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Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

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Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

Postby FBC-Elvas, Portugal » May 17th, 2014, 8:57 am

From 1798-1801, Spain had revoked America's right to use the important port city of New Orleans, which significantly disrupted trading; however, in 1800, France acquired the Louisiana Territory as part of the Treaty of San Ildefonso. Napoleon viewed the reclamation with joy but kept it a secret. It wasn't until 1802 that the United States found out about the deal when the official transfer from Spanish control to French control was completed Nov. 30, 1803, in New Orleans. The majority of Louisiana's citizens found out about the reclamation when Napoleon sent Pierre Clement de Laussat to serve as prefect, or governor, of the area.
Thomas Jefferson, who had already considered acquiring the Louisiana Territory, immediately sent word to Robert Livingston, his foreign minister in Paris, and made preparations for James Monroe to travel to France to talk to Napoleon. Livingston wasted no time in meeting with Napoleon.On the other hand, Napoleon looked upon the sale with grim determination. France had been trying to gain the island of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean Sea. It was a strategic strong point. However, after blockading for several months, France had not made any impact on the island.

Without Santo Domingo, Napoleon became less interested in French holdings within the Americas. When Livingston asked for the meeting to discuss the sale of Louisiana to the United States, Napoleon called upon two adviser generals to ask their opinions. One agreed with the sale, one did not. New Orleans was a major port and gave the French control of the Mississippi River at the Gulf of Mexico.

It was Napoleon's intent to use New Orleans for his base in North America. Jefferson, a fervent Francophile who admired the country and its people, advised Napoleon that no European country, especially not England, was going to allow him to maintain a French base in New Orleans without a fight. Jefferson was concerned that France's control of the Mississippi River's only inlet and outlet to the Gulf of Mexico, and therefore control over goods entering and exiting that important port, would be an area of contention between the United States, England and France. Jefferson, through his ministers, advisors and well-placed prominent friends, disseminated information that implied the United States would fight to maintain control of the port and surrounding area. By selling the Louisiana Territory to the United States, Napoleon was keeping the area from falling into other hands while gaining as many benefits for his own country as possible.

However, Napoleon was a shrewd statesman. He saw the sale as a way to solidify his position with the United States government and help keep the British out of the western section of North America. If the United States owned the Louisiana Territory, then Great Britain could not expand out of Canada and into that area. The United States was in a greater position to settle and defend the area than France.

On April 12, 1803, Monroe arrived in Paris. It took only 18 days for the terms to be laid out and the treaty to be signed. The United States would purchase Louisiana for the sum of $15 million, slightly less than 3 cents an acre. Some of that money was reparations to be made for the illegal seizure of French land by American colonists; the rest was the price of the territory.
Monetary payment was not Napoleon's only requirement. Upon deciding to sell the territory, he set up protections for the interests of France, Spain and the citizens already living in the area. He dictated that there would be 12 years of duty-free trade for France and Spain in U.S. ports, French and Spanish citizens living in the area were to be extended the full rights afforded to U.S. citizens, and all Spanish and French land grants should be honored.

Article II of the sales agreement spelled out that private land would remain privately owned, and the rights to privately owned land were not part of the transfer agreement. Finally, the territory should be incorporated as quickly as possible within the United States.

Source: http://www.columbiatribune.com/arts_lif ... f6eda.html

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Re: Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 17th, 2014, 4:08 pm

I really liked it when I was reading about the West Indies Campaign, how French failure to hold on to Santo Domingo highlighted how costly in time and treaure holding American colonies became to Napoleon, thus prompting him to get rid of as much of it as possible, he really did kill allot of birds with very few stones, freed up soldiers, freed up his time, essentially removed America as an enemy and turned them more or less back into an ally, and got him more money as well.

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Re: Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

Postby Shannon Selin » May 20th, 2014, 7:26 pm

Thanks for that good summary, Sarah. According to the French negotiator François Barbé-Marbois, Napoleon on April 10, 1803 said, as justification:

"I know the full value of Louisiana, and I have been desirous of repairing the fault of the French negotiator who abandoned it in 1763. A few lines of a treaty have restored it to me, and I have scarcely recovered it when I must expect to lose it. But if it escapes from me, it shall one day cost dearer to those who oblige me to strip myself of it than to those to whom I wish to deliver it. The English have successively taken from France, Canada, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the richest portions of Asia. They are engaged in exciting troubles in St. Domingo. They shall not have the Mississippi which they covet. Louisiana is nothing in comparison with their conquests in all parts of the globe, and yet the jealousy they fell at the restoration of this colony to the sovereignty of France, acquaints me with their wish to take possession of it, and it is thus that they will begin the war. They have twenty ships of war in the gulf of Mexico, they sail over those seas as sovereigns, whilst our affairs in St. Domingo have been growing worse every day since the death of Leclerc. The conquest of Louisiana would be easy, if they only took the trouble to make a descent there. I have not a moment to lose in putting it out of their reach. I know not whether they are not already there. It is their usual course, and if I had been in their place, I would not have waited. I wish, if there is still time, to take from them any idea that they may have of ever possessing that colony. 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 only ask of me 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.”
- François Barbé-Marbois, The History of Louisiana, Particularly of the Cession of that Colony to the United States of America (Philadelphia: Carey & Lea, 1830), pp. 263-264.

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Re: Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

Postby FBC-Elvas, Portugal » May 21st, 2014, 10:56 am

This information adds too to our understanding of why the Louisiana Territory changed hands again. Thanks for posting Shannon.

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Re: Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

Postby Shannon Selin » October 10th, 2016, 8:21 pm

A bit of trivia regarding the Louisiana Purchase, namely how a small part of what is now Canada was at least theoretically included in the territory:
http://shannonselin.com/2016/09/canada-louisiana-purchase/

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Shannon
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Re: Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

Postby FBC-Elvas, Portugal » October 11th, 2016, 8:36 am

Good for you Shannon, unearthing this bit of history. I've forwarded it to a Canadian friend in Alberta.

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Re: Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

Postby jf42 » October 11th, 2016, 8:54 am

Thanks all. Very timely.
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Re: Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

Postby Waggoner » October 11th, 2016, 10:38 am

And it was British bankers who helped to finance the deal!

All the best,

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Re: Why Napoleon acquired and sold the Louisiana Territory

Postby DaveH » May 7th, 2017, 3:13 pm

We all know about bankers and scruples! Napoleon wasn't so keen in public, but actually relied on Ouvrard to factor the Spanish subsidies from 1803, as the specie was trapped in South America by the Royal Navy's activities and then to bail out the Bank of France, which teetered on collapse in 1805. He had also had Ouvrard arrested in January 1800 before releasing him to supply the Army of Italy in 1800. In 1810, N had him thrown into prison for 3 years for trying to negotiate a peace with the UK, as he believed only peace would allow the economy to recover.

This of course was the actual underlying problem - cash to pay for the military machine and every empire ends when the cash runs out. Empires, which expand quickly, Napoleon and Hitler being the most recent examples, also implode quickly as the economic underpinnings are not there and so, there is a relentless drive for resources. Empires, which expand slowly, such as Rome or Britain, collapse more slowly as the military costs become steadily too great for the resources (human and material) to carry.

It is very easy to impute some diplomatic genius to moves like this - befriending the US, so they can pressure Britain in Canada and Caribbean. The reality was quite simple - there was already friction in North America and Nap could not commit resources to war there; there are problems with the Spanish subsidy and no tribute/looting since 1800. With preparations underway at Boulogne, N just needed the cash.
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