New France ended up as it did – under populated and swallowed by the English
It seems to me, that a key question in the
colonization of the Americas,
especially for Canada,
can be laid out as follows:
1620 five European powers: England (not yet the UK or even Great Britain); France; the Netherlands; Portugal and Spain (really Castile) had unlimited opportunities for
colonization in the Americas
In order of wealth and population they were
In order of military power they were
In order of naval power they were possibly England,
The dynamics of the situation were:
England was rapidly spiraling toward civil
Netherlands was in decline
as a great power from the middle of the 17th century. The
following is a quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica “Once the Dutch fleet had declined, Dutch
mercantile interests became heavily dependent on English goodwill; yet the
rulers of the country were more concerned with reducing the monumental debt
that weighed heavily upon the country. During the 18th century Dutch trade and
shipping were able to maintain the level of activity reached at the end of the
17th century, but they did not match the dramatic expansion of French and
especially English competitors. The Dutch near-monopoly was now only a memory. Holland
remained rich in accumulated capital, although much of it could find no outlet
for investment in business.”
Castile was in steep decline economically,
as a military power and possibly demographically. The following is a quote from the
Encyclopedia Britannica “There can be no
doubt about the economic and political decline of Spain in the 17th century and
especially in its second half.... the economic decline was mainly a Castilian
phenomenon and did not affect Catalonia or Valencia to anything near the same
degree. … To this (economic decline) must be added the aggressive militarism
that was central to the Castilian aristocratic tradition and that led to the
political hubris (overweening pride) of Spanish imperial policy, from Philip II
to Philip IV…. It was the wars that devoured Castile,
though they were fought beyond its borders.. …The wars
of the 17th century, though they had weakened Spain's
power in Europe,
had left it still the greatest imperial power in the world. Spain's
central problem in the 17th century had been to maintain what remained of its
European possessions and to retain control of its American empire. In 1700 both
tasks appeared to be beyond the military and economic resources of the
monarchy. In the 17th century the greatest threat had come from a land power, France,
jealous of Habsburg power in Europe;
in the 18th it was to come from a sea power, England….”
can be considered to have been insignificant
as an economic and military power and was occupied by the Spanish monarchy
the first third of the 18th century, two earlier players were
transformed. Great Britain was created (by the Act of Union 1707) and Spain became an economic unit under the
Bourbons (by the Decree of Nueva Planta
(1716) the fueros
were abolished and Catalonia was integrated into Spain).
the 17th century, The Netherlands after a feeble colonization effort
in New York (1621–64), and Brazil (1624–54), were excluded from the American
mainland except for Dutch Guiana (now Suriname), Curaçao,
and what later became British Guiana (Guyana).
the mid 18th century, Spain, Portugal and Great Britain controlled huge areas with large populations; while, France nominally controlled
a huge area but colonized only the banks of the St Lawrence and Acadia.
Even there the settler population was tiny perhaps 60,000 in 1759 compared to
over a million in the British American colonies. We should recall that the population of France, at the time, was substantially
higher than that of Great Britain.
By the mid 18th century, British America had a number of
cities (e.g. New York, Philadelphia, Boston) with diversified social structures, newspapers, professional middle
classes etc. rooted in the economy and society of their hinterlands. By contrast, Quebec City was mainly an
official outpost enabling French Royal control of New France and Montreal was an overgrown
trading town. There was not a single
printing press in New France! French printing in Canada commenced under
B. How do we explain this?
not an expert on the period. However,
some explanations that occur to me -
The Impact of Mercantilism - The
economic restrictions placed on their colonies by France, Great Britain and Spain may not have been very different in principle but they must have
impacted very differently. Specifically – a couple of
patrol boats on the St Lawrence would be sufficient to suppress smuggling by
sea and to ensure that forbidden industrial development did not take place in New France.
The very long coast lines and depth of hinterland made such a degree of control in the British,
Spanish and Portuguese colonies quite impossible.
The French tradition of state
control of the economy and political centralization may have sapped local initiative
and ensured that only government priorities came to fruition.
France’s lack of a modern
banking system prevented
it from mobilizing its resources for sustained expenditures in war or peace.
colonial dualistic economy – peasant agriculture vs. export of beaver hides.
Compare this to the far more diversified economies in New England.
kings’ priority on controlling Europe;
France’s repeated periods of neglect of the French Navy, no doubt
exacerbated by its poor financial system, left command of the seas to Great Britain
Catholic Church was given a much
higher degree of control over New France than the Anglican Church could have ever aspired to in the
France’s excluding non-Catholics from New France vs.
a number of English colonies being founded as refuges for religious
minorities. This would have at least two
religious refugees would naturally migrate as families or whole communities vs.
New France’s attracting many single men who
returned to France to marry and settle down;
religious refugees would likely see America as their promissed
land and be less inclined to try to nostalgically recreate their old homeland.
far higher percentage of the inhabitants seem to have been officials whose
future prospects were back in France
overall, a higher percent of French immigrants were indentured labourers – impact?
was the impact of the seigneurial system?
was the impact of the French system of sale of offices?
was the impact of the French aristocracy wanting to flutter around the king vs.
the English maintenance of a very strong rural squirearchy?
very weakness of Spain and Portugal made their continuing possession of
huge areas and resources more tolerable to the big powers – France and Great Britain – than to have the other big power take
over Spanish and Portuguese possessions.
For this reason, France and Great Britain may have left them alone. This situation, perhaps, was similar to the
Great Powers propping up the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century;
America France and Great Britain were in contact with each other and
not with Spanish and/or Portuguese possessions.
The rules of the game were that when the mother countries were at war,
as Britain and France were through much of the 18th
century, their colonies were expected to fight each
other. By, say 1720, this pattern was
suicidal for New
France given New France’s tiny population compared with that of New England and Great Britain’s control of the sea. New France simply was not defensible under these circumstances. The question was not whether it would fall to
the British but when and under what circumstances.
December 8, 2004