Louisiana still in Spainís hands. Delivery to France. Cession by France to the United States. A country without government. Congress gives the President power. Importance of the precedents. The territory divided. A last foreign invasion.

Another curious feature of this history is that although France had sold Louisiana to the United States, it had not yet been delivered by Spain to France. On the 30th of November, 1803, however, this ceremony was formally performed in the old Cabildo (City Hall) of New Orleans. The French commissioner, Laussat, delivered to the Spanish commissioners the order of the king of Spain for the transfer of the province to France, and showed the authority which Napoleon had given him to receive it. Then the Spaniards yielded the keys of New Orleans and absolved the people from allegiance to Spain. The Spanish flag was lowered, the French tricolor rose in its place, and the reign of Spain in Louisiana was ended.

The next step was the formal cession to the United States, and there were reasons for haste. Spain had protested against the act of France in selling the territory, for there was a clause in the original treaty which forbade its alienation.1 These protests were so strong that Jefferson even prepared to meet an armed resistance by sending a small military force under General James Wilkinson2 to New Orleans. Furthermore, in this interval there -was no formal government in that city.

Jefferson appointed William C. C. Claiborne, governor of Mississippi territory and General Wilkinson as the American commissioners to receive Louisiana. On December 20 they were Wilkinson's Autograph escorted into the city by American troops and were received by Laussat in the Cabildo. The ceremonies performed at the Spanish cession twenty days before were repeated now for the most part, with one vital difference. This time the flag of France was replaced with the Stars and Stripes. It was the outward sign of a new destiny, the beginning of a new life richer and greater than any one who watched the unfurling of the flag could have dared to imagine.

Cabildo, or City Hall

1An interesting modern Spanish view of the Louisiana Purchase has been afforded by Señor Jeronimo Becker, archivist of the ministry of state, in La España Moderna for May, 1903. This writer maintains that after securing the cession of Louisiana back to France, Talleyrand assured the Spanish government that the cession was desired merely for display and effect, and that later, on the payment of two million dollars, half in cash, Louisiana would be returned to Spain.

Señor Becker also states that in 1815 the Spanish government hoped to regain Louisiana through the action of the Congress of Vienna, and Labrador, the Spanish representative, was instructed to make the attempt. He saw that this was impossible, but it was believed in Vienna in 1815 that the English were in possession of New Orleans and therefore practically of Louisiana, and he suggested that they might be willing to transfer it to Spain, ó a plan, he added, which was approved by the Duke of Wellington. Señior Becker expresses a feeling of inherited resentment against France on account of the sharp practice by which Napoleon obtained Louisiana from Spain in exchange for the award to the Duke of Parma of the so-called kingdom of Etruria, which remained under the control of French soldiers after Napoleon had sold Louisiana to the Americans and the Americans were claiming the Floridas. But he shows no ill-will at the action of the United States.
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2An unfortunate representative of the United States. His apparent willingness to prove false to his country in connection with Burrís plottings, and his military incompetency, have not been palliated by his acquittals.
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman