Roland the Chronicler Part 5

Louisianna 1803Buzzy had curled under a window in a room the servants called the Tea Room. Jefferson sat at a small desk nearby, reading a long document.

“James, you have greatly exceeded my instructions. I trusted you would find success in your task to purchase New Orleans. But, never did I expect a treaty of this nature. Sir, I’m astonished,” Jefferson said.

“Honestly, Mr. President, I do not fully understand these events myself,” said Monroe. “We negotiated diligently for New Orleans and had thought the deed was at hand when an agent of First Consul Bonaparte abruptly declared an end to our conclave. He informed us the First Consul would see us when his schedule allowed it. Robert and I were greatly disappointed and worried that we had failed you.”

Jefferson rose, turned and looked out the window. I could hear Monroe and Livingston nervously shifting in their chairs, but no one spoke for several moments until Jefferson said, “Bonaparte’s a clever man; he most certainly had some plan in mind when he stopped the negotiations. Had you no clue?”

“None for two days,” said Livingston. “Then Bonaparte’s Minister of Finance came to see us. He inquired as to our authority to act. I assured him we had your full support and authority, but that all treaties required the approval of the Senate.”

Jefferson continued staring out the window, but his words defined the true focus. “Bonaparte’s seizure of Louisiana from Spain was troubling. But, his blockade of American exports through New Orleans was a most grievous offense. I thought he planned to establish a powerful military presence in his colony.”

“As did we, Mr. President, but, why send the Finance Minister? The next day our delegation was summoned to Versailles,” said Monroe.

“Versailles? That is strange. It is neither his seat of government, nor his residence,” Jefferson said taking his seat at the desk.

“For those very reasons, we thought it most likely to be an embassy ball or some such affair and wore our best attire. You can imagine our surprise when we arrived and saw no embassy coaches. A servant led us to an opulent room and a table capable of seating thirty or more. We still had no idea of what was to come,” said Livingston.

“It appears that Bonaparte was attempting to impress you, or perhaps to intimidate you to gain some benefit for his objective,” said Jefferson.

“You may be right, sir. Moments later large ornate doors opened and Bonaparte strode in followed by his entourage. Much is said of Bonaparte’s height, but he projected a stature that reached beyond the physical. George Washington was the only other man to elicit such a response from me. Admittedly, he was quite tall,” said Monroe.

Clearly interested Jefferson asked, “What was Bonaparte’s demeanor?”

“Very determined, but I would also say gracious. He approached me with an open hand and, in English, thanked me for meeting with him. As if I had had a choice, but still, it was gracious. Our negotiations had been in French so his use of English was a polite gesture.

“He made a brief speech about the United States being the midwife of the French Republic, and that it deserved special consideration amongst the nations that share France’s orbit. He then befuddled us by the offer to sell all of Louisiana for 60 million francs, payable over time, plus the assumption of French debts amounting to no more than 20 million francs,” said Livingston.

“What conversion rate and terms did he demand?” Jefferson asked slowly.

“We thought them quite reasonable,” Monroe said. “The debts are to be paid as claims against France are settled, but can’t exceed $3,750,000. The remaining $11,250,000 is to be paid with a 6% note, interest only payable for 15 years, after which $3,000,000 annual principle payments will be due.”

“He gave no explanation for refusing to sell New Orleans alone?” asked Jefferson.

“No, sir, none at all,” Livingston said.

“Did he shed any light on why he wanted United States to purchase all of Louisiana?” asked Jefferson.

“None, other than his previously stated kind feelings for our country,” Monroe said.

Jefferson stood again and paced. I could sense he’d reached a conclusion when he turn and spoke to his guest with a wide smile. “Very interesting, I suspect his disastrous losses in Haiti and his failure to obtain Florida from Spain may have had a hand. The threat of war with Britain must have been on his mind too. I imagine these things had more to do with his decision than his abiding friendship for the United States.”

“Frankly, Mr. President, we were dumbfounded by the offer. I asked Bonaparte if we might have some time to consider his proposal. Bonaparte stared at me for what felt like minutes but were only seconds, and said ‘Yes, but not long,’” said Livingston.

Monroe’s face looked flushed and the pace of his speech increased. “We then said our goodbyes and retired to our quarters in Paris. I think it’s fair to say that we were most excited about the proposal. We didn’t have maps of Louisiana with us, but recalled its size to be approximately 826,000 square miles.”

“I’m curious, gentlemen, how did you find it acceptable to commit your country to $15 million when you were only authorized $10 million. Did you consider whether or not I had authority under the Constitution to acquire so much new territory?” asked Jefferson as he sat down.

“Well, Mr. President,” Monroe said with a chuckle, “you and I had discussed that the purchase of New Orleans was justified under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, to protect Mississippi shipments. The idea of securing the western shore of the Mississippi seemed to be a reasonable extension of the concept. But, to be honest, sir, Robert made the strongest argument with his figures.”

Jefferson leaned forward and said, “Robert, please explain.”

“As I saw it, sir, Bonaparte was offering us New Orleans for $10 million and the remainder of Louisiana for $5 million. Our country would double its territory for less than a penny per acre. Good heavens, sir, I could buy five acres for the cost of a tankard of beer at that price. I begged James to execute the treaty as soon as possible. I feared Bonaparte would gain his senses and change his mind.”

Jefferson erupted in laughter and said, “You make a strong argument, Mr. Livingston. It would seem only a fool would reject this opportunity. It is my hope the fools in Congress are outnumbered. Sirs, you have accomplished more than I could have prayed for, and have given our republic the ability to stretch its wings of freedom to the Rocky Mountains. Come gentlemen; let us retire to the Library for refreshments.”

I’d completed my assignment and encouraged Buzzy to seek the kitchen. A small whine prompted Jefferson to open a door for us. As we ambled, I visualized the holo-cine my chronicled memories would produce. It should keep the AmerCan team busy for a while, I thought with pride.

* * *

“ awake?” Neetang was saying when the chamber seal was broken.

“Don’t I look awake?”

“Yes, but a Chrono-tech is precise in all he says and does.”

I smiled at my rotund friend. As exasperating as he is, he cares and works hard. I wonder when-where he’ll send me next.

* * *

Author’s Note:
Roland the Chronicler is a work of fiction based on historical events and documents. Literary license has been taken, some might say abused, but the gist of the story regarding Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase is accurate or implied by documented events. The importance of the acquisition is indisputable.


Author: David P. Cantrell

I'm a retired baby-boomer enjoying life.

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