A Real Deal

23 signing statueLinda Burton posting from Jefferson City, Missouri – It’s time to talk about the Louisiana Purchase. The LP is one of those American History standards we are taught early in school; that memorable moment when the United States doubled in size in just a day under the wise leadership of President Jefferson, who soon after hired Lewis and Clark to explore the new land. Now that I’m here, in the city named for that president, by the river that served as the pathway for exploration by the Discovery Corps, I am inspired to dig deeper into the details. Inspired, and intrigued; I came across a monument when I walked behind the capitol today; an imposing sculpture just beyond a lovely fountain, high on the bluff above the Missouri River. It’s a theater-like setting, three men on a stage, a recreation in bronze of an event that happened long ago. I moved closer to read the 23 signing statue and bridgeinscription; Monroe. Livingston. Marbois. 1803. That’s all it said, although Signing of the Treaty was engraved below. Back in my room, I began to accumulate more facts. The date represented was April 30, 1803; the location was Paris, France; the men were James Monroe, Robert Livingston, and Francois Barbé-Marbois. Marbois (1745-1837) was France’s Minister of the Treasury under Napoleon Bonaparte; Livingston (1746-1813) was the US Ambassador to France. Monroe (1758-1831), who would become fifth president of the United States in 1817, was sent by Jefferson to join Livingston in France; as designated minister plenipotentiary, he had full authority to transact business on the President’s behalf. Jefferson didn’t send Monroe to buy the Louisiana Territory however; his mission was to buy the port of New Orleans. What happened was a surprise that Thomas Jefferson didn’t hear about until July 3.

23 monument closeI studied my photos of the monument again; Monroe is the figure seated on what appears to be a French empire chair; Marbois is standing to the right, leaning over a document; Livingston stands in the background, looking on. It is very detailed; you can see the buckles on their shoes, the embroidery on their coats, the folds of cloth draped over the table, the candelabra. This happily-ever-after moment in bronze was actually the mid-point of a long series of treaties and territories and wars and woes; of countries getting out of debt and into debt; of alliances formed and fears allayed. The focal point was 828,000 square miles of land between the Mississippi River and the Continental Divide; land that was controlled by France from 1699 until 1762, when it gave the territory to its ally Spain. France took back the territory in 1800, but a slave revolt in Haiti and an impending war with Britain put Napoleon in a bind; he needed money.

Spain had built fortresses on the eastern edge of the Mississippi River, hindering shipping and trade for western Americans; by 1803 emotions were high; some were ready to sail down the Mississippi and take New Orleans by force. To avoid an unpleasant international situation, Jefferson decided to send Monroe to France to negotiate for the purchase of the Isle of New Orleans, on which New Orleans was located.

On April 11, a day before Monroe arrived in Paris, Livingston was surprised to receive an offer not just for New Orleans, but for all of the Louisiana Territory. Marbois discussed the possible sale with both men on April 13. Monroe at first was hesitant to exceed his instructions, but finally went along with the idea; after all it would take two months for communications back to the President. On April 30, a treaty was signed; they also signed two conventions spelling out payment details.

Jefferson did not learn about the deal until July 3, and did not receive the official documents until July 14. Was everybody happy? Monroe certainly was; he said We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives…From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank. But the Spanish objected, saying France did not have clear title to the land. In the United States, those who favored close relations with Britain over closer ties to Napoleon were concerned that the United States paid a large sum of money just to declare war on Spain. Other anti-purchase voices expressed fears that the political power of the Atlantic seaboard states would be threatened by new citizens of the west, resulting in a clash of western farmers and eastern bankers; or that an increase in the number of slave-holding states might increase divisions between north and south. And should foreigners unacquainted with democracy, such as the French and Spanish and free blacks of New Orleans, become citizens? 23 treaty bondMany believed that the purchase was unconstitutional; even Jefferson considered a constitutional amendment.

Napoleon was becoming impatient and threatened to void the treaty; speed became essential to complete the deal. Jefferson dropped the idea of an amendment and pushed for ratification by the October 30 deadline; the Senate did so in a vote of twenty-four to seven on October 20; the next day in Washington the Americans and the French envoy exchanged ratified copies of the treaty. The Senate authorized President Jefferson to take possession of the territory and to create stock for its purchase from France. In legislation enacted on October 31, Congress made temporary provisions for local civil government to continue as it had under French and Spanish rule and authorized the President to use military forces to maintain order. Plans were also set forth for several missions to explore and chart the territory, the most famous being the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

23 lp mapOn December 20, in an unusual ceremony in New Orleans, the flag of Spain was lowered, the flag of France was raised and then lowered, and the flag of the United States was raised, signifying the two changes in ownership of the 828,000 square miles of Louisiana Territory. At a cost of $15 million, which rounds out to less than four cents an acre, it is often called the greatest real estate deal in history. The Louisiana territory encompassed all or part of fifteen present US states and two Canadian provinces – all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River, most of North Dakota, most of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, northern Texas, the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide, Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans, and small portions of land that would eventually become part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

23 monument close XI looked at my photos of the monument one more time, thinking about a decisive-looking Monroe at that table in France. Had he not been secure enough to go beyond what he was instructed to do, would I be sitting in Missouri today?

The Monument. The original sculpture was created for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis at the 1904 World’s Fair and was made of staff, a combination of plaster and fibrous material intended for temporary use. Later the widow of the original artist allowed it to be cast in bronze.

  • Title: The Signing of the Treaty
  • Artists: Karl Bitter, Adolph A Weinman
  • Date: Original 1904. Installed at Capitol Complex before 1929.
  • Medium: Sculpture: bronze; Base: granite.
  • Physical Location: Missouri State Capitol, North Grounds, Jefferson City, Missouri

See a copy of the Treaty at the National Archives  http://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/document.html?doc=5&title.raw=Louisiana%20Purchase%20Treaty