John Neilson : his political activities in Lower Canada, 1818-1834
Hagerman, Marion Winnifred
Before the introduction of responsible government and party rule in Canada, individual members of the legislative body could assume an importance which today is reserved almost exclusively to the leaders of the parties. Under the colonial system operating in Canada during the early part of the nineteenth century, when governors, legislators, and functionaries shared, albeit unequally, the powers of government, a particular régime was judged by the political figures who happened to be most prominent for the moment. In Lower Canada, such political figures, with the exception of those followers of Papineau who by their docility were dubbed his moutons, adhered to no party creed and were guided by their own individual reactions to a given situation. The extent to which a man in public life followed a line of independent action was of course determined by the extent to which he possessed the courage of his convictions. In the careers of such members of the Lower Canadian Assembly as John Neilson, Andrew Stuart, Pierre Bédard, François Quesnel, Austin Cuvillier, Louis Guy, and others, who possessed this courage in a marked degree, independence was stamped on their every word and deed. While possessing this trait in common with some of his outstanding contemporaries, John Neilson distinguished himself from them in one most remarkable respect. John Neilson, an Anglo-Saxon as his name indicates, occupied an unique position in Lower Canadian politics by reason of his long association with the French party and his unremitting devotion to what he conceived to be the best interests of the French people. No other man of his race, in this period of Canadian history, identified himself so thoroughly with the aspirations and endeavours of the French-speaking population of Canada. For this reason, John Neilson’s career assumes a peculiar interest in a history deeply marked by the conflict of two major racial and cultural groups.