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The Louisiana Purchase
France had ceded Louisiana to Spain in 1762, but Napoleon envisioned a rebuilding of the French empire in North America. At his insistence, Spain returned the province by the Treaty of Madrid, 21 March 1801.
Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston 18 April 1802
… The cession 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 completely 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 offense; because we do not bring them forward as a menace, but as consequences not controllable 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.
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 interest. 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. Still we should consider N. Orleans and the Floridas as equivalent for the risk of a quarrel with France produced by her vicinage. I have no doubt you have urged these considerations on every proper occasion with the government where you are. They are such as must have effect if you can find the means of producing thorough reflection on them by that government. The idea here is that the troops sent to St. Domingo were to proceed to Louisiana after finishing their work in that island. If this were the arrangement, it will give you time to return again and again to the charge, for the conquest of St. Domingo will not be a short work. It will take considerable time to wear down a great number of soldiers. 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 assurance of my affectionate esteem and high consideration.
Thomas Jefferson to John C. Breckinridge 12 August 1803
The enclosed letter, tho’ directed to you, was intended to me also, and was left open with a request that when perused, I would forward it to you. It gives me occasion to write a word to you on the subject of Louisiana, which being a new one, an interchange of sentiments may produce correct ideas before we are to act on them.
Our information as to the country is very incomplete; we have taken measures to obtain it in full as to the settled part, which I hope to receive in time for Congress. The boundaries, … will be a subject of negotiation with Spain, and if, as soon as she is at war, we push them strongly with one hand, holding out a price in the other, we shall certainly obtain the Floridas, and all in good time. In the meanwhile, without waiting for permission, we shall enter into the exercise of the natural right we have always insisted on with Spain, to wit, that of a nation holding the upper part of streams having a right of innocent passage thro’ them to the ocean. We shall prepare her to see us practice on this, & she will not oppose it by force.
Objections are raising to the Eastward against the vast extent of our boundaries, and propositions are made to exchange Louisiana, or a part of it, for the Floridas. But, as I have said, we shall get the Floridas without, and I would not give one inch of the waters of the Mississippi to any nation, because I see in a light very important to our peace the exclusive right to its navigation & the admission of no nation into it but, as into the Potomac or Delaware, with our consent & under our police. These Federalists see in this acquisition the formation of a new confederacy, embracing all the waters of the Mississippi on both sides of it, and a separation of its Eastern waters from us. These combinations depend on so many circumstances which we cannot foresee that I place little reliance on them. We have seldom seen neighborhood produce affection among nations. The reverse is almost the universal truth. Besides, if it should become the great interest of those nations to separate from this, if their happiness should depend on it so strongly as to induce them to go through that convulsion, why should the Atlantic States dread it? But especially why should we, their present inhabitants, take side in such a question? When I view the Atlantic States procuring for those on the eastern waters of the Mississippi friendly instead of hostile neighbors on its western waters, I do not view it as an Englishman would the procuring future blessings for the French nation, with whom he has no relations of blood or affection. The future inhabitants of the Atlantic & Mississippi States will be our sons. We leave them in distinct but bordering establishments. We think we see their happiness in their union, & we wish it. Events may prove it otherwise; and if they see their interest in separation, why should we take side with our Atlantic rather than our Mississippi descendants? It is the elder and the younger son differing. God bless them both, & keep them in union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better. The inhabited part of Louisiana, from Point Coupé to the sea, will of course be immediately a territorial government, and soon a state. But above that, the best use we can make of the country for some time will be to give establishments in it to the Indians on the east side of the Mississippi in exchange for their present country, and open land offices in the last, & thus make this acquisition the means of filling up the eastern side, instead of drawing off its population. When we shall be full on this side, we may lay off a range of states on the western bank from the head to the mouth, & so, range after range, advancing compactly as we multiply.
This treaty must of course be laid before both Houses, because both have important functions to exercise respecting it. They, I presume, will see their duty to their country in ratifying & paying for it, so as to secure a good which would otherwise probably be never again in their power. But I suppose they must then appeal to the nation for an additional article to the Constitution, approving & confirming an act which the nation had not previously authorized. 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 them metaphysical subtleties and risking themselves like faithful servants, must ratify & 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 situation to do it. It is the case of a guardian investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory; & saying to him when of age, I did this for your good; I pretend to no right to bind you: you may disavow me, and I must get out of the scrape as I can: I thought it my duty to risk myself for you. But we shall not be disavowed by the nation, and their act of indemnity will confirm & not weaken the Constitution, by more strongly marking out its lines… .
Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Cary Nicholas 7 September 1803
… I enclose you a letter from Monroe on the subject of the late treaty. You will observe a hint in it to do without delay what we are bound to do. There is reason, in the opinion of our ministers, to believe that if the thing were to do over again, it could not be obtained, and that if we give the least opening, they will declare the treaty void. A warning amounting to that has been given to them and an unusual kind of letter written by their minister to our Secretary of State, direct. Whatever Congress shall think it necessary to do should be done with as little debate as possible, and particularly so far as respects the constitutional difficulty. I am aware of the force of the observations you make on the power given by the Constitution to Congress to admit new states into the Union, without restraining the subject to the territory then constituting the U.S. But when I consider that the limits of the U.S. are precisely fixed by the treaty of 1783, that the Constitution expressly declares itself to be made for the U.S., I cannot help believing the intention was to permit Congress to admit into the Union new states which should be formed out of the territory for which, and under whose authority alone, they were then acting. I do not believe it was meant that they might receive England, Ireland, Holland, etc. into it, which would be the case on your construction. When an instrument admits two constructions, the one safe, the other dangerous, the one precise, the other indefinite, I prefer that which is safe and precise. I had rather ask an enlargement of power from the nation, where it is found necessary, than to assume it by a construction which would make our powers boundless. Our peculiar security is in possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction. I say the same as to the opinion of those who consider the grant of the treaty-making power as boundless. If it is, then we have no Constitution. If it has bounds, they can be no others than the definitions of the powers which that instrument gives. It specifies and delineates the operations permitted to the federal government, and gives all the powers necessary to carry these into execution. Whatever of these enumerated objects is proper for a law, Congress may make the law; whatever is proper to be executed by way of a treaty, the President and Senate may enter into the treaty; whatever is to be done by a judicial sentence, the judges may pass the sentence. Nothing is more likely than that their enumeration of powers is defective. This is the ordinary case of all human works. Let us go on then perfecting it, by adding, by way of amendment to the Constitution, those powers which time and trial show are still wanting. … 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 shall acquiesce with satisfaction, confiding that the good sense of our country will correct the evil of construction when it shall produce ill effects… .
[alexander hamilton] “Purchase of Louisiana” New York Evening Post 5 July 1803
At length the business of New Orleans has terminated favorably 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 éclat to his administration. Every man, however, possessed of the least candor 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.
As soon as we experienced from Spain a direct infraction of an important article of our treaty, in withholding the deposit of New Orleans, it afforded us justifiable cause of war, and authorized immediate hostilities. Sound policy unquestionably demanded of us to begin with a prompt, bold and vigorous resistance against the injustice: to seize the object at once; and having this vantage ground, should we have thought it advisable to terminate hostilities by a purchase, we might then have done it on almost our own terms. This course, however, was not adopted, and we were about to experience the fruits of our folly when another nation has found it her interest to place the French Government in a situation substantially as favorable to our views and interests as those recommended by the Federal party here, excepting indeed that we should probably have obtained the same object on better terms.
On the part of France the short interval of peace had been wasted in repeated and fruitless efforts to subjugate St. Domingo; and those means which were originally destined to the colonization of Louisiana had been gradually exhausted by the unexpected difficulties of this ill-starred enterprise.
To the deadly climate of St. Domingo and to the courage and obstinate resistance made by its black inhabitants are we indebted for the obstacles which delayed the colonization of Louisiana till the auspicious moment when a rupture between England and France gave a new turn to the projects of the latter, and destroyed at once all her schemes as to this favorite object of her ambition.
It was made known to Bonaparte that among the first objects of England would be the seizure of New Orleans and that preparations were even then in a state of forwardness for that purpose. The First Consul could not doubt that if an English fleet was sent thither, the place must fall without resistance; it was obvious, therefore, that it would be in every shape preferable that it should be placed in the possession of a neutral power; and when, besides, some millions of money, of which he was extremely in want, were offered him to part with what he could no longer hold it affords a moral certainty that it was to an accidental state of circumstances, and not to wise plans, that this cession, at this time, has been owing. We shall venture to add that neither of the ministers through whose instrumentality it was effected will ever deny this, or even pretend that previous to the time when a rupture was believed to be inevitable, there was the smallest chance of inducing the First Consul, with his ambitious and aggrandizing views, to commute the territory for any sum of money in their power to offer. The real truth is, Bonaparte found himself absolutely compelled by situation to relinquish his darling plan of colonizing the banks of the Mississippi, and thus have the Government of the United States, by the unforeseen operation of events, gained what the feebleness and pusillanimity of its miserable system of measures could never have acquired. Let us then, with all due humility, acknowledge this as another of those signal instances of the kind inter- positions of an over-ruling Providence, which we more especially experienced during our revolutionary war, & by which we have more than once been saved from the consequences of our errors and perverseness.
We are certainly not disposed to lessen the importance of this acquisition to the country, but it is proper that the public should be correctly informed of its real value and extent as well as of the terms on which it has been acquired. We perceive by the newspapers that various & very vague opinions are entertained; and we shall therefore venture to state our ideas with some precision as to the territory; but until the instrument of cession itself is published, we do not think it prudent to say much as to the conditions on which it has been obtained.
Prior to the treaty of Paris, 1763, France claimed the country on both sides of the river under the name of Louisiana, and it was her encroachments on the rear of the British Colonies which gave rise to the war of 1755. By the conclusion of the treaty of 1763, the limits of the colonies of Great Britain and France were clearly and permanently fixed; and it is from that and subsequent treaties that we are to ascertain what territory is really comprehended under the name of Louisiana. France ceded to Great Britain all the country east and southeast of a line drawn along the middle of the Mississippi from its source to the Iberville, and from thence along that river and the Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain to the sea; France retaining the country lying west of the river, besides the town and Island of New Orleans on the east side. This she soon after ceded to Spain, who acquiring also the Floridas by the treaty of 1783, France was entirely shut out from the continent of North America. Spain, at the instance of Bonaparte, ceded to him Louisiana, including the Town and Island (as it is commonly called) of New Orleans. Bonaparte has now ceded the same tract of country, and this only, to the United States. The whole of East and West Florida, lying south of Georgia and of the Mississippi Territory, and extending to the Gulf of Mexico, still remains to Spain, who will continue, therefore, to occupy, as formerly, the country along the southern frontier of the United States, and the east bank of the river from the Iberville to the American line.
Those disposed to magnify its value will say that this western region is important as keeping off a troublesome neighbor and leaving us in the quiet possession of the Mississippi. Undoubtedly this has some force, but on the other hand it may be said that the acquisition of New Orleans is perfectly adequate to every purpose; for whoever is in possession of that has the uncontroled command of the river. Again, it may be said, and this probably is the most favorable point of view in which it can be placed, that although not valuable to the United States for settlement, it is so to Spain, and will become more so, and therefore at some distant period will form an object which we may barter with her for the Floridas, obviously of far greater value to us than all the immense, undefined region west of the river.
It has been usual for the American writers on this subject to include the Floridas in their ideas of Louisiana, as the French formerly did, and the acquisition has derived no inconsiderable portion of its value and importance with the public from this view of it. It may, however, be relied on, that no part of the Floridas, not a foot of land on the east of the Mississippi, excepting New Orleans, falls within the present cession. As to the unbounded region west of the Mississippi, it is, with the exception of a very few settlements of Spaniards and Frenchmen bordering on the banks of the river, a wilderness through which wander numerous tribes of Indians. And when we consider the present extent of the United States, and that not one sixteenth part of its territory is yet under occupation, the advantage of the acquisition, as it relates to actual settlement, appears too distant and remote to strike the mind of a sober politician with much force. This, therefore, can only rest in speculation for many years, if not centuries to come, and consequently will not perhaps be allowed very great weight in the account by the majority of readers. But it may be added that should our own citizens, more enterprising than wise, become desirous of settling this country and emigrate thither, it must not only be attended with all the injuries of a too widely dispersed population, but by adding to the great weight of the western part of our territory, must hasten the dismemberment of a large portion of our country or a dissolution of the Government. On the whole, we think it may with candor be said that, whether the possession at this time of any territory west of the river Mississippi will be advantageous, is at best extremely problematical. For ourselves, we are very much inclined to the opinion that, after all, it is the Island of New Orleans, by which the command of a free navigation of the Mississippi is secured, that gives to this interesting cession its greatest value, and will render it in every view of immense benefit to our country. By this cession we hereafter shall hold within our own grasp what we have heretofore enjoyed only by the uncertain tenure of a treaty, which might be broken at the pleasure of another, and (governed as we now are) with perfect impunity. Provided therefore we have not purchased it too dear, there is all the reason for exultation which the friends of the administration display, and which all Americans may be allowed to feel.
As to the pecuniary value of the bargain; we know not enough of the particulars to pronounce upon it. It is understood generally that we are to assume debts of France to our own citizens not exceeding four millions of dollars; and that for the remainder, being a very large sum, 6 per cent stock to be created and payment made in that. But should it contain no conditions or stipulations on our part, no “tangling alliances” of all things to be dreaded, we shall be very much inclined to regard it in a favorable point of view though it should turn out to be what may be called a costly purchase… .
The Island of New Orleans is in length about 150 miles; its breadth varies from 10 to 30 miles. Most of it is a marshy swamp, periodically inundated by the river. The town of New Orleans, situated about 105 miles from the mouth of the river, contains near 1300 houses and about 8000 inhabitants, chiefly Spanish and French. It is defended from the overflowings of the river by an embankment, or leveé, which extends near 50 miles.
The rights of the present proprietors of real estate in New Orleans and Louisiana, whether acquired by descent or by purchase, will, of course, remain undisturbed. How they are to be governed is another question; whether as a colony or to be formed into an integral part of the United States is a subject which will claim consideration hereafter. The probable consequences of the cession and the ultimate effect it is likely to produce on the political state of our country will furnish abundant matter of speculation to the American statesman.
The discontents of northeastern Federalists with the Louisiana purchase are captured in these letters. Rufus King, a Massachusetts native and member of the Constitutional Convention, had gone on to become a senator from New York and ambassador to Britain; in 1816, he would be the last Federalist candidate for president. Timothy Pickering, the High-Federalist secretary of state dismissed by John Adams in 1800, was now a senator from Massachusetts.
Rufus King to Timothy Pickering (?) 4 November 1803
Congress may admit new states, but can the Executive by treaty admit them, or, what is equivalent, enter into engagements binding Congress to do so? As by the Louisiana Treaty, the ceded territory must be formed into states & admitted into the Union, is it understood that Congress can annex any condition to their admission? If not, as slavery is authorized & exists in Louisiana, and the treaty engages to protect the property of the inhabitants, will not the present inequality arising from the representation of slaves be increased?
As the provision of the Constitution on this subject may be regarded as one of its greatest blemishes, it would be with reluctance that one could consent to its being extended to the Louisiana states; and provided any act of Congress or of the several states should be deemed requisite to give validity to the stipulation of the treaty on this subject, ought not an effort to be made to limit the representation to the free inhabitants only? Had it been foreseen that we could raise revenue to the extent we have done from indirect taxes, the representation of slaves would never have been admitted; but going upon the maxim that taxation and representation are inseparable, and that the Genl. Govt. must resort to direct taxes, the states in which slavery does not exist were injudiciously led to concede to this unreasonable provision of the Constitution. On account of the effect upon the public opinion produced by alterations of the fundamental laws of a country, we should hesitate in proposing what may appear to be beneficial; but I know no one alteration of the Constitution of the U.S. which I would so readily propose as to confine representation and taxation to the free inhabitants… .
Timothy Pickering to Rufus King 3 March 1804
As long ago as the 4th of November last, you were so obliging as to notice my letter concerning Louisiana. The ruling party do not now pretend that the Louisianians are Citizens of the U. States. They do not venture to say—they have never said—that the government had a constitutional power to incorporate that new & immense country into the Union; yet they will not give themselves the trouble to alter the Constitution for that purpose. It appears very evident that in a few years, when their power shall be more confirmed and the implicit obedience of the people has been habitual, they will erect states in that territory and incorporate them into the Union. … It is further evident that the Constitution will henceforward be only a convenient instrument, to be shaped, by construction, into any form that will best promote the views of the operators. In the name of the Constitution they will commit every arbitrary act which their projects may require; or they will alter it to suit their purposes. I begin to think it would be better if we had none. The leaders of the populace wanting the sanction of a constitutional power might then be more cautious in their measures… .
Timothy Pickering to Rufus King 4 March 1804
I must request you to consider this as a continuation of my letter yesterday.
I am disgusted with the men who now rule us and with their measures. At some manifestations of their malignancy I am shocked. The coward wretch at the head, while, like a Parisian revolutionary monster, prating about humanity, could feel an infernal pleasure in the utter destruction of his opponents. We have too long witnessed his general turpitude—his cruel removals of faithful officers and the substitution of corruption and baseness for integrity and worth. We have now before the Senate a nomination of Meriweather Jones of Richmond, editor of the Examiner, a paper devoted to Jefferson and Jacobinism; and he is now to be rewarded. Mr. Hopkins, Commissioner of Loans, a man of property and integrity, is to give room to this Jones. The Commissioner may have at once in his hands thirty thousand dollars, to pay the public creditors in Virginia. He is required by law to give bond only in a sum of from five to ten thousand dollars; and Jones’ character is so notoriously bad that we have satisfactory evidence he could not now get credit at any store in Richmond for a suit of clothes! Yet I am far from thinking if this evidence were laid before the Senate that his nomination will be rejected! I am therefore ready to say “come out from among them and be separate.” Corruption is the object and instrument of the Chief and the tendency of his administration, for the purpose of maintaining himself in power & for the accomplishment of his infidel and visionary schemes. The corrupt portion of the people are the agents of his misrule; corruption is the recommendation to office; and many of some pretensions to character, but too feeble to resist temptation, become apostates. Virtue and worth are his enemies, and therefore he would overwhelm them.
The collision of democrats in your state promised some amendment. The administration of your government cannot possibly be worse. The Federalists here in general anxiously desire the election of Mr. Burr to the chair of New York; for they despair of a present ascendancy of the Federal party. Mr. Burr alone, we think, can break your democratic phalanx, and we anticipate much good from his success. Were New York detached (as under his administration it would be) from the Virginia influence, the whole Union should be benefited. Jefferson would then be forced to observe some caution and forbearance in his measures. And if a separation should be deemed proper, the five New England States, New York, and New Jersey would naturally be united. Among those seven states there is a sufficient congeniality of character to authorize the expectation of practicable harmony and a permanent union; New York the center. Without a separation, can those states ever rid themselves of Negro Presidents and Negro Congresses and regain their just weight in the political balance? At this moment the slaves of the middle and southern states have fifteen representatives in Congress; and they will appoint 15 Electors of the next President & Vice President; and the number of slaves is continually increasing. You know this evil. But will the slave states ever renounce this advantage? As population is in fact no rule of taxation, the Negro representation ought to be given up. If refused, it would be a strong ground of separation; tho’ perhaps an earlier occasion may occur to declare it. How many Indian wars, excited by the avidity of the western and southern states of Indian lands, shall we have to encounter? And who will pay the millions to support them? The Atlantic States. Yet the first moment we ourselves need assistance and call on the western states for taxes, they will declare off, or at any rate refuse to obey the call. Kentucky effectually resisted the collection of the excise; and of the $37,000 direct tax assessed upon her so many years ago, she has paid only $4,000, & probably will never pay the residue. In the mean time we are maintaining their representatives in Congress for governing us, who surely can much better govern ourselves. Whenever the western states detach themselves they will take Louisiana with them. In thirty years, the white population in the western states will equal that of the 13 States when they declared themselves independent of G. Britain. On the Census of 1790, Kentucky was entitled to two Representatives; under that of 1800 she sends six.
The facility with which we have seen an essential change in the Constitution proposed and generally adopted will perhaps remove your scruples about proposing what you intimate respecting Negro representation. But I begin to doubt whether that or any other change we could propose, with a chance of adoption, would be worth the breath, paper, and ink which would be expended in the acquisition. Some think Congress will rise in 15 or 20 days… .*
A Republican Response
“Desultory Reflections on the Aspect of Politics in Relation to the Western People,” by “Phocion” (Essay #1) Kentucky Gazette and General Advertiser 27 September 1803
It is notorious that the people of the United States are at this time divided into two parties, the one attached to the administration of Mr. Jefferson and the other hostile to the man, his principles and his conduct. That whatever policy the former recommends or pursues is assailed by the latter with a violence unknown to any period of our history.
The motives which prompt them on to this opposition and the opposition itself must be worth an examination.
To do this successfully, we must examine into the characters of those composing the party.
One description of them appear to have attached themselves to the administrations which successively governed the United States prior to the year 1801, and upon the same principles the same class of men would attach themselves to any administration, in any age or country. I allude to those enemies to our Revolution from fear, those political fortune hunters that abound in every country, and to those who will abandon any party or enter into the service of any administration from motives of interest and reward.
A second class of them may consist of those who, acting from principle and prejudice, are yet respectable by their motives; and acting from mistaken views are entitled to all that charity which religion inculcates and sanctions.
In the former are to be found the leaders, who, whether their conduct is consistent or not, always find in the latter the instruments and tools adapted to every exigency and every occasion. Honest men are not infrequently victims or agents to the designing, and we should, therefore, ascribe the conduct of the latter to the imperfection of our nature. Nevertheless, their conduct, in its consequences, is equally dangerous to society, from whatever motives it may proceed; since if the blow is aimed, it must be immaterial to the sufferer whether from the mistaken, honest, or designing character… .
This abuse of power and influence led a number of enlightened and independent characters to an opposition which enlightened the public mind and finally placed Mr. Jefferson in the presidency.
After this event it was to be expected that a people which complained of abuses in every department of government would insist upon their removal; and that Mr. Jefferson would remove their authors from power.
The people directed it; Mr. Jefferson obeyed.
Then commenced a systematic opposition to his measures. No proposition was made, or act done, but what was immediately opposed. All the attempts of the opposition were directed to one end—the embarrassment of the executive… .
Consistency of principle and conduct they did not regard, provided they had consistency of opposition.
Such was their conduct during two sessions of Congress.
But one subject during the session of last Congress engrossed most of their attention, and in which they made exertions worthy a better cause. We allude to the measures which they proposed and opposed relative to the occlusion of the port of Orleans.
At that period they enlarged upon the misfortunes which would flow from the French colonization of Louisiana. Our wealth would be torn from us; the commerce of the western people ruined by the monopoly & exaction of the Frenchmen; the value of our western property lessened by the encouragement they would give to migration; our citizens enticed from their present habitations to become the instrument of French ambition and intrigue; our union dissolved by the machinations and intrigues of their officers; our independence endangered and our whole country fall a prey to the ambition of the consul. The attempt to secure our rights by negotiation was the child of a weak old man; the result of a disordered imagination. Whilst Monroe and Livingston were negotiating, the consul would seize this important territory himself. The period of action would be lost. The loss of blood in the old world were nothing when compared with the advantages of possessing ourselves of the whole country. But all these ad-vantages would be lost by a weak, pusillanimous administration, ignorant of the true interest and right of the country, without capacity to comprehend or firmness to enforce them.
But the country has become ours without the effusion of blood, without entering upon a war, the expenses of which would have been incalculable, without incurring the dislike of powers whose commerce is most important to us, because they are the consumers of our produce; and it appears the act which secured these advantages is to be opposed because it is the act of Mr. Jefferson and the people.
A writer in an eastern paper says fifteen millions is too great a price for Louisiana, a country nearly as large as the United States, and upon which the western people must depend for their commercial importance. Last winter the party were for involving the union in a war, not to secure the country but to embarrass the executive. The western people, more reasonable, required security only, with less expense and risk.
Had war taken place as they desired, more than fifteen millions must have been expended on the operations of a single year.
The country must have been retained and the expense increased to retain it. If to all this we add the immense losses of our citizens engaged in commerce and the expenses of convoys to our merchantmen, how will the calculation then hold? Not to mention the loss of blood, the heartburning of the people of France, the eternalizing of their prejudices and rancor, by an attack upon them for the unprovoked aggression of a petty officer of another, before a demand of reparation had been made, conformable to the conduct of all civilized nations. Not to notice the advantages which other commercial states would obtain over us whilst our commerce to France, Spain, Italy, Holland, and their colonies should be interrupted, & the disadvantages we must have labored under at its revival. Whilst we were suffering all the inconveniences of war, others would be gaining at our expense, without an attempt on our part being made to ward off the evils or to obtain a peaceable remedy. Thus have nations ever been the sport of ambitious statesmen, devouring each other, and permitting states inimical to both to enrich themselves by their common quarrels. Why should we engage in war? Why should we abandon the road which has led us on with unexampled rapidity to the summit of wealth, distinction and power? We have profited by the misfortunes of others without the imputation of a crime, and we have profited to no purpose if we abandon our advantages in the moment of passion… .
Senate Debates on the Louisiana Purchase 2–3 November 1803
Despite constitutional objections by several of the Federalists in Congress, the treaty of cession itself was pushed through the Senate quickly by a vote of 24 to 7 on 27 October 1803. The Spanish, however, were still in possession of New Orleans, and Spain was known to object. On 2 November, Senator Samuel White of Delaware moved to postpone a bill creating a fund to pay for the purchase until it was clear that France could actually deliver. Most of the many issues raised by the purchase entered again into the debate on White’s motion.
Wednesday, 2 November 1803 Samuel White
… I wish not to be understood as predicting that the French will not cede to us the actual and quiet possession of the territory. I hope to God they may, for possession of it we must have—I mean of New Orleans, and of such other positions on the Mississippi as may be necessary to secure to us forever the complete and uninterrupted navigation of that river. This I have ever been in favor of; I think it essential to the peace of the United States and to the prosperity of our Western country. But as to Louisiana, this new, immense, unbounded world, if it should ever be incorporated into this Union, which I have no idea can be done but by altering the Constitution, I believe it will be the greatest curse that could at present befall us; it may be productive of innumerable evils, and especially of one that I fear even to look upon. Gentlemen on all sides, with very few exceptions, agree that the settlement of this country will be highly injurious and dangerous to the United States; but as to what has been suggested of removing the Creeks and other nations of Indians from the eastern to the western banks of the Mississippi, and of making the fertile regions of Louisiana a howling wilderness never to be trodden by the foot of civilized man, it is impracticable. … You had as well pretend to inhibit the fish from swimming in the sea as to prevent the population of that country after its sovereignty shall become ours. To every man acquainted with the adventurous, roving, and enterprising temper of our people, and with the manner in which our Western country has been settled, such an idea must be chimerical. The inducements will be so strong that it will be impossible to restrain our citizens from crossing the river. Louisiana must and will become settled, if we hold it, and with the very population that would otherwise occupy part of our present territory. Thus our citizens will be removed to the immense distance of two or three thousand miles from the capital of the Union, where they will scarcely ever feel the rays of the General Government; their affections will become alienated; they will gradually begin to view us as strangers; they will form other commercial connections, and our interests will become distinct.
These, with other causes that human wisdom may not now foresee, will in time effect a separation, and I fear our bounds will be fixed nearer to our houses than the waters of the Mississippi. We have already territory enough, and when I contemplate the evils that may arise to these States from this intended incorporation of Louisiana into the Union, I would rather see it given to France, to Spain, or to any other nation of the earth, upon the mere condition that no citizen of the United States should ever settle within its limits, than to see the territory sold for a hundred millions of dollars, and we retain the sovereignty. But however dangerous the possession of Louisiana might prove to us, I do not presume to say that the retention of it would not have been very convenient to France, and we know that at the time of the mission of Mr. Monroe, our administration had never thought of the purchase of Louisiana, and that nothing short of the fullest conviction of the part of the First Consul that he was on the very eve of a war with England, that this being the most defenseless point of his possessions, if such they could be called, was the one at which the British would first strike, and that it must inevitably fall into their hands, could ever have induced his pride and ambition to make the sale. He judged wisely that he had better sell it for as much as he could get than lose it entirely. And I do say that under existing circumstances, even supposing that this extent of territory was a desirable acquisition, fifteen millions of dollars was a most enormous sum to give. Our Commissioners were negotiating in Paris—they must have known the relative situation of France and England—they must have known at the moment that a war was unavoidable between the two countries, and they knew the pecuniary necessities of France and the naval power of Great Britain. These imperious circumstances should have been turned to our advantage, and if we were to purchase, should have lessened the consideration. Viewing, Mr. President, this subject in any point of light—either as it regards the territory purchased, the high consideration to be given, the contract itself, or any of the circumstances attending it, I see no necessity for precipitating the passage of this bill; and if this motion for postponement should fail, and the question of the final passage of the bill be taken now, I shall certainly vote against it.
Thursday, 3 November James Jackson
… The delay of the passage of the bill before you may have the most fatal consequences; and if, as some gentlemen have hinted on former occasions, the French are sick of their bargain, will give them an opportunity to break it altogether, or create such jealousies between the two nations as may render the ceded territory and its inhabitants of little value to us. In my opinion, policy, as well as justice, requires that we should comply with the stipulations on our part, promptly and with good faith, and leave no opening for complaint with the other party. We shall then stand justified in the eyes of the world and to ourselves, not only to take, but keep possession of this immense country, let what nation will oppose it.
But the honorable gentleman (Mr. Wells) has said that the French have no title, and, having no title herself, we can derive none from her. Is not, I ask, the King of Spain’s proclamation declaring the cession of Louisiana to France and his orders to his governor and officers to deliver it to France, a title? Do nations give any other? … The King of Spain’s proclamation fully satisfies me on that head, and I hope and believe he will be more prudent than in existing circumstances to involve himself in war with us. The English nation, after the handsome letter of Lord Hawkesbury to our Minister, Mr. King, expressing the approval of His Britannic Majesty of the treaty, cannot, in decency, interfere; and Bonaparte is bound in honor and good faith to protect us in the possession of that country; disgrace would cover him and his nation if he took any part against us. Whom, then, should we have to contend with? With the bayonets of the intrepid French grenadiers, as the honorable gentleman from Delaware, last session, told us, or with the enervated, degraded, and emaciated Spaniards? Shall we be told now that we are no match for these emaciated beings? Last session we were impressed with the necessity of taking immediate possession of the island of New Orleans in the face of two nations, and now we entertain doubts if we can combat the weakest of those powers; and we are further told we are going to sacrifice the immense sum of fifteen millions of dollars and have to go to war with Spain for the country afterwards; when, last session, war was to take place at all events and no costs were equal to the object. Gentlemen seem to be displeased because we have procured it peaceably and at probably ten times less expense than it would have cost us had we taken forcible possession of New Orleans alone, which, I am persuaded, would have involved us in a war which would have saddled us with a debt of from one to two hundred millions, and perhaps have lost New Orleans and the right of deposit after all. I again repeat, sir, that I do not believe that Spain will venture war with the United States. I believe she dare not; if she does, she will pay the costs. The Floridas will be immediately ours; they will almost take themselves. The inhabitants pant for the blessings of your equal and wise government; they ardently long to become a part of the United States. … With two or three squadrons of dragoons and the same number of companies of infantry, not a doubt ought to exist of the total conquest of East Florida by an officer of tolerable talents. Exclusive, however, of the loss of the Floridas, to use the language of a late member of Congress, the road to Mexico is now open to us, which, if Spain acts in an amicable way, I wish may, and hope will, be shut as respects the United States forever. For these reasons, I think, sir, Spain will avoid a war, in which she has nothing to gain and everything to lose. … The bill is as carefully worded as possible; for the money is not to be paid until after Louisiana shall be placed in our possession.
Sir, it has been observed by a gentleman in debate yesterday (Mr. White) that Louisiana would become a grievance to us, and that we might as well attempt to prevent fish from swimming in water as to prevent our citizens from going across the Mississippi. The honorable gentleman is not so well acquainted with the frontier citizens as I am. … The citizens of the state I represent, scattered along an Indian frontier of from three to four hundred miles, have been restrained, except with one solitary instance, by two or three companies of infantry and a handful of dragoons, from crossing over artificial lines and water-courses, sometimes dry, into the Indian country, after their own cattle, which no human prudence could prevent from crossing to a finer and more luxuriant range, and this too at a time when the feelings of Georgians were alive to the injuries they had received by the New York Treaty with the Creek Indians, which took Tallassee county from them after even three Commissioners appointed by the United States had reported to the President that it was bona fide the property of Georgia and sold under as fair a contract as could be formed by a civilized with an uncivilized society. If the Georgians, under these circumstances, were restrained from going on their ground, cannot means be devised to prevent citizens crossing into Louisiana? The frontier people are not the people they are represented; they will listen to reason and respect the laws of their country; it cannot be their wish, it is not their interest to go to Louisiana or see it settled for years to come; the settlement of it at present would part father and son, brother and brother, and friend and friend, and lessen the value of their lands beyond all calculation. If Spain acts an amicable part, I have no doubt myself but the Southern tribes of Indians can be persuaded to go there; it will be advantageous for themselves; they are now hemmed in on every side; their chance of game decreasing daily; plows and looms, whatever may be said, have no charms for them; they want a wider field for the chase, and Louisiana presents it. Spain may, in such case, discard her fears for her Mexican dominions, for half a century at least; and we should fill up the space the Indians removed from with settlers from Europe, and thus preserve the density of population within the original states. … In a century, sir, we shall be well populated and prepared to extend our settlements, and that world of itself will present itself to our approaches, and instead of the description given of it by the honorable gentleman, of making it a howling wilderness, where no civilized foot shall ever tread, if we could return at the proper period we would find it the seat of science and civilization.
Mr. President, in whatever shape I view this bill, I conceive it all-important that it should pass without a moment’s delay. We have a bargain now in our power which, once missed, we never shall have again. Let us close our part of the contract by the passage of this bill, let us leave no opportunity for any power to charge us with a want of good faith; and having executed our stipulations in good faith we can appeal to God for the justice of our cause; and I trust that, confiding in that justice, there is virtue, patriotism, and courage sufficient in the American nation, not only to take possession of Louisiana, but to keep that possession against the encroachments or attacks of any Power of earth… .
observed that he little expected a proceeding so much out of order would have been attempted as a re-discussion of the merits of the treaty on the passage of this bill; but as the gentlemen in the opposition had urged it, he would, exhausted as the subject was, claim the indulgence of the Senate in replying to some of their remarks.
No gentleman, continued he, has yet ventured to deny that it is incumbent on the United States to secure to the citizens of the western waters the uninterrupted use of the Mississippi. Under this impression of duty, what has been the conduct of the General Government, and particularly of the gentlemen now in the opposition, for the last eight months? When the right of deposit was violated by a Spanish officer without authority from his government, these gentlemen considered our national honor so deeply implicated, and the rights of the western people so wantonly violated, that no atonement or redress was admissible except through the medium of the bayonet. Negotiation was scouted at. It was deemed pusillanimous and was said to exhibit a want of fellow-feeling for the Western people and a disregard to their essential rights. Fortunately for their country, the counsel of these gentlemen was rejected, and their war measures negatived. The so much scouted process of negotiation was, however, persisted in, and instead of restoring the right of deposit and securing more effectually for the future our right to navigate the Mississippi, the Mississippi itself was acquired, and everything which appertained to it. I did suppose that those gentlemen who, at the last session, so strongly urged war measures for the attainment of this object, upon an avowal that it was too important to trust to the tardy and less effectual process of negotiation, would have stood foremost in carrying the treaty into effect and that the peaceful mode by which it was acquired would not lessen with them the importance of the acquisition. But it seems to me, sir, that the opinions of a certain portion of the United States with respect to this ill-fated Mississippi have varied as often as the fashions. [Here Mr. B. made some remarks on the attempts which were made in the old Congress, and which had nearly proved successful, to cede this river to Spain for twenty-five years.] But, I trust, continued he, these opinions, schemes, and projects will forever be silenced and crushed by the vote which we are this evening about to pass… .
As to the enormity of price, I would ask that gentleman, would his mode of acquiring it through fifty thousand men have cost nothing? Is he so confident of this as to be able to pronounce positively that the price is enormous? Does he make no calculation on the hazard attending this conflict? Is he sure the God of battles was enlisted on his side? Were France and Spain, under the auspices of Bonaparte, contemptible adversaries? Good as the cause was, and great as my confidence is in the courage of my countrymen, sure I am that I shall never regret, as the gentleman seems to do, that the experiment was not made. I am not in the habit Mr. President, on this floor, of panegyrizing those who administer the government of this country. Their good works are their best panegyrists, and of these my fellow-citizens are as competent to judge as I am; but if my opinion were of any consequence, I should be free to declare that this transaction, from its commencement to its close, not only as to the mode in which it was pursued, but as to the object achieved, is one of the most splendid which the annals of any nation can produce. To acquire an empire of perhaps half the extent of the one we possessed from the most powerful and warlike nation on earth, without bloodshed, without the oppression of a single individual, without in the least embarrassing the ordinary operations of your finances, and all this through the peaceful forms of negotiation, and in despite too of the opposition of a considerable portion of the community, is an achievement of which the archives of the predecessors, at least, of those now in office, cannot furnish a parallel.
The same gentleman has told us that this acquisition will, from its extent, soon prove destructive to the Confederacy.
This, continued Mr. B., is an old and hackneyed doctrine; that a republic ought not to be too extensive. But the gentleman has assumed two facts, and then reasoned from them. First, that the extent is too great; and secondly, that the country will be soon populated. I would ask, sir, what is his standard extent for a Republic? How does he come at that standard? Our boundary is already extensive. Would his standard extent be violated by including the island of Orleans and the Floridas? I presume not, as all parties seem to think their acquisition, in part or in whole, essential. Why not then acquire territory on the west as well as on the east side of the Mississippi? Is the Goddess of Liberty restrained by water courses? Is she governed by geographical limits? Is her dominion on this continent confined to the east side of the Mississippi? So far from believing in the doctrine that a republic ought to be confined within narrow limits, I believe, on the contrary, that the more extensive its dominion the more safe and more durable it will be. In proportion to the number of hands you entrust the precious blessings of a free government to, in the same proportion do you multiply the chances for their preservation. I entertain, therefore, no fears for the Confederacy on account of its extent. The American people too well know the art of governing and of being governed to become the victims of party factions or of domestic tyranny… .
But is the immediate population of that country, even admitting its extent were too great, a necessary consequence? Cannot the General Government restrain the population within such bounds as may be judged proper? Will gentlemen say that this is impracticable? Let us not then, sir, assume to ourselves so much wisdom and foresight in attempting to decide upon things which properly belong to those who are to succeed us. It is enough for us to make the acquisition: the time and manner of disposing of it must be left to posterity. If they do not improve the means of national prosperity and greatness which we have placed in their hands, the fault or the folly will lie with them. But nothing so remote is more clear to me than that this acquisition will tend to strengthen the Confederacy. It is evident, as this country had passed out of the hands of Spain, that whether it remained with France or should be acquired by England, its population would have been attempted. Such is the policy of all nations but Spain. From whence would that population come? Certainly not from Europe. It would come almost exclusively from the United States. The question, then, would simply be, “Is the Confederacy more in danger from Louisiana when colonized by American people under American jurisdiction than when populated by Americans under the control of some foreign, powerful, and rival nation?” Or, in other words, whether it would be safer for the United States to populate this country when and how she pleased or permit some foreign nation to do it at her expense?
The gentlemen from Delaware and Massachusetts both contend that the third article of the treaty is unconstitutional and our consent to its ratification a nullity, because the United States cannot acquire foreign territory. I am really at a loss how to understand gentlemen. They admit, if I do understand them, that the acquisition of a part at least of this country is essential to the United States and must be made. That this acquisition must extend to the soil; and to use the words of their resolutions last session, “that it is not consistent with the dignity of the Union to hold a right so important by a tenure so uncertain.” How, I ask, is this “certain tenure” to be acquired but by conquest or a purchase of the soil? Did not gentlemen intend, when they urged its seizure, that the United States, if successful, should hold it in absolute sovereignty? Were any constitutional difficulties then in the way? And will they now be so good as to point out that part of the Constitution which authorizes us to acquire territory by conquest, but forbids us to acquire it by treaty? But if gentlemen are not satisfied with any of the expositions which have been given of the third article of the treaty, is there not one way, at least, by which this territory can be held? Cannot the Constitution be so amended (if it should be necessary) as to embrace this territory? If the authority to acquire foreign territory be not included in the treaty-making power, it remains with the people; and in that way all the doubts and difficulties of gentlemen may be completely removed; and that, too, without affording France the smallest ground of exception to the literal execution on our part of that article of the treaty….
* I do not know one reflecting [New Englander] who is not anxious for the great event at which I have glanced. They fear, they dread the effects of the corruption so rapidly extending; and that if a decision be long delayed, it will be in vain to attempt it. If there be no improper delay, we have not any doubt but that the great measure be taken without the smallest hazard to private property or the public funds; the revenues of the Northern States being equal to their portion of the public debt. Leaving that for Louisiana on those who incurred it.