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RODIER, ÉDOUARD-ÉTIENNE (baptized Étienne-Édouard), lawyer, politician, and Patriote; b. 26 Dec. 1804 in Montreal, son of Barthélemy Rodier and Marie-Louise Giroux; d. there 5 Feb. 1840.

Édouard-Étienne Rodier’s family belonged to the urban petite bourgeoisie; industrious and frugal, it nevertheless lacked wealth and education. His father had been a voyageur and had made a little money in the fur trade. After 1800 he had launched into the retail trade, setting up a dry goods and fur store in the faubourg Saint-Joseph of Montreal. Édouard-Étienne’s childhood was thus spent in the world of small business, at the mercy of creditors and risky commercial ventures. Like his father, he had only his own resources to count on. If he wanted to improve his status in society, education was the sole means of advancement.

In 1812 Rodier entered the Petit Séminaire de Montréal. After completing the elementary classes there, he began classical studies in 1814. He was a serious pupil who paid close attention to his Sulpician teachers. Nothing at this period suggested that he would become an impassioned spokesman for the independence of Lower Canada and a new, genuinely liberal, social order.

When his classical studies were ended, Rodier was uncertain what career to take up. He first contemplated entering holy orders, but finally chose the legal profession since it would allow him to participate in public life, which interested him intensely. In July 1822 he began articling with lawyer Hippolyte Saint-Georges Dupré in Montreal. Four months later he entered the employ of Dominique-Benjamin Rollin, a renowned lawyer. He remained with Rollin for five years, until his studies were finished, and he distinguished himself by his enthusiasm for hard work and his broadmindedness.

On 7 Jan. 1826 in Montreal Rodier married Julie-Victoire Dumont, daughter of a small cooper. The details in the marriage contract about the young woman’s dowry and the material guarantees agreed to by Rodier confirm that the couple’s financial situation was precarious. Rodier even had to work in his father’s shop to make ends meet. When he finally received his commission as a lawyer on 28 May 1827, he decided to practise in Montreal. An excellent conversationalist whose oratorical gifts were already acknowledged, he extended his influence among the most reputable members of the liberal professions through a network of connections and solid friendships. Thus he soon built up a large practice. From 1827 to 1831 he handled some 60 lawsuits and took more than 40 cases before the courts. A new life was beginning for him as a brilliant young lawyer, recognized and accepted within his profession. This dazzling situation was saddened, however, by his wife’s death on 14 June 1829.

Rodier’s professional successes did not, however, lead him to neglect public affairs. In the years from 1827 to 1830 he openly supported Louis-Joseph Papineau*’s attempt to establish his authority and unify the Patriote party, which had been known as the Canadian party until 1826. A new partisan newspaper, La Minerve, defended the policies advocated by Papineau. Rodier was sympathetic to these new directions and joined the organization. Along with Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*, Augustin-Norbert Morin*, Charles-Ovide Perrault, Jean-Olivier Chénier, Clément-Charles Sabrevois* de Bleury, Wolfred* and Robert* Nelson, and Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté, he represented a new generation and a radical element within the party.

Rodier belonged to various study groups that met in Édouard-Raymond Fabre*’s bookstore and in the printing-shop belonging to Ludger Duvernay*, who became a close friend. In the 1830s these groups were in a state of intellectual ferment. Some of their members were full of admiration for the July revolution in France and for American political institutions; they read and quoted the 18th-century philosophes, attacked the abuses of the colonial régime, and denounced the constitutional impasse in which Lower Canada found itself. Rodier was clearly responsive to these influences.

Rodier’s political and professional career was furthered by a second marriage in 1831. On 6 June he married Elise Beaupré, eldest daughter of Benjamin Beaupré, one of the leading merchants in L’Assomption. The income she brought made it possible for Rodier to live more comfortably and gave him greater freedom to pursue a political career. He was able to give up his law office in Montreal and move to L’Assomption, where he launched into politics. Elected to the House of Assembly for that riding after Barthélemy Joliette had resigned his seat, he remained a member from 30 July 1832 until 27 March 1838.

In the course of the summer of 1832 Rodier saw both his father and his mother-in-law, Julie Mercier Beaupré, die of cholera. Fearing for his own life, he drew up a will. In it, the usual religious invocations were replaced by patriotic allusions.

In January 1833, when the session resumed, Rodier drew the attention of his colleagues by coming out in favour of making the Legislative Council elective, a proposal Papineau was championing enthusiastically. His stands in the house that year brought him into contact with the most important Patriotes of his time. A fiery and exceptionally eloquent speaker, he rapidly became a voice for the party’s message.

Beginning in 1834 Rodier committed himself wholly to political action, deserting his law office more and more. In 1833–34, for example, he took only one case into court, and a minor one at that. When the 92 Resolutions were put forward, Rodier participated in all the activities and meetings. In April 1834 he challenged his best friend, Pierre-Édouard Leclère*, an acknowledged member of the English party, to a duel. Fortunately the two fired without hitting each other. Three years later, on the eve of the rebellion, Rodier was involved in another duel that ended in about the same way. On 24 June 1834 in Montreal he made a speech at the first Saint-Jean-Baptiste banquet [see Jean-François-Marie-Joseph MacDonell*]. He was extremely active in the elections held that autumn. Everywhere he went he enthralled the voters, and he was easily returned in his own riding. The eloquent orator of the assembly was now a popular speaker as well.

In 1835 Rodier attracted notice by his closing speech at the Saint-Jean-Baptiste banquet in Montreal. It revealed his opposition to the official position of the Catholic Church on civil authority and also reiterated his faith in the people as the natural and legitimate source of all power. Rodier was thus increasingly coming to represent the minority active within the Patriote party that wanted to change the political institutions of the colony and overturn the social structure. He proposed that a republic be set up and the seigneurial régime be abolished; he was also opposed to trade with the United Kingdom, dominated as it was by British merchants. He urged the creation of a national economy centred on the rise of small independent producers and local industries. In August 1837, to set an example for his compatriots, he showed up in the assembly dressed in homespun.

It is certain that at the time of the 1837 rebellion Rodier helped develop the Patriotes’ strategy and that he was intimately involved in the events. Although he disagreed with Papineau about maintaining the seigneurial régime, he apparently accepted the stands he took on the question of French Canadian nationhood. In May he addressed the voters in Richelieu riding. A month later he was invited to speak at Longueuil. Late in July he delivered a speech at Varennes. On 23 October, to the Assemblée des Six Comtés held at Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, he openly preached armed revolt. He did not confine himself merely to stirring up the crowd. Along with Thomas Storrow Brown* and André Ouimet* he was a leader of the Fils de la Liberté, a revolutionary organization founded on 5 September that brought together a number of students and young professionals in Montreal. On 6 November a riot involving the Doric Club, whose members were young English-speaking Montrealers, and the Fils de la Liberté broke out. Rodier took an active part in the bloody clash. A few days later, on 16 November, warrants were issued for his arrest and that of 25 other Patriotes. Knowing that he was being hunted, Rodier hastily took the road to Napierville, where Côté was waiting for him.

The two men came to an immediate understanding. While Papineau and Dr Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan* headed for Saint-Denis on the Richelieu, Côté, Rodier, Duvernay, Lucien Gagnon, and several others planned an attack on Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) at the end of November. When they heard that British military forces had arrived in the area, Rodier and his companions dropped the scheme and decided to go to Swanton, Vt, to reorganize. On 6 December Rodier, as an officer of a small Patriote battalion, took part in an ill-fated expedition to Moore’s Corner (Saint-Armand-Station); he was wounded there and was taken to Swanton.

During a meeting in Middlebury, Vt, on 2 Jan. 1838, at which the possibility of another insurrection was discussed, Rodier violently attacked Papineau for being opposed to abolition of the seigneurial régime. Even apart from this speech the deep disagreement between the two men had become evident, and the following months would simply confirm it. Rodier reproached Papineau for his inactivity and strengthened his own authority and his hold on the fugitives. Along with Côté and Robert Nelson he became a leader in the 1838 revolutionary movement. He was a major participant in preparations for the invasion of February 1838 and in the drafting of the proclamation of independence issued that month [see Robert Nelson].

In March 1838 Rodier moved to Burlington, Vt. After the failure of the February invasion, he had become increasingly anxious. Intrigues, suspicions, and underhand tricks multiplied inside the revolutionary organization. Even though he spent most of his time trying to rally his companions to a common cause, the movement was exhausting itself in internal fighting. Relations between Rodier and Côté were no longer good. As summer wore on a break between the two became imminent.

Rodier was not at the end of his troubles. For eight months he had been suffering from uncertainty. At Burlington he had no money, no profession, no job. To meet his needs he even had to work as a waiter in an inn. He saw little of his wife and had no news of his children. On 28 Oct. 1838, when his wife came for him, Rodier left his companions without a moment’s hesitation. He had been excluded from the amnesty proclaimed by Lord Durham [Lambton] on 28 June, but when London repudiated the governor’s decree, Rodier could return to Lower Canada. He posted a bond for £3,000 and went to L’Assomption Rodier intended to devote himself thenceforth solely to his profession. He sought to become a model husband and the fondest of fathers, and to lead a quiet life. In the eyes of his former Patriote friends he was a pariah, a coward, a traitor indeed, and on 28 Nov. 1838 he published a letter in Le Canadien to reply to the calumnies being heaped upon him.

Édouard-Étienne Rodier died on 5 Feb. 1840 in Montreal at 35 years of age, his health undermined by over-exertion and failure. In an article of 12 February in the North American, a newspaper published in Swanton, Côté revenged himself on Rodier by calling him a turncoat.

Richard Chabot

AC, Montréal, Cour du banc du roi, 1822–37; Beauharnois (Valleyfield), minutiers, Godefroy Chagnon, 21 mai, 4 nov. 1838. ANQ-M, CE1-51, 7 janv. 1800, 26 déc. 1804, 7 janv. 1826, 7 févr. 1840; CE5-14, 6 juin 1831; CN1-28, 27 sept. 1817; 18 juin 1819; 29 sept. 1821; 16 juill., 23 oct. 1822; CN5-3, 22 mars 1834, 22 mai 1838; CN5-8, 19 oct. 1838. ASQ, Fonds Viger–Verreau, carton 22, nos.68–69. ASSH, A, Fg-4, dossier 16. BVM-G, Fonds Ægidius Fauteux, étude biographique sur É.-É. Rodier par Ægidius Fauteux accompagnée de notes, références, copies de documents, coupures, etc. concernant ce patriote; notes compilées par Ægidius Fauteux sur les patriotes de 1837–38 dont les noms commencent par les lettres R et S, carton 9. PAC, MG 24, B2: 1690–93, 1900–3, 1989–91, 2847–52, 2951–54, 2961–64, 2983–86, 2999-–3002, 3012–15, 3031–34, 3046–49, 3097–99, 4103–6, 6090–97; MG 30, D1, 5; 26: 529–35; RG 4, B8: 8206–9. LAmi du peuple, de lordre et des lois, 26 avril 1834. Le Canadien, 4 mars, 29 avril, 3 juill. 1835; 28 nov. 1838. La Minerve, ler mai 1834. Montreal Gazette, 21 Aug. 1832. North American, 12 Feb. 1840. Quebec Gazette, 28 June 1832. Caron, “Papiers Duvernay,” ANQ Rapport, 1926–27: 162–63, 169–70, 177, 181, 191, 193. Ægidius Fauteux, Patriotes; Le duel au Canada (Montréal, 1934), 124–35, 219–25. Maurice Grenier, “La chambre d’Assemblée du Bas-Canada, 1815–1837” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1966), 93. Robert Rumilly, Histoire de la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal: des patriotes au fleurdelisé, 1834–1948 (Montréal, 1975), 19, 24–25, 30, 34–35; Hist. de Montréal, 2: 199–201, 203, 208–10, 226, 228, 230, 238, 244; Papineau et son temps. L O. David, “Édouard Rodier,” La Presse, 18 juin 1921: 18. Ægidius Fauteux, “L’histoire d’Édouard Rodier, le lion de L’Assomption,” Le Devoir (Montréal), 5 janv. 1938: 7.

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Cite This Article

Richard Chabot, “RODIER, ÉDOUARD-ÉTIENNE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rodier_edouard_etienne_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rodier_edouard_etienne_7E.html
Author of Article: Richard Chabot
Title of Article: RODIER, ÉDOUARD-ÉTIENNE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: October 22, 2014