New Orleans Public Library
|Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans|
Louis Alfred Wiltz (1843-1881)
L. A. Wiltz became the thirty second mayor of New Orleans at the age of 29, the youngest mayor in the history of New Orleans. He was born in this city October 22, 1843, the son of J. B. Theopile Wiltz, a former merchant of this city, and Louise Irene Villaneuva. His ancestors of his father’s side were among the first German settlers of Louisiana who came to this country as early as 1717 to till the rich alluvial soil of the Mississippi Valley with their primitive hoes and ploughs. His mother was the daughter of a Spanish soldier who came to the colony with O’Reilly. Therefore, in his veins mingled the blood of Saxon and Latin races and his character united the strong, energetic traits of the German temperament with the ardent, lively and impetuous disposition of the Latin race.|
He attended the public schools of the city until he was about fifteen years of age when he obtained employment with Plauche & Co., a commercial establishment on Carondelet Street. When this firm failed, he started his political career as clerk of the Second District Court, and was so employed at the outbreak of the War between the States. He was only eighteen years of age when he enlisted as a private, but soon was made captain of a company in the Chalmette Regiment. This command was captured at Fort Jackson and Captain Wiltz was then assigned to duty in the Mississippi Department and subsequently in the Trans-Mississippi Department serving with the 7th Louisiana at the battle of Mansfield and was in command of the post at Franklin, Louisiana when the surrender took place.
At the conclusion of the war, he returned to New Orleans and again applied himself to commercial pursuits.
In 1863 he married a Miss Bienvenue, of the large and influential family by that name in St. Martinsville. Of this union five children were born, four girls and one boy.
Upon the re-organization of the Democratic Party after the war, Mr. Wiltz’s real political career began. He was at that time probably the most popular young man in the lower municipal districts and recognized as a leader by his political associates. In 1868, he was elected to the House of Representatives and also served on the City School Board. In 1869 he was elected a member of the Board of Aldermen and was made president of that body the same year. The Democratic Convention of 1869 nominated him for mayor of the city; he was only 26 years of age at that time. After the nomination, the Radical Legislature, to prevent the succession of the Democratic candidate, postponed the election. Mr. Wiltz was again nominated in 1870, his appointment being ex-Governor B. F. Flanders, a Republican, who was duly counted in by the Returning Board. Again in 1872 Mr. Wiltz was nominated for Mayor by the Democrats and elected by a large majority of votes. The Republican State Authorities refused to issue his commission and Mayor Flanders declined to vacate the office. Under these conditions, Mr. Wiltz displayed that force of will and promptness of action which afterwards, on January 4, 1875, was exhibited to a larger degree under similar circumstances. Having arranged a plan of proceedings, the Mayor elect, accompanied by the administrators chosen with him, went to the City Hall and entered the Mayor’s office. He then demanded boldly and with due form that Mr. Flanders should vacate the chair which he (Mr. Wiltz) claimed by virtue of a popular election. - Mr. Flanders at first refused to comply, but being threatened with ejection, concluded to retire. Thus Mr. Wiltz assumed the high office of Mayor.
The administration of the municipal government during the two years under Mayor Wiltz, was surrounded by numerous embarrassments and dangers and was continually menaced by the Republican State Government. Political excitement ran high and the financial affairs of the city were in a sorry state. Mr. Wiltz realized this for in his inaugural message he said “It is plain that the great majority of people anticipate from our hands far more than can be accomplished by any effort on our part.” Capital had fled the city, overtaxed houses were tenantless; extravagant port charges had driven off ships greatly damaging commerce and real estate had depreciated. – It cannot be said that his administration went far in restoring the credit of the city, but he did give evidence of possessing fine executive abilities and he carried out several measures of permanent benefit to the city. He did much toward carrying out the will of the great philanthropist, McDonogh. At an early period of his term he collected the residue of that splendid donation, the small fraction which had escaped the rapacity of the lawyers and remained after years of maladministration. With the revenues derived from this fund, three school houses were erected during his term. Two in the third district and one in Algiers. He was chairman of the General Relief Committee which was organized to aid the thousands of sufferers, victims of the overflow of 1874 which inflicted so much damage on the riparian parishes of Louisiana. Partly through his efforts the sum of $215,000 was collected from all over the United States for this purpose. – One of the most important achievements was the incorporating of Carrollton and he used good judgment in suggesting the paving of St. Charles Avenue up to that newly acquired section.
He was again a candidate for the Mayoralty in 1874. Mr. Charles J. Leeds was his opponent. The balloting was close and the vote as announced in favor of Mr. Leeds was challenged as incorrect. This mistake gave rise to some display of feeling which was appeased by the withdrawal of Mr. Wiltz from the contest on the next ballot, and his hearty support of Mr. Leeds. At the election of 1874, Wiltz was chosen as a member of the House of Representatives and was Speaker of the House on the memorable day in Louisiana history, January 4, 1875. After delivering his speech he left the building self-possessed and dignified, leaving the military in possession of the empty benches. The spectacle of the Democratic Representatives, led by their Speaker, filing slowly from the hall before the bayonets of the Federal Soldiers bodied forth a warning to the people of the United States more potent and impressive than the admonitions of the most eloquent orator.
In the fall of 1879 he was elected Governor of the State of Louisiana. This office had long been the object of Mr. Wiltz’s ambition. During all the years of his political life, his political acts were more or less shaped with a view to this end. A thorough politician and a strict party man, he believed in the legitimacy of partisan methods and political devices. His almost continuous candidacy is to be attributed rather to the promptings of a powerful ambition, than to the vulgar greed which actuates the common office seeker.
He died October 16, 1881, at the age of 38, from pulmonary consumption and lies buried in the St. Louis Cemetery No. 2.
Few men of this State have had more or better opportunities to enrich themselves while in office than Governor Wiltz. He entered on his political career at a time when the body-politic was thoroughly corrupt and he necessarily must have been constantly subjected to the strongest temptations. The prominence which he had attained and the influence he had acquired, made him an alluring object for the schemes of the venal and nefarious, but Mr. Wiltz died a poor man, not even the house he lived in was his own. He left his family in needy circumstances and the people of Louisiana were called upon to see that the widow and children were protected from want and suffering.
|Members of the Wiltz Administration|
November 30, 1872-November 30, 1874
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