William C. C. Claiborne

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William C. C. Claiborne
William C C Claiborne rectangleLAState.jpg
25th; 1st under U.S. Statehood Governor of Louisiana
In office
April 30, 1812 – December 16, 1816
Lieutenant None
Preceded by Pierre Clément de Laussat
Succeeded by Jacques Villeré
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's At-large district
In office
November 23, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Preceded by Andrew Jackson
Succeeded by William Dickson
Personal details
Born c. 1775
Sussex County, Virginia
Died November 23, 1817 (aged around 52)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth W. Lewis
Alma mater College of William & Mary
Religion Protestant
Signature

William Charles Cole Claiborne (c.1772/75 – 23 November 1817) was a United States politician, best known as the first non-colonial Governor of Louisiana. He also has the distinction of possibly being the youngest Congressman in U.S. history, though reliable sources differ about his age.

Claiborne supervised the transfer of Louisiana to U.S. control after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and governed the ‘Territory of Orleans’ from 1804 through 1812, when Louisiana became a state, with Claiborne serving as governor till 1816.

Early life and career

William C. C. Claiborne was born in Sussex County, Virginia. The date is unknown, but has been variously quoted as being before 23 November 1772,1 or on 13 August 1773,2 or between 23 November 1773 and 23 November 1774,3 or in August 17754 His parents were Colonel William Claiborne and Mary Leigh Claiborne.5

He studied at the College of William and Mary, then Richmond Academy. At the age of 16 he moved to New York City, where he worked as a clerk under John Beckley, the clerk of the United States House of Representatives, which was then seated in that city. He moved to Philadelphia with the Federal Government. He then began study of law, and moved to Tennessee in 1794 to start a law practice. Governor John Sevier appointed Claiborne to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1796.

Congressman from Tennessee

In 1797, Claiborne resigned to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He won, and succeeded Andrew Jackson. However, the new congressman may not have been 25 years of age, as required by the United States Constitution: "No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years". Earlier in 1797, he described his age to George Washington vaguely: "Born Sir at a period, when every American Breast palpitated for freedom, I became early attached to civil Liberty...."6

He took his seat in the House on November 23, 1797.7 State records apparently indicate that, when he took his seat, he was 24.2 Other sources speculate he was 22.8 His gravestone says he was 23.3

He served in the House through 1801. The United States presidential election of 1800 was decided in the House of Representatives, due to a tie in the Electoral College, by which time Claiborne had apparently already turned 25 years old.

Service in Mississippi

Claiborne was appointed governor and superintendent of Indian affairs in the Mississippi Territory from 1801 through 1803. Although he favored acquiring some land from the Choctaw and Chickasaw, Claiborne was generally sympathetic and conciliatory toward Indians. He worked long and patiently to iron out differences that arose, and to improve the material well-being of the Indians. He was also partly successful in promoting the establishment of law and order, as when his offering of a two thousand dollar reward helped destroy a gang of outlaws headed by Samuel Mason (1750–1803). His position on issues indicated a national rather than regional outlook, though he did not ignore his constituents. Claiborne expressed the philosophy of the Republican Party and helped that party defeat the Federalists. When a smallpox epidemic broke out in the spring of 1802, Claiborne's actions resulted in the first recorded mass vaccination in the territory and saved Natchez from the disease.910

Louisiana territorial period

Claiborne moved to New Orleans and oversaw the transfer of Louisiana to U.S. control after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Local French and Spanish inhabitants saw it for what it was, i.e., a military occupation11 which they resented, quoting in their remonstrances and meetings that they were no more than conquered subjects who had not been consulted.12 He governed what would become the State of Louisiana, then termed the "Territory of Orleans", during its period as a United States territory from 1804 through 1812.

Relations with Louisiana's Créole population were initially rather strained: Claiborne was young, inexperienced and unsure of himself, and on his arrival spoke no French. French elite were initially alarmed when Claiborne retained the services of the militia of free people of color, which had served with considerable distinction during the preceding forty-year Spanish rule. Claiborne bestowed a ceremonial flag and 'colors' on the battalion, a fact which would enmesh him in a duel held in the Spanish territory, near the current Houmas House plantation, three years later with his arch-enemy Daniel Clark, June 8, 1807, in which the Governor was shot through one thigh with the bullet ending in the other.13 Claiborne gradually gained the confidence of the French elite, saw the territory take in Francophone refugees from the Haitian Revolution, and was Governor during an event reported as a slave revolt in the area around La Place.

In 1805, Claiborne appointed Alexander Fulton, the founder of Alexandria, as the coroner of Rapides Parish.14

An event widely reported to be the largest slave revolt in American history, the 1811 German Coast Uprising, occurred while he was Governor. However, the American government, over which he presided, had little participation in its suppression. The "parish" courts, dominated by French planters, imposed convictions and sentencing of those slaves who survived. The U.S. military forces had arrived too late to either capture the slaves, or to prevent their "slaughter" at the hands of the local militia, i.e., the white residents up and down the Mississippi river. Claiborne himself had written at least twice to the parish courts to request that they refer cases to him for executive pardon, or clemency, rather than the wholesale death sentences which were being handed down. The only known beneficiaries of his pardon were Theodore and Henry; however, no records exist that Claiborne refused any other pardon requests from this event.13

After West Florida secured its independence from Spain in 1810, Claiborne annexed the area on the orders of President Madison, who considered it part of the Louisiana Purchase.

After Louisiana statehood

Claiborne was the first elected governor after Louisiana became a U.S. state, winning the election of 1812 against Jacques Villeré, and serving from 1812 through 1816. On the eve of the War of 1812 he sent interpreter Simon Favre to the Choctaws to attempt to keep them out of the war.

After his term as governor, he was elected to the United States Senate, serving from March 4, 1817 until his death on November 23, 1817,15 which was 20 years to the day after his first day in Congress.

Death

Claiborne served in the U.S. Senate until his death in 1817, and was buried at the St. Louis Cemetery # 1, in New Orleans. This was a controversial honor as this was the most prestigious of the city's cemeteries and is a Roman Catholic cemetery, while Claiborne was Protestant. He was re-interred at the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.16

Legacy

Claiborne Parish is named in his honor as are two U.S. counties: Claiborne County, Mississippi; and Claiborne County, Tennessee. The longest street in New Orleans is named in his honor: Claiborne Avenue.

The World War II Camp Claiborne was named for him in 1939. This installation is still used today for training the Louisiana Army National Guard, particularly by the 256th Infantry Brigade for road marches and land navigation.

The Claiborne Building is located in downtown Baton Rouge and serves as a government administrative center for the Louisiana government.

In 1993, Claiborne was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield. Along with Huey Pierce Long, Jr., and Earl Kemp Long, Claiborne was among the first thirteen inductees into the Hall of Fame.17

Family life

William Claiborne was a direct ancestor of fashion designer Liz Claiborne.18

William Claiborne was a direct ancestor of Lindy Boggs, Louisiana’s U.S. Representative from the 2nd District. Boggs served as U.S. Representative from 1973 to 1991, and was appointed Ambassador to the Vatican in 1991. Boggs is the mother of American journalist and author Cokie Roberts.19

References

  1. ^ Self-identified as being at least 25 by taking oath of office on November 23, 1797.
  2. ^ a b “Notes From Albemarle Parish Register, Sussex County, Va.”, William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 1. (Jul., 1905), p. 5.
  3. ^ a b His gravestone says he was 23 when he became a congressman (which definitely occurred on November 23, 1797). See Louisiana Governors, La-Cemeteries.
  4. ^ Webb, Samuel and Ambrester, Margaret. Alabama Governors: A Political History of the State (University of Alabama Press 2007).
  5. ^ Rowland, Dunbar. “Encyclopedia of Mississippi history: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions and Persons”, Volume 1, page 427.
  6. ^ Letter from William Claiborne to George Washington, April 22, 1797.
  7. ^ House Document No. 108-222, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774 - 2005, FIFTH CONGRESS, U.S. Government Printing Office.
  8. ^ Hinds' precedents of the House of representatives of the United States, page 390.
  9. ^ Hatfield (1965)
  10. ^ Laura D. S. Harrell, "Preventive Medicine in the Mississippi Territory, 1799-1802," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 1966 40(4): 364-375
  11. ^ Carter, Clarence (1940). The Territorial Papers of the United States: The Territory of Orleans, Vol. IX,. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. pp. 89–90, "An Act Enabling the President to Take Possession of Louisiana," October 31, 1803. 
  12. ^ Eaton, Fernin. "To The French Inhabitants of Louisiana: Thomas Paine's Timequake". Retrieved June 14, 2013. 
  13. ^ a b Eaton, Fernin, Governor on Trial: Claiborne in His Own Words, a Salon Publique at Pitot House, Bayou St. John, New Orleans, November 7, 2011 http://www.academia.edu/1910804/Gov._Claiborne_in_his_own_words--a_salon_publique_at_Pitot_House_Bayou_St._John
  14. ^ "Fulton, Alexander". lahistory.org (Louisiana Historical Association). Retrieved October 9, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Louisiana Governor William Charles Cole Claiborne". National Governors Association. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Louisiana Governor William Charles Cole Claiborne". National Governors Association. Retrieved July 28, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame". cityofwinnfield.com. Retrieved August 22, 2009. 
  18. ^ Bernstein, Adam (June 28, 2007). "Liz Claiborne, 78, fashion industry icon". Washington Post (Washington Post). Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  19. ^ "William C.C. Claiborne". KnowSouthern History.net. Retrieved July 28, 2012. 

Further reading

  • Hatfield, Joseph T. "Governor William Claiborne, Indians, and Outlaws in Frontier Mississippi, 1801-1803," Journal of Mississippi History 1965 27(4): 323-350
  • Hatfield, Joseph Tennis. "William C. C. Claiborne, Congress, and Republicanism, 1797-1804," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 1965 24(2): 156-180,

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Andrew Jackson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's at-large congressional district

1797–1801
Succeeded by
William Dickson
Political offices
Preceded by
Winthrop Sargent
Governor of Mississippi Territory
1801–1805
Succeeded by
Robert Williams
Preceded by
Pierre Clément de Laussat
Governor of Territory of Orleans
1803–1812
Succeeded by
Became Governor of Louisiana
Preceded by
none
Governor of Louisiana
1812–1816
Succeeded by
Jacques Villeré
United States Senate
Preceded by
James Brown
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Louisiana
1817
Served alongside: Eligius Fromentin
Succeeded by
Henry Johnson







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