The Louisiana Purchase--who's fighting for it now?

AuthorWurmann, Kirsten
PositionTravel to Legal Landmarks

"We want you to take pictures. We don't want you to forget us."

My friends had been worried about looking like rich, insensitive tourists as they travelled by taxi to the lower 9th Ward in New Orleans to see the after effects of Hurricane Katrina. Instead, they were approached by more than one resident who declared that the plight of Louisianans must not be forgotten by their fellow citizens, by their government, or by the world.

This past spring, nearly three years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, I travelled with my sister and two friends down to New Orleans. Rich in history, music, food, and personality, we were delighted to see the French Quarter vibrant and brimming with life.

Despite the lure of the to-go (or "geaux") cups, the constant jazz stimulation, and the sunshine, we ventured inside the Cabildo--site of the Louisiana Purchase Transfer ceremonies in 1803 and Louisiana's most important historical building. Today the Cabildo houses museum exhibits depicting two centuries of Louisiana history.

Of interest to me was the Louisiana Purchase: the culmination of the struggle for ownership of Louisiana and to gain authority over the port of New Orleans. The history of New Orleans is old by North American standards, with the French establishing Louisiana as a permanent settlement in 1699. One hundred years later, in 1795, the Right of Deposit was signed, allowing the United States to sail vessels down the Mississippi River. This Right provided the United States with valuable control of the Mississippi by virtue of its port and location.

By 1802 however, the right to deposit--or to use the port of New Orleans to store goods for export--was withdrawn by Spain. This upset the United States, who felt great unease about the power that France and Spain had to block US trade access to the port. As a result, President Jefferson soon set in motion the complicated gears to transfer ownership and to purchase Louisiana.

The Purchase occurred in two stages and the entire process (save the treaty signing which was done in Paris on April 30, 1803) was arranged in the Cabildo in New Orleans. The transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France occurred on November 30, 1803 and the second stage occurred with the final transfer from France to the United States on December 20, 1803. The conflict over ownership of Louisiana was not over, however, until after the Battle of New Orleans in 1814-15, which was to be the final battle of the War of 1812. The...

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