Thomas Jefferson Papers

Paine’s Memorandum on Louisiana, 25 December 1802

Paine’s Memorandum on Louisiana


Of Louisana

Spain has ceded Louisana to france and france has excluded the americans from N. orleans and the navigation of the Mississipi—the people of the western territory have complained of it to their government, and the governt. is of consequence involved and interested in the affair. The question then is, What is the best step to be taken first.

The one is to begin by memorial and remonstrance against an infraction of a right. The other by accomodation, still keeping the right in view, but not making it a ground-work—

Suppose then the Governt. begin by making a proposal to france to repurchase the cession made to her by spain of Louisana, provided it be with the consent of the people of Louisana or a majority thereof.

By beginning on this ground any thing can be said without carrying the appearance of a threat—the growing power of the western territory can be stated as matter of information, and also the impossibility of restraining them from seizing upon New Orleans and the equal impossibility of france to prevent it.

Suppose the proposal attended to, the sum to be given comes next on the carpet. This, on the part of america will be estimated between the Value of the commerce and the quantity of revenue that Louisana will produce.

The french treasury is not only empty but the Government has consumed by anticipation a great part of the next year’s revenue. A monied proposal will, I believe, be attended to; if it should, the claims upon france can be stipulated as part of the payment, and that sum can be paid here to the claimants.—

MS (DLC); undated; in Paine’s hand.

what is the best step: the notion that the United States should try to obtain Louisiana “occurred to me without knowing it had occurred to any other person,” Paine later wrote to TJ about this document. Paine discussed the idea with Michael Leib, who lived in the boarding house where Paine was staying in Washington, and it was on Leib’s suggestion that Paine put his thoughts down on paper and sent them to TJ. The next day, as Paine later recalled, TJ told him that “measures were already taken on that business.” Learning that Leib had been aware that TJ had already given consideration to the matter, Paine asked Leib why he had encouraged him, under those circumstances, to send his memorandum to TJ. The congressman replied that “two opinions concurring on a case strengthen it” (Paine to TJ, 25 Jan. 1805, in DLC).

consent of the people: an unsigned memorandum in French, addressed to the president of the United States and purporting to speak for the inhabitants of Louisiana, protested the retrocession of the colony from Spain to France and advocated the joining of Louisiana to the United States. The document is in the records of the State Department but has no endorsement or notation by TJ to confirm that he ever saw it. The undated tract was probably written before the closing of the right of deposit at New Orleans, which the writer did not mention (MS in DNA: RG 59, MLR; 8 p. in an unidentified hand; at head of text: “Au Président des Etats-unis”).

Index Entries