The importance of the Louisiana Purchase in the history of the United States has become increasingly clear in the century that has just elapsed, and as the nation goes on to fulfill its destiny on the Pacific and in South America it will turn to this event with growing appreciation of the significance of the march across the Mississippi, and the acquisition of the strategic point where the great river enters the Gulf of Mexico. If the Declaration of Independence marks our separation from the colonial system of the Old World, the Louisiana Purchase was the turning-point in the events that fixed our position as the arbiter of the New World.
It is the purpose of these papers to show that this important event was no sudden or unrelated episode in our history. It was the dramatic culmination of a long struggle that began with the rivalry of Spain, France, and England for the Mississippi Valley in the colonial era, continued during the American Revolution, and brought grave problems before the first three Presidents of the United States in the period when Europe was engaged in the contests of the French Revolution.
Although the revisions of the map of Europe, in that era, largely occupied the European diplomats, their archives reveal the fact that the future of the Mississippi Valley received serious attention, and constituted an important element in their policy. When we consider the power which the interior of the United States now exerts over the economic and political welfare of the world, we realize that the diplomatic intrigues for the possession of the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Great Lakes were of higher significance in world history than many of the European incidents which have received more attention.
Not simply Louisiana was at stake: the whole Mississippi Valley,—the land between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi, as well as the territory across the river,—with the Gulf of Mexico at one end and the Great Lakes at the other, was the prize of the diplomatic game. Indeed, all South America became involved in the designs of the European rivals. For the United States the matter was a vital one. The acquisition of these regions laid the physical foundation for our national greatness, furnished the base from which to extend our power to the Pacific Ocean, and gave us a dominating strategic position in reference to Spanish America. More immediately it put an end to the plans to which France and England had given their attention for forming an interior dependency in the Mississippi Valley, whose sea power should control the Gulf of Mexico, and, by consequence, preside over the division of the decaying empire of Spain in the New World. The Monroe Doctrine would have been impossible if the designs of either France, Spain, or England, during the decade that followed Washington's inauguration, could have been carried out.
At the close of the war for independence the United States held hardly more than the Atlantic coast. Beyond the Alleghanies an advance column of pioneers had pushed a wedge of sparse settlement along the southern tributaries of the Ohio into Kentucky and Tennessee. Ambitious to conquer though they were, their hold was a precarious one. On their right flank lay the basin of the Great Lakes, occupied by warlike Indians held under control by the posts of England at Detroit and at other strategic points on the lakes. In spite of the treaty of 1783, Great Britain retained these posts, the centres of Indian trade and influence, alleging the failure of the United States to carry out certain provisions of the treaty, and expecting that a speedy dissolution of the feeble confederation would leave to her the control of the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi; nor did she forget her former possessions on the Gulf of Mexico.
On the left flank, controlling the basin of the Gulf of Mexico, were the four powerful tribes of the Southern Indians. Spain held the mouth of the Mississippi at New Orleans, and from Mobile, St. Marks and Pensacola furnished these tribes with goods, arms, and ammunition. In the spring of 1784 the governor of Louisiana, acting on the theory that the savages were independent nations, made treaties which bound them to accept Spanish protection, and, in return, promised to secure them in the possession of their lands. Nor did Spain stop with insuring her predominance among the Indians. She avoided a treaty with the United States at the close of the Revolution. Refusing to be bound by England's cession to the United States, she set up the claim that her victories over Great Britain in the Revolution had given her the right to Florida with the most extensive boundary which England had given to West Florida during her occupation. She also contended that the eastern bank of the Mississippi was hers, finding justification for this in the fact that England, by the Proclamation of 1763, had made crown lands of the colonial territory beyond the Alleghanies, and had forbidden the colonists to settle there. Thus, she argued, her victories over England on the Mississippi and in Florida gave her a sphere of influence in the lands between the Gulf, the Mississippi, and the Alleghanies, at least as far north as the mouth of the Ohio. She further asserted, as the fundamental element in her policy, the exclusive control of the navigation of the Mississippi, which England had promised us by the treaty.
All the "Western World," as the settlers loved to call the land beyond the mountains, depended on the Mississippi for an outlet for the crops. The dwellers on the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Cumberland, and all the western waters, shut off by the Alleghanies from the coast, could only find a market for their crops through New Orleans. Obviously the very strength of Spain's position also constituted a menace to herself, in view of the feeble garrisons by which she blocked the river. To meet this situation, in 1786 she entered into negotiations for a treaty by which we should forgo our claim to the navigation of the Mississippi for twenty-five years in return for concessions to our commerce in her European possessions. This proposal met the approval not only of some of the most important statesmen from the northeastern commercial sections, like Jay and King, but also of Washington, who believed that the West stood upon a pivot,—"the touch of a feather would turn it any way." Fearing that the ease of navigating the Mississippi would menace the connection of the West with the Union, Washington desired first to bind the West to the East by ties of interest, opening communication by canals and roads. But many Southern men, particularly Monroe and Patrick Henry, saw in the proposal to relinquish the navigation of the Mississippi the sacrifice of the agricultural interests to those of the maritime section, and foretold a dissolution of the Union. In the outcome, sufficient votes could not be obtained to carry the treaty; but the West was deeply stirred by the attempt.
Another device of Spain to check the American advance was the use of the Southern Indians. Carondelet, the governor of Louisiana, afterwards expressed the Spanish policy when he declared that there was no American force which could protect the two hundred leagues and more of frontier from the devastations of fifteen thousand well-armed savages, nor any which would venture to descend the Mississippi, leaving their communications to be cut off by a swarm of savages. "Not only will Spain always make the American settlements tremble by threatening them with the Indians, but she has no other means of molesting them." Well might Spain base her hopes on the unsubstantial protection afforded by her Indian allies, for, at the time, she had but a single regiment, distributed in twenty-one detachments, to guard nearly two thousand miles of river front.
Under these circumstances, the Spanish authorities also tried to detach the West from the Union by promising free navigation in return for the acceptance of Spanish sovereignty by Kentucky and the Tennessee and Cumberland settlements. In the disturbed conditions of the period, this, for a time, seemed a possible solution of the difficulty, for the Westerners were deeply impressed by the effectiveness of the mountain barrier in dividing them from the states of the coast, and they had slight respect for the type of social life on the seaboard, or for the feeble government, which, at the close of the Confederation, afforded them protection against neither the Indians nor the Spaniards. The Westerners as a whole preferred the Union; but its value to them depended on the efficiency with which it dealt with the problem of the Indians and the navigation of the Mississippi, and they were determined to secure local self-government independent of the coastwise states whose chartered limits overspread their territory, and whose governments disposed of their land, although they were impotent to defend the settlers. When the old Confederation was going to pieces in 1788-89, the Kentucky and Tennessee settlements were engaged in a struggle for separate statehood, and the more radical and best known leaders of these communities at the same time entered into correspondence with the governor of Louisiana with a view to securing Spanish concessions in the event of declaring independence. Inasmuch as the thirteen states were considering the question of ratification of the Constitution as sovereign bodies, the western settlements, not unnaturally, were disposed to decide their own allegiance at the same time. Men like Wilkinson, of Kentucky, later the commander in chief of the American army, and the prominent Judge Sebastian went so far as to accept pensions from Spain as the price of supporting her designs. General George Rogers Clark, the most famous military figure in the West since his conquest of the Illinois country, offered to become a Spanish subject, and to transfer from the weak authority of the United States a numerous colony if he could receive a land grant west of the Mississippi. Sevier and Robertson, the founders of Tennessee, also corresponded with the Spanish authorities, with similar ideas of saving themselves and their communities in the midst of the general confusion. But some of the more conservative and far-sighted Kentucky leaders imposed a successful opposition to precipitate action, and demanded that further time be given to the United States to secure from Spain the western demands. The Spanish intrigue for seducing the West from the Union met defeat (although Spain did not realize the fact for some years) when the new Constitution was ratified and a stronger national government was established.
Another device of Spain was to attract western settlers into her own territory by offering vast land grants to the American frontiersmen. But Spain herself finally became alarmed at the idea of taking such warlike colonies into her bosom, and these measures were superseded by a regulation which gave temporary relief to the settlers by opening the river to their trade under a fifteen per cent duty. Nevertheless, this measure was permissive only, and Spain continued to control the navigation.
While Spain intrigued to dominate both banks of the Mississippi, Great Britain sought to attach the frontiersmen to her interests. Decided apprehension was felt by Madison and other congressmen that the refusal to open the river would throw the West into the arms of England. Nor were these fears groundless, for in the fall of 1788 Dr. Connolly, an agent of the Canadian government, came to Kentucky, at the time when its relation to the United States was doubtful, in order to sound the disaffected as to an English connection. Lord Dorchester, the governor of Canada, reported to his government that private councils in Kentucky favored declaring independence, seizing New Orleans, and looking to England for such assistance as might enable them to accomplish these designs. He sent to the British authorities a memorial by a gentleman of Kentucky (there is reason for believing that Wilkinson wrote it) which declared that "the Atlantic states of America must sink as the western settlements rise. Nature has interposed obstacles and established barriers between these regions which forbid their connection on principles of reciprocal interests, and the flimsy texture of republican government is insufficient to hold in the same political bonds a people detached and scattered over such an expanse of territory, whose views and interests are discordant. Those local causes, irresistible in their mature, must produce a secession of the western settlements from the Atlantic states, and the period is not very distant. But these people must for ages continue agriculture; by consequence, foreign protection will be expedient for their happiness, and this protection must necessarily comprehend the right of navigating the Mississippi with a marine to protect its commerce. That power which commands the navigation of the Mississippi as completely commands the whole country traversed by its waters as the key does the lock or the citadel the outworks. The politics of the western country are fast verging to a crisis, and must speedily eventuate in an appeal to the patronage of Spain or Britain."
In the fall of 1789 the English government instructed Dorchester that it was desirable that the western settlements should be kept distinct from the United States, with a British connection. This policy was more fully explicated in the report of the Lords of Trade that it would be for England's interest "to prevent Vermont and Kentucky, and all other settlements now forming in the Interior parts of the great Continent of North America, from becoming dependent on the Government of the United States, or of any other Foreign Country, and to preserve them on the contrary in a State of Independence and to induce them to form Treaties of Commerce and Friendship with Great Britain."
It is clear, therefore, that while England supported the Indians in their refusal to permit American settlements north of the Ohio, she also endeavored to control the settlements on the south of that river. In short, Spain and England were playing analogous parts, on our unstable frontier, in this period of disintegration, although England was the more cautious, and not so unscrupulous in her intrigue.
France also, which had viewed the loss of Canada and Louisiana with keen regret ever since the last French and Indian war, and had kept in view the possibility of regaining the West during the American Revolution, was awake to the opportunity. De Moustier, the French Minister to the United States, sent to his government memorials pointing out the advantages of Louisiana and its importance to France, and before the close of his career, in 1787, Vergennes, Prime Minister of France, is said to have made offers to Spain for the purchase of Louisiana, but was deterred by a lack of funds.
Thus Washington began his administration with a critical situation on our frontiers. On either flank were powerful Indian confederacies, controlled respectively by England and Spain, threatening our advance. At the same time the new and experimental government was unable to obtain for the inhabitants of the Mississippi Valley the navigation of their great river, and it continually opposed their attempts to make war upon the Indians. In the state of unstable equilibrium of the whole western country, these conditions constituted a grave menace to the future control of the interior by the Union. It is easy to believe that, in the long run, Americans would have settled the Mississippi Valley; but it is by no means so certain that these Americans would, of necessity, have been under the flag of the United States. In these early years an independent confederacy under the protection of some European flag was entirely within the realm of possibility, if not of probability, as the history of Canada illustrates.
The first important diplomatic problem with which the new American government had to grapple arose in connection with the so-called Nootka Sound affair. In the autumn of 1789 Spain seized certain English ships on their way to establish a trading-post at Nootka Sound on the Pacific. During the spring and summer of 1790 active preparations for war were made by both nations. There was every reason to believe that England would strike Spain in her vulnerable American empire, for from the days of Drake, England had sought the commerce of the Spanish colonies. In such an event, Florida and New Orleans were likely to be seized, and in the operations against Louisiana it was probable that an army would descend the Mississippi, crossing from the English posts on the Great Lakes. In fact, at this crisis England instructed the governor of Canada to ascertain if the Kentuckians would cooperate, using the argument that freedom of navigation of the Mississippi would be more important to them than an attempt to recover the Great Lake posts by a Spanish alliance.
But the plans considered by Pitt were more far-reaching than the acquisition of Florida and Louisiana. At this point one of the most interesting figures in the history of the period appears upon the scene, Francesco Miranda, the Venezuelan revolutionist, whose life was an epic of diplomatic intrigue and adventure. Shortly after the American Revolution, Miranda visited the United States. fired with the design of liberating Spanish America. He made the acquaintance of prominent officers like Hamilton and Knox, and he afterward alleged that he had received assurances from them that New England would furnish troops for a revolution in Spanish America if Great Britain assisted with her navy. Miranda then went to Europe to plead his cause, visiting almost all the leading countries of the Continent, and, at the news of approaching hostilities between Spain and Great Britain, he turned for aid to the latter country. In February, 1790, in an interview with Pitt, he unfolded to him his plans for breaking the Spanish yoke in America by the aid of English arms. His design contemplated the formation of an independent constitutional empire of the Spanish colonies, including within its limits the vast territory between the Mississippi and the Pacific as far north as the forty-fifth degree, and all of Central and South America, except Brazil and Guiana. Cuba was to be included, "since the port of Havana is the key to the Gulf of Mexico;" but the other West Indian islands, together with Florida, were apparently to be the reward of England. In addition a liberal commercial arrangement was to be made, which should open to her the trade of this great domain. Miranda also furnished Pitt with reports on the military conditions in Spanish America, and the minister agreed that in the event of war he would take up the project. If hostilities had begun, two expeditions were to be sent to Spanish America, with cooperation from India. New Orleans was to be captured, and a plan for an overland march from that city against Mexico was considered.
While Miranda urged his far-reaching schemes in London, another interesting adventurer, William Augustus Bowles, was fostering British interests among the Southwestern Indians. In the course of his wanderings, Bowles visited the Bahamas, where he won the patronage of Lord Dunmore, by whose connivance he secured stores of English arms and goods for the Gulf Indians, and was thus made independent of the Spanish trading-posts. Becoming one of the principal chiefs of the Lower Creeks, he conceived the project of building up an independent Indian nation, and at length he was emboldened to ask of Spain two ports on the coast of Florida. Failing to receive a favorable response, he determined to seek British assistance and to march his Indians into Florida against the Spanish posts, take New Orleans, and thence advance against Mexico. In 1190 Bowles sailed for England, with a delegation of Creeks and Cherokees, where in January, 1791, he memorialized the king in behalf of his plans. Utterly absurd as his proposal seems, at first sight, it was not without some prospect of success, particularly since he intended to call upon the Cumberland settlers for aid, and to secure supplies from England. He found additional arguments for English assistance in the prospect that the United States would destroy the Northern Indians, while, on the other hand, a general Indian confederacy, North and South, under the leadership of the Creeks and the Cherokees, would greatly increase English influence.
These proposals were made too late to affect English plans in the Nootka Sound affair; but they are significant illustrations of the far-reaching influence which England exercised upon our borders, by means of men whose actions she could utilize or disavow as best suited the circumstances; and Pitt was at this time receiving regular reports from his secret agents in the United States in reference to Florida, which he called his "Southern Farms." While the English government did not encourage Bowles in his plans of active hostility against the United States, it conceded him the free ports which he asked in the West Indies. On his return to the Southwest he achieved a dominant influence among the Indians, arousing the apprehensions both of Spain and the United States, until, in 1792, the Spaniards decoyed him on board one of their vessels and carried him off a prisoner.
It was in connection with the Nootka Sound affair that the United States first seriously considered her destiny as a nation in respect to the possession of New Orleans. Many considerations favored an alliance between the United States and England against Spain. A war between Spain and the United States seemed almost certain, if the Creeks under the leadership of their half-breed chief, Alexander McGillivray, continued to resist the drawing of a boundary line on the Georgia side satisfactory to the United States; for in the operations against them, as General Knox, the Secretary of War, pointed out, our troops would invade territories claimed by Spain.
Washington decided in favor of neutrality, however, and in the summer of 1790 he made strenuous efforts to adjust our affairs on the frontier. He engaged McGillivray in a treaty at New York, whereby our difficulties with the Creek Indians were temporarily tided over; he issued a proclamation against the Yazoo Company's filibustering expedition, of which George Rogers Clark was said to be the military leader, and he took pains at the same time to quiet the apprehensions of the authorities of Canada by assuring them that Harmar's army, which was preparing to strike the Northwestern Indians, was not destined to attack the posts which England retained on the Great Lakes.
The most serious question before the government, however, was what attitude to take in case England occupied Louisiana and Florida, and, particularly, what to do in case she asked a passage for her troops from Canada and the Great Lakes across our Northwestern territory to the Mississippi. As early as July an agent of England was in New York, then the seat of our government, watching our policy, and sounding the leading members of the government on the possibility of a connection between the United States and England in the war, and on our probable attitude if she attacked Louisiana. The views of Congressman Scott from western Pennsylvania, although they were doubtless extreme, illustrate the possibilities of the situation. He said to the agent, "If Great Britain had possession of the opening of the Mississippi, her commercial enterprise would give us a fair and liberal market for our various exports, which is not now the case; it would tend to people our country, in consequence to give us more weight in the general scale." "In these ideas," he said, " all the people upon the western waters are united." He further suggested that Great Britain ought to capture New Orleans, aided by operations on the upper Mississippi by American troops under General Knox, and, after effecting this, "to conduct an army to be formed in the Western country by land from thence into Spanish America." However, the English agent did not meet with equally warm responses from the members of the cabinet. When he hinted to Alexander Hamilton that England's arms would be turned against Spanish America, Hamilton, much as he approved a closer English connection, warned him that the United States must possess New Orleans, and expressed our repugnance to an English enterprise against it.
It is the attitude of Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, that is particularly interesting, however, not only because he had the immediate charge of the diplomacy of the situation, but because here he first officially grappled with the question, who should possess the Mississippi Valley, a question which he, as President, a little over a decade later, was so triumphantly to answer. On the news of the impending war, Jefferson did not hesitate to express his alarm at the prospective conquest by Great Britain of Louisiana and the Floridas. "Embraced from the St. Croix to the St. Mary's on the one side by their possessions, on the other by their fleet," he wrote to Monroe, "we need not hesitate to say that they would soon find means to unite to them all the territory covered by the ramifications of the Mississippi." Thus, he declared, in the notes which he drew up for his own guidance, England would have possessions double the size of ours, as good in soil and climate, and, instead of two neighbors balancing each other, we should have one with more than the strength of both. It would be hopeless, he thought, to make war against England without securing France as an ally, and he characteristically decided that our wisest policy was to delay and watch our opportunity to obtain from the allies a price for our assistance. Such a price might be found in the independence of Louisiana and the Floridas. He therefore determined to secure the good offices of France to induce Spain to cede us the island of New Orleans. Realizing, however, that this proposal would at first seem extreme to the French Minister, he advised our representative to France to urge that country simply to recommend to Spain the cession in general terms of "a port near the mouth of the river with a circumadjacent territory sufficient for its support, well defined and extra-territorial to Spain, leaving the idea to future growth." This was the idea that grew until the "circumadjacent territory" broadened into the vast prairies and plains between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River. Jefferson was not without doubts of the intentions of France herself, for he warned our representative that her recent minister had conceived the project of again "engaging France in a colony" upon our continent; but with a cheerful optimism that casts light upon his later actions, he added that he suspected France the less since her National Assembly had constitutionally excluded conquest from the effort of their government!
To our representative at Madrid he gave directions to point out that more than half the American territory and forty thousand fighting men were within the Mississippi basin. If Spain would not concede the right of navigation, either we must lose the West, which would seek other alliances, or we must wrest what we wanted from Spain. He was therefore to suggest the cession of New Orleans and Florida, and to argue that thus we could protect for Spain what lay beyond the Mississippi. In the light of subsequent events, Jefferson's argument on this point is amusing. It would be safer for Spain that we should be her neighbor rather than England, he reasoned, since conquest is not in our principles, and is inconsistent with our government; and he added that it would not be to our interest to cross the Mississippi for ages, and would never be to our interest to remain united with those who do.
In his instructions to our agent in England, he pointed out the consequences of that nation's acquiring Louisiana and Florida, and required him to intimate to the English government that "a due balance on our borders is not less desirable to us than a balance of power in Europe has always appeared to them." He offered neutrality conditioned on England's executing the treaty of 1783 fairly and attempting no conquests adjoining us.
Thus we see Jefferson's Louisiana system fully unfolded as early as 1790. There is the characteristic passion for peace, which leads him to determine to await events in spite of his vigorous diplomatic representations, and there is a naïve confidence in the unwillingness of France to conquer, and of the United States to expand by war; but there is at the same time a firm grasp of the importance of the Mississippi and the Gulf to the future of the United States, and a farsighted vision of our need of a doctrine of balance of power in the New World,—a germ of the Monroe Doctrine.
The correspondence of Washington's cabinet officers reveals the fact that England would have met no forcible resistance had she sent an army from the Great Lakes down the Mississippi to take possession of New Orleans. Once there, a liberal policy toward the western settlers, and an efficient defense by her fleet, would have placed her in a position difficult of attack.
This first diplomatic discussion of the future of the Mississippi Valley by the new government of the United States served its purpose by turning the vision of American statesmen to this horizon line of our future, rather than by resulting in immediate action. France, then in the beginnings of her revolution, broke away from her Spanish alliance by declaring the family compact between the two courts inapplicable to the new state of affairs. Thus isolated, Spain was obliged to sign a convention with England in 1790, which terminated the prospect of war between the two powers.
Spain's first movements after this episode were to give definite orders to permit no American settlements on the Mississippi below the mouth of the Ohio, and to send an agent to reside among the Creek Indians in order to prevent the running of the boundary line between them and Georgia, which had been agreed upon by the New York treaty. In response, the United States sent an agent of its own with instructions to supersede McGillivray, and become himself the chief of the Creeks.
Thus, both in the Southwest and the Northwest, a situation existed similar to that which has been seen in Afghanistan, and other buffer states, where in recent times Russia and England have contended for dominant influence. The storm centre rested among the savages, and in the Southwest. as in the Northwest, a chance spark might have produced a war. Negotiations were transferred to Madrid, where the American representatives were cleverly amused by the Spanish diplomats for several years. By the close of 1792, England was still persistent in her support of the Northwestern Indians by advice of resident agents, by equipment in arms, and by her retention of the posts, and Spain was as impervious as ever in the Southwest. The conditions aroused the fears of the government that these two nations had a common understanding against the United States.
These circumstances, together with the uncertain state of affairs in Europe, where England and Spain were joining in opposition to France, led Hamilton in the fall of 1792 to advocate an alliance with England, but Washington declared this remedy worse than the disease. Before the close of the year, however, even Washington came reluctantly to the conclusion that an ally might be needed, and he broached to Jefferson the idea of a closer connection with France. This met with eager sympathy from the Secretary of State, who avowed that a French alliance was his polar star. It is hardly necessary to point out that an alliance with any European power at this juncture in European events would have plunged us in the state system of the Old World, and would have opened the Mississippi Valley to conquest by one or the other of these powers. Washington, in fact, adhered to neutrality, which was, undoubtedly, our true policy, for in little more than a decade the western settlers became strong enough to insure our possession of the interior.
While the American government considered the question of European alliances, the results of the breaking of the family compact between France and Spain were making themselves manifest. It is a significant illustration of the importance of Spanish America in the diplomacy of the period of the French Revolution that one of the early efforts of France to prevent the coalition against her was an attempt to detach England by an offer to join with her in breaking the power of Spain in the New World. The rupture of the family compact had left France free to prey upon the spoils of her late ally, and in the spring and early fall of 1792 she sent two successive missions to London, in which Talleyrand served, to win British alliance by the offer of a joint attack upon the colonial possessions of Spain. The emancipation of these colonies would give their commerce to England, and the fact that Miranda, now high in favor in France, had already furnished Pitt with information that Spanish America was ripe for revolt must have added temptation to the bait. But England, alarmed by the fall of the royal power in France, was in no mood to accept that nation as a partner in this plan of exploitation, and France was thrown back upon the United States. Brissot dominated the foreign policy of France at this time. He had recently traveled in the United States, was acquainted with the disaffection in the West, believed the Alleghanies a natural boundary to the United States, and knew that the frontiersmen were keenly ready to attack the Spaniards at the mouth of their great liver. He reckoned also on the ability of France to recall to their old allegiance the French population of Louisiana and Canada. The French leaders seem first to have determined to send Miranda as governor to San Domingo, whence he could organize an expedition against Spanish America. "Once masters of the Dutch marine," wrote Dumouriez, "we shall be able to crush England, particularly by interesting the United States in the support of our colonies, and in executing a superb project of General Miranda." It was indeed a vast project, combining in a single system the movements to unite the French and Dutch fleets, and thus to make possible a sea power that should enable France, aided by American frontiersmen, to attack Spain's colonial empire, using the French West Indies as a base.
If the United States would cooperate in freeing Canada, Louisiana, and Florida, our alliance was to be sought. It was hoped that at the worst only a nominal neutrality would be declared, and that events on our distant frontier would not be checked by the government of the United States. The French ministers informed Colonel Smith, the son-in-law of Vice President Adams, that they intended to begin the attack at the mouth of the Mississippi, and to sweep along the Bay of Mexico southwardly, and, that they would have no objection to our incorporating the two Floridas.
Under these circumstances France determined to send Genet as minister to this country. This interesting character had represented the French government in Russia with so much enthusiasm in the opening of the Revolution that the Empress Catherine dubbed him "un démagogue enragé" and in the summer of 1792 he was forced to leave that country. His instructions required him to negotiate a new treaty with the United States, which should consolidate the commercial and political interests of the two nations, and establish a close connection for extending the empire of liberty. Such a compact, it was stated, "would conduce rapidly to freeing Spanish America, to opening the navigation of the Mississippi to the inhabitants of Kentucky, to delivering our ancient brothers of Louisiana from the tyrannical yoke of Spain, and perhaps to uniting the fair star of Canada to the American constellation." Genet was required to devote himself to convincing the Americans of the feasibility of these vast designs. But if the United States should take a wavering and timid course, while waiting for the government to make common cause with France, he was to take all measures which, comported with his position to arouse in Louisiana, and in the other provinces of America adjacent to the United States, the principles of liberty and independence. Kentucky, it was pointed out, would probably second his efforts, without compromising Congress, and he was authorized to send agents there and to Louisiana, where the fires of revolution were ready to break out among the French population.
This programme of revolutionary propaganda was reiterated in an additional set of instructions, when the approaching rupture with England and Spain became evident. Thus the French government imposed upon Genet the duty of intrigue in Kentucky and the conquest of Louisiana, not as a minor element in his mission, but as one of its main purposes, a fact which has been ignored in the treatment of his career by most historians.
Hardly had this new representative of France reached Charleston early in April, 1793, when he began his negotiations for the proposed expedition against Florida and Louisiana. He found Governor Moultrie of South Carolina friendly, for this state, as well as Georgia, was suffering from the hostility of the Cherokees and the Creeks on her frontiers, and would gladly have seen the Spaniards driven from the Gulf states by an alliance with France.
Without difficulty Mangourit, the 'French consul at Charleston, enlisted the services of important leaders. In order to rally the Georgia frontiersmen, he procured the cooperation of Samuel Hammond, a well-known Georgian, who had taken part in the Revolution as a colonel of cavalry, and had been surveyor-general at Savannah. His importance is shown by the fact that he was later a member of Congress, and after the acquisition of Louisiana was made military and civil commandant of Upper Louisiana from 1805 to 1824. While Hammond was to gather the forces of interior Georgia for a descent upon St. Augustine, another frontiersman, William Tate, who afterwards figured in a French expedition to Ireland, was to organize the backwoodsmen of the Carolinas for a descent upon New Orleans by way of the Tennessee River and the Mississippi.
From Charleston Genet proceeded to Philadelphia, where he found himself the hero of the hour. In spite of Washington's proclamation of neutrality, issued on the 22d of April, the masses of the American people were strongly in sympathy with the young French Republic, to which they seemed to be bound not only by ties of gratitude, but also by treaty obligations, and by the bond of sympathy existing between sister republics. Jefferson himself regarded the proclamation as pusillanimous. Carried away by the popular enthusiasm for the French cause, Genet quickly determined to proceed with high hand, being confident of his ability to secure a reversal of the majority in Congress in case the administration opposed his plans. In Philadelphia he was handed by his predecessor a letter from General George Rogers Clark of Kentucky, written at Louisville early in February, 1793. Clark had fallen into intemperate habits at this time. He had previously involved himself in plans for a filibustering attack upon the Yazoo, Virginia had rejected his claims for Revolutionary expenses, and he felt that the United States had been ungrateful for his services: so he offered his sword to France. He declared that he could raise fifteen hundred men, and he believed that the French at St. Louis and throughout the rest of Louisiana, together with the American subjects at the Natchez, would flock to his standard. With the first fifteen hundred, he declared that he could take all of Louisiana for France, beginning at St. Louis, and with the assistance of two or three frigates at the mouth of the Mississippi, he would engage to subdue New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana. "If farther aided," said he, "I would capture Pensacola; and if Santa Fe and the rest of New Mexico were objects—I know their strength and every avenue leading to them." "When any opportunity offered, I had it uniformly in view, to give a vital blow to the Spaniards in this quarter." Such, in brief, was the proposal, apt for his purposes, which Genet found as he took up his work in Philadelphia in May.
He was met by the refusal of the government to afford him funds by making an advance payment on our debt to France. Finding Washington—"the old Washington," as he called him—inflexible in his policy of strict neutrality, Genet turned eagerly to the programme of revolution. By the middle of June he wrote home that he was arming Kentucky, and preparing a general insurrection in the provinces adjoining the United States. For the Kentucky enterprise he selected, as his secret agent, Michaux, a French botanist, whose researches in this field have made him well known. Michaux had been picked out by Jefferson at the beginning of this year to lead an expedition across the continent to discover a practicable means of reaching the Pacific by way of the Missouri. This exploring expedition now served as a useful cloak for Genet's design. Toward the close of June he drew up instructions for Michaux which required him to point out the probable failure of the negotiations attempted between Spain and the United States for the opening of the Mississippi, and the desire of France to promote the prosperity of Kentucky by giving to it the freedom of navigation of that river. To this end he was to concert plans with General Clark, and with General Benjamin Logan, another of the famous pioneer leaders of Kentucky. Genet had the audacity to read these instructions to Secretary Jefferson in an interview which took place some time before the 5th of July, 1793. He gave Jefferson the impression that the purpose of France was to establish Louisiana and Florida as free republics, commercially allied with both the United States and France. Jefferson called his attention to the fact that an attempt to raise an army of citizens of the United States within our borders would violate our neutrality, and would result in the punishment of the offenders, but he added that if this difficulty were avoided, he did not care what insurrections were incited in New Orleans. Indeed, Genet in his own account of this interview declares that the secretary went further, and added that a little spontaneous invasion would promote the interests of the United States. This was a remarkable conversation. In 1790, Jefferson, alarmed at the prospect of an English possession of New Orleans, had expressed sentiments which showed full realization of the danger to American power if this city should fall into the hands of a strong nation; and again, when he learned in 1802 that Louisiana had been ceded to Napoleon, he made his famous statement, "There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans. . . . The day that France takes possession of New Orleans fixes the sentence that is to restrain her within her low water mark. . . . From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation . . . holding the two continents of America in sequestration for the common purposes of the United British and American nations."
How happened it that Jefferson, so fierce in his insistence upon the importance of New Orleans to the United States in 1802, should have been willing to see the city taken by an expedition of American frontiersmen under the flag of France? In answer it must be said that as yet Jefferson had not learned to distrust the purposes of the French Republic. He still was in sympathy with its fundamental ideas, and believed in the disinterestedness of its crusade in behalf of liberty. In the second place, Genet had put the proposition before him as that of an attempt to create an independent republic, not to make a French acquisition. Moreover, war between the United States and Spain seemed inevitable at this time. In June the protests of the Spanish agents to the American government over its attitude were so vehement that it seemed clear that war upon the Creeks would precipitate hostilities with Spain, and yet their depredations upon our border, and the need of supporting the friendly Chickasaws, made such a war almost a necessity. To meet the exigency Washington sent a special messenger in July to Madrid to explain the situation, and to secure a categorical answer from Spain in regard to her pretensions among the Indians within our limits, and as to whether she would regard an attack upon the Creeks as hostility against herself. Spain evaded an answer, and the Louisiana authorities redoubled their efforts to consolidate the Indians against the United States. The attitude of England in the Northwest, as we have seen, gave strong grounds for suspecting that she was following a joint policy with Spain. Acting on the hint already received, that France might consent to our incorporating the Floridas, Jefferson, with the approval of Washington, had, in the spring of this year, revised his original propositions, and instructed our representative at Madrid not to give a guarantee of the Spanish possessions across the Mississippi in return for the cession of those on the eastern side. It is clear that he had reached the conclusion that it would be for the interest of the United States to make an ally of France in the expected war against Spain. The terms of the alliance might be adjusted later, and he doubtless believed that if once the American frontiersmen were in possession of New Orleans, the interests of the United States were not likely to suffer. Jefferson therefore committed himself to the extent of giving to Michaux a letter of introduction to the governor of Kentucky, in which he mentioned that Michaux had the confidence of the French Minister.
After this interview, Genet pushed his preparations rapidly forward. He sent to George Rogers Clark a letter accepting his proposals and authorizing him to take the title of major-general and commander in chief of the independent and revolutionary legion of the Mississippi, promising him further to use his influence to obtain for him the grade of field marshal of France. On July 12, he defied the orders of the United States, and allowed the Little Democrat, a recently captured vessel whose status was in dispute, to drop down the Delaware and go to sea. In this action he was the more urgent because he proposed to use her to blockade the Mississippi in support of Clark's descent of the river upon New Orleans. Three days later Michaux departed to initiate the expedition in Kentucky.
Genet's high-handed proceedings and his utterances, which were construed to threaten an appeal from Washington to the people, made the Little Democrat episode the turning-point in his mission. He lost his influential friends, and the popular sentiment gradually swung away from him. But his activity in organizing his secret expedition continued. Shortly after the affair of the Little Democrat he learned of the arrival of a French squadron at New York, and determined to use this naval force against Newfoundland, to recapture St. Pierre and Miquelon, burn Halifax, then feebly defended, and on its return, to send it, after the October winds were over, against New Orleans. This plan was quickly disclosed both to the Spanish and English authorities. On receiving information from the Spanish representatives, Secretary Jefferson wrote to the governor of Kentucky to prevent the expedition, informing him that it was against Kentucky's real interest to permit it. The preparations in Kentucky during the rest of the year were hampered by lack of money, although Clark was collecting supplies and boats, and offering inducements to volunteers. In October, Genet prepared to hasten the departure of the fleet in two divisions: one to Canada, whither he was sending his emissaries to stir up the French people, and the other to take on board the Georgia troops for the conquest of Florida. At the same time he sent a delegation of Frenchmen to Kentucky to arouse the democratic societies in the West, and to assist in organizing the Mississippi expedition. One of these Frenchmen proved a traitor, and divulged this phase of the scheme to the Spanish agents. The United States made prompt provisions to restrain it, ordering the use of force if necessary. Governor Shelby of Kentucky, however, anxious to stimulate the interest of the government in securing the freedom of the river, alarmed the Federal authorities by replying that he doubted his legal right to prevent men from emigrating from Kentucky with arms in their hands, and the western societies drew up vigorous memorials denouncing the indifference of the government to their rights.
Carondelet was in despair. He warned his government that upper Louisiana would fall into the hands of the enemy under Clark, and if an attack on New Orleans by the fleet occurred, all Louisiana would succumb with the greatest ease and rapidity. The total force available for the defense of the colony amounted to only 1620 men, stretched out over 600 leagues of river navigation. The New Orleans Frenchmen were ready to join the invaders, and if Walnut Hills (Vicksburg) and Natchez were taken, he declared, " I shall have no other resource than an honorable surrender, or to perish in defense of the redout of San Curios with my regular troops." He added that he did not doubt the success of the enemy in marching upon Santa Fé. Sending urgent demands to Spain for reinforcements, in desperation he also wrote to the English in Canada asking succor.
On February 10, 1794, the Canadian governor, Lord Dorchester, believing war between England and the United States at hand, had issued his proclamation to the Indians, telling them that he expected that the boundary between them and the United States would have to be drawn by the warriors. Carondelet's letter begging English aid reached Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe at Miami Rapids in April, whither the latter had advanced his forces to meet the expected attack by General Wayne. To the overtures of the Spanish officer Simcoe gave a sympathetic answer, regretting that his own situation prevented him from detaching troops for the support of St. Louis, but inclosing Dorchester's speech as evidence of England's attitude.
Finding difficulty in using the French fleet, Genet had postponed the attack until spring. As yet George Rogers Clark had not brought an army into the field, excepting a company which guarded the mouth of the Ohio, but later he reported that he could have gotten as many men as he chose. In the Charleston region recruiting had been checked by the resolutions of the South Carolina Assembly in December against the expedition (the Southern planters were alarmed by the French incitement of negro insurrection in San Domingo), but Tate professed himself ready to move in the spring down the Tennessee with 2000 Carolina frontiersmen, and Hammond expected 1500 Georgians to rendezvous for the capture of St. Augustine in concert with the French fleet in the middle of March. The French agents were also negotiating treaties with the Creeks and Cherokees, the ancient allies of France. Making liberal allowances for the exaggeration of the frontier leaders, success seemed possible in the southern region. But, at the moment of hope, Genet's career was cut short, and the affair terminated by the arrival of a new minister, Fauchet, with instructions to terminate the expedition. This he did by his proclamation, issued March 6, 1794.
In order to understand this turn in events, we must briefly recall the situation in France. Hardly had Genet reached Philadelphia at the beginning of his mission, when his friends, the Girondist party, fell, and the reign of terror under the Mountain began. That awful summer, with civil war, military reverses, and a dozen countries in arms against France, was no time for conquest in another hemisphere, even if the Jacobins had desired to support the minister. But Genet was denounced by Robespierre as one of the Girondists, and France lent a ready ear to the demands of Washington for his recall. Genet's arrest was therefore ordered, and instructions given to terminate the expedition.
By conniving at the designs of France, Washington could have made the expedition a success, but his consistent policy of neutrality, which constituted a landmark in the history of international law on this subject, had saved the nation from war under French leadership, and from the loss of the Mississippi Valley.
Hardly had the French danger passed, when we were on the eve of a conflict with England. The threatening attitude of that country in the Northwest, while Wayne's preparations against the Indians were in progress, has already been referred to. Suspecting that we were to unite with France, the English officials prepared to resist an attack. As soon as the American government learned of Simcoe's threatening advance toward Wayne's forces, the Secretary of State informed the British representative that his act was hostility itself. At the same time, England's aggressions on our neutral commerce had become intolerable. Preparations were hurriedly made for war; Congress passed laws calling out troops, laid an embargo on English goods, and provided for the fortification of American harbors. In the summer of 1794, General Wayne faced the savages under the guns of the British fort at Miami Rapids, and in the decisive battle of Fallen Timbers he crushed the Indian power of the Northwest. The British commander promptly addressed an inquiry to General Wayne, demanding to know his purpose in making such near approaches to the garrison, and the taunting reply of "Mad Anthony" was that "the most full and satisfactory answer was announced from the muzzles of my small arms yesterday morning in the action against the heard of Savages in the vicinity of your Post; which terminated gloriously to the American arms —but had it continued until the Indians, etc., were drove under the influence of the Post and Guns you mention—they would not much have impeded the progress of the Victorious army under my control." To this fiery challenge the commander of the British wrote a moderate letter avowing his anxiety to prevent a war which might be approved by neither of the governments. He refused to abandon the post, and declared that a further approach within reach of his cannon was impossible "without expecting the consequences attending it." Wayne reconnoitred the fort in all points, quite in sight, covered by his light infantry and riflemen, and the British commander wrote to his government: "It was extremely insolent, but he will never do it again with impunity." Finally, failing to precipitate hostilities by the British, Wayne withdrew his troops. Thus narrowly was war averted at this critical time when it needed but a spark applied to the cannon of this fort to precipitate a conflict which would have involved the Mississippi Valley. But Washington had before this determined upon a final effort to preserve the peace, and had sent Chief Justice Jay to make a treaty with England. The close of 1794 (November 19) was marked by the success of Jay's mission. The British agreed to evacuate the posts, and, in 1795, Wayne forced the Northwestern Indians to a treaty by which they yielded the larger portion of the present state of Ohio, and abandoned their effort to make the Ohio River a barrier to the advance of civilization. Thus matters were in train for our acquisition of the Northwest.
In the Southwest, also, the sudden concession of our rights by Spain after a decade of steadfast refusal was as dramatic as it was significant. Godoy, the Prime Minister, had for the past two years been reading the alarming dispatches of Carondelet, exhibiting the weakness of Louisiana, the danger of the advance of American settlement, and the menace of French invasion. Writing of the settlement of the lands beyond the Alleghany Mountains, Carondelet declared:—
"This vast and restless population, progressively driving the Indian tribes before them and upon us, seek to possess themselves of all the extensive regions which the Indians occupy between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Appalachian Mountains, thus becoming our neighbors, at the same time that they menacingly ask for the free navigation of the Mississippi. If they achieve their object, their ambitions would not be confined to this side of the Mississippi. Their writings, public papers, and speeches, all turn on this point, the free navigation of the Gulf by the rivers . . . which empty into it, the rich fur-trade of the Missouri, and in time the possession of the rich mines of the interior provinces of the very Kingdom of Mexico. Their mode of growth and their policy are as formidable for Spain as their armies. . . . Their roving spirit and the readiness with which they procure sustenance and shelter facilitate rapid settlement. A rifle and a little corn meal in a bag are enough for an American wandering alone in the woods for a month. . . . With logs crossed upon each other he makes a house, and even an impregnable fort against the Indians. . . . Cold does not terrify him, and when a family wearies of one place, it moves to another and settles there with the same ease.
"If such men come to occupy the banks of the Mississippi and Missouri, or secure their navigation, doubtless nothing will prevent them from crossing and penetrating into our provinces on the other side, which, being to a great extent unoccupied, can oppose no resistance. But even if this were not the case, who could warrant that the few inhabitants would not unite with joy and eagerness with the men who offered them aid and protection in securing independence, self-government, and self-taxation, and who flatter them with the spirit of liberty, the hope of free, extensive, and lucrative commerce, etc. In my opinion, a general revolution in America threatens Spain unless the remedy be applied promptly."
Convinced that Spain must have peace, Godoy, in the summer of 1795, made the treaty of Bale with France, which gained for him the title of Prince of Peace. This brought Spain under the influence of France during the rest of the period which we are to consider. When Thomas Pinckney arrived as minister from the United States, Godoy suggested to him the desirability of an alliance between Spain, France, and the United States; but Pinckney was not diverted from the main theme. While the negotiations went on, the news of the successful termination of Jay's mission to England reached Spain. After submitting to the delays as long as he deemed it profitable, Pinckney suddenly announced that he was about to leave Madrid for London, and asked Godoy if he had any commissions for him. This veiled threat was interpreted as implying an offensive arrangement between England and the United States, leveled against Spain's colonies. Godoy had no desire to place Spain at the mercy of France with two such enemies on the borders of Louisiana. Within three days he agreed to the treaty of San Lorenzo, October 27, 1795, whereby Spain conceded our southwestern boundaries and the freedom of navigation of the Mississippi, and agreed to evacuate the ports within our limits on the eastern bank of the river.
Thus, toward the close of Washington's administration, changed conditions brought about new combinations and intrigues among the European nations for controlling the destiny of the Mississippi Valley. In appearance the United States had gained control of the river. But the victorious French Republic tried to dominate the policy of its dependent Spanish ally after 1795, and under the plea of protecting her remaining American empire against the expanding forces of the United States, demanded of Spain the cession of Louisiana and the Floridas. Convinced that the United States had fallen under English control, France considered a war with the United States as not unlikely, and laid plans for acquiring the lands between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi, as well as Louisiana and the Floridas. The development of these forces until they result in the Louisiana Purchase will be the subject of a second paper.
(To be continued.)
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