PANET, JEAN-ANTOINE, notary, lawyer, militia officer, seigneur, politician, and judge; b. 8 June 1751 at Quebec, the eldest son of Jean-Claude Panet* and Marie-Louise Barolet; m. 7 Oct. 1779 Louise-Philippe Badelard at Quebec; d. there 17 May 1815.
Jean-Antoine Panet probably received his education at the Séminaire de Québec. During the American invasion in 1775–76 [see Benedict Arnold; Richard Montgomery*] he was an ensign in the 1st company of the Quebec militia and took part in the defence of the town. He began to practise as a notary in 1772, but because of an ordinance issued in 1785 [see Pierre-Louis Panet], he had to give up this profession in 1786 to concentrate on his career as a lawyer, which he had taken up in 1773. His family’s wealth and the income from his practice assured him of a fairly high standard of living. By 1777, for example, he had bought a two-storey stone house and a lot in Upper Town.
On 7 Oct. 1779 Panet made a good match when he married Louise-Philippe, daughter of Philippe-Louis-François Badelard, surgeon to the Quebec garrison, and Marie-Charlotte Guillimin. He contributed £2,000 in cash and possessory rights to the joint estate, as well as a guarantee to his wife of a jointure of 1,500 livres a year and a preference legacy of £500. Fifteen children were born to the couple, five of whom reached adulthood: Bernard-Antoine (1780–1854), Marie (1788–1866), Philippe* (1791–1855), Louis (1794–1884), and Charles (1797–1877). Several, like their father, were active in the political and military spheres. By contrast, Panet’s brothers and sisters left their mark mainly on the religious life of the province – in particular Abbé Jacques Panet*, Bishop Bernard-Claude Panet*, who was appointed to the see of Quebec in 1825, and Ursulines Marie-Anne-Archange Panet, named de Saint-Bernard, and Marie-Françoise Panet, named de Saint-Jacques.
Through legacies, marriage, and his own work Jean-Antoine Panet built up a tidy fortune. In the course of his career he served as attorney in numerous cases, among others for the Séminaire de Québec, the fabrique of Notre-Dame in Quebec, and various persons, many of whom were British; on innumerable occasions he also acted as proxy, executor, and trustee. His comfort was assured; he and his family lived surrounded by five or six servants (chambermaids, cooks, menservants, a tutor for each child, and a nurse for each baby). In 1777 he became seigneur of Bourg-Louis. In 1795 he even refused appointment as a judge of the Court of King’s Bench in Montreal and other offices; that decision would influence Lieutenant Governor Robert Shore Milnes* five years later to call for judges to be given salaries of more than £500, in view of the high incomes enjoyed by good lawyers. Panet was also involved in a great many real estate transactions and lending operations: an interest in the Union Company of Quebec from 1806 to 1808, which bought and rented buildings and lots; the purchase and resale of a large number of lots at Quebec and Trois-Rivières, not to mention obtaining grants to and selling lots on 1,400 acres in Nelson and Somerset townships; the purchase of the sub-fief of Monceaux, comprising 336 acres, in 1789; transactions arising from numerous legacies from his own family or his wife’s; a score of loans ranging from £25 to £600, with interest at six per cent. In his will, which was dated 12 May 1815, Panet left half his seigneury of Bourg-Louis as well as a piece of land and a house at Quebec to his son Bernard-Antoine, made over the sub-fief of Monceaux, a house, and a building lot to his son Philippe, and assured his daughter Marie, who was married to Jean-Thomas Taschereau*, of an annual pension of £36. He also bequeathed £600 to be divided among his grandchildren upon his daughter’s death. He entrusted the rest of his property to his wife, specifying that it was to be apportioned among the children not named in the will after her death.
As a lawyer Panet trained many of those seeking to enter the profession, including Amable Berthelot*, the son of Michel-Amable Berthelot Dartigny, in 1793, Denis-Benjamin Viger* and George Vanfelson* in 1798, his brother-in-law Bernard Badelard in 1799, and Georges-Barthélemi Faribault* in 1804.
Panet’s reputation and talent earned him many offices and commissions in addition to those connected with his political activity itself. He served as a captain in the Quebec militia from 1787 to 1794 and as lieutenant-colonel in the Beauport militia battalion from 1794 to 1808. He was named a judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1794 and judge of the Court of King’s Bench for the District of Montreal at the end of that year (a nomination he declined). He was also appointed to the commissions to examine the Jesuit estates in 1787 and to set the rate of exchange for government bills in 1812. On several occasions Panet was in the public eye, signing declarations of loyalty in 1794 and addresses to Prince Edward Augustus in 1794 and Governor Robert Prescott in 1799. From 1790 to 1807 he was also a member of the Quebec Fire Society, and he subscribed to funds for the victims of a fire on the Rue du Sault-au-Matelot in 1793, in support of the war effort in 1799, and for the victims of a Quebec fire in May 1804.
Like a number of his compatriots, Panet waited until Governor Haldimand had left in November 1784 to come out openly in favour of the plan for constitutional and judicial reforms put forward by Pierre Du Calvet* in his ringing Appel á la justice de l’État, a work published in London that year. Less than ten days after Haldimand’s departure, an event perceived by the reformers as a veritable liberation, some 15 members of the French-speaking bourgeoisie in the town of Quebec met to form a Canadian committee, and in conjunction with representatives of the British bourgeoisie prepared the text of the noted petition of 24 Nov. 1784. For the first time since the inauguration of the British régime, the forces of the English- and French-speaking middle classes were rallying to a common program of reforms; its main objective was, in the words of the original French petition, the creation of a “freely elected house of assembly . . . composed without distinction of old and new subjects,” in order that they might be “confirmed in the full enjoyment of their civil and religious rights as British subjects.” Since he had taken a leading role in bringing the Canadian reformers together, Panet found himself at the head of the Canadian committee for the town of Quebec, and he collaborated closely in drawing up the petition to the king and the “two houses of parliament.”
When early in January 1785 Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton* received the English and French versions of the petition, each with an attached list of signatures, he was presented with the names of 855 “old subjects” and 1,518 “new subjects.” Panet’s name appeared at the head of the new subjects; nearly 400 of these were residents of the town of Quebec itself, more than a quarter of its adult male French Canadian population. In their covering letter to the lieutenant governor the members of the Canadian committees for Quebec and Montreal therefore noted rightly that a large proportion of “persons worthy of respect because of their personal qualities, their property holdings, their commercial interests, and their attachment to Great Britain” had signed the petition.
The alliance of bourgeois forces inevitably produced a quick and vigorous reaction from the seigneurial élite in the Montreal area, who mounted a veritable anti-reform campaign at the prompting of Pierre-Amable De Bonne. This rearguard action by the defenders of the régime established under the Quebec Act was, however, doomed to failure, for far from shaking the convictions of the supporters of a new provincial constitution, it helped to galvanize the reform movement, as the numerous speeches and public stands of the Canadian committees for Quebec and Montreal show. The remarkable cohesion of the committees, whose members remained united until victory was won in 1791, was due not only to their steadfast adherence to the course they had chosen, but also to the articulate analysis of the reform leaders. The long text of the instructions that Panet drew up on behalf of the Quebec Canadian committee for the reformers’ delegate, Adam Lymburner*, illustrates the point. Lymburner was to emphasize to the members of the imperial parliament that the Canadians had a legitimate right to consider themselves full British citizens and “as such” to share “without discrimination” in the constitutional prerogatives and privileges of representative government. Panet’s preponderant influence within the Canadian committee for the town was to open the way for his entry on the political scene as speaker of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada.
In November 1787, probably as a result of a rumour that the Jesuit estates were to be transferred to Sir Jeffery Amherst*, 195 “respectable inhabitants” of the town of Quebec presented a petition to Governor Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton], pointing out that these estates really belonged to the Canadian people since the Jesuits had only held them in trust, and that they should be devoted to their original purpose, the education of Canadians. Panet, who had written this document, was appointed a member of the commission to inquire into the Jesuit estates which was set up by the government in December 1787 [see Kenelm Chandler]. He and his colleague, Gabriel-Elzéar Taschereau, slowed down the work of the commission as much as they could, holding out for various legal conditions, including a proclamation in due form requiring the habitants to produce their title deeds, so as to establish clearly the rights of various people to the lands belonging to the Jesuit estates. In 1790 Panet and Taschereau, the two Canadians on the section of the commission drawn from the town of Quebec, refused to sign the report of the commissioners from that town and presented a separate minority report. Panet in particular was anxious that the Jesuit estates be used for educational purposes, specifically for creating a university open to Canadian and British settlers. His position fitted into the logic of a course of action common to bourgeois reformers, but it can probably also be explained by his independence of mind in regard to the Catholic clergy; it was he who in 1808 cried out that the Séminaire de Québec was turning out young men who were “swinish, ignorant, and immoral.”
The tactical alliance between the Canadian and British reformers soon fell apart. In the elections of 1792 Panet is reported to have given a speech on the steps of the church of Saint-Charles in Charlesbourg declaring that if the voters supported his candidacy and that of Berthelot Dartigny, “they would trample the English underfoot.” Panet had indeed campaigned in the riding of Upper Town Quebec, where Charlesbourg was located and where he won a seat. After his victory he declared that he had “not given any cockades or liquor before or during his election,” but he made a gift of £100 to the poor. When the first session of the House of Assembly was opened, Louis Dunière, seconded by Pierre-Amable De Bonne, nominated Panet for the office of speaker; he was elected by 28 to 18, despite the opposition of the British members. De Bonne’s support for Panet may seem strange. The two men in reality headed conflicting movements, with De Bonne directing the reaction of the seigneurs and Panet being one of the leaders of the Canadian reform movement. The fact that De Bonne went over to his side when the speaker was being chosen can probably be explained by Panet’s popularity and by De Bonne’s wish to be on the winning side, and his nationalism – Panet was the only Canadian member from the town’s two ridings and the only Canadian candidate for the speaker’s office.
Upon his appointment as judge of the Court of Common Pleas in January 1794 Panet handed the speakership of the assembly over to Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain Chartier* de Lotbinière. The reorganization of the judicial system that year led to the creation of courts of King’s Bench, and Panet was offered a post as a judge in the one at Montreal. He declined and his cousin Pierre-Louis Panet was appointed in his stead. Until the end of the first parliament Jean-Antoine Panet sat as an ordinary member.
In the 1796 elections Panet was returned by acclamation in Upper Town. After his victory he offered a “hundred piastres” to the first woman in his riding to announce her marriage in church. At the beginning of the 1797 session De Bonne, who had joined the administration’s party following his appointment as a judge of the Court of King’s Bench at Quebec in 1794, nominated John Young for speaker of the assembly. Panet, however, won by 17 votes. In the 1800 elections Panet was again returned, despite stronger opposition. When the new session opened, De Bonne’s nomination for speaker was defeated by 16 votes, and Panet was again unanimously accorded the office, receiving congratulations from Lieutenant Governor Milnes. Despite re-election in 1804 and a fourth term as speaker, Panet’s situation was to become more difficult in the following years. The growing intensity of the conflicts between the Canadian party and the administration’s party, which consisted of the British and a handful of Canadian allies, resulted in extremely virulent partisan attacks during the period 1805–10, from the time of the quarrel over prisons [see Jonathan Sewell*] until the “reign of terror” under Governor Craig. As speaker of the assembly Panet had to settle procedural questions and sometimes to cast his vote when the two parties in the house split evenly (particularly prior to 1808). On certain occasions he found himself in opposition to the Canadian party. But to his adversaries, his nationalism, his unquestioned support for the Canadian party on the most important matters, his share in the founding of the newspaper Le Canadien, and his altercations with De Bonne in the elections of 1808, 1809, and 1810 were just so many reasons to discredit this man who was an upright politician and a particularly honest and capable speaker.
In the 1808 elections De Bonne and Joseph-François Perrault* took advantage of the weighty influence of “placemen” in the riding of Upper Town Quebec to secure Panet’s defeat by a government candidate, Claude Dénéchaud*. Panet then announced that he intended to run in Orléans, which prompted Perrault to send the parish priest, Jean-Marie Fortin, a slanderous letter casting doubt upon Panet’s loyalty to the government. In any event, Panet had been re-elected in Huntingdon; this had been the very riding represented by Perrault from 1796 until 1804. Apparently the voters in the constituency had not appreciated Perrault’s relations with judge De Bonne; the Canadian party had taken care to conduct its campaign with this in mind. Its brilliant victory brought Panet, as well as the other leaders of the party involved in putting out Le Canadien, a letter of reprimand from Governor Craig, who dismissed them from all their public offices, including their commissions as militia officers. Panet, who had displayed his loyalty by fighting during the siege of Quebec, made a dignified reply to the governor’s secretary, Herman Witsius Ryland*, and asked him for an interview to dispel the calumnies that had been spread concerning him.
The governor’s attitude could not help but strengthen the confidence that the Canadian party, which held the bulk of the seats in the assembly, had in Panet, and he was re-elected speaker despite the nomination of Denis-Benjamin Viger. After Craig had dissolved parliament in the spring of 1809, Panet won with a large majority in Huntingdon riding in the November elections. He was again speaker for the 1810 session. The imprisonment of members of the Canadian party in 1810 [see Craig] did not affect Panet, who was returned once more as member for Huntingdon and as speaker. Craig had not dared lay hands on a man who enjoyed such great prestige, although he considered him less dangerous and more easily influenced than other members of the Canadian party such as Pierre-Stanislas Bédard*.
Craig’s departure and the threat from the United States cleared the political atmosphere. Panet benefited from that: Governor Prevost gave him back his commission in the militia and recommended him for a seat on the Legislative Council, of which he became a member in February 1815. He had been returned in the 1814 elections, this time, however, in the riding of Upper Town Quebec. In January 1815 he was obliged for reasons of health to hand the speakership over to Louis-Joseph Papineau*. The assembly passed a vote of thanks “for his steady, impartial and faithful discharge of that high and important Station during Twenty two Years, by supporting on every occasion, the Honour and Dignity of the House, and the Rights and Privileges of the People.” Panet’s reply was full of sentiments of loyalty and faith in the ability of the constitution to ensure the peace and prosperity of the colony.
The assembly’s homage was almost an epitaph. On 17 May 1815 Jean-Antoine Panet passed away at Quebec; his funeral was conducted by Bishop Plessis* in the cathedral of Notre-Dame. His wife outlived him by 15 years and died on 18 March 1830. The general esteem in which Panet was held found expression in the assembly’s decision to consider paying him a pension for the rest of his life, and then to transfer it to his widow, a step which was taken in 1823.
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