I've been reading up on my Canadian history. American history as I learned it in school didn't teach us a thing about Canada and stopped paying attention to the British situation as a whole after the war of 1812. I'm enjoying reading about it now and filling in the gaps. I didn't realize, for example, that the British province of Quebec once included the entire Great Lakes region. I also didn't realize that the Continental Congresses sent letters to the Canadians in Quebec inviting them to join up, to which they replied "meh."
The larger history is, of course, the history of colonialism. The history of the United States and Canada is synonymous with the history of the British and French colonial empires.
If you've ever seen my timeline of western civilization, you may have noticed a lack of anything substantial about colonization in there. This is mostly because, from a reading perspective, I haven't gotten there yet. I'm reading "A People's History of the United States." Colonial history is only a small part of that book. But as somebody from New Orleans moving to Canada, I realize that the history of New France can provide a greater historical context for both of these places.
|New France and New England in 1750|
The history of New Orleans has always been a bit confusing to me, but it makes sense when you think of it as being a pawn in the affairs of these great colonial empires. Aside from the important Caribbean islands, France and Great Britain were more focused on colonizing the American north than the south, partially to avoid Spain and partially because their people preferred the northern climates. The British created the future Thirteen Colonies on the East Coast, while France settled Acadia (Nova Scotia) and Quebec city on the St. Lawrence river. France eventually claimed the Mississippi river basin as a way to access the Gulf of Mexico, as well as to check British ambition. Colonial Louisiana's governing capital was first Mobile in 1702, Biloxi in 1720, then New Orleans in 1722. During this time, Quebec City in the north was the administrative capital for all of New France.
France lost it all at the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, after which Britain owned almost all the territory of New France, with the important exception of Louisiana west of the Mississippi, and New Orleans, which both went to Spain.
Greatest extent of British control in North America, 1763
|Borders of the British province of Quebec after Quebec Act in 1774|
Later came the American Revolutionary war, which the Canadians were invited to, but they politely declined. This is the really interesting, historically inspiring part. Ostensibly, Great Britain held about half of North America - how did they lose so many of their first colonies? And why didn't the "Canadians" want to join up with the "Americans?" I've lived in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania so the story and characters are very familiar to me. The long story short is that the colonies that would become US states had a strong sense of identity, opportunity, and morality. Their (our) story is one of the oldest and most prime examples of putting Enlightenment ideals into practice. A most cynical reading of history would look at the purely economic, and even imperialistic, interests of the founding fathers. However, one cannot deny the importance of the Enlightenment-inspired language used and agreed upon by those men; "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Thus the American experiment began, kicking off a wave of revolutionary nationalist movements around the globe that would eventually culminate in the world wars.
|The borders of the United States in 1783 after the Revolutionary War|
After the Revolutionary War, the United States controlled much of the former province of Quebec. After this point in time, the histories of the U.S. and Canada diverge. However, Napoleon soon enters the picture, bringing Louisiana back under French control only to be sold to the Americans, then ultimately spurring the War of 1812, which pit the U.S. against the northern British forces once again. Events like the Mexican Revolution, Texas Revolution, and Mexican-American war all followed in the wake of Napoleon's actions in Europe. I've been putting off reading about Napoleon for a while, so maybe now is a good time.
As a final note, I don't at all mean to elide the histories of the Native Americans, such as the Iroquois, who played a central role in these events. Nor do I mean to leave unexamined the economic realities of colonialism, which included slavery. I'm recounting imperial colonial history here in broad strokes mostly to connect American history to Canadian history. This larger time-frame, like my timeline of Western Civilization, is merely meant to provide the greatest possible context for any given historical figure or event.