Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Louis-Joseph Papineau


Papineau, Louis Joseph (1786-1871), rebel, was born in Montreal on October 7, 1786, the son of Joseph Papineau and Rosalie Cherrier. He was educated at the Quebec Seminary, and was called to the bar of Lower Canada in 1811. He served as an officer in the Canadian militia during the War of 1812, and was present at the capture of Detroit . In 1814 he was elected to represent Montreal West in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada; in 1815 he was chosen speaker of the Assembly; and he sat for Montreal West continuously, and he occupied the speaker's chair almost continuously, until the rebellion of 1837-8. During this period he came to be regarded as the leader of the French-Canadian reformers or patriotes, and their chief spokesman. In 1820 Lord Dalhousie induced him to accept a seat in the executive council; but he found his advice disregarded, and soon resigned from the council. In 1822 he took a leading part in opposing the abortive union bill of that year, and went to London with John Neilson to protest against it. After this he became bitterly hostile to the British government in Canada ; and not even Lord Gosford was able to conciliate him. His policy resulted in the rebellion of 1837, though he himself took no active part in the rebellion, and fled to the United States soon after the outbreak of hostilities. He remained in the United States until 1839, vainly endeavouring to bring about American intervention in the Canadian struggle; and then he went to France. He lived in Paris until, in 1844, the Canadian government granted an amnesty to the rebels of 1837; and under the amnesty he returned to Canada. Here he reentered politics; and from 1848 to 1851 he represented Saint Maurice, and from 1852 to 1854 Deux-Montagnes, in the Legislative Assembly of Canada. But he did not regain his former commanding position in the House; and in 1854 he retired to private life, on his seigniory of La Petite Nation, on the Ottawa river. Here he died, at his manor-house of Montebello, on September 23, 1871. In 1818 he married Julie Bruneau; and by her he had several children. One of his daughters was the mother of Henri Bourassa, noted politician and publicist, and former director of Le Devoir.


Papineau's place in Canadian history is difficult to define. Though he was regarded as the leader of the patriotes for so many years before 1837, he was, as the historian Christie has pointed out, a man who followed, rather than led, public opinion. Nor were his political views enlightened. He was not an advocate of responsible government; but his solution of the difficulties of Lower Canada lay in an elective upper house. His apparent vacillation and pusillanimity at the time of the rebellion of 1837 brought much discredit on him; and in his later days he lost almost entirely his hold on his compatriots. He lent his support to the Institut Canadien, and he may be regarded as having been a sort of godfather to the Parti rouge. Herein lies, perhaps, his chief importance in Canadian history.


See A. D. DeCelles, Papineau (Montreal, 1905), and Papineau, Cartier (Toronto, 1904); E. Circé-Côté, Papineau, son influence (Montreal, 1924) ; L. O. David, Les deux Papineau (Montreal, 1896); N. Story, Papineau in exile (Can. hist. rev ., 1929), and R. Rumilly, Papineau (Paris, 1934).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. V, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 401p., pp. 84-85.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College