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MORGANN, MAURICE, office holder; b. 1726 in London, England; d. 28 March 1802 in Knightsbridge (London).

Maurice Morgann arrived at Quebec on 22 Aug. 1768 charged with helping to prepare a report on the administration of justice in the province. Since the Royal Proclamation of 7 Oct. 1763, utter confusion had reigned in the courts. On the one hand Chief Justice William Gregory and Attorney General George Suckling*, who drafted the ordinance of 17 Sept. 1764 setting up the judicial organization of the province, maintained that the proclamation introduced English law, and the report of the Board of Trade on 2 Sept. 1765 indirectly followed the same line of argument. On the other hand, in Great Britain Attorney General Charles Yorke and Solicitor General William de Grey asserted in their report of 14 April 1766 that the proclamation had not abolished all French laws. Suckling’s successor, Francis Maseres*, in a report he presented in 1766, claimed that the proclamation could not have changed the laws of the colony, because only the parliament of Great Britain had such power. Nor could the Canadians and the British in the province of Quebec agree on the laws they wanted to see enforced, the former demanding French laws, the latter English. The Court of King’s Bench and the justices of the peace applied English laws; the Court of Common Pleas sometimes used English laws, sometimes equity (in the sense of natural justice), but most often French laws. The judicial organization was such that in civil matters, except in the case of lawsuits involving £10 or less, the plaintiff had the choice of proceeding either in a court that applied English laws or in one that usually applied French laws. With the exception of the chief justice, the judges had no legal training; justices of the peace were completely incompetent, and justice was as slow as it was costly.

On 28 Aug. 1767 the Privy Council, judging that it needed more information, ordered Lieutenant Governor Guy Carleton, Chief Justice William Hey*, and Attorney General Maseres to prepare a report on the administration of justice and to suggest reforms if necessary. It further decided to send “a fit and Proper person” to the province to deliver instructions on this matter, bring the report back to London, and be able to explain the difficulties. For this delicate mission Lord Shelburne, then secretary of state for the Southern Department, chose Morgann. On 17 Sept. 1767 he notified him of his appointment and ordered him to proceed to Quebec immediately. Morgann got on good terms with Carleton immediately but was received with suspicion by Hey and Maseres, who had difficulty accepting this representative of London – a man untrained in the law and unfamiliar with Quebec. On 31 Aug. 1768 Maseres wrote: “Mr. Morgan the legislator, as we use to call him, is come . . . . He is a well-bred agreeable man but not a lawyer; and he has a pompous way of talking that seems borrowed from the house of commons cant about the constitution, &c, without having precise Ideas of what he would say.”

In compliance with the Privy Council’s order, Maseres delivered to Carleton on 27 Feb. 1769 a report in which he recommended reform of the administration of justice and suggested four ways of removing the uncertainty about the laws, without specifying an order of preference. One of them involved putting back into force all the French laws and introducing certain English ones, a solution Maseres himself opposed, judging by his comments. Dissatisfied, Carleton rejected Maseres’s submission. Morgann fully approved of his reaction and wrote to Shelburne on 30 Aug. 1769 that the document was “extreamly defective and improper” and that it was “a strange Report.”

Carleton and Hey then asked Morgann to draw up a new plan. Morgann’s report pleased the governor, but not the chief justice, who decided to prepare one himself, arguing that it was improper for such a statement to be written by a stranger to the colony. Late in June 1769 Hey presented Carleton with his observations, which, according to Morgann, were inspired by his own but did not suggest specific reform. Finding Hey’s report unsatisfactory, Carleton concluded that he should write one himself; he in turn took his inspiration partly from Hey’s text but mostly from that of Morgann, whom he requested to provide further amplification. Carleton’s report, dated 15 Sept. 1769 and signed also by Hey, recommended a reform of the judicial system and in particular proposed the creation of a third judicial district, limitation of the competence of the Court of King’s Bench to criminal matters, and the appointment of seigneurs and militia captains as justices of the peace. It also advised that French laws be maintained except in criminal, commercial, and maritime matters. Finally it proposed that habeas corpus should be introduced and trial should be by jury not only in criminal matters but also in suits for damages. Morgann was very pleased with this report. On 30 Aug. 1769 he wrote to Shelburne that Carleton’s report did “not vary in any material Point” from his own, and he praised the governor’s qualities highly. Although Hey had signed the report, on 15 Sept. 1769 he appended to it a dissent on the question of French laws, in which he declared that he approved only of the re-establishment of those dealing with land tenure, alienation of chattels and real estate, mortgages, inheritances, marriage contracts, domestic economy, and family relationships. Maseres did not sign the report, and on 11 Sept. 1769 he too drew up a letter in which he expressed his dissent and declared his opposition to the re-establishment of French laws, except those concerning land tenure, alienation and incumbrance of landed property, mortgages, dower, and inheritances.

On 18 Sept. 1769 Carleton wrote to the secretary of state for the American Colonies, Lord Hillsborough, that he was handing over to Morgann both the report and the two letters of dissent. To these he attached summaries of the civil, criminal, and police laws in effect at the time of the conquest and the digest that François-Joseph Cugnet* had prepared of edicts, declarations, ordinances, provisions, and commissions. Carleton praised highly the assistance he had received from Morgann, who returned to Great Britain and handed over to Hillsborough the documents entrusted to him.

Morgann’s mission to Canada was a major factor in the re-establishment through the Quebec Act in 1774 of most of the French civil laws, a re-establishment doubly beneficial in that it was fairer for the population and also indicated clearly that those were the laws in force. His mission also had an influence on the reform of the administration of justice, which was effected through an ordinance of 1 Feb. 1770. At the time the judicial system was reorganized after the Quebec Act, important recommendations in Carleton’s report were implemented; this reorganization was not undertaken until 1777, because of the American invasion [see Benedict Arnold; Richard Montgomery*]. The reforms of 1770 and 1777 brought appreciable improvements to the administration of justice but a number of important problems were left unresolved.

During his stay at Quebec Morgann had drawn up a report on the church and another on revenues; they were not, however, sent to Great Britain by the governor. Morgann continued writing after his return to England. He published some essays, the most important of which, An essay on the dramatic character of Sir John Falstaff, first appeared in 1777. In it he wittily defended the bravery of Shakespeare’s famous character.

In 1782 Lord Shelburne entrusted another delicate mission to Morgann. He was made private secretary to Carleton, who on 2 March 1782 had been named commander-in-chief of the British army in North America and charged with the task of effecting a reconciliation between the American colonies and the mother country. Morgann was in New York in May 1782, and remained there until July 1783, although on 17 June 1782 he had asked to be recalled. In 1783 he was appointed secretary of the delegation sent to Versailles to ratify the peace treaty with the United States. Three years later he was still Carleton’s secretary. Morgann continued to take an interest in the issues of his day. His Considerations on the present internal and external condition of France was published anonymously in 1794, and Remarks on the slave trade, also anonymous, probably dates from this period as well. He died in Knightsbridge on 28 March 1802, having left instructions in his will that all his writings should be destroyed.

Jacques L’Heureux

Maurice Morgann is the author of An essay on the dramatic character of Sir John Falstaff (London, 1777; repr. New York, 1970; new ed., London, 1820; 1825; ed. W. A. Gill, 1912). The anonymously issued Remarks on the slave trade and Considerations on the present internal and external condition of France (n.p., 1794) are also attributed to him.

PAC, MG 23, A4, 20: 24, 37 (transcripts). A collection of several commissions, and other public instruments, proceeding from his majesty’s royal authority, and other papers, relating to the state of the province in Quebec in North America, since the conquest of it by the British arms in 1760, comp. Francis Maseres (London, 1772; repr. [East Ardsley, Eng., and New York], 1966). Doc. relatifs à lhist. constitutionnelle, 1759–1791 (Shortt et Doughty; 1921). Maseres, Maseres letters (Wallace). Rapports sur les lois de Québec, 1767–1770, W. P. M. Kennedy et Gustave Lanctot, édit. (Ottawa, 1931). British authors before 1800: a biographical dictionary, ed. S. J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft (New York, 1952). DNB. Documents of the American revolution, 1770–1783, ed. K. G. Davies (20v., Shannon, Republic of Ire., 1972). Wallace, Macmillan dict. Burt, Old prov. of Quebec (1968), 1: 137, 152–56. Neatby, Quebec. Jacques L’Heureux, “L’organisation judiciaire au Québec de 1764 à 1774,” Rev. générale de droit (Ottawa), 1 (1970): 266–331.

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Cite This Article

Jacques L’Heureux, “MORGANN, MAURICE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/morgann_maurice_5E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/morgann_maurice_5E.html
Author of Article:   Jacques L’Heureux
Title of Article:   MORGANN, MAURICE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   June 8, 2023