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 
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.

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



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.   

Have you read my book
A Distinct Alien Race?



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.