Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 10 August 1803

To Thomas Paine

Monticello Aug. 10. 1803.

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 2d. came to hand on the 8th. I shall willingly communicate to you all I know on the subject of Louisania. it is new, and therefore profitable to interchange ideas on it, that we may form correct opinions before we are to act on them.

The unquestioned extent of Louisania on the sea is from the Iberville to the Mexicana river, or perhaps the high lands dividing that from the Missisipi. it’s original boundary however as determined by occupation of the French was Eastwardly to the river Perdido (between Mobile & Pensacola) & Westward to the Rio Norte or Bravo. the former was founded on the establishment of the French at Mobile and isle Dauphine1 which they maintained from 1699. till they gave up the country in 1762. the latter on the original establishment made by La Sale on the West side of the bay of St. Louis or St. Bernard. how far subsequent operations have narrowed this extent on the ocean we are now to discuss with Spain. the boundary of the country inland is by the highlands including all the waters of the Missisipi, & of course of the Missouri. the advantage of this boundary is that it places the Misipi on the footing of the Potomak or Delaware, entirely an internal river, [one] which no foreign nation can enter but with leave. not a foot of it’s water should ever be given up because it would, on our principle [defeat] a right to navigate the whole river, for we have always maintained, and now maintain as to Florida that a nation inhabiting a stream in it’s upper parts has a right to an innocent passage through it to and from the Ocean. the unquestioned extent of Louisania may be called a triangle where one of it’s legs extending from the head of the Misipi to that of the Missouri, the other from the head to the mouth of the Misipi, & the hypothenuse from the mouth of the Misipi to the head of the Missouri. it is larger than all the US: and what is called the Western valley of the Misipi has always been said to surpass in fertility the Eastern valley, that is to say Kentucky, Tennissee, & the Misipi. territory.

It’s population is said to be of about 60,000. persons, French, Spaniards, Germans, British and Americans. the great body of these are in the island of New Orleans & on the West side of the river from Point Coupée downwards. above this are a few scattering posts only, to wit, one a little way up the Missouri, St. Louis at the mouth [of] that river, Ste. Genevieve opposite the Illinois, New Madrid opposite Ohio, and one other down the Missouri opposite the Chickasaws bluffs or not far distant. these settlements consist barely of inhabitants enough to raise provisions for the small garrisons kept there. the country below Point Coupée must doubtless be formed into a government either by itself or joined with the Misipi. territory. I imagine the best footing to put it’s religion on is to leave it free as in the other territorial governments, liable only to voluntary contributions. this is tantamount to an [election?] of ministers, & better as even a majority cannot force the will of a minority. the rest of the country from Point Coupee upwards should be shut up against new settlements for a long time, only allowing us to give unoccupied portions of it to the Indians on this side the Mispi. in exchange for their present country, so that we should be able to fill up the Eastern valley, instead of depopulating it for the Western. this would be a better field for the emigrants you mention to enter on, than the Western. When we shall be full on this side we may cross the river & begin to settle it’s Western margin, & extend back by regular compact progressions as numbers increase. it would be very wrong to think of giving up any of the Western valley for [the Floridas], except from the Mexicana to the Rio Norte, because we have now a good claim on Florida2 as far as the Perdido, which [is at Mobile a] most valuable [port?], & because we shall get the whole peaceably the first war Spain is engaged in.   We shall undoubtedly lay the cession before both houses, because both have important functions to exercise on it. the Representatives are to decide on the paiment of the money. besides this I believe we must lay it before the nation & ask an additional article to the Constitution that has made no provision for holding foreign territory, & still less for incorporating foreign countries into our union. yet we have stipulated that the Louisanians shall come into our union. in thus making this stipulation the Executive has done an act beyond the constitution, and in ratifying it & paying for the country the legislature will do the same. we must throw ourselves for this on our country, saying that we have not hesitated to do for them what we were sure they would have done for themselves, by securing a great good in the only [. . .] in which it would ever have been in their power: by asking them their confirmation after the act, for which they would have given previous authority had it been foreseen; acknoleging at the same time that we cannot have bound them, that they are free to reject it, and to disavow us, restoring every thing to it’s former state. but I trust we shall meet their approbation, and not their disavowal.

You ask whether Monroe is gone to Spain? I think it rather probable, according to our previous arrangements, & on the newspaper information that he is gone; for we have no letter from him since the one accompanying the treaty, in which he says nothing of going.   your letter to mr Breckenridge shall be immediately forwarded to Kentucky, & that to Coltman sent back to Washington.

Accept my respectful salutations & best wishes for your health & happiness.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); faint; at foot of first page: “Thomas Paine esq.”

TJ’s discussion of Louisiana reflected the prevailing, limited geographical and historical knowledge of North America, as well as confusion resulting from the competing territorial claims of the European powers. The iberville River, or Bayou Manchac, a waterway connecting the Mississippi River on the west and the Amite River to the east below the site of Baton Rouge, formed part of a horizontal boundary between Louisiana and Spanish West Florida, extending through Lakes Maurepas and Ponchartrain. In implying that the Iberville helped define Louisiana’s coastal boundary, TJ was probably just phrasing the matter imprecisely. During his final voyage, Robert Cavelier de La Salle (la sale) established a fort at what in present-day Texas is known as Matagorda Bay. Accounts consulted by TJ, a journal of the La Salle expedition written by Henri Joutel (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952-59, 5 vols. description ends Nos. 4073, 4074) and Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz’s History of Louisiana, or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952-59, 5 vols. description ends No. 4068), labeled the bay st. louis and st. bernard, respectively. The first settlement TJ mentioned was presumably St. Charles, which was up the missouri River from St. Louis. After the Pinckney Treaty of 1795, the Spanish disbanded Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas, their outpost on the last of the four Chickasaw bluffs (the site of Memphis, Tennessee), which TJ mistakenly placed down the Missouri rather than the Mississippi. To maintain watch over the area, they left a small garrison across the river, Campo del Esperanza, and began issuing land grants there. This encampment, however, hardly constituted a village. A more substantial community to the south, Arkansas Post, contained perhaps 450 inhabitants at the time of the purchase (Henri Joutel, Journal historique du dernier voyage que feu M. de la Sale fit dans le Golfe de Mexique, pour trouver l’embouchure, & le cours de la Riviere Missicipi, nommée à present la Riviere de Saint Loüis, qui traverse la Louisiane [Paris, 1713], 112; Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, The History of Louisiana, or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina: Containing a Description of the Countries That Lye on Both Sides of the River Missisipi: With an Account of the Settlements, Inhabitants, Soil, Climate, and Products, 2 vols. [London, 1763], 2:6, 216; William E. Foley and others, A History of Missouri, 6 vols. [Columbia, Mo., 1971-2004], 1:48-9; Morris S. Arnold, Colonial Arkansas, 1686-1804: A Social and Cultural History [Fayetteville, Ark., 1991], 20-3; Vol. 40:234-5, 660-2; The Boundaries of Louisiana, printed at 7 Sep., Document I).

1Preceding three words interlined.

2Preceding two words interlined.

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