Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Papineau, Louis Joseph

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PAPINEAU, LOUIS JOSEPH (1786–1871), Canadian rebel, came of a French family which emigrated to Canada towards the end of the seventeenth century. He was born in Montreal on 7 Oct. 1786, his father, Joseph Papineau (d. 1831), a notary, being a member of the first legislative assembly for Lower Canada, established in 1791. Papineau was educated at the seminary of Quebec, and on leaving college he began to read for the bar. While still a law student he acquired a great reputation among the French Canadians for his oratorical talents and opposition to the existing political system. In 1809 he was elected to the legislative assembly of Lower Canada for the county of Kent. In 1811, however, he elected to sit for the west ward of the city of Montreal. He was called to the bar in 1811, but was too much devoted to politics to practice as an advocate. He opposed the war with America in 1812, but, when it became inevitable, he entered the militia and served through the campaign of that year. He commanded the company which guarded the American prisoners taken at Detroit. In 1815 Papineau was appointed speaker of the legislative assembly of Lower Canada. He held this office, at a salary of 1,000l. a year, till 1837. From the beginning of his career he was looked on as the head of the French Canadian party. The English government tried to gain him over, and in 1820 Lord Dalhousie, the governor of Lower Canada, offered him a seat on the executive council. Papineau at first accepted, but, finding that there was no chance of his advice being ever taken, immediately resigned. In 1823 he visited Europe, in company with John Neilson (1776–1848) [q. v.], to protest, in the name of the French Canadians, against the proposed union of Upper and Lower Canada. His mission was successful, and he returned in 1823. In 1827 Papineau's hostility to the executive government had become so marked that Lord Dalhousie refused to accept him as speaker. The assembly, however, insisted on their choice, and Dalhousie resigned. The French Canadian party, who enjoyed a large majority in the legislative assembly, strongly desired to obtain control over certain duties imposed in 1774, and certain hereditary profits obtained by the crown from the sale of public lands. In 1831 the British parliament surrendered the former. They resolved to retain the latter, on which the French Canadians demanded that the legislative council of Lower Canada, then nominated by the governor, should be made elective. This being refused by the home government, the legislative assembly of Lower Canada retaliated by refusing supplies. Papineau eagerly joined in the cry for an elective council. In November 1835 he held a conference at Quebec with William Lyon Mackenzie [q. v.], the head of the Upper Canadian reformers, and made arrangements for regular correspondence and co-operation between the advanced parties in each province. In 1835 the English government had sent out a commission, presided over by Lord Gosford, the new governor of Lower Canada, to examine into the grievances of the colonists. The commissioners were distrusted, and the legislative assembly of Lower Canada refused to grant supplies or discuss any compromise. At length, in March 1837, the English government finally declared an elective upper house to be impossible, and authorised the governor of Lower Canada to pay the expenses of his government, now greatly in arrear, out of the public money in his hands. The news of this decision brought matters in Lower Canada to a crisis. In June 1837 Lord Gosford issued a proclamation warning the people against agitators. Papineau answered this by making a progress through the province, denouncing the government in violent speeches. On 18 Aug. 1837 the Lower Canadian legislature assembled. On its refusal to grant supplies, the assembly was at once prorogued. Papineau was now deprived of his captaincy in the militia. He still continued his attacks on the government, and on 23 Oct. 1837 attended, in company with Dr. Wolfred Nelson [q. v.], the celebrated meeting of delegates from ‘the six counties’ of Lower Canada, held at St. Charles, where armed rebellion was finally decided on. Papineau, however, whose talents were little fitted for decisive action, seems at this point to have grown suddenly pacific. He began to suggest, instead of an appeal to arms, some form of negotiation, accompanied by a threat to give up the use of British manufactures. His colleague, Dr. Nelson, however, carried the people with him, and rebellion was resolved upon. Warrants for the arrest of Papineau and Nelson on a charge of high treason were now issued. But Papineau, instead of joining Nelson and the other rebels at St. Denis, fled across the frontier to United States territory. His apparent pusillanimity brought upon him a storm of derision from English writers (e.g. footnote in Bell's translation of Garneau's Histoire de Canada; and see discussion of the point in a pamphlet published in 1848 at Montreal, Papineau et Nelson, Blanc et Noir).

During the whole of the Canadian rebellion Papineau remained on American soil, a proclamation having been issued in June 1838 by the new high commissioner, Lord Durham, threatening him with death if he returned to Canada. This proclamation was rescinded by the home government the same year. Papineau tried vainly to bring about American intervention in the Canadian struggle. In 1839 he made his way to Paris, where he remained till 1847. An amnesty was now issued for all concerned in the Canadian troubles, and Papineau returned to Canada. He entered the lower house of the now united Canadian legislature, and remained there till 1854. He succeeded in obtaining a grant of 4,500l., arrears of his salary as speaker. During his latter years he advocated the revival of the old system of division into Upper and Lower Canada, but with no effect. In 1854 he retired into private life. He died at his residence of Montebello on 2 April 1871.

[David's Vie de Papineau; Lindsey's Life of William Lyon Mackenzie; Morgan's Sketches of Celebrated Canadians; Rose's Cyclopædia of Canadian Biography; Histories of Canada by Bryce, Garneau; and Withrow; Canadian Parl. Reports; English Parl. Reports; Ann. Reg. 1836–7; see also Spencer Walpole's Hist. of England, iii. 413–28.]

G. P. M-y.