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Special Message to Congress on New Orleans

March 07, 1808

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

In the city of New Orleans and adjacent to it are sundry parcels of ground, some of them with buildings and other improvements on them, which it is my duty to present to the attention of the Legislature. The title to these grounds appears to have been retained in the former sovereigns of the Province of Louisiana as public fiduciaries and for the purposes of the Province. Some of them were used for the residence of the governor, for public offices, hospitals, barracks, magazines, fortifications, levees, etc., others for the townhouse, schools, markets, landings, and other purposes of the city of New Orleans; some were held by religious corporations or persons, others seem to have been reserved for future disposition. To these must be added a parcel called the Batture, which requires more particular description. It is understood to have been a shoal or elevation of the bottom of the river adjacent to the bank of the suburbs of St. Mary, produced by the successive depositions of mud during the annual inundations of the river, and covered with water only during those inundations. At all other seasons it has been used by the city immemorially to furnish earth for raising their streets and court-yards, for mortar, and other necessary purposes, and as a landing or quay for unlading firewood, lumber, and other articles brought by water. This having been lately claimed by a private individual, the city opposed the claim on a supposed legal title in itself; but it has been adjudged that the legal title was not in the city. It is, however, alleged that that title, originally in the former sovereigns, was never parted with by them, but was retained in them for the uses of the city and Province, and consequently has now passed over to the United States. Until this question can be decided under legislative authority, measures have been taken according to law to prevent any change in the state of things and to keep the grounds clear of intruders. The settlement of this title, the appropriation of the grounds and improvements formerly occupied for provincial purposes to the same or such other objects as may be better suited to present circumstances, the confirmation of the uses in other parcels to such bodies, corporate or private, as may of right or on other reasonable considerations expect them, are matters now submitted to the determination of the Legislature.

The papers and plans now transmitted will give them such information on the subject as I possess, and being mostly originals, I must request that they may be communicated from the one to the other House, to answer the purposes of both.


Thomas Jefferson, Special Message to Congress on New Orleans Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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