The Louisiana Purchase was a defining moment for Thomas Jefferson and the United States. There was a real chance that the Louisiana Territory would result in a war with France, which was a war that the United States were not ready to fight. It was almost the kiss of death to the Democratic-Republican party which was emerging as the political force in the United States. However, the Federalists were making strong arguments against what Jefferson and his Republicans were doing and with war looming it looked as if the Democratic-Republican party may rupture. However, it became one of the great triumphs in American history. It more than doubled the size of the country and there was not a shot fired. It raised the popularity of Jefferson and would begin the Virginia dynasty.
Thomas Jefferson – Jefferson was elected as the 3rd President of the United States in 1802 after defeating John Adams. His poltical rival was Alexander Hamilton who was leader of the Federalist party. Jefferson was an avid supporter of the French Revolution despite reservations from fellow Revolutionary War patriots, George Washington and John Adams. When the dust settled in the French Revolution it was not the great democracy that Jefferson had championed, but instead was headed the dictator Napoleon Bonaparte. Jefferson’s idealism would be challenged not only by the Federalist, but also himself.
James Madison – James Madison is known as the Father of the American Constitution and co-author of the Federalist Papers with his now political rival Alexander Hamilton. Madison was the moderate voice of the Democratic-Republican party and would consistently rein his mentor’s idealism in. He would be the primary voice that the French diplomat Louis-Andre Pichon would interface with. Unlike Jefferson, James Madison took a more moderate approach to his foreign policy and was not against using threats of force against the French.
Robert R. Livingston – Nicknamed “The Chancellor” Livingston was no stranger to American politics nor to Thomas Jefferson. He had helped draft the Declaration of Independence, but was replaced before he could sign it. The Chancellor faced a stonewall in France when he arrived as the American ambassador. America was a young nation with little power and he was trying to convince an ambitious dictator who craved power to forget his colonial ambitions and that it would be more advantageous to sell the land to America in order to fund his empire.
Alexander Hamilton – Hamilton was the leader of the Federalist party and was the political rival of Jefferson. He was also the General of the United States army that the late George Washington had installed during the Adams’ Presidency. Hamilton was a constant critic of the Democratic-Republican policies and wished to put the Federalist back into power. While Hamilton did not contribute to the Louisiana Purchase it was his criticisms that caused anxiety in the Democratic-Republican party.
James Monroe – He was a former war hero who was wounded at the Battle of Trenton who went on to become a failure as a diplomat during the Washington Presidency. Monroe’s idealism had led to his downfall when he promoted an ideology rather than American interests in France during the French Revolution. He returned to America disgraced and many believed that he would never hold another political office. Jefferson did not see things the same was Washington and continued a friendship and when his foreign policy was in dire straits he called upon Monroe. This would become a bit of an issue with Robert R. Livingston who believed it to be a slight to how he was doing.
Aaron Burr – Burr was almost President of the United States instead of Thomas Jefferson. Due to some compromise and Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson won the Presidency and Burr became his Vice President. While serving as Vice President he would become embroiled in many shady dealings. Within two years Burr was no longer a part of the Jeffersonian Republicans. His role in the purchase of Louisiana was minor, but his role increased afterwards. Beginning with his infamous duel with Alexander Hamilton.
Napoleon Bonaparte – Napoleon rose through the ranks of the French Military to become the dictator of France after the French Revolution. His ascension dashed the idealism of Jefferson and others who believed the French Revolution was one and the same with their own revolution. The First Consul dreamed of a colonial empire and pursued the Louisiana Territory and Florida from the Spanish. The once powerful and global Spanish Empire was no longer and handed over Louisiana with little resistance. Florida, was a different issue and would not be so easy. After acquiring Louisiana Napoleon’s real ambition surfaced which was the conquest of England. He set his sights towards England and found the once indispensable territory of Louisiana to be unnecessary.
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand – Talleyrand was known for his deception and ability to handle foreign diplomats. He and Livingston would face off in what seemed to be a stalemate for months until the First Consul saw that it would be advantageous to sell Louisiana to the Americans in order to war with Britain. Talleyrand is a man whose motives escape historians, but his ability is not to be argued. Talleyrand was simply the most skilled and influential diplomat in European history. He would eventually betray Napoleon and become the first Prime Minister of France.
Louis-Andre Pichon – Pichon was the French ambassador to the United States who dealt with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. He had been the French Ambassador during the Washington administration and had returned to France shortly before Napoleon rose to power. He sent his communications with Madison and Jefferson to France.
General Charles Leclerc – One of Napoleon’s most loyal Generals and his brother-in-law. Leclerc was sent to Santo-Domingo in order to take control of the island that is now called Haiti. Leclerc was charged with overthrowing the charismatic Toussaint Louverture who had set up a formal government on Santo-Domingo.
Franco Barbe-Marbois – Marbois was the Finance Minister of France and worked closely with Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe to come up with a deal that would sell the territory to the United States of America. He did not play a role much in the beginning, but would emerge towards the end of the sale. Nogotiating with him was much easier than dealing with Talleyrand.
King George III – King George III still remained in power during this time. His name is synonymous in American History with tyrant and monarchy in charge during the American Revolutionary War. He would lead England into an Agricultural Revolution and guide them through much of the Napoleonic Wars. He would be making the key decisions for English foreign policy.
William Pitt – Pitt emerged onto the British scene during Napoleon’s attempt at invading England. The invasion never took place as the British Navy smashed the French and Spanish quite easily and Napoleon was relegated to only the European continent. Pitt was a master administrator who made many reforms to the English system of government and revived the Tory party.
Lord Whitworth – Charles Whitworth was the British ambassador to France during this time. Napoleon threatened him directly and claimed that the British Navy was violating the Treaty of Amiens. Whitworth also communicated quite a bit with the United States Ambassador, Robert R. Livingston.
King Charles IV – The passive Spanish king played a role in the purchase of Louisiana since he sold France the territory. After France sold it to the United States there was much uproar about the legality of the sale. With Spain’s power at a low point in its illustrious history there was little that could be done. He aided Napoleon with the Continental Blockade until the British decimated the French and Spanish Navy.
Ambassador Yrujo – The Spanish ambassador to the United States. After the purchase of Louisiana Yrujo became infuriated with President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison. It is reported that he almost came to blows with James Madison over the dispute of West Florida.
Toussaint Louverture – Charismatic Leader of Santo-Domingo and fought the French General Leclerc.
The American Perspective
Since the American Revolutionary War the United States had been doing a balancing act to remain neutral towards the European powers. George Washington had warned the future generations in his farewell address to avoid entangling alliances and not get involved in their constant wars. He also warned of a party system that promoted different ideologies instead of working together as one. By his death in 1799 the United States seemed to have forgotten his advice. Two parties now emerged in American politics, the Federalists that were led by Alexander Hamilton and the Democratic-Republicans which were led by Thomas Jefferson.
John Adams was left in the middle of a maelstrom. He was not a politician and was likely to take advice from either side, but due to his personality was in constant conflict with the Jeffersonian Democrats and the Federalists. He was able to avoid a war with France, but was unable to win the election. Thomas Jefferson launched a series of personal attacks against his once best friend and took the White House. Politics were similar back then as they are today.
Thomas Jefferson entered the White House as a naive and ignorant idealist. He was a friend of the French Republic and a passionate supporter of the French Revolution. During the Washington administration he served as Secretary of State and lobbied for American intervention and support in the French Revolution, but Washington refused. Now that Jefferson had control of the White House and his Democratic-Republicans had control of the House he would be able to push much of his agenda through, including his pro-French foreign policy.
Early in his first term as President of the United States, Jefferson had a candid conversation with the French ambassador Pichon about the colony of Santo Domingo. Santo-Domingo was a colony of free black slaves that were led by Toussaint Louverture and the French had interest in reclaiming the colony. Jefferson obliged and told Pichon that they would have American support. He believed that Santo-Domingo was a problem for the United States and would give black slaves cause to rise up against their masters. Pichon quickly sent a dispatch back to France telling the French foreign minister of Jefferson’s words.
Jefferson’s idealism would be crushed with the rise of Napoleon. This cause that was once championed by Jefferson he now began to distance himself from. The French Republic would become a Dictatorship that was ruled by a ruthless emperor. This was not the ideals that Jefferson and his party had supported and it gave the Federalists a strong argument against the foreign policy of the Democratic-Republicans.
Contrasting Jefferson’s idealism was his Secretary of State and former author of the Federalist papers, James Madison. Madison and Jefferson played a good cop and bad cop role with Charles Pichon during the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase. Madison had an effective mix of Jefferson’s idealism along with European realpolitik. He kept Jefferson lofty expectation in check while keeping Pichon off balance. While Jefferson talked of aiding the French at Santa Domingo, Madison talked of seizing New Orleans from the French if they were to take control of it.
The Spanish Empire
The Spanish Empire that was forged by Ferdinand of Aragon, Charles V, and the Conquistadors was no longer. England and France had risen in power and had built successful colonies and had pushed the Spanish out. However, the Spanish still had claims on the Louisiana Territory which was home to the important port of New Orleans and Florida. After Napoleon had stabalized the situation in Europe he set his sites on building a colonial empire and his first target was Louisiana.
The United States feared that a French acquisition of Louisiana would lead to a war with France. They quickly sent the resourceful diplomat Robert Livingston to France to inspect the situation. Once he arrived he quickly saw that the situation was more dire than they had originally believed. the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand was evasive, but Livingston soon learned that Napoleon had in fact purchased Louisiana from the Spanish.
The French Perspective
Napoleon Bonaparte had emerged from the French Revolution as dictator and sought to create a global empire. He shifted his focus from Europe to acquiring the Spanish Territory of Louisiana. With the Treaty of Amiens in place and the British worn out from war it presented him with his greatest opportunity. He first needed to take control of Santo Domingo. With control of the island now known as Haiti he would be able to launch an invasion into America and begin to create a French colonial empire.
Napoleon had many things going for him during this time. Europe was pretty much locked down and the United States had a President who just a decade prior had celebrated the French Revolution. Thomas Jefferson’s idealism was no doubt reported to the first consul by the Charge Pichon. Jefferson had stated that the United States would aid France in its conquest of Santo-Domingo since the island was a haven of free blacks. Jefferson believed that the free black society presented a problem for the American slave trade. With the ever-increasing slave population the slaves could possibly see Santo-Domingo as an example and revolt against the government.
Napoleon’s genius Foreign Minister also had his own ambitions. The man known as Talleyrand had planned to put in place a brass wall on the Mississippi if the French could acquire Louisiana from Spain. The brass wall would halt American expansion into the West and give the French control of the Mississippi.
Spanish power was in decline and was a shadow of what it was two hundred years prior during the Age of the Conquistadors. With French power at its height and Spanish power at its low point Napoleon would only have to lean on the Spanish in order to acquire Louisiana from Spain. He began communicating with King Charles IV and pressing for Louisiana and Florida.
The Arrival of The Chancellor
Robert R. Livingston, also known as “The Chancellor” was dispatched to France to learn of Napoleon’s ambitions. On his arrival he quickly learned that the French had begun talks with the Spanish and planned to purchase Louisiana and Florida. He and Talleyrand engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse with neither side showing each other their hand. Livingston assumed that France was in fact going after the territory of Louisiana and Florida in which he argued that France should sell the land to the United States. His two main premises in his argument were:
- It would serve the French better if they sold the territory to the United States which would create a buffer between them and England.
- It would cost the French too much money and time to colonize the west.
Livingston’s points made sense, but did not sway Talleyrand and the first consul. The French were much too ambitious. Nevertheless Livingston did everything in his power to broker a deal with the French for Louisiana, but was continually stonewalled.
Meanwhile in the United States, Thomas Jefferson and his Republicans were engaged in a political battle as well as a possible diplomatic disaster.
With the election of 1802 the Federalists began to lose their grip on the government and the country began swaying towards the Jeffersonian Republicans. This continued in the election of 1804 in which the Democratic-Republicans took many more seats in the House and Senate. However, Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists would not go away so easily. They mocked Jefferson and his idealism and cited his child-like ignorance towards the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon.
For years the Federalists had championed a healthy relationship with Great Britain in order to maintain a robust economy. Jefferson and his republicans scoffed at these notions. They believed that America was indebted to France’s aid during the American Revolutionary War and that the French Revolution was the same as their revolution. James Monroe went so far as to lobby President George Washington to support the French Revolution. Washington was disgusted by the show of ignorance and recalled his ambassador in shame. When Napoleon came to power all idealism was crushed and the realism of George Washington and John Adams were realized.
The Federalists criticized everything that Jefferson went to do and believed he was in over his head when it came to dealing with Napoleon. The dismantling of the American Navy that John Adams had begun to build did not help his cause. However, destiny would soon take hold and it began in the unlikely place of Santo-Domingo.
The War in Santo-Domingo
The French had sent General Leclerc, one of Napoleon’s most competent Generals, to conquer and seize Santo-Domingo. With control of Santo-Domingo they would have a secure position off the coast of New Orleans. At first, Thomas Jefferson welcomed the French to Santo-Domingo, but his demeanor towards the French changed with the rise of Napoleon. Jefferson had given Pichon the impression that the United States would send aid to the French and help them defeat Toussaint Louverture. The French would soon learn that Louverture would be harder to defeat than they thought.
Upon Learning of France’s intentions to buy Louisiana, Secretary of State took an aggressive tone with Charge Pichon that alarmed the ambassador. He quickly wrote to the French leaders that the French no longer had the support of the Americans in Santo-Domingo. General Leclerc would be on his own.
Leclerc met fierce resistance and it looked as if Toussaint Louverture and his free blacks would drive the General from their home. Leclerc wrote that he could not believe the tenacity of these men and their refusal to surrender. However, he was able to bribe a few of the top Generals and began peeling some of the support away from Toussaint Louverture. This would begin to turn the tide in his favor, but the war was far from over. He entered into a stalemate and the french began to be ravaged by yellow fever.
Leclerc wrote repeatedly to Napoleon for more support and the first consul was silent. The old General began to fall sick and sent a letter to Napoleon to relieve him from duty. General Leclerc died in Santo-Domingo and was replaced. The French were able to defeat Toussaint Louverture, but unable to dislodge the rebels. Yellow Fever devastated their men. This defeat caused Napoleon to reconsider his colonial empire.
The Louisiana Purchase
Napoleon Bonaparte had played with the idea of a colonial empire, but his main goal was one thing: The conquest of England. Perhaps it was his Foreign Minister Talleyrand that pushed Bonaparte to build a colonial empire, but the first consul showed no reluctance in discharging Louisiana when the opportunity arose to attack England.
In order to be able to attack Great Britain Napoleon had to sell Louisiana. A message was sent to Robert R. Livingston through Financial Minister Marbois that the first consul wanted to sell Louisiana. The two met and discussed the possibility and Marbois set the price at 20 million dollars. Livingston rejected the offer and the two went their separate ways.
When Livingston returned he learned a new player in the diplomatic game that was coming to aid him, James Monroe. Livingston was outraged and fired off a letter to Jefferson stating that Monroe was unnecessary and would destroy what he had been working so hard to get.
James Monroe had failed in his last diplomatic mission to France. He was taken in by the idealism of revolution and would ultimately be relieved, in disgrace, from his job in France. Many thought he would never hold a public office again, but Madison and Jefferson thought otherwise. Jefferson did not know of the first consul’s plans and for all he knew is that Napoleon not only owned Louisiana but Florida as well (this was false as Spain did not want to part with Florida). He had authorized Monroe to buy the Louisiana Territory. This was their last ditch attempt to acquire Louisiana from the French without fearing war.
Monroe’s arrival was a stroke of luck that would catapult him onto the national stage again and ultimately give him the presidency. Napoleon had decided to sell Louisiana and wanted to get rid of it. Livingston had done much of the legwork and had developed many profitable relationships with the people there. When Monroe arrived the table was already set and dinner was ready to be ate but they just did not know what the cost would be. The negotiations did not last long and the United States agreed to purchase the Louisiana Territory for $15 Million which totaled 3 cents an acre.
Future States Acquired in the Louisiana Purchase
When Louisiana was purchased from the French it was nothing more than a frontier. Pioneers had already started trailblazing and setting up settlements before the Purchase happened, but there was nothing formal in place. The land acquired in the purchase would eventually lead to 13 states:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota