Thursday, 27 January 2011

Quebec or Montreal: tensions within French Canadian nationalism?

The Patriote movement had its origins in the decade after the Constitutional Act of 1791 and during the mid- to late-1790s a loose opposition group of Canadien deputies challenged, largely unsuccessfully, the policies of the executive from their dominant position in the assembly. This oppositional group cannot be called a Parti Canadien but it was responsible for moving Lower Canada towards one based on ethnic politics. It was not until the first decade of the nineteenth century that Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, a deputy for Quebec gave real cohesion to the Canadien deputies. It was he who formed the Parti Canadien, which later became the Parti Patriote and in 1806 founded Le Canadien, the first reformist and French language newspaper in the province, to put forward its political ideas and to counter the views of the hostile anglophone newspapers. The reformist ideology of the Parti Canadien led to conflict between the assembly and the executive especially during the governorship of James Craig between 1807 and 1811. In 1812, Bédard was appointed a judge in Trois-Rivières and the question of his succession created deep divisions within the Parti Canadien that were to persist until and beyond the rebellion in 1837.

Elected at a by-election in Montreal in December 1811, James Stuart, a British deputy, was the first to replace Bédard as leader of the Parti Canadien in the assembly. At the same time, the deputies of Quebec and Montreal were working behind the scenes to appoint a permanent successor. The problem was that

Bédard was intimately associated with the city of Quebec for which he was a deputy…and the caucus in Quebec believed that it was the natural heir over the direction of the Parti. [1]

Moreover, almost all the candidates who wanted to succeed Bédard came from the city of Quebec; only Louis-Joseph Papineau came from Montreal. [2] From 1815 to 1827, all Papineau’s rivals were neutralised one after another. His strong personality and eloquence in the assembly allowed him to establish himself as the real leader of the Parti and he proved capable of uniting most reformist forces in Lower Canada.

Louis-Joseph Papineau was launched into politics when he was only twenty-two when he decided to follow in the footsteps of his politically influential father Joseph. His entry into the political arena was certainly helped by his father’s reputation. He was elected for the county of Kent, a district of Montreal in 1809 and during the constitutional crisis precipitated in 1810-1811 he became an influential member of the Parti Canadien. [3] He took part in the War of 1812 as a militia captain and this enhanced his political reputation. His father’s retirement, after than of Pierre Bédard thrust him into the upper ranks of the Parti. At the end of the war in 1815, the deputies needed to elect a new speaker for the assembly after the nomination of Jean-Antoine Panet to the Legislative Council. They chose the thirty-year-old Papineau. It was the critical tuning-point in his career and gave him the opportunity of increasing his influence within the party and by 1818 Papineau increasingly dominated the assembly. He was already appearing as the real successor to Bédard. Such was his dominance over his colleagues that in 1820 he was nominated as a member of the Executive Council, a move he was able to head off.

The election of Papineau as Speaker marked a major change in the direction of the Parti Canadien. Ouellet suggested that

Until 1815, the leadership of the Parti Canadien and also of reformist ideas was concentrated in Quebec. However, with the election of Louis-Joseph Papineau to the post of Speaker of the assembly and president of the Parti, leadership progressively gravitated towards Montreal. [4]

It was certainly at this time that the more radical influence of Montreal began to increase while the more moderate position of the capital declined. This was a pivotal time for Papineau’s career and that of the Parti Canadien. Several deputies from Quebec supported Taschereau rather than Papineau for the post of speaker and in general several French-speaking deputies, especially those from the Quebec area either would not support Papineau or only supported him half-heartedly. One problem was that Papineau assumed two functions after 1815. Unlike Panet who acted simply as speaker, Papineau was also head of the Parti Canadien. Taschereau, Blanchet, Borgia and Bourdages found it difficult to accept his election but he had the support of the deputies from Montreal and a certain number from Quebec.

Despite the rivalries that plagued the Parti Canadien, Papineau’s authority continued to grow with the ever increasing concentration of problems in the Montreal region. A little after his election, a group was formed in Quebec with the intention of ousting him in 1820. The following year, Bourdages, Blanchet and Cuvillier proposed a law for paying deputies that Papineau opposed. In 1823, when Papineau was in England to counter attempts to unify the two Canadas, the abbé Jérôme Demers from Quebec urged the deputies to remove him from office and reassert their control over the Parti Canadien.[5] On his return he had some difficulty in resuming his position as speaker of the assembly that Joseph-Rémi Vallières de Saint-Réal had occupied during his absence. [6] Vallières de Saint-Réal initially refused to give up the post in 1824 but the following year Papineau was re-elected by thirty-two votes to Vallière’s twelve. The rift between Papineau and Vallière personified the divisions between the deputies from the Montreal area and those from Quebec

In 1826, Papineau lost two key supporters, Moquin and de Planté, who had exercised considerable influence on the Quebec deputies. In the same year, Papineau reorganised the Parti Canadien and it became the Parti Patriote. Not only did this reinforce its regional and local bases, while remaining primarily a Montreal party in which the Papineaus, Vigers, and Cherriers enjoyed great influence, but it also acquired the newspaper La Minerve, edited by Ludger Duvernay. If Papineau believed that this would end the rivalry between Montreal and Quebec, he was sadly mistaken.[7] In 1827 and again two years later, Joseph-Rémi Vallières de Saint-Réal, with support from Quebec, sought to seize the post of speaker from Papineau. In a further example of the rivalry, the Quebec deputies refused to sign a petition that originated in Montreal denouncing the refusal of Dalhousie to accepted Papineau as speaker. Vallière and the other deputies from Quebec were prepared to sign a petition but they thought its wording was too critical and proposed an alternative. Papineau resigned himself to the double petition but thought the Quebecois too soft and was highly critical of their hesitant approach.

More important in this period for the Parti Patriote was the growing rift between Papineau and John Neilson, the owner of the Quebec Gazette. [8] From 1828, Neilson moved inexorably away from Papineau. Neilson was a liberal and supported both political reform and defended the principle of racial equality but refused to accept democratic ideas purely on nationalist grounds. In 1833, Neilson, supported by several deputies became a resolute opponent of his old friend. The rift with Neilson deprived the Parti Patriote of its more thoughtful elements and further divided the reformers of Quebec and Montreal. In 1834, the deputies from Quebec blocked Papineau’s strategy in the assembly by refusing to boycott the session. Their attitude placed a major obstacle in Papineau’s desire to put pressure on the executive and Ouellet argues with some justification that as a result of the unwillingness of the Quebec deputies to follow Papineau’s approach, they precipitated the production of the Ninety-Two Resolutions.[9] The following year, they attempted to unseat Papineau by proposing that he went to London to defend the assembly’s case

This was clearly an attempt to remove Papineau from Lower Canada to allow the more moderate deputies to take control of the party; an approach had been previously attempted when Papineau was in London in 1823. [10]

In 1836, the deputies once more tried unsuccessfully to remove Papineau as leader of the Parti Patriote. The antagonism between Quebec and Montreal continued and had an impact on the stability of the Parti Patriote throughout the rebellion. Although the tensions between Quebec and Montreal were highly personal and explain why support for the 1837 rebellion in Quebec was so insignificant, they reflected differences in strategy between those who sought change through a moderate approach and Papineau’s desire to confront the executive. However, there was also a conflict, largely concealed in the 1820s, between those such as Papineau who wished to change the political system without interfering with social structures and an active if small minority seeking political and social revolution.


[1] Ibid, Laporte Gilles, Patriotes et Loyaux, p. 88.

[2] Important biographical works on Papineau include: David, L.O., Les deux Papineau, (E. Sénécal et fils), 1896, Decelles, A. D., Louis-Joseph Papineau, (Morang), 1912, Ouellet, Fernand, ‘Louis-Joseph Papineau (1786-1871)’, Éléments d`histoire sociale du Bas-Canada, (Hurtibise HMH), 1972, pp. 319-350, Rumilly, Robert, Papineau et son temps, 2 Vols. (Fides), 1977 and Papineau, Nadeau, Louis-Joseph Papineau, (Lidec), 1994.

[3] In the course of his political career, Papineau represented the counties of Montreal West (1814-1838), Surrey (1827-1828), Montreal (1834-1835), Saint-Maurice (1848-1851) and Deux-Montagnes (1852-1854).

[4] Ouellet, Fernand, ‘Papineau et la rivalité Québec-Montréal’, Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, Vol. 13, (1959), p. 319.

[5] ‘Jérôme Demers’, DCB, Vol. 8, pp. 210-215.

[6] ‘Joseph-Rémi Vallières de Saint-Réal’, DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 876-882.

[7] Ibid, Ouellet, Fernand, ‘Papineau et la rivalité Québec-Montréal’, p. 321.

[8] ‘John Neilson’, DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 644-649.

[9] Ibid, Ouellet, Fernand, ‘Papineau et la rivalité Québec-Montréal’, pp. 323-324.

[10] Ibid, Laporte, Gilles, Patriotes et Loyaux. Leadership régional et mobilisation politique en 1837 et 1838, p. 93.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks helped me with my history assignment.