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Who was Sir Louis Hippolyte la Fontaine?

Sir Louis-Hippolyte Ménard, also known as La Fontaine, was a prominent Canadian politician who played a crucial role in shaping the early governance of Canada. Born on October 4, 1807, in Boucherville, Lower Canada, La Fontaine was a jurist and statesman with a strong commitment to political reform.

La Fontaine began his political career by being elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada in 1830. He aligned himself with the Parti canadien (later the Parti patriote) and supported Louis-Joseph Papineau. Following the Rebellions of 1837 against British authorities, La Fontaine advocated for political reforms within the new Union regime established in 1841.

Working in collaboration with Robert Baldwin, La Fontaine co-founded a party that brought together liberal reformers from Upper and Lower Canada. In 1842, they formed a government, but resigned the following year. In 1848, upon the request of Governor-General Lord Elgin, La Fontaine formed the first administration under the new policy of responsible government. The La Fontaine-Baldwin government, established on March 11, fought for the restoration of the official status of the French language, the principles of responsible government, and the double-majority in the voting of bills.

While Baldwin focused on reforming Canada West (Upper Canada), La Fontaine passed bills to abolish the seigneurial system and grant amnesty to the leaders of the rebellions in Lower Canada who had been exiled. Although the bill was passed, it faced strong opposition from loyalists in Canada East, leading to violent protests and the burning down of the Parliament building in Montreal.

La Fontaine retired from politics in 1851 but was later appointed Chief Justice of Canada East in 1853. In recognition of his contributions, Queen Victoria created him a baronet in 1854, and Pope Pius IX awarded him the knight commander rank in the Order of St. Sylvester in 1855.

Throughout his political career, La Fontaine faced challenges such as gerrymandering and Orange Order violence aimed at preventing his election in Canada East. To secure his seat, a strategic alliance was formed between La Fontaine and Baldwin, and he ultimately won the election in the 4th York constituency. Despite initial obstacles, La Fontaine’s dedication to Canadian unity and his ability to overcome linguistic and religious differences were instrumental in bringing about the union of the Canadas.

La Fontaine’s legacy as one of the “Fathers of Responsible Government” and as the first Premier of the United Province of Canada remains significant in Canadian political history.

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