1816. With the preceding chapter closes the detailed history of Louisiana. From that time until the epoch when she, in company with several of her sister States of the South, declared the Federal Union at an end, and resumed, as an independent Sovereign, the powers which she had delegated, her annals ceased to be marked by any of those striking events which commonly give attraction to the pages of History. Her life, as a Commonwealth, was on the whole but a quiet, ever-swelling stream of uninterrupted prosperity, save occasionally by those epidemics to which her climate is subject, by the overflowing of her grand river, by the imprudence of commercial speculations, the abuse of credit, the too great emission of paper money, and the unwise expansion and contraction of banking operations, which always result in a fatal crisis that is invariably felt in all the arteries and sinews of the social body. But Louisiana hardly halted in her march to wealth and power, notwithstanding these temporary calamities and these agricultural, commercial and financial reverses, which were soon forgotten, and hardly left any traces of their passage under the luxuriant development of her unbounded resources, which speedily covered these ruins with the rich mantle of their tropical vegetation. Notwithstanding Federal injustices or neglects and sectional jealousies, her magnificent city of New Orleans, the emporium of a mighty trade, was annually visited by a thousand ships; her broad fields, teeming with exuberant fertility, continued to be the scenes of Arcadian felicity, and the homes of all her inhabitants the ever remembered seats of cordial and refined hospitality. Disdaining too long to resent, in her generous imprudence, the constant attacks of her enemies against one of her internal institutions, she concentrated her attention and her energies on the amelioration of her Legislation, on the building of railroads, the excavating of canals, the erection of charitable and educational institutions, the establishment of a system of public schools, and the p633complete development of her vast resources by State action, or by assisting the individual enterprise of her citizens. A minute record of those domestic events and industrial efforts would hardly be of sufficient interest to most readers, and would compel us to exceed the limits which we have prescribed to this work. We shall, therefore, content ourself with taking only a general view of the progressive condition of the State from the end of Governor Claiborne's administration to the time when she withdrew from the Federal Union.
The administration of Governor Claiborne drew to a close in the year 1816. When the Legislature met in November, Claiborne complimented them on the fortunate results of the restoration of peace. He said "that its auspicious influence on agriculture, commerce, and indeed all the pursuits of civil life, was sensibly felt." He warmed up at the prospect of uninterrupted prosperity which he saw looming up for the State. "The press of migration to our peaceful shores," he observed, "the preference shown by the unhappy exile to this favored land, assure me that, elsewhere, man cannot find as great a share of safety and felicity. How fortunate is our lot! Amidst the afflictions of nations, small is the portion fallen to the United States! Whilst with pious humility we bow in gratitude to God for such signal proofs of His favor, let us with zeal and assiduity persevere in every measure which promises to strengthen and perpetuate the great principles of civil and religious freedom." He concluded this valedictory address with the sincerest acknowledgments for the many proofs of special confidence for which he was indebted to the people of Louisiana, and which, as he assured them, "would remain deeply engraved on a grateful heart." He was succeeded in December, 1816, by Major-General Villeré, after having been thirteen years Governor of Louisiana. He did not remain long in private life; for, a few days after, on the 13th of January, 1817, he was elected to the Senate of the United States for a full term. He died on the 23d of November, in the same year, leaving a respected memory in the State of which he had been so long the Chief Magistrate. He was succeeded in the Senate by Henry Johnson, who, subsequently, became Governor of the State.
1818. Governor Villeré, in his annual message of the 17th of January, 1818, is as enthusiastic as his predecessor on the prosperity of Louisiana, and on the advantages which she is to derive from her admission into the great family of the United States. Alluding to the late invasion, he said: "Providence, after having protected us p634in battle, deigned to yield peace to our desires. Our political and commercial relations with foreign countries were immediately re-established; and it is this day a just subject of congratulation to observe with what rapidity the continually increasing prosperity of our affairs has in a manner, as it were, effaced even the recollection of our sufferings. The most abundant crops have, especially during the last year, rewarded the labors of agriculture, and commerce finds every day, in profits continually renewed, the just price of its indefatigable activity. What other people can flatter themselves, fellow-citizens, to enjoy, under the sole government of laws, an extent of liberty and happiness comparable to ours? The Louisianian who retraces the condition of his country under the government of Kings, can never cease to bless the day when the great American Confederation received him in its bosom." The worthy Governor, evidently, was no prophet, and did not foresee that, before half a century had elapsed, his own grandsons would have to curse the day when they became politically united under the same General Government with their new "fellow-citizens" of the North and West, and would probably think that the worst tyranny of Kings was amiable, when compared with the treatment they were destined to undergo from the fierce, fanatical and unrelenting majority of their Republican associates and loving brothers. It seems, however, that whatever were his Utopian hopes, "the press of migration to our peaceful shores" which Claiborne had seen with so much satisfaction, was not unattended with evils, for he states that "the multitude of strangers who crowd here daily necessarily occasion a multiplicity of offences." He recommends the adoption of a more stringent judicial organization to prevent the repetition of "those scandalous practices which are, almost at every instant, taking place in New Orleans and its suburbs." On the 5th of March of the same year, "the preference shown by the unhappy exile to our favored land," as exultingly expressed by Claiborne, had become so threatening to the safety of our capital, that Governor Villeré made it the subject of a special message to the Legislature. "A melancholy experience has convinced me," he said, "that if our institutions tend, in general, to insure the happiness of a people no less generous than worthy of liberty, we still have occasion to adopt some new measures for the purpose of protecting ourselves against the flagitious outrages to which the peace and security of our citizens are exposed through the great lenity of our laws.
"I will not attempt to describe to you the disorders and crimes p635of which, during nearly all last month, this city has been the theatre; public report has probably informed you of them; nor do I doubt but you will agree with me in ascribing their cause to the prodigious increase of our population. It is natural to think that a great number of those men who lately, under the false pretext of serving the cause of the Spanish patriots, scoured the Gulf of Mexico, making its waves groan under the direful weight of their vessels fraught with depredation, have come to take refuge among us; and we daily see arriving in our hospitable land a multitude of foreigners, whom the calamities, the revolutions and the peace of Europe compel or induce to emigrate.
"Among those of the latter description, there are doubtless many individuals respectable for their virtues, their talents, morals, industry, and especially for their misfortunes; but it were madness, I think, not to be aware that, among the emigrants, as well as among the maritime freebooters, there must be an infinite number who, if not wholly unprincipled and void of honor, are little estimable and little worthy of our confidence. If those are to be received with kindness, these have little or no claim to our protection, and indeed we should be cautious in receiving all foreigners." The Governor then recommended that, in imitation of the State of New York and others, "some provisions wisely rigorous" should be adopted, "for the purpose of obliging foreigners, of whom there was so great an influx hither from all parts, to give us some reasonable assurance of their good conduct, before they should be entitled to enjoy the protection of our laws, and participate with our citizens in the advantages afforded by our happy country." In conclusion, he observed: "By these additional means we shall be able to keep from our land ill-disposed persons, and to secure ourselves from the dangers to which we are exposed from those who are already among us. It is thus, and only thus, that Louisiana, while she continues to be the sacred asylum of the worthy and virtuous, will cease to be looked upon as the resort of those profligate wretches, whose existence is everywhere a burden."
1819. On the 6th of January, 1819, Governor Villeré, in addressing the Legislature, congratulated himself on not having, as at the period of the last session, to lay before the General Assembly a frightful picture of disorders and enormities." He attributed it "to the creation of the Criminal Court of the City of New Orleans, and to the indefatigable zeal with which the judges who composed it had discharged their duties." He added: "Owing also to the just firmness of juries, the violators of our laws, the p636malefactors of every description have suffered, or are undergoing the punishment due to their crimes. Hence it is that the City is now in the enjoyment of the most perfect security." According to the same authority, the ever-growing prosperity of the State left hardly anything to be desired. "The mild and powerful influence of the lately restored peace had been felt throughout all classes of the community. Party spirit had almost entirely disappeared, and hardly did any remembrance remain of those dangerous distinctions which had been created by idle prejudices between citizens of foreign origin. Our population had been considerably augmented; agriculture, industry and commerce were in the most flourishing condition. If commerce, indeed, had for some time experienced, and still continued to experience pecuniary embarrassments, the careful observer could easily discover the cause of it in its very prosperity, or, at least, in the great extension which the speculating and enterprising spirit that animated and marked the character of our citizens had given it in all parts of the Union. Hence, far from being uneasy, he conceived the most brilliant hopes for the future." Such is the glowing description given by our Governor. Well might he exclaim: "May we always by our conduct render ourselves deserving of such blessings!"
1820. In January, when the Legislature met, Louisiana was still luxuriating in the smiles of Heaven, with the exception of the infliction of yellow fever, which, as usual, had visited New Orleans during the preceding autumn. But a great portion of her inhabitants had almost become reconciled to its ravages from the frequency of their return. For them it had no more terrors than had for the ancients the skull which used to figure among the roses and other luxuries that adorned their banqueting tables. There were even some who felt friendly to the scourge, as, in their opinion, it checked that tide of immigration which, otherwise, would have speedily rolled its waves over the old population, and swept away all those landmarks in legislation, customs, language and social habits to which they were fondly attached. "Among the opulent States which compose this immense and powerful Republic," said the Governor, "the State of Louisiana is not the least remarkable. The observer no longer recognizes the feeble and languid colony, which, yielding to a foreign impulse, seemed ever ignorant of the vast resources it possessed in the astonishing fertility of its inexhaustible soil, and unconscious of the high destinies to which it was called by its felicitous topography. The progress of its agriculture, the increase of its commerce, and its population now trebled p637under the auspicious influence of its wise and beneficent institutions, all attest that the people were worthy of the emancipation so essential to their prosperity." On the 22d of November, 1820, when he delivered his last message, no cloud had arisen to darken the Elysian fields of Louisiana. Peace and contentment dwelt alike in the rich man's luxurious house and in the humble cabin of the pioneer. In that message we remark the following passage: "Wherever we turn an inquiring eye, it is impossible among the civilized nations of the earth to discover one whose situation we can reasonably envy. The most powerful are certainly much less free, the most free are less tranquil, the most tranquil less independent, and the most independent less sheltered from foreign influence than the great American family." It will be the painful task of the future historian to discover and relate the causes which led to the rapid decay, fall and destruction of this social and political paradise.
Thomas Bolling Robertson, who had for several years represented the State with distinguished talents in the Lower House of Congress, succeeded Villeré as Governor, in 1820. In his inaugural address he was as enthusiastic as his predecessor, when reviewing the resources, the merits and the future of the State of which he had become the Chief Magistrate. "When we contemplate the destinies of our State, confided in an especial manner to your care," he observed, "what irresistible inducements to exertions present themselves! Blessed with a fertile and everlasting soil, yielding products of inestimable price; a river the most useful and magnificent in the universe, passing through regions rich with the labors of a numerous and increasing population; a city unrivaled in its commercial advantages, a natural internal navigation, requiring but little improvement to pervade every part of the State; forests of timber universally sought after as best adapted to purposes of civil and naval architecture; a community peaceful, industrious, flourishing and submissive to the laws; — these are some of the proud boasts of Louisiana. Let us unite, then, to improve and develop them, and where the God of nature has done so much, do something ourselves, that we may not seem insensible of the bounties He has bestowed." As to the General Government, he declared that, "compared with the other Governments of the earth, it towered high above them in the wisdom, economy and virtue of its measures. Respected by the Monarchs of Europe for its power, and feared for its purity, it receives," he said, "as it merits, an almost undivided portion of the affection of its citizens at home."
p638 He admitted, however, that this best of Governments had not been just to the State in relation to her public lands: "The public domain in Louisiana," he said, "before the change of Government, was parceled out and given to those who would emigrate and settle in the country; now it is neither given away nor sold, and extensive tracts which, if inhabited, would add to the strength and wealth of the State, still remain waste and uncultivated. This has not been the case in other parts of the United States; and although it is admitted that, with respect to us, there are great and peculiar difficulties, it is hoped that we shall soon be placed in a situation as eligible as the other frontier States of the Union." The Governor soon discovered that this hope was not to be realized. Louisiana, notwithstanding her merits, and perhaps on account of her merits, never ceased to play the part of Cinderella in the "glorious American family," into which she had been introduced amidst jeers and gibes, and despite the irate opposition of some of its members who dwelt in the inhospitable regions of the North.
The Governor also complained of the defenceless condition in which our maritime coast was left, leaving it accessible to invasion at any time; of the repeated attempts to force upon the country an "unconstitutional and unjust tariff for the benefit of manufactures to the detriment of agriculture; and of the restrictions which were sought to be imposed on the people of Missouri, about now to exercise their right of throwing off a worse than colonial dependence and taking their equal stand among the States of the Union." If the people of Missouri, who were then living under a form of Territorial Government established by Congress, were in a worse condition than "colonial dependence," it is difficult to imagine how such a state of things could exist under a Government which "towered far above the other Governments of the earth for its wisdom and virtue." The fact is, that it had been the settled policy of that pre-eminently "virtuous" Government to grind Missouri and Louisiana to the dust, and to make them pant to throw off the "yoke" which had been put upon their necks, in order to compel them to renounce rights which had been secured to them by treaty, in the hope of escaping from their oppressive bondage. The Federal Shylock exacted from them the "pound of flesh nearest to the heart," when he had no bond for it, and when, on the contrary, he had given his own bond not to pull off one single hair from the sacred heads of the minors whom France, in her confiding credulity, had intrusted to his paternal care. In relation to the discussions in Congress about the admission of Missouri, he added: p639"Fortunately for us, the newly invented sympathy for a certain portion of our population had not been discovered at the time of our introduction into the Union, or it is probable a state of things would have been attempted as insulting to the independence as ruinous to the best interests of the State. [. . .] On the subject of slavery all we have to ask is this, that our Eastern and Northern brethren would forgive us the vice, or immorality, or misfortune, as they indifferently term it, of holding slaves, as we forgive them the disingenuousness that would convert the circumstance into purposes of unholy ambition." These were specks on the horizon, at which, however, the Governor took no alarm, for he considered these questions as of "little importance in themselves, but unfortunate from their mischievous tendency and from the unfriendly feelings which they generated."
1822. In January, Governor Robertson represented to the Legislature that health had spread its blessings over us; that agriculture well repaid the labor bestowed on it; that commerce added its accustomed wealth and embellishment; that crimes and offences had decreased, whilst the laws had been rendered less sanguinary, and that we had escaped the difficulties and embarrassments so keenly felt in other parts of the world, arising from a want of value in their products, or in their circulating medium; but "he could not persuade himself that the United States had performed the duties which they owed to this interesting section of our interesting country." Its defences were still neglected, while large sums had been expended "on distant and comparatively insignificant positions." The topography of the State was not understood at Washington, and, to be understood, required to be seen; but "ours is unfortunately the only portion of the Republic," he observed, "not only always unrepresented in what is termed the Cabinet, but unknown by personal observation, as well to all its members as, with few exceptions indeed, to the legislators of the nation." This was not the only oversight which he laid at the door of the Federal Government. "He had not been able to perceive the wisdom of that policy which had sent our naval force to Africa, whilst our own coasts, particularly those of the Gulf of Mexico, had been permitted for years to exhibit scenes of blood and rapine unequaled in atrocity in the annals of the world." As to the public lands, the Governor said in a special message to the Legislature, on the 21st of January: "This State, so far from having been favored, as seems to be generally supposed, will be found, after examination, to stand almost alone in the injustice which it has p640experienced; for, whether we compare our situation with that of the Atlantic or the Western States, it will be perceived that we have not enjoyed the advantages of either. The Atlantic States reserved to themselves all the vacant lands within their limits; some of them large tracts without. Let it not be supposed that this arrangement is considered by me as objectionable. At the time of effecting their independence and changing their political situation, they were separate existing communities, and could not be expected to act otherwise; so Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, and others, enjoyed, and still enjoy their extensive domains. But the country now forming this State was, at the time of the change of its political character, an existing community, a colony of France as they were colonies of Britain, and although I will not assert that Louisiana, as a Government, possessed the vacant territory, yet, as a society, it enjoyed customs and usages of which it ought not to have been deprived. Among these was the gratuitous concession of public lands to all natives and emigrants. When we take a view of this subject connected with the donations bestowed on the Western States by the General Government, we are still more forcibly struck with the little attention which our interests appear to have received.
"It is estimated that already •7,909,903 acres on the East side of the Mississippi have been appropriated for the purposes of education, and that the quantity of lands on the West of the same, yet to be disposed of in a similar manner, will give to the whole appropriation a value amounting in money to nearly $30,000,000. I now ask, of all this how much have we received? How much can we ever hope to receive? The reservation of the 16th section, and the donation of two townships of land, are too inconsiderable in point of value to deserve consideration. From circumstances peculiar to our country, the 16th section, in a general survey, will, most commonly, be found to fall to the West in swamps, or barren prairies; to the East, in pine woods; whilst from the delay of the Federal Government to adjust and settle land claims in this country, no portion of the domain of value, now belonging to the public, will furnish a sufficient extent on which to locate the townships intended in their munificence to be bestowed upon us." Thus the fat oysters had all been given to the favorite members of the family, and a few shells thrown in mockery to Louisiana. From the Governor's own representations, it seems that the best of Governments was not free from prejudices and undue partialities, and that it had ever been guilty of neglect, injustice, oppression and p641exaction, to our detriment. It is no wonder that he began to speak ironically of the munificence of Federal donations to the noble and generous State of which he was the Executive.
1823. This year, the Governor became still more explicit in his comments on the same subject, and more severe in his strictures on the General Government. "It has been too often," he said, "the painful duty of the Executive to complain of the injustice and neglect of the United States. Were not our grievances heavy and flagrant, a very sincere respect which I feel for the General Government would induce me to remain silent, in the indulgence of a hope that time might bring about changes favorable to our rights and interests; but there is no ground for such expectation. We have too few votes in the council of the nation; we are too far from the centre of power to be regarded at Washington. Distance seems to operate upon them like time; and events which are a thousand miles off, are like those which happened a thousand years ago. Yet duty to ourselves compels us to inquire if we are now to become sovereign and independent. Are we forever to be deprived of rights enjoyed by the original States of the Union? Are we to see our State, as far as territory constitutes it such, in the possession of another government? Does not the fact carry on the face of it contradiction and absurdity? If large portions of Louisiana remain waste and unsettled, there is no difficulty in pointing out the cause. If internal improvements languish, what prospect have we of their assuming a more favorable aspect, when we are told that, for such purposes, the United States cannot interfere, and when we know that the land is without our jurisdiction? The lands within a State without its jurisdiction! Our necessities require taxation, and the natural subject of it throughout the world is denied us. Even when their property is reluctantly disposed of, it is still protected for years against all burdens and impositions. Roads, levees and bridges are servitudes which attach to the lands of individuals; but the United States, our great landholder, make none, and leave us the alternative of non-intercourse with the different parts of the State, or of giving value to their lands by cutting roads, and raising embankments on them at our own expense.
"The sovereignty of the United States over the territory within our limits, if not utterly incompatible with the sovereignty of the State, is in the highest degree vexatious and inconvenient. No other part of our common country has suffered to the same extent. Millions of acres in other States, and even in the Territories, have p642been promptly brought into market, whilst here, at this late day, after eighteen years' delay, the public domain remains undisposed of, unsurveyed, impeding our progress, encumbering our operations, and proving, however anomalous the idea, a curse instead of a blessing to the community. Even the wood of their swamps, useless for every other purpose, and necessary for that, is refused to the wants of the numerous steamboats which navigate our magnificent rivers; and the humble and laborious wood-cutter is harassed with prosecutions in regions which will never be cultivated.
"The Constitution of the United States authorizes Congress to hold and exercise legislation over places purchased by the consent of the State Legislature in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other useful buildings. The places held and legislated over within this State have not been purchased by the consent of the Legislature, and are rather more extensive and numerous than the purposes enumerated require. Congress has power also "to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States." May we not consider the territory as disposed of, when the territory becomes a State, when it is placed on the same footing with the original States of the Union, when its sovereignty is acknowledged? Is not territory that transcendental property, that eminent domain, without which sovereignty cannot exist? Is it not everywhere considered as inseparable from it? Virginia, New Hampshire, and other States support these principles. The President of the United States declares that, after the most liberal construction of the enumerated powers of the General Government, the territory within the limits of the respective States belongs to them; that the United States have no right, with the exception specified in section 8, article 1 of the Constitution, to any the smallest portion of territory within a State.
"Property in lands is but of two sorts — general and particular. The first is the right of the whole society, exclusive of the rest of mankind — the second is the right of individuals. It would be strange to contend that any other than the individuals who possess the particular rights could form that society to which belongs the general right. The United States derive their powers from the States or the people, whilst Louisiana is in the situation of a colony, a province, holding such rights as that Government has chosen to bestow. This is an inversion of the station which properly belongs p643to the United States and the States respectively. But it may be said that it was under the conditions complained of, and some others, I will add, highly disgraceful — such, for instance, as requiring our records to be kept in the English language, that we were permitted to rid ourselves of the oppression of territorial vassalage. For this is but too true, and I am disposed to yield up the question, if it shall be established that the General Government possesses other rights than those conferred on it by the Constitution. But to that instrument it must look alone, nor can a State, with safety to others, be allowed to divest itself of powers, or to bestow them at will. Some might allow the United States to hold the whole or half of the land within their limits, as we have done; others might give them their navigable rivers, as I believe we have not done; although, at the negotiation of Ghent, it was a question of giving them to the British. It is useless to go further into detail; permit the States to give, and the United States to receive, and the whole character of our governments is changed.
"It is probable that no Power, until Congress adopted the expedient, ever conferred that kind and degree of sovereignty which belongs to the States of this Union, retaining at the same time the vacant lands. When North Carolina agreed to the independence of Tennessee, and Virginia to that of Kentucky, surely nothing so preposterous was pretended, as the retention of the unappropriated territory within their limits. But it is unnecessary at present to press this subject further; it is not the swamps, the prairies, the pine-barrens, nor their value, which Louisiana needs; it is that sovereignty, that equality, that exemption from interference and annoyance in her domestic concerns, enjoyed by her sister States, which she respectfully asks; and to this end, she contents herself with insisting again, as she has before done, that Congress would, in obedience to the Constitution, dispose of the territory within her boundary."
This is a true and graphic description of the wrongs sustained by Louisiana from the United States, in flagrant violation of the faith of a public treaty and of the Federal Constitution. But there is nothing more conspicuous in the history of the United States than the repeated and shameless violations of that solemn compact, whenever this was found to be the interest of a hungry majority, until it became such a convenient instrument of oppression against a down-trodden and plundered minority, that it wore out at last, and broke to pieces from its being used too unsparingly.
p644 It is not perhaps astonishing that the Federal Government should, at that time, have hardly condescended to treat Louisiana as a State, when we see that her Legislature, with the approbation of her Executive, proclaimed that her capital and largest city would be in a condition of great insecurity, without the presence of Federal troops. None but the powerful command respect among communities, and the following communication from her high-spirited Governor to President Monroe, on the 12th of April, 1823, showed but too clearly her weakness and her dependence on the ruling powers at Washington. It accompanied "Resolutions" adopted by the Legislature and forwarded by the Governor to the President: "I respectfully," he said, "ask your attention to the inclosed Resolutions. The situation of New Orleans cannot be considered as secure — surrounded by a numerous black population, in its nature always hostile, filled up with emigrants, and free negroes and mulattoes from all parts of the world. It is wonderful that we have escaped for so long a time from serious internal commotion. We cannot conclude that this fortunate state of things is to continue always. I add, then, my wishes to those of the Legislature, and earnestly request that the already feeble support which we may receive from the troops of the United States may not be diminished, but rather that its efficiency should be increased. My own opinion is, that our situation requires that there should be at all times a few companies of infantry, and at least one of artillery, conveniently posted, and at all times prepared to defend and protect this city."
1824. In the beginning of this year, in a message to the Legislature, the Governor resumed the subject of the public lands in the same mournful strain. "We have a larger portion of fertile soil than any other State in the Union; our products are of a greater value; but when compared with these advantages, our strength and resources are extremely insignificant. When I took my seat in the House of Representatives — your only member — Ohio had but one, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, none. Since that time, millions of acres of land within their respective limits have been offered for sale; immigration has been thus permitted, and a change in their situation commensurate with this great impulse has taken place. Contemplate for a moment their growing prosperity, their imposing representation, their numerous and formidable militia; then look at home, and behold a scattered population, unsettled and interminable forests, unadjusted titles, extensive domains in endless dispute between the United States and its own citizens — indeed, p645the State itself, after years of connection with the Union, a mere debatable land. When we read of the honorable exertions of our sister States, their canals and roads and bridges, often surpassing in excellence works of a similar nature in the Old World, we feel, as Americans, proud of their enterprise — as Louisianians, unavailable regret that we cannot imitate their example and rival their success. We cannot, because of their unjust conduct toward us. In the nicest point, in the honor of our State, in denying to us an essential attribute of sovereignty, they have done us wrong. Ireland may complain that her wealthy satraps abscond from a country where they hold their possessions; our sister States of the West may experience inconvenience from their class of non-residents; but in both these instances the property, perhaps of more value than its owners, is left behind, subject to the ordinary or extraordinary demands of the public. Here our great landlord is not only an absentee, a non-resident, but turns his key as well as his back on his possessions, exempts them from all taxation, declares them tabooed, sacred as the ark of the covenant, and denounces heavy pains and penalties on all by whom their sanctity is not sufficiently respected, whilst they stand a nuisance in our way, poisoning the sources of our prosperity, and impeding our every step toward that greatness to which we are invited by our otherwise enviable and unequaled advantages. The day on which the disputed land claims shall be adjusted, and the domain of the United States, as it is, I apprehend, unconstitutionally considered, finally disposed of, will be hailed by me, if I live to see it, as the commencement of the real independence of the State; for I repeat that our present situation shocks all the ideas I entertain of the nature of that sovereignty which we are entitled to enjoy. The Governor might have added, that those who thus "turned the key" on the public domain and prevented our population from increasing by immigration, tauntingly asserted that, if our resources remained undeveloped, it was through our fault, because we persevered in keeping up among us the sinful institution of slavery. He contented himself with saying that, "notwithstanding those obstacles, Louisiana would become, as far as affluence could make her so, splendid to a degree that must eclipse the rival pretensions of any other section of the Union, and that she was approaching with rapid strides the great destinies which awaited her, as her own Mississippi rolled on its waters, though impeded by casual obstructions, to the goal to which it necessarily tended." At the end of his administration, in November, 1824, he congratulated the Legislature p646"on the happy effect of that policy which had heretofore been perseveringly pursued. Exempt from the effects of stop-laws, relief-laws, and other similar quackery, resorting to industry and economy, and aided by better crops than had for some years past been enjoyed, the people would probably find themselves enabled to contribute whatever funds might be necessary for purposes of general improvement." He commented in proper terms on the malignant audacity with which a member of the Federal House of Representatives had lately said in an address to his constituents, "that the best way to secure New Orleans to the United States was to reduce its consequence."
A few weeks before the expiration of his term of office, Governor Robertson having been appointed by the President Judge of the United States Court for the District of Louisiana, H. S. Thibodaux, who was then President of the Senate, became, by virtue of the Constitution, Acting Governor, until the Governor elect, Henry Johnson, was inaugurated in December, 1824. The new Governor had been for several years a member of the Federal Senate, and may, therefore, be supposed to have possessed a good deal of political experience. He found, on his being installed into office, that the finances of the State had been administered with singular economy, for at the end of Governor Villeré's administration she was without a cent of debt, and she now owed only forty thousand dollars. In his inaugural address, delivered on the 13th of December, 1824, he recommended to the heterogeneous population of Louisiana the observance of a spirit of concord and reciprocal good-will, which could hardly be supposed to prevail, without interruption, among the discordant elements which composed it. "All invidious attempts," he said, "to foment discord, by exciting jealousies and party spirit, with reference to the accidental circumstances of language or birth-place, will be strongly reprobated by every man who loves his country and respects himself. We are all united by one common bond. We neither have, nor can have, any separate or distinct interests; we are all protected by the same laws, and no measure of policy can be adopted injurious to one portion of the community, without affecting every other in the same ratio."
1826. In January, when the Legislature met, the Governor informed them that the hitherto flattering condition of the State was still in the way of further improvement. He had, during their recess, traveled over the whole State on a tour of inspection, and the result of his observations had been most satisfactory. "I have p647been highly gratified," he observed, "in witnessing in every parish the utmost harmony and good-will. Those symptoms of discord which, to the mortification of every friend to his country, manifest themselves on some occasions in this our favored city of New Orleans, are nowhere perceptible in the circumjacent country; and even in the city they are circumscribed, and confined chiefly to the columns of gazettes, and perhaps to a few persons of intemperate feelings, or whose views do not extent beyond the mere surface of things. A reader assuming the statements of some of our city journals as a criterion, would be apt to deem it a singular anomaly that an assemblage of persons united by the bond of common interest, living under the same laws, possessing equal devotion to the institutions of their choice, and who, in a trying hour, have stepped forth with one accord to defend them with their blood, should take occasion, from mere imaginary distinctions, to express an asperity of feeling toward each other, calculated to derogate from our character and consideration abroad. Let us unite in pursuing a course, and in setting an example, that may tend to unite the hearts of all our fellow-citizens."
According to the Governor's statements, "our proximity to the province of Texas, and the peculiar situation of that country, had given rise to disorders and depredations along our frontier on the Sabine, which had become truly alarming, and required the utmost vigilance on the part of the public authorities. A number of slaves and horses of our citizens had been stolen, and carried into that province by a lawless band of men associated for that purpose. It also had proved a place of refuge for dishonest debtors, who fled from the justice of their own country, taking with them, in some instances, property mortgaged for the payment of their debts. The Government of the United States, at the request of the Louisiana delegation in Congress, had stationed a detachment of troops near the Sabine, with a view to prevent these abuses; but their efforts on that exposed and extensive frontier had proved inadequate to the end proposed." This state of things shows clearly, without mentioning other considerations, how extremely important it was for Louisiana that Texas should become a part of the United States.
Like his predecessor, Governor Johnson felt himself compelled to advert to the evils resulting from the condition of our landed interests: "The large claims, embracing several millions of acres, to which the attention of the Legislature had been called on several occasions, still remained unadjusted. Upward of twenty p648years had elapsed since we had become a part of the American Confederacy, and had looked to the Congress of the United States for the redress of our grievances in this respect. Nothing effectual, however, had been done. All attempts which had been made in Congress to refer our claims to the United States District Court, subject to an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, and which was perhaps the most expedient method of settlement that could be devised, had entirely failed of success. If these claims were good, they should have been confirmed; if invalid, they should have been expressly rejected. It was not only the parties interested who suffered by keeping these in suspense; the great and increasing injury inflicted on the State called loudly for redress." Such was the Governor's language, and he recommended a memorial to Congress from the Legislature, "couched in strong but respectful terms." It was like a petition to the lion to relinquish the sheep on which he was feeding, and proved equally ineffective.
The question of slavery, gathering impetus and strength as it rolled on, was no longer to be permitted to rest, for it had become a settled policy to keep it constantly before the public. The Governor laid before the Legislature "Resolutions" of the States of Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, Georgia and Mississippi, the five former approving, the two latter disapproving a "Resolution" of the State of Ohio, recommending to Congress and to the States the abolition of slavery. "That Resolution," said the Governor, "was presented to your consideration by my predecessor. The high source from whence these Resolutions emanate entitle them to respectful consideration." The impudent, intermeddling, and unconstitutional "Resolution" of the State of Ohio, recommending to Congress and Louisiana to abolish slavery, entitled to respectful consideration! It is by such timid language, by such knee-bending attitude, that the abolitionists were encouraged in their aggressions from the beginning. "But however pure," continues the Governor, "the intention in which that of Ohio may have originated, I cannot withhold the expression of my regret that it should have been proposed; nor can I help considering such attempts as unconstitutional in their character and dangerous in their tendency. They are justly regarded as tending to impair the validity of the right to a species of property which is as much guaranteed by the Constitution as any other, and even as an infringement of the sovereignty of the States concerned. Nor do they subserve the interests of an enlightened philanthropy, p649inasmuch as they may awake in the minds of those who are otherwise quiet, and as happy as their condition will admit, a desire and hope of change extremely hazardous, and prompting to acts which would necessarily bring down upon them calamities far greater than any which now exist. The evil in question has been entailed upon us by the mother country; an evil which the progress of things is tending to mitigate, and finally to remove. Being called upon to act on this delicate question, we be unjust to ourselves were we not to express our opinion temperately, but decisively."
Thus the State of Ohio dares openly to pursue a course of action toward the State of Louisiana which is "unconstitutional in its character, and dangerous in its tendency," which "impairs the validity of property" to an immense amount within her limits, which is an "infringement of her sovereignty," in the opinion of her Executive, and that effete Executive is only roused to the expression of a "regret" that such should be the purposes of Ohio, and does not even permit that regret to be expressed without qualifying it with a compliment to the probable "purity of the intention" of the offender. Nay, he admits, much to the gratification, no doubt, of the State of Ohio, that the internal institution of Louisiana which she had attacked, and with which she had no more to do than with the laws of Japan, is an "evil!" He seems to apologize for its existence by giving it to be understood that it is through no fault of ours, and that it has been "entailed upon us by the mother country;" and, making his deference stoop as low as the bows of Eastern veneration, he appears to seek to deprecate the displeasure of Ohio, by informing her that "the progress of things," whereby he means, we suppose, the christianizing public opinion radiating from that enlightened land, and other effective agencies of the like nature, is "tending to mitigate, and finally to remove the evil," which, with a sisterly affection, she wished to eradicate from the bosom of Louisiana. The Governor was a very worthy gentleman in private life, anxious to please everybody and offend none; but, it is by such men as he, thus deplorably deficient in statesmanlike energy, in elevation of views and sentiments, and in official self-respect; it is by such men who, in their public and political capacity, turned the other cheek, whenever slapped in the face even by the hand of Thersites, that the Northern and Eastern States were induced to come to the conclusion that the Southern States "could not be kicked out of the Union." These expressions have become famous, and were the offspring of a conviction p650which, leading to the perpetration of incessant outrages, produced at last one of the greatest struggles of modern times.
1827. The Legislature, being officially informed by the Governor of the death of Thomas Jefferson, and of his having left to his family no other inheritance than that of his illustrious name, voted the sum of ten thousand dollars to his heirs, which were delicately tendered as "a tribute of gratitude" from the State to the representatives of the man by whom "she had been acquired to the Union," and to whom she was indebted for the "blessings of political and civil liberty."
The plea which had been put forth in justification of the Federal Government for stripping the new States of the vacant lands within their respective territories, was based on the necessities of that Government. "But the period seems now arrived," said the Governor in his annual message of 1827, "when the fiscal situation of the National Government is so flourishing, that sound policy would dictate the propriety of putting the new States on an equality with the old in regard to the subject of the vacant lands. Should this be done, they would emulate the example of their elder sisters, and like them build up useful institutions, and essentially ameliorate their condition. Without these lands, the new States have no resources but direct taxation, which is inadequate to their wants and necessities. It is now believed that an appeal on this subject will not be made in vain to the justice of the older States." Such "justice" as Louisiana obtained from the "older States," from the date of her cession by France to 1861, when she attempted to become really and effectually independent, is recorded in the pages of history.
1828. It is impossible, at this time, to read without a sigh the following dithyrambic effusion sent by the Governor to the Legislature, in 1828: "Our form of government was once regarded as an experiment; its success is now the proudest triumph of reason and philosophy. Here all political power emanates from the people; the laws are made and administered by men of their choice, and to them the public agents are directly responsible. Talents and virtue form the greatest distinction in society. Untrammeled by the prejudices which elsewhere paralyze the efforts of genius, every individual, however humble his birth or fortune, may freely aspire to the highest honors of the Government. Those inestimable privileges of freemen, the trial by jury, the Writ of Habeas Corpus, the purity of elections, the freedom of the press, are enjoyed by no other people in an equal degree." With a depth of faith p651which must have been based on the consciousness of his own rectitude, and which he must since have lost, for he still lives a mournful patriarch in a devastated land, he thus continued: "But if the temple of the Constitution should ever, indeed, be assaulted, the safeguards, provided by its founders, defended with the vigilance and courage of the people, will, we trust, prove adequate for its preservation." The Governor forgot that, if we are taught by religion to put our "trust" in God, we are equally taught by history not to put any in political constitutions, and are informed that the day comes, sooner or later, when "the vigilance and courage" of a people are no longer to be relied on for the preservation of their liberties.
The Legislature had passed a bill "more effectually to prohibit free negroes and persons of color from entering into this State." It was vetoed by the Governor on three grounds: The first was, that by the 8th section of the 2d article to the Federal Constitution, the power is reserved to Congress "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States." "Yet," observed the Governor, "several of the sections of this bill relate to ships and to their masters and owners, laying restrictions and imposing penalties of a nature that have always been considered as appertaining to commercial regulations." The second objection was, that a free negro, or person of color, excluded from the State by the operations of this bill, might be a Frenchman, or an Englishman, or a subject of some other power, and that to seize, fine and imprison black seamen for the offence of coming into our port, and captains of vessels for introducing them, "would be to exercise a power paramount to the treaty-making power of the United States, and would be a positive infraction of existing compacts with foreign nations, to whose subjects the right of free ingress and egress for the purpose of commerce is guaranteed. Those nations have subjects of the class of people embraced in this bill. Might not the enforcement of such restrictions lead to retaliation and war?" According to these views, a French or English negro, for instance, being entitled to enjoy all the rights of Frenchmen and Englishmen among us, could not be prevented from establishing a commercial house in one of the principal streets of New Orleans, from driving his gay equipage, with white footmen, on a parallel line with that of the Governor, and from figuring in all places of public resort, such as theatres, and other houses of entertainment, on the same footing with our white population, because his English or French countrymen had such privileges secured to them by treaties!
p652 The third, and last, constitutional objection to this bill, the Governor considered as "equally strong." He remarked that the 2d section of the 3d article of the Constitution secures to the citizens of each State all the privileges and immunities of citizens of the several States. "In the consideration of this bill," said the Governor, "it is only necessary to ascertain whether the persons who are its objects are citizens of any of the States of the Union. In this inquiry, the fact presses itself upon us, that, in some of the States, they are citizens to the full extent of the term. If we can exclude one portion of the citizens of those States, we can exclude the whole. If we are free to refuse ingress to them, they are equally at liberty to deny access to us; and thus the most fatal animosities and collisions might arise between the States, a calamity which it was the object of the Federal Constitution to obviate." These were unexpected admissions from the Executive of slave-holding State; and it was with feelings of mortification that many remembered, ever since, that there was a Governor of Louisiana who openly declared to her Legislature,1 that a negro was as much a citizen of Massachusetts as John Quincy Adams or Daniel Webster, and, as such, entitled in our State to all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to these two distinguished men, or any other white man, whilst the Federal Government and Daniel Webster himself, as Secretary of State, refused to consider persons of that class as citizens of the United States, and the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently confirmed this view of the question. But the negro has much advanced since, and there is no telling where he will stop.
On the 18th of November, 1828, Governor Johnson, whose term of office was near expiring, sent his last annual message of the Chambers. Nothing had happened to check or mar the happiness of the people of the State, and to impede her growth in wealth, population and power. Reverting to the sore question of the public lands, the Governor asserted that "although twenty-five years had elapsed since the transfer of Louisiana to the American Government, and although we had abundant reason to rejoice at our happy condition, and to acknowledge in other respects the wisdom and justice of the Government of the United States toward us, yet it was certain that the prosperity of the State had been greatly retarded by the national jurisdiction exercised over the public lands." The Governor thus admits that, in one respect, the prosperity of Louisiana had been retarded by the policy pursued by the United States. p653In such policy there certainly was neither "wisdom" nor "justice." It is to be regretted that the Governor did not point out in what other respects Louisiana had to acknowledge, in relation to her own individual prosperity and interests, as a distinct unit from the general welfare, the "wisdom" and "justice" of the Federal Government. Cinderella had thriven with the rest of her family, but not in consequence of any particular attention paid to her.
It seems that some of our sister States had also no cause to congratulate themselves on the "wisdom" and "justice" of that same Government, so far as their own individual interests were concerned; for the Governor informs the Legislature, that in certain quarters of the Union, "an opposition to certain acts of Congress had been recently manifested, even indicating a threat of separation." But he winds up with saying: "However oppressive those acts may be in their operation upon the Southern States, the character and extent of the opposition is deeply to be regretted. The charter of our liberty is too sacred thus to be sported with. Separate the Union, and our free institutions may forever be destroyed. But these symptoms of partial discontent afford no just ground of alarm. The character of the American people, the devotion they have displayed to the principles of true liberty, and to the Constitution, which is its palladium, afford a sufficient pledge for its preservation. We have enjoyed too much happiness as a nation, and can indulge too many proud recollections, to doubt the durability of our Federal Government. All attempts at disunion or consolidation will be met by the frowns, and, if necessary, resisted by the arms of an indignant public." Those politicians who, with the Governor, affected to look upon a confederacy of independent and sovereign States as a "nation," in the sense in which the word is applied to France or England, always advocated measures tending to "consolidation," and it was to avoid this dreaded consolidation, so fraught with sectional oppression, and the direful consequences of it, that "opposition was made to certain acts of Congress," which went so far as to "indicate a threat of separation" in those days. Governor Johnson has lived to see a proclamation from a President of the United States declaring, with the approbation of a slavish Congress, that the State of Louisiana was nothing but a "county" in the Union. His term of office expired with the end of the year 1828, and he was succeeded by P. Derbigny.
This year, 1828, was marked by the visit to New Orleans of General Jackson, who had been invited by the Legislature to participate p654in the celebration of the anniversary of the victory of the 8th of January, 1815. Ten thousand dollars had been appropriated for his reception as a guest of the State, and it was such as became that illustrious personage and the community who remembered his services. Three years before, in 1825, Louisiana had also received, with the utmost enthusiasm, General Lafayette as her guest, and had exhibited in her hospitality, as usual, that refined taste and liberality for which she is distinguished.
1829. Governor Derbigny had previously occupied conspicuous positions in the State, such as Judge of the Supreme Court, and had been also Secretary of State. His administration was short, for he was killed on the 7th of October, 1829, by being thrown out of his carriage. The Constitution devolved the office on the President of the Senate until a Governor could be selected by the people and be duly qualified. A. Beauvais and J. Dupré successively officiated in that capacity from the Governor's death until the 31st of January, 1831, when A. B. Roman was sworn into office. That gentleman had been a District Judge, and had fulfilled with talent and dignity the duties of Speaker of the House of Representatives. In his inaugural address the Governor informed the Legislature "that all Europe was shaken by the endeavors which nations were making to obtain institutions more or less like our own, and that our Government was pointed out by all high-minded men as the model of that perfection to which they hoped one day to bring the institutions of their own country, and that the United States would know how to preserve the exalted station which they held in the estimation of the other nations of the earth." These much envied United States were, however, threatened at the time with internal convulsions, and, in relation to this fact, the Governor remarked: "Demagogues may speak of disunion, and threaten to assemble Conventions for the purpose of resisting the laws of the United States; they cannot succeed in their attempt. But even should they contrive to convoke those assemblies, no serious danger would result to the Union; the Constitution of the United States has already withstood, without being impaired, shocks much more violent than these. In the history of a notorious Convention, to which, since many years, no man can be found willing to acknowledge that he ever belonged, the nullifiers of South Carolina ought plainly to read their impending fate."
The question of the public lands, so vital to the State, pressed itself upon the Governor's mind as it had upon that of his predecessors, but he observed that the session of Congress was so far p655advanced, that any claims or representations which the Legislature might make on the subject would reach the seat of Government but on the eve of their adjournment. "It is for this reason," he said, "that I abstain, at this time, from submitting to your consideration various representations which we ought to address to the General Government, in order to insure the maintenance of rights that they seem disposed to forget, but which they must acknowledge as sacred, if it be admitted that they have not the privilege of violating treaties." If, according to the uniform statements, as we have seen, of all the Governors of Louisiana, the United States had fallen into the chronic habit of "forgetting the rights" which had been secured to her by treaties, she might well, we think, have been forgiven if she had not thought their Government as "perfect" as it was held by the "other nations of the earth."
1833. On the 9th of December, when the Legislature met, the State was just recovering from the terrors of the ravages produced during the preceding autumn by the yellow fever and the cholera. The Governor, however, informed them that now "health prevailed throughout the whole of the State, and that the resources which her geographical position and the inexhaustible fertility of her soil afford were so great, that, after all those calamities, her situation was at present very prosperous." He estimated the exports of New Orleans at $36,700,000, twenty millions of which were the produce of Louisiana. He saw no reason why there should not be a rapid progression of her resources; the policy of the emancipation of the blacks which England had adopted in relation to her colonies, "however disastrous it might be to those intended to be benefited by it," could produce among us no other than a favorable effect on that branch of agriculture which consisted in the cultivation of the sugar-cane. "We are, fortunately," he said, "too far removed from the theatre in which those visionary improvements are to be attempted, for the reaction which they may produce to be felt among us. Our position and divers other causes, too well known to you to be recapitulated, put us at least beyond the reach of danger. London and Paris have more to fear from their populace than we have to apprehend from our negroes." Time proved, however, in less than twenty years, that we were not beyond the "reach of danger," and whatever is the degradation of the populace of London and Paris, no one believes that they could ever be tempted to take arms against their countrymen by the blandishments of any invader of their native soil. We have p656been taught the use which an unprincipled enemy can make of our negroes.
1835. The administration of Governor Roman, during which many internal improvements of all sorts had been completed or begun, closed on the 2d of February, 1835. He was succeeded by E. D. White, who had been for several years a member of Congress. The new Governor, in his short inaugural address, complained of the "vacillating legislation" of Congress in relation to one of the principal agricultural interests of the State. The duty on foreign sugars had been lowered in conjunction with the reduction of the whole tariff of the United States — a conciliatory measure, which had been adopted to put an end to the "acrimonious conflict" between those who desired a protective tariff, and those who thought a tariff for revenue was the only one which the Constitution permitted. "The Union," he said, "had been shaken to its very foundations" by the violence of the storm, and the celebrated Compromise Bill of Henry Clay had been adopted as a sheet-anchor of safety. Louisiana would be the sufferer by it; but he trusted in the inherent energy and industry of her inhabitants, to make them "independent of this precarious decision of Congress." With regard to our land claims, the Senate of the United States had lately passed a bill by which they were referred to the ordinary tribunals of the country; but the House of Representatives had not "condescended" even to look into it. He had been a witness to the "indifference or levity" with which this important subject, on which depended the prosperity of the State, had always been treated in Congress, and he recommended to the Legislature the experiment of trying if an expression of their views on this matter would not draw to it a "more serious attention" from the Federal Legislators.
1836. On the 4th of January, the Governor informed the Legislature that, since the invasion of Louisiana by the British, she had not been placed in circumstances which required so much wisdom, prudence and patriotism from the Representatives of the people. In the midst of profound peace and uninterrupted prosperity, the "most alarming excitement" prevailed in the whole country, and in more than one circumstance, there had been manifested "dispositions fatal to the social order, and tending to substitute tumultuous violence to the power and majesty of the laws." The clash of arms, produced in the vicinity of our Western frontier by the collision which had taken place between Texas and Mexico, had reverberated throughout Louisiana, and thrown her into a state of warlike p657commotion. Many of her people were disposed to rush to arms and march to the assistance of those whom they considered as their countrymen in Texas. The Governor had been compelled to issue a proclamation threatening with condign punishment all those who should violate those laws of neutrality which they were bound to observe. The Louisianians had been presented, this year, with a more legitimate opportunity of showing their martial spirit. The United States were then at war with the Seminoles of Florida, and a requisition having been made on Louisiana for troops, her quota was furnished with great alacrity in ten days.
Governor White warned the Legislature against the designs and schemes of the pretended friends of the Blacks at the North and in the West, who covered their wicked designs with the mask of hypocrisy, and whose efforts tended to plunge those they affected to love, honor and protect, into an abyss of misery and ruin. He predicted that, should they ever succeed in their nefarious purposes, they would "inundate the land with human blood," and would be the criminal cause of the extermination of the unfortunate victims of their deceitful doctrines." He informed the Legislature that those demons, in order to carry into execution their infernal plans, had formed affiliated societies in divers parts of the Union; that considerable sums had been furnished by private contributions; and that the press itself had become their auxiliary. They printed and scattered "collections of horrors and atrocities" which had no other reality than what was given to them by the heated brains of their inventors. Every day, books, pamphlets and all sorts of publications, calculated to operate on both sexes from childhood to senility, and full of fantastic images, engravings and emblems destined to act on the imagination, were belched forth upon the public; and the mail, which had been established for the common benefit, had become an agent of destruction and hostility to the Southern States, and was freely used for the propagation of those incendiary compositions. "I congratulate myself," said the Governor, "on my being able to lay before you a collection, although very incomplete, of the edifying works to which I have alluded. They will suffice, however, to give you a just idea of the kind of war which is prepared in the bosom of our own country, against our peace, our fortunes, our lives and those of our children. These productions, these engines of destruction, are openly sold, and distributed with impunity in cities which are united to us by the bonds of commerce, of consanguinity and nationality." He advised the adoption of precautionary measures and the better organization p658of our militia, who had never been in a satisfactory condition since the formation of the State.
As to the public lands within the State, he said that, when she had renounced all the titles and rights which she might have had to them in order to be admitted into the Union — a renunciation whose validity she might well have questioned since — she had stripped herself, under the belief that the United States and Louisiana could have but one common interest in the public domain, which would be disposed of equitably by the Federal Government for the benefit of all, and with an eye to the individual necessities of the States. "But, the experience of more than twenty years," continues the Governor, "is very far from having confirmed these first impressions. Congress has been less liberal to Louisiana than to any other section of the country. Either by accident or by design, the policy pursued toward us has been a system of exclusion. Immense concessions of lands have been made to all the new States, whilst Louisiana has only been able to obtain the petty donation of two townships; and, although the grant was made so far back as 1827, it has been impossible to locate the townships, on account of the captious difficulties raised by the Land Office.
1837. This year was marked by an extraordinary financial crisis throughout the United States. All the Banks suspended specie payment, including those of Louisiana. The paper currency became greatly depreciated; the metallic one disappeared, as is always the case in such circumstances; ruin and desolation seemed to have overspread the land; every kind of industry was paralyzed; produce of every sort fell so low that it hardly paid for the cost of transportation; the value of real estate fell to nothing; credit, which is the life of commerce, died away; and agriculture languished from the want of stimulation. One would have supposed that it would have taken years to recover from such a shock, and yet, on the 7th of January, 1839, Governor White informed the Legislature with great satisfaction that the Banks had resumed specie payment, and that the State was beginning to emerge from her difficulties. It was consoling to him to leave her in the enjoyment of her usual prosperity, at the end of his administration, which terminated on the 4th of February. On that day, A. B. Roman, who had been elected Governor a second time, was inaugurated. On being sworn, he stated to the Legislature that, for several years, a tendency to disorder and license had made itself felt in society; that violence and brutal force had but too often usurped the place of p659the law from one extremity of the Union to the other; and that he relied on their co-operation to check in Louisiana any transgressions of a similar nature. "The invasion of her territory," he said, "by a troop of armed men, who, under the orders of an officer of the Republic of Texas, marched as far as the town of Shreveport, in the Parish of Caddo, is too extraordinary an event not to be noticed by the authorities of this State." He assured the Legislature that he would call on the Federal Government to prevent the repetition of such an outrage.
With regard to the increasing agitation of the question of slavery, he considered that the incendiary doctrines on which it was based had come to America from the other side of the Atlantic, and were propagated among us by a foreign influence, with a view to bring about the dissolution of the Union. "It becomes us," he said, "to act on this subject with much reserve and prudence, and always to show a spirit of conciliation; but our moderation must not be taken as a proof of apprehension or weakness. I do not fear2 to be disavowed by my fellow-citizens when I declare in their name, that they shall always be found ready to maintain their rights by peaceful means, if those means are sufficient, but also by force, if force should become necessary. Thus were beginning to be heard the distant mutterings of the coming storm.
1840. The resumption of specie payment by our Banks in 1838 did not last long, and those institutions again forfeited their charters — a penalty from which they had been released by the Legislature. In consequence of this suspension, unprecedented distress and embarrassment pervaded every class of society. The Governor, in a message delivered on the 7th of January, 1840, attributed this general crisis to the destruction of the Bank of the United States. "The State Banks," he said, "from that time, no more restrained, and freed from the control that prevented their increase when wanting the basis of solid complete, began to multiply in every part of the Union. They extended their discounts beyond measure, and have since inundated the Union with an unprotected paper currency. Extravagant speculations were the necessary result of this new order of things; all classes of society were hurried along; no project was too vast or too chimerical not to be attempted by individuals, corporations, or even legislatures. The facility with which new loans were negotiated stimulated the spirit of commercial enterprise, and caused a startling difference between exportations p660and importations — a difference which, in the two years of 1835 and 1836, amounted to eighty-nine millions five hundred and nineteen thousand one hundred and sixty dollars. This immense debt, due to foreign countries, occasioned a constant demand for the precious metals piled in the vaults of our Banks. England, whose interests were the most connected with our own, and who, until then, had been lavish of her loans to different States of the Union, or for individual commerce, found it necessary, for her own safety, to oppose the further extension of American credit; and the Bank of England, in order to accelerate the importation of gold and silver, proscribed the paper of the strongest American houses. This hostility between the Bankers of the two most commercial nations of the world was followed by disasters to both. The first suspension of our Banks was one of the results."
1841. In January, when the Legislature met, the Banks of New Orleans had not yet resumed specie payment, but their situation was considered as so satisfactory, their solvency so well established, that their notes were hardly at a discount of two per cent, and were in demand throughout the West, whilst they formed very nearly the only circulation of a neighboring State.3 In connection with these institutions, it is curious to observe the rapid increase of the debts due to them by the State. At the beginning of the year 1839 the State owed to the Banks $75,000; at the beginning of 1841 the debt amounted to $850,000; and it was generally believed at the time, on the authority of persons who had made the calculation, that the members of the Legislature, in their private capacity, owed to those institutions about one million of dollars. This simple statement suffices to show the danger of increasing too much the facilities of borrowing.
The incessant complaints of Louisiana, and the demonstrations of the injustice with which she had always been treated, had at last wrested from Congress the grant of •784,320 acres for the support of her primary schools, but of that amount •187,584 acres were to be deducted, as being of no value, or not available.3 "Louisiana," observes the Governor, "seems destined to derive less advantages from the bounties of Congress toward public schools than any other of the new States."
1842. At the beginning of this year, the Banks of New Orleans became divided as to the propriety of resuming specie payments, and some of them acknowledged that they were not in a situation p661to resume without assistance. Two of them were paying specie; the others wished to continue the suspension until November of that year. Shortly after the meeting of the Legislature in January, the first signal for the depreciation of the paper money of the Banks was given by the refusal of some of these institutions to receive, either in payment or deposit, the notes of those whose solvency was suspected.4 Besides, the Legislature having passed a law for the liquidation of such Banks as might be insolvent, and created a "Board of Currency" to control the operations of all those institutions, and to examine and publish their real situation, the failure of all those whose credit had no other foundation than the confidence inspired by the fact that their paper was received at par by other Banks of undoubted solvency, became inevitable when that paper was rejected. There was a crash; Bank after Bank went down, like trees under the strokes of a sturdy woodman; the financial crisis which had given signs of abating returned with more violence, and the distress became universal, "in the midst of unusually large returns which a bountiful Providence had that year bestowed upon the labors of the husbandman."4 Fortunately, the immense resources of our agriculture, and the incalculable advantages of the commercial position of New Orleans, enabled us soon to overcome the numberless difficulties and obstacles with which we had to struggle. Seven of the Banks were prostrated, never to rise any more; but nine weathered the storm, and in the beginning of 1843 were paying specie. The actual circulation of the solvent Banks had been reduced to $1,261,514, whilst they had in their vaults $4,565,925. Notwithstanding this accumulation of strength, which would, in ordinary times, have permitted them to afford every facility to business, the want of confidence and credit was such, that they were compelled to be very restricted in their operations, and could not work in a manner beneficial to the public and profitable to themselves. Such was the pressure throughout the whole community from the absence of a sufficiency of sound currency to meet the general wants, that even the taxes could hardly be collected, and the revenue of the State had diminished to the amount of near two hundred thousand dollars in theº year 1842. Unfortunately, at that time, her finances were not in a proper condition, as her expenses had long since exceeded her receipts. In a late message the Governor had said to the Legislature: "Our debts are annually met by new loans, the interest on p662which, added to the capital, and the appropriations of each session of the Legislature, present every year a heavier deficit." In these untoward circumstances, the State found herself exposed to be called upon to pay for bonds to a very large amount, which she had given for some of these Banks, in order to supply them with a capital which could only be procured from Europe. The difficulty to collect in time the funds which these institutions had so imprudently loaned as to place them beyond their immediate control, would, in the course of the year 1843, render it impossible for them to fulfill punctually their obligations to the holders of the bonds. It remained for the State to provide for this contingency, and save herself from the disgrace of a protest. On this subject Governor Roman addressed the Legislature in these terms: "Louisiana will not shrink from the call that will be made on her to keep the faith which she has pledged. You know she would disclaim those who represent her if they could think of not fulfilling the promises she has made, and I feel that I express her opinions and yours in stating that the purity of her honor must be maintained, and that she will never furnish the enemies of popular governments with a new cause to charge them with dishonesty. Your predecessors and mine concurred in this belief, for they have rendered the system of repudiation as impossible among us as it is unjust, the negotiation of the State bonds having been directly or indirectly sanctioned by every succeeding Legislature since their emission." These were the proper sentiments to be expressed on such an occasion, and may Louisiana never entertain any other in similar circumstances! The Legislature responded to the appeal of the Governor, and the credit of the State was saved. The Governor concluded his last message in these words: "I leave the office with which I have been honored, with the painful conviction of having done very little for the good of the State, and of having often failed in preventing what was injurious. It affords me some relief, however, to be able to say, that I have refused my signature to various bills which, but for my disapproval, would have added to the debts of the State the sum of $7,185,000, and that the act which binds us to pay, without any consideration, $500,000 for the Clinton and Port Hudson Railroad, does not bear my name. My true consolation is in the certainty that distress, in a country so endowed with every element of prosperity and wealth, cannot be durable. The greatness of our resources has, for some years past, tended to lead us astray. We thought them without limit, and abandoned ourselves to undertakings and speculations p663far beyond our real strength. The errors of the past will not be without benefit, if they serve as beacons to warn us from similar mistakes in future. The country has not changed; the wide career offered to our agricultural and commercial industry is not closed; no convulsions of nature have destroyed the fertility of our soil, or turned away from our capital the stream of the Mississippi. We are now aware of our real situation; we enjoy the advantages of self-government, and our destinies are in our own hands. Louisiana might yet be prosperous and happy, if the means which we still retain are administered with that prudence and economy which should have been always observed." He was succeeded by Alexander Mouton, who began his administration on the 30th of January, 1843. The new Governor had been known before as the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the State, and as a member for several years of the United States Senate. He was, like his predecessor, a native of the State, and, like him, a man of much good sense and firmness, although they differed in their political creed, Roman being a Whig, and Mouton a Democrat.
1843. On assuming the reins of government, Governor Mouton told the Legislature "that we could justly attribute the evils we suffered to no other cause than ourselves. Louisiana, under a good Government, and poised on her own resources, would leave nothing to be wished for by her sons. It was but too common to look abroad for causes which were to be found immediately among ourselves. It was too customary to look to the General Government for relief in distress, whilst that relief should have been sought at home. By the manly exercise of our own faculties, availing ourselves of our natural advantages, and calling to our aid the sovereign power of the State, we could overcome all our difficulties." During his long residence at Washington, as a Senator, the Governor seems to have become well acquainted with the spirit of the Federal Government, and to have mistrusted its tendencies. He knew that it was a friend to whom it was dangerous to appeal, and whose services might be too dearly bought. "It is our duty," he said, "to watch closely the action of the General Government, so far as it can affect, for good or for evil, the great interests for which its powers were delegated; and we should never suffer those powers to be enlarged by construction, so as to interfere with the powers vested in the States of the Union."
In relation to the public lands, he described in a perspicuous manner the extraordinary injustice with which Louisiana had always p664been treated: "Near forty years had now elapsed since the district of country composing the State of Louisiana became a part of the United States, and more than thirty years since she was admitted into the Union as a sovereign State; and yet large portions of her territory are covered with unadjusted claims of land, derived from the former Government of the country; and a much less portion of the public domain has been disposed of within her bounds than in other parts of the Union, possessing, to say the least of it, no greater advantages. Louisiana was the first State, formed from territory derived from foreign countries, admitted into the Union, and there are several Territories not yet admitted. For every other State or Territory thus situated, provision has long since been made by Congress for the adjustment of all disputed land claims in the Federal Courts, and they have long since been decided; while for our State no such provision has yet been made, though a bill for that purpose has frequently passed that branch of Congress in which the representation of all the States is equal." This simple statement alone proves more clearly than a volume of arguments could, the state of systematic oppression in which Louisiana had always been held by an envious, prejudiced, and fanatical majority. "At this time," continued the Governor, "large districts of country in other States and Territories are offered for sale, while none has been offered in Louisiana, at public sale, for years. The State has not even yet been authorized to make any disposition of the school lands in each township. These are objects of just complaint."
Governor Mouton found the finances of the State in a fearful condition. "I learn," he said, "with deep mortification and regret, from the Treasurer's reports and otherwise, that there is now due by the State to our Banks, in round numbers, one million two hundred thousand dollars; that there is due for salaries, interest and other ordinary expenses, about two hundred thousand dollars; that there are State bonds, for the payment of which the State has no guarantee, to the amount of one million two hundred and seventy-three thousand dollars, on which the interest is unpaid; that there are State bonds to a large amount, for which the State has the guarantee of the stockholders of the Citizens' Bank, and of the consolidated Association of Planters, now in liquidation, on which the interest will probably not be paid; that the ordinary expenses of the Government exceed, and have for several years exceeded its ordinary income by more than two hundred thousand dollars; that there is nothing in our exhausted treasury; that the State can no p665longer draw a dollar from her own banks, and that the people are taxed as heavily as they can bear. This is indeed a deplorable situation of our affairs. Having within our limits the greatest commercial metropolis in the Union, a luxuriant climate, and the richest and most inexhaustible soil in the world, we are forced to ask what has produced this disastrous result." The Governor answered the question by attributing our misfortunes to the inordinate inflation of our paper currency and to the mushroom multiplicity of our Banks, which had tempted our whole population and the State itself into such extravagance, that the State was almost bankrupt, and that there were few of our citizens who were not heavily in debt to those institutions. "The evils under which we suffer," he said, "are to be ascribed to the ascendency, the supremacy this interest attained in our State. Had Banks been held to the responsibilities of individuals; had they at all times been kept in a sphere subordinate to the Government itself; had the supremacy of the laws been asserted and maintained, things would not have come to the present stage of discredit and disaster. What citizen who feels for the honor of his State would wish to see the late condition of things renewed? Our policy, our duty, then, is obvious. We must prevent, by all possible means, all tendency in our legislation to a revival of the Banking system as heretofore organized."
1844. So recuperative is Louisiana in her energies and resources, that, on the 1st day of January, 1844, the sad condition of which we have seen the description had much improved, notwithstanding she had been afflicted, in an unusual degree, with the diseases incident to the climate and to local circumstances, and notwithstanding the rich productions of her prolific soil had been curtailed by an unpropitious season. "We have," said the Governor to the Legislature, "evidently passed the deplorable crisis of immorality and distress, in which idleness, extravagance and reckless speculation, engendered by improvident legislation, the credit system and paper money had involved the whole country. Industry now animates all classes of society, and economy surrounds every fireside. But lately the pervading spirit of our citizens was to transcend each other in luxury and splendid extravagance; now their patriotic emulation is to surpass each other in useful productions, and thereby to secure the comfort and independence of families, and add to the wealth and prosperity of the State. The planter, mechanic, and professional man has each returned to his peculiar occupation and proper pursuits; and none are now seduced by the p666bright, but fallacious, prospects of fortune without labor. Our Banks, by their intolerable abuses, had brought the State, our public corporations and individuals, to the brink of moral degradation and pecuniary bankruptcy; but an entire revolution in public opinion and the passage of salutary laws have effectually restrained them within their proper sphere; and, while these opinions and laws are maintained, they will no longer have power to ruin themselves by ruining the community; they will cease to mingle in political strife, and be, as they should always have been, harmless handmaids to commerce."
1845. In January, a great excitement was produced in New Orleans by the arrival of an individual from Massachusetts, named Hubbard. It seems that Massachusetts had heard that some of her citizens of African descent were put in jail in New Orleans for visiting that city in contravention of laws which prohibited all persons of that class from coming to the State. That Commonwealth, always so intensely hostile to the Southern States, had authorized her Governor to employ an agent in New Orleans, for a term of time not to exceed one year, for the purpose of collecting and transmitting accurate information respecting the number and the names of citizens of Massachusetts who had heretofore been, or might be, during the period of the agent's engagement, imprisoned without the allegation of any crime. The same agent was also to bring and prosecute, with the aid of counsel, one or more suits in behalf of any citizen that might be so imprisoned, at the expense of Massachusetts, for the purpose of having the legality of such imprisonment tried and determined upon in the Supreme Court of the United States. Hubbard had been the agent selected. He soon found out, however, that he would not be permitted to do all the mischief that was intended; and, shortly after his arrival, he wrote to the Governor that, not from intimidation, but from the conviction that his mission would be fruitless, he was ready to depart and to return his commission to the source from which it had originated. It is gratifying to record his admission that he "did easily see the high moral influence which must pervade and prevail in the City of New Orleans, in the courteous, bland and humane manner in which her citizens of the first respectability conveyed to him their sentiments respecting his agency and the excitement it occasioned." These are his very words.
Texas had for some time achieved her independence from Mexico, and become a republic acknowledged by France, Great Britain and the United States. She was called the "Lone Star." It was p667extremely desirable for Louisiana that she should be admitted as soon as possible into the firmament of the United States. She had applied for it and Governor Mouton, considering the great interest which this subject had excited throughout the State, and the important bearing that it must have upon her future prosperity, had suggested, in his annual message on the 6th of January, 1845, the propriety of such action on the part of the Legislature as would be expressive of the wishes and feelings of the people of the State concerning this measure. This part of the Governor's message was referred to a special committee, the majority of which reported adversely. We made a minority report in favor of expressing by the Legislature the desire of the people for the immediate annexation of Texas by all lawful and constitutional means. But this measure, in support of which it would have been natural to expect a unanimous vote, was only carried through after much discussion and considerable opposition, and with a proviso tacked to it, which was not free from objections.
The State had been a large stockholder in several of the Banks, and as such used to appoint a certain number of directors in those institutions. It was found that this connection between the State and the Banks worked injuriously to all the parties concerned, and it was deemed expedient to put an end to this unwise and unnatural partnership. An act had been passed to that effect in the session of 1844, but it had not been accepted by the Banks, which had objected to some of its provisions. The Governor, at the session of 1845, recommended that the subject should be resumed, and that amendments should be made which might be acceptable to those institutions. We moved in the House of Representatives that this part of the Governor's message be referred to a special committee, and, as chairman, we reported a bill which passed, after having undergone some modifications, and to which the Banks gave their adhesion. The result was the discharge of more than three millions of the debts proper of the State, leaving only a balance of $1,600,000, maturing between 1845 and 1872, which, by an annual surplus revenue, she could discharge gradually, or which could be mostly absorbed by the sale of such portion of the public domain as she had at last, after years of repeated efforts, wrested from the avaricious grasp of the Federal Government.
During the same session, we introduced "Resolutions," which were adopted, requesting our Senators and Representatives in Congress to lay before that body and the President of the United States the remonstrances of the State in relation to the want of p668Mail facilities throughout the State, and to use their utmost efforts to obtain the redress of the grievances which she suffered in this respect. To show in the most glaring manner the injustice with which Louisiana was treated, we stated in the preamble of those "Resolutions" that, during the year ending June 30, 1843, Louisiana had paid to the Post-Office Department $104,261, whilst only $37,976 had been expended in the State for Mail transportation, when $218,055 were spent in Alabama, whose net postage was only $89,441; and $95,530 were spent in Mississippi, whose net postage was only $49,734; and $58,825 were spent in Arkansas, whose net postage was only $12,819 — the same favors being extended in the same ratio to sixteen other States.
On the 14th day of May, 1845, there was adopted a new Constitution for the State, which had been framed by a Convention assembled on the 5th of August, 1844. The Convention had first met at Jackson, in the Parish of East Feliciana, but had subsequently adjourned to New Orleans. The collective wisdom and talent of the State had certainly deliberated long enough to have produced something durable and satisfactory to the people. We shall see, however, that but a few years had elapsed, when another Convention had to be convened to amend the one which had been so elaborately discussed and framed. This Constitution of 1845 was much more democratic than that of 1812. It proclaimed the right of general suffrage, by granting the privilege to vote to every free white male who had been two years a citizen of the United States, who had attained the age of twenty-one years, and who had resided in the State two consecutive years next preceding the election in which he desired to participate; it limited to a short term the tenure of judicial offices, which, hitherto, had been during good behavior. A peculiar oath about not having been engaged in a duel, directly or indirectly, since the adoption of the Constitution, was exacted from all the members of the General Assembly and from all State officers, before they could enter upon the duties of their offices. A special provision was inserted in the Constitution to remove the Seat of Government from New Orleans and its vicinity. The aggregate amount of debts hereafter to be contracted by the Legislature was never to exceed one hundred thousand dollars, except in particular cases, distinctly specified. The State was prohibited from ever becoming subscriber to the stock of any corporation or joint-stock company, and no corporate body should hereafter created, renewed, or extended, with banking or discounting privileges. These last restrictions show that the p669Convention, warned by the bitter experience of the past, intended to guard against the return of those evils from the consequences of which the State had not yet liberated itself entirely. No corporations, hereafter to be created, should ever endure for a longer term than twenty-five years, except those which were political or municipal. No exclusive privilege or monopoly was to be granted for a longer period than twenty years. The Constitution was to be submitted to the people for their ratification or rejection, and, in case of its being ratified, it became the duty of the Governor forthwith to issue his proclamation declaring the Legislature elected under the old Constitution to be dissolved, and directing elections to be held for Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Members of the General Assembly, and all other officers whose election was provided for. The Constitution was ratified by the people, and the new Legislature, elected according to its provisions, met on the 9th of February, 1846. The retiring Governor, Alexander Mouton, complimented the Legislature on the wonderful change which, in three years, since his inaugural address, had taken place in the condition of the State, under a wise legislation and a proper system of economy and retrenchment. He informed them that he had caused to be canceled bonds and coupons of interest of the debt proper of the State to the amount of more than three millions and a half of dollars, which had been paid or settled by the Treasury, under the Act providing for the adjustment and liquidation of the debts proper of the State, approved the 23d of March, 1844.
"The Banks are extinguishing," he said, "as rapidly as could be expected, the bonds unfortunately issued by the State to enable them to raise their capital. The Municipalities of the City have withdrawn their depreciated circulation, and our State and City are now blessed with a sound constitutional currency, amply adequate to all domestic or commercial purposes.
"On taking charge of the Executive office of the State, I formed the deliberate opinion that it was for the interest of the people and the duty of the Government to disconnect itself with all companies and corporations; to avoid embarking in improvements which, either on account of their national character, should properly be made by the General Government, or in those which could be effected by the local authorities or individual efforts; to pay off the whole State debts and reduce the taxes; to direct the efforts of the State Government mainly to the adoption and administration of wise laws for the protection of persons and property, and the promotion of education and morality, and limit the offices and expenses p670of the State to those which were absolutely necessary for these purposes; and to encourage among the people a disposition to prosper, not by speculative schemes, but by industry in productive occupation, and economy in their mode of living." These were judicious views, and the Governor had been remarkably successful in carrying them intoº execution, for "the public credit," he said, "has been entirely restored, and our treasury is in a most prosperous condition. On the 31st of December last, there was a surplus in cash of two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars in the Treasury, after having paid the extraordinary expenses incurred for the State Convention, amounting to nearly ninety thousand dollars. The State debt, in round numbers, may be stated at one million three hundred thousand dollars, payable from 1848 to 1872. The cash and other assets in the Treasury, and the land fund of the State, would at once extinguish the debt; and, in my opinion, the appropriation of these means to this end would be the most advisable course to pursue at present, and ever hereafter to rely upon the yearly income for all purposes of yearly expenditure." This tableau presented by the Governor shows what wonders can be worked in such a country as Louisiana under a wise and economical administration. Like Antaeus, she can be prostrated only to rise up with more vigor and elasticity.
1846. The Governor-elect under the new Constitution, Isaac Johnson, was installed into office on the 12th of February, 1846. He had been a member of the State Legislature and a District Judge. Shortly after his inauguration, hostilities began on the Rio Grande, between the United States and Mexico, and the greatest excitement prevailed in New Orleans, when it was heard that General Taylor, who commanded a small Federal army in that District, was threatened to be overwhelmed by immensely superior forces which the enemy had brought rapidly against him. Taylor made a requisition on Louisiana for reinforcements, and the manner in which it was answered is aptly described by Governor Johnson in a letter to Marcy, the Secretary of War, dated June 12, 1846: "The call upon the patriotism of Louisiana presented a startling view of the critical and perilous situation of the army and of Point Isabel, and left no time for calculating reflection, and none for delay. An absorbing, energetic sentiment of duty to the country possessed the minds and hearts of this entire community. The Judge deserted the Bench, the lawyer his clients, the physician his patients, the merchant his counting-house, the mechanic his workshop, and the minister of the Gospel his pulpit, to respond to the proclamation for p671volunteers; and, though we had severe difficulties to encounter, by union and decision of action they were speedily overcome. In an incredible short space of time several thousand brave and devoted men were forwarded to the seat of war, where they happily arrived in time to enable General Taylor more confidently to assume an offensive attitude against the enemy, and to crown the brilliant victories of the 8th and 9th, already achieved, with the conquest of Matamoros." The State had equipped a large force at a cost of very near three hundred thousand dollars, which were subsequently reimbursed by the General Government, not, however, without treating our volunteers with some illiberality, and rejecting some of their just claims on the plea of the absence of certain formalities, which had not been observed, either from ignorance, or from the want of time, when circumstances were so pressing and delays so full of danger.5
After years of hesitation, the State had at last established a Penitentiary, at the high cost of $400,000. Besides this original cost, the keeping of that establishment turned out to be a very expensive affair for the State, for it amounted yearly to $20,000. The policy of farming it out was suggested, and the suggestion was adopted. The Penitentiary was leased out for five years, during which it not only ceased to be an expense to the State, but yielded large profits to the lessee, who realized more than $19,000 a year. In subsequent leases the State even derived a handsome revenue from the Penitentiary. It is a striking illustration of the manner in which certain institutions are administered in the name and on behalf of the State. She will become bankrupt where individuals will become rich.
1848. In his message of the 18th of January, the Governor had the satisfaction to inform the Legislature that, with regard to the banking institutions of the City of New Orleans which were not in a state of liquidation, "there was nothing hazarded in expressing the opinion that, at no period of their history, were they in a sounder and more healthy condition than at this time." Although the Legislature had yearly appropriated large sums for public works and improvements throughout the State, yet the results had always been far from meeting the expectations entertained on the subject. Hence the Governor, in 1848, had felt authorized to inform the General Assembly "that the Civil Engineer of the State had been indefatigable in his Department, and that his Report would p672announce the startling and unprecedented fact that he had performed all the duties imposed on him by the last Legislature." In relation to some neglect which our volunteers were suffering from the General Government during the Mexican War which was still progressing, he said: "The proud and sensitive soldier may brood over his wrongs in silence, and find solace in a manly fortitude which may reconcile him to obedience as a paramount duty; but the State, whose flag he bears, cannot be thus reconciled, but should assert his rights in a fearless and proper manner, and redress his wrongs if possible."
It was foreseen that the invasion of Mexico by the armies of the United States would lead to the acquisition of territory, and, in prevision of this event, a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, named Wilmot, intending to guard against the extension of the area of slavery, had proposed a legislative enactment which would confine it to its present limits. It was called the "Wilmot Proviso," and revived the excitement which the discussion of such a subject always produced. In relation to it the Governor observed: "The issue has been forced upon us, and it should be met respectfully and temperately; but at with a firm and uncompromising resistance. Let us, at least, take care that they who have sowed the speck of storm shall not force us to reap the whirlwind."
The Legislature having adjourned on the 16th of March, 1848, without adequately providing, as required by the Constitution, for the establishment, organization and support of public schools throughout the State, were convened by the Governor in extraordinary session, and met on the 4th of December in the same year, when they repaired the omissions of the last session. Already were biennial sessions, limited to sixty days, found to be an evil. The object of this constitutional change had been to guard against too much legislation, but it seems to have been a leap from Scylla into Charybdis.
1850. On the 21st of January the Legislature met for the first time, under the new Constitution, at the new seat of Government, the town of Baton Rouge, where a State House, in the Gothic style of architecture, had been constructed.
On the 2d of March, 1849, Congress had passed a law granting to the State all the swamp and overflowed lands within her limits, on the condition of her constructing such levees and drains as would render those lands cultivable. On the recommendation of the Governor, this conditional grant was accepted. The area of the p673swamp lands thus ceded by the Federal Government was estimated at •about two millions two hundred and sixty-six thousand acres.
In relation to the slavery question, which was still agitated in and out of Congress with greater violence than ever, and which, henceforth, was never to be permitted to slumber until it culminated to one of the grandest catastrophes of modern times, Governor Isaac Johnson said: "Non-interference by Congress with the slavery question is the surest means of preserving the Union, and that doctrine should be insisted on with an unflinching resolution never to surrender it. To any proposition, therefore, to compromise that doctrine, the South, with the bitter and humiliating experience of the past before her, will turn a deaf ear. Submission to incipient oppression prepares men for the yoke, and compromises on this question are nothing else than anti-slavery victories. The repeated, galling and unprovoked aggressions of anti-slavery leave no room to anticipate a cessation of hostilities, and the South has been sufficiently warned that, if it is wise to hope for the best, it is equally prudent to prepare for the worst. It is far better to be lawless than to live under lawless rule."
On the 23d of January, 1850, we, as Secretary of State, and P. E. D. Livaudais, State Treasurer, who constituted the Board of Currency, laid before the Legislature our Report, which concluded in these words: "From the examination of the annexed documents, we hope that your Honorable Body will come to the conclusion that we have exercised with due vigilance that supervision which was intrusted to us by the Act of 1842; that the institution of the Board of Currency has been a measure productive of salutary influence over our banking system; that it has prevented the recurrence of the same errors from which this community has suffered so much; that our Banks continue to be in a flourishing condition, and that the currency of the State of Louisiana is now as sound as could be desired."
On the 28th of January, 1850, Joseph Walker, the successor of Isaac Johnson, was inaugurated. He had long been in public life as a member of the Senate, as State Treasurer, and as President of the late Convention who had framed the new Constitution. He expressed, in the following terms, his views on the slavery question: "Situated as we are, I think we owe it to ourselves, to our sister States of the South, and to our Northern brethren, to declare that if, unhappily, the anti-slavery agitation which has so long been allowed to insult our feelings should be carried to the point of aggression upon our rights; if the equality between all the p674members of Confederacy, established and guaranteed by the Constitution, should be destroyed or trenched on by the action of the General Government, then we are prepared to make common cause with our neighbors of the slaveholding States, and pronounce the Union at an end. For myself, I do not hesitate to say, that I should look upon a dissolution of the Union as the greatest calamity that could befall us; but that, great as this calamity would be, I am certain there is not one of our citizens who would be willing, for a moment, to weigh it in the balance against the dishonor of submission."
1852. When the Legislature met in January, there was a general impression that they would call a Convention to amend the Constitution so lately adopted in 1845. The people seemed to be already dissatisfied with it, and, in relation to the supposed disposition entertained by their Representatives, the Governor, who was opposed to the contemplated measure, stated in his address on the opening of their session, "that he did not see any good ground in what had passed, or was passing in State affairs, for another change in our organic law." He recommended to their attention the principle enunciated by Jefferson, "that forms of government should not be changed for light, trivial causes." He judiciously remarked, that a new Convention probably would not, upon trial, "meet every expectation of the people more satisfactorily than the one which framed the present Constitution." The Governor did not seem to be aware that perpetual change is the essential characteristic of democracy, and that one might with as much reason expect steadiness from the wind, as stability in legislation under a popular government. Thus, notwithstanding his arguments, an Act was passed "to take the sense of the people on the expediency of calling a Convention to change the Constitution, and to provide for the election of delegates, and the holding of the Convention." The sense of the people, as a matter of course, was for calling a Convention, which assembled on the 5th of July, 1852. The result of their labors was the framing of as radical a Constitution as could be devised. Every office, even that of the judiciary, was made elective, and for a very short tenure. Constant elections and "rotation in office" were for the future to be the order of the day. The sessions of the Legislature p675were again to be annual, as under the Constitution of 1812, but still limited to sixty days. The restriction against running the State into debt and against creating banks being found inconvenient, was left out in the new Constitution, under which an election having taken place for Governor, P. O. Hebert, who had been President of the late Convention, and who had filled the office of State Engineer, was raised to the dignity of Chief Magistrate of the State, and sworn as such in January, 1853.
1853. On the 17th of the same month, Joseph Walker, who was retiring into private life, had sent to the Legislature his last message, in which he congratulated them on the present peaceful, flourishing and happy condition of the State, and on her prospective prosperity. In relation to the new Constitution, the Governor observed: "The authority granted to the Legislature by this instrument, to pledge the faith of the State, and contract debts for other purposes than to prosecute war and subdue insurrections, is a power that should be guarded with sleepless vigilance, and exercised with extreme caution. The experience of a long life, no small portion of which has been spent in the public service, has convinced me that the best policy, both for individuals and governments, is to avoid debt as far as practicable."
With regard to the removal of the prohibition to create banking institutions, Governor Walker said: "There never was probably a time when it was less necessary to extend this class of facilities than the present. A long period of comparative economy and successful industry has relieved the great mass of the community from harassing debts, money is abundant and cheap, the community is solvent, enterprise is active without wild speculation, and the precious metals are constantly and abundantly increasing. Why should we then flood the country with bank issues? Why afford the means of hasty speculation? Why run the risk of former painful evils? The influx of precious metals from California, Australia, and other sources, is unparalleled in the monetary history of the world, and bids fair to change even of itself, without artificial aid, the healthy relations of capital and labor." The Governor's views were correct, but he seemed to forget, when indulging in these interrogations, that the recent Convention had been called by the influence of stockjobbers and politicians, precisely to remove these restrictions, which they had found to be unpleasant fetters to their designs. As to the Banks then existing, whatever might be the future condition of those to be created, they were stronger than similar institutions ever were, for according to the p676statement of the Board of Currency, dated December 30, 1852, the amount of circulation of the Banks was $5,400,946, while the specie in their vaults was $8,207,042.
During the administrations of Johnson and Walker, New Orleans had been the centre of an organization to revolutionize the Island of Cuba, and procure her annexation to the United States. It ended in the failure of the ill-advised Lopez expedition, which brought the leader of that name to the scaffold, caused the death of many of his rash companions, and produced a riot against the Spanish flag and Consul in New Orleans, for which the Federal Government had to give redress to Spain. A large number of Coolies had been permitted to be introduced at that time into the Island of Cuba, and it was supposed, at least in Louisiana, that Spain, under the pressure of Great Britain, was taking initiatory steps to abolish slavery in that colony. Acting under the influence of these apprehensions, Governor Hebert, in his annual message of 1854, said: "Will the Federal Government, charged with the international interests of States, anticipate the threatened peril, or patiently and quietly await the occurrence of it? The evil would then be irremediable. Confiding, as we may justly do, in the firmness, patriotism, and truly national spirit of the Chief Magistrate of the Union, the deliberate expression of the sentiments of the people of Louisiana upon this all-important subject would at once sustain the watchfulness of the Administration, and strengthen their hands in executing any measure for our protection which they might deem necessary to adopt." The Chief Magistrate of the Union was then Franklin Pierce, and the "measure" which was expected for our protection was the acquisition of the Island of Cuba. We know that the negotiation which was attempted on this subject failed as miserably, if not as tragically, as the Lopez expedition. Danger came to us from a very different source from the one alluded to by General Hebert; for slavery is still protected by Spain in her West India colonies, whilst all the Southern States are in arms, at the time when we write these lines, to defend this institution against the Federal Government.a
1854. When the Legislature met on the 16th of January, the gloom and desolation produced by the extraordinary and fatal fever which had prevailed throughout the State during the summer and autumnal months of the preceding year were not yet dissipated, and well might the State grieve, for she had been deprived of thousands of her sons by the most frightful epidemic p677which she had ever witnessed. It had not confined its ravages to New Orleans, but had spread to distant parishes in the country. Notwithstanding this heavy blow, she was otherwise prosperous, and energetically engaged in the construction of railroads, and in carrying other works of internal improvement. She had made large appropriations to organize and support her new system of Public Schools, and to survey and reclaim the swamp lands granted to her by Congress. She had therefore increased her debt proper to $3,281,809, but there was not in this amount of indebtedness any disproportion with the extent of her resources. It must be admitted, however, that she had been remarkably unfortunate in the choice of her collectors of taxes; for it appears from a list published in 1854, by the State Auditor, agreeably to law, that there had been from 1830 to 1848 inclusive, sixty defaulters for public moneys, and that the sums of which she had been thus defrauded amounted to $271,655.95.
1855. On the 15th of February the Legislature met at Baton Rouge, a few months after the yellow fever had, for a second time, desolated the State. "The general prevalence of that disease," said the Governor in his annual message, "during two successive years, in the most malignant form, seems to authorize the conclusion that, supposing it to have been at any time of foreign origin, it has now assumed a fixed habitation within our borders." He called the attention of the General Assembly to the Report of the Swamp Land Board, which showed that at least •six hundred and fifty thousand acres of overflowed lands had been reclaimed, at a cost of one hundred and fifty-six thousand dollars. A most gratifying result, if strictly accurate. An intelligence which was less gratifying was, that the Report of the Superintendent of Public Education exhibited an unsatisfactory condition of our educational system. "Indeed," said the Governor, "the system may be considered almost a failure, or rather it is not a system. It is the bewildering confusion of chaos." The Governor also complained of the disorganized state of the militia — a steady complaint from all our Governors ever since 1804. All had remonstrated against that evil with indefatigable pertinacity, but their remonstrances had been but seeds cast on the rock, or on such light soil as not to germinate and bear fruit. "It is the duty of Louisiana," observed General Hebert, "a duty which she owes to her own self-preservation and to her sister States of the South, to cultivate the martial spirit of her people. Her position exposes her to the first assault of the enemy. She should be ready at all times to contribute her p678full share to defence. She must be prepared to meet the responsibilities which the spirit of fanaticism at home may impose upon her, and which an attitude of firmness, with all the preparation to maintain it, may alone avert.
1855. This year was marked by what may be called the demolition of the "Know Nothing" party in Louisiana. It was a secret Order which had been imported into the State from New England, and into which numbers were introduced under the sanctity of an oath. They recognized each other by certain signs and grips, and could not penetrate into the halls where the society met without exchanging pass-words, and without other formalities. There were several grades, and those who belonged to the highest knew more of the real designs of the society than those who were on the inferior steps of the ladder. The Know Nothing party had no other ostensible object than that of excluding foreigners from participating in the administration of the affairs of the country, of securing the purity of elections, and establishing firmly the practical operation of the golden rule, "that office must seek the proper man, and not be sought by him." Partly seduced by this standard, partly by the attractions of novelty, and perhaps also from other motives, almost the whole of Louisiana may be said, with truth, to have rushed with enthusiastic precipitation into the arms of this mysterious Order. Thus far it was a mere State organization, but it soon was found indispensable to connect it with the other Lodges of the same Order in the other States, with a view to establish upon the original association a national party. To this effect, there was to be a grand meeting of all the Lodges in Philadelphia in the month of May. It was to be an imposing Convention, in which means were to be devised to strengthen the association, and to enable it to elect a President of the United States and secure the reins of the Government. But it began to be rumored at this time in Louisiana that the main object of this wide-spread organization was the proscription of Catholics. It produced wide excitement, and it was determined to test the question. Six delegates, of which five were Protestants and one Catholic, were elected to the Philadelphia Convention. On their presenting themselves to that body, the five Protestants were told that they could come in, but the Catholic was rejected unless he consented to make certain concessions, to which he was not in the least disposed to assent. His Protestant colleagues remonstrated in vain against such a distinction, and the result was that they retired with their Catholic associate. On the report of this fact made in p679an immense meeting which took place in New Orleans, the Know Nothing party of Louisiana emphatically refused affiliation with the party of that name in the other States, and from that time this celebrated Order, which seemed at first to be gifted with such exuberant vitality, rapidly decreased in numbers and influence in Louisiana, because many hurried to withdraw their names and co-operation. It had the same fate from Maine to Florida, when the truth was known. The religious persecution which it carried in its bosom, and which it wished to hatch, tainted its blood as if with leprosy, and it withered away as rapidly as it had sprung up into gigantic proportions. To Louisiana belongs the merit of having spurned and repudiated the poisonous cup which Northern fanaticism had so successfully sweetened with honey.
1856. In January, the official relations of General Hebert with the State terminated. In his valedictory message he referred with deep mortification to the scenes of intimidation, violence and bloodshed which had marked the late general elections in New Orleans. He said that the repetition of such outrages would tarnish our national character, and sink us to the level of the anarchical Governments of Spanish America; that before the occurrence of those "great public crimes," the hideous deformity of which he could not describe, and which were committed with impunity in mid-day light and in the presence of hundreds of persons, no one could have admitted even the possibility that a bloodthirsty mob could have contemplated to overawe any portion of the people of this State in the exercise of their most valuable rights, "but that what would then have been denied, even as a possibility, is now an historical fact." He committed to the wisdom and patriotism of the Legislature the entire subject, as perhaps the most important in its nature and general bearings which could engage their attention.
During the preceding summer of 1854, Louisiana had again been submitted to the desolating ordeal of the Yellow Fever. It originated in New Orleans, from which it spread to the most remote parts of the State. It had always been a dark spot among those elements of prosperity which had continued to develop themselves in a country so richly favored by nature, and by those free institutions which, though so frequently abused, are yet so conducive to human happiness. Great works of internal improvement had been steadily advancing to completion, and had already realized some of the advantages which were expected from them. The New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad had been pushed beyond the limits of the State, and the New Orleans, Opelousas and Great p680Western Railroad was in successful operation over a distance of •sixty-six miles. The finance of the State were in a sound and healthy condition, there being a balance in the Treasury of $632,395 on the 31st of December, 1855.6
The Governor concluded his message in these words: "The wild spirit of fanaticism which has, for so many years, disturbed the peace of the country, has steadily increased in power and influence. It controls the councils of several States, nullifies the laws of Congress enacted for the protection of our property, and resists the execution of them, even to the shedding of blood. It has grown so powerful that it now aspires to control the Federal Legislature. The fact can no longer be concealed, however much it may be regretted. The slaveholding States are warned in time. They should be prepared for the issue. If it must come, the sooner the better. The time for concessions on our part and compromises has past. If the Union cannot be maintained upon the just and wholesome principles of the Constitution, concessions and compromises will only retard its dissolution, not save it. They have had thus far no other result than to encourage attack and increase the numbers of abolitionists. It would, however, be premature to suggest practical measures of resistance or retaliation. The present session of Congress will develop fully the plans of that party. Your own action must depend, in a great measure, upon the course which they shall pursue. The responsibility will be upon those who have forced us, in defence of our most sacred rights, of our honor, and of our very existence, to resort to extreme remedies."
General Hebert was succeeded by Robert C. Wickliffe, a Kentuckian by birth, whose family had obtained great political distinction in that State. Robert C. Wickliffe had settled in the Parish of West Feliciana, had practiced law and become a leading Democrat in that section of the country. After having served in the Senate of the State for several years, he was raised to the Executive chair. In his inaugural address he said:
"It is deeply to be regretted that the overshadowing power of the Federal Government, in its actual administration, should so much divert the attention of the people from a proper consideration of the local wants of their respective States. In the struggle, on the one hand, to enlarge, and, on the other, to limit the power of Congress to those positively delegated, parties are organized with reference to Federal p681issues alone. Our domestic interests are forgotten, neglected, or absorbed in the contest for Federal power.
"This practical working of our double systems was not anticipated by the framers of the Constitution of these United States. Had Congress confined itself to the execution of the few grants of power delegated to it by the several sovereignties that compose the Union, the result would have been different, and would not have deviated from that anticipated by our fathers. But Congress has proceeded step by step to extend by implication its power, and to control, develop, or modify interests which were left by the Constitution to the operation of natural causes, the sharp rivalry of individual enterprise and the wisdom of State legislation.
"It is not my purpose to review the history of what has been justly regarded as the usurpations of Congress, nor to trace out the manner in which its limited powers have been extended to subjects not properly within its control, and made to bear on the highest interests, which ought to have been, and were reserved as exclusively appertaining to the State Governments. But I am compelled to say, that the steady encroachments made by Congress on the reserved rights of the States have not only sanctioned but encouraged outrages, that, if not checked, will undoubtedly result in a dissolution of the Union.
"I do not wish to speak lightly of the Union. Next to the liberty of the citizen and the sovereignty of the States, I regard it as 'the primary object of patriotic desire.' It should be dear to us as a sentiment, and dearer to us for its real value. But it cannot have escaped observation, that the hold which the Union once had upon the affection of the South has been materially weakened, and that its dissolution is now frequently spoken of, if not with absolute levity, yet with positive indifference, and, occasionally, as desirable.
"It should always be remembered that every interpretation of the Constitution, not sanctioned by its letter and spirit, forms the basis for future unwarranted construction, and so we shall go on, until, in the end, the States become mere dependencies, and life, liberty and property shall lie at the mercy of naked majorities of Congress. Such has been and such is the tendency of Federal legislation; nor is this all. Disregarding the rights of the States, Congress seems to have looked mainly to the interests of a section of the country, until that favored section has begun to consider the Constitution, not only made for its advantage alone, but actually as a means of aggression upon the rights, the interests and p682the honor of the Slave States; so that, at this time, a party has been formed, and is in a relative ascendency in the lower branch of Congress, with no other bond of union than a settled purpose to make war on the institutions of the South, not that these institutions are hurtful to the North, but because they are in conflict with one of the forms of fanaticism, which the misguided people of the North have adopted through the designs of artful men, covetous only of their own political advancement.
"Unless the progress of this insanity is checked, the Union will soon be a matter of history. Unity of action on the part of the South, a determination calmly made and fearlessly executed, to permit no further encroachments, can alone perpetuate the Union of these States; and that Union is not worth preservation, if we of the South are to be incessantly engaged, in and out of Congress, in defending ourselves from the attacks of those who use the Union as a means of assault upon us.
"It has, therefore, become the painful duty of every slave State distinctly to declare that no further aggression will be permitted, and to invite the co-operation of every State in vindicating, to the last extreme, the rights secured by the Constitution, and which are immeasurably of more value than the Constitution itself."
The Governor went on in the same strain sounding the tocsin of alarm. There was unfortunately but too much cause for apprehension, for the dullest eye could see the danger as it came onward on the wings of the lightning which announced the storm.
Referring to the internal condition of the State, Governor Wickliffe said: "Bountiful as nature has been to Louisiana, the skill of the engineer is still essential to her full development. With •twenty-five millions of acres of fertile lands, hardly a tenth is in cultivation; with a sea-coast a third in length of the State, we have a tonnage almost in its infancy. With capacity to produce all the cotton needed for the British Empire, and all the sugar required for this great Confederation, we are as yet but laggards in their growth. With thousands of miles of internal navigation, our productions frequently can find no market, be North and South Louisiana are strangers to each other. Toward the cultivation of these millions of acres, toward the improvement of these miles of navigation, toward cementing together these sections, discreet and timely legislation can do much. As yet nothing, absolutely nothing, has been accomplished. A fund for internal improvements has existed for years. Large amounts of it have been expended. Yet it would be difficult for even a curious inquirer to discover any p683benefit that has resulted from it." These were sad truths from the lips of the Chief Magistrate. He further said: "It is passing strange that, in a popular Government, without privileged classes, without stipendiaries of the bounty of the State, mismanagement and recklessness should be tolerated." If the Governor had reflected a little on the nature of man and looked into the pages of history, he would not have thought it "passing strange" that popular Government should be liable to mismanagement and recklessness. "May," continued the Governor, "the future remedy the errors of the past, and, striking boldly and freely at all maladministration, vindicate the purity and wisdom of republican institutions, while we promote and enlarge our material interests." Thus far this patriotic hope has not been realized.
1857. At the opening of the annual session of the Legislature in 1857, the Governor complimented them on the result of the late Presidential election, which had secured the success of the Democratic Party represented by James Buchanan and John C. Breckenridge over Frémont and Dayton, who were the exponents of the subversive doctrines of Black Republicanism. He expressed the conviction that their wise and conservative rule would give peace and quiet to our country, and would bring back that fraternal love which existed during the earliest days of our republic, and which gave such bright hopes to our forefathers throughout the darkest hour of our struggle for independence. "Should, however," he continued to say, "those bright and cheering anticipations, which we now so fondly indulge, not be realized, when freedom and equality in the Union are denied us of the South by the people of the North, then Louisiana will take her position, and maintain her rights by the strong arms and bold hearts of her brave sons."
He also informed the Legislature that the immigration of free negroes from other States of the Union into Louisiana had been steadily increasing for years, that it was a source of great evil, and demanded legislative action; "Public policy dictates," he observed, "the interests of the people require, that immediate steps should be taken at this time to remove all free negroes who are now in the State, when such removal can be effected without violation of law. Their example and association have a most pernicious effect upon our slave population. At the same time, the law forbidding the master to allow the slave to hire his own time should be made more stringent, and more vigorously enforced — these examples being scarcely less injurious to the slave than that of the free negro."
p684 Although the late Presidential election to which General Wickliffe refers had been considered as determining whether the Southern States should continue, or not, to remain in the Union, and although it had been, for this reason, the most important which had been held since the foundation of the Federal Government, yet, out of 11,817 votes registered in the City of New Orleans, only 8,333 were cast, showing, apparently at least, an inexplicable apathy on the part of 3,484 citizens. The Governor commented on this regrettable fact in the following language: "It demonstrates that some extraordinary cause was at work to prevent a large proportion of lawful voters from enjoying the sacred franchise of the Constitution. It is well known that, at the two last general elections, many of the streets and approaches to the polls were completely in the hands of organized ruffians, who committed acts of violence on multitudes of our naturalized fellow-citizens who dared venture to exercise the right of suffrage. Thus nearly one-third of the registered voters of New Orleans had been deterred from exercising their highest and most sacred prerogative. The expression of such elections is an open and palpable fraud on the people, and I recommend you to adopt such measures as shall effectually prevent the true will of the majority from being totally silenced." The evil pointed out by the Governor was of the utmost magnitude, but there was one still more dangerous than any which resulted from open violence. It was that corruption which enabled foreigners just landing on our shores to vote, and which put two or three thousand illegal voters at the disposal of whatever party had the means of buying them. This was the main cause which, by producing intense disgust, went much farther than the fear of assassination to prevent honest citizens from resorting to the ballot-box. They knew all our elections to have become so hopelessly fraudulent, that it was disgraceful to participate in them. They had retired from the political arena in sullen despair.
1858. In the beginning of this year the Governor made known to the Legislature that the total receipts for the year, less the unexpended balance from the accounts of the various special and trust funds, were estimated at twelve hundred and twenty-two thousand five hundred and six dollars, and that the most rigid economy was demanded of the Government, not less by a consideration of peculiar exigencies, than by the depressed prices of all the great staples of our agriculture and the pecuniary distress which prevailed amongst the commercial and industrial classes. "It will be readily perceived," he said, "that the current general p685resources of the State are gradually sinking below the general and extraordinary expenditures; and, each year, the State has been forced to borrow a larger sum from the Special and Trust Funds of the Treasury, to make good this continually swelling deficit. It is time this vicious practice be corrected, and the expenditures of the Government confined within the limits of its own proper revenues." This advice was wise and opportune, for Louisiana had been suffering from one of those periodical financial crises which are so frequent in the United States. It had originated toward the close of the month of August, 1857, in New York, and in October began to be severely felt in New Orleans. Three of the Free Banks were forced to succumb to the storm, and one to chartered Banks had practically suspended. There was a deficiency of specie in the vaults of those institutions, to the amount of about eight hundred thousand dollars."7º But, fortunately, a few weeks sufficed to reinstate them in the position which they ought to have maintained. The temporary shock which they had received showed after all their real strength, and increased the confidence deservedly reposed in them, not only in the State, but also in other parts of the Union, where they stood higher in reputation than any other institutions of the like nature.
For years past the Governors of Louisiana, whenever they referred to our Federal relations, had never had any satisfactory communications to make. Again Governor Wickliffe, like his predecessors, informed the Legislature "that the affairs of the Federal Government had been by evil-disposed persons seriously disturbed." He called their attention to Mormonism in Utah, whither United States of America troops had been ordered to quell an anticipated rebellion, and to the Territory of Kansas, where events were occurring which seemed to render civil war and bloodshed inevitable.
1859. The Governor took in his annual message a more hopeful view of our Federal relations. "It has become apparent," he said, "that the entire South is with the Democratic party, and recent events have shown that a portion of the Northwest is also with us. This state of affairs tends to give us some assurance that we may, for the present at least, hope to defeat the purposes of that strong party at the North which is animated by a firm hostility to our social and industrial system. These two parties, only, now occupy the field. The Democratic is based upon the idea that each separate State is sovereign, and that the Government at Washington p686only intended to be the agent of the combined States for certain special purposes. The Republican appears to foster the idea that State lines are mere boundaries for convenience in local jurisdiction, and that the majority of voices in the whole United States, considered as one nation, ought to rule. This last idea would be so fatal to the South, if carried out, that nearly all Southern men are now with the Democratic party. The position of the Northwestern States of the Mississippi Valley, on this question, is of special interest to us. These States are, by geographical position, commercially our allies, whether slave or free, while many of the States on the Atlantic side of the Alleghanies are necessarily hostile in commercial interest. Our principal city is the metropolis of the Mississippi Valley, and does much of the importation and most of the exportation. The Atlantic cities are rivals of New Orleans in both of these trades. It is cheering to find our commercial allies of the Northwest sustaining your Southern policy."
1860. In his annual message of 1860, General Wickliffe conveyed to the General Assembly the grateful intelligence that the receipts into the State Treasury, for the present year, on account of the General Fund, were estimated at $1,205,000, which, with a balance of $133,696 remaining on the 31st of December, 1859, would make a sum-total of $1,338,696; that the estimated expenditures for the same period, including the unexpended balances, would amount to $1,174,553; showing a balance in favor of the State on the 31st of March, 1861, of $164,143,º and exhibiting a far more prosperous condition of the finances of the State than had been presented for eight years. "It will therefore be seen, "said the Governor, "that without increasing the rate of taxation, the annually increasing revenues of the State will enable her to meet promptly all the wants of the Government."
Returning to the absorbing topic of our Federal relations, which was daily becoming more exciting, he said: "The times that are upon us are rapidly precipitating a crisis which must be met manfully. In any event, I know that the people of Louisiana will not be found wanting in a practical vindication of their assailed rights and in a proper defence of their honor. The times and the crisis to which I have alluded will bring into requisition, I apprehend, all the qualities indispensable to the vindication of the one and the defence of the other. The character of Louisiana has not yet been stained with servility or dishonor, and I know her people in the present, like her people in the past, would gladly accept any alternative which carries with it honor and insures self-respect, rather than take p687a position which might secure temporary profit at the sacrifice of every principle of manhood, every element of independence, every attribute of that lofty sovereignty upon which we have so justly prided ourselves. And when it is taken into consideration that submission will hardly insure temporary security — the aggression after aggression invariably succeeds each compromise of constitutional right and submission to wrong — it is not possible that Louisiana will abate one jot or tittle of her inalienable prerogatives, or swerve in the least from the true, just and patriotic position she has ever nobly occupied."
General Wickliffe went on recapitulating the grievances which the South had against the North: "For more than a quarter of a century a sectional warfare, based upon hatred of the institution of slavery, has been waged by the North upon the South. At the outset, the members of this despicable organization were contemptible in number and intellect, and their fanatical, treasonable and atrocious promulgations were deemed fit subjects for mirth in both sections of the Confederacy. At that time each State respected its constitutional obligations, the comity of the respective Sovereignties was maintained, brotherhood and good feeling prevailed well-nigh universally. All the South requires now, or wanted then, was the simple observance of the organic compact, which was cheerfully rendered on all sides; the most beneficent system of government the earth ever knew, when rightfully administered — a nation of sovereignties under a confederated head, armed with expressly delegated powers — worked so beautifully and harmoniously, that it was the wonder and admiration of the world. It grieves me to say that this happy picture has been changed; that the small band of fanatics, once only deemed fit subjects for laughter, have grown into a powerful organization; that the cloud, once a mere speck upon the horizon, has attained such dimensions that it blackens the skies of the majority section of the Confederacy; that sovereign States, through their Legislatures and Governors, have passed laws which set at defiance the Constitution of the United States, which nullify the laws of Congress, which trample under foot the decisions of the Federal Courts of last resort, and which openly contemn the executive authority of the Government when exercised in strict conformity to the demands of the Constitution. All this is done too without cause, provocation, or warrant of any kind. The slaveholding States have not wronged, p688nor attempted to wrong, their Northern brethren in any manner, and in all controversies they have been the first to yield. They have compromised, and compromised for the sake of peace, when they had rights and interests at stake, and the North none. But every yielding and each compromise has been followed by fresh demands and renewed aggression, until fanaticism, grown bold by our yielding and compromises, as well as by the wondrous growth of its power in the North, now says in the Federal Senate, in the Hall of the House of Representatives, and from the Legislatures of most of the non-slaveholding States, backed by an overwhelming preponderance of the masses almost sufficient to elect a President, that not another slave State shall ever be admitted into the Union — no matter what the circumstances of the case, no matter what the obligations imposed by one common organic law."
The Governor then referred to the attempt made at Harper's Ferry by John Brown, with a band of fanatics from the North, to produce an insurrection of negroes in Virginia. "The number actively engaged in it," he said, "were insignificant; but when we take into consideration that they committed the crimes of treason and murder, and were provided to equip with arms, for the work of death, several thousand slaves or other confederates; that the general press and people of the extreme North, on various grounds, sympathized with the traitors and murderers, and solicited their pardon, we cannot close our eyes to the inauspicious condition of affairs."
Thomas O. Moore, of the Parish of Rapides, succeeded General Wickliffe. He was a wealthy sugar-planter, and had been for many years a member of the Senate of the State. He was in his inaugural address as denunciatory of the dangerous purposes of the abolition party as predecessor had been in his valedictory. "So bitter," he said, "is this hostility felt toward the slavery which these fifteen States regard as a great social and political blessing, that it exhibits itself in legislation for the avowed purpose of destroying the rights of slaveholders guaranteed by the Constitution, and protected by acts of Congress. Popular addresses, Legislative resolutions, Executive communications, the press and the pulpit, all inculcate hatred against us and war upon the institution of slavery — an institution interwoven with the very elements of our existence. The fanaticism engendered in the popular mind by the doctrines taught and the enmity excited, manifested itself very recently by an irruption of armed men in the State of p689Virginia, whose object was to excite insurrection, and whose means were treason and murder. The abrupt end to which the conspiracy was brought, and the sharp, just, and quick punishment of the conspirators, proved that the South had not overestimated the stability of her institutions. But the apologies and eulogiums which developed at the North a widespread sympathy with felons, have deepened the distrust in the permanency of our Federal Government, and awakened sentiments favorable to a separation of the States."
In the fall of 1860, it was ascertained that the Abolition party, who had been so long rampant in the United States, and who had always been so explicit in their desire to become the Government, in order to use all its power for the destruction of slavery, had at last succeeded in electing Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, President of the great American Republic. The President-elect represented the doctrine, that there was an irrepressible conflict between the free labor of the North and the slave labor of the South, that the South must be free, or the North slaveholding, and that, as the North could not adopt slavery, that institution must inevitably be abolished at the South, and that the Government should resort to such means as would gradually lead to that desired result — among which means was the reorganization of the Supreme Court, which had hitherto protected the South in the enjoyment of its rights under the Constitution. An immense excitement pervaded the Southern States, public assemblies were held everywhere, in every city and village, and the sentiment of the great majority of their population from Virginia to Texas was, that the Union should be dissolved before the President-elect should have in his hands all the powers of the Government. The Legislature of Louisiana having met in extraordinary session at the call of General Moore, he informed them, on the 10th of December, of the election of Abraham Lincoln, as President, and Hannibal Hamlin, as Vice-President, "by a purely sectional vote, and in contempt of the earnest protest of the other section." He argued that the election, made under such circumstances, "was to be considered as evidence of a deliberate design to pervert the powers of the Government to the immediate injury and ultimate destruction of the peculiar institution of the South." The Governor advised the Legislature to issue a call for a Convention, "to meet at once, and determine at once, before the day arrived for the inauguration of the Black Republican President."
"I do not think," said the Governor, "it comports with the p690honor and self-respect of Louisiana, as a slaveholding State, to live under the government of a Black Republican President. I will not dispute the fact that Mr. Lincoln is elected according to the forms of the Constitution, but the greatest outrages, both upon public and private rights, have been perpetrated under the forms of law. This question rises high above ordinary political considerations. It involves our present honor and our future existence as a free and independent people. It may be said that, when this Union was formed, it was intended to be perpetual. So it was, as far as such a term can be applied to anything human; but it was also intended to be administered in the same spirit in which it was made, with a scrupulous regard to the equality of the sovereignties composing it. We certainly are not placed in the position of subjects of a European despotism, whose only door of escape from tyranny is the right of revolution. I maintain the right of each State to secede from the Union, and, therefore, whatever course Louisiana may pursue now, if any attempt should be made by the Federal Government to coerce a sovereign State, and compel her to submission to an authority which she has ceased to recognize, I should unhesitatingly recommend that Louisiana assist her sister States with the same alacrity and courage with which the colonies assisted each other in their struggle against the despotism of the Old World."
1861. The Convention called by the Legislature to take into consideration the state of the country, assembled at Baton Rouge, on the 23d of January, 1861, and Alexander Mouton, a sugar-planter in the Parish of Lafayette, who had been Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governor of the State, and Senator in Congress, was elected President of that body. The Legislature had met on the same day, and General Moore transmitted to the Convention a copy of the message which he had caused to be delivered to the General Assembly. He stated to them that the people, by their recent vote in relation to the Convention, "had confirmed the faith of their Representatives in the Legislative and Executive station that the undivided sentiment of the State was for immediate and effective resistance; and that there was not found within her limits any difference of sentiment, except as to minor points of expediency, in regard to the manner and time of making such resistance, so as to give it the most imposing form for dignity and success." "Our enemies," he said, "who have driven on their conflict with the slaveholding States to this extremity, will have found that, throughout the borders of Louisiana, we are one p691people — a people with one heart and one mind — who will not be cajoled into an abandonment of their rights, and who cannot be subdued." The Governor expressed the conviction that the Southern States would not be permitted to depart from the old Union peaceably, and that there would be an attempt to coerce them to remain within the Federal compact, and to make it binding upon them, when it was set at naught by the majority of the members of that great national copartnership. "I have therefore determined," he said, "that the State of Louisiana should not be left unprepared for the emergency. She has a long and exposed frontier, on which the Federal Government possesses fortresses capable of being used for the subjugation of the country, and to annul the declared will of the people. Near this capital, where the delegates of the sovereign people are about to assemble, was a military depot, capable, in unscrupulous hands, of being employed for the purpose of overawing and restraining the deliberations of a free people. On these grounds, respecting the manifest will of the people, and to the end that their deliberations shall be free, and their action supported by the full possession of the whole territory of the State, I decided to take possession of the military posts and munitions of war within the State, as soon as the necessity of such action should be developed to my mind. Upon information which did not leave me in doubt as to my public duty, and which convinced me, moreover, that prompt action was the more necessary in order to prevent a collision between the Federal troops and the people of the State, I authorized these steps to be taken, and they were accomplished without opposition or difficulty. In so doing, I was careful to confine myself to such acts as were necessary to effect the object with the greatest certainty and the least risk of violence.
"In accordance with an arrangement entered into with the commanding officer, in the presence of a force too large to be resisted, Baton Rouge barracks and arsenal, with all the Federal property therein, were turned over to me on the 11th and 12th instant, and on the 13th the Federal troops departed. About the same time State troops occupied Fort Pike on the Rigolets, and Forts Jackson and St. Philip on the Mississippi River; and such other dispositions were made as seemed necessary for the public safety. Receipts were given in all instances for the property found, in order to protect the officers who were dispossessed and to facilitate the future settlement." On the 26th of the same month, the Convention passed an Ordinance to dissolve the union between the State p692of Louisiana and the other States bound together by the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States." South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Georgia had already taken that formidable step. The Ordinance of Secession was conceived in these terms:
"We, the people of the State of Louisiana, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the ordinance passed by us in Convention on the 22d day of November, in the year eighteen hundred and eleven, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America, and the amendments of said Constitution, were adopted, and all laws and ordinances by which the State of Louisiana became a member of the Federal Union, be and the same are hereby repealed and abrogated, and that the union now subsisting between Louisiana and other States, under the name of 'The United States of America,' is hereby dissolved.
"That the State of Louisiana hereby resumes all rights and powers heretofore delegated to the Government of the United States of America; that her citizens are absolved from all allegiance to said Government, and that she is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which appertain to a free and independent State.
"That all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States, or any act of Congress or treaty, or under any law of this State, and not incompatible with this Ordinance, shall remain in force, and shall have the same effect as if this Ordinance had not been passed."
The financial condition of the State, when she seceded, may be easily seen from the Auditor's account, presented in January, 1861. The receipts into the State Treasury, from all sources, for the year ending on the 31st of December, 1860, were $2,378,793.44, out of which the taxes on real estate amounted to $680,705.75, and the taxes on trades, professions, occupations, and auction sales to $309,475. The expenditure was $2,224,702, and the liabilities amounted to $10,099,074. The population, according to the late decennial census of the United States, was 709,433; of which 332,523 were slaves.
Louisiana was then in as high a state of prosperity as ever any land was blessed with, but with sublime imprudence she did not hesitate to stake the whole of it on the cast of a die, at what she conceived to be the call of honor and duty. Four years have since elapsed; she is now the seat of desolation — the footstool of subjugation; p693the hoof of the conqueror's horse has withered her opulent fields in the land which was once a fit residence for her brave and free population of the Caucasian race, and an Elysium for her African bondsmen. Another pen than mine will relate her sufferings, her sacrifices, her heroism in battle, her fortitude and resignation in defeat and humiliation, after prodigies of resistance against overwhelming numbers on land and water. Farewell, O sainted and martyred mother! My task as historian is done, but my love, as thy son, shall cling to thee in poverty and sorrow, and nestle in thy scarred bosom with more rapturous constancy than when thy face was beaming with joy and hope, when wealth was thy handmaid, and the eye of God not averted in anger from that noble brow where once rested the pride of sovereignty.8
a It is often stated today, usually by Southerners, that the Civil War was not fought over slavery, but rather for the right to secede. Though opinions differed at the time, and it does seem certain that at least some Southerners were fighting for the right of self-determination by secession (which was very unfortunately left unmentioned in the U. S. Federal Constitution), here is a "smoking gun": some, at least, were fighting primarily to maintain slavery.
1 Executive Journal, p525.
2 This passage is re-translated into English from a French translation, the original English text not being at hand.
3 Governor Roman's Message, 4th January, 1841.
4 Governor Roman's Message, January 3d, 1843.
5 Governor Johnson's Message, January 11, 1847.
6 Governor Hebert's Message, 1856.
7 Monthly Statements of the Board of Currency.
8 This was written whilst Louisiana was under Federal military authority, in 1865.
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