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An argumentative essay on Louis Riel: hero or villain?

nathan02079 3 / 14  
Jan 29, 2009   #1
I am to write about 5-7 pages, arguing whether Louis Riel, a very important character in Canadian history, is a hero or a villain. I remembering doing a short essay that went on for 4 pages. I'm aiming at 6 pages for this topic, but I think this is the longest essay I will have to write so far.

First of all, I'm not entirely sure which side to argue...he was obviously a hero for these main reasons:

- He was the reason Canada has Manitoba and Saskatchewan
- He stood up for Native rights and defended the Metis
- He wrote up the List of Rights
- Led the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, which showcased the capabilities of the Canadian Pacific Railway

And here are the main reasons why he is a villain:

- He executed Thomas Scott, an Orange Lodge member
- Challenged the government and wrongly viewed their ideas
- Led rebellions against the government
- Ran away to the US after he killed Scott

I'm still wondering which topic I should pick. Also, I asked my history teacher what I can do to make my essay more descriptive. He told me to speak about the opposite first. For example, if I was to argue that he was a hero, I would start of talking about how he was a villain, and THEN talk about how he was a hero, and finish with that.

Is this a good idea? I have not seen an essay written in that manner before.

Help is greatly appreciated!


To my surprise, my teacher said the essay was fine, and that the paragraphs just needed re-arranging. He skimmed through my essay so far and he said it looked decent. I kept my paragraphs. I guess some teachers have their preference. Anyway, here's my essay.

Social Studies 10 Block B
Mr. M. Quick
February 23, 2009

Louis Riel: A Villain or a National Hero?

Heroes and villains always contribute to all great stories. The story of Canada building up as a nation is no exception. The 19th century was a crucial period in the development of Canada, affected by many controversial heroes and villains. Louis Riel, one of the most controversial figures in Canadian history, is now argued as both a villain and a hero. He was hanged on November 16, 1885 for treason, but was he a real villain? Louis Riel is undoubtedly a national hero because he stood up for Métis rights, was responsible for the formation of Manitoba, and called attention to the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Some may see Louis Riel as a villain because of his initiatives taken against the government. Riel was the leader of two major rebellions. The first rebellion was the Red River Rebellion of 1869. There was a need for the rebellion when the Métis, people with half-native and half-European descent, have had enough of being taken advantage of. Land speculators and surveyors at the time laid out square townships and disregarded the strip lots the settlers were used to have. Rupert's Land was purchased without any consultations with the settlers in the area. The Métis called for Riel, who was the leader of the Métis in the prairies at the time. After unsuccessful deliberations, Riel commenced the rebellion at Fort Garry, where they seized munitions. Riel created a provisional government in the area and tried to negotiate with the Canadian government as much as possible. To add to the adversity, Riel executed a person who went against his provisional government: Orange Lodge member Thomas Scott. When false news and rumors spread westward about Scott's execution, Riel was recognized as a felon and was wanted for arrest. This particular event led the government to see Louis Riel as a national villain.

The second major rebellion that took place with Louis Riel as the leader was the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, which further aggravated the Canadian government. Leading up too the rebellion, the Métis were continued to be unjustly treated by the Canadian government. At the time, the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, and costs were high. The government cut their budget from its Indian department, which meant that they didn't live up to their side of the deal of the treaties they agreed on with the natives. This action left many Métis dying from starvation. The Métis appealed to Riel, and he concluded that the predicament needed to end. In 1884, Riel returned to Canada from the United States on the pleas of his people. After realizing a harmonious resolution was impossible, he took up arms and prepared for the waves of soldiers from the Canadian government at Fort Carlton. Louis Riel and his army of Métis didn't fall easily-they held off the Canadian militia for some time before they were finally captured and defeated. Riel was arrested. From the government's point of view, the end of the Northwest Rebellion had led them to capture one of the most offensive villains.

Like every other hero, Riel had some things he has done that may have had people mistakenly identified him as a villain. During Riel's time, the 1880s, Riel wouldn't have been seen as a powerful and influential man. Riel lived in Canada. The clash of culture between the French and the English certainly did bring up disputes over land claims, rank in society, and cultural elements. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants were present in the area. Louis Riel was a Catholic French-Canadian in this community. Of course, the society wouldn't regard him as a person of importance. However, Louis Riel eventually gained attention, especially that from the government. The attention wasn't of admiration; instead, it raised awareness of Riel. Louis Riel was seen as a threat to the Canadian government through his rebellions.

On the other hand, Riel was pushed to act the way he did. Cordial negotiations were ineffective, and Riel was pushed by discrimination and racism to rebel. During the late 19th century, the Europeans and the natives lived in the same area, and shared the same land. With their differences in cultures, disputes were inevitable. The Europeans took advantage of the native Métis group. One typical case of dispute would be over land. The English had sophisticated ways of giving title to property. For instance, they ha 'scrips', which were pieces of paper that stated how much land you owned. The Métis were confused with the system, and most ended up being tricked or forced to sell and give up their land a low price, or at no cost at all to the Europeans. Another typical case of interaction would be between children. The Métis children would be sent to distant residential schools, where they would learn the basis of white culture, yet get treated in desolate conditions, where they were prone to abuse. The deals seemed innocent, but the Europeans seldom lived up to their side of the deals. Gradually, the discontent feelings of the Métis built up, and an action needed to be taken. Louis Riel tried to negotiate with the government about the Métis' situation, and that proved to fail.

Although the rebellions may have struck Louis Riel as Canada's national villain, all of his acts have benefited Canada in some way. One thing that stands out about Louis Riel is that he was very passionate about preserving the Métis' rights and culture. Undeniably, he was a true Métis leader. During the Red River Rebellion, he drew up the Métis List of Rights. Not only did he try to defend the Métis, but he also tried to defend the whole settlement under the control of the Canadian government. In short, the List of Rights proposed that all people were to be treated equally, with equal rights to the services and aspects of society, including voting and elections, land purchases and claims, and cultural and language rights. When the List of Rights was exploited, Riel did not desist from further improving the conditions for the Métis. During the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, Louis Riel wrote up the Bill of Rights-this document further satisfied the woes of the Métis. This bill ensured, in detail, that the Métis were to have equal rights to land, a say in elections, access to their necessities, and the same standard living conditions as the whites. Evidently, Louis Riel was a defender of Métis rights and the preserver of Métis culture.

In addition to improving the lives of the Métis, Louis Riel was responsible for the formation of the province we now know as Manitoba. During the Red River rebellion, Riel formed the provisional government and wrote up the List of Rights to help the Métis. This list was later used to base the Manitoba Act-the reply from the government, an act adopted by the Parliament to settle disputes concerning the Métis. The Manitoba Act, somewhat satisfying Métis injustice, proposed that the area of the Red River Colony was to become the province of Manitoba. This meant that roughly 1 400 000 acres in the area was to become Manitoba. The act didn't do only that. The Manitoba Act made French and English the two official languages of the province and it gave the society two education systems: Protestant and Roman Catholic. In addition, the act made sure the area had a responsible government, guarantee of land and property, and fair standings for the natives. In addition to being the protector of the Métis, Louis Riel was named 'The Founding Father of Manitoba'.

Also, Louis Riel called attention to the Canadian Pacific Railway. During the 19th century, the Canadian Pacific Railway was an immense project. John A. Macdonald, together with the railway managers and investors, put in a lot of time, money and a lot of effort in the project in the hopes of connecting Canada from coast to coast with a transcontinental railway. However, the CPR was almost bankrupt in 1885, and it was yet to be finished. When Louis Riel broke out the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, this meant that troops needed to be transported quickly, preferably by rail. Macdonald saw this as a perfect opportunity to finish up the railway. During the rebellion, Macdonald was able to send out troops in bigger proportions within 9 days instead of months. This gained attention from the public, and they viewed the money as a good investment instead of something that went to waste. The Canadian government proved that the Canadian Pacific Railway was a key element to stopping the rebellion. The construction of the CPR continued even after the rebellion, and John A. Macdonald's national dream was fulfilled. The railway led Canada to prosper, with many new, thriving businesses opening up As a consequence of Riel's actions, the Canadian Pacific Railway was recognized as a crucial initiation.

Undeniably, Louis Riel was a national hero, and he still is today. Though he may have done some things that may have upset the government, all of his actions have contributed to building Canada up as a nation. It is still evident today. Canada has the province of Manitoba. Also, the Métis have been recognized, and have grown to be equal in the Canadian society. The transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway still runs today, thanks to Louis Riel. He is definitely one of Canada's most important figure, and he is unmistakably a hero.

Now that I read it over, I think it sounds a bit too informal, and I definitely think the conclusion needs a-fixin'. What do you guys think? Thank you oh so much for helping me out. I really do appreciate it.

EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Jan 30, 2009   #2
If that is what your teacher suggested, it is a good idea! How can a teacher give you a bad grade if you carefully follow his/her advice? I always use the advice of teachers, and I make it obvious so that they feel appreciated!

About which to choose... it is interesting to just be perfectly honest and admit that a person can be both hero and villain. Indeed, we all probably are both.

Take the teacher's advice, and write from the heart.
angiemitchem 1 / 2  
Feb 3, 2009   #3
I agree take the teachers advice, and write from your heart and I will turn out relly fine.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Feb 4, 2009   #4
But don't forget that you'll need a thesis, which will probably involve judging whether he was more hero than villain or vice-versa. So, you will have to ask yourself if his work as a crusader for Metis rights justified or balanced out his violent acts against the government and its supporters. If so, then you would likely conclude that he was, all things considered, a hero. But if you don't believe that the ends justify the means (either in this particular case, or because you believe that the ends can never justify the means) then you would have to conclude that he was a villain. Either way, you should end up with an interesting essay.
OP nathan02079 3 / 14  
Feb 13, 2009   #5
Hello, I did a really quick draft of my first few paragraphs. Can you please help me check it over? Moderators can erase it once it's read.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Feb 13, 2009   #6
An argumentative essay should start with a sentence that grabs the attention. Try changing that first sentence now that you wrote a little of the essay. Next, give the reader a reason to care whether or not he is perceived as a hero... his life was meaningful and should be acknowledged! Make your thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph; you did that already, but add to it a bit of your rationale for thinking he is a hero rather than villain.

Use the body of the essay to support that reasoning you mentioned.

Spend a paragraph refuting the counter-argument, which means to tell the reader what someone who disagreed with you would say -- and why they are wrong.

Conclude with a paragraph that reflects on the points you made and restates the thesis.

The way this essay is now, it is more like telling the guy's story, and not so much a persuasive, argumentative essay.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Feb 13, 2009   #7
Your first paragraph could in fact be mostly cut altogether. Try to avoid stating generalities that don't advance your thesis.

When you are discussing the rebellions, focus more on who he targeted, what tactics he used, that sort of thing. The difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist generally lies in those things.

Good luck coming up with a complete draft.
OP nathan02079 3 / 14  
Feb 22, 2009   #8
Wow, thank you SO much for all this help! I do appreciate it!

When false news and rumors spread westward about Scott's execution, Riel was recognized as a felon and was wanted for arrest.
Is the word "false" supposed to be there? (above)

Well what happened was...Riel had his reasoning for executing Scott. Scott openly criticized Riel in jail, threatened to kill Riel, and abused the prison guards. However, when the news were spread, it made Scott seem entirely innocent and made it look like Riel was just a maniac and an insane killer for executing a believed-to-be-innocent man.
OP nathan02079 3 / 14  
Feb 22, 2009   #9
By the way, sorry for double posting, but I can't seem to find the edit button. Please erase my essay from the post ;). Thanks.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Feb 23, 2009   #10
Sorry, there is no edit button after 20 minutes from the posting time! Please check out the TOS to learn about your options.

SMITZ - / 1  
Apr 2, 2013   #11
Letter to John A. Macdonald in the Metis perspective, about execution of Louis Riel

The year is 1885. Louis Riel has been put on trial in Regina for treason, and the jury finds him guilty. The automatic sentence for treason is execution. Is Louis Riel a hero who should be given mercy for his crimes, or is he a villainous traitor who deserves to be hanged?

Write a persuasive letter to Prime Minister John A. MacDonald from the point of view of one of the following, outlining your reasons for holding your view:

-A Metis - A French-Canadian - An English-Canadian

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