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Race and religion in the early career of Charles Fitzpatrick

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Charles Thomas Connolly Fitzpatrick had a spectacularly successful public career. A lawyer by profession, he represented the County of Quebec in the Quebec Legislature from 1890 to 1896. He represented the same constituency in the federal Parliament from 1896 to 1906 serving as Solicitor General and then as Minister of Justice in the Laurier administration. His political success paved the way for further eminence. On his retirement as Minister of Justice in 1906 he became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He received a knighthood in 1907, was made a member of the Imperial Privy Council in 1908 and served as Lieutenant Governor of Quebec from 1918 until 1923. For a period of almost forty years, from the time when he first came to public prominence as the defender of Louis Riel in 1885 until his retirement as Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec in 1923, Charles Fitzpatrick was close to the centre of power in Canada and, at times, wielded not inconsiderable influence and authority himself. Yet, despite his sixteen years in politics, despite his association with Honoré Mercier, his friendship with Wilfrid Laurier and his connections with the Borden Government as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Charles Fitzpatrick is not a well-known Canadian politician. In studies of the period he is always rather a peripheral figure. Even in his own day he did not attract a great deal of newspaper attention. To a large extent this is due to the personality and character of Charles Fitzpatrick himself. Charles Fitzpatrick was a careerist. Whilst he was interested in political principle and political policy his main efforts were directed towards securing his own advancement and he found it wiser to avoid public controversy. Although a Liberal for most of his life Charles Fitzpatrick was never an ardent partisan. Always publicly urbane and charming, he guarded his independence carefully and, in general, avoided too public a commitment on any issue which might damage his public career. He evaded, as far as possible, the fanaticisms of party principle and showed a remarkable ability to negotiate through the intricacies of racial and religious factionalism. A career of such obvious worldly success in Canadian politics is of Interest to the historian, not only because of the involvement with major national issues and prominent personalities of the day, but also as a study ln the art of political manipulation and political survival of which Charles Fitzpatrick was an extremely skilled practitioner. The last two decades of the nineteenth century, the period in which Fitzpatrick began his political career, were a time of increased racial and religious tension. The trial and execution of Louis Riel; the rise of aggressive Anglo Saxon-Protestantism as typified by the Equal Rights Assocation and the more pernicious Protestant Protective Association; the intensification of French-Canadian nationalism as exemplified by the government of Honoré Mercier; the suppression of Catholic and French rights in Manitoba; all served to increase suspicion and hostility between English and French, Catholic and Protestant, in Canada. In the absence of any over-riding sense of Canadian nationality, all the various racial and religious groups in Canada tended to emphasize their own uniqueness and be wary of outsiders. Charles Fitzpatrick was neither an Anglo-Saxon Protestant nor a French-Canadian Catholic but an Irish Catholic, born in the Quebec village of Ste. Foy close to Quebec City. In Quebec the main political power was in the hands of the French-Canadian majority, whilst the powerful Anglo-Scottish financial élite exercised considerable economic influence. The Irish Catholics were a recognizable cultural entity, largely the descendants of the immigrants who came in great waves to North America in the middle years of the century. Their political influence was mainly confined to certain constituencies which were regarded, particularly by the Irish themselves, as Irish Roman Catholic preserves. Irish Catholic politicians were expected to represent Irish Catholic interests. Charles Fitzpatrick, however, by a fortuitous combination of circumstances, family background, education and social contacts and, no less, by his own ability and talent, not only managed to escape the stereotype of the Irish Catholic politician but, for sixteen years, never defeated, he represented a constituency which was largely French-Canadian at a time of increased French-Canadian nationalism. This study will examine the early career of Charles Fitzpatrick from the trial of Louis Riel to the early days of his experiences as a federal politician when his diplomatic skill, legal ability and extraordinary sensitivity to the delicacy of racial and religious issues paid handsome dividends during the controversy over the Manitoba School settlement and laid the groundwork for his impressive public success.

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