Front Page Titles (by Subject) Senate Debates on the Louisiana Purchase 2–3 November 1803 - Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle
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Senate Debates on the Louisiana Purchase 2–3 November 1803 - Lance Banning, Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle 
Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle, ed. and with a Preface by Lance Banning (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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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.
Thomas Jefferson entered office shortly after the Peace of Amiens (1801–1803) inaugurated the only interval of peace in a quarter century of war between the great European powers. During his initial term, the Republican administration could concentrate on its domestic agenda. In 1805, however, Admiral Lord Nelson destroyed the French fleet at the battle of Trafalgar, and Napoleon’s great victory at Austerlitz demolished the continental coalition of Great Britain’s allies. France and Britain—the tiger and the shark—then turned to economic warfare, and the commercial problems of the 1790s returned with redoubled force. Both powers resumed seizures of neutral vessels trading with the West Indian possessions of the other; Britain attempted to enforce a general blockade of Napoleonic Europe; Napoleon responded with his Continental system, which sought to exclude British merchants from much of Europe; and in 1807, Britain replied to that with Orders in Council providing for the seizure of any neutral vessel trading with ports from which her own ships were excluded unless that vessel had paid a fee in a British port. Napoleon’s Milan Decree, in turn, promised to seize any vessel that did submit to a British search or pay a duty in a British port. Finally, on 22 June, near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the British frigate Leopard fired upon the American warship Chesapeake, forced her to submit to search, and pressed four sailors, alleged to be deserters, into British service. Against a background of considerable sentiment for war, Jefferson issued a proclamation ordering British warships to leave American waters and, when Congress met, recommended a complete embargo on the country’s foreign trade. The Republicans had long maintained that the United States possessed a more effective weapon in her trade than in the ordinary instruments of force. The great embargo was to test this theory.