Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Wretched Refuse of your Teeming Shore: Acadian Country After All!

Dean Jobb, author and Acadian history expert writes about the Acadian Deportation, “It was like a shame ... no one wanted to talk about it. ... a fracture in history, no one seems to remember how the deportation shattered the Acadian people.” May I add how no country wanted to claim them either. No one personally cared about them: they were pawns in a massive political power game of chess.

In steadfast faith the Acadians prayed what Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “The crucified planet Earth, should it find a voice and a sense of irony, might now well say of our abuse of it, "Forgive them, Father, They know not what they do."  The Acadians cried out for belonging as Kurt Vonnegut’s book title well said that “They were men without a country”.

A very young Thomas Jefferson was presented with the opportunity of taking the fledgling United States into a world power when Napoleon decided to sell the Louisiana Territories to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.  The details of this Purchase have been long forgotten and so have the political turmoil surrounding this land transaction.  Technically, this “sale” was "illegal" and violated the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso in several ways. The political powers at the time knew this and as we say in modern times, "just let that little detail slide".

Why would Napoleon take this huge piece of land and just sell it   to the United States and take his foothold off the coastal regions of Louisiana and deep into the heart of the North American Continent?  Well, in many ways, to tick the British and Spanish off!

Consider this.  Is there a better way than to upset your political rivalry and punish them for deporting your country's people??? Believe it or not, the French government did not feel all that strongly about Louisiana.  Despite the French colonization, it had been the Spanish running the territory for decades.  The French got it back from a bad argument that Napolean had with the King Ferdinand as Ferdinand reneged on a promise to Napolean's older brother, Joseph Bonaparte to make him the next King of Spain in a peaceful fashion. Angrily, Napolean cried a massive political "Check Mate! " by showing his Emperasorial prowess by making a new Political Friend who hated and just became free of British Rule in 1789.  I'm sure King George was not thrilled at all and the King Ferdinand probably became just as frightened of his newest most powerful next door neighbor as a country!  Side note: Napolean won and eventually made his older brother King...but by force instead!

The French Government didn't really want the Louisiana Territories.  They didn't have the ability to control it; they needed all of their troops in Europe to fight Napoleon's wars.  So selling Louisiana to the Americans killed several birds with one stone:

  • It got rid of a territory that French Governance and Napolean didn't have the money to administer

  • It gave Napolean a nice infusion of cash

  • It helped cement the alliance between the US and France

  • It strengthened the US, especially giving them additional ports to control.  That gave the US an incentive to strengthen its navy.

Makes sense doesn’t it?  After cementing the relationship between France and the United States, the US now had charge of the French settlements in Louisiana.  Home of the Free, democracy and apple beignets.  Can you imagine the delight down on the Bayou that the United States now had governance over their settlements there (even among the skeptics, there had to be relief.  These French settlements had been swearing allegiance to a new country on the average of once a year for nearly a century!).

No one wanted the Acadians…and now,  finally, FINALLY!  They had a country they could call their own who also wanted them. It was the first time in centuries that Acadians could just “be”, be their own countrymen and be in a country who promised them hope, happiness and the pursuit of life and liberty…. And the promise as a gift from France to the US which Our Lady in New York Harbor cries out to them: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Acadians from then on, could live life on their terms.  Welcome Acadians, we hope you still feel right at home.

Disclaimer:   By the way, I claim my British Colonist blood. I am 75% British and 25% Greek.  I read French rather well and can speak it with a broken accent.  I have nothing against any of these countries and am speaking of them only with historical context as a background for events. I hold NO bias against anyone’s nationality or country of origin.  

For our reference, here is a map of the Louisiana Territory.

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