Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from Robert R. Livingston, 14 April 1803

From Robert R. Livingston

Paris 14. April 1803

Dear Sir

Mr. Monroe delivered me your very friendly Letter of the 3d. of Feby. the night before last immediately upon his arrival here—I wish it was in my power to give a more full answer to it, than the hurry of the present moment affords me. For the last three weeks I have been in continual agitation, the days were to the last degree important. It was necessary to seek information thro’ every possible channel, it was1 equally necessary to endeavour to turn that information to advantage. How far I have done this you will be able to2 judge from the dispatches that accompany this—When I cast my eye upon the Map, and consider the vast and rich Country that lays before us, when I look forward one hundred years & see that Country improved & settled by Millions who will either be ranged in hostile array against us, or enlisted under our banners as we now decide. I think the weal, or woe of our3 Country lays in our hands, & depends upon the determination of a moment—I have not seen Mr. Monroe Since last night having been continually4 engaged since, I trust however that we shall concur in opinion, & that your administration will be distinguished, by the acquisition of a territory not less valuable to us than half the United States—That we shall be freed from European controversies, & that we shall rest in the physical impossibility of having an enemy at our doors;—which could not be the case if the mississippi was our boundary, the region on the other side is too inviting to be unsettled, & whoever is the sovereign our own people, as well as the inhabitants of Europe, would flock to it5—Tho’ the coming of Mr. Monroe has put a little check to my opperations, & afforded a pretence for delays here, yet I am persuaded that the measure was a prudent one, as it respected the crisis in our own Country, and as it added an able counseller to your agent here—So important and weighty is the matter before us, that I rejoice in the aid of a friend, in whose patriotism & judgement I have the highest confidence—Tho’ not being presented he cannot officially appear as yet in the present negotiation—I shall do nothing but with his full approbation, & in a few days I hope he may engage officially—Not a moment is to be lost, least a change should take place in the situation of Europe, in the present dispositions of the first Consul, or least he should go, as he proposes in a few days to Brussells, before any thing is concluded—I have agreed with Mr. Monroe that it will be best for the present not to deliver your letter to Dupond—he has no interest that can in any wise serve us, and his warm imagination hurries him into plans that may hurt us—The only person with whom he converses freely is one that interferes but little in great political arrangements, & as he delivers his plans to him without any previous consultation with me, tho’ as we are upon the best terms, he shews them to me afterwards—they are more calculated to promote the views of France, than of our Country, & were6 they fortified by a letter expressive of so much confidence in him as yours discovers, they would7 have a dangerous weight—You will pardon the liberty we have taken,8 we trust that were you on the spot you would think as we do, when our negotiations have taken some decided complection we will deliver the Letter—The reflection contained in Mr. Ross’es speach on the subject of the distribution of two millions of dollars9 in bribes has been much noticed here, as you find by my letter to Mr. Madison—it naturally leads to a belief that some such hint has been given by me—I think it not improbable that Clark, or some other person may have said or written this—it is very extraordinary that Clark who was but ten days here, & in a rank, & character, that admitted him into no society about the Court should have presumed to fathom the secrets of the most secret cabinet of Europe—I am very sorry that you have made no appointment for England; as a war is almost certain you want a man of Talents, address, & character there—your political, & commercial concerns will call for the utmost attention—I have written to endeavour10 to persuade Mr. King to remain some time longer at least ’till we close our negotiation here, as it may be well to be backed there if necessary—I broke off here to call on Mr. Monroe & have some conversation with him relative to the communication of Mr. Marbois—& to take him to Mr. Talleyrands, agreeably to appointment—I there saw our commission for the first time, which I find contrary to my expectation, in making him Envoy extraordinary, gives him a step above me—but this is of little moment11 as our powers are similar, but what astonished me was to find that the commission limits our power to treat for territory on the East side of the Mississippi,12 so that if they are scrupulous, all our hopes of treating for this immense Country must vanish into air—I shall have no difficulty in going on since my old commission will bear me out—Mr. Monroe will not refuse to act under his commission—the fear is that they will scruple here when our powers are examined—I find too that Mr. Monroe has one title in the commission & another in his letter of credence, in which letter also, the titles of the first Consul are mistaken—

At three OClock Mr. Monroe was presented by me to the Minister who received us very graciously, we found Mr. Marbois there, he told me that he had just been communicating to the Minister, what had passed between us last night and added that he wished that I would enable him, to meet the proposition of the first Consul on this subject, I told him they were too wide of our mark, and our means—I asked the Minister to obtain the earliest day for the presentation of Mr. Monroe, as it was important that we should enter upon our mission as soon as possible, he assured me, he would speak to the first Consul on the subject that night so that I am in hopes he will be presented on sunday, tho’ it has been usual only to present on the 15th of each month—Lord Witworth and others have been kept a whole month in waiting—Talleyrand added that even before the presentation some person would probably be indicated with whom we might treat—This person will of course be Marbois; Thus you find us fairly afloat, & if our commission does not set us aground, I hope we shall make a noble harbour, you13 must not however be surprised if the ships charges run high—

War you may consider as morally certain, tho’ the sword may yet be suspended some days—I thank you Sir for your very polite & friendly expressions, with which you conclude your letter—I think with you that much of the happiness of our Country will depend upon the success of our mission, now particularly that so great a field is opened upon us—our zeal & attention to the object, I believe you may have the utmost reliance upon, & if we fail it will not be from the want of the most earnest desire to serve our Country, but from mistaken views of what will have that happy effect—Be assured my Dear Sir of the interest I take in your happiness, & the honor of your administration which has given to our Country the most splendid consideration in Europe, as well as real happiness at home14

Believe me to be Dear Sir with the highest Respect & Esteem your Obt. Hube Sert

Robt R Livingston

Dupl (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Livingston; at head of text: “Duplicate”; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr. President of the U: States”; endorsed by TJ as received 9 June and so recorded in SJL. RC (DLC); in the same clerk’s hand, signed by Livingston; concluding portion in Livingston’s hand (see note 14 below); endorsed by TJ as received 24 Aug. and so recorded in SJL.

James monroe landed at Le Havre on 8 Apr. and got to Paris on the 12th (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:520).

Livingston sent Madison dispatches dated 11 and 13 Apr. (same, 500–2, 511–15).

acquisition of a territory: in one of his dispatches, Livingston reported that Talleyrand had suddenly asked, in a meeting on 11 Apr., “whether we wished to have the whole of Louisiana.” Livingston replied “no, that our wishes extended only to New Orleans & the Floridas,” although he added that he thought it would be wise for the French to cede the territory north of the Arkansas River to the United States, as he had suggested in a memorandum for Bonaparte, thereby creating a buffer between lower Louisiana and the British in Canada. Talleyrand dismissed that prospect, pointing out that there was no reason for France to keep lower Louisiana without New Orleans. He pressed Livingston to think about the prospect of buying all of Louisiana and to come up with a figure for a purchase price. Although the foreign minister claimed “that he did not speak from authority”—the “idea” of selling all of Louisiana had simply “struck him,” he avowed—Bonaparte had by 11 Apr. decided to sell the entire colony to the United States (same, 500–1; François Barbé de Marbois, Histoire de la Louisiane: et de la cession de cette colonie par la France aux États-Unis de l’Amérique septentionale [Paris, 1829], 285–98; Alexander DeConde, This Affair of Louisiana [New York, 1976], 162–4; note to Document I of Livingston to TJ, 12 Mch.).

Monroe was not presented to the first consul until an official reception at the Louvre on 1 May, after most of the negotiation for the sale of Louisiana was over. Livingston excluded his colleague from the initial discussions about the purchase, and Monroe learned from Fulwar Skipwith that, as Monroe put it in a letter to Madison that he decided not to send, Livingston “regretted his misfortune in my arrival, since it took from him the credit of having brot. every thing to a proper conclusion without my aid.” On the day after Monroe’s arrival in Paris, however, Talleyrand indicated that a delay in the envoy’s presentation of credentials would not be an impediment. According to Monroe, the foreign minister said that someone “would be designated to treat with us, with whom we might communicate before I was presented.” As the negotiations with François Barbé de Marbois developed, Monroe was involved, including one conference held at his sickbed so that he would not be excluded. “It is proper for me to inform you,” he wrote to Madison in May, “that the most difficult vexatious and embarrassing part of my labour has been with my associate” (Monroe to Madison, 15 Apr., not sent, and Monroe, “Journal or note of proceedings relative to mission to France & negotiation,” 27 Apr.-[May] 1803, both in DLC: Monroe Papers; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:521–3, 612–14).

letter to dupond: TJ to Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, 1 Feb. only person with whom he converses freely: see Du Pont to TJ, 3 Mch., concerning Du Pont’s contacts with the French government.

mr. ross’es speach: news of James Ross’s February speech and motion in the Senate urging that New Orleans be taken by force had reached France through London newspapers. Livingston, who sent Ross’s motion to Talleyrand as soon as he received it himself, believed that the threat of an American seizure of New Orleans, along with the possibility that Great Britain would never allow the Floridas to come under French control, convinced Bonaparte to offer Louisiana to the United States. According to Barbé de Marbois’s account of the meetings in which he learned of the first consul’s decision, however, Bonaparte felt sure that a renewal of war with Britain had become inevitable, and with war would come a British invasion of Louisiana. If he was going to lose the colony, Bonaparte reasoned, it was better for it to go to the United States than to Britain (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:501, 512–13; Barbé de Marbois, Histoire de la Louisiane, 286–7; TJ to Thomas McKean, 19 Feb.).

two millions of dollars in bribes: in his speech in the Senate on 14 Feb., Ross dismissed the idea that it would be possible to buy New Orleans and said: “Sell, sir! for how much? Why sir, although there is no information before this House, of any terms, yet I have seen it stated in the newspapers, that those who now pretend to claim that country may be persuaded to sell, by giving two million of dollars to certain influential persons about the Court.” Two million dollars was the amount of the appropriation in the secret bill for the purchase of New Orleans and the Floridas that the House of Representatives had passed and sent to the Senate on the day that Ross began his speech. Senator Robert Wright of Maryland interrupted Ross, charging that he had touched on “confidential information.” Aaron Burr, in the chair as presiding officer, ordered the galleries cleared of spectators, and the Senate went into closed session. When Ross resumed his address two days later he did not refer to the alleged bribery money, but his remarks on the 14th and Wright’s protest appeared in the published record of the Senate’s debates of that day. noticed: Bonaparte was aware of the published comments about bribery, Livingston learned from Barbé de Marbois (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States…to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:443; New York Daily Advertiser, 26 Feb.; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:512–13; TJ to Monroe, 25 Feb.).

In November, Daniel clark spent about two weeks in Paris. As he and Fulwar Skipwith reported to Madison, he met with General Victor and Pierre Clément Laussat about the expeditionary force for Louisiana (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:110, 129, 218).

Livingston had written to Rufus king, he reported to Madison, “pressing him to stay ’till a successor is appointed. The moment is so critical that we cannot justify being without a Minister in England, he is a very useful one.” “Thro’ the whole of this business,” Monroe wrote to Madison in May, Livingston “has kept up a correspondence with Mr. King” (same, 501, 613).

communication of mr. marbois: Livingston and Talleyrand saw each other again on 12 Apr., but Talleyrand was unable to get Livingston to talk about a possible price for Louisiana. Later that day, Barbé de Marbois dropped by Livingston’s house and arranged to meet with him at the Treasury offices late that night. It was no secret that Livingston had an uncomfortable relationship with Talleyrand, but the American, as Bonaparte was aware, claimed “personal friendship” for Barbé de Marbois, who had been a diplomat in the United States years earlier. The two, as Livingston remarked in his 13 Apr. dispatch to Madison, were accustomed to having “free conversations,” and in that late-night meeting at Marbois’s offices they had a long talk about the amount of money that would constitute an acceptable offer for the purchase of the colony (same, 77–9, 81n, 511–14; Vol. 34:xli-xlii, 423–4).

See the joint commission for Monroe and Livingston at 12 Jan. (Vol. 39:320–1). For Madison’s explanation of the envoys’ titles, see Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , 5:236–7. limits our power: Livingston lamented in a letter to Madison also that the commission said nothing about negotiating for land west of the Mississippi. “You will recollect,” he declared, writing partly in code, “that I had been long preparing this Government to yield us the country above the arkansas.” When TJ sent Monroe to France, however, he did not know that Livingston had made a proposal involving land west of the Mississippi—for Livingston did not inform the president and the secretary of state of the proposition until 18 Feb., in a letter to Madison, and he did not send them a copy of the memorandum he had submitted to Bonaparte until after the negotiations for Louisiana were concluded (same, 4:329, 525, 592, 594–5n).

For the letter of credence that TJ addressed to Bonaparte for Monroe, see above in this series at 11 Feb.

presented by me to the minister: Livingston took Monroe to see Talleyrand on the 13th. Talleyrand, Monroe reported to Madison, “said that the first Consul was much gratified by the disposition which our Government had shewn, in the Circumstances which produced the present Mission, and had also expressed himself in Terms very favorable to my Colleague and myself” (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:520).

proposition of the first consul: in the late-night meeting at the Treasury office, Barbé de Marbois told Livingston that Bonaparte had put a price of 100 million francs on Louisiana. The United States would also have to assume the outstanding claims of American citizens against France, which Livingston thought could add another 25 million francs. (Barbé de Marbois professed to share Livingston’s shock at the figures, saying that he himself found the sums “exorbitant,” but that was a tactic: when the first consul instructed him to negotiate the sale of Louisiana, the price he named was 50 million francs.) When Barbé de Marbois, as Talleyrand had done, pressed Livingston to name a figure, Livingston demurred but asked Marbois to “oblige me by telling me what he thought to be reasonable.” Barbé de Marbois’s answer was 60 million francs, plus another 20 million for the claims. A few days earlier in April, the French government had confirmed the franc, which had first been promulgated in 1795, as the official currency. The franc was close in value to the older livre tournois (same, 512–13; Barbé de Marbois, Histoire de la Louisiane, 299; Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends , 757; Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1931–48, 8 vols. description ends , 2:514).

polite & friendly expressions: at the end of his letter of 3 Feb., TJ told Livingston: “the future destinies of our country hang on the event of this negotiation, and I am sure they could not be placed in more able or more zealous hands. on our parts we shall be satisfied that what you do not effect cannot be effected.”

1RC: “and it was.”

2RC: “you will judge.”

3RC: “my.”

4RC: “constantly.”

5Paragraph break here in RC.

6MS: “where.” RC: “were.”

7MS: “woud.,” the copyist having run out of room on the line. RC: “would.”

8RC: “liberty we take, but.”

9Preceding two words lacking in RC.

10Preceding two words lacking in RC.

11RC: “importance.”

12RC: “East side of the River Mississippi.”

13RC: “we.”

14RC concludes in Livingston’s hand: “Excuse my using my son’s pen. I was compelled to risk the opportunity or neglect a very important conference—Yours most respectfully RR Livingston.”

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