Today, the Louisiana State Quarter Coin remembers when Spain relinquished the area to France on November 30, 1803, just days before France gave title to the United States.
From A History of Louisiana, by Alcée Fortier, published in 1904:
Laussat was making fine projects for the development of Louisiana by encouraging immigration, and he even asked that families be sent to him from the new Rhine departments, if they wished to emigrate. To his great surprise, he received from the French Government a letter announcing the cession of the province to the United States.
In this letter the minister said that he had written the day before to Laussat, announcing that he had been appointed commissioner to take possession of Louisiana, and that full powers had been sent to him, as well as an order from the King of Spain to the governor of the province relative to the transfer.
A copy was sent the colonial prefect of the treaty between the French Republic and the United States, and the reasons for the cession of the province were given. These were, briefly, as follows:
The desire of averting war in North America, of settling some points of controversy between the Republic and the United States, and of preventing all new causes of controversy that might have arisen from the neighborhood of the French colonies; the need which the latter have of men, agriculture, and aid; finally, unavoidable circumstances, forethought, and the intention of compensating, by an advantageous arrangement, the inevitable loss of a country which war was about to put at the mercy of another nation.
The prefect was instructed to call the attention of the Louisianans to the kind disposition of the First Consul, as set forth in the treaty. He was informed that he had been appointed commissioner to deliver the province to the United States, and as there were no French troops in Louisiana, he was instructed to proceed, as soon as possible, to the transfer from Spain, and to deliver the province on the same day to the American Government.
The act of transfer took place on Wednesday, November 30, 1803 (8 Frimaire, an XII), at twelve o’clock.
In the morning, according to Barbé-Marbois, the Spanish militia and the regular troops were placed in battle array in the square in front of the city hall,—that building called the Cabildo at present in New Orleans,—which will be forever celebrated in American history.
Within its walls took place the transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France, and from France to the United States.
The Spanish commissioners, Salcedo and Casa Calvo, and Laussat, the French commissioner, arrived at the city hall at twelve o’clock, and the ceremonies of the transfer took place with great solemnity.
Three chairs were placed in the council-chamber, and Governor Salcedo sat in the middle one, with Casa Calvo and Laussat in the others.
The French commissioner handed the governor his credentials from the First Consul, and the order of the King dated October 15, 1802, for the delivery of the province.
These papers were read publicly, and Salcedo, rising from his seat, handed Laussat the keys of New Orleans.
Casa Calvo then announced that the inhabitants of Louisiana who should not wish to retire under the Spanish domination were absolved from their oath of fidelity to the Catholic King.
The three commissioners afterward went to the main balcony of the city hall, and the Spanish flag was lowered from a high staff in the center of the Place d’Armes, and the French flag hoisted to the top.
Volleys of artillery saluted both flags. The French troops were represented only by a few officers.
In his narrative of these proceedings Judge Gayarré says:
The square was occupied by the Spanish troops and some of the militia of the colony. It was remarked that the militia had been mustered with difficulty, and did not exceed one hundred and fifty men. It was the indication of an unfavorable feeling, which had been daily gaining strength, and which Laussat attributed in his dispatches to the intrigues of the Spanish authorities. Although the weather had been tempestuous in the preceding night and in the morning, and continued to be threatening, the crowd around the public square was immense, and filled not only the streets, but also the windows, and even the very tops of the neighboring houses.
The procès-verbal of the proceedings was drawn up in French and in Spanish, and signed by Salcedo, Casa Calvo, and Laussat.
In a dispatch to Minister Miguel Cayetano Soler, dated December 5, 1803, Intendant Morales says:
On November 30, at 12 o’clock, took place the transfer of the province. There was not a single demonstration of joy when the French flag was raised, and there were many tears when the Spanish flag was taken down.
He relates that on December 1 Laussat celebrated the event with a ball and a supper, when many persons stayed at his house until six o’clock in the morning of December 2.
Morales says he expressed to Laussat his surprise that he should have taken possession of the province before the arrival of the American commissioners, and the colonial prefect replied that he had done so in order to convince the cabinet of Great Britain that the transfer had been formal and not virtual.
On December 4 there was a solemn mass at the cathedral, attended by the prefect and the French officials and a detachment of militia, and the prefect required of the bishop that, in the antiphone where prayer is said for the King, the names of the Republic and of the First Consul be substituted for that of the King of Spain.
The bishop refused to do this, and by a compromise a French priest who was at that time in New Orleans sang the mass.
The events that took place in 1803 were of such deep significance for the future of Louisiana and of the United States that, as much as possible, we shall allow the men of that time to relate their history themselves. On December 12 Laussat announced the transfer to France on November 30, and added:
Consequently, Citizen Minister, the domination of the Republic is established in fact and in right in Lower Louisiana, which comprises essentially its population and its cultivation. Louisiana is in truth only there; there are not twenty soldiers in the upper posts, including the Illinois, which are seven hundred leagues from here. The French name is blessed; that of Bonaparte excites enthusiasm; we are regretted, and we shall be very much regretted. All repeat it to me and at every minute; one sees only uniforms and cockades of our national guards; but what is due to our government will be generally felt, and the Louisianans will remain forever attached in heart to the French.
The Louisiana State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s image of Pierre Clément de Laussat.