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
The victor of Lodi, Abukir, and Marengo—the dictator of Southern Europe—could have laughed at the President’s threats if nothing but the Rhine or the Pyrenees had separated the domains over which they ruled. But circumstances some times more than counterbalance strength. A mountaineer in a pass is more formidable than a battalion on a plain. The United States held the unapproached maritime supremacy of the western hemisphere. She held more. Maritime skill and maritime victory were hers by birthright. Never man for man and gun for gun had her flag been struck to Christian or corsair; and now the Levantine seas were witnessing her avenging chastisement of those to whom Europe paid tribute. United with England, and only given time to build—in the mechanical sense of the term fleets, and no ocean or sea could float a sail which was not under the protection of their associated flags.
But independently of such future results, and looking only to existing facts, Bonaparte was not weak enough in military capacity to suppose for a moment he could hold a level and comparatively unfortified mud — bank, inhabited by a few thousand creoles, and a vast wilderness occupied only by savages, with the Atlantic between it and France, against the fighting men of five millions of people, and with England joyfully and eagerly ready to intercept every succor he could send, so that not a regiment would reach America without in part owing it to favoring accidents.
The moment, therefore, he believed the President’s avowals had been made in earnest, and that the American people were ready to uphold them: ready to fight for the territory—and what could he expect if the American Republicans, the only party that could ever tolerate France, should lead in the war feeling ?—his strong sagacity at once foresaw that his colonization projects were at an end; that these new domains were worthless to France, and must soon pass entirely from its grasp. Measuring as he always did the sentiment of America toward France by the Federal standard, he probably considered any guaranty the latter could receive from the former as a far weaker and more ephemeral engagement than it would actually have proved. Necessity would have broken it. But he believed the merest pretext would suffice. It was both for his advantage and credit, then, to get rid of it for the best equivalent he could obtain, before another war should break out between France and England.
On April 3oth—just eleven days before Lord Whitmouth received his passports and left France—a treaty and two conventions were entered into between the American and French ministers, by which France ceded the entire p1ovince of Louisiana to the United States, for the sum of sixty millions of francs, to be paid to France: twenty millions to be paid to citizens of the United States due from France, for supplies, embargoes, and prizes made at sea; and in further consideration of certain stipulations in favor of the inhabitants of the ceded territory, and certain commercial privileges secured to France.
It was provided that the inhabitants of Louisiana should “be incorporated into the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible, according to the principles of the Federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States; and, in the mean time, they should be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the religion which they professed.”
It was provided that French or Spanish ships coming directly from their own country, or any of their colonies, and loaded only with the produce or manufactures thereof, should for the space of twelve years be admitted to any port within the ceded territory, in the same manner and on the same terms with American vessels coming from those places. And for that period no other nation was to have a right to the same privileges in the ports of the ceded territory. But this was not to affect the regulations the United States might make concerning the exportation of their own produce and merchandise, or any right they might have to make such regulations. After the expiration of the twelve years, and forever, the ships of France were to be treated upon the footing of the most favored nations in the ports of the ceded territory.
The financial arrangements were included in the “Conventions,” as France exhibited a sensitive disinclination to have this territorial transfer formally assume its real character of a sale for money. But a careful inspection of the treaties will show that she had much less reason to blush for her conduct on this occasion than nations commonly have which either cede or acquire territory. Her stipulations in behalf of the existing and future population of Louisiana were most humane and noble, and those which affected her American creditors were conceived in the highest spirit of magnanimity and honor. It is curious to speculate what a different air this international compact might have been made to wear had the superseded Talleyrand been the negotiator instead of the austerely virtuous Marbois. 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.
We think it was Napoleon who said he had noticed that Providence generally favored the heaviest and best disciplined battalions. Fortune wafts on those who seize her at the ebb. The “good — luck” to which it gave the opposition so much consolation to attribute the President’s success in the purchase of Louisiana continued. The house of Baring, in London, offered for a moderate commission at once to take the American stocks which were created for the purchase money of Louisiana, at their current value in England, and to meet our engagements to France by stipulated monthly installments. It is not at all probable that this offer to furnish so large a sum to an enemy could have been made without an understanding with the British Government. Nay, the latter had projected an expedition to capture New Orleans as soon as her war with France should break out, but, on being apprised by Mr. King of the measures of the United States toward a purchase, evinced apparent satisfaction with such an arrangement. And on learning the terms of the cession, even George III, if the well — turned diplomatic language of Lord Hawkesbury may be credited, grew gracious, and ex pressed high approbation of their tenor.
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