Stuart, James (1780-1853) (DNB00)

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STUART, Sir JAMES (1780–1853), chief justice of Canada, third son of John Stuart, rector of Kingston, Ontario, and Jane, daughter of George Okill of Philadelphia, who had emigrated from Liverpool, was born on 4 March 1780 at Fort Hunter, in what is now New York State, where his father was curate. At the close of the war of independence his father removed to Canada, where Stuart was educated, first at Schenectady, then at King's College, Windsor, Nova Scotia. In 1794 he entered the office of Reid, the prothonotary of the court of king's bench at Montreal, to study for the law; in 1798 he removed to Quebec, and became a pupil of Jonathan Sewell [q. v.], who was then attorney-general of Lower Canada. In 1800 he was made by Sir Robert Shore Milnes assistant-secretary to the government of Lower Canada, and, shortly after his call to the bar, on 28 March 1801, solicitor-general for the province, whereupon he returned to Montreal.

In 1808 Stuart entered the House of Assembly as member for Montreal. In consequence of a disagreement with the governor, Sir James Henry Craig [q. v.], and the slight which he suffered in being passed over for the post of attorney-general, he joined the opposition. In 1809 he was compelled to resign the solicitor-generalship. He then devoted himself exclusively, and with great success, to private practice and to politics. During the administration of Sir George Prevost (1767–1816) [q. v.] he constantly opposed the government. The most prominent incident of this period of his career was the motion in the assembly for an inquiry into the administration of the law courts, first in 1812 and again in 1814, leading up to the impeachment for improper practices of the chief justices, Jonathan Sewell and Monk. Stuart pursued this matter with such relentless vigour as to alienate his best friends and to cause his retirement from the house and from public life for several years (1817).

In December 1822 Stuart was once more brought to the front by the movement for the union of Upper and Lower Canada. He drew up the petition from Montreal, and was sent to England by that city to advocate the union. In 1823 he returned to Canada, and again in 1824 visited England on the same errand. He attracted Lord Bathurst's attention, and on 2 Feb. 1825, on a vacancy occurring in the office, he was appointed attorney-general for Lower Canada. On 1825 he was elected to the assembly as member for William Henry or Sorel, but against his own desire, for he felt that his influence in the assembly had gone. When in January 1828, on the dissolution of parliament, there was a new election, he was beaten by Dr. Wolfred Nelson, and had to find a fresh seat; further, the contest with Nelson led to recriminations, and eventually, in 1831, to his impeachment by the House of Assembly, resulting in March 1831 in his suspension from office by Lord Aylmer. The chief ground of the impeachment was an improper use of his position as attorney-general and corruption in regard to elections (Christie, iii. 479 seq.). On the matter being referred to Lord Goderich, the secretary of state, Stuart's defence on these counts was deemed conclusive; but, on a ground which had not been raised—the question of the right to take certain fees—his suspension was confirmed on 20 Nov. 1832. Lord Goderich's action was generally condemned. After nearly two years further spent in England in the hope of obtaining justice, and after declining the offer of the chief justiceship of Newfoundland in May 1833, Stuart in 1834 returned to Canada and resumed his practice at Quebec, with a success which was proof of general confidence.

In the political storm which was gathering during the ensuing years Stuart took no part; but Lord Durham, before closing his temporary administration of Lower Canada, on 20 Oct. 1838 appointed him chief justice of Lower Canada, in succession to his old master, Sewell, indicating in his despatch to the home government that any other choice would be an act of injustice. In his new post Stuart at once took an active part in affairs; he was one of Lord Sydenham's chief advisers in framing the act of union, and was made chairman of the special council which preceded the new régime. He prepared the judicature and registry ordinances passed prior to the union act, and subsequently promoted the grant of corporations to Quebec and Montreal, and the institution of municipalities throughout the province. For these services he was created a baronet on 5 May 1841. He had been created D.C.L. by Oxford University on 15 June 1825.

On the union of the two Canadas, Stuart became chief justice of Canada (10 Feb. 1841). He was a profound lawyer, and for the rest of his career he devoted himself to his judicial duties, dying somewhat suddenly at Quebec on 14 July 1853.

Stuart married, on 17 March 1818, Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Robertson of Montreal, and left three sons, the eldest of whom, Charles James, succeeded to his title, and one daughter.

[Christie's Hist. of Lower Canada, especially v. 366; Morgan's Sketches of Celebrated Canadians; Rogers's Hist. of Canada, i. 254, 326–7; Lodge's Peerage and Baronetage.]

C. A. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.261
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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