History of Greene County, Missouri

R. I. Holcombe, Editing Historian

History of Missouri

Chapter 1: Louisiana Purchase


The purchase in 1803 of the vast territory west of the Mississippi River, by the United States, extending through Oregon to the Pacific coast and south to the Dominions of Mexico, constitutes the most important event that ever occurred in the history of the nation.

It gave to our Republic additional room for that expansion and stupendous growth, to which it has since attained, in all that makes it strong and enduring, and forms the seat of an empire, from which will radiate an influence for good unequaled in the annals of time. In 1763, the immense region of country, known at that time as Louisiana, was ceded to Spain by France. By a secret article, in the treaty of St. Ildefonso, concluded in 1800, Spain ceded it back to France. Napoleon, at that time, coveted the island of St. Domingo, not only because of the value of its products, but more especially because its location in the Gulf of Mexico would, in a military point of view, afford him a fine field whence he could the more effectively guard his newly-acquired possessions. Hence he desired this cession by Spain should be kept a profound secret until he succeeded in reducing St. Domingo to submission. In this undertaking, however, his hopes were blasted, and so great was his disappointment that he apparently became indifferent to the advantages to be secured to France from his purchase of Louisiana.

In 1803 he sent out Laussat as prefect of the colony, who gave the people of Louisiana the first intimation they had that they had once more become the subjects of France. This was the occasion of great rejoicing among the inhabitants, who were Frenchmen in their origin, habits, manners, and customs. [1]

Mr. Jefferson, then President of the United States, on being informed of the retrocession, immediately dispatched instructions to Robert Livingston, the American Minister at Paris, to make known to Napoleon that the occupancy of New Orleans, by his government, would not only endanger the friendly relations existing between the two nations, but, perhaps, oblige the United States to make common cause with England, his bitterest and most dreaded enemy; as the possession of the city by France would give her command of the Mississippi, which was the only outlet for the produce of the Western States, and give her also control of the Gulf of Mexico, so necessary to the protection of American commerce. Mr. Jefferson was so fully impressed with the idea that the occupancy of New Orleans, by France, would bring about a conflict of interests between the two nations, which would finally culminate in an open rupture, that he urged Mr. Livingston, to not only insist upon the free navigation of the Mississippi, but to negotiate for the purchase of the city and the surrounding country.

The question of this negotiation was of so grave a character to the United States that the President appointed Mr. Monroe, with full power to act in conjunction with Mr. Livingston. Ever equal to all emergencies, and prompt in the cabinet, as well as in the field, Napoleon came to the conclusion that, as he could not well defend his occupancy of New Orleans, he would dispose of it, on the best terms possible. Before, however, taking final action in the matter, he summoned two of his Ministers, and addressed them follows:

"I am fully sensible of the value of Louisiana, and it was my wish to repair the error of the French diplomatists who abandoned it in 1763. I have scarcely recovered it before I run the risk of losing it; but if I am obliged to give it up, it shall hereafter cost more to those who force me to part with it, than to those to whom I shall yield it. The English have despoiled France of all her northern possessions in America, and now they covet those of the South. I am determined that they shall not have the Mississippi. Although Louisiana is but a trifle compared to their vast possessions in other parts of the globe, yet, judging from the vexation they have manifested on seeing it return to the power of France, I am certain that their first object will be to gain possession of it. They will probably commence the war in that quarter. They have twenty vessels in the Gulf of Mexico, and our affairs in St. Domingo are daily getting worse since the death of LeClerc. The conquest of Louisiana might be easily made, and I have not a moment to lose in getting out of their reach. I am not sure but that they have already begun an attack upon it. Such a measure would be in accordance with their habits; and in their place I should not wait. I am inclined, in order to deprive them of all prospect of ever possessing it, to code it to the United States. Indeed, I can hardly say that I cede it, for I do not yet possess it; and if I wait but a short time my enemies may leave me nothing but an empty title to grant to the Republic I wish to conciliate. I consider the whole colony as lost, and I believe that in the hands of this rising power it will be more useful to the political and even commercial interests of France than if I should attempt to retain it. Let me have both your opinions on the subject."

One of his Ministers approved of the contemplated cession, but the other opposed it. The matter was long and earnestly discussed by them, before the conference was ended. The next day, Napoleon sent for the Minister who had agreed with him, and said to him:

"The season for deliberation is over. I have determined to renounce Louisiana. I shall give up not only New Orleans, but the whole colony, without reservation. That I do not undervalue Louisiana, I have sufficiently proved, as the object of my first treaty with Spain was to recover it. But though I regret parting with it, I am convinced it would be folly to persist in trying to keep it. I commission you, therefore, to negotiate this affair with the envoys of the United States. Do not wait the arrival of Mr. Monroe, but go this very day and confer with Mr. Livingston. Remember, however, that I need ample funds for carrying on the war, and I do not wish to commence it by levying new taxes. For the last century France and Spain have incurred great expense in the improvement of Louisiana, for which her trade has never indemnified them. Large sums have been advanced to different companies, which have never been returned to the treasury. It is fair that I should require repayment for these. Were I to regulate my demands by the importance of this territory to the United States, they would be unbounded; but, being obliged to part with it, I shall be moderate in my terms. Still, remember, I must have fifty millions of francs, and I will not consent to take less. I would rather make some desperate effort to preserve this fine country." [2-3]

That day the negotiations commenced. Mr. Monroe reached Paris on the 12th of April, 1803, and the two representatives of the United States, after holding a private interview, announced that they were ready to treat for the entire territory. On the 30th of April, the treaty was signed, and on the 21st of October, of the same year, Congress ratified the treaty. The United States were to pay $11,250,000, and her citizens were to be compensated for some illegal captures, to the amount of $3,750,000, making in the aggregate the sum of $15,000,000, while it was agreed that the vessels and merchandise of France and Spain should be admitted into all the points of Louisiana free of duty for twelve years. Bonaparte stipulated in favor of Louisiana, that it should be, as soon as possible, incorporated into the Union, and that its inhabitants should enjoy the same rights, privileges and immunities as other citizens of the United States, and the clause giving to them these benefits was drawn up by Bonaparte, who presented it to the plenipotentiaries with these words:

"Make it known to the people of Louisiana, that we regret to part with them; that we have stipulated for all the advantages they could desire; and that France, in giving them up, has insured to them the greatest of all. They could never have prospered under any European government as they will when they become independent. But while they enjoy the privileges of liberty let them remember that they are French, and preserve, for their mother country that affection which a common origin inspires."

Complete satisfaction was given to both parties in the terms of the treaty, Mr. Livingston said:
"I consider that from this day the United States takes rank with the first powers of Europe, and now she has entirely escaped from the power of England," and Bonaparte expressed a similar sentiment when he said: "By this cession of territory I have secured the power of the United States, and given to England a maritime rival, who, at some future time, will humble her pride."

These were prophetic words, for within a few years afterward the British met with a signal defeat, on the plains of the very territory of which the great Corsican had been speaking.

From 1800, the date of the cession made by Spain, to 1803, when it was purchased by the United States, no change had been made by the French authorities in the jurisprudence of the Upper and Lower Louisiana, and during this period the Spanish laws remained in full force, as the laws of the entire province; a fact which is of interest to those who would understand the legal history and some of the present laws of Missouri.

On December 20th, 1803, Gens. Wilkinson and Claiborne, who were jointly commissioned to take possession of the territory for the United States, arrived in the city of New Orleans at the head of the American forces. Laussat, who had taken possession but twenty days previously as the prefect of the colony, gave up his command, and the star-spangled banner supplanted the tri-colored flag of France. The agent of France, to take possession of Upper Louisiana from the Spanish authorities, was Amos Stoddard, captain of artillery in the United States service. He was placed in possession of St. Louis on the 9th of March, 1804, by Charles Dehault Delassus, the Spanish commandant, and on the following day he transferred it to the United States. The authority of the United States in Missouri dates from this day.

From that moment, the interests of the people of the Mississippi Valley became identified. They were troubled no more with uncertainties in regard to free navigation. The great river, along whose banks they had planted their towns and villages, now afforded them a safe and easy outlet to the markets of the world. Under the protecting aegis of a government, republican in form, and having free access to an almost boundless domain, embracing in its broad area the diversified climates of the globe, and possessing a soil unsurpassed for fertility, beauty of scenery and wealth of minerals, they had every incentive to push on their enterprises and build up the land wherein their lot had been cast.

In the purchase of Louisiana, it was known that a great empire had been secured as a heritage to the people of our country, for all time to come, but its grandeur, its possibilities, its inexhaustible resources and the important relations it would sustain to the nation and the world were never dreamed of by even Mr. Jefferson and his adroit and accomplished diplomatists. [4-5]

The most ardent imagination never conceived of the progress which would mark the history of the Great West." The adventurous pioneer, who fifty years ago pitched his tent upon its broad prairies, or threaded the dark labyrinths of its lonely forests, little thought that a mighty tide of physical and intellectual strength, would so rapidly flow on in his footsteps, to populate, build up and enrich the domain which he had conquered.

Year after year, civilization has advanced further and further, until at length the mountains, the hills and the valleys, and even the rocks and the caverns, resound with the noise and din of busy millions.

"I beheld the westward marches
Of the unknown crowded nations.
All the land was full of people,
Restless, struggling, tolling, striving,
Speaking many tongues, yet feeling
But one heart-beat in their bosoms.
In the woodlands rang their axes;
Smoked their towns in all the valleys;
Over all the lakes and rivers
Rushed their great canoes of thunder."

In 1804, Congress, by an act passed in April of the same year, divided Louisiana into two parts, the "Territory of Orleans," and the "District of Louisiana," known as "Upper Louisiana." This district included all that portion of the old province, north of "Hope Encampment," on the Lower Mississippi, and embraced the present State of Missouri, and all the western region of country to the Pacific Ocean, and all below the forty-ninth degree of north latitude not claimed by Spain.

As a matter of convenience, on March 26th, 1804, Missouri was placed within the jurisdiction of the government of the Territory of Indiana, and its government put in motion by Gen. William H. Harrison, then governor of Indiana. In this he was assisted by Judges Griffin, Vanderburg and Davis, who established in St. Louis what were called Courts of Common Pleas. The District of Louisiana was regularly organized into the Territory of Louisiana by Congress, March 3, 1805, and President Jefferson appointed Gen. James Wilkinson, Governor, and Frederick Bates, Secretary. The Legislature of the territory was formed by Governor Wilkinson and judges E. J. Meigs and John B. C. Lucas. In 1807, Governor Wilkinson was succeeded by Captain Meriwether Lewis, who had become famous by reason of his having made the expedition up the Missouri with Clark. Governor Lewis committed suicide in 1809 and President Madison appointed Gen. Benjamin Howard of Lexington, Kentucky, to fill his place. Gen. Howard resigned October 25, 1810, to enter the war of 1812, and died in St. Louis, in 1814. Captain William Clark, of Lewis and Clark's expedition, was appointed Governor in 1810, to succeed Gen. Howard, and remained in office until the admission of the State into the Union, in 1821.

The portions of Missouri which were settled, for the purposes of local government were divided into four districts. Cape Girardeau was the first, and embraced the territory between Tywappity Bottom and Apple Creek. Ste. Genevieve, the second, embraced the territory from Apple Creek to the Meramec River. St. Louis, the third, embraced the territory between the Meramec and Missouri Rivers. St. Charles, the fourth, included the settled territory, between the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The total population of these districts at that time, was 8,670, including slaves. The population of the district of Louisiana, when ceded to the United States was 10,120. [6-7]

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