Father of Responsible Government


  You may be asking yourself who was Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and why should you care about his former residence?

 These are acceptable questions to ask  because many Canadians do not realize who LaFontaine was and the impact he had on Canadian government.  The following page will introduce you to LaFontaine, and hopefully this history will give you a greater understanding of why his former residence should be restored.

    How was responsible government born in Canada?   Canadian history before Confederation is oftentimes overlooked or misunderstood. These misconceptions cause people to sometimes gloss over the importance of the figures before Confederation and how they helped in shaping the Canada we know today. The birth of responsible government in Canada was the by-product of Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin  and the political change of the 1840’s which was largely due to “the actions and ideas of two great, but largely forgotten heroes: Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin.”[3]


The Quebec Rebellions were a result of political disturbances between the French and the English and were supported by local militias. Upper Canada suffered more frontier attacks yet, “greater violence was experienced in Lower Canada, as reflected by the degree of causalities and insurgents. Lower Canadians were seen as the most serious source of potential political disorder.”[6]  La Fontaine conferred with Robert Baldwin and he decided it would be best if they ran together as “they were both protégés of Baldwin’s father, who was a doctor and a lawyer with a reputation for fairness.”[7]  Baldwin and LaFontaine introduced interesting ideas about working with the people and listening to what they had to say to inform their political ideas. LaFontaine explained how,

“The only way that the authorities can prevent us from succeeding is by destroying the social equality that is the distinctive characteristic as much of the populations of Upper Canada as of Lower Canada. This social equality must necessarily bring our political liberty…No privileged caste can exist in Canada beyond and above the mass of its inhabitant [8]

The rise of responsible government in Canada was not an easy and romantic decision.  What LaFontaine and Baldwin lobbied for was largely infuriating to the English élite because they would lose their power, and they tried to deny the democrats power and called “them the humanists or the reformers or the advocates of happiness, which is the good of the public.”[9]  Yet they were elected because the citizens of Canada saw that they would possibly have more agencies with a responsible government. LaFontaine and Baldwin’s principals were “based upon solid foundations of a shared understanding of the operating principals of society. Over the next three years---a mere three years—they changed, reformed, revolutionized in every direction. They put in place the foundations of modern Canada.”[10]  These two men gave birth to responsible government and revolutionized politics in Canada forever.

Leacock explained in 1926 that “in this LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry we find for the first time a cabinet deliberately constituted as the delegates of the representatives of the people.”[11] The idea of responsible government became a reality under LaFontaine and the Tories who only thought of suppression of the French population were moved aside.  However, life as a politician was not easy for LaFontaine as he was often the target of scrutiny because he did not agree with the Rebellions and did not think that violence was the key. In a debate about the Indemnity Bill or the Compensation Bill as it is currently called, which provided that the governor should compensate the Canadian who suffered losses during the Rebellions, Lord Elgin “qualified that simple measures of justice as a reward for treason. When Lord Elgin

 gave the royal assert to the Indemnity Bill, he was not with the mob which pelted the governor with stones and rotten eggs, sacked LaFontaine’s residence, and burned the house of parliament.”[12]

-The Burning of Parliament in Montreal

The Mansion  mentioned in the previous paragraph is in fact the one this website is advocating to save. The LaFontaine Mansion was part of the events that took place during these radical times of upheaval. There is speculation among historians that the holes on the Mansion's facade are in fact bullet marks from the rioters. Now that you have read about responsible government, you can  understand the importance of LaFontaine in Canadian History.  Yet, he not only helped found responsible government, but as LaFontaine explained in his paragraph, he wanted to represent the people, especially the French Canadian population. 



[1] John Ralston Saul, Dialogue on Democracy: The Lafontaine and Baldwin Lectures, (Toronto: The Dominion Institute, 2006) xxiii.

[2] Ibid, xxiii.

[3] Ibid, xxiv

[4] Stephen Leacock, MacKenzie, Baldwin, LaFontaine, Hincks. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1926) 172.

[5] Joseph Graham, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine. (Montréal: Article Unpublished contact : joseph@doncaster.ca, 2009) 1.


[6] F. Murray Greenwood, Barry Wright. “Introduction: Rebellion, Invasion, and the Crisis of the Colonial State in Canada”, 1837-39 in Canadian State Trials. (Toronto: The Osegood Society, 2002)22-23.

[7] Ibid, 7.

[8] John Ralston Saul, Dialogue on Democracy: The Lafontaine and Baldwin Lectures, (Toronto: The Dominion Institute, 2006) 5-6.

[9] Ibid, 5-6.

[10] Ibid

[11] Stephen Leacock, MacKenzie, Baldwin, LaFontaine, Hincks. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1926) 161.


[12] Stephen Leacock, MacKenzie, Baldwin, LaFontaine, Hincks. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1926) 32.