The Pageant of America: A Pictorial History of the United States - Vol. 1

By Clark Wissler; Constance Lindsay Skinner et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
NEW FRANCE

NEW FRANCE is a tragedy, complete in five acts. ( 1534-1535) First, that eager, explorer, Jacques Cartier, discovers the St. Lawrence, climbs what he calls "le mont royal," views from these heights of Montreal what is now a part of the United States; and then, returning to Quebec, the natural stronghold of New France, erects a scutcheoned cross to show that Church and State claimed lordship in this wild new virgin land.

( 1608-1635) But two generations pass away before New France is really founded by the undauntable Champlain, who is forced by many an adverse circumstance to leave her still struggling for mere existence when he dies.

( 1663-1713) The third act opens in a blaze of glory; for Louis Quatorze, "Roi Soleil" and "Grand Monarque," takes a personal interest in what he decides to make his Royal Province of New France. He sends a viceroy; also the famous veterans of Carignan; also the great Intendant, Talon, to supervise the settlers, who soon arrive in much larger numbers than before. His loyal subjects in New France extend his influence over the three great gulfs of St. Lawrence, Mexico, and Hudson Bay, along the two great rivers of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi, and round the five Great Lakes. But even this third act closes under the double shadow of a France exhausted in Europe and driven from most of her footholds in maritime America.

( 1713-1753) Old France and New are in partial eclipse under specious Louis Quinze; and neglected New France falls into a decline which eventually makes her the easy prey of her own corrupt officials.

( 1753-1763) The fifth act begins with Washington's march to the Ohio and ends with the treaty which gave New France to Britain. (Volume VI, The Winning of Freedom.)

Why was New France a tragic failure? Because, for all her great heroic deeds, she lacked sea-power, man-power, government, and freedom.

British sea-power, both mercantile and naval, mastered her in peace as well as war. British oversea man-power was recruited by constant streams of settlers, against which her own one freshet had no chance whatever, even though it has multiplied far more than a hundred times in far less than three hundred years. Then, France had an autocratic government; but never any autocrat who could really govern on the spot: hence discord, division, and defeat. Finally, she had no adaptive freedom, like that which her Englishspeaking rivals enjoyed as colonials or won by independence later on.

599 From a tablet erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

-285-

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