X-Post: [H-Early-America] Beauchamp on Faber,“Building the Land of Dreams: New Orleans and the Transformation of Early America”

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Eberhard L. Faber.  Building the Land of Dreams: New Orleans and the
Transformation of Early America. Princeton, Princeton University
Press, 2015.  xii + 441 pp.  $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-691-16689-6.

Reviewed by Michael K. Beauchamp (Rogers State University)
Published on H-Early-America (October, 2018)
Commissioned by Joshua J. Jeffers

In _Building the Land of Dreams: New Orleans and the Transformation
of Early America_, Eberhard L. Faber has significantly improved our
understanding of the complexity of early national Louisiana. In many
ways Faber builds on Joseph G. Tregle Jr.'s _Louisiana in the Age of
Jackson__:__ A Clash of Cultures and Personalities_ (1999) and Peter
J. Kastor's _The Nation's Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the
Creation of America_ (2004) in moving beyond a simplistic
understanding of Louisiana's ethnic cleavages that dominate literary
and nineteenth-century historical accounts of the topic. Faber
focuses on the ways in which society in Louisiana advanced
economically yet still remained culturally distinctive. Louisiana,
particularly New Orleans, which dominated the economy and politics of
the region, benefited from its inclusion within the United States
even as it resisted some elements of Americanization. Faber also
pushes back against the argument so often prescribed in broader
accounts of American expansion as well as in colonial histories of
Louisiana that view the emerging biracial order in Louisiana as
something instituted from outside by US authorities. As Faber
demonstrates, however, it was often Francophone elites rather than US
territorial officials who desired a harder racial line.

In the first chapter, Faber traces the development of an elite class
consciousness that emerged in concert with greater economic success
during the later Spanish period with American migration into the
territory. This elite became committed to greater economic growth and
the continuation of the slave trade. In particular, Faber stresses
the importance of economic ties with the United States that
Pinckney's Treaty confirmed. In many other accounts of the period,
the importance of economics for the process of inclusion within the
United States often becomes overshadowed by the political and
diplomatic maneuvering that undergirded the Louisiana Purchase. What
Faber makes abundantly clear is the cultural and economic ties that
proved so crucial for the cession. This self-conscious elite under
the Spanish, through institutions like the cabildo, became adept at
ignoring imperial mandates from distant capitals, but cooperated
fully when it came to matters of economic development and the
maintenance of order as defined by that local elite. These priorities
of the elite remained consistent whether Spain, France, or the United
States was in control of the territory. The brief turnover to the
French in late 1803 under Pierre Clément de Laussat illustrated the
power of this elite to signal loyalty even as it convinced Laussat to
strengthen the slave regime. With the turnover to the United States,
Faber identifies a group whom he brands the "Generation of 1804," men
drawn to the region after the purchase who possessed political
connections to the east and who sought a governmental position in the
territory. These men differed from previous American immigrants who
as merchants often readily assimilated into the local elite. The same
generation also included other well-heeled arrivistes from France and
Creoles from the Caribbean.

Faber traces Governor W. C. C. Claiborne's early struggles in
Louisiana in attempting to create a government in the face of elite
desires for an increasing slave population, fears of lower-class
whites, and the opposition to the first American court system. When
Congress responded to elite complaints by setting up a government for
the territory based on the Breckinridge Bill, it sparked even more
discord resulting in a memorial to Congress to protest the
undemocratic nature of the government. Chapter 6 examines some of the
accomplishments of that first government as well as the ethnic
divisions within the territory, and the response from Congress in the
creation of a lower house that could nominate individuals for
potential selection for the upper house. Faber points to Claiborne's
veto of a Creole legal bill that ultimately led to a compromise legal
code designed by James Brown and Louis Moreau-Lislet. Claiborne moved
closer socially to the Creole elites through his second and third
marriages, but also politically given the opposition of men like
William Clarke, and particularly Edward Livingston whom Faber
portrays as the opposite pole of Claiborne in temperament and
ideology. Chapter 8 provides a thorough account of the batture case
that so alienated local elites from Livingston and illustrated a way
in which Claiborne and the national administration could appeal to
Creole elite loyalty. Livingston here stands for enlightenment
liberalism versus republican or communitarian ideals, but Faber is
careful to lay out the realities of these positions beyond ideology
as self-interest played a large role as did realpolitik on behalf of
the administration. The Burr expedition likewise confirmed for many
Americans the putative loyalty of the Creole elite as well as doubts
over that of many American opponents of the Claiborne administration
who tended to focus on the abuses of power by General James Wilkinson
in his use of extralegal arrests. Faber then covers the multiple
crises of the French Caribbean refugees in 1809, the German Coast
slave rebellion, the West Florida rebellion, and the 1810 request for
statehood. These crises served to cement Louisiana's loyalty to the
union and foster a greater sense of confidence in the stability of
the local order, as affirmed in a state constitution that proved
highly elite in its orientation.

Faber's broader argument is that culturally Louisiana could resist a
blunt form of Americanization due to the class consciousness and
relative openness of its elite, but he also points to federalism as
providing the openness to allow that as well. Economic interests
girded this process, which Faber explores more fully than other
accounts of the territorial period. Faber also places the cession in
a broader context by beginning in 1795 with the Treaty of San Lorenzo
rather than with the Louisiana Purchase. The benefits of belonging to
the American union were such that Louisiana could have its cake and
eat it too, accepting a broad definition of civic American
nationalism and federalism while retaining its own unique cultural
aspects.

Faber's work relies on a great deal of archival research, including
not only early Louisiana newspapers and the relevant published
primary sources, such as the_ Territorial Papers _and the Official
Letter Books of William C. C. Claiborne (1917), but also the accounts
of French observers, such as C. C. Robin, François Marie Perrin du
Lac, and Pierre Berquin-Duvallon. In many ways this work expands on
the interpretation laid out by Kastor but casts the argument in
different terms by more fully articulating elite economic interests
rather than the intersection of territorial and foreign policy. As
Faber states forthrightly at the beginning of the text and in the
title, New Orleans figures large in the account, but to be sure it
has implications for greater Louisiana and more broadly for the Gulf
South. This work should prove of great interest to historians of the
American South, Louisiana, and the colonial and early national
periods.

Citation: Michael K. Beauchamp. Review of Faber, Eberhard L.,
_Building the Land of Dreams: New Orleans and the Transformation of
Early America_. H-Early-America, H-Net Reviews. October, 2018.
URL: 
https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=52176

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