William C. C. Claiborne was not Thomas Jefferson’s first or even second choice for the governor who would take possession of the Louisiana Territory after the United States purchased the land from France. Pres. Jefferson first offered the office to James Madison and to the French hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette. Neither of them was keen on leading the effort to incorporate the former Spanish and French colony into the United States, however. After Claiborne demonstrated great skill in managing a populace who did not especially welcome U.S. rule, Jefferson eventually praised his third choice, telling members of his cabinet that Claiborne’s “conduct has on the whole been so prudent and conciliatory that no secondary character would have a better right” to the position.
The president might have regretted appointing Claiborne, though, when he received a June 12, 1807, letter from the governor of Louisiana that began, “My feelings have led me to an act which I fear may subject me to your censure.” Daniel Clark, an Irish-born Louisiana businessman who felt he should have been named territorial governor, had goaded Claiborne into challenging him to a duel. Clark had escaped unharmed, but his bullet passed through Claiborne’s right thigh and hit the left thigh. The governor “suffered much pain” and was laid up for weeks in the heat of the summer.
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