The Jesuits and fur-traders were the founders of Illinois; Louis XIV and privileged companies were the patrons of Southern Louisiana, while the honor of beginning the work of colonizing the southwest of our republic belongs to the illustrious Canadian, Lemoine D’ Iberville. He was a worthy successor of La Salle. He also sought to find the mouth of the Mississippi, and guided by floating trees and turbid waters, he reached it on March 2, 1699. He perfected the line of communication between Quebec and the Gulf; extended east and west the already boundless possessions of France; erected forts and carved the lilies on the trees of the forests; and fixed the seat of government of Louisiana at Biloxi, and appointed his brother to command the province. Under D’ Iberville, the French line was extended east to Pascagoula River; Beinville, La Sueur, and St. Denys had explored the west to New Mexico, and had gone in the northwest beyond the Wisconsin and the St. Croix, and reached the mouth of and followed this stream to the confluence of the Blue Earth. D’ Iberville died of yellow fever at Havana, July 9, 1706, and in his death the Louisiana colony lost one of its most able and daring leaders. But Louisiana, at that time, possessed less than thirty families of whites, and these were scattered on voyages of discovery, and in quest of gold and France perfected her civil government over Louisiana in 1689, and appointed Marquis de Sanville, royal viceroy. This viceroy’s empire was as vast in territory as it was insignificant in population – less than 300 souls. * By regular appointments of viceroys the successions were maintained (including the fourteen years of Law’s supremacy) until by the treaty of Fontainbleau, November 3, 1762, France was stripped of her American possessions, and Canada and the Spanish Florida; everything east of the Mississippi except the island of New Orleans was given to England, and all Louisiana, including New Orleans west of the Mississippi River and south of the new southern boundary line of Canada, was given to Spain, in lieu of her Florida possessions. Hence, it was November 3, 1762, that what is now Arkansas passed from the dominion of France to that of Spain.
The signing of this treaty made that day the most eventful one in the busy movements of the human race. It remapped the world, gave the English language to the American continent, and spread it more widely over the globe than any that had before given expression to human thought, the language that is the alma mater of civil liberty and religious independence. Had France permanently dominated America, civil liberty and representative government would have been yet unborn. The dogmatic tyranny of the middle ages, with all its intolerance and war, would have been the heritage of North America.
Thus readjusted in her domain, Louisiana remained a province of Spain until October 1, 1800, when the Little Corporal overran Spain with his victorious legions, and looted his Catholic majesty’s domains. Napoleon allowed his military ambition to dwarf his genius, and except for this curious fact, he was the man who would have saved and disenthralled the French mind, and have placed the Gaul, with all his volcanic forces, in an even start in the race of civilization with the invincible and cruel Anglo-Saxon. He was the only man of progressive genius that has ever ruled poor, unfortunate France. The treaty of St. Ildefonso, secretly transferring Louisiana from Spain again into the possession of France, was ratified March 24, 1801. Its conditions provided that it was to remain a secret, and the Spanish viceroy, who was governor of Louisiana, knew nothing of the transfer, and continued in the discharge of his duties, granting rights, creating privileges and deeding lands and other things that were inevitable in breeding confusions, and cloudy land titles, such as would busy the courts for a hundred years, inflicting injustice and heavy burdens upon many innocent people.
In 1802 President Jefferson became possessed of the secret that France owned Louisiana. He at once sent James Monroe to Paris, who, with the resident minister, Mr. Livingston, opened negotiations with Napoleon, at first only trying to secure the free navigation of the Mississippi River, but to their great surprise the Emperor more than met them half way, with a proposal to sell Louisiana to the United States. The bargain was closed, the consideration being the paltry sum of $15,000,000.
This important move on the great chess-board of nations occurred April 30, 1803. The perfunctory act of lowering the Spanish ensign and hoisting the flag of France; then lowering immediately the tricolors and unfurling the stars and stripes, it is hoped never to be furled, was performed at St. Louis March 9, 1804. Bless those dear old, nation-building pioneers! These were heavy drafts upon their patriotic allegiance, but they were equal to the occasion, and ate their breakfasts as Spaniards, their dinners as Frenchmen, and suppers as true Americans.
- The title of France to the boundless confines of Louisiana were confirmed by the treaty of Utrecht. The contentions between England and France over the Ohio country, afterward, are a part of the annals of the general history of the country.