History of Louisiana
Before the arrival of the Europeans, the territory of today’s Louisiana was inhabited by a number of indigenous peoples and quite developed cultures. Remnants of these cultures are still present in the form of various mound sites of which there are quite a few in this region. The first recorded Europeans came to the region in 1528. They were led by the Spanish explorer, Panfilo de Narvaez. They just managed to locate the mouth of the Mississippi River, and it is in 1542 that a more extensive expedition of the area was undertaken by Hernando de Soto. This expedition trailed the Mississippi River all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the fact that first explorers in the region were Spanish, the country showed no intention of claiming the land, and in the late 17th century French Canadian and French settlers started inhabiting the region, by first establishing settlements on the Mississippi. At the time, France held most of the territory from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
The region got the name Louisiana in 1682 in the honor of the King of France, Louis XIV. In 1699, a French military officer, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville established Fort Maurepas, the first permanent settlement in the region. Soon after, another settlement, La Balise, was founded at the mouth of the Mississippi River. La Belise also contained one of the first French forts in the area. At that time, the French territory included the regions of today’s South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
In 1714, the Natchitoches settlement was established in the region of today’s northwestern Louisiana, which is the oldest colonist settlement in the territory gained through Louisiana Purchase. This settlement was meant to keep the Spanish from advancing into Louisiana, and to help the trade with Spain controlled Texas. Due to its convenient location on the river, the settlement turned into a port of some significance, and started developing rapidly. Soon enough it was surrounded with cotton plantations and started attracting ever more settlers. The expansion of this settlement also facilitated the exploration of the rest of the region, and the settlement was used as a base for other settlers moving to other parts of the region.
At first, the capital of the territory was Mobile, which is today in Alabama, and then Biloxi, today in Mississippi. As the significance of the Mississippi River was becoming more and more obvious, in 1722 the capital was moved to New Orleans. Before the territory became a part of the United States, the control over it shifted between Spain and France. After the French and Indian War or the Seven Years' War, as it is also known, France gave a part of the territory to the victorious British, while some of the other parts of the territory came under the control of Spain in 1763, with the Treaty of Fontainebleau. In 1765, a number of French refugees from Acadia region in Canada inhabited the region of the southern Louisiana. This region is today known as Acadiana, these refugees were the ancestors of today’s Cajuns. Louisiana once again came under the control of France in 1800, with the Treaty of San Ildefonso.
In 1803, the territory was sold to the United States by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Louisiana Purchase. At first, the region only had some sugar cane plantations, but as the importation of slaves intensified, additional plantations started spurting out left and right, and soon after, the region was completely dependent on slave labor, and was prospering quite rapidly thanks to it. There were some attempts to abolish slavery in these parts, but the resistance was too strong.
Louisiana Purchase happened primarily because of the fact that the United States needed New Orleans because of its access to the Mississippi River. The city was a crucial port, which was critical for the trade in the region. However, Napoleon was only willing to offer the entire Louisiana Territory for sale. Even though the costs for purchasing the entire region were significantly higher than US president Thomas Jefferson initially approved, the sale was made. In the end United States ended up paying somewhere around $15 million for the territory covering some 828,000 square miles, which practically doubled the area under the control of US. This decision was met with some resistance by the opposition, but it was ultimately accepted, and US ownership of the territory was made official with a ceremony held on November 29, 1803 in New Orleans.
In 2010, the GSP (gross state product) of the state was $213.6 billion, which was the 24th highest GSP in the US in that year. In the same year, Louisiana’s per capita income was $30,952, which made Louisiana the state with the 41st highest per capita income in the nation.
Agriculture is one of the major industries in the state. Louisiana produces 90% of the world’s supply of crawfish, with the other important products being rice, dairy products, eggs, poultry, sugarcane, cattle, soybeans and cotton. It is estimated that some 16,000 jobs in the state are created by the seafood industry alone. Other significant industrial products of the state include paper products, transportation equipment, processed foods, coal and petroleum products as well as chemical products. Tourism is another important segment of Louisiana’s economy.
The Port of South Louisiana, situated on the Mississippi River, is the largest bulk cargo and the world’s fourth largest port. Baton Rouge, Shreveport and New Orleans are important centers of the film industry in the state, and are responsible for a significant part of the state’s revenue. This state is also the home to the McIlhenny Company which produces the nation’s best known hot sauce, the Tabasco Sauce. It is estimated that the state is earning $5.2 billion every year from culture and tourism related activities, one of those being the World Cultural Economic Forum, held every year at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center.
The personal income tax in the state comes in one of three brackets, going from 6% down to 2%. The sales are taxed with 4%, which is divided into 3.97% basic sales tax and 0.3% Louisiana Tourism Promotion District sales tax. Local units of government have the authority to modify the sales taxes to a certain extent. In 2010 the unemployment rate in Louisiana was 7.4%.
The state is quite rich in natural gas and petroleum. These resources are found both offshore and onshore, especially in the Gulf of Mexico in the OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) which was determined to be the largest petroleum producing region in the nation. Even without that region, Louisiana accounts for 2% of the total US reserves of petroleum and is the fourth largest producer of petroleum in the United States. It is estimated that around a third of the nation’s oil production comes from offshore sources, and that Louisiana alone is responsible for 80% of the offshore oil. This industry has created somewhere around 320,000 jobs in Louisiana, meaning that it accounts for some 17% of all of the jobs in the state.
When it comes to natural gas, Louisiana produces around 5% of the natural gas produced in the United States. Recently, the Haynesville Shale formation was found to be stretching over parishes of Natchitoches, Sabine, Red River, De Soto, Sabine, Bienville, Bossier and Caddo. This is currently the 4th largest gas field in the world, determined to be capable to daily produce more than 25 million cubic feet of gas. The gas and petroleum industries, as well as their related industries, have been playing a crucial role in the development of Louisiana’s economy ever since 1940s. The state has been getting into numerous legal disputes with the federal government over its offshore resources, but has managed to keep control over them.
Louisiana Geography and Climate
Louisiana has Texas to the west, Arkansas to the north, Mississippi to the east and Gulf of Mexico to the south. The state has two distinctive topographical areas, the alluvial plains that follow the coast, and the northern uplands. The alluvial plains mostly consist of barrier islands, beaches, marshlands and swamp lands. They cover the area of approximately 20,000 square miles. These plains are mostly located around the Mississippi River, the Ouachita River, the Red River and the Gulf of Mexico. The northern region of the state, which is covered in hills and higher land, covers some 25,000 square miles. The region is heavily forested and large swaths of it are covered in prairies. The highest point in the state is found at Driskill Mountain at 535 feet.
Louisiana’s navigable waterways system extends over 4,000 miles and includes numerous rivers and streams including the Natalbany, the Tensas, the Tchefuncte, Amite River, the Tickfaw, the Macon, Bayou D'Arbonne, the Courtableau, Bayou Lafourche, the Boeuf, the Atchafalaya, Bayou Teche, the Vermilion, the Mermentau, the Calcasieu, Pearl and Sabine. The state is also in control of a section of subsea land of the Gulf of Mexico.
The southern coast of the state is rapidly disappearing due to the mismanagement of the area. For a while this area was actually getting larger because of the sediment brought by the receding Mississippi floods, but currently the area is getting smaller every year. This is caused by a number of factors. For one, levees were built that are preventing the water from leaving the beneficial sediments, likewise, the area has been heavily logged which has left a number of pathways for the seawater to penetrate further inland. This decrease in the surface area, which is estimated at approximately 30 football fields daily, is why a lot of people are deciding to leave the state. This also has a great influence of the state’s economy, which relies heavily on the coastal fishing. These regions are also a home to a great number of animals and plant species, and have done a lot to attract tourists to the state. As such their preservation is one of Louisiana’s priorities.
The climate in Louisiana is humid subtropical with mild and short winters and humid, hot and long summers. The climate in the state is heavily influenced by the proximity of the Gulf of Mexico, which is at no point more than 200 miles distant from the state. The state is getting relatively high quantities of annual rainfall, with the summer being the season with the highest precipitation. Southern Louisiana is averaging more rainfall than the northern parts of the state.
Louisiana summers are quite hot, with daily temperatures usually averaging at about 90 °F, while at night they will usually drop to somewhere around 70 °F. Interestingly enough, the summer temperatures usually reach higher extremes in the north of the state. While in the northern parts it is not uncommon for the temperature to reach or even exceed 105 °F, the temperatures in the south rarely go over 100 °F.
The situation during the winter is completely opposite, with the southern regions having a milder winter than the north. In the south, around the Gulf of Mexico, Baton Rouge and New Orleans the daily temperatures are usually close to 66 °F, while the nighttime temperatures often go as low as 46 °F. The northern pats usually have daily temperatures of about 59 °F, while the temperatures during the night are closer to 37 °F. It is not uncommon for the state to experience cold fronts that can reduce the temperature to 20 °F or below. These cold fronts, however, are mostly reserved for the northern part of the state. Likewise, the snow is mostly reserved for the northern regions of the state, and rarely occurs near the Gulf of Mexico.
The highest temperature in the state was 114 °F, and it was recorded in 1936 at Plain Dealing, while the lowest temperature of −16 °F was recorded in 1899 at Minden. The state, especially the New Orleans area, is quite prone to tornadoes, hurricanes (it is enough to mention incredibly devastating hurricane Katrina) and tropical cyclones. Thunderstorms are also quite frequent in the state, especially during the summer months. As a matter of fact, Louisiana is second only to Florida when it comes to the frequency of thunderstorms, with its average 60 days with thunderstorms every year. It is estimated that the state has some 27 tornadoes every year. The tornadoes season in the state mainly stretches through the late winter and into the early spring.
The state has a diverse animal and plant life, and accordingly a number of protected species and areas. These include the Kisatchie National Forest that covers the area of 600,000 acres, Saline Bayou, Poverty Point National Monument, Bernard Parish, Barataria, Acadiana, Cane River Creole National Heritage Area and Historical Park and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. In total, Louisiana has one state preservation area, 17 historic sites and 22 state parks.
Population of Louisiana
In 2011 it was estimated that the population of the state numbered 4,574,836 inhabitants, which made for an increase of 0.91% compared to the previous year. Population density of Louisiana was 104.9 people per square mile. When it comes to racial makeup of the state, 60.3% of the state’s population is composed of non-Hispanic white people, 2.3% of Hispanic white, 32% of African American, 4.2% of Latino or Hispanic people, 1.5% of Asian people, 0.7% of Native American people and 1.6% of multiethnic people. The dominant ancestry groups in the state are African American, composing 32% of the population, French with 15.1% of the state’s inhabitants, German with 8.7% Irish with 8.1% and English with 6.7%.
There is a number of languages being spoken in the state, 99% of the inhabitants can speak English, while 90.8% can only speak that language, while 4.7% of the residents speak French, 2.5% Spanish, 0.6% Vietnamese and 0.2% speak German. Along with English, French is often used in official proceedings. There are a number of dialects of both languages in the state, including Cajun and Colonial French as well Cajun English and Yat.
There are a number of religious denominations in the state, with 90% of the inhabitants being members of a Christian religion. Out of that 90%, 60% are members of a Protestant religion, including 31% of Evangelical Protestants, 20% Historically Black Protestants and 9% Mainline Protestants. The remaining 30% of the Christian believers is split between the Roman Catholics with 28% of the population and other Christian denominations with 2%. There are 1% of Muslim people in Louisiana, 1% of Buddhists and 0.5% of Jewish people. Some 8% of the state’s inhabitants are religiously unaffiliated.
Louisiana Government and Legislation
Louisiana has had a number of seats of the government power. Shreveport, Opelousas and Donaldsonville have all been the seat of the state government at one point, while the capital of the state moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in 1849.
Like other states, Louisiana has three government branches, executive, legislative and judicial, but the state has held on to some of the ordinances and ways of governing the state that were present during the Spanish and French rule over the region. One of such ordinances is the use of parishes as primary local government units, instead of the counties that are used in other US states. Louisiana’s civil law is also heavily influenced by the Spanish and French laws, and not by the English common law, as is the case with the rest of the states.
Louisiana is the only state in the US that uses an election system that is roughly based on the French election system. The primaries in this state (called jungle primaries) include all of the candidates, regardless of their party. If none of them mange to gather more than half of the votes, another round is held in a month. This second round doesn’t take the candidate’s party affiliation into consideration, so it is not rare to see Republicans or Democrats facing off against their fellow party members.
Law enforcement in the state was originally handled by two distinct branches, Highway Commission and the Bureau of Criminal investigations. These two branches were united in 1936, when they formed the Louisiana Department of State Police, which was later transformed into Louisiana State Police. Each of the parishes in Louisiana has a sheriff, who is considered the chief law enforcement officer in the area.