Tuesday, December 18, 2012
History: Raising the Flag in New Orleans
The flag raising was a bit of a non-event for locals used to exchanges in political and military powers. People turned out to watch, then shrugged and went on about their business. This may have been somewhat of a shock to the Americans judging from the article written by John F. H. Claiborne for an 1843 issue of the Concordia, Louisiana Intelligencer. Claiborne, the brother of Louisiana Territory and first State Governor William C.C. Claiborne, was a prolific writer (find his papers online here) whose description of the issues at hand on 12/20/1803 brings the hopes and anxieties of Americans to sparkling life.
On the 17th of September, 1803, Mr. Jefferson communicated [the Louisiana Purchase] treaty to the Senate. It was speedily ratified, and Wm. C.C. Claiborne, the Governor of the Mississippi Territory and General James Wilkinson were appointed to receive the provinces, which were still in the hands of Spain, owing to the non-compliance of France with certain stipulations of the treaty of St. Ildefonso. The government of Madrid threw every obstacle in the way of the American diplomatists, and its Minister at Washington, the Marquis de Caso Yrujo, remonstrated earnestly against the transfer, in the name of his King, as being in direct contravention of the treaty of St. Ildefonso, and upon the ground that the title of Louisiania was still in the Crown of Spain. Mr. Madison [James Madison, then Secretary of State]communicated these remonstrances to M. Pichon, ambassador from the French republic, and received from him every assurance that his government guaranteed the treaty, and would allow no obstacle to its execution. The impression generally prevailed that the Spanish authorities would resist the delivery of the province, and, on the 24th October, 1803, Mr. Madison thus wrote to Mr. Monroe, "It remains to be seen how far Spain will persist in her remonstrances, and how far she will add to them resistance by force. Should the latter course be taken, it can lead to nothing but a forcible for a peaceable possession. Having now a clear and honest title, acquired in a mode pointed out by Spain herself, it will, without doubt, be maintained with a decision becoming our national character, and required by the importance of the object."
In pursuance of the resolution so calmly, yet firmly expressed in this dispatch, the American Commissioners were instructed to get possession at all hazards; to seize New Orleans by a coup de main, if necessary, and for this purpose the regular troops at Fort Adams were placed at their disposal, and the militia of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Mississippi Territory ordered to be in readiness. A detachment of troops from the Mississippi Territory descended to Natchez, eager for the contest, for the whole west was embittered against the Spaniards, owing to the exactions levied on its commerce. No occasion, however, arose for its services. Before the Commissioners reached New Orleans, the Spanish authorities had surrendered the province to M. Laussat, colonial prefect and commissary of the French Republic. On the 20th December, 1803, he formally transferred it to the American Commissioners, and the flag of the Union was, for the first time, unfurled in the city of New Orleans.
Unfortunately, Spain - and her sometimes ally, England - would continue to argue that France's sale of the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. was illegal according to international law. Both powers would back up their argument with a hard fight. Spain through intelligencing and subterfuge - including employing Aaron Burr and both Laffite brothers to such ends - and England through force of arms at the Battle of New Orleans.
Despite all that and more, the flag of the Union continued to sail over the city of New Orleans. And long may she wave.
Header: Raising of the United States Flag in New Orleans, 1803, by Thor de Thulstrup via Britannica online