant New England, as so many modern Brébeuf’s, the vanguard of Nouvelle-France reborn. That’s what one would expect if the 19th c. Church were encouraging emigration for the purpose of Catholicizing the States. But that was not the dominant rhetoric around emigration in this period by any means. 
Notre Dame des Victoires
St. Johnsbury, VT

As Fr. Boissannault indicates, the Québec Church’s response to the challenge of emigration was to open new lands in Québec to settlement, and to encourage the repatriation of the New England French-Canadians in these hinterlands. If Rome were planning a demographic conquest of New England by French-Canadians, then encouraging them to return home hardly fit in with the plan.

Rather than having any settled “tradition” around the emigration movement, as the U.S. press claimed, there were different voices among the Québec elite, each responding to the challenge of emigration. Some did speak of the Franco-Americans’ “providential mission” to catholicize New England, and even of a greater French Catholic state in Northeastern N. America in some future century, these fever dreams giving rise to New England’s fears. Other voices in 
Québec condemned the emigrants, still others tried to woo them to return home, while others, like Cartier, dismissed them. There were different voices offering various interpretations and assorted solutions to what appeared at the time as an existential threat to the French-Canadian "race." 


Language and Schools



As far as the issue of the language taught in schools, Fr. Boissonnault's letter points out that the New England parochial schools were, in fact, bilingual, and that the 1886 council of U.S. Bishops at Baltimore decreed that English should “hold first place” in Catholic schools. The priest then addresses the more general question of the language rights of the French-Canadians: “It would be very unjust to try to destroy a people on account of its language. I see nothing wrong in adhering to their own language when the very same is taught in all the great schools of New England and throughout the rest of the United States.”

The priest used numbers to refute the view that a French-Canadian horde was coming across the border to overwhelm New England. Citing figures from Essex, Lamoille and Caledonia counties in Vermont, Fr. Boissonnault shows that only one in fifty farmers was French-Canadian. Concludes the priest: “I speak for my friends of Saint Johnsbury, establishing the facts just as they are and telling our American friends that they are not in danger of being eaten up by their French neighbors…” 


The Editor Responds



But the editor of The Caledonian permitted himself a reply to the local pastor, and a rather curt one.
The whole point of the Max O'Rell and Advertiser article is contained in one sentence: The danger to a nation of permitting other nationalities to colonize within its domains, not giving hearty allegiance to the laws and customs of the country they adopt….The danger is greater to this nation than it was in '61 when the Southern states demanded state [sic] rights, to settle which this country went through a long and bloody war. This nation is at last waking up to the danger of permitting emigrants to enter its domain who do not come here with the full purpose of obeying its laws, conforming to its customs, acquiring its language and making thorough-going American citizens with all that the term implies.
The editor thought that immigration was a greater threat to the country than the Civil War. Without evidence, the editor implies that immigrants resisted obeying the laws of the United States. He also indicates that they do not acquire the English language, ignoring Fr. Boissonnault’s testimony that younger Franco-Americans were learning English in school, as mandated by the U.S. Catholic bishops. Both of my grandfathers learned English in schools that were like the ones Fr. Boissonnault defends.

The Caledonian speaks of American citizens “with all that the term implies. What does the term imply? For journalist Ferdinand Gagnon, a Franco-American leader of this period, it implied obedience to the laws of the various governments of the U.S., a willingness to defend its flag and to contribute to its economy. If a citizen discharges these duties is that sufficient? Or does the term “American citizen” imply a cultural freight beyond the public responsibilities of citizenship Gagnon cites?

These questions linger 130 years after an exchange between a priest and a newspaper editor in a small Vermont town.


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More about the conspiracy theory surrounding the French-Canadian immigrants in my book:
A Distinct Alien Race: The Untold Story of Franco-Americans.
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Notes
1. See U.S. Supreme Court, Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923) and Pierce v. Society of Sisters268 U.S. 510 (1925).
2. For a little about Fr. Boissonnault and the founding of Notre Dame in St. Johnsbury see the parish centennial document scanned here and also a brief biography here. The latter source claims that the priest was born in 1841 in "St. Valentine, P. Q."