France, Spain, U.S. mark Louisiana Purchase

Sunday, December 21, 2003

NEW ORLEANS -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia nodded, agreeing with his fellow jurists that Thomas Jefferson was indeed guilty of prolonging slavery, deporting American Indians and discriminating against the French in Louisiana.

Scalia joined federal and state judges to hear the testimony of Jefferson and French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte in a mock trial to review lingering legal and historic questions about the Louisiana Purchase.

New Orleans caps a yearlong celebration of the bicentennial of the mammoth land acquisition with a host of events Saturday.

Friday evening, the verdict ran like lightning through the hushed audience in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jefferson's attorney jumped to his feet and demanded an appeal.

Napoleon flashed a grin and a thumbs-up sign after being acquitted of abandoning the peoples in the Louisiana province when he struck the land deal with Jefferson in 1803.

On Dec. 20, 1803, the American flag was hoisted in the Place d'Armes, now Jackson Square.

Friday was the final act of this three-part yearlong trial organized by Cajun Francophone lawyers. It was performed mostly in French and also celebrated the movement to preserve the French language in the United States.

Here comes the justice

As the representative of the 5th Circuit on the Supreme Court, Scalia was invited to attend the "proces simule."

Scalia didn't utter a word during the trial, and agreed with a nod -- after consultation with the bench -- to the verdict: Jefferson guilty, Napoleon innocent.

The contention in this legal play was that the development of the United States has often come with a price: The abused.

Jefferson, played by a lawyer-turned-actor in wig and breeches, took the stand first.

He was interrogated by representatives of the American Indians, black and white Creoles, Spanish and Acadians -- the people who called the swamps and pine forests of the Mississippi River valley home in 1803.

For the Indians, the argument ran, the territories the United States occupied after the Purchase -- the Great Plains -- became the land for reservations.

"Did you ever hear of the 'Trail of Tears' which was the trail of hardship and death over which the Cherokee Indians from Georgia were marched by U.S. soldiers at gunpoint one thousand miles to Indian territory in the Louisiana Purchase?" Jefferson was asked.

"I have heard rumors of that, but it did not happen during my administration," the president replied -- astonished.

The representative of black slaves sneered at Jefferson: "You say you wanted to abolish slavery, and yet, when you died, were not your slaves sold off at auction to pay your debts?"

Jefferson conceded: "Yes, I am sorry to admit. As I grew old, I sometimes asked myself whether my country was the better for my having lived at all."

In his defense, Jefferson added: "I did what I could. I always believed and proclaimed that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that liberty is among these rights."

The Cajuns asked: "Why do you believe that the French language had to be stamped out?"

Replied Jefferson: "Well, I will quote here a great American, Theodore Roosevelt, who shares with me a place of honor on the national monument of Mount Rushmore: 'There is room for but one language in this country, and that is the English language, for we must assure that the crucible turns out Americans and not some random dwellers in a polyglot boarding house."'

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