In an effort to secure control of the Mississippi River and New Orleans—both of which were key to commerce and westward expansion—the United States bought the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. In addition to U.S. citizens, the population of Louisiana was largely a mix of Spanish and French citizens, reflective of the territory’s origin as a European colony.
President Thomas Jefferson appointed former House Member William C.C. Claiborne, governor of the Mississippi Territory, and James Wilkinson, a U.S. Army general, to formally receive the territory from the French on December 20, 1803. In September, after the purchase, but before the transfer ceremony, Claiborne welcomed the inhabitants of the newly acquired territory and assured them continued protection of their rights: “Under the auspices of the American Government, you may confidently rely upon the security of your liberty, your property, and the religion of your choice.” He later issued this document—written in English, French, and Spanish—reaffirming the promise that the rights of Louisiana’s citizens would be honored under the Constitution.