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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 20

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Early History of Illinois

Sidney Breese

published by E. B. Myers & Company,
Chicago, 1884

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 22
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p214  Chapter XXI

The mode of government — officers and the powers they exercised; judgment of court, etc.

The commandant, appointed now by the governor of Louisiana, exercised all such executive functions as the exigencies of the country might require, with but the semblance of responsibility to his superior.

He ruled with a mild sceptre, and oppressed not the feeble who were so much in his power.

That each one in succession regarded his own interests cannot be doubted, number one was, with him, beyond all controversy, the greatest number. If he plucked the government, the people in turn followed his example, when erecting public works, or in furnishing supplies for the troops, and in all the little jobs at his disposal. He had great patronage to bestow. The whole Indian trade was under his control, and no one could participate in it, except on condition of his sharing the profits.

 p215  No person could bring goods into his jurisdiction without his license; if they were brought he had only to declare that "an exigency of government" had occurred rendering it necessary that the king's commissary, his right hand man, should be the purchaser, after which "operation" they would become part and parcel of his own stock in trade.

In addition to this, he had the king's domain, out of which to cut and carve, supplies for the troops, to procure, and forts to repair or build, "by contract," voyages to make to New Orleans, with stores for the king's magazines, and he had the selection of bright, promising lads for the post of cadets, with an allowance of pay and rations, with the prospect of commissions in the army — all these were the most tempting baits to throw out to a people constitutionally disposed to be pleased, and alive to their own interests, with which, not only to secure their good-will, but to augment his own popularity.

The people were, therefore, happy and contented, if by the most deferential and conciliating behavior they could win his confidence and regard, for here, as elsewhere, "thrift would follow fawning."

 p216  This official, up to 1750, exercised supreme judicial power also, except in capital cases, they being cognizable by the Superior Council of Louisiana, which consisted of the intendant, who was the first judge, and specially charged with the king's rights, and with all that related to the revenue, the king's attorney, six of the principal inhabitants, and the register of the province, all appointed by the crown, subordinate to the "major commandant," as he was styled, each village had its own local commandant, usually the captain of the militia. He was as great a personage, at least, as our city mayors, superintending the police of his village, and acting as a kind of justice of the peace, from whose decisions an appeal lay to the major commandant. In the choice of this subordinate though important functionary, the adult inhabitants had a voice, and it is the only instance wherein they exercised an elective franchise.

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Page updated: 11 Sep 16