By the secrecy and duplicity practiced relative to this object, it is clear to me that they apprehend some opposition on the part of America to their plans.
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
There was nothing in the transaction, or in any of its connections, which would require them to be forgotten or disavowed by chief actors within that brief period in which ordinary memories preserve transactions of very secondary importance.
We are not prepared to deny, however, that the President’s letter to Livingston showed high diplomatic skil1—that it made the most of the circumstances—that it was a shrewd and singularly daring effort to beat the French Consul at a game he was himself very fond of playing toward other nations. The further chances of the game—the skill of the players—the end which tests the wisdom of the beginning—are to be hereafter recorded.
The French Government, however, studiously avoided giving our minister any information of its purchase of Louisiana or its non — purchase of Florida. The reason will presently appear in a dispatch of Livingston. The latter, according to his instructions, attempted as a primary object to prevent the French continental acquisitions, and next, if they took place, to attempt to obtain that portion of them east of the Mississippi, and particularly West Florida, in order to secure the outlets to the Gulf of Mexico furnished by its rivers, especially the Mobile. In this Livingston met with no encouragement. On his hinting at a purchase the minister told him “none but spendthrifts satisfied their debts by selling their lands.” De Marbois—a steady friend of the United States—informed him that the French Government considered the acquired possessions an excellent “outlet for their turbulent spirits.” He soon learned that their colonization was a favorite scheme of the First Consul. Some passages in a dispatch of Livingston, of January 13, 1802, de serve particular attention:
“By the secrecy and duplicity practiced relative to this object, it is clear to me that they apprehend some opposition on the part of America to their plans. I have, however, on all occasions declared that as long as France conforms to the existing treaty between us and Spain, the Government of the United States does not consider herself as having any interest in opposing the exchange. The evil our country has suffered by their rupture with France is not to be calculated. We have become an object of jealousy both to the Government and people.
“The reluctance we have shown to a renewal of the treaty of 1778 has created many suspicions. Among other absurd ones, they believed seriously that we have an eye to the conquest of their islands. The business of Louisiana also originated in that; and they say expressly that they could have no pretence, so far as related to the Floridas, to make this exchange, had the treaty been renewed, since by the sixth article they were expressly prohibited from touching the Floridas. I own I have always considered this article, and the guaranty of our Independence, as more important to us than the guaranty of the islands was to France: and the sacrifices we have made of an immense claim to get rid of it, as a dead loss.”
By comparing this with Jefferson’s letter of April 18, 1802, it will be seen how completely the President’s views differed from Mr. Livingston’s in regard to the consequences of a French colonization of Louisiana, and in regard to the proper policy to be adopted by the United States if it was attempted. And the further dispatches show that no change took place in the minister’s views until he received the letter of the President. The policy which secured the purchase of Louisiana was purely original with the latter. Not a distant hint, not even an analogous idea, was received from any other quarter.
The minister again wrote home, March 24th, that the colonization of New Orleans was “a darling object of the First Consul”—that he “saw in it a mean to gratify his friends and dispose of his enemies”—that it was thought “that New Or leans must command the trade of our whole western country” —that the French had been persuaded “that the Indians were attached to France and hated the Americans”—that “the country was a paradise,” etc. The minister then proposed that the United States establish a port at Natchez, or elsewhere, and give it such advantages “as would bring our vessels to it without touching at New Orleans.”
He wrote, April 24th, that the French minister “would give no answer to any inquiries he made” on the subject of Louisiana; that the Government was “at that moment fftting out an armament” to take possession, consisting of “between ffve and seven thousand men, under the command of General Bernadotte,” who would shortly sail for New Orleans, “unless the state of affairs in Santo Domingo should change their destination.” He declared his information certain, and again pressed his Government “immediately to take measures to enable Natchez to rival New Orleans.”
Some other letters passed which are not necessary to be mentioned. On July 30th Livingston wrote the Secretary of State that he had received his dispatches of May 1st and 11th, the President’s letter through Dupont de Nemours, of the preceding April 18th (1802), and that he was preparing a memoir to the French Government.
The formal instructions of May 1st and 11th fell far short of the scope or decision of the President’s private letter which he had sent to Dupont de Nemours open, expressly and avowedly to have its contents made known to the French Government. The former, however, directed the minister to urge upon France “an abandonment of her present purpose.” Those of the first directed him to endeavor to ascertain at what price she would relinquish the Floridas—those of the 11th, to employ “every effort and address” to procure the cession of all territory east of the Mississippi, including New Orleans—and he was authorized, should it become absolutely necessary in order to secure this, to guarantee the French possessions west of the river.
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