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History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/First/II:2


Chapter 2: The Louisiana TreatyEdit

Monroe arrived in sight of the French coast April 7, 1803; but while he was still on the ocean, Bonaparte without reference to him or his mission, opened his mind to Talleyrand in regard to ceding Louisiana to the United States. The First Consul a few days afterward repeated to his Finance Minister, Barbé Marbois, a part of the conversation with Talleyrand; and his words implied that Talleyrand opposed Bonaparte’s scheme, less because it sacrificed Louisiana than because its true object was not a war with England, but conquest of Germany. “He alone knows my intentions,” said Bonaparte to Marbois. “If I attended to his advice, France would confine her ambition to the left bank of the Rhine, and would make war only to protect the weak States and to prevent any dismemberment of her possessions; but he also admits that the cession of Louisiana is not a dismemberment of France.” In reality, the cession of Louisiana meant the overthrow of Talleyrand’s influence and the failure of those hopes which had led to the coalition of the 18th Brumaire. Easter Sunday, April 10, 1803, arrived, and Monroe was leaving Havre for Paris, when Bonaparte, after the religious ceremonies of the day at St. Cloud, called to him two of his ministers, of whom Barbé Marbois was one.[1] He wished to explain his intention of selling Louisiana to the United States; and he did so in his peculiar way. He began by expressing the fear that England would seize Louisiana as her first act of war. "I think of ceding it to the United States. I can scarcely say that I cede it to them, for it is not yet in our possession. If, however, I leave the least time to our enemies, I shall only transmit an empty title to those republicans whose friendship I seek. They ask of me only one town in Louisiana; but I already consider the colony as entirely lost; and it appears to me that in the hands of this growing Power it will be more useful to the policy, and even to the commerce, of France than if I should attempt to keep it."

To this appeal the two ministers replied by giving two opposite opinions. Marbois favored the cession, as the First Consul probably expected him to do; for Marbois was a republican who had learned republicanism in the United States, and whose attachment to that country was secured by marriage to an American wife. His colleague, with equal decision, opposed the scheme. Their arguments were waste of breath. The First Consul said no more, and dismissed them; but the next morning, Monday, April 11, at daybreak, summoning Marbois, he made a short oration of the kind for which he was so famous:[2]

"Irresolution and deliberation are no longer in season; I renounce Louisiana. It is not only New Orleans that I cede; it is the whole colony, without reserve. I know the price of what I abandon. I have proved the importance I attach to this province, since my first diplomatic act with Spain had the object of recovering it. I renounce it with the greatest regret; to attempt obstinately to retain it would be folly. I direct you to negotiate the affair. Have an interview this very day with Mr. Livingston."

The order so peremptorily given was instantly carried out; but not by Marbois. Talleyrand, in an interview a few hours afterward, startled Livingston with the new offer.[3]

"M. Talleyrand asked me this day, when pressing the subject, whether we wished to have the whole of Louisiana. I told him no; that our wishes extended only to New Orleans and the Floridas; that the policy of France, however, should dictate (as I had shown in an official note) to give us the country above the River Arkansas, in order to place a barrier between them and Canada. He said that if they gave New Orleans the rest would be of little value, and that he would wish to know 'what we would give for the whole.' I told him it was a subject I had not thought of, but that I supposed we should not object to twenty millions [francs], provided our citizens were paid. He told me that this was too low an offer, and that he would be glad if I would reflect upon it and tell him to-morrow. I told him that as Mr. Monroe would be in town in two days, I would delay my further offer until I had the pleasure of introducing him. He added that he did not speak from authority, but that the idea had struck him."
The suddenness of Bonaparte’s change disconcerted Livingston. For months he had wearied the First Consul with written and verbal arguments, remonstrances, threats,—all intended to prove that there was nothing grasping or ambitious in the American character; that France should invite the Americans to protect Louisiana from the Canadians; that the United States cared nothing for Louisiana, but wanted only West Florida and New Orleans,—"barren sands and sunken marshes," he said; "a small town built of wood; . . . about seven thousand souls;" a territory important to the United States because it contained "the mouths of some of their rivers," but a mere drain of resources to France.[4] To this rhapsody, repeated day after day for weeks and months, Talleyrand had listened with his imperturbable silence, the stillness of a skeptical mind into which such professions fell meaningless; until he suddenly looked into Livingston’s face and asked: "What will you give for the whole?" Naturally Livingston for a moment lost countenance.

The next day, Tuesday, April 12, Livingston, partly recovered from his surprise, hung about Talleyrand persistently, for his chance of reaping alone the fruit of his labors vanished with every minute that passed. Monroe had reached St. Germain late Monday night, and at one o'clock Tuesday afternoon descended from his postchaise at the door of his Paris hotel.[5] From the moment of his arrival he was sure to seize public attention at home and abroad. Livingston used the interval to make one more effort with Talleyrand:[6]

"He then though proper to declare that his proposition was only personal, but still requested me to make an offer; and upon my declining to do so, as I expected Mr. Monroe the next day, he shrugged up his shoulders and changed the conversation. No willing, however, to lose sight of it, I told him I had been long endeavoring to bring him to some point, but unfortunately without effect; and with that view had written him a note which contained that request. . . . He told me he would answer my note, but that he must do it evasively, because Louisiana was not theirs. I smiled at this assertion, and told him that I had seen the treaty recognizing it. . . . He still persisted that they had it in contemplation to obtain it, but had it not."
An hour or two afterward came a note from Monroe announcing that he would wait upon Livingston in the evening. The two American ministers passed the next day together,[7] examining papers and preparing to act whenever Monroe could be officially presented. They entertained a party at dinner that afternoon in Livingston’s apartments, and while sitting at table Livingston saw Barbé Marbois strolling in the garden outside. Livingston sent to invite Marbois to join the party at table. While coffee was served, Marbois came in and entered into conversation with Livingston, who began at once to tell him of Talleyrand’s "extraordinary conduct." Marbois hinted that he knew something of the matter, and that Livingston had better come to his house as soon as the dinner company departed. The moment Monroe took leave, Livingston acted on Marbois’s hint, and in a midnight conversation the bargain was practically made. Marbois told a story, largely of his own invention, in regard to the First Consul’s conduct on Easter Sunday, three days before. Bonaparte mentioned fifty million francs as his price for Louisiana; but as Marbois reported the offer to Livingston, Bonaparte said: "Well! you have charge of the Treasury. Let them give you one hundred millions of francs, and pay their own claims, and take the whole country." The American claims were estimated at about twenty-five millions, and therefore Marbois’s price amounted to at least one hundred and twenty-five million francs.

Yet twenty-four or twenty-five million dollars for the whole west bank of the Mississippi, from the Lake of the Woods to the Gulf of Mexico, and indefinitely westward, was not an extortionate price, especially since New Orleans was thrown into the bargain, and indirect political advantages which could not be valued at less than the cost of a war, whatever it might be. Five million dollars were to be paid in America to American citizens, so that less than twenty millions would come to France. Livingston could hardly have been blamed for closing with Marbois on the spot, especially as his instructions warranted him in offering ten millions for New Orleans and the Floridas alone; but Livingston still professed that he did not want the west bank. "I told him that the United States were anxious to preserve peace with France; that for that reason they wished to remove them to the west side of the Mississippi; that we would be perfectly satisfied with New Orleans and the Floridas, and had no disposition to extend across the river; that of course we would not give any great sum for the purchase. . . . He then pressed me to name the sum." After a little more fencing, Marbois dropped at once from one hundred millions to sixty, with estimated claims to the amount of twenty millions more. "I told him that it was vain to ask anything that was so greatly beyond our means; that true policy would dictate to the First Consul not to press such a demand; that he must know it would render the present government unpopular." The conversation closed by Livingston's departure at midnight with a final protest: "I told him that I would consult Mr. Monroe, but that neither he nor I could accede to his ideas on the subject." Then he went home; and sitting down to his desk wrote a long dispatch to Madison, to record that without Monroe’s help he had won Louisiana. The letter closed with some reflections:—

"As to the quantum, I have yet made up no opinion. The field open to us is infinitely larger than our instructions contemplated, the revenue increasing, and the land more than adequate to sink the capital, should we even go the sum proposed by Marbois,—nay, I persuade myself that the whole sum may be raised by the sale of the territory west of the Mississippi, with the right of sovereignty, to some Power in Europe whose vicinity we should not fear. I speak now without reflection and without having seen Mr. Monroe, as it was midnight when I left the Treasury Office, and it is now near three o'clock. It is so very important that you should be apprised that a negotiation is actually opened, even before Mr. Monroe has been presented, in order to calm the tumult which the news of war will renew, that I have lost no time in communicating it. We shall do all we can to cheapen the purchase; but my present sentiment is that we shall buy."

A week was next passed in haggling over the price.[8] Livingston did his utmost to beat Marbois down, but without success. Meanwhile he ran some risk of losing everything; for when Bonaparte offered a favor suitors did well to waste no time in acceptance. A slight weight might have turned the scale; a divulgence of the secret, a protest from Spain, a moment of irritation at Jefferson's coquetry with England or at the vaporings of the American press, a sudden perception of the disgust which every true Frenchman was sure sooner or later to feel at this squandering of French territory and enterprise,—any remonstrance that should stir the First Consul's pride or startle his fear of posterity, might have cut short the thread of negotiation. Livingston did not know the secrets of the Tuileries, or he would not have passed time in cheapening the price of his purchase. The voice of opposition was silenced in the French people, but was still so high in Bonaparte’s family as to make the Louisiana scheme an occasion for scenes so violent as to sound like the prelude to a tragedy.

One evening when Talma was to appear in a new rôle, Lucien Bonaparte, coming home to dress for the theatre, found his brother Joseph waiting for him.[9] "Here you are at last!" cried Joseph; "I was afraid you might not come. This is no time for theatre-going; I have news for you that will give you no fancy for amusement. The General wants to sell Louisiana."

Lucien, proud of having made the treaty which secured the retrocession, was for a moment thunderstruck; then recovering confidence, he said, "Come, now! if he were capable of wishing it, the Chambers would never consent."

"So he means to do without their consent," replied Joseph. "This is what he answered me, when I said to him, like you, that the Chambers would not consent. What is more, he added that this sale would supply him the first funds for the war. Do you know that I am beginning to think he is much too fond of war?"

History is not often able to penetrate the private lives of famous men, and catch their words as they were uttered. Although Lucien Bonaparte’s veracity was not greatly superior to that of his brother Napoleon, his story agreed with the known facts. If his imagination here and there filled in the gaps of memory,—if he was embittered and angry when he wrote, and hated his brother Napoleon with Corsican passion, these circumstances did not discredit his story, for he would certainly have told the truth against his brother under no other conditions. The story was not libelous, but Napoleonic; it told nothing new of the First Consul's character, but it was honorable to Joseph, who proposed to Lucien that they should go together and prevent their brother from committing a fault which would rouse the indignation of France, and endanger his own safety as well as theirs.

The next morning Lucien went to the Tulieries; by his brother's order he was admitted, and found Napoleon in his bath, the water of which was opaque with mixture of eau de Cologne. They talked for some time on indifferent matters. Lucien was timid, and dared not speak until Joseph came. Then Napoleon announced his decision to sell Louisiana, and invited Lucien to say what he thought of it.

"I flatter myself," replied Lucien, "that the Chambers will not give their consent."

"You flatter yourself!" repeated Napoleon in a tone of surprise; then murmuring in a lower voice, "that is precious, in truth!" (c'est précieux, en vérité!)

"And I too flatter myself, as I have already told the First Counsul," cried Joseph.

"And what did I answer?" said Napoleon warmly, glaring from his bath at the two men.

"That you would do without the Chambers."

"Precisely! That is what I have taken the great liberty to tell Mr. Joseph, and what I now repeat to the Citizen Lucien,—begging him at the same time to give me his opinion about it, without taking into consideration his paternal tenderness for his diplomatic conquest." Then, not satisfied with irony, he continued in a tone of exasperating contempt: "And now, gentlemen, think of it what you will; but both of you go into mourning about this affair,—you, Lucien, for the sale itself; you Joseph, because I shall do without the consent of any one whomsoever. Do you understand?"

At this Joseph came close to the bath, and rejoined in a vehement tone: "And you will do well, my dear brother, not to expose your project to parliamentary discussion; for I declare to you that if necessary I will put myself first at the head of the opposition which will not fail to be made against you."

The First Consul burst into a peal of forced laughter, while Joseph, crimson with anger and almost stammering his words, went on: "Laugh, laugh, laugh, then! I will act up to my promise; and though I am not fond of mounting the tribune, this time you will see me there!"

Napoleon, half rising from the bath, rejoined in a serious tone: "You will have no need to lead the opposition, for I repeat that there will be no debate, for the reason that the project which has not the fortune to meet your approval, conceived by me, negotiated by me, shall be ratified and executed by me alone, do you comprehend?—by me, who laugh at your opposition!"

Hereupon Joseph wholly lost his self-control, and with flashing eyes shouted: "Good! I tell you, General, that you, I, and all of us, if you do what you threaten, may prepare ourselves soon to go and join the poor innocent devils whom you so legally, humanely, and especially with such justice, have transported to Sinnamary."

At this terrible rejoinder Napoleon half started up, crying out: "You are insolent! I ought—" then threw himself violently back in the bath with a force which sent a mass of perfumed water into Joseph's flushed face, drenching him and Lucien, who had the wit to quote, in a theatrical tone, the words which Virgil put into the mouth of Neptune reproving the waves,—

"Quos ego . . ."

Between the water and the wit the three Bonapartes recovered their tempers, while the valet who was present, overcome by fear, fainted and fell on the floor. Joseph went home to change his clothes, while Lucien remained to pass through another scene almost equally amusing. A long conversation followed after the First Consul's toilet was finished. Napoleon spoke of St. Domingo. "Do you want me to tell you the truth?" said he. "I am to-day more sorry than I like to confess for the expedition to St. Domingo. Our national glory will never come from our marine." He justified what he called, in jest at Lucien, his "Louisianicide," by the same reasons he gave to Marbois and Talleyrand, but especially by the necessity of providing funds for the war not yet declared. Lucien combated his arguments as Joseph had done, until at last he reached the same point. "If, like Joseph, I thought that this alienation of Louisiana without the assent of the Chambers might be fatal to me,—to me alone,—I would consent to run all risks in order to prove the devotion you doubt; but it is really too unconstitutional and—"

"Ah, indeed!" burst out Napoleon with another prolonged, forced laugh of derisive anger. "You lay it on handsomely! Unconstitutional is droll from you. Come now, let me alone! How have I hurt your Constitution? Answer!"

Lucien replied that the intent to alienate any portion whatever of territory belonging to the Republic without the consent of the Chambers was an unconstitutional project. "In a word, the Constitution—"

"Go about your business!" broke in the guardian of the Constitution and of the national territory. Then he quickly and vehemently went on: "Constitution! unconstitutional! republic! national sovereignty!—big words! great phrases! Do you think yourself still in the club of St. Maximin? We are no longer there, mind that! Ah, it becomes you well, Sir Knight of the Constitution, to talk so to me! You had not the same respect for the Chambers on the 18th Brumaire!"

Nothing exasperated Lucien more than any allusion to the part he took in the coup d'état of the 18th Brumaire, when he betrayed the Chamber over which he presided. He commanded himself for the moment; but when Napoleon went on to say with still more contempt, "I laugh at you and your national representation," Lucien answered coldly, "I do not laugh at you, Citizen Consul, but I know well what I think about it."

"Parbleu! said Napoleon, "I am curious to know what you think of me: say it, quick!"

"I think, Citizen Consul, that having given your oath to the Constitution of the 18th Brumaire into my own hands as President of the Council of Five Hundred, seeing you despise it thus, if I were not your brother I would be your enemy." "My enemy! ah, I would advise you! My enemy! That is a trifle strong!" cried Napoleon, advancing as though to strike his younger brother. "You my enemy! I would break you, look, like this box!" And so saying he flung his snuff-box violently on the floor.

In these angry scenes both parties knew that Napoleon's bravado was not altogether honest. For once, Lucien was in earnest; and had his brother left a few other men in France as determined as he and his friend Bernadotte, the First Consul would have defied public opinion less boldly. Joseph, too, although less obstinate than his brothers, was not easily managed. According to Lucien there were further scenes between them, at one of which Joseph burst into such violence that the First Consul took refuge in Josephine's room. These stories contained nothing incredible. The sale of Louisiana was the turning-point in Napoleon's career; no true Frenchman forgave it. A second betrayal of France, it announced to his fellow conspirators that henceforward he alone was to profit by the treason of the 18th Brumaire.

Livingston and Monroe knew nothing of all this; they even depended upon Joseph to help their negotiation. Monroe fell ill and could not act. Over the negotiation of the treaty has always hung a cloud of mystery such as belonged to no other measure of equal importance in American history. No official report showed that the commissioners ever met in formal conference; no protocol of their proceedings, no account of their discussions, no date when their agreement was made, was left on record. Both the treaty itself and the avowals of Livingston gave evidence that at the end all parties acted in haste. If it were not for a private memorandum by Monroe,—not sent to the Government, but preserved among his private papers,—the course of negotiation could not be followed.

A fortnight passed after Monroe's arrival without advancing matters a step. This period of inaction seems to have been broken by the First Consul. April 23 he drew up a "Projet of a Secret Convention,"[10] which he gave to Marbois and which set forth that to prevent misunderstandings about the matters of discussion mentioned in Articles II. and V. of the Morfontaine treaty, and also to strengthen friendly relations, the French republic was to cede its rights over Louisiana; and "in consequence of the said cession, Louisiana, its territory, and its proper dependencies shall become part of the American Union, and shall form successively one or more States on the terms of the Federal Constitution;" in return the United States were to favor French commerce in Louisiana, and give it all the rights of American commerce, with perpetual entrepôts at six points on the Mississippi, and a corresponding perpetual right of navigation; further, they were to assume all debts due to American citizens under the treaty of Morfontaine; and finally, were to pay a hundred million francs to France. With this projet Marbois went by appointment, at two o'clock, April 27, to Monroe's lodgings, where the three gentlemen had an informal meeting, of which no other record is known to exist than Monroe's memoranda.[11] Monroe himself was too unwell to sit at the table, and reclined on a sofa throughout the discussion. Marbois produced Bonaparte's projet, and after admitting that it was hard and unreasonable, presented a substitute of his own which he thought the First Consul would accept.

Livingston tried to give precedence to the claims; he wanted to dispose of them first, in case the cession should fail; but after pressing the point as far as he could, he was overruled by Monroe, and Livingston took Marbois’s project for consideration. The two American commissioners passed a day in working over it. Livingston drafted a claims convention, and it was drawn, as he thought, "with particular attention."[12] Monroe thought differently. "My colleague took Mr. Marbois's project with him, and brought me one, very loosely drawn, founded on it."[13] Monroe made a draft of his own which was certainly not creditable to his legal or diplomatic skill, and which began by adopting an oversight contained in Bonaparte's draft, according to which the cancelled Article II. of the treaty of Morfontaine was made a foundation of the new convention.[14] "We called on Mr. Marbois the 29th, and gave him our project, which was read to him and discussed. We proposed to offer fifty millions to France, and twenty millions on account of her debt to the citizens of the United States, making seventy in the whole." Marbois replied that he would proceed only on the condition that eighty millions were accepted as the price. Then at last the American commissioners gave way; and with this change Marbois took their projet for reference to the First Consul the next morning.

The 30th of April was taken by Marbois for consultation with the First Consul. May 1 Monroe was presented at the Tuileries, and dined there with Livingston; but Bonaparte said nothing of their business, except that it should be settled. The same evening the two envoys had a final discussion with Marbois. "May 2, we actually signed the treaty and convention for the sixty million francs to France, in the French language; but our copies in English not being made out, we could not sign in our language. They were however prepared, and signed in two or three days afterward. The convention respecting American claims took more time, and was not signed till about the 8th or 9th." All these documents were antedated to the 30th April.[15] The first object of remark in this treaty was the absence of any attempt to define the property thus bought and sold. "Louisiana with the same extent that is now in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it, and such as it should be after the treaties subsequently entered into between Spain and other States,"—these words, taken from Berthier's original treaty of retrocession, were convenient for France and Spain, whose governments might be supposed to know their own boundaries; but all that the United States government knew upon the subject was that Louisiana, as France possessed it, had included a part of Florida and the whole Ohio Valley as far as the Alleghany Mountains and Lake Erie. The American commissioners at first insisted upon defining the boundaries, and Marbois went to the First Consul with their request. He refused.[16] "If an obscurity did not already exist, it would perhaps be good policy to put one there." He intentionally concealed the boundary he had himself defined, a knowledge of which would have prevented a long and mortifying dispute. Livingston went to Talleyrand for the orders given by Spain to the Marquis of Somoruelo, by France to Victor and Laussat. "What are the eastern bounds of Louisiana?" asked Livingston. "I do not know," replied Talleyrand; "you must take it as we received it." "But what did you mean to take?" urged Livingston. "I do not know," repeated Talleyrand. "Then you mean that we shall construe it our own way?" I can give you no direction. You have made a noble bargain for yourselves, and I suppose you will make the most of it," was the final reply of Talleyrand. Had Livingston known that Victor's instructions, which began by fixing the boundaries in question, were still in Talleyrand’s desk, the answer would have been the same.

One point alone was fixed,—the Floridas were not included in the sale; this was conceded on both sides. In his first conversation with Marbois, Livingston made a condition that France should aid him in procuring these territories from Spain.[17] "I asked him, in case of purchase, whether they would stipulate that France would never possess the Floridas, and that she would aid us to procure them, and relinquish all right that she might have to them. He told me that she would go thus far." Several days later, Marbois repeated this assurance to Monroe, saying that the First Consul authorized him, besides offering Louisiana, "to engage his support of our claim to the Floridas with Spain."[18] Yet when the American commissioners tried to insert this pledge into the treaty, they failed. Bonaparte would give nothing but a verbal promise to use his good offices with Spain.

Besides the failure to dispose of these two points, which were in reality but one, the treaty contained a positive provision, Article III., taken from Bonaparte's projet, with slight alteration, that "the inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible, according to the principles of the Federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States." On republican principles of the Virginian school, only the States themselves could by a new grant of power authorize such an incorporation. Article III. Violated Madison’s instructions, which forbade the promise.[19] "To incorporate the inhabitants of the hereby-ceded territory with the citizens of the United States," said these instructions, "being a provision which cannot now be made, it is to be expected, from the character and policy of the United States, that such incorporation will take place without unnecessary delay." The provision, which Madison said could not be made, was nevertheless made by Livingston and Monroe.

Embarrassing as these omissions or provisions were, they proved not so much that the treaty was carelessly drawn, as that the American negotiators were ready to stipulate whatever was needed for their purpose. Other portions of the treaty were not to defended on that excuse. The price stipulated for Louisiana was sixty million francs, in the form of United States six-per-cent bonds, representing a capital of $11,250,000. Besides this sum of eleven and a quarter million dollars, the United States government was to assume and pay the debts due by France to American citizens, estimated at twenty million francs, or, at the same rate of exchange, $3,750,000,—making fifteen million dollars in all as the price to be paid. Livingston himself drew the claims convention with what he supposed to be particular attention; but it was modified by Monroe, and still further altered by Marbois. "The moment was critical; the question of peace or war was in the balance; and it was important to come to a conclusion before either scale preponderated. I considered the convention as a trifle compared with the other great object," avowed Livingston; "and as it had already delayed us many days, I was ready to take it under any form."[20] The claims convention was not signed till nearly a week after the signature of the treaty of cession. The form in which Livingston took it showed that neither he nor Monroe could have given careful attention to the subject; for not only did the preamble declare that the parties were acting in compliance with Article II. of the treaty of Morfontaine,—an Article which had been formally struck out by the Senate, cancelled by Bonaparte, and the omission ratified by the Senate and President since Livingston’s residence at Paris; not only did the claims specified fail to embrace all the cases provided for by the treaty of 1800, which this convention was framed to execute; not only were the specifications arbitrary, and even self-contradictory,—but the estimate of twenty million francs was far below the amount of the claims admitted in principle; no rule of apportionment was provided, and, worst of all, the right of final decision in every case was reserved to the French government. The meaning of this last provision might be guessed from the notorious corruption of Talleyrand and his band of confidential or secret agents.

Doubtless Livingston was right in securing his main object at any cost; but could he have given more time to his claims convention, he would perhaps have saved his own reputation and that of his successor from much stain, although he might have gained no more than he did for his Government. In the two conventions of 1800 and 1803 the United States obtained two objects of the utmost value,—by the first, a release from treaty obligations which, if carried out, required war with England; by the second, the whole west bank of the Mississippi River and the island of New Orleans, with all the incidental advantages attached. In return for these gains the United States government promised not to press the claims of its citizens against the French government beyond the amount of three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which was one fourth part of the price paid for Louisiana. The legitimate claims of American citizens against France amounted to many million dollars; in the result, certain favored claimants received three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars less their expenses, which reduced the sum about one half.

The impression of diplomatic oversight was deepened by the scandals which grew out of the distribution of the three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars which the favored claimants were to receive. Livingston’s diplomatic career was poisoned by quarrels over this money.[21] That the French government acted with little concealment of venality was no matter of surprised; but that Livingston should be officially charged by his own associates with favoritism and corruption,—"imbecility of mind and a childish vanity, mixed with a considerable portion of duplicity,"—injured the credit of his Government; and the matter was not bettered when he threw back similar charges on the Board of Commissioners, or when at last General Armstrong, coming to succeed him, was discredited by similar suspicions. Considering how small was the amount of money distributed, the scandal and corruption surpassed any other experience of the national government.

Livingston’s troubles did not end there. He could afford to suffer some deduction from his triumph; for he had achieved the greatest diplomatic success recorded in American history. Neither Franklin, Jay, Gallatin, nor any other American diplomatist was so Fortunate as Livingston for the immensity of his results compared with the paucity of his means. Other treaties of immense consequence have been signed by American representatives,—the treaty of alliance with France; the treaty of peace with England which recognized independence; the treaty of Ghent; the treaty which ceded Florida; the Ashburton treaty; the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,—but in none of these did the United States government get so much for so little. The annexation of Louisiana was an event so portentous as to defy measurement; it gave a new face to politics, and ranked in historical importance next to the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution,—events of which it was the logical outcome; but as a matter of diplomacy it was unparalleled, because it cost almost nothing.

The scandalous failure of the claims convention was a trifling drawback to the enjoyment of this unique success; but the success was further embittered by the conviction that America would give the honor to Monroe. Virginia was all-powerful. Livingston was unpopular, distrusted, not liked even by Madison; while Monroe, for political reasons, had been made a prominent figure. Public attention had been artificially drawn upon his mission; and in consequence, Monroe’s name grew great, so as almost to overshadow that of Madison, while Livingston heard few voices proclaiming his services to the country. In a few weeks Livingston began to see his laurels wither, and was forced to claim the credit that he thought his due. Monroe treated him less generously than he might have done, considering that Monroe gained the political profit of the success.[22] Acknowledging that his own share was next to nothing in the negotiation, he still encouraged the idea that Livingston’s influence had been equally null. This view was doubtless correct, but if universally applied in history, would deprive many great men of their laurels. Monroe’s criticism helped only to diminish the political chances of a possible rival who had no Virginia behind him to press his preferment and cover his mistakes.

  1. History of Louisiana, Barbé Marbois, p. 263.
  2. Marbois's Louisiana, p. 274.
  3. Livingston to Madison, April 11, 1803; State Papers, ii. 552.
  4. Livingston to Talleyrand, Jan. 10, 1803; Livingston to Bonaparte, Feb. 27, 1803; State Papers, ii. 531, 539.
  5. Memoir of James Monroe, 1828; Colonel Mercer's Journal, p. 55.
  6. Livingston to Madison, April 13, 1803; State Papers, ii. 552.
  7. Livingston to Madison, April 13, 1803; State Papers, ii. 552, 544.
  8. Livingston to Madison, April 17, 1803; State Papers, ii. 554.
  9. Lucien Bonaparte et ses Mémoires, Th. Jung, ii. 121-192.
  10. Correspondance, viii. 289.
  11. Monroe's Memoranda, Monroe MSS., State Department Archives.
  12. Livingston to Madison, May 3, 1804; MSS. State Department Archives.
  13. Monroe's Memoranda, Monroe MSS., State Department Archives.
  14. Draft of Convention in Monroe's writing, Monroe MSS., State Department Archives.
  15. State Papers, ii. 507-509.
  16. Marbois, Louisiana, pp. 283, 286.
  17. Livingston to Madison, April 13, 1803; State Papers, ii. 552.
  18. Monroe to Madison, April 19, 1803; State Department Archives.
  19. Madison to Livingston and Monroe, March 2, 1803; State Papers, ii. 540.
  20. Livingston to Madison, May 3, 1804; View of the Claims, etc., by a Citizen of Baltimore, p. 75.
  21. View of the Claims, etc., by a Citizen of Baltimore. 1829.
  22. Livingston to Madison, Nov. 15, 1803; State Papers, ii. 573. Diary of John Quincy Adams, v. 433. Memoir of James Monroe, 1828.