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V/AFOOTNOTE

TOHISTORY: WAS LOUIS


RIEL
AN AMERICAN CITIZEN?

HE recentannouncement
of the discovery
of what appeared
to be a United States naturalization certificate for Louis Rid
in the Manitoba Archives was the occasion for a certain amount
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of comment in the Canadian press. It was stated that there had


been no previousevidenceto showthat Rid had becomean Amer-
ican citizen during the period of his residencein Montana. Several
newspaper s commentededitorially upon the discovery.Although
the fact that Rid was an American citizen when he was convicted
of treason in 1885 was not unknown to students of Western Cana-
dian history,x it did come, apparently, as a surpriseto many. The
following details with respect to Louis Rid may, therefore, not be
without interest to the readers of the CANADIAN HISTORICAL
REVIEW.
Following his releasefrom the asylum at Beauport, Quebec, on
January 23, 1872,2Rid went to New England and then to Washing-
ton. His stay there was short and he eventually settled at St.
Joseph, Minnesota, where he remained about a year. In 1879 he
went to Montana, where he married a m•tisse by the name of
Marguerite Monette dit Bellehumeur. In 1883 he becamea teacher
at a schoolconductedby the Jesuit Fathers at St. Peter's Mission,
Lewis and Clark County, Montana Territory. It was here that the
m•tis delegationfrom the Saskatchewanvalley found him in June,
1884. 3
Meanwhile, in May, 1880, at Fort Benton, Choteau County,
Montana, Louis Rid had declared his intention of taking out
American citizenshipand on March 16, 1883 he was granted natu-
ralization by the District Court of the United States at Helena,
Montana. 4 He was able to show that his residence in the United
•See G. F. G. Stanley, The Birth of IVesternCanada(London, 1936), 386.
•Copiesof the officialadmissionand dischargepapersof LouisRid from the Beauport
Asylum may be found in the Public Archives of Canada, in the Rid Miscellaneous
Papers, Department of Justice. Rid was committed to Beauport at the expenseof the
provincial governmentMay 19, 1876 under the name of L. R. David alias Larochelie.
The followingstatementaccompaniedhis admission:"Je, soussignS, m•decin pratiquant
g Montreal, ccrtifiepar le presentque j'ai le dixibmejour de mai 1876g la LonguePointe
personnellementexamin• Louis R. David de Montreal, non mari•, et que le dit Louis
R. David est atteint d'ali•nation mentale; et que son •tat n•cessite surveillance et
traitement.
E. P. Lachapelle M.D.
Montreal
dat• de 15e jour du mois de mai 1876."
aR.P.A.G. Morice, Dictionnaire historiquedes Canadienset des rn•tis franqais de
l'Ouest(Quebec, 1912),
•P. A. C., Dewdney Papers, vol. 8, draft petition in Riel's handwriting, no date.
40
A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY 41

Stateshad begunon January 24, 1878 and had continuedto March


16, 1883 thus fulfilling more than the five years of uninterrupted
residencerequired by law. The following is a copy of Riel's natu-
ralization as recorded at Helena:

In the U.S. District Court of the Third Judicial


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District of the Territory of Montana.


President: Hon. D. S. Wade, Judge.

In the Matter of the Application of IN OPEN COURT,


LOUIS DAVID RIEL, an Alien, March Term, A.D. 1883,
To becomea Citizen of the this 16th day of
United States of America. March, A.D. 1883, as
yet of said Term.
It appearingto the satisfactionof this court, by the oaths of E. L. Merrill and
Lem Jerome, citizens of the United States of America, witnessesfor that purpose;
first duly sworn and examined, that Louis David Riel, a native of Canada, has
residedwithin the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States five years
at least, last past, and within the Territory of Montana, for one year last past;
and that duringall of saidfive years'time he hasbehavedas a man of goodmoral
character,attachedto the principlesof the Constitutionof the United States,and
well disposedto the goodorder and happinessof the same;and it also appearing
to the Court, by competentevidence,that the said applicant has heretofore,and
morethan two yearssince,and in due form of law, declaredhisintention to become
a citizen of the United States, and having now here, before this Court, taken an
oath that he will supportthe Constitutionof the United Statesof America, and
that he doth absolutelyand entirely renounceand abjure all allegianceand fidelity
to every foreignPrince, Potentate,State or Sovereigntywhatever, and particularly
to Victoria, Queenof Great Britain. It is thereforeordered,and adjudgedand
decreed,that the saidLouisDavid Riel be and is herebyadmittedand declaredto
be a citizen of the United States of America.
D. S. Wade, Judge
Signature
Louis David Riel. 5

• This documentwaspublishedin 1887in a pamphletbearingthe gorytitle, TheBlood


of Abel(Hasti•ags,Nebraska,1887). Its authenticity is vouchedfor by the Clerk of the
District Court, Helena, Montana, in a letter to the writer of this article.
The followingstatementwhichappearedin the Helena WeeklyIndependentMay 28,
1885, is of special interest in this connexion."Notic',mgthat the Eastern papers were
discussingthe matter as to whether Louis Riel, the notorious half-breed rebel, was a
citizen of the United States or not, and this notorious character having figured here-
toforeconspicuously in publicaffairsin Montana, an Independentreporterwasconfident
that he had becomea citizen in this country, but to satisfy himself, he yesterday went
and searched the records of the Clerk of the District Court, and there found that on
the 16th day of March, A.D. 1888, final citizenshippapers, upon the oaths of E. L.
Merrill and Lem Jeromeas to having known him to be a residentof the Territory for
five yearspreviousand his bearinga goodreputationas a citizen, weregrantedto him,
his having renouncedallegianceto Victoria, Queenof Great Britain and Ireland. This
is a matter that the entire United States, as well as the British Government are inter-
ested in and will stop any further discussionas to his citizenship.The questionthat
will nowagitatethe mindsof the publicis whetheror not the United Stateswill or should
take any part in his trial to be givenhim by the British Government.Many claim that
his having swornallegianceto the United States will require our governmentto demand
that he be given a fair trial."
42 THE CANADIAN I-IISTORICAL REVIEW

Oddly enoughthe indictmentof Riel took no cognizanceof his


American citizenship. The indictment read, in part, as follows:
"That Louis Riel being a subjectof our Lady the Queen,not re-
garding the duty of this allegiance,nor having the fear of God in
his heart, but beingmovedand seducedby the instigationof the
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devil as a falsetraitor againstour saidLady the Queen,and wholly


withdrawingthe allegiance,fidelity and obediencewhichevery true
and faithful subjectof our saidLady the Queenshouldand of right
ought to bear towards our said Lady the Queen.... ,,6 And yet
Riel did not attempt to concealthe fact that he was no longer a
British subject. On more than one occasionhe referred to it al-
though he did not make very much of it during his trial. 7 Riel's
counsel were obviously aware of it but elected to base their case
entirely on the argument of insanity.
On June 5, 1885, one of Riel's American friends, John D.
Pelletier,wrote to him "by the requestof many of your Montana
friendswho are desirousof assistingyou in securingthe full benefit
of your American citizenship" offering him the servicesof an
American lawyer. The letter continued: "Since you declaredyour
intention and becamean American citizen in this country and
spent many years here we feel confident that valuable evidence for
your defensecan be procuredin this country and Territory, and
that counselresidenthere can collectevidenceunderstandingits
full import and can possiblyproveof very great assistance in pre-
sentingyour caseat the trial. "8 A copy of this letter was sent to
Riel's counsel,CharlesFitzpatrick.
Both before and after his trial Riel wrote several letters to the
American consulat Winnipeg, J. W. Taylor. On October12, 1884,
he assuredthe consulthat his agitation in the SaskatchewanDis-
trict was "peaceable" and "constitutional."9 Following his con-
øCanadaSessionalPapers,1886, vol. XII, no. 43c, The Queenv. Rid, 14.
7Amongthe affidavits filed on the motion for adjournment on July 21, 1885 is one
signedby Louis Riel requestingthe productionof certain papersin evidenceincluding
his certificate of naturalization. The affidavit stated: "I believe that among the said
documentsis a certificate of the courts of the United States of America that I was duly
naturalized as a citizen of the United States, which I was; but if the said certificate is
notamongthe saidpapers,it isessential to my defencethat I shouldbegivenan oppor-
tunity of obtainingthe said certificate,by meansof which I can establishthat at the
time of the commissionof the alleged offencesI was a citizen of the United States of
America, and not a British subject,as chargedin the said information." This affidavit
is printed in The Queenv. Rid, 47.
It is interestingto note that the naturalizationcertificatereferredto in thi.saffidavit
was never produced. For some reason or other Riel failed to mention his American
citizenshipin his first addressto the jury and in his addressfollowinghis convictionhe
referred only in passingto his intention of becomingan Americancitizen (ibid., 219).
8Riel Miscellaneouspapers.
9Department of State, MSS Consular Despatchesfrom Winnipeg, vol. VI. See also
Stanley, The Birth of WesternCanada.
A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY 43

viction he wrote again to Taylor and in September addressedan


appeal to President Cleveland.soPetitions on his behalf were sent
to Washington from various parts of the United States and Riel's
friends in Washington, notably Major Edmund Mallet, discussed
his case with the Secretary of State, T. F. Bayard. The reply of
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the State Department to the plea for intervention was that "such
citizenship... even if beyond doubt, would not secure the pos-
sessorany immunity from Canadian l•[w, when, as it is definitely
certified to the Government in the... present instance, the offense
was committed within the territory of the Dominion. "n
Mr. Bayard's stand would appear to have been strictly correct
under the circumstances.There could hardly have been any justi-
fication for intervention on the part of the United States govern-
ment unless there was some reason to believe that Louis Rid had
been specially discriminated against as a result of his recently
acquired United States citizenship.

GEORGE F. G. STANLE¾

The University of British Columbia.

•øIbid., Taylor to Porter, Sept. 12, 1885.


riSenateExecutive Documents,no. 1, 51 CongressSpecialSenate Session,Serial 2618,
Bayard to Choquet, Oct. 27, 1885.