Many of the causes of the situation which developed in Louisiana during its detention by Spain lay far back in the history of the country. The Floridas (East Florida and West Florida) were established by Great Britain in the Proclamation of October 7, 1763, defining the British colonies in America. West Florida embraced the country between the Mississippi and Chattahoochee rivers south of the thirty-first parallel. The west boundary of the United States as fixed by the treaty concluding the Revolution was the Mississippi, down to the thirty-first parallel. Thence it ran east along that parallel to the Chattahoochee. Spain declared war against Great Britain in May, 1779. Before the close of that year the Spaniards had captured Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez. On March 14, 1780, they captured Mobile. In May, 1781, they captured Pensacola. By these conquests the Spaniards had extended the north boundary of West Florida from the thirty-first parallel to the mouth of the Yazoo. The territory between these boundaries, from the Mississippi to Chattahoochee, remained a matter of contention between Spain and the United States to 1795. By the treaty ratified in May, 1784, both Great Britain and the United States were granted the right of free navigation of the Mississippi from its source to its mouth. Spain had little intention of standing by her stipulations in that matter. Benevolence had no place in the relations between nations. Interest alone dictates their actions. The old monarchies of Europe were none too well pleased with the erection of a republic in North America. The attitude of the British Government toward the United States was always reprehensible down to the close of the Civil War. Spain saw in the denial of the right to freely navigate the Mississippi an opportunity to great dissatisfaction and friction between the different sections of the United States. Of this condition she took every advantage, hoping to bring about the dismemberment of the young republic.

At the close of the war for Independence the Americans poured over the Alleghenies in ever increasing numbers. Boone, Kenton, Robertson. Sevier and other explorers and settlers had blazed the way. The new settlers came principally from the Carolinas, from Virginia, and from Pennsylvania. Many of them had served in the patriot armies of the Revolution. These who had preceded them had battled with the Indians for possession of the soil. These men seeking to establish homes in the wilderness were bold, fearless, independent Americans. Seated on the rich lands of the West, they soon produced a surplus of food and other commodities which they found it necessary to carry to some market. These could not be transported eastward across the Alleghenies. Facilities for this were entirely wanting. The natural outlet for this trade was by the great water-way—down the Mississippi.

It is somewhat remarkable that the Atlantic States never have come to realize the importance of the West. It is strange that Americanism does not begin even in the United States until the crest of the Alleghenies had been attained. The Atlantic seaboard states always viewed the West with indifference, and have to this hour made no effort to understand or comprehend its requirements. Virginia ignored the just claims of George Rogers Clark, though his heroism and sacrifices gave her an empire. And when the people of Kentucky petitioned both Virginia and Congress for statehood she was treated with neglect, if not contempt. A like condition to the south caused the people on the Tennessee to set up the State of Franklin. It was apparent to the Western people that the Mississippi Valley was an entity—that while it extended thousands of miles in all directions and might in time have local conditions to deal with in many parts, it had in the end a common interest and a common destiny. La Salle had been the first to realize this, and on that idea he founded Louisiana. A century later the settlers on the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Holston, the Kanawha, the Kentucky and the Cumberland saw the vision first beheld by La Salle. They had helped to free the land from the British yoke. If the government they had set up and sealed with their blood would not hear them and give attention to their needs, they would do what Englishmen have ever deemed it their right to do—secure their interests, devise their own government, choose their own course, shape their own destiny.

Spain fostered this discontent. She restricted the navigation of the Mississippi. The commerce coming down its mighty flood was burdened with imposts amounting to confiscation. Corn, wheat, tobacco, tallow, hides, furs, beeswax, flour, cured meats and many other commodities found unprofitable markets at New Orleans. And the right to deposit these products against more favorable times or for reshipment was denied. At the same time there was the suggestion that if the country could all come under Spanish rule times and conditions would mend and all causes of complaint disappear. In the hope of attaining complete sovereignty of the Louisiana of La Salle Spain entered upon a course of intrigue with the Western settlers. It is not to be believed that the Americans could have ever been brought to accept permanently the rule of Spain. But many of the leading men of the West were willing to form a compact or some sort of alliance with that decadent power in order that commerce might be fostered and the country developed along natural lines.

These were the conditions when European politics interfered and changed the sovereignty of Louisiana. France decided to again take over this wilderness province, and Spain was in no condition to resist. By the treaty of San Ildefonso, concluded October 1, 1800, Spain retroceded Louisiana to France.