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Chapter 26

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of New Orleans

by
John Kendall

published by The Lewis Publishing Company,
Chicago and New York, 1922

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 28

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p425 Chapter XXVII
The First Shakespeare Administration

In spite of many obstacles the city continued to grow. The census of 1880 revealed a population of 216,090, of which 57,723 were colored. In conjunction with the figures of population, the National Government made careful studies this year of the social and material conditions which prevailed. From the volume in which the results of these investigations were published, we gain many curious details, which assist us to visualize the city of those days, with its badly drained site, its open gutters, and its inadequate industrial and commercial equipment. The unclosed crevasses permitted a considerable volume of water to pass from the river into Lake Pontchartrain; and when the Mississippi was at flood stage, or an unusually strong northerly wind prevailed, there was danger of the waters inundating the swamp land between the lake and the settled portions of the city. One such overflow occurred during the winter of 1880‑1881, and spread into the outskirts of the city. There were few railroads. On the river the great "packets" furnished a comfortable, if some tedious, means of transport. New Orleans was essentially a commercial center; its manufactures were relatively small. In the whole city there were but 915 mechanical and manufacturing establishments, of the most varied character, employing only 8,952 adults and 552 children, and producing articles valued at but $18,565,303 per annum.

The total length of the streets was 566.2 miles, but only 472.34 miles were paved, and those with a great variety of material, including nearly thirty miles which were laid with plank or shells. In the older parts of the city the sidewalks were generally well-paved with flag-stone or brick, but in the newer quarters, especially in those which had but recently been included within the corporate limits, the sidewalks were usually of wood — a few heavy planks laid side by side upon the earth. Flanking the sidewalks were wide, deep gutters which served to carry off the heavy rains.a When storms occurred, the capacity of these channels was frequently overtaxed, and it was not unusual for the streets to be flooded from side to side, half a mile back from the river, where the flatter grade began. Numberless trees then as now lent beauty to the thoroughfares. Some streets were almost completely overarched with forest-trees. Several of the widest streets were traversed by open drainage canals over the whole of part of their length. The repairing and cleaning of streets and bridges, and the removal of garbage, were done by day labor, in preference to the contract system. Both had been experimented with and the latter had proven a complete failure, owing to the difficulty of holding the contractors to its proper execution.

Within the city there were 140 miles of single track street railroads, including three lines on which the motive power was steam. The tiny locomotives used on these roads were called "dummies." One ran on a part of the pretty country road leading to the suburb of Carrollton. The others ran through the swamps behind the city out to West End and Spanish Fort, points on Lake Pontchartrain. The other roads operated small cars drawn by mules. The census enumerator is careful to set down the fact that 313 such cars were in use, requiring the services of p4261,641 mules, and 671 men were employed in looking after the conveyance of 23,716,327 passengers. We also learn that the rate of fare on the horse-cars was 5 cents, and on the steam trains to the lake, 15 cents.

The city was at this time dependent for its water supply on a system operated by the New Orleans Water Works Company. The installation represented an outlay of $1,250,000. The water was drawn from the Mississippi River in the upper part of the city, and was pumped through 71 miles of main and standpipe under an extreme pressure of 150 feet, the usual head being 80 to 90 feet. The amount pumped daily was 8,000,000 gallons — a quite entirely inadequate to the city's needs for we read constantly in the newspapers of the time, of the lack of water at fires and for other important purposes. There were and provisions for filtering and settling the water. During the six months of high water in the river, heavy deposits of silt frequently prevented the free working of the smaller mains. The city was lighted by gas, which, like the water, was supplied by a private corporation. The daily production was 598,000 feet, for which the consumer was expected to pay at the rate of $3 per thousand if he used less than 500 feet per month, and at the rate of $2.70 if he used more than 500 feet. The gas company had a contract with the city to maintain 3,600 street lights, which cost the municipality $13.88 each per annum.

The compiler of the census report frankly says that "the drainage of New Orleans is of the most ineffective and primitive sort." He proceeds to describe an adaptation of the Dutch "polder" system, which, he says, has succeeded in making parts of the city "substantially dry." Three "drainage machines" were located in the rear of the city, one at Dublin Avenue, one at the head of Bayou St. John, and one at London Avenue. They were equipped with a form of paddle-wheel pump, driven by steam, and as the united capacity of these establishments was in excess of the requirements of ordinary seasons, they were operated only intermittently in dry weather, but in storms, their full force was inadequate to remove the rainfall. As a result, the soil was saturated with water and foul with the refuse of the city.

The city owned, in 1880, buildings valued at about $500,000. This included the city hall and court-house, opposite Lafayette Square; the court-house opposite Jackson Square, the court-houses in the fifth and sixth districts, the second judicial court in Carrollton, the home for the aged and infirm, the boys' house of refuge, the mortgage office, the work-house, the parish prison, and the insane asylum. The total area of the public squares was 659.42 acres. In addition, there were two large tracts of land, owned by the city, and suitable for parks, but at this date they had not been developed in any way. One of these subsequently became the City Park. Its improvement in 1880 was rendered impossible because it was contingent upon an arrangement for the drainage of that area and its neighborhood on a scale which the financial embarrassments of the city did not justify. The land was roughly fenced in, and in charge of an unpaid keeper, who found remuneration for his not very laborious duties "in using it as a cow-pasture." The other tract is now Audubon Park. "In its present condition," remarks the veracious census-taker, "it is simply an expanse of unenclosed common." Jackson Square, on the other hand, "is well kept and much frequented, and, with its wealth of orange trees and other sub-tropical vegetation, is extremely attractive. p427It is closed at night, and has a day and a night watchman, and a gardener."

The city had five theaters. None of those listed by the tireless pen of the representative of the National Government exist today. Since he wrote all have perished by fire. But in those days they each paid the city $250 per annum in licenses, plus $500 to the state. Besides these, mention is made of Grunewald Hall, on Baronne Street; Odd Fellows' Hall, on Lafayette Square, and Masonic Hall, in St. Charles Street — all of which disappeared long ago. The census-man devotes some space to a description of West End and Spanish Fort, and observes, "during eight months of the year, omitting the winter months, both Spanish Fort and the West End are nightly patronized by thousands, including those of all classes of society, and both sexes. Each occupies an area of about eight acres.

In 1880 it appears there were thirty-one public and private cemeteries and burial grounds. "The following is the practice concerning interments," remarks the report: "In most of the cemeteries lots are sold to private purchasers wherein to build tombs or dig graves. These are the private property of the purchasers and his heirs. [. . .] Burials usually take place within twenty-four hours after death, but this time may be extended when circumstances require it. Except the destitute, buried at public expense, only Israelites are interred under ground." What the compiler calls "the notorious insalubrity" of the city is "rightly or wrongly ascribed to the condition of saturation and filth" of the soil. The principal causes of death were tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases, trismus nascentiumº and tetanus and malarial fevers.

The people of New Orleans in 1880 had access to seventeen public markets, which belonged to the city but were med out under one general contract for about $170,000 per annum. "The public markets are mostly well arranged sheds in streets and public squares. The old French market in the second district is very extensive, and is the most important in the city. On Sunday mornings it displays, better perhaps than anything else in New Orleans, the mixed and picturesque character of the population."

Education was not ignored, though it must be confessed the census reporter's investigations did not reveal a very satisfactory condition of affairs in this regard. The last available report of the superintendent of public schools was that of 1879. It showed 24,150 pupils enrolled, of whom 6,856 were colored. The budget of expenditures prepared by the school board called for $303,045; the actual disbursements were $171,459. Naturally these sums were "insufficient for the securing of the best results." There was "a low scale of salaries for teachers," ranging from $324 to $1,620 per annum. There were 407 women teachers, and only twenty-five were men. "Notwithstanding the erection of nine McDonogh school houses,b two of which were completed during the current year," continues the report from which the census-writer quotes, "and the fact that two additional school houses are rapidly approaching completion, under the direction of the commissioners of this fund, our school facilities are entirely inadequate to meet the wants of the city. We require additional accommodations for 2,000 children residing in the older and more thickly settled portions of the city." And for the inquiring mind, if the educational facilities did not suffice, there were sixteen libraries, with a total of 111,644 volumes, to which it might have access.

p428 For one thing, at least, the census enumerator has words of cordial commendation, and that is the charitable institutions of the city.c Of these there were nearly forty, nearly half of them under the direction of religious orders connected with the Catholic Church. The Charity Hospital "is widely known because of its connection with the Louisiana State Lottery, and is a splendid establishment." In addition, there were three smaller hospitals, and a private asylum for the insane. The capacity of all these institutions was nearly 6,000; in 1880 the inmates numbered 2,660. It is a satisfaction to learn in this connection that the Orleans parish jail, with a capacity of 350, contained on June 1, 1880, only 189 persons.

The safety of the city was, in 1880, committed to a police force consisting of 268 men, of whom 64 were on duty in the street by day and 124 by night. A special body of policemen, known as the "Harbor Protection Police," existed, whose duty it was, under contracts with owners or custodians, to protect the ships, wharves, and the like, and the cargo stored thereon. A similar organization called the "City Protection Patrol," undertook the night-watching of stores, warehouses, factories, and offices. Under the auspices of the Cotton Exchange, there was, moreover, a small body of men holding special police powers, whose duty it was to guard the immense cotton receipts and shipments of the port, from the moment of their arrival until finally stored in the vessel's hold for export.

Finally, we are indebted to the indefatigable census enumerator for some interesting statistics of the commerce of the port. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 1880, the value of the exports of merchandise was $90,238,503. The exports of cotton aggregated 1,428,996 bales. The imports during the same period were valued at $10,611,353. The principal item of import was coffee, and then came iron, sugar, and molasses, in the order named. Immigrants to the number of 3,000 arrived from foreign ports. The number of vessels entered was 852, and cleared 915. New Orleans owners are credited with twenty-one ocean-going vessels, with a tonnage of 27,000, and 163 river steamers, with a tonnage of 29,042, besides 353 sailing vessels with a tonnage of 16,134.1

The impression which we get from reading these details is that the New Orleans of 1880 lacked much of being a great modern city. It was, in fact, a provincial town, just struggling to its feet after an experience of war and the consequences of war which would have destroyed a less vital community. Its greatness was just beginning — it required a vision and courage to prophesy the brilliant future which lay less than a half-century away.

Of this community Shakespeare now found himself chief executive officer. The new mayor was a man of very unusual strength of character. He was known to be absolutely honest, with a sincere desire to promote public welfare, a vigorous intellect, and very exceptional executive ability. The chief defect of his character was an obstinate persistence in his own opinion, and indifference to advice. Had it not been for this hardheadedness, he might have accomplished more than he actually did, in spite of the difficulty in which he found himself, as the head of an administration composed principally of his political enemies, p429and for the most part of men whose ideals were totally at variance with his own.


[image ALT: A photograph of a middle-aged man, with a large square face and a stolid expression. It is Joseph Shakespeare, a 19c mayor of New Orleans.]

Mayor Joseph Shakespeare

Joseph Ansbetequi Shakespeare was a native of New Orleans. He was born April 12, 1837. His father, Samuel Shakespeare, was of American ancestry of several generations, but his mother, Marian Mathias, was a native of Switzerland. Samuel Shakespeare was born in Elkton, Delaware, and was reared a Quaker. He spent his boyhood in his native town, receiving a "practical" education, as the phrase went in those days — very little from books, much from hard experience in the shops. He was of a mechanical turn; he studied mechanics, became an efficient workman, and when he came to New Orleans, in 1835, was speedily able to establish a found are which was destined rapidly to become important in the community. Samuel Shakespeare was noted for his sterling worth and uncompromising integrity. He was extremely public spirited. At the time of his death, which occurred in 1850,d he was serving as a member of the city council. Mary Mathias came to the New World with relatives. She first settled in Mexico, but within a short time removed to New Orleans, where her marriage with Mr. Shakespeare took place. They had seven children of whom Joseph was the eldest.

p430 Joseph Shakespeare was reared in New Orleans, and attended the public schools until he was fourteen years of age. Like his father, he had a taste for mechanics. This was cultivated in the foundry of which the father was head. Joseph found employment there for four years. At eighteen he decided to study the business elsewhere. He went to New York, where he entered the employ of the Novelty Iron Works. On his return, having thoroughly mastered his trade, he resumed his post in his father's establishment. The firm was then known as Shakespeare, Wheeler & Co. Joseph was soon admitted to partnership. The firm-name was then changed to Geddes, Shakespeare & Co., and then to Shakespeare, Smith & Co. Under this last name the house became well-known throughout the United States. Its success was the work of the elder Shakespeare. Under the son, who eventually succeeded to the executive control of the establishment, this high character was maintained.

The sterling qualities inherited by the son from the father brought Joseph Shakespeare before the public, and made him prominent in the affairs both of the city and the state. He was first elected to the State Legislature, and served one term, but was not a candidate for re-election. He was a member of various prominent clubs in New Orleans, but cared little for social life. In person he was impressive — of commanding presence, splendidly proportioned, and of distinguished manner. He was an interesting conversationalist, with an inexhaustible fund of anecdote, and a constant flow of humor. While in office, he always showed a proper appreciation of the dignity of his position, but was approachable, genial, courteous. This unaffected affability made him popular with all classes. His relations with his employees had always been excellent. In business he was eminently just. The fact that he was extremely popular with his men was widely known; it no doubt recommended him as a desirable candidate to those who nominated him; and, in fact, it was the large laboring vote which he polled that insured his success. A remark attributed to Denis, perhaps unjustly, to the effect that no workingman was worth more than $1 a day, and ought not to be paid more, gave offense to this element, and had considerable influence upon the result.

The principal events of Shakespeare's administration may be rapidly described. A contract was made with the New Orleans & Pacific Railroad where that line was permitted to use the batture in front of the city. The franchise of the Carrollton Street Railroad was sold for a period of twenty-five years for $271,000, the company which purchased it agreeing in addition to do some asphalt paving on St. Charles Avenue. As the city was without funds to care for the public squares, the experiment of transferring them to the control of commissions was tried with good results. The members of these commissions did most of the work at their own expense. A further evidence of the willingness of private parties to contribute to the adornment of the city was the Lee Monument, which was begun during this administration, under the auspices of the Lee Monument Association, organized in 1870, with Wm. M. Perkins as president. The monument was carried so far forward that its dedication in 1883 was possible. Finally, steps were taken to drain and sewer the city. Unfortunately, the company to which the contract was awarded, proved unable to carry out its undertakings.

The assessment of the city in 1881 was $97,340,605. The tax-rate, nominally 1.78 40/100, actually showed an advance over that of the p431preceding administration. The Board of Liquidation, after long and fruitless negotiations with the holders of the city's securities which were drawing 6 and 7 per cent, found that it was impossible to induce them to exchange these bonds for premium bonds. In 1881, therefore, a special committee of prominent citizens was appointed to endeavor to work out another solution of the city's financial problems. This committee reported in February, 1882. It presented an itemized list of all debts of the city, which, including the premium bonds and past-due interest, amounted to a sum exceeding $24,000,000 — or nearly one-quarter of the total assessed valuation of all the property owned in New Orleans. Negotiations were then opened with the holders of the valid outstanding bonds, whereby a plan was formulated which was submitted to the Legislature of 1882, providing the extension of all such bonds other than premium bonds, for forty years from January 1, 1883, with interest at six per cent, but reserving to the city the right to call in bonds so renewed or extended for payment at par after 1895, upon giving three months' notice. The provisions of this extension act met the approval of the majority of the city's creditors, and with the exception of a small block of bonds, amounting in all to a little more than $100,000, the holders of the old securities consented to the refunding. Act No. 58 of 1882 also gave the municipality the right to raise a tax of five mills, in addition to the five mills authorized by the Constitution of 1879; which increase to the revenue was assigned to the Board of Liquidation, and enabled it successfully to carry out its plans for establishing the city debt upon a satisfactory basis. The credit for bringing about the enactment of this important legislation, should be given to B. T. Walshe. Accompanied by Charles F. Buck, then city attorney, he went to Baton Rouge, and it was his eloquent presentation of the city's urgent need that secured the favorable consideration of the act.

Mayor Shakespeare advocated the establishment of a paid fire department, in lieu of the contract-system. He was opposed, on the ground that a fire department under municipal control would necessarily be a political machine, and, consequently, of doubtful efficiency. Although not able at the time to work this reform, the idea was not allowed to die, and some years later was destined to bear fruit. The mayor was equally unsuccessful in his efforts to reform the police department. The Police Board survived from the previous administration and was unfriendly to the mayor's ideas. It took advantage of his occasional absences from its meetings to undo whatever work he had done. Officers, whom the mayor in his capacity of head of department, had suspended for conduct unbecoming, or, as happened in several instances, for having committed crimes, were reinstated, and the charge against them dismissed. An attempt to oust the chief of police by ordinance vacating the post, was fought in the courts, and frustrated. The effect was unfortunate, for there was real need for an active, competent police force. Parts of the city were overrun by gangs of rowdies, known as "hoodlums," who did not hesitate to attack women and children. A series of murders and assaults were committed by persons whose names figured on the payrolls at the city hall. These conditions led to the formation, first of the Vigilantes, and, second, of the Committee of Safety. The former was organized in August, 1881, "to suppress crime, to compel the authorities to perform their duties, to see that the city spends its revenues economically, to prevent abuses of the pardoning power; to watch the city government," p432and especially to ferret out unworthy public servants, and see that they were punished.2 The latter's activities began in September of that year. Both societies appear to have had the mayor's approval. They were working towards ends which he also had in view. But as both were secret societies, no direct evidence of his connection with them is available. Their work was done so quietly that even in October, one of the local newspapers could express its belief that neither existed. By January, 1882, however, it was said with full justification that the efforts of these two extra-legal agencies had resulted in a great improvement in the administration of justice, and that the lawlessness which had aroused general apprehension six months previously, was suppressed.

Mayor Shakespeare's independence of mind showed itself in his treatment of the gambling situation. Gambling was one of the greatest evils in the city. Although forbidden by law, it seemed impossible to suppress it. The mayor was frankly in favor of a system of license. In this view he was supported by many persons. "Gambling houses ought, if possible, to be licensed," said the Picayune, editorially, "and made to yield a revenue to the city."3 An attempt at regulation was first made. Early in 1881 the gamblers were notified that any complaint regarding their establishments, would result in closing them. A few weeks later the city was both shocked and amused at the story of a young French nobleman who, while visiting the city, was lured into a disreputable resort and fleeced outrageously in a poker game. The mayor immediately ordered closed all gambling houses except within an area bounded by Camp, Chartres, St. Louis, Bourbon, Carondelet, and Gravier streets. He hesitated to suppress the resorts within this district. They comprised the largest and most fashionable in the city. It was then that he introduced what has since been known in the history of New Orleans as the "Shakespeare Plan." He could not license gambling; that was forbidden by the State Constitution. Neither was he willing to permit the police to continue to exploit the business, nor was he satisfied to ignore the laws, and let the evil spread unchecked. He therefore proposed to the leading gamblers that they pay him monthly a fixed sum, and, conditioned upon maintaining an "honest" game, he would then, as chief of police, see that the officers neither molested nor "grafted" upon them. They accepted this arrangement. "Of course, much may be said from the high moral standpoint against the principal of recognizing what nearly all people recognize as a vice, and one dangerous to the morals of a community," commented the Picayune. "More substantial objections can be urged against the acceptance of license money from those who follow this calling, on constitutional grounds. [. . .] But the statute book of the state has for a generation contained laws designed to suppress it, and nominally all democratic state and city administrations have refused to recognize it by license. The direful consequences of the republican scheme of placing all gambling establishments on the first floor are well-known. But on the other hand, there are practical considerations which must be regarded. As all government is compromise, the first object of the wise legislator or governor is to accomplish as much good as possible. He who sets too high a standard and will not be content with less, will accomplish nothing by way of reform. The broad fact stares us in the face that gambling p433never has been suppressed in this city, and there is not the slightest ground to expect that it ever will be, mandate of the constitution to the contrary notwithstanding."4

The mayor was interested in building an almshouse. Of such an institution the city stood confessedly in need. The city had no money with which to erect or to maintain this institution. The Touro funde was inadequate to do so properly. He therefore determined to apply to this purpose the money paid over by the gamblers. The revenue proved ample first to build, and then to maintain, a handsome institution. The first collections, made in May and June, 1881, gave $2,400 — $1,200 in each month. It is estimated that the annual collections totalled $30,000. Previous to this time, it is said, there were eighty-three important gambling establishments in New Orleans. The new system reduced them to sixteen. The "contributing" establishments were located where they were constantly under the supervision of a corps of private detectives which was maintained out of the fund, and who wasº required to see that the games were fairly conducted. The frequenters were always in plain sight. Most of the gambling houses were thus concentrated on Royal Street. The detectives, aided by the "contributing" proprietors, saw very effectually that no concealed gambling went on anywhere. Any attempt to start unauthorized games was promptly known and rigorously suppressed. All of the "disreputable" resorts disappeared. Finally, the vice was restricted to adults. The system was extra-legal, but satisfied the conditions; and a Grand Jury, which in September, 1881, investigated the entire matter, turned in a report in which the anti-gambling laws were termed "practically inefficient," and the mayor's course was commended.

The most important feature of the administration, however, was the enactment of a new charter. This was done by an act of the Legislature of 1882. Dissatisfaction with the existing charter survived after the fiasco of 1880. The agitation for a change was resumed in January, 1882, in anticipation of the meeting of the Legislature, four months later. Hostility to the basic law of the municipality was in part due to the fact that it was a relic of radical days, but had a real justification in its inherent defects and the irresponsible power which it conferred upon the officials. The worst feature was a lack of co-ordination among the departments, and the absence of one central authority. Each department was independent of the others. There was thus no check upon extravagance in any of them. The system was obviously devised to serve the purposes of the politicians. It was "an oligarchy, in every sense of the word."5 The mayor was without power to control his nominal subordinates. There was no way for the citizens to register a complaint, or to control the government; they could but endure as patiently as might be, until election day.

The status of city debt was another reason for urging a change in the charter. Under the existing law there had been a great increase in the debt, due to the wastefulness with which public revenues were spent. In addition to the debt of more than $15,000,000, there were standing against the city judgments amounting to more than $8,500,000, making a total of $24,329,837. Under a recent decision of the courts the property of p434the citizens was taxed nearly 17 mills on the dollar to pay interest on these judgment debts; which, added to the ten mills tax necessary to defray the ordinary expenses of government, made a burden almost impossible to support. "There are no improvements to show for the debt," wrote Governor McEnery, in his message at the opening of the legislative session of 1882; "no parks, no public roads, no public buildings. Were it not for the public spirit of private parties, the city would be in a deplorable situation. The city officials may have done all in their power, but with the present organization they have no chance to do much."

Still another argument which was advanced in support of the demand for a new charter was based upon the assumption that the Constitution of the state as adopted in 1879 recognized the inefficiency and defectiveness of the existing instrument, when it gave to the citizens "the right of appointing the several public officials who may be necessary for the administration of the police of said city, pursuant to the mode of election provided by the general assembly." This gave back to the city some of the "inalienable rights of which its citizens had been deprived." The failure to enact a charter in 1880 prevented this right from becoming operative, but it was clear that no such provision would have been inserted in the organic law of the state unless the framers thereof intended distinctly to cure an imperfection in the existing charter. Moreover, the right conferred on the State Legislature to cancel the existing charter was a further confession of the need for change.

Accordingly, an act containing a new charter for the city was introduced in the Legislature as soon as it assembled, in May, 1882. Opposition was made to this measure, and an alternative act was carried to the Legislature by a committee of citizens. But the New Orleans members refused to stand for it; other members did not feel that they could sponsor the bill, in view of the solid front of the city delegation, and nothing came of the movement. The so‑called "legislative" charter, therefore, passed the house on May 26 by a vote of seventy-seven to nine, and was adopted in the senate with a few unimportant amendments a few days later.

Under this charter the legislative power was vested in a council of thirty members, who were required to be citizens of the state, and residents of the district from which they were chosen for not less than five years. The mayor was made the presiding officer of the council. This body was invested with all the power usual with such bodies, to pass ordinances regulating the health, order, and general maintenance of the city. It had, moreover, rather extensive rights regarding its own membership, and might exclude any member by a two-thirds vote, after five days' notice and an opportunity for him to be heard in his defense. It might also punish persons guilty of disrespectful conduct in its presence or that of its committees. One very important provision was, that no ordinance could be passed at the meeting at which it was introduced, but must lie over one week before going to final passage. The council was required to sit with open doors, and all resolutions, except those of a purely parliamentary nature, or for investigation, could be passed only with the assent of a majority of the members.

The executive department was to be composed of a mayor, a treasurer, a comptroller, a commissioner of public works, and a commissioner of police and public buildings. The duties of each of these officers were p435very carefully detailed. The mayor must not be less than thirty years of age, but the other officials might be as young as twenty-four. They were elected for a term of four years by the vote of all legally registered voters. An important stipulation was that in such elections no ballot should be rejected because it had been scratched, or on account of interlineations, or the substitution of other names than those printed thereon. The commissioners of election were to make returns to the president of the council, whose duty it was made to compile them in the council chamber, in the presence of any and all persons who might wish to witness the proceeding. In this way the new members of the council would be ascertained; and they were required to meet immediately, and canvass the returns for mayor and commissioners. The findings of the council were the only preliminary requisite to the installation of these officials.

The duties of the mayor were described in great detail by the new charter. He was required to see that all ordinances were properly executed; he was empowered to appoint all police officers, patrolmen and watchmen with the consent of the council; he had the right to suspend these appointees at his pleasure. He could attend the meetings of the council, preside at its meetings, participate in debate, and cast the deciding vote in case of a tie. He alone could make rules for the control of the police, although these rules had to receive the approval of two-thirds of the council. It was his duty to report to the council all officers and other city employees who might fail in the performance of their duty, and might, in his discretion, suspend such officials pending the action of the council. All ordinances passed by the council required his signature before going into force; or if he vetoed them, he should furnish his reasons for doing so to the council in writing. The council, of course, might pass ordinances over the veto, providing that two-thirds of the members voted for it. In consideration of these many and diverse labors, the mayor was to receive a salary of $3,500; he was not to receive any fees whatsoever, and was required monthly to render to the council a statement of any moneys paid into his office.

The comptroller was to exercise general control over the fiscal affairs of the corporation. He should prescribe the method of keeping books in every department of the city having need of such. He was required to examine and audit all claims in favor of or against the corporation. In his office should originate all accounts for the collection of revenue. Neither the treasurer nor any other official should receive any moneys except on his written order, and none should be paid out except by ordinance of the council and warrant of the comptroller. His salary was fixed at $3,500, and he was required to furnish a heavy bond.

The city treasurer was required to receive and keep in bank all assets belonging to the corporation; to make daily reports of the receipts; to pay bills on the warrant of the comptroller, and generally to perform the duties connected with similar offices everywhere. For his services he was to receive $3,500 per annum, and was required to furnish a bond of $50,000.

The commissioner of public works was given general supervision over all matters connected with the waterworks, railroads, canals, levees, weights and measures, the fire department, manufactures, housing, pavements, wharves, the drainage, and the general hygiene of the city, insofar p436as these matters were not specifically allotted to the Board of Health. His bond was put at $50,000, and his salary at $3,500.

The commissioner of police and public buildings had charge of the house of refuge, pounds, cemeteries, city lighting, markets, schools, slaughter houses, prisons, asylums, hospitals, etc., insofar as his functions did not conflict with those already assigned to the mayor. His salary was $3,000 per annum, and his bond was $25,000.

The council was also directed to elect a "city surveyor," who should serve for a term of four years, and receive a salary of $2,500. He was to furnish the council with all information of a technical nature which it might need, supervise the construction of public works, and make regular reports on the condition of the streets, drainage, etc. He might have the assistance of seven deputy surveyors, who, likewise, were elected by the council, and whose compensation was to be derived from fees connected with the surveys they were expected to make. These assistants were put under a bond of $2,000 each.

The council appointed also a city attorney, who served four years at a salary of $3,500 per annum. He was the legal adviser of the administration. He might designate the assistant counsel required from time to time by the council.

The council had the right to remove any of the minor city officials merely by passing a resolution of lack of confidence. It had also the right to impeach the mayor, commissioners, or city attorney, for malfeasance, gross neglect of duty, disability affecting fitness to perform their duties, etc. The charter contained elaborate provisions for the trial officials so impeached. Not only had the council the right to bring charges, as a whole; but any six members might bring them in, or even a group of twenty citizens might do so by petition.

The charter contained several lengthy sections on the subject of paving. Wherever a petition was presented to the council for the paving of a street, unless a majority of the property holders along that street signified their objection to the proposed improvement, the work might be ordered done at the expense of all the property holders proportionately, the city being compelled to pay only for the paving at the intersections and street crossings. The same conditions were to operate in case a petition were laid before the council for the use of some unusual form of pavement; also with regard to the widening or straightening of streets. It was, however, stipulated that no such petitions might be received in the months of July, August, or September. The council also enjoyed the right to order the pavement of any street at the expense of the city, and then indemnify itself through a local assessment on the abutting properties, in sums not to exceed the increment of value resulting from this improvement.

The council was invested with the right to organize the departments of the commissioners, and regulate the number of clerks employed in them, but the clerks themselves were to be appointed by the commissioners with the approval of the council.

An important provision in the charter repealed all existing laws relating to the drainage of the city, but required the council to take steps at the earliest possible moment, to adopt a plan for the resumption of this work. In this connection the right was granted to make local assessments in order to raise the money with which to execute this plan.

p437 The offices of justice of the peace in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh districts were abolished, and four police courts substituted, the recorders of each to be elected by the voters at the same time as the other city officials. These officials should have jurisdiction as committing magistrates.

The council was required to meet weekly.

Section 63 dealt with the important subject of taxation. In December, and not oftener, the council was to impose a tax on all real and personal property. Once in each twelvemonth it was to prepare a budget of expected revenues. From this budget the council was specifically required to omit all revenues of uncertain amount, or from doubtful sources; the computation could be made only on a real and substantial basis.

The concluding paragraphs of the charter dealt with minor matters, but one important provision was that setting the day for the next election on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, 1888.

The new charter was received, if not precisely with enthusiasm, at least with general approval in New Orleans. It at least provided what the community demanded, in the way of a form of government more representative than that which was displaced. The new council furnished "a legislature sufficiently marked and distinctive. [. . .] The mayor, the comptroller, and the commissioners [. . .] make up an executive and ministerial element sufficient to constitute a not wholly unbalanced system of government, in which the great and growing interests of the people of New Orleans can be reasonably well cared for." So ran the leading editorial in the Picayune. Specifically, the advantage of the new instrument was that it provided opportunities for free debate, which had not been the case under the previous charter; the executive's functions were curtailed, and it was felt that the people would have a more intimate control of the government, through the contact which each district maintained with its representative in the council. But most of all, it seemed to open the way to the success of an independent movement which might control the elections in the direction of reform. "What is wanted is a non-partisan effort on the part of the young men, a combined crusade of the substantial working people to place the best men in office, and thus check the professional politicians and force them to bring to the front candidates in whom we can all have confidence."6 This, apparently, was to be accomplished by re-organizing the ward clubs and concentrating every energy upon the election of the members of the council.

The Legislature of 1880 also signalized itself by passing an act removing the state capital from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge had, once before, been the capital of Louisiana — in 1849; but in the turmoil of the Civil war, it had lost this honor. The seat of government was shifted in 1862 first to Opelousas, and then to Shreveport. In 1864, as we have seen, the capital was transferred to New Orleans once more. In 1879 the people of Baton Rouge offered to raise a large sum of money with which to repair the old state house there, in case the Constitutional Convention of that year agreed to restore the capital to that city. The proposition was well received. In the new constitution an article was inserted requiring the Legislature at its next session to p438enact the legislation necessary to effect the transfer. The last session of the Legislature ever held in New Orleans adjourned sine die January 4, 1882, and on the 1st of March following the state government was definitely established in the renovated buildings in Baton Rouge.

One other important incident of the Shakespeare administration must not be passed over in silence, although its detail need not here be given. This was the completion of the jetties at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The rapid increase in the size of ocean-going vessels which was a characteristic feature of the middle of the nineteenth century, profoundly affected the commerce of New Orleans. The bars and mud-lumps at the mouths of the Mississippi were of comparatively little importance as long as the size of the ships entering and leaving the river was small; but a time came when the larger vessels could do neither conveniently. In 1852 nearly forty instances were reported of vessels going aground there, and having to endure delays extending for a few days to several weeks.7 The danger from these obstructions seems to have been early understood. In 1721 Pauger, Bienville's engineer, recommended a method of disposing of them; and at various times between 1829 and 1851 the Government of the United States had investigated the matter, without, however, going beyond the preliminary surveys and reports. Such attempts as were made to keep the mouth of the river free to navigation, were not of a permanent character. In 1859 the Government contracted with Thomas McLellan, manager of the Crescent Towboat Company, of New Orleans, to keep open the channel through South West Pass. South West Pass had a nominal depth of thirteen feet. For many years the commerce of New Orleans was hampered by costly towage, and by the resulting high freight rates, which at times rose to a penny ha'penny per pound for cotton, $10 per hogshead for sugar, and corresponding rates on other Louisiana products. There was much complaint from the business of the whole Mississippi Valley against these conditions. In 1868‑69 the Government built two large propeller dredges at a cost of $700,000. They were operated for some years at an expense of $250,000 per annum. The method by which they were expected to improve the channel was by stirring up the mud with the propeller and throwing it to the surface by means of a deflector, so that the current might carry it away. After three years of constant use the dredges were withdrawn, and a board of army engineers decided that the result obtained did not warrant the expense. They had succeeded in getting an uncertain channel of about eighteen feet through which a vessel of that draft might pass if she followed immediately after the dredge. In the meantime conditions were going from bad to worse. In 1873 James B. Eads, C. E., appeared on the scene. After a careful examination of the passes he declared that, "the solution of the problem of improving the navigation between the river and the gulf, will never be satisfactorily accomplished except by jetties." In February, 1874, he made his famous, "no cure, no pay," proposition to Congress, offering to make and maintain a channel 28 feet deep between the South West Pass and the Gulf of Mexico, for $10,000,000, at the entire risk of himself and his associates. Not a dollar was to be paid by the Government until a depth of twenty feet had been secured, when he was to receive $1,000,000, and afterward $1,000,000 for each additional two feet, or a p439total of $5,000,000 when twenty-eight feet had been obtained. The remaining $5,000,000 were to be paid in annual installments of $500,000, conditional on the permanence of the channel during the ten years. This novel proposition appealed strongly to the Congress of that day. This offer, although fair and liberal, aroused the most active hostility of the Government engineers. For a civil engineer to be allowed to design and construct the most important public work ever undertaken was not to be tolerated, and at once was begun a controversy which agitated, not New Orleans only, but many other important centers of population and commerce.º An ancient plan for the construction of a canal from the river to the gulf, first proposed in 1832, was resuscitated, and brought forward to defeat the jetties. The merchants and business men of New Orleans, the majority of whom knew nothing of the respective merits of canal or jetties, were assured that "jetties would be very difficult to construct, and impossible to maintain," and if they wanted salvation for their commerce they must support the movement for the construction of the Fort St. Philip Canal, and they lent their support so effectually, that a bill for the construction of the canal was presented and actually passed by the house of representatives, as a substitute for the jetty bill. Fortunately, however, it was defeated in the senate.

After much discussion, pro and con, the jetty bill, somewhat modified and made to apply to the South Pass, became a law. But that did not end the controversy; far from it. The army engineers could not forgive Mr. Eads for his encroachment upon their "sphere of influence," and did not cease their efforts to discredit and defeat his work. The jetties would be eaten by worms, undermined by the current, could not be made to withstand the force of the sea, and worst of all, they would be useless if built, as the bar at the river's mouth would advance in front of them continually. This bar advance was variously estimated at from 1,200 feet to nearly half a mile per annum. By these adverse reports, officially made, public confidence in Mr. Eads and the jetties was seriously impaired, making it extremely difficult to raise the means for carrying on his work, the success of which depended upon rapid and continuous construction. In the dark days of 1877 with pay rolls two months in arrears and many bills due, he was near to defeat. But Eads never lost confidence in his great idea. Three months before beginning the work, Mr. Eads, in an address delivered at St. Louis, said: "I therefore undertake the work with a faith based upon the ever-constant ordinances of God Himself, and so certain as He will spare my life and faculties for two years more, I will give to the Mississippi River, through His grace and by the application of His laws, a deep, open, safe and permanent outlet to the sea." Buoyed up by his firm faith, Eads remained undaunted in the face of all difficulties, those of nature as well as those invented by man.

Before entering the gulf the Mississippi divides into three principal channels or "passes." In the middle, or South Pass, Eads constructed two walls, one on either side of the proposed channel, the East one having a length of 11,800 feet; the West one, of 7,800 feet. The jetty lines were established by driving piles. The other chief constructive materials were willow mattresses, stone, palmetto cribs, and concrete blocks. The mattresses were towed into position, fastened to the piles, and loaded with stone until they sank upon the river bed or upon other mattresses. The placing of a single mattress was always followed by a p440deepening of the channel somewhere. Upon the foundations thus secured, a continuous embankment of concrete was erected, the dimensions of which varied, but averaging 12 feet in height by 3½ in width, and extending on the east side of the river a distance of 3,800 feet, and on the west bank, of 2,800 feet. The concrete was molded in immense blocks, which were cemented together after being placed in position, thus forming a vast monolithic construction of great resisting power.

On July 10, 1879, Eads was able to announce the approaching completion of his great work. In August, 1880, the depth through the jetties was thirty-two feet. The task was done. In 1880 it was computed that the saving in freight on products shipped from New Orleans was $5,000,000. The wonderful development of the port since that date is the best evidence that can be cited of the value of the jetties to the commerce of the nation.


The Author's Notes:

1 "Report on the Social Statistics of Cities," compiled by George E. Waring, Jr., Part II, 268‑295.

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2 Picayune, August 10, 1881.

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3 April 25, 1881.

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4 Picayune, May 13, 1881.

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5 Picayune, May 26, 1882.

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6 Picayune, June 23, 1882.

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7 Cable, "Creoles of Louisiana," 264.


Thayer's Notes:

a For a photo, see Behind the Yellow Fever in Little Palermo, p155.

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b Nowhere in the preceding chapters has Kendall touched on the life and contributions of John McDonogh: for which see Grace King's New Orleans, the Place and the People, pp360‑370; for the schools specifically, p370.

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c The anonymous census reporter was by no means the first to remark on the vigor of New Orleans' charities; already in 1839 we find a European visitor taking note of them. Grace King had wanted to include in her book, New Orleans, the Place and the People, a chapter on the city's philanthropy, but was persuaded to omit it (p382); Kendall's publisher had no such qualms, and our author will devote Chapter 40 to them.

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d This 1850 date must be a typographical error, since in the next paragraph we are told that the younger Shakespeare joined his father's establishment after he was eighteen, and that the success of the firm after that was the work of the elder Shakespeare. It's one thing to spot an error though, and another to correct it: I don't know the actual date of the latter's death.

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e The Touro Fund (see Chapter 40) was established by Judah Touro, an early 19c philanthropist: see Grace King's sympathetic sketch of him in New Orleans, the Place and the People, pp370‑371; and the further references in my footnote there.


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