Bernadotte, Bonaparte, and Louisiana: the last dream of a French Empire in North America

Abstract : The role of General Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte in the Bonapartist project for the remaking of New France remains so poorly known today that the recent synthesis by Gilles Havard and Cécile Vidal does not even mention his name. And yet between 1798 and 1803, the ambition for taking part in a great American adventure was quite real for this remarkable leader of men, who accumulated numerous documents on Louisiana at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In the end, external factors like the deterioration of the situation in Santo Domingo and the threat of renewed warfare in Europe caused the collapse of such vast projects. They were not totally utopian at this date, since the French could count on their alliances with the Spanish and Americans when they reestablished slavery. As of Year III (1795) in fact, the Thermidorian Convention authorized forced labor and the requisition of manpower in the colonies for the sugar harvests. This legislation was later confirmed by the Directory. Bonaparte's law of 20 Floréal Year X (10 May 1802) went still further by restoring the status of persons held prior to 1789, which amounted to a return to slavery and the inequality of rights of mulattos compared with those of other citizens. This legislation appeased the neighboring slave holding powers and was reinforced by the still vigorous presence of French culture in Louisiana. Language and Catholic religion, specifically, were spread well after 1803 by active congregations like the Ursuline convents in New Orleans that Emily Clark has studied. Finally, French woodsmen maintained privileged relationships with the Indian peoples, as the significant assistance they provided the Lewis and Clark expedition between 1804 and 1806 demonstrated.
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Jean-Marc Olivier. Bernadotte, Bonaparte, and Louisiana: the last dream of a French Empire in North America. The Impact of Napoleonic Empire in the Atlantic World, 2009, France. pp.141-150. ⟨hal-00974220⟩



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