Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Patriote Party


he 1791 Constitution and the advent of parliamentarism in Lower Canada led inexorably to the formation of political groupings. During the latter part of the 1790s and the first decade of the nineteenth century, the politics of the colony took an increasingly ethnic stance and the cohort of francophone deputies were quickly seen as the Parti canadien. However, Gérald Bernier thinks that the term ‘parti’ appears exaggerated in the context of the political strategies of Pierre Bédard and his supporters.[1] After 1827, the term Parti Patriote was more appropriate and this group had the necessary characteristics to be seen as a ‘parti’ in the modern sense of the term defined by La Palombara. [2] It had a structure and complex organisation that was permanent, had developed a political programme, had an ideology to which its members subscribed and showed a willingness to achieve political power through democratic processes.[3] Between the elections of 1827 and the rebellions ten years later, the Parti Patriote evolved structurally and ideologically based upon increasing radicalism. It also, as a result of the nature of events, moved towards a position where it crossed the boundary between legality and illegality.

The first meeting on 11 July 1827 at Julien Perrault’s house brought together the French Canadian leaders in the Legislative Assembly who decided which candidates would be nominated for the elections.[4] This type of gathering, more or less formal, gave the stimulus to the formation of a complex organisation designed to appeal to two constituencies: first, to Lower Canadians; and secondly, to support beyond the colony especially in Britain and other Canadian colonies but later also in the United States. In the first case, 1834 or more accurately the assembly at Saint-Marc in January with its decision to establish a permanent structure, marked a turning-point.[5]

La nouveauté consiste dans la création de comités de paroisse et de comités de comté élus pour deux ans avec des mandats généraux et non plus limités.[6]

Hitherto, these regional committees had only prepared petitions and offered support to the French Canadian majority in the Assembly.

The creation of the Comité central et permanent for the Montreal District on 16 May 1834 represented a level of centralised coordination that increasingly came to the fore in Patriote organisation. [7] It was composed of delegates from the twenty-two comtés in the district of Montreal, perhaps half of the comtés in Lower Canada.[8] Most members of the comité were also Patriote deputies: in 1834, E.B. O’Callaghan (Yamaska) and C.-O. Perrault (Vaudreuil) were secretaries and Robert Nelson (Montréal-Ouest) president.[9] The comité had three main functions: developing political positions on important issues; preparing files of information for the Assembly; and, writing resolutions for the comités de comté.[10] Tasks were divided between various sub-committees charged, for example, with propaganda and correspondence. The Lower Canadian structure of the Parti Patriote also consisted of what Bernier called ‘les structures d’encadrement spécialisées’, institutions that focussed on particular groups.[11] The Association des Fils de la Liberté, for example, was initially established with the aim of bringing the Patriote political ideology to the young. There is no doubting the importance of the Patriote press and newspapers such as The Vindicator, La Minerve, Le Canadien and L’Écho du Pays, were responsible for spreading Patriote ideas and informing people about activities and through this helped consolidate the Parti.[12]

In addition to establishing a Lower Canadian Patriote structure, the Parti also sought external support from within other Canadian colonies but also in the international arena. Alliances were forged between Patriote deputies and reformers in the Maritimes such as Joseph Howe and John Carson and in Upper Canada with reformers such as John Rolph. Contacts with Britain were regular and deputies were sent on missions to London. In 1822, Papineau and Neilson went there but it was Denis-Benjamin Viger[13] who officially became the delegated agent in the metropolis.[14] On his return in 1834, John Arthur Roebuck, an English MP, became the agent for the Parti in London. This association confirmed the union of the Patriote cause with British radicals in their fight against aristocratic power.

The organisation of the Parti Patriote rested on effective leadership and a strong electoral base. The membership of the Parti, though the majority from the petite bourgeoisie, also included some entrepreneurs and artisans. However, electoral support came from most habitants and French speakers.[15] Nevertheless, Bernier showed that some of the Patriote supporters were anglophones, had crossed ethnic divisions and that socio-economic factors played an important part in this situation.[16] This was evident, for example in the committee of Irish electors during the 1834 elections in the west quarter of Montreal.[17] On 14 October, the committee ‘met and, in the name of Irish voters in the district, said it was prepared to support any liberal reformer in the next election’. It supported the Patriotes because of the Ninety-Two Resolutions since it denounced the corruptions and intrigues of the British American Land Company. [18] On 17 November, Papineau and Robert Nelson were elected for the constituency.[19]

The organisation of the Parti Patriote may have evolved between 1827 and 1837 but 1834 was the pivotal year in terms of its political programme. The precise nature of this programme may be difficult to pin down largely because of the diversity of discourse and divisions in the movement. However, in one form or another, Patriotes called for democratic rights, for a liberal economy and political system but especially for the reform of parliamentary institutions. The problem they faced was that, although they controlled the Legislative Assembly, its decisions could be blocked by the unelected Legislative and Executive Councils and, in extreme cases, by the Governor who could dissolve the Assembly and call for new elections. For loyalists and especially Patriotes the existing constitutional arrangements simply did not work and needed to be reformed. Initially, the critical question was what form this should take but, especially after 1834, it was linked to whether reform within the colonial system was now possible and whether the alternative solution of separation should be seriously considered.

The 1827 election was largely fought over the question of subsidies. Lord Dalhousie, furious at the inflexibility of the deputies on the votes on subsidies, had dissolved the Assembly on 5 July. Control of the budget by the representatives of the people became the touchstone of the election campaign with candidates denouncing the corruption of officials. [20] The election saw a sweeping Patriote victory reducing their opponents from nine to four seats. [21] This consolidated Papineau’s leadership over the Parti and his dominance over the Assembly as Speaker. In the following election in 1830, the question of electing members of the Legislative Council replaced the issue of subsidies. This strategy involved extending the elective principle to all levels where political power was exerted.[22] The next four years culminated in a split within Papineau’s party over the Ninety-Two Resolutions that marked a new phase in the growing radicalism of the Patriotes. Calls for an increase in the powers of the Assembly, the strident denunciation of corruption and calls for rights for French Canadians were expressed in a far more forceful tone and this alienated some moderate Patriote deputies. The disagreement within the Parti Patriote was less about the demands being put forward but about the ways Papineau and his supporters sought to achieve their goals. In the elections of October 1834, the deputies were divided into those who supported the Resolution and those opposed to them. The result was an emphatic victory for Papineau and his supporters. The Parti Patriote took 77 of the 88 seats and most of the dissident deputies such as Neilson were defeated. From this point, the radical wing of the Parti, which increasingly gained the support of the masses, faced a group of moderates led by Elzéar Bédard, largely from the Quebec region.[23]

The emergence of a campaign of popular assemblies followed the debate on the Ninety-Two Resolutions and represented a change in strategy that Lamonde sees as ‘extra-parliamentary’

...the chamber of the Assembly hereafter met with its electorate and the phenomenon was sufficiently popular than it felt justified in ignoring the law.[24]

The rejection of the Ninety-Two Resolutions in March 1837 led to a series of events that inexorably lurched towards armed confrontation. The Manifesto of Saint-Ours on 7 May 1837 was an appeal to the people that broke with the previous legal claims made by Patriotes by announcing a boycott of British goods. The radicals took a further step towards illegality with the Manifesto of the Fils de la Liberté (4 October 1837) that called the entire colonial system into question. The Assemblée des six comtés at Saint-Charles on 23 October marked an important stage in the new strategy of the Parti Patriote when there were calls to arms and collections to buy weapons and ammunition.[25] Especially important, however, was its decision to call a national convention that could have been charged with declaring independence and setting up a provisional government. Finally, in February 1838, the Declaration of Independence of Lower Canada that went much further in calling for secularising the state and abolishing seigneurial tenure. This cannot be attributed to the Parti Patriote that had effectively ceased to operate the previous autumn when, on 16 November 1837, twenty-six warrants were issued for the arrest of its principal leaders including Papineau.

[1] Bernier, Gerald, ‘Le parti patriote (1827-1838)’, in Limieux, Vincent, (ed.), Personnel et partis politiques au Quebec: Aspects historiques, (Boreal), 1982, p. 209.

[2] La Palombara, Joseph, Political parties and political development, (Princeton University Press), 1966, p. 6.

[3] Ibid, Bernier, Gerald, ‘Le parti patriote (1827-1838)’, p. 208.

[4] Ibid, Lacoursière, Jacques, Histoire populaire du Québec 1841-1846, p. 233.

[5] Bernard, Philippe, Amury Girod. Un Suisse chez les Patriotes du Bas-Canada, (Québec): Septentrion), 2001, p. 81.

[6] Ibid, Bernard, Philippe, Amury Girod. Un Suisse chez les Patriotes du Bas-Canada, p. 83.

[7] Ibid, Muzzo, Johanne, Les mouvements réformiste et constitutionnel à Montréal, 1834-1837, p. 40.

[8] Ibid, Bernard, Philippe, Amury Girod. Un Suisse chez les Patriotes du Bas-Canada, p. 87.

[9] Ibid, Bernard, Philippe, Amury Girod. Un Suisse chez les Patriotes du Bas-Canada, p. 87.

[10] Ibid, Bernard, Philippe, Amury Girod. Un Suisse chez les Patriotes du Bas-Canada, p. 88.

[11] Ibid, Bernier, Gerald, ‘Le parti patriote (1827-1838)’, p. 212.

[12] Ibid, Bernier, Gerald, ‘Le parti patriote (1827-1838)’, p. 212.

[13] ‘Denis-Benjamin Viger’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 807-817.

[14] Ibid, Lacoursière, Jacques, Histoire populaire du Québec 1841-1846, p. 257.

[15] Ibid, Bernier, Gerald, ‘Le parti patriote (1827-1838)’, pp. 213-214.

[16] Ibid, Bernier, Gerald, ‘Le parti patriote (1827-1838)’, p. 213.

[17] Galarneau, France, ‘L’élection partielle du quarter-ouest de Montréal en 1834: analyse politico-sociale’, Revue d’Histoire de l’Amerique Française, Vol. 32, (1979), pp. 565-584.

[18] Ibid, Muzzo, Johanne, Les mouvements réformiste et constitutionnel à Montréal, 1834-1837, p. 55.

[19] Ibid, Muzzo, Johanne, Les mouvements réformiste et constitutionnel à Montréal, 1834-1837, p. 90.

[20] Ibid, Lamonde, Yvan, Histoire sociale des idées au Québec (1760-1896), Vol. 1, p. 100.

[21] Ibid, Ouellet, Fernand, Le Bas-Canada 1791-1840: Changements structuraux et crise, p. 324.

[22] Ibid, Ouellet, Fernand, Le Bas-Canada 1791-1840: Changements structuraux et crise, p. 326.

[23] In fact the opposition of Papineau in Quebec had its origins in the 1810s and there had been several unsuccessful attempts by Quebec deputies to remove him as leader of the Parti.

[24] Ibid, Lamonde, Yvan, Histoire sociale des idées au Québec (1760-1896), Vol. 1, p. 230

[25] Ibid, Ouellet, Fernand, Le Bas-Canada 1791-1840: Changements structuraux et crise, p. 446.

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