History The Cabildo, New Orleans Louisiana

The new Cabildo designed by Guillemard was scarcely three vears old when it became the setting for a series of events that would have world-wide repercussions. On November 30, 1803, the official ceremony marking the retrocession of the colony of Louisiana from Spain to France took place in the Cabildo. Twenty days later, the French sold the colony to the United States. This transfer, known as the Louisiana Purchase, cost the American government fifteen million dollars, but gained for the young republic a dramatic increase in territory and resources, and opened the continent to exploration which would eventually extend the borders of the country westward to the Pacific Ocean. The Louisiana Purchase also gave the United States a city which was to become one of the great poets of the world. This was New Orleans, the gateway to an inland waterway system that included the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers. Accounts of the events which took place at the Cabildo at that time can be found in the journals of Pierre-Clement de Laussat, the French prefect who participated in the ceremonies.

From late 1803 until 1836, 'the building served as the Hotel de Ville, or City Hall of New Orleans. Accounts of the events which occured during this time can be found in the New Orleans City Council Minutes and Resolutions, on file in the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library

In 1836, the Cabildo became the Municipal Hall for the First Municipality. In that year the city charter was revoked by the state due to tumultous behavior on the part of the citizens, particularly the Creoles and the Americans. The new charter divided the city into three municipalities, each with its own council, but with a single mayor. The office of the mayor remained in the Cabildo at this time. Accounts of the events which occured in the building during the years 1836 to 1852 can be found in the records of the First Municipality Council, on file in the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library.

It was during this unusual civic arrangment that the First Municipality Council approved the addition of a mansard roof to the Cabildo in 1847. It is possible that the First Municipality did not wish to be outclassed by the Americans of the Second Municipality, who were in the' process of erecting the Greek Revival structure designed by James Gallier. Shortly after the Americans had completed their municipal hall, and the Creoles had constructed their mansard roof on the Cabildo, events took a sudden turn. The city was re-united in 1852, and the newly restored city government, in 1853, chose to move its quarters from the old Cabildo building into the new Greek Revival building in the American sector of the city. The Cabildo had been relieved of its principal function.

After this event, the building housed a variety of uses. The State Supreme Court was located there until early in the 20th century, and part of the building was used by the police as a headquarters. In the second half of the 19th century the building also became the target of armed attacks on several occasions. The first of these incidences occured in 1858, when a large vigilante committee seized the building. Their presence, they claimed, was to ensure a peaceful election in the race between P.G.T. Beauregard and Gerard Smith. During the Reconstruction era, the Cabildo was the scene of three uprisings seeking to oust the regime of the Occupation government, or carpetbaggers. Two of these attacks were unsuccessful, due to the intervention of Federal troops on behalf of the carpetbaggers and their armed force, the Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police, whose quarters were in the Cabildo, were particularly disliked, and in 1877, an attack succeeded in ousting them, as well as the entire carpetbagger regime. Home rule government was re-established, and the oppressive era of Reconstruction came to a close. The events of this period are documented by material on file in the New Orleans Public Library.

The Cabildo continued to house the State Supreme Court, as well as the Third District Police Station until 1911. Since that year, it has housed part of the collection of the Louisiana State Museum.