Welcome to America: Louisiana’s bumpy path to statehood
Fresh on the heels of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, talks of statehood in the Orleans Territory began in earnest as early as 1810, but the path to statehood would be bumpy for Louisiana. Initially, Congress could not agree on Louisiana’s place in the country: Did it want to grant the strange territory full statehood? At the same time, residents of the region weren’t keen on the English political systems they may have to adopt. Nevertheless, President James Madison signed the bill that granted Louisiana statehood, and on April 30, 1812, Louisiana became the 18th state in the United States of America. From the beginning, it was one of a kind. The slave trade, the history of French, Spanish and other European settlements, as well as the remaining indigenous people of Louisiana, had created a unique mixture of culture that was unlike any other state in the union.
Familiar New Orleans street names such as Claiborne and Poydras come from the names of political families in the early 1800s. Julien Poydras was a French-born planter and Congressman. He pushed for statehood, knowing that the rights granted would serve him and the region well. Louisiana’s first governor was William C.C. Claiborne, who had also been the governor of the Orleans Territory before it became a state.
- The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States. The land, which was purchased for around 3 cents an acre, was divided into two territories: Orleans Territory — the bulk of which would form the state of Louisiana — and the larger District of Louisiana.
- In order to become a state, a territory must have a population of at least 60,000. The 1810 census recorded 76,000 people living in the Territory of Orleans. Half of those residents were black and half were white. This did not include those people living in the Florida parishes, which are the parishes east of the Mississippi River and north of Lake Pontchartrain — and which weren’t annexed into the state until August 1812.
- It took time to hash out the official borders of the Louisiana territory and ultimately the state. In particular, the United States and Spain disagreed on Louisiana’s western border. Texas was still part of Mexico, and the Spanish asserted that their territory extended to an area of west of Natchitoches; the United States disagreed. It took from 1805 to 1819 for the two countries to agree on the Sabine River as the official border. Though it appeared as though the two countries may go to war, they were able to reach a decision without exchanging shots.
- Two months after joining the union, Louisiana found itself at war, with the War of 1812 — between America and Britain — beginning in June of that year. The war would culminate in January 1815 with the Battle of New Orleans.
- One of the more difficult elements of the transition to statehood was merging the civil law systems in Louisiana, which was a direct result of Spanish and French influence on the region, with the Anglo tradition of common law. The former made decisions in the interest of large groups rather than on the interests of individuals, while the latter focused on individuals’ rights.
- The original Louisiana Constitution was modeled on that of Kentucky, and it granted the right to vote to adult white men who paid taxes – about a third of the white men in the state. This excluded all men of color and all women.
Since 1541, new fewer than 10 national flags have flown over Louisiana. No other state has such a varied history and range of influences. Rather than detracting from its variety, joining the union has simply added another layer of identity to this state. As a region, Louisiana has been able to retain many of the influences that make it unique. Indigenous, African, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Irish, Vietnamese — all of these cultures remain represented in the food, religion, industry and festivals of the state. For Louisianans, statehood has simply given us a good reason to party on the Fourth of July.