Neilson, John (1776-1848) (DNB00)

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NEILSON, JOHN (1776–1848), Canadian journalist, born at Balmaghie, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, 17 July, 1776, was sent to Canada in 1790, and placed under the care of his elder brother, Samuel Neilson, then resident in Quebec, and editor of the ‘Quebec Gazette.’ Samuel Neilson died in 1793, and in 1796 John Neilson became editor of the paper. The ‘Quebec Gazette,’ published both in English and French, had a wide circulation. John Neilson, though really of conservative views, vigorously championed the cause of the French Canadians, and in 1818 he was elected member of the assembly of Lower Canada for the county of Quebec. He held his seat for fifteen consecutive years. He assumed the attitude of an independent member, paid great attention to agriculture and education, and, in order to have his hands completely free, ceased to edit the ‘Quebec Gazette,’ which enjoyed the privilege of publishing public advertisements. In 1823 he was sent, with other delegates, from Lower Canada to England, to protest against the proposed union of Upper and Lower Canada into one government. The mission was successful, and the proposal for the time withdrawn. In 1827 much dissatisfaction arose in Lower Canada, owing to gross malversation on the part of Sir John Caldwell, the receiver-general, and to the refusal of the executive to allow certain crown duties to pass into the hands of the assembly. In 1828 another mission, of which Neilson again formed a member, was sent to England to complain. Neilson carefully stated his aversion to any fundamental changes. His representations were therefore readily accepted, the crown duties being resigned, and a board of audit established to supervise public accounts. On 29 March 1830 Neilson was publicly thanked for his services by the speaker of the assembly, and in January 1831 a silver vase was presented to him by the citizens of Quebec. From this date, however, Neilson began to separate from the French Canadian party. The assembly, under the leadership of Louis Papineau [q. v.], had refused to provide funds for the government expenses, and was loudly demanding an elective upper house. Both these demands were opposed by Neilson, who declared that, as the administration had been purified, no further change was necessary. As a result he lost his seat at the general election of 1834. A constitutional association was now formed in Lower Canada, by those persons who wished to maintain the existing system. Neilson became a member of it, and in 1835 accepted the appointment of delegate to England to protest against the violent demands of the advanced party. He returned to Canada in 1836, and did his utmost to deter his fellow-countrymen from entering on the rebellion of 1837–8. On its suppression the constitution was suspended, and a special council was created for the government of the two provinces by the high commissioner, Lord Durham, a seat thereon being given to Neilson. Neilson, true to his old principles, bitterly opposed the reunion of the two provinces. He thus regained some of his old popularity with the French party, and in 1841 he was elected to the united legislature for his former seat of the county of Quebec. He had now become a strong conservative, and resolutely opposed the demand for responsible government, promoted mainly by the inhabitants of Upper Canada. In 1844 he was made speaker of the assembly. In October 1847 he headed a deputation of citizens of Quebec, and read a long address to the governor, Lord Elgin. A chill caught on this occasion settled on his lungs. He died on 1 Feb. 1848, and was buried in the cemetery attached to the presbyterian church at Valcartier, near Quebec.

[Morgan's Lives of Celebrated Canadians; Histories of Canada, by Garneau and Withrow; Canadian Parliamentary Reports; English Parliamentary Reports.]

G. P. M-y.