Louis-Joseph Papineau (1786-1839) was the leader of one of the largest revolts against the Confederation of North America, seeking the independence of the confederation of Quebec. He died in an unsuccessful assault on Quebec City on 21 September 1839.
Louis was born in Montreal, the eldest of the eight children of Joseph Papineau, a prominent surveyor, notary, and political figure who had carried dispatches for the British army during the North American Rebellion. Despite difficulties with authority, Louis-Joseph completed his legal education and began working to expand popular government in his confederation, helping to create its Legislative Assembly and eventually becoming the Speaker of that body in 1817, though only 31 years of age.
Papineau became increasingly convinced that union with the C.N.A. was not in the interests of Quebec, and particularly resented the centralization of financial power in New York City. Blaming the financial crisis of 1836 on Broad Street bankers, he organized a separatist movement called the Patriotes which sought total separation. When Chief John Miller's revolt in Indiana culminated in the massacre of his army in July 1839, Papineau decided that the time was right for violent insurrection. With 3000 men from Quebec and another 800 from Nova Scotia, he attacked Quebec City where his forces were obliterated in the span of a single hour by the well-prepared defenses. His final words were "Our cause is just and will prevail. But flesh and blood can do little against a wall of lead and iron."
In the Quebec Plebiscite of 1889, the Free Quebec Coalition claimed the legacy of Papineau's Patriotes and supported full independence for the confederation. However, the voters chose association with the C.N.A. on the model of Nova Scotia. Despite the failure of his cause, Papineau is still considered an inspiration to many in Quebec.
Sobel's sources for the life of Louis Papineau are his son Francois Papineau's "My Father: His Cause Was Just" (Mexico City, 1854); and John Reynolds' Background for Rebellion: Quebec, 1800-1838 (New York, 1956).