This state became a territorial member of the Federal Union in the year 1803, under peculiar circumstances. It had been successively the property of certain French adventurers, of the crown of France, of the government of Spain, and again of the French, by whom it was sold to the United States for $15,000,000. One of the conditions of the transfer required the United States to liquidate all claims of American citizens upon France, on account of commercial spoliations prior to the year 1800 — an obligation which, after the lapse of nearly half a century, has not been fulfilled. Within 20 years after the discovery, in 1663, of the River Mississippi, the territory was explored by La Salle, who, in honor of Louis XIV., called it by the name it now bears. The first settlements were made at about the commencement of the 18th century ; and in 1731, the proprietors relinquished their jurisdiction to the king, who ceded it to Spain, in 1762. It was reconveyed to France in 1800; and, at the period of its sale to the United States, three years thereafter, the province embraced all the country west of the Mississippi, reaching to the Texan boundaries. It was admitted as an independent state, and its limits specially defined, in 1812. The city of New Orleans, near the mouth of the Mississippi, is celebrated in history for its defence, under General Jackson, against an attack of the British sea and land forces, commanded by General Packenham, on the 8th of January, 1815, wherein the invaders were signally defeated.
Boundary and Extent. — It is bounded on the extreme north by Arkansas, and near its centre by a part of Mississippi; on the east by the Mississippi River, dividing it from the state of that name, and by Pearl River; on the south by the Gulf of Mexico; and on the west by Texas, from which it is partially divided by the River Sabine. It extends from 29° to 33° north latitude, and from 88° 40' to 94° 25' west longitude. Its length is 250 miles, and its breadth, at the southern extremity, 300. This width is maintained throughout about one half its length, when it becomes nearly 200 miles narrower, though gradually expanding towards the northern line, where it measures 180 miles in breadth. Its area is computed at 46,431 square miles.
Government. — By the constitution, established in 1845, the governor holds office for a term of four years, but cannot be elected for the next succeeding term. He is chosen by a plurality of the electors. The lieutenant governor, chosen in like manner, presides over the Senate. Senators, 32 in number, are chosen also for four years, at alternate biennial elections, so that one half retire every two years. Representatives, not less than 70 nor more than 100 in number, apportioned to the number of electors, as computed every 10 years, are chosen biennially. The legislature sits but once in two years, and their sessions cannot be of longer duration than 60 days. The qualifications of voters are similar to those of most of the free states; the right of suffrage being confined to white American citizens, who have resided within the state two years, the last of which in the parish or county where they vote.
Judiciary. — The Supreme Court is composed of a chief and three associate justices. It has appellate jurisdiction only in certain prescribed cases. District Courts, with one judge to each, are established in the several judicial districts, the present number of which is 17: [the district of New Orleans comprises 5 courts; so that the whole number of district judges is 22] these have jurisdiction in all criminal cases, and in civil suits involving a sum exceeding 50 dollars. All the judges are appointed by the executive; those of the Supreme Court for eight, and those of the inferior courts for six years.
Education. — The state appropriates annually, for purposes of education, $250,000. It has also a permanent fund, derived from various sources, the interest of which is applied to the maintenance of free schools.
Finances. — It is provided by the constitution that the state debt shall never exceed $100,000, except in case of war or other like emergency, or for some special public work or object authorized by law. Subscriptions by the state to the stock of any corporation are prohibited, as is also a loan of the state credit. Banking or discounting companies cannot be augmented in number, nor any further charters granted, except for political or municipal purposes, for more than 25 years.
Surface, Soil, &tc. — Nearly the whole surface of the state consists of level prairies, many of them of immense extent. There are no elevations of consequence, excepting in one quarter, near the centre of the western boundary, where the land swells into protuberances, though of no very great height. There are occasional tracts exhibiting a hilly and rolling surface, having forests of pines, of singular appearance, upon the acclivities, and surmounted by broad expanses of table lands, the intervening valleys reaching to a depth of some 40 feet. Prairies, swamps, alluvial plains, pine, hickory, and oak lands, may be said to comprehend the chief varieties of the soil of Louisiana. The marshes, forming the basis of the alluvial soil, and which are annually overflowed, extend some 20 to 30 miles inland from the southern boundary, and in many places nearly the same distance on either side of the large streams. The alluvial grounds beyond, as they gradually accumulate, assume the character of prairies, and are remarkable for their extraordinary fertility. A part of the tract subject to inundation bears a heavy growth of timber. The soil of the pine uplands is somewhat sterile ; and that of the elevated prairies is generally of ordinary quality, though well adapted for grazing; but that of the alluvial districts is exceedingly rich and productive. Sugar, cotton, and rice are the most important staples; and these are cultivated extensively and profitably. Among the other valuable products of the soil are corn and other grains, potatoes, tobacco, hay, &c. Large numbers of horses, cattle, sheep, and swine are raised in the central and northern parts of the state. The bottom lands bordering on Red River abound in various descriptions of timber, as locust, buckeye, papaw, willow, cottonwood, &c. On the fertile uplands are found the hickory, elm, ash, walnut, and mulberry; also grape-vines in great profusion. The white end yellow pine, and several kinds of oak, thrive in many other elevated parts of the state, otherwise deemed sterile.
Rivers. — The magnificent " Father of Waters," the Mississippi, discharges itself into the Gulf of Mexico, through various outlets at the southern and south-eastern extremities of the state. In its long journey from its northern sources, it of course traverses the entire length of the state, partially forming its eastern boundary, and then passing off in a south-easterly direction, nearly through the middle of the remaining portion of the territory. This vast stream receives in its course, and within the limits of the state, the liquid contributions of several important tributaries, which water the country in many directions. Among these are Red River and its branches, the Atchafalaya, &c.
Internal Improvements. — There are sundry railroads connecting the capital with different places in the vicinity, none of which, however, are of any great length. The railroad from St. Francisville, on the Mississippi, to Woodville, Mississippi, 20 miles, is the longest in the state. There are also several canals of considerable magnitude connected with the navigation of the Mississippi. Other public works of the kind, including both railroads and canals, are in contemplation, some of which are already in course of construction.
Minerals. — But little attention has been given to the mineral resources of Louisiana. Probably no extensive explorations have ever been undertaken. Few or no indications of coal, or other mineral deposits, have as yet made their appearance, and whatever treasures of this kind may exist beneath the surface still remain undeveloped.
Manufactures. — These include a few cotton factories, producing articles only for home consumption; several furnaces, forges, and tanneries; a number of sugar refineries, distilleries, and mills of various sorts.
Indians. — Of the numerous tribes which once peopled or roamed over this and the neighboring regions, scarcely a vestige remains. The race of red men has retired before the advancing footsteps of civilization, from this as from other quarters of the United States, where the settlements of the white man have encroached upon the hunting-grounds and the wild haunts and habits of the savage.
Population. — The people of Louisiana comprehend not only several varieties of the human species, but are composed both of native Americans and of the descendants of emigrants from many foreign nations. The inhabitants of the northern settlements were chiefly from Canada, those in the centre of the state are mostly of German extraction, and those at the south comprise large numbers of French and Spaniards, descended from the original settlers. The population, which in 1810 was 76,556, more than doubled itself within the following ten years, and in 1850 it had increased to 517,739. Nearly one half the population are slaves.
Climate. — There are large tracts in this state, which, at certain seasons, are decidedly unfavorable to human health. During the summer and autumn, the low and marshy localities are frequently visited by yellow fever, cholera, and other destructive maladies. Other parts of the state, however, enjoy a salubrious climate. The winters in general are said to be less mild than those on the Atlantic coast in the same parallel of latitude.
Religion. — The Roman Catholics have ever been the prevailing sect, the country having been originally settled by them, although other denominations are at present increasing. There are numerous bodies of Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, all of which are growing in numbers more rapidly than the Papists.