SMITH, JAMES, politician and judge; b. 16 May 1806 at Montreal, Lower Canada, son of James Smith and Susanna McClement; d. 29 Nov. 1868 in the same place.
James Smith received his primary education from John Doty, the Anglican minister at Trois-Rivières. In 1816 he went to Scotland to complete his secondary studies. He returned to Canada in 1823 and settled in Montreal, where he studied law under Benjamin Beaubien and the future judge Samuel Gale. Called to the bar on 20 May 1828, he practised in Montreal in partnership with Duncan Fisher. In 1841 Governor Sir Charles Bagot* appointed him, with Alexander Buchanan* and Joseph-André Taschereau, to a commission for the study of the seigneurial system in Lower Canada. In March 1843, despite the commission’s restricted powers, it presented a substantial report which declared the system obsolete and recommended its abolition.
On 2 Sept. 1844 James Smith entered the ministry of William Henry Draper* and Denis-Benjamin Viger as a member of the Executive Council and attorney general for Lower Canada, a portfolio he also held in the ministry of Draper and Denis-Benjamin Papineau* until 22 April 1847. When Smith became a minister, Governor Charles Theophilus Metcalfe* was experiencing serious difficulty in replacing Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine and Robert Baldwin*, who had just resigned. Refusing to accept a truly responsible government, he had vainly offered the post of attorney general for Lower Canada, La Fontaine’s portfolio, to four French Canadians and two English Canadians. After all refused, Smith accepted the position, which he filled without much distinction. On 12 Nov. 1844 he had been elected mla for Missisquoi; he represented it until 1847 when he became a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench. In 1849 he became a judge of the Superior Court of the district of Montreal, and in 1854 was appointed to the extraordinary court created by the act for the abolition of seigneurial tenure to study the legal questions raised by this measure.
In March 1865 Judge Smith was called upon to give a verdict on the extradition of the American Confederate soldiers who had raided the little village of St Albans in Vermont the preceding autumn and then taken refuge in Canada. They had already been set free by magistrate Charles-Joseph Coursol*, but were arrested again and tried by Smith, who refused to allow them to be extradited, because in his view the articles of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty made no provision for the offence they had committed. He retired on 25 Aug. 1868 and died on 29 November at Montreal.
Gazette (Montreal), 1 Dec. 1868. Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians, 447–48. P.-G. Roy, Les juges de la prov. de Québec, 507. L. B. Shippee, Canadian-American relations, 1849–1874 (New Haven, N.Y., and Toronto, 1939), 154.