At the same time, these differences were never so obvious as they now appear. First of all, there was no uniform francophone “community.” Creoles argued with French migrants, the residents of cosmopolitan New Orleans shared little with the residents of rural Louisiana, and French- and English-speaking residents often found common cause in their political and commercial pursuits. The notion of a Creole-American split eventually became the stuff of legend in Louisiana, but most observers were more struck by the absence of conflict or revolt.
In the years immediately following the Louisiana Purchase, the federal leadership, officials in the Territory of Orleans, and local residents struggled to create the institutions that would make self-government within the federal system secure. In 1812, Congress approved Louisiana statehood, and President James Madison eagerly signed it into law. Statehood actually preceded the final determination of Louisiana’s borders, which underwent minor revisions until the Transcontinental Treaty finally established the boundaries once and for all.
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In these circumstances, Louisiana experienced complex and at times bewildering ethnic relations. The francophone (French-speaking) and anglophone (English-speaking) populations were often at odds. Meanwhile, the francophone majority created and preserved cultural institutions that made Louisiana unlike any other state in the union. French remained a common language in daily conversation and in official documents, and Louisiana’s legal system combined the Anglo-American common law with French, Spanish, and Roman principles of civil law.
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Non-whites responded accordingly. Slaves repeatedly sought to run away and in 1811, more than eighty slaves owned by Manuel Andry in St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, launched an unsuccessful revolt along the German Coast that was the largest single slave uprising in the United States. Free people of color proved more successful. Located primarily in New Orleans, they sustained themselves as the largest, most prosperous community of free blacks anywhere in North America. Meanwhile, whites supported the efforts of the federal government to undermine Native American sovereignty and, eventually, to force most Native Americans out of Louisiana. Native Americans developed numerous strategies of resistance but in the end proved unable to restrain the federal onslaught.
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The political battle over Louisiana statehood often reflected the tense ethnic relations among whites within Louisiana. At the time of the Purchase, the territory’s white population consisted primarily of Creoles born in Louisiana, as well as migrants from Canada, the French Caribbean, and France itself. The vast majority of these people spoke French and considered themselves products of a French culture. At the same time, however, people had known more than thirty years of Spanish rule in Louisiana, and they had been joined by a sizeable population of Hispanic residents and Anglo-Americans. Equally important, many of them were deeply suspicious of the Napoleonic regime in France.