Claiborne assured the people that their liberty, property, and religion were safe, and that they should never again be transferred. His assurance must have meant little to his hearers, in view of the many changes of the past. Claiborne's Autograph Ninety-one years before," says Professor McMaster, when scarcely a thousand white men dwelt on her soil, Louis XIV had farmed Louisiana to Antoine Crozat. the merchant monopolist of his day. Crozat, unable to use it, made it over in 1717 to John Law, director-general of the Mississippi Company, which surrendered it in 1731 to Louis XV, who gave it in 1762 to the king of Spain, who made it over to Napoleon, who sold it to the United States." No wonder a promise that there would be no more changes was received with doubt. Yet, except for a short interval of fifteen months in the course of the Civil War, the Stars and Stripes have continued to wave over New Orleans.

For a short time Louisiana, although American territory, was without American laws or custom-house regulations. The merchants found themselves continuing to pay the obnoxious duties exacted by the laws of Spain, and they were not slow to protest. But early in 1804 Congress took action. After much discussion a law was passed dividing the purchased country at the thirty-third parallel, which afterward became the dividing line between Arkansas and Louisiana. The country north of that line was called the district of Louisiana, and was placed under the territorial government of the Indiana territory. There were but few white people then in this great stretch of country, but lower Louisiana, which was called the territory of Orleans, contained some fifty thousand people, or more than the territory of Ohio in 1800.

It was provided that the territory of Orleans was to be governed by officers appointed by the President. This was a step of great historical importance. First, the President had bought a foreign colony without its consent and had annexed it. Secondly, he assumed control of its government, and in both measures he was sustained by Congress. This was done without any changes in the Constitution. Another striking feature was that, although the treaty with France provided for full citizenship for the people of the Louisiana territory, this was denied them, and a government was established which was not elected by themselves but appointed from Washington. However, in spite of the surprises, the contradictions and compromises which accompanied the strange history of Louisiana, it became and it has remained American territory.

Only once, since it passed into our keeping, has Louisiana been threatened by a foreign invader. This was in 1815, at the end of our war with England. But Sir Edward Pakenham’s army of twenty thousand veteran British soldiers, who came to conquer Louisiana, was defeated by the forces led by Andrew Jackson in the battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815 As if to continue the list of strange events which have been connected with Louisiana, this battle was fought after peace had been arranged between the United States and Great Britain.

Andrew Jackson after battle of New Orleans

Two other events in our domestic history have menaced the integrity of Louisiana. Associated with the pacific Jefferson as Vice President was the brilliant, unscrupulous, and tragic figure of Aaron Burr. Burr’s connection with the President who acquired Louisiana added another dramatic element to the history of plots which involved the West. As to the exact nature of Burr’s schemes or conspiracy in 1805—1806, students have differed. The usual belief has been that Burr, spurred by diseased ambition and wounded vanity, planned the separation of the Southwest from the United States and the foundation of an empire under his own rule.3 Later researches4 go to indicate that Burr proposed to organize a filibustering expedition for the invasion and occupation of the Spanish territory to the south. At the outset, at least, Burr’s designs were probably little better than treason, although his final purpose seems to have changed. Another figure in the history of Louisiana, Wilkinson, who was governor of New Orleans, was implicated in Burr’s plots and sought to clear himself at Burr’s expense.

While this plot, however, left the Louisiana Purchase unchanged, our Civil War made an inroad, fortunately only temporary, upon its integrity. In the fateful spring of 1861 the states of Louisiana and Arkansas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. But in 1868 the constitutional relations of these states to the Union were fully reestablished, and since then there has been and is likely to be no break in the relation of Louisiana to the United States.

3 See "History of the United States of America," by Henry Adams, for the argument that Burr proposed both treason to his country and filibustering.
Return to text.

4 See The Aaron Burr Conspiracy," by Dr. W. F. McCaleb.
Return to text.

Part 2

Back to Legacy

© 2001, Lynn Waterman