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Louis-Joseph Papineau
Chapter VII - Papineaus Troubles with his Friends


As Papineau became more deeply involved in the struggle undertaken against the governor, the executive council, and the legislative council, difficulties, sufficient, one would think, to exasperate him and drive him to despair, sprang up on every hand. His enemies grouped together in solid phalanx, presented an unbroken front to his attack, while his friends wavered in their allegiance, and the result of division and jealousy became manifest in their ranks.

Quebec and Montreal were almost at loggerheads. As early as 1822 this tendency to a scattering of forces had appeared. The selection of Papineau and Neilson as delegates to treat with the English government, had not found approval in Quebec. On this subject, M. Jerome Demers, an ecclesiastic, writes to him from Quebec: "I am by no means pleased to learn that you have been selected to take the address to England. All your Quebec friends are filled with anxiety about you. All are, of course, convinced that the interests of the Province could not be entrusted to better hands, nor would they have ever thought of others had you not been Speaker of the House. They cannot conceive how you could desert your post without the Consent of the House. They think you will probably on reaching England find there letters from Canada blaming you for your so-called desertion."

So much for his friends, but the envious had also to be dealt with, and these were the chief cause of anxiety to M. Demers. But let us further quote his letter. He says: "Another Speaker must be chosen, and this election will be the apple of discord cast into the arena of the Assembly. There are ambitious men amongst us whom we do not know well enough. An unhappy selection might become fatal to us. But even though the choice be a judicious one and the election be quite irrespective of passion or personal feeling, would the Executive give its approval? We have bickering and cavilling enough already without creating additional cause of strife. What I dread most is division in our ranks— division would destroy everything. I wish you were here for a moment amongst your Quebec friends. I feel certain that you would remain if you heard their arguments."

It is evident from this confidential letter that as early as 1822 Papineau's policy did not commend itself to all the members of his party. Whether through weariness or fear of consequences, these symptoms had become still more marked in 1828; and there had been here and there outbursts of revolt against Papineau's absolute rule.

The successful conduct of a campaign such as he was leading demands abundant energy, and skill in the handling of men—a knowledge of when to restrain and when to stimulate their energies, and how to crush the vacillation and discontent which engender discouragement. Papineau was well fitted for this work, and his active intellect enabled him to accomplish the many calls upon his energy. We find him dispensing unstinted praise on his leading lieutenants, such as Neilson of Quebec, whom he seems to have held in highest esteem among them. He congratulates him on his successful efforts, and wishes he but had a host of such friends. To Neilson he unbosomed himself when in ill-humour, to that friend he opened his heart in the dark hours which come to all who are charged with the management of other men. On January 9th, 1827, he writes to him:—"The injustice done to my country revolts me, and so perturbs my mind that I am not always in a condition to take counsel of an enlightened patriotism, but rather inclined to give away to anger and hatred of our oppressors."

He is not gentle with those of his party with whom he feels bound to find fault, or with those who seem to him to be striving to counteract his plans. His policy leads him to bear with the latter as long as possible, and to crush them as soon as he loses all hope of bringing them once more into line. In the elections of 1834 we find him slaughtering certain former adherents whose zeal had grown cold in view of his revolutionary tendencies. The difficulties of his position left no room for pity. Napoleon, with what has been called his contempt for the lives of other men, said that in a battle minutes are everything and soldiers nothing. Papineau seemed to think that, in a political struggle in parliament, individualities are nothing and votes everything. Thus it was, with seeming cruelty, that he sacrificed friends whose votes he could not calculate upon as absolutely safe for his cause. The vacillating conduct of the Patriotes in Quebec who had undertaken the preparation of the petition against Lord Dalhousie excited his wrath.1 The protest made by the Montreal committee seemed to them too severe, and they decided to prepare one to suit their own views. Papineau awaited the result of their deliberation, and when several days had passed without news, gave vent to his anger in the following letter to Neilson, dated at Montreal, October 8th, 1827: "I share in the annoyance you must feel at the sluggishness and hesitations of your committee in reporting resolutions and the draft of an address to the King, or to Parliament, setting forth the numberless grievances chargeable to the present government. You will share in our disappointment here when you learn that all our efforts, so far, have been confined to the task of restraining the eagerness of the people, who are impatiently calling for a public meeting where their charges may be formulated against Lord Dalhousie. Your committee is responsible for the false position in which we now stand. Had the two cities acted in full concert, the county committees would have followed suit; and such a combined expression of the wishes of the country would have more weight than a number of varying addresses, and best of all, would secure more prompt action in the matter. We have found it difficult to induce the people of Montreal to wait with patience, and I now learn that your people have only got to the length of talking and speech-making without coming to any conclusion. A letter just received informs me that our friend M. Berthe-lot thinks it may be better simply to send over an agent without any petition, to ask that he be followed by another agent and that M. Valli&res is pouring forth strings of high-sounding elegant phrases to show that much may be said both for and against the policy of petitioning the King. Heavens, what a deluge of words! And it is not for lack of brains, but simply lack of character. Does he feel his silk robe so stuck to his skin that he cannot lose it without losing strips of flesh and enduring unbearable torture? Does he hope to retain it—can he honourably do so in view of the affront offered him by his Lordship, in dismissing him from his position in the militia on account of his vote in Parliament? To no other man but yourself would I say thus freely what I think of M. Valli&res, but I cannot help giving vent to my grief and vexation when I see him prostituting the talents with which nature endowed him, at the feet of a man whom he cannot but hold in contempt"

Amidst all these bickerings and hesitations, Papineau and his friends must have felt a momentary satisfaction when the bearers of the petition accomplished the decapitation of Lord Dalhousie. It was a personal success for him—a sentimental victory it is true for his self-love—but still a victory. He did not, however, exult in it in the slightest degree, and, as we find afterwards, he is quite as wrathful as before and hopeless of getting justice from England, in view of the fact that her parliament did not adopt the report of the committee as above stated.

After the departure of Lord Dalhousie, Sir James Kempt took the reins of power, and there is then a lull in public affairs, such as that which characterized the brief administration of Sir Francis Burton, who was acting-governor during the absence of Lord Dalhousie, in 1825. Kempt was a man of seemingly moderate and conciliatory character and Canadians augured well of his administration. But the publication of a report made by him in 1829 on the state of the province, once more upset everything. The minister having asked for his views as to the expediency of so modifying the composition of the executive and legislative councils as to give satisfaction to those forming the majority of the people of the province, his recommendation in reply fell short of the demands of the assembly. Hence, he soon became unpopular and ere long retired from his position. Nevertheless, his reply to the home government embodied the open and undisguised avowal that reforms were needed in the direction suggested by the minister. A change was required, he said, in the composition of the legislative council, consisting as it did of twenty-three members, of whom twelve were office-holders and only seven of the twenty-three Catholics; and also in the executive council, which contained but one minister who was independent of the Crown and one single Catholic. After these admissions, Kempt erred in recommending but little change. He must, nevertheless, be credited with having suggested to the minister the policy of taking members of the legislative assembly into the executive council. This representation would have had the effect of giving the people a more direct force in the administration of the affairs of the country, and also of placing the government in closer contact with the assembly, where matters might have been discussed in a more practical manner between the rival parties. Some are inclined to think that the presence of one or two ministers in the House of Assembly was ministerial responsibility in embryo, and that the full responsibility would have promptly resulted therefrom. Such was also the opinion of Cartier expressed in parliament in 1854, when he blamed Papineau and his friends for having expelled from the assembly Dominique Mondelet who had been called to the governor's council.

We know that Papineau was called to the executive council in 1822 and refused the honour. Did he see in the proposal a plot to destroy his ascendency in the House, while leaving him without influence, standing alone in the midst of his political opponents ? It is evident that his presence in the council might have produced excellent results, had the elements with which he had to deal been amenable to his influence; but it was far otherwise. Nor must we forget that Papineau was the leader of a party and that his party would have been but a headless trunk, had he entered the council. There would have been a manifest incompatibility between the two positions. Finding himself in a like alternative, in 1841, LaFontaine refused to enter the Draper ministry at the request of Lord Sydenham, on the ground that the interests of the French Canadians would have been inadequately represented.

The same grounds could not be urged against the presence in the ministry of Dominique Mondelet. He was not a leader, and in the House and in the council his services might have been of use, but party spirit ran so high at the time, that his appointment suggested a betrayal. It was one of the paradoxes of the period: our Patriotes never ceased complaining of the fact that all the remunerative posts were given to the English, and yet no sooner did a godsend of the kind fall to the lot of one of their own men, than they raised the cry of "Treason!"


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