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The Price of Half Convictions
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The next move on the part of all concerned was to hurry forward messengers, with declarations, to the courts of France and Spain. The colonists sent theirs, Aubry and Ulloa, each, his; and Foucault, his a paper characterized by a shameless double-dealing which leaves the intendant-commissary alone, of all the participants in these events, an infamous memory.
The memorial of the people was an absurd confusion of truth and misstatement. It made admissions fatal to its pleadings. It made arrogant announcements of unapplied principles. It enumerated real wrongs, for which France and Spain, but not Ulloa, were to blame. And with these it mingled such charges against the banished governor as: That he had a chapel in his own house; that he absented himself from the French churches; that e enclosed a fourth of the public common to pasture his private horses; that he sent to Havana for a wet-nurse; that he ordered the abandonment of a brick-yard near the town, on account of its pools of putrid water; that he removed leprous children from the town to the inhospitable settlements at the mouth of the river; that he forbade the public whipping of slaves in the town; that masters had to go six miles to get a negro flogged; that he had landed in New Orleans during a thunder-and-rain storm, and under other ill omens; that lie claimed to be king of the colony; that he offended the people with evidences of sordid avarice ; and that he added to these crimes-as the text has it-“many others, equally just [!] and terrible!”
Not less unhappy were the adulations offered the king, who so justly deserved their detestation. The conspirators had at first entertained the bold idea of declaring the colony’s independence and setting up a republic. To this end Noyan and his brother Bienville, about three months before the outbreak, had gone secretly to Governor Elliott, at Pensacola, to treat for the aid of British troops. In this they failed; and, though their lofty resolution, which, by wiser leaders, among a people of higher discipline or under a greater faith in the strength of a just cause, might have been communicated to the popular will, was not abandoned, it was hidden, and finally suffocated under a pretence of the most ancient and servile loyalty ” Great king, the best of kings [Louis XV.], father and protector of your subjects, deign, sire, to receive into your royal and fraternal bosom the children who have no other desire than to (lie your subjects,” etc.
The bearers of this address were Le Sassier, St. Lette, and Milhet. They appeared before the Due de Choiseul unsupported; for the aged Bienville was dead. St. Lette, chosen because he had once been au intimate of the duke, was cordially received. But the deputation as a body met only frowns and the intelligence that the King of Spain, earlier informed, was taking steps for a permanent occupation of the refractory province. St. Lette remained in the duke’s bosom. Milhet and Le Sassier returned, carrying with them only the cold comfort of an order refunding the colonial debt at three-fifths of its nominal value, in five per cent bonds.
It was the fate of the Creoles-possibly a climatic result to be slack-handed and dilatory. Month after month followed the October uprising without one of those incidents that would have succeeded in the history of an earnest people. In March, 1769, Foucault covertly deserted his associates, and denounced them, by letter, to the French cabinet. In April the Spanish frigate sailed from New Orleans. Three intrepid men (Loyola, Gayarre, and Navarro), the governmental staff which Ulloa had left in the province, still remained, unmolested. Not a fort was taken, though it is probable not one could have withstood assault. Not a spade was struck into the ground, or an obstruction planted, at any strategic point, throughout that whole “Creole” spring time which stretches in its exuberant perfection from January to June.
At length the project of forming a republic was revived and was given definite shape and advocacy. But priceless time had been thrown away, the opportune moment had passed, an overwhelming Spanish army and fleet was approaching, and the spirit of the people was paralyzed. The revolt against the injustice and oppression of two royal powers at once, by ” the first European colony that entertained the idea of proclaiming her independence,” was virtually at an end.
It was the misfortune of the Creoles to be wanting in habits of mature thought and of self-control. They had not made that study of reciprocal justice and natural rights which becomes men who would resist tyranny. They lacked the steady purpose bred of daily toil. With these qualities, the insurrection of 1768 might have been a revolution for the overthrow of French and Spanish misrule and the establishment and maintenance of the right of self-government.
The Creoles were valorous but unreflecting. They had the spirit of freedom, but not the profound principles of right which it becomes the duty of revolutionists to assert and struggle for. They arose fiercely against a confusion of real and fancied grievances, sought to be ungoverned rather than self-governed, and, following distempered leaders, became a warning in their many-sided short-sightedness, and an example only in their audacious courage.
They had now only to pay the penalties; and it was by an entire inversion of all their first intentions that they at length joined in the struggle which brought to a vigorous birth that American nation of which they finally became a part.
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