Community Radio

WRBP | Community Radio – Season 8, Episode 9: Louisiana

April 16, 2023

Season 8, Episode 9
April 30, 2023
Theme: Louisiana

The Louisiana Purchase is often framed as a moral quandary for President Thomas Jefferson. He considered himself a strict constructionist, meaning that one must consider only the text itself when interpreting the Constitution. This had led him to oppose a national bank in the 1790s. Yet, as President, he rationalized the Purchase as an effort to protect the citizens of the United States, since it would expand the young country’s borders and ensure access to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. Farmers could settle the land and the port could be used for trade.

It may be helpful to have some context for the negotiations of the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson had sent officials to France with the goal of securing New Orleans for $10 million. Napoleon entered negotiations frustrated by the loss of sugar plantations in his colonial territories, anticipating war with Britain, and looking for money. Thus, he chose to sell much more than New Orleans. The offer: $15 million for the entire territory, stretching up to modern-day Minnesota and west to land we now know as Montana and New Mexico. Representatives didn’t want to miss out on the deal. So, without waiting for approval from Jefferson – a process that would have taken months in the early 19th century – representatives for the United States signed the treaty on April 30, 1803.

However, the territory wasn’t fully France’s property, nor did it become the United States’ right away. The treaty first had to be ratified by the United States Congress. And then – more importantly – the United States had to secure treaties with indigenous people or take it by force. They did both. Beginning with Jefferson and continuing through President Andrew Jackson and the 1830 Indian Removal Act, the federal government’s policy could be summarized by Jefferson’s comments in an 1803 letter: “Should any tribe be foolhardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Mississippi, as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation.” While this forced displacement continued, the federal government began administering the land and people within its borders. The land south of the 33rd parallel became the Territory of Orleans. Then 9 years to the day of the treaty’s signing, the territory of Orleans – renamed Louisiana – became the 18th state.

I spoke earlier of the supposed moral quandary for Jefferson. I guess it is important to recognize what those in power wrestle with, and how their opinions shape their actions. But I am more concerned with the repercussions of those actions, and the state of Louisiana is emblematic of the duality of this country. We have the aforementioned evils of Indian Removal and the ever-present but not yet acknowledged scourge of slavery. There is the suffering caused by an indifferent federal government after Hurricane Katrina; the dictatorial control of Governor Huey Long eighty years prior. But there is also a history of resilience, resistance and community. The Pelican State is home to the descendants of refugees from Saint Domingue (Dominican Creoles) and the Great Expulsion of the mid-1700s (Acadians). From these groups intermingling with others, we have the Creole and Cajun cultures, providing the state – and, by extension, the country and world – with zydeco music, the trinity (green bell pepper, onion, celery) and The Awakening. And jazz was born in the city of New Orleans, becoming a defining genre for this country – recognized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on International Jazz Day. Its date? April 30th.

Our theme for episode 9 of Community Radio, season 8 is Louisiana.

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