Louisiana (ləwē´zēăn´ə, lōōē´–), state in the S central United States. It is bounded by Mississippi, with the Mississippi River forming about half of the border (E), the Gulf of Mexico (S), Texas (W), and Arkansas (N).
Facts and Figures
Area, 48,523 sq mi (125,675 sq km). Pop. (2010) 4,533,372, a 1.4% increase since the 2000 census. Capital, Baton Rouge. Largest city, New Orleans. Statehood, Apr. 30, 1812 (18th state). Highest pt., Driskill Mt., 535 ft (163 m); lowest pt., New Orleans, 5 ft (2 m) below sea level. Nickname, Pelican State. Motto, Union, Justice and Confidence. State bird, Eastern brown pelican. State flower, magnolia. State tree, cypress. Abbr., La.; LA
A low country on the Gulf coastal plain and the Mississippi alluvial plain, Louisiana rises in uplands near Arkansas only to some 535 ft (163 m). The rainy coast country contains marshes and fertile delta lands; inland are rolling pine hills and prairies. The Mississippi dominates the many waterways, but there are other rivers (e.g., the Red River, the Ouachita, the Atchafalaya, and the Calcasieu) and the coast is threaded by many slow-moving bayous (e.g., the Teche, the Macon, and the Lafourche). There are lagoons such as Lake Ponchartrain, oxbow lakes made by Mississippi River cutoffs, and other lakes where the slow streams are clogged. A variety of recreational facilities makes the state an excellent vacationland; some of its lakes (e.g., Pontchartrain) have been highly developed as resort areas, and there is superb hunting and fishing throughout much of the region.
Louisiana's climate (subtropical in the south and temperate in the north) and rich alluvial soil make the state one of the nation's leading producers of sweet potatoes, rice, and sugarcane. Other major commodities are soybeans, cotton, and dairy products, and strawberries, corn, hay, pecans, and truck vegetables are produced in quantity. Fishing is a major industry; shrimp, menhaden, and oysters are principal catches. Louisiana is a leading fur-trapping state; its marshes (7,409 sq mi/19,189 sq km of the state's area is underwater) supply most of the country's muskrat furs. Pelts are also obtained from mink, nutria, coypus, opossums, otter, and raccoon.
The state has great mineral wealth. It leads the nation in the production of salt and sulfur, and it ranks high in the production of crude petroleum (of which many deposits are offshore), natural gas, and natural-gas liquids. Timber is plentiful; forests cover almost 50% of the land area. The state rapidly industrialized in the 1960s and 70s and has giant oil refineries, petrochemical plants, foundries, and lumber and paper mills. Other industries produce foods, transportation equipment, and electronic equipment. Four of the ten busiest U.S. ports—New Orleans, South Louisiana, Baton Rouge, and Plaquemines—line the lower Mississippi River.
Tourism is increasingly important to the state economy; New Orleans is the major attraction with its history, nightlife, and Old World charm. The largest city in Louisiana, it is especially noted for its picturesque French quarter, which has many celebrated restaurants, and for the Mardi Gras—perhaps the most famous festival in the United States—held annually since 1838.
Baton Rouge is the capital and the second largest city. Other major cities are Shreveport, Lake Charles, Kenner, and Lafayette. Louisiana is rich in tradition and legend. Four different groups have contributed to its unique heritage: the Creoles, descendants of the original Spanish and French colonists; the Cajuns, whose French ancestors were expelled from Acadia (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) by the British in 1755; the American cotton planters; and the African Americans who worked to create much of Louisiana's wealth and whose music, especially, has swept the world. Along the rivers and bayous overhung with Spanish moss, some old mansions remain, recalling the elegance and splendor of antebellum days. Plantation tours from Baton Rouge and Natchitoches are popular, while the Cajun country west of New Orleans also attracts visitors—most particularly to the area around St. Martinville and Lafayette.
Government, Politics, and Higher Education
Louisiana has had 11 constitutions since it was admitted to the union in 1812. Its present constitution (1975) replaced the constitution of 1921, which had been amended more than 500 times. The state's executive branch is headed by a governor elected for a four-year term and allowed one reelection. Louisiana's bicameral legislature has a senate with 39 members and a house of representatives with 105 members, all elected for four-year terms. Louisiana is the only state to call its counties parishes, a holdover from the Spanish religious divisions. The state elects two senators and six representatives to the U.S. Congress and has eight electoral votes.
Almost solidly Democratic between 1877 and the 1990s, Louisiana has had a more turbulent political climate in recent years; in 1990 former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke made a strong showing as an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. In 1987, Edwin E. Edwards was defeated in his reelection bid by a conservative Democrat (who later switched to the Republican party), Buddy Roemer. Before Roemer's conversion, all but one of Louisiana's governors since 1877 had been Democratic. In the 1991 gubernatorial election, Roemer finished behind Edwards and Duke, who faced each other in a runoff, which Edwards won. He retired in 1995 and was succeeded by conservative Republican Mike Foster, who was reelected in 1999. Kathleen Blanco, a conservative Democrat, became the first woman to be elected governor in 2003. Politically damaged by the post-Katrina turmoil she did not run in 2007, and Bobby Jindal, a Republican and the son of Indian immigrants, was elected governor, becoming the first nonwhite to win the post.
Among the state's more prominent institutions of higher learning are Tulane Univ., the Univ. of New Orleans, Dillard Univ., Southern Univ., and Loyola Univ., all at New Orleans; Louisiana State Univ. and Agricultural and Mechanical College, mainly at Baton Rouge; the Univ. of Louisiana at Lafayette; Grambling State Univ., at Grambling; and Louisiana Tech Univ., at Ruston.
Louisiana has a long and varied history. The region was possibly visited by Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow survivors of a Spanish expedition of 1528, and it was certainly seen by some of De Soto's men (1541–42). In 1682, La Salle reached the mouth of the Mississippi and claimed for France all of the land drained by that river and its tributaries, naming it Louisiana after Louis XIV. Europeans did not permanently settle there until 1699, when Pierre le Moyne, sieur d'Iberville, founded a settlement near Biloxi. This settlement became the seat of government for Louisiana, an enormous territory embracing the entire Mississippi drainage basin.
In 1702, Iberville's brother, the sieur de Bienville, was appointed governor and moved the territorial government to Fort Louis on the Mobile River. This colony was later moved (1710) to the present site of Mobile (Alabama), and Mobile became the capital of Louisiana. French missionaries and fur traders explored some of the vast territory, and Natchitoches (the oldest settlement within the present boundaries of the state of Louisiana) grew from a French military and trading post established (c.1714) to protect the Red River area from the Spanish.
In order to increase the value of the colony, France granted (1712) a monopoly of commercial privileges, which in 1717 passed to a company organized by John Law. The promise of riches under Law's Mississippi Scheme brought many settlers to Louisiana, and a large number of them remained even after his scheme had collapsed. New Orleans was founded in 1718, and in 1723 the capital was transferred there. Large numbers of Africans were brought in as slaves, and the Code Noir, adopted in 1724, provided for the rigid control of their lives and the protection of the whites.
The last conflict (1754–63) of the French and Indian Wars was ending disastrously for the French, and in order to keep the entire Louisiana territory from falling into the hands of the British, the French secretly ceded (by the Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1762) the area W of the Mississippi and the "Isle of Orleans" to Spain. By the Treaty of Paris (1763; see Paris, Treaty of), Great Britain gained control of all Louisiana E of the Mississippi except the "Isle of Orleans" ; these changes were announced in 1764.
The French colonists resisted the new Spanish rule, but were subdued and finally Spanish mercantilistic monopoly of trade was instituted. During the Spanish years agriculture flourished with the cultivation of rice and sugarcane, and New Orleans grew as a major port and trading center. The Spanish government welcomed thousands of Acadians (see Acadia), known there as Cajuns, and they settled what came to be known as the Cajun country. During the American Revolution, New Orleans was a center for Spanish aid to the colonies. After Spain declared war on Great Britain in 1779, Louisiana's governor, Bernardo de Gálvez, became an active ally of the revolutionists, capturing Baton Rouge and Natchez (1779), Mobile (1780), and Pensacola (1781).
After the war Louisiana's control of the great inland trade route, the Mississippi, led to heated controversy with the Americans. In the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso (1800), Napoleon I forced the retrocession of the territory to France. Revelation of this treaty caused profound concern in the United States. President Jefferson attempted to purchase the "Isle of Orleans" from France. To the surprise of the American representatives in France, Napoleon decided to sell all of Louisiana to the United States (see Louisiana Purchase).
The United States took possession in 1803, and in 1804 the territory was divided into two parts. The southern part, which was called the Territory of Orleans, was admitted to the Union in 1812 as the state of Louisiana. In 1811 a brief slave uprising upriver from New Orleans was brutally crushed. Settlement (1819) of the West Florida Controversy gave Louisiana the area between the Mississippi and Pearl rivers, which formerly had been part of Florida. After statehood French and Spanish influence remained, not only in the Creole and Cajun societies but also in the civil law (based on French and Spanish codes) and in the division of the state into parishes rather than counties. In the early years of the 19th cent. the diverse people of Louisiana—the French, the Spanish, the Germans, and Isleños brought by Gálvez from the Canary Islands—united behind Andrew Jackson to defeat (1815) the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. (The battle site is contained in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve; see National Parks and Monuments, table.)
With settlers pouring in from other Southern states, great sugar and cotton plantations developed rapidly in the fertile lowlands, and the less productive uplands were also settled. The state capital was moved several times, finally to Baton Rouge in 1849. The advent of steam propulsion on the Mississippi (the first steamboat to navigate the river arrived in New Orleans in 1812) was a boon to the state's economy; by 1840, New Orleans was the nation's second largest port. Plantation owners, with their large landholdings and many slaves (more than half the population) dominated politics and largely controlled the state.
The Civil War and Its Aftermath
On Jan. 26, 1861, Louisiana seceded from the Union and six weeks later joined the Confederacy. The fall of New Orleans to David G. Farragut in 1862 prefaced the detested military occupation under Gen. B. F. Butler. Occupied Louisiana was a proving ground for Lincoln's moderate restoration program, but after Lincoln's assassination radical Republicans seized control and Louisiana suffered greatly during Reconstruction. The Ku Klux Klan was particularly active from 1866 to 1871. In the election of 1872 the radical Republican candidate for governor lost but was installed with the help of federal troops. Reconstruction in Louisiana finally ended with the disputed presidential election of 1876, when Louisiana's electoral votes were "traded" to the Republicans (whose candidate was Rutherford B. Hayes) in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the state. Francis R. T. Nicholls, a Democrat, became governor of Louisiana, and white control of the state was reestablished.
Economic recovery was slow. The disrupted plantation system was largely replaced by farm tenancy and sharecropping. The decline of steamboat traffic was offset somewhat by new railroad building and the opening of the Mississippi River for oceangoing vessels from New Orleans to the sea (a feat accomplished by James B. Eads). Mississippi floods constituted a serious problem, and levee building increased after the flood of 1882; it was only after the disastrous flood of 1927, however, that the federal government undertook a vast control system. The water resources development program encompasses flood control, navigation, drainage, and irrigation.
The pattern of Louisiana's economy was changed by the discovery of oil and natural gas in the early 1900s, and industries began to grow on the basis of cheap fuel and cheap labor. Medical advances helped to curb the yellow-fever epidemics that had periodically disrupted the state.
Huey Long and His Legacy
Industrial growth and the continuing woes of the tenant farmers did not alter control of the state by "Bourbon" Democrats, but in 1928 a virtual revolution occurred when Huey P. Long was elected governor. His almost dictatorial rule, detested by liberals across the nation, brought material progress at the cost of widespread official corruption. Long withstood all outside pressures, including the opposition of President F. D. Roosevelt's administration. After his assassination in 1935 (he had resigned the governorship in 1931 to become a U.S. Senator but had retained control over the state), his political heirs made their peace with the New Deal, and federal funds, withheld during Long's last years, poured into the state.
In 1948, Huey's brother, Earl Long, invoking the memory of his dead brother (still regarded by many as a savior and a martyr), gained the governorship. In addition, Huey's son Russell was elected to the U.S. Senate and served for 38 years until he retired in 1986. In 1956, Earl Long was again elected governor, but his second term was marked by scandal and controversy.
Civil Rights, Disasters, and Diversification
About one third of Louisianans are African American, and their struggle for civil rights has been long and bitter. The move toward integration following the 1954 Supreme Court ruling against racial segregation in public schools was difficult, and continuing resistance to social change is reflected in the careers of David Duke and others.
Hurricanes and flooding are recurrent dangers for the state. In 1965, Hurricane Betsy killed 74 and caused property damage in excess of $1 billion. In 1969, Hurricane Camille was even more destructive, ravaging Louisiana and neighboring states and killing 256 people. In Apr., 1973, the Mississippi River rose to its highest level recorded in Louisiana and, with its tributaries, flooded more than 10% of the state.
Louisiana enjoyed an oil boom in the early 1980s but then suffered following the 1986 collapse of oil prices. The state's unemployment rate rose to the highest in the nation, and economic distress grew. The slump placed a great burden on the tourist industry and led to increased efforts to diversify the economy. The state's recent environmental woes have largely arisen from the fact that natural erosion, oil exploitation, and river control projects have severely degraded its freshwater marshlands, especially in the delta of the Mississippi.
In 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated parts of the state, especially around New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast; as a result, it was estimated that some 240,000 people subsequently left Louisiana, largely from New Orleans, and the state and the city have only gradually regained those losses. A blowout of a deep offshore oil well in 2010 led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history and polluted portions of the state's E Gulf Coast, in most cases affecting areas that had been hit hard by Katrina.
Louisiana's distinctive life and customs have been portrayed in the works of G. W. Cable, L. Hearn, C. E. A. Gayarré, and G. King. See also J. D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana (1963); S. H. Lockett, Louisiana As It Is (1969); P. H. Howard, Political Tendencies in Louisiana (1971); P. Lewis, New Orleans (1976); C. E. O'Neill, Louisiana: A History (1984); E. A. Davis, Louisiana (1985); C. Word, Ghosts Along the Bayou (1988); F. B. Kniffen and S. B. Hilliard, Louisiana: Its Land and People (1988).