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Jefferson and his Colleagues, A Chronicle of the Virginia Dynasty by Allen Johnson

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The rumble of President John Adams's coach had hardly died away
in the distance on the morning of March 4,1801, when Mr. Thomas
Jefferson entered the breakfast room of Conrad's boarding house
on Capitol Hill, where he had been living in bachelor's quarters
during his Vice-Presidency. He took his usual seat at the lower
end of the table among the other boarders, declining with a smile
to accept the chair of the impulsive Mrs. Brown, who felt, in
spite of her democratic principles, that on this day of all days
Mr. Jefferson should have the place which he had obstinately
refused to occupy at the head of the table and near the
fireplace. There were others besides the wife of the Senator from
Kentucky who felt that Mr. Jefferson was carrying equality too
far. But Mr. Jefferson would not take precedence over the
Congressmen who were his fellow boarders.

Conrad's was conveniently near the Capitol, on the south side of
the hill, and commanded an extensive view. The slope of the hill,
which was a wild tangle of verdure in summer, debouched into a
wide plain extending to the Potomac. Through this lowland
wandered a little stream, once known as Goose Creek but now
dignified by the name of Tiber. The banks of the stream as well
as of the Potomac were fringed with native flowering shrubs and
graceful trees, in which Mr. Jefferson took great delight. The
prospect from his drawing-room windows, indeed, quite as much as
anything else, attached him to Conrad's.

As was his wont, Mr. Jefferson withdrew to his study after
breakfast and doubtless ran over the pages of a manuscript which
he had been preparing with some care for this Fourth of March. It
may be guessed, too, that here, as at Monticello, he made his
usual observations-noting in his diary the temperature, jotting
down in the garden-book which he kept for thirty years an item or
two about the planting of vegetables, and recording, as he
continued to do for eight years, the earliest and latest
appearance of each comestible in the Washington market. Perhaps
he made a few notes about the "seeds of the cymbling (cucurbita
vermeosa) and squash (cucurbita melopipo)" which he purposed to
send to his friend Philip Mazzei, with directions for planting;
or even wrote a letter full of reflections upon bigotry in
politics and religion to Dr. Joseph Priestley, whom he hoped soon
to have as his guest in the President's House.

Toward noon Mr. Jefferson stepped out of the house and walked
over to the Capitol--a tall, rather loose-jointed figure, with
swinging stride, symbolizing, one is tempted to think, the
angularity of the American character. "A tall, large-boned
farmer," an unfriendly English observer called him. His
complexion was that of a man constantly exposed to the sun--sandy
or freckled, contemporaries called it--but his features were
clean-cut and strong and his expression was always kindly and

Aside from salvos of artillery at the hour of twelve, the
inauguration of Mr. Jefferson as President of the United States
was marked by extreme simplicity. In the Senate chamber of the
unfinished Capitol, he was met by Aaron Burr, who had already
been installed as presiding officer, and conducted to the
Vice-President's chair, while that debonair man of the world took
a seat on his right with easy grace. On Mr. Jefferson's left sat
Chief Justice John Marshall, a "tall, lax, lounging Virginian,"
with black eyes peering out from his swarthy countenance. There
is a dramatic quality in this scene of the President-to-be seated
between two men who are to cause him more vexation of spirit than
any others in public life. Burr, brilliant, gifted, ambitious,
and profligate; Marshall, temperamentally and by conviction
opposed to the principles which seemed to have triumphed in the
election of this radical Virginian, to whom indeed he had a
deep-seated aversion. After a short pause, Mr. Jefferson rose and
read his Inaugural Address in a tone so low that it could be
heard by only a few in the crowded chamber.

Those who expected to hear revolutionary doctrines must have been
surprised by the studied moderation of this address. There was
not a Federalist within hearing of Jefferson's voice who could
not have subscribed to all the articles in this profession of
political faith. "Equal and exact justice to all men"--"a jealous
care of the right of election by the people"--"absolute
acquiescence in the decisions of the majority"--"the supremacy of
the civil over the military authority"--"the honest payments of
our debts"--"freedom of religion"--"freedom of the
press"-"freedom of person under the protection of the habeas
corpus"--what were these principles but the bright constellation,
as Jefferson said, "which has guided our steps through an age of
revolution and reformation?" John Adams himself might have
enunciated all these principles, though he would have distributed
the emphasis somewhat differently.

But what did Jefferson mean when he said, "We have called by
different names brethren of the same principle. We are all
Republicans--we are all Federalists." If this was true, what,
pray, became of the revolution of 1800, which Jefferson had
declared "as real a revolution in the principles of our
government as that of 1776 was in its form?" Even Jefferson's own
followers shook their heads dubiously over this passage as they
read and reread it in the news-sheets. It sounded a false note
while the echoes of the campaign of 1800 were still
reverberating. If Hamilton and his followers were monarchists at
heart in 1800, bent upon overthrowing the Government, how could
they and the triumphant Republicans be brethren of the same
principle in 1801? The truth of the matter is that Jefferson was
holding out an olive branch to his political opponents. He
believed, as he remarked in a private letter, that many
Federalists were sound Republicans at heart who had been
stampeded into the ranks of his opponents during the recent
troubles with France. These lost political sheep Jefferson was
bent upon restoring to the Republican fold by avoiding utterances
and acts which would offend them. "I always exclude the leaders
from these considerations," he added confidentially. In short,
this Inaugural Address was less a great state paper, marking a
broad path for the Government to follow under stalwart
leadership, than an astute effort to consolidate the victory of
the Republican party.

Disappointing the address must have been to those who had
expected a declaration of specific policy. Yet the historian,
wiser by the march of events, may read between the lines. When
Jefferson said that he desired a wise and frugal government--a
government "which should restrain men from injuring one another
but otherwise leave them free to regulate their own pursuits--"
and when he announced his purpose "to support the state
governments in all their rights" and to cultivate "peace with all
nations--entangling alliances with none," he was in effect
formulating a policy. But all this was in the womb of the future.

It was many weeks before Jefferson took up his abode in the
President's House. In the interval he remained in his old
quarters, except for a visit to Monticello to arrange for his
removal, which indeed he was in no haste to make, for "The
Palace," as the President's House was dubbed satirically, was not
yet finished; its walls were not fully plastered, and it still
lacked the main staircase-which, it must be admitted, was a
serious defect if the new President meant to hold court. Besides,
it was inconveniently situated at the other end of the,
straggling, unkempt village. At Conrad's Jefferson could still
keep in touch with those members of Congress and those friends
upon whose advice he relied in putting "our Argosie on her
Republican tack," as he was wont to say. Here, in his
drawing-room, he could talk freely with practical politicians
such as Charles Pinckney, who had carried the ticket to success
in South Carolina and who might reasonably expect to be consulted
in organizing the new Administration.

The chief posts in the President's official household, save one,
were readily filled. There were only five heads of departments to
be appointed, and of these the Attorney-General might be
described as a head without a department, since the duties of his
office were few and required only his occasional attention. As it
fell out, however, the Attorney-General whom Jefferson appointed,
Levi Lincoln of Massachusetts, practically carried on the work of
all the Executive Departments until his colleagues were duly
appointed and commissioned. For Secretary of War Jefferson chose
another reliable New Englander, Henry Dearborn of Maine. The
naval portfolio went begging, perhaps because the navy was not an
imposing branch of the service, or because the new President had
announced his desire to lay up all seven frigates in the eastern
branch of the Potomac, where "they would be under the immediate
eye of the department and would require but one set of plunderers
to look after them." One conspicuous Republican after another
declined this dubious honor, and in the end Jefferson was obliged
to appoint as Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith, whose chief
qualification was his kinship to General Samuel Smith, an
influential politician of Maryland.

The appointment by Jefferson of James Madison as Secretary of
State occasioned no surprise, for the intimate friendship of the
two Virginians and their long and close association in politics
led everyone to expect that he would occupy an important post in
the new Administration, though in truth that friendship was based
on something deeper and finer than mere agreement in politics. "I
do believe," exclaimed a lady who often saw both men in private
life, "father never loved son more than Mr. Jefferson loves Mr.
Madison." The difference in age, however, was not great, for
Jefferson was in his fifty-eighth year and Madison in his
fiftieth. It was rather mien and character that suggested the
filial relationship. Jefferson was, or could be if he chose, an
imposing figure; his stature was six feet two and one-half
inches. Madison had the ways and habits of a little man, for he
was only five feet six. Madison was naturally timid and retiring
in the presence of other men, but he was at his best in the
company of his friend Jefferson, who valued his attainments.
Indeed, the two men supplemented each other. If Jefferson was
prone to theorize, Madison was disposed to find historical
evidence to support a political doctrine. While Jefferson
generalized boldly, even rashly, Madison hesitated, temporized,
weighed the pros and cons, and came with difficulty to a
conclusion. Unhappily neither was a good judge of men. When
pitted against a Bonaparte, a Talleyrand, or a Canning, they
appeared provincial in their ways and limited in their
sympathetic understanding of statesmen of the Old World.

Next to that of Madison, Jefferson valued the friendship of
Albert Gallatin, whom he made Secretary of the Treasury by a
recess appointment, since there was some reason to fear that the
Federalist Senate would not confirm the nomination. The
Federalists could never forget that Gallatin was a Swiss by
birth--an alien of supposedly radical tendencies. The partisan
press never exhibited its crass provincialism more shamefully
than when it made fun of Gallatin's imperfect pronunciation of
English. He had come to America, indeed, too late to acquire a
perfect control of a new tongue, but not too late to become a
loyal son of his adopted country. He brought to Jefferson's group
of advisers not only a thorough knowledge of public finance but a
sound judgment and a statesmanlike vision, which were often
needed to rectify the political vagaries of his chief.

The last of his Cabinet appointments made, Jefferson returned to
his country seat at Monticello for August and September, for he
was determined not to pass those two "bilious months" in
Washington. "I have not done it these forty years," he wrote to
Gallatin. "Grumble who will, I will never pass those two months
on tidewater." To Monticello, indeed, Jefferson turned whenever
his duties permitted and not merely in the sickly months of
summer, for when the roads were good the journey was rapidly and
easily made by stage or chaise. There, in his garden and farm, he
found relief from the distractions of public life. "No occupation
is so delightful to me," he confessed, "as the culture of the
earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden." At
Monticello, too, he could gratify his delight in the natural
sciences, for he was a true child of the eighteenth century in
his insatiable curiosity about the physical universe and in his
desire to reduce that universe to an intelligible mechanism. He
was by instinct a rationalist and a foe to superstition in any
form, whether in science or religion. His indefatigable pen was
as ready to discuss vaccination and yellow fever with Dr.
Benjamin Rush as it was to exchange views with Dr. Priestley on
the ethics of Jesus.

The diversity of Jefferson's interests is truly remarkable.
Monticello is a monument to his almost Yankee-like ingenuity. He
writes to his friend Thomas Paine to assure him that the
semi-cylindrical form of roof after the De Lorme pattern, which
he proposes for his house, is entirely practicable, for he
himself had "used it at home for a dome, being 120 degrees of an
oblong octagon." He was characteristically American in his
receptivity to new ideas from any source. A chance item about Eli
Whitney of New Haven arrests his attention and forthwith he
writes to Madison recommending a "Mr. Whitney at Connecticut, a
mechanic of the first order of ingenuity, who invented the cotton
gin," and who has recently invented "molds and machines for
making all the pieces of his [musket] locks so exactly equal that
take one hundred locks to pieces and mingle their parts and the
hundred locks may be put together as well by taking the first
pieces which come to hand." To Robert Fulton, then laboring to
perfect his torpedoes and submarine, Jefferson wrote
encouragingly: "I have ever looked to the submarine boat as most
to be depended on for attaching them [i. e., torpedoes]....I am
in hopes it is not to be abandoned as impracticable."

It was not wholly affectation, therefore, when Jefferson wrote,
"Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by
rendering them my supreme delight. But the enormities of the
times in which I have lived, have forced me to take a part in
resisting them, and to commit myself on the boisterous ocean of
political passions." One can readily picture this Virginia
farmer-philosopher ruefully closing his study door, taking a last
look over the gardens and fields of Monticello, in the golden
days of October, and mounting Wildair, his handsome thoroughbred,
setting out on the dusty road for that little political world at
Washington, where rumor so often got the better of reason and
where gossip was so likely to destroy philosophic serenity.

Jefferson had been a widower for many years; and so, since his
daughters were married and had households of their own, he was
forced to preside over his menage at Washington without the
feminine touch and tact so much needed at this American court.
Perhaps it was this unhappy circumstance quite as much as his
dislike for ceremonies and formalities that made Jefferson do
away with the weekly levees of his predecessors and appoint only
two days, the First of January and the Fourth of July, for public
receptions. On such occasions he begged Mrs. Dolly Madison to act
as hostess; and a charming and gracious figure she was, casting a
certain extenuating veil over the President's gaucheries.
Jefferson held, with his many political heresies, certain
theories of social intercourse which ran rudely counter to the
prevailing etiquette of foreign courts. Among the rules which he
devised for his republican court, the precedence due to rank was
conspicuously absent, because he held that "all persons when
brought together in society are perfectly equal, whether foreign
or domestic, titled or untitled, in or out of office." One of
these rules to which the Cabinet gravely subscribed read as

"To maintain the principles of equality, or of pele mele, and
prevent the growth of precedence out of courtesy, the members of
the Executive will practise at their own houses, and recommend an
adherence to the ancient usage of the country, of gentlemen in
mass giving precedence to the ladies in mass, in passing from one
apartment where they are assembled into another."

The application of this rule on one occasion gave rise to an
incident which convulsed Washington society. President Jefferson
had invited to dinner the new British Minister Merry and his
wife, the Spanish Minister Yrujo and his wife, the French
Minister Pichon and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Madison. When
dinner was announced, Mr. Jefferson gave his hand to Mrs. Madison
and seated her on his right, leaving the rest to straggle in as
they pleased. Merry, fresh from the Court of St. James, was
aghast and affronted; and when a few days later, at a dinner
given by the Secretary of State, he saw Mrs. Merry left without
an escort, while Mr. Madison took Mrs. Gallatin to the table, he
believed that a deliberate insult was intended. To appease this
indignant Briton the President was obliged to explain officially
his rule of "pole mele"; but Mrs. Merry was not appeased and
positively refused to appear at the President's New Year's Day
reception. "Since then," wrote the amused Pichon, "Washington
society is turned upside down; all the women are to the last
degree exasperated against Mrs. Merry; the Federalist newspapers
have taken up the matter, and increased the irritations by
sarcasms on the administration and by making a burlesque of the
facts." Then Merry refused an invitation to dine again at the
President's, saying that he awaited instructions from his
Government; and the Marquis Yrujo, who had reasons of his own for
fomenting trouble, struck an alliance with the Merrys and also
declined the President's invitation. Jefferson was incensed at
their conduct, but put the blame upon Mrs. Merry, whom he
characterized privately as a "virago who has already disturbed
our harmony extremely."

A brilliant English essayist has observed that a government to
secure obedience must first excite reverence. Some such
perception, coinciding with native taste, had moved George
Washington to assume the trappings of royalty, in order to
surround the new presidential office with impressive dignity.
Posterity has, accordingly, visualized the first President and
Father of his Country as a statuesque figure, posing at formal
levees with a long sword in a scabbard of white polished leather,
and clothed in black velvet knee-breeches, with yellow gloves and
a cocked hat. The third President of the United States harbored
no such illusions and affected no such poses. Governments were
made by rational beings--"by the consent of the governed," he had
written in a memorable document--and rested on no emotional
basis. Thomas Jefferson remained Thomas Jefferson after his
election to the chief magistracy; and so contemporaries saw him
in the President's House, an unimpressive figure clad in "a blue
coat, a thick gray-colored hairy waistcoat, with a red underwaist
lapped over it, green velveteen breeches, with pearl buttons,
yarn stockings, and slippers down at the heels." Anyone might
have found him, as Senator Maclay did, sitting "in a lounging
manner, on one hip commonly, and with one of his shoulders
elevated much above the other," a loose, shackling figure with no
pretense at dignity.

In his dislike for all artificial distinctions between man and
man, Jefferson determined from the outset to dispense a true
Southern hospitality at the President's House and to welcome any
one at any hour on any day. There was therefore some point to
John Quincy Adams's witticism that Jefferson's "whole eight years
was a levee." No one could deny that he entertained handsomely.
Even his political opponents rose from his table with a
comfortable feeling of satiety which made them more kindly in
their attitude toward their host. "We sat down at the table at
four," wrote Senator Plumer of New Hampshire, "rose at six, and
walked immediately into another room and drank coffee. We had a
very good dinner, with a profusion of fruits and sweetmeats. The
wine was the best I ever drank, particularly the champagne, which
was indeed delicious."

It was in the circle of his intimates that Jefferson appeared at
his best, and of all his intimate friends Madison knew best how
to evoke the true Jefferson. To outsiders Madison appeared rather
taciturn, but among his friends he was genial and even lively,
amusing all by his ready humor and flashes of wit. To his changes
of mood Jefferson always responded. Once started Jefferson would
talk on and on, in a loose and rambling fashion, with a great
deal of exaggeration and with many vagaries, yet always
scattering much information on a great variety of topics. Here we
may leave him for the moment, in the exhilarating hours following
his inauguration, discoursing with Pinckney, Gallatin, Madison,
Burr, Randolph, Giles, Macon, and many another good Republican,
and evolving the policies of his Administration.


President Jefferson took office in a spirit of exultation which
he made no effort to disguise in his private letters. "The tough
sides of our Argosie," he wrote to John Dickinson, "have been
thoroughly tried. Her strength has stood the waves into which she
was steered with a view to sink her. We shall put her on her
Republican tack, and she will now show by the beauty of her
motion the skill of her builders." In him as in his two
intimates, Gallatin and Madison, there was a touch of that
philosophy which colored the thought of reformers on the eve of
the French Revolution, a naive confidence in the perfectability
of man and the essential worthiness of his aspirations. Strike
from man the shackles of despotism and superstition and accord to
him a free government, and he would rise to unsuspected felicity.
Republican government was the strongest government on earth,
because it was founded on free will and imposed the fewest checks
on the legitimate desires of men. Only one thing was wanting to
make the American people happy and prosperous, said the President
in his Inaugural Address "a wise and frugal government, which
shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave
them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry
and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the
bread it has earned." This, he believed, was the sum of good
government; and this was the government which he was determined
to establish. Whether government thus reduced to lowest terms
would prove adequate in a world rent by war, only the future
could disclose.

It was only in intimate letters and in converse with Gallatin and
Madison that Jefferson revealed his real purposes. So completely
did Jefferson take these two advisers into his confidence, and so
loyal was their cooperation, that the Government for eight years
has been described as a triumvirate almost as clearly defined as
any triumvirate of Rome. Three more congenial souls certainly
have never ruled a nation, for they were drawn together not
merely by agreement on a common policy but by sympathetic
understanding of the fundamental principles of government.
Gallatin and Madison often frequented the President's House, and
there one may see them in imagination and perhaps catch now and
then a fragment of their conversation:

Gallatin: We owe much to geographical position; we have been
fortunate in escaping foreign wars. If we can maintain peaceful
relations with other nations, we can keep down the cost of
administration and avoid all the ills which follow too much

The President: After all, we are chiefly an agricultural people
and if we shape our policy accordingly we shall be much more
likely to multiply and be happy than as if we mimicked an
Amsterdam, a Hamburg, or a city like London.

Madison (quietly): I quite agree with you. We must keep the
government simple and republican, avoiding the corruption which
inevitably prevails in crowded cities.

Gallatin (pursuing his thought): The moment you allow the
national debt to mount, you entail burdens on posterity and
augment the operations of government.

The President (bitterly): The principle of spending money to be
paid by posterity is but swindling futurity on a large scale.
That was what Hamilton --

Gallatin: Just so; and if this
administration does not reduce taxes, they will never be reduced.
We must strike at the root of the evil and avert the danger of
multiplying the functions of government. I would repeal all
internal taxes. These pretended tax-preparations,
treasure-preparations, and army-preparations against contingent
wars tend only to encourage wars.

The President (nodding his head in agreement): The discharge of
the debt is vital to the destinies of our government, and for the
present we must make all objects subordinate to this. We must
confine our general government to foreign concerns only and let
our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations,
except as to commerce. And our commerce is so valuable to other
nations that they will be glad to purchase it, when they know
that all we ask is justice. Why, then, should we not reduce our
general government to a very simple organization and a very
unexpensive one--a few plain duties to be performed by a few

It was precisely the matter of selecting these few servants which
worried the President during his first months in office, for the
federal offices were held by Federalists almost to a man. He
hoped that he would have to make only a few removals any other
course would expose him to the charge of inconsistency after his
complacent statement that there was no fundamental difference
between Republicans and Federalists. But his followers thought
otherwise; they wanted the spoils of victory and they meant to
have them. Slowly and reluctantly Jefferson yielded to pressure,
justifying himself as he did so by the reflection that a due
participation in office was a matter of right. And how, pray,
could due participation be obtained, if there were no removals?
Deaths were regrettably few; and resignations could hardly be
expected. Once removals were decided upon, Jefferson drifted
helplessly upon the tide. For a moment, it is true, he wrote
hopefully about establishing an equilibrium and then returning
"with joy to that state of things when the only questions
concerning a candidate shall be: Is he honest? Is he capable? Is
he faithful to the Constitution?" That blessed expectation was
never realized. By the end of his second term, a Federalist in
office was as rare as a Republican under Adams.

The removal of the Collector of the Port at New Haven and the
appointment of an octogenarian whose chief qualification was his
Republicanism brought to a head all the bitter animosity of
Federalist New England. The hostility to Jefferson in this region
was no ordinary political opposition, as he knew full well, for
it was compounded of many ingredients. In New England there was a
greater social solidarity than existed anywhere else in the
Union. Descended from English stock, imbued with common religious
and political traditions, and bound together by the ties of a
common ecclesiastical polity, the people of this section had, as
Jefferson expressed it, "a sort of family pride." Here all the
forces of education, property, religion, and respectability were
united in the maintenance of the established order against the
assaults of democracy. New England Federalism was not so much a
body of political doctrine as a state of mind. Abhorrence of the
forces liberated by the French Revolution was the dominating
emotion. To the Federalist leaders democracy seemed an aberration
of the human mind, which was bound everywhere to produce
infidelity, looseness of morals, and political chaos. In the
words of their Jeremiah, Fisher Ames, "Democracy is a troubled
spirit, fated never to rest, and whose dreams, if it sleeps,
present only visions of hell." So thinking and feeling, they had
witnessed the triumph of Jefferson with genuine alarm, for
Jefferson they held to be no better than a Jacobin, bent upon
subverting the social order and saturated with all the heterodox
notions of Voltaire and Thomas Paine.

The appointment of the aged Samuel Bishop as Collector of New
Haven was evidence enough to the Federalist mind, which fed upon
suspicion, that Jefferson intended to reward his son, Abraham
Bishop, for political services. The younger Bishop was a stench
in their nostrils, for at a recent celebration of the Republican
victory he had shocked the good people of Connecticut by
characterizing Jefferson as "the illustrious chief who, once
insulted, now presides over the Union," and comparing him with
the Saviour of the world, "who, once insulted, now presides over
the universe." And this had not been his first transgression: he
was known as an active and intemperate rebel against the standing
order. No wonder that Theodore Dwight voiced the alarm of all New
England Federalists in an oration at New Haven, in which he
declared that according to the doctrines of Jacobinism "the
greatest villain in the community is the fittest person to make
and execute the laws." "We have now," said he, "reached the
consummation of democratic blessedness. We have a country
governed by blockheads and knaves." Here was an opposition which,
if persisted in, might menace the integrity of the Union.

Scarcely less vexatious was the business of appointments in New
York where three factions in the Republican party struggled for
the control of the patronage. Which should the President support?
Gallatin, whose father-in-law was prominent in the politics of
the State, was inclined to favor Burr and his followers; but the
President already felt a deep distrust of Burr and finally
surrendered to the importunities of DeWitt Clinton, who had
formed an alliance with the Livingston interests to drive Burr
from the party. Despite the pettiness of the game, which
disgusted both Gallatin and Jefferson, the decision was fateful.
It was no light matter, even for the chief magistrate, to offend
Aaron Burr.

>From these worrisome details of administration, the President
turned with relief to the preparation of his first address to
Congress. The keynote was to be economy. But just how economies
were actually to be effected was not so clear. For months
Gallatin had been toiling over masses of statistics, trying to
reconcile a policy of reduced taxation, to satisfy the demands of
the party, with the discharge of the public debt. By laborious
calculation he found that if $7,300,000 were set aside each year,
the debt--principal and interest--could be discharged within
sixteen years. But if the unpopular excise were abandoned, where
was the needed revenue to be found? New taxes were not to be
thought of. The alternative, then, was to reduce expenditures.
But how and where?

Under these circumstances the President and his Cabinet adopted
the course which in the light of subsequent events seems to have
been woefully ill-timed and hazardous in the extreme. They
determined to sacrifice the army and navy. In extenuation of this
decision, it may be said that the danger of war with France,
which had forced the Adams Administration to double expenditures,
had passed; and that Europe was at this moment at peace, though
only the most sanguine and shortsighted could believe that
continued peace was possible in Europe with the First Consul in
the saddle. It was agreed, then, that the expenditures for the
military and naval establishments should be kept at about
$2,500,000--somewhat below the normal appropriation before the
recent war-flurry; and that wherever possible expenses should be
reduced by careful pruning of the list of employees at the navy
yards. Such was the programme of humdrum economy which President
Jefferson laid before Congress. After the exciting campaign of
1800, when the public was assured that the forces of Darkness and
Light were locked in deadly combat for the soul of the nation,
this tame programme seemed like an anticlimax. But those who knew
Thomas Jefferson learned to discount the vagaries to which he
gave expression in conversation. As John Quincy Adams once
remarked after listening to Jefferson's brilliant table talk,
"Mr. Jefferson loves to excite wonder." Yet Thomas Jefferson,
philosopher, was a very different person from Thomas Jefferson,
practical politician. Paradoxical as it may seem, the new
President, of all men of his day, was the least likely to
undertake revolutionary policies; and it was just this
acquaintance with Jefferson's mental habits which led his
inveterate enemy, Alexander Hamilton, to advise his party
associates to elect Jefferson rather than Burr.

The President broke with precedent, however, in one small
particular. He was resolved not to follow the practice of his
Federalist predecessors and address Congress in person. The
President's speech to the two houses in joint session savored too
much of a speech from the throne; it was a symptom of the
Federalist leaning to monarchical forms and practices. He sent
his address, therefore, in writing, accompanied with letters to
the presiding officers of the two chambers, in which he justified
this departure from custom on the ground of convenience and
economy of time. "I have had principal regard," he wrote, "to the
convenience of the Legislature, to the economy of their time, to
the relief from the embarrassment of immediate answers on
subjects not yet fully before them, and to the benefits thence
resulting to the public affairs." This explanation deceived no
one, unless it was the writer himself. It was thoroughly
characteristic of Thomas Jefferson that he often explained his
conduct by reasons which were obvious afterthoughts --an
unfortunate habit which has led his contemporaries and his
unfriendly biographers to charge him with hypocrisy. And it must
be admitted that his preference for indirect methods of achieving
a purpose exposed him justly to the reproaches of those who liked
frankness and plain dealing. It is not unfair, then, to wonder
whether the President was not thinking rather of his own
convenience when he elected to address Congress by written
message, for he was not a ready nor an impressive speaker. At all
events, he established a precedent which remained unbroken until
another Democratic President, one hundred and twelve years later,
returned to the practice of Washington and Adams.

If the Federalists of New England are to be believed, hypocrisy
marked the presidential message from the very beginning to the
end. It began with a pious expression of thanks "to the
beneficent Being" who had been pleased to breathe into the
warring peoples of Europe a spirit of forgiveness and
conciliation. But even the most bigoted Federalist who could not
tolerate religious views differing from his own must have been
impressed with the devout and sincere desire of the President to
preserve peace. Peace! peace! It was a sentiment which ran
through the message like the watermark in the very paper on which
he wrote; it was the condition, the absolutely indispensable
condition, of every chaste reformation which he advocated. Every
reduction of public expenditure was predicated on the supposition
that the danger of war was remote because other nations would
desire to treat the United States justly. "Salutary reductions in
habitual expenditures" were urged in every branch of the public
service from the diplomatic and revenue services to the judiciary
and the naval yards. War might come, indeed, but "sound
principles would not justify our taxing the industry of our
fellow-citizens to accumulate treasure for wars to happen we know
not when, and which might not, perhaps, happen but from the
temptations offered by that treasure."

On all concrete matters the President's message cut close to the
line which Gallatin had marked out. The internal taxes should now
be dispensed with and corresponding reductions be made in "our
habitual expenditures." There had been unwise multiplication of
federal offices, many of which added nothing to the efficiency of
the Government but only to the cost. These useless offices should
be lopped off, for "when we consider that this Government is
charged with the external and mutual relations only of these
States, . . . we may well doubt whether our organization is not
too complicated, too expensive." In this connection Congress
might well consider the Federal Judiciary, particularly the
courts newly erected, and "judge of the proportion which the
institution bears to the business it has to perform."* And
finally, Congress should consider whether the law relating to
naturalization should not be revised. "A denial of citizenship
under a residence of fourteen years is a denial to a great
proportion of those who ask it"; and "shall we refuse to the
unhappy fugitives from distress that hospitality which savages of
the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this land?"

* The studied moderation of the message gave no hint of
Jefferson's resolute purpose to procure the repeal of the
Judiciary Act of 1801. The history of this act and its repeal, as
well as of the attack upon the judiciary, is recounted by Edward
S. Corwin in "John Marshall and the Constitution" in "The
Chronicles of America."

The most inveterate foe could not characterize this message as
revolutionary, however much he might dissent from the policies
advocated. It was not Jefferson's way, indeed, to announce his
intentions boldly and hew his way relentlessly to his objective.
He was far too astute as a party leader to attempt to force his
will upon Republicans in Congress. He would suggest; he would
advise; he would cautiously express an opinion; but he would
never dictate. Yet few Presidents have exercised a stronger
directive influence upon Congress than Thomas Jefferson during
the greater part of his Administration. So long as he was en
rapport with Nathaniel Macon, Speaker of the House, and with John
Randolph, Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, he could
direct the policies of his party as effectively as the most
autocratic dictator. When he had made up his mind that Justice
Samuel Chase of the Supreme Court should be impeached, he simply
penned a note to Joseph Nicholson, who was then managing the
impeachment of Judge Pickering, raising the question whether
Chase's attack on the principles of the Constitution should go
unpunished. "I ask these questions for your consideration," said
the President deferentially; "for myself, it is better that I
should not interfere." And eventually impeachment proceedings
were instituted.

In this memorable first message, the President alluded to a
little incident which had occurred in the Mediterranean, "the
only exception to this state of general peace with which we have
been blessed." Tripoli, one of the Barbary States, had begun
depredations upon American commerce and the President had sent a
small squadron for protection. A ship of this squadron, the
schooner Enterprise, had fallen in with a Tripolitan man-of-war
and after a fight lasting three hours had forced the corsair to
strike her colors. But since war had not been declared and the
President's orders were to act only on the defensive, the crew
of the Enterprise dismantled the captured vessel and let her go.
Would Congress, asked the President, take under consideration the
advisability of placing our forces on an equality with those of
our adversaries? Neither the President nor his Secretary of the
Treasury seems to have been aware that this single cloud on the
horizon portended a storm of long duration. Yet within a year it
became necessary to delay further reductions in the naval
establishment and to impose new taxes to meet the very
contingency which the peace-loving President declared most
remote. Moreover, the very frigates which he had proposed to lay
up in the eastern branch of the Potomac were manned and
dispatched to the Mediterranean to bring the Corsairs to terms.


Shortly after Jefferson's inauguration a visitor presented
himself at the Executive Mansion with disquieting news from the
Mediterranean. Captain William Bainbridge of the frigate George
Washington had just returned from a disagreeable mission. He had
been commissioned to carry to the Dey of Algiers the annual
tribute which the United States had contracted to pay. It
appeared that while the frigate lay at anchor under the shore
batteries off Algiers, the Dey attempted to requisition her to
carry his ambassador and some Turkish passengers to
Constantinople. Bainbridge, who felt justly humiliated by his
mission, wrathfully refused. An American frigate do errands for
this insignificant pirate? He thought not! The Dey pointed to his
batteries, however, and remarked, "You pay me tribute, by which
you become my slaves; I have, therefore, a right to order you as
I may think proper." The logic of the situation was undeniably on
the side of the master of the shore batteries. Rather than have
his ship blown to bits, Bainbridge swallowed his wrath and
submitted. On the eve of departure, he had to submit to another
indignity. The colors of Algiers must fly at the masthead. Again
Bainbridge remonstrated and again the Dey looked casually at his
guns trained on the frigate. So off the frigate sailed with the
Dey's flag fluttering from her masthead, and her captain cursing

The voyage of fifty-nine days to Constantinople, as Bainbridge
recounted it to the President, was not without its amusing
incidents. Bainbridge regaled the President with accounts of his
Mohammedan passengers, who found much difficulty in keeping their
faces to the east while the frigate went about on a new tack. One
of the faithful was delegated finally to watch the compass so
that the rest might continue their prayers undisturbed. And at
Constantinople Bainbridge had curious experiences with the
Moslems. He announced his arrival as from the United States of
America he had hauled down the Dey's flag as soon as he was out
of reach of the batteries. The port officials were greatly
puzzled. What, pray, were the United States? Bainbridge explained
that they were part of the New World which Columbus had
discovered. The Grand Seigneur then showed great interest in the
stars of the American flag, remarking that, as his own was
decorated with one of the heavenly bodies, the coincidence must
be a good omen of the future friendly intercourse of the two
nations. Bainbridge did his best to turn his unpalatable mission
to good account, but he returned home in bitter humiliation. He
begged that he might never again be sent to Algiers with tribute
unless he was authorized to deliver it from the cannon's mouth.

The President listened sympathetically to Bainbridge's story, for
he was not unfamiliar with the ways of the Barbary Corsairs and
he had long been of the opinion that tribute only made these
pirates bolder and more insufferable. The Congress of the
Confederation, however, had followed the policy of the European
powers and had paid tribute to secure immunity from attack, and
the new Government had simply continued the policy of the old. In
spite of his abhorrence of war, Jefferson held that coercion in
this instance was on the whole cheaper and more efficacious.
Not long after this interview with Bainbridge, President
Jefferson was warned that the Pasha of Tripoli was worrying the
American Consul with importunate demands for more tribute. This
African potentate had discovered that his brother, the Dey of
Algiers, had made a better bargain with the United States. He
announced, therefore, that he must have a new treaty with more
tribute or he would declare war. Fearing trouble from this
quarter, the President dispatched a squadron of four vessels
under Commodore Richard Dale to cruise in the Mediterranean, with
orders to protect American commerce. It was the schooner
Enterprise of this squadron which overpowered the Tripolitan
cruiser, as Jefferson recounted in his message to Congress.

The former Pasha of Tripoli had been blessed with three sons,
Hasan, Hamet, and Yusuf. Between these royal brothers, however,
there seems to have been some incompatibility of temperament, for
when their father died (Blessed be Allah!) Yusuf, the youngest,
had killed Hasan and had spared Hamet only because he could not
lay hands upon him. Yusuf then proclaimed himself Pasha. It was
Yusuf, the Pasha with this bloody record, who declared war on the
United States, May 10,1801, by cutting down the flagstaff of the
American consulate.

To apply the term war to the naval operations which followed is,
however, to lend specious importance to very trivial events.
Commodore Dale made the most of his little squadron, it is true,
convoying merchantmen through the straits and along the Barbary
coast, holding Tripolitan vessels laden with grain in hopeless
inactivity off Gibraltar, and blockading the port of Tripoli, now
with one frigate and now with another. When the terms of
enlistment of Dale's crews expired, another squadron was
gradually assembled in the Mediterranean, under the command of
Captain Richard V. Morris, for Congress had now authorized the
use of the navy for offensive operations, and the Secretary of
the Treasury, with many misgivings, had begun to accumulate his
Mediterranean Fund to meet contingent expenses.

The blockade of Tripoli seems to have been carelessly conducted
by Morris and was finally abandoned. There were undeniably great
difficulties in the way of an effective blockade. The coast
afforded few good harbors; the heavy northerly winds made
navigation both difficult and hazardous; the Tripolitan galleys
and gunboats with their shallow draft could stand close in shore
and elude the American frigates; and the ordnance on the
American craft was not heavy enough to inflict any serious damage
on the fortifications guarding the harbor. Probably these
difficulties were not appreciated by the authorities at
Washington; at all events, in the spring of 1803 Morris was
suspended from his command and subsequently lost his commission.

In the squadron of which Commodore Preble now took command was
the Philadelphia, a frigate of thirty-six guns, to which Captain
Bainbridge, eager to square accounts with the Corsairs, had been
assigned. Late in October Bainbridge sighted a Tripolitan vessel
standing in shore. He gave chase at once with perhaps more zeal
than discretion, following his quarry well in shore in the hope
of disabling her before she could make the harbor. Failing to
intercept the corsair, he went about and was heading out to sea
when the frigate ran on an uncharted reef and stuck fast. A worse
predicament could scarcely be imagined. Every device known to
Yankee seamen was employed to free the unlucky vessel. "The sails
were promptly laid a-back," Bainbridge reported, "and the forward
guns run aft, in hopes of backing her off, which not producing
the desired effect, orders were given to stave the water in her
hold and pump it out, throw overboard the lumber and heavy
articles of every kind, cut away the anchors . . . and throw over
all the guns, except a few for our defence . . . . As a last
resource the foremast and main-topgallant mast were cut away, but
without any beneficial effect, and the ship remained a perfect
wreck, exposed to the constant fire of the gunboats, which could
not be returned."

The officers advised Bainbridge that the situation was becoming
intolerable and justified desperate measures. They had been raked
by a galling fire for more than four hours; they had tried every
means of floating the ship; humiliating as the alternative was,
they saw no other course than to strike the colors. All agreed,
therefore, that they should flood the magazine, scuttle the ship,
and surrender to the Tripolitan small craft which hovered around
the doomed frigate like so many vultures.

For the second time off this accursed coast Bainbridge hauled
down his colors. The crews of the Tripolitan gunboats swarmed
aboard and set about plundering right and left. Swords, epaulets,
watches, money, and clothing were stripped from the officers; and
if the crew in the forecastle suffered less it was because they
had less to lose. Officers and men were then tumbled into boats
and taken ashore, half-naked and humiliated beyond words.
Escorted by the exultant rabble, these three hundred luckless
Americans were marched to the castle, where the Pasha sat in
state. His Highness was in excellent humor. Three hundred
Americans! He counted them, each worth hundreds of dollars. Allah
was good!

A long, weary bondage awaited the captives. The common seamen
were treated like galley slaves, but the officers were given some
consideration through the intercession of the Danish consul.
Bainbridge was even allowed to correspond with Commodore Preble,
and by means of invisible ink he transmitted many important
messages which escaped the watchful eyes of his captors.
Depressed by his misfortune--for no one then or afterwards held
him responsible for the disaster--Bainbridge had only one
thought, and that was revenge. Day and night he brooded over
plans of escape and retribution.

As though to make the captive Americans drink the dregs of
humiliation, the Philadelphia was floated off the reef in a heavy
sea and towed safely into the harbor. The scuttling of the vessel
had been hastily contrived, and the jubilant Tripolitans
succeeded in stopping her seams before she could fill. A frigate
like the Philadelphia was a prize the like of which had never
been seen in the Pasha's reign. He rubbed his hands in glee and
taunted her crew.

The sight of the frigate riding peacefully at anchor in the
harbor was torture to poor Bainbridge. In feverish letters he
implored Preble to bombard the town, to sink the gunboats in the
harbor, to recapture the frigate or to burn her at her
moorings--anything to take away the bitterness of humiliation.
The latter alternative, indeed, Preble had been revolving in his
own mind.

Toward midnight of February 16, 1804, Bainbridge and his
companions were aroused by the guns of the fort. They sprang to
the window and witnessed the spectacle for which the unhappy
captain had prayed long and devoutly. The Philadelphia was in
flames--red, devouring flames, pouring out of her hold, climbing
the rigging, licking her topmasts, forming fantastic columns--
devastating, unconquerable flames--the frigate was doomed,
doomed! And every now and then one of her guns would explode as
though booming out her requiem. Bainbridge was avenged.

How had it all happened? The inception of this daring feat must
be credited to Commodore Preble; the execution fell to young
Stephen Decatur, lieutenant in command of the sloop Enterprise.
The plan was this: to use the Intrepid, a captured Tripolitan
ketch, as the instrument of destruction, equipping her with
combustibles and ammunition, and if possible to burn the
Philadelphia and other ships in the harbor while raking the
Pasha's castle with the frigate's eighteen-pounders. When Decatur
mustered his crew on the deck of the Enterprise and called for
volunteers for this exploit, every man jack stepped forward. Not
a man but was spoiling for excitement after months of tedious
inactivity; not an American who did not covet a chance to avenge
the loss of the Philadelphia. But all could not be used, and
Decatur finally selected five officers and sixty-two men. On the
night of the 3rd of February, the Intrepid set sail from
Syracuse, accompanied by the brig Siren, which was to support the
boarding party with her boats and cover their retreat.

Two weeks later, the Intrepid, barely distinguishable in the
light of a new moon, drifted into the harbor of Tripoli. In the
distance lay the unfortunate Philadelphia. The little ketch was
now within range of the batteries, but she drifted on unmolested
until within a hundred yards of the frigate. Then a hail came
across the quiet bay. The pilot replied that he had lost his
anchors and asked permission to make fast to the frigate for the
night. The Tripolitan lookout grumbled assent. Ropes were then
thrown out and the vessels were drawing together, when the cry
"Americanas!" went up from the deck of the frigate. In a trice
Decatur and his men had scrambled aboard and overpowered the

It was a crucial moment. If Decatur's instructions had not been
imperative, he would have thrown prudence to the winds and have
tried to cut out the frigate and make off in her. There were
those, indeed, who believed that he might have succeeded. But the
Commodore's orders were to destroy the frigate. There was no
alternative. Combustibles were brought on board, the match
applied, and in a few moments the frigate was ablaze. Decatur and
his men had barely time to regain the Intrepid and to cut her
fasts. The whole affair had not taken more than twenty minutes,
and no one was killed or even seriously wounded.

Pulling lustily at their sweeps, the crew of the Intrepid moved
her slowly out of the harbor, in the light of the burning vessel.
The guns of the fort were manned at last and were raining shot
and shell wildly over the harbor. The jack-tars on the Intrepid
seemed oblivious to danger, "commenting upon the beauty of the
spray thrown up by the shot between us and the brilliant light of
the ship, rather than calculating any danger," wrote Midshipman
Morris. Then the starboard guns of the Philadelphia, as though
instinct with purpose, began to send hot shot into the town. The
crew yelled with delight and gave three cheers for the
redoubtable old frigate. It was her last action, God bless her!
Her cables soon burned, however, and she drifted ashore, there to
blow up in one last supreme effort to avenge herself. At the
entrance of the harbor the Intrepid found the boats of the Siren,
and three days later both rejoined the squadron.

Thrilling as Decatur's feat was, it brought peace no nearer. The
Pasha, infuriated by the loss of the Philadelphia, was more
exorbitant than ever in his demands. There was nothing for it but
to scour the Mediterranean for Tripolitan ships, maintain the
blockade so far as weather permitted, and await the opportunity
to reduce the city of Tripoli by bombardment. But Tripoli was a
hard nut to crack. On the ocean side it was protected by forts
and batteries and the harbor was guarded by a long line of reefs.
Through the openings in this natural breakwater, the light-draft
native craft could pass in and out to harass the blockading

It was Commodore Preble's plan to make a carefully concerted
attack upon this stronghold as soon as summer weather conditions
permitted. For this purpose he had strengthened his squadron at
Syracuse by purchasing a number of flat-bottomed gunboats with
which he hoped to engage the enemy in the shallow waters about
Tripoli while his larger vessels shelled the town and batteries.
He arrived off the African coast about the middle of July but
encountered adverse weather, so that for several weeks he could
accomplish nothing of consequence. Finally, on the 3rd of August,
a memorable date in the annals of the American navy, he gave the
signal for action.

The new gunboats were deployed in two divisions, one commanded by
Decatur, and fully met expectations by capturing two enemy ships
in most sanguinary, hand-to-hand fighting. Meantime the main
squadron drew close in shore, so close, it is said, that the
gunners of shore batteries could not depress their pieces
sufficiently to score hits. All these preliminaries were watched
with bated breath by the officers of the old Philadelphia from
behind their prison bars.

The Pasha had viewed the approach of the American fleet with
utter disdain. He promised the spectators who lined the terraces
that they would witness some rare sport; they should see his
gunboats put the enemy to flight. But as the American gunners
began to get the range and pour shot into the town, and the
Constitution with her heavy ordnance passed and repassed,
delivering broadsides within three cables' length of the
batteries, the Pasha's nerves were shattered and he fled
precipitately to his bomb-proof shelter. No doubt the damage
inflicted by this bombardment was very considerable, but Tripoli
still defied the enemy. Four times within the next four weeks
Preble repeated these assaults, pausing after each bombardment to
ascertain what terms the Pasha had to offer; but the wily Yusuf
was obdurate, knowing well enough that, if he waited, the gods of
wind and storm would come to his aid and disperse the enemy's

It was after the fifth ineffectual assault that Preble determined
on a desperate stroke. He resolved to fit out a fireship and to
send her into the very jaws of death, hoping to destroy the
Tripolitan gunboats and at the same time to damage the castle and
the town. He chose for this perilous enterprise the old Intrepid
which had served her captors so well, and out of many volunteers
he gave the command to Captain Richard Somers and Lieutenant
Henry Wadsworth. The little ketch was loaded with a hundred
barrels of gunpowder and a large quantity of combustibles and
made ready for a quick run by the batteries into the harbor.
Certain death it seemed to sail this engine of destruction past
the outlying reefs into the midst of the Tripolitan gunboats; but
every precaution was taken to provide for the escape of the crew.
Two rowboats were taken along and in these frail craft, they
believed, they could embark, when once the torch had been
applied, and in the ensuing confusion return to the squadron.

Somers selected his crew of ten men with care, and at the last
moment consented to let Lieutenant Joseph Israel join the
perilous expedition. On the night of the 4th of September, the
Intrepid sailed off in the darkness toward the mouth of the
harbor. Anxious eyes followed the little vessel, trying to pierce
the blackness that soon enveloped her. As she neared the harbor
the shore batteries opened fire; and suddenly a blinding flash
and a terrific explosion told the fate which overtook her.
Fragments of wreckage rose high in the air, the fearful
concussion was felt by every boat in the squadron, and then
darkness and awful silence enfolded the dead and the dying. Two
days later the bodies of the heroic thirteen, mangled beyond
recognition, were cast up by the sea. Even Captain Bainbridge,
gazing sorrowfully upon his dead comrades could not recognize
their features. Just what caused the explosion will never be
known. Preble always believed that Tripolitans had attempted to
board the Intrepid and that Somers had deliberately fired the
powder magazine rather than surrender. Be that as it may, no one
doubts that the crew were prepared to follow their commander to
self-destruction if necessary. In deep gloom, the squadron
returned to Syracuse, leaving a few vessels to maintain a fitful
blockade off the hated and menacing coast.

Far away from the sound of Commodore Preble's guns a strange,
almost farcical, intervention in the Tripolitan War was
preparing. The scene shifts to the desert on the east, where
William Eaton, consul at Tunis, becomes the center of interest.
Since the very beginning of the war, this energetic and
enterprising Connecticut Yankee had taken a lively interest in
the fortunes of Hamet Karamanli, the legitimate heir to the
throne, who had been driven into exile by Yusuf the pretender.
Eaton loved intrigue as Preble gloried in war. Why not assist
Hamet to recover his throne? Why not, in frontier parlance, start
a back-fire that would make Tripoli too hot for Yusuf? He laid
his plans before his superiors at Washington, who, while not
altogether convinced of his competence to play the king-maker,
were persuaded to make him navy agent, subject to the orders of
the commander of the American squadron in the Mediterranean.
Commodore Samuel Barron, who succeeded Preble, was instructed to
avail himself of the cooperation of the ex-Pasha of Tripoli if he
deemed it prudent. In the fall of 1804 Barron dispatched Eaton in
the Argus, Captain Isaac Hull commander, to Alexandria to find
Hamet and to assure him of the cooperation of the American
squadron in the reconquest of his kingdom. Eaton entered thus
upon the coveted role: twenty centuries looked down upon him as
they had upon Napoleon.

A mere outline of what followed reads like the scenario of an
opera bouffe. Eaton ransacked Alexandria in search, of Hamet the
unfortunate but failed to find the truant. Then acting on a rumor
that Hamet had departed up the Nile to join the Mamelukes, who
were enjoying one of their seasonal rebellions against
constituted authority, Eaton plunged into the desert and finally
brought back the astonished and somewhat reluctant heir to the
throne. With prodigious energy Eaton then organized an expedition
which was to march overland toward Derne, meet the squadron at
the Bay of Bomba, and descend vi et armis upon the unsuspecting
pretender at Tripoli. He even made a covenant with Hamet
promising with altogether unwarranted explicitness that the
United States would use "their utmost exertions" to reestablish
him in his sovereignty. Eaton was to be "general and
commander-in-chief of the land forces." This aggressive Yankee
alarmed Hamet, who clearly did not want his sovereignty badly
enough to fight for it.

The international army which the American generalissimo mustered
was a motley array: twenty-five cannoneers of uncertain
nationality, thirty-eight Greeks, Hamet and his ninety followers,
and a party of Arabian horsemen and camel-drivers--all told about
four hundred men. The story of their march across the desert is a
modern Anabasis. When the Arabs were not quarreling among
themselves and plundering the rest of the caravan, they were
demanding more pay. Rebuffed they would disappear with their
camels into the fastnesses of the desert, only to reappear
unexpectedly with new importunities. Between Hamet, who was in
constant terror of his life and quite ready to abandon the
expedition, and these mutinous Arabs, Eaton was in a position to
appreciate the vicissitudes of Xenophon and his Ten Thousand. No
ordinary person, indeed, could have surmounted all obstacles and
brought his balky forces within sight of Derne.

Supported by the American fleet which had rendezvoused as agreed
in the Bay of Bomba, the four hundred advanced upon the city.
Again the Arab contingent would have made off into the desert but
for the promise of more money. Hamet was torn by conflicting
emotions, in which a desire to retreat was uppermost. Eaton was,
as ever, indefatigable and indomitable. When his forces were
faltering at the crucial moment, he boldly ordered an assault and
carried the defenses of the city. The guns of the ships in the
harbor completed the discomfiture of the enemy, and the
international army took possession of the citadel. Derne won,
however, had to be resolutely defended. Twice within the next
four weeks, Tripolitan forces were beaten back only with the
greatest difficulty. The day after the second assault (June l0th)
the frigate Constellation arrived off Derne with orders which
rang down the curtain on this interlude in the Tripolitan War.
Derne was to be evacuated! Peace had been concluded!

Just what considerations moved the Administration to conclude
peace at a moment when the largest and most powerful American
fleet ever placed under a single command was assembling in the
Mediterranean and when the land expedition was approaching its
objective, has never been adequately explained. Had the
President's belligerent spirit oozed away as the punitive
expeditions against Tripoli lost their merely defensive character
and took on the proportions of offensive naval operations? Had
the Administration become alarmed at the drain upon the treasury?
Or did the President wish to have his hands free to deal with
those depredations upon American commerce committed by British
and French cruisers which were becoming far more frequent and
serious than ever the attacks of the Corsairs of the
Mediterranean had been? Certain it is that overtures of peace
from the Pasha were welcomed by the very naval commanders who had
been most eager to wrest a victory from the Corsairs. Perhaps
they, too, were wearied by prolonged war with an elusive foe off
a treacherous coast.

How little prepared the Administration was to sustain a prolonged
expedition by land against Tripoli to put Hamet on his throne,
appears in the instructions which Commodore Barron carried to the
Mediterranean. If he could use Eaton and Hamet to make a
diversion, well and good; but he was at the same time to assist
Colonel Tobias Lear, American Consul-General at Algiers, in
negotiating terms of peace, if the Pasha showed a conciliatory
spirit. The Secretary of State calculated that the moment had
arrived when peace could probably be secured "without any price
and pecuniary compensation whatever."

Such expectations proved quite unwarranted. The Pasha was ready
for peace, but he still had his price. Poor Bainbridge, writing
from captivity, assured Barron that the Pasha would never let his
prisoners go without a ransom. Nevertheless, Commodore Barron
determined to meet the overtures which the Pasha had made through
the Danish consul at Tripoli. On the 24th of May he put the
frigate Essex at the disposal of Lear, who crossed to Tripoli and
opened direct negotiations.

The treaty which Lear concluded on June 4, 1805, was an
inglorious document. It purchased peace, it is true, and the
release of some three hundred sad and woe-begone American
sailors. But because the Pasha held three hundred prisoners, and
the United States only a paltry hundred, the Pasha was to receive
sixty thousand dollars. Derne was to be evacuated and no further
aid was to be given to rebellious subjects. The United States was
to endeavor to persuade Hamet to withdraw from the soil of
Tripoli--no very difficult matter--while the Pasha on his part
was to restore Hamet's family to him--at some future time.
Nothing was said about tribute; but it was understood that
according to ancient custom each newly appointed consul should
carry to the Pasha a present not exceeding six thousand dollars.

The Tripolitan War did not end in a blaze of glory for the United
States. It had been waged in the spirit of "not a cent for
tribute"; it was concluded with a thinly veiled payment for
peace; and, worst of all, it did not prevent further trouble with
the Barbary States. The war had been prosecuted with vigor under
Preble; it had languished under Barron; and it ended just when
the naval forces were adequate to the task. Yet, from another
point of view, Preble, Decatur, Somers, and their comrades had
not fought in vain. They had created imperishable traditions for
the American navy; they had established a morale in the service;
and they had trained a group of young officers who were to give a
good account of themselves when their foes should be not shifty
Tripolitans but sturdy Britons.


Bainbridge in forlorn captivity at Tripoli, Preble and Barron
keeping anxious watch off the stormy coast of Africa, Eaton
marching through the windswept desert, are picturesque figures
that arrest the attention of the historian; but they seemed like
shadowy actors in a remote drama to the American at home,
absorbed in the humdrum activities of trade and commerce. Through
all these dreary years of intermittent war, other matters
engrossed the President and Congress and caught the attention of
the public. Not the rapacious Pasha of Tripoli but the First
Consul of France held the center of the stage. At the same time
that news arrived of the encounter of the Enterprise with the
Corsairs came also the confirmation of rumors current all winter
in Europe. Bonaparte had secured from Spain the retrocession of
the province of Louisiana. From every point of view, as the
President remarked, the transfer of this vast province to a new
master was "an inauspicious circumstance." The shadow of the
Corsican, already a menace to the peace of Europe, fell across
the seas.

A strange chain of circumstances linked Bonaparte with the New
World. When he became master of France by the coup d'etat of the
18th Brumaire (November 9, 1799), he fell heir to many policies
which the republic had inherited from the old regime. Frenchmen
had never ceased to lament the loss of colonial possessions in
North America. From time to time the hope of reviving the
colonial empire sprang up in the hearts of the rulers of France.
It was this hope that had inspired Genet's mission to the United
States and more than one intrigue among the pioneers of the
Mississippi Valley, during Washington's second Administration.
The connecting link between the old regime and the new was the
statesman Talleyrand. He had gone into exile in America when the
French Revolution entered upon its last frantic phase and had
brought back to France the plan and purpose which gave
consistency to his diplomacy in the office of Minister of Foreign
Affairs, first under the Directory, then under the First Consul.
Had Talleyrand alone nursed this plan, it would have had little
significance in history; but it was eagerly taken up by a group
of Frenchmen who believed that France, having set her house in
order and secured peace in Europe, should now strive for orderly
commercial development. The road to prosperity, they believed,
lay through the acquisition of colonial possessions. The recovery
of the province of Louisiana was an integral part of their

While the Directory was still in power and Bonaparte was pursuing
his ill-fated expedition in Egypt, Talleyrand had tried to
persuade the Spanish Court to cede Louisiana and the Floridas.
The only way for Spain to put a limit to the ambitions of the
Americans, he had argued speciously, was to shut them up within
their natural limits. Only so could Spain preserve the rest of
her immense domain. But since Spain was confessedly unequal to
the task, why not let France shoulder the responsibility? "The
French Republic, mistress of these two provinces, will be a wall
of brass forever impenetrable to the combined efforts of England
and America," he assured the Spaniards. But the time was not

Such, then, was the policy which Bonaparte inherited when he
became First Consul and master of the destinies of his adopted
country. A dazzling future opened before him. Within a year he
had pacified Europe, crushing the armies of Austria by a
succession of brilliant victories, and laying prostrate the petty
states of the Italian peninsula. Peace with England was also in
sight. Six weeks after his victory at Marengo, Bonaparte sent a
special courier to Spain to demand--the word is hardly too
strong--the retrocession of Louisiana.

It was an odd whim of Fate that left the destiny of half the
American continent to Don Carlos IV, whom Henry Adams calls "a
kind of Spanish George III "--virtuous, to be sure, but heavy,
obtuse, inconsequential, and incompetent. With incredible
fatuousness the King gave his consent to a bargain by which he
was to yield Louisiana in return for Tuscany or other Italian
provinces which Bonaparte had just overrun with his armies.
"Congratulate me," cried Don Carlos to his Prime Minister, his
eyes sparkling, "on this brilliant beginning of Bonaparte's
relations with Spain. The Prince-presumptive of Parma, my
son-in-law and nephew, a Bourbon, is invited by France to reign,
on the delightful banks of the Arno, over a people who once
spread their commerce through the known world, and who were the
controlling power of Italy,--a people mild, civilized, full of
humanity; the classical land of science and art." A few
war-ridden Italian provinces for an imperial domain that
stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Superior and that
extended westward no one knew how far!

The bargain was closed by a preliminary treaty signed at San
Ildefonso on October 1, 1800. Just one year later to a day, the
preliminaries of the Peace of Amiens were signed, removing the
menace of England on the seas. The First Consul was now free to
pursue his colonial policy, and the destiny of the Mississippi
Valley hung in the balance. Between the First Consul and his
goal, however, loomed up the gigantic figure of Toussaint
L'Ouverture, a full-blooded negro, who had made himself master of
Santo Domingo and had thus planted himself squarely in the
searoad to Louisiana. The story of this "gilded African," as
Bonaparte contemptuously dubbed him, cannot be told in these
pages, because it involves no less a theme than the history of
the French Revolution in this island, once the most thriving
among the colonial possessions of France in the West Indies. The
great plantations of French Santo Domingo (the western part of
the island) had supplied half of Europe with sugar, coffee, and
cotton; three-fourths of the imports from French-American
colonies were shipped from Santo Domingo. As the result of class
struggles between whites and mulattoes for political power, the
most terrific slave insurrection in the Western Hemisphere had
deluged the island in blood. Political convulsions followed which
wrecked the prosperity of the island. Out of this chaos emerged
the one man who seemed able to restore a semblance of order--the
Napoleon of Santo Domingo, whose character, thinks Henry Adams,
had a curious resemblance to that of the Corsican. The negro was,
however, a ferocious brute without the redeeming qualities of the
Corsican, though, as a leader of his race, his intelligence
cannot be denied. Though professing allegiance to the French
Republic, Toussaint was driven by circumstances toward
independence. While his Corsican counterpart was executing his
coup d'etat and pacifying Europe, he threw off the mask,
imprisoned the agent of the French Directory, seized the Spanish
part of the island, and proclaimed a new constitution for Santo
Domingo, assuming all power for himself for life and the right of
naming his successor. The negro defied the Corsican.

The First Consul was now prepared to accept the challenge. Santo
Domingo must be recovered and restored to its former
prosperity--even if slavery had to be reestablished--before
Louisiana could be made the center of colonial empire in the
West. He summoned Leclerc, a general of excellent reputation and
husband of his beautiful sister Pauline, and gave to him the
command of an immense expedition which was already preparing at
Brest. In the latter part of November, Leclerc set sail with a
large fleet bearing an army of ten thousand men and on January
29, 1802, arrived off the eastern cape of Santo Domingo. A legend
says that Toussaint looking down on the huge armada exclaimed,
"We must perish. All France is coming to Santo Domingo. It has
been deceived; it comes to take vengeance and enslave the
blacks." The negro leader made a formidable resistance,
nevertheless, annihilating one French army and seriously
endangering the expedition. But he was betrayed by his generals,
lured within the French lines, made prisoner, and finally sent to
France. He was incarcerated in a French fortress in the Jura
Mountains and there perished miserably in 1803.

The significance of these events in the French West Indies was
not lost upon President Jefferson. The conquest of Santo Domingo
was the prelude to the occupation of Louisiana. It would be only
a change of European proprietors, of absentee landlords, to be
sure; but there was a world of difference between France, bent
upon acquiring a colonial empire and quiescent Spain, resting on
her past achievements. The difference was personified by
Bonaparte and Don Carlos. The sovereignty of the lower
Mississippi country could never be a matter of indifference to
those settlers of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio who in the year
1799 sent down the Mississippi in barges, keel-boats, and
flatboats one hundred and twenty thousand pounds of tobacco, ten
thousand barrels of flour, twenty-two thousand pounds of hemp,
five hundred barrels of cider, and as many more of whiskey, for
transshipment and export. The right of navigation of the
Mississippi was a diplomatic problem bequeathed by the
Confederation. The treaty with Spain in 1795 had not solved the
question, though it had established a modus vivendi. Spain had
conceded to Americans the so-called right of deposit for three
years--that is, the right to deposit goods at New Orleans free of
duty and to transship them to ocean-going vessels; and the
concession, though never definitely renewed, was tacitly
continued. No; the people of the trans-Alleghany country could
not remain silent and unprotesting witnesses to the retrocession
of Louisiana.

Nor was Jefferson's interest in the Mississippi problem of recent
origin. Ten years earlier as Secretary of State, while England
and Spain seemed about to come to blows over the Nootka Sound
affair, he had approached both France and Spain to see whether
the United States might not acquire the island of New Orleans or
at least a port near the mouth of the river "with a
circum-adjacent territory, sufficient for its support,
well-defined, and extraterritorial to Spain." In case of war,
England would in all probability conquer Spanish Louisiana. How
much better for Spain to cede territory on the eastern side of
the Mississippi to a safe neighbor like the United States and
thereby make sure of her possessions on the western waters of
that river. It was "not our interest," wrote Mr. Jefferson, "to
cross the Mississippi for ages!"

It was, then, a revival of an earlier idea when President
Jefferson, officially through Robert R. Livingston, Minister to
France, and unofficially through a French gentleman, Dupont de
Nemours, sought to impress upon the First Consul the unwisdom of
his taking possession of Louisiana, without ceding to the United
States at least New Orleans and the Floridas as a "palliation."
Even so, France would become an object of suspicion, a neighbor
with whom Americans were bound to quarrel.

Undeterred by this naive threat, doubtless considering its
source, the First Consul pressed Don Carlos for the delivery of
Louisiana. The King procrastinated but at length gave his promise
on condition that France should pledge herself not to alienate
the province. Of course, replied the obliging Talleyrand. The
King's wishes were identical with the intentions of the French
government. France would never alienate Louisiana. The First
Consul pledged his word. On October 15, 1802, Don Carlos signed
the order that delivered Louisiana to France.

While the President was anxiously awaiting the results of his
diplomacy, news came from Santo Domingo that Leclerc and his army
had triumphed over Toussaint and his faithless generals, only to
succumb to a far more insidious foe. Yellow fever had appeared in
the summer of 1802 and had swept away the second army dispatched
by Bonaparte to take the place of the first which had been
consumed in the conquest of the island. Twenty-four thousand men
had been sacrificed at the very threshold of colonial empire, and
the skies of Europe were not so clear as they had been. And then
came the news of Leclerc's death (November 2, 1802) . Exhausted
by incessant worry, he too had succumbed to the pestilence; and
with him, as events proved, passed Bonaparte's dream of colonial
empire in the New World.

Almost at the same time with these tidings a report reached the
settlers of Kentucky and Tennessee that the Spanish intendant at
New Orleans had suspended the right of deposit. The Mississippi
was therefore closed to western commerce. Here was the hand of
the Corsican.* Now they knew what they had to expect from France.
Why not seize the opportunity and strike before the French
legions occupied the country? The Spanish garrisons were weak; a
few hundred resolute frontiersmen would speedily overpower them.

* It is now clear enough that Bonaparte was not directly
responsible for this act of the Spanish intendant. See Channing,
"History of the United States," vol. IV, p. 312, and Note,

Convinced that he must resort to stiffer measures if he would not
be hurried into hostilities, President Jefferson appointed James
Monroe as Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to
France and Spain. He was to act with Robert Livingston at Paris
and with Charles Pinckney, Minister to Spain, "in enlarging and
more effectually securing our rights and interests in the river
Mississippi and in the territories eastward thereof"--whatever
these vague terms might mean. The President evidently read much
into them, for he assured Monroe that on the event of his mission
depended the future destinies of the Republic.

Two months passed before Monroe sailed with his instructions. He
had ample time to study them, for he was thirty days in reaching
the coast of France. The first aim of the envoys was to procure
New Orleans and the Floridas, bidding as high as ten million
dollars if necessary. Failing in this object, they were then to
secure the right of deposit and such other desirable concessions
as they could. To secure New Orleans, they might even offer to
guarantee the integrity of Spanish possessions on the west bank
of the Mississippi. Throughout the instructions ran the
assumption that the Floridas had either passed with Louisiana
into the hands of France or had since been acquired.

While the packet bearing Monroe was buffeting stormy seas, the
policy of Bonaparte underwent a transformation--an abrupt
transformation it seemed to Livingston. On the 12th of March the
American Minister witnessed an extraordinary scene in Madame
Bonaparte's drawing-room. Bonaparte and Lord Whitworth, the
British Ambassador, were in conversation, when the First Consul
remarked, "I find, my Lord, your nation want war again." "No,
Sir," replied the Ambassador, "we are very desirous of peace." "I
must either have Malta or war," snapped Bonaparte. The amazed
onlookers soon spread the rumor that Europe was again to be
plunged into war; but, viewed in the light of subsequent events,
this incident had even greater significance; it marked the end of
Bonaparte's colonial scheme. Though the motives for this change
of front will always be a matter of conjecture, they are somewhat
clarified by the failure of the Santo Domingo expedition. Leclerc
was dead; the negroes were again in control; the industries of
the island were ruined; Rochambeau, Leclerc's successor, was
clamoring for thirty-five thousand more men to reconquer the
island; the expense was alarming--and how meager the returns for
this colonial venture! Without Santo Domingo, Louisiana would be
of little use; and to restore prosperity to the West India
island--even granting that its immediate conquest were
possible--would demand many years and large disbursements. The
path to glory did not lie in this direction. In Europe, as Henry
Adams observes, "war could be made to support war; in Santo
Domingo peace alone could but slowly repair some part of this
frightful waste."

There may well have been other reasons for Bonaparte's change of
front. If he read between the lines of a memoir which Pontalba, a
wealthy and well-informed resident of Louisiana, sent to him, he
must have realized that this province, too, while it might become
an inexhaustible source of wealth for France, might not be easy
to hold. There was here, it is true, no Toussaint L'Ouverture to
lead the blacks in insurrection; but there was a white menace
from the north which was far more serious. These Kentuckians,
said Pontalba trenchantly, must be watched, cajoled, and brought
constantly under French influence through agents. There were men
among them who thought of Louisiana "as the highroad to the
conquest of Mexico." Twenty or thirty thousand of these
westerners on flatboats could come down the river and sweep
everything before them. To be sure, they were an undisciplined
horde with slender Military equipment--a striking contrast to the
French legions; but, added the Frenchman, "a great deal of skill
in shooting, the habit of being in the woods and of enduring
fatigue--this is what makes up for every deficiency."

And if Bonaparte had ever read a remarkable report of the Spanish
Governor Carondelet, he must have divined that there was
something elemental and irresistible in this
down-the-river-pressure of the people of the West. "A carbine and
a little maize in a sack are enough for an American to wander
about in the forests alone for a whole month. With his carbine,
he kills the wild cattle and deer for food and defends himself
from the savages. The maize dampened serves him in lieu of bread
. . . . The cold does not affright him. When a family tires of
one location, it moves to another, and there it settles with the
same ease. Thus in about eight years the settlement of Cumberland
has been formed, which is now about to be created into a state."

On Easter Sunday, 1803, Bonaparte revealed his purpose, which had
doubtless been slowly maturing, to two of his ministers, one of
whom, Barbs Marbois, was attached to the United States through
residence, his devotion to republican principles, and marriage to
an American wife. The First Consul proposed to cede Louisiana to
the United States: he considered the colony as entirely lost.
What did they think of the proposal? Marbois, with an eye to the
needs of the Treasury of which he was the head, favored the sale
of the province; and next day he was directed to interview
Livingston at once. Before he could do so, Talleyrand, perhaps
surmising in his crafty way the drift of the First Consul's
thoughts, startled Livingston by asking what the United States
would give for the whole of Louisiana. Livingston, who was in
truth hard of hearing, could not believe his ears. For months he
had talked, written, and argued in vain for a bit of territory
near the mouth of the Mississippi, and here was an imperial
domain tossed into his lap, as it were. Livingston recovered from
his surprise sufficiently to name a trifling sum which Talleyrand
declared too low. Would Mr. Livingston think it over? He,
Talleyrand, really did not speak from authority. The idea had
struck him, that was all.

Some days later in a chance conversation with Marbois, Livingston
spoke of his extraordinary interview with Talleyrand. Marbois
intimated that he was not ignorant of the affair and invited
Livingston to a further conversation. Although Monroe had already
arrived in Paris and was now apprised of this sudden turn of
affairs, Livingston went alone to the Treasury Office and there
in conversation, which was prolonged until midnight, he fenced
with Marbois over a fair price for Louisiana. The First Consul,
said Marbois, demanded one hundred million francs. Livingston
demurred at this huge sum. The United States did not want
Louisiana but was willing to give ten million dollars for New
Orleans and the Floridas. What would the United States give then?
asked Marbois. Livingston replied that he would have to confer
with Monroe. Finally Marbois suggested that if they would name
sixty million francs, (less than $12,000,000) and assume claims
which Americans had against the French Treasury for twenty
million more, he would take the offer under advisement.
Livingston would not commit himself, again insisting that he must
consult Monroe.

So important did this interview seem to Livingston that he
returned to his apartment and wrote a long report to Madison
without waiting to confer with Monroe. It was three o'clock in
the morning when he was done. "We shall do all we can to cheapen
the purchase," he wrote, "but my present sentiment is that we
shall buy."

History does not record what Monroe said when his colleague
revealed these midnight secrets. But in the prolonged
negotiations which followed Monroe, though ill, took his part,
and in the end, on April 30, 1803, set his hand to the treaty
which ceded Louisiana to the United States on the terms set by
Marbois. In two conventions bearing the same date, the
commissioners bound the United States to pay directly to France
the sum of sixty million francs ($11,250,000) and to assume debts
owed by France to American citizens, estimated at not more than
twenty million francs ($3,750,000). Tradition says that after
Marbois, Monroe, and Livingston had signed their names,
Livingston remarked: "We have lived long, but this is the noblest
work of our lives . . . . From this day the United States take
their place among the powers of the first rank."


The purchase of Louisiana was a diplomatic triumph of the first
magnitude. No American negotiators have ever acquired so much for
so little; yet, oddly enough, neither Livingston nor Monroe had
the slightest notion of the vast extent of the domain which they
had purchased. They had bought Louisiana "with the same extent
that it is now in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France
possessed it, and such as it should be after the treaties
subsequently entered into between Spain and other States," but
what its actual boundaries were they did not know. Considerably
disturbed that the treaty contained no definition of boundaries,
Livingston sought information from the enigmatical Talleyrand.
"What are the eastern bounds of Louisiana?" he asked. "I do not
know," replied Talleyrand; "you must take it as we received it."
"But what did you mean to take?" urged Livingston somewhat
naively. "I do not know," was the answer. "Then you mean that we
shall construe it in our own way?" "I can give you no direction,"
said the astute Frenchman. "You have made a noble bargain for
yourselves, and I suppose you will make the most of it." And with
these vague assurances Livingston had to be satisfied.

The first impressions of Jefferson were not much more definite,
for, while he believed that the acquired territory more than
doubled the area of the United States, he could only describe it
as including all the waters of the Missouri and the Mississippi.
He started at once, however, to collect information about
Louisiana. He prepared a list of queries which he sent to
reputable persons living in or near New Orleans. The task was one
in which he delighted: to accumulate and diffuse information--a
truly democratic mission gave him more real pleasure than to
reign in the Executive Mansion. His interest in the trans-
Mississippi country, indeed, was not of recent birth; he had
nursed for years an insatiable curiosity about the source and
course of the Missouri; and in this very year he had commissioned
his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to explore the great river and
its tributaries, to ascertain if they afforded a direct and
practicable water communication across the continent.

The outcome of the President's questionnaire was a report
submitted to Congress in the fall of 1803, which contained much
interesting information and some entertaining misinformation. The
statistical matter we may put to one side, as contemporary
readers doubtless did; certain impressions are worth recording.
New Orleans, the first and immediate object of negotiations,
contained, it would appear, only a small part of the population
of the province, which numbered some twenty or more rural
districts. On the river above the city were the plantations of
the so-called Upper Coast, inhabited mostly by slaves whose
Creole masters lived in town; then, as one journeyed upstream
appeared the first and second German Coasts, where dwelt the
descendants of those Germans who had been brought to the province
by John Law's Mississippi Bubble, an industrious folk making
their livelihood as purveyors to the city. Every Friday night
they loaded their small craft with produce and held market next
day on the river front at New Orleans, adding another touch to
the picturesque groups which frequented the levees. Above the
German Coasts were the first and second Acadian Coasts, populated
by the numerous progeny of those unhappy refugees who were
expelled from Nova Scotia in 1755. Acadian settlements were
scattered also along the backwaters west of the great river:
Bayou Lafourche was lined with farms which were already producing
cotton; near Bayou Teche and Bayou Vermilion--the Attakapas
country--were cattle ranges; and to the north was the richer
grazing country known as Opelousas.

Passing beyond the Iberville River, which was indeed no river at
all but only an overflow of the Mississippi, the traveler
up-stream saw on his right hand "the government of Baton Rouge"
with its scattered settlements and mixed population of French,
Spanish, and Anglo-Americans; and still farther on, the Spanish
parish of West Feliciana, accounted a part of West Florida and
described by President Jefferson as the garden of the
cotton-growing region. Beyond this point the President's
description of Louisiana became less confident, as reliable
sources of information failed him. His credulity, however, led
him to make one amazing statement, which provoked the ridicule of
his political opponents, always ready to pounce upon the slips of
this philosopher-president. "One extraordinary fact relative to
salt must not be omitted," he wrote in all seriousness. "There
exists, about one thousand miles up the Missouri, and not far
from that river, a salt mountain! The existence of such a
mountain might well be questioned, were it not for the testimony
of several respectable and enterprising traders who have visited
it, and who have exhibited several bushels of the salt to the
curiosity of the people of St. Louis, where some of it still
remains. A specimen of the salt has been sent to Marietta. This
mountain is said to be 180 miles long and 45 in width, composed
of solid rock salt, without any trees or even shrubs on it." One
Federalist wit insisted that this salt mountain must be Lot's
wife; another sent an epigram to the United States Gazette which
ran as follows:

Herostratus of old, to eternalize his name
Sat the temple of Diana all in a flame;
But Jefferson lately of Bonaparte bought,
To pickle his fame, a mountain of salt.

Jefferson was too much of a philosopher to be disturbed by such
gibes; but he did have certain constitutional doubts concerning
the treaty. How, as a strict constructionist, was he to defend
the purchase of territory outside the limits of the United
States, when the Constitution did not specifically grant such
power to the Federal Government? He had fought the good fight of
the year 1800 to oust Federalist administrators who by a liberal
interpretation were making waste paper of the Constitution.
Consistency demanded either that he should abandon the treaty or
that he should ask for the powers which had been denied to the
Federal Government. He chose the latter course and submitted to
his Cabinet and to his followers in Congress a draft of an
amendment to the Constitution conferring the desired powers. To
his dismay they treated his proposal with indifference, not to
say coldness. He pressed his point, redrafted his amendment, and
urged its consideration once again. Meantime letters from
Livingston and Monroe warned him that delay was hazardous; the
First Consul might change his mind, as he was wont to do on
slight provocation. Privately Jefferson was deeply chagrined, but
he dared not risk the loss of Louisiana. With what grace he could
summon, he acquiesced in the advice of his Virginia friends who
urged him to let events take their course and to drop the
amendment, but he continued to believe that such a course if
persisted in would make blank paper of the Constitution. He could
only trust, as he said in a letter, "that the good sense of the
country will correct the evil of construction when it shall
produce its ill effects."

The debates on the treaty in, Congress make interesting reading
for those who delight in legal subtleties, for many nice
questions of constitutional law were involved. Even granting that
territory could be acquired, there was the further question
whether the treaty-making power was competent irrespective of the
House of Representatives. And what, pray, was meant by
incorporating this new province in the Union? Was Louisiana to be
admitted into the Union as a State by President and Senate? Or
was it to be governed as a dependency? And how could the special
privileges given to Spanish and French ships in the port of New
Orleans be reconciled with that provision of the Constitution
which, expressly forbade any preference to be given, by any
regulation of commerce or revenue, to the ports of one State over
those of another? The exigencies of politics played havoc with
consistency, so that Republicans supported the ratification of
the treaty with erstwhile Federalist arguments, while Federalists
used the old arguments of the Republicans. Yet the Senate advised
the ratification by a decisive vote and with surprising
promptness; and Congress passed a provisional act authorizing the
President to take over and govern the territory of Louisiana.

The vast province which Napoleon had tossed so carelessly into
the lap of the young Western Republic was, strangely enough, not
yet formally in his possession. The expeditionary force under
General Victor which was to have occupied Louisiana had never
left port. M. Pierre Clement Laussat, however, who was to have
accompanied the expedition to assume the duties of prefect in the
province, had sailed alone in January, 1803, to receive the
province from the Spanish authorities. If this lonely Frenchman
on mission possessed the imagination of his race, he must have
had some emotional thrills as he reflected that he was following
the sea trail of La Salle and Iberville through the warm waters
of the Gulf of Mexico. He could not have entered the Great River
and breasted its yellow current for a hundred miles, without
seeing in his mind's eye those phantom figures of French and
Spanish adventurers who had voyaged up and down its turbid waters
in quest of gold or of distant Cathay. As his vessel dropped
anchor opposite the town which Bienville had founded, Laussat
must have felt that in some degree he was "heir of all the ages";
yet he was in fact face to face with conditions which, whatever
their historic antecedents, were neither French nor Spanish. On
the water front of New Orleans, he counted "forty-five
Anglo-American ships to ten French." Subsequent experiences
deepened this first impression: it was not Spanish nor French
influence which had made this port important but those "three
hundred thousand planters who in twenty years have swarmed over
the eastern plains of the Mississippi and have cultivated them,
and who have no other outlet than this river and no other port
than New Orleans."

The outward aspect of the city, however, was certainly not
American. From the masthead of his vessel Laussat might have seen
over a thousand dwellings of varied architecture: houses of
adobe, houses of brick, houses of stucco; some with bright
colors, others with the harmonious half tones produced by sun and
rain. No American artisans constructed the picturesque balconies,
the verandas, and belvederes which suggested the semitropical
existence that Nature forced upon these city dwellers for more
than half the year. No American craftsmen wrought the artistic
ironwork of balconies, gateways, and window gratings. Here was an
atmosphere which suggested the Old World rather than the New. The
streets which ran at right angles were reminiscent of the old
regime: Conde, Conti, Dauphine, St. Louis, Chartres, Bourbon,
Orleans--all these names were to be found within the earthen
rampart which formed the defense of the city.

The inhabitants were a strange mixture: Spanish, French,
American, black, quadroon, and Creole. No adequate definition has
ever been formulated for "Creole," but no one familiar with the
type could fail to distinguish this caste from those descended
from the first French settlers or from the Acadians. A keen
observer like Laussat discerned speedily that the Creole had
little place in the commercial life of the city. He was your
landed proprietor, who owned some of the choicest parts of the
city and its growing suburbs, and whose plantations lined both
banks of the Mississippi within easy reach from the city. At the
opposite end of the social scale were the quadroons--the
demimonde of this little capital--and the negro slaves. Between
these extremes were the French and, in ever-growing numbers, the
Americans who plied every trade, while the Spaniards constituted
the governing class. Deliberately, in the course of time, as
befitted a Spanish gentleman and officer, the Marquis de Casa
Calvo, resplendent with regalia, arrived from Havana to act with
Governor Don Juan Manuel de Salcedo in transferring the province.
A season of gayety followed in which the Spaniards did their best
to conceal any chagrin they may have felt at the
relinquishment--happily, it might not be termed the surrender--of
Louisiana. And finally on the 30th of November, Governor Salcedo
delivered the keys of the city to Laussat, in the hall of the
Cabildo, while Marquis de Casa Calvo from the balcony absolved
the people in Place d'Armes below from their allegiance to his
master, the King of Spain.

For the brief term of twenty days Louisiana was again a province
of France. Within that time Laussat bestirred himself to
gallicize the colony, so far as forms could do so. He replaced
the cabildo or hereditary council by a municipal council; he
restored the civil code; he appointed French officers to civil
and military posts. And all this he did in the full consciousness
that American commissioners were already on their way to receive
from him in turn the province which his wayward master had sold.
On December 20, 1803, young William Claiborne, Governor of the
Mississippi Territory, and General James Wilkinson, with a few
companies of soldiers, entered and received from Laussat the keys
of the city and the formal surrender of Lower Louisiana. On the
Place d'Armes, promptly at noon, the tricolor was hauled down and
the American Stars and Stripes took its place. Louisiana had been
transferred for the sixth and last time. But what were the metes
and bounds of this province which had been so often bought and
sold? What had Laussat been instructed to take and give? What, in
short, was Louisiana?

The elation which Livingston and Monroe felt at acquiring
unexpectedly a vast territory beyond the Mississippi soon gave
way to a disquieting reflection. They had been instructed to
offer ten million dollars for New Orleans and the Floridas: they
had pledged fifteen millions for Louisiana without the Floridas.
And they knew that it was precisely West Florida, with the
eastern bank of the Mississippi and the Gulf littoral, that was
most ardently desired by their countrymen of the West. But might
not Louisiana include West Florida? Had Talleyrand not professed
ignorance of the eastern boundary? And had he not intimated that
the Americans would make the most of their bargain? Within a
month Livingston had convinced himself that the United States
could rightfully claim West Florida to the Perdido River, and he
soon won over Monroe to his way of thinking. They then reported
to Madison that "on a thorough examination of the subject" they
were persuaded that they had purchased West Florida as a part of

By what process of reasoning had Livingston and Monroe reached
this satisfying conclusion? Their argument proceeded from
carefully chosen premises. France, it was said, had once held
Louisiana and the Floridas together as part of her colonial
empire in America; in 1763 she had ceded New Orleans and the
territory west of the Mississippi to Spain, and at the same time
she had transferred the Floridas to Great Britain; in 1783 Great
Britain had returned the Floridas to Spain which were then
reunited to Louisiana as under French rule. Ergo, when Louisiana
was retro-ceded "with the same extent that it now has in the
hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it," it
must have included West Florida.

That Livingston was able to convince himself by this logic, does
not speak well for his candor or intelligence. He was well aware
that Bonaparte had failed to persuade Don Carlos to include the
Floridas in the retrocession; he had tried to insert in the
treaty an article pledging the First Consul to use his good
offices to obtain the Floridas for the United States; and in his
midnight dispatch to Madison, with the prospect of acquiring
Louisiana before him, he had urged the advisability of exchanging
this province for the more desirable Floridas. Livingston
therefore could not, and did not, say that Spain intended to cede
the Floridas as a part of Louisiana, but that she had
inadvertently done so and that Bonaparte might have claimed West
Florida, if he had been shrewd enough to see his opportunity. The
United States was in no way prevented from pressing this claim
because the First Consul had not done so. The fact that France
had in 1763 actually dismembered her colonial empire and that
Louisiana as ceded to Spain extended only to the Iberville, was
given no weight in Livingston's deductions.

Having the will to believe, Jefferson and Madison became converts
to Livingston's faith. Madison wrote at once that in view of
these developments no proposal to exchange Louisiana for the
Floridas should be entertained; the President declared himself
satisfied that "our right to the Perdido is substantial and can
be opposed by a quibble on form only"; and John Randolph, duly
coached by the Administration, flatly declared in the House of
Representatives that "We have not only obtained the command of
the mouth of the Mississippi, but of the Mobile, with its widely
extended branches; and there is not now a single stream of note
rising within the United States and falling into the Gulf of
Mexico which is not entirely our own, the Appalachicola
excepted." From this moment to the end of his administration, the
acquisition of West Florida became a sort of obsession with
Jefferson. His pursuit of this phantom claim involved American
diplomats in strange adventures and at times deflected the whole
course of domestic politics.

The first luckless minister to engage in this baffling quest was
James Monroe, who had just been appointed Minister to the Court
of St. James. He was instructed to take up the threads of
diplomacy at Madrid where they were getting badly tangled in the
hands of Charles Pinckney, who was a better politician than a
diplomat. "Your inquiries may also be directed," wrote Madison,
"to the question whether any, and how much, of what passes for
West Florida be fairly included in the territory ceded to us by
France." Before leaving Paris on this mission, Monroe made an
effort to secure the good offices of the Emperor, but he found
Talleyrand cold and cynical as ever. He was given to understand
that it was all a question of money; if the United States were
willing to pay the price, the Emperor could doubtless have the
negotiations transferred to Paris and put the deal through. A
loan of seventy million livres to Spain, which would be passed
over at once to France, would probably put the United States into
possession of the coveted territory. As an honest man Monroe
shrank from this sort of jobbery; besides, he could hardly offer
to buy a territory which his Government asserted it had already
bought with Louisiana. With the knowledge that he was defying
Napoleon, or at least his ministers, he started for Madrid to
play a lone hand in what he must have known was a desperate game.

The conduct of the Administration during the next few months was
hardly calculated to smooth Monroe's path. In the following
February (1804) President Jefferson put his signature to an act
which was designed to give effect to the laws of the United
States in the newly acquired territory. The fourth section of
this so-called Mobile Act included explicitly within the revenue
district of Mississippi all the navigable waters lying within the
United States and emptying into the Gulf east of the
Mississippi--an extraordinary provision indeed, since unless the
Floridas were a part of the United States there were no rivers
within the limits of the United States emptying into the Gulf
east of the Mississippi. The eleventh section was even more
remarkable since it gave the President authority to erect Mobile
Bay and River into a separate revenue district and to designate a
port of entry.

This cool appropriation of Spanish territory was too much for the
excitable Spanish Minister, Don Carlos Martinez Yrujo, who burst
into Madison's office one morning with a copy of the act in his
hand and with angry protests on his lips. He had been on
excellent terms with Madison and had enjoyed Jefferson's
friendship and hospitality at Monticello; but he was the
accredited representative of His Catholic Majesty and bound to
defend his sovereignty. He fairly overwhelmed the timid Madison
with reproaches that could never be forgiven or forgotten; and
from this moment he was persona non grata in the Department of

Madison doubtless took Yrujo's reproaches more to heart just
because he felt himself in a false position. The Administration
had allowed the transfer of Louisiana to be made in the full
knowledge that Laussat had been instructed to claim Louisiana as
far as the Rio Bravo on the west but only as far as the Iberville
on the east. Laussat had finally admitted as much confidentially
to the American commissioners. Yet the Administration had not
protested. And now it was acting on the assumption that it might
dispose of the Gulf littoral, the West Florida coast, as it
pleased. Madison was bound to admit in his heart of hearts that
Yrujo had reason to be angry. A few weeks later the President
relieved the tense situation, though at the price of an obvious
evasion, by issuing a proclamation which declared all the shores

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