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The state with the greatest French influence is Louisiana, although the first European explorers were Spanish. De Soto came to Louisiana looking for gold in 1541, but after his death in 1542, the Spanish made no further efforts there. In 1682, La Salle led a French exploration, coming down the Mississippi from the Great Lakes. He claimed the entire Missisippi Valley for France. Louisiana became a royal colony in 1699. The first capital was actually in Mississippi, later in Alabama near present-day Mobile.
In 1712, Louisiana became a proprietary colony. The first permanent settlement in present-day Louisiana was Natchitoches in 1714. Work on a new capital at New Orleans began in 1718, to which the seat of government was transferred in 1722. France secretly turned over control to the Spanish in 1762, and when the French settlers found out in 1764, they rebelled and drove the Spanish out. Spain regained control in 1769. Spain kept it until after 1800, when most of it reverted to France, and was then sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Some of it was retained by Spain and incorporated into West Florida, but after a revolt by American settlers in 1810, United States troops entered and established control. In 1812, Louisiana entered the Union as the 18th state.
During the War of 1812, the British tried to take control of New Orleans. In the Battle of New Orleans, General Andrew Jackson defeated the British; although unknown to either side, the war had been ended two weeks earlier.
As Southern states began to secede in January 1861, the New Orleans Daily Crescent offered an explanation why this would benefit the South:
There must be a reason for this [the refusal of the North to allow the South to peacefully secede], as there is for everything else, and the reason is plain enough. All that they say about the South is false, and, what is more, they know it to be false. They know that the South is the main prop and support of the federal system. They know that it is Southern productions
On January 26, 1861, Louisiana seceded from the Union. New Orleans was taken by Union forces in 1862 without a fight. Throughout the remainder of the war, Union forces gradually extended their control. Louisiana was readmitted to the Union in 1868, but Reconstruction was not ended until 1877.
During the 1920s and early 1930s, Huey Long built a powerful political machine in Louisiana. Although operating with near-dictatorial powers, he was popular for his aggressive populist approach to the problems of the Great Depression. Long was assassinated in 1935.
Racial integration came slowly to Louisiana. The graduate school at Louisiana State University was integrated under court order in 1950. The first integrated public school in New Orleans was in 1960 and the first in rural Louisiana in 1964. David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was elected to the Louisiana legislature as a Republican in 1989, but was later unsuccessful in a bid to become governor.
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