Изображения страниц



Purchase, a good one-Necessary for Western country-French possessions in North America extinguished by treaties of '62 and '63. -Louisiana secretly ceded to France-Great uneasiness in America -France prepares to take possession of it-Prevented by renewal of war -Ceded to United States-Terms-Made a "territory" and then a state-Letter of British officer on Louisiana.

THE next treaty made with France was one, by which Louisiana was ceded to the United States. Time has already proved this measure to have been judicious on the part of the American government, and the purchase in every respect exceeding cheap. The United States had at the time a vast territory of fruitful soil, greatly beyond the wants of the population; and separate from the novelty of the sight of a youthful government, like America, entering into treaties with the ancient European states for the cession of extensive tracts of country, it did not appear, at first blush, a discreet arrangement to bring such a vast quantity of excellent land into the market. But without a permanent and unmolested entrance to the Gulph of Mexico, the soil, west of the Alleghany, was despoiled of one half its value. The boundary of the Mississippi to the west, and the free navigation of that river to its mouth; were, at the time of this treaty, indispensable to

the proper independence and the full enjoyment of the great water communications of the western country.

The period of the discovery of the Mississippi, and the persons by whom the discovery was made, have been matters of controversy. But we shall not enter into that subject. The country, now called Louisiana, originally belonged to France, but by a secret compact, concluded between France and Spain in '62, and by the treaties of '63 between France, Spain, and England, the French dominion was extinguished on all the continent of North America. And by the treaty between this country and England in '83, the Mississippi was made the western boundary of the United States from its source to the 31st degree of north latitude, and thence on the same parallel to the St. Mary's. We shall have occasion to speak more particularly of this boundary of the United States in treating of our foreign relations with Spain. A right of deposit at New Orleans for the produce of the west was secured by the treaty of '95 with Spain; but this treaty was not carried into effect for three years. Great obstacles were thrown in the way of the navigation of the Mississippi, and a serious attempt was made to bring about a separation of the western country. Towards the close of the administration of Mr. Adams, measures even were adopted to take forcible possession of New Orleans, but the difficulties with Spain in that direction having been overcome for that time, the scheme was abandoned. Nevertheless, great uneasiness still existed in the west; Spain had the control of the Mississippi, and it was impossible that an extreme anxiety should not always be felt concerning the navigation of that river. These fears were greatly augmented when the article of the secret treaty of St. Ildefonso, ceding Louisiana to France, was known in the United States. This treaty was in reality, concluded in October 1800, but it was not promulgated till the beginning of 1802. The article of cession is in these words :

"His catholic majesty engages to retrocede to the French re public, six months after the full and entire execution of the condi

tions and stipulations above recited, relative to his Royal Highness the Duke of Parma, the colony or province of Louisiana, with the same extent that it already has in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it, and such as it should be, after the treaties passed subsequently between Spain and other powers."

Every thing was to be apprehended from the activity and intelligence of the French in a country of such vast richness and resources. Speedily, we should have seen them closing the navigation of the Mississippi to the Americans, and securing the whole commerce of the Gulph of Mexico and the West Indies. These considerations awakened great and just alarm in the United States. It appeared necessary to resort to force to prevent the entrance of the French into Louisiana, and a disposition gradually developed itself to enter into an alliance with England. It is not probable that the government would ever have allowed France to take possession of Louisiana, although it was undoubtedly the intention of the First Consul to effect that object. An armament was, indeed, prepared in the French ports, and the secret article of the treaty of St. Ildefonso was immediately produced on the rati fication of the treaty of Amiens of 1802. On the part of France, it was a magnificent operation. Peace having been made with England, no impediment existed to the transportation of troops and every description of stores. With the occupation of Louisiana, the conquest of St. Domingo, where the French, though in the outset altogether triumphant, were beginning to experience cruel reverses, would have followed; and ultimately the principal control of the commerce of the neighbouring seas. Louisiana originally formed part of the vast French dominions in North America, and traces of the solidity of their works, and of the enterprize and intelligence of that nation, now remain in that country, as, indeed, they do in most of those regions, from which they have been excluded by the Americans or the British. Before the disastrous peace of '63, France surpassed all the civilized people of Europe in the extent and value of her commerce, colonies

and foreign possessions, and in her spirit of enterprize. But at that period began the downfall of one of the most enlightened and polished nations known in history.

It was, undoubtedly, in the plan of the French government to recover their ancient possessions in America, and to approach the Canadas by the valleys of the great rivers of the west, as they had undertaken to reconquer their settlements in the east by Egypt and the Red Sea. The danger, that threatened the western country at this period, cannot be disguised. The First Consul held at his command the combined fleets of France and Spain, and for a few months in the fourteen years of his extraordinary reign, he was without an enemy on the ocean. The United States were on the eve of a war with Spain, in consequence of that government having abrogated the right of warehouse at New Orleans. A French army, arriving in the Mississippi, would have landed not only on a neutral soil, but among its allies, inflamed with an unusual degree of animosity against the Americans, and eagerly seeking an opportunity, not only to revenge themselves, but to recover what they had lost. Undoubtedly, France would have made an effort to regain all the territory west, at least, of the Ohio. The strength of the nation and the experience of the last war with Great Britain have now taught us to consider, as vastly chimerical, projects to land on our coasts. But in 1802, Louisiana was a foreign country; its population was principally foreign, the western states were furnished with scanty means of defence or resistance, compared with their present situation, the successes of the French armies had acquired for them a formidable reputation, and none of those events had then taken place, which have since inspired the Americans with so much confidence in defending their native soil. We consider the situation of the country as exceedingly critical. England, dissatisfied with the hollow peace of Amiens, and preparing for another war with France, was striving to force us into an alliance with her, and a considerable portion of the people saw no safety, except in that

[ocr errors]

step. Events had truly taken a singular turn. A few years before, the government had, with the utmost difficulty escaped an alliance with France and a war with England; so true it is, that the United States, immediately on the declaration of their independence, became subject to the caprices, influence, and vicissitudes of European politics.

But, as in '94, the government again had recourse to negotiation. America was neither prepared for war, nor even prepared to expect it. In the midst of the general repose of Europe, the treaty of St. Ildefonso was boldly disclosed. "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none," had been declared by Mr. Jefferson, in his inaugural address of March 1801, to be one of the fundamental maxims of the state. From the foundation of the government in '89, the administration had once been compelled in the extremity of indignity to depart from this policy, but this had not been done till negotiation had become worse than hopeless. On the other hand, France saw that she was again threatened with another war by her ancient and indefatigable rival, and she was not without apprehension that the United States would become a party to the fresh coalition forming against her. Troops could no longer be transported in safety to Louisiana. The cruelties of her armies in St. Domingo had been dreadfully revenged; and it had become necessary to abandon that island to its fate. She needed money to provide for the attacks with which she was either menacing England or Austria. No better arrangement, therefore, remained than to cede Louisiana to the United States. This was the last attempt of any European nation to take permanent possession of any part of the continent of North America. From that time, France was occupied with her European wars, and though this government has been vexed and embarrassed by tedious and unsatisfactory negotiations with her, they have all emanated from commercial relations and difficulties.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »