Secession was “a right unknown in the Constitution”, one that, without doubt or question, would ultimately lead to “anarchy and war”, at least that would be what James G. Taliaferro, Delegate to the Louisiana Secessionist Convention, would argue as the state debated its place in the Union. Only 58 years earlier the territory had been purchased from the French at 3 cents per acre, but the US ban on the African slave trade and importation had created prosperity and it flourished. By 1840, only 28 years since it had been admitted as a full state, its premier city, New Orleans had grown to one of the largest and wealthiest in the country. Even as the population of the Bayou state grew to almost three quarters of a million, they knew that everything relied on the 47 to 48 percent of the population that lived in the bonds of that brutal and bitter subjugation known by that simple word: Slavery. They could not and would not abide under a President that would rip from them what they considered their property, and, in turn, destroy their prosperity. To many of them he wasn’t even their President. How could he be when he wasn’t even on the ballot in the state? He would not then be allowed to destroy their way of life. Action needed to be taken.
On January 26th, 1861 it was by a vote of 113 to 17 as the Secessionist Convention made its intentions clear. The cannons would fire and the masses would gather an cheer as fireworks were set off and a sense of jubilation filled the people of the state, as if a burden was lifted from them. Louisiana would become the 6th State to leave the Union, joining with South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia in open defiance, declaring:
We, the people of the State of Louisiana, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance passed by us in convention on the 22d day of November, in the year eighteen hundred and eleven, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America and the amendments of the said Constitution were adopted, and all laws and ordinances by which the State of Louisiana became a member of the Federal Union, be, and the same are hereby, repealed and abrogated; and that the union now subsisting between Louisiana and other States under the name of “The United States of America” is hereby dissolved.
The truth was that Thomas Overton Moore perhaps had little intention of abiding by the results of the election if his side lost. Even as he was sworn in as the State’s 16th Governor in January of 1860, he declared, “At the North, a widespread sympathy with felons has deepened the distrust in the permanent Federal Government, and awakened sentiments favorable to a separation of states.” His view was that, “So bitter is this hostility felt toward slavery, which these fifteen states regard as a great social and political blessing, that it exhibits itself in legislation for the avowed purpose of destroying the rights of slaveholders guaranteed by the Constitution and protected by the Acts of Congress. Popular addresses, Legislative resolutions, Executive communications, the press and the pulpit, all inculcate hatred against us and war upon the institution of slavery – an institution interwoven with the very element of our existence.” When James Buchannan’s Vice President, John C. Breckinridge lost the general election, Moore would order the State Militia up. It would escalate the situation even before the convention met as he issued orders for them to seize all US Military posts within the state in the hopes of chasing the Federal Authority from their soil.
Yet it would be short lived. Union blockades would block commerce and trade in what was the third largest port in the United States, and the almost 700,000 tons of import that would travel through New Orleans would trickle to a halt, even as the drums of war would replace the sounds of jubilation. By 1862 the government would abandon Baton Rouge even as the Union Army under General Benjamin Butler pushed forward to occupy New Orleans. The child of the Mississippi, the state would find that it had no friend in it as the Union Army pushed up it to take the state, battle by battle. By 1865, as the Confederacy collapsed, whatever prosperity once flowed through the state had long since evaporated as it was brought back into the Union, the resistance of many of its people long since broken.