For the Evening Post1
[New York, February 8, 1803]2
Since the question of Independence, none has occurred more deeply interesting to the United States than the cession of Louisiana to France.3 This event threatens the early dismemberment of a large portion of our country: more immediately the safety of all the Southern States; and remotely the independence of the whole union. This is the portentous aspect which the affair presents to all men of sound and reflecting minds of whatever party, and it is not to be concealed that the only question which now offers itself, is, how is the evil to be averted?
The strict right to resort at once to War, if it should be deemed expedient cannot be doubted. A manifest and great danger to the nation: the nature of the cession to France, extending to ancient limits without respect to our rights by treaty;4 the direct infraction of an important article of the treaty itself in withholding the deposit of New-Orleans;5 either of these affords justifiable cause of War and that they would authorize immediate hostilities, is not to be questioned by the most scrupulous mind.
The whole is then a question of expediency. Two courses only present. First, to negociate and endeavour to purchase, and if this fails to go to war. Secondly, to seize at once on the Floridas and New-Orleans, and then negociate.
A strong objection offers itself to the first. There is not the most remote probability that the ambitious and aggrandizing views of Bonaparte will commute the territory for money. Its acquisition is of immense importance to France, and has long been an object of her extreme solicitude.6 The attempt therefore to purchase, in the first instance, will certainly fail, and in the end, war must be resorted to, under all the accumulation of difficulties caused by a previous and strongly fortified possession of the country by our adversary.
The second plan is, therefore, evidently the best. First, because effectual: the acquisition easy; the preservation afterwards easy: The evils of a war with France at this time are certainly not very formidable: Her fleet crippled and powerless, her treasury empty, her resources almost dried up, in short, gasping for breath after a tremendous conflict which, though it left her victorious, left her nearly exhausted under her extraordinary exertions.7 On the other hand, we might count with certainty on the aid of Great Britain with her powerful navy.
Secondly, this plan is preferable because it affords us the only chance of avoiding a long-continued war. When we have once taken possession, the business will present itself to France in a new aspect. She will then have to weigh the immense difficulties, if not the utter impracticability of wresting it from us. In this posture of affairs she will naturally conclude it is her interest to bargain. Now it may become expedient to terminate hostilities by a purchase, and a cheaper one may reasonably be expected.
To secure the better prospect of final success, the following auxiliary measures ought to be adopted.
The army should be increased to ten thousand men,8 for the purpose of insuring the preservation of the conquest. Preparations for increasing our naval force should be made.9 The militia should be classed, and effectual provision made for raising on an emergency, 40,000 men.10 Negociations should be pushed with Great-Britain, to induce her to hold herself in readiness to co-operate fully with us, at a moment’s warning.
This plan should be adopted and proclaimed before the departure of our envoy.
Such measures would astonish and disconcert Bonaparte himself; our envoy would be enabled to speak and treat with effect; and all Europe would be taught to respect us.
These ideas have been long entertained by the writer, but he has never given himself the trouble to commit them to the public, because he despaired of their being adopted. They are now thrown out with very little hope of their producing any change in the conduct of administration, yet, with the encouragement that there is a strong current of public feeling in favour of decisive measures.
If the President would adopt this course, he might yet retrieve his character; induce the best part of the community to look favorably on his political career, exalt himself in the eyes of Europe, save the country, and secure a permanent fame. But for this, alas! Jefferson is not destined!
New-York Evening Post, February 8, 1803; JCH Transcripts description begins John C. Hamilton Transcripts, Columbia University Libraries. description ends .
1. H wrote this article in response to Thomas Jefferson’s appointment of James Monroe as United States Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to France and Spain on January 11, 1803. Jefferson gave Monroe the power to act independently or jointly with Robert R. Livingston, United States Minister Plenipotentiary to France, and Charles Pinckney, United States Minister Plenipotentiary at Madrid, “to enter into a treaty or convention … for the purpose of enlarging, and more effectually securing our rights and interests in the river Mississippi, and in the territories eastward thereof” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 431–32). On January 12, 1803, the Senate confirmed Monroe’s nomination by a vote of fifteen to twelve, with all the Federalist senators voting against it (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 436).
Monroe left the United States on March 8 and arrived in France on April 8. On April 30 he, Livingston, and François, marquis de Barbé-Marbois, Minister of the Public Treasury of the French Republic, signed the Treaty of the Cession of Louisiana and two accompanying conventions. These three documents provided for the sale of the territory of Louisiana, including New Orleans, to the United States for sixty million francs or eleven million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The United States also assumed payment of debts owed by France to United States citizens which had been incurred before the Convention of 1800 (Treaty of Môntefontaine) and which amounted to no more than twenty million francs, or approximately three and one-half million dollars (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 498–528).
In the New-York Evening Post the article printed above is preceded by the following paragraph: “Louisiana. A writer who some time past addressed the public in a series of spirited numbers under the signature of Coriolanus, in the [New York] Morning Chronicle [December 20, 21, 22, 24, 27, 30, 1802; January 1, 10, 11, 12, February 8, 1803], finds himself at last disposed to slide fully into the views of the administration. He ascribes his former sentiments to haste, and recommends negociation, by Mr. Munro, as preferable to war, which he now deplores as the greatest calamity which can befall a nation. We, however, see no reason to alter our former opinions, nor shall we retract any thing that has been said in this paper. War is undoubtedly a calamity, but national degradation is a greater, and besides, is always inevitably followed by war itself. But not to dilate here, we feel no scruples in declaring, that in our opinion, the appointment of an Envoy Extraordinary, at this time, and under present circumstances, is in every respect the weakest measure that ever disgraced the administration of any country. And it requires not the gift of prophecy to foretel that the time is coming when there will be but one opinion on this subject. The following letter received this morning from a correspondent, merits serious perusal of every reader.”
H’s article reflected the belief of many Federalist party leaders that war with Spain or France was more desirable than negotiation. See Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1852). description ends , XII, 83–88, 91–96, 107–19, 136–39, 153–57, 171–84, 185–206.
3. See William Constable to H, March 23, 1801, notes 2 and 3; H to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, December 29, 1802.
4. The Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation, signed at San Lorenzo el Real on October 27, 1795, between Spain and the United States (Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 318–45).
For detailed discussions of French involvement in Louisiana during the last third of the eighteenth century, see Mildred Stahl Fletcher, “Louisiana as a Factor in French Diplomacy From 1763 to 1800,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XVII (December, 1930), 367–76; E. Wilson Lyon, Louisiana in French Diplomacy 1795–1804 (Norman, Oklahoma, 1934).
7. France and Great Britain had been at peace since March, 1802, when both countries signed the Treaty of Amiens.
9. When Jefferson became President, the United States naval force consisted of six active frigates and seven reserve frigates, as well as nine captains, thirty-six lieutenants, and one hundred and fifty midshipmen. See “An Act providing for a Naval peace establishment, and for other purposes” (2 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, II (Boston, 1850). description ends 110–11 [March 3, 1801]). See also H to King, June 3, 1802, note 10.
10. Shortly after H’s article was published, John Breckenridge, Republican Senator from Kentucky, introduced a series of resolutions, on February 23, 1803, one of which authorized the President “to require of the Executives of the several States to take effectual measures to organize, arm and equip, according to law, and hold in readiness to march at a moment’s warning, eighty thousand effective militia, officers included” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1852). description ends , XII, 119). On February 28 a bill containing these resolutions passed the Senate and was sent to the House, where it was passed on March 3, 1803 (Annals of Congress, XII, 255, 256, 258–60, 261, 610, 643). See “An Act directing a detachment from the Militia of the United States, and for erecting certain Arsenals” (2 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, II (Boston, 1850). description ends 241 [March 3, 1803]). See also “An Act in addition to an act, intituled ‘An act more effectually to provide for the National defence, by establishing an uniform Militia throughout the United States’” (2 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, II (Boston, 1850). description ends 241 [March 2, 1803]).