"I know histhry isn't thrue, Hinnessy, because it ain't like what I see ivry day in Halsted Sthreet. If any wan comes along with a histhry iv Greece or Rome that'll show me th' people fightin', gettin' dhrunk, makin' love, gettin' married, owin' th' grocery man an' bein' without hard-coal, I'll believe they was a Greece or Rome, but not befure. Finley Peter Dunne, Observations by Mr. Dooley (1902) [You can download the complete text at Project Gutenberg in your choice of formats.]
Introduction: Mr. Dooley, Finley Peter Dunne's mythic Chicago saloonkeeper, had a point. History, in his day and to some extent even in our own, ignores people. We write about industrialization, about urbanization, about strikes and economic panics. We do not write and, especially, we do not teach very much about the people who worked in the new factories and mills, migrated to the cities, took part in the strikes, and suffered through the hard times. This projectis about doing "histhry" that is "thrue."
Our first source: In 1872 L'Abbé T.A. Chandonnet published in French in Montreal a history of the first French-Canadian parish in Worcester, Notre-Dame-Des-Canadiens et Les Canadiens aux Etats-Unis. Chandonnet had been on a tour of U.S. settlements of Canadian emigrants and stayed in Worcester for several weeks as the guest and, soon, the confidante of the pastor, the Rev. Jean-Baptiste Primeau. Primeau, when first trying to establish his church several years before, had conducted his own survey of the community including living standards. We will read "Chapter XXVII: A portrait of Notre Dame des Canadiens. - from the material perspective, - from the intellectual perspective, - from the religious perspective."
Our second source: L'Abbé T.A. Chandonnet, writing for a French-Canadian audience, sought to defend the Canadiens in New England from the charge that they had "deserted" Quebec, i.e., had abandoned the quest to establish the province as French, principally by outpopulating the English.
Task One: Read pp. 109-110 of Notre-Dame-Des-Canadiens and briefly describe Chandonnet's defense. Select specific phrases that strike you as especially revealing or interesting or problematic.
Boott Mills, Lowell, Massachusetts, c. 1890
Our third source: Carroll D. Wright was a pioneering advocate of maximum hours legislation and devoted a substantial portion of his Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of the Statistics of Labor of Massachusetts (1881) to the need to legislate a ten-hour maximum day. He had encountered, he wrote, three main objections. One was that it would place Massachusetts manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage. A second was that it would lead to increased drinking, smoking, and other undesirable practices among workingmen. And the third was the presence of the French Canadians. Wright's answer to that objection, that the Canadian French were the "Chinese of the Eastern States" but that it was necessary to make laws for the best rather than the worst, enraged French Canadians. One of the most vocal critics of Wright was Ferdinand Gagnon, editor of the French-language newspaper in Worcester.
Task Two: Read Wright's discussion of the Canadian French and the excerpts from Le Travailleur (The Worker) and briefly respond:
- What specific phrases of Wright would you have resented most, were you a French-Canadian immigrant?
- Could Wright have cited Chandonnet in support of some of his charges?
- How did Gagnon and H.A. Dubuque explain Wright's insulting description of the French Canadians?
- What, if anything, surprised you about the initial French-Canadian reactions?
Our fourth source: Wright commented in his Thirteenth Annual Report (1882) that "These statements met the earnest and patriotic condemnation of the Canadian French of New England; and the French residents of Lowell and Hudson in Massachusetts passed series of resolutions on the subject, and sent them to the legislature during its session of 1881. These resolutions, by concurrent vote, were referred without other action to this Bureau."
The Lowell Resolutions are as follows:
Sir, — The " Société St. Jean Baptiste de Lowell, Mass.," a national and benevolent society of the Canadian French of Lowell, organized in 1869 and incorporated in 1870, according to the laws of the Commonwealth, at a regular meeting held May 4, 1881, unanimously adopted the following resolutions: —
Whereas, The Chief of the Bureau of Statistics of Labor, in his Twelfth Annual Report to the Hon. Charles J. Noyes, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth, denounced the presence of the Canadian French as an objection to the system of ten hours' labor, calling them the "Chinese of the East; a horde of industrial invaders; a deceitful people who seek their amusements in drinking, smoking, and lounging," etc., etc, — it is
Resolved, That we deny each and every accusation contained in said report, and that we protest most energetically against these insinuations made against the French Canadians of the Eastern States.
Resolved, That it is the duty of all and every French Canadian in New England to strongly protest against this report so far as it concerns them.
Resolved, That a copy of these presents be submitted to the legislature of this Commonwealth, with our prayers to consider.
. . . .
Lowell, May, 1881.
Hon. Charles J. Noyes, Speaker of the House of Representatives: —
Sir, — The French Canadians of Lowell, feeling aggrieved at the report of Col. Carroll D. Wright, Chief of the Bureau of Statistics of Labor, assembled at a mass-meeting, May 5, 1881, and passed the following resolutions, which they humbly present for your consideration:—
Whereas, The Chief of the Bureau of Statistics of Labor, in his report to the Hon. Charles J. Noyes, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, declares that the presence of the French Canadians in the Eastern States is an objection to the system of ten hours of labor in manufacturing establishments; and
Whereas, Lowell is the greatest manufacturing district of the Eastern States, and the number of French Canadians is much greater than in any other centre in New England; and
Whereas, We recognize unanimously the wisdom of the ten-hour system,—
Resolved, That we protest energetically against this portion of the report of the Bureau of Statistics, as being entirely groundless; and
Whereas, For the past fifteen years, agents of the manufacturers have been sent to Canada to solicit its inhabitants to come to the States, promising them good places and good wages; and
Whereas, By repeated invitations this class of population has come to this section to live in this land of liberty; and
Whereas, The Chief of the Bureau of Statistics in his report called them "the Chinese of the East:" it is
Resolved, That we deny with indignation the epithet, and protest strongly against this portion of the report as being injurious to our race.
Whereas, We Canadian French of New England are yet, for the most part, ignorant of the English language, but as soon as we become acquainted with the language, and the habits and customs of this country we recognize the high wisdom of the institutions, —
Resolved, That we protest against the part of the report which says that "we do not care for the institutions — civil, political, or educational — in this country."
Whereas, Since the French Canadians have come to this section they hare reached a population of four hundred thousand in New England: and whereas a large number have become proprietors, paying large taxes: and whereas for the most part the young men propose to make their home here, —
Resolved, That we, protest against the portion of the report which says that we "are a horde of industrial invaders."
Whereas, We have to live five years in this country before we can become citizens of this glorious Republic, and the French Canadians have been here in large numbers but five or six years, there are over two hundred voters of this class in Lowell alone, —
Resolved, That we protest with energy against the portion of the report which says, that "voting, with all that it implies, they care nothing about, nor rarely does one of them become naturalized."
Whereas, We recognize the necessity of sending our children to school, and having done so continually, petitioning the city of Lowell to find schoolrooms for our children, —
Resolved, That we protest strongly against the portion of the report which says "that they will not send their children to school if they can help it, and that they deceive also about their schooling with brazen effrontery."
Resolved, That whereas the French Canadians of Lowell have established two national benevolent societies, two literary societies which give literary and dramatic representations twice a month, a band that give occasional public concerts, and three societies for children, furnishing them with proper amusements; and
Whereas, In our population, which is above ten thousand in Lowell, the average found guilty of intoxication before the police court of Lowell is not over twelve per annum: it is
Resolved, That we protest strongly against the portion of the report which says that "drinking and smoking and lounging are the sum of their amusements."
J. H. GUILLET, President.
E. H. KING, Secretary.
A true copy — Attest: E. H. KING, Secretary.
. . . .
The legislature, in referring these vigorous resolutions to this office, did not indicate any action regarding them; and if the statements which were so strongly condemned had been made in any spirit of captiousness, or in malice, or through any prejudice against the French Canadians, we should have contented ourselves by simply printing the protests. The statements in the last report having been made in good faith, and as the results of the observations of, and statements made to, our agents, we thought it but fair to all parties that the French should have a full and free opportunity to present such testimony as they might have showing their progress in the United States; and consequently a hearing was announced for Oct. 25, 1881, to which all persons interested were invited. The circular of invitation, which was given the widest circulation, contained in brief the reasons for the hearing, and the following statement: —
"I am not aware that any other desire exists on the part of the officers of this Bureau than that to obtain the exact truth. Certainly no prejudice exists against the French, and in order that the statements of French Canadians residing in this State or in the States covered by the investigation may have the benefit of the same prominence as that given to the statements to which they object, they are invited to attend a hearing in the Green Room at the State House, Boston, on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 1881, at ten o'clock a.m.
"This hearing shall be conducted in a thoroughly impartial manner by the officers of this Bureau, and all parties desiring to be heard upon the matters in question shall have an opportunity. The results of the hearing will be printed in the Thirteenth Annual Report of the Bureau to be laid before the next legislature. It should be understood that facts only should be given at the hearing; that is, facts relating to the education, habits, etc., of the French Canadian residents in the States named."
Ferdinand Gagnon did much to organize these protests; he then led the effort to make the most effective use of the hearing, which was chaired by his friend H.A. Dubuque. The hearing began with a long statement from Gagnon. Dubuque then called other witnesses. Wright limited himself to asking occasional questions. He was particularly interested in the role of the Catholic Church. In Canada, he observed, the Church vigorously opposed emigration. What was its position in New England? Did priests encourage their parishioners to repatriate?
Wright printed the entire transcript of the hearing in the Thirteenth Annual Report and he added a brief "Resumé" in which he offered his very much revised views of the Canadian French. In fact, he went from claiming that they cared nothing about American institutions to predicting that their complete assimilation was simply a matter of time, something he attributed to the Catholic Church! This comment provoked even greater outrage among French Canadians than his "Chinese of the Eastern States" comments.
[The complete text of the hearing is here.]
Final Task: Read Wright's "Resumé"+ Gagnon's January 17, 1882 editorial on "Wright's 'The Canadian French in New England" and his January 31, 1882 editorial "La Question Wright." [There is a fuller set of excerpts from Le Travailleur here.] Briefly consider:
- Why did Gagnon so object to the prediction that the assimilation of the French Canadians was just a matter of time?
- Gagnon deliberately distorted Wright's discussion in several respects. What were some of these?