University of Notre Dame
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The New Laboratory for Empire: Quebec and the Reformulation of British Imperial Practice, 1760-1775

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posted on 2015-04-13, 00:00 authored by Aaron Lukefahr Willis
At the conclusion of the Seven Years War Britain found itself in control of a vast new territory in North America containing 70,000 formerly French subjects. In the case of Quebec, the local crises which erupted within the colony and those in London over plans to govern the new colony helped to shape emerging attitudes to heterogeneity in an expanding empire. The final bill, which sought to settle the governance of the colony after almost a decade and a half of instability and uncertainty, was in many ways revolutionary. Controversially, in the context of contemporary debates and attitudes, the bill granted broad toleration to the Catholic Church. The bill maintained French civil law, while instituting English criminal law. As will be explored in the course of this dissertation, the principles underlying the final bill challenged and upended the predominant British understanding and practice of empire. Over the course of more than ten years British officials considered a multitude of reports, addresses, communications, and other streams of information in order to come to terms with their new imperial territory. In the face of a number of difficult questions posed by the new peoples and territories ceded to Britain in the Treaty of Paris (1763), British imperial administrators relied on evidence to formulate a policy to reform the governance of Quebec. Quebec, then, was a laboratory for new practices of empire that drastically differed from that which came before. The process of incorporating Quebec into the British Empire explains future practice both in its particulars and in the nature of its making. Quebec fostered a change in attitude towards pluralism in the forms of civil governance, and cultural values; opening new possibilities for imperial governance. In responding to the attacks of those wedded to older notions of empire and the constitution British officials developed a historical, intellectual, and legal case for policies of cultural continuity. In their three pronged approach advocates for the strategies developed in Quebec laid the foundation for a new set of practices that would define British rule over India, Africa, and beyond.


Date Modified


Defense Date


Research Director(s)

Jim Smyth

Committee Members

Robert Sullivan Patrick Griffin Tom Kselman


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation


  • English

Alternate Identifier



University of Notre Dame

Program Name

  • History

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