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DUPUY, CLAUDE-THOMAS (the name was sometimes written Du Puy or Dupuis, but he signed Dupuy), lawyer, maître des requites, intendant of New France from 1725 to 1728; b. 10 Dec. 1678 in Paris, only son of Claude Dupuy and Élisabeth Aubry; married, on 6 June 1724, Marie-Madeleine Lefouyn, by whom he had no children; d. 15 Sept. 1738 at the Château de Carcé, near Rennes.
The intendant’s family came originally from Ambert, in the province of Auvergne. Jacques Dupuy, the great-grandfather of Claude-Thomas, lived there at the beginning of the 17th century. A document of 1611 calls him a merchant. His son Étienne was styled a merchant and bourgeois of Ambert, and was a clerk in the bailiff’s court of that town. From 1648 on, Étienne enjoyed the designation of “honourable man,” a sign of social progress. Of his numerous sons, Thomas and Claude are the best known. The former made a fortune in the manufacture of paper, an industry very wide-spread in Auvergne at that time, and in various tax farms. He acquired several seigneuries, in particular that of Grandrif, which he added to his name. His son bought the office of king’s secretary-counsellor, “maison et couronne de France,” in the parlement of Pan, which conferred nobility upon him at the same time. His line has continued down to our day under the name of La Grandrive.
Etienne’s second son, Claude, the father of Claude-Thomas, left Ambert to try his luck in Paris, where fortune smiled on him. He usually called himself a bourgeois of Paris and a papermaker with his own shop; but the sale of paper, facilitated by his brother’s activity in Auvergne, did not absorb all his energies; he lent money, speculated on houses, and was soon to be found buying offices for his son, which was an investment for the bourgeois of the time as well as a means of social advancement.
On 20 June 1676 he had married Élisabeth Aubry, who also belonged to the well-to-do Paris bourgeoisie, since she brought him a dowry of 10,000 livres, 8,000 of which were in ready money. But although Claude’s father-in-law was only a comptroller of La Bûche in Paris his brother-in-law, Charles Aubry, was a lawyer in the parlement. The family was moving finally towards the bar. Jacques-Charles Aubry, Charles’ son, became between 1715 and 1735 one of the most famous lawyers in Paris.
Claude-Thomas Dupuy also chose this career. From 1688 to 1696 he studied at the Collège de Beauvais, two doors away from his father’s house, which in that period had an excellent reputation. When he left it he enrolled in the Faculty of Law, where in 1698 he took his baccalaureate and in 1699 his licentiate. Shortly afterwards he entered the parlement as a lawyer, and in 1701 his parents bought for him the office of “king’s counsellor, His Majesty’s lawyer on the presidial bench of the Châtelet in Paris.” In 1708 he became advocate general in the grand conseil; in his letters of appointment he is styled “chevalier.” In 1720 he bought the office of maître des requites, which was worth something like 200,000 livres. Maîtres des requêtes had important duties, but it must be particularly noted that the office was normally a stepping-stone to higher posts, especially to an intendancy or to the council of state.
Towards the end of 1722 the new maître des requêtes decided, apparently for financial reasons (either substantial losses incurred through the failure of the system or ill-inspired land deals), to resign his office; and in the spring of 1723 he received his letters as honorary maître des requêtes, which allowed him to attend the meetings and express opinions there, but without receiving the emoluments of the post. He thus remained almost three years without an office, that is to say until his appointment in October 1725 to the intendancy in Canada; this is a somewhat surprising fact, for which a valid explanation has not yet been found.
Let us begin by noting all the unusual elements of the Dupuy case. It hardly ever happened that one became maître des requêtes if one’s parents had not themselves held such offices for at least one or two generations. To a certain extent Claude-Thomas Dupuy appears like an upstart in this world of highly placed Parisian magistrates. It was partly Claude Dupuy’s money that enabled his son to make headway. Louis Moreri, in Le grand dictionnaire historique ou le mélange curieux de l’histoire sacrée et profane . . . (1759), was himself struck by the personal worth of Claude-Thomas; he worked his way up, he tells us, “by his own merit.” This remark is the more significant because we are not aware that Dupuy had any “patron,” that is to say a highly placed and influential person who would have been capable of furthering his candidacy for the various posts that he occupied.
But at the beginning of June 1726 he left Paris for a quite new adventure. He set out for Quebec, to take on there very different duties from those which had hitherto occupied him. He came to replace Michel Bégon*, who had held the intendancy since 1712.
In 1723 the latter had indeed asked the king to replace him in the post of intendant of Canada. Edme-Nicolas Robert, who was appointed at the beginning of 1724, did not come to Canada, since he died suddenly in July on the boat that was bringing him to New France. The following year Guillaume Chazel disappeared in the shipwreck of the Chameau within sight of the shores of Cape Breton Island. On the news of his death Dupuy presented his candidacy for the still vacant post. The colonial office accepted at once, for it considered “that there are few persons in the Marine who are fitted for this position.”
The new intendant took possession of his office on 2 Sept. 1726. He was to remain only two years in Canada. In the normal discharge of his duties, Dupuy displayed competence and perspicacity, but in a critical moment he showed so little restraint and self-possession that the minister decided to recall him.
The first duty of an intendant of New France was to administer justice; “good and prompt justice,” said the instructions. Having spent his life in the highest courts of the mother country, Dupuy cannot have met many problems in the cases that came before him at Quebec. In what remains to us of his enactments nothing appears abnormal, except that one might perhaps reproach him with showing a certain partiality towards seigneurs, to the detriment of copyholders. With him justice was expeditious; a sentence was sometimes pronounced on the very day of the offence.
People, who were perhaps merely repeating the comments which he had made himself on his own action, have accused him of being excessively severe in his judgements. However, a close examination of the relevant documents reveals nothing of this kind. Among other things, he has been taken to task over the fine of 200 livres imposed on a young man who had sold spirits illegally, but this severity, which is in no way excessive, was justified by the fact that he wanted to make an example of him.
The maintenance of order also came under the intendant, and in the 18th century this included all the internal administration of the colony. By going through Dupuy’s correspondence it is possible to establish that he reflected a great deal about the problems posed by the colonization of North America. He saw first its vertical dimension, that is the relationship of colony to mother country. On this point the court’s instructions were clear: the “colony of Canada is good only to the extent that it can be useful to the kingdom.” After studying the Canadian setting, he concluded as follows: first, Canada offered France “inexhaustible wealth,” of which unfortunately full advantage could not be taken, either through ignorance or through lack of manpower. Secondly, Canadians were in the process of becoming a new people, who were different from the French, and whom the mother country, unless she were careful, would soon find it hard to control. “The colony is on the verge of ruin,” he wrote in 1727, “unless we are assisted with men and money.” He asked the French government to invest in Canada in shipbuilding, and in the establishment of glassworks and potteries, which were all industries requiring large quantities of wood. He particularly asked that new blood be injected to help the Canadians, whose spirit of independence had impressed him, to develop. A strong colony would be of service to the mother country in many ways. His appeal fell on deaf ears.
Then came the horizontal dimension, the integration of New France in the North American setting. Two salient facts engaged his attention: the presence of the English, and Franco-Indian relations. Dupuy recognized with considerable perspicacity the sharpness of the sword which the Anglo-Saxons held poised over the colony. He had not been there for a year before the English were installed, and firmly, at Oswego on Lake Ontario. “Now we are reduced to being on the defensive in our own country!” he exclaimed. He asked for an energetic effort by the mother country: “Moderate efforts will do more at present than great projects that would be implemented too late,” a prediction that was to be realized 30 years later, during the Seven Years’ War.
Being a good jurist, he did not hesitate to state his theory concerning the rights of the French over the territories of the Iroquois after the treaty of Utrecht. Burnet had used the fact that the French had asked the consent of the Iroquois before reconstructing Fort Niagara as an argument to show that the territories in question were in truth Indian property. But, Dupuy hastened to retort, this “consent . . . does not prove anything in a country which is a colony and newly discovered, as we have at all times shared everything with the natives by common consent.” Hence the consent of the natives was the basis of joint ownership of the territories. Dupuy saw proof of this consent in the fact that the Indians called the king of France their father and the French their brothers. A fragile confirmation indeed, but the notion of joint ownership is interesting.
Dupuy also concerned himself with the exploitation of the colony, that is to say the development of its economy. Being of the opinion that the fur trade was destined to die out rapidly, he decided to concentrate his efforts on the products of the soil. For example, he encouraged the growing of hemp; but his success was short-lived. He tried, but in vain, to persuade the mother country to build vessels in Canada. Everywhere he came up against insurmountable obstacles: the lack of outlets for the produce, the dearth of specialized workmen; when all was said or done the mother country could not make up its mind to invest heavily in Canada, and this would have been the only way to get out of the impasse.
With regard to law and order in the towns Dupuy had very decided views; he wanted to set the taverns to rights, and to this end he issued ordinances that many considered excessive and untimely. But it was town-planning that particularly interested him. He wanted to make the town of Quebec into a beautiful capital. He repaired the streets, laid out squares, and planned to put fountains and basins in them. Governor Charles de Beauharnois* de La Boische was shocked by an expenditure that he deemed useless, and the king’s engineer, Chaussegros* de Léry, was annoyed at not having been consulted. Dupuy had indeed decided everything on his own initiative, and had even thought of directing the construction work himself.
As to the financial situation, which he subsequently prided himself on having clarified, it must be admitted that during the first months of his intendancy he conducted a fairly extensive investigation in this direction. The reports of his successors confirmed his conclusions: the court never sent enough money, and as a rule it arbitrarily reduced the requests of its administrators, with the result that there was a lack of currency, sometimes a tragic lack, in the colony. Moreover, the court did not stop pedlars from draining off this currency. Above all, the minister was unwilling to admit that the costs of administration went on increasing with the general growth of the colony. Brutal reminders of these truths were unpalatable to him, and in the autumn of 1728 he was shocked to discover that in the last months of his administration Dupuy, whose thoughts were elsewhere, had pretty well neglected financial details; several accounts were not in order, and workmen whom he had taken on had not been paid. When Maurepas wrote to Hocquart* in the spring of 1729, to advise him to pay particular attention to His Majesty’s finances, he told him bluntly: “His Majesty is informed that financial matters in the colony are not in order, that accounts of expenditures are four years behind and have not been closed, and that those of the warehouses have not been closed since 1 Oct. 1726 either.” We may wonder, moreover, whether Dupuy, whose own finances were never in perfect shape, was well qualified to manage those of the king.
The minister’s dissatisfaction and disapproval also extended to another sphere: the intendant’s relations with certain persons, particularly the governor, Beauharnois. Each year in his instructions the king brought up insistently a point considered essential: perfect understanding between the governor and the intendant. The first contact had raised hopes of a harmonious and durable relationship, but nothing came of it. By the end of 1726 Beauharnois, who was touchy, had the impression that Dupuy, insatiable of honours, wanted to equal him in prestige and power. At that moment a climate of tension between the two was created. Not a month passed without a heated squabble breaking out, whether it was over a marriage to be authorized or a drum to be supplied to the troops. Each time the incident, often trivial in itself, assumed the proportions of an event. The general was not as learned as the magistrate, but he had a caustic style; from his pen have come lapidary sentences on the subject of the intendant, which historians have taken pleasure in repeating. Following the quarrel over the drum, he said to the minister: “If we had crossed the tropic on our way here, I might have thought that he had been touched with madness, since there is no common sense in any of his requests.” Then, when he pointed out that Dupuy would not listen to reason, his comment was: “He hearkens to no one, he fancies that he has become a god.” They came to the point where they detested each other thoroughly; “I have only to say white for him to say black,” remarked Beauharnois; “I have only to be of one opinion for him to be of another.” In fact the governor always had the impression that his rights were being encroached upon, and for his part Dupuy saw the dark designs of Beauharnois everywhere, and accused him of being involved in the fur trade.
There was probably an incompatibility of temperament between the two men; but it must certainly be admitted also that they were diametrically opposed both by their origin and by their professional training. Dupuy spent his life in the magistracy and came from a bourgeois family, for whom the king’s service was something new; that is why the intendant, at every turn, made it known that he had served His Majesty such and such a number of years; he even went so far as to identify his ideas and wishes with those of the sovereign. “The latter even had to remind him, in 1727, that he was only the second person in the colony.” For Beauharnois, on the other hand, whose whole family history had been bound up for more than two centuries with the magistracy and the royal services, this had become a natural thing, about which there was never any question in his correspondence. And as for his own career, he had spent it almost entirely in the Marine; he knew nothing about the legal mind and easily got lost in the subtle turns of a parliamentarian’s arguments. Hence we can more readily understand why they were at variance from the beginning of their joint administration to the end.
To be sure, all these difficulties annoyed the minister: however, he saw nothing irreparable in the situation. But such was not his reaction when at the end of May 1728 he received the report, dispatched to him by the chapter of Quebec, concerning the events which had marked the beginning of that year.
Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix], who had died during the night of 26 Dec. 1727, had chosen Intendant Dupuy as his executor. The latter took his role very seriously. Early on the morning of 26 December, he affixed seals to the bishop’s possessions, transmitted the seals of the diocese, the emblems of authority, to the canons, and proclaimed the beginning of the regale. For their part the canons, having met immediately, elected Étienne Boullard as capitular vicar. On 31 December a dispute broke out in the chapter as to who should preside at the funeral, which had been set for 4 January. Chartier* de Lotbinière maintained that this honour belonged to him, in his capacity as archdeacon. Boullard, as capitular vicar, claimed it for himself. Lotbinière conceived the unfortunate notion of taking the dispute to the intendant, who summoned the canons for 2 January. The latter, questioning his authority in matters of ecclesiastical discipline, refused to appear. Dupuy was extremely annoyed at this. He then made a strange decision: as it had been reported to him that the canons wanted to remove the bishop’s body to transport it to the cathedral and bury it there, contrary to the bishop’s last will and testament, he decided to advance the date of the funeral. Without warning anybody, either among the clergy or the congregation of Quebec, he ordered Lotbinière to proceed forthwith – it was early afternoon on 2 January – with the interment of the bishop, which the archdeacon did, before the astonished eyes of the nuns and paupers of the Hôpital Général. Boullard reacted immediately: he placed the chapel of the Hôpital Général under interdict and deposed the mother superior. Dupuy replied at once that these acts were invalid; first because Boullard had not shown his letters of appointment, and secondly because in any case his election was worthless, since he had just discovered that there was a coadjutor in France who had automatically taken office. The canons were summoned to the Conseil Supérieur for the following Monday, 5 January.
Thus began the battle between the chapter, led by Boullard, and the Conseil Supérieur, directed by Dupuy. The latter’s weapons were ordinances and fines, the former’s interdicts and threats of excommunication. The January and February meetings of the council were almost entirely given over to violent, impassioned speeches by the intendant against the canons and particularly against Boullard. The affair came to such a pass that the governor considered it his duty to intervene. He came in person to the Conseil Supérieur and forbad the intendant to arraign Canon Boullard, despite the writ that had been issued shortly before. This intervention did not convince Dupuy, who challenged the governor’s authority in legal matters and countermanded his orders. The wrangling continued in this way until the end of May.
These dissensions had created a great stir in the colony. The clergy had become divided. Several officers had to make a difficult choice between two authorities whose orders were contradictory. This all caused great wonderment among the people. The king was quickly informed of events. At the end of January the canons, with the governor’s connivance and despite the intendant’s veto, sent one of their members as a representative to Paris via New England. The latter reached Versailles before the end of May, and a few days later it was decided to recall the intendant. The minister was astonished at the numerous irregularities of procedure perpetrated by Dupuy, and was shocked by his intemperate language as well as by his ill-timed decisions. It was not understood at Versailles how such an experienced magistrate could act in such an ill-advised fashion. The truth is that at bottom Dupuy lacked the prudence that a good administrator needs; he never doubted his own ideas or rather he would not give them up, for in his opinion the authority with which the king had invested him gave them an inviolable character and put them above discussion.
He gave free rein to his passionate feelings; his speeches are full of violent diatribes against all who dared to oppose him. be they members of the chapter, religious, or officers. He seems to have delighted in this dispute, which allowed him to give public expression to his ideas on the superiority of the civil power over the church. But we must recognize, as moreover the couirt did, that his legal knowledge had limitations. The nonvacancy of the episcopal see was far from being established, and in all these questions of ecclesiastical law, with which he was less familiar, he ought to have shown more discretion and prudence. Furthermore, the minister approved Beauharnois’ intervention in the Conseil Supérieur, even if this was extraordinary. Indeed the governor, the sovereign’s personal representative in the colony, possessed supreme authority there. It was his duty, by virtue of his letters of appointment, to “maintain and keep the peoples in peace, quiet, and tranquillity.” It seemed to him – the minister shared his opinion – that the “tranquillity” of the colony was threatened by Dupuy’s behaviour.
One may legitimately ask oneself whether the latter was not induced to act as he did because of the prejudice, shared by many magistrates, that their profession was superior to that of the military. “If force were not controlled by law,” Charles Loyseau had written at the beginning of the 17th century, “robbery and brigandage would prevail.” Dupuy’s attitude might well derive from such an outlook.
The king’s decision vexed him sorely; and the grief that this brutal recall caused him was further aggravated by some very unpleasant occurrences As he had incurred heavy debts (65,000 livres) during his two-year stay in Quebec, an order of restraint was obtained against him. Of the 50-odd bales that he had brought with him to Quebec he took back to France only a few clothes and some papers. The sale of his possessions was subsequently carried out; he had to send back to France his library, for which there were no purchasers at Quebec, and his astronomical instruments, which would have had to go for a ridiculous price. The intendant emerged from his Canadian adventures profoundly humiliated and completely ruined. No one, on his return to the mother country, would offer him a position. But the king took pity on his misfortune, and granted him an annual pension of 1,500 livres.
Dupuy did not, however, lose heart. One might even say that his return to France heralded the beginning of a new career, a scientific one. Dupuy was a cultured man, he passed for a scholar; the doctor at the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec, Michel Sarrazin, had a high esteem for his learning. It has been possible to verify that this reputation was not overrated. Indeed we know the composition of his library, which contained more than 1,000 volumes. Its main features should be noted: a prominence given to the Bible, of which he possessed the text in several languages; a well-stocked and well-balanced legal section; an important place devoted to the arts and sciences, music, and mechanics, among other subjects. We know by cross-checking that Dupuy’s interest in these fields, the last in particular, was not merely theoretical. Had he not transported with him to Quebec a well-equipped physics laboratory containing many models made by himself?
This long-standing interest in experiments in mechanics occupied the last years of his life. He constructed hydraulic machines, some of which were fairly widely talked of and were mentioned in the scientific reviews of the period. On three occasions inquirers from the Académie des Sciences came to see his inventions. Their report on the visit was favourable; they stated: “Monsieur Dupuy’s pump is very good, and its capacity is at least as great as that of any pump so far shown before the academy.” The king’s privilège was then granted to his widow, for at that date (1741), the inventor had been dead for three years. He had died on 15 Sept. 1738 at the Château de Carcé, near Rennes, where he had been asked to come to “pump out the waters” which were filling the mines at Pontpéan. But as his death had interrupted the experiment it was his pupil, M. de Gensanne, who had completed it, and apparently with success. The experiment had no sequel, however, and it is easy to understand why: it was based on the principles of Cartesian physics, which was already at that time disappearing under the attacks of the Newtonians. There too Dupuy’s success was ephemeral.
Finally, to what can we attribute Dupuy’s original failure as an intendant in Canada? We can draw on several details for an answer. First his psychology: we have noted his inflexibility, his inadaptability. This natural rigidity had no doubt been strengthened by Jansenist influence, which appears evident in Dupuy. His inclination towards violence probably did not help in the execution of duties in which contacts with the public were so frequent. As for prudence, he seems to have been devoid of it; he did not know how to wait, to play his hand skilfully, to dissimulate. A long family tradition in the king’s service would have given him more tact, would have taught him the art of compromise. It is also evident that his previous training had ill prepared him for his post as intendant in New France. His whole career had been spent in Paris courts where he was never alone in making decisions, where he was only one cog among many others, several of whom were his superiors. He found himself in Quebec with extensive power in his hands, and with no equal except the governor, whom moreover he could not bear to acknowledge as his superior.
After his administration, the court deemed it wise to return to the traditional practice of appointing to the Canadian intendancy an officer from the Marine cadres, experienced in office work and administrative routine.
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Cite This Article
Jean-Claude Dubé, “DUPUY, CLAUDE-THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dupuy_claude_thomas_2E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Jean-Claude Dubé|
|Title of Article:||DUPUY, CLAUDE-THOMAS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1969|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||May 29, 2023|