A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOUISIANA'S STATE CAPITAL AND ITS LOCATIONS

With the closing of the year 1916, the city of Baton Rouge will have held the domicile of Louisiana's State Capitol for a period of 51 years, out of the entire period of 104 years, since 1812, the date of the admission of the territory of Louisiana as a part of the United States. For two years, 1862- 18(54, following the burning of the State house, while held by the Federal forces, there was no recognized State house site, so that this period has been equally divided between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, each city having been recognized as the capital for a period of 51 years.

Prior to the acquisition of the great Louisiana territory, however, the seat of government of the territory had been domiciled at New Orleans for a period of 90 years, having been removed to that point from Biloxi, Miss., under the second administration of Bienville, in 1722, so that the Crescent City can boast of a total tenure as Louisiana's capital for one hundred and forty-one years, its history extending far beyond the sovereignty of the United States, and including stirring scenes in the development of the new country.

Few State capitals have been the cause of equal dissention regarding their location. From the earliest period of Louisiana's history there has been differing opinions as to where the State house ought to be located. When the question was under discussion in the Bienville administration, many years before the United States government came into existence, there was a bitter quarrel concerning the site. All agreed that it should be re- moved from Biloxi to the banks of the Mississippi river, for the reason that this great river was certainly destined to become an important artery of trade and communication with northern settlements, but the advisers and friends of Bienville held that the seat of government should be placed further up the river, where the Manchac river is located and near the present site of Baton Rouge. It will be remembered that Manchac was then one of the open branches of the Mississippi, as was Bayou Plaquemine and other lower bayous, which have since been closed to provide against flood conditions. The Manchac was cut off as a defense measure, by order of the commanding officer, when the City of New Orleans was threatened by hostile ships, and it was feared they might ascend this arm of the river and attack the city from the north. Governor Bienville's personal views were adopted, however, and New Orleans became the seat of government in 1722, where it remained without interruption until the Constitution of 1812, following the purchase of the Louisiana territory by the United States. The matter of a domicile for the capitol of the new territory was again settled without removal from New Orleans, by a clause in the new Constitution stipulating that it should remain as at present fixed, "until removed by law." No law was enacted bearing on this subject until the year 1845, and the State house remained at New Orleans for 33 years without interruption, but there was growing sentiment in favor of removal, and when the Constitution of 1845 was submitted, it contained a provision that the General Assembly, shall, within one month after pursuant to election, under that Constitution, select a new site for a capital, not less than 60 miles above New Orleans, and that the sessions shall continue to be held in New Orleans until the end of the year 1848.

The question of a proper site was again the occasion for fierce debate in which the preponderance of opinion favored erecting a building somewhere in the highland section of the lower Mississippi river territory. Many favored a location as near to the city of New Orleans as was possible, and as Baton Rouge presented the first bit of elevated land north of New Orleans, a compromise was effected in the selection of this point, it being stipulated that the new building was to be placed on the first elevated land, fronting the river.

The State house at Baton Rouge was erected under the administration of Governor Isaac Johnson, in 1847. J. H. Dakin, a noted architect of the time, drew the plans, which were regarded as ambitious for the time. The building, which, as originally constructed, was of Gothic architecture, with four commanding towers rising over the east and west entrances to a commanding position, which made it a conspicuous landmark for miles around the adjacent country. Newton Richards was the builder and the building commissioners were Messrs. Maunsell White, Walter Brashear and Daniel D. Avery.

Another Constitution was adopted in 1852, but it was made and provided that the seat of government shall be and remain at Baton Rouge, so that the question of capital removal could not be made an issue. It seemed as if the matter was settled for all time, but new forces were appearing In the political firmament of the nation, which were destined again to interrupt Louisiana's seat of government, and, after destroying the interior of the State house, send the domicile again to New Orleans for 15 years. In 1862 a Federal force, occupying Baton Rouge, used the beautiful new State house as a barracks for a portion of its troops, and in some manner the interior caught fire and was completely destroyed, leaving the outside walls standing in perfect alignment.

Two years later, general N. P. Banks, then in command at New Orleans, issued a proclamation ordering an election for delegates to meet in convention to form another constitution. This proclamation was issued January 11, 1864, and the convention framed the constitution of 1864 which; among other things, returned the seat of government to New Orleans because of there being no building at Baton Rouge suitable for law-making purposes and no funds available for the repair of the burned capital. Then followed the days of "reconstruction." Valuable papers belonging to the State had been burned or destroyed. State records were in confusion and another convention was called to form the constitution of 1868 which, under the approval of Congress, was finally ratified. It provided for retaining the capitol at New Orleans where it remained under the entire period of federal supervision. Senators and representatives were again admitted to the national congress in that year and Louisiana became a part of the union, with political affairs steadily drifting to normal local control. In 1879 democratic rule having been established, an election was called to form a constitution which should meet the needs of the people themselves. The instrument thus created was known as the constitution of 1879 and it returned the seat of government to Baton Rouge, providing that the newly elected general assembly, immediately upon assembling, shall make the necessary appropriation for repairing the Stale House, whose walls had stood in almost perfect condition for this entire period.

The City of Baton Rouge was authorized to issue certificates of indebtedness in the sum of Thirty-Five Thousand Dollars to cover subscriptions of that amount to aid in the work of repairing the State House. Under the provisions of this constitution and of Act 80 of 1880, the rebuilding of the Capitol at Baton Rouge was begun, during the administration of governor Louis A. Wiltz and occupied the years 1880 and 1881. Will A. Freret was state architect with supervision of the capitol plans and the board of commissioners was composed of Messrs. George W. Munday, Samuel M. Robertson and Frank L. Richardson. The original plan was modified and the capacity of the building increased by erecting an additional story to the main structure. The seat of government was re-established at Baton Rouge, March 1st 1882, where it has since remained.

For some years there has been intermittent discusion of removing the State House to another location and during the session of 1915, an effort was made to have Alexandria named as the seat of government but the movement collapsed almost before it was brought to a vote.

It was shown at that time that the present location is most convenient to a preponderance of the population of Louisiana and the decision so emphatically rendered during that contest will no doubt result in no further efforts being made during the present generation, at least, to take the State House from its present historic surroundings where it has been established by the judgment of the people through so many years of turmoil and strife.

A History of Who's Who in Louisiana Politics
COMPILED BY DAVE H. BROWN
EDITED AND PUBLISHED BY THE LOUISIANA CHRONICLE DEMOCRAT
COSTE & FRICHTER CO. INC., PRINTERS, 1916
(This work is not more than the required "100-year" copyright rule;
It will be removed at request of owner/legal heirs of said writer, Webmaster)
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New Orleans History, 1897-1917

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