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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 4785

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Jefferson's political principles.]

Jefferson came into power as a stickler for a limited government, confined chiefly to foreign and commercial affairs. He now entered upon the most brilliant episode of his administration,-the annexation of Louisiana; and that transaction was carried out and defended upon precisely the grounds of loose construction which he had so much contemned.

[Sidenote: Napoleon's colonial system.]

In 1763 France had two flourishing American colonies,-Louisiana and Hayti, the western end of the island of San Domingo. The former province was ceded to Spain (§ 18); the latter, the centre of the French colonial system, was nearly destroyed by a slave insurrection in 1791. When, in 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte became First Consul and virtual dictator, he formed a brilliant scheme of reviving the French colonial empire. The first step was to recover Louisiana; the second was to make peace with England, so as to stop the naval war and release the French resources; the third step was to occupy, first Hayti, and then Louisiana. The three plans were pursued with characteristic rapidity. In October, 1800, the secret treaty of San Ildefonso was negotiated, by which Spain agreed to return Louisiana to France, the condition being that Napoleon should create a kingdom of Etruria for the son-in-law of the king of Spain. In 1802 the Peace of Amiens was made with England.

[Sidenote: Toussaint Louverture.]

A combined French and Spanish squadron had already, October, 1801, carried a great expedition to occupy the whole island of San Domingo, with secret orders to re-establish slavery. Then came an unexpected check: the fleet and the army of ten thousand experienced French troops were unable to break down the resistance of Toussaint Louverture, a native black general who aimed to be the Napoleon of the island. Toussaint was taken; but the army was forced back into a few sea-ports, and almost swept away by disease. The blacks were still masters of the island.

[Sidenote: Alarm of the United States.]

The next step was to have been the occupation of Louisiana. By this time, April, 1802, the news of the cession reached the United States, and drew from Jefferson a remarkable letter. "The day that France takes possession of New Orleans," said he, "fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low-water mark. Fro

m that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation." As though to justify this outburst of anti-Gallican zeal on the part of the old friend of France, the Spanish Intendant of Louisiana, Oct. 16, 1802, withdrew the so-called "right of deposit" under which Americans on the upper Mississippi had been able to send goods to the sea and to receive return cargoes without the payment of Spanish duty. If the province were to pass to France with the Mississippi closed, it seemed to Jefferson essential that we should obtain West Florida, with the port of Mobile; and in January, 1803, James Monroe was sent as special envoy to secure this cession. [Sidenote: Louisiana treaty.]

The day after he reached Paris, Livingston, the resident minister, had closed a treaty for the cession, not of West Florida, but of all Louisiana. The inner history of this remarkable negotiation has been brought to light by Henry Adams in his History of the Administration of Jefferson. The check in San Domingo had dampened the colonial ardor of Napoleon; war was about to break out again with England; Napoleon's ambition turned toward an European empire; and he lightly offered the province which had come to him so cheaply. Neither Livingston, Monroe, nor Jefferson had thought it possible to acquire New Orleans; with 880,000 square miles of other territory it was tossed into the lap of the United States as the Sultan throws a purse of gold to a favorite.

[Sidenote: Indefinite boundaries.]

The treaty, dated April 30, 1803, gave to the United States Louisiana, "with the same extent that it now has in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it." The two phrases, instead of explaining each other, were contradictory: Louisiana as it was when France possessed it had included settlements as far east as the Perdido River; Louisiana in the hands of Spain had extended only to the Iberville. The United States had therefore annexed a province without knowing its boundaries. We are now aware that Napoleon had issued orders to occupy the country on the north only as far as the Iberville, but on the south as far as the Rio Grande; at the time France refused to give any information on either point. Hence the United States gave up the claim to Texas, in which there was reason, and insisted on the title to West Florida, which was nowhere to be found in the treaty.

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