Untitled Document

The Louisiana Purchase

Table of Contents

Failed Jay Treaty on Mississippi River
Washington Administration and the Treaty of San Lorenzo
France, Spain and America
Robert R. Livingston
James Monroe
The Negotiations
The Size of Louisiana
Constitutional Concerns
Ratification and Approval


The Louisiana Purchase cost America about 4 cents per acre. It was a bargain and it was big. The Louisiana Purchase wasn't just the largest real estate deal in U.S. history. The new territory also forever altered the way America saw itself. Historians Robert E. Wright and David Cowen wrote: “Overnight, the upstart nation acquired land physically larger than France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, and the British Isles combined.”1 The price was cheap, but it was perhaps more than the U.S. government needed to pay for an acquisition that effectively doubled the nation’s size and greatly increased its future weight in world affairs. But in the difficult days of 1803, the Jefferson Administration and its envoys in Paris had to think and act quickly in order to consummate the deal – seeking primarily to insure Americans’ transportation access to the Gulf of Mexico by securing the rivers that emptied into that sea. Napoleon Bonaparte also had to act quicky because he needed the money.

America ended up with a much bigger prize – one that would encompass in whole or in part 15 states. Historian Jerry W. Knudson observed: “More than any other event in the springtime of the Republic, the purchase of Louisiana from France by the United States in 1803 caused the already buoyant spirits of Americans to soar to new heights of imaginative speculation. The very thought of the vast reaches of Louisiana could be alluring – or daunting, and it was the latter emotion that Senator Samuel White had in mind when he spoke of the Louisiana territory as ‘this new immense, unbounded world’ before the Senate on November 2, 1803.”2

The negotiations that led to the Louisiana Purchase were themselves short, but the road leading to those negotiations was nearly two decades long. Since the American Revolution ended in 1783, European powers had been intent on circumscribing American power. With the Louisiana, Europe did the reverse. Historian Thomas Fleming noted that “by doubling the size of the United States, the purchase transformed it from a minor to a major world power. The emboldened Americans soon absorbed West and East Florida from enfeebled Spain, and fought mighty England to a bloody stalemate in the War of 1812.”3 Still, the new purchase involved a good deal of mystery, especially regarding its size. Historian Charles A. Cerami wrote that it was “astonishing... that America was considering the purchase of a property that had no precisely defined extent or boundaries. The two Floridas may or may not have been included. The western part of the Territory was simply terra incognita. [French Finance Minister Francois Barbé-Marbois] is said to have told Napoleon that those boundaries were rather obscure, causing the First Consul to smile mischievously and say, ‘If an obscurity did not already exist, it would perhaps be a good policy to put one there.’ In other words, the less definite the description, the more liberties one can take in claiming a very expansive area.” French Foreign Minister Talleyrand was deliberately vague and unhelpful about the boundaries: “You must take it as we received it.”4 Napoleon had a own devious strategy. He had decided he could not hold Louisiana. What Napoleon could not have, he did not want Britain to have. And it served Napoleon’s interests if America and Spain fought over it. Historian Thomas A. Bailey wrote that Napoleon “hoped that boundary disputes would embroil Spain and the United States, and that he could play one antagonist off against the other to his own advantage.”5

Back in 1762 after the French and Indian War in which the French lost Quebec to the British, France deeded its Louisiana territory to Spain in payment for debts. The loss of the more populated northern territory deprived France of much of its reason to retain the lightly-occupied southern province. In 1800 Napoleon decided he wanted the former colony returned as part of his plans to reestablish the French presence in the western hemisphere. Spain’s hand in Louisiana had been weakened by a territorial concession they had been granted the U.S. in 1795. Under intense pressure, Spain ceded the Louisiana territory back to France in a secret treaty arranged in October 1800 – only a day after the French had concluded a treaty with America to end the undeclared war between the two nations. American diplomats soon learned of the Louisiana deal, which was an open secret in Europe. Jefferson biographer Nathan Schachner wrote: “Jefferson was not very sanguine of getting New Orleans, much less the Floridas. He was sufficiently satisfied that Spain had disavowed the summary action of her Intendant in closing that vital port to the deposit in transit of American goods. Thus, he exclaimed exultantly, ‘by a reasonable and peaceable process, we have obtained in 4. months what would have cost us 7. years of war, 100,000 human lives, 100 millions of additional debt.’”6

In less than three weeks after special American emissary James Monroe arrived in France in April 1803, the French and Americans reached an agreement to sell the vast Louisiana Territory to the United States. The speed of the negotiation was almost as surprising as its size. America purchased territory it had not been seeking for a price it had not authorized under circumstances that its president found constitutionally dubious. President Thomas Jefferson had been preoccupied with the area to the west of the Appalachian mountains for decades – back when he was a diplomat in Europe concerned about negotiations being conducted by American Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay. Historian W. Edwin Hemphill wrote that Jay’s position on the Mississippi river “stirred the absent Jefferson to write many letters denouncing such a policy in no uncertain terms.”7 Once elected president in 1810, Jefferson focused on how to secure a the natural transportation route for western residents that would in turn secure their loyalty to the federal government.

Jefferson’s goal turned into an international crisis in 1802 after the Spanish intendant at New Orleans, Juan Ventura Morales, closed the commercial access to Americans on October 16. In his short but convoluted proclamation, the intendant stated: “As long as it was necessary to tolerate the trade of neutrals, which is now abolished, it would have been prejudicial to this country, that the Intendant complying with his duty should have prevented the deposit in this city of the property of Americans as granted to them by the twenty-second article of the Treaty of Friendship, Limits and Navigation of the 27th of October 1795, at the expiration of the three years prefixed; but now that, with the publication of the treaty of Amiens, and the re-establishment of the communication between the English and Spanish subjects, that inconvenience has ceased, considering that the 22nd article of the said treaty prevents my continuing this toleration, which necessity required after the fulfillment of the stipulated time, this ministry can no longer consent to it, without an express order of the King’s. Therefore without prejudice to the exportation of what has been admitted in proper time, I order that from this date shall cease the privilege which the Americans had of bringing and depositing their goods in this capitol. And. That the foregoing may be publicly known, and that nobody may plead ignorance, I order it to be published in the accustomed places, to be posted up in public; and that the necessary notice be given of it to the Department of Finance, Royal Custom-House, and others that may be thought proper.”8 Overnight, Americans in the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers had no outlet for their exports. President Jefferson worried about the outlet for their frustration.

That the intendant’s action was taken without the agreement of the Spanish governor at New Orleans or the Spanish government did not matter in the short run. By April 1803, the Spanish government would in fact reverse the intendant’s action. In the meantime, the intendant had created a domestic and international crisis. “Morales claimed that he did so under a clause in the 1795 treaty with Spain, which stipulated that Americans enjoyed the right of deposit as neutrals in England’s war with France and Spain. The Treaty of Amiens had ended the war and with it the United States’ neutral status,” wrote historian Thomas Fleming, who contended: “No one believed this specious argument. Virtually every American saw the closure as part of France’s plans for Louisiana. The French, they assumed, wanted to abolish the right of deposit in order to inflict maximum export duties on U.S. goods when they took possession.”9 Nevertheless, his actions became part of the web of conspiracy theories that enveloped the new and old worlds. Historian Robert H. Ferrell wrote: “It seems to have been only a near coincidence of dates that Morales closed the port on October 16, one day after the king of Spain gave the royal order for delivery of Louisiana to France.”10 Still, who knew what the governments of Europe were planning and how a new owner would influence America?

The Spanish order denying the American right of deposit was contrary to the 1795 Pinckney Treaty, but that right had been guaranteed only for three years. The transfer of New Orleans to the French threatened American interests – just as closing the port for deposit had. American authorities had to deal with both crises at once. Political scientist Sean M. Theriault argued: “Americans much preferred Louisiana in the weaker and more benign Spanish hands.”11 They had to stymie the political transfer and open the riverway commercially. Historian Thomas Fleming wrote: “An agitated Secretary of State Madison fired off a letter to South Carolinian Charles Pinckney, the U.S. minister to Spain, ordering him to make the strongest possible protest of ‘this direct and palpable violation’ of the treaty of 1795. Pinckney was to inform the Spanish government that the president of the United States expected them not to ‘lose a moment’ in countermanding the intendant’s order, which Mr. Jefferson hoped was the product of personal caprice.”12 Secretary of State James Madison wrote the Spanish minister in Washington:

Information has just been received that the Port of New Orleans has been shut against the Commerce of the U. States from the Ocean into the Mississippi; and that the right of American Citizens to deposit their Merchandizes and effects in that port has also been prohibited, without substitution of any equivalent establishment on the Banks of the Mississippi. An extract from the proclamation, by which the latter prohibitions made is herein inclosed. It is impossible to see in either of these measures any thing less than a direct and gross violation of the terms as well as spirit of the Treaty of 1795 between his Catholic Majesty and the United States and the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States at Madrid will be instructed by the President to represent it to the Spanish Government that in the mean time it is thought proper to communicate to you the wrong which has been done, that you may have an opportunity of using such interpositions as the occasion may require. The President is persuaded Sir that you will endeavor to render them both as expeditious and as efficacious as possible, not only from your personal candor and regard for right, but from the further consideration of the indemnification which will justly accrue for American citizens, whose property to a very great amount will soon be exposed to the injurious consequences of this proceeding.”13
In Washington, the Spanish ambassador, the Marquis de Caso Yrujo, agreed with Madison but there was little he could do.14 14 Meanwhile, from Paris, American Minister Robert R. Livingston wrote Madison the alarming news that the French seemed to be preparing to take possession of New Orleans with a military force: “The government here will give no answer to my notes on the subject. They will say nothing on that of their limit or our rights under the Spanish treaty.” In a conversation with an American diplomat, a French general “did not conceal their views which are nothing short of taking exactly what they find convenient. When asked what they meant to do as to our right of entrep he spoke of the treaty as wastepaper & the préfet did not know that we had such right tho it has been the subject of many conversations with the minister & of three different notes.”15

Events on both sides of the Atlantic threatened to disrupt the status quo along the American frontier. Historian Garrett Ward Sheldon wrote: “After the French and Indian War, Britain maintained the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, held full navigation rights; Spain controlled the west bank and the mouth to the sea, at New Orleans. After declaring independence, America assumed continued navigation rights on the Mississippi. Spanish allegiance with the United States in 1779 came with their expectation of increased control over the river all the way to Louisiana. France sided with Spain and tried to persuade the Continental Congress to relinquish American rights to this water trade route. Meanwhile, the western land claims that various states and companies were already fighting over were greatly affected in value by the legal status of that river.”16

Americans like George Washington had long worried about encirclement by European powers. Washington was committed to America’s economic development which required access to the sea. Historian Burton Ira Kaufman wrote: “As a result of the Treaty of Paris [in 1783], the United States had secured the entire region from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi River. Almost immediately, emigrants from both the seaboard states and across the Atlantic began to settle and cultivate the frontier.”17 Historian Irving Brant noted that “at the outbreak of the American Revolution, Spain held both banks of the Mississippi for two hundred miles above its mouth, and the western bank from there to the river’s unknown source. In 1779, after France drew Spain into the new war against England, Spain served notice on the United States that use of the lower Mississippi was a Spanish monopoly. Furthermore, Spain challenged the American claim to lands between the mountains and the Mississippi on the ground that a royal British order of 1763 against the sale of such lands marked them as possession of the crown of Great Britain and proper objects of conquest by Spain. Spanish capture of three British posts in the Natchez area gave point to the claimed right. The French government came to Spain’s support, urging the United States to cement the new wartime alignment by going lightly on territorial claims.”18 The question of the economic orientation of Americans west of the Appalachians was a key political issue. Historian Burton Ira Kaufman wrote: “Just as trade with the Atlantic States would more tightly bind the Western regions to the rest of the nation, continued commerce down the Mississippi would draw them closer to Spain.”19

The Treaty of Paris of 1783 between Britain and America provided for American ownership of the territory east of the Mississippi but did not stipulate navigation rights on the Mississippi River. Spain proved a difficult country to negotiate with regarding those rights. Control of New Orleans was seen as vital to the new nation’s unity and John Jay had been assigned to negotiate a deal after a treaty with the French and British had been concluded. Historian Richard B. Morris wrote: “As regards the thorniest of these issues, the opening of the Mississippi to American trade, Congress, while Jay was in Spain, had altered his instructions to permit him in return for a Spanish alliance to withdraw his insistence upon the free navigation of the Mississippi below 31˚ NL. Jay prudently made the revised offer to [José Moñino y Redondo, Conde] Floridablanca of limited duration and contingent upon Spain’s acceptance of it. Should Spain decline, Jay made clear, the United States would reserve all its rights to the Mississippi. Jay’s conversation in Paris with the Conde de Aranda, Spain’s ambassador, were similarly inconclusive, while disclosing that France sided with Spain in the latter’s effort to restrain the territorial pretensions of Americans.”20 Despite the presence of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams as members of the American negotiating team, it was Jay who was the leading and toughest American negotiator with Britain and France. Historian Esmond Wright wrote that “Franklin recommended that the Congress insist upon the Mississippi ‘as a boundary, and the free navigation of the river.’ Franklin was less suspicious of France than was Jay, but he was, first and last, an expansionist.” 21 Historian Thomas Fleming wrote of Jay’s role in the Treaty of Paris negotiations: “In regard to the boundaries, John Jay did a superb job of defending the Mississippi as the western border.”22 Jay was concerned about the impact of western immigration on the country’s development and unity, observing “the Western Country will one Day give us trouble – to govern them will not be easy, and whether after two or three generations they will be fit to govern themselves is a Question that merits Consideration.”23

The transmontane area west of the Appalachian Mountains would give Jay personal trouble again when he became America’s second secretary of foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation, succeeding New York’s Robert Livingston. Historian Richard B. Morris wrote: “By war’s end Congress was no longer prepared to surrender its claim to the free navigation of the Mississippi. On June 3, 1784, it instructed the American negotiators that they were not to relinquish or cede ‘in any event whatever’ the free navigation of that river ‘from its source to the ocean.’ Although the port of New Orleans lay along the east bank of the Mississippi and although Spain held both banks of that river upwards of two hundred miles from the sea, a navigational servitude had been placed on the lower reaches of the river by the Treaty of Paris of 1763, providing for the free navigation of that river ‘in its whole.”24 After he returned to the United States and became secretary of foreign affairs, Jay had an opportunity to shape America’s use of the Mississippi. Historian Charles A. Cerami wrote: “In 1784, Spain’s first minister, Count Floridablanca, announced that he would close off U.S. shipping on the Mississippi, cancel the right of American shippers to store goods in New Orleans for transhipment to the world, and establish river patrols to make sure the new orders were carried out. Fortunately, when Spain was involved, such things were usually discussed at great length before going into effect. A new Spanish ambassador would be coming to Washington, and John Jay, whom some considered the country’s shrewdest negotiator, was named as the American who would debate the issue with him.”25

After the Revolutionary War, Americans had started crossing the Appalachians to populate the Mississippi River Basin and needed the port at New Orleans as an outlet for their goods. Historian Charles A. Cerami wrote: “By the early 1790s, this mass migration was seriously dividing the country. Even those who had no intention of moving felt forced to choose between considering themselves to be ‘easterners’ or ‘westerners.’ It was not just a matter of location; it was also a mindset about the nation’s future. The westward flight was frightening and infuriating to many in the original thirteen states, especially those in the north.”26 This immigration was threatening to the country’s unity. Historian James Roger Sharp wrote: “Free navigation of the Mississippi meant more to these Westerners than simply opening up markets for their crops; it also meant that the lands they had purchased on speculation would become more valuable. Bolstering these motives of self-interest was a widespread belief that free access to the Mississippi was a natural geographic right of the United States.”27

With this westward immigration, the issue of the Mississippi’s future grew steadily in importance. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “Before the Revolution the territory of Kentucky had contained almost no white settlers. By 1800 it had become a state (1792) and grown to over 220,00; at that point not a single adult Kentuckian had been born and grown up within the state’s borders. And these burgeoning Westerners were prospering.”28 Wood wrote: “Many westerners were ready to deal with any government that could ensure access to the sea for their agricultural produce. As Washington noted in 1784, the western settlers were ‘on a pivot. The touch of a feather would turn them any way.’”29 Spain’s belligerence challenged American sovereignty of the transmontane region. For commerce, these immigrants faced west rather than east. Would they face west rather than east for government as well? Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: “Spain’s position was that all the land west of the Appalachians ‘belongs to the free and independent nations of Indians, and you [Americans] have no right to it.’ Spaniards concluded that grasping Americans had replaced the British as the principal threat to their largely vacant colonies of Florida and Louisiana. They hoped to maintain the Indian nations as buffers. Americans, in turn, imagined wicked Spain meant to choke the growth of the United States by stirring up Indians and disgruntled pioneers.”30

Historian Jack N. Rakove wrote that the Spanish intendant’s “action, coupled with abortive separatist movements in Kentucky and what would become Tennessee, threatened to deprive the United States of the generous territorial settlement accorded by the Treaty of Paris. Should the weakness of the Union force western settlers to accommodate themselves to Spain, control of the regions lying between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi would be lost to the United States.”31 It wasn’t just Kentuckians who were upset. So were their Virginia relatives. The most far-sighted of the Founders concerning the future of the Mississippi River was probably Virginia’s James Madison. As a member of the Continental Congress he had seen the importance of full navigation rights to the river. He wrote John Jay that the river was the country’s natural boundary.32 Historian Jack N. Rakove noted that Madison “grew increasingly concerned about the effect that Spain’s closure of the Mississippi to American subjects would have on Virginia’s underlying loyalty to the Union.”33 33 Historian Jon Kukla wrote: “The danger was not statehood within the union, but the specter of western independence and disunion. Stuart knew there was talk in the west of establishing a separate republic. ‘Independent of the Atlantick States – especially among settlers in the Ohio River Valley who saw their interests stymied in Congress and who worried (not without reason) that the maritime states of New England ‘are interested in locking up the Mississippi.’”34 Madison and Jefferson understood that America’s response to Spanish threats could determine the nation’s future. According to historian Dumas Malone, Madison observed that westerners were obsessed with the importance of the Mississippi – “the Hudson, the Delaware, the Potomac, and all the navigable rivers of the Atlantic States, formed into one stream.”35 Although Madison supported fellow Virginian George Washington’s efforts to develop the Potomac River valley, Madison was farsighted enough to see that America’s real economic potential lay in the Mississippi River. Historian Stuart Leiberger wrote: “Madison’s ideas about western commerce differed greatly from those of Washington and Jefferson. Whereas the latter men were confident that the Potomac would become the primary trade route [to the West], Madison doubted that the river could be made navigable. Instead, he believed the Mississippi would remain the frontier’s primary outlet, and that the United States would therefore have to open that river.”36

Like Madison, Thomas Jefferson early understood the Mississippi’s geographic and economic importance to a growing nation. Historian W. Edwin Hemphill wrote that “long before 1803 Thomas Jefferson was the primary statesman in the United States’s struggle for unrestricted use of the greatest river system on the continent.”37 Charles Cerami wrote: “Even when he was in Paris as the American minister in 1784, Jefferson was so concerned about his menacing behavior that he had asked James Monroe, then a young Virginia legislator who had studied law under Jefferson’s guidance, to explore the land during the vacation months. In August 1784, Monroe wrote back, reporting on a projected observation trip westward ‘to acquire a better knowledge of the posts which we should occupy, the cause of the delay.”38 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote that “Jefferson certainly welcomed this movement of Americans into lands owned by Spain, since ‘it may be the means of delivering to us peaceably what may otherwise cost us a war.’” However, noted Wood, Jefferson “often expressed a strange idea of the American nation. At times he was remarkably indifferent to the possibility that a Western confederacy might break away from the Eastern United States.”39 Jefferson wrote Madison in 1787: “I have had great opportunities of knowing the character of the people who inhabit that country.”40 Five months later, he wrote Madison: “I should think it proper for the western country to defer pushing their right to that navigation to extremity, as long as they can do it without it tolerably; but that the moment it becomes absolutely necessary for them, it will become the duty of the maritime States to push it to every extremity, to which they would their own right of navigating the Chesapeake, the Delaware, the Hudson, or any other water. A time of peace will not be the surest for obtaining this object. Those, therefore, who have influence in the new country, would act wisely to endeavor to keep things quiet till the western parts of Europe shall be engaged in war.”41

Failed Jay Treaty on Mississippi River

John Jay, America’s top foreign policy official for much of the 1780s, understood the Mississippi River’s economic, political and psychological interest to America, but he saw its importance lying in the future rather than preoccupying the present. Jay biographer Walter Stahr wrote that in 1780 when Jay was an American diplomat to Spain during the American Revolution “that Don Diego de Gardoqui, a member of a prominent merchant family, appeared at Jay’s quarters, with an official note stating that he would carry on discussions. He suggested that America should offer the Mississippi in return for the £100,000 of financial aid under discussion. Jay scorned the suggestion. ‘The Americans, almost to a man, believed that God Almighty had made that river a highway for the people of the upper country to go to the sea.’ Perhaps because of this and similar comments, perhaps because Spain was indeed impecunious, Gardoqui informed him a few days later that Spain could not provide further funds at this time.”42

The future of the Mississippi assumed critical importance after the American Revolution. Spain sent Jay’s old diplomatic colleague from Madrid to negotiate. The arrival of Gardoqui in New York was heavily anticipated by Americans. Historian Jon Kukla wrote that he “was an experienced diplomat. He left a position as head of Spain’s consular service in London to accept the assignment in New York City, where congress regularly met at the time....He spoke impeccable English and had grown up around British and American merchants doing business with his father José Gardoqui.”43 Historian Harry Ammon noted that the astute and sociable Gardoqui ”entertained congressmen lavishly at his splendid residence on Broadway.”44 Kukla wrote: “Soon after John Jay and Diego de Gardoqui began their conversations, Congress had directed Jay ‘particularly to stipulate the right of the United States to...free Navigation of the Mississippi, from the source to the Ocean.’ On this point, Gardoqui had his own explicit instructions to deny the Americans use of the Mississippi where Spain controlled both banks of the river. Jay and Gardoqui quickly recognized their dilemma and reported the impasse to their superiors....There could be no progress on the Mississippi until Congress or [King] Carlos III gave ground, but in the meantime Jay and Gardoqui met weekly and talked cordially.”45 Spain was intent on creating a buffer between the United States and its most valuable colony in Mexico. The Spanish government was dependent on the production of Spanish silver mines in Mexico. Jon Kukla wrote that King “Carlos knew...that the silver mines of Mexico accounted for half the export trade of the entire Spanish empire....Louisiana was the buffer between those mines and a boisterous adolescent republic. The Mississippi River was the key to Louisiana, and Carlos II was not inclined to loosen his grip.”46

Gardoqui was smart, charming, and an experienced diplomat. He discerned that Americans were not united in their commitment to Mississippi navigation and resolved to use these differences to Spain’s advantage. Kukla wrote: “The enticements that he could offer most of these men, Gardoqui quickly recognized, were trading privilege in the ports of the Spanish empire, recognition of American fishing rights in the North Atlantic, and a ready market for New England cod among his Roman Catholic countrymen, especially during Lent.”47 Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that Gardoqui “flattered Jay and showered Jay’s wife (whom Jay adored) with attention and gifts, whereupon Jay agreed to ask Congress for permission to surrender American claims to rights of navigation on the Mississippi. If the Mississippi were closed, westerners would have to recross the mountains to get crops to market. Thus discouraged, perhaps not so many would be impelled to cross the mountains in the first place.”48 The threat to Spain would thereby be lessened. De Gardoqui was shrewd. He attempted to divide and conquer American legislators.

Historian Albert S. Bolles wrote: “Spain had already shown an ugly temper with regard to the use of the river, whose outlet she controlled. She had seized merchandise passing down towards its mouth. She had instigated Indian raids against the new-made settlements on the Cumberland, which crowded too near its course. Mr. Jay had been one of the commissioners through whom the United States had got their western boundary at the Mississippi and their grant of the right to use the great stream, at the making of the treaties of peace; and he knew how difficult a thing it had been to force Spain backward to that boundary. But he had not seen that rising tide of emigration now pouring into the West; had not imagined the empire making there, the homes already established, the toil and success already achieved. He thought that there would probably be no occasion to use the Mississippi for twenty-five or thirty years yet to come....The instant cry of hot protest that came out of the West apprised eastern politicians of the new world a-making there, the new frontiers of the nation. The proposed treaty was not adopted.”49

The cosmopolitan Jay himself had little sympathy for the frontier life and little confidence about the future of the country beyond the Appalachian mountains. Furthermore, Jay had doubts about the practicality of such a large expanse of territory being added to the new nation. The dour New Yorker was focused on present realities. “The western country will one day give us trouble,” wrote Jay. “To govern them will not be easy, and whether after two or three generations they will be fit to govern themselves is a question that merits consideration.”50 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “Jay thought that giving up that right for twenty-five or thirty years in return for having access to Spanish markets was very attractive; and he was willing to connive with some New Englanders (who were flirting with separation from the Union) to get that access to Spanish markets. But out of fear of the Western settlers being denied an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico, Southerners led by James Monroe and Charles Pinckney prevented the nine-state majority in the Confederation Congress needed for a treaty, and the scheme failed.”51

Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “Jay thought that giving up that right for twenty-five or thirty years in return for having access to Spanish markets was very attractive; and he was willing to connive with some New Englanders (who were flirting with separation from the Union) to get that access to Spanish markets. But out of fear of the Western settlers being denied an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico, Southerners led by James Monroe and Charles Pinckney prevented the nine-state majority in the Confederation Congress needed for a treaty, and the scheme failed.”52 Four days later, on May 29, Jay reported to congress that difficulties had arisen in his negotiations with Gardoqui. Historian Forrest McDonald noted: “Jay had been specifically instructed by Congress not to forgo the right to navigate the Mississippi, but he found the proffered commercial concession attractive, and he responded to Gardoqui’s proposal by asking Congress to change his instructions. Southern reaction to the request was bitterly hostile; many people, in both North and South, began to talk seriously about dividing the Confederation in two.”53 McDonald wrote that “the negotiations aroused such animosities between northern and southern states that talk of breaking the union into regional confederations began to be heard.”54

Jay was stymied. Jay biographer Walter Stahr observed that “one of his successes as Secretary was that he ensured that various crises did not lead to war, for war would have been disastrous for America at this point. He also succeeded in laying the groundwork for a stronger national government, which would in time allow a stronger foreign policy.”55 Jay’s long-range vision did not conform to the short-range politics of the Articles of Confederation. Madison biographer Irving Brant wrote: “Jay’s motive, avowedly fear of war, was chiefly economic: to trade the right of navigation for a Spanish market for fish. Such a deal, Madison told Monroe, ‘would be a voluntary barter in time of profound peace of the rights of one part of the empire to the interest of another part.’ Figure to yourself, he wrote Jefferson, ‘the effect of such a stipulation on the Assembly of Virginia, already jealous of northern politics,’ with many members attached to the West by interest. Would not the Western people themselves, feeling sold by their Atlantic brethren, be likely to consider themselves absolved from every federal tie’ and court foreign protection?” Brant wrote: “To make the situation far worse, Jay had induced Congress to revoke the instruction to demand the right of Mississippi navigation in any treaty with Spain. Nine states were required to give that instruction. Seven repealed it – an unconstitutional action, in Madison’s opinion, which added ‘the insult of trick to the injury.’ What could he say now to the Kentucky members of the Virginia legislature, after arguing to them that Congress must be strengthened to enable them to protect Western rights?”56

For Madison, there were vital political, economic and constitutional issues at stake. Madison was a stalwart supporter of the importance of the Mississippi River to the future of the country. During the American Revolution, Madison opposed instructions to Jay as American envoy to Spain which would have let him bargain away American rights to the Mississippi in return for Spanish help in the Revolutionary War. Historian Jack N. Rackove wrote: “Madison objected to Jay’s request for two closely connected reasons. First, as a matter of policy, he opposed any compromise of the American claim as a grave threat to the vital interests of the southern states and the western settlers, and as a potential source of division not only between northern and southern states but also between the existing Union and American settlers flooding into the interior. For the same reason, he also feared that Jay’s request would have a disastrous impact not only on efforts to amend the Articles but also on the Union itself. Although the northern states had indeed revised Jay’s instructions, they lacked the nine votes required to ratify whatever treaty he managed to conclude.”57 Madison “contended that navigation on the Mississippi was endangered not by too much unchecked federal power to enact navigation laws, but by national weakness, too little power in the hands of an impotent Congress under the Articles of Confederation,” wrote historian Robert A. Goldwin. “The better way to defend Virginia’s interests was to strengthen the national institutions, to give them the power to deal effectively with a great nation like Spain. Virginia’s interests and the national interests coincided, and both would be served by ratifying the Constitution.”58

Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that “when the proposal came to a vote in Congress, heated debate along sectional lines stimulated mutterings of breaking the Union into two or three regional confederations.”59 Jay misjudged both the economics and the politics of the situation. On August 3, Jay laid out his negotiating strategy in a confidential oral report to Congress. Jay biographer Walter Stahr wrote: “With respect to the Mississippi, Jay noted that his letters from Spain, written ‘when our affairs were the least promising,’ opposed ‘every idea of our relinquishing the right to navigate’ the Mississippi, and that he still held ‘the same sentiments of that right.’ There was a distinction, however, between the right to navigate the Mississippi and the use of that right. Jay urged that the United States should agree, for a period of twenty-five years, to ‘forbear to use the navigation of that river below their territories.’ In his view, the ‘navigation is not at present important, nor will probably become so, in less than twenty-five or thirty years,’ so that ‘a forbearance to use it while we do not want it, is no great sacrifice.’ Spain ‘now excludes us from that navigation, and with a strong hand holds it against us.’ Would it not make more sense ‘for a valuable consideration’ to ‘forbear to use, what we know it is not in our power to use?’ If Spain accepted the proposal, it would in his view accept America’s ultimate right to use the river, ‘for they who take a lease admit the right of the lessor.’”60 The negotiations had revealed a strong split between the Northeast and the South in Congress. Historian Harry Ammon wrote that Jay’s report “precipitated a month-long debate which brought to the surface more sharply than any other issue the conflict of interests between the northern and southern states. As tension mounted some New England delegates began to discuss forming a northern confederation. Vague rumors of these conferences disturbed Monroe, who would have been truly alarmed had he known that a few had even talked of creating a monarchy.”61

During August, Congress debated and rejected proposed changes in the instructions to Jay for concluding a commercial treaty with Spain. Virginia Congressman Grayson argued that if the United States gave up rights to the Mississippi, “the occlusion of the river would destroy the hopes of the principal men in the S[outhern] States in establishing the future fortunes of their families, that it would render the western country of no value and thereby deprive the U S of the funds on which they depended to discharge the domestic debt, that it would separate the interest of the western Inhabitants, from that of the rest of the Union and render them hostile to it, that it would weaken if not destroy the union by disaffecting the S[outhern] States when they saw their dearest interests sacrificed and given up to obtain a trivial commercial advantage for their brethren in the East.”62 On August 10, South Carolina’s Charles Pinckney delivered a comprehensive reply to Jay. According to Pinckney, wrote Jon Kukla: “Jay’s argument had three parts. First, ‘that the navigation is unimportant, and that a forbear will be no sacrifice.’ Second, that while it was ‘disgraceful’ to assert a legal claim without enforcing it, war was ‘inexpedient.’ Third, therefore, the best way to prove America’s claim was by inference, by ‘consent[ing] to suspend the claim for a certain time.’ This was an argument only a lawyer could love, Pinckney said, for ‘the right of the United States to navigate the Mississippi has been so often asserted, and so fully stated by Congress.’”63

Virginia’s James Monroe set himself up in opposition to both Jay and any attempt to sell out the Mississippi in favor or New England fishing concessions. “This is one of the most extraordinary transactions I have ever known, a minister negotiating expressly for the purpose of defeating the object of his instructions, and by a long train of intrigue and management seducing the representatives of the States to concur in it,” wrote Congressman Monroe to fellow Virginian Patrick Henry in mid-August – laying out Jay’s strategy that Jay had revealed in a frank conversation with him. Monroe raised the specter of disunion. “Certain it is that Committees are held in this town of Eastern men and others of this State upon the subject of a dismemberment of the States East of the Hudson from the Union and the erection of them into a separate gov[ernmen]t.”64

Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: “The frustrated Jay asked for new instructions, but [Pennsylvanian congressman Arthur] St. Clair informed him Congress was deadlocked. Meanwhile, news of Jay’s ‘treason’ provoked more talk of western secession and murmurs in northern and southern states about parting ways to form two or more unions of states.”65 Historian Robert A. Goldwin wrote: “Many Virginians had close ties of many sorts with settlers in the Western territories, especially in the Southwest. The future of Virginia, and of the South as a whole, was seen as dependent on keeping the Mississippi open to American shipping.”66 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote that the “the desire of a majority of seven states to sacrifice western interests for the sake of northern merchants aroused long-existing sectional jealousies and threatened to shatter the Union.”67 Spain was not done with its sectional mischief, however. Wood wrote: “After the failure of the treaty, Gardoqui contacted some Western leaders, including John Brown, the representative of the Kentucky district of Virginia, James White, a congressman from North Carolina, and most important, James Wilkinson, an ex-Revolutionary War officer, and tried to convince them that the future of Americans in the West belonged to Spain.”68 Historian Dean Fafoutis wrote: “Once the Jay-Gardoqui talks collapsed, Gardoqui took an active role in the Spanish Conspiracy, an attempt to take advantage of Western discontent to defend Louisiana and West Florida against U.S. expansion.”69 Clearly, the issue of the Mississippi’s future was not going away.

America needed settlers in the Southwest but it needed for them to be happy settlers. Spain did not want American settlers, but if there had to be settlers, Spain wanted them to be unhappy settlers. Historian John Ferling wrote that President Washington believed “a flood of settlers into the trans-Appalachian frontier might serve as the lever for wrenching concessions from Madrid in the southwest.”70 Historian Jack N. Rakove wrote: “South of the Ohio, by contrast, settlement had proceeded far enough to sustain separatist movements in the Kentucky district of Virginia and the ‘Franklin’ district of North Carolina.’ Preserving the allegiance of these settlers, the Virginians believed, required not only a national government strong enough to break the Spanish chokepoint at New Orleans but also one in which western migrants would enjoy an equality of rights.”71

Historian Irving Brant wrote: “Nobody in Congress, Madison found, knew anything about Jay’s negotiations with the Spanish agent, Don Diego de Gardoqui. He asked Jay about them and was told nothing. He then called on Gardoqui and found him voluble and assertive. The Mississippi was closed and would remain so. Without a treaty, Spain would buy no fish. Madison quizzed him about Spain’s territorial claims east of the Mississippi and got vague and evasive answers. At last he learned what he wanted to know: Gardoqui and Jay had disagreed regarding territorial claims and had held no talks since October. Gardoqui would soon leave for home. ‘Spanish project sleeps,’ wrote Madison to Jefferson.”72 It would sleep for nearly a decade.

Jay’s reputation fell during this period but Monroe’s reputation was enhanced, especially with the transmontane settlers. Historian Harry Ammon wrote: “With little hope of defeating Jay’s proposal by a frontal assault, Monroe, Grayson and Edward Carrington (also a member of the Virginia delegation) drew up a substitute proposal recommending the transfer of the negotiations to Madrid in the charge of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who would be authorized to close the river to imports if Spain would allow the export of American goods subject to a three per cent duty.” At the time, Adams in London and Jefferson in Paris, were America’s only accredited diplomats in Europe. Ammon wrote of Monroe: “The revelation of the full details of the Jay-Gardoqui proposals during the debates over the ratification of the Constitution in Virginia elevated him to the first rank in the estimation of the Westerners. Indeed, until a generation of native western leaders emerged just before the War of 1812. Monroe was looked upon as the only national figure identified with the aims of the West.”73 But the failure of the government under the Articles of Confederation to deal with issues like the Mississippi River caused leaders like James Madison to push for the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and a new form of government.

Washington Administration and the Treaty of San Lorenzo

During the administration of President George Washington beginning in 1789, the Mississippi River again became the point of international squabbling and domestic politics. Jefferson biographer Willard Sterne Randall wrote: “After conferring with Madison, who was then a key member of Congress and a trusted adviser to Washington, [Secretary of State] Jefferson drew up a memo to the president on July 12 proposing an American policy aimed at keeping open the Mississippi with its access for westerners to the Caribbean. If England seized Louisiana and Florida from Spain, the United States would be completely surrounded by the British army and navy.”74

After half a decade in Paris, Thomas Jefferson was a confirmed Francophile. So were most of the Jefferson allies back in the United States who would forge the “Republican” party in opposition to the “Federalists,” supporters of the Washington Administration more likely to admire Britain than Revolutionary France. Political scientist Sean M. Theriault argued: “Either as a cause or as a result of the westerners’ ideology, the Federalists viewed the West, at best,, as irrelevant and, at worst, with antagonism. Washington and Alexander Hamilton sought to control the West with federal institutions and directives from the national government; Republicans, on the other hand, pushed for a more egalitarian democracy.”75 Jefferson may not have worried much about the consequences of the French Revolution, but he certainly worried about the impact of French officials on America. Historian W. Edwin Hemphill wrote: “While the general tenor of Jefferson’s policy in 1790 reflected the administration’s desire for neutrality in event of war, the secretary attempted to exploit the situation in the interest of the United States by a balancing carefully foreign counterweights.”76 Hemphill observed: “Though Jefferson was without the personal contacts and interests in the transmontane region which such a man as George Washington had, the foundation of fact beneath his plea for free American navigation of the Mississippi was surprisingly adequate. It consisted primarily of a superior knowledge of western geography.”77

The French government under the auspices of its ambassador, “Citizen” Edmond-Charles Genet, was conspiring to take over New Orleans and destabilize the American government. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick wrote: “The most sweeping of the objectives Genet was to pursue involved rousing up the peoples of Louisiana, Florida, and Canada by spreading among them the principles of the French Revolution. They would then cast off the yoke of their oppressors, and this would benefit France in the forthcoming war by striking at Spanish and British power in the New World. He was to employ a variety of techniques: propaganda, secret agents, and American adventurers in the border areas – Kentucky in particular – whose drive to obtain the opening of the Mississippi would inspire them to assist in organizing expeditions against the Spanish possessions. He would also encourage privateering against British shipping by French and American seamen operating from New World bases. He was accordingly given a supply of blank letters of marque and military commissions to distribute where they would be most effective.”78

The newly aggressive French posture worried America as word of French military intentions spread. Genet had written the French government in no uncertain terms what he had been doing: “I am arming the Canadians to throw off the yoke of England. I am arming the Kentuckians, and I am prepared an expedition by sea to support their descent on New Orleans.” Genet even told Secretary Thomas Jefferson of his plans.79 Historian Jon Kukla wrote that in response to the French conspiracy to use George Rogers Clark to lead an expedition on New Orleans, the Washington Administration detailed the U.S. Minister to Great Britain, Thomas Pinckney, to be its special envoy to Madrid....His job was to negotiate with the Spanish to secure “our right to the free us of the Mississippi River shall be most unequivocally acknowledged and established, on principles never hereafter to be drawn into contestation.”80 Pinckney’s Madrid counterpart was Manuel de Godoy, the royal favorite who was chief minister of Spain. Taking up his job in late 1794 Pinckney was stymied until he finally called Godoy’s bluff. When after months of fruitless negotiations and Spanish refusals to agree to an American right of deposit at the port of New Orleans, Pinckney asked for return of his passport preparatory to returning to America. Godoy then produced a satisfactory draft treaty that included the Americans’ right to travel along the Mississippi and recognition of its territorial integrity up to the Mississippi. Spain meanwhile was reacting to a mix of foreign developments, most of them unfavorable – including the French Revolution and the growing power of France in continental Europe. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “Spanish policy in the Southwest was not dissimilar to British policy in the Northwest, except that the Spaniards were more vigorous and more surreptitious.”81 Spanish officials lacked vision for New Orleans’ potential, but they did not want anyone else to possess it. The Spanish outposts in the Louisiana territory were in danger of becoming irrelevant if American power and population grew in the Mississippi River basin. Elkins and McKitrick wrote: “The governor at New Orleans, Hector de Carondelet, was forced to sanction an increasing volume of trade with the Americans, much of it illicit, being afraid of what both the Kentuckians and his own colonists might do if he tried to prevent it.”82

Historians Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick wrote that “Pinckney in October...at last concluded a settlement with Spain which delivered into American hands everything they had been vainly demanding since the end of the Revolution: free navigation of the Mississippi, the right of deposit at New Orleans (of storing goods duty-free while awaiting trans-shipment in ocean vessels), with the option of renewal or an alternate site at the end of three years, and the boundary between the United States and West Florida fixed at the 31st parallel. The Treaty of San Lorenzo marked the final abandonment of Spain’s long-standing policy of keeping the Americans as far away from Louisiana as possible.”83 The treaty, however, would be a temporary respite in the relations between Spain and America. Historian James Roger Sharp noted: “Pinckney’s Treaty...was a diplomatic triumph for the United States, for Spain accepted the American interpretation of the southern boundary between the United States and Spanish Florida at the thirty-first parallel as well as the American doctrine of neutral rights. In addition, each side agreed to prohibit hostile Indian attacks from being launched from its territory upon the other nation.”84

Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “The opening of the Mississippi through Pinckney’s Treaty...defused a set of conditions that might soon have led to war. Large as the achievement was, no American could take any special credit for it: It was simply dumped in the lap of the Washington administration by the ministry of Manuel Godoy of Spain.”85 Joel Achenbach wrote: “The opening of the Mississippi to American navigation in 1795, under the Treaty of San Lorenzo...spurred western settlement and repressed some of the secessionist sentiment in Kentucky.”86 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “With this treaty Spain was trying to prevent an American takeover of his empire, but perhaps it was only postponing the inevitable. Jefferson and other Americans believed that Spain’s hold on its North American empire was so weak that it was only a matter of time before the various pieces of that empire – New Orleans, East and West Florida, maybe even Cuba – fell like ripe fruit ‘piece by piece’ into American hands.”87

France, Spain and America

While America’s relations with Spain were quieted by the treaty, America’s relations with France continued to be brittle. The French continued to egg on the Spanish to confront the Americans. Europe thought America needed to be penned in by tight borders in order to contain its ambitions and power. New Orleans provided an escape valve for those American ambitions. Historian Harlow Giles Unger wrote: “Three thousand ships a year passed through New Orleans, more than half of them flying American colors. American merchants in eastern states controlled more than half the port’s commerce; in rural areas beyond New Orleans, Americans made up more than half the white population. They owned vast sugar and cotton plantations and raised huge herds of cattle on lands stretching beyond the Mississippi across the west country into Texas and as far as the Mexican border. As the tide of American migrants threatened to spill into Texas and Mexico, the wily French foreign minister Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand warned Spain that the United States planned to conquer all of North America and seize Spain’s rich silver and gold deposits in Mexico. The only means of ending American ambitions, he insisted, was ‘to shut them up’ behind the Appalachians. If Spain was too weak to do the job, he suggested that she retrocede Louisiana to France and let French troops turn the Appalachians into ‘a wall of brass forever impenetrable to the combined efforts of England and America.’”88

Spain was essentially a paper tiger in Louisiana. Historian John C. Miller wrote: “In 1799, Louisiana was to be had almost for the taking. The Spanish garrison was inconsequential: not more than one thousand men guarded the thousands of miles of frontier that separated Louisiana from the United States. Against this weak and isolated force, the United States could bring to bear thousands of frontiersmen as well as its newly enlarged regular army. Louisiana was like ripe fruit, but it remained to be seen who would do the plucking – France or the United States.”89 Spain was essentially a paper tiger in Louisiana. Historian John C. Miller wrote: “In 1799, Louisiana was to be had almost for the taking. The Spanish garrison was inconsequential: not more than one thousand men guarded the thousands of miles of frontier that separated Louisiana from the United States. Against this weak and isolated force, the United States could bring to bear thousands of frontiersmen as well as its newly enlarged regular army. Louisiana was like ripe fruit, but it remained to be seen who would do the plucking – France or the United States.”90 fruit, but it remained to be seen who would do the plucking – France or the United States.”90 Historian Peter J. Kastor wrote: “As Napoleon consolidated his control over France, he began to dream of a rejuvenated empire overseas. He was not alone. Other Frenchmen had long regretted their government’s decision to surrender Louisiana. The French had practical reasons for wanting Louisiana. A powerful French presence in North America would force the British to reinforce garrisons in Canada, which in turn would reduce British military power in Europe.”91 Historian E. Wilson Lyon wrote: “The presence of France in the Mississippi Valley would have been cause for great anxiety about the future of the American Union. Spain was clearly a decaying power which, despite her well-known intrigues with conspirators in the West, offered no danger to the United States and inspired little fear. The Americans, as well as Napoleon, regarded themselves as heirs to the Spanish dominion in the New World. Instead of presenting a vast region for future exploitation, France would withdraw Louisiana forever from th possibility of American settlement and, at the same time, might detach the western states from the Union.”92

Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “France, under Napoleon’s leadership,...developed a renewed interest in its lost North American empire. Not only could French possession of Louisiana counter British ambitions in Canada, but, more important, Louisiana could become a dumping ground for French malcontents and a source for provisioning the lucrative French sugar islands in the Caribbean – Martinique, Guadeloupe, and especially, Saint-Domingue.”93 But as the conflict with Britain heated up in 1803, Napoleon determined to block British ambitions in North America. Louisiana was vulnerable to a British invasion from Canada. “They shall not have the Mississippi, which they covet,” declared the First Consul. 94 Better in American than British hands. The task would not be easy. As Robert Livingston succinctly described the French regime in September 1802: “There never was a government in which less could be done by negotiation than here. There is no people, no legislature, no counsellors. One man is everything. He seldom asks advice, and never hears it unasked. His ministers are mere clerks; and his legislature and counsellors are parade officers. Though the sense of every reflecting man about him is against this wild expedition, no one dares to tell him so."95 Clearly, Napoleon’s expansionist ambitions for the New World conflicted with America’s own expansionist vision. Some would have to change or conflict was inevitable.

Fortunately for America, Napoleon wanted to control Louisiana but he wanted to control Europe more. He realized that in a war with England, the value of Louisiana might quickly plummet so he chose to make a deal while he still could command a reasonable price for something he barely owned and had not yet taken possession of. Furthermore, the worrisome information he was receiving from Washington suggested that Francophile Jefferson might be turning Anglophile. Jefferson biographer Nathan Schachner wrote that Napoleon’s American ambassador sent him a grave message: “It is impossible to be more bitter than this Government is at the present posture of affairs and at the humiliating attitude in which our silence about Louisiana places them....Mr. Jefferson will be forced to yield to necessity his pretensions and scruples against a British alliance. I noticed at his table that he redoubled his civilities and attentions to the British chargé.”96 Jefferson indeed believed that American rights to New Orleans were strong: “The right to use a thing, comprehends a right to the means necessary to its use, and without which it would be useless.”97

Under President John Adams from 1797 to 1801, American envoys had worked to prevent war with France. Although Adams’ first mission to France had ended in disaster and revelations of attempted bribery in the XYZ affair, a subsequent three-man mission had resulted in the Treaty of Mortefontaine in September 1800. At virtually, the same time under set of diplomatic negotiations was underway. The French had given Louisiana to Spain in 1762 as payment for debts. Napoleon now arranged to get it back in a secret treaty signed in October 1800. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote that “during the same weeks in 1800 when one French delegation worked with John Adams’ envoys in Paris to terminate the Franco-American alliance, another was in Madrid demanding retrocession of Louisiana. It was a terrible blow to Spain’s pride and New Spain’s security. But the expense of defending the Mississippi basin from New Orleans to St. Louis was beyond Spanish means. When Napoleon sweetened deal with a dubious promise to bestow an Italian kingdom on the Spanish king’s son-in-law, Madrid approved the Treaty of San Ildefonso.”98 Historian Bradford Perkins wrote: “Rumors of this agreement, wrongly believed also to include transfer of the Floridas, soon spread.”99 Historian Bradford Perkins wrote: “Rumors of this agreement, wrongly believed also to include transfer of the Floridas, soon spread.”99 Robert H. Ferrell noted that rumors were rampant of the new agreement in Europe. America’s ambassador in London, Rufus King, “reported in a letter to Secretary Madison dated March 29, 1801, that Tuscany had been ceded from the French to the Spaniards, and that rumor had it that the quid pro quo was Louisiana and the Floridas.”100 Britain was also concerned about French intentions in any area near its Carribean colonies.

Thomas Jefferson had long believed that Louisiana and Florida were in good and weak Spanish “hands.” He had written in 1786: “My fear, is that they are too feeble to hold them till our population can be sufficiently advanced to gain it from them, piece by piece. The navigation of the Mississippi we must have.”101 As secretary of state under Prsident Washington Jefferson had written of “[t]he most determined zeal of our chief magistrate” to maintain free commerce through New Orleans.”102 Historian George Dangerfield wrote that according to conventional wisdom of the time, “the Spaniard was hateful, but he was not dangerous; his rule was held to be, sooner or later, a doomed one. The military and expansionist Frenchman, stepchild of the revolution, sitting athwart the Mississippi at New Orleans, and claiming the western bank of the great river, was quite another matter.”103

Conflict in the Caribbean was also influencing Franco-American relations. Jefferson had early given indications to France that it was willing to reverse U.S. policy toward Hispaniola and help France regain control. Cooperation with Napoleon was dictated by southern interests in the protection of slavery The Jefferson administration apparently supported Napoleon’s intended suppression of the Haiti rebellion. Jefferson biographer Fawn M. Brodie wrote: “When the French charge di’affaires...told Jefferson in 1801 that Napoleon was intent on recapturing the island from ‘the Bonaparte of the Antilles,’ he did not apparently also say that Napoleon intended to restore slavery. Pichon reported back to Talleyrand, whether correctly or not, that Jefferson said it would be easy, if the United States furnished the French fleet with supplies, to ‘reduce Toussaint to starvation,’ and further that ‘his example menaced every slaveholding state.’”104 Historian Thomas Fleming wrote: “Napoleon Bonaparte had decided to reinstate slavery on Guadaloupe and, when the time seemed right, on Santo Domingo. In the meantime, the slave trade was again authorized on both islands.”105 Military disaster in Haiti was driving Napoleon to a diplomatic agreement with the United States.”106 Disease and Toussant L’Ouverture proved too much for the French in Haiti – resulting in losses of 24,000 French soldiers. Historian Jerry W. Knudson wrote: “In January 1803 Napoleon learned that his brother-in-law Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc had died from yellow fever while trying to put down the insurrection” in Haiti.”107

This unhinged Napoleon’s plans for the revival of French power in the Western Hemisphere. On July 2, 1802, Napoleon had sent orders to his marine minister: “My intention, Citizen Minister, is to take possession of Louisiana with the shortest delay; that this expedition be made with the greatest secrecy; that it shall appear to be directed to Santo Domingo. The troops which I intend sending being upon the Scheldt, I desire that they shall leave from Antwerp and Flushing; finally, I desire that you inform me as to the number of men you think necessary to send, both of infantry and artillery, and that you give me a project of organization for this colony, both military and administrative, the works that we shall have to undertake and the batteries we shall have to construct in order to have an anchorage and a shelter for ships of war against superior forces. In order to do this, I desire that you have prepared for me a chart of the coast, from St. Augustine and Florida to Mexico, and a geographical description of the different cantons of Louisiana, with the population and resources of each canton."108 Ronald D. Smith wrote: “While arrangements continued [that summer] at Dunkirk without any impressive degree of speed, Bonaparte began plans for the civil and military development of the new empire. By August 1802, it was widely known within official circles that the chief military officer in charge of the expedition would be General Claude Victor.”109 Fortunately for the United States, the French expedition encountered repeatedly delays into the fall and winter until Napoleon eventually shifted gears towards sale rather than conquest. That was the practical problem. There was a theoretical problem as well. As historian E. Wilson Lyon noted, “Bonaparte’s American projects were not in fact the statesmanlike plan they seemed in the abstract. Their successful execution depended on the friendship of the United States, peace with England, and the subjugation of St. Domingo, and avoidance of the triple danger was unusually difficult.”110

During the fall and winter of 1802-1803, France’s political dynamics regarding Louisiana shifted dramatically as the prospects for success diminished in the Carribean and the prospects for war increased in Europe. Napoleon decided to cut his losses in the New World so that he could concentrate on the coming conflict in the Old World. Diplomatic historian Thomas A. Bailey wrote: “The fate of Louisiana was intimately bound up with the crisis in Europe. The Peace of Amiens with England was only a between-acts truce. The old sources of friction still rankled and hostilities were bound to erupt again within a few months. Napoleon was tired of the role of beneficent shopkeeper; his destiny lay in war. A few glorious campaigns, and the French people would forget all about his failure in Santo Domingo. Besides, he could not hold Louisiana against the naval power of the British, who, he had recently learned, were raising a powerful force to seize New Orleans.”111 In their history of the United States, Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry Steele Commager and William E. Leuchtenburg wrote: “Without Hispaniola, Louisiana lost most of its value to France. Secondly, Napoleon had decided to renew war with England, whose navy would certainly blockade and probably capture New Orleans. So Napoleon deemed it best to sell the whole of Louisiana to fatten up his war chest.”112

Jefferson was intent on keeping control of the political situation at home and the diplomatic situation in Europe. He needed to counter the twin pressures from western settlers and Federalist politicians – both of whom wanted action regarding New Orleans. “Jefferson stalled for time, overtly ignoring Federalist demands for war even as he secretly reinforced American outposts on the frontier.”113 Diplomatic historian Thomas A. Bailey wrote that Jefferson “openly consorted with the British charge in Washington, as if to announce that French policy was throwing America into the arms of France’s enemy. In addition, he cleverly used the outbursts of the Westerners to play upon the fears of the French and Spanish diplomatic representatives in the United States. His methods soon brought results.”114

Things were changing in Europe – at a speed that would render American decision-making quickly outdated. For example, noted historian Thomas A. Bailey, “The Spanish government, proceeding with unaccustomed haste, restored the right of deposit at New Orleans, although the United States was not officially informed of this about-face until April 19, 1803.”115 But news of such actions came long after Monroe had been dispatched to Paris and Napoleon had decided to dispose of a territory of which he had not even taken possession. When Napoleon decided he wanted to sell Louisiana, he was determined that nothing – not the Constitution, not Spain, not treaty obligations, not even his own brothers – could stop him from obtaining his desired end. The collapse of the French mission in Haiti undid Napoleon’s dreams for the Western Hemisphere so by the spring of 1803, he decided to salvage what he could for as much money as he could. Historian Roger G. Kennedy wrote: “From Napoleon’s view...[h]e was being paid for something he did not own. The treaty by which he had taken Louisiana from Spain was explicit that if he disposed of it Spain must have a right of first refusal. Then, too, the French constitution under which he held office was equally explicit that he could not dispose of such property without approval of its legislature. He made no tender offer, nor did he bother with the legislature.”116

Robert R. Livingston

In 1801, newly appointed Secretary of State Madison had met with French diplomat L. A. Pichon to discuss French policy toward the Louisiana. France and America were lucky that France’s chargé in Washington was a calming influence on relations between the two countries – particularly when things got tense in the winter of 1802-1803. Historian E. Wilson Lyon wrote that “Pichon...did not share the joy of the authorities at Paris over the closing of the port, for he saw full well that the event would heighten the growing tension between France and America....The chargé d’affaires perceived President Jefferson’s problem of calming the fiery inhabitants of Kentucky and Tennessee, who were talking of war with Spain and the conquest of New Orleans before France could take possession.”117

Pichon was understanding but was without power. Jefferson decided to press negotiations in Paris. Historian Thomas Fleming wrote: “Dissatisfied with Chargé Pichon’s answers, President Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison decided it was time to send a minister plenipotentiary to Paris who could find out the truth about Louisiana. Their choice was a man who at first glance had little in common with Republican simplicity. Robert R. Livingston of New York was as wealthy in land and as confident in his lineage as any European aristocrat. In the Hudson River Valley, he presided over thousands of acres of farms and tenants.” Livingston went to Paris – with his carriage, considerable baggage his wife, daughters, son-in-laws. The ambitious Livingston had had a distinguished career – as a lawyer practicing with John Jay, a congressman from New York for a decade, and as “Chancellor” of New York, the state’s highest judicial officer. From 1781 to 1783, Livingston served as secretary for foreign affairs under the Articles of Confederation. Fleming wrote that Livingston was one “of these middle-of-the-road Republicans who urged Jefferson to shun the fanaticism of the Old Republicans and lure moderate Federalists into their party.”118

Robert H. Ferrell wrote: “Livingston had arrived in France in December 1801 and, by the time President Jefferson had roused himself to the French threat to Louisiana, had been parleying with Talleyrand and Bonaparte for many months.” Ferrell noted that Livingston “conceded that Louisiana was not a necessary territory for the United States, so long as the Americans possessed New Orleans and West Florida, but did suggest that it might be a wise move for the French to give the Americans the area north of the Arkansas, to form a buffer between the rest of French Louisiana, to the south, and British Canada.” Ferrell wrote: “Livingston sought constantly to tell the French how worthless Louisiana was without the Floridas, and that Great Britain would not allow France to have the Floridas.”119

Livingston’s work was a challenge. Historian Sean Wilentz wrote: “Livingston was an experienced politician, but no match for Napoleon’s supremely cynical foreign minister Talleyrand, who, as ever held the Americans in contempt.”120 Historian Carl J. Richard wrote: “Talleyrand was a master conniver whose political cunning enabled him to survive the bloodiest and most chaotic period in French history.”121 Livingston had a strong political background, but he had deficiencies that would limit him in his new position. Historian Frank W. Brecher wrote that “Livingston had an exaggerated notion of the extent to which the Jefferson administration wished to endow him with authority to supervise policy in Europe.” Brecher argued that “Livingston’s personal qualities were not those of an ideal diplomat.”122 Livingston biographer George Dangerfield noted that “with his deafness, his inadequate French, his lack of advisers – he could not have seemed a very significant personage. Talleyrand, beneath his exquisite amenity of address, brought to his dealings with Livingston a painful armory of almost imperceptible snubs and frail but deadly sarcasms. Behind the American Minister, after all, there loomed neither armies, nor navies, nor wealth; neither the power to browbeat nor the means to bribe: he had only that indefinable something, that vague but vast threat, the future United States.”123 Livingston in April 1802 – a year before the Louisiana Purchase would actually be negotiated, Jefferson directed:

“The session of Louisiana and the Floridas by Spain to France works most sorely on the U. S. On this subject the Secretary of State has written to you fully. Yet I cannot forbear recurring to it personally, so deep is the impression it makes in my mind. It compleatly reverses all the political relations of the U. S. and will form a new epoch in our political course. Of all nations of any consideration France is the one which hitherto has offered the fewest points on which we could have any conflict of right, and the most points of a communion of interests. From these causes we have ever looked to her as our natural friend, as one with which we never could have an occasion of difference. Her growth therefore we viewed as our own, her misfortunes ours. There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants. France placing herself in that door assumes to us the attitude of defiance. Spain might have retained it quietly for years. Her pacific dispositions, her feeble state, would induce her to increase our facilities there, so that her possession of the place would be hardly felt by us, and it would not perhaps be very long before some circumstance might arise which might make the cession of it to us the price of something of more worth to her. Not so can it ever be in the hands of France. The impetuosity of her temper, the energy and restlessness of her character, placed in a point of eternal friction with us, and our character, which though quiet, and loving peace and the pursuit of wealth, is high-minded, despising wealth in competition with insult or injury, enterprising and energetic as any nation on earth, these circumstances render it impossible that France and the U. S. can continue long friends when they meet in so irritable a position. They as well as we must be blind if they do not see this; and we must be very improvident if we do not begin to make arrangements on that hypothesis. The day that France takes possession of N. Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low water mark. It seals the union of two nations who in conjunction can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation. We must turn all our attentions to a maritime force, for which our resources place us on very high grounds: and having formed and cemented together a power which may render reinforcement of her settlements here impossible to France, make the first cannon which shall be fired in Europe the signal for tearing up any settlement she may have made, and for holding the two continents of America in sequestration for the common purposes of the united British and American nations. This is not a state of things we seek or desire. It is one which this measure, if adopted by France, forces on us, as necessarily as any other cause, by the laws of nature, brings on its necessary effect. It is not from a fear of France that we deprecate this measure proposed by her. For however greater her force is than ours compared in the abstract, it is nothing in comparison of ours when to be exerted on our soil. But it is from a sincere love of peace, and a firm persuasion that bound to France by the interests and the strong sympathies still existing in the minds of our citizens, and holding relative positions which ensure their continuance we are secure of a long course of peace. Whereas the change of friends, which will be rendered necessary if France changes that position, embarks us necessarily as a belligerent power in the first war of Europe. In that case France will have held possession of New Orleans during the interval of a peace, long or short, at the end of which it will be wrested from her. Will this short-lived possession have been an equivalent to her for the transfer of such a weight into the scale of her enemy? Will not the amalgamation of a young, thriving nation continue to that enemy the health and force which are at present so evidently on the decline? And will a few years possession of N. Orleans add equally to the strength of France? She may say she needs Louisiana for the supply of her West Indies. She does not need it in time of peace. And in war she could not depend on them because they would be so easily intercepted. I should suppose that all these considerations might in some proper form be brought into view of the government of France. Tho' stated by us, it ought not to give offence; because we do not bring them forward as a menace, but as consequences not controulable by us, but inevitable from the course of things. We mention them not as things which we desire by any means, but as things we deprecate; and we beseech a friend to look forward and to prevent them for our common interests.

Jefferson counseled Livingston: “If France considers Louisiana however as indispensable for her views she might perhaps be willing to look about for arrangements which might reconcile it to our interests. If anything could do this it would be the ceding to us the island of New Orleans and the Floridas. This would certainly in a great degree remove the causes of jarring and irritation between us, and perhaps for such a length of time as might produce other means of making the measure permanently conciliatory to our interests and friendships. It would at any rate relieve us from the necessity of taking immediate measures for countervailing such an operation by arrangements in another quarter.”124 Jefferson was worried about both domestic politics and international relations: “Every eye in the U. S. is now fixed on this affair of Louisiana. Perhaps nothing since the revolutionary war has produced more uneasy sensations through the body of the nation. Notwithstanding temporary bickerings have taken place with France, she has still a strong hold on the affections of our citizens generally. I have thought it not amiss, by way of supplement to the letters of the Secretary of State, to write you this private one to impress you with the importance we affix to this transaction. I pray you to cherish Dupont. He has the best dispositions for the continuance of friendship between the two nations, and perhaps you may be able to make a good use of him. Accept assurances of my affectionate esteem and high consideration.”125 Jefferson’s letter prompted Livingston to prepare an effective brochure summarizing the reasons why taking possession of New Orleans would be contrary to French interests.

Napoleon’s top two ministers had ample experience in dealing with America; they adopted a policy of delay and duplicity. Historian Harlow Giles Unger wrote: “When Livingston arrived in Paris in early August 1802, he carried instructions to determine whether Spain had formally retroceded Louisiana to France. Napoléon ordered his sly foreign minister Talleyrand to delay meeting with the American as long as possible. ‘My intention,’ he confided, ‘is that we take possession of Louisiana with the least possible delay, that this expedition be made in the greatest secrecy, and that it have the appearance of being directed to Santo Domingue.’”126Talleyrand was more than a match for Livingston. The French minister was “a defrocked, excommunicated priest, an epicurean, a gambler for high stakes, the pursuer of other men’s wives, a stockjobber, possibly the salesman of the nation’s secrets, certainly a man with his hand ever our to receive a bribe, and a traitor to his nation’s secrets, certainly a man with his with his hand ever out to receive a bribe, and a traitor to his emperor,” wrote historical writer John Keats. “But these little faults were not seen as such at the time, except possibly by puritans. It is more to the point, historically speaking, to consider that Talleyrand was always moved, throughout his long and eventful life, by a patriotic concern for the national interests of France. In that context, he betrayed no one.”127 Historian Thomas Fleming called Talleyrand “one of the most corrupt and devious politicians in the history of France or any other nation. Talleyrand was born into a noble family that traced their pedigree to the year 1000. He was pressured by his father into becoming a priest because a boyhood injury had left him with a serious limp. On the eve of the French Revolution, his father secured him the bishopric of Autun – a favor he soon regretted. The son, already notorious for his impiety, sided with the revolutionists and was soon excommunicated by the pope.”128

Despite his handicaps, Livingston did his work in laying the groundwork for the Louisiana Purchase. Historian Jon Kukla wrote: “Throughout the long and complicated process of diplomacy...it was Livingston who did the heavy lifting.”129 Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone observed: “Credit for the idea of acquiring land west of the river belongs to Livingston, who, acting independently, suggested the cession of the region above the Arkansas River as a buffer between French possessions and the British.”130 Thomas Fleming wrote: “Irritated and frequently frustrated, Livingston nonetheless retained his fondness for France and the French people.” Livingston tried to work through a number of top French officials – including Talleyrand, Marbois, and Napoleon’s brother Joseph. Although in January 1803 Joseph Bonaparte was apparently ordered to leave the issue to Talleyrand, he had, according to historian George Dangerfield “served his purpose. He had brought Livingston’s proposals under the eye of the First Consul, and by doing so, he had forced Talleyrand into the open.” During the early part of 1803, Livingston kept up a stream of arguments to Talleyrand about the shape of a territorial transfer to the United States.131

Ultimately, however, it was the erudite finance minister rather than the shifty foreign minister who was designated by the First Consul as the primary American contact for negotiations. Livingston met the “suave Francois Barbe-Marbois, who had been secretary to the French legation in Philadelphia during the American Revolution. He had married an American woman and had worked closely with Livingston to keep the alliance of the two countries alive in spite of much criticism and disillusionment on both sides,” wrote Fleming.132 Marbois was well acquainted with the French situation in the western hemisphere, having served as the French intendant in Santo Domingo. Like Barbé-Marbois, Talleyrand also had had opportunity to observe America first hand. Historian Jon Kukla wrote that Talleyrand’s “legendary knack for discovering and exploiting an opponent’s weaknesses was nearly worthless in the face of Livingston’s unusual self-confidence. Despite his firm attachment to republican values that Bonaparte regarded as dangerously Jacobin, Livingston was a Hudson Valley squire to the manor born, unruffled by the hauteur of the former bishop of Autun.”133

In 1802, unwisely, Jefferson added a quasi-diplomat to the mix of Paris politics. Jefferson wrote Livingston a letter carried to France by a Paris-born American businessman, Pierre Samuel Pont de Nemours: “I wish You to be possessed of the subject, because you may be able to impress on the government of France the inevitable consequences of their taking possession of Louisiana; and though, as I here mention, the cession of New Orleans and the Floridas to us would be a palliation, yet I believe it would be no more, and that this measure will cost France, and perhaps not very long hence, a war which will annihilate her on the ocean, and place that element under the despotism of two nations, which I am not reconciled to the more because my own would be one of them. Add to this the exclusive appropriation of both continents of America as a consequence. I wish the present order of things to continue, and with a view to this I value highly a state of friendship between France and us. You know too well how sincere I have ever been in these dispositions to doubt them. You know, too, how much I value peace, and how unwillingly I should see any event take place which would render war a necessary resource; and that all our movements should change their character and object. I am thus open with you, because I trust that you will have it in your power to impress on that government considerations, in the scale against which the possession of Louisiana is nothing. In Europe, nothing but Europe is seen, or supposed to have any right in the affairs of nations; but this little event, of France's possessing herself of Louisiana, which is thrown in as nothing, as a mere makeweight in the general settlement of accounts—this speck which now appears as an almost invisible point in the horizon, is the embryo of a tornado which will burst on the countries on both sides of the Atlantic, and involve in its effects their highest destinies. That it may yet be avoided is my sincere prayer; and if you can be the means of informing the wisdom of Bonaparte of all its consequences, you have deserved well of both countries. Peace and abstinence from European interferences are our objects, and so will continue while the present order of things in America remains uninterrupted.134

Things were heating up by the time Du Pont got to Paris. Historian Walter A. McDougall noted: “U.S. Minister Rufus King reported from London the British intended Louisiana either to remain in Spanish hands or fall into their own. But Jefferson hoped the mere specter of Anglo-American unity would scare Bonaparte off like some voodoo spell.”135 Historian Thomas Fleming wrote that Du Pont, a former French diplomat, “was a dolorous example of the trouble with using special envoys....Talleyrand was obviously using him to lull the Americans into going along with the main point of French policy, the occupation of Louisiana. Jefferson and Madison believed that Du Pont knew what he was talking about, and in their final instructions to Monroe they reiterated orders to bid for the Floridas.”136 They were operating on the mistaken impression that Spain had ceded to France this originally Spanish territory along with the originally French Louisiana Territory. Based on erroneous information transmitted by Du Pont, Jefferson thought he could purchase New Orleans and West Florida for just $2 million.137

Once the Spanish intendant closed the port of New Orleans, Livingston’s task assumed new importance. Secretary of State Madison wrote Livingston on January 18, 1803: “My letters of Nov. 27th and Jany 10th communicated the information which had been received at those dates, relating to the violation at New Orleans of our Treaty with Spain; together with what had then passed between the House of Representatives and the Executive on the subject. I now inclose a subsequent resolution of that branch of the Legislature. Such of the debates connected with it, as took place with open doors, will be seen in the Newspapers which it is expected will be forwarded by the Collector at New York, by the present opportunity. In these debates, as well as in indications from the press, you will perceive, as you would readily suppose, that the Cession of Louisiana to France has been associated as a ground of much solicitude, with the affair at New Orleans. Such indeed has been the impulse given to the public mind by these events, that every branch of the Government has felt the obligation of taking the measures most likely, not only to re-establish our present rights, but to promote arrangements by which they may be enlarged and more effectually secured. In deliberating on this subject, it has appeared to the President, that the importance of the crisis, called for the experiment of an Extraordinary Mission, carrying with it the weight attached to such a measure, as well as the advantage of a more thorough knowledge of the views of the Government and the sensibility of the public, than could be otherwise conveyed. He has accordingly selected for this service, with the approbation of the Senate Mr. Monroe formerly our Minister Plenipotentiary at Paris, and lastly Governor of the State of Virginia, who will be joined with Mr. Livingston in a Commission extraordinary to treat with the French Republic, and with yourself in a like Commission, to treat, if necessary with the Spanish Government. The President has been careful on this occasion to guard effectually against any possible misconstruction in relation to yourself by expressing in his message to the Senate, his undiminished confidence in the ordinary representation of the United States, and by referring the advantages of the additional mission to considerations perfectly consistent therewith.” Madison added: “Mr. Monroe will be the bearer of the instructions under which you are to negotiate. The object of them will be to promote a Cession of New Orleans and the Floridas to the United States, and consequently the establishment of the Mississippi as the boundary between the United States and Louisiana.”138

Livingston was not waiting for Monroe’s help. One of Livingston’s most important contributions to negotiations was a 14-page memo that he had drafted and printed outlining the disadvantages to France of ownership of Louisiana. Historian Jon Kukla wrote: “The genius of Livingston’s pamphlet lay not in its obvious conclusion but in its careful demolition of Bonaparte’s mercantilist vision of Louisiana as a breadbasket for the sugar islands.” Livingston wrote that France “is not bound to create new colonies, to multiply her points of defense, and to waste capital which she needs both at home and abroad.”139 Livingston gave copies to Talleyrand and Napoleon’s brother Joseph. Historian Thomas Fleming wrote: “The American minister had his memorial translated into French and ordered twenty copies from a printer, distributing them to influential Frenchmen in Napoleon Bonaparte’s entourage. It was a neat way for Livingston to give the back of his hand to Talleyrand and his stonewalling tactics. The memorial was an artful document. The first half, the devastating critique of the value of Louisiana to France, was nicely masked by the second part, the pie-in-the-sky vision of Louisiana’s prosperity if Napoleon decided to sell New Orleans to keep the Americans happy.”140 Livingston also warned French officials that Congress was contemplating war with France. Napoleon apparently decided New Orleans was not worth a fight – especially when a bigger one with Britain was looming. Historian Thomas Fleming wrote: “The doubletalk from Talleyrand that Livingston was encountering in France suggests that the French may have pretended to be surprised. The advantages they would gain from abolishing the right of deposit – and the size of General Victor’s army – suggest that the Americans of 1802 were probably correct about the real reason for the intendant’s order. While Godoy and his circle had a degree of influence on King Carlos IV, the French presence in the Spanish court was also pervasive. A bribed or intimidated Spaniard could easily have persuaded the witless king to ease France’s path to power in New Orleans with the order to the intendant.”141

James Monroe

The Jefferson Administration was not to be so easily manipulated. In early 1803, outgoing Virginia Governor James Monroe was abruptly drafted for the French mission as a way for the Jefferson administration to buy time with unhappy westerners and war-happy Federalists. There was an ironic precedent for a special envoy. During the second Washington Adminsitration., Chief Justice John Jay had been named in 1794 to represent America in England regarding a series of disputes. Jeffersonians had complained, but the appointment was confirmed. Now, in Jefferson’s first Administration, the Federalists saw a political opportunity in the Jeffersonians’ embarrassment. Federalist mastermind Alexander Hamilton thundered: “A manifest and great danger to the nation, the nature of the cession to France, extending to ancient limits without respect to our rights by treaty; the direct infraction of an important article of the treaty itself in withholding the deposition of New-Orleans; either of these affords justifiable cause of WAR and that they would authorize immediately hostilities, is not to be questioned by the most scrupulous mind.”142 Political scientist Sean M. Theriault argued that “the Federalists, ignoring their past indifference and disgust toward the West, offered a strident defense of the westerners’ use of the Mississippi River and New Orleans.”143 Incorrectly, the Federalists thought that Jefferson was boxed in politically. They still smarted over Jefferson’s defeat of the Federalists in 1800-1801 when he won the presidency. Historian Henry Adams wrote: “The New England Federalists were satisfied that President Jefferson must either adopt their own policy and make war on France, or risk a dissolution of the Union. They had hardly dared hope that democracy would so soon meet what might prove to be its crisis. They too cried for war, and cared little whether their outcry produced or prevented hostilities, for the horns of Jeffersonians’s dilemma were equally fatal to him.”144 Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone wrote that “Jefferson cut the ground from under the opposition and gratified the Westerners by sending to the Senate the nomination of Monroe as minister extraordinary, to negotiate with the French and, if need be, with the Spanish.”145

No other American possessed Monroe’s combination of experience with French diplomats and sympathy toward American navigation on the Mississippi. Historian Jon Kukla wrote: “ Monroe’s reputation as a stalwart defender of western interests in the Mississippi Valley dated to the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations of 1785-1786 and the debates over the ratification of the Constitution.”146 President Jefferson was worried about the reaction of the western Americans. “Jefferson himself spoke privately of the ‘fever’ of the western mind, of the ‘ferment’ of the whole country which threatened its peace, and of the necessity of adopting ‘measures of urgency.’ The ones he had been pursuing were invisible, or largely so, and thus insufficient to quiet the minds of the Westerners. The appointment of Monroe was calculated to reassure them,” wrote biographer Dumas Malone.147 Monroe’s interest in New Orleans and the Mississippi River was personal as well as political. He had land holdings in Kentucky that he had inspected in August 1785. Biographer Harry Ammon noted: “Monroe’s second western tour significantly altered his thinking about the political organization and future development of the Northwest. His tour made him aware of the feeling in the West that the eastern states were not just indifferent but were in fact actively hostile to the interests of the area. The inhabitants, unable to use the Mississippi to export their products, were increasingly dissatisfied. Attributing much of this distrust to the uncertain policies of the Confederation, Monroe was convinced that Congress must promptly set up a governmental system and establish clear rules for the admission of new states....Even though he was sympathetic to western demands, he still considered it unwise to give too much power to a region whose interests were antithetical to those of the older states.”148

Going to France, where he once had been the American ambassador, was not in Monroe’s plans. In order to improve his financial position, Monroe in January 1803 was preparing for another trip West in to inspect his holdings and hopefully sell them. Before he could do so, President Jefferson interrupted his plans for a return to private life by nominating him for a special diplomatic mission. Historian Thomas Fleming wrote: “On January 13, 1803, the president wrote Monroe a revealing letter. After describing the war fever in the West and the problem of pursuing peaceful solutions that were ‘invisible,’ Jefferson informed Monroe that he was the only man who could rescue the situation.”149 Jefferson wrote: “I dropped you a line on the 10th, informing you of a nomination I had made of you to the Senate, and yesterday I enclosed you their approbation, not then having time to write. The agitation of the public mind on occasion of the late suspension of our right of deposit at New Orleans is extreme. In the western country it is natural, and grounded on honest motives. In the sea ports it proceeds from a desire for war, which increases the mercantile lottery: in the federalists, generally, and especially those of Congress, the object is to force us into war if possible, in order to derange our finances, or if this cannot be done, to attach the western country to them, as their best friends, and thus get again into power. Remonstrances, memorials, etc., are now circulating through the whole of the western country, and signed by the body of the people. The measures we have been pursuing, being invisible, do not satisfy their minds. Something sensible, therefore, has become necessary; and indeed our object of purchasing New Orleans and the Floridas is a measure liable to assume so many shapes, that no instructions could be squared to fit them. It was essential then, to send a minister extraordinary, to be joined with the ordinary one, with discretionary powers; first, however, well impressed with all our views, and therefore qualified to meet and modify to these every form of proposition which could come from the other party. This could be done only in full and frequent oral communications. Having determined on this, there could not be two opinions among the republicans as to the person. You possess the unlimited confidence of the administration and of the western people; and generally of the republicans everywhere; and were you to refuse to go, no other man can be found who does this. The measure has already silenced the federalists here. Congress will no longer be agitated by them; and the country will become calm fast as the information extends over it.” The president then appealed to Monroe’s patriotism and political ambition: “All eyes, all hopes are now fixed on you; and were you to decline, the chagrin would be universal, and would shake under your feet the high ground on which you stand with the public. Indeed, I know nothing which would produce such a shock. For on the event of this mission depend the future destinies of this republic. If we cannot by a purchase of the country, insure to ourselves a course of perpetual peace and friendship with all nations, then as war cannot be distant, it behooves us immediately to be preparing for that course, without, however, hastening it; and it may be necessary (on your failure on the continent) to cross the channel. We shall get entangled in European politics, and figuring more, be much less happy and prosperous. This can only be prevented by a successful issue to your present mission. I am sensible after the measures you have taken for getting into a different line of business, that it will be a great sacrifice on your part, and presents from the season and other circumstances serious difficulties. But some men are born for the public. Nature by fitting them for the service of the human race on a broad scale, has stamped them with the evidences of her destination and their duty.” Jefferson then proceeded to give Monroe bad news about his expenses on the mission.

But I am particularly concerned, that, in the present case, you have more than one sacrifice to make. To reform the prodigalities of our predecessors is understood to be peculiarly our duty, and to bring the government to a simple and economical course. They, in order to increase expense, debt, taxation and patronage, tried always how much they could give. The outfit given to ministers resident to enable them to furnish their house, but given by no nation to a temporary minister, who is never expected to take a house or to entertain, but considered on the footing of a voyageur, they gave to their extraordinary ministers by wholesale. In the beginning of our administration, among other articles of reformation in expense, it was determined not to give an outfit to ministers extraordinary, and not to incur the expense with any minister of sending a frigate to carry or bring him. The Boston happened to be going to the Mediterranean, and was permitted, therefore, to take up Mr. Livingston, and touch in a port of France. A frigate was denied to Charles Pinckney, and has been refused to Mr. King for his return. Mr. Madison's friendship and mine to you being so well known, the public will have eagle eyes to watch if we grant you any indulgences out of the general rule; and on the other hand, the example set in your case will be more cogent on future ones, and produce greater approbation to our conduct. The allowance, therefore, will be in this, and all similar cases, all the expenses of your journey and voyage, taking a ship's cabin to yourself, nine thousand dollars a year from your leaving home till the proceedings of your mission are terminated, and then the quarter's salary for the expenses of your return, as prescribed by law. As to the time of your going, you cannot too much hasten it, as the moment in France is critical. St. Domingo delays their taking possession of Louisiana, and they are in the last distress for money for current purposes. You should arrange your affairs for an absence of a year at least, perhaps for a long one. It will be necessary for you to stay here some days on your way to New York. You will receive here what advance you choose.”150

Monroe’s nomination made sense from the standpoint of both domestic politics and international relations. Two days before he wrote Monroe, Jefferson had nominated him as “Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the First Consul of France, and to the Court of Madrid, in association with our ministers to France and Spain, relative to the free navigation of the Mississippi.” The Senate confirmed him immediately. Monroe’s appointment was meant to buy time for the Jefferson Administration. Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone wrote: “Jefferson laid great stress on the tranquilizing effect of Monroe’s appointment on the West, expressing at the same time the desire of the administration to pursue ‘pacific means to the last moment,’ and its hope of French concurrence to preserve harmony.” Malone wrote: “Monroe himself was painfully aware of the danger that his diplomatic venture might prove a failure, but this inveterate public man was glad to be brought back into the current of national and international affairs in behalf of a cause to which he had long been committed.”151 There were strong regional economic forces at play. Historian Roger G. Kennedy wrote: “The planters wanted Louisiana and Florida on their own terms, and Livingston could not be relied upon to get those terms precisely right, Besides, the plantable provinces would be prizes, and, in politics, prizes are not to be squandered. Monroe was sent off to Paris by the fastest ship available.”152

“The two minor liabilities that Monroe brought to the assignment stemmed from his tenure as minister to France in the 1790s,” wrote Jon Kukla. “First, many of French political friends were out of favor with Bonaparte. Second, Monroe was a proud man – a ‘man of the sword’ ready to defend his reputation on the field of honor.”153 Federalists had not forgiven Monroe for his behavior as U.S. minister to France under the Washington Administration in opposition to the Jay Treaty – opposition that had resulted his termination by President Washington. The New York Post, a strong Federalist newspaper started by Alexander Hamilton, strongly criticized the Monroe appointment as “in every respect the weakest measure that ever disgraced the administration of any country.”154 The new nominee had extensive discussions with the president and secretary of state before departing. Historian Thomas Fleming wrote: “They told him that his mission was to purchase New Orleans and West and East Florida from France. They assumed Napoleon had obtained these latter possessions from Spain. Monroe was authorized to pay as much as fifty million francs...If the French refused to sell, he was to negotiate a treaty confirming the U.S. right to deposit goods in New Orleans as well as at the mouths of other rivers emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.”155 These discussions were important in setting the groundwork for Monroe’s negotiations. Biographer Harry Ammon wrote that Monroe “was able to spend several weeks...studying the correspondence in the State Department relating to France and Spain. From reading Livingston’s dispatches he knew that the Minister to France was discouraged over his inability to secure any precise statement from Talleyrand about Louisiana.”156

Three months would pass before Monroe arrived in Paris. Over in the French capital, Livingston learned of the new mission and pushed persistently for an agreement with the French before Monroe could reach Paris. Finance Minister Marbois was conscious Livingston’s ego and himself tried to use it to reach an agreement prior to Monroe’s arrival. Charles A. Cerami wrote, “When Marbois had heard that Monroe was on his way to France, he obviously must have imagined the hard sentiments that Livingston felt at seeing what might be taken as a no-confidence vote on the part of his superiors. What’s more, Marbois felt that the First Consul was approaching a decision to sell Louisiana, and he hoped this would not be delayed until the new envoy came and robbed Livingston of the credit.157 Historian Elijah Wilson Lyon wrote: “Livingston not unnaturally viewed Monroe’s appointment with some displeasure. He regarded the mission of the new envoy as a reflection on his own accomplishments and as an indictment of his failure to effect a suitable arrangement with France. It was apparent that the credit for any solution the two ministers might obtain would be attributed largely to Monroe, the especial confidant of Jefferson. Livingston also feared that Monroe’s presence would disturb the confidence which he enjoyed” with the French government.158 The interest of Livingston and Marbois converged in attempting to sideline Monroe, who could not actively engage in negotiations until his diplomatic credentials had been presented to the French government.

“As late as April 1, 1803, the French Foreign Minister had refused to divulge any official information regarding the actual international status of Louisiana,” wrote Elijah Wilson Lyon. 159 In early April, Napoleon suddenly shifted his shifts his goals. Historian Henry Adams wrote that in early April, “Monroe arrived in sight of the French coast April 7, 1803; but while he was still on the ocean, Bonaparte without reference to him or his mission, opened his mind to Talleyrand in regard to ceding Louisiana to the United States. The First Consul a few days afterward repeated to his Finance Minister, Barbé Marbois, a part of the conversation with Talleyrand; and his words implied that Talleyrand opposed Bonaparte’s scheme, less because it sacrificed Louisiana than because its true object was not a war with England, but conquest of Germany. ‘He alone knows my intentions,’ said Bonaparte to Marbois. ‘If I attended to his advice, France would confine her ambition to the left bank of the Rhine, and would make war only to protect the weak States and to prevent any dismemberment of her possessions; but he also admits that the cession of Louisiana is not a dismemberment of France.’”160

Meanwhile, Napoleon was turning up the heat on Europe. On March 12, Napoleon reported told the British ambassador: “I find, my lord, you nation wants war again.” He added: “I must either have Malta or war.” With war on the horizon, France needed to dispose of Louisiana. “Since Napoleon now planned a fresh war with England, Louisiana was a liability rather than an asset to him,” wrote historian Nathan Schachner. In a conversation with Marbois, Napoleon said: “I can scarcely say that I cede it to them [the United States], for it is not yet in our possession. If, however, I leave the least time to our enemies, I shall only transmit an empty title to those republicans whose friendship I seek. They ask of me only one town in Louisiana; but I already consider the colony as entirely lost: and it appears to me that in the hands of this growing Power it will be more useful to the policy, and even the commerce, of France than if I should attempt to keep it.” 161

Barbé-Marbois was more friendly to the United States and more direct with its representatives than was Talleyrand. It was Barbé-Marbois to whom Napoleon turned on April 10 to discuss Louisiana. Napoleon told his finance minister on Easter Sunday: “I can hard say that I cede it to them, for it is not yet in our possession. If I leave the least time to our enemies, I will transmit only an empty title to those Republicans whose friendship I seek. They ask for only one town in Louisiana; but I already consider the Colony as completely lost, and it seems to me that in the hands of that growing power it will be more useful to the policy, and even to the commerce, of France than if I should try to keep it.”162 162 As historian Arthur Burr Darling observed, “Marbois took the cue,” but Maritime Minister Denis Decrès “took the position which Talleyrand had constructed for the Directory in 1797-98, and upon which the secret Treaty of San Idldefonso has been made.”163 In his History of Louisiana, Barbé-Marbois wrote that Louisiana was:

....at the mercy of the English, who had a naval armament in the neighboring seas, and good garrisons in Jamaica and the Windward Islands. It might be supposed that they would open the campaign by this easy conquest. The First Consul had no other plan to pursue, when he abandoned his views respecting Louisiana, than to prevent the loss which France was already sustaining, being turned to the advantage of England. He, however, conceived that he ought, before parting with it, to inform himself respecting the value of an acquisition, which was the fruit of his own negotiations, and the only one that had not been obtained by the sword.... On Easter Sunday, the 10th of April (1803), after having attended to the solemnities and ceremonies of the day, he called those two counsellors to him, and, addressing them with that vehemence and passion which he particularly manifested in political affairs, said: 'I know the full value of Louisiana, and I have been desirous of repairing the fault of the French negotiator who abandoned it in 1763. A few lines of a treaty have restored it to me, and I have scarcely recovered it, when I must expect to lose it. But if it escapes from me, it shall one day cost dearer to those who oblige me to strip myself of it, than to those to whom I wish to deliver it. The English have successively taken from France: Canada, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the richest portions of Asia. They are engaged in exciting troubles in St. Domingo. They shall not have the Mississippi, which they covet. Louisiana is nothing in comparison with their conquests in all parts of the globe, and yet the jealousy they feel at the restoration of this colony to the sovereignty of France, acquaints me with their wish to take possession of it, and it is thus they will begin the war. They have twenty ships of war in the Gulf of Mexico; they sail over those seas as sovereigns, whilst our affairs in St. Domingo have been growing worse every day, since the death of Leclerc. The conquest of Louisiana would be easy, if they only took the trouble to make a descent there. I have not a moment to lose in putting it out of their reach. I know not whether they are not already there. It is their usual course, and, if I had been in their place, I would not have waited. I wish, if there is still time, to take away from them any idea that they may have of ever possessing that colony. I think of ceding it to the United States. I can scarcely say that I cede it to them, for it is not yet in our possession. If, however, I leave the least time to our enemies, I shall only transmit an empty title to those republicans whose friendship I seek. They only ask of me one town in Louisiana; but I already consider the colony as entirely lost, and it appears to me, that in the hands of this growing power, it will be more useful to the policy and even to the commerce of France, than if I should attempt to keep it.' 164

On Monday April 11, Napoleon told Marbois: “Irresolution and deliberation are no longer in season; I renounce Louisiana. It is not only New Orleans that I cede; it is the whole colony, without reserve. I know the price of what I abandon. I have proved the importance I attach to this province, since my first diplomatic act with Spain had the object of recovering it. I renounced it with the greatest regret; to attempt obstinately to retain it would be folly. I direct you to negotiate the affair. Have an interview this very day with Mr. Livingston.”165 On Monday April 11, Napoleon told Marbois: “Irresolution and deliberation are no longer in season; I renounce Louisiana. It is not only New Orleans that I cede; it is the whole colony, without reserve. I know the price of what I abandon. I have proved the importance I attach to this province, since my first diplomatic act with Spain had the object of recovering it. I renounced it with the greatest regret; to attempt obstinately to retain it would be folly. I direct you to negotiate the affair. Have an interview this very day with Mr. Livingston.”166 Historian Alexander DeConde wrote: “Madison said the Ross resolutions ‘drove at war through a delegation of unconstitutional power to the Executive. Other Republicans called them expansionist war measures pure and simple. One remarked, ‘Presently we shall be told we must have Louisiana; then the gold mines of Mexico – these would be good things, if come by honestly....But what have we to do with the territories of other people? Have we not enough of our own?”167 Nevertheless, the Ross Resolutions in the Senate were sent to the French government to spur negotiations.

Napoleon realized that Louisiana was an asset whose value could fall to zero at any moment – especially if the impending war with England led to a British seizure of New Orleans. Better, he realized, to have Louisiana in American hands than in British ones. The same day, Talleyrand met with Livingston and asked the hearing impaired ambassador if America might not be interested in all of Louisiana. Livingston had to ask for the question to be repeated.168 It was a strange and sudden turn in the negotiations.

Monroe arrived in Paris the next day, on April 12. On Wednesday night, Monroe was Livingston’s guest for dinner when Marbois unexpectedly arrived. Livingston met with Marbois – without Monroe – in meetings that proved critical to advancing the negotiations. Marbois was under considerable pressure to agree to both a bigger purchase and bigger price – and to do so quickly. After meeting with Marbois and Talleyrand, Livingston decided: “I now plainly saw the whole business, first, the Consul was disposed to sell; next, he distrusted Talleyrand, on account of the business of the supposed intention to bribe, and meant to put the negotiation [on] Marbois, whose character for integrity is established.”169 Livingston wrote Madison on April 13 to describe these meetings – the latest of which interrupted a dinner he was having with Monroe: “I have just come from the Minister to the Treasury. Our conversation was so important, that I think it necessary to write it, while the impressions are strong upon my mind; and the rather, as I fear that 1 shall not have the time to copy and send this letter, if I defer it till morning.”

By my letter of yesterday, you learned that the minister had asked me whether I would agree to purchase Louisiana, &c; on the 12th, I called upon him to press this matter further. He then thought proper to declare that his reposition was only personal, but still requested me to make an offer; and, upon my declining; to do so, as I expected Mr. Monroe the next day, he shrugged up his shoulders, and changed the conversation. Not willing, however, to lose sight of it, I told him I had been long endeavoring to bring him to some point; but, unfortunately, without effect: that I wished merely to have the negotiation opened by any proposition on his part; and, with that view, had written him a note which contained that request, grounded upon my apprehension of the consequence of sending out General Bernadotte without enabling him to say a treaty was begun. He told me he would answer my note, but that he must do it evasively, because Louisiana was not theirs. I smiled at this assertion, and told him that I had seen the treaty recognising it; that I knew the Consul had appointed officers to govern the country; and that he had himself told me that General Victor was to take possession; that, in a note written by the express order of the First Consul, he had told me that General Bernadotte was to treat relative to it in the United States, &c. He still persisted that they had it in contemplation to obtain it, but had it not. I told him that I was very well pleased to understand this from him, because, if so, we should not commit ourselves with them in taking it from Spain, to whom, by his account, it still belonged; and that, as we had just cause of complaint against her, if Mr. Monroe concurred in opinion with me, we should negotiate no further on the subject, but advise our Government to take possession. He seemed alarmed at the boldness of the measure, and told me he would answer my note, but that it would be evasively. I told him I should receive with pleasure any communication from him, but that we were not disposed to trifle; that the times were critical, and though I did not know what instructions Mr. Monroe might bring, I was perfectly satisfied that they would require a precise and prompt notice; that I was very fearful, from the little progress I had made, that my Government would consider me as a very indolent negotiator. He laughed, and told me that he would give me a certificate that I was the most importunate he had yet met with.

There was something so extraordinary in all this, that I did not detail it to you till I found some clue to the labyrinth, which I have done, as you will find before I finish this letter and the rather, as I was almost certain that I could rely upon the intelligence I had received of the resolution to dispose of this country. This day Mr. Monroe passed with me in examining my papers; and while he and several other gentlemen were at dinner with me, I observed the Minister of the Treasury walking in my garden. I sent out Colonel Livingston to him; he told him he would return when we had dined. While we were taking coffee he came in; and, after being some time in the room, we strolled into the next room, when he told me he heard that I had been at his house two days before, when he was at St. Cloud; that he thought I might have something particular to say to him, and had taken the first opportunity to call on me. I saw that this was meant as an opening to one of those free conversations which I had frequently had with him. I accordingly began on the subject of the debt, and related to him the extraordinary conduct of the minister. He told me that this led to something important, that had been cursorily mentioned to him at St. Cloud; but, as my house was full of company, he thought I had better call upon him any time before eleven that night. He went away, and, a little after, when Mr. Monroe took leave, I followed him. He told me that he wished me to repeat what I had said relative to M. Talleyrand's requesting a proposition from me as to the purchase of Louisiana. I did so; and concluded with the extreme absurdity of his evasions of' that day, and stated the consequence of any delay on this subject, as it would enable Britain to take possession, who would readily relinquish it to us. He said that this proceeded upon a supposition of her making so successful a war as to be enabled to retain her conquests. I told him that it was probable that the same idea might suggest itself to the United States; in which case, it would be their interest to contribute to render her successful; and I asked whether it was prudent to throw us into her scale? This led to long discussions of no moment to repeat. We returned to the point: he said, that what I had told him led him to think that what the Consul had said to him on Sunday, at St. Cloud, (the day on which, as I told you, the determination had been taken to sell,) had more of earnest than he thought at the time; that the Consul had asked him what news from England? As he knew he read the papers attentively, he told him that he had seen in the London papers the proposition for raising fifty thousand men to take New Orleans. The Consul said he had seen it too, and had also seen that something was said about two millions of dollars being disposed among the people about him, to bribe them, &c.; and then left nim. That afterwards, when walking in the garden, the Consul came again to him, and spoke to him about the troubles that were excited in America, and inquired how far I was satisfied with his last note. Here some civil things were introduced, for which I presume I am more indebted to the minister's politeness than to his veracity; so let them sleep. He (Marbois) then took occasion to mention his sorrow that any cause of difference should exist between our countries. The Consul told him, in reply. "Well, you have the charge of the Treasury; let them give you one hundred millions of Francs, and pay their own claims, and take the whole country." Seeing, by my looks, that I was surprised at so extravagant a demand, he added that he considered the demand as exorbitant, and had told the First Consul that the thing was impossible; that we had not the means of raising that. The Consul told him we might borrow it. I now plainly saw the whole business: first, the Consul was disposed to sell; next, he distrusted Talleyrand, on account of the business of the supposed intention to bribe, and meant to put the negotiation into the hands of Marbois, whose character for integrity is established. I told him that the United States were anxious to preserve peace with France; that, for that reason, they wished to remove them to the west side of the Mississippi; that we would be perfectly satisfied with New Orleans and the Floridas, and had no disposition to extend across the river; that, of course, we would not give any great sum for the purchase; that he was right in his idea of the extreme exorbitancy of the demand, which would not fall short of one hundred and twenty-five millions; that, however, we would be ready to purchase, provided the sum was reduced to reasonable limits. He then pressed me to name the sum. I told him that this was not worth while, because, as he only treated the inquiry as a matter of curiosity, any declarations of mine would have no effect. If a negotiation was to be opened, we should (Mr. Monroe and myself) make the offer after mature reflection. This compelled him to declare, that, though he was not authorized expressly to make the inquiry from me, yet, that, if I could mention any sum that came near the mark, that could be accepted, he would communicate it to the First Consul. I told him that we had no sort of authority to go to a sum that bore any proportion to what he mentioned; but that, as he himself considered the demand as too high, he would oblige me by telling me what he thought would be reasonable. He replied that, if we would name sixty millions, and take upon us the American claims, to the amount of twenty more, he would try how far this would be accepted – I told him that it was vain to ask any thing that was so greatly beyond our means; that true policy would dictate to the First Consul not to press such a demand: that he must know that it would render the present Government unpopular, and have a tendency, at the next election, to throw the power into the hands of men who were most hostile to a connexion with France and that this would probably hapn in the midst of a war. I asked him whether the few millions acquired at this expense would not be too dearly bought? He frankly confessed that he was of my sentiments; but that he feared the Consul would not relax. 1 asked him to press this argument upon him, together with the danger of seeing the country pass into the hands of Britain. I told him that he had seen the ardor of the Americans to take it by force, and the difficulty with which they were restrained by the prudence of the President; that he must easily see how much the hands of the war party would be strengthened, when they learned that France was upon the eve of a rupture with England. He admitted the weight of all this: "But," says he, "you know the temper of a youthful conqueror; every thing he does is rapid as lightning; we have only to speak to him as an opportunity presents itself, perhaps in a crowd, when he bears no contradiction. When I am alone with him, I can speak more freely, and he attends; but this opportunity seldom happens, and is always accidental. Try, then, if you cannot come up to my mark. Consider the extent of the country, the exclusive navigation of the river, and the importance of having no neighbors to dispute you, no war to dread." I told him that I considered all these as important considerations, but there was a point beyond which we could not go, and that fell far short of the sum he mentioned.

I asked him, in case of a purchase, whether they would stipulate that France would never possess the Floridas, and that she would aid us to procure them, and relinquish all right that she might have to them. He told me that she would go thus far. I added, that I would now say nothing more on the subject, but that I would converse with Mr. Monroe; and that I was sure to find him disposed to do every thing that was reasonable, or could be expected, to remove every cause of difference between the two countries. That, however, if any negotiation should go on, I would wish that the First Consul would depute somebody to treat with us, who had more leisure than the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I said this to see whether my conjectures relative to him were well founded. He told me that as the First Consul knew our personal friendship, he having several times had occasion to speak of me and my family, and the principles that we held, he believed that there would be no difficulty, when this negotiation was somewhat advanced, to have the management of it put into his hands. He earnestly pressed me to make some proposition that was so near the First Consul's as to admit his mentioning it to him. I told him that I would consult Mr. Monroe, but that neither he nor I could accede to his ideas on the subject. Thus, sir, you see a negotiation is fairly opened, and upon grounds which I confess I prefer to all other commercial privileges; and always to some a simple money transaction is infinitely preferable. As to the quantum, I have yet made up no opinion. The field opened to us is infinitely larger than our instructions contemplated; the revenue increasing, and the land more than adequate to sink the capital, should we even go the sum proposed by Marbois; nay, I persuade myself, that the whole sum may be raised by the sale of the territory west of the Mississippi, with the right of sovereignty, to some Power in Europe, whose vicinity we should not fear. I speak now without reflection, and without having seen Mr. Monroe, as it was midnight when I left the Treasury Office, and is now near three o'clock. It is so very important that you should be apprised that a negotiation is actually opened, even before Mr. Monroe has been presented, in order to calm the tumult which the news of war will renew, that 1 have lost no time in communicating it. We shall do all we can to cheapen the purchase; but my present sentiment is that we shall buy. Mr. Monroe will be presented to the minister tomorrow, when we shall press for as early an audience as possible from the First Consul. I think it will be necessary to put in some proposition to-morrow: the Consul goes in a few days to Brussels, and every moment is precious.170

Livingston clearly annoyed Monroe by meeting alone with Marbois, but on the following day, April 14, both Americans met Marbois in Talleyrand’s office. Historian Arthur Burr Darling wrote that Marbois “got at once to bargaining with the Americans. Livingston pressed instead for an immediate audience with the First Consul for Monroe.”171

Livingston’s notion was probably of a turnkey purchase for the great expanse of the territory that Marbois was speaking of. He and Monroe would have to assume responsibility for whatever decision the United States would make. Events were outrunning the ability of American officials across the ocean to influence. On April 18 shortly after Monroe arrived, Secretary of State Madison sent from Washington a detailed letter to Monroe and Livingston on how they should proceed given a variety of different circumstances and possibilities. His instructions by then were overtaken by events in Paris. Madison wrote Livingston and Monroe: “Should a cession of the Floridas not be attainable, your attention will also be due to the establishment of suitable deposites at the mouths of the rivers, passing from the United States through the Floridas, as well as of the free navigation of those rivers by citizens of the United States. What has been above suggested in relation to the Mississippi, and the deposite on its banks, is applicable to the other rivers; and additional hints relative to them all may be derived from the letter, of which a copy is enclosed from the consul at New Orleans. It has been long manifest, that, whilst the injuries to the United States, so frequently occurring from the colonial officers, scattered over our hemisphere, and in our neighbourhood, can only be repaired by a resort to their respective governments in Europe, that it will be impossible to guard against the most serious inconveniences. The late events at New Orleans strongly manifest the necessity of placing a power somewhere nearer to us, capable of correcting and controlling the mischievous proceedings of such officers towards our citizens, without which a few individuals, not always among the wisest or best of men, may at any time threaten the good understanding of the two nations. The distance between the United States and the old continent, and the mortifying delays of explanations and negotiations across the Atlantic, on emergencies in our neighbourhood, render such a provision indispensable, and it cannot be long before all the governments of Europe, having American colonies, must see the necessity of making it. This object, therefore, will likewise claim your special attention.”

It only remains to suggest, that, considering the possibility of some intermediate violences between citizens of the United States and the French or Spaniards in consequence of the interruption of our right of deposite, and the probability that considerable damages will have been occasioned by that measure to citizens of the United States, it will be proper that indemnification in the latter case be provided for, and that in the former it shall not be taken on either side as a ground or pretext for hostilities.172

The Negotiations

Historian Elijah Wilson Lyon summarized the instructions to the American negotiators: “The ministers were authorized to offer ten millions of dollars for the Isle of Orleans, the Floridas, and the islands lying to the north and east of the channel of the Mississippi. France was to have the free navigation of the Mississippi and for ten years a right to deposit merchandise at New Orleans duty free. In the ports of the Floridas France was to enjoy the privilege of the most favored nation, and for ten years her citizens were to pay only such duties as were levies on American trade. If, on the other hand, the entire Isle of Orleans could not be secured, the negotiators were to treat for the cession of a space on the banks of the Mississippi, not far from its mouth, for the establishment of a commercial town.”173

Historian Elijah Wilson Lyon summarized the instructions to the American negotiators: “The ministers were authorized to offer ten millions of dollars for the Isle of Orleans, the Floridas, and the islands lying to the north and east of the channel of the Mississippi. France was to have the free navigation of the Mississippi and for ten years a right to deposit merchandise at New Orleans duty free. In the ports of the Floridas France was to enjoy the privilege of the most favored nation, and for ten years her citizens were to pay only such duties as were levies on American trade. If, on the other hand, the entire Isle of Orleans could not be secured, the negotiators were to treat for the cession of a space on the banks of the Mississippi, not far from its mouth, for the establishment of a commercial town.”174

On some things, Monroe and Livingston might agree. New Orleans was “fact’ for Americans. Louisiana was a “fantasy” for them. But fantasy had a way of becoming fact. Charles A. Cerami wrote: “Monroe knew that the land he thought of buying did not even exist in the minds of most Americans. The fact that the land west of the great river was much more extensive than the better-known eastern part was not only unknown, but quite unthinkable. Most of his countrymen, if they thought about it at all, would be chiefly concerned with the great river – so the value of the mysterious Louisiana Territory lay mainly in barring any other country from controlling the southern end of the Mississippi. It would either prevent any traffic from moving in and out of the Gulf of Mexico or keep ratcheting up the fees for such commerce – both being opposite to the free-trade principles that George Washington and other Virginians had enunciated for the Potomac River over twenty years earlier and that many other businessmen were declaring to be the right path to prosperity and population growth.”175

Intent on getting credit for the deal, Livingston exploited his relationship with Barbé-Marbois, who had boosted the price far above the minimum set by Napoleon. Livingston took advantage of the fact that Monroe had not yet been presented to the French government. Marbois dealt with Livingston before Monroe could be formally presented to Talleyrand. Monroe objected but Livingston insisted. Monroe took offense at Livingston’s behavior but admitted to Madison: “It is a justice however which I owe to my colleague to observe that he has manifested an invariable zeal to promote the object of the cession, and to extend our rights on the Mississippi.”176 Livingston continued the negotiations with Marbois while Monroe was laid up with a back . “Throughout the conferences Livingston made what Monroe (and later Madison and Jefferson) considered an improper attempt to settle the [American financial] claims in a separate agreement to be drawn up before the treat of cession. Livingston, whose family possessed substantial interest in claims, was apprehensive that they might never be paid if included in a treaty of cession which should not be ratified. He nearly exhausted his colleagues.....”177 Livingston wanted to push ahead with an agreement while Monroe wanted to wait for instructions that would authorize such a large purchase.

Despite the interest of both sides in making a deal, there were significant obstacles that had to be overcome. Historian E. Wilson Lyon noted: “Napoleon’s sale of Louisiana was a base betrayal of Spain to whom he had given the most solemn assurances that he would never alienate the Colony. Anger with the Spanish Government for its partial frustration of his American policy led him to disregard his ally.”178 Historian Forrest McDonald noted that “Napoleon had never fulfilled the conditions where he had obtained the retrocession in the first place.”179 In response to a Spanish protest, Talleyrand constructed an labored defense: “The Spanish Government knew in what disposition England found the United States relative to Louisiana. It knows to what extent the discontent in America was increased by reason of the entrepôt at New Orleans and the navigation of the Mississippi. The peace between the United States and the Spanish colonies was about to be broken. The aspect of affairs in Europe made it a duty to consolidate peace in America, where England was going to excite new embarrassments for France and her allies, either by attempting to add Louisiana to her vast colonies or by making of it a means of winning the United States over to her cause and of detaching them from the interests of the two powers whose friendship they should most desire.” 180

The Jefferson Administration effectively decided to ignore and override Spanish objections to the sale. Napoleon himself overrode the strenuous opposition of his own brothers to make the agreement. Madison biographer Irving Brant wrote: “Livingston was correct as to facts but not as to causes. On the day Pichon’s note was received (March 22) or the next, British Ambassador Whitworth offered a $500,000 bribe to Talleyrand to be split with Joseph and Lucien Bonaparte, on condition that they persuade Napoleon to preserve the Peace of Amiens and leave Malta in British hands in exchange for a free hand on the continent. With Napoleon intent on using Malta as a stepping stone to Egypt, the only chance to collect the bribe was by persuading the First Consul to concentrate on St. Domingo, Florida, and the empire of Louisiana. Joseph and Lucien carried the argument to Napoleon even in his bathtub and won the plaudits of historians (ignorant of the bribe) for patriotic devotion to France.”181 Historian Carl J. Richard noted: “When Joseph threatened to lead the legislative opposition to the sale, an enraged Napoleon laughed derisively and fell back in the tub, drenching Joseph.”182

The French came to realize that they could not ignore Monroe and they could not ignore that the clock was ticking in Europe. Henry Adams observed: “A fortnight passed after Monroe’s arrival without advancing matters a step. This period of inaction seems to have been broken by the First Consul. April 23 he drew up a ‘Projet of a Secret Convention,’ which he gave to Marbois and which set forth that to prevent misunderstandings about the matters of discussion mentioned in Articles II. and V. of the Morfontaine treaty, and also to strengthen friendly relations, the French republic was to cede its rights over Louisiana; and ‘in consequence of said cession, Louisiana, its territory, and its proper dependencies shall become part of the American Union, and shall form successively one or more States on the terms of the Federal Constitution;’ in return the United States were to favor French commerce in Louisiana, and give it all the rights of American commerce, with perpetual entrepôts at six points on the Mississippi, and a corresponding perpetual right of navigation; further, they were to assume all debts due to American citizens under the treaty of Morfontaine; and, finally, were to pay a hundred million francs to France. With this projet Marbois went by appointment, at two o’clock, April 27, to Monroe’s lodgings, where the three gentlemen had an informal meeting, of which no other record is known to exist than Monroe’s memoranda. Monroe himself was too unwell to sit at the table, and reclined on a sofa throughout the discussion. Marbois produced Bonaparte’s projet, and after admitting that it was hard and unreasonable, presented a substitute of his own which he thought the First Consul would accept.183

Napoleon wanted 50 million francs for the territory. The American negotiators were prepared to offer 50 million but started negotiations at 40 million. Barbé-Marbois on his own accord decided to up the ante to 100 million. Historian Elijah Wilson Lyon wrote: “In the general conversation which followed, Livingston demanded consideration of the claims of American citizens against the French Government. The French Minister of the Treasury was so well pleased with the interview that he sent an immediate note to Talleyrand saying that his steadfastness had produced the desired effect. The Minister for Foreign Affairs might assure Napoleon that there would be 60,000,000 francs clear of the American claims, which were put at 20,000,000 francs. After some haggling the American representatives agreed to Barbé-Marbois’s terms of April 29. The United States agreed to pay 60,000,000 francs to France and to assume the claims of her citizens against France for 20,000,000 francs. At a meeting at Barbé-Marbois’s home on May 1 the technicalities of the treaty were discussed and settled to the satisfaction of all parties, pending the approval of Bonaparte.”184

Historian Harlow Giles Unger wrote: “Castigated after his first mission to France for having followed presidential instructions to the letter, Monroe now found himself celebrated around the world for not following presidential instructions.”185 Historian Gordon S. Wood: “Only Monroe had enough confidence in his intimacy with his fellow Virginians, President Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison, to allow him and Livingston to exceed their instructions and pay $15 million for all of Louisiana, some nine hundred thousand square miles of Western land.”186

The Americans’ negotiating priorities were firmly rooted in America’s geographic needs for transportation outlets to the Gulf of Mexico. Historian Jon Kukla wrote that “perhaps as a result of their reliance on outdated maps, the French seem never fully to have understood the importance that the Americans attached to West Florida – that ‘narrow slip of very barren lands’ that controlled the Alabama, Chattahooche, Mobile, and Tombigbee Rivers, which extended north into the American frontier settlements in Tennessee and the Mississippi Territory.” Kukla wrote: “The Americans’ superior knowledge of their own geography gave them a greater advantage over the French than Livingston or anyone else realized. Time and again the Americans targeted New Orleans and Florida as their chief objectives, while shrugging with indifference about the ‘immense wilderness’ of the western watershed.”187

British officials were kept up to date on the negotiations; they had an agent inside the American mission so that they could monitor the negotiations. The British actually had an interest in the American takeover, according to John Keats: “....the British did not want to see Napoleonic France established in the center of the North American continent, with all the means this would give France of augmenting her naval fore, and of threatening Canada and British possessions in the Carribean.”188

Henry Adams wrote: “When Marbois took the treaty to the First Consul, Bonaparte listened to its provisions with lively interest; and on hearing that twenty millions were to be employed in paying claims, – a use of money which he much disliked, – he broke out: ‘Who authorized you to dispose of the money of the State? I want to have these twenty millions paid into the Treasury. The claimants’ rights cannot come before our own.’ His own projet had required the Americans to assume these claims – which was, in fact, the better plan. Marbois’s alteration turned the claims into a French job. Perhaps Bonaparte was not averse to this; for when Marbois reminded him that he had himself fixed the price at fifty millions, whereas the treaty gave him sixty, and settled the claims besides, – ‘It is true,’ he said; ‘the negotiation leaves me nothing to wish. Sixty millions for an occupation that will not perhaps last a day! I want France to have the good of this unexpected capital, and to employ it in works of use to her marine.’ One the spot he dictated a decree for the construction of five canals. This excellent use of the money seemed inconsistent with Lucien’s remark that it was wanted for war, – but the canals were never built or begun; and the sixty millions were spent, to the last centime, in preparations for an impracticable descent on England.”189

On April 30, prior to the actual conclusion of the negotiations, the draft Louisiana treaty was signed by Monroe, Livingston, and Barbe-Marbois, stating: “The First Consul of the French Republic desiring to give to the United States a strong proof of his friendship, doth hereby cede to the said United States, in the name of the French Republic, forever and in full sovereignty, the said territory, with all its rights and appurtenances, as fully and in the same manner as they have been acquired by the French Republic, in virtue of the above-mentioned treaty, concluded with His Catholic Majesty.190

Monroe wrote that on “May 2, we actually signed the treaty and convention for the sixty million francs to France, in the French language; but our copies in English not being made out, we could not sign in our language. They were however prepared, and signed in two or three days afterward. The convention respecting American claims took more time, and was not signed till about the 8th or 9th.”191 After the May 2 signing, Livingston declared: “We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives. The treaty which we have just signed has not been obtained by art nor dictated by force, and is equally advantageous to the two contracting parties. It will change vast solitudes into flourishing districts. From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank. The United States will re-establish the maritime rights of all the world, which are now usurped by a single nation. The instruments which we have just signed will cause no tears to be shed: they prepare ages of happiness for innumerable generations of human creatures. The Mississippi and the Missouri will see them succeed one another and multiply, truly worthy of the regard and care of Providence, in the bosom of equality, under just laws, freed from the errors of superstition and bad government."192 Historian Elijah Wilson Lyon wrote: “The parties concerned did well to make haste. The Minister of the Treasury spent the afternoon of May 9 in verifying the official translation of the treaty and the two conventions. About 6 o’clock of the same day the American envoys received a letter from Rufus King with the alarming news that if war broke out an English expedition was ready to sail for Louisiana.”193 Sensitive to his role in history, Livingston himself wrote Madison on May 12, a detailed explanation of his actions:

You have seen in my late letter the direct commencement of the negotiation previous to the arrival of Mr. Monroe, and, in our joint letter, its consummation. It will be matter of curiosity, at least to you, to be more intimately acquainted with the exciting causes which have been long operating, and which I have hinted at in my letters to the President, but which, from their extreme delicacy, I have not thought it proper to detail. As this goes with the treaty by a special and safe messenger, I will send you the papers I referred to in my letters to the President.

On my arrival, I found the credit and character of our nation very low. They were considered as interested speculators, whose god was money. The features of our statesmen, drawn from the caricatures in our newspapers, were viewed as real likenesses; and the democracy of America was believed to be the mad Jacobinism of France. The President was considered as among the most mad, because the head of the party; and it was not doubted that his minister to France partook of his phrensy. Some of my former friends were sent artfully to sound me on the subject of the existing Government here. As I had seen and heard enough to be satisfied that nothing short of the change that had taken place could have lessened the calamities of France, I answered them sincerely in such manner as to satisfy them that I meant to have no intrigues with its enemies; I carefully avoided all connexion with them; and, in consequence of this, began to acquire a degree of favor at court. As the attention to Great Britain began to diminish the reasons which it will take me too much time to explain, and was gradually converted into aversion by the freedom with which the election of the First Consul to that dignity for life, and his other great measures, were treated in England, we of course grew more in favor; and if, in any instance, they relaxed from the extreme hauteur with which they treated all the foreign Powers, it was more particularly with us. They answered my notes politely though not satisfactorily; while they left those of many other ministers, who had demands upon them, unanswered. Among the most favorite projects of the First Consul, was the colonization of Louisiana. He saw in it a new Egypt; he saw in it a colony that was to counter-balance the eastern establishment of Britain; he saw in it a provision for his generals; and, what was more important in the then state of things, he saw in it a pretence for the ostracism of suspected enemies. To render the acquisition still more agreeable to the people, exaggerated accounts of its fertility, &c. were sold in every print shop. My first endeavor was to remove these impressions from the minds of the people most likely to be consulted, in which I was, generally speaking, very successful. But they all told me that it was a favorite project with the First Consul; nor would any of them hear of disposing of it by sale; yet so ignorant were they of the nature of their acquisition, that they never once suspected the Floridas were not included in their treaty, till they were convinced of the contrary by the inquiries they set on foot in consequence of my information. The Floridas, as you know, they endeavored to give in exchange for Parma; and in that negotiation set the price for which they would buy one, or sell the other, at forty millions of francs.

I endeavored, as far as possible, to obstruct that negotiation, and, at the same time, urged the absurdity of attempting to colonize Louisiana without ports in the Gulf. When I found impressions were made by these measures, 1 wrote the treatise I have sent you, entitled Memoire sur cette question: Estil avantageux d la France de prendre possession de la Louisiane? As the First Consul had before read, with considerable attention, my notes on the relative naval force and commerce of France and England and the United States, (which I have also sent you,) and paid me some compliments upon it, I got this essay under his eyes through the same channel. It was read with attention; and, though I have reason to think it weakened his belief in the importance of Louisiana, yet, as he does not easily relinquish his plans, he still prosecuted them, though with much less ardor than he had before done. As I knew that his ministers seldom dared to interpose their opinion, it was necessary to apply directly to him, through the only person who was supposed to have any influence with him; and who that was, you have seen in my private letters to the President. I will not hazard the repetition here. After breaking the subject in a conversation with this gentleman, I sent him the note No. 1. He received it very graciously. Reading it in my presence, he told me that, if "I would permit him, he would show it to the First Consul. I made some hesitation, on account of the delicacy of the subject. He assured me that he would take care that I should not be committed by it. Some days after, he told me that the First Consul had read it with attention; that so far as it referred to personal objects, he could not listen to it; but that the general and public motives I had mentioned merited particular attention; that he approved my proposition, in part, but not to the extent 1 had proposed. I am satisfied that from this period they had determined to let us have New Orleans, and the territory above the Arkansas, in exchange for certain commercial advantages; and that, if they could have concluded with Spain, we should also have had West Florida: but that nothing could be done until that business was terminated. This note had the effect of removing, in the fullest degree, every doubt that could possibly have remained relative to my sentiments of the present Government; and certain circumstances in it led to a kind of personal consideration which I have ever since enjoyed here. Not willing, however, to let the impressions I have made wear off, I wrote the note No. 2, which was also read with attention by the First Consul; and I believe produced a determination to enter upon the subject as soon as matters were arranged with Spain. As I believed, from the First Consul having spoken on this subject to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that the channel through which I submitted my observations was known to the latter, and of course could not be very pleasing to him; and as this was intimated to me by, who, in answer to my note No. 3, requested me to break the subject to the minister: you will have seen in my several notes, that I did not neglect to do so. But two causes suspended any absolute determination. First, the state of the negotiation with Spain relative to the Florida; and next, my total want of power or instructions, which reduced me to the necessity of bringing forward nothing more specific; while I endeavored to pave the way for something conclusive, when I should, as I had long hoped, receive them. The First Consul, too, had conceived an idea that, by taking possession of the country, he could more advantageously treat with our Government: and Mr. Talleyrand accordingly told me several times, in general terms, that every thing would be arranged; but that they must first take possession. Alter General Bernadotte was appointed, he assured me that he should have powers for this purpose: but as I had then received the newspaper account of the conduct of the Governor of New Orleans, I thought it would be a good ground for piecing something decisive, both with the minister, and through with a view then to bring them to make some proposition here, or at least to give such discretionary powers as would facilitate your treaty with General Bernadotte. My notes to the minister you have. No. 4. is a copy of my letter to, which was also submitted to the First Consul, and produced nothing more than a verbal promise that all would be arranged when proper information could be received through General Bernadotte.

I have no doubt that it has long been their intention to make the arrangements I proposed, in exchange for commercial advantages. A sale has always been disrelished, as I was constantly told by Marbois and Talleyrand; and, as is clearly to be inferred from the Consul's note, in answer to my letter. What, however, I believe, principally drove them to this measure, was the promise which the First Consul had hastily made me to pay our debt fully and promptly; and which lie found himself in no situation to fulfil, and yet knew not how to elude, as I pressed it at every turn, and spoke of it to Talleyrand and all the Consul's friends, assured them that I had communicated it not only to the Government, but to the creditors, with the declaration that they might firmly rely on it, as no one could believe that a man of the Consul's character, a sovereign and a soldier, could break his word. I told the Minister of the Treasury, that, as I owed it to myself to justify what I had said, I thought myself bound to publish my letter to the First Consul, with his answer, and the execution of his solemn engagements. I asked what his enemies would say to such a publication? He replied,—Or his friends?

The resolutions proposed in Congress, in consequence of the business of New Orleans, coming to hand, I sent a translation of them by General Bernadotte to check and also enclosed them to the minister. They proved we would not be trifled with; and the probability of a rupture with England, the effects of which upon the country, as you have observed in my notes, have been very strongly stated to them, hastened their determination; and they saw, as Mr. Talleyrand told me, that if they gave what 1 asked the rest was not worth keeping. This, and the impossibility of otherwise keeping faith with us, produced a determination to sell; which was communicated to the council, as I informed you on the 8th of April. There was a moment, even after Talleyrand called on me to set a price, that I thought the whole might drop through. It was when, as I informed you, he pretended he spoke without authority, and that Louisiana was not theirs, Sec. But, as I have since written to you, that mystery was cleared up the next day.

The subsequent measures you have in my letters and notes, and in those Mr. Monroe and myself have jointly written to you. As I believe that, next to the negotiation that secured our independence, this is the most important the United States have ever entered into, I thought every thing that led to it might interest you and the President. I wished you to be minutely acquainted with every step I had taken; my verbal communications with every body, to whom 1 had access, whose interest 1 conceived might be useful, it would be impossible to detail. Nothing, however, was neglected on my part; and I sincerely hope the issue may be acceptable to our country.

Lord Whitworth retired last night, after the arrival of a messenger from Russia. The Emperor undertakes the mediation, but England will certainly decline; as it would be to continue her present ruinous expense, and derange her commerce probably for an unlimited time.

I have yet no time, nor indeed thought it proper, to interpose any business of less importance while the arrangements relative to, and in consequence of, the treaty were going on. The moment our messengers are despatched, I shall give it all my attention.194

Fortunately for history, the negotiators were keen to record their actions in writing. On May 23, Talleyrand wrote a fellow French minister his own explanation for the reasons behind the sale of Louisiana: “The desire to spare the continent of North America from the war that threatened it, of settling various points of litigation between the Republic and the United States, and to remove all new causes for misunderstanding that their competition and neighborhood would have given rise to between them; the position of the French colonies, their need of men, agriculture, and aid; and finally, the force of circumstances, foresight for the future, and the intention of compensating by an advantageous arrangement for the inevitable loss of a country which war was about to place at the mercy of another nation: all these reasons have decided the government to cause all the rights that it had acquired from Spain to the sovereignty and to the possession of Louisiana to pass to the United States.” Citizen Minister, please take measures so that that country, where it suffices henceforth to send a French commissioner, who may take possession of it, may be transferred by that agent to the disposition of the United States, in the same condition in which it was ceded to us by Spain, and under the reservation of the advantages assured to our navigation and to our commerce by the treaty of which I have the honor to inform you. 195

The Size of Louisiana

The extent of the Louisiana Purchase was left undefined. The French preferred it that way. According to the treaty, America bought “Louisiana with the same extent as it now has in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it.” Noted Merrill Peterson: “these were very different things” since the size of the territory and what it encompassed changed over time. Certainly, the Spanish had very different ideas of the size of Louisiana than did the Americans. From the French point of view, ambiguity was desirable because it made the purchase palatable to both the Spanish and the Americans in the short term and increased the potential for conflict between the Spanish and the Americans in the long run. “If an obscurity did not exist, perhaps it would be good policy to put it there,” said Napoleon.196 Napoleon, after all, wanted a quick deal for quick cash. An inspection of the perimeter could come later.

Historian Harry Ammon wrote: “The only portion of the treaty presenting a serious difficulty was that defining the boundaries of Louisiana. Since the American envoys were convinced that West Florida was part of Louisiana, they were anxious to include a specific statement to that effect in the treaty. They quickly discovered, however, that there was no hope of obtaining either a description or a guarantee of the boundaries of the purchase – no one in fact seemed at all certain of the exact limits of France’s ancient colony. They had to be content with Marbois’ vague verbal assurance that France would support the United States in Negotiations with Spain for Florida.”197 Talleyrand replied to questions by the American commissioners by saying, “you must take it as we received it.” Under further questioning, Talleyrand said: “You have made a noble bargain for yourselves, and I suppose you will make the most of it.”198 The American government instructed Monroe to negotiate for West Florida and if that failed to claim it as a ‘natural right.”199 The only natural boundaries of the territory were the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The extent of the rest of the territory was undetermined. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “The Republicans’ policy was simple: “Claim West Florida as part of Louisiana (pointing out that that was how France had defined it) and then offer to forgo the use of force if Spain would sell both East and West Florida to the United States. Since, as Monroe pointed out, in what was conventional wisdom among most American leaders, America was ‘a rising and Spain a declining power,’ the Floridas were sooner or later going to fall to the United States anyhow; thus it was in Spain’s interest to sell them now.”200

As Livingston reported his conversation with Talleyrand regarding the scope of the purchase: I asked the minister what were the east bounds of the Territory ceded to us? He said he did not know; we must take it as they had received it. I asked him how Spain meant to give them possession? He said...I do not know. Then you mean that we shall construe it our own way? I can give you no direction; you have made a noble bargain for yourselves and I suppose you will make the most of it.”201 When Monroe sought to go to Spain to iron out the Florida question, Napoleon sought to block him. Historian Harlow Giles Unger wrote: “Napoleon had decided against interfering with Spain’s claim to the Floridas and has ordered his aides to sue any pretext to prevent Monroe from leaving for Spain.”202

Ambassador Monroe wanted to move on quickly to Madrid to negotiate with the Spanish government over West Florida. Talleyrand detained him, preferring ambiguity to delay. John Keats wrote: “As Talleyrand had all but said the French expected the United States to take the Floridas from Spain by force. As far as Napoleon was concerned, he wanted the agreement ratified at once.”203 Harry Ammon wrote: “On the twenty-fourth of June Talleyrand escorted Monroe to St. Cloud for his audience of leave. It was on this occasion that Napoleon, in the midst of the platitudes usual on ceremonial occasions, declared that in selling Louisiana his motive had not been financial gain but a desire to win the friendship of the United States – a remark seeming to substantiate Monroe’s conclusions about the impact of Jefferson’s firm measures on France’s policy.”204 President Jefferson understood the desirability of the purchase even if he doubted its constitutionality. Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone wrote: “To Jefferson...the desirability of controlling the inland waterways and of preventing the British from moving southward from Canada needed no arguing. Therefore, when informed of the unexpected western acquisition he accepted it with gratitude.”205 Jefferson examined the acquisition during July and August and concluded by writing an “Examination of the Boundaries of Louisiana.” He wrote: “The unquestioned bounds of Louisiana are the Iberville and Mississippi, on the east, the Mexicana (Sabine) or the highlands east of it.”206

Credit and Transmission

Robert Livingston wanted credit for securing the deal, but Madison was maddeningly uncommunicative with him after the deal was struck. It seemed clear that the Virginia neighbors – Jefferson, Madison and Monroe – were sticking together. Historian Peter J. Kastor wrote: “This was a much a story of ego as it was one of national priorities. Throughout his life, Monroe had exploded in situations when he believed his honor was under attack or had been denied opportunities to which he was entitled.” Livingston “too, had an ego to defended against the offense he perceived from the administration’s decision to dispatch Monroe.”207 Charles A. Cerami wrote: “Livingston persisted in showing his disappointment rather than accepting the equal credit that Monroe was quite willing to give him. Under pressure from his party and his state to clarify how the Louisiana Purchase was achieved, Monroe finally sent a written statement to Virginia legislators, making it clear that Napoleon had not finally made up his mind until he had learned via the semaphore that Monroe was arriving. He did not, however, claim that any merit of his had brought about the conclusion. In the main, he correctly attributed success to the firmness of the administration’s policy, which caused Napoleon to see that the arrival of the special envoy was a time for a decision.” Livingston tried to rewrite history — as did Monroe to a lesser extent. In so doing, Livingston was unable to separate the national interests of the United States from his own personal and political interests. Cerami noted that Livingston “had widely broadcast the fact that Americans with claims against France were going to be paid – in order to boost his vice-presidential chances – when that information was still a state secret.”208

“Livingston had been instructed nearly two years before to negotiate upon the claims and Floridas,” noted historian Arthur Burr Darling. “He had been very careful to distinguish between old and new treaties as soon as he heard of Monroe’s appointment and Napoleon’s intention to send Bernadotte to the United States. This meant that the treaties of 1795 with Spain and of 1800 with France were still within his diplomatic province. Monroe, apparently, had given no weight to this distinction, if he saw it, when he had gone through Livingston’s papers. But Livingston did not lack authorization to confer alone with the French officials preparatory to agreements. He had a right to urge Talleyrand to settle with the issues. He simply lacked, until Monroe arrived, power to close such agreements, and instruction with respect to the price which they might pay.”209

Monroe’s role may have been more domestically than diplomatically important. His appointment quieted agitation in the West and gave the Administration time to negotiate with France. At the end of May, Monroe wrote to his state’s two senators: “The only difference between the acquisition we have made, and that which we were instructed to make in that respect, is, that a favorable occasion presenting itself which indeed was not anticipated by the administration, in the measures which led to that event and laid the foundation for it, we have gone further than we were instructed to do. But the extent of that acquisition does not destroy the motive which existed before of acquiring the Floridas, nor essentially diminish it. In our instructions the idea entertained by the President of the value of that country is defined. It is to be presumed that under existing circumstances it may be had at a cheaper rate, since its importance to Spain is much diminished. And altho' the sum to be paid for Louisiana is considerable, yet the period at which that portion which is applicable to the Government of France is to be paid, is so remote, and such delays are incident to that which will be received by our citizens, that it is to be presumed the payment of what it would he proper to stipulate for the Floridas, would subject our treasury to no embarrassment. I am the more confident in this opinion, from the belief that it would be easy to raise on the land alone, retaining to our government the jurisdiction, a sum which would be sufficient to discharge the greater part of what it is probable Spain would ask for it. The bias of my mind therefore is to pursue this object by repairing immediately to Madrid and endeavoring to obtain by treaty the territory in question thereby extirpating the last remaining source of controversy or indeed jealousy with these powers. If I proceed it will be in a week from this time, within which term every arrangement incident to the treaty and convention we have formed with this republick will probably be compleated, and the little provision necessary for my journey to Spain likewise made.”210

The Spanish ambassador in Paris soon complained to Talleyrand that the Louisiana Purchase “not only deranges from top to bottom the whole colonial system of Spain, and even of Europe, but is directly opposed to the compacts and formal stipulations agreed upon between France and Spain, and to the terms of the cession in the treaty of Tuscany; and the King my master brought himself to give up the colony on condition that it should at no time, under no pretext, and in no manner, be alienated or ceded to any other Power.”211 In Madrid, American Minister Charles Pinckney tried to get Florida included in the deal. Pinckney wrote James Madison on May 4 that “his Catholic Majesty declines selling the Floridas & has referred us to the French Government for such purchases of Louisiana or a part of it as we wish & has declared that our claims for indemnification which you will find by the papers transmitted I has pushed as far as ‘amicable decision would permit, were unsupported by the Treaty of 1795. His manner of expressing himself on the subject of the navigation of the Mississipi [sic] – the Favour as he calls it of our being allowed a Deposit at New Orleans & its continuation after 1798 & of the revocation of the Edict of the Intendant, all serve to strengthen the Opinions that the French wished to receive this country from the Spaniards at a time when doubts existed respecting the power to revoke our right to deposit & when the Spaniards themselves considered that & all our other rights as mere favours springing from the Generosity of the King & that it might possibly hereafter rest with the French Government to determine how far it might be convenient to them to continue these rights. This answer appeared to me to be so important that I sent it off immediately to Mr. Livingston & Mr Monroe at Paris with my opinions tending to shew the absolute necessity there is for their now definitively arranging every Question respecting the Misissip[p]i before the French can take possession.”212

The Louisiana Purchase was positively received by the government and people of the United States. On July 15, the Louisiana treaty reached President Jefferson The vagueness of what was to be conveyed was reflected in a letter that the President wrote the next day, saying that “we received the treaty from Paris, ceding Louisiana according to the bounds to which France had a right.”213 Historian Gordon Wood wrote: “When he learned of the acquisition Jefferson was ecstatic. ‘It is something larger than the whole U.S.,’ he exclaimed, ‘probably containing 500 million acres.’ Not only did the acquisition of Louisiana fulfill the president’s greatest dream of having sufficient land for generations to come of his yeoman farmers, his ‘chosen people of God,’ but, he said, it also ‘removes from us the greatest source of danger to our peace.’”214 In addition to yeoman farmers, of course, it provided fresh new land for the expansion of slavery – which was prohibited by the Northwest Ordinance from expanding north of the Ohio River.

While negotiations proceeded in Paris, back home Federalist and Jeffersonian newspapers debated the issue. Federalists generally approved the acquisition of New Orleans, noted historian Drew R. McCoy. That does not mean they were happy. “Federalists criticized Jefferson on only two points: first, for failing to respond vigorously enough to the crisis when it first arose (many of them advocated immediate military action), and second, for acquiring in the process of resolving that crisis ‘a vast wilderness world which will...prove worse than useless to us.”215 Since many Federalists were anti-slavery in addition to being anti-Jefferson, they were concerned that the new addition would expand slavery and expand the power of slave states. Historian Jerry W. Knudson wrote: “Criticism of the Louisiana treaty was especially virulent in Federalist New England, a section that feared the loss of political power as new states were created out of the western territory.”216 It was, however, a losing cause. Historian Alexander DeConde wrote: “Federalist leaders were aware of their weak position. One of them lamented...that ‘such is the force of prejudice and popular delusion that the measure cannot yet be even brought to the bar of argument.’” Historian Alexander DeConde argued that Federalist opposition was also a minority position within that party.217 Both parties were limited in the effectiveness of their arguments by a history of supporting contradictory positions.

Constitutional Concerns

There were several theoretical difficulties with the purchase even if the practical advantages outweighed them. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that the purchase “contradicted a cardinal principle of Republican financial theory – namely that when foreigners held large amounts of the public debt, America’s ability to act independently was severely impaired. Clearly the treasury could have saved many millions of dollars had not Monroe and Livingston (and for that matter, Jefferson and Madison) been in such a hurry to consummate the deal.”218 218 Or perhaps not. Napoleon was mercurial and might have backed away from the deal.

There was a certain amount of hypocrisy on both the Jeffersonian and Federalist sides as ratification of the treaty was debated. Historian Roger Kennedy wrote that Albert “Gallatin took part in the Harrisburg convention of 1788, which annoyed Washington and Hamilton by urging that Pennsylvania only accept the U.S. Constitution if it were much amended. Gallatin led those demanding changes and took the view, chilling to all good Federalists but not to Jefferson, that the American Union would become too big for true representative government if it were extended further than its borders of 1783. Both he and Jefferson reversed that position in 1802.”219 Gallatin biographer Raymond Walters Jr. wrote: “On January 10, 1803, the day the Senate approved the nomination of James Monroe to negotiate with France for the purchase of New Orleans and perhaps Florida, Attorney General [Levi] Lincoln submitted an ingenious proposal to the President. To conform to the strict states’-rights construction of the Constitution which he knew the President favored, he suggested that any agreement with France be so worded as to make it appear that the United States was merely altering its boundaries to include the area purchased.”220 On January 13, Gallatin, on the other hand. argued: “If the acquisition of territory is not warranted by the constitution, it is not more legal to acquire for one State than for the United States; if the Legislature and Executive established by constitution are not proper organs for the acquirement of new territory for the use of the Union, still less can they be so for the acquirement of new territory for the use of one State.” He argued: “The existence of the United States as a nation presupposes the power of every nation of extending their territory by treaties, and the general power given to the President and Senate of making treaties designates the organs through which the acquisition may be made.” Several weeks later, Jefferson responded: “I think it will be safer not to permit the enlargement of the Union but by an amendment of the Constitution.”

Jefferson needed to be persuaded by reason and reality that the Constitution was not to be an impediment to ratification of the treaty. Historian Bradford Perkins wrote: “Jefferson wrestled with his conscience...before deciding to accept the glorious gift.”221 Fleming wrote: “On July 16, the president convened a cabinet meeting and told his colleagues that he thought the Constitution would have to be amended to bring Louisiana into the union. He had already drafted a possible amendment, which he circulated.”222 Historian R. Ken Newmyer wrote that Jefferson’s “acquisition of the Louisiana Territory...not only illustrated his bold executive leadership but rested on precisely the same doctrine of implied powers the Federalists had championed and the Democratic-Republicans had condemned.”223 Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that Thomas Paine made a persuasive argument to Jefferson: “The cession makes no alteration in the Constitution...it only extends the principles of it over a larger territory, and this certainly is within the morality of the Constitution.” According to McDonald, “That cut to the heart of the matter, and in that spirit Jefferson abandoned his reservations.” McDonald wrote: “President Jefferson and his intimates, taking the grander view, rose above the mundane considerations as they rose above the paranoid fears. From their vantage point, it was clear that acquiring New Orleans and the Louisiana territory had secured the frontiers of the United States to the west, the northwest, and the southwest, and had reduced the likelihood of war with France to almost nothing.”224It was easier to buy Louisiana than to fight for it.

“The workings of the mind of Thomas Jefferson during the summer of 1803, as he anticipated the formal acquisition of Louisiana, are among the wonders of the modern world,” argued historian Roger G. Kennedy. “His continental strategic vision and his neatly calibrated tactical sense were in combination almost superhuman. Within a single plan he solved an interactive puzzle requiring the manipulation of the avarice of the Southern fur traders, such as the partners of The Firm, as he had in the previous year brought around the Eastern sea traders, such as the Livingston family. He made use of the land-hunger of the planters and the desperate necessities of the leaders of the Indian nations....The President drew upon the patriotic instincts of the Eastern Federalists who might oppose, for reasons of conscience, his expansion of the slave-and-plantation system, and assembled a de facto coalition in the West of planters, upriver farmers, slave sellers, slave buyers, and tens of thousands of anonymous frontiersmen. He even found a means to have the Indians pay for the Louisiana Purchase.” 225

During this period, Jefferson wavered on the desirability of a constitutional amendment and the desirable text for such an amendment. According to biographer Dumas Malone, “In his draft he stated explicitly that, except in the southern-most region, Congress should have no further authority to grant lands in the newly acquired province until given such by another amendment. Thus the power that would be granted by his own proposed amendment would be sharply limited. He wanted to prevent emigration except to the southernmost district and to prohibit the establishment of territorial or state governments elsewhere without further constitutional sanction. Quite clearly, he was seeking to postpone the question of the vast expansion of the Union and its consequent transformation.” Malone wrote that as Jefferson “was well aware, the Constitution contains no specific grant of authority to the federal government to make territorial acquisitions of any size; and, in the stress of political conflict, he and his party had become associated in the public mind with strict construction of that document.”226 Talleyrand, who tried to undermine the Louisiana agreement, was the cause of Jefferson’s change of constitutional heart. According to Robert Livingston, Talleyrand was aghast at the loss of potential income from corrupt negotiations under his control would have brought. Jefferson biographer Christopher Hitchens wrote that “two rumors...forced Jefferson’s hand and compelled his abrupt abandonment of niceties about the Constitution. It was said that Napoleon was reconsidering the wisdom of the bargain he had made, and it was also understood that the Spanish authorities might contest the basis of the proposed deal, on the argument that nobody had delineated the proper boundaries of Louisiana. Jefferson had already decided that the Spanish-owned Florida territories could be added to the acquisition in good time, and that even though Madrid would not sell now, then if ‘as soon as she is at war, we push them strongly with one hand. Holding out a price with the other, we shall certainly obtain the Floridas.”227

Jefferson’s constitutional scruples were regarding the organization of the territory, not about the purchase itself. In January 1803 when Monroe was being dispatched to France, Jefferson had written Gallatin that “there is no constitutional difficulty as to the acquisition of territory; and whether, when acquired, it may be taken into the Union by the Constitution as it now stands will become a question of expedience.”228 Attorney General Lincoln suggested that the treaty be construed as a simple alteration in the nation’s boundaries. Albert Gallatin questioned Lincoln’s reasoning, writing the President: “I have read Mr. Lincoln’s observations, and cannot distinguish the difference between a power to acquire territory for the United States and the power to extend by treaty the territory of the United States; yet he contends that the first is unconstitutional, supposes that we may acquire East Louisiana and West Florida by annexing them to the Mississippi Territory. Nor do I think his other idea, that of annexation to the State, that, for instance, of East Florida to Georgia, as proposed by him, to stand on a better foundation. If the acquisition of territory is not warranted by the Constitution, it is not more legal to acquire for one State than for the United States; if the Legislature and Executive established by the Constitution are not the proper organs for the acquirement of new territory for the use of the Union, still less can they be so far for the acquirement of new territory for the use of one State; if they have no power to acquire territory, it is because the Constitution has confined its views to the then existing territory of the Union, and that excludes a possibility of enlargement of one State as well as that of territory common to the United States. As to the danger resulting from the exercise of such power, it is as great on his plan as on the other. What could, on his construction, prevent the President and the Senate by treaty annexing Cuba to Massachusetts, or Bengal to Rhode Island, if ever the acquirement of colonies shall become a favorite object with governments, and colonies shall be acquired?

But does any constitution objection really exist?

The 3d Section of the 4th Article of the Constitution provides: 1st. That new States may be admitted by Congress into this Union. 2d. That Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States. Mr. Lincoln, in order to support his objections, is compelled to suppose, 1st, that the new States therein alluded to must be carved either out of other States, or out of the territory belonging to the United States; and, 2d, that the power given to Congress of making regulations respecting the territory belonging to the United States is expressly confined to the territory then belonging to the Union.

A general and perhaps sufficient answer is that the whole rests on a supposition, there being no words in the section which confine the authority given to Congress to those specific objects; whilst, on the contrary, the existence of the United States as a nation presupposes the power enjoyed by every nation of extending their territory by treaties, and the general power given to the President and Senate of making treaties designates the organs through which the acquisition may be made, whilst this section provides the proper authority (viz., Congress) for either admitting in the Union or governing as subjects the territory thus acquired. It may be further observed in relation to the power of admitting new States in the Union, that this section was substituted to the 11th Article of Confederation, which was in these words: ‘Canada acceding, &c., shall be admitted into, &c., but no other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine (9) States.’ As the power was there explicitly given to nine (9) States, and as all the other powers given in the Articles of Confederation to nine (9) States were by the Constitution transferred to Congress, there is no reason to believe, as the words relative to the power of admission are, in the Constitution, general, that it was not the true intention of that Constitution to give the power generally and without restriction.

As to the other clause, that which gives the power of governing the territory of the United States, the limited construction of Mr. Lincoln is still less tenable; for if that power is limited to the territory belonging to the United States at the time when the Constitution was adopted, it would have precluded the United States from governing any territory acquired, since the adoption of the Constitution, by cession of one of the States, which, however, has been done in the case of the cessions of North Carolina and Georgia; and, as the words ‘other property’ follow, and must be embraced by the same construction which will apply to the territory, it would result from Mr. L’s opinion, that the United States could not, after the Constitution, either acquire or dispose of any personal property. To me it would appear: 1st. That the United States as a nation have an inherent right to acquire territory.

2d. That whenever that acquisition is by treaty, the same constituted authorities in whom the treaty-making power is vested have a constitutional right to sanction the acquisition.

d. That whenever the territory has been acquired, Congress have the power either of admitting into the Union as a new State, or of annexing to a State with the consent of that State, of making regulations for the government of such territory.

The only possible objection must be derived from the 12th Amendment, which declares that powers not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people. As the States are expressly prohibited from making treaties, it is evident that, if the power of acquiring territory by treaty is not considered within the meaning of the Amendment as delegated to the United States, it must be reserved to the people. If that be the true construction of the Constitution, it substantially amounts to this: that the United States are precluded from, and renounce altogether, the enlargement of territory, a provision sufficiently important and singular to have deserved to be expressly enacted. Is it not a more natural construction to say that the power of acquiring territory is delegated to the United States by the several provisions which authorize the several branches of government to make war, to make treaties, and to govern the territory of the Union?<

I must, however, confess that after all I do not feel myself perfectly satisfied; the subject must be thoroughly examined; and the above observations must be considered as hasty and incomplete.229

Gallatin was persuasive – but Napoleon’s second thoughts about the deal were ultimately more persuasive than any domestic legal discussion. On August 15, Jefferson learned from Livingston that Napoleon was having second thoughts about the sale. “Be persuaded that France is sick of the bargain, that Spain is much dissatisfied, and that the slightest pretense will lose you the treaty.”230 Jefferson decided to move forward.

Meanwhile, there was another issue confronting the Jefferson Administration Gallatin would need to raise funds from a bond issue in Europe. Gallatin biographer Nicholas Dungan wrote: “The United States agreed to pay $11.25 million not in cash but in six-percent loan stock not redeemable for fifteen years. The remainder was to be spent in the United States to satisfy claims that Americans held against France. The Dutch bank Hope & Company and the British bank Barings were selected to purchase and distribute the American bonds and provide cash to the French.”231 The bonds were bought first by the Dutch and resold to Baring Brothers. They made sure that the French government got an advance payment of $2 million in order to quiet Napoleon’s anxiety.232 In a way, the purchase would be self-financing. Wright and Cowen wrote that Gallatin “realized...that the port of New Orleans would increase federal revenues some $200,000 a year.”233 Robert H. Ferrell wrote: “Napoleon obtained his money, which seems to have been his chief concern. He was advanced good British gold, through the Dutch banking house of Hope and Company and British house of Baring, in exchange for six per cent bonds of the United States, due in fifteen years.” So, ironically, in preparing for a war with Britain, Napoleon got some of his money from a British company.234

There was still a third problem. Politically as well as constitutionally, the purchase was problematic for the Jeffersonians. Garry Wills wrote: “Congress was being asked to turn over all the powers of rule to the executive, in an exercise more ‘Federalist’ than anything Jefferson’s predecessors had attempted. No wonder Jefferson did not want to be seen as the originator of a plan that made him sole manager of the New Orleans territory. He alone would appoint its governor, secretary, council, and judges – the entire government, executive, legislative, and judicial.”235

Ratification and Approval

Having decided to move ahead, Jefferson needed to sell the deal to Congress. It wasn’t a hard sell.. The purchase turned politics on its head. Federalists who previously had favored an expansive state now wanted it limited. Republicans who proclaimed the virtues of a limited government now wanted it expanded. Jefferson himself was conflicted: “I confess, then, I think it important in the present case, to set an example against broad construction by appealing for new power to the people...If, however, our friends shall think differently, certainly I acquiesce with satisfaction; confiding that the good sense of our country will correct the evil of construction when it shall produce ill effects.”236 Having decided to move ahead, Jefferson needed to sell the deal to Congress. It wasn’t a hard sell.. The purchase turned politics on its head. Federalists who previously had favored an expansive state now wanted it limited. Republicans who proclaimed the virtues of a limited government now wanted it expanded. Jefferson himself was conflicted: “I confess, then, I think it important in the present case, to set an example against broad construction by appealing for new power to the people...If, however, our friends shall think differently, certainly I acquiesce with satisfaction; confiding that the good sense of our country will correct the evil of construction when it shall produce ill effects.”237 The president understood sectional politics. So did the American negotiators. Historian Roger G. Kennedy noted that Jefferson and “Napoleon agreed that a sufficient portion [of the purchase price] should go to the merchants of the eastern seaboard of the United States to assure their enthusiasm for a transaction otherwise of primary interest to patriots, planters, and the upstream farmers of the West.”238

Still, the shrinking Federalists were in a dilemma regarding the expansion. Diplomatic historian Thomas A. Bailey wrote: “The Federalists...found themselves in an inconsistent position. Just a few months before they had been advocating a seizure of New Orleans for the sake of the abused Westerner – a course that might have meant a disastrous war with both France and Spain. Now that Jefferson had succeeded in purchasing the coveted outlet at a bargain price and without shedding a drop of blood, the Federalists raised a chorus of criticism. They argued heatedly that the Jeffersonian Republicans were ‘tearing the constitution to tatters.’ They insisted that the title to Louisiana was illegal and immoral.”239 Robert H. Ferrell wrote: “The Federalists were not happy about giving credit to anyone for what they considered not merely an unconstitutional act by an enormous blow to their party fortunes. They carefully criticized Monroe. Historian Jerry W. Knudson wrote that “the hard-core Federalists...denounced the measure bitterly but to no avail. The price was not right. The territory was too large; the Union would be rent. Spain would never agree to the transaction; the United States would have to go to war to gain its new possession. The cities of the East would be depopulated; their streets emptied; their shops closed.”234

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson famously disagreed about the direction of American domestic and foreign policy for a decade. One thing on which they agreed was the importance of Louisiana. They did not, however, necessarily agree at the same time or for the same reasons. Both understood that America needed to secure its borders. Hamilton wrote a Federalist colleague: “I have always held that the unity of our Empire, and the best interests of our nation, require that we shall annex to the United States all the territory east of the Mississippi, New Orleans included. Of course I infer that, on an emergency like the present, energy is wisdom.”241 Historian John C. Miller wrote that “Hamilton was resolved that the United States should take a dominant part in the emancipation of Spanish America. The attack upon the Spanish Empire ought to be undertaken, he said, by a joint Anglo-American force.”242 Hamilton’s “interest in seizing Louisiana and Florida was more practical. Those territories had little pre-existing European culture, and whoever controlled the Mississippi and New Orleans controlled the economic life of the frontier.”243

News of the Louisiana Purchase had arrived in New York on June 30, 1803 – to be greeted with acclaim in the West and South and opposition in New England. After President Jefferson received the news in Washington, he wrote his son-in-law that the government had “signed a treaty with France, ceding to us the island of N. Orleans and all of Louisiana....This removes from us the greatest source of danger to our peace.”244 Soon after news of the purchase reached New York, Alexander Hamilton dictated an editorial for the New-York Evening Post: “At length the business of New-Orleans has terminated favourably to this country. Instead of being obliged to rely any longer on the force of treaties, for a place of deposit, the jurisdiction of the territory is now transferred to our hands and in future the navigation of the Mississippi will be ours unmolested. This, it will be allowed is an important acquisition; not, indeed, as territory, but as being essential to the peace and prosperity of our Western country, and as opening a free and valuable market to our commercial states. This purchase has been made during the period of Mr. Jefferson’s presidency, and will, doubtless, give eclat to his administration. Every man, however, possessed of the least candour and reflection will readily acknowledge that the acquisition has been solely owing to a fortuitous concurrence of unforseen and unexpected circumstances, and not to any wise or vigorous measures on the part of the American government.”245 Historian Clinton Rossiter noted that Hamilton “found it hard to rejoice in the sudden expansion of the ‘empire’ to which he had given his unreserved allegiance. Yet on constitutional grounds he, unlike many of his old Federalist comrades, voiced no complaint. The only complaint he could have made – and one wishes that he had made it – was that Jefferson, in assuming his action to be unconstitutional and in appealing for support to the nation, had done a far greater disservice to the cause of limited government than Hamilton had ever done.”246

Jefferson threw himself into the task of persuading Congress to approve the purchase. Historian Donald Jackson wrote: “Typically, he took hold of this project with doggedness, using every means he could devise to gather data about the extent, the boundaries, the terrain, the people and their ways, the potential of the country for development by the United States.”247 Historian Thomas Fleming noted: “Jefferson did not help matters when he sent to Congress a hastily assembled farrago of information entitled ‘an Account of Louisiana’ that cobbled together stories from Indians and wandering trappers and myths from speculative books, along with more reliable information. Among the wonders of the new territory was reported to be a mountain of salt on the upper reaches of the Missouri that was 145 miles long and 130 miles wide. There were also reports of Indians seven feet tall and herds of wooly mammoths with huge tusks.” Fleming suggested Jefferson was exercising a presidential prerogative to exaggerate: “Jefferson was not speaking as a historian. He was a president trying to persuade congressmen and senators who had spent the previous three months reading arguments pro and con about Louisiana in the newspapers.”248 In his third annual message to Congress, Jefferson wrote:

Congress witnessed, at their last session, the extraordinary agitation produced in the public mind by the suspension of our right of deposit at the port of New Orleans, no assignment of another place having been made according to treaty. They were sensible that the continuance of that privation would be more injurious to our nation than any consequences which could flow from any mode of redress, but reposing just confidence in the good faith of the government whose officer had committed the wrong, friendly and reasonable representations were resorted to, and the right of deposit was restored.

Previous, however, to this period, we had not been unaware of the danger to which our peace would be perpetually exposed while so important a key to the commerce of the western country remained under foreign power. Difficulties, too, were presenting themselves as to the navigation of other streams, which, arising within our territories, pass through those adjacent. Propositions had, therefore, been authorized for obtaining, on fair conditions, the sovereignty of New Orleans, and of other possessions in that quarter interesting to our quiet, to such extent as was deemed practicable; and the provisional appropriation of two millions of dollars, to be applied and accounted for by the president of the United States, intended as part of the price, was considered as conveying the sanction of Congress to the acquisition proposed. The enlightened government of France saw, with just discernment, the importance to both nations of such liberal arrangements as might best and permanently promote the peace, friendship, and interests of both; and the property and sovereignty of all Louisiana, which had been restored to them, have on certain conditions been transferred to the United States by instruments bearing date the 30th of April last. When these shall have received the constitutional sanction of the senate, they will without delay be communicated to the representatives also, for the exercise of their functions, as to those conditions which are within the powers vested by the constitution in Congress. While the property and sovereignty of the Mississippi and its waters secure an independent outlet for the produce of the western States, and an uncontrolled navigation through their whole course, free from collision with other powers and the dangers to our peace from that source, the fertility of the country, its climate and extent, promise in due season important aids to our treasury, an ample provision for our posterity, and a wide-spread field for the blessings of freedom and equal laws.

In October 1803, Congress was convened to consider the Louisiana Purchase. Historian Garry Wills noted: “In introducing the legislation to govern the Louisiana Territory Senator Breckinridge made two proposals, which were both carried, without revealing their source. One was written for him by Jefferson adjutant at Treasury, Albert Gallatin, and the other by Jefferson himself.” The debate was short – just two days. The Senate approved the treaty by a 24-7 on October 20. Some northern Federalists like Massachusetts Senator Timothy Pickering saw the Louisiana Purchase as a blatant attempt to expand the power of slaveholders in the South at the expense of the North. Connecticut Senator Uriah Tracy declared: “The relative strength which this admission gives to the southern and western interest is contradictory to the principles of our original union.”249

Federalist opposition continued even after Senate ratified the treaty. Some Federalists “argued that neither the president nor the Congress had clear authority to incorporate new territory into the Union without the consent of the states or without an amendment to the Constitution.” Pickering, who had been secretary of state under Presidents George Washington and John Adams, “argued that the government could acquire territory by conquest or purchase but could not bring it into the Union without ‘the assent of each individual state.’”250 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote that “the more unruly and rambunctious House of Representatives, which had to implement the treaty financially, opened up the constitutional issues that Jefferson had hoped to avoid. Although they remained firm believers in states’ rights and strict construction, many House Republicans were forced to invoke, as Hamilton had in the 1790s, the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the Constitution to justify the government’s acquisition of Louisiana.”251

Reaction to the treaty in Louisiana was mixed. Historian Carl J. Richard wrote: “The small number of Anglo-Americans in New Orleans were jubilant. Most of the 25,000 African-Americans (mostly slaves) regarded the transfer with indifference, as did thousands of Native Americans. But Spanish officials in Louisiana were shocked by France’s treachery in violating the Treaty of San Ildefonso by selling Louisiana to a nation which was likely to threaten Spanish Florida and Mexico in the future. These officials were dissuaded from blocking the cession only by American threats to retaliate by attacking both Louisiana and Florida.”252

Americans soon took possession of their “Louisiana Purchase.” The French first took over from the Spanish on November 30 and handed off to the Americans on December 20 after just three weeks of ownership. France’s Barbé-Marbois later wrote that on December 19, “discharges of artillery from the forts and vessels in the road announced the farewell which the French magistrates were then taking of the colony. They became forever strangers to a province alternately Spanish and French, and which bore the name of one of our greatest kings; they once more addressed as countrymen those whom they were never again to see. This colony, which had been always exposed to inevitable vicissitudes under the laws of a state, from which it was separated two thousand leagues, was now undergoing its last crisis. This event put an end to uncertainties that had lasted for a century, and fixed for ever the fate of these fine regions. The spontaneous acknowledgment of the independence of Louisiana, its annexation to the confederacy of a prosperous people were the acts of the wisest policy; and those who shall hereafter be in a condition to observe their consequences, will admit that they ought to rank with the most important occurrences in the history of our times.”253 Along with Barbé-Marbois, many deserved credit for the successful transfer. Historian Thomas Fleming noted: “Without Secretary of State James Madison’s hard-headed realism about Santo Domingo, the French might have pressured Jefferson into keeping his promise to starve the black rebels into submission – and General Leclerc’s army would have arrived in Louisiana more or less on schedule in 1802. Without Ambassador Robert R. Livingston’s importunate diplomacy (to use Talleyrand’s phrase), the French might have thought that they could manipulate the United States’ attitude toward Spain’s cession of Louisiana. Without Special Envoy James Monroe’s willingness to risk bankruptcy and the wintry North Atlantic bearing Jefferson’s ultimatum, Napoleon might have decided to take Talleyrand’s advice and ignored the countless letters, memorials, and aggressive queries of the U.S. minister.”254

Indeed many persons and factors contributed to the viability and consummation of the Louisiana Purchase. Madison biographer Irving Brant wrote: “Five men, however, share the personal credit: Napoleon, whose ambition to rule the Old World made him more cognizant of obstacles to ruling the New; Jefferson, whose affirmative attitude was basic to acquisition; Madison, who corrected Jefferson’s tactical efforts and put steadily mounting pressure on Napoleon without stirring his antagonism; Pichon, whose courage and wisdom strengthened Madison’s strategy; Toussaint Louverture, who undermined the capacity of France to hold a continental American colony. These five men set the United States on the road to empire.”255

In the short run, James Monroe naturally reaped credit for the transaction – although he did not seek to do so. Even Livingston biographer George Dangerfield observed that Monroe “did not arrogate to himself any of the credit for what had been done. But he was the spokesman of the government, the confidant of Jefferson, a Virginian known to be a coming man in the innermost circles of Republican life. He modestly admitted that he had had little to do with what had occurred he also admitted that Livingston had been without influence: all was due to the policies of the government. In such a representation of the state of affairs, the government’s representative was, as it were by default, bound to reap the credit.”256 Historian Frank W. Brecher wrote that it was Jefferson’s “own policy – and especially his happy choice of Monroe to temper domestically the calls for military action by westerners and southerners spurred on by the Federalist opposition, and overseas the apparently harsh feelings that were at times present between Livingston and the French government – that most accounted for: (a) the keeping of the peace on the Mississippi border of the U.S.; (b) facilitating the decision of France to cede Louisiana to the U.S.; and ( c) solidifying both politically and economically all the geographical regions of his still-forming country into a more permanent union.”257 Jefferson probably solved the problem of who should have diplomatic credit when he wrote in a letter to Horatio Gates, the old victor of Saratoga, on July 11, 1803: ‘I find our opposition very willing to pluck feathers from Monroe, although not fond of sticking them into Livingston’s coat. The truth is, both have a just proportion of merit; and were it necessary or proper, it would be shown that each has rendered peculiar services and of important value.”258

The role of the French chargé d’affaires in Washington deserves special commendation. Because Napoleon had failed to appoint an ambassador in Washington, Pichon was the ranking French diplomat. He was talented and charming. One Federalist senator wrote “Pichon was a man of talents, of information, of courtly insinuating manners and the most pleasing address. His company was sought with avidity.” Historian Albert H. Bowman argued that Pichon was key to the calm and deliberate approach that the Jefferson Administration took to the Louisiana crisis: “Within six months of his arrival in the United States....Pichon had accurately analyzed Jeffersonian foreign policy and had reached positive conclusions concerning relations between France and America. Always first was Louisiana. During most of Pichon’s residence at the American capital, Louisiana was also first among the foreign concerns of the Jefferson administration. The happy resolution of that problem owed much to the extraordinary collaboration of the president and the secretary of state, which George Dangerfield has called ‘one of the subtlest intellectual combination in American history.’ But that collaboration with respect to Louisiana would unquestionably have been far less effective without the bold and tireless concurrence of Pichon, whose dispatches faithfully reflected the Jefferson-Madison campaign against French reoccupation of Louisiana.”259 Regrettably for Pichon, he came to be blamed in Paris for the loss of Louisiana. On his return to France in 1805, he was fired as a diplomat.

The Haitians themselves deserve special credit for making the Louisiana Purchase possible. William Freehling noted: “Irony abounded in one reason for Napoleon’s expanded offer. Slaveholders’ greatest fear for their security, a massive slave revolt, had lately engulfed Haiti, damaging Napoleon’s army and partially dissuading him from further New World risks. Thus did black rebels inadvertently help supply America’s planter present with the nontropical landed feast that would eventually curdle in the slaveholders’s stomachs.”260 Historian Frank W. Brecher wrote: “Napoleon’s decision to cede all of Louisiana to the U.S. was due to force majeure growing out of the renewal of armed hostilities with Britain and the military disaster at St. Domingue. His later memoirs report that he had originally envisaged a 25,000 ‘black army’ moving on from that island to make war even on the U.S. in implementation of his plan for a new, revitalized French presence in the western hemisphere.”261

Historian Harry Ammon wrote: “Attempts to assess...contending interpretations immediately encounter an insuperable difficulty in that the principal agent never explained his motives apart from an inadequate official explanation designed to make the sale of Louisiana less offensive to the French public. Napoleon’s assertion that he had ceded Louisiana in order to rid France of a liability now that war was about to begin was popularized by Henry Adams, who was only too happy to minimize the effect of Jeffersonian foreign policy. However, the most recent student of the Louisiana Purchase, E. Wilson Lyon, has demonstrated that several important elements have been ignored. As Lyon pointed out, the renewal of the war should not have altered French policy toward Louisiana: Napoleon expected to win the war and could regain the colony in the peace treaty, if it should be seized by England. In fact there seems little doubt that some months before Monroe’s arrival Napoleon had turned his attention away from the vision of an American empire and back to his earlier dream of French domination in the Middle East.”262


The Louisiana Territory was the great unknown. There were fewer facts that fantasy about it. What was clear at the time of the Louisiana Purchase was that it had put America on the road to becoming a truly continental power. President Jefferson “clearly thought in imperial terms,” wrote historian Alexander DeConde. “Unlike contemporaries who often used the rhetoric of expansion without having power, Jefferson as president possessed power; he had the opportunity to act decisively, as well as to talk....In working out this program, Jefferson took over the ideas of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, James Madison, and other founding fathers, fused expansion with destiny and freedom, and rationalized the whole process as the building of an empire for liberty. Capitalizing on the westward surge of population and using a mixture of threat and restraint in diplomacy, he never lost sight of his desired objective: territory.”263 Historian Drew R. McCoy wrote of the Jeffersonian commitment to land as a necessary fuel for America’s growth: “Through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, undoubtedly the greatest achievement of his presidency, Jefferson appeared to eliminate this problem for generations, if not for centuries, to come.”264 Historian William W. Freehling wrote: “In 1803, Jefferson savored the landed sprawl as an empire of liberty for white farmers, as a means of ousting the French, and as a base for controlling the Indians. His much less important priority was to secure a space for blacks, slavery, and the slavery problem to diffuse beyond danger to the white men’s republic.”265

While diplomacy was working its magic, President Jefferson had laid the groundwork for what would be called the “Lewis and Clark Expedition” to explore the Louisiana Territory and beyond. This was a longtime dream of Jefferson’s. Biographer Willard Sterne Randall wrote: “As early as 1783, when he returned to Congress after the Revolution, he helped draft reports on the lands along the Ohio and Mississippi, portraying their importance for future American development.”266 In 1803, the Spanish minister in Washington, Carlos Martínez de Irujo, had reported to his government: “The President asked me the other day in a frank and confident tone, if our Court would take it badly, that the Congress decreed the formation of a group of travelers, who would form a small caravan and go and explore the course of the Missouri River in which they would nominally have the objective of investigating everything which might contribute to the progress of commerce; but that in reality it would have no other view than the advancement of the geography.”267 Jefferson biographer Christopher Hitchens wrote that “it must have given him enormous satisfaction, on the day in July 1803 that he dispatched Lewis and Clark, to be able to tell them that the Indian chiefs they would be meeting now owed their allegiance to a new country.”268 John Seelye observed: “Jefferson’s instructions were based on the received and mistaken idea that the continent of North America put forth a symmetrical and convenient shape, that the Rocky (or ‘Shining’) Mountains matched the Alleghenies in height and extent, that the Missouri was a far-western equivalent to the Ohio, its sources in the mountains interlocking with the headwaters of a western equivalent to the Potomac.” Seelye wrote: “The ratification of the Louisiana Purchase gave a new emphasis and momentum to the expedition, transforming Lewis’ errand from a tacit to an explicit national mission. It guaranteed the expectations of experienced public men like Albert Gallatin that American settlement would follow the course of the Missouri no matter to whom the river belonged.”269

“The Louisiana Purchase fostered the faster growth of the young United States...Where the United States of today is a political, economic, and military leviathan, incorporating both states and non-state areas under its domain...the Louisiana Purchase led the way,” wrote historians Sanford Levinson and Bartholomew Sparrow.270 Historian Henry Adams wrote: “The annexation of Louisiana was an event so portentous as to defy measurement; it gave a new face to politics, and ranked in historical importance next to the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution – events of which it was the logical outcome; but as a matter of diplomacy it was unparalleled, because it cost almost nothing.”271 The Louisiana Purchase changed America’s shape and destiny — but also affected international relations. Historian Sean Wilentz wrote: “In the context of the Napoleonic struggle for world supremacy, the Louisiana Purchase was a minor episode. Yet for most American citizens, it marked a virtual second Declaration of Independence.”272 The Louisiana Purchase changed America’s shape and destiny — but also affected international relations. Historian Sean Wilentz wrote: “In the context of the Napoleonic struggle for world supremacy, the Louisiana Purchase was a minor episode. Yet for most American citizens, it marked a virtual second Declaration of Independence.”273 Ironically, despite the constitutional issues that were clearly raised by the purchase, there was no litigation about its constitutionality. Sanford Levinson and Bartholomew Sparrow wrote that the constitutional issues “were handled entirely by members of the executive and legislative branches who argued with one another and then concluded, for various reasons, that addition of the Louisiana territory through treaty was not barred by the Constitution.”274Undoubtedly, Jefferson would not have wanted to put the fate of the Louisiana Purchase in the hands of his estranged cousin, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.

Although the Louisiana Purchase provided the structure for the nation’s expansion, it also provided the seeds for its potential destruction. Historian Sean Wilentz wrote: “Over the coming decades, the consequences of the Purchase would indeed disturb public opinion over constitutional issues connected to the expansion of slavery – and help rip the country to pieces.”275 275 Jefferson biographer Christopher Hitchens wrote that “Jefferson could hardly have been unaware that his Louisiana diplomacy had deeply compromised three of his cherished principles – the abolition of slavery, the vaunted Republican mode of democracy, and the integrity of the Union.”276 276 Moreover, Jefferson and Gallatin had to swallow their principles and increase the national debt by 20 percent.”277 Gallatin biographer Raymond Walters Jr. wrote that “Gallatin’s Genevan heritage drove him to unremitting labor for early extinguishment of the public debt.”278

The new marriage of America and Louisiana was initially difficult. The American govt. didn’t much like Louisianans and the Louisianans didn’t much like the Americans. Frank W. Brecher noted that “issue posed to the country by the Purchase was, how to govern a territory whose population – in keeping with the fact that the land itself had been beyond the boundaries of the United States – was comprised largely of those who were considered, at least for the foreseeable future, as not qualified for citizenship and self-government?”279 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote that “the administration thought that until the people of Louisiana were ready for democracy America might have to continue to rule them arbitrarily. The president was given far more power to rule in Louisiana than was the case in the other territories, leading some critics to charge that the administration had created in Louisiana ‘a government about as despotic as that of Turkey in Asia.’”280 The balance between enlarging America and spreading democracy was not an easy one initially.

The Swiss-born secretary of the Treasury, whose native language was French, disparaged the French-speaking residents of the territory. Gallatin biographer Raymond Walters Jr. wrote of Gallatin’s thoughts: “‘They seem to be but one degree above the French West Indians, than whom a more ignorant and depraved race of civilized men did not exist,’ he wrote to the President. ‘Give them slaves and let them speak French (for they cannot write it) and they would be satisfied. The first is inadmissible; how far their language should, as they wish, be legally recognized is questionable; but their officers ought at least to understand them.” Walters wrote: “With the President’s backing, Gallatin resolutely applied the laws and moral code of one civilization to another. He enforced, with satisfaction and determination, the federal law forbidding further importation of slaves. He approved of Jefferson’s insistence upon introducing the American principles of trial by jury in criminal cases, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the like.”281 The principle of slavery was also presevered. Roger G. Kennedy wrote that “the Purchase achieved by a coalition of economic interests. An empire of land was secured by the South for plantation. Under the planters’ regime, Louisiana’s maroon colonies and Negro Forts could be obliterated.”282

The whole orientation of the country changed with the purchase John Seelye wrote: “Before 1803, the Mississippi was chiefly viewed as an avenue of commercial exports pointed southward, permitting the flow (when allowed by Spain) of commodities out of western regions to New Orleans markets. Afterward it served, at least symbolically, as a frontier dividing East and West, the crossing of which had powerful metaphorical and geopolitical associations.”283 Still, the future would be faced in stages. Historian Drew R. McCoy wrote: “Many Jeffersonians, including the president himself, agreed that the new territory should not be settled immediately. For the moment, Jefferson wanted to settle only Indians on the western bank of the river, thus making the acquisition ‘the means of filling up the eastern side, instead of drawing off its population.’” McCoy wrote: “According to Jefferson and most American republicans, expansion would preserve, rather than undermine, the republican character of America. In addition to forestalling development through time and diffusing the spirt of faction, expansion was crucial to American security in its broadest sense. Removing the French from Louisiana also removed the need for a dangerous military establishment in the face of a contiguous foreign threat.”284 Ultimately, friction over settling the territory – and over the importation of slaves into the territory – would lead to the American Civil War.

The irony of the Louisiana Purchase was that it was undertaken to quiet a group of frontiersmen who had an international outlook about trade. Historian Darren Staloff wrote that “the Louisiana Purchase ensured the future agrarian character of Jefferson’s empire of liberty....For all his paeans to the independent yeoman, Jefferson recognized that most American farmers could never be induced to settle the West without access to international markets.”285 Historian Roger G. Kennedy wrote: “The Louisiana Purchase opened terrain across the Mississippi to which the Southern nations were removed, releasing cotton land to the planters on the eastern side. It also added to the Cotton Kingdom new provinces on the western side, in Louisiana and Arkansas. Since sales of public land in the South were directly correlated to cotton exports, ‘the spread’ was kept broad by demand for cotton. Many millions of acres of public land were sold to the planters at rates subsidized in effect by the other taxpayers who bore part of the acquisition cost, but the postconquest price was still high enough to exceed that cost very comfortably. The amount due – fifteen millions in principal and interest – went to the bankers who advanced cash to Napoleon and the Eastern merchants. Few at the time attended much to the cost to the land, the slaves, the Indians, and the yeomen.”286 286 The Louisiana Purchase may have settled American relations with France, but did not settle relations with Spain or Britain. It also opened a new chapter in the government’s relationships with Native Americans. Jefferson encouraged the indebtedness of Indian leaders in order to annex the tribal lands.287

James Monroe turned down Jefferson’s offer to make him governor of Louisiana. He stayed in Europe for three more years – taking up the post of American minister to Great Britain. The border with Florida was not yet settled. Harlow Giles Unger wrote: “Monroe arrived in Madrid on January 1, 1805 – only to find that Ambassador Charles Pinckney had, like Livingston in Paris, sought personal glory by trying to resolve the cession of Floridas himself. In what had been a long, frustratingly nonproductive session with Spanish foreign minister Pedro Cevallos, Pinckney threatened to call an American squadron into Spanish ports. Using the most the elegantly impenetrable diplomatic language, Cevallos essentially threw Pinckney out of his office. By the time Monroe and his mules arrived, Spain was ready to go to war rather than cede an inch of Floridas – and Napoleon seemed ready to back her. Though appalled by what Pinckney had done, Monroe was far too angry over Napoleon’s policy reversal to turn on his fellow American. Instead, he stood toe-to-toe with the South Carolinian, and together they fired a barrage of diplomatic notes to Cevallos, reiterating the American position – only to have Cevallos question the western boundaries of the Louisiana territory and the lands between the Colorado River and the Rio Grande. In Paris, Talleyrand added more fuel to the diplomatic fire by formally pledging French support for Spain in the event of a Spanish-American conflict.”288 In reality, France was focused on Europe. Napoleon had bought itself time to prepare for war in Europe. Historian Christopher Blackburn wrote: “In his typically Machiavellian style, Talleyrand successfully used the sale of Louisiana to restore the depleted French treasury with U.S. currency, to rehabilitate the French image in the United States, and to place Great Britain in the role of potential enemy of the United States.”289

Monroe’s diplomatic appointments in Europe would last until for four years. By the time he arrived back home, he would find that his friends Jefferson and Madison had decided that Madison would succeed Jefferson and effectively rigged the election. Monroe’s own presidential ambitions would have to be deferred eight more years. It would not be until 1819 when James Monroe himself was president that a treaty with Spain would be signed agreeing to the boundaries of the Louisiana Territory and transferring ownership of Florida from Spain to the United States.

For Further Reference:

  1. Robert E. Wright and David Cowen, Financial Founding Fathers: the Men Who Made America Rich, p. 86.
  2. Jerry W. Knudson, Jefferson and the Press, p. 87.
  3. Thomas Fleming, The Louisiana Purchase, p. 182.
  4. Charles A. Cerami, Jefferson’s Great Gamble, p. 108.
  5. Thomas A. Bailey, A Diplomatic History of the American People, p. 110.
  6. Nathan Schachner, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography, Volume II, p. 736.
  7. W. Edwin Hemphill, “The Jeffersonian Background of the Louisiana Purchase, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, September 1935.
  8. Donald Barr Chidsey, The Louisiana Purchase, p. 125.
  9. Thomas Fleming, The Louisiana Purchase, p. 59.
  10. Robert H. Ferrell, American Diplomacy, p. 106.
  11. Sean M. Theriault, “Part Politics during the Louisiana Purchase, Social Science History, Summer 2006, p. 297.
  12. Thomas Fleming, The Louisiana Purchase, p. 62.
  13. (Letter from James Madison to Carlos Martinez de Yrujo, November 25, 1802).
  14. Donald Barr Chidsey, The Louisiana Purchase, p. 126.
  15. (Letter from Robert R. Livingston to James Madison, November 10, 1802).
  16. Garrett Ward Sheldon, The Political Philosophy of James Madison, p. 41.
  17. Burton Ira Kaufman, editor, Washington’s Farewell Address: The View from the 20th Century, pp. 175-176. (Burton Ira Kaufman, “Washington’s Farewell Address: A Statement of Empire”).
  18. Irving Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison, p. 67.
  19. Burton Ira Kaufman, editor, Washington’s Farewell Address: The View from the 20th Century, p. 177 (Burton Ira Kaufman, “Washington’s Farewell Address: A Statement of Empire”).
  20. Richard B. Morris, The Forging of the Union, 1781-1789, p. 233.
  21. Esmond Wright, Franklin of Philadelphia, pp. 312-313.
  22. Thomas Fleming, The Perils of Peace: America’s Struggle for Survival After Yorktown, p. 233.
  23. Peter S. Onuf, Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance, p. 55.
  24. Richard B. Morris, The Forging of the Union, 1781-1789, p. 233.
  25. Charles A. Cerami, Jefferson’s Great Gamble, p. 12.
  26. Charles A. Cerami, Jefferson’s Great Gamble, p. 4.
  27. James Roger Sharp,American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis, p. 105.
  28. Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty, p. 316.
  29. Gordon S. Wood, The American Revolution: A History, p. 149.
  30. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828, pp. 290-291.
  31. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 27.
  32. Garrett Ward Sheldon, The Political Philosophy of James Madison, p. 41.
  33. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 39.
  34. Jon Kukla, A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, p. 20.
  35. Dumas Malone, Jefferson the President: First Term 1801-1805, p. 266.
  36. Stuart Leiberger, Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic, p. 39.
  37. W. Edwin Hemphill, “The Jeffersonian Background of the Louisiana Purchase, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, September 1935, p. 177.
  38. Charles A. Cerami, Jefferson’s Great Gamble, p. 8.
  39. Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty, p. 371.
  40. W. Edwin Hemphill, “The Jeffersonian Background of the Louisiana Purchase, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, September 1935, p. 179 (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, January 30, 1787).
  41. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Brown, May 26, 1788).
  42. Walter Stahr, John Jay, p. 135.
  43. Jon Kukla, A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, p. 51.
  44. Jon Kukla, A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, pp. 67-68.
  45. Jon Kukla, A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, p. 91, 74.
  46. Jon Kukla, A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, p. 59.
  47. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, pp. 144-145.
  48. Woodrow Wilson, A History of the American people, Volume III, pp. 49-51.
  49. Jon Kukla, A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, p. 92.
  50. Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, p. 113.
  51. Walter Stahr, John Jay, p. 214.
  52. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 169.
  53. Forrest McDonald, The American Presidency: An Intellectual History, p. 145.
  54. Walter Stair, John Jay, Founding Father, p. 22.
  55. Irving Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison, pp. 136-137.