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History 3813 - Ziedenberg - Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine

Kathryn Ziedenberg

See the web tour

Introduction:

Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine was a remarkable French Canadien politician. Originally a passionate Patriote, Lafontaine was deterred by their militant turn and instead pursued a moderate but determined path to achieve Canadien social and political empowerment. His joint efforts with Robert Baldwin and Sir Francis Hincks brought about the responsible government system in Canada, a significant advance towards Confederation. Lafontaine was a truly skilled and laudable politician in Canadian history.


09347
Photograph
Lafontaine House
Bernard Gagnon
7 August 2009
09347

Comments:

Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine was born in Bourcherville, Lower Canada on October 4, 1807 to Antoine and Marie-Josephte La Fontaine. The young Lafontaine attended the Collège de Montréal where he excelled both academically and socially. He was recognized as a very intelligent and strong student, as well as a diligent worker. He was an energetic and active youth. Furthermore, his ambitious and competitive nature spurred him to pursue a career in law. This served as the foundation for the respected, able, dignified, and self-assured politician he was to become.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.


09348
Photograph
Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine
Albert Ferland
Unknown
09348

Comments:

Lafontaine had an early and deep passion for law and politics. He was just twenty-one years of age when he was called to the bar in 1828. By 1830, Lafontaine was elected to the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. He became an ardent admirer of the Parti Canadien, known as the Patriotes following 1826, leader Louis Joseph Papineau and his nationalistic rhetoric. The party sought greater power in government to affect vague socio-economic legislation reflective of French Canadien interests. There was a strong anti-clerical sentiment, due to the Church's entrenchment with the interests of the old, oppressive regime. Lafontaine attended the meetings, participated in the debates, and composed pamphlets disseminating the Patriote messages.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.

Fernande Roy, "Patriotes," The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006139.


M972.81.10
© McCord Museum
Print
Attack on St. Charles
Lord Charles Beauclerk (1813-1842)
1840, 19th century
Ink and watercolour on paper - Lithography
17.3 x 26.6 cm
Gift of Mr. Louis Mulligan
M972.81.10
© McCord Museum

Comments:

Frustrated by their inability to obtain greater recognition or power in the colonial government, the Patriotes became increasingly radical in their message and action. By 1837, they took a violent turn, instigating the Rebellions of 1837. It was at this point that Lafontaine distanced himself from the militant party and established his propensity for moderate politics that would be characteristic of his career. Empowerment of the colonial peoples would be far more effectively attained through working with the system, not against it. Lafontaine admired the British constitutional principles and felt that their full implementation in the colony would be the solution to the plight of, not only the marginalized French Canadiens, but the entirety of Canadian colonists.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663

P.A. Buckner, "Rebellions of 1837," The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006708.

Keys to History:

Although 800 patriotes had beaten back British troops at St. Denis, British forces, as is evident from this print, had the advantage in terms of firepower. On November 25 at St. Charles, British forces defeated the patriotes, forcing many of their leaders into exile in the United States.

Source : The Aftermath of the Rebellions [Web tour], by Brian J. Young, McGill University (see Links)

What:

The imbalance between British and patriote forces gave well-armed troops a great advantage. The patriotes were badly armed and suffered from inexperienced military leadership.

Where:

St. Charles is located some 10 kilometres from St. Denis. Wetherall arrived there after a march along the Richelieu from Chambly, while other British troops were marching along the river from Sorel. The patriotes were ultimately caught in a pincer.

When:

The battle broke out on November 25, 1837 and involved fierce hand-to-hand fighting. Forty patriotes were killed, compared with three deaths among the British troops.

Who:

Aside from the imbalance of forces, the patriotes suffered from a shortage of arms and a lack of skilled military leadership. Many of their leaders, including Papineau, went into exile in the United States after the battle.

09350
Photograph
Lord Durham
Unknown - Library and Archives Canada
Unknown
09350

Comments:

Unsettled by the Canadien insurrections, the British government charged Lord Durham with investigating the source of the social disquiet and devising remedial measures capable of preventing future issues. In fact, Durham's assessment recommended a government structure similar to what Lafontaine was advocating - a responsible government. Furthermore, he advised the union of the Canadas so as to promote assimilation of the French inhabitants. Their contrast in language, religion, values, and culture had been identified as the foundation of the social and economic impetus for the rebellions. While most Canadiens were strongly resistant to the proposal, for its obvious repressive nature, Lafontaine saw significant potential for gain. In particular, union of the Canadas would allow reform advocates to unite across national lines to realize mutual goals.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.

P.A. Buckner, "Rebellions of 1837," The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006708.


09351
Print
Act of Union 1840
Unknown
1840
09351

Comments:

The British government granted union with the Act of Union in 1840 while denying the implementation of responsible government. Moreover, it discontinued the official status of the French language. While it was no longer used in government, the language continued to be taught in schools, printed in newspapers, and spoken in homes, and thus had little impact on the people. The principle of the mandate was still an affront to, and taken as such by, the Canadiens. Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine saw the opportunity the Act provided to work towards responsible government and the reform of the "absolutist and arbitrary structures of the old régime."

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "Act of Union," The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0000029.

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.


MP-1991.12.6
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Sir Francis Hincks, politician, Montreal, QC, about 1875
Anonyme - Anonymous
about 1875, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
5 x 8 cm
MP-1991.12.6
© McCord Museum

Comments:

Sir Francis Hincks was a journalist from Toronto and the founder of the Examiner. He engaged in a correspondence with Lafontaine wherein they established their shared goals of responsible government and institutional reform. There was a reciprocal need determined as well: both were in need of supplemental support for their reform parties and cross-provincial co-operation was just the solution. Additionally, Lafontaine needed affiliation with Canada West in order "to overcome the prejudices of London against his countrymen." Thus, they were both favourable to a reform party based in principle, and not class or origin. When Lafontaine became head of the union government in 1848, Hincks was a significant member of his administration and his personal counsel in commercial and fiscal matters.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.

Keys to History:

While John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and Alexander Galt would become better known as fathers of Confederation, Sir Francis Hincks, along with Sir Robert Baldwin, was the most important founder of the Reform Party tradition of French-English cooperation. A newspaper editor in Toronto and Montreal, as well as a railway speculator, Hincks, like so many politicians of his day, brought together the worlds of railways, journalism and politics.

Source : Confederation: The Creation of Canada [Web tour], by Brian J. Young, McGill University (see Links)

What:

Politics was rough-and-tumble in the 1850s. Convinced of the importance of both Toronto and Montreal to Canadian unity, Hincks tried to keep English and French Canadians united.

Where:

Hincks bridged the worlds of Montreal and Toronto and replaced Robert Baldwin as leader in 1851. Tainted by corruption, he eventually ceded power to John A. Macdonald.

When:

Hincks exercised his greatest power in the early 1850s. His knowledge of banks, railways and the media allowed him to flourish in several worlds at once.

Who:

Born in Ireland, and with a career that spanned journalism, politics and business, Francis Hincks understood the importance of ethnic collaboration in Canadian politics.

09349
Print
The Honourable Robert Baldwin
Unknown
ca. 1840
09349

Comments:

The election of 1841 brought Lafontaine defeat in his riding. Robert Baldwin, a reform party leader in Canada West, had won seats in two ridings and thus offered the York seat to Lafontaine's candidacy, which he won with ease. From this point forward, the two men were steadfast friends and political allies. Baldwin would prove to be Lafontaine's greatest confidant and counsel. Along with Hincks, Baldwin was recommended into Lafontaine's 1848 administration and a consult in matters of "legal reform and land utilization in Canada West."

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.


09354
Print
Sir Charles T. Metcalfe
RWS Mackay, Montreal
1844
09354

Comments:

Sir Charles T. Metcalfe was Governor General from 1843-45. He was resistant to responsible government in the colonies and refused to act on the counsel of the Executive Council. Despite Lafontaine's attempts to enforce the progressive system, Metcalfe was adamant. Under the previous Governor General, Lafontaine had attained greater influence and had managed to reform electoral law, move the capital to Montreal, and started the process of attaining amnesty for the 1837 rebels as well as restoration of French as an official language. Metcalfe's obdurate nature provoked Lafontaine and his ministers to collectively resign their positions November of 1843. This is known as "the Metcalfe Crisis." Attempts to re-enter government were thwarted in the 1844 election which was decidedly unfavourable to reform candidates.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "Metcalfe, Charles Theophilus, first Baron," The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0005254.


I-4562.0.1
© McCord Museum
Photograph
Bishop Ignace Bourget, Montreal, QC, copied 1862
William Notman (1826-1891)
1862, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
8 x 5 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
I-4562.0.1
© McCord Museum

Comments:

Lafontaine took this set back as motivation to re-invigorate his fight for responsible government and to garner more support for his campaign from the voters. Part of his strategy was the affiliation of his goals with the language issue. On this point he was relentless, as it was an emotionally charged matter for many French Canadiens, sure to amass dedicated support. Furthermore, in direct contrast to his politics in youth, Lafontaine sought a clerical alliance. It was favourable to electors, some of whom were discomfited with the alliance of the reformers with secularized Canada West. In turn, the Church was interested in a political alliance, in the climate of shifting political structures, which would benefit them. The Montreal Bishop Bourget had a demeanour quite similar to Lafontaine that made their collaboration all the more viable. Both were dignified, assured, and dutiful leaders. Lafontaine would later fight for the property rights of the Church and in turn the Church advocated responsible government. By 1848, the Reformers returned to government with a strong majority.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.

Keys to History:

As a general rule, English-speaking and French-speaking Montrealers tended to lead separate lives, each community having its own institutions. Among French Montrealers, the Catholic Church played a major role in social organization. It enjoyed a veritable renaissance during the episcopate of Ignace Bourget. Thanks to the support of a larger, better-educated clergy, the bishop was able to provide better guidance to his congregation. After a long, drawn-out struggle with the Sulpicians, he succeeded, in 1865, in getting Rome to divide up the parish of Notre Dame, thus allowing him to increase the number of parishes within the same area.

What:

Ignace Bourget was bishop of Montreal, but his diocese extended over a much larger territory, the city of Montreal being only a small part of it. This territory gradually shrank as new dioceses were created, such as the diocese of St. Hyacinthe in 1852 and that of Valleyfield in 1893.

Where:

It was from Rome that Bourget found inspiration for strengthening discipline in the Church. He identified with the Ultramontanists. Even the new cathedral he had built was modelled after St. Peter's in Rome.

When:

Ignace Bourget became bishop of Montreal in 1840, on the death of his predecessor, Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue (1777-1840). He resigned in 1876 over conflicts that were dividing the Catholic Church in Quebec.

Who:

Ignace Bourget (1799-1885) was born into a farming family in Lauzon, near Quebec City. He studied at the seminary in Nicolet, becoming secretary to Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue in 1821. It was Lartigue who chose Bourget as his successor and had the Pope approve the choice.

M930.51.1.52
© McCord Museum
Engraving
Lord Elgin
John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
1848, 19th century
Ink on paper on supporting paper - Wood engraving
19.4 x 17 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
M930.51.1.52
© McCord Museum

Comments:

Lord Elgin served as Governor General from 1847-1854. He was highly amenable to responsible government in the colonies and did all he could to oblige the counsel of the Executive Council. During this period, Lafontaine became the attorney general and served as Canada's first Prime Minister from 1848-1851. He resumed his legislative struggle to provide compensation to those who suffered material loss or damage during the Rebellion. This endeavour manifested itself as the Rebellion Losses Bill, proposed in 1849 and met with vehement protest by the Tories. However, it was successfully voted through the government. Lord Elgin demonstrated his dedication to the principle of responsible government when he respected the government's discretion over his own and passed the Bill on April 25, 1849.

Sources:

David Mills, "Rebellion Losses Bill," The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006707.


M10963
© McCord Museum
Print
Destruction of the Parliament House, Montreal, April 25th. 1849
E. Hides
About 1849, 19th century
Ink on paper - Lithography
27.2 x 42.5 cm
M10963
© McCord Museum

Comments:

The Rebellion Losses Bill was not passed without the notice of the public. The English merchant class was enraged by the Bill, whose stipulations seemed all the more acute as they colony was experiencing economic hardship. Furthermore, the Tories were indignant over their loss of administrative power for the first time in decades. The radicals of this group ransacked the Parliament buildings and set them ablaze. Lafontaine's house and property were also subject to significant damage at the hands of the rioters.

Sources:

David Mills, "Rebellion Losses Bill," The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006707.

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.

Keys to History:

The burning of the Parliament Buildings in Montreal was done by an angry, largely English-speaking mob. The futility of the firefighters' efforts is evident in this print. It was reported that nothing was saved except a portrait of Queen Victoria. Angry with British authorities, many Montrealers spoke in favour of annexation with the United States. Mob violence in Montreal made leaders such as George-Étienne Cartier suspicious of the city and, in the 1850s, Bytown (the future Ottawa) was chosen as Canada's capital.

Source : The Aftermath of the Rebellions [Web tour], by Brian J. Young, McGill University (see Links)

What:

A two-storey limestone structure, the Parliament Buildings contained the meeting rooms of both the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly, as well as a parliamentary library and offices.

Where:

Parliament was located on the fringes of what had been the old walled city of Montreal. The mob's attack led to the capital being moved to the smaller and less violent city of Ottawa.

When:

Violence in this period of Canadian history is usually associated with the rebellions of 1837-1838 with their attacks on British troops. In fact, English Montrealers were just as prone to attacking authorities when frustrated with government policy.

Who:

The mob's attack, on April 25, 1849, was in response to the Rebellion Losses Bill which Lord Elgin had signed earlier in the day. The mob set fires through the building and the city's volunteer firemen were unable to stop the destruction.

M981.207.4
© McCord Museum
Print
Sir Louis Hippolyte La Fontaine
About 1880, 19th century
Ink on paper
12.7 x 9.8 cm
Gift of Mr. Charles deVolpi
M981.207.4
© McCord Museum

Comments:

Despite this initial adverse reaction to the responsible government, Lafontaine and his administration persevered. Lafontaine went to great pains to prove the many benefits of this structure to the lives of the Canadiens. The most direct manifestation of this effort was in the use of patronage. A common practice in Canada West and the United States as well, the patronage system was a means of providing privileged employment to a hundreds of individuals. The Canadien majority was finally able to administer itself, providing social, political, and economic empowerment. It was criticized as being too partisan and merely a means of bolstering party support in their administration. As well, the appointments were occasionally denounced as ineffectual and incompetent.

Sources:

Peter J. Smith, "The Ideological Origins of Canadian Confederation," Canadian Journal of Political Science 20, no. 1 (March 1987): 15.

"Provincial Parliament, House of Assembly," The Globe, February 18, 1845, sec. A, Toronto edition.

Keys to History:

Faced with the reality of a united Canada and the exile of patriote leaders like Louis-Joseph Papineau, moderate French Canadian nationalists like Lafontaine opted to live with the reality of the Union Act and to seek new ethnic and bicultural alliances with leaders from Upper Canada like Robert Baldwin and, later, John A. Macdonald These alliances formed part of an emerging party system in Canada and fuelled a movement over the next decades toward a federal structure as the best solution for the Canadian dilemma.

Source : The Aftermath of the Rebellions [Web tour], by Brian J. Young, McGill University (see Links)

What:

The Rebellion Losses Bill, introduced by Lafontaine, showed the triumph of the principle of responsible government in Canada. However, Lafontaine soon became disenchanted with politics and resigned, only to become Chief Justice at a later date.

Where:

In the important election of 1841, La Fontaine ran for a seat in Terrebonne, a county near Montreal. After his defeat, English Canadian reformers found a seat for him in York. In 1842, he established a reform administration in alliance with Robert Baldwin.

When:

The 1840s were a critical period in Canadian history. It was La Fontaine who introduced into the Legislative Assembly the famous Rebellion Losses Bill of 1848.

Who:

Lafontaine had supported the patriote cause but opposed their call to arms. He became the leader of the French Canadian reformers in 1841 and worked with reform leaders in English Canada.

M994X.5.273.14
© McCord Museum
Print
The Government Thimblerig
John Henry Walker (1831-1899)
1886, 19th century
Ink on newsprint - Photoengraving
31.5 x 25.3 cm
Gift of Dr. Raymond Boyer
M994X.5.273.14
© McCord Museum

Comments:

Following the devastation of the Parliament buildings and evidence of the hostile political and social climate in Montreal, it was decided that the government should be relocated. In 1850, Toronto assumed the new title of Capital. During this period, Lafontaine began to experience disenchantment with the world of politics. His campaign for protection of the clergy's seigneurial interests, and for their compensation in matters of relinquished entitlement, placed him in the minority. Lafontaine was not content in this circumstance. This indignation was compounded by his dislike of Toronto and its weather. Moreover, the resignations of Baldwin and Hincks from government affected his morale acutely. Thus, having realized the goals he set out to achieve at the commencement of his career, Lafontaine resigned September 26, 1851.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.

Keys to History:

This cartoon appeared during the discussion of the removal of the Seat of Government from Montreal after the destruction of the old building at the hands of the mob. Hon. Robert Baldwin, who was Premier at the time, was supposed to favor his native place, Toronto, in the selection; Kingston and Montreal were the other competitors for the honor. Mr. "Punch" naturally gave Montreal the preference. (Excerpt from: Bengough, John Wilson. A Caricature History of Canadian Politics: Events from the Union of 1841, as Illustrated by Cartoons from "Grip", and Various Other Sources. Toronto: The Grip Printing and Publishing Co, 1886.)

Cartoon originally published in Punch in Canada, September, 1849

What:

Where:

When:

Who:


09358
Map
Europe - political divisions
S. A. Mitchell, New General Atlas, Philadelphia
1860
09358

Comments:

In 1851, Lafontaine resigned after a lengthy and distinguished career in politics to return to his law practice. As well, he pursued his interest in history, researching and composing essays regarding histories of slavery, genealogy, and law. Now in his fifties, health issues were mounting and his rheumatism was a perpetual discomfort. In an attempt to restore his health, Lafontaine embarked on a year long grand tour of Europe, during which he visited Lord Elgin. Upon his return to Canada in 1854, he assumed the role of Chief Justice.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.


09356
Photograph
Statue of Baldwin and Lafontaine
Unknown
2007
09356

Comments:

Lafontaine died the night of February 25, 1864. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral, a testament to the magnitude of his contribution to his country. He had secured the prosperous preservation of the French Canadiens within the British colony. Furthermore, his efforts with Robert Baldwin had achieved the fundamental measure towards confederation: responsible government. In point of fact, they had determined a model for implementing responsible government emulated by numerous colonies within the British Empire.

Sources:

Jacques Monet, "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE," Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.


Conclusion:

Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine was a brilliant Canadien politician who significantly contributed to the shaping of the nation. Lafontaine's ability to see the larger picture enabled him to pursue his nationalistic interests in a broader context and collaborate with those who held complementary objectives; in particular the perpetuation and advancement of the Canadiens through co-operation with Upper Canadians. Lafontaine was relentless yet tactful in his pursuit of responsible government. He was an ever-dignified and respected figure that will forever be remembered for his fundamental contribution to Canadian unification and democracy.


Works Cited

Buckner, P.A. "Rebellions of 1837." The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006708.

Mills, David. "Rebellion Losses Bill." The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006707.

Monet, Jacques. "Act of Union." The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0000029.

Monet, Jacques. "LA FONTAINE, Sir LOUIS-HIPPOLYTE." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?Biold=38663.

Monet, Jacques. "Metcalfe, Charles Theophilus, first Baron." The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0005254.

Roy, Fernande. "Patriotes." The Canadian Encyclopedia. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006139.

Smith, Peter J. "The Ideological Origins of Canadian Confederation." Canadian Journal of Political Science 20, no. 1 (March 1987): 3-29.

The Globe, February 18, 1845.


© Musée McCord Museum