Ratification in Louisiana
We have no hope now but in Congress.
--A disappointed radical, reacting to the conservative capture of the state government during presidential Reconstruction, 1865-67
For a season, "the bottom rail was on top" in Louisiana. Though there were many reasons for this brief radical triumph, a critical one was the presence in New Orleans of a relatively large group of prosperous, well-educated, and free persons of color. They constituted a black upper class unlike any other in the South or, indeed, anywhere in the country. 1 The slave population in New Orleans had also gained "a degree of education and . . . sophistication unusual in the South," 2 in part because they mingled so freely with others in the most cosmopolitan of American cities. 3 Under the protective eye of federal troops who had occupied the city by May 1862, these blacks began to demand equal rights even before the end of the Civil War. Through the black-owned New Orleans Tribune (and its predecessor L'Union), they insistently and effectively pressed the case for absolute and complete equality long before it was voiced elsewhere. 4
Like the society its views reflected, the New Orleans Tribune was a unique paper. During the early phase of Reconstruction in Louisiana, it was the only radical Republican voice in the state. From 1865 to 1868 it was the house organ of the Republican Party, and in 1867 it was designated "an official organ of the United States Government." It was edited initially by Paul Travigne, a mulatto and "a true radical," who believed in the principles of the French Revolution: "[P]low in the vast field of the future the furrow of Fraternite; plant there firmly the tree of Liberte, whose fruits, collected by future generations, will be shared by the most perfect Equalite." 5