New France was administered as a French
province. Office holders were appointed by the King and
dismissed if they did not perform to the King’s satisfaction.
The chief colonial officer was the governor-general, based in Quebec.
He was a military man and a member of the noblesse d’épée and
was responsible for
law and order and military forces. There were also local governors in Montreal, Trois-Rivieres, and Acadia. New France had a substantial
The Intendant was the chief provincial administrator,
responsible for finance, economic development, justice, civil
administration. He often was a member of the noblesse de robe.
An effort was made
to bring bureaucratic efficiency and centralized control to
distant provinces. The intendant was seconded by a large
administration was completed by the Sovereign Council, an appointed body modeled on the provincial
parliaments of France. The Council was made up of the governor,
the intendant and the bishop, an attorney-general (a member of
the Paris Bar) and 5 other councilors (12 after 1703) chosen
among the seigneurs or prominent citizens The Council served as
the court of appeal for criminal and civil cases It also had an
administrative purpose to regulate commerce and enforce the
King’s edicts in the colony.
The political system was conservative, with
power exercised by a social elite. There was no notion of an authority
emanating from the people. Yet the habitants were encouraged to report
problems to their superiors and occasionally consultative
assemblies were organized to settle the concerns of the governed.
The paternalistic system of New France allowed a sympathetic response of royal authority
when special problems linked to frontier conditions occurred.
Habitants in New France were granted exceptions from the general
rules prevailing in France and spared the crushing taxation
imposed on the people of France. At the local level, the
people's leaders were the Captains of the Militia, well-respected habitants with
military experience who organized their neighbors for
self-defense and local work, and represented them in relation
with higher authority.
Louis XIV chose the Custom of Paris as law of
the colony. Royal courts were established in Quebec, Trois-Rivières,
Montreal. They dealt with both civil cases and criminal cases,
following the procedures and sentences used in Paris. Habitants
disliked harsh punishment, which set them apart from the general
European enthusiasm for public punishment (for example,
carpenters in New France refused to build pillories or gallows).
This was due to the strong sense of community born from the small
number of immigrants and shared frontier experience.