And let us not withhold from the Consul of France the credit which is due him for approaching and approving the proceedings of such a minister.
Continuing The Louisiana Purchase,
our selection from The Life of Thomas Jefferson by Henry S. Randall published in 1858. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Louisiana Purchase.
Place: West of Mississippi River
England had every right to feel gratified. No alliance against her power, no special guaranties against her arms, no injurious discriminations against her navigation had been inserted in the treaties. France was stripped of her American continental possessions, and crippled from ever becoming the rival of England in colonial establishments. The ceded territory had gone into the hands of the only power which could hold it safely from all European rivals, and against which it would have been in vain for England herself to contend for its possession. The sum paid into the coffers of France would not approach that which Eng land would save in sending fleets against and in maintaining possession of Louisiana against both France and the United States, without any hope that possession would be permanent. And finally, England could now concentrate all her force with out reference to transatlantic efforts or interruptions, in her death — struggle with that modern Alexander against whom it might soon be necessary to defend even her own shores from invasion.
And let us not withhold from the Consul of France the credit which is due him for approaching and approving the proceedings of such a minister.It is to be presumed the paper was drawn up by Livingston, and was acquiesced in by Monroe, to escape an eclaircissement which would add to existing irritations. It is said that they (the ministers) “well knew” that “an acquisition of so great extent was not contemplated by their appointment,” but “they were persuaded that the circumstances and considerations which induced them to make it would justify them in the measure to their Government and country.”
So far as official written instructions were concerned, this was true; but both Livingston’s official and Jefferson’s unofficial letters show that it was an erroneous view; show that procuring Louisiana had been “contemplated” and made the subject of diplomatic correspondence; show that Jefferson had meditated and resolved on obtaining, if practicable, every foot of the American continental possessions of France, the moment he learned that France had obtained them; show that he had communicated these views to Livingston, while that minister was ex pressing to the French Government, and no doubt honestly entertaining, a wholly different class of ideas. And there is not a particle of doubt that it was precisely to seize upon a favorable crisis, should it occur, to do exactly what was done, that Monroe was sent charged with his “verbal” instructions.
Mr. Madison’s reply—as Secretary of State—to the communication of May 13th, was worded with peculiar care, its object being, without giving offence to Mr. Livingston, to dissent from the statement that the ministers had acted contrary to any previous views or wishes of their Government, or had taken a step which had not been “contemplated” by their Government, or one which they had not been expected to promptly and eagerly adopt if available. After expressing the unequivocal approbation of the Government for the proceedings of the ministers, he said:
“This approbation is in no respect precluded by the silence of your commission and instructions. When these were made out, the object of the most sanguine was limited to the establishment of the Mississippi as our boundary. It was not presumed that more could be sought by the United States, either with a chance of success, or perhaps without being suspected of a greedy ambition, than the island of New Orleans and the two Floridas; it being little doubted that the latter was, or would be, comprehended in the cession from Spain to France. To the acquisition of New Orleans and the Floridas, the provision was, therefore, accommodated. Nor was it to be supposed that in case the French Government should be willing to part with more than the territory on one side of the Mississippi, an arrangement with Spain for restoring to her the territory on the other side, would not be preferred to a sale of it to the United States. It might be added that the ample views of the subject carried with him by Mr. Monroe, and the confidence felt that your judicious management would make the most [of P] favorable occurrences, lessened the necessity of multiplying provisions for every turn which your negotiations might possibly take.”
He then very quietly mentioned that it was the tenor of Mr. Livingston’s own dispatches which had “left no expectation of any arrangement with France, by which an extensive acquisition was to be made, unless in a favorable crisis of which advantage should be taken.”
Is it asked if we entertain any doubt that Monroe, with his verbal instructions, would have concurred readily in a treaty based on the President’s formal and official offer, that is, on the separate acquisition of the Floridas and New Orleans? No such doubt is entertained. No question is made that the President and the American people would have rested satisfied with that acquisition for a generation to come. But it is not probable that the President expected his official demand would be com plied with, and no more. If so, he sent Monroe to France for nothing, and much of his letter to him of January 13, 1803, is wholly unmeaning gibberish. Undoubtedly he hoped for a more favorable arrangement. Undoubtedly he verbally instructed Monroe to acquire as much territory as practicable. Undoubtedly Monroe would never have signed a treaty which did not obtain more than New Orleans—and France did not, as it proved, own the Floridas. After reading the President’s letter to Livingston, of April 18, 1802, it would be absurd to declare that he did not “contemplate” the acquisition of Louisiana; that he did not solely originate the idea; that he did not originate and put in motion the train of causes by which it was accomplished.
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