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<nettime> M. Century: 'A non-revisionist note on Operation Quebec Freedo
nettime's_roving_reporter on Wed, 6 Aug 2003 08:52:54 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> M. Century: 'A non-revisionist note on Operation Quebec Freedom, 1775'



     [via <tbyfield {AT} panix.com>, at the author's tentative suggestion.]


< http://www.nextcentury.ca/iraquebec.html >

   A non-revisionist note on Operation Quebec Freedom, 1775
   
   By Michael Century, July 22, 2003


   In the New York Times on July 19, 2003 Mary Beth Norton firmly chides
   Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for over-stating Revolutionary Era chaos to
   soften the effect of dismal reports from occupied Iraq ("The Founders
   and the Fedayeen"). Mr. Rumsfeld could also benefit from attending to
   a little known episode from the War of Independence that may be
   somewhat more chastening.

   Benjamin Franklin was sent by the fledgling Congress on a diplomatic
   commission to Montreal in April, 1776, to salvage a derailed military
   campaign and occupation that was proving increasingly unpopular. The
   attack on British forces in Canada, seen at first as a push-over, was
   going from bad to worse, support from the Canadians slipping away, and
   Franklin's immediate assessment to John Hancock, in a letter of May 6,
   1776, was blunt.

     The Fact before your Eyes, that the powerful British Nation
     cannot keep an Army in a Country where the Inhabitants are
     become Enemies, must convince You of the Necessity of Enabling Us
     immediately to make this People our Friends.

   Hoping to snatch Quebec as a 14th colony in a swift pre-emptive
   strike, the first Continental Congress had sent a manifesto to the
   people of Quebec in March 1775 inviting them to "unite with us in one
   social compact, formed on the generous principles of equal liberty".
   The pamphlet begins by warning that under continued colonial
   administration, "even the Inquisition itself" could be re-established.
   Hardly a savvy insinuation to a mainly Catholic population to which
   King George had, in the Quebec Act of 1774, just granted
   re-establishment of all its customary legal and religious
   institutions. The American entreaty was to an "Unhappy people! Who are
   not only injured but insulted Nay more!" In a darker register, the
   Canadians are urged to "Join us as brothers in revolt, or to risk
   "becoming tools to assist the British in taking that freedom from us,
   which they have treacherously denied to you". A small expeditionary
   force was sent north in the fall of 1775, for whose prospects
   Washington wrote that he had "the greatest Reason to expect that
   Quebec will fall into our Hands a very easy Prey."

   Montreal was captured in Nov. 1775, and the British forces retreated
   down river to the much better fortified city of Quebec. American
   occupation authorities showed little evidence of any practical or even
   coherent plan to win the hearts and minds of the local population to
   the Revolutionary cause. Trade with the Indians, central to Quebec's
   fur economy, was banned. Lacking legal tender to pay their keep,
   American officers permitted, even commanded plunder and pillage of
   Quebec farms and stores. The Catholic majority was hounded in acts of
   anti-papist thuggery. When Washington caught wind of this religious
   harassment carried out by his troops in November, 1775, he let loose
   magisterially:
   
     As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form'd
     for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of
     burning the Effigy of the pope--He cannot help expressing his
     surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army
     so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a
     step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and
     have really obtain'd, the friendship and alliance of the people
     of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the
     same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At
     such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their
     Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused;
     indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty
     to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are
     so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common
     Enemy in Canada.

   By the winter of 1776, the entire campaign on the ropes, the
   Continental Congress dispatched Franklin to Canada as diplomatic
   fixer, along with a Jesuit priest who it was hoped could smooth things
   over with the Catholic clergy. Delayed by weather, the Commissioners
   arrived in May, and they were swift in sending an unembroidered
   dispatch to Hancock and the Congress, requesting no less than 20,000
   pounds in hard cash .
   
     "... the want of money frequently constrains the Commanders to
     have recourse to violences in providing the army with carriages,
     and other conveniences, which indispose and irritate the minds of
     the people. We have reason to conclude that the change in the
     sentiments, which we understand has taken place in this colony,
     is owing to the above mentioned cause, and to other arbitrary
     proceedings. If hard money cannot be procured and forwarded with
     dispatch to Canada, in our opinion, to withdraw our army and
     fortify the passes on the lakes to prevent the enemy, and the
     Canadians, if so inclined, from making irruptions into and
     depradations on our frontiers. (May 6, 1776)

   Only two days later, in the dispatch already quoted, Franklin held out
   little hope for an occupation project which has come to:
   
     "..look contemptible in the Eyes of the Canadians, who have been
     provoked by the Violences of our Military in Exacting provisions
     and Services from them, without Pay; a Conduct towards a people,
     who suffered Us to enter their Country as Friends, that the most
     urgent Necessity can scarce excuse, since it has contributed much
     to the Changing their good Dispositions towards us into Enmity,
     makes them wish our Departure; and accordingly We have daily
     Intimations of Plots hatching and Insurrections intended for
     Expelling Us, on the first News of the Arrival of a british Army.
     You will see from hence that your Commissioners themselves are in
     a critical and most irksome Situation, pestered hourly with
     Demands great and small they cannot answer, in a place where our
     Cause has a Majority of Enemies, the Garrison weak, and a greater
     would, without Money, increase our Difficulties.

   On May 10 Americans forces suffered a rout at the hands of fresh
   British troops at Quebec City, and the retreat from Quebec was
   complete by the end of month. After an occupation of 188 days, the
   British were once again in control of Montreal. George Washington
   wrote to Benjamin Franklin on May 20th upon learning of the failure of
   the operation he had ordered for the "reduction of Quebec and our
   consequent possession of the Important Country to which It belongs."
   The first Commander in Chief consoled Franklin personally, but
   inserted this telling reflection on defeat:
   
     To what cause to ascribe the sad disaster, I am at loss to
     determine, but hence I shall know the events of War are
     exceedingly doubtfull, and that Capricious fortune often blasts
     our most flattering hopes".

   On May 24, Hancock and Congress replied to Franklin, forwarding 1,662
   pounds, "which was all that was in the Treasury"

   Mssrs. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Bremer might all ponder with
   profit the debacle that was "Operation Quebec Freedom". Administrative
   incompetence, cultural wooden-headedness, and dishonorable financial
   dealings were instrumental in conjuring America's first setback on
   foreign soil. As President Bush and company are now reckoning in their
   own way with capricious fortune, though infinitely far from
   Washington's lofty heights, we may be sure they have never even heard
   of the botched campaign for Quebec.

   Americans, if they know anything at all about their first failed
   invasion of Canada, tend to blame the hostility of the locals on the
   political immaturity of a backward feudal population not prepared for
   liberty.

   Canadians, on the other hand, and uniquely, are able to look back at
   the Revolutionary Era as an episode that concluded with neither the
   British or the Americans being able to impose a single continental
   system over all of North America. In Iraq, 228 years later, America
   and England are still fumbling the affairs of the world.

   Source for Franklin quotes

        The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, volume 23. Yale University Press,
        1982

   Source for Washington Quotes

        Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/

        The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript
        Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.

        The First Continental Congress manifesto to the "Province of Quebec"
        appears in many documentary sources.

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