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sixty-five vessels that sailed from the Mississippi the same year, one hundred and fifty-eight were American, as compared with one hundred and four Spanish and only three French. The Americans were rapidly gaining a monopoly of the trade of New Orleans. Petitions began to pour into Congress from the Western settlements for the defense of their commerce. They were anxious to have the United States troops at Natchez march on New Orleans forthwith.
Never before was Jefferson confronted with so difficult and delicate a situation, and never, before or after, did he display to better advantage his resources of patient and tactful diplomacy. He calmed Congress by a confident message which contained no mention of the suspended right of deposit, but dwelt on the return of peace in Europe and the growing prosperity of our country. He only mentioned the cession of Louisiana to France as a transaction which, if carried into effect, would make a change in the aspect of our foreign relations. He encouraged the exasperated people of the West to trust to the protection of the party which had consistently supported their interests rather than fly to the new and simulated friendship of the Federalists. He secured the appointment of James Monroe as a special envoy to France to co-operate with our minister, Robert R. Livingston, and the appropriation of two million dollars “to enable the Executive to commence with more effect a negotiation with the French and Spanish governments relative to the purchase from them of the Island of New Orleans and the provinces of East and West Florida.”
In spite of his easy tone to Congress, however, Jefferson realized to the full the seriousness of the situation. “It is a crisis,” he wrote to his old friend, Dupont de Nemours, "the most important the United States have met since their independence and which is to decide their future character and career"; and to Livingston, in France, he wrote: “The future destinies of our country hang on the event of this negotiation." Livingston's instructions in the note of April 18, 1802, had declared that the cession of New Orleans and the Floridas to us by France "would certainly in a great degree remove the causes of jarring and irritation between us," if France were determined to keep Louisiana. But there is proof that Jefferson would have been content for the moment to consider the restoration of the right of deposit and the free navigation of the river as a basis for further peaceful negotiation. Monroe's instructions were left vague enough to admit of almost any deal with Napoleon and Talleyrand. They consisted of hardly more than exaggerated expressions of confidence in Monroe's discretion.
It was not, however, the faithful labors of Livingston or even the far-seeing ambitions of Jefferson that were the primary cause of our acquisition of that splendid domain which stretches from the Mississippi to the Rockies and from Canada to the Gulf. Livingston's offers had been coldly received by Talleyrand, and he wrote home to Madison just as Monroe was starting for Paris: "With respect to the negotiations for Louisiana, I think nothing will be effected here." Jefferson himself confessed in a letter to John Bacon (written curiously enough on the very day the treaty of cession was dated in Paris, April 30, 1803) that he was "not sanguine in obtaining a cession of New Orleans for money," but was "confident in the policy of putting off the day of contention for it” till we should be “stronger in ourselves and stronger in allies”; especially till we should have "planted such a population on the Mississippi” as would be able to defend their rights. He did not expect Napoleon to yield, but his hope was to "palliate and endure” until war between France and England, with our threat to join the latter, gave him the chance to bring to bear on the First Consul the only kind of argument which he heeded.
But Napoleon did not wait. He never let the initiative in an inevitable act come from another. The ill-kept peace of Amiens was wearing thin. England refused to abandon Malta in the Mediterranean, and Napoleon continued his aggressions on the Republics along the French borders. Each
made the other's acts a cause of war, and both began preparations for war. On the very day after Livingston wrote home his pessimistic prospects for the purchase of any of Louisiana, Napoleon practically declared war on England by publicly insulting Lord Whitworth at an audience of ambassadors at the Tuileries: “You are determined to make war against us. You drive me to it. I shall be the last to sheathe the sword.” Devoted as Napoleon was to his colonial scheme, not even his colossal brain could manage the affairs of both hemispheres. He had to choose between Europe and America, between the Continent and the colonies—and he chose as every French ruler had chosen since the days of Richelieu. Santo Domingo had cost him twentyfour thousand men. Spain, secretly encouraged by England, had persistently refused to include the gulf shores of the Floridas in the cession of San Ildefonso. Pichon, the French agent at Washington, was writing home alarming reports of the “redoubled civilities” of President Jefferson for the British chargé. England's renewal of the war meant a rebuilding of the European coalition. With characteristic abruptness, Napoleon ordered his finance minister, Barbé-Marbois, to offer the whole province of Louisiana to Livingston for fifty million francs (April 11, 1803). Talleyrand, to whom Napoleon had also disclosed his plan, had already surprised Livingston by asking him how much the
United States would give for the whole of Louisiana.
Livingston and Monroe (who arrived in Paris the day after Talleyrand's proposal) had authority to negotiate for New Orleans and the Floridas only, and had but two million dollars, or one-fifth the price Napoleon asked, to spend. Marbois at first put the price of Louisiana at one hundred million francs, instead of the fifty million which Napoleon had suggested; but finally came down to sixty million clear, with the proviso that the American Government would assume liability for the claims of its citizens for damages done their shipping. These claims amounted to some twenty million francs. The responsibility put on the envoys was great. Fifteen million dollars was a sum considerably in excess of the total annual revenue of the United States, and the French title to Louisiana was not unimpeachable. Yet Livingston and Monroe did not hesitate to accept the bargain. On May 2, 1803, they signed the treaty transferring the province to the United States. Well might Livingston
1 (1) Napoleon had not taken possession of Louisiana when he sold it to us. (2) He had never fulfilled his part of the bargain with Spain, which was an Italian throne for the King's nephew. (3) Ho had promised Spain never to transfer Louisiana to a foreign Power. (4) He was forbidden by the French Constitution to alienate any of the territory of the Republic. “In taking Louisiana," says Professor Edward Channing, “we were the accomplices of the greatest highwayman of modern history, and the goods which we received were those which he compelled his unwilling victims to disgorge.”