Louisiana Territory

In the preceding chapter are briefly traced the changes in the government of the Territory of Louisiana from its discovery to the year 1803, when it became a part of the territory of United States. Discovered by the Spanish, possessed by the French, divided and re-divided between the French, Spanish and English; settled by the Holy Mother Church, in the warp and woof of nations it was the flying shuttle-cock of the great weaver in its religion as well as allegiance for 261 years. This foundling, this waif of nations, was but an outcast, or a trophy chained to the triumphal car of the victors among the warring European powers, until in the providence of God it reached its haven and abiding home in the bosom of the union of States.

As a French province, the civil government of Louisiana was organized, and the Marquis de Sanville appointed viceroy or governor in 1689.

Under French Rule

  • Robert Cavelier de La Salle (April 9, formal). 1682-1688
  • Marquis de Sanville 1689-1700
  • Bienville 1701-1712
  • Lamothe Cadillar 1713-1715
  • De L’Epinay 1716-1717
  • Bienville 1718-1723
  • Boisbriant (ad interim) 1734
  • Bienville 1733-1741
  • Baron de Kelerec 1753-1762
  • D’Abbadie 1763-17661

Under Spanish Rule ((Louisiana west of the Mississippi, although ceded to Spain in 1763, remained under French jurisdiction until 1766.))

  • Antonio de Ulloa 1767-1768
  • Alexander O’Reilly 1768-1769
  • Louis de Unzaga 1770-1776
  • Bernando de Galvez 1777-1784
  • Estevar Miro 1785-1787
  • Francisco Luis Hortu, Baron of Carondelet 1789-1792
  • Gayoso de Lemos 1793-1798
  • Sebastian de Cosa Calvo y O’Farrell 1798-1799
  • Juan Manual de Salcedo 1800-1803

From the dates already given it will be seen that the official acts of Salcedo during his entire term of office, under the secret treaty of Ildefonso, were tainted with irregularity. Thousands of land grants had been given by him after he had in fact ceased to be the viceroy of Spain. The contracting powers had affixed to the treaty the usual obligations of the fulfillment of all undertakings, but the American courts and lawyers, in that ancient spirit of legal hypercritical technicalities, had given heed to the vicious doctrine that acts in good faith of a de facto governor may be treated as of questionable validity. This was never good law, because it was never good sense or justice.

The acts and official doings of these vice-royalties in the wilderness present little or nothing of interest to the student of history, because they were local and individual in their bearing. It was the action of the powers across the waters, in reference to Canada and Louisiana, that in their wide and sweeping effects have been nearly omnipotent in shaping civilization.

Referring to the acquisition of Canada and the Louisiana east of the Mississippi River, Bancroft says that England exulted in its conquest; ((Bancroft, vol. iv. p. 457; Gayarre’s Histoire de la Louisiane, vol. ii. p. 131.)) enjoying the glory of extended dominion in the confident expectation of a boundless increase of wealth. But its success was due to its having taken the lead in the good old struggle for liberty, and it was destined to bring fruits, not so much to itself as to the cause of freedom and mankind.

France, of all the States on the continent of Europe the most powerful, by territorial unity, wealth, numbers, industry and culture, seemed also by its place marked out for maritime ascendency. Set between many seas it rested upon the Mediterranean, possessed harbors on the German Ocean, and embraced between its wide shores and jutting headlands the bays and open waters of the Atlantic; its people, enfolding at one extreme the offspring of colonists from Greece, and at the other the hardy children of the Northmen, being called, as it were, to the inheritance of life upon the sea. The nation, too, readily conceived or appropriated great ideas and delighted in bold resolves. Its travelers had penetrated farthest into the fearful interior of unknown lands; its missionaries won most familiarly the confidence of the aboriginal hordes; its writers described with keener and wiser observation the forms of nature in her wildness, and the habits and languages of savage man; its soldiers, and every lay Frenchman in America owed military service, uniting beyond all others celerity with courage, knew best how to endure the hardships of forest life and to triumph in forest warfare. Its ocean chivalry had given a name and a colony to Carolina, and its merchants a people to Acadia. The French discovered the basin of the St. Lawrence; were the first to explore and possess the banks of the Mississippi, and planned an American empire that should unite the widest valleys and most copious inland waters in the world. But over all this splendid empire in the old and the new world was a government that was medieval – mured in its glittering palaces, taxing its subjects, it would allow nothing to come to the Louisiana Territory but what was old and worn out. French America was closed against even a gleam of intellectual independence; nor did all Louisiana contain so much as one dissenter from the Roman Church.

“We have caught them at last,” exultingly exclaimed Choiseul, when he gave up the Canadas to England and the Louisiana to Spain. “England will ere long repent of having removed the only check that could keep her colonies in awe. * * * She will call on them to support the burdens they have helped to bring on her, and they will answer by striking off all dependence,” said Vergennes.

These keen-witted Frenchmen, with a penetration far beyond the ablest statesmen of England, saw, as they believed, and time has confirmed, that in the humiliation and dismemberment of the territory of France, especially the transfer to England of Canada, they had laid the mine which some day would destroy the British colonial system, and probably eventuate in the independence of the American colonies. The intellect of France was keeping step with the spirit of the age; it had been excluded of course from the nation’s councils, but saw what its feeble government neither could see nor prevent, that the distant wilderness possessed a far greater importance on the world’s new map than was given it by the gold and gems it was supposed to contain; and that the change of allegiance of the colonies was the great step in the human mind, as it was slowly emerging from the gloom and darkness of the middle ages. Thus it was that the mere Territory of Louisiana, before it was peopled by civilized man, was playing its important part in the world’s greatest of all dramas.

The first official act of our government, after the purchase of Louisiana, was an act of Congress, March 26, 1804, dividing Louisiana into two districts, and attaching the whole to Indiana Territory, under the government of William Henry Harrison. The division in Louisiana was by a line on the thirty-third parallel; the south was named the District of Orleans; that north of it was named the District of Louisiana. This is now the south line of the State of Arkansas.

In 1805 the District of Louisiana was erected into the Territory of Louisiana. It was however a territory of the second class and remained under the government and control of Indiana Territory until 1812.

By act of June 4, 1812, the name of Louisiana Territory was changed and became the Missouri Territory, being made a territory of the first class, and given a territorial government. Capt. William Clark, of the famous Lewis and Clark, explorers of the northwest, was appointed governor, remaining as such until 1819, when Arkansas Territory was cut off from Missouri.

See Also:

  1. Proprietary Change of Louisiana Territory
  2. New Expeditions to the New Territory of Louisiana

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