Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William J. Cooper, Jr


My dissertation explores Louisiana's political development from 1824 to 1861. Many antebellum state studies have been written, but none focus specifically on Louisiana. While sharing the rest of the South's commitment to slavery and cotton, Louisiana possessed atypical attributes including: a unique ethnic composition, a sugar cane crop dependent upon a protective tariff, and the presence of New Orleans, the South's foremost commercial city. Louisiana's antebellum political situation resulted from the interaction of these distinctive traits with the characteristics that Louisiana shared in common with the rest of the United States. The primary focus of this political narrative is the development of parties and the interaction between parties and the electorate. During the 1820s and 1830s, Louisianans moved from a political system based on personality and ethnicity to a distinct party system with Democrats competing against Whigs. These parties, which were evenly matched, battled until the Whig party collapsed in the 1850s. Subsequently, the nativist Know Nothing party rose and fell. And, in 1861, after an increase in tension over the slavery issue, Louisiana seceded from the Union. Through its examination of Louisiana politics, my dissertation addresses several key historiographical questions. I investigate the relationship between state and federal parties and the role of individuals in party politics. I also explore the impact of both the ideology of republicanism and of the politics of slavery. Moreover, I probe the role played by ethnic diversity, which often overshadowed partisan allegiance. Additionally, I analyze the differences and similarities among the parties' programs---especially concerning the value of governmental activism. My dissertation also discusses the rise of Jacksonian democracy. Louisiana's 1812 constitution restricted voting and office-holding. Later constitutions, written in 1845 and 1852, adopted universal white male suffrage and decreased office-holding requirements. Furthermore, extensive campaigning provided an opportunity for voters and non-voters, including women, to participate in the political process. Despite these changes, elites continued to occupy the main positions of power. Though elites served in state government and as party leaders, I contend that political power remained in the hands of their constituents throughout the antebellum period.