Essay Comparing Two Accounts of the Expulsion of the Acadians - A False Sense of Independence

Below is an Essay Comparing Two Accounts of the Expulsion of the Acadians
A False Sense of Independence

Modern notions of justice generally prohibit the mass displacement of a people on the grounds that it often represents a form of cultural genocide. The Acadians’ false sense of independence undermined their credibility in the eyes of the British and made their occupancy of Nova Scotia an obstacle to British imperial designs.

The fundamental factor that explains the expulsion of the Acadians is their false sense of autonomy and independence in the imperial struggle between England and France. Rather than interpret their location in “one of the centres in North America for the conflicting territorial ambitions” of England and France as an indication that political subjection is unavoidable, the Acadians collectively pursued a “distinct policy of neutrality.” Fergusson is correct in characterizing the Acadians’ request to be considered as French neutrals and avoid signing the British oath of unconditional allegiance as a “rather fantastic” and “extraordinary” request considering that they resided within the territory of an imperial power that was presently at war with the country from which the Acadians descended. The Acadian request exceeded those of many other groups in a similar predicament in the eighteenth century, including the French Canadians living in Quebec whose cooperation after the Conquest ultimately produced favourable protections for their language and culture compared to other minority groups. The Acadians’ false sense of independence was reinforced by a number of factors both within their control, such as their failure to understand the significance of their status as a colonized people, and a number of factors beyond their control, such as the distinctive political system imposed by Britain. British officials eventually took note of the seemingly audacious belief of the Acadians, which likely increased Britain’s disdain for the Acadians. The Acadians based their policies in the years prior to their deportation on the conviction that they had “negotiating strength” with the English and French. Griffiths’ comparison between this conviction and the ostensibly similar conviction in the thirteen American colonies is irrelevant, since the merit of such a conception means very little when the policy fails. Although the decision to expel the Acadians was ultimately based on several other factors, the Acadians’ ‘extraordinary’ sense of independence and refusal to sign the oath of allegiance laid the foundation for Britain’s case for expulsion.

By refusing to sign the oath of allegiance, the Acadians implicated undermined their ability to dissociate themselves from the problems that formed the basis of Britain’s case for expulsion. Britain contributed to these problems by failing to establishing authority in Nova Scotia and neglecting Acadia except when other events brought the region to their attention. The British and French were jointly responsible for creating a state of international affairs in which largely disinterested but occupied groups could not remain neutral. However, France is the most blameworthy because it sent missionaries to ensure Acadian faithfulness to France and implicated many Acadians in hostile acts against the British, thereby associating the Acadians with Britain’s chief imperial rival. The Acadians also share some of the blame for creating the problems that necessitated their expulsion. Some Acadians openly traded with the French while neglecting to supply the English. Other Acadians attempted to turn Indians and other Acadians against the British. Although the actions of these few did not represent the opinions of a majority of Acadians and they could not be blamed for the activity of France, the refusal of the Acadians to sign an oath of allegiance to Britain gave the British grounds to assume that Acadians in general approved or at least did not disapprove of anti-British activity.

By refusing to sign the oath of allegiance, the Acadians also made themselves obstacles to the advancement of the interests of their occupiers. During this period, Charles Lawrence represented Britain in as the Governor of Nova Scotia. Fergusson and Griffiths disagree about the extent to which Lawrence is responsible for the expulsion of the Acadians. While Griffiths argues that Lawrence’s personal ambition was a major factor in the choice of policy and that he is therefore “the person who must bear the major responsibility” for the expulsion, Fergusson maintains that the attacks on Annapolis Royal and the events at Grande Pre in the decade prior to the expulsion relieve Lawrence of much of his culpability. Taken together, these divergent viewpoints suggest that the expulsion can be blamed on the conflict between the Acadians’ refusal to sign the oath of allegiance, Britain’s imperial ambitions, and Lawrence’s individual ambitions. In other words, Lawrence sought to advance his career by advancing the interests of Britain, which included the transformation of Nova Scotia into a productive North American territory. The Acadians’ refusal to sign the oath of allegiance coupled with the problems created by France and some Acadian locals provided Lawrence with enough reason to conclude that the Acadian population would be an obstacle to his project. While it is likely that Griffiths is correct in arguing that the fall of Beausejour represented an opportunity rather than a reason for Lawrence to expel the Acadians, Griffiths is wrong to attribute the policy solely to Lawrence’s personal ambition. Rather, the expulsion of the Acadians was the result of a conflict between personal ambition, imperial interests, and the Acadians’ false sense of independence.

In attempting to preserve their way of life, the Acadians ensured that their occupiers viewed them as incorrigible obstacles. While modern standards might state that the displacement of an entire ethno-linguistic group is unjustifiable, the expulsion of the Acadians was arguably justified by eighteenth century standards.