Today’s installment concludes The Louisiana Purchase,
our selection from The Life of Thomas Jefferson by Henry S. Randall published in 1858. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of seven thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Louisiana Purchase.
Place: West of Mississippi River
Monroe, with his customary steady discretion and modesty, kept silent as to his share of the merit of this negotiation. Jefferson’s temptation to speak was stronger. The opposition, with its usual variety and diversity of grounds of attack, insisted: First, that the purchase was inexpedient, unconstitutional, and disgraceful in its character; second, that it was the result of “good — luck,” and was wholly unforeseen and unthought of; third, that Livingston’s energy and tact had broken away from instructions to rescue a feeble and irresolute Administration. The President did once or twice hint to very confidential correspondents that if all the facts were before the public, it would be shown that the ministers had not been compelled to take any unauthorized or unexpected responsibility; and he also hinted that Monroe was entitled to a full share of credit for what had been accomplished. Beyond this he coolly let the newspaper trumpet blare on and reduce him to a secondary attitude to those who, if they had executed well, had acted only as his instruments. He had conceived the design; he had foreseen the occasion; he had even given the signal to strike when the occasion came.
It was no ordinary triumph of which he omitted to claim the glory. When from the bema of the Pnyx the flashing eye of Demosthenes glanced from the upturned faces of the people of Athens to the scenes of those heroic achievements which he invoked them to emulate, it looked beyond the Gulf of Salamis and the plain of Marathon. Parnes, in whose rocky gorge stood Phyle, towered before him in the north, and in the south the heights on whose southern bases broke the waves of the Aegean. Almost the whole land of Attica lay under his vision, and near enough to have its great outlines distinguishable. What a world was clustered within that compass!
The land of Attica, whose sword shook and whose civilization conquered the world, had the superficial area and about one — third the agricultural productiveness of a moderate sized county in any of the American States which have been erected in the province of French Louisiana. No conqueror who has trod the earth to fill it with desolation and mourning, ever conquered and permanently amalgamated with his native kingdom a remote approach to the same extent of territory. But one kingdom in Europe equals the extent of one of its present States. Germany supports a population of thirty — seven millions of people. All Germany has a little more than the area of two — thirds of Nebraska, and, acre for acre, less tillable land. Louisiana, as densely populated in proportion to its natural materials of sustentation as parts of Europe, would be capable of supporting somewhere from four to five hundred millions of people. The whole United States became capable, by this acquisition, of sustaining a larger population than ever occupied Europe.
The purchase secured, independently of territory, several prime national objects. It gave us that homogeneousness, unity, and independence which are derived from the absolute control and disposition of our commerce, trade, and industry in every department, without the hindrance or meddling of any intervening nation between us and any natural element of industry, between us and the sea, or between us and the open market of the world. It gave us ocean boundaries on all exposed sides, for it left Canada exposed to us, and not us to Canada. It made us in disputably and forever the controllers of the western hemisphere. It placed our national course, character, civilization, and destiny solely in our own hands. It gave us the certain sources of a not distant numerical strength to which that of the mightiest empires of the past or present is insignificant.
A Gallic Caesar was leading his armies over shattered kingdoms. His armed foot shook the world. He decimated Europe. Millions on millions of mankind perished, and there was scarcely a human habitation from the Polar Seas to the Mediterranean where the voice of lamentation was not heard over slaughtered kindred, to swell the conqueror’s strength and “glory”! And the carnage and rapine of war are trifling evils compared with its demoralizations. The rolling tide of con quest subsided. France shrunk back to her ancient limits. Napoleon died a repining captive on the rock of St. Helena. The stupendous tragedy was played out; and no physical results were left behind but decrease, depopulation, and universal loss.
A republican President, on a distant continent, was also seeking to aggrandize his country. He led no armies. He shed not a solitary drop of human blood. He caused not a tear of human woe. He bent not one toiling back lower by governmental burdens. Strangest of political anomalies; and ludicrous as strange to the representatives of the ideas of the tyrannical and bloody past, he lightened the taxes while he was lightening the debts of a nation. And without interrupting either of these meliorations for an instant; without imposing a single new exaction on his people, he acquired, peaceably and permanently for his country more extensive and fertile domains than ever for a moment owned the sway of Napoleon; more extensive ones than his gory plume ever floated over. Which of these victors deserves to be termed “glorious”?
Yet, with that serene and unselfish equanimity which ever preferred his cause to his vanity, this more than conqueror allowed his real agency in this great achievement to go unexplained to the day of his death, and to be in a good measure attributed to mere accident, taken advantage of quite as much by others as by himself. He wrote no laurelled letter. He asked no triumph.
This ends our series of passages on The Louisiana Purchase by Henry S. Randall from his book The Life of Thomas Jefferson published in 1858. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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