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BÉDARD, PIERRE (baptized Pierre-Stanislas), lawyer, politician, journalist, and judge; b. 13 Sept. 1762 in Charlesbourg (Que.), son of Pierre-Stanislas Bédard and Marie-Josephte Thibault; d. 26 April 1829 in Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada and was buried there four days later in the church of the parish of Immaculée-Conception.
Pierre Bédard was the first to achieve fame in a family which had taken root in the St Lawrence valley by the 17th century. His ancestor Isaac Bédard, a master carpenter from the Aunis region in France, came to New France before 1660. For many years he wavered over the choice of a permanent place of residence. After living at Quebec, and then in the seigneury of Notre-Dame-des-Anges, he finally settled at Charlesbourg around 1670. The second generation of Bédards became a rural, peasant family. Needless to say, they were prolific: the 4 sons of Isaac’s son Jacques had 39 children – 11.7 persons per family – when at the beginning of the 18th century the average in the whole colony was 9.2 to 9.4. In the following generation Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, Pierre’s father, raised 7 boys and 1 girl.
For 150 years the Bédards flourished on their land at Charlesbourg near Quebec City. Before 1800 only 8 of the 88 marriages they contracted – 9.09 per cent – were to spouses from outside the area. Partners were generally chosen from 60 of a possible 88 different families. The figures indicate the exceptional proliferation of family ties in such rural communities, which of course maintained economic links with the outside world and provided seasonal manpower for the fur trade, forestry, shipbuilding, and the king’s corvées, but the inhabitants’ demographic world was rather closed. This family network makes it easier to understand the key role played by certain clans in rural communities of the period.
At Charlesbourg the Bédards had over the years clearly managed to climb into the groups with influence that often extended beyond local society. Their advancement became more apparent with the rise of the middle classes generally, particularly as the numbers of professional men began to increase. On leaving the Petit Séminaire de Québec, where he had studied from 1777 until 1784, Pierre Bédard joined them. After articling for a few years he was called to the bar on 6 Nov. 1790. His brothers Joseph and Thomas took the same route, becoming respectively a lawyer and a notary. (Three of his own sons would also become lawyers.) On 26 July 1796, in the parish of Notre-Dame de Québec, Bédard wed Luce Lajus, daughter of François Lajus*, a prominent Quebec City surgeon. Like his brother Joseph, he allied himself with an old family. Joseph had married into a merchant family; Pierre’s wife was a member of a professional family that already had links with the local gentry.
Bédard was not very taken with his chosen career. The study of law undoubtedly could interest him passionately, but daily practice was definitely contrary to his tastes and temperament. After a dozen years before the courts, he expressed great pessimism about the bar: “Ignorant lawyers, charlatans, are the only ones who can succeed.” By 1802, now the father of two children, he had the feeling that he could not make a decent living in his profession. The following year, having abandoned his practice, he did not know where to turn and felt he could not even apply for a post as a copyist because he felt his handwriting was too poor. In 1804 he tried to borrow money, and then to sell his landed property. He felt ill and declared: “My illness is adorned with the name of nervous disorder, that’s a polite way of saying I am crazy. I am not yet convinced that I am.” To relieve his tension and forget his troubles he did algebraic problems. The record of these cogitations remains in a thick, handwritten notebook of 590 pages entitled “Notes de philosophie, mathématiques, chimie, physique, grammaire, politique et journal, 1798–1810,” which demonstrates the range of his interests. In addition to disillusioned remarks on judges and attorneys it contains excerpts of varying length from the works of a score of contemporary philosophers. Among his reflections is one apparently arising from a central concern: “It is surprising that so many great algebraists have not found a way to attempt to carry their method over into the other sciences. . . . These other sciences are usually regarded as (being) of another nature; it seems that for them there is another sort of truth, another sort of evidence, another sky, another sun.”
In political life Bédard was to have an experience more in keeping with certain of his aspirations. By 1792 he had been elected to the House of Assembly as member for Northumberland, which at that time took in the Côte de Beaupré and some parishes on the north shore of the St Lawrence below Quebec City. He was re-elected consistently in this rural riding until 1808. That year he was victorious in Quebec City’s Lower Town, an achievement which he saw as a great step forward. In 1820, long after he had retired from politics, he reminisced about how “proud” he had been “of being elected in Lower Town,” and how this event had “helped assuage my grief and show me that everything had not been bad.” From 1810 to 1812, when he left the political arena, he represented Surrey. One of the earliest professional politicians in the colony, this man was – as Louis-Joseph Papineau* put it – “possessed by the demon of politics.”
Bédard’s rise as a political leader after 1804 was due, it seems, neither to an imposing appearance nor to a striking personality. He himself felt that he was ugly, awkward, and extremely timid. Acutely conscious of his weakness and great vulnerability, he consequently led a fragile, threatened existence, which might partly explain his enormous efforts to negotiate a place for himself in the outside world that confronted him so harshly. Certainly by the time he had taken up the cudgels against the colonial government Bédard had on several occasions been frustrated by it and its officials, and these experiences had coloured his political action and ideas. In 1801, for example, he had met with a refusal when he requested the grant of Tring Township; he had in fact suffered the same fate as the other 115 candidates seeking this kind of political favour. In 1807 he had been deeply hurt by a reply from protonotary Joseph-François Perrault*, through whom he had asked for a commission as a militia officer; Perrault suggested that he conduct himself more moderately in politics, declaring, “You know that the government instructs us to recommend to it only influential, competent and talented officers.” Bédard’s hostility towards judge Pierre-Amable De Bonne* probably stemmed from two facts: De Bonne had previously run against him in Northumberland riding, and he had been Perrault’s partner in founding the newspaper Le Courier de Québec at the end of 1806. Yet all these things do not suffice, any more than do his intellectual capacities, to account for Bédard’s destiny as a politician and party leader.
This intelligent, hypersensitive man, who read books so voraciously that he sometimes felt nauseated, was not the most sophisticated of the small inner circle of the new Canadian party. Men such as François Blanchet, Jean-Thomas Taschereau, Louis Bourdages, Denis-Benjamin Viger*, Joseph Papineau*, John Neilson*, and Andrew Stuart* were his intellectual superiors. Stuart, for example, quite frequently discussed the concepts of scholars such as Malthus, Jean-Charles-Léonard Sismonde de Sismondi, and Robert Owen, with members of this select group. Yet intellectual attainment was not essential; at the practical level, where an ideological system was being hammered out day by day, it was Bédard who remained the most sensitive, and consequently the most attentive, to the interests, aspirations, and situation of the particular social class which in his view should by all rights function as a governing class and national élite. His conception of the French Canadian collectivity as a “nascent people” implied a French, Catholic nation dedicated mainly to agriculture, buttressed by the seigneurial system and the Coutume de Paris, and protected from the American danger by England and the British constitution. It was at this practical level, where awareness is of decisive importance, that Bédard’s intervention appeared determinative in his circle after 1805. His transcendent role as the person who defined the political ideology and strategies of the French Canadian middle class best explains his rise as the head of a party which at that time had its deepest roots in the region around Quebec City. His links with English-speaking men such as John Neilson and Andrew and James* Stuart, whom he described as “friends of the Canadians,” were also politically important. In addition, although it was very difficult to reconcile the ideas, interests, and ambitions of people from Quebec City with those of Montrealers, Bédard was able to build bridges between the party activists from the two regions. There is no doubt that his belief in the virtues of the press as an instrument of political action was a significant factor in spreading his influence. His power, then, had a fragile personal base, but it rested on the cohesion of a group claiming to represent better than any other the aspirations of the French Canadian collectivity.
By 1791 Bédard had become an admirer of British institutions because, as he wrote in Le Canadien of 4 Nov. 1809, they allowed an apprenticeship to liberty, whereas under the monarchy of the ancien régime in France “the people counted for nothing, or less than nothing. A governor would have considered [that] he was demeaning himself if he had let anyone contradict him in the slightest.” In his view, the idea of liberty underlying the British constitution was not primarily democratic in nature; it was rather a concept of balance in the organization of political life: “We now enjoy a constitution under which everyone has his place, and in which a man is something. The people have their rights; the powers of a governor are laid down and he knows them; those in high places cannot go beyond the limits that the law sets on their authority. . . . Such a carefully determined balance exists between the people’s rights and his that if he exceeds the limits the constitution has assigned him . . . the people have a sure and fair means of stopping him in his course.” The vision of the British constitution that Bédard absorbed around 1791 and that he called to Governor Sir James Henry Craig*’s attention around 1809, was based on the then generally accepted theory of the balance of powers. Clarifying his thinking, Bédard added that the British constitution was “perhaps the only one under which the interests and rights of the various classes composing society are so carefully arranged, so wisely set off against one another and linked to one another as a whole, that they illuminate and sustain one another through the very conflict which results from the simultaneous exercise of the powers that are entrusted to [these classes].” Before 1800 he upheld this theory in the face of the danger presented to the society of Lower Canada by the French revolution and the intrigues of so-called French agents who had slipped into the colony. Under such circumstances the British constitution became to a greater degree an instrument of social harmony providing beneficial effects that extended from the governing classes to the masses. After the early years of the 19th century, however, his conception of constitutional equilibrium underwent considerable change.
This change stemmed from the development of a national awareness among the French Canadian middle classes. From Bédard’s thought, expressed in his correspondence, his writings in Le Canadien, which had been founded in 1806, and the memoranda and petitions he formulated wholly or in part, emerges clearly the notion that the “nascent people” of which he spoke and the social class with which he identified himself were basically threatened not only from without but also from within the country. In a memorandum (March 1806) addressed by the House of Assembly to the king, which objected to the imposition of a land tax for the construction of jails, put forward new ideas that would often be set out by Bédard in Le Canadien. These focused on the pernicious role of the fur-based economy and of the merchants who dominated it: “The Assembly respects this trade, however contrary it may be to the population of the country, and to the advancement of its Agriculture, on account of the benefits supposed to arise from it to the Empire in general; but did not conceive it necessary wholly to sacrifice to that trade the dearest interests of the country, particularly those of its population and Agriculture, which holds forth more certain grounds for its commerce and defence than the Fur Trade.”
Bédard’s thinking on these matters, and that of his immediate circle (especially Taschereau and Blanchet), was expressed, in condensed form, in a November 1814 address to the Prince Regent and an attached memorandum. Bédard undoubtedly co-authored the address and wrote the initial draft of the memorandum. Although he thus made a key contribution to these documents, they went through a process of discussion and development at the hands of the Canadian party’s leaders and so also took on, to some degree, a representative character. As the memorandum shows, at the outset of the 19th century Bédard maintained his faith in the British constitution and the principles on which it was founded, in particular that of the balance of powers, which simply transposed to the political sphere the balance of power within society. “We consider our present constitution as the one best fitted to create our happiness, and our greatest wish would be to be able to enjoy it in accord with the intention of His Majesty and his parliament,” he wrote. During these crucial years, however, Bédard stood out from the majority of the assembly members and established himself as the leader of a fledgling political party whose ideology was in its formative stages. It was in the creation of an ideology and the establishment of its theoretical bases during the course of a struggle involving almost every group in society that Bédard played his chief role as leader, though even as a political organizer he was hardly flamboyant. He was convinced that the French Canadian problem and nationalism as they were emerging had an origin that was political before it was social. Discussing the 1791 constitution, which in principle, he suggested in the memorial, was supposed to translate the existing social forces into the sphere of power, he observed: “Unfortunately the manner in which it has until now been administered imparts to it an effect quite contrary to this intention.” Without hesitation, although not without contradicting himself to some extent, he attributed the responsibility for these distortions to the inordinate influence of a racial and social minority.
The absolute power of the English-speaking minority was, in Bédard’s view, manifest throughout the political system except in the House of Assembly, where the true representatives of the Canadian people dominated. The influence of talentless office holders, greedy merchants supported by their henchmen (Canadians who had sold out or were sycophants), and ordinary English-speaking people who depended on them was so great that the governors themselves gave in and became the tools of a malevolent clique. In the memoramdum he explained: “A governor cannot have the English party, the party of the government, on his side without adopting all its ideas, prejudices, and plans against the Canadians. . . . There will be very few governors with enough abilities to fight against so many disadvantages and with lofty enough virtue to do what they believe to be their duty in the best interests of the mother country.”
According to Bédard, the members of the English-speaking bourgeoisie, far from being content to manipulate the governors in areas where the latter had the actual or virtual power to make final decisions, also used them to see that their views prevailed in England. He claimed that the governors “cannot help acquiring in short order the same prejudices . . . which they no doubt pass on to the government of the mother country.” In addition to using ordinary channels to malign the Canadians, the English-speaking minority thus used the king’s representatives for the task. This was a theme to which Bédard frequently reverted during his political career, and even after he became a judge, to demonstrate the frustrations of his middle-class compatriots and the humiliation weighing upon the Canadians as a people. He went so far as to state in the 1814 memorandum that the English party “has an interest in having them thought disloyal; it has an interest in governing them in such a fashion as to make them appear that way, in such a fashion even as to make them so, in order that they will so appear.” The constant intervention of the English oligarchy upset the constitutional balance and tended to shape social relations according to its aims.
Bédard’s extraordinary sensitivity on the patronage question reflected the awareness of the group he represented of the socio-economic disparities between the two ethnic elements and the significance of these disparities for both the Canadian élite and ordinary people. The leader of the Canadian party did not hesitate to ascribe these disparities to the practices of a profoundly unjust political régime, one dominated by a minority that monopolized patronage and set itself up as the exclusive beneficiary of royal favours. “When we were given our constitution,” he recalled in the memorandum, “the longtime subjects (called English here, whatever nation they belong to) were in possession of government places. If a few Canadians were admitted to them, it was on their recommendation, and they were chosen from among those who were devoted to them. Since [the granting of] the constitution, things have gone on in the same way, the old subjects have continued in possession of the places and have become the government party; the channel for recommendations continues to be the same, and, as before, only a few Canadians, whose devotion was known, have been admitted to places.”
Thus the instrument of patronage was thought to have been manipulated to fashion Canadians into what it was desired they should be: inferior and disloyal. The satisfaction of patronage demands in the judiciary had also meant that confusion and even seeds of destruction had been introduced into national institutions, particularly into the Coutume de Paris. “Our property laws have fallen into oblivion so that we might have on the bench judges from [the government] party who knew nothing about them,” Bédard declared in the 1814 memorandum. For him, the result was that the old laws, rules of practice, and procedures had often been changed to make room for new laws not conforming to needs. Between one change and another the judicial system had been completely upset and the reign of the arbitrary had been permanently installed. The presence of judges in the House of Assembly and the Legislative and Executive councils had been but the logical consequence of these intrigues to enslave the Canadians.
According to Bédard, the universal pursuit of “place” by the English-speaking oligarchy also helped account for the impotence of the House of Assembly, the organ of the majority of the population that, by force of circumstances, had been relegated to an opposition role. In these conditions, it was not surprising that ethnic divisions had increasingly polarized the political commitment of individuals and groups. Bédard maintained in the 1814 memorandum that, before spreading through the population, nationalism had taken shape on the political scene: “The divisions in the House of Assembly become national, the English on one side forming the minority, with which the government is allied, and the Canadians on the other forming the majority, to which is attached the mass of the people; the heat of these national divisions passes from the House of Assembly to the people. The whole country is divided into two: the English government party on one side, the mass of the people on the other.”
Bédard’s thesis was designed to reveal the universal character of the offensive being waged by the English-speaking minority against the French Canadian nation and its institutions. This group’s efforts to reduce the House of Assembly to impotence was intended to imbue the majority of the assembly, and needless to say the nation it represented, with the “sense of its own degradation.” Bédard was even convinced that this strategy, dictated by racial hatred and the thirst for “place,” bore within it the Machiavellian scheme of engulfing the French Canadian population by prompting American immigration on a massive scale. As he explained it, colonial officials had an interest in so doing since they had cornered the crown lands close to the United States and wanted to have them worked by settlers from the other side of the border to “get rid of the Canadians”; it was already a known fact that the Canadians needed these lands to survive as an agricultural nation. On the matter of this immigration, which constituted a threat to the French-speaking population, Bédard commented: “Thus the English party is opposed to the Canadian party, precisely on the point that concerns its life and its existence as a people.”
Because he was aware of the peril that Americans represented from a military, demographic, economic, and cultural point of view, and because he was convinced the British government was not an accomplice of the deceptive colonial oligarchy, Bédard attributed great importance to the protective role of Great Britain and its institutions. “So long as the country remains under the rule of Great Britain,” he asserted in the memorandum, the Canadians “do not have the same dangers to fear; they do not have to fear that a population hostile to their religion will emigrate from the domains of the mother country; they have hope that their population will always be the largest in the country, and that with a constitution such as the one the mother country has granted them they will have the means of preserving their religion and all that is dear to them, provided that the mother country is willing to let them enjoy this constitution without its being used to make them odious.” Finally, Bédard believed that Canadians, being attached to their country, and the London authorities had such similar interests that “engulfing the Canadian population by the American population would mean engulfing the mother country’s domination over [them], and the loss by the Canadians, as a nascent people, of their political life would also mean the loss of political life by the whole country, as a British colony.”
Bédard felt that Canadians were the victims of a “strange contradiction” between the principles on which the constitution was based and the use that had been made of it since 1791. In theory he did not reject the principle of the balance of power, but to resolve the contradiction he was denouncing, he was led during his struggle against the government to call the principle into question in concrete terms, to advocate the supremacy of legislative authority, and to advance the principle of ministerial responsibility.
Historians are not of one mind in their assessment of Bédard’s role as party leader in formulating the theory of ministerial responsibility in the first decade of the 19th century. There is a historiographic tradition going back at least to Aileen Dunham that tends to minimize the contribution made by the leader of the Canadian party to the elaboration of this political theory, laying emphasis instead on Robert Baldwin*, one of the reform leaders in Upper Canada from the late 1820s. In support of her assertions Dunham uses several arguments that are not really convincing. She writes: “It would appear, therefore, that the theory of responsible government, as distinct from the practice, had not been worked out or clearly expressed in Great Britain much before the Reform Act. Were the colonists more clear-sighted than the mother country?” She also insists that existing racial divisions prevented the setting-up of political parties in Lower Canada, an indispensable condition, in her view, for the advent of ministerial responsibility. She is obliged, however, to recognize that Lower Canada’s political leaders had very early made use of the weapon of impeachment and had therefore posed the problem of the legal and personal responsibility of the governor’s councillors to the people’s representatives. The main elements of this thesis are also taken up by Frank Hawkins Underhill* and Lawrence A. H. Smith. Then there is a group of historians who give exaggerated importance to Bédard’s perspicacity in the development of the concept of ministerial responsibility. They often recognize the innovative character of the analyses made by the leader of the Canadian party, but imply that he had more or less falsely attributed to the English in their own country a theory that was not put in practice there until after 1830. These two interpretations put the emphasis on the personal qualities of the agent in history.
It is obvious that since he defended the interests and values of a social class within a threatened nation, it was to Bédard’s advantage, if he hoped to obtain power, to take up the question of ministerial responsibility, which had long been debated in England. Quoting constitutional expert Alpheus Todd*, historian Anthony Harold Birch notes: “The great principle of ministerial responsibility . . . is a natural consequence of the system of Parliamentary government which was introduced by the revolution of 1688.” From 1780 to 1832 there evolved in England the concept of the legal and personal responsibility of the king’s advisers, which culminated in the notion of the ministers’ collective responsibility before the House of Commons and the nation, rather than before the courts of justice. Thus the principle of the supremacy of the legislative authority was admitted. At the beginning of the 19th century Bédard had detected, to his advantage, the essential tendency of the British constitution at a time when it escaped the attention of most English politicians.
When Bédard was formulating his ideas on the nature of the British constitution, he did not deal with the question from the point of view of the legal and personal responsibility of the sovereign’s councillors. Starting from the principle that neither the king nor his representative could err, he demonstrated (Le Canadien of 31 Jan. 1807) the essential character of the “ministry” in the balance of powers within the constitution: “As if there could be an administration without a ministry. . . . It is even a maxim of our ministry that there is no ministry here and that it is the governor who runs everything. This maxim, which tends to make the king’s representative responsible for all the ministers’ advice is as unjust as [it is] unconstitutional in that it lays the king’s representative open to the danger of losing the people’s confidence through his ministers’ errors.” The Canadian party’s leader, an attentive reader of Sir William Blackstone, Jean-Louis De Lolme, and John Locke, maintained that the balance of power within the constitution must be decided by the principle of the supremacy of the legislative branch over the executive authority. On Blackstone and Locke he observed in Le Canadien of 3 June 1809: “They demonstrate that the executive authority does not have the right to exercise any censorship over the branches of the legislature; that the executive authority, as such, is subordinate to the legislative authority, and that, as it is one of the branches of the legislature, although first in rank and dignity, the other branches are in no way subordinate to it.” If Bédard still believed in the balance of power as a theory, evidently that balance had to tilt towards the legislative authority. Otherwise how could one justify the responsibility of the “ministers” before the House of Assembly?
Naturally Bédard had to be prudent and avoid vigorous exchanges of views on ideas that called into question the governor’s authority, the powers of the British minority, and even the authority of the home government over its colony in matters of interest to the province. Although initially a radical, he displayed more prudence with the passage of time, especially after his arrest in 1810, and also after his appointment as a judge in 1812. Bédard had been one of those who had most vehemently denounced judges’ participation in party politics. The 1814 memorandum, to which he made an important contribution, offers a suggestion: “If it is just that the governors be acquainted with both parties and that they refuse to entertain accusations against the inhabitants of the country without giving them a hearing, it is just that the latter also have a formal means of receiving a hearing from members of council and placemen chosen from among them, and that those members of council not be appointed on recommendations made through the regular channel. . . . If the governor had the authority to call to the council the principal members of the majority in the House of Assembly, he would in that way have the means of hearing both parties.” A little later the memorandum again outlines this proposition: “If it were possible for a number of places on the council or other places of honour and profit to be given to those who have the greatest influence on the majority in the House of Assembly, for [those places] to depend entirely on their success in keeping themselves there, and for it to be known generally and with certainty that there would be no other way of obtaining them, there is reason to assume that the two parties would swiftly come together in the House of Assembly, that [the present] division of the country so contrary to the government’s aim would disappear both within and without the assembly.”
Although the memorandum stated that the governor should not feel bound by the advice so given and that the “ministry” would be composed of men from both parties, in truth the system recommended was designed to bind the members of the council to those in control of the assembly, and in the final analysis to the nation as the primary source of sovereignty. The basic assumption was that no governor could go against the wishes of the majority. To read what Bédard asserted in the prospectus for Le Canadien, published 13 Nov. 1806, about the liberty of the press is to understand the true significance of the 1814 memorandum: “It is this liberty of the press that makes England’s constitution fit to create the happiness of the peoples that are under its protection. . . . Under England’s constitution the people enjoy the right to make themselves known through the liberty of the press, and by the free dissemination of its sentiments the whole nation becomes, as it were, privy councillor to the government.” In Le Canadien of 24 Jan. 1807 he went further in his analysis, leaving little doubt about his real intentions: “The ministry must of necessity have the majority in the House of Commons. As soon as it loses the influence that provides it with [this majority] or its policies no longer seem sound, it is dismissed. It also sometimes happens that when the king wishes to know which of the two sets of policies, the ministry’s or the opposition’s, the nation wishes to adopt, he dissolves parliament. The nation then exercises its judgement by electing those whose plan of action and conduct it approves of. . . . The new ministry is formed in accordance with the nation’s feeling as shown by the choice of the persons whose approach it adopts. That ministry is certain of being supported by the House of Commons and the nation, so long as it does not depart from its principles.”
Bédard was not primarily seeking a means to punish, but rather an overall solution to a political problem that, in his view, had been created by the manipulation of institutions for the benefit of a particular ethnic minority. That was why he was basically concerned with the fundamental aspect of ministerial responsibility: the collective responsibility of the governor’s advisers before the House of Assembly and the people. To set in motion a new political dynamic, this time for the benefit of another social class representing the ethnic majority, was his primary aim. In the circumstances the reform he suggested was designed to effect a radical change in political and social power. It is therefore understandable that the legal aspect of ministerial responsibility had been of but secondary importance in his eyes. By contrast, in the period prior to 1830 when the Canadian party under James Stuart and Louis-Joseph Papineau displayed greater moderation in its demands for reform, there was frequent recourse to impeachment of the governor’s advisers. It was only one of a number of means to assert the need for control of the executive by the assembly.
Bédard’s political thinking was not only innovative; in the context of the times it contained a revolutionary aspect because it implied calling into question the governor’s role and the traditional relations between the mother country and the colony. In this perspective the idea of ministerial responsibility was the one that best served to focus all of his actions as party leader. His efforts in 1808 to have judges excluded from the assembly [see Pierre-Amable De Bonne], like his 1810 proposal to have an appointed agent of the assembly in England to convey a Canadian version of events there, also arose from concerns encompassing all of his political concepts. The Canadian party’s proposal to the British government in 1810 that the assembly be allowed to take over responsibility for the colony’s expenditures followed logically from this thinking; it also set off a long series of struggles which, as they developed, would, in the period when Papineau was leader, pose the problem of the responsibility of the executive before the assembly in a somewhat less radical and less defined fashion. The fears expressed by Governor Craig regarding the 1810 proposal were well founded, since Bédard sought to strengthen the assembly’s ascendancy over the executive and office holders by ensuring its control of finances. Because he was well aware of what had been the practice in colonial New York, he was in a position to urge the leaders of the party who came after him to claim for the assembly the right to vote the civil list annually and in detail.
Rather than a man of letters engaged mainly in developing quite abstract theories with no concrete relevance for the moment, Bédard was the leader of a political party whose ideas tended to alter profoundly the balance between existing forces. In 1807 the insecurity created by Napoleon’s “continental system” against England and the mounting tensions with the United States only served to heighten the hostility that Governor Craig already felt against those who might disturb the peace inside the colony. He gradually became convinced that the people running the Canadian party were little more than individuals of an inferior station, nationalists or demagogues who were frustrated as they wanted to take over as many prestigious and lucrative positions as they aspired to. Not content merely to call them revolutionaries, he even accused them of being ready to play into the hands of France and the United States in such critical circumstances. Having come to this conclusion, in June 1808 he deprived Bédard, Jean-Antoine Panet*, Taschereau, Joseph Le Vasseur* Borgia, and Blanchet of their militia commissions. He had been annoyed at the attitude taken by the leaders of the Canadian party on the issue of judges’ ineligibility to sit in the House of Assembly, and his indignation reached its peak when the majority of the assembly voted to exclude Ezekiel Hart*, the new member from Trois-Rivières, who was Jewish. In May 1809 Craig therefore dissolved the assembly and appealed to the electorate. He suffered a defeat, and was forced to repeat the same scenario in 1810. On 17 March he had Charles Lefrançois, the printer of Le Canadien, arrested and his press seized. Two days later those responsible for the newspaper, Bédard, Blanchet, and Taschereau, were also thrown into prison on charges of carrying on treasonable activities. That summer Blanchet and Taschereau were released because of ill health, but Bédard remained incarcerated. He demanded a formal trial or an unconditional discharge. He was finally released in April 1811. He expected to emerge from prison triumphant and thus to find his hold on the leadership of the Canadian party strengthened, but within the party, particularly in Montreal, his rivals were seeing to it that little fuss was made over him. Bédard remembered this with bitterness until his dying day. In 1819 he declared: “Mr Papineau and Mr Viger are no real friends of mine.” It was with this episode that his political career came to an end.
It became even less possible to patch up matters when the new governor, Sir George Prevost*, after weighing various opinions in Lower Canadian society decided to rely upon the most representative groups and to isolate the elements considered extremist. Some of these – for example, Herman Witsius Ryland* and Jacob Mountain – were simply excluded from power. In addition Prevost used patronage to win over or neutralize individuals who were vocal and influential. Bédard fell into this category: in 1812 he was offered a judgeship on the Court of King’s Bench at Trois-Rivières. The former head of the Canadian party, who had been inclined to call French-speaking persons placed in such a situation chouayens and to castigate them as “sycophants” and “vendus,” considered his own situation to be different. He accepted the post, and in the end rationalized the whole affair, interpreting Prevost’s gesture as reparation for unjust imprisonment. In 1817 he observed: “I regarded this offer as recognition on the part of the government of its error with regard to me; otherwise I should certainly never have accepted it and I should be ready to hand back the place if it had not been given me in this way.” He was not as ready to give up his position as he said he was. A few years earlier an antagonistic pamphlet had made him so indignant that he had almost asked the governor to relieve him of his duties. He had gone so far indeed that, as he confided to John Neilson, “I have put my place so close to falling through my hands that I am almost obliged to ask for it again in order not to lose it.
At Trois-Rivières judge Bédard led an uncomfortable, restless, ultimately unhappy existence filled with dramatic events. Even his relations with his fellow judges and lawyers were apparently stormy at times. At bottom he had never really left the world of politics. In 1814 he still revealed an inability to make a real break with the past: “I think that I made a very poor move in accepting the place I have here. It scarcely seems possible to me to hold on to one without being of everyone else’s opinion. . . . I am ill at ease, torn between conflicting interests and duties; although I have a place I do not feel free to exempt myself from contributing to what is needed for the good of the country. For twopence I would give up my place to become again as I was. Poor, it is true, destitute, but happier; but I have creditors, I have a family, I am in sad straits.” In time his commitment to politics became less direct and less open, but it remained none the less real. It was mainly through Neilson, his intellectual mentor, that he made known his views on the role of newspapers in political life, the problem of providing for the civil establishment, the rivalries between Quebec City and Montreal within the Canadian party, and the importance of the townships given the surplus of population on the seigneuries. On one occasion, however, he leaped back into political activity: at the time of the proposed union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1822, a sense of the danger it represented led him to join in the opposition. He even agreed to chair the protest committee for the district of Trois-Rivières. He was delegated by the militants from his district to go to England with Neilson and Papineau, but was unable to carry out the mission since he could not obtain leave from the governor. In 1828 he was again mentioned as one of the delegates of the Patriote party (the name applied to the Canadian party from 1826) to be sent to England.
Since 1810 the nationalist movement embodied in the Canadian party had continued to grow under the impact of economic, demographic, and social conditions. With time, however, the centre of the movement had shifted from the Quebec City region to Montreal. This evolution had also been reflected in the party leadership. When an heir to Bédard had to be found after 1810, there was no lack of candidates: such men as Le Vasseur Borgia, Blanchet, Taschereau, Bourdages, Pierre-Dominique Debartzch*, and Viger could all lay claim to the succession. But in the end adherents rallied around James Stuart, a “bon anglais” from Lower Canada who could only be a transitional leader. Indeed, between 1815 and 1818 a new leader, Papineau, was emerging. Still young but fully aware of the fragility of his power, Papineau adopted some of Bédard’s methods. To obtain solid support in the Quebec City region and among the English-speaking population, he joined forces with Neilson and Andrew Stuart. For about a decade, and for all sorts of reasons, he was obliged to confine himself to limited goals. Hence the question of ministerial responsibility, which was considered too radical, was not put forward as such, and until 1828 Papineau restricted the struggle to the control of supplies.
Bédard, who was intelligent, talented, and sensitive to his own woes, was probably obsessed by an awareness of his political failure and the taste of the forbidden fruit of patronage, but he was even more weighed down by the torments of his family life. Quite soon after his marriage, disagreement had become a permanent feature of his home, which he described as “hell.” He reproached his wife for being untidy, frivolous, and spendthrift, casting the entire responsibility for their chronic indebtedness upon her. The incompatibility between the two was, however, much deeper and more complex than it first appeared. On the one hand, feeling overwhelmed, Bédard asked: “Why must I be sacrificed to serving her as a vile instrument of a husband?” On the other hand, in the conviction that his wife did not accept “her condition as a woman,” he wrote: “I reproach her for only one [fault], that of being rebellious to my wishes . . . [my] great error is that I am no longer able to control her.” Their relations deteriorated to the point that around 1815 they were seriously considering a legal separation, although it never did come about. The permanent state of crisis naturally had repercussions on the children, who were forced to witness the constant strife. Bédard later gave an explanation of the difficulty he experienced with his sons: “I attribute it to the unfortunate circumstances of my household and to the greater affection the children have always had for their mother.”
The Bédards had had four sons. Pierre-Hospice, born on 21 May 1797, became a lawyer in 1823 and moved to the United States permanently in 1828. Elzéar*, born on 24 July 1799, was called to the bar on 17 Aug. 1824, and then in 1832 entered the assembly as member for Montmorency; he became the first mayor of Quebec City in 1833 and a judge in Montreal in 1836. Joseph-Isidore was born on 9 Jan. 1806; on 12 Oct. 1829 he too was admitted to the bar, and in 1830 he became member of the assembly for Saguenay. The youngest son, François-Zoël, born in 1812, was a lighthouse keeper at Pointe-des-Monts, where he learned the Montagnais language.
Pierre Bédard, whose name is closely linked with the birth of political parties in Lower Canada and of French Canadian nationalism, was the first person in the British empire to formulate a coherent theory of ministerial responsibility. He died in Trois-Rivières on 26 April 1829. His wife outlived him and died on 20 Feb. 1831.
[Pierre Bédard’s “Notes de philosophie, mathématiques, chimie, physique, grammaire, politique et journal, 1798–1810” is at ASQ, mss-m 241. The collections essential for understanding his career and personality include the Papineau family papers at ANQ-Q (P-417); the Viger–Verreau papers at ASQ (sér.O, 095–125; 0139–52); the Papineau family and Denis-Benjamin Viger papers at the PAC (MG 24, B2, and B6); and in particular the Neilson collection at PAC (MG 24, B1), which contains valuable correspondence by Bédard. The newspaper Le Canadien is an indispensable source on this leader of the first political party in Lower Canada, and Bédard also figures prominently in all textbooks. f.o.]
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 26 juill. 1796; CE1-7, 14 sept. 1762. F.-J. Audet et Fabre Surveyer, Les députés au premier Parl. du Bas-Canada. Claude de Bonnault, “Le Canada militaire: état provisoire des officiers de milice de 1641 à 1760,” ANQ Rapport, 1949–51: 263–527. David Gosselin, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles de Charlesbourg depuis la fondation de la paroisse jusqu’à nos jours (Québec, 1906). Henri Brun, La formation des institutions parlementaires québécoises, 1791–1838 (Québec, 1970). Caron, La colonisation de la prov. de Québec. N.-E. Dionne, Pierre Bédard et ses fils (Québec, 1909). A. L. Guay, “‘La constitution anglaise’ and ‘the British constitution’ as seen in the editorial thought of Le Canadien and the Quebec Mercury, 1804–1823” (ma thesis, Univ. of Ottawa, 1975). Ouellet, Bas-Canada; Éléments d’histoire sociale du Bas-Canada (Montréal, 1972); Hist. économique. Paquet et Wallot, Patronage et pouvoir dans le Bas-Canada. Taft Manning, Revolt of French Canada. Marcel Trudel, La population du Canada en 1663 (Montréal, 1973); Le terrier du Saint-Laurent en 1663 (Ottawa, 1973). Wallot, Un Québec qui bougeait. N.-E. Dionne, “Pierre Bédard et son temps,” RSC Trans., 2nd ser., 4 (1898), sect.i: 73–93. Arthur Maheux, “Pierre Stanislas Bédard, 1763–1829: philosophe et savant,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 50 (1956), sect.i: 85–93. Fernand Ouellet, “Officiers de milice et structure sociale au Québec (1660–1815),” SH, 12 (1979): 37–66. L. A. H. Smith, “Le Canadien and the British constitution, 1806–1810,” CHR, 38 (1957): 93–108.
Bibliography for the revised version:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Trois-Rivières, CE401-S48, 30 avril 1829. Docs. relating to constitutional hist., 1791–1818 (Doughty and McArthur), 422–24. “Papiers d’État – Bas-Canada,” PAC Rapport, 1893: 39.
© 1987–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Fernand Ouellet, “BÉDARD, PIERRE (baptized Pierre-Stanislas),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bedard_pierre_stanislas_6E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Fernand Ouellet|
|Title of Article:||BÉDARD, PIERRE (baptized Pierre-Stanislas)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1987|
|Year of revision:||2023|
|Access Date:||March 29, 2023|