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The Nation’s Crucible

The Nation’s Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Nation’s Crucible
    Book Description:

    In 1803 the United States purchased Louisiana from France. This seemingly simple acquisition brought with it an enormous new territory as well as the country's first large population of nonnaturalized Americans-Native Americans, African Americans, and Francophone residents. What would become of those people dominated national affairs in the years that followed. This book chronicles that contentious period from 1803 to 1821, years during which people proposed numerous visions of the future for Louisiana and the United States.

    The Louisiana Purchase proved to be the crucible of American nationhood, Peter Kastor argues. The incorporation of Louisiana was among the most important tasks for a generation of federal policymakers. It also transformed the way people defined what it meant to be an American.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12824-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    There once was a place called the Neutral Ground. It was a somewhat misshapen rectangle, the two longest lines following the twists of the Sabine River to the east and an obscure tributary called the Arroyo Hondo to the west. These waterways vanished into the numerous streams flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, with the Gulf Coast itself forming a southern border. To the north, the Red River closed off the Neutral Ground. The name was attractive, for the Neutral Ground imposed a vision of conciliation and peace on the Texas-Louisiana border. The name was also misleading, for people were...

  5. Part I: Empires, Republics, and Nations (1763–1804)

    • 1 America
      (pp. 19-34)

      Pierre Clément Laussat was a newcomer, and his sojourn was not long. He reached North America in March 1803, dispatched by Napoleon Bonaparte to assume the office of prefect for Louisiana. The product of a wealthy family, Laussat had nonetheless weathered the French Revolution almost unscathed and had enjoyed midlevel appointments under both royalists and revolutionaries.¹

      Once in Louisiana, Laussat ensconced himself in New Orleans, for almost a century the center of European government in Louisiana. While colonial governors enjoyed their own residence, they shared their workplace with administrative, judicial, and military personnel. Throughout the eighteenth century a variety of...

    • 2 Acquisition
      (pp. 35-52)

      A thousand miles from the Cabildo where Laussat delivered his predictions for an American Louisiana, another official was preparing his commentary on Louisiana at a very different center of government. That official was Thomas Jefferson, and the commentary took the form of a letter to his son-inlaw, Thomas Mann Randolph. It was 5 July 1803, and the federal capital was returning to business after celebrating the twenty-seventh anniversary of independence. Jefferson informed Randolph that American negotiators had ‘‘signed a treaty with France, ceding to us the island of N. Orleans and all of Louisiana. . . . This removes from...

  6. Part II: Louisiana Purchase (1803–1808)

    • 3 ‘‘Numerous and Troublesome Neighbors’’
      (pp. 55-75)

      William C. C. Claiborne rode into New Orleans in December 1803. He came at the head of an army, a general by his side. It was not a long trip, only about 200 miles from Washington, Mississippi, the territorial capital, where Claiborne had served as governor since Jefferson selected him for the post almost two years before. But it had been a lengthy venture over difficult roads before the final descent down the Mississippi River. Though not officially relieved of his post in the Mississippi Territory, Claiborne nonetheless left matters to his subordinates, focusing all his energies on Louisiana.


    • 4 Codes
      (pp. 76-108)

      James Monroe was worried. At the very moment of Dehahuit’s emergence on the world stage—the negotiations in 1806 that culminated in the Neutral Ground agreement—Monroe believed his own diplomatic career was falling apart. Of course, Monroe would not compare himself to an Indian, nor had he ever set foot in the West that was Dehahuit’s home. In fact, by 1806 Monroe had not set foot in North America for almost three years. He had become a journeyman diplomat, traversing the capitals of Europe in a frustrating effort to impose American terms on European leaders, most of whom considered...

  7. Part III: Crisis (1808–1815)

    • 5 Local Diplomacy
      (pp. 111-134)

      Three years after James Monroe wrote with dismay about his country’s affairs, President James Madison wrote about the subject with confidence. When Madison submitted his first annual message to Congress in May 1809, he announced that ‘‘it affords me much satisfaction to be able to communicate the commencement of a favorable change, in our foreign relations.’’¹ He referred not to the Lower Mississippi Valley or to Spanish-American affairs, which had dominated so much of Jefferson’s foreign policy, but to relations with Great Britain. Madison was also making a virtue out of adversity. Only a month before, he had extricated the...

    • 6 Polities
      (pp. 135-152)

      They came to New Orleans in the winter of 1811–12, forty-three men from throughout the Territory of Orleans. Jean Noël Destrehan was there, less than a year after presiding over the tribunal following the Deslondes Revolt. James Brown was there as well, almost four years after helping to write theCivil Digest.These men were treated with special courtesy. Three members of the territorial legislature had the honor (although some might have said ‘‘chore’’) of arranging housing for the visitors.¹ On 18 November the delegates gathered at Tremoulet’s Hotel and set to work. They had come to New Orleans...

    • 7 ‘‘The Din of War’’
      (pp. 153-180)

      The Louisiana Supreme Court was nothing if not measured in its tones. It was a new institution created by statehood, and assumed a somber and authoritative meter in all its documents. The court showed how somber it could be in January 1815. Everybody else in New Orleans seemed on the verge of panic. With British troops encamped outside the city and British warships commanding the mouth of the Mississippi, people of all backgrounds predicted disaster. Public officials and private citizens wrote letters in the most anxious tones, their fear exaggerated to make certain that outside recipients understood the danger.


  8. Part IV: Attachment (1815–1820)

    • 8 ‘‘The State of Louisiana Now Has Her Voice’’
      (pp. 183-200)

      Eligius Fromentin took a stand. In 1815 and again in 1816, the junior senator from Louisiana rose before his colleagues in the U.S. Senate to speak on behalf of his constituents in the Southwest. It marked something of a breakthrough for Fromentin, who had been almost silent since coming to Washington in 1813. His passivity was all the more striking given the intimate nature of the Senate, which even with the new additions from Louisiana consisted of only thirty-six men.

      The residue from the War of 1812 had not altogether faded when Fromentin’s first opportunity came on the morning of...

    • 9 Louisiana
      (pp. 201-220)

      The ships came and went in ever-increasing numbers. It was as everybody had expected. When the Spanish restricted American trade through New Orleans in 1802, Jefferson and Madison had worried about foreign efforts to bottle up the flow of trade goods from the West. As civil and military officials in Louisiana had battled over commercial policy in 1809 and 1810, they debated how best to foster trade at a moment of increasingly complex international tensions. In 1812 the United States had gone to war against Great Britain to remove foreign restrictions on trade. And after 1815 it seemed that diplomatic...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 221-228)

    The two events that provide the capstone to the story of incorporation are an odd pair: a wedding and a lawsuit.

    On Monday, 4 October 1819, a man named Jean Baptiste Desbois married ‘‘the amiable miss Malila Dreur.’’¹ Seven years earlier, Desbois had made history. In 1812 Desbois’ demand to be considered an American citizen led the Louisiana Supreme Court to issue a landmark decision on citizenship. It was one of the rare occasions on which Desbois’ name appeared in print. Like so many women, Malila Dreur left an even smaller imprint on the documentary record. Not so for Father...

  10. Abbreviations
    (pp. 229-232)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 233-284)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-304)
  13. Index
    (pp. 305-310)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-311)