Although the bill for the incorporation of the City of New Orleans had
been introduced in the legislature as early as 1803, it was not passed
until February 17, 1805. The city included then what are now the first,
second and third municipal districts and some territory on the west bank of the river. Under the charter the government was placed in the hands
of a mayor, treasurer, recorder, and a city council of fourteen
aldermen, apportioned among the several wards as follows, until a census of the city could be taken, when the aldermen were to be apportioned
according to population, one for each 700 inhabitants:|
1 — Canal to Conti 2
2 — Conti to St. Peter 2
3 — St. Peter to St. Philip 2
4— St. Philip to Esplanade 2
5 — Faubourg Marigny (third district) 2
6 — Faubourg St. Marie (first district) 2
7 — Upper portion of city (now part of first ward of New Orleans) 1
8 — Settlements on Bayou St. Jean 1
The election was held in March, and resulted in the choice of James Pitot as major, and the following aldermen:
1 — Felix Arnauld and James Garriek
2 — Francis Duple_ssis and Joseph Faurie
3 — Col. Bellechasse and Guy Dreux
4 — Antoine Arzotte and La Bertoimiere
5 — Thomas L. Harman and P. Lavergne
7 — Perez
8 — Guerin
The city government thus organized was largely on the model of other American municipalities. It was decidedly more American than French, and contained very few of the principles of Spanish municipal government, save in the control of the markets, licenses, fixing the price of bread, meat and other products. On account of the small revenue of the city, it often ran behind in its expenses, and more than once the salaries, from the mayor down, had to be cut in order to meet the deficit.
The mayor exercised the usual powers of a chief magistrate. He presided over the council; he was the head of the police and fire departments. Both of these were largely volunteer. There was a small force of watchmen (the city guard), ill paid ($20 a month); but the services of policing was done by the militia (the militia patrol), and an attempt was made to organize a force of firemen. It is noticeable, as showing the condition of affairs then prevailing, so different from what it was a few years afterwards, that a large proportion of both the police and firemen were free negroes.
James Pitot had been elected mayor in March, 1804, but served only until July, 1805, when he was succeeded by Dr. John Watkins. On March 9, 1807, James Mather became mayor and served until 1812, when Nicholas Girod was elected by a vote of 859 out of 1,411. Pierre Meissonier was elected recorder at the time. On September 4, 1815, Augustin Macarty, a creole of Irish descent, was elected to the mayoralty.
The new government went energetically to work to improve the city, taking up the work where Gov. Carondelet, who had been the most progressive of the Spanish governors, had left off. An order was issued by it in 1805, requiring the laying of banquettes, or side-walks, with which, up to that time, very few of the streets, save in the center of the town, were provided. It was required that these banquettes should be at least five feet wide, with curbs of cypress and the pavement of wood, brick or masonry.
In 1810 a still greater improvement was begun, one Louis Gleises obtaining the right to establish water-works, which would not only provide the inhabitants with such drinking water as they needed, but would be of assistance in the extinguishment of fires.
The city charter of 1805 lasted thirty-one years — until 1836 — a longer period than any subsequent charter. It must not be imagined, however, that during all that time it remained unchanged. On the contrary, there was scarcely a session of the legislature in which some important modifications and changes were not made, in the vain attempt to straighten out matters and overcome the difficulties and prejudices which, from the very start, threatened the new government, and which finally resulted in the repeal of the city charter and the substitution of an entirely new government, built on radically different foundations. The difficulties that faced the government were racial. The great majority of the population of New Orleans at the time of its purchase by the United States was Creole French. The Spanish government had humored the race, and national sentiment of the native population, and while it held a tight hand on the colony, it allowed the Creoles control of local affairs, or at least appeared to do so. While Spanish became the official language, French was also permitted, and the deliberations of the Cabildo were conducted in that language. The annexation of Louisiana to the United States brought in a new race, the American, speaking a new tongue, known to very few of the native population, and there was a more or less natural clash between the two races.
The Creoles objected to the introduction of English, which so few of them understood, as the official language of the city, and especially that the governor, Claiborne, did not understand their tongue, the French. They complained of a large number of Americans appointed to the now courts and offices instead of these positions being filled by natives of New Orleans, and they asserted that the new courts showed favoritism to Americans in their decisions. Other causes of objection to the new dominion was the formation of American military companies and their indiscreet parades in the public streets, the interference of the American authorities with the public balls, which were one of the chief amusements of the Creoles, and the scarcity of money. The principal currency in use in Louisiana under the Spanish had been Mexican dollars.
These ceased to be imported when the Spanish loft, and there was, consequently, a scarcity of currency, until Louisiana could put a new and American banking system into operation.
The two races did not fuse well at first. In the early days of the American dominion those Americans who had immigrated to New Orleans settled in the city proper, the vieux carre of Bienville; but that section is limited in area, and the rents demanded were so high that most of the immigrants after 1815 moved into Faubourg St. Marie beyond the walls, which had been of old the Jesuit plantation, and which is to-day the first municipal district of New Orleans. These people complained that the American section of the city was greatly neglected for the Creole portion, and that the public revenues were expended almost entirely in the improvement of the city proper and none in the suburbs. As the Creoles were in a large voting majority in the city and possessed three-fourths of the members of the city council, they found this easy enough — indeed they were in complete control of the municipality. Against this condition of affairs the American element frequently appealed, and finally secured, in 1836, what they aimed at — a division of the city.
During these years of Creole supremacy, New Orleans grew rapidly in wealth, commerce and population. Many important public improvements were made, especially in the city proper; but it cannot be said that the improvements kept up with the progress made by he city in other directions.
In 1817, in the face of much skepticism on account of the yielding nature of the soil, the first cobble-stone pavement was laid — on Gravier and Magazine, in the new American section. Previous to that the streets had all been unpaved — dirt or mud streets. In 1820 the wooden sidewalks and curbs gave way, in the main thoroughfare, to others of brick and stone. In 1822 a general paving of the commercial streets was begun in both the old and new quarters. This improvement boom did not last long, however, and up to 1835, although there had been a second improvement movement in 1832-4, only two streets in the city had been paved any considerable distance.
Still less had been done in the matter of drainage and sanitation. Between 1835 and 1838, a natural drain in the rear of the American section was improved and deepened into Melpomene Canal. In 1836 a municipal draining company began operations with a draining machine on Bayou St. John, but it drained only a very small portion of the city even in that neighborhood.
— STANDARD HISTORY OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
— MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT, By Norman Walker
MUNICIPAL AND MILITARY HISTORY
EDITED BY HENRY RIGHTOR
THE LEWIS PUBLISHING COMPANY CHICAGO, 1900
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