A Year of Two Major Bicentennials
Welcome to 2012, a year with two significant bicentennials celebrating events that forged, for the better, Louisiana’s future.
Chronologically, the first occurred in January 1812, when a steam-powered boat named the New Orleans arrived from its point of origin in Pittsburgh. Captained by steamboat entrepreneur Nicholas Roosevelt, who had invented the side-wheel method of steamboat propulsion, the craft’s arrival was as significant as the day in the future when the first airplane would descend on the city. The New Orleans was the first steamboat to operate in the fledgling nation’s western water. For the first time ever, crafts that had made their way downriver could be turned around and, on their own power, head upriver. With the New Orleans, regular service between this city and Natchez, Miss., touched off a new era of prosperity.
Later in 1812, on April 30, Louisiana officially became a state within the United States, an act that finally ended revolving control by European nations. With statehood many political boundaries were removed. Louisiana prospered and the nation was strengthened by a place that was rich in cultures and skin shades.
That relationship wasn’t always cozy. Fifty years later Louisiana joined its neighbors in seceding from the union, but fortunately that war was lost. Had it not been, North America might have developed as a balkanized continent with no country having the strength to lend balance to the world.
Hurricane Katrina’s wrath had been blamed on the failure of the federal levee system, but there might not have been any meaningful levee system at all had the state not been part of a greater nation.
Louisiana brought quirkiness and character to what was largely a WASPish nation; in turn the principles of democracy and freedom, as debated in Philadelphia and fought for throughout the original colonies, would forever be the state’s guiding law, even when issues such as slavery caused resistance.
We suspect that when 1812 ended, most Louisianians had not realized just how important the past year had been. Perhaps they were distracted by the war, to be named after the year during which it had broken out between the United States and Great Britain. And while it may have seemed like a distant battle, the war’s last act would be in January 1815, just outside New Orleans at Chalmette.
All of the nation’s presidents up to that time had been from the East Coast, but the events in Chalmette would propel the winning general, a Tennessean named Andrew Jackson, into the presidency. Already New Orleans was having an impact on its nation.
There was still plenty work to be done for Louisiana to become a decent place for all people to live but, politically and commercially, the state now had the power to move upstream.