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Louisiana Governors 1812 - 1861

STATEHOOD/ANTEBELLUM PERIOD (1812 - 1861)

William C.C. Claiborne   1812-1816
William C.C. Claiborne - Democrat-Republican
Appointed by Thomas Jefferson as territorial governor; elected governor of the state in 1812. Thomas Jefferson sent Mississippi Territorial Gov. William C.C. Claiborne to New Orleans to formally accept the transfer of Louisiana from France to the United States. Claiborne was assisted by Gen. James Wilkinson in administering the territory until the president named him the first governor of the Territory of Orleans which is now the State of Louisiana. Claiborne held the office of territorial governor through the admission of Louisiana to the Union in 1812.

Before statehood, he presided over a legislative council which divided Louisiana into parishes, adopted a civil code and organized a public education system.

Claiborne's attempts to incorporate the Creole natives of Louisiana into a more democratic system included dividing juries between English-speaking and French-speaking people, conducting court in both English and French and publishing the Civil Code in each language.

In 1811, Congress authorized Louisiana to draft a state constitution which was approved in 1812. Within weeks, the United States declared war on Great Britain. Claiborne organized the state militia and received information from Jean Lafitte about British plans to invade Louisiana. Claiborne and Gen. Andrew Jackson worked together closely to prepare New Orleans for British attack. After the Battle of Lake Borgne made Jackson aware of the British position, he prepared a line of defense on the New Orleans side of the Chalmette Canal where the British were decisively defeated on Jan. 8, 1815.

Claiborne had defeated Creole Jacques Villere to become the first elected governor of the State of Louisiana. He had to work all the harder to win the Creoles' allegiance to democratic government during the tough economic times caused by the British blockade of the Mississippi River. By the time Claiborne left office to secure a seat in the U.S. Senate, he had won the loyalty of the Creoles, including Villere. He died in 1817 at the age of 42.

 Jacques Philippe Villere 1816-1820
Jacques Phillippe Villere - Democrat-Republican
Jacques Philippe Villere, elected governor in 1816, was the first native-born governor of Louisiana. He presided over a tremendous increase in population and in the strength of its economy.

Now free of the British fleet at the mouth of the river and the Spanish control of the Florida parishes, Louisiana could enjoy unhampered trade down the Mississippi. Prosperity brought conflict between the Anglo-Americans and the Creoles whose families had been in Louisiana for generations. Villere had to mediate those disputes while administering state government.

The Legislature attempted to bridge the two cultures by publishing laws in both languages. The Creole-Anglo conflict dominated state politics until more "partisan" battles became the focal point after the rise of the Whig Party in 1834.

Following his term, Villere retired to his plantation in St. Bernard Parish where he died in 1830.

 Thomas Bolling Robertson 1820-1824
Thomas Bolling Robertson - National Republican
Thomas Bolling Robertson, elected Governor in 1820, practiced law in Virginia until his appointment by President Jefferson on August 12, 1807, as secretary of the Territory of Orleans. While retaining his office of secretary, he also served as federal land commissioner and briefly as attorney general in 1808.

Though his tenure as secretary was marked by conflict with Gov. W.C.C. Claiborne, Robertson remained in the good favor of Jefferson and President Madison. He retained his post as secretary until Louisiana’s admission as a state in 1812, when he became its first member of the national House of Representatives.

Elected governor in 1820, Robertson stimulated programs of internal improvements such as the opening of the Pearl and Red Rivers to navigation and the construction of the state’s portion of the national road from Madisonville to Nashville.

His term in office was plagued by conflicts between French and American factions struggling for political control of the state, and he resigned from the governorship in November 1824.

Following his term, Robertson became United States judge for the District of Louisiana. He died in White Sulphur Springs, Va., in 1828.

 Henry Schuyler Thibodaux 1824
Henry S. Thibodaux - National Republican
Henry Schuyler Thibodaux served for one month as interim governor after Gov. Thomas Robertson resigned to become a federal judge.

A state legislator originally from New York, Thibodaux was married to a French Acadian, Felicite Bonvillain. He assumed the governorship from the presidency of the Senate. Thibodaux stepped down after the election of Henry Johnson.

He sought election as governor in 1828, but died during the campaign near Bayou Terrebonne. Thibodaux is buried in St. Bridget's Church cemetery in Schriever, La.

 Henry S. Johnson 1824-1828
Henry S. Johnson - National Republican
Henry S. Johnson was the first professional politician to be elected governor of Louisiana. From 1818 until 1824, he held various state offices. Johnson stepped into a U.S. Senate seat after Claiborne died in office.

At this time, the Legislature moved the seat of government to Donaldsonville in a compromise between the Anglo-American leaders who wanted the capital out of New Orleans and the Creoles who wanted to retain the seat of government within a French area.

Johnson benefited from a bitter division among the Creoles to get elected, then luckily enjoyed the fruits of a visit to Louisiana by Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette. That visit allayed the bitter Creole-Anglo split, but Johnson was to inflame the conflict once again by taking the side of the Anglos in a dispute about cotton and sugar cultivation.

The creation of two financial institutions promoted prosperity during Johnson's term: the Louisiana State Bank and the Consolidated Association of Planters of Louisiana. He improved commerce within Louisiana by forming the Internal Improvement Board to maintain and build roads and canals.

Johnson died in 1864, some years after serving another term in the U.S. Senate.

 Pierre Auguste Bourguigon Derbigny 1828-1829
Pierre Auguste Bourguigon Derbigny - Whig; National Republican
Pierre Derbigny had graciously bowed out of the governor's race in 1820 when he won the vote of the Legislature but lost the popular vote to Thomas Robertson. Derbigny was victorious in 1828. After a career in law and education, he had been a state supreme court justice and led the movement to establish the College of Orleans which was the first institution of higher learning in Louisiana.

During his short term, the Legislature worked on internal improvements and consolidated several companies to improve navigation of the bayous. Regulations were also established for levee repair and inspection.

Derbigny died in a carriage accident on Oct. 6, 1829. He is buried in St. Louis Cemetery Number One in New Orleans.

 Armand Julie Beauvais 1829-1830
Arnaud Julie Beauvais - Whig
Arnaud Julie Beauvais succeeded Pierre Derbigny as governor after Derbigny died in office. Beauvais became acting governor because the Constitution required the president of the State Senate to assume the duties of office in case of vacancy.

Beauvais, a native of Pointe Coupee Parish, served for only three months. He resigned in January 1830 to run for governor. He did not get elected to the position and returned to the State Senate where he served until 1834.

Beauvais died in 1843 in New Orleans.

 Jacques Dupre 1830-1831
Jacques Dupre - Whig; (Anti-Jacksonian)
Jacques Dupre was elected president of the Senate, an office left vacant after Arnaud Beauvais assumed the duties of governor when Pierre Derbigny died in office. Upon his election as Senate president, Dupre then became acting governor because Beauvais had resigned. This complicated series of successions later caused a political crisis in Louisiana.

Dupre's short term featured continued improvements in the young state's infrastructure. The Legislature incorporated a railroad company, a canal company and other companies to improve navigation on state waters. A Merchant's Insurance Company begun in New Orleans protected the assets of that growing segment of society. A new company instituted to refine sugar by a new process began operating as well.

To deal with what they saw as a serious social problem, the Legislature passed strict slave codes at this time in response to the work of northern abolitionists and southern slave insurrectionists.

 Andre Bienvenu Roman 1831-1835
Andre Bienvenu Roman - Whig
Andre Roman became governor by appointment after Jacques Dupre resigned before completing the term left open by Pierre Derbigny's death in office and Arnaud Beauvais's resignation. That succession crisis was solved by a special election in which Roman had no opposition.

Roman was the first governor of Louisiana to use his membership in a national political party -- in his case, the Whigs -- to determine executive actions. He appointed fellow Whigs to state positions and he supported a protective tariff which was appreciated by south Louisiana sugar planters. The Pontchartrain Railroad and the New Basin Canal from Lake Pontchartrain into the heart of New Orleans eased transportation problems.

During Roman's first term, Louisiana experienced years of economic growth as the number of banks doubled and capital increased. His second term followed the Panic of 1837 which had been caused by an overexpansion of banks. Farmers, planters and merchants lost their enterprises, deposits dwindled and a depression settled into the state, relieved only by new banking laws passed at the end of Roman's term.

Roman opposed secession in the Secession Convention of 1861 and was ruined financially by the Civil War. He died in 1866 while walking on Dumaine Street in New Orleans.

He is buried in the St. James Catholic Cemetery in St. James, La.

 Edward Douglass White 1835-1839
Edward Douglass White - Whig
Edward Douglass White's governorship came in the middle of Whig dominance of the office. The sugar planters of the more populous Acadian parishes supported the pro-tariff Whigs and Alexander Porter led the state Whig Party. Democratic Party enemies of White accused him of being Porter's puppet.

White had been a congressman, respected by both parties, before he ran for governor and he returned to Washington after his term.

The economic depression, caused by the Panic of 1837, marred White's four years as chief executive. The panic developed when the under-capitalized and over-expanded banks began foreclosing mortgages on plantations and businesses throughout Louisiana.

White signed the charter creating the Medical College of Louisiana in 1837 which was the forerunner of Tulane University. His son, Edward Douglas White, later served as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

White died in New Orleans in 1847.

 Andre Bienvenu Roman 1839-1843
Andre Bienvenu Roman - Whig
Andre Roman became governor by appointment after Jacques Dupre resigned before completing the term left open by Pierre Derbigny's death in office and Arnaud Beauvais's resignation. That succession crisis was solved by a special election in which Roman had no opposition.

Roman was the first governor of Louisiana to use his membership in a national political party -- in his case, the Whigs -- to determine executive actions. He appointed fellow Whigs to state positions and he supported a protective tariff which was appreciated by south Louisiana sugar planters. The Pontchartrain Railroad and the New Basin Canal from Lake Pontchartrain into the heart of New Orleans eased transportation problems.

During Roman's first term, Louisiana experienced years of economic growth as the number of banks doubled and capital increased. His second term followed the Panic of 1837 which had been caused by an overexpansion of banks. Farmers, planters and merchants lost their enterprises, deposits dwindled and a depression settled into the state, relieved only by new banking laws passed at the end of Roman's term.

Roman opposed secession in the Secession Convention of 1861 and was ruined financially by the Civil War. He died in 1866 while walking on Dumaine Street in New Orleans.

He is buried in the St. James Catholic Cemetery in St. James, La.

 Alexander Mouton 1843-1846
Alexander Mouton - Democrat
Alexander Mouton, elected as the first democratic governor of Louisiana, led the Constitutional Convention of 1845. The new Constitution directed the Legislature to begin a public education system and eliminated property qualifications to vote or hold office. Mouton reduced state expenditures and sold-off state property to avoid raising taxes.

Later, in 1861, Mouton chaired the Louisiana Secession Convention and led the overwhelming vote to pass the Ordinance of Secession. During the war, Union troops seized his plantation to use as their headquarters; they burned the sugar mill and released his slaves.

 Isaac Johnson 1846-1850
Isaac Johnson - Democrat
Isaac Johnson's term as governor began in controversy when Whig party opponents claimed he had taken an improper oath and was not legally governor.

His administration continued in conflict when he appointed Whigs instead of fellow democrats to some offices.

Johnson took a strong stand on the issue of the expansion of slavery into new U.S. territories. He denounced illegal the Wilmot Proviso which would have prohibited the sale of slaves in the territories obtained from Mexico after the Mexican War.

In 1849, Johnson moved his office to Baton Rouge, La. This new seat of state government had been selected by the Legislature in 1846.

Johnson became attorney general after he left the governor's office. He died of a heart attack in a New Orleans hotel in 1853 while running for a seat on the state Supreme Court.

He is buried in West Feliciana Parish.

 Joseph M. Walker 1850-1853
Joseph M. Walker - Democrat
Joseph M. Walker became the first governor inaugurated in the new state capitol in Baton Rouge, La.

The main event of Walker's administration, the adoption of the Constitution of 1852, shortened his term by one year. Besides bearing on Walker personally, the Constitution affected state politics by giving more power to parishes with large populations of slaves. It settled apportionment in both the House and Senate by emphasizing total population. Therefore, parishes with a few members of the white planter class and a large number of non-voting slaves could, and did, dominate the legislative process.

Walker was part of the planter class and returned to that vocation after exiting politics. He anticipated secession when he said, "We are prepared to make common cause with our neighbors of the slaveholding states, and pronounce the Union at an end."

Walker did not live to see the dissolution of the Union. He died in 1856.

 Paul Octave Hebert 1853-1856
Paul O. Hebert - Democrat
Paul Octave Hebert, first in his class at West Point and a veteran of the Mexican War, won the governorship of Louisiana in an off-year election provided for in the Constitution of 1852.

Trained as a civil engineer, Hebert emphasized internal improvements during his term. Four major railroads received state charters as Hebert strived to connect New Orleans by rail with all of Louisiana.

Unlike most pre-war southern governors, Hebert worked to improve education. The Legislature approved free education for whites aged six to 16 and established a Seminary of Learning at Alexandria, La. Charity Hospital and the State School for the Deaf, Mute and Blind improved services with support from Hebert.

The governor did not follow strict party lines in his appointments, placing both Whigs and members of the Know-Nothing party in office. The Know-Nothings, a party formed to oppose immigration, raised nativist sentiment in the state and kept Hebert from achieving some of his goals.

Hebert later served as a Confederate brigadier general. He died in New Orleans in 1880.

 Robert C. Wickliffe 1856-1860
Robert C. Wickliffe
Wickliffe wrestled with John Slidell over control of the state Democratic Party; he lost political favor when his candidate for congress lost to Slidell's and when Slidell's choice for President, John C. Breckinridge, carried Louisiana in 1860 against Wickliffe's candidate, Stephen Douglas.

Wickliffe reduced funds for public education, imposed restrictions on New Orleans to curb electoral violence and advocated the spread of slavery to the Caribbean where he believed the U. S. should expand.

Wickliffe stayed out of the secession conflict and did not fight in the War Between the States. After the war, he remained active in Democratic Party politics until he retired to his hometown of Bardstown, Kentucky where he died in 1895.

 Thomas Overton Moore 1860-1864
Thomas Overton Moore - Democrat
Thomas Moore held office through the secession crisis after the election of Abraham Lincoln, the formation of the Confederate States of America and the first three years of the War Between the States.

After Lincoln's election, Moore directed the state militia to seize control of all federal military posts in Louisiana. He supported secession and was devoted to the Confederate States of America. After the war broke out, he encouraged enlistment in the Southern armed forces and supplied 8,000 men to the Confederate Army -- 5,000 more than President Jefferson Davis requested.

Moore advocated a strong defense of New Orleans, clearly seeing its strategic importance in the controlling of the Mississippi River. When New Orleans fell in April 1862, and Baton Rouge, La. in May, he moved the capital to Opelousas, La. and then to Shreveport, La. where he attempted to organize resistance to the Union forces in Louisiana west of the Mississippi.

Moore prohibited trade with the enemy and promoted the burning of crops likely to be captured by Union forces.

After his term, Thomas Overton Moore returned to his plantation near Alexandria, La. Federal troops burned his home. He escaped to Mexico, and then Cuba after the war, but later received a full pardon. Moore died in Rapides Parish in 1876.