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CHAPTER XII

THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE

THE loss of Louisiana to France by its transfer to Spain in 1762 had always been regarded by the French nation as a disgraceful calamity. It would be sure to recover this territory at the first opportunity; that opportunity had now come. Napoleon was supreme in southern Europe, and dreams of a vast colonial empire came to him. No other place would answer so well for this as Louisiana, and none would be so pleasing to the French nation. There was good reason to believe that Great Britain was trying again to get a foothold in the Mississippi valley; and if France could get control of New Orleans, this would increase the power of France and shut out Great Britain.

Negotiations were carried on with the Spanish court. Berthier, the intimate friend of Napoleon, was sent to Madrid to negotiate a treaty in the fall of 1800. The provisions of the projected treaty, according to the instructions given to Berthier, were that the French republic should procure for the Duke of Parma, son-in-law of the Spanish king, a territory in Italy to contain at least a million inhabitants, Spain promising to give the colony of Louisiana, with the same extent it actually had in the hands of Spain. This was the Treaty of San Ildefonso. But this cession was kept secret, and it was especially necessary that the United States should know nothing about the change of ownership until Napoleon was in a position to take actual possession.

But the actual surrender of Louisiana to Napoleon was delayed, because of the failure of France to carry out her part of the bargain. The territory given the Spanish king in exchange for Louisiana was only nominally in his possession. There were still French soldiers in it, and it was administered by French generals. The Spanish king would not sign the treaty until the territory was actually surrendered.

Meanwhile a suspicion came to the Americans that Spain had transferred the country to France. It had been known before this time, even as early as 1790, that the project of establishing a French colony in America was under consideration in Paris, and that the most suitable place for it would be on Mississippi River. Early in 1800, there were rumors of a revival of this plan on the part of France, and instructions were sent to the American ministers in London, Paris, and Madrid to do what they could to prevent the cession. Much excitement was caused in the United States by the rumor, and warlike talk was common in the West.

A weak and decaying nation like Spain was not regarded by the people of the United States as a dangerous neighbor though it was sometimes an irritating one. With the constantly growing strength of the West and the large number of American settlements bordering on Louisiana or already within its bounds, the Spanish power in America was yearly becoming weaker. There were many who foresaw the time when the mouth of the Mississippi, and West Florida as well, would come into the hands of the United States either by purchase or by easy conquest, and the policy of the latter was one of waiting.

But it was quite a different matter to have France as a neighbor at a time when the First Consul was at the height of his power. No one knew what his plans might be, but it seemed that with a powerful French army at New Orleans, Napoleon would be in a position greatly to embarrass the Americans, especially in the West, and he might restore

the valley of the river to French control, or perhaps follow out the same career of conquest in the New World which he had in the Old.

We are able to look back now and see that these fears were groundless; that the French occupation, while it might have been irritating, would have only hindered for a time, but not have stopped, the growth of the nation toward the south and west. But the people of the West did not know how Napoleon's plans for colonial empire were to be shattered by the resistance of Toussaint L'Ouverture, nor were they able to look forward to Napoleon's Waterloo. His schemes of colonial conquest would have perished with his other world-embracing plans, when he failed to invade Great Britain. Even if he had made his colonial plans a source of annoyance to the Union, an alliance between Great Britain and the United States would have quickly brought him to terms, and after the loss of San Domingo he was too far from his base of supplies.

On November 21, 1801, Rufus King, American minister at London, wrote to Madison, secretary of state, confirming the rumor that France had obtained Louisiana from Spain; and that Napoleon proposed to occupy it with his army at the earliest possible moment, using San Domingo as a base of operations. In the spring of 1802 the fact of the sale was fully known and the people of the United States determined that the French occupation must be prevented. There were two parties, the Federalist, desiring to go to war with France, and the other, headed by President Jefferson, anxious to bring the control of the mouth of the Mississippi into the hands of the Union by peaceable means, if that were possible.

Jefferson's letter to Livingston, American minister to France, April 18, 1802, gives his view of the dangers which came to the United States because of this cession to France and the course to be followed by the United States:

"The cession of Louisiana and the Floridas by Spain to France works most sorely on the United States.

It completely reverses all the political relations of the United States and will form a new epoch in our political course. Of all nations of any consideration, France is the one which has hitherto 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 any occasion of difference. Her growth we viewed therefore as our own, her misfortune 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 one-half of our whole produce, and contain more than one-half of our inhabitants. France, placing herself at that door, assumes to us the attitude of defiance. It is impossible that France and the United States can continue long friends, when they meet in so irritable a position. The day that France takes possession of New 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 attention to a maritime force, for which our resources place us on a very high ground, and having formed and connected together a power which may render reinforcement of the settlements here impossible to France, make the first cannon which shall be fired in Europe the signal for the 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."

The excitement was greatly increased and the hopes of a peaceful settlement decreased by the act of Morales, the Spanish civil officer in New Orleans, who, in October, 1802, withdrew the right of deposit which the Americans enjoyed

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