L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
The Parti "Rouge" is the name given to the radical (liberal) political faction that emerged in Quebec (Canada East) in the early 1850's, following the break-up of the French Canadian Block that had dominated the political scene in Quebec since the creation of the Union Act (1840).
The achievement of Responsible Government and the return of Louis-Joseph Papineau, the radical leader of the Rebellion of 1837, to Canada, had led to a dislocation of the French Canadian Block. The result was a political realignment in the province and the creation of two new political parties: the Parti bleu and the Parti rouge.
Gathered at the outset around Louis-Joseph Papineau, and later the Dorion brothers (Antoine-Aimé and Jean Baptiste Étienne), the young radicals of the Rouge Party dreamed of reforms that were derived from the European revolutions (especially those of 1848). They were also inspired by American democratic and republican ideals. They frequently were members of l'Institut Canadien, a group dedicated to free speech, democracy and other "radical" causes. They expressed their ideas through a newspaper called l'Avenir (later through Le Pays).
Strongly nationalistic, they opposed British political and monarchical forms of government and wished to annex Quebec to the United States where, it was argued, the French Canadian nationality would enjoy greater freedom to govern itself under the principle of "State Rights". This, as well as their violent anticlericalism, brought them to clash repeatedly with the Roman Catholic Church, helping to forge a deep alliance between the Church and the Bleu Party.
Among other causes they championed universal sufferage and democracy, sustained that the Governor- General, the Legislative Council and judges should be elected, supported the introduction of free trade, promoted the free circulation of newspapers, proposed that equal rights and equal justice be extended to all citizens, demanded the abolition of the seigneurial system (achieved in 1854) and of the Church tithe, as well as the repeal of the Union Act. In his program outlined in L'Avenir, Jean-Baptiste-Étienne Dorion concluded: "As long as the People will not have won politically the recognition of their inalienable rights, they will always be in the position of Helots that the few can exploit for their own gain, can lead anywhere without the people knowning why or how."
In the context of the growing influence of the Church in Quebec in the XIXth Century, and facing frequent Church intervention against the party, the influence of the Rouges progressively declined and they rarely came to power, considering, as well, that their alliance with the Clear Grits was tenuous at best. They took the Church to civil courts, charging that the Church exercised, at election time, undue influence on the electors. From the pulpits, priests would condemn the Party and threaten excommunication for those supporting it. As it was frequently said in the XIXth Century, "bleu" was the colour of heaven while "rouge" was the revolutionary colour, the colour of hell.
As time passed, and reforms in the political system were made, their radicalism declined. Wilfrid Laurier was especially important in steering the Party away from the radicalism of European liberalism to follow, instead, the more moderate course of British Liberalism. In a famous speech, in 1877, he defined the new principles of the Liberal Party of Quebec and removed the more objectionable elements from its platform. Under Alexander Mackenzie, and largely as a result of the actions of Laurier, the party merged with the moderate wing of the Clear Grit Party of Ontario to form the Liberal Party of Canada. To this day, the official colour of the Liberal Party is red.
Department of History,
© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College