The city charter is to New Orleans what the constitution is to the State of Louisiana. It is the legal document that created the municipal government and defines its purposes, duties, and privileges. On February 17, 1805, Governor William C. C. Claiborne approved An Act to Incorporate the City of New Orleans that had just been passed by the Legislative Council of the Territory of Orleans. New Orleans thus had its first charter seven years before Louisiana had its first constitution, and was now officially an American city after serving for eighty-three years as the capital of a vast European colony in North America.

Over the ensuing 200 years the Louisiana Legislature amended the original charter hundreds of times and replaced it altogether six times. In 1950 the Legislature made it possible for New Orleans to adopt a new home rule charter, an option that the city fathers quickly took advantage of.

This exhibit explores the 200-year history of city charters in New Orleans using original manuscripts, maps, and books from the City Archives and other Louisiana Division collections. It focuses on the geographical changes effected by several of the charters, on the structural changes to the municipal government that each charter brought about, and on some of the personalities involved in this history. The brief notes on each charter, rendered within quotation marks within the exhibit, are from L. Vaughn Howard and Robert S. Friedman, Government in Metropolitan New Orleans (1959), volume VI in the Tulane Studies in Political Science series.

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The exhibit was created by Wayne Everard, Archivist in the Louisiana Division,with design assistance from Assistant Archivist Irene Wainwright. Thanks are extended to Ridgways, Inc. for reproduction services.

The exhibit will remain on view in the Louisiana Division of the Main Library through May, 2005. It will remain here in NUTRIAS indefinitely.

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