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A History of the Louisiana Purchase
by Andy P. Antippas
“Let the Land rejoice, for you have bought Louisiana for a Song.”
Gen. Horatio Gates to President Jefferson, July 18, 1803
What follows is the result of months of reading and gleaning and distilling history texts and hundreds and hundreds of websites devoted to the Louisiana Purchase, so that you won’t have to. I hope you will agree that the devil and the angel are in the anecdotal details. The essential information I have gathered, with a jaundiced eye, and have set out for you in an overlapping linearity, is intended to remind you of and help you focus on the discrepancies that exist between 19th century American artistic historical idealizations, and the grim historical realities of American political and social life. Out of all of this I hope you will find some subject or an atmosphere you can pursue visually. I also hope some of the information is as fresh for you as it was for me.
The British defeated the French in the French and Indian Wars (1753/4-1763). France’s Louis XV, in 1763, gave the Louisiana Territory and the “Island of New Orleans” to his cousin, Charles III, the King of Spain, to compensate him for his loss of part of Florida to the British during the Wars. Spain was to hold the territory for 40 years after which it would revert back to France.
The Spanish governors arrived in New Orleans in 1766 and before long grew apprehensive at the surge of American settlers into the district—farmers, businessmen, trappers, lumbermen. Eventually, in 1802, Juan Moralis, the acting Intendant of Louisiana, decided to close New Orleans and the lower Mississippi to “foreigners”—this action, however, violated the Pinckney Treaty of 1795 between America and Spain which permitted the right of navigation on the Mississippi and the right for Americans to deposit goods awaiting shipping from the port of New Orleans. Almost immediately there was a call to send U. S. militia to seize New Orleans.
But the Spanish authorities in New Orleans governed only nominally; on October 1, 1800, eager to get rid of the growing problem of American incursion into the lower Mississippi, Spain had signed a “secret” agreement with Napoleon, (the Treaty of Ildefonso), in which Spain returned the Louisiana Territory to France in exchange for six warships and the small kingdom of Etruria in northern Italy.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NEW ORLEANS
“There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which
is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans.”
President Jefferson in a letter to Robert Livingston, April 8, 1802
Aware of the treaty, Jefferson instructed Livingston, the Minister Resident at the French Court in Paris, to offer Napoleon two million dollars for a small tract of land below New Orleans in order to build an American port. Growing impatient at the lack of response form the French, Jefferson sent James Monroe, as envoy extraordinary, to up the offer to ten million and include the Island of New Orleans and West Florida. It is likely that Monroe was aware of an illicit relationship Jefferson was having with a certain Mrs. Walker. This explains why Monroe was paid (in today’s dollars) an astounding $150,000, plus expenses, for his mission to Paris.
HAITI (FORMERLY HISPANIOLA, PRESENTLY HAITI AND THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC)
Inspired by the American Revolution in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789, a series of slave insurrections began in Haiti in 1791. Under the generalship of Toussaint-L’Overture, the “gilded African,” as Napoleon described him, one hundred thousand slaves revolted destroying 1200 coffee and 200 sugar plantations, killing most of the owners and their families. Haiti declared itself a free republic in 1804—the first free Black republic on the face of the earth.
America was unsympathetic to the aspirations of the Haitians. In 1791, President Washington wrote that he was ready to “render every aid to our allies the French to quell the alarming insurrection of the Negroes in Hispaniola.” President Thomas Jefferson, in turn, was concerned that the Haitian spark would ignite revolution among American slaves and referred to Toussaint’s army as “cannibals.” In 1806 Jefferson closed down trade between America and the Haitian Republic and ruined, possibly forever, any economic potential the island could have developed. (In an effort to “promote stability in the Caribbean,” the United States occupied Haiti from 1915-1934 and deployed 20,000 troops in 1994 to put Aristide in power.)
France originally controlled only the western tip (Haiti), but secured the rest of the island (Santo Domingo) from the Spanish in 1795 (the Treaty of Ildefonso). Haiti was France’s richest colony and the jewel in Napoleon’s dream of a Caribbean empire. Salted fish, clothing, and manufactured goods were to be drawn from the Louisiana Territory to feed the slaves of Haiti. Sugar, rum, indigo, coffee and cotton from Guadeloupe, Martinique and Haiti would be transported to France. To quell the slave revolts, Napoleon sent his brother-in-law, General Leclerc, with an expeditionary force of 12,000 (the number varies) seasoned troops, fresh from European successes. It has been speculated that Napoleon expected a swift victory and to then proceed to occupy New Orleans. (I say “speculated” here because if this theory is correct it, of course, intensifies the importance of the Haitian success in stopping Napoleon—it is likely that we will hear a lot about this theory in the next year. There is good evidence, however, that Napoleon had already lost interest in Louisiana and it was Haiti alone that was his concern.) After 10 months, the incessant guerilla warfare of the Haitians and disease successfully stopped the French in their tracks. In a subterfuge claiming that the France would end slavery on the island if hostilities ceased, Leclerc was able to capture Toussaint. He was sent to a prison near the Swiss border were he died of starvation. The fighting continued successfully under the leadership of Henri Christophe and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, of the latter it is said that in his wrath, he took the French tricolor and symbolically ripped the white band out to create the Haitian national flag of blue and red, vowing to rid Haiti of all “whites.” Leclerc ordered the deaths of every Haitian, including women, over the age of 12 and massacred thousands and thousands of Haitians. However, malaria and yellow fever and Haitian revenges brought about the deaths of Leclerc and much of his army. General Rocambeau, who took over command of the 7,000 or so French troops remaining, requested and received reinforcements from Napoleon. In the meanwhile, he slaughtered 6,000 Haitians in Cap Francois and brought in hundreds of bloodhounds from Jamaica, which he kept unfed, to hunt down the guerrillas in the forests. Napoleon turned down the requests for additional troops: he was on the brink of war with England and could not divert his resources. Rocambeau and the remaining discouraged French army surrendered to the marauding English—preferring an English jail to certain death at the hands of the self-emancipated Haitian rebels.
The British navy was also present in the Caribbean and strongly garrisoned in Jamaica and the Windward Islands—within striking distance of New Orleans—and it was possible that now they would try to wrest the Louisiana Territory from France: “…the English,” wrote Napoleon, “shall not have the Mississippi which they covet….They [the Americans] only ask me one town [New Orleans], but I consider the colony as entirely lost….” Unable to protect Louisiana and facing hostilities in Europe, Napoleon directed his ministers Barbe-Marbois and Tallyrand to offer the whole of the Louisiana Territory for sale immediately to the Americans for $22,500,000. Flustered and without authority, and knowing it would take months to communicate with Jefferson, they made a deal for $15,000,000. (Using the CJR Dollar Conversion Calculator, that is the equivalent of about $240,000,000—in today’s dollars—still a major bargain: .04 cents per acre then, .64 cents per acre now.) The three agreements making up the Louisiana Purchase Treaty were signed on May 9, 1803.
PHYSICAL MAGNITUDE OF PURCHASE
The acquisition doubled the size of America and tripled the quantity of fertile land. It is the equivalent of 827, 987 sq. mi.—over 600 million acres. It contains all or part of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, S. and N. Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Montana. It is an area greater than Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain combined.
The French government had $3,750,000 in claims against it by Americans for the destruction of property which were to be assumed by the U. S. government and deducted from the $15,000,000. The U. S. issued bonds to the French for the remaining $11,250,000. Napoleon sold the bonds to Baring and Co. of London and Hope and Co. of Amsterdam at $87.05 on the dollar. The brokerage houses earned an immediate interest of $3,000,000. Napoleon ended up with about $8,831,250 in cash to use in his impending war with Britain—half of it from a British financial house.
The bonds were 20 year instruments at 6% interest. America paid off the debt between 1812 and 1823 with an additional $8,221,320 in interest. The brokerage houses made more money on the deal than Napoleon.
TRANSFER OF PROPERTY
France had never officially taken re-possession of New Orleans and the Territory from Spain. Spain officially turned over New Orleans to France on November 30, 1803 and on December 20, 1803, France turned over New Orleans to the U. S. in the Sala Capitular in the Cabildo. For its part of the commemoration, the Cabildo will display a reproduction table and 13 reproduction chairs which may look like the furniture in the room when the signings took place—they will probably also display the bronze death mask which may be that of Napoleon.
All the flags were run up and down the pole outside the Cabildo and New Orleans was occupied by a detachment of U. S. Troops under the command of James Wilkinson. The transfer of the rest of the territory took place on March 9, 1804 in St. Louis.
LEGAL PROBLEMS WITH THE PURCHASE
Spain officially protested the sale of the Louisiana Territory because, according to the Treaty of Ildefanso, France was not to sell the Territory to anyone else, especially America. In fact, Tallyrand assured the Spanish that France would soon sell the territory back to them for the equivalent of $2,000,000. Spain was correctly concerned about American aggression towards their holdings in Texas and Mexico. Furthermore, France and Napoleon were in violation of the Treaty of Ildefanso because they never turned over the north Italian kingdom of Etruria to Spain.
According to the French Constitution, to dispose of national property, Napoleon needed approval from the French legislative body—he imperiously dispensed with it. Napoleon’s brothers, Lucien and Joseph, were so indignant about the sale of Louisiana they had a serious confrontation with Napoleon while he was in his bath at the Tuilleries. Napoleon told them he didn’t care about the French Constitution or the Chamber of Deputies. He allegedly stood up in his bath, hurled a snuff box at the floor, and threatened to break them like the snuff box if they persisted in questioning his judgment about the sale.
Things were no less confused on the American side: it was argued that America, independent barely a decade, already had a National Debt (in 1802) of $77.1 million (today’s equivalent of $1 billion, 250 million). The Purchase raised the National Debt 12% in one year. It was also sensibly pointed out that so much land made available would undermine the value of property everywhere else in the U. S. In fact, since the Purchase agreement called for the honoring of all French and Spanish land titles and land grants, there was an immediate rush by business and personal interests to grab up land within the Territory and forge predated claims (technically, “antedating”) to before 1800 so they would be recognized by the Federal government. Furthermore, it was argued that the boundaries were ill-defined, that it would bring an “alien population” (from New Orleans) into the Republic, and that the whole thing was just a “vast and howling wilderness.” Jefferson himself, one of our most scientific minded Presidents, thought
[t]hat the mammoth, the ground sloth, and other prehistoric creatures would be found along the Missouri; that a mountain of pure salt a mile long lay somewhere on the Great Plains; that volcanoes might still be erupting in the Badlands of the Missouri; that all the great rivers of the West-Missouri, Columbia, Colorado, and Rio-Grande rose from a single “height of land” and flowed in their several directions to the seas of the hemisphere.
Congress was concerned that Madison and Livingston did not have the authority to make the deal, and the Federalist Party based in the New England states was concerned that the states which would be inevitably carved out of the territory would strengthen Southern slave interests. They were correct in their surmise. Article VII of the Purchase Agreement only obliquely outlawed the importation of slaves into New Orleans and the territory since that Article allowed only “produce and the manufactures” from Spain and France. Nevertheless, this brought a flood of slave traders from the neighboring states resulting in the grotesque spectacles of major slave auctions all over the city of New Orleans.
TRASHING THE CONSTITUTION
(Jefferson’s cavalier attitude toward the Constitution during the Louisiana Purchase, was anticipated a few years earlier by his attack on the Moslem nation of Tripoli Tania on the Barbary Coast [Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco—and present day Libya] without a declaration of war from Congress, which he was constitutionally obligated to do. Several of the Islamic Barbary Coast nations demanded tribute from European and American merchant ships in the Mediterranean. In 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, unhappy with America’s response to his demands for ransom for several captured seaman, ordered the flagpole in the American Embassy compound to be chopped down. Jefferson, expecting an immediate victory, ordered a squadron of ships to destroy the Moslem navies. The war dragged on for almost 15 years.)
The most significant concerns about the legality of the Louisiana Purchase were complexly constitutional. The American Constitution did not empower the Federal Government to acquire new territory without the “universal consent” of every state. Another Constitutional issue arose when it became clear that Article VII of the Purchase Agreement allowed French and Spanish shipping into New Orleans, for twelve years, to pay the same favorable taxes as American shipping—the taxes for the same French or Spanish shipping would be higher in, say, New York or Richmond. Article 1, Sec. 9 of the U. S. Constitution prohibits showing preference to any ports of any of the states. Additionally, Article 1, Sec. 8 delegated the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations to Congress, not to the President. Therefore, Article VII of the Purchase agreement was in direct violation of the important doctrine of the separation of powers between the President (the Federal Government), the Congress, and the Judiciary.
Article III of the Louisiana Purchase agreement provided for full citizenship for residents of the territory—principally, the population of New Orleans. However, Congress is the body (Article 1, Sec. 8 of the Constitution) which establishes standard law for naturalization of all citizens. Since the Purchase area was a territory, Congress had to make legislation and appoint officials—how then could the residents of New Orleans be “citizens” if they could not vote for their own laws and officials?
Jefferson and his fellow Republicans were “strict constructionists.” i.e., they allegedly adhered to the letter of the Constitution and were strong proponents of “state’s rights” and “limited government;” however, Jefferson and most of his party members chose simply to ignore all the Constitutional issues as merely philosophical for the sake of expediency—Jefferson’s response to his critics was “what is practicable must often control what is pure theory”—in other words, “the end justifies the means.”
Jefferson’s specious argument to his critics was that the Fed’s power to purchase territory was inherent in its power to make treaties. Jefferson further argued that Louisiana was a “colony” and it “is in the nature of a colony whose commerce may be regulated without reference to the Constitution.” This sophistry set the pattern for American imperialism for the next 100 years—in the Caribbean (Cuba and Puerto Rico) and the Pacific (Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and scores of smaller island clusters).
The Federal Government did proceed to treat Louisiana as a colony; although Anglos were outnumbered 7 to 1 by Spanish and French speaking “citizens,” English was imposed as the official language. In 1804, the Territory of Louisiana was divided into the District of Louisiana (N of the 33rd latitude) and the Territory of New Orleans (S of the 33rd latitude) with W. C. C. Claiborne appointed as governor of the latter. Even when the state was admitted into the Union on April 30, 1812, only rich, white male property owners voted upon the charter; women, Native Americans, slaves, and freemen of color were disenfranchised. White settlers (who could vote in every other state) were disenfranchised until 1845.
AARON BURR: EMPEROR OF LOUISIANA?
Aaron Burr, in the elections of 1800, simply put, ended up with as many votes as Jefferson. After weeks of haggling, the House of Representatives (functioning as an Electoral College) named Jefferson President and Burr Vice-President. Both were Republicans. In the 1804 elections, the Republicans ousted Burr, and got Jefferson reelected President with George Clinton as his Vice-President.
The New England Federalists, fearing the loss of political power and the new slave states to be inevitably carved out of the Purchase decided, with the aid of the British, to secede from the Union and form a separate “Northern Confederacy” consisting of New Jersey, Canada, and the New England States. But they needed New York State to join to strengthen the secessionist movement.
In the meanwhile, Burr had decided to run for governor of New York State. The Federalists approached him and offered support if he could swing New York State into their scheme. Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist and former (and first) Secretary of the Treasury, was against the secessionist idea—he thought it was a threat to the Union, but this enlightened thinker knew that the real danger to the Union was “our real disease, which is democracy.” Nevertheless, he publicly accused Burr of treason and cast aspersions on his character. Burr lost the election and challenged Hamilton to a duel. On July 11, 1894, in Weehawken, New Jersey, Burr shot Hamilton dead.
Under threat of arrest and bankrupt, Burr fled the east coast and went to plot with James Wilkinson, the Military Governor of the Louisiana Territory north of New Orleans. They concocted a scheme (information here is highly speculative) and told the British Minister that for $500,000 and British military support, Burr would separate the Louisiana and (Texas?) territories from the Union and set himself up as Emperor Aaron I—Napoleon had just declared himself Emperor of France.
In the fall of 1806, Burr with 60 troops headed towards New Orleans with the apparent intention of inviting the French and Spanish settlers along the way to revolt and take the city. Wilkinson, who had already served as a paid Spanish spy against his own country, betrayed Burr—a character trait he may have picked up while serving with Benedict Arnold in 1776. Jefferson, thoroughly irritated, ordered Burr apprehended and ordered him tried for treason in Richmond, Virginia.
Not only did Burr participate in the most famous duel in American history, but also in the most famous trial—whose consequences have reverberations today. Justice Marshall subpoenaed Jefferson to appear as witness—Jefferson set a precedent by refusing—(recall the failed effort to subpoena President Clinton). Chief Justice Marshall exonerated Burr and consequently made it almost impossible to convict anyone of treason, except upon the testimony of two witnesses who actually see the individual “waging war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies”—(recall here the Government, last year, abandoning efforts to convict “the American Taliban,” John Walker, of treason and settling for a plea bargain.)
OLD GORY ON THE MOVE
The impetus to extend slavery in the Texas territory prompted Stephen Austin and his men to launch raids from Louisiana against Mexican settlements wrenching control of the region from Mexico in1836. Texas’ annexation in 1845 precipitated a war with Mexico (1846-48) whose success, along with some “real estate deals,” brought into the fold California, Nevada, Utah, parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Using the northern Louisiana territorial area as a funnel, settlers moved into what are presently Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and the rest of Wyoming—areas under British supervision. But the British were unable to protect their interests and signed a treaty in 1846 relinquishing all to the U.S.
To round out the rest of our 19th century acquisitions…we bought Alaska from Russia (1867) and we annexed Hawaii in1898. That same year we went to war against Spain; the excuse was the damage inflicted upon the U. S. ship, The Maine, by a Spanish mine—an early form of a “weapon of mass destruction”; however, as we have learned recently, the damage done to the ship was self-inflicted and the result of an engineering flaw which placed the coal furnaces on the other side of the powder magazine, separated by only a thin bulkhead. When a military industrial complex goes looking for a “smoking gun” it may evidently bring one along to facilitate the search. In any case, from Spain we extracted the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, a protectorate over Cuba, and dominance in the Caribbean. In 1904, through a treaty imposed on Panama, we gained control of the 10 mile strip where the canal would soon be dug.
LEWIS AND CLARK (1804-1806)
On June 20, 1803, a few months after the Purchase, Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis to map out the newly acquired land—since the money had already been budgeted, it is clear that Jefferson had been planning just such an expedition long before the possibility of acquisition existed.
With about 45 men, Lewis and his friend Clark, an equally experienced Indian fighter, set out from St. Louis, in the spring of 1804, to navigate up the Missouri River. A principle part of their mission was to investigate the Native-American tribes living in the uncharted wilderness. They encountered over 50 tribes and held ritual meetings with tribal leaders. Through their Shoshone guide and translator, Sacajawea, (with papoose on her back), they would explain that their lands now belonged to the U. S. and that a man in the East, President Jefferson, was their new “Great Father.” They would give each chieftain a bronze “Peace Medal” with a profile of Jefferson on one side and two hands clasping in friendship on the other—whether the Native Americans understood this latter gesture is not clear. The expedition crossed the Rockies and entered the Oregon territory and reached the Pacific before returning to St. Louis in 1806.
William Clark brought with him on the expedition his “body servant,” Juba, aka York. York was, therefore, the first African American to see the Pacific. York also provided an endless source of amazement for the Native Americans who had never seen a Blackman before. The traditional view has been that Clark freed York upon their return to St. Louis, in appreciation for his contribution to the expedition. Recent evidence, however, indicates that while Clark did ultimately free him, York remained a slave for 5 years after their return. Worse yet, Clark, for some unknown, but petulant reason, hired York out for a year. Rented slaves were notoriously mistreated and were considered the lowliest.
Lewis was either murdered or committed suicide on October 9, 1809 near the Natchez Trace.
1812 AND THE CONTINTATION OF THE REALLY “SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP” AMERICA HAS ALWAYS SHARED WITH OUR REALLY GOOD FRIENDS, THE BRITISH.
Two weeks after the sale of the Louisiana Territory, Napoleon and Britain declared war on each other. It is at this point we can begin to see how American business interests affected foreign policy. American merchants did business with both sides, trading and moving cargo for both the French and the British. Between 1803 and 1807, U. S. exports went from 66.5 million to 102.2 million. The British navy routinely stopped American merchant vessels on the high seas and seized any sailors they deemed English citizens and impressed them into naval service aboard their ships. By 1811, 10,000 sailors, many of them in fact British citizens, had been forced into the British navy. Tensions mounted in 1807 when the British warship, Leopard, fired upon the American frigate, Chesapeake, killing three and removing four American sailors.
Jefferson barred all British ships from U. S. ports and suspended all trade with Europe (Embargo Act of December, 1807). By the spring of 1808, the American economy had been devastated and exports went down to 22 million. In the Northeast, a financial depression set in. Under pressure from business interests, Congress replaced the Embargo Act with the Non-Intercourse Act (1809) which restored trade with all Europe, except France and England.
In 1810, Macon’s Bill No. 2 reopened trade with France and Britain. It stated that the first of those two nations to respect U. S. neutrality would get exclusive trade rights. France declared the U. S. neutral and the U. S. promptly declared war on Britain on June 1, 1812.
The Federalist Party opposed a war with Britain because the U. S. was totally unprepared: the army had less then 7,000 troops and a navy of six warships—Britain had huge military assets and nearly 400 war vessels. All the support for the war came from northerners, who saw a chance to grab Canada, and from merchants in New Orleans and southern plantation owners, who sought to confiscate Spanish-held Florida. Support also came from settlers heading into the western lands, who saw the opportunity to disarm Native Americans by ending the British musket trade.
The American strategy of a three-pronged attack on Canada was disastrous on land. Finally, Oliver Hazard Perry scored a victory against the British on Lake Erie—“We have met the enemy and they are ours”—and General William Henry Harrison caught the British army withdrawing from Detroit with their Indian allies and won a decisive victory.
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1814, the British defeated Napoleon in Europe and freed up 18,000 veterans troops. The British attacked at three points: upstate New York, across Delaware to D. C., and New Orleans. The London Times headline was: “…chastise the savages…our demands may be couched in a single word—Submission.”
The attack through New York was halted, but the British assault on D. C. was successful: they captured, sacked, and torched Washington. President Madison and Dolly barely escaped the burning White House—British officers dined on the meal that had been prepared for the Madisons and 40 guests.
British troops then set off to capture Baltimore. Their ships had to pass under the cannons of Fort McHenry above which flew the largest U. S. flag ever designed—30ft X 42ft. On September 13, 1814, there was a 25 hour bombardment of Fort McHenry (1500-1800 cannon balls). On the morning of the 14th, Francis Scott key, a young lawyer detained aboard a British ship offshore, saw the huge flag still flying—on an envelope he wrote “rockets’ red glare, the bombs…etc., etc.” The British were repulsed.
On January 8, 1815, the British fleet with 10,000 crack troops attacked New Orleans defended by a barricaded army of 5,000 men—Choctaw, French pirates, Tennessee and Kentucky militia, freed slaves, and some citizenry. General Andrew Jackson stopped the British, losing 8 American dead; there were 700 English dead, 1400 wounded and 500 captured.
The Battle of New Orleans was completely pointless—two weeks earlier, the Americans and the British in Ghent, Belgium, had already signed a treaty ending the War of 1812. Spain abandoned Florida for $5,000,000, rather than risk a war with the U. S., and the Federalist Party, because of their opposition to the war, were branded traitors and disappeared from national politics.
THE NATIVE AMERICANS (WHO WERE NOT MADE CITIZENS UNTIL 1924)
AND THE PURCHASE
At the time of the Purchase there were approximately 7 million indigenous peoples throughout the U. S.
Lewis and Clark were instructed to determine if the Western tribes occupying the Purchase territory could live alongside the Eastern and Southeastern tribes. To accommodate the rapid movement of settlers and businessmen into the Louisiana Territory—all of whom wanted to buy land—Jefferson decided on the policy of dislocation and to push the Creeks, Chickasaw, and the Seminole west of the Mississippi and onto reservations—a policy followed by subsequent Presidents.
Jefferson’s evolving attitude toward the Native Americans is clear from his correspondence to the chiefs—the salutation in 1802 was “Brothers and Friends”—in 1807 it was, paternalistically, “My Children.” Jefferson early philanthropic conviction was that the Indians could be peacefully settled onto farmlands, absorbed into white society, and acculturated by Christian missionaries and intermarriage. The Osage, for example, were talked into giving up over 100 million acres between 1808 and 1870. This is a portion of a typical treaty—this one with the Osage in 1835:
Fourth, To supply the said Great and Little Osage Indians within their country with one thousand cows and calves, two thousand breeding hogs, one thousand ploughs; one thousand sets of horse gear; one thousand axes, and one thousand hoes; to be distributed under the direction of their agent, and chiefs, as follows, viz: to each family who shall form an agricultural settlement, one cow and calf, two breeding hogs, one plough, one set of horse gear, one axe, and one hoe. The stock tools &c. to be in readiness for delivery, as soon as practicable after the ratification of this treaty, and the Osages shall have complied with the stipulations herein contained.
Shortly after signing the Purchase Agreement, the government acquired millions of acres from the Kaskasia (August 13, 1803), and the Delaware (August 18, 1803)—the area presently Illinois and Indiana—other “purchases” soon followed from the Chickasaws and Creeks—about 100 million acres. Much of southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas area was deeded to the Cherokee by the Spanish; after the Purchase they were forced west from their lands—in complete violation of Article IV of the Purchase Agreement. The Cherokee refer to themselves still as “Northern Cherokee, Nation of the Old Louisiana Territory.” A Lakota Sioux website still proclaims:
“Louisiana Purchase” French and American Fraud….American schools teach far too many untruths, such as one of the biggest lies of modern man—a $15 million dollar “land acquisition” called the “Louisiana Purchase” between France and the United States in 1803….We the undersigned, demand that the United States government honor Article VI of the U. S. Constitution [and] admit the fact that a so-called “Louisiana Purchase” is a fraudulent land transaction….
Even more pernicious than the breaking of treaties, was the system of trading posts strung across the Louisiana Territory. The “factories” sold farm tools, spinning wheels, clothing, blankets, gunpowder, and alcohol. Inevitably, the Indians would end up in debt and the property they were given to farm would revert back to the government—this was to become the paradigm for the omnivorous “company stores” which kept the freed slaves and poor white share-croppers in debt-servitude.
The most vicious and heartless expositions of the “trading post” strategy is in Thomas Jefferson’s letter to William Henry Harrison (February 27, 1803):
…we shall push on trading houses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among the Indians run in debt…when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop off [the debt] by a cession of lands….we have only to shut our hand to crush them.
JEFFERSON AND SLAVERY
Jefferson was equally insensitive to the plight of the African slave: “I believe,” he wrote, “the Indian then to be in body and mind equal to the white man, I have supposed the black man, in his present state, might not be so….” He firmly believed that black skin coloring was due to fundamental differences in blood. At the time he wrote in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal,” Jefferson owned 175 slaves. From 1764 to 1826, he kept in excess of 400 slaves, and throughout his life, he
owned 200 slaves at any particular moment. He had children with Sally Henning, a household servant. At the time of his death he freed only five slaves in his will—almost 200 were auctioned off from his estate.
Even when confronted with black achievements—Phyllis Wheatley’s poetry, Benjamin Banneker’s astronomic mathematics, and Bishop Henri Gregoire’s compilation, Literature of Negroes, Jefferson remained un-persuaded. In all his voluminous writings and correspondence, Jefferson never wrote an emphatic word to encourage emancipation or discourage the westward expansion of slavery into the Purchase area.
THE SLAVE REVOLTS
One of the earliest documented revolts in Louisiana occurred in 1795 in Pointé Coupée. The Spanish officials captured 23 slaves, hung some of them, and beheaded the rest. They nailed their heads to posts along River Road.
Between 1803 and 1809, as a result of the Haitian Revolution, nearly 10,000 French refugee plantation owners fled to New Orleans directly or via Cuba. They fled with their household servants, who were mainly Dahomeans, highly intelligent, skilled artisans, practitioners of Vodun, and filled with revolutionary ideas. It was no accident that the largest slave revolt in U. S. history occurred 40 miles up river from New Orleans, on January 8, 1811, and it was on the Haitian model. Charles Deslondes, formerly a slave in Haiti, rose up an army of fellow slaves on Colonel Manuel Andry’s plantation. With 150 slaves—the number grew to about 500—they marched down River Road, killing two whites, burning plantations and capturing weapons—mostly farm implements. U. S. army troops and militia battled the slave army just outside the city; two militiamen and 66 slaves were killed. Twenty one of the captured slaves were sentenced to death and decapitated…their heads nailed to posts…along River Road.
In the 1820’s, New Orleans was the place to bring slaves to sell, and many owners on the eastern seaboard began to transport slaves by ship. In 1841, the brig Creole, sailed sailing from Richmond to New Orleans with tobacco and a cargo of 135 slaves; the slaves revolted and took over the ship. They sailed the ship to the Bahamas where the British declared them freemen, despite the protestations of the American government. By 1850, New Orleans was the largest slave-trading center in the U. S... Many of the slaves auctioned were kidnapped freemen from Philadelphia and other northern cities. The St. Louis and St. Charles hotels, the Masonic Temple, the Slave Exchange on Esplanade, and many smaller markets held regular auctions—at that time, half of Louisiana’s population was enslaved. In New Orleans, out of a population of 116,000, 13,000 were slaves, 11,000 freemen of color, 20,000 were Irish, 11,500 were Germans, 7,500 were French/Spanish Creoles, 2,500 English/Scots, and 50,000 native born Americans, mostly from other states.
A SIDE-NOTE ON SLAVERY: “If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Since we’re making an effort to find some level of historical veracity—to “re-envision,” not to “revise”—it is worth noting that the African American community here and elsewhere is making an effort to out-holocaust the holocausters. It is not uncommon to hear, in response to the inquiry—“How many slaves were brought to the South?”—numbers in excess of 175,000,000. The usual figure of 50% losses on the Middle Passage would bring the number of Africans taken from their continent to around 350,000,000.
There can be no dispute that one slave is one slave too many, and the death of one person constitutes a holocaust; however, exaggeration causes distortion and the loss of focus. It is worth bringing attention to a remarkable indictment of slavery, “The Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War, May 15, 1864, Chapter I” (www.civilwarhome.com/freemen). The War Department created the Freedmen’s Bureau to make recommendations on how to deal with emancipated slaves. The Bureau failed to allocate the promised “forty acres and a mule,” but within a few years did succeed in establishing 4,000 black schools, 100 black hospitals, and they were instrumental in creating Fisk and Howard—the latter named after Oliver Otis Howard, the head of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Their well meaning intentions are evident; indeed, the last section of this report is amazingly prescient in its discussion of the endless social evils to follow in the wake of slavery.
In the “Final Report,” the Commission, in a scholarly manner, assembled from shipping records, interviews, and first-hand data readily available at that time, information that should be of consequence to all African Americans. As an example, they discuss where the slave’s came from:
The evidence as to this source of supply was obtained from almost all the witnesses who had visited the African coast.
Major-General Rooke said: “When a ship arrived to purchase slaves, the King of Derneh sent to the chiefs of the villages in his dominions to send him a given number; but if they were not to be procured on this requisition, the King went to war till he got as many as he wanted.” During his stay at Gorée of four or five months he heard of two battles being fought for slaves.
Capt. T. Wilson, employed on the business of Government in 1783 and 1784, states as to the Kingdom of Derneh: “When they were at war they made prisoners and sold them, and when they were not at war they made no scruple of taking any of their own subjects and selling them, even whole villages at once.
The Commission makes it clear that the temptation for Africans to enslave their own people were the slave ships waiting in the harbors at Gorée Island and elsewhere—but they also quote at length Lord Palmerston’s fiery anti-slavery speech in the House of Lords (1844) who deduced that the trip from the African interior resulted in the deaths of 2 out of 3 of the captives before they even reached the coast to be put upon the slave ships for transport across the Atlantic. The Commission adds: “The horrors of the middle passage were surpassed by those that necessarily preceded it.”
The Commission then considers the fatalities during the Middle Passage, without ignoring the irony of the massive deaths toll of the white seamen serving on the slave vessels:
Upon the whole, it seems to be sufficiently established that the usual rate of mortality among seamen was not less than 25 per cent. for each voyage; that is, during one year, for the rule of the African slave-trade was one round voyage each year.
As to the mortality among the slaves, there seems no good reason why we should not adopt the rate of loss shown in the statement of the "African Company" as the average on 60,000 slaves shipped in their vessels, namely, 23 2/3 per cent. [additional data raises the number of fatalities per ship to 28 1/3 per cent; however, the Commission decides to use 20% as a more realistic calculation]
The most provocative information deals with the estimates of the number of slaves landed over the course of the whole history of the slave trade:
Upward of fifteen millions and a half of human beings forcibly torn from their native country, and doomed to perpetual slavery--themselves and their offspring--in a foreign land…
This calculation is the most significant: the estimated number of slaves, of the 15,520,000, which were actually transported to the continental U. S.:
Summing up these various items, we have the
It is to be observed that this is an estimate, not of the slaves that were exported from Africa destined to the United States, but of those that were actually landed there. If the loss on the voyage was, as we have estimated, 20 per cent., (c) the above 415,654 negroes represent about 520,000 shipped on the African coast, whether directly for this country or Coming by way of the West Indies, since 520,000 less 20 per cent. is 416,000.
According to this vehemently anti-slavery report, 416, 654 African slaves reached the shores of the U. S. That raises the question, as the Commission observes: “What happened to the other 15,000,000 slaves taken from Africa into slavery?” The Commission then laboriously calculated the total number of those of Africa descent alive in 1860:
The total somewhat exceeds 11,500,000; but seeing that after diligent search (c) we have been compelled to make up our estimates, especially for South America, from scanty materials, and desiring to put forth no argument founded on exaggerated data, and therefore not to underestimate the remnant remaining alive as descendants and representatives of the negroes brought to America from Africa, we add a quarter of a million to the sum of our estimate, and will assume the number of negroes and their descendants in the Western Hemisphere in 1860 to have been 11,812,540 souls. This is, beyond question, not an underestimate of the actual number left.
“What is the conclusion at which we are forced to arrive,” the Commission asks. “The 15,000,000 of poor wretches who were sentenced by the slave trade to transport and slavery in foreign lands are now, after three centuries of servitude, represented in these lands by four-fifths of their original number.” By 1860, in the U. S., the African population increased by nine times—elsewhere in the West Indian and South American areas, the Africans “melted away under the influences of the system that degraded and destroyed them.” Does this suggest that slavery in the South was a benign institution—certainly not. The other areas worked male slaves to death and replaced them. In America there were more black women and the plantation owners looked upon their slaves as regenerating property. There is tragedy everywhere—but the loss, potentially, of 90 million Africans by 1860 in the English, French, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Spanish and Portuguese plantations—that’s reason for genuine anger.
THE NEW ORLEANS MELTING POT—to scratch only the surface….
New Orleans, like New York City, has always been considered a melting pot—a veritable multi-cultural prototype. “Melting pot,” however, both in New York and New Orleans, is another way of describing a 19th century city where, in turn, Anglo/Protestants and then Catholics get to hate everyone else—blacks, naturalized citizens, and immigrants. Apropos the Gangs of New York—the Irish immigrants to New Orleans were put to work on the New Canal Basin where possibly up to 30,000 died of yellow fever, cholera, and malaria by the time it was completed in1836.
Between 1890 and 1900, the peak of “lynch law” in the U. S., about 1,665 persons may have been hung. During that decade, there were 6 incidents of Italian immigrants being hung. Three of those incidents occurred in New Orleans: three Italians hung in Hahnville (1896) and five in Tallulah (1899). The most famous event, which actually caused the severing by Italy of diplomatic ties with the U. S., occurred on October 15, 1890 when New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessey was assassinated. The eleven Italians arrested, but untried, were dragged out of Parish Prison on March 13, 1891 by a mob of 6,000 citizens: nine were shot on the spot and two were hanged before the mob.
The intolerance of New Orleans was firmly established in 1841 when the citizens called a convention and founded the American Republican Party—soon renamed the Native-American Party in New York (cf. Gangs again)—which issued an edict calling “for the protection of American principles” and the exclusion of foreigners from public office. They also wished to extend the period for residency before naturalization from 5 to 21 years and also called for a resistance to foreign spiritual power (i.e., the Vatican) upon American institutions.
In 1898, the Louisiana Bourbon Democrats drew up a new state constitution. In order to vote, a man had to either own $300 in property or be able to read and write. In 1897, there were 130,000 African Americans registered to vote in Louisiana; by 1904, it dropped to 1,342.
Brown v Board of Education (1954) mandated that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. On November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges, a year old African American girl was the first to try and enroll in an all-white elementary school, William Franz. There were two days of riots and dozens were shot, stabbed, and beaten—250 were arrested. All the parents withdrew their children and Ruby, for one year, escorted by four Federal Marshals, attended school alone—Norman Rockwell is redeemed forever by his painting of this event. She was taught by a single teacher who moved down from Boston.
HOW WE CELEBRATED THE CENTENNIAL OF THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE
IN 1903: THE ST. LOUIS EXPOSITION.
The population of the Louisiana Territory at the time of the Purchase in 1803 was about 100,000: a hundred years later it was close to 15 million. To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the event, St. Louis spent about six times the cost of the Purchase; the fair took 6 years to plan and build and it was open for seven months—April 30 thru December 1, 1904. It attracted over 100,000 visitors per day. There were six “Palaces”—the Palace of Art, of Education and Education at Night, of Mines and Metallurgy, of Liberal Arts, of Machinery, and of Electricity.
The Palace of Art had four wings, each inadvertently reflecting the cultural inferiority of the U.S.: the West Gallery displayed the work of American artists trained in Paris and Rome; the East Gallery showed American artists influenced by German, English, and Dutch training. The other two wings were filled with art from the rest of the “civilized” world.
The U. S., however, did not take a back-seat to anyone when it came to White Christian chauvinism. The thrust of the Exposition was to emphasis the perceived contrast between civilized and primitive cultures—it is possible to argue that the entire Exposition was dedicated to both inventing and reinforcing racial stereotypes. In his speech on April 30, 1903, at the dedication ceremonies of the Exposition, President Theodore Roosevelt recounted the history of the westward expansion permitted by the Louisiana Purchase. It was, he basically claimed, the paradigm and justification for America’s new expansionism (read “imperialism”) into the Caribbean and the Philippines, following the Spanish-American War in 1899. It was, he implied, exactly the responsibility of the Christian white race to civilize the primitive peoples of the world. The American impulse to hegemony—economic, military, linguistic, religious, cultural—began with the Louisiana Purchase.
The “anthropology” exhibit, in fact, emphasized the superiority of Caucasian accomplishment. The epitome was the Philippine exhibit—America’s most recent “possession.” This exhibit was the Exposition’s largest covering forty-seven acres and at $2 million, the most expensive. America brought 1,100 Filipinos, constituting 10 separate tribal groups—including the Igorot, dog-eaters and head-hunters. They live on the fairgrounds in a replica village, encouraged to drum and dance incessantly, and obliged to dress scantily, no matter what the weather. The Igorot were the most popular “exhibit,” especially at “feeding time”; much to the consternation of the recently formed ASPCA, the St. Louis municipality provided the Igorot with twenty dogs per week—and many local visitors contributed their own pets. The legacy of this menu was two-fold: that area of St. Louis is still called “Dog town,” and, although German sausage on a bun was common in New York, it was at the St. Louis Exposition that the combination was called “hot dog”—no doubt because the fair’s visitors wanted to share a primitive treat. Other major firsts at the fair were the ice cream cone, iced tea, Dr. Pepper, Fairy Floss (Cotton Candy), and peanut butter—this was undoubtedly St. Louis’ own Dr. Ambrose Staub, who patented a peanut butter making machine in 1903—there was no mention of the Inca who invented peanut butter in 900 AD, or George Washington Carver, who re-invented it in 1880.
The African American population of St. Louis at the time of the fair was about 97, 000; 1,600 men worked at the fair—only nine of them were Blacks. There was to be “The Celebration of Negro Day” set for August 1, 1904; the organizers of the event cancelled it because there was blatant discrimination at the restaurants on the fair grounds. The Centennial celebration of the Louisiana Purchase was summed up by The Cleveland Gazette (November 12, 1904):
It will be known as long as time endures that the World’s Fair held at St. Louis, 1904, was, in many respects, a monumental fraud….in meanness and littleness of soul, the [Fair’s] managers needed the magnanimity of heart to receive colored citizens upon equal terms, as a part and parcel of the human family.
Since this began with the “buying of Louisiana for a song,” consider the lighter side by renting Louisiana Purchase, a 1941 movie starring Bob Hope. The movie is based on a play with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and story by Morrie Ryskind. The movie lampoons Huey Long and the Louisiana Purchase Company in New Orleans. Best song: “I’d love to be shot from a cannon with you.” The basic premise is that no state could be as corrupt as Louisiana—that “Louisiana is totally a mythical place”…enough said.
Thanks for your patience,
Andy P. Antippas
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