Short URL for this page:
Three subsequent administrations inherited the difficulties created by the financial disaster of 1837. These were the administrations of Charles Genois, extending from 1838 to 1840; of William Freret, which began in 1840 and ended in 1844; and of Edgar Montegut, who served one term as mayor, from 1844 to 1846. Genois was elected on April 2, 1838, by a majority of 102 votes, over L. U. Gaiennie, the democratic candidate. At that time Prieur was a candidate for the gubernatorial nomination. He was opposed by Alexandre Mouton. The canvass was exceedingly spirited. In New Orleans it was understood that Gaiennie represented the Prieur faction. Nevertheless, the great personal popularity enjoyed by Prieur failed to carry Gaiennie to triumph. There was still a strong prejudice against the democratic party organization. The idea that Gaiennie's name had been put before the voters by a caucus of party leaders, and that the nomination had been practically forced in the party convention repelled many otherwise staunch democrats. The result was that Genois received 1,150 votes, many cast by voters professing to be democrats, as against 1,408 for Gaiennie. At the same time Paul Bertus was elected Recorder of the First Municipality, a post which he was to retain with great approval thereafter till his death. The recordership of the Second Municipality was obtained by Joshua Baker, who likewise retained office for a long series of years; while in the Third Municipality Charles Cuvellier was elected recorder.
"If goodwill and zeal suffice to fill worthily the important task which has devolved upon me, I would assume the charge with confidence," said the new mayor, in taking up his duties, "for I am sure these qualities will not be lacking in me." "The theory of your organization," he continued, making an admission which seems somewhat out of place in the mouth of the chief magistrate of the city, "is strange to me [. . .] I do not conceal the difficulty I shall have in its practice."1 His assumption of control of city affairs led the local newspapers to point out, as the two most pressing matters requiring his attention, the reform of the police force and the curtailment of municipal expenses. With regard to the , the stoppage of all municipal works of improvement was recommended as immediately necessary. The financial condition of the city was precarious. In August, Mayor Genois informed the Council of the First Municipality that the city owed the banks $1,100,000 and had no means to pay it. An attempt to negotiate a loan of $1,500,000 to liquidate this debt and to tide the city over its immediate embarrassments proved unavailing. The banks declined to make any further advances. It appeared that the revenues did not suffice to meet the ordinary expenses of the administration. Genois found that $50,000 was due to city employes for arrears in salaries and that there were outstanding unpaid warrants for $18,000.
Map of New Orleans, 1841 (with 1880 for reference)
Work was at that time in progress on the Carondelet Canal. Paving had been started on Royal Street. Customhouse, Canal, Bienville and p147 St. Louis streets were being opened out towards the lake. All of these important improvements were perforce suspended. To meet the routine expenses of the city $150,000 was raised by mortgaging to the banks four squares of ground belonging to the corporation on conditions which practically transferred title to this valuable real estate to these institutions. Prieur was at the same time sent to New York to see if he could raise funds there. He was not immediately successful, but the issue of $100,000 in 6 per cent bonds in December of that year, which was successfully floated, was doubtless his work. In the next year some relief was obtained by revising upward the already onerous port charges. Genois, in a long message to the General Council, at its meeting in 1839, pointed out that the expenses for the maintenance of the port exceeded the revenue, although the popular impression ran entirely to the contrary. During the previous year the receipts had amounted to $282,000, the expenditures to $410,268; and while this great discrepancy was in part explainable by the fact that extensive improvements had been made to the wharves in front of the First and Second Municipalities, there remained a deficit even after the value thereof had been deducted. Certain vessels had previously been exempted from the payment of the port charges; these were now brought under tax.2
The financial situation was perhaps worst in the Third Municipality. There the rapid growth of the city, the expansion of commerce, and the expenses entailed by the division of the city under the charter of 1836 had run the expenses of the administration up to an alarming figure. Between May 1, 1836 and October 1, 1839, some $4,820,610 had been expended, as against receipts amounting to only $1,754,773, leaving a deficit of $3,065,837, which there seemed no means to pay. In addition to this debt, there was a proportion of the general city debts, which involved the payment of interest which, in the previous ten years, had aggregated $103,594.
In the face of this hopeless situation it is surprising to find that the municipality ventured to extend its endorsement to the extent of $100,000 in favor of the Orleans Navigation Company, organized to build a railroad and dig a canal, projects which do not seem ever to have been carried out. The general financial conditions were, undeniably, improving. The banks resumed the payment of specie in the early part of the year. Perhaps this made money easier and encouraged the city fathers to indulge occasional extravagances. The payment of $40,000 to the Orleans Theater Company in 1840, however, was forced by a judgment in a protracted suit against the municipality.
On the whole, then, Genois' administration was a feeble one, a period of stagnation following the outbreak of enterprise that had characterized Prieur's day. One picturesque and interesting episode, however, remains to be related. That is, the second visit of Gen. Andrew Jackson. Jackson had now completed his term as president of the United States but still remained the chief figure in his party. The formal invitation to him to come to the city in order to participate in the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle of New Orleans, was extended at a meeting held in the St. Louis Exchange, on November 12, 1839. The specific reason why his presence was desired was that a monument p148 was to be dedicated in the Place d'Armes, and the cornerstone laid at Chalmette of what was intended to be a stately marble shaft marking the spot where the American standard was unfurled during the battle a quarter of a century before.
The old animosities of whig and democrat flamed out afresh upon the announcement that Jackson would come. Although it was explained by General Plauché that there was nothing of a political nature in the desire of the citizens to have General Jackson with them at the celebration, yet the whigs objected, and their objections found expression in an editorial in the True American. "We have published, as advertisements, the proceedings and call for the second meeting of the friends of General Jackson," said the editor, "not that we approve of the objects of the meeting. We can have no possible objection to the Jackson party inviting their idol to the city under the pretext of celebrating the anniversary of his great battle. If this alone was the object, we would even excuse those opposed to him in politics from joining in doing him honor on such an occasion. But we are fully convinced, notwithstanding the loud protestations to the contrary, that the whole affair, visit and all, is intended to produce political effect; and we cannot conceive that any man calling himself a whig and opposed to the many vicious measures of the administration of President Jackson, can take any share in the intended festival. It is the duty of the whigs, on all such occasions, to keep away, and when Jackson arrives so far show their magnanimity as to keep silent. Although we can not honor, of course, we should not insult, the old veteran."
On January 8, 1840, at 10:00 A.M., General Jackson arrived on board the steamer Vicksburg, to which boat he and his party had been transferred at Donaldsonville from the steamer Clarksville, the previous evening. An immense throng had assembled at the wharf in Carrollton to welcome "the most distinguished citizen of the country," and the steamboats and other vessels in the river, and the housetops were alive with people waving their hats and handkerchiefs. The Louisianian, speaking of Jackson's personal appearance, said: "The general, although showing the effects of his age, is still remarkably healthy and active for one of his years." While the reception was in all respects one of which the veteran could be proud, there was, nevertheless, "a lukewarmness" on the part of his "political opponents" which was characterized "as anything but creditable or praiseworthy."
On leaving the Vicksburg General Jackson and his escort entered barouches (the one containing the guest of the occasion being drawn by four horses), and were driven to the State House, the Legion and the Washington Battalion accompanying as an escort. As the procession passed along Canal Street a dense mass of people thronged that thoroughfare and "the numerous balconies were groaning with their fair burdens — ladies waving their handkerchiefs, while the silverheaded warrior bowed in acknowledgment of their salutations." From the State House he was escorted to the public square in front of St. Louis Cathedral by the veterans of 1814 and 1815, the members of the Legislature, the City Councils of the First and Second Municipalities, members of the bar and other professions and a large concourse of citizens. At the Cathedral an oration was delivered, after which General Jackson reviewed the troops in the square, the cannoneers meanwhile firing a salute. This part of the ceremonies having been concluded, General Jackson was p149 escorted to his rooms at the St. Louis Hotel by the military, after which they were dismissed. The display made by the soldiers was said to have "far exceeded anything of the kind the city had ever before achieved," although New Orleans had the reputation of being "a military town." In the evening, agreeable to the invitation of the management, the old soldier and his suite attended the St. Charles Theater. At the close of the act of the comedy then performing, the curtain was dropped and an anthem played according to announcement. The curtain rose and J. M. Field delivered a poetical address from his "own pen" to "The Defender of New Orleans," the veteran who came "to bless the children of the sires he saved."
The house was crowded and General Jackson twice arose to acknowledge the enthusiastic cheering. "Hail Columbia" was sung by the full company of the St. Charles, and the hero of the occasion left the theater amid the prolonged cheers of an "admiring audience of more than a thousand persons."
On the following day General Jackson was visited by a continuous stream of people at his rooms in the St. Louis Hotel, all eager for an opportunity to shake the veteran's hand. A guard of military was in attendance until 2:00 P.M., "when the general respectfully intimated that he would dispense with its service." The mayor and all the other officials of the city visited him in a body and deputations from some of the parishes presented General Jackson with addresses.
The ceremonies connected with the laying of the cornerstone of the monument in the Place d'Armes took place on January 13th. On that day a procession formed at the State House, in Canal Street, between Baronne and Dryades streets, composed of the military, State and city officials, the police, representative citizens and General Jackson and his suite in barouches. Proceeding down Canal Street and through Royal Street to Esplanade Street, the procession moved up Condé (Chartres) Street to the Place d'Armes, a fine band of music playing appropriate national airs. At the square a temporary platform had been erected, and upon this General Jackson was seated, while the ceremony of laying the corner stone was being performed. The Catholic bishop, in his pontificals, and the clergy of the cathedral, in their robes, assisted and chanted hymns during the dedication. Before laying the cornerstone the Rev. Abbé Anduzé read a brief address first in French and then in English, and an oration was delivered by Counsellor Barton. When the ceremony was concluded General Jackson and his party went to the steamboat Vicksburg, by which they took passage for Vicksburg, Mississippi, where the veteran spent several days at the invitation of the citizens of that town.
The dedication of the cornerstone of the projected monument at Chalmette, which, according to the program, should have taken place on the 13th also, was carried through without the presence of the hero. For some reason he was unable to keep his engagement with the committee which had charge of this part of the day's ceremonies so that the elaborate ceremonies arranged for that occasion had to be dispensed with. One of the papers, referring the following day to the disappointment of the people by reason of the failure of the committee to carry out the program at Chalmette, said: "Some thousands of our citizens, a goodly host, made a pilgrimage to the battle ground yesterday to see General Jackson and witness the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone. They came away as wise as they went, the old hero not being p150 able to attend. There were steamboats, towboats, railroad cars, coaches, cabs, cabriolets, hacks, horses, wagons, sand carts, go carts, hand carts, drays, dugouts, in short every description of land carriage and water craft, in requisition to transport the immense throng. Big bugs in buggies and little niggers on foot, high people and low people, fat folks and lean folks, in short all orders were there, marching in most admired order to the battlefield, and 'like him of France,' when they got there, they right-faced home again, consoling themselves with the reflection that if the cornerstone of the monument was not laid, it should have been."
A day or two after the departure of General Jackson it was ascertained that the battleground committee had chartered a steamboat and that a "piece of granite with the inscription 'Eighth of January, 1815," cut upon it, was put on board and taken to the scene of General Jackson's victory." The ceremony which was supposed to have occurred after the arrival of the granite is thus described by the Louisianian:
"It was then placed, fixed, or laid in some spot, position or situation, we don't know which, or what, by three or four gentlemen — all there were on board. What their object was, whether they were hoaxed themselves, or tried to hoax others, is more than we can say. Time will tell the story." It appears there was no ceremony whatever in connection with the laying of the cornerstone of a monument intended to commemorate one of the greatest battles in history; and the ill luck with which it was begun then followed it for more than seventy years, during which time it remained a rudely truncated shaft, and was then tardily completed only through the action of the United States Government.a
The whigs renominated Genois at the close of his term, in 1840. A new party, however, was forming in New Orleans. Under the name of Native Americans those who opposed the Creole and foreign elements in the population, were coalescing. William Freret, proprietor of one of the largest cotton presses in the American quarter of the city, a prosperous and prominent business man, was their candidate for mayor. The names of Kennedy, Buisson, and Montégut also figure in the campaign, but they were supported only by small groups of voters, and did not materially affect the result. The election took place on April 6, and resulted in victory for Freret by a narrow margin. He received a total of 1,051 votes. Genois received 942. None of the other candidates polled more than 200 votes. On the whole, election day passed off quietly. "There was little of that fighting which characterizes and throws a disgrace upon elections in many of our large cities," remarked the Picayune, on the following morning.
Mayor William Freret
p151 The Freret Cotton Press was one of the first enterprises of the kind started in the city. The plant occupied two squares of ground on St. Charles Street, between Perdido and Poydras, and stretching back to Baronne Street. Fragments of the boundary walls remained in existence down to 1919 and were then only cleared away to make room for a new office building. The price paid for this property was small when, owing to the expansion of the city, Freret Brothers sold it; they received $11,000, which was regarded as a very satisfactory equivalent. The press was then removed to a location on the outskirts of the rapidly-growing city. In both neighborhoods the Freret press was a landmark, and the proprietors are justly considered to have been the industrial pioneers of the American quarter of New Orleans. The business was largely in the hands of William Freret. His brother, James, was absorbed in his duties as sheriff; another brother, John, died in 1852.
William Freret was one of the most efficient mayors that New Orleans had had so far. "Mr. Freret has had few equals and no superiors in the incumbents other public office in this city and State for many years past," comments his biographer in the city directory of 1852. "Though not the most popular, he was one of the most useful mayors New Orleans ever had. He was never much favored with those manners, that pliant complacency, and studied hypocrisy which make up p152 what is vulgarly known as popularity, but in the more sterling qualities of a manly discharge of his duty, a fearless indifference to censure when undeserved, and a close, busy, careful scrutiny of all those placed under him [. . .]" left, in the judgment of this enthusiastic writer, nothing to be desired. It was Freret's habit to supervise publicly all the public works in progress in his time. He made a point to visit the public institutions at unexpected moments and make sure that they were properly looked after. It is related of him that, in the winter of 1840, when the weather unexpectedly turned very cold, he went at dead of night to inspect the prison, to make sure that the inmates were provided with sufficient bedclothing. A few years before, during similarly severe weather, several prisoners had frozen to death as a result of inadequate protection from the cold, due to the dishonest jailers in charge at that time. Freret was resolved that nothing of the sort should disgrace his administration. His practical knowledge stood him in good stead. It enabled him to keep track of the work of the contractors on all city work and inured considerably to the benefit of the city finances. "Even now," adds his biographer above quoted — this was written in 1854 — "may be seen in various parts of the city the evidences of Mr. Freret's zeal and industry while mayor of our city."
A contemporary tribute bears out these eulogistic remarks. "The new mayor has been garnering golden opinions from all sorts of people," remarked the Picayune, a month after the election. "Those who offered him the most strenuous opposition are first to acknowledge that he will make a most efficient and valuable official. Without claiming any credit for prescience, we predict that, at the close of his official term, he will be found one of the most popular mayors who has ever filled the civic chair in New Orleans. His unassuming and republican manners, his energy, and his business habits, must necessarily lead to such a result. The more Mr. Freret is known by his fellow citizens, the more they will be able to appreciate his sterling qualities."3 With the exception of the popularity, which Freret was not of the type to earn, this prediction seems to have been verified. Two years later the Bee, a typical whig organ, added its endorsement to the Picayune's in honor of the conscientious and competent magistrate.
Freret's administration, like his predecessors', was handicapped by the financial conditions which still prevailed in the city. The banks were slowly regaining their financial footing, but their condition was still uncertain. In 1840, for example, as a result of the widespread damage done in the agricultural sections of the State, in consequence of the floods of that year, they suspended specie payments again. The Mississippi that year rose higher than it had been known to do since 1782. It reached a level New Orleans a few inches lower than the highest levees. Several extensive "crevasses" occurred. These disasters reacted upon the banks in New Orleans, affecting the value of the mortgages which they held on plantations inundated by the flood. "But," as Bunner remarks, in his fragmentary history of Louisiana, "the flood [. . .] compensated by the rich deposit which it left for the mischief it had done. New fertility was given to the soil and never was the crop more abundant" than it was in the following year.4
p153 The financial recovery of the city was still not complete in 1842. The State Legislature in the interval occupied itself with legislation designed to remedy the situation. One law which, it was hoped, would help to hasten the desired result, prohibited the New Orleans banks from violating their charters. Means were also found to expedite the liquidation of such institutions as were insolvent. A board of commerce was created to see that the laws restricting the emission of currency were strictly observed. By 1842 two of the banks resumed specie payments, but in that year seven failed, leaving nine in what was described as "sound financial condition." The improving financial health of the community was, however, shown by the fact that these institutions now carried in reserve $4,565,925 in specie, as against $1,261,514 of outstanding currency. But so harsh had been the experiences of the last five years that, even under the bettered circumstances of the latter period of Freret's administration, there was great reluctance to co‑operate in promoting even the most deserving besides undertakings. The consequence was that the city, generally, made little progress and the improvements which the municipality was able to undertake were few and, except in regard to public education, of little importance.
Freret's difficulties were complicated by the reluctance of the First Municipality to assume what was deemed its proper proportion of the public burdens. In November, 1840, the mayor, in his message to the General Council, alluded with pardonable asperity to this fact, which had resulted in an "embarrassing situation of the general sinking fund." A little later this municipality is found prosecuting a suit, the object of which was to save it from paying its share of the interest due on the debts of the old city corporation. The animosities of the municipalities one against the other also emerged in endless wrangles over the wharves. In 1840, for example, the First Municipality set up a claim to the right to build wharves into the river on a line with Canal Street, instead of parallel with the current, as was generally understood to be the proper mode of construction elsewhere. The result of the building of a wharf along the new lines was to infringe upon the batture rights of the Second Municipality. A bitterly-contested lawsuit followed, which the Second Municipality won; and the First Municipality had the mortification of pulling down the wharf which it had built at this point at a cost of $10,000.5
The free public schools of New Orleans had their origin in 1841. It must not be supposed from the fact that the present system dates no further back and that year, that education had previously been neglected in New Orleans. As far back as 1724 there is record of a school established by Father Cecil, a Capuchin, whose establishment was situated near the parish church. The fate of this school is unknown.6 From 1726 to the present day the Ursuline nuns have maintained a school for girls. Under the Spanish regime a school for boys was opened under Don Andrés López de Armesto, a distinguished scholar. With the advent of the Americans at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the demand for schools increased steadily. A number of private institutions appeared in the Faubourg Ste. Marie as a result. The advertisements of these establishments p154 make curious reading today. In addition to the usual curriculum they furnished for girls instruction in "embroidery, print- and crêpe-work, French darning, and every kind of fancy work, as well as plain sewing and marking." Dancing and deportment were also subjects of regular instruction. The College of Orleans established in 1805 furnished, as we have seen, instruction down to 1826. Thereafter one central and two primary schools flourished under the direction of a board of regents. As already pointed out, however, these institutions were free only in respect to a limited number of indigent students. The system, moreover, was top-heavy. Too much attention was given, proportionately, to the higher education. There were, for instance, over a hundred students in the college courses, and only 440 in the grade schools. The census of 1840 shows that there were then in the city two so‑called colleges, ten academies, and twenty-five "common" schools, in which only 140 students were receiving gratuitous instruction. Some of these institutions were, obviously, private enterprises, and none of them were "public" schools in the sense in which we use the term today.
It is the great merit of Mayor Freret that he lent all of his influence to the support of the legislation which was enacted by the State in 1841 establishing a system of really public schools in New Orleans. In this he had the earnest support of S. J. Peters, Joshua Baldwin, Doctor Picton, J. A. Maybin, Robert McNair and Thomas Sloo, all prominent residents of the American quarter. The act provided that each municipality should, within its respective boundaries, establish one or more public schools "for the use of the children residing therein," and directing the councils to make "such regulations as they shall judge proper for the organization, administration, and discipline of said schools, and to levy a tax for the maintenance of the same. Every white child residing in the municipality shall be admitted to and receive instruction therein." The State Treasurer was likewise obligated to pay annually a certain sum to each municipality to help in the support of the schools. Subsequently, the Second Municipality passed an ordinance assigning to the support of its schools all the fees received by the harbor-master in excess of the salary allowed him by law. Three years later the same section of the city raised by taxation $11,000 for the same purpose.
Under this law each municipality first organized a single school. There was at first considerable opposition to them, but this feeling rapidly diminished. In the Second Municipality, for instance, the school opened with thirteen pupils out of a possible attendance of 3,000. But within a year the number had increased to 950 and in 1843 to 2,443, and by 1850 to 6,385. In 1844 this part of the city boasted three schools, with eleven teachers. The proportion of schools and enrollment to the population was very praiseworthy, inasmuch as by the last-named year the number of inhabitants in the Second Municipality was only 31,000. In setting up a curriculum also, great care was shown. The best systems in Europe and in the United States were studied, and a Mr. Shaw was brought down from Massachusetts to become superintendent. It is said that the famous educator, Horace Mann, was also engaged in an advisory capacity, though there is no record of his ever having visited the city. Shaw's tenure of office was short. He resigned after seeing the schools firmly established, declaring that he preferred to work in another community, where he would not find it necessary to expend so much energy in overcoming unnecessary opposition in carrying out his plans.
p155 Each municipality had its own school board and employed its own executive officer. These boards were composed of one member from each ward and one member at large. This gave the Second Municipality, for instance, a board of twelve. These boards held a very close relationship to the common council of the municipality, and to the General Council of the city. To the former was rendered an annual report, on the basis of which appropriations were made. In 1848 the total school appropriation had risen to $105,000. In the Second Municipality there were soon open a high school, grammar schools, and primary schools. In 1848 these schools were so well equipped as to challenge the admiring comment of professional critics. It is said that in this respect they would compare favorably with any in the country. In the First Municipality a peculiar difficulty was encountered from the fact that it was deemed necessary to maintain both French and English courses, necessitating duplicate textbooks and a double set of teachers. The Third Municipality was somewhat slow in setting up a high school. It was for some years content to maintain a good system of primary education.
The Arcadian simplicity of life in New Orleans in this period is interestingly shown by some of the entries in the archives of the city. In May, 1840, for example, Mayor Freret wrote to the council of the First Municipality that he had not communicated with it for some time "for want of any interesting and important intelligence to lay before it," and he then disturbed the members merely to call attention to the fact that repairs were needed for a levee in the upper part of town. In March, 1842, he had leisure to send in a special communication deploring the destruction by fire of the St. Charles Theater. In January of that year Mayor Freret addressed to one of the councils a message which sheds an amusing light on the police of his day. He returned with his veto an ordinance authorizing the patrolmen to enter at their discretion any public place of amusement. The mayor held that "this tended to make them keep late hours and lead them into habits of dissipation, and so unfit them for their daily avocations." As a matter of fact the management of all such resorts were required to maintain at their own expense a sort of police, which enforced order. Nevertheless the mayor's paternal attitude towards the guardians of the peace is delightfully indicative of the status of the city. We may also smile over the discussion which raged in the council of the Second Municipality in May, 1840, as to whether the circus which was then exhibiting in that part of the city should be allowed to remain open on Sunday night. S. J. Peters led a majority of the members in opposition on the ground that to permit such a course was incompatible with the proper respect for the Sabbath Day. And finally one reads in the Picayune an editorial commending Mayor Freret for his action in suppressing the circulation in New Orleans of Northern newspapers containing notices of abolitionist meetings. It was yet a little town, indeed!
Freret's last official act was to send in to the council of the First Municipality a message vetoing an ordinance ceding to the United States Government all right and title in the piece of land on Avenue on which the mint had been erected.
The municipal election of 1842 was hotly contested. The gubernatorial campaign was to open a short time later, and the results in the city would, it was expected, have an important bearing into those in the State. The democrats made strenuous preparations for the fray. p156 "They are fully aware of the importance of the mayoral elections as connected with the July elections," remarked the Bee, early in April, "and have made preparations accordingly. Not only do they intend to carry their mayor, but, we are told, have agreed upon a ticket in caucus for general councilmen for the three municipalities and aldermen for every ward in the city."7 The whigs, on the contrary, made no preparations. "To the efforts of our enemies," said the Bee, in another editorial, the whigs have opposed nothing but, we trust, the quiet determination to win the day." Prieur was put forward as the democratic candidate. Freret was nominated by the Native Americans and, after some delay, was accepted as the whig candidate. The Native Americans made an aggressive fight. They propounded a series of questions to the candidates relative to their position on the neutrality laws. Did they favor the exclusion of foreigners from office whenever a native-born candidate properly qualified could be found? Prieur answered that the interrogatory had to do with the mayoralty contest. He was not sufficiently well informed to speak positively with reference to the question. His impression was that "there was no necessity for constant agitation and violation of the feelings of those of our fellow citizens who have found in this, our happy land, a home." He did not favor a repeal of the naturalization laws.8 Freret answered that he believed that the naturalization laws were defective and should be repealed. An "outcry" was immediately raised against him, according to the Bee. It was charged that he aimed at depriving the naturalized voter of his right to the ballot and that if his views were adopted a large and influential group of citizens would be reduced to a position not different from that of the free negroes.9
Prieur was the strongest man that "locofocoism" possessed in Louisiana. In New Orleans he "was in the stronghold of his popularity and power, surrounded by a large body of individuals who" were "attracted to him by ties of personal friendship and affection." The Second Municipality was conceded to him even by the most rabid Freret partisans, but they expected to carry the First and Third Municipalities. The Prieur faction concentrated their forces in the Second Municipality. The election took place on April 4 and resulted in the overwhelming defeat of the whig and Native American candidates. Prieur received 1,334 votes and Freret 1,069. Not only was the former successful in the Second Municipality, as anticipated, but he carried both of the other two sections of the city by good majorities. The Picayune noted that the election "was conducted in a spirit of peace and order worthy of intelligent freemen."10 Paul Bertus was re-elected recorder of the First Municipality, Joshua Baldwin in the Second; and Alfred Lewis was chosen to that office in the Third Municipality. "Apart from Prieur's political principles," commented the Bee, on the following day, "we have no occasion to mourn his success. He has long been a favorite with a large portion of our citizens, who sustained him despite his politics, and is generally esteemed an honest and capable man."
The causes of Freret's defeat were not far to seek. He was opposed almost solidly by the naturalized citizens, who had supported the whigs p157 in 1840, and were to support them in the impending gubernatorial contest, but who were induced by democratic propaganda to repudiate the whig candidate for mayor. As a party the whigs had made no nominations and had supported Freret passively on the ground that he had been a good official. The real issue was the Native American program. What had most to do with Freret's defeat was an unfortunate editorial in the Louisiana American. This paper was supporting his candidacy. It created the impression that Freret did not wish the support of the whigs. Just before the election, moreover, it printed an article urging that "the approaches to the polls be kept clear," as the "Crayowls" were noted for their proclivity "to keep up a row on such occasions."11 The opposition promptly placarded the city with reproductions of the offensive paragraph. There could be no question that "Crayowls" meant Creoles. Nothing that Freret's friends could do served to mitigate the offense. The Creole population to a large degree voted for Prieur.
This second administration of Prieur's was brief. Within eight months after taking office, he was tendered the lucrative state position of recorder of mortgages in New Orleans. This he decided to accept. Under the law prohibiting dual office holding, his he saw appointment cancelled his commission as mayor. "We presume that the position will have to be filled by an election," remarked the Bee, early in February, 1843; and went on to enumerate the candidates who were already in the field, including C. C. Claiborne, "than whom," in the editor's opinion, "we know of none more deserving of being selected."12 The campaign seems to be the first in which the whigs definitely organized after the example of the democrats, and went in determined to win. Delegates were regularly elected from each of the subdivisions of the city, and met in the ball room at the St. Louis Hotel on February 14 to select a candidate. The Bee dwelt upon the importance of the coming election. "With the election of Prieur last April," it remarked, "may be dated the revival of 'locofocoism' in this State, which had scarcely recovered from the overwhelming defeat of 1840 when the whigs suffered them to carry the city by default."13 The arrangements for this meeting were perfected by the Clay Club, as the whig organization was called. The Bee insisted that this club was not working with "the object of selecting a candidate and forcing him on the party," but merely to devise a method by which a suitable standard-bearer might be most conveniently named. In this it professed to see a great distinction between the Clay Club and the democratic caucus which met a few days later and nominated Joseph Genois for mayor. The difference, however, was one of names only. Joseph Genois had served for some years as recorder of the First Municipality and enjoyed an enviable reputation, which made an unimpeachable candidate.
The whig convention selected William Freret as its candidate. The election took place on February 20. It was a complete whig victory. Freret was elected by "the largest majority ever given to a whig for that office." He received 1,289 votes to Genois' 974. The victory was notable because both State and National patronage was used by the democrats in favor of their candidate. Mouton, a democrat, had been inaugurated p158 governor of the State only a few months before; this was the first trial of strength between the parties since that event; and it was strategically desirable that the administration should win it. The local organ of the National Democratic administration also urged the election of Genois; and the Bee did not scruple to charge that the local Federal officeholders were put under more or less compulsion to make them vote for him.14 The result was "a rebuke to the traitor, Tyler, who has brought the patronage of the Government into conflict with the freedom of elections" — so ran the resolutions of one of the whig clubs — "and whose officials in this quarter have openly taken the field and resolved to support the Locofoco candidate for mayor."15
The election was complicated by the fact that that morning the Commercial Bank closed its doors and alarmed depositors started a result on the other banks. This undoubtedly kept a number of citizens from voting. Perhaps this diversion of interest was responsible for "the order and decorum," which prevailed throughout the day and which the Picayune found "remarkable," though not exceptional.16
A month later an election for councilmen threw the councils also into the hands of the whigs. Among the whig candidates for the Council were A. D. Crossman, subsequently mayor of the city, and Christian Roselius, the celebrated lawyer. The election took place on April 3, and resulted in whig successes in each of the three municipalities, so that the councils stood as follows: First Municipality, ten whig members to two democrats; Second Municipality, eight whig members to four democrats; Third Municipality, five whig members to one democrat.
Freret's second administration was uneventful. Having been elected to fill our Prieur's term, it drew to a close early the following year. The whigs profited by the sharp lesson which they had received in 1842. As the municipal election of 1844 approached they were early in the field. This time it was the democrats who were tardy in getting into the fight.17 Freret was put forward by the Bee as a suitable whig candidate. "A fearful spirit is abroad in the land," added the editor, apprehensively, "that seeks the destruction of the guarantees of law and order. Appeals have been made to the passions of men, as if to make the election an arbitrament of force. The public ear is stunned with rumors of misfeasance in office and attempts are made to persuade the inhabitants of the city that they are a badly-used and tyranny-ridden people."18 What especially recommended Freret was his services on behalf of public education.
The Louisiana American selected Edgar Montégut as its standard bearer. This paper opposed Freret on the ground that he had been a member of the Native American party. The editor was unaware, or was intentionally blind to the fact that his own nominee had likewise figured in the innermost councils of that now moribund organization. In 1840 Montégut had sought the nomination for mayor at its hands. p159 His name was mentioned along with Freret's as a suitable person for that post.19
The democrats made no party nomination but appear to have supported Montégut. The party energies were concentrated especially in the Second Municipality, where the council was whig. Under this whig administration that quarter of the city had prospered notably during the previous two years. There had been marked growth in population; extensive improvements had been made, a splendid commerce had been built up, streets had been opened and repaired and "taxes expended in a way to add to the revenue of those who paid them."20 Similarly good results had been achieved in the Third Municipality, where the whigs likewise controlled. The bonds of this municipality had risen nearly 100 per cent. Under an economical administration that part of the city was beginning to emerge from the financial difficulties of recent years. In fact the city everywhere "was improving as fast as the interference of the legislature with affairs would permit," as the Bee remarked.
The election took place on April 1, 1844, and resulted in victory for Montégut. Only a small vote was cast. Freret received 465 votes and his rival 557. The usual cry of fraud went up at once from the defeated party. For this claim there was, this time, considerable justification. The evil practices initiated at the recent State election had borne their proper fruit. "Let them rejoice over the results of yesterday's election," scornfully wrote the Bee, "who can contemplate with satisfaction the prostitution of the ballot box and the triumph of foreigners over the citizens of the State."21 The result was, in fact, determined largely by the vote of the naturalized citizens. In the Second Municipality a judge, Eliott,º was accused of having issued quantities of spurious naturalization certificates. These were rejected by the whig commissioners when presented at the polls. Serious disturbances followed. The whigs, however, were successful in carrying this municipality by a vote of 417 to 37. In the other municipalities, however, this device was successfully worked. "It required but a short walk to exercise a franchise which used to be considered sacred, but has now become a marketable privilege," was the way in which the Bee referred to the activities of the "repeaters" who determined the result in the First and Third Municipalities.
In spite of the manner in which he had been elected, the whig organs had nothing to say against Montégut's character. Even the Bee hesitated to impugn his motives. "The only objection to Mr. Montégut is that Mr. Freret had obtained the majority of the bona fide votes," was its salutatory editorial on the new administration.22 And referring to the retiring mayor, the same paper remarked: "No chief magistrate has displayed greater zeal and capacity than he." Montégut took the oath on May 13. The events of his administration may be quickly recapitulated. A fire on May 18, 1844, destroyed ten squares bounded by Franklin, Canal, Common and Claiborne streets, rendering several score persons homeless. The mayor sent in a message to the councils asking that aid be extended to the victims of the disaster. This was generously accorded. The first year of the administration ended with some anticipation of a deficit, due to another payment which the city had to make p160 to the Orleans Theater Company in the suit which it still prosecuted against the city on the basis of an agreement made some years before by which the corporation subscribed to $200,000 worth of stock. The city had consented to take this large block of stock in the expectation of seeing a theater erected, which does not appear ever to have been built. The corporation was fortunately able to compromise the judgment in consideration of a payment of $128,000, in bonds bearing 6 per cent interest.23 The transaction, however, did not actually figure on the books of the city as a deficit. The increasing prosperity of the community brought in an enlarged revenue which offset this charge. The only other incident which has interest for us today is the fact that, on January 20, 1845, Mme. Pontalba obtained a permit to erect the arcades on St. Peter and St. Ann streets, opposite Jackson Square, which still embellish the buildings that bear her name.b
But if the external events of Montégut's administration were trivial, the unseen forces which were operative at this time make this epoch one of the most interesting in the history of the city. As we shall have occasion to point out in a later chapter, this was a period of great actual advance, but of relative retrogression. Never had New Orleans been more prosperous. It had now recovered from the financial disaster of 1837; its trade was growing by leaps and bounds, the population was mounting in numbers, many buildings were erected, the costs of living increased. In the American quarter, for example, in the single year 1845, 295 buildings were erected. These structures were mainly of brick, granite, or other durable material. Some of them were outbuildings of small value; but the average value reached the then respectable figure of $3,500.
In politics, too, this was a time of transition. The lofty ideals of an earlier day began to give way to a hard materialism. From this time onward organization in the parties became increasingly efficient and superseded the personal leadership of the first part of the century. Hence, in city elections State and national issues figure more and more; and the disorders which were occasional at an earlier date become the regular feature of the municipal election day as of the State election day. But these, also, are matters which must be taken up in detail in a future chapter.
1 Messages of the Mayors, May 1, 1838, in the New Orleans City Archives.
2 Messages to the General Council, October 16, 1839, in New Orleans City Archives.
3 Picayune, May 27, 1840.
4 Quoted in Martin, "History of Louisiana"; Condon's Annals, 442.
5 Picayune, May 19, 1840. See also Proceedings of the Council of the Second Municipality for May 19, 1840.
6 Ficklen, "History of Education in New Orleans," in Rightor's "Standard History of New Orleans," 226.
7 Bee, April 2, 1842.
8 Picayune, March 15, 1842.
9 Bee, April 4, 1842.
10 Picayune, April 5, 1842.
11 Louisiana American, April 4, 1842.
12 Bee, February 7, 1843.
13 Bee, February 9, 1843.
14 Bee, February 21, 1843.
15 Resolutions of the Whig Mass Meeting at Banks' Arcade, February 19, 1843. See the Bee of February 20.
16 Picayune, February 21, 1843. The whole episode of Freret's second election has been heretofore very obscure. I am indebted to Mrs. M. Pohlman, city archivist, for her courteous assistance in locating the foregoing references.
17 Courier de la Louisiane, January 5, 1844.
18 Bee, March 30, 1844.
19 Native American, March 4, 1840.
20 Bee, March 30, 1844.
21 Bee, April 2, 1844.
23 Journal of the Second Municipality, 1844, pp164, 169, 343 (August 29).
a For detailed text and photos on the Chalmette Monument, see Chapter XII of the Historic Resource Study, Chalmette Unit, by Jerome A. Greene, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The site as a whole is a book-length study of Chalmette: roughly half of it deals with the Battle of New Orleans.
b For a sample of the ironwork of these arcades, see King, New Orleans, the Place and the People, p128; Miss King's actual opinion of the rehab, though, is not as flattering as Prof. Kendall's, if for a different reason: see her comments in Chapter 12 of the same book.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
J. S. Kendall's History
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 28 Oct 17