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Why did Canada not join the American Revolution?

Why did Canada not join the American Revolution?

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America declared independence from Britain and fought a war of independence. Several states joined the fight, however, Canada remained British. Why did the American rebellion and war of independence not spread to Canada?

Short Answer: The Canadiens were tired of war and content with British rule.

Long Answer:

Twenty-some years before the American Revolution (1754), which was just before the Seven Years War, this is what the map of British Colonies looked like: Only a few areas of modern-day Canada were British then: Nova-Scotia, Labrador-Newfoundland, and around James' Bay & Hudson's Bay. Quebec extended south to below Niagara falls.

The 13 American Colonies were centered around New-York City:

1.) Geographic Separation caused the English speaking British colonies north of Maine to be culturally distinct from the 13 American Colonies. The people of Nova Scotia were half New Englanders and half Germans, Highlanders, Ulstermen and Yorkshiremen. Nova Scotia wished to remain neutral. British Naval power and a British Garrison at Halifax prevented any serious American attempt at invasion. In 1777 Nova-Scotian outposts came under attack from New England privateers seeking plunder. That caused even former New-Englanders to form militias and defend their homes. Soon thereafter the New Light religious movement (Great Awakening) started by Henry Alline of Rhode Island swept through New England and Nova Scotia turning attention away from Politics.

2.) Acceptance of British Rule: When New France fell in 1760, the defeated armies, French officials, some seigneurs, and some merchants returned to France. British credit, currency, and markets such as London was what mattered--not Paris or America. The British successfully implemented representative government in Quebec through respecting the religious freedoms of Catholics and recognizing the political value of the Catholic Church, which was backed by a dutiful French populace that contrasted sharply with the restive 13 American colonies.

3.) The Quebec Act of 1774 satisfied Quebec and angered the American colonies. It allowed English criminal law to exist in parallel with French civil law and the entrenched seigneurial system. Quebec even had a (legal) mandatory tithe to the Catholic Church, which only concerned Catholics.

The Quebec Act also expanded the province of Quebec to include Labrador in the East and extended the Western boundary to the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers all the way north to Rupert's Land. This expansion had the obvious intent of funneling the fur-trading areas serviced through the St. Lawrence into the jurisdiction of Quebec. The land was mainly Indian territory (where the Indians were allied with the French) that was exploitable for the fur trade without endangering Indian land rights and risking war.

American colonists desired to settle these native lands, and therefore listed the Quebec Act as one of the "Insufferable Acts."

4.) Cultural and Religious Isolation: Quebec was the largest British colony in what is now Canada. The language barrier combined with the foreign religion of French Quebec and the history of hostilities from the Seven Years War caused Americans to view the people of Quebec as foes.

5.) Patriot attacks on Canadiens solidified opposition to the American revolution. American Patriot generals Richard Montgomery and Benedit Arnold Attacked Quebec in an attempt to seize Canada from British control (1775). They took Montreal and laid siege (ultimately unsuccessfully) to Quebec City, where British regulars and a few Canadien militia defended. The Americans were ill-supplied but stayed till spring, when the British navy sailed up the St. Lawrence.

It also became true that in the wartime alliance reached in 1778 between France and the young American republic, neither partner really wanted to see the other established at Quebec, preferring to have it left to Britain rather than that either of the two new "friends" should hold it.

6.) Economic Interests: The merchants of British North-America benefited from the influx of British troops (and money) which powered the offense south from Quebec. The Canadians also profited from access to the tariff-protected British markets, which far larger New England competitors had forfeited through the act of war. The fur market in particular began to thrive in Canada. The British Navy on the Atlantic and by British military power in the interior both guarded the fur trade.

Businessmen came to recognize that their economic stake in the imperial system far outweighed any political discontent over the Quebec Act -- and that Act, after all had re-attached the valuable southwest fur domains to Canada. Hence the merchants' sense of commitment increased with the flow of trade on into the 1780s; as they saw that their St. Lawrence commercial realm was tied both to Britain and to Canada's own growth westward. Factors of geography and business interest in effect were shaping the prime leaders of Montreal into British imperialists and Canadian economic nationalists combined.

7.) Many Loyalists moved to Canada to support the British cause…

Conclusion: pardon the quotes

As for the mass of French Canadians in the province (of Quebec), they began to follow their seigneurial and clerical elites into their own commitment to the British side. Naturally the Canadiens still put their distinct community concerns and heritage first; yet they also concluded that the Americans should not be welcomed, but kept outside. The self-proclaimed republican "liberators" had simply turned out to be the same old enemies, les Bostonnais, the Puritans of New England: stabling horses in Catholic churches during their invasion, paying in worthless paper money for crops and supplies seized from habitant farms. The Canadiens did not learn to love their British conquerors as a result -- why should they? -- but did grow to believe that they were better off with them. For the provisions of the Quebec Act had guaranteed French Canada's own special rights and character under British rule: guarantees which the Americans certainly would not have given. Instead angry American outcries had greeted the Act because of the very grants it had made to the "French Papists". Thus for different but historically sound reasons, neither the Francophone and Anglophone communities of Quebec province took to the American path of revolution. They stayed within the remaining British empire -- above all, to avoid being swallowed up in another emerging empire, that of the United States.


St. Johns, PEI, and Newfoundland

The little neighbouring Atlantic province, the Island of St. John, was hardly likely to affect the course of empires. It certainly continued in British keeping -- although an American privateer raid on Charlottetown in 1775 carried the acting governor and two officials off to General Washington, who did not want them, and sent them home. The big island of Newfoundland also suffered, and more harshly, from American privateering ravages. But here British garrisons and naval squadrons still blocked any real threat to imperial control. In any case, the war years brought the island flourishing times in its essential cod fishery, particularly for residents, since many of the visiting overseas fishermen had been drafted into the Royal Navy. Thus Newfoundland, too, stayed surely within Britain's American empire.

Great Lake Indians

At the other, western end of empire, war spread through the inland forests below the Great Lakes, from the Iroquois country to the Ohio and Michigan wilderness. In the upper reaches of New York province, patriot rebel forces contended fiercely with units raised from loyal-minded settlers in the area. But further, the Six Nations Iroquois and their traditional homelands were heavily involved. The Tuscaroras and Oneidas largely sided with the Americans. The rest of the Six Nations, and especially the Mohawks, supported the British; for here old bonds of alliance held strong. They had been well forged under Sir William Johnson as Indian Superintendent till his death in 1774, to be maintained thereafter by his son and heir, Sir John Johnson, later to become Superintendent in his own right.

For the most in-depth discussion of this topic I could find see this Canadian Heritage Book (free), which is the source of the quotes and much of the content in this answer.

After the Stamp Tax in 1765, the 13 colonies set up "committees of correspondence," whereby leading members of one colony commiserated with leading members of other colonies about British (mis) rule. These leaders later formed a "Continental Congress." As a result, the 13 colonies developed a certain common "consciousness." When a few of them (e.g. Massachusetts) rebelled, they all did. The Declaration of Independence refers to "the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress."

"Canada" was not part of this "bonding" process. Instead, it was invaded by "Americans" and called to join the common rebellion against the mother country. But in fact, a lot of the measures that Britain had taken against "Americans" in the previous decade were actually meant to protect "Canadians," who were much less dissatisfied with British rule.

So unlike say, Georgia and Massachusetts, "Canadians" didn't look on "Americans" as fellow colonists, but rather as "other" invaders who spoke English. (And France had not yet allied with America, so there was no incentive for French speakers to support the "Americans."

In the end, the choice for the Canadians probably boiled down to "better the devil we know that the one we don't know."

It did. In a number of unexpected ways, specifically the exile of Patriot Tories, slaves that fought for King George and a number of refugees that sought sanctuary. It became a global war in some respects. You might like to read more about the 'Tories' that fought for the Crown rather than independence and the compensation for ex Tories who resettled in the USA.

How U.S. Forces Failed to Conquer Canada 200 Years Ago

The United States’ first foray into Canada occurred at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, when colonial troops marched all the way to Quebec City before being repelled. By the time the War of 1812 rolled around almost four decades later, the so-called “war hawk” members of Congress were clamoring for a second go-around. There were even a few calls for part or all of Canada, then a British colony, to be annexed. At that time, around 7.5 million people lived in the United States, compared to only about 500,000 in Canada, many of whom were of French or American descent rather than British.

In June 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain, citing among its grievances the practice of removing sailors from American merchant ships and forcing them to serve in the British navy. The United States also took issue with a system of blockades and licenses designed to halt trade with Napoleonic France, and with Britain’s supposed foment of Native American unrest. Almost immediately thereafter, U.S. President James Madison approved a three-pronged assault against Canada. Many Americans believed the invasion would be a cakewalk, particularly since Britain was so distracted by the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. Former President Thomas Jefferson called the acquisition of Quebec a “mere matter of marching,” while Speaker of the House Henry Clay, a prominent war hawk, declared that the militiamen of Kentucky were capable of capturing Upper Canada (essentially modern Ontario) and Montreal without any assistance. “There was a lot of saber rattling going on,” said John R. Grodzinski, a history professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, who specializes in the War of 1812.

Yet despite its population advantage, the United States had only about 12,000 men in uniform, including “too many incompetent officers and too many raw, untrained recruits,” explained Donald R. Hickey, a history professor at Wayne State College and author of various books on the War of 1812. A number of other factors also favored Canada at the war’s outset. For one thing, the British controlled the Great Lakes and were therefore better able to move troops and supplies. Moreover, they received support from Canadians, who many Americans falsely believed would welcome them as liberators, and from Native American tribes worried about U.S. expansionism. “The USA was woefully unprepared,” Hickey said. “Plus, the logistical challenges of waging war on a distant frontier were daunting if not insuperable.”

When U.S. General William Hull assembled a force of about 2,000 men and led them to Detroit, the jumping-off point for an intended assault on nearby Fort Malden in Upper Canada, the British found out about his plans by seizing a schooner with his baggage and papers on it. To make matters worse for Hull, about 200 Ohio militiamen refused to go beyond American territory. The general nonetheless remained confident. On July 12, 1812, he took his men across the Detroit River and into Canada, where he immediately issued a written proclamation telling inhabitants that they would � emancipated from tyranny and oppression.” “Had I any doubt of eventual success I might ask your assistance, but I do not,” Hull declared. “I come prepared for every contingency.”

These words proved immediately laughable. Hull briefly laid siege to Fort Malden but soon withdrew after warriors under the leadership of Shawnee chief Tecumseh intercepted his supply train. British commander Isaac Brock then chased the Americans back across the river and began launching cannon fire at Fort Detroit from the Canadian side. Brock arranged for a bogus document to reach the Americans that told of large numbers of Native Americans approaching Detroit. He also mentioned to Hull that he would be unable to control his Native American allies once the fighting started. An intimidated Hull ended up surrendering his entire army and the city that August after a cannonball smashed into his officers’ mess, killing four. At around that same time, the British captured Fort Dearborn in present-day Chicago, along with an American outpost on Mackinac Island between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Hull was later court-martialed and convicted of cowardice and neglect of duty.

Loyalists in Canada

Loyalists were American colonists, of different ethnic backgrounds, who supported the British cause during the American Revolutionary War(1775–83). Tens of thousands of Loyalists migrated to British North America during and after the war. This boosted the population, led to the creation of Upper Canada and New Brunswick, and heavily influenced the politics and culture of what would become Canada.

One wave of Loyalists came up the St Lawrence River in 1783 to Lake Ontario, where their encampment grew into the town of Kingston. Drawing by James Peachey.

What Did the Loyalists Believe?

As American rebels fought for independence from Britain, Loyalists supported the “mother country” for different reasons. Many felt a personal loyalty to the Crown, or were afraid that revolution would bring chaos to America. Many agreed with the rebels’ view that America had suffered wrongs at the hands of Britain. But they believed the solution could be worked out within the British Empire.

Others saw themselves as weak or threatened within American society and in need of a defender. These included linguistic and religious minorities, recent immigrants not fully integrated into American society, as well as Black and Indigenous people. Others were simply attracted by the offer of free land and provisions in British North America.

Sympathy for the Crown was a dangerous sentiment. Those who defied the revolutionary forces could find themselves without civil rights. They were often subjected to mob violence or put in prison. Loyalist property was vandalized and often confiscated.

During the Revolution, more than 19,000 Loyalists served Britain in specially created provincial militia corps, such as the King’s Royal Regiment of New York and Butler’s Rangers. They were accompanied by several thousand Indigenous allies. (See also: Indigenous-British Relations Pre-Confederation.) Others spent the war in such strongholds as New York City and Boston, or in refugee camps such as those in Sorel and Machiche, Quebec. Between 80,000 and 100,000 eventually fled, about half of them to Canada.

Loyalist Women

Whether or not women personally supported the British Crown, they were persecuted for family connections to Loyalists. Women had few legal or political rights during this period. Under the system of coverture, a woman did not have a separate legal existence after marriage. Her rights were subsumed by (or incorporated into) her husband’s. Married women could not vote or own property on their own. If a man supported the British, his wife and children were tainted by association.

Yet women often played an important role in a family’s decision to become Loyalist. Some actively supported the Crown, collecting information for the British, helping Loyalist soldiers, and hiding money and important papers from local authorities. When husbands left to join Loyalist military units or to escape capture by American “Patriots,” their wives often remained to run family farms and businesses.

However, Loyalist women were vulnerable. As a political minority, they had little support or protection. Property could be confiscated because Loyalists were considered traitors. Many women left their communities and property and travelled to refugee camps and military forts to join their husbands. Others fled to New York and other cities controlled by the British or to Canada.

Who Were the Loyalists in Canada?

Britain used a fairly precise definition to determine who was a Loyalist and eligible for compensation for war losses. Loyalists were those born or living in the Thirteen American Colonies at the outbreak of the Revolution. They rendered substantial service to the royal cause during the war and left the United States by the end of the war or soon after. Those who left substantially later — mainly to gain land or to escape growing racial intolerance — are often called “late” Loyalists.

Most Loyalists were neither rich nor particularly high in social rank. Most were farmers, labourers, tradespeople and their families. They were of varied cultural backgrounds. Many were recent immigrants. White Loyalists also brought large numbers of people they enslaved with them. Until 1834, enslavement was legal in all British North American colonies but Upper Canada, where the institution was being phased out. (See also: Black Enslavement in Canada Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada.)

Free Blacks and escaped slaves who had fought in the Loyalist corps, as well as about 2,000 Indigenous allies (mainly Haudenosaunee from New York State) also settled in Canada. In 1789, Lord Dorchester, governor-in-chief of British North America, proclaimed that the Loyalists and their children should be allowed to add the letters “UE” to their names, “alluding to their great principle, the Unity of Empire.” As a result, the phrase “United Empire Loyalist,” or UEL, was applied to Loyalists who migrated to Upper and Lower Canada. The term was not officially recognized in the Maritimes until the 20th century. (See also: United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada.)

Black Loyalists

About 3,500 Black Loyalists, both free and enslaved men, women and children, arrived in the Maritimes. (See also: Arrival of Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia.) Many were drawn by the promise of 100 acres for each head of household and an additional 50 acres for each family member, plus provisions. Black Loyalists moved to settlements near Shelburne, Digby, Chedabucto (Guysborough) and Halifax. Some, such as Richard Pierpoint — a formerly enslaved man — had gained their freedom by fighting under the British Crown during the American Revolution. However, most were enslaved. They were brought to the British territories as spoils of war or as the property of Loyalists. By the 1790s, the number of enslaved Black people in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island ranged from 1,200 to 2,000.

Settlement of Loyalists in Canada

The main waves of Loyalists came to what is now Canada in 1783 and 1784. The territory that became the Maritime provinces became home to more than 30,000 Loyalists. Most of coastal Nova Scotia received Loyalist settlers, as did Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island (then called St. John’s Island). The two principal settlements were in the Saint John River valley in what is now New Brunswick, and temporarily at Shelburne, Nova Scotia. The Loyalists swamped the existing population in the Maritimes. In 1784, the colonies of New Brunswick and Cape Breton were created to deal with the influx.

About 2,000 Loyalists moved to Lower Canada (present-day Quebec). Some settled in the Gaspé, on Chaleur Bay, and others in Sorel, at the mouth of the Richelieu River. About 7,500 moved into the territory that is now part of present-day Ontario. Most settled along the St. Lawrence River to the Bay of Quinte. There were also substantial settlements in the Niagara Peninsula and on the Detroit River, with later settlements along the Thames River and at Long Point. The Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy from Upper New York State received a land grant along the Grand River. This was in recognition of their loyalty to Britain. The town of Brantford stands near the river crossing named after their famous leader, Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea).

Painting by William Berczy, circa 1807, oil on canvas.

The Loyalist influx gave the region its first substantial population and led to the creation of a separate province, Upper Canada, in 1791. Loyalists were instrumental in establishing educational, religious, social and governmental institutions.

Why didn't Quebec join the 13 Colonies' revolution against England?

As I understand it, the 13 Colonies attempted to get Quebec to join them in the revolution. Given the French support for the American Revolution, and the French population in Quebec, why didn't Quebec join the other colonies in a revolt?

This is half-remembered knowledge so anyone can jump in to correct me on this but how I understood it was that the Quebecois were actually doing quite well at the time of the revolution. First off they didn't have many British troops stationed there as well as the fact that the British respected French Catholic laws. This fact on Catholicism is pretty important as since many Quebecois were Catholic they didn't really trust the Americans at the time who were overwhelmingly Protestant. If you look at it from their perspective they had a pretty good deal being a British possession as Britain had a vast trading network that allowed them to buy goods from the Caribbean and sell their goods to British markets as well as the fact that the Brits didn't really try to dramatically change their way of life or convert them.

Edit: weird that my most upvoted comment is one of my least liked r/askhistorians posts

You are absolutely correct. The Quebec Act, passed in 1774, allowed the Quebecois to practice the Catholic faith and even practice french civil law. They didn't want to rebel because, to an extent, they were pretty content with their situation and didn't want to ruin it all.

Interestingly enough, the Quebec act is also called "The Unforgivable Act", because it was partially responsible for the American revolutionary war! The colonists couldn't believe that Quebec received such liberties while they, Anglophones, got nothing!

This is only an opinion, but when I was taught Canadian/Quebecois history at school, I generally felt that the French didn't really care that much about their northern colonies. They didn't spend as much ressources as the British for their development. When they lost the war, they kept their carribean colonies which had the most interesting ressources (coffee, tobacco, etc.). The Canadians were tired of war and the British came in and expanded the colonies.

To expand on this when Quebec was ceded to the UK, the British allowed the quebec govt to self govern in regards to criminal and civil law, so the Habitants were pretty happy about that too.

Not an historian, but personally interested in Quebec history. I always thought that Act of Quebec (1774), allowing French language and catholic church in the colony, was seen as a betrayal by Americans who fought in the war. And thus leaded (as a reason among many) to Boston Tea Party and the revolution. Am I wrong?

Also, I believe Americans at that time were slightly racist, and perhaps they didn't really consider Canadians as a reliable ally

This is one of the major reasons for the [Quebec Act 1774](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec_Act_(1774)).

this is the long and short of it. The British ceded quite a bit of power to the traditional catholic power structure of Quebec. Not only did this mean they weren't militant, but they were also afraid of the Americans who though (probably correctly) that other colonists would take their cultural privileges away

Quebec isn't the colony that was closest to joining the Americans, it was Nova Scotia. The British in America had just evacuated the Acadians out of there, and repopulated with New Englanders. Washington was so sure that Nova Scotia would join his country that he had preparations made to add the Nova Scotia stripe to the flag but this never happened. There were a few uprisings against the British in the 1770s, the most notable being the Siege of Fort Cumberland in 1776 (I'm using Alien Blue, forgive my lack of linking). However, many reasons caused Nova Scotia to stay loyal to the British.

Imagine you were a settler just moving to Nova Scotia. You just came from "civilization" and are now tasked with starting fresh in a new land where there isn't much left from the evacuation of the Acadians. These people are focused on starting up their farms, families, and surviving the harsh Canadian winters - they are not worried about the taxes on tea and other "frivolous" things that the Americans got upset about. These people valued the stability that came with living under British rule.

The Algonquins living around this colony, the Micmac, also enjoyed this new stability that came from one nation ruling the land. (Remember this is after the French and British had been at war for quite some time in this area.) They wanted the status quo maintained, and made it quite clear that should war break out, they would align with the British.

Speaking of war, the British had a significantly large garrison in their city of Halifax. The British navy would surely squash any naval advancement by the Americans, and their ground troops would quell the rebellion in the outlying lands.

It was a combination of apathy, survivalism, and fear of British and Native retaliation that made Nova Scotia - the 14th Colony - refuse to join Washington's Revolution.

EDIT: Source: Currently writing a term paper on this subject for my 2nd year Canadian history class.

Why didn't the Canadian colonies join the American Revolution?

The Americans tried but the Canadians were unwilling partners. Canada had primarily been settled by the French, who were of course Catholic. As a result, the Catholic clergy held great power, and most of the power holders were Catholic. In 1774, before the Revolutionary War started, and after the Boston Tea Party, the British passed the Quebec Act. It was designed to assuage some provisions that may have led Canada to join the US rebellion. Among other things, it granted a lot of territory (including a lot of the US Midwest) to Quebec, removed a requirement that allegiance to the protestant faith be required for eligibility to hold office, allowed French law in a number of areas, and restored the right of the Catholic Church to impose tithes. The result of this was that most of the power holders in Canada sided with the British, at least officially. The Americans led propaganda campaigns into Canada and invaded Montreal, after which they tried to invade Quebec, but failed. Without people joining the cause, which the Americans expected, the effort fell apart.

Typo alert: the Quebec Act was 1774, not 1744.

There's also this rather amusing bit in the Articles of Confederation.

Canada acceding to this confederation, and adjoining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted into, and entitled to all the advantages of this Union but no other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine States.

Thatɽ be Article XI. "Hey guys, you totally wanna join the cool club, right? . right?" is certainly an interesting way to follow up the invasion of Quebec.

The Quebec Act--where the King gave land from the Ohio River to the Mississippi to Quebec--was also a precipitating cause of the Revolution. It's named in the Declaration of Independence's list of grievances.

Americans saw the west as rightfully their's, certainly not Canada's.

Nova Scotia almost joined the revolution. A 1942 historical novel by Thomas Raddall ("His Majesty's Yankees") does a fine job of illustrating just how much sympathy there was for the revolution in Nova Scotia. Most of the people living in Nova Scotia were from New England after all.

Ironically, the progression of hostilities leading up to the revolution helped push Nova Scotia into the loyalist camp. People loyal to the crown kept moving to Nova Scotia seeking safety as the conflict ramped up, tipping the popular balance towards Britain.

In the 1937 book "The Neutral Yankees of Nova Scotia", John B. Brebner argues that Nova Scotia's geography, being entirely surrounded by sea, made it easy for the British to secure, thereby making it an appealing place for any loyalists fleeing the revolution.

As far as the French colony of Quebec goes, they used the revolution as an opportunity to extract significant guarantees of autonomy from the British by threatening to join in the revolution, which was enshrined in the 1774 Quebec Act. No such guarantees for entrenching language, religion, and medieval social hierarchies (still practiced in Quebec) were on offer from the rebelling colonies.

Thus codified the special legal exceptionalism of Quebec has persisted to this very day. Every time Quebec threatens another referendum on secession Canadians can have fun blaming the Americans for causing the perpetual rift in their society. The British never would have granted special autonomy to Quebec if they weren't desperate to keep even more colonies from rebelling.

. and medieval social hierarchies (still practiced in Quebec)

This may be a rumour but didn't the Quebec Act of 1774 further incense passion for independence in the American colonies?

Iɽ like to build on /u/secondsniglet's comments on Nova Scotia, having just written my honours thesis on Nova Scotian neutrality and the printing press and am going to be starting my MA in history next year to continue this research. Raddall and Brebner are both sources that I used but both are also quite old sources. There has been a lot of work done on the question of Nova Scotian neutrality since the 1940's and I would like to through a bit of it here. But first I need to give a bit of background.

Firstly I should establish that at this point Nova Scotia encompassed New Brunswick as well. New Brunswick and Cape Breton were created after the war to divide NS in case of revolutionary unrest. PEI was just being settled and was so sparsely populated that Revolution was not really in the cards for the island, although it was raided by American privateers during the Revolution, just as NS was.

As such the question "Why didn't the Canadian colonies join the American Revolution?" can be safely divided into two: that of why Quebec didn't join, and that of why Nova Scotia didn't join. I would be interested in any account of Newfoundland during this period but have not encountered anything more than the odd footnote on the topic of Newfoundland and the Revolution. I'll leave the question of Quebec to one better versed in its history and stick to trying to answer the Nova Scotia question.

I peg the beginning of the American Revolutionary Crisis as being 1765, with the passage of the Stamp Act that did so much to enrage and alienate North American newspaper printers and more importantly their subscribers. Sloan and Williams write in The American Revolution and the Press that this unified mass media opposition to the Stamp Act was unprecedented in history, and the perception of unified outrage that it created was a huge factor behind getting different British North American colonies to unify in opposition to Parliament's taxes.

In the 1760's the French had been shattered and expelled from Eastern Canada. To fill the vacant French Acadian lands Governor Lawrence issued a proclamation promising free land to any New Englanders that moved to Nova Scotia. Furthermore in 1758 he promised to form a Legislative Assembly, with two members elected from every township of fifty families or more, in order to attract the New Englanders who were used to their own democratic, decentralized form of township government.

Before this NS had been ruled by a central, appointed Executive Council that served at the pleasure of the royally appointed governor. Giving townships representation and some modicum of authority was an about-face in Imperial policy, which had previously been against developing Nova Scotia into a "New New England", as the Imperial government found the decentralized New England system irritating, as local township governments possessed the authority to impede the efforts of London authorities to impose economic and political agendas on the colonies.

My favourite book on NS during the Revolution is Fault Lines of Empire by Elizabeth Mancke, and she singles out township government as the point of divergence between New England and NS that sees the first revolt and the other remain neutral. She convincingly argues that Lawrence's system only appears to be similar to the decentralized New England system, but that the Executive Council actually still maintained sufficient control to stymie local government in NS, in large part due to the Executive's ability to use discretion in granting townships, and that it is this more than anything that keeps NS neutral. It is a great piece of historical work, very focused and extremely methodically researched.

But the plan worked and New Englanders flocked to NS in search of homesteads. The upshot of this is that by the time the American Crisis began over half of the population of NS was "American" in origin, that is they had immigrated from New England under the terms of Lawrence's Proclamation, bringing their culture, political views, and contacts/family connections to New England with them. This raises the question: With New England being a hotbed for revolutionary sentiment, and with New Englanders having a strong tradition of political participation, organization, and petitioning through their strong township system, why didn't Nova Scotia organize and revolt as the other colonies did? I will give my answer to this question later as there is some work I need to do first but I hope that this post intrigues a few people to a mostly overlooked story of the American Revolution.

A brief history of Americans moving to Canada

If Google searches and late-night talk show hosts are to be believed, the Peace Bridge may soon be overrun with Americans fleeing Donald Trump’s relentless march towards the presidency.

Google reported that the search term “how can I move to Canada” surged 350 per cent within a matter of hours on Super Tuesday. While Cape Bretoners are encouraging those hapless refugees of Trumpmania to emigrate to their windy shores.

These Yanks aren’t traitors against their homeland — they’re simply exercising their God-given right as Americans to head north when things get rough at home.

Here’s a look at the centuries-long tradition of Americans moving to Canada.

Refugees from the revolution

As long as there has been America, there have been Americans moving to Canada. About 100,000 colonists loyal to the king fled the thirteen colonies either during or just after the Revolutionary War.

About half settled in Canada, primarily in the Maritimes, Quebec and southern Ontario. Some were promised large plots of land, while others moved to escape hostile revolutionaries. These loyalists, as they were called, helped to create large English communities in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia, forever changing the Canada’s cultural landscape.

Fleeing for freedom

Before the United States abolished slavery in 1865, thousands of black Americans headed north to find freedom from slavery and racial oppression. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Britain promised land (mostly in Nova Scotia) to black slaves and freemen if they would fight for the Crown.

According to Historica Canada, British Commander-in-Chief Sir Guy Carleton promised all slaves who 𠇏ormally requested British protection” freedom.

Still, slavery persisted in Canada for years after the revolution, and many black people were discriminated against and denied land initially promised to them.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, thousands more fled slavery on the Underground Railroad, settling in southern Ontario. Although they found freedom, they still faced persistent economic discrimination and segregation.

Prairie pioneers

Although the land rush of the American frontier had ended by the end of the 19th century, there was plenty of wide open space in Western Canada well into the dawn of the 20th century.

According to the University of Regina, some 330,000 American pioneers settled in Saskatchewan between 1905 and 1923. Some were born in the U.S., while others were European immigrants who had first tried to settle south of the border.

Draft dodgers

The turmoil of the 1960s brought thousands of Americans who opposed the Vietnam to Canada, especially those who refused to participate in the draft.

Between 1966 and 1975, almost 240,000 Americans moved to Canada, according to Statistics Canada, almost twice the number as in the previous decade. In 1969, the Canadian government passed a law allowing U.S. immigration regardless of military status, effectively opening the door to draft-dodgers and deserters.

Moving to Canada reached its peak in 1974, when 27,932 Americans crossed the border. Although the U.S. granted amnesty to people who evaded the draft in 1977, many stayed in Canada.


Bush-era escapees

When George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, not everyone was thrilled.

“That’s it!” many left-leaning Americans presumably said. “I’m moving to Canada.” The day after Bush was re-elected president, there were 191,000 hits on Canada's immigration website, six times its average traffic, an article in the Star stated.

Like the draft dodgers of the �s and �s, post-9/11 Americans moved to Canada more for ideological reasons than economic security. Although U.S. immigration to Canada never reached the heights that it did in the 1970s, there was a spike. In 2006, 10,942 Americans moved to Canada, a 30-year-high.

The threat of moving to Canada became such a popular trope that it even made the list of “Stuff White People Like,” a popular satirical blog.

“Though they will never actually move to Canada, the act of declaring that they are willing to undertake the journey is very symbolic in white culture. It shows that their dedication to their lifestyle and beliefs are so strong, that they would consider packing up their entire lives and moving to a country that is only slightly different to the one they live in now,” wrote blogger Christian Lander.

Why did Canada not join the American Revolution? - History

What were the Articles of Confederation?

The Articles of Confederation served as the first constitution of the United States. This document officially established the government of the union of the thirteen states.

The Articles of Confederation
Source: U.S. Government

Why did the colonies write the Articles of Confederation?

The colonies knew they needed some form of official government that united the thirteen colonies. They wanted to have written down rules that all the states agreed to. The Articles allowed the Congress to do things like raise an army, be able to create laws, and print money.

Who wrote the document?

The Articles of Confederation was first prepared by a committee of thirteen men from the Second Continental Congress. The chairman of the committee and primary author of the first draft was John Dickinson.

When was the document ratified by the colonies?

In order for the Articles to be official, they had to be ratified (approved) by all thirteen states. The Congress sent the articles to the states to be ratified near the end of 1777. Virginia was the first state to ratify on December 16, 1777. The last state was Maryland on February 2, 1781.

The Thirteen Articles

    1. Established the name of the union as "The United States of America."
    2. The state governments still had their own powers that were not listed in the Articles.
    3. Refers to the union as a "league of friendship" where the states will help to protect each other from attacks.
    4. People can travel freely between states, but criminals shall be sent back to the state where they committed the crime for trial.
    5. Establishes the Congress of the Confederation where each state gets one vote and can send a delegation with between 2 and 7 members.
    6. The central government is responsible for foreign relations including trade agreements and declaring war. States must maintain a militia, but may not have a standing army.
    7. States may assign military ranks of colonel and below.
    8. Money to pay for the central government will be raised by each of the state legislatures.
    9. Gives power to the Congress in regards to foreign affairs like war, peace, and treaties with foreign governments. Congress will act as the court in disputes between states. Congress shall establish official weights and measures.
    10. Established a group called the Committee of the States which could act for Congress when Congress was not in session.
    11. Stated that Canada could join the union if it wanted.
    12. Stated that the new union would agree to pay for earlier war debts.
    13. Declared that the Articles were "perpetual" or "never ending" and could only be changed if Congress and all the states agreed.
  • No power to raise money through taxes
  • No way to enforce the laws passed by Congress
  • No national court system
  • Each state only had one vote in Congress despite the size of the state

As a result, in 1788, the Articles were replaced with the current United States Constitution.

Why did Canada not join the American Revolution? - History

The economies of the West Indies and the Thirteen Colonies were completely different. The islands were based on sugar and, while stupendously profitable, needed an imperial market and protection of the Royal Navy. Many of the plantation owners were born in England and aspired to return to live as landed gentry. The West Indies were a place you went to make a lot of money and leave.

The Thirteen Colonies were much more middle class—and colonies of settlement. The leaders were aristocratic landowners, like Washington and Jefferson (who were natural-born Americans for many generations and had no desire to return to England) and the rank and file of army were yeoman farmers and craftsmen.

The Thirteen Colonies had a much more diversified economy and while they benefited from imperial trade, were comparatively self-sufficient. They also offered education and opportunity. Alexander Hamilton was born in Nevis, but had to come to New York to be educated and seek his fortune. In a place like Nevis, if you were white, you were either a landowner, an overseer or a clerk. There weren’t many other options.

Also, the ratio of slaves to masters in the West Indies was enormous: nearly 20:1 in some places. The local whites were so outnumbered that they couldn’t possibly have maintained control without the British Army and the Royal Navy.

The main reasons the 13 did revolt was over 1) enforcement of navigation acts, 2) end of salutary neglect, 3) Proclamation of 1763 barring settlers from moving past the Appalachian Mountains, 4) transportation costs and debt of the "founding fathers" and other elite colonists, 5) increased taxation on colonists by Parliament to recoup the costs of the Seven Years' War or French & Indian War.

For the Caribbean holdings, many of these issues did not apply, but were of paramount importance for people like Ben Franklin (always a radical proponent of separation), George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and later John Adams. These figures and many more appealed to other British colonies in the hemisphere--all of which declined participation. It was even a challenge to get South Carolina and Georgia (colonies of colonies) on board with the revolt.


That doesn't sound right. There were very few loyalists in the largest colony of Virginia which would have meant there had to have been a number almost approaching a majority in the others. It wasn't anywhere near that.

I reaiize why you may have thought that. There were about 1/2 the number of loyalists as patriots, but the two together made up just 60% of the population. So loyalists as a percentage of the total population would have been about 20%.

The currently accepted numbers are 15-20% of the population remained Loyalist and the Patriots enjoyed support from 40-45%, perhaps reaching as high as 50%. That leaves roughly 30-45% of the population as not actively taking sides.

The 1/3rd figure was propagated for a long time based on a letter from Adams stating that the Patriots were "fighting against one-third of the population that remained Loyal." He counted the other two-thirds as being Patriots or patriot sympathizers. His letter is often bastardized into 1/3 for, 1/3 against and 1/3 neutral. Many historians relied on the 1/3rd estimate for many years until around 2000 when actual estimates (posted above) were done and those are now commonly accepted.

Planning for 1777

The cumulative effect of the campaign would be to sever New England from the rest of the American Colonies. This plan was approved by Germain in early 1777 despite word from Howe that he intended to march against Philadelphia that year. Confusion exists as to when Germain informed Burgoyne that participation by British forces in New York City would be limited at best. As Clinton had been defeated at Charleston, SC in June 1776, Burgoyne was able to secure command of the northern invasion force. Arriving in Canada on May 6, 1777, he assembled an army of over 7,000 men.

Why did Canada not join the American Revolution? - History

Prelude to Revolution
1763 to 1775

1763 - The Proclamation of 1763 , signed by King George III of England, prohibits any English settlement west of the Appalachian mountains and requires those already settled in those regions to return east in an attempt to ease tensions with Native Americans.

1764 - The Sugar Act is passed by the English Parliament to offset the war debt brought on by the French and Indian War and to help pay for the expenses of running the colonies and newly acquired territories. This act increases the duties on imported sugar and other items such as textiles, coffee, wines and indigo (dye). It doubles the duties on foreign goods reshipped from England to the colonies and also forbids the import of foreign rum and French wines.

1764 - The English Parliament passes a measure to reorganize the American customs system to better enforce British trade laws, which have often been ignored in the past. A court is established in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that will have jurisdiction over all of the American colonies in trade matters.

1764 - The Currency Act prohibits the colonists from issuing any legal tender paper money. This act threatens to destabilize the entire colonial economy of both the industrial North and agricultural South, thus uniting the colonists against it.

1764 - In May, at a town meeting in Boston, James Otis raises the issue of taxation without representation and urges a united response to the recent acts imposed by England. In July, Otis publishes "The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved." In August, Boston merchants begin a boycott of British luxury goods.

1765 - In March, the Stamp Act is passed by the English Parliament imposing the first direct tax on the American colonies, to offset the high costs of the British military organization in America. Thus for the first time in the 150 year old history of the British colonies in America, the Americans will pay tax not to their own local legislatures in America, but directly to England.

Under the Stamp Act, all printed materials are taxed, including newspapers, pamphlets, bills, legal documents, licenses, almanacs, dice and playing cards. The American colonists quickly unite in opposition, led by the most influential segments of colonial society - lawyers, publishers, land owners, ship builders and merchants - who are most affected by the Act, which is scheduled to go into effect on November 1.

1765 - Also in March, the Quartering Act requires colonists to house British troops and supply them with food.

1765 - In May, in Virginia, Patrick Henry presents seven Virginia Resolutions to the House of Burgesses claiming that only the Virginia assembly can legally tax Virginia residents, saying, "If this be treason, make the most of it." Also in May, the first medical school in America is founded, in Philadelphia.

1765 - In July, the Sons of Liberty , an underground organization opposed to the Stamp Act, is formed in a number of colonial towns. Its members use violence and intimidation to eventually force all of the British stamp agents to resign and also stop many American merchants from ordering British trade goods.

1765 - August 26, a mob in Boston attacks the home of Thomas Hutchinson, Chief Justice of Massachusetts, as Hutchinson and his family narrowly escape.

1765 - In October, the Stamp Act Congress convenes in New York City, with representatives from nine of the colonies. The Congress prepares a resolution to be sent to King George III and the English Parliament. The petition requests the repeal of the Stamp Act and the Acts of 1764. The petition asserts that only colonial legislatures can tax colonial residents and that taxation without representation violates the colonists' basic civil rights.

1765 - On November 1, most daily business and legal transactions in the colonies cease as the Stamp Act goes into effect with nearly all of the colonists refusing to use the stamps. In New York City, violence breaks out as a mob burns the royal governor in effigy, harasses British troops, then loots houses.

1765 - In December, British General Thomas Gage, commander of all English military forces in America, asks the New York assembly to make colonists comply with the Quartering Act and house and supply his troops. Also in December, the American boycott of English imports spreads, as over 200 Boston merchants join the movement.

1766 - In January, the New York assembly refuses to completely comply with Gen. Gage's request to enforce the Quartering Act.

1766 - In March, King George III signs a bill repealing the Stamp Act after much debate in the English Parliament, which included an appearance by Ben Franklin arguing for repeal and warning of a possible revolution in the American colonies if the Stamp Act was enforced by the British military.

1766 - On the same day it repealed the Stamp Act, the English Parliament passes the Declaratory Act stating that the British government has total power to legislate any laws governing the American colonies in all cases whatsoever.

1766 - In April, news of the repeal of the Stamp Act results in celebrations in the colonies and a relaxation of the boycott of imported English trade goods.

1766 - In August, violence breaks out in New York between British soldiers and armed colonists, including Sons of Liberty members. The violence erupts as a result of the continuing refusal of New York colonists to comply with the Quartering Act. In December, the New York legislature is suspended by the English Crown after once again voting to refuse to comply with the Act.

1767 - In June, The English Parliament passes the Townshend Revenue Acts , imposing a new series of taxes on the colonists to offset the costs of administering and protecting the American colonies. Items taxed include imports such as paper, tea, glass, lead and paints. The Act also establishes a colonial board of customs commissioners in Boston. In October, Bostonians decide to reinstate a boycott of English luxury items.

1768 - In February, Samuel Adams of Massachusetts writes a Circular Letter opposing taxation without representation and calling for the colonists to unite in their actions against the British government. The letter is sent to assemblies throughout the colonies and also instructs them on the methods the Massachusetts general court is using to oppose the Townshend Acts.

1768 - In April, England's Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Hillsborough, orders colonial governors to stop their own assemblies from endorsing Adams' circular letter. Hillsborough also orders the governor of Massachusetts to dissolve the general court if the Massachusetts assembly does not revoke the letter. By month's end, the assemblies of New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey have endorsed the letter.

1768 - In May, a British warship armed with 50 cannons sails into Boston harbor after a call for help from custom commissioners who are constantly being harassed by Boston agitators. In June, a customs official is locked up in the cabin of the Liberty, a sloop owned by John Hancock. Imported wine is then unloaded illegally into Boston without payment of duties. Following this incident, customs officials seize Hancock's sloop. After threats of violence from Bostonians, the customs officials escape to an island off Boston, then request the intervention of British troops.

1768 - In July, the governor of Massachusetts dissolves the general court after the legislature defies his order to revoke Adams' circular letter. In August, in Boston and New York, merchants agree to boycott most British goods until the Townshend Acts are repealed. In September, at a town meeting in Boston, residents are urged to arm themselves. Later in September, English warships sail into Boston Harbor, then two regiments of English infantry land in Boston and set up permanent residence to keep order.

1769 - In March, merchants in Philadelphia join the boycott of British trade goods. In May, a set of resolutions written by George Mason is presented by George Washington to the Virginia House of Burgesses. The Virginia Resolves oppose taxation without representation, the British opposition to the circular letters, and British plans to possibly send American agitators to England for trial. Ten days later, the Royal governor of Virginia dissolves the House of Burgesses. However, its members meet the next day in a Williamsburg tavern and agree to a boycott of British trade goods, luxury items and slaves.

1769 - In July, in the territory of California, San Diego is founded by Franciscan Friar Juniper Serra. In October, the boycott of English goods spreads to New Jersey, Rhode Island, and then North Carolina.

1770 - The population of the American colonies reaches 2,210,000 persons.

1770 - Violence erupts in January between members of the Sons of Liberty in New York and 40 British soldiers over the posting of broadsheets by the British. Several men are seriously wounded.

March 5, 1770 - The Boston Massacre occurs as a mob harasses British soldiers who then fire their muskets pointblank into the crowd, killing three instantly, mortally wounding two others and injuring six. After the incident, the new Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, at the insistence of Sam Adams, withdraws British troops out of Boston to nearby harbor islands. The captain of the British soldiers, Thomas Preston, is then arrested along with eight of his men and charged with murder.

1770 - In April, the Townshend Acts are repealed by the British. All duties on imports into the colonies are eliminated except for tea. Also, the Quartering Act is not renewed.

1770 - In October, trial begins for the British soldiers arrested after the Boston Massacre. Colonial lawyers John Adams and Josiah Quincy successfully defend Captain Preston and six of his men, who are acquitted. Two other soldiers are found guilty of manslaughter, branded, then released.

1772 - In June, a British customs schooner, the Gaspee, runs aground off Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay. Colonists from Providence row out to the schooner and attack it, set the British crew ashore, then burn the ship. In September, a 500 pound reward is offered by the English Crown for the capture of those colonists, who would then be sent to England for trial. The announcement that they would be sent to England further upsets many American colonists.

1772 - In November, a Boston town meeting assembles, called by Sam Adams. During the meeting, a 21 member committee of correspondence is appointed to communicate with other towns and colonies. A few weeks later, the town meeting endorses three radical proclamations asserting the rights of the colonies to self-rule.

1773 - In March, the Virginia House of Burgesses appoints an eleven member committee of correspondence to communicate with the other colonies regarding common complaints against the British. Members of that committee include, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee. Virginia is followed a few months later by New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and South Carolina.

1773 - May 10, the Tea Act takes effect. It maintains a threepenny per pound import tax on tea arriving in the colonies, which had already been in effect for six years. It also gives the near bankrupt British East India Company a virtual tea monopoly by allowing it to sell directly to colonial agents, bypassing any middlemen, thus underselling American merchants. The East India Company had successfully lobbied Parliament for such a measure. In September, Parliament authorizes the company to ship half a million pounds of tea to a group of chosen tea agents.

1773 - In October, colonists hold a mass meeting in Philadelphia in opposition to the tea tax and the monopoly of the East India Company. A committee then forces British tea agents to resign their positions. In November, a town meeting is held in Boston endorsing the actions taken by Philadelphia colonists. Bostonians then try, but fail, to get their British tea agents to resign. A few weeks later, three ships bearing tea sail into Boston harbor.

1773 - November 29/30, two mass meetings occur in Boston over what to do about the tea aboard the three ships now docked in Boston harbor. Colonists decide to send the tea on the ship, Dartmouth, back to England without paying any import duties. The Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Hutchinson, is opposed to this and orders harbor officials not to let the ship sail out of the harbor unless the tea taxes have been paid.

December 16, 1773 - About 8000 Bostonians gather to hear Sam Adams tell them Royal Governor Hutchinson has repeated his command not to allow the ships out of the harbor until the tea taxes are paid. That night, the Boston Tea Party occurs as colonial activists disguise themselves as Mohawk Indians then board the ships and dump all 342 containers of tea into the harbor.

1774 - In March, an angry English Parliament passes the first of a series of Coercive Acts (called Intolerable Acts by Americans) in response to the rebellion in Massachusetts. The Boston Port Bill effectively shuts down all commercial shipping in Boston harbor until Massachusetts pays the taxes owed on the tea dumped in the harbor and also reimburses the East India Company for the loss of the tea.

1774 - May 12, Bostonians at a town meeting call for a boycott of British imports in response to the Boston Port Bill. May 13, General Thomas Gage, commander of all British military forces in the colonies, arrives in Boston and replaces Hutchinson as Royal governor, putting Massachusetts under military rule. He is followed by the arrival of four regiments of British troops.

1774 - May 17-23, colonists in Providence, New York and Philadelphia begin calling for an intercolonial congress to overcome the Coercive Acts and discuss a common course of action against the British.

1774 - May 20, The English Parliament enacts the next series of Coercive Acts, which include the Massachusetts Regulating Act and the Government Act virtually ending any self-rule by the colonists there. Instead, the English Crown and the Royal governor assume political power formerly exercised by colonists. Also enacted the Administration of Justice Act which protects royal officials in Massachusetts from being sued in colonial courts, and the Quebec Act establishing a centralized government in Canada controlled by the Crown and English Parliament. The Quebec Act greatly upsets American colonists by extending the southern boundary of Canada into territories claimed by Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia.

1774 - In June, a new version of the 1765 Quartering Act is enacted by the English Parliament requiring all of the American colonies to provide housing for British troops in occupied houses and taverns and in unoccupied buildings. In September, Massachusetts Governor Gage seizes that colony's arsenal of weapons at Charlestown.

1774 - September 5 to October 26, the First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia with 56 delegates, representing every colony, except Georgia. Attendants include Patrick Henry, George Washington, Sam Adams and John Hancock.

On September 17, the Congress declares its opposition to the Coercive Acts, saying they are "not to be obeyed," and also promotes the formation of local militia units. On October 14, a Declaration and Resolves is adopted that opposes the Coercive Acts, the Quebec Act, and other measure taken by the British that undermine self-rule. The rights of the colonists are asserted, including the rights to "life, liberty and property." On October 20, the Congress adopts the Continental Association in which delegates agree to a boycott of English imports, effect an embargo of exports to Britain, and discontinue the slave trade.

1775 - February 1, in Cambridge, Mass., a provincial congress is held during which John Hancock and Joseph Warren begin defensive preparations for a state of war. February 9, the English Parliament declares Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion. March 23, in Virginia, Patrick Henry delivers a speech against British rule, stating, "Give me liberty or give me death!" March 30, the New England Restraining Act is endorsed by King George III, requiring New England colonies to trade exclusively with England and also bans fishing in the North Atlantic.

1775 - In April, Massachusetts Governor Gage is ordered to enforce the Coercive Acts and suppress "open rebellion" among the colonists by all necessary force.

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