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.

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.

More about the conspiracy theory surrounding the French-Canadian immigrants in my book:
A Distinct Alien Race: The Untold Story of Franco-Americans.

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." 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Non-stereotypical Occupations of Franco-American Women in 1900

Did you know that there were twelve Franco-American women listed as “clergymen” in the 1900 U.S. census? I discovered this in a 1913 scholarly article that reported the occupations of French-Canadian origin residents of the U.S., per the 1900 federal census. The article gave the exact number of Franco-Americans who had each of some 140 jobs.

I’m thankful to that article for informing me that such detailed information was available, but just eyeballing the author’s data tables I saw obvious arithmetic mistakes. When I looked harder, I found some more. (The editor back in 1913 didn't catch them.) Not able to trust any of this author’s numbers after finding these glaring errors, I girded myself for doing his research all over again.

At last I found the data in a 1904 report of the U.S. Bureau of the Census. My analysis based on this report discovered some occupations of Franco-American women and men that challenge stereotypes. It also revealed a general profile of French-Canadian origin workers across the U.S. at that time.

Top Occupations

The data below represents gainfully employed people in 1900, 10 years of age or older, who had at least one French-Canadian born parent.1 (It excludes the many eight- and nine-year-olds who were so employed at that time.) Of this group, nearly 343,000 workers, 77% were recorded as male and 23% as female. The 1900 data shows that instances of “mixed marriages” – i.e. a French-Canadian origin person marrying anyone else but another French-Canadian origin person – were rare. Almost all of those who had one French-Canadian born parent had two; some who had one French-Canadian born parent had a U.S. born parent of French-Canadian origin.

Table 1 shows the top ten occupations for this group. It includes only those jobs that claimed 3% or more of this population (why the percentages don't sum to 100%). 

Occupations of French-Canadian origin people in U.S. in 1900. Cotton mill operatives in New England textile industry.

These occupations taken together account for 63% of employed Franco-Americans in 1900. The remaining more than one-third of this population had about 130 other jobs. It's not surprising that "cotton mill operative" was the top job, followed not far down the list by "other textile mill operatives."2  Textile work of various kinds employed 28% of all French-Canadian origin people working outside the home, the largest industrial cohort by a mile.

The category of “Laborers (Not specified)” is vague. The 1904 report tried to clarify it: "In agricultural districts agricultural laborers and, similarly, in manufacturing districts unskilled workmen are often reported simply as ‘laborers’." The report qualifies them as "common, general, or day laborers" who toiled, for example, in the construction of "roads, sewers, drains, ditches, canals, water works, etc."3

I have seen in the U.S. censuses of this era many instances where people who are identified only as “laborers” are living in mill-owned housing and appear to be working in mills or in jobs dependent on them. The researchers knew this and tried to reduce the count of unspecified "laborers" by re-categorizing them as the evidence warranted. Despite their efforts, "laborers" constituted the second largest cohort among Franco-Americans in 1900.

After textile workers and unskilled laborers, the next largest category was farmers and farm workers, followed by some trades that claimed less than five percent of Franco-Americans. Surprisingly, lumbermen, a job often associated with that era’s French-Canadians, occupied only one percent of employed Franco-Americans.

Discussions about French-Canadian origin people in the U.S. tend to be regional, but this data encompasses the entire United States. The fact that cotton mill workers led the list of occupations, and by a substantial margin, argues for the importance of the New England cohort among French-Canadian origin people in the U.S. The French-Canadian ascendancy in the New England textile manufacturing labor force was the most significant and visible fact about this immigrant group on a national level at the beginning of the 20th century.

Women’s Occupations

But the numbers in Table 1 are skewed toward men, since the latter represent more than three-quarters of gainfully employed Franco-Americans in 1900. If we take women and men separately, differences become clear. Table 2 shows the analysis for Franco-American women, recording only those occupations that claimed greater than three percent of the total. 
Occupations, French-Canadian origin women in U.S. (1900). Cotton mill operatives New England textile industry
Of the nearly 79,000 gainfully employed women and girls, a whopping 37% were cotton mill operatives. More than one-half worked in the textile industry, in either cotton mills or in some other type of textile factory. One-tenth were servants or waitstaff. Dressmakers and shoe makers account for a little less than another tenth.

Jobs accounting for less than three percent of gainfully employed females included more than 120 occupations from teachers (many more women than men were teachers), to packers and shippers, to bakers, to potters, to physicians and surgeons (42 Franco-American women were doctors). Of some 140 occupations listed in this report, Franco-American women serve in all but 18 of them. But the six occupations listed in Table 2 employ three-quarters of all women and girls working outside the home.

Many women have occupations that confound our expectations about the world of 1900 and engage the imagination. For example, what was the story of the twelve clergywomen among the Franco-Americans? They certainly weren’t Roman Catholic. 
In my research of 19th c. New England I have seen women ministers among the Universalists who later merged with the Unitarians. It’s possible that some enumerator got confused and listed Catholic nuns as "clergymen." But if that were the case, I’d expect to see more than twelve instances of it. The occupation listed for nuns is usually related to their function as teachers, nurses, etc. What path did these twelve Franco-Americans travel to arrive at the status of clergywomen? Researching their stories is a doctoral thesis waiting to happen. 

And what was the experience of the two Franco-American women who were “lumbermen and raftsmen” and the other two listed as “wood choppers” in 1900, living in the world of forests and chantiers? While 
three Franco-American women were “fishermen or oystermen,” no less than 102 were “iron and steel workers,” long before the Rosie the Riveter image appeared. Who were the six Franco-American women who were “officials of banks and companies” in 1900, the 32 who were government officials (before women could vote), the 33 photographers, or the one and only lawyer among them?

Men’s Occupations

Table 3 shows the top occupations for Franco-American men. Again, I have included only those jobs held by at least three percent of the nearly 264,000 employed Franco-American men in 1900. 
Top Occupations, French-Canadian origin men in U.S. (1900). Cotton mill operatives New England textile industry.
“Laborers (Not specified)” was the top job for men, representing 15% of employees, with 16% working in textile mills (cotton or other textile operations), and another 15% in agriculture, as farmers or farm laborers. It’s the preponderance of women working in cotton mills that made this occupation the top job of Franco-Americans. Almost as many Franco-American women as men worked in textile mills.

That the largest cohort of men was unskilled, unspecified laborers is a statement about their status. Despite the Québécois myth of the rich uncle from the States, the largest numbers of French-Canadian origin men in the U.S. were either general laborers, mill workers, or toiling down on the farm – a relatively modest socioeconomic niche by anyone’s standards in 1900. These were much the same roles that men filled in 
Québec in that period.  


However, in any population there are outliers. A
s the 20th century dawned, small numbers of people of French-Canadian origin rose to positions that commanded wealth, honor or authority in the United States. Some of this class would certainly qualify as “rich uncles” on either side of the border. 

In this period, the Franco-American elite would've included the clergy, professionals (especially doctors and lawyers), business owners, and journalists.4  It might also include company officials, bankers and brokers, agents (mostly in insurance or real estate), and government officials, elected or appointed.

People of French-Canadian origin, in all of these vocations combined, made up 9668 individuals (377 women), 3% of employed Franco-Americans. There are more than six times as many Franco-American cotton mill workers. In the U.S. at large, the percentage of people having these elite positions was 6% of all employed people, double the percentage for Franco-Americans. The Franco-American elite, as defined by these occupations, made up a minuscule 0.6% of the U.S. elite.

The 1900 census data on occupations gives a rare snapshot of French-Canadian origin people across the U.S. at the end of a peak period of migration away from the St. Lawrence Valley. Franco-Americans, both men and women, served in more than 100 occupations, in every industry, and at every level of skill and education. However, most people of French-Canadian origin in the U.S. at the time were still concentrated in factory or farm work. In percentage terms, not many rose to positions of affluence or honor. But a few – including a small number of women – did.

Occupations of French-Canadian origin workers in the U.S. (1900)


1. U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Special Reports Occupations at the Twelfth Census, prepared under the supervision of William C. Hunt, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904. Cf. esp. General Tables, pp 68-75. My Tables 1-3 derive from this report.

2. I have included in my "other textile mill operatives" category those who worked in woolen, silk, hosiery and carpet mills, as well as those who were listed in the report above as unspecified “other textile mill operatives.”

3. Special Reports Occupations at the Twelfth Census, xxvi, 7n1.

4. In my count of medical professionals among these elites, I included those listed as "physicians and surgeons" and "dentists."

Monday, November 11, 2019

Were 19th Century Canadiens Bad Farmers?

Reading the usual literature about Franco-Americans one gets the impression that our Canadien forbears were bad farmers. The agricultural woes of the Saint Lawrence Valley in the 19th century are a ubiquitous theme, and bad farming is often mentioned in that context. Many such discussions describe a stock set of deficiencies said to have bedeviled the region’s agriculture.

For example, in his seminal book The French-Canadian Heritage in New England Gerard J. Brault writes,

The nineteenth-century Quebec farmer, like his New England counterpart, tilled the soil, planted, and harvested according to age-old custom and stubbornly resisted any change. He did not use manure or any other kind of fertilizer, kept turning over the same old top soil with a shallow plow, sowed unclean and unimproved seed, allowed weeds to grow everywhere, and knew nothing about crop rotation.1
A generation before Brault, agricultural historian Robert Leslie Jones gave a more detailed account of the alleged shortcomings of 19th c. French-Canadian farmers. Jones set these farmers against the background of the standard theory that Lower Canada (Québec) faced an agricultural crisis in the first half of the century. During this period, writes Jones,

Nothing the habitants could do, seemingly, promised economic salvation. By mid-century their situation had become one of chronic distress. Clergy, businessmen, newspaper editors, and politicians continually discussed it. They agreed in their analyses of the more obvious defects of agriculture in the St. Lawrence Valley – lack of fertilizing, lack of proper rotation, lack of approved stock-raising methods, lack of improved implements, too much concentration on wheat – but they showed much difference of opinion when they tried to account for these defects.2
The 19th c. French-Canadian farmer became a problem for “clergy, businessmen, newspaper editors, and politicians” to solve. It was not enough for them to make suggestions for improving the efficiency of farms. Elites also felt compelled to “account for these defects” in French-Canadian agriculture. The seigneurial system of land tenure was among the alleged causes of what Jones calls the bad farming of the French-Canadians” and the “backwardness of the seigneuries.” Others blamed overpopulation in the region, poor access to markets, and a lack of formal instruction in agriculture.

19th Century Habitants
19th c. Habitants: Bad Farmers?
Another reason Jones cites as “commonly given” for the supposed “backwardness” of Québec farming was the “ingrained conservatism of the habitants.” He invokes this alleged trait to impute the futility of government sponsored efforts toward agricultural education. Behind this conservative posture, says Jones, lurked “the spirit of French-Canadian nationalism.” “Dedicated as they were to the preservation of their laws, their language, and their religion,” Jones writes, “they resisted any change, however small, in their mode of life. It was this aversion to innovation which rendered the distress in the seigneuries so acute, and made it so difficult to ameliorate.”3

Thus the biggest problem with the 19th c. French-Canadian farmers, according to Jones, is that they were French-Canadian. For Jones, had they stopped being French-Canadian, i.e., had they ceased to remain a people distinct as to “their laws, their language, and their religion,” then they would have been more open to “innovation” and their agricultural deficiencies would not have been “so difficult to ameliorate.” Jones suggests that “French-Canadian nationalism,” i.e. the desire of the French-speaking person of Québec to remain such, was a major cause of their alleged “bad farming.”

The 1850 Report on Lower Canada’s Agriculture

One of the documents Jones relied upon was an 1850 report of a special committee on agriculture filed with the Legislative Assembly of Canada.4  This committee had the parliament's mandate to investigate the state of agriculture in Lower Canada, to make recommendations for its improvement, and to address the disposition of crown lands. The report includes many pages of expert testimony submitted in writing.

Report of the Special Committee on Agriculture for the Legislative Assembly of Canada (1850)
Report of the Special Committee on Agriculture
for the Legislative Assembly of Canada (1850)
The report identifies “three capital vices” in Lower Canadian agriculture: “One relates to manure, another to the rotation of crops, and the third to the raising of cattle.” Another defect is too much land sown with a single crop: wheat, the principle product for market. Poor drainage is also an often-cited problem.

But this report lacks hard data to compare Lower Canada’s agriculture with that of other regions of North America. The report assumes that Lower Canadian farming is in a bad state, and much worse off than the best European operations. However, what little data is cited shows that in 1831, when insects that had devastated other 19th c. harvests were not a factor, Lower Canada's wheat output per capita was marginally higher than Upper Canada’s (i.e. Ontario's) and much higher than that of the United States. Even if French-Canadian farmers could have markedly improved their yields by using better methods, in terms of production of the staple crop they held their own with other North Americans all things being equal.

U.S. Farmers – Equally As Bad?

If mid-19th century French-Canadian farmers were bad, then their U.S. counterparts were little better. U.S. farms were also beneath the bar set by European agriculture. And the very same defects that observers claimed impeded French-Canadian agriculture beset U.S. farmers as well.

Consider the 1864 report by Joseph C. G. Kennedy, produced under the auspices of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior based on data from the 1860 Federal Census.5  Although this document is mainly quantitative in character, as befits the author’s position as Superintendent of the census, it is the qualitative description of U.S. farming in Kennedy's introduction that is relevant to the present discussion.  

“It has been said that American agriculture is half a century behind that of Great Britain,” writes Kennedy. “Our land is not as thoroughly under-drained, manured, and cultivated as that of England, Scotland, or Belgium.” Kennedy cites an English journal’s prediction that the U.S. would become an importer rather than an exporter of grain due to the American's "scourging" system of agriculture that exhausted the land.

Replying to these criticisms, Kennedy unwittingly reveals the defects in U.S. farming. Conceding that poor farming methods had exhausted some lands, Kennedy writes,

That any of our so-called exhausted land can be speedily restored to its original fertility, we have abundant evidence. All that is necessary, is to cultivate the soil more thoroughly, under-drain where it is wet, sow less grain and more clover and grass, keep more stock, and make more and richer manure….
American agriculture is in a transition state. In the older-settled sections of the country there is much land that has been exhausted of its original fertility. Here the old system of farming, which was simply to raise all the grain that the land would produce, is no longer profitable. But yet some farmers, with that aversion to change for which they are everywhere proverbial, are slow to adopt an intelligent system of rotation and manuring, and cling to their old ways.6
Kennedy’s account shows that the alleged defects of at least "some" U.S. farmers were identical to those ascribed to their Lower Canadian counterparts. These defects, common to both countries, included poor fertilization, poor drainage, and inadequate rotation of crops; insufficient livestock; and sowing too much land with a single crop. The same “ingrained conservatism” Jones attributed to French-Canadian farmers Kennedy bestowed upon their U.S. colleagues. But where Jones made this conservatism a national trait of the French-Canadians, Kennedy attributes it to the occupation of the farmer. Clinging to old ways is, for him, an occupational hazard. He thought that farmers “everywhere” were averse to change.

Whereas the authors of the 1850 Canadian report, and latter-day scholars like Jones, fretted over the problem of the “ingrained" traits of the French-Canadian farmer, Kennedy pinned his hopes on a younger, can-do generation. “We must look to the intelligent young men of our country for any great improvement in its agriculture,” Kennedy writes. “Our young men are beginning to realize that agriculture is worthy [of] their highest ambition, and that in no other pursuit will intelligent labor meet with a surer reward.”

Same Facts – Different Frame

Nineteenth-century North American farming, in the U.S. and Canada alike, appears to have been less scientific than the cream of European agriculture. To explain the differences between the two continents, Kennedy observes that there was an abundance of cheap land on the western side of the Atlantic, but a shortage of farm labor. In much of Europe, every cultivable scrap had been cultivated long ago, and a dense population meant plenty of available farm workers. Geography and demography explain why North American farming was different from the European brand. North American farmers of the 19th c. had not yet thought to learn the best methods available in Europe because it hadn’t been in their interest to do so.
Dept. of Interior Report on U.S. Agriculture (1864). Based on 1860 U.S. Census
Kennedy's report on U.S. Agriculture (1864)

While official reports from the period suggest that the same deficiencies dogged both U.S. and French-Canadian farmers, the frame put around the former was optimistic, while observers depicted the outlook for the latter as decidedly glum. 

In contrast to the discourse around the habitants, the defects in U.S. farming were not personalized; modern farming was seen as a set of practices, more or less interchangeable from one farm to another, that a younger generation could learn as the need arose. Kennedy’s report sees U.S. farmers as rational actors who will respond effectively as prompted by self-interest. 

On the other hand, observers cast French-Canadian farmers as inertial, influenced to move, if at all, only from the outside. For Kennedy, solutions to the problems of U.S. farming were technical, while, for generations, discussions of French-Canadian agriculture tended to become sociological, for instance Jones's talk about "nationalism" and allegedly "ingrained" traits. Elites pondered not only a change in French-Canadian farming practices, but in the French-Canadians themselves. 

Were 19th century French-Canadians bad farmers? Perhaps by world-class standards but not by North American ones. Especially in the eastern parts of North America, Canadian and U.S. methods of farming, and the limitations of those methods, were not much different from one another. A similar set of facts prevailed in many rural regions of North America, but the frame elites and subsequent observers placed around those facts, depending on whether they were looking at U.S. or at Québec farmers, was markedly different.

Much more in my book:

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

1. Gerard J. Brault, The French-Canadian Heritage in New England (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1986), 52.

2. Robert Leslie Jones, "French-Canadian Agriculture in the St. Lawrence Valley, 1815-1850," Agricultural History 16, no. 3 (1942): 145-46.

3. Jones, 148.

4. Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1850, Appendix T.T.

5. Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Agriculture of the United States in 1860, Compiled from the Original Returns of The Eighth Census, Under The Direction of the Secretary of the Interior (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1864).

6. Kennedy, x.