By Ari Kelman
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Additional resources for A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans
In fact, they had misjudged the waterfront’s signiﬁcance because they were Americans, strangers in a strange land whose laws and landscapes were equally mysterious. Derbigny’s discussion of the waterfront’s importance for New Orleans—describing the riverfront accretion as a boon to the city, a gift on which it rested—is the most revealing part of the pamphlet. Using this line of argument to confer legitimacy on his position, Derbigny tapped into one of the most powerful creation myths in New Orleans, a story that went back to the era of the city’s founding: “nature,” working through its agent, the river, favored the city and would nurture it.
In May 1808, Livingston traveled to Washington to confront the president, but Jefferson brushed him off. 46 In a ﬁnal letter to Madison, Livingston explained that he had shown restraint by not challenging Jefferson’s authority in New Orleans. 47 Forced off his land, having failed in his mission to appeal to Jefferson, Livingston went public with his plight, ﬁring off a new series of pamphlets designed to unmask the president as a villain. In the ﬁrst of these broadsides, Livingston focused on the sanctity of private-property rights in the United States.
The meaning of an open Mississippi to the West crystallized for Jefferson during Jay’s negotiations. Throughout the troubled talks, western settlers espoused an argument based on what might be labeled a kind of ecological diplomacy—long before the term “ecology” became fashionable—suggesting that because the Mississippi was the only outlet for their trade, the “God of nature . . ”31 These entreaties were based on an interpretation of nature common to the late eighteenth century: divine providence had created the nonhuman world to serve the interests of people.
A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans by Ari Kelman