Yet, Jefferson was also convinced that the American procurement of New Orleans and its development into the dominant commercial center of the Americas was integral to the future of an agrarian, and thereby virtuous, republic. Believing yellow fever to be a symptom of urban blight, expanding New Orleans capacity as a commercial port, while limiting its potential for industrial growth, would not only protect the physical health of the residents but also ensure the spiritual health of the nation as a result. In communication with some of the most prominent scientific and philosophical minds of his time, Jefferson devised a plan to expand New Orleans’s commercial potential, while insulating it from the affliction that besieged the industrial northeast.
Once procured in the Louisiana Purchase, the reality on the ground was beyond even the then president’s control. Over the next ten years, yellow fever frustrated efforts to develop New Orleans into the port of liberty Jefferson envisioned. This paper examines the role that the disease played in the imagination and development of an American New Orleans from 1793 through the first decade of its existence.
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