In 1774 Nairne again revisited Scotland. Though no politician, he must have heard much about the Quebec Act, then before the Imperial Parliament. The Governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, after careful consideration of the whole question, had reached the conclusion, not belied by subsequent history, as far as the Province of Quebec is concerned, that Canada would always be French and that, with some slight modifications, the French system found there by Britain should be given final and legal status under British supremacy. So the Quebec Act was passed in 1774. While the British criminal law was introduced, the French civil law, including the land system under which Nairne held Murray Bay, was left unchanged. The Bill gave the Church the same privileged position that it had enjoyed under Catholic sovereigns. The tithe could be collected by legal process; taxation for church purposes voted by the parochial authority called the fabrique was as compulsory as civil taxes, unless the person taxed declared that he was not a Roman Catholic; and the whole ecclesiastical system of New France was supported and encouraged. The Bill caused much irritation in Protestant New England, which saw some malicious design in the establishment of Roman Catholicism on its borders. The Continental Congress of 1775 denounced the Quebec Act, and even the Declaration of Independence has something to say about it.
It is obvious that Nairne disliked the Bill. His irrepressible friend, Gilchrist, wrote giving a picture of its probable dire social results, upsetting all domestic relations between the two races. The Bill, says Gilchrist, “is the most pernicious [that] could have been devised. Judge of the Fetes now that the fools have got the sanction of the British Parliament to their beggaring principles. It is not clear that your Protestant servants will [even] be allowed to work upon their [the Roman Catholic] idle days. What would you and I think on being told by these black rascals [the priests are meant of course] that our people, I mean Protestants, durst not obey our orders without a dispensation from them?”
The social consequences of the Quebec Act did not prove as revolutionary as Nairne’s animated correspondent feared. Less than is usually supposed did the habitant like it since it placed him again under the priest’s and the seigneur’s authority, suspended since the British conquest. To the English colonies it added one to other causes of friction that boded trouble to the British Empire. In the previous year the people of Boston had defied Britain, by throwing into their harbour cargoes of tea upon which the owners proposed to pay a hated duty, levied by outside authority. The Quebec Act brought a final rupture a step nearer and at last there was open war. “The colonists have brought things to a crisis now, indeed;” wrote Gilchrist; “the consequences must be dreadful to them soon and I am afraid in the end to our country.” To Great Britain indeed disastrous they were to be and soon the seigneur of Murray Bay was busy with his share in preparing for the conflict.