Political and administrative organization::Louisiana (New France)


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Political and administrative organization It was not easy for an absolute monarchy to administer Louisiana, a territory several times larger than Metropolitan France. Louis XIV and his successors tried to impose their absolutist ambitions on the colony, often without giving the colonial administration enough financial means to do its work.

Absolutism in Louisiana

Jean-Baptiste Colbert

If the leaders of Ancien Régime took control of, and sometimes encouraged, the colonization of New France, it was for many different reasons. The reign of Henry IV gave an important impetus to the colonisation of New France. Henry IV, the first Bourbon king, was personally interested in foreign affairs. In the 17th century, the ministers Richelieu and later Colbert advanced colonial politics. Louis XIV and his ministers were worried about the size of the kingdom, over which they constantly competed with other European nations. European rivalry and a game of political alliances greatly marked the history of Louisiana, in direct and indirect ways. Within those shifting conditions, the French desire to limit British influence in the New World was a constant in royal politics.

The Sun King took care to limit the appearance of intermediary bodies and countervailing powers in North America. He did not want an assembly of notables or parliament. In the 1660s, the colony was royal property. In 1685, Louis XIV banned all publishing in New France. Between 1712 and 1731, the French possession came under the control of Antoine Crozat, a rich businessman, then under that of the Mississippi Company (created by John Law), which recruited immigrants to settle the colony. In 1731, Louisiana reverted to royal rule.

In contrast to Metropolitan France, the government used laws in the colony based on those of Paris (rather egalitarian for the time). This served as an equaliser for a while; riots and revolts against authority were rare. But, the centralised government had difficulty maintaining communications over the long distance and sailing time that separated France from Louisiana. Toward the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th, the colonists on the Gulf of Mexico were left almost completely to fend for themselves; they counted far more on the assistance of the Native Americans than on France. The distance had its advantages: the colonists smuggled goods into the colony with impunity.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's Minister of the Navy and Trade, was eager to stuff the coffers of the Crown. He dissolved the trading companies and took care to increase the production of the country and the colonies. Being a mercantilist, he believed it was necessary to sell as much as possible and to reduce reliance on imports. He imposed a French monopoly on trade. Colbert wanted to reduce the expenditure of the monarchy. It was, however, necessary to invest much money and to mobilize important human resources retain the American colony. Much work was done on the economic infrastructure (factories, ports) in metropolitan France, but the investment was insufficient in Louisiana. No plan to facilitate the movement of goods or men was ever carried out. The French budget was exhausted because of the wars in Europe, but the colonists in Louisiana did not have to pay royal taxes and were free of the hated gabelle.

Colonial administration

Map of North America during the 17th century

Under the Ancien Régime, Louisiana formed part of a larger colonial unit, French American territory—New France (Nouvelle France), which included a large part of modern-day Canada. New France was initially ruled by a viceroy in 1625, the Duke of Ventadour. The colony was then given a government like the Bourbons' other possessions. Its capital was Quebec city until 1759. A governor general, assisted by a single intendant, was charged with ruling this vast region. In theory, Louisiana was subordinate to Canada, and so it was explored and settled chiefly by French-Canadians rather than colonists from France. Given the enormous distance between New Orleans and Quebec, communications outside cities and forts were limited.

French settlements were widely dispersed, which afforded them de facto autonomy. The government decided to break up governance of the vast, varied colony of New France into five smaller provinces, including Louisiana. The Illinois Country, south of the Great Lakes, was added to Louisiana in 1717 and became known as Upper Louisiana. Mobile served as French Louisiana's first "capital". The seat of government moved to Biloxi in 1720, and then to New Orleans in 1722, where the governor lived. While the office of governor general was the most eminent, it was not the most powerful. His was a military position that required him to lead the troops and maintain diplomatic relations. The second provincial authority was the commissaire-ordonnateur. His was a civil post with similar functions as that of the intendants in France: the king's administrator and representative, he oversaw justice, the police force, and finances. He managed the budget, set prices, presided the Superior Council (Conseil supérieur—the court of justice), and organized the census. Appointed by the king, Louisiana's commissaire-ordonnateur had broad powers that sometimes conflicted with those of the governor general. The military outposts of the hinterland were directed by commanders.

Louisiana (New France) sections
Intro  Boundaries, settlement and geography  History  Political and administrative organization  Religious establishment  Colonial society  The French and the Native Americans  Economy of French Louisiana  The end of French Louisiana  French heritage today  See also  Notes  References  External links  

Political and administrative organization
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