Si fractus illabatur orbis, <br/>
Impavidum ferient ruinae. <br/>
Horace, B. 3, Ode 3. <br/>
The name of the individual who forms the subject of this brief memoir, has for many years been before the public, and is now familiar with all men's tongues. It will not, therefore, be uninteresting to the American public, to learn a few particulars of one who, by his devotion to American principles, has made himself at once dreaded by the British government, and beloved by the great mass of the people of the Canadas, where he has been, for over a quarter of a century, the steady, unpurchased and unpurchasable champion of democracy.
Louis Joseph Papineau, speaker of the
House of Assembly of Lower Canada, was born in the city of Montreal, in October 1789[''sic'']. The family had originally emigrated into Canada, towards the end of the seventeenth century, from the village of Montigny, near Bourdeaux, in the south of France.
Mr. Papineau's father, Joseph Papineau, was a notary. He is a gentleman of great respectability, and when in public life, was the most influential member of the
House of Assembly, in which body, he sat from the commencement of the Constitution in 1791 to 1810, or 1811. Though still in the full possession of all his faculties at the advanced age of 86, he has for many years retired into private life. This venerable patriarch is the father of the Canada constitution. To his exertions, during a series of years, previous to 1790, is that country indebted for the representative form of government, which the British parliament is now about to destroy. In his youth, he found his country abandoned to a military despotism; his countrymen without any political existence in their native land, and their lives and property at the mercy of every stranger, whom chance or patronage may have drifted on their shores. He exerted himself to procure for them that rank in the body politic, which their numbers and wealth entitled them to. He procured for them some political power, by obtaining for them the right of choosing representatives in a colonial assembly. He has lived to see those rights destroyed, and his fellow citizens again driven back, to suffer under that despotism from which he had succeeded about half a century ago in rescuing them. In the words of Grattan, the celebrated Irish patriot, he may truly say, "I have watched by the cradle of my country, and now I follow her hearse!"
The subject of the present brief biographical sketch, was sent at an early age to Quebec to be educated at the seminary under the superintendence of the catholic clergy in that city. In the 17th century an extensive and highly respectable college was established in the city of Quebec, by the Jesuits, where the youth of the colony were educated. When Great Britain got possession of Canada, one of its first steps "for the encouragement of learning," was to expel the Jesuits, and turn this college into a ''Barrack'' (to which xxxx purpose it still continues to be put.) The clergy were therefore obliged to raise a building for the education of the rising generation, and to this establishment Mr. Papineau was sent, to go through his studies. Here he remained until he was 17 years of age. His collegiate course being completed, he entered on the study of the law, and was called to the bar about the year 1811-12. He had however been previously elected in the year 1809, and whilst still a student at law, to represent the country of Kent, (now the county of Chambly,) after a hard contest, in which he was opposed by all strength of the then government party. This county he represented during two parliaments, after which he went in for the west ward of Montreal, for which place he has been uninterruptedly elected for the last 20 years.
Mr. Papineau went into the assembly on the influence of his father's reputation, as an honorable and acute representative; but he soon carved out a reputation for himself. The contest between the assembly and the official party for the control of the revenues, had commenced before Mr. Papineau entered public life. On his election to the assembly, not merely did he take the popular side, but by his extensive knowledge and great eloquence, he gave new force to the demand of the assembly for a full control over the public expenditure.
In the year 1812, Mr. Papineau was the leader of the young and talented minority which endeavored, in the
House of Assembly, to save the province from any collision with the United States. He clearly foresaw that th best interests of Canada consisted in cultivating a close friendship with this Union, with which, by geographical position and commercial intercourse, she should naturally be more intimately connected, than with a power at the other side of the Atlantic. He saw at the same time, that all the loss, the misery and suffering which were to result from such a war, would haev to be borne exclusively by Canada, whilst all the honor (if honor there should be) would belong to England. Prompted by these longsighted and patriotic views, he attempted to save his country from all participation in that conflict, or indeed in any ''English'' wars. His efforts, unfortunately, were not successful. The war proceeded, and he served as captain in the militia until the return of peace.
It was whilst serving in this capacity, that the American prisoners, after the disgraceful surrender of Gen. Hull at Detroit, were marched into Montreal .... of all rules of courtesy, and to the .... of those brave men's feelings, they ... to enter the latter city to the tune of Yankee Doodle - an air originally gotten up in the time of the revolution by an English officer in derision of the then unskilled, but afterwards successful militia of our country, and which was played on the occasion above referred to, to render the prisoners objects of similar ridicule and obloquy. Mr. Papineau held a captain's commission on this occasion, and had command of a company who preceded the prisoners. So indignant ws he the insult thus offered, that he wheeled out of the line and refused with a number of his men to proceed, declaring that neither himself nor his men would commingle with troops who could be guilty of conduct so reprehensible and disgusting; that his duty to his country, though at war with another power, could never require him to treat the captured soldiers of that power inhospitably or uncourteously.
In the year 1817, he was chosen speaker of the
House of Assembly. In 1820, Lord Dalhousie entered upon the government of Lower Canada. At this time, the country was in a tolerably tranquil state, and the governor, thinking it wise to attach a man of the speaker's talents to his side, made Mr. Papineau an executive councillor. Strong feelings, it is true, had been excited by the absurd pretensions of the official party to procure a permanent civil list; a civil list for the King's life; or failing that, a vote of supplies in a lump (''en bloc''); all which schemes had been opposed by Mr. Papineau. Lord Dalhousie was a new man, and the country seemed disposed to try him. In 1821 the house carried an address on grievances, to which a ''civil answer'' was returned, and matters still continued to go on smoothly.
1n 1822, however, this tranquility was disturbed by a proposal entertained by the imperial parliament, to unite the provinces. Ths measure was extremely unpopular in Lower Canada, and excited warm debates in the assembly. Throughout the country, too, the people were much excited; "constitutional committees" were formed for deprecating the intended union. Petitions were circulated and numerously signed, and deputies were appointed to proceed to England to remonstrate against the measure. The subject of our memoir was one of these deputies. His opposition to the views of the official party having, in the meantime, shewn that he could not be bought, he was dismissed, previous to his departure for England, from the executive council. The projected union was successfully opposed, and Mr. Papineau and his colleague Mr. John Neilson, on their return in 1824 were enabled to communicate to the assembly, "that the measure of an union was dropped, and that in case if its revival ( and this was a most important point gained) the subject would be communicated to the colony, and time would be allowed to enable colonists to be heard in parliament."
From the period of his return, Mr. Papineau gave up his practice at the bar, and devoted himself to his duties in the
House of Assembly
== Editor's Notes ==
1. He was born on October 7, 1786.