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The Louisiana Purchase
From "Self-Culture" Magazine for Jan., 1896 by kind permission of the publishers The Werner Co., Akron, O.

No surer or more lasting cause conduced to the political, financial, and national development of this country, no unforeseen or long-sought measure received more universal approbation and revealed to all its great importance, than did the Louisiana purchase. Its acquisition marks a political revolution,—a bloodless and tearless revolution. It gave incomputable energy to the centralization of our Government. By removing the danger of foreign interference and relieving the burden of arming against hostile forces, it opened a field for the spread and growth of American institutions. It enlarged the field of freedom's action to work out the task of civilization on a basis of substantial and inspiring magnitude. It extended the jurisdiction of the United States to take in the mighty Mississippi. It gave an impetus to exploration and adventure, to investment and enterprise, and fed the infantile nation with a security born of greatness.

The expeditions of La Salle furnished the basis of the original French claims to the vast region called by France in the New World Louisiana. Settlement was begun in 1699. French explorers secured the St. Lawrence and Mississippi rivers, the two main entrances to the heart of America. They sought to connect Canada and Louisiana by a chain of armed towns and fortified posts, which were sparsely though gradually erected. In 1722 New Orleans was made the capital of the French possessions in the Southwest. France hoped to build in this colony a kingdom rich and lucrative, and this hope the early conditions, the stretch of fertile and easily traversable country, stimulated. The French and Indian wars came on. The English forces, aided by American colonists of English descent, captured the French forts, destroyed their towns, and took dominion of their territory. The Seven Years' War, ending in America in the capture of Quebec by the immortal Wolfe, completed the downfall of French-America. The treaty of Paris ceded to Spain the territory of Louisiana.

The Government at Madrid now assumed control of the region; settlers became more numerous, the planting of sugar was begun, the province flourished. While Spain in 1782-83 occupied both sides of the Mississippi from 31 north latitude to its mouth, the United States and Great Britian declared in the Treaty of Paris that the navigation of that river from its source to its outlet should be free to both nations. Spain denied that such provisions were binding on her. She sought to levy a duty on merchandise transported on the river. She denied the right of our citizens to use the Mississippi as a highway, and complications ensued. The Americans claimed the free navigation of the river and the use of New Orleans for a place of deposit as a matter of right. However, the unfriendly policy of Spain continued for some years. In 1795 the Spanish Government became involved in a war with France. Weakened by loss of forces and fearing hostilities from this country, Spain consented to sign a treaty of friendship, boundaries and navigation with our envoy, Thomas Pinckney. Its most important article was to this effect, that "His Catholic Majesty likewise agrees that the navigation of the said river (Mississippi), in its whole breadth, from its source to the ocean, shall be free only to his subjects and to the subjects of the United States."

On October 1,1800, by the secret treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain gave back to France that province of Louisiana which in 1762 France had given her. The consideration for its retrocession was an assurance by France that the Duke of Palma, son-in-law of the King of Spain, should be raised to the dignity of King and have his territory enlarged by the addition of Tuscany. Rumors of this treaty reached America in the spring of 1801, though its exact terms were not known until the latter part of that year. Immediately upon the reception of this information, our Government and its citizens were aroused. The United States found herself hemmed in between the two professional belligerents of Europe—a perilous position for the young power. The excitement increased when, in October, 1802, the Spanish Intendant declared that New Orleans could no longer be used as a place of deposit. Nor was any other place designated for such purpose, although in the reaty [sic] of 1795 it was stipulated that in the event of a withdrawal of the right to use New Orleans, some other point would be named. It was now a subject of extreme importance to the Republic into whose control the highway of traffic should pass. President Jefferson called the attention of Congress to this retrocession. He anticipated the French designs. He justly feared that Napoleon Bonaparte would seek to renew the old colonial glories of France, and the warlike genius and ambitious spirit of the "First Consul" augmented this fear. Word came in November, 1802, of an expedition being fitted out under French command to take possession of Louisiana, all protests of our Minister to the transfer having proved futile. Our nation then realized fully the peril of the situation. Congress directed the Governors of the States to call out 80,000 militia, if necessary, and it appropriated $2,000,000 for the purchase of the Island of New Orleans and the adjacent lands.

Early in January, 1803, the President decided to hasten matters by sending James Monroe to France, to be associated with Robert R. Livingston, our minister to that country, as commissioners for the purchase of New Orleans and the Floridas. Livingston had been previously working on the same line, but without success. Instructions were given them that if France was obstinate about selling the desired territory, to open negotiations with the British Government, with a view to preventing France from taking possession of Louisiana. European complications, however, worked in favor of this country more than did our own efforts. Ere Monroe arrived at his destination disputes arose between England and France concerning the Island of Malta. The clouds of war began to gather. Napoleon discerned that England's powerful navy would constantly menace and probably capture New Orleans, if it were possessed by him, and fearing a frustration of his designs of conquest by too remote accessions, Napoleon, at this juncture, made overtures for a sale to the United States not only of the Island of New Orleans but of the whole area of the province. The money demanded would be helpful to France, and the wily Frenchman probably saw in such a transfer an opportunity of embroiling the Government at Washington in boundary disputes with the British and Spanish soverigns. These considerations served to precipitate French action.

Marbois, who had the confidence of Napoleon, and who had been in the diplomatic service in America, was now at the head of the French Treasury. He was put forward to negotiate with our representatives with respect to the proposed sale. On April 1O, 1803, news came from London that the peace of Amiens was at an end; war impended. Bonaparte at once sent for Marbois and ordered him to push the negotiations with Livingston, without awaiting the arrival of Monroe, of whose appointment the "First Consul" was aware. Monroe reached Paris on the 12th of April, and the negotiations, already well under way, progressed rapidly. A treaty and two conventions were signed by Barbe-Marbois for the French, and by Livingston and Monroe for the United States, on April 30th, less than three weeks after the commission had begun its work. The price agreed upon for the cession of Louisiana was 75,000,000 francs, and for the satisfying of French spoliation claims due to Americans was estimated at $3,750,000. The treaty was ratified by Bonaparte in May, 1803, and by the United States Senate in the following October. The cession of the territory was contained in one paper, another fixed the amount to be paid and the mode of payment, a third arranged the method of settling the claims due to Americans.

The treaty did not attempt a precise description or boundary of the territory ceded. In the treaty of San Ildefonso general terms only are used. It speaks of Louisiana as of "the same extent that it now has in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it, and such as it should be after the treaties subsequently entered into between Spain and the other States." The treaty with the United States describes the land as "the said territory, with all its rights and appurtenances, as fully and in the same manner as have been acquired by the French Republic, in virtue of the above-mentioned treaty concluded with his Catholic Majesty."

The Court at Madrid was astounded when it heard of the cession to the United States. Florida was left hemmed in and an easy prey in the first hostilities. Spain filed a protest against the transfer, claiming that by express provision of the articles of cession to her, France was prohibited from alienating it without Spanish consent. The protest being ignored, Spain began a course of unfriendly proceedings against the United States. Hostile acts on her part were continued to such an extent that a declaration of war on the part of this country would have been justified. We relied upon the French to protect our title. At length, without any measures of force, the cavilling of Spain ceased and she acquiesced in the transfer.

Upon being confronted with the proposition of sale by Marbois, our Ministers were dazzled. They recognized the vast importance of an acceptance, yet felt their want of authority. With a political prescience and broad patriotism they overstepped all authority and concluded the treaty for the purchase of this magnificent domain. Authorized to purchase a small island and a coaling-place, they contracted for an empire. The treaty of settlement was looked upon by our representatives as a stroke of state. When the negotiations were consummated and the treaties signed and delivered, Mr. Livingston said: "We have lived long, and this is the fairest work of our lives. The treaty we have just signed will transform a vast wilderness into a flourishing country. From this day the United States becomes a first-class power. The articles we have signed will produce no tears, but ages of happiness for countless human beings." Time has verified these expressions. At the same period, the motives and sentiment of Bonaparte were bodied forth in the sentence: "I have given to England a maritime rival that will sooner or later humble her pride."

The acquisition was received with merited and general applause. Few objections were made. The only strenuous opposition arose from some Federalists, who could see no good in any act of the Jeffersonian administration, however meritorious it might be. Out of the territory thus acquired have been carved Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and the largest portion of Minnesota, Wyoming, and Colorado. They now form the central section of the United States, and are the homes of millions and the sources of countless wealth.

It is possible here to notice but briefly the vast and permanent political and economical consequences to the United States of this purchase. The party which performed this service came into power as the maintainer of voluntary union. The soul of the strict construction party was Thomas Jefferson. Inclined to French ideas, he had been for several years previous to the founding of our Constitution imbibing their extreme doctrines. No sooner did he return than he discerned, with the keen glance of genius, what passed Hamilton and Adams unobserved, the key to the popular fancy. He knew precisely where the strength of the Federalists lay, and by what means alone that strength could be overpowered.

Coming into office as the champion of "State-rights and strict construction," it was beyond his power to give theoretical affirmance to this transcendent act of his agents. His own words reveal his anomalous situation: "The Constitution has made no provision for our holding foreign territory, still less for incorporating foreign nations into our Union. The executive, in seizing the fugitive occurrence which so much advances the good of their country, have done an act beyond the Constitution. The Legislature, in casting behind metaphysical subleties and risking themselves like faithful servants, must ratify and pay for it, and throw themselves on their country for doing for them unauthorized what we know they would have done for themselves had they been in a position to do it." "Doing for them unauthorized what we know they would have done for themselves" was the policy of the Federalists, and the very ground upon which Mr. Jefferson had denounced their policy and defeated them. The purchase was, in fact, quite within those implied powers of the Constitution which had always been contended for by the Federalists, and such leaders as Hamilton and Morris acknowledged this. Under the strict construction theory, not only could there be no authority for such an acquisition of territory without the consent of the several States denominated "part of the original compact," but the manifest and necessary consequences of this accession, in its effects upon the Union and upon the balance of power within the Government, were overwhelming to such an extent as to amount almost to a revolution.

This event may be looked upon as a revolution in the direction of unification and the impairment of the powers of the several States, brought about by the very party which had undertaken to oppose such tendencies. The territory gained stretches over a million square miles equal in area to the territory previously comprised in the Union, and twice as large as that actually occupied by the original thirteen States. Compared with this innovation, the plans of the Federalists for strengthening the Central Government were inconsiderable. A new nation was engrafted on the old, and neither the people of the several States nor their immediate representatives were questioned; but by a treaty the President and the Senate changed the whole structure of the territory and modified the relations of the States. Thenceforth, the Louisiana purchase stood as a repudiation by their own champions of the strict construction fallacies. Thenceforth, the welfare of the country stands above party allegiance. The right to make purchases was thereafter, by general acquiescence of all political parties, within the powers of the Federal Government. Indeed, it became manifest that implied as well as expressed powers accrued to the National Government.

The territory of Louisiana proved a fruitful soil for the spread of slavery, nor was it less productive of struggles and strife over the admission of States carved therefrom. The Civil War has pacified the jarring elements and left to be realized now the beneficent results of the empire gained. With Louisiana the United States gained control of the entire country watered by the Mississippi and its effluents. With the settlement of the western country, the Mississippi river assumed its normal function in the national development, forming out of that region the backbone of the Union. The Atlantic and Pacific States can never destroy the Union while the Central States remain loyal. Thus do we see the basis of our governmental existence removed from the narrow strip along the Atlantic to the far larger central basin; binding by natural ligaments a union far less secure on mere constitutional or artificial connections. Thus have the intentions of its projectors been fulfilled, the peace of our nation secured, a spirit of confidence in our institutions diffused, and enterprise and prosperity advanced. The purchase was an exercise of patriotism unrestrained and unbiased by considerations unconnected with the public good. It curbed the impulse of State jealousies, secured to the Union unwonted prestige, and discovered the latent force and broad possibilities of our national system.

Contributed by Zacharias, Isidore A.
0 January 1896


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