From Subjects To Citizens
Little wonder that it is said the Creoles wept as they stood on the Place d’Armes and saw the standard of a people, whose national existence was a mere twenty-years’ experiment, taking the place of that tricolor on which perched the glory of a regenerated France. On that very spot some of them had taken part in the armed repudiation of the first cession. The two attitudes and the two events differed alike. The earlier transfer had come loaded with drawbacks and tyrannous exactions; the latter came freighted with long-coveted benefits and with some of the dearest rights of man. This second, therefore, might bring tears of tender regret; it might force the Creole into civil and political fellowship with the detested Américain; but it could not rouse the sense of outrage produced by the cession to Spain, or of uniform popular hatred against the young Virginian whom President Jefferson had transferred from the Governorship of the Territory of Mississippi to that of Louisiana. O’Reilly, the Spanish Captain-General, had established a government whose only excellence lay in its strength; Claiborne came to set up a power whose only strength lay in its excellence. His task was difficult; mainly because it was to be clone among a people distempered by the badness of earlier rule, and diligently wrought upon by intriguing Frenchmen and Spanish officials. His wisest measures, equally with his broadest mistakes, were wordily resented. His ignorance of the French language, his large official powers, Wilkinson’s bad habits, a scarcity of money, the introduction of the English tongue, and of a just proportion of American appointees into the new courts and public offices, the use of bayonets to suppress disorder at public balls, a supposed partiality for Americans in court, the personal character of officials, the formation of American militia companies and their parades in the streets-all alike fed the flames of the Creoles’ vehement indignation.
In March, 1804, Congress passed an act dividing the province into two parts on the present northern boundary of Louisiana, giving each a distinct government, and to the lower the title of the territory of Orleans. This act, which was to take effect the following October, interdicted the slave-trade. Then, indeed, anger burned. Insurrectionary sentiments were placarded oil the street corners, crowds copied them, and public officers attempting to remove them were driven away. But that was all. Claiborne-young, like Bienville and like Galvez, but benevolent, wise, and patient-soon saw it was not the Government, but only some of its measures, that caused so much heat. The merchants, who in 1768 had incited revolt against legalized ruin, saw, now, oil the other hand, that American rule had lifted them out of commercial serfdom, and that, as a port of the United States, and only as such, their crescent city could enter upon the great future which was hers by leer geographical position. But we have seen that the merchants were not principally Creoles.
Although the Creoles looked for a French or Spanish recession, yet both interest and probability were so plainly against it that they were presently demanding impatiently, if not imperiously, the rights of American citizens as pledged to them in the treaty. They made no appeal to that France which had a second time cast them off ; but at three public meetings, in June and July, petitioned Congress not to rescind the cession but to leave Louisiana undivided, and so hasten their admission into the Union. This appeal was fruitless, and the territorial government went into operation, Claiborne being retained as governor. The partition, the presidential appointment of a legislative council instead of its election by the people, the nullification of certain Spanish land grants, and an official re-inspection of all titles, were accepted, if not with patience, at least with that grace which the Creole assumes before the inevitable. But his respect was not always forthcoming toward laws that could be opposed or evaded. “This city,” wrote Claiborne, “requires a strict police: the inhabitants are of various descriptions; many highly respectable, and some of them very degenerate.” A sheriff and posse attempted to arrest a Spanish officer. Two hundred men interfered; swords were drawn, and resistance ceased only when a detachment of United States troops were seen hurrying to the rescue. Above all, the slave-trade- “all-important to the existence of the country” -was diligently plied through the lakes and the inlets of Barataria.
The winter of 1804-05 was freer from bickerings than the last had been. The intrigues of Spanish officials who lingered in the district were unavailing, and the Governor reported a gratifying state of order. On the 2d of March, with many unwelcome safeguards and limitations, the right was accorded the people to elect a House of Representatives, and “to form for themselves a constitution and State government so soon as the free population of the territory should reach sixty thousand souls, in order to be admitted into the Union.”
For a time following there was feverishness rather than events. Great Britain and Spain were at war; Havana was open to neutral vessels; the commerce of New Orleans was stimulated. But the pertinacious lingering of Casa-Calvo, Morales, and others, -whom Claiborne at last had to force away in February, 1806,–the rumors they kept alive, the fear of war with Spain, doubts as to how the Creoles would or should stand, party strife among the Americans in Now Orleans, and a fierce quarrel in the Church between the vicar-general and the famed Pére Antoine, pastor of the cathedral, kept the public mind in a perpetual ferment. Still, in all these things there was only restiveness and discord, not revolution. The Creoles had at length undergone their last transplanting, and taken root in American privileges and principles. From the guilt of the plot whose events were now impending the Creole’s hand is clean. We have Claiborne’s testimony
“Were it not for the calumnies of some Frenchmen who are among us, and the intrigues of a few ambitious, unprincipled men whose native language is English, I do believe that the Louisianians would be very soon the most zealous and faithful members of our republic.”
On the 4th of November, 1811, a convention elected by the people of Orleans Territory met in New Orleans, and on the 28th of the following January adopted a State constitution; and on the 30th of April, 1812, Louisiana entered the Union.