Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

James Murray: A Forgotten Champion of Religious Freedom

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

James Murray: A Forgotten Champion of Religious Freedom

Article excerpt

In 1764 a Scottish soldier liberated the most intensively hated minority in the English-speaking world. In a newly conquered colony alien in culture, language, and religion, he pioneered tolerance in the British Empire-and thus much of the planet. Histories about religious freedom should mark his breakthrough. Instead his name is now almost unknown.

James Murray was a man of actions rather than of words; perhaps that is one cause of his current obscurity. Moreover, his feat was in a polity too little studied-one of the globe's most successful and least messianic countries. That nation is Canada.

London's 1760 conquest of France's province in North America could easily have become yet another case of Protestants brutally persecuting Catholics (or vice versa). Instead, for almost the first time in history a Protestant empire voluntarily allowed broad religious liberties in a large Catholic province.1 As the first British governor of Quebec, Murray did not have to choose tolerance; in fact, anti-Roman oppression would have been personally easier for him.

For some readers it now takes an effort to recover historical memories in order to understand the intensity of eighteenth-century England's longnourished passions against Rome-in some ways resembling the antiSemitic passions in France or in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. Cheap publications, including cartoons, inflamed the average Englishman's fears of Roman Catholics (Figure 1 and Figure 2).2 A specifically anti-Catholic holiday was still thriving, although many members of the elite after 1750 were beginning to minimize Guy Fawkes Day's lurid elements.3 Anti-Roman hatred was actually growing during the middle of the eighteenth century among New Englanders, long foes against the neighboring French Canadians. The Yankees' "Pope's Day" included the burning of papal effigies.4

In England believers loyal to the pope were forbidden to attend Roman Catholic worship services, to send their children abroad for Catholic education, or even to buy land. They had to pay higher taxes.5 London's anti-Catholic penal laws were often ignored in practice by the middle of the eighteenth century, but still threats were always looming.6 Roman Catholics were constantly reminded that they were second-class citizens in England, and attempts to alleviate their legal penalties were vigorously contested.7

Especially striking is the case of Ireland. The anti-Catholic policies there had become even more oppressive during most of the eighteenth century.8 In a series of measures beginning in the last decade of the seventeenth century, it became harder for an Irish Catholic to serve in a jury, vote in parliamentary elections, work as a lawyer, or bear arms.9

The French Canadians suddenly transformed as British subjects had every reason to fear their new masters. The debris of Quebec's cathedral, demolished by British artillery, was only one reminder of the atrocities committed against Canadian civilians in the recent war between the British and French empires. In 1759 the redcoats had been ordered to destroy all of New France's buildings, crops, and livestock in the British-occupied south bank of the St. Lawrence River.10 Even before the war, neighboring Nova Scotia had begun to expel thousands of Roman Catholic Acadians- many of whose descendants became the Cajuns in Louisiana.11

The first milestone in British-ruled Quebec was the 1760 Articles of Capitulation in Montreal. Victorious General Jeffrey Amherst largely accepted the formal terms of the surrender, drafted by New France's Governor Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial, Marquis de Vaudreuil.12 Under the terms of the Articles, the Catholic clergy and laity in Quebec were allowed to continue worshipping in their churches and receiving the sacraments.13 Even Indians who had embraced Catholicism could still keep their lands.14

Nevertheless, the British rejected important parts of Governor Vaudreuil's text. …

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