Civil War, Culture War: French Quebec and the American War between the States

By Jones, Preston | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Civil War, Culture War: French Quebec and the American War between the States


Jones, Preston, The Catholic Historical Review


In June, 1864, an unnamed French Canadian Catholic stationed in a Union trench outside Richmond, Virginia, penned a letter to a loved one back home in Quebec.1 The letter, itself among the few extra-official, extra-journalistic primary sources available to scholars interested in French Canadian involvement in and attitudes toward the American Civil War, was not meant for public consumption but rather to provide family and friends with news. It was a "friend of the journal," as the editor of the newspaper that published the letter wrote in his preface, who decided to make it public. He undoubtedly did so because the letter tells the tale of a lonely, weary French Canadian who, probably contrary to the wishes of his parents, loved ones, and parish priest, had enlisted in the Union army. "We finally have a little respite," the soldier wrote, "and I've decided to take advantage of it and write a few lines." This letter was one of many reminders offered to young French Canadians in the 1860's that those who went to the American war would face hard times.2

There is no question that the American Civil War was of great interest to French Quebeckers. As was the case throughout the press in Canada, Quebec's French-language newspapers frequently published war news taken from Union and Confederate journals. If, as Robin Winks has noted, the dearth of letters to editors of Canadian newspapers suggests a lack of interest on the part of general readers in the philosophical issues of the war-whether or not the Confederacy should have the right to secede from the Union, for instance3-they devoted much editorial comment to such issues in Quebec, albeit in a distinctly French Canadian fashion. Whatever a lack of debate in the pages of newspapers might mean in English-speaking British North America, where a wider range of opinions was held on a number of points (e.g., the Methodist Christian Guardian of Toronto advocated the immediate abolition of slavery while the Methodist Provincial Wesleyan of Halifax stood for gradual abolition), the average mid-nineteenth-century French Quebecker's deference to political and religious authority lent itself to a greater consensus on social and philosophical matters. It is true that Quebec's liberals, such as those who inhabited the rouge Institut Canadien, railed often against the conservative status quo. But their views were not widely shared in the 1860's.4 The opinions of most of French Quebec's newspaper editors were habitually in line with those of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and these trickled down, unresisted, into the hearts and minds of the general population. Once the opinions of Quebec's religious leaders were known on a given subject, there was little perceived need for, or even an interest in, debate among "ordinary"French Canadians.5 Thus, while editorializing on the war was common in the French Canadian press, argument over what the war meant was not. In the 1860's, moreover, hardly more than half of Quebec's French population could read and a majority lived in rural settings.6 Thus even the small number of literate, rural French Quebeckers who might have felt compelled to write editors would have been too occupied with their daily work to do so.

If most French Quebeckers did not thus fret themselves over the philosophical issues raised by the American war, there can be little doubt that the conflict nevertheless weighed heavily on their minds. For a large number of the French Canadians had relations or friends residing in the United States at the time of war. Indeed, between 1851 and 1871 some 105,000 Quebeckers, the overwhelming majority of them French-speaking Catholics, emigrated to the United States.7

As is well known, the majority of French Canadians who emigrated to the United States in the ante-bellum years resided in nearby New England. But Quebeckers did emigrate to all ends of the continent.8 In the 1850's, for instance, some six or seven thousand French Canadians emigrated to Illinois, where they joined an already existing French Canadian community of 8,000. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Civil War, Culture War: French Quebec and the American War between the States
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.