Open main menu

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Papineau, Louis Joseph

< 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica

PAPINEAU, LOUIS JOSEPH (1786-1871), Canadian rebel and politician, son of Joseph Papineau, royal notary and member of the house of Assembly of Lower Canada, was born at Montreal on the 7th of October 1786. He was educated at the seminary of Quebec, where he developed the gift of declamatory and persuasive oratory. He was called to the bar of Lower Canada on the 19th of May i8io. On the i8th of June 1808 he was elected a member of the House of Assembly of the province of Lower Canada, for the county of Kent. In 181 5 he became speaker of the house, being already recognized as the leader of the French Canadian party. At this time there were many grievances in the country which demanded redress; but each faction was more inclined to insist upon the exercise of its special rights than to fulfil its common responsibilities. In December 1820 Lord Dalhousie, governor of Lower Canada, appointed Papineau a member of the executive council; but Papineau, finding himself without real influence on the council, resigned in January 1823. In that year he went to England to protest on behalf of the French Canadians against the projected union of Upper and Lower Canada, a mission in which he was successful. Nevertheless his opposition to the government became more and more pronounced, till in 1827 Lord Dalhousie refused to confirm his appointment to the speaker ship, and resigned his governorship when the house persisted in its choice. The aim of the French Canadian opposition at this time was to obtain financial and also constitutional reforms. Matters came to a head when the legislative assembly of Lower Canada refused supplies and Papineau arranged for concerted action with William Lyon Mackenzie, the leader of the reform party in Upper Canada. In 1835 Lord Gosford, the new governor of Lower Canada, was instructed by the cabinet in London to inquire into the alleged grievances of the French Canadians. But the attitude of the opposition remained no less hostile than before, and in March 1837 the governor was authorized to reject the demand for constitutional reform and to apply public funds in his control to the purposes of government. In June a warning proclamation by the governor was answered by a series of violent speeches by Papineau, who in August was deprived of his commission in the militia.

Papineau had formerly professed a deep reverence for British institutions, and he had acquired a theoretical knowledge of the constitution, but he did not possess the qualities of a statesman, and consequently in his determination to apply the strict letter of the constitution he overlooked those elements and compensating forces and powers which through custom and usage had been incorporated in British institutions, and had given them permanence. In his earlier career he had voiced the aspirations of a section of the people at a time when it appeared to them that their national existence was threatened. In the course of time party strife became more bitter; real issues were lost sight of; and Papineau, falling in with the views of one O'Callaghan, who distrusted everything British, became an annexationist. Realizing that his cause was not advanced by persuasive eloquence, he adopted a threatening attitude which caused men of sober judgment to waver in their allegiance. These men he denounced as traitors; but a band of youthful enthusiasts encouraged their leader in his revolutionary course. The bishop of Montreal and of Quebec, and a large number of the citizens, protested, but nothing less than bloodshed would satisfy the misguided patriots. On the 23rd of October 1837 a meeting of delegates from the six counties of Lower Canada was held at St Charles, at which resistance to the government by force of arms was decided upon, and in which Papineau took part. In November preparations were made for a general stampede at Montreal, and on the 7th of the month Papineau's house was sacked and a fight took place between the " constitutionals " and the " sons of liberty." Towards the middle of November Colonel Gore was commanded to effect the arrest of Papineau and his principal adherents on a charge of high treason. A few hundred armed men had assembled at Saint Denis to resist the troops, and early on the morning of the 22nd of November hostilities commenced, which were maintained for several hours and resulted in many casualties. On the eve of the fray Papineau sought safety in flight, followed by the leading spirits of the movement. On the 1st of December 1837 a proclamation was issued, declaring Papineau a rebel, and placing a price upon his head. He had found shelter in the United States, where he remained in safety throughout the whole period of the fighting. The rebellion broke out afresh in the autumn of 1838, but it was soon repressed. Those taken in open rebellion were deported by Lord Durham to save them from the scaffold; and although 90 were condemned to death only 12 were executed.

Attempts have been made to transfer the responsibility for the act of violence to O'Callaghan and other prominent leaders in the revolt; but Papineau's own words, " The patriots of this city would have avenged the massacre but they were so poor and so badly organized that they were not fit to meet the regular troops, " prove that he did not discountenance recourse to arms. Writing of the events of 1837 in the year 1848 he said: " The smallest success at Montreal or Toronto would have induced the American government, in spite of its president, to support the movement." It would thus seem that he was intriguing to bring about intervention by the United States with a view to annexation; and as the independence of the French Canadian race, which he professed to desire, could not have been achieved under the constitution of the American republic, it is inconsistent to regard his services to his fellow-countrymen as those of a true patriot. Papineau, in pursuing towards the end a policy of blind passion, overlooked real grievances, and prevented remedial action. After the rebellion relief was accorded because the obstacle was removed, and it is evident that a broad-minded statesman, or a skilful diplomat, would have accomphshed more for French Canada than the fiery eloquence and dubious methods of a leader who plunged his followers into the throes of war, and deserted them at the suprerne moment. From 1839 till 1847 Papineau lived in Paris. In the latter year an amnesty was granted to those who had participated in the rebellion in Canada; and, although in June 1838 Lord Durham had issued a proclamation threatening Papineau with death if he returned to Canada, he was now admitted to the benefit of the amnesty. On his return to Canada, when the two provinces were now united, he became a member of the lower house and continued to take part in public life, demanding " the independence of Canada, for the Canadians need never expect justice from England, and to submit to her would be an eternal disgrace." He unsuccessfully agitated for the re-division of upper and lower Canada, and in 1854 retired into private life. He died at MontebeDo, in the province of Quebec, on the 24th of September 1871.

See L. O. David, Les Deux Papineau; Fcnnings Taylor, Louis Joseph Papineau (Montreal, 1865); Alfred Dc Celles, Papineau-Cartier (Toronto, 1906); H. J. Morgan, Sketches of Celebrated Canadians (Quebec, 1862); Rose's Cyclopaedia of Canadian Biography Annual Register, 1 836-1 837; Sir Spencer Walpole, History of England (5 vols., London, 1878-1886), vol. iii. (A. G. D.)