The publications of Mesplet and du Calvet

 

Written in French, to better convince Canadians to join the American Revolution, this letter printed by Mesplet insisted upon the Canadians' legitimate right to parliamentary democracy: "a nation takes part in its government through its elected representatives and is thus ruled by laws of its own choosing rather than by the edicts of those over whom it has no control [free translation of French]". The address mentions other rights: trial by jury, habeas corpus, right of possession, freedom of the press, an elected Assembly, control over taxation, the separation of spiritual and temporal powers. The author invites Canadians to join "so just a cause [free translation of French]" and concludes by reminding them that "your province is the only missing link to the strong and shining chain of the union [free translation of French]."

Fleury Mesplet, Letter to the Inhabitants of the Province of Québec, Formerly known as Canada, from the first colonial congress held in Philadelphia [free translation from french], printed and published upon the order of the Philadelphia Congress, in Philadelphia, From the presses of Fleury Mesplet, 1774, 7 pages, 21 cm, Montréal, Bibliothèque nationale du Québec. Photo Robert Derome.
 

Fleury Mesplet, Literary Gazette for the City and District of Montreal, Printed in Montreal by Fleury Mesplet printer and bookseller, 26 cm, Frontispieces of 21 October 1778, Ottawa, Bibliothèque nationale du Canada. Photo Robert Derome.

We owe Québec's first unilingual French newspaper to Mesplet, printer for the American Congress. From the moment it was first published in the summer of 1778, he sought to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment. With the journalist, Valentin Jautard, Mesplet made this weekly a forum for debate and protest as well as an educational tool for the students of the Collège de Montréal. Throughout its year of existence, the Gazette de Montréal commented on, among other topics, Voltaire's death and the creation of a "Voltarian Academy" in Montréal. While dealing with such subjects as science, education, literature and philosophy, Jautard encouraged his readers to send in poems, which he commented on and improved under the pseudonym "Spéculateur tranquille" (Peaceable Spectator). With Pierre du Calvet, he attacked judges Rouville and Southouse. This intellectual venture came to an end when they were imprisoned in June 1779.

 

Born of a Huguenot family, Pierre du Calvet remained broad-minded throughout his life. He proposed legal and constitutional reforms and wrote an increasing number of open letters, memoirs and trials transcripts of until he was thrown into prison. A supporter of the American War of Independence, he upheld democratic principles with his journalist friends from the Gazette littéraire de Montréal. He went to London to demand justice upon his release from prison. There, he published his Appel à la justice de l'État (1784) both in French and in English under the title The case of Peter Du Calvet, Esq. of Montreal in the province of Quebeck… He died at sea and was never able to see his dream come true: the first Canadian Constitution (1791).

Pierre du Calvet (1735-1786), Appel à la Justice de l'État ou Recueil de Lettres au Roi, au Prince de Galles, et aux Ministres [...], London, [s. é.], 1784, xiv, -320-viii p., 22 x 14 cm, in 8N, Montréal, Bibliothèque nationale du Québec. Photo Robert Derome.