Wednesday, July 12, 2006 07/12/06-The French in the New World

In today's excerpt, Thomas Costain notes why England, less wealthy than France, ended up dominating the New World from the 1600's forward, while France's colonization ended up as today's minority population in Canada. From the outset, King James took a decentralized approach to colonizing America, granting multiple charters and allowing great autonomy and profit opportunity to the merchants and governors. France, through the workings of Cardinal Richelieu, the principal power in France at the time, kept a tight reign, holding for itself the profit opportunities and the governance decisions by creating La Compagnie des Cent Associes:

"The Company of One Hundred Associates! This organization...was the answer which Richelieu was supplying for the problem of Canada...

"Richelieu was creating for himself and for his master, the King...the absolute power in which he believed. The nobility ceased to carry any weight...Canada was to be governed by rules laid down in the cabinets of the new autocracy. Documents signed by the flourish of busy and supercilious pens would determine the lives of men and women who braved the rigors of pioneering across the seas. Every step would be charted, every detail of existence dictated. Free will was to be denied to governor and trader, to explorer and habitant...

"What Richelieu had done was to fix a pattern from which France would never thereafter deviate in the handling of New France. Regimentation would go hand in hand with colonization. The habitant would never be allowed to work out his own destiny, to do with life as he pleased. Instead he would be an automaton, jerked this way and that by strings in the hands of bureaucrats, every detail of his ways determined by writ and provision, unable to think for himself, even subject in marrying and giving in marriage to king-made restriction and controls.

"Richelieu was unequaled as a statesman and organizer, but he lacked in knowledge of the human heart. He did not realize that the impetus to great deeds springs from the spirits of men who control their own destinies, that the feet of strong men who go out to reclaim the wilderness and win the far frontiers of the earth must be unfettered. He had misled himself into thinking that the miracle of success in the New World could be achieved by the remote control of men of thin blood sitting behind comfortable desks...

"(In so doing) he had been the architect of ultimate failure."

Thomas B. Costain, The White and the Gold, Doubleday, 1954, pp. 108-179


Post a Comment

<< Home