Empire of Liberty: Political Bargaining

Excerpt from Michelle Orrego’s “Jeffersonian Democracy”, Chile State University Publishing, 2018

“You always had the people and now have the government on your side, so that the prospect is as favorable as could be wished. At the same time it must be admitted you have much trouble and difficulty to encounter.”

~ James Monroe


Chapter XIII: Political Bargaining

March 5, 1802 marks the first peaceful transfer of power between two rival political parties and executive politicians in U.S. history. It also marks the ascendancy of the Jeffersonians, also known as the “democratic-republicans”. Shortly before noon on that day the small town of Washington (still very much under construction) echoed with the thunder of celebratory cannonades as the District of Columbia Artillery Corps saluted the new president. Thomas Jefferson made the short walk from his boarding house at Conrad and McMunn’s to the Capitol and into the magnificent senate chamber where over one thousand guests and onlookers gathered to watch the spectacle. Waiting for him was chief justice John Marshall and the soon-to-be former president John Adams [1].

After Marshall administered the oath of office, Jefferson read his inaugural address, one of the more significant addresses in U.S. history (even if few in the packed senate chamber could actually hear him):

“All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind, let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself, are but dreary things. And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance, as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. . . [E]very difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans: we are all federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.”

The Senators and Representatives present rose with applause. Later that day Marshall, an ardent Federalist (and Jefferson’s cousin) wrote to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney:

“You will before this reaches you see [Jefferson’s] inauguration speech. It is in the general well-judged and conciliatory.”

Hamilton wrote that it was:

“Virtually a candid retraction of past misapprehensions, and a pledge to the community, that the new president will not lend himself to dangerous innovations, but in essential points will tread in the steps of his predecessors.”

Even the outgoing Adams wished Jefferson well upon returning to Massachusetts:

“This part of the union is in a state of perfect tranquility and I see nothing to obscure your prospect of a quiet and prosperous administration, which I heartily wish you.”

After years of dogged fighting between the Federalists and anti-Federalists and then the Hamiltonian Federalists and the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans it seemed, for a brief moment, that the United States was united.

Then, in May of 1802 the Treaty of Paris was signed with the United States and France agreeing to the Louisiana Bargain. The treaty was highly controversial to say the least. For five years the United States would make $18 million in payments to France in exchange for New Orleans, then Santo Domingo, and finally the whole of Louisiana. Few knew about the secret provision that aligned the United States with Napoleonic France from 1803 to 1808.

Of course the treaty itself required ratification in the Senate and while the Democratic-Republicans held the edge over the Federalists there was much still up in the air as to whether or not ratification would actually occur. Jefferson was determined to see the bargain passed. Still thinking in the very Amero-centric mindset of the age:

“There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of one third of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants.”

Jefferson was hardly alone in his strategic thinking. New Orleans was a vital international port and perhaps the most important city between the Appalachians and Mexico. Control of New Orleans gave the possessor the upper hand in western affairs, control of the Gulf Coast as well as the western Caribbean. “We have made a fantastic effort in securing the front door of the Caribbean,” said William Briggs during the 1802 debates on the issue. “The only flaw is we have left the backdoor wide open, unguarded, and now in the hands of an ambitious French general.”

New Orleans, of course, was not the only location in question. The new Haitian citizens had their eyes fixated on another spot on the map that gave them greater concerns. Santo Domingo is the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas and Spain’s ancient colony on the east side of Hispaniola dates to the late 15th century. Following some ill-advised policy decisions by Phillip III that clustered the Spanish population around the city of Santo Domingo, the French began establishing their own colony on the western third of the island in 1665. The 1697 Treaty of Ryswick (ending the Nine Years War) confirmed French possession of the western third of the island marking the beginning of the immensely profitable sugar colony of St. Domingue. A failed Anglo-Spanish attempt to retake the French colony during the Haitian Revolution also saw short-lived incursions by Haitian revolutionaries into the Spanish colony but these petered out after the War of the Second Coalition. In that conflict, President John Adams made the fateful decision to ally with the Haitians and eventually secure their incorporation into the new country as a full-fledged state. An absolutely remarkable achievement for a deeply divided new country with powerful slave-holding interests that opposed the slave revolts in Haiti. Just as politicians on the American Main looked to New Orleans with an eye for commercial success and national security, the Haitians looked to their still-French owned neighbor with similar thoughts. To demonstrate, Haitian governor Toussaint L’Ouverture wrote to Jefferson in late 1802:

“The mainland papers speak of New Orleans as if it were Holy Ark. That if only the country could find a way to possess it then every problem would find its solution and perfection might be achieved. I would remind you sir that this country is larger than the one the editors in New York and Philadelphia can only seem to grasp. The security and prosperity of Haiti and all the Caribbean states rests of the securing Santo Domingo. As long as the French are entrenched there our citizens will forever remain unsafe.”

L’Ouverture was not alone. Hezekiah Smith, a junior senator from the Bahamas also wrote Jefferson with his own take:

“I must confess the great fear on these islands is that if this deal collapses would the Haitians run arms and support to the Santo Domingo slaves and encouraging a similar rising? Everyone knows that the Haitians will not long tolerate their French foes occupying the same island with the threat of war lingering so close. Surely it would be more advisable to our collective security to secure this bargain, obtain Santo Domingo, and admit it as a state with full-rights in as much haste as possible?”

Smith’s coy inclusion of the term “state will full-rights” might as well have read “as a slave state” and indeed all matter of recorded debate, correspondence, and diary entries from this time indicate that the slave-owning American Main and Caribbean would only accept the inclusion of Santo Domingo on the condition that the bargain maintain slavery. Already the narrow and unexpected inclusion of Haiti as a black-majority free-state in the midst of the white-dominated Caribbean slave-states was steering political decisions and strategic thinking across the region. Indeed the containment of Haiti and the protection of slavery and white socio-economic power would dominate political thinking for next half-century. In many ways the intricate issues of the Louisiana Bargain foreshadowed much of 19th century U.S. politics.

While Jefferson held favorable prospects about securing the bargain, not a little anxiety was fixated on the possibility that it might fall through. In a conversation with a British diplomat:

“The occupation of this country by France gave an entirely new character to all…American relations with her. The inevitable consequences of such a neighborhood must be jealousy, irritation, and finally hostilities.”

Indeed, several very quiet feelers went out to Britain after the War of the Third Coalition inquiring about the possibility of a Anglo-American alliance if Napoleon did not transfer the whole of Louisiana as agreed. Jefferson would honor his secret alliance with France but was wholly prepared to join a Fourth Coalition against his ally if Napoleon betrayed him.

Legislatively, Jefferson initially believed that the purchase would require a constitutional amendment. Interestingly this stance contradicted his early vague and sparse commentary on the inclusion of Martinique and the New Antilles, the Mascarene Islands, Guiana, and Haiti as states [2]. Perhaps Jefferson wanted to establish new presidential precedent or, simply being a gifted politician, didn’t want to jeopardize the popular post-war expansions with opposition cries for complex legislative procedure? The record is vague on this contradiction so historians can only speculate. Regardless, the question seemed to vex Jefferson himself. Believing his authorizations (some of which occurred before he was even president) were executive powers exercised beyond the constitution that required subsequent amendment-authorization, he wrote to, John Breckinridge:

“This treaty must of course be laid before both houses because both have important functions to exercise respecting it. They I presume will see their duty to their country in ratifying and paying for it so as to secure a good which would otherwise probably be never again in their person. But I suppose they must then appeal to the nation for an additional article to the Constitution, approving and confirming an act which the nation had not previously authorized. The Executive in seizing the fugitive occurrence which so much advanced the good of their country, have done an act beyond the constitution. The legislature in casting behind them metaphysical subtleties, and risking themselves like faithful servants, must ratify and pay for it, and throw themselves on their country for doing them unauthorized what we know they would have done for themselves had they been in the situation to do so. It is the case of a guardian investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory; and saying to him when of age, I did this for your good; I pretend to no right to bind you. You may disavow me, and I must get out of the scrape as I can. I thought my duty to risk myself for you.”

Jefferson seemed to harbor serious concerns about practicality and speed versus constitutional legality and long-term stability. Whereas his letter to Breckenridge waxes on about the legality of the bargain, a letter to Madison seems eerily prophetic about America’s future direction:

“An additional article to the Constitution seems necessary from my perspective. However most seem to agree that this national is predestined to span the whole of North America, incorporate more democracies in distant lands, and secure the entirety of the Caribbean. As a matter of pure rationality it would be infeasible to set forth such a precedent every time the country might expand its boundaries.”

Interestingly, Jefferson would write to Breckenridge less than a week after his initial letter countering his own line of thinking:

“I wrote you on the 12th inst. On the subject of Louisiana and Santo Domingo, and the constitutional provision which might be necessary for it. A letter received yesterday shows that nothing must be said on that subject which may give a pretext for retracting but that we should do sub silentio what shall be found necessary. Be so good as to consider that part of my letter as confidential. It strengthens the reasons for desiring the presence of every fiend to the treaty on the first day of the session.”

The letter in question was from Paris where indications swirled that Napoleon might change his mind on the deal entirely. There were also growing concerns that the bargain would upset the politics of the day and generate an opposition. Attorney General Aldus Weber wrote to Jefferson [3]:

“Is there not a danger that the Eastern States, including even Rhode Island and Vermont, if not New York, and other States further South, would object to the ratification of a treaty directly introducing a state of things, involving the idea of adding weight of the southern States in one branch of the Govt. of which there is already too great a jealousy and dread? No plea of necessity, of commercial utility, or national security, will have weight with a violent party, or be any security against their hostile efforts and opposition clamor.”

The warning about opposition given by his Attorney General ended up being well-founded. Gouverneur Morris wrote shortly after the bargain:

“The [Republicans] have, as I expected, done more to strengthen the executive than Federalists dared think of even in Washington’s day.”

Massachusetts senator Timothy Pickering wrote:

“If, I say, Federalism is crumbling away in New England, there is no time to be lost, lest it should be overwhelmed and become unable to attempt its own relief…the people of the East cannot reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West. The later are beginning to rule with a rod of iron.”

Already the cracks could be seen forming in Federalist strongholds like New England.

Ultimately, Jefferson sacrificed his legal scruples in the name of political pragmatism, national security, legacy, and most importantly, speed. The benefits of the purchase, and setting it in stone as quickly as possible, simply outweighed all other concerns.

As for the alliance with Napoleonic France, the risk was worth the reward. In a letter to Henry Dearborn, his Secretary of War:

“It seems inevitable that this agreement will draw us into conflict with at least one major power during this administration. Cautious diplomacy might see such a conflict break out against an unthreatening land power like Russia or Prussia but we must make all due preparations that the cost of Louisiana will be a fight with Britain over mastery of the seas.”

Jefferson’s emphasis on “cautious diplomacy” seemed to hit the jackpot when James Monroe convinced Napoleon to join the third coalition against Russia rather than allying with the tsar against Britain. Indeed, America’s primary military role in the war was taking on Russian-allied janissarial regimes in North Africa. Not only did this conflict establish the very tenuous initial foothold of the United States in the region but it gave American sailors the wartime experience they desperately needed in the event of war with Britain. And while Jefferson hoped that such conflict would not occur, he was painfully aware of the imminent reality and likelihood of such a conflict. The United States simply could not be the naval ally to France for years and not draw the ire of London. Furthermore, the U.S. and Britain shared too many flash points whether it be competition territories in the Caribbean, diplomatic maneuvers in Spanish America, or interests in the Mediterranean and India. Just as the Seven Year’s War had seemed inevitable between France and Britain for overseas hegemony decades before, a similar conflict seemed destined between the U.S. and Britain in the early 19th century. Indeed, that conflict did come in the form of the War of the Fourth Coalition, it just happened to come after Jefferson’s presidency.

Like the purchase of territory, the question of a secret treaty provision and an alliance with France vexed Jefferson. Ratification of foreign treaties required the consent of two-thirds of the senate and while secret treaty provisions were common amongst the great powers of the day, the constitution was silent on such provisions and dealing in them seemed to fly in the face of the spirit of the revolution entirely. A treaty between the United States and the Creek Indians ratified in 1790 contained six secret provisions but this was handled by sending the full treaty to the Senate, including the secret articles, who ratified and the secret provisions were simply not published for public consumption. Obviously, a full military alliance with France differed rather significantly from a vague treaty of friendship with an Indian Nation. Indeed, it seems if any other president were in power and opted to secure such a purchase of land and agree to a military alliance, all beyond the bounds of the constitution and seemingly unilaterally, Jefferson would be among the first to decry such a maneuver as tyranny.

Keeping such a momentous policy decision a secret proved nigh-impossible. Rumor swirled that the price of Louisiana was war with Britain and Jefferson’s opponents were quick to seize on the opportunity. Alexander Hamilton himself made Jefferson’s Francophila a core component of the Federalist opposition. Hamilton’s 1803 pamphlet Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of Thomas Jefferson, Esq. President of the United States might as well have kicked off the 1805 presidential campaign [4]. In it Hamilton made scathing attacks regarding Jefferson’s willingness to plunge the United States into the Coalitionary Wars. For example:

“I do not oppose the Louisiana Treaty and any expansion of our republic to include burgeoning democracies is a thing to be endorsed and celebrated. However we should afford no celebration to the apparent state of friendship and martial assistance to petty tyrants rampaging through Europe. Punishing piracy and spreading the tenants of republicanism in Barbary is one thing yet Mr. Jefferson seems fixated on sending the sons of America to the Old World to fight and die for the very causes to which this country stands opposed.”

In the end, Jefferson interpreted the constitution as giving the president tremendous leeway in foreign affairs. As the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Jefferson technically did not have to answer to anyone about where to deploy the military or how to structure it. In terms of making war the constitution merely gave Congress the ability to declare war. Theoretically, the U.S. could accept any alliance or throw it out at a whim and it wouldn’t matter because the constitution superseded treaties and Congress would have to authorize any use of force. Essentially, Jefferson played Napoleon in this way, stating he had the power to enact such a treaty of alliance unilaterally (thus negating its inclusion in the treaty Congress ultimately ratified) despite the fact that any declaration of war (alliance or not) would always be subject to Congressional approval. This is why during the War of the Third Coalition Jefferson asked Congress for wider powers to expand the (already ongoing) war with the Barbary pirates to their “allies” basically declaring war on jannisarial Turkey and Russia. In the constitutional chaos of the early United States this was “good enough” for the parties involved so long as American forces actually showed up for battle when needed. It would not be until years later that a formal system of creating and accepting alliances came into existence. Luckily for Jefferson the secret alliance would not be formally revealed until the reign of Napoleon II as Napoleon I was eager to keep the secret hidden to benefit his critical American allies. Only after his death did the provision come out in the memoirs written by the handful of French administrators in the know. If the provision had slipped out the combination of Jefferson’s pressing of the bounds of the constitution, decision to expand the country at the expense of Federalist strongholds, and unilateral decision to embroil the country into the coalitionary wars would have been enough to break either the Democratic-Republicans or the country itself.

Despite his concerns, Jefferson did contribute greatly to the war effort in the War of the Third Coalition and successor conflicts thanks to his patronage of the U.S. Navy. Having seen some decay in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolutionary War, the Washington and Adams Administrations had begun the arduous process of building the U.S. Navy up into something that could compete against European foes. With a gargantuan coastline to defend and the sudden appearance of states in far-flung Guiana and the Mascarenes to support, the need for naval strength only seemed to be on the rise. The Americans performed well against the neglected French Navy in the War of the Second Coalition but they had not faced a true test since the chaotic days of the revolution. Even the victories over Barbary pirates rang a little hollow as those were ships that any respectable navy should have defeated and the loss of the USS Constellation was an embarrassment for the Department of the Navy. Philosophically, Jefferson viewed standing armies with republican suspicion and favored a system of well-trained state militias. While that philosophy would cause problems down the road for the United States, he diverged on such thinking when it came to naval strength. Borrowing from the old English school of thought that ships cannot occupy capitals (there is a reason beyond geography that Britain invested in the Royal Navy and not the army after Cromwell), Jefferson favored a powerful oceanic navy that could keep the fighting off the U.S. doorstep and trade punches with the best of them. Jefferson’s administration is well remembered as an aggressive shipbuilding era that provided the U.S. Navy with nearly 50 powerful ships-of-the-line. Combined with the existing fleet strength this vaulted the United States Navy to the third most powerful in the world in 1809, well above Russia, Castile, and Holland. In 1809 Britain maintained a navy featuring 117 ships-of-the-line, 138 cruisers (i.e. frigates and corvettes), and nearly 500 auxiliary craft. France maintained 58 ships-of-the-line, 50 cruisers and nearly 250 auxiliary craft. The United States clocked in at 74 ships-of-the-line, about 30 cruisers, and around 120 auxiliary craft [5]. Combined with the decently sized fleets of their Castilian, Aragonese, Italian, and Dutch “allies” this gave the Franco-American coalition the advantage on Britain even with the addition of the Russian navy. Jefferson must be given credit for bringing the U.S. Navy from a ranking slightly below Denmark to one that could slug it out with the best France and Britain could offer.

With the qualms about the politics, timing, and legalities still being played out, Jefferson needed to actually secure passage. This occurred on November 1, 1802 nearly six months after the initial signing of the treaty in Paris by Livingston, Monroe, and Rochambeau. The final count reflected the enthusiasm across the country for the mammoth expansion: 50-10. The opposition came from Federalist strongholds in Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Nova Scotia. Jefferson also failed to capture the votes of the senators from the Mascarene Islands. The record indicates their fears that the annexations would spark war with Britain and, being the most isolated part of the country, lead to almost immediate occupation.

In the end, Jefferson was triumphant. Roger Griswold captured the atmosphere in a letter that simultaneously captures the public admiration for Jefferson and the Federalist lament of his growing power:

“Many persons are at this moment prepared to declare Jefferson president for life.”

It took another six months for the ratification to reach Napoleon and the details sent back to Washington, New Orleans, Santo Domingo, St. Louis, and beyond. The formal transfer of the City of New Orleans occurred on June 1, 1803 at the Cabildo, with a flag-raising ceremony in the Plaza de Armas. From 1803 to 1808 (at the conclusion of the five-year transfer period) the city and its immediate environs comprised the “U.S. District of New Orleans” under the control of the governor and judicial system of Indiana Territory. Santo Domingo would transfer in June 1805 and the rest of Louisiana would transfer in June 1808.

Yet while Jefferson had secured the bargain, the consequences would reverberate for the years after. The question of boundaries, governance and slavery’s status in Louisiana would define U.S. domestic politics for decades. The question of Santo Domingian statehood, its relationship with Haiti, and the issue of slavery created its own host of issues. Boundary disputes with Castile over the borders in the Floridas and Texas would see further expansions in due time. With the lingering French presence formally expelled and the subsequent expulsion of the lingering British claims after the War of the Fourth Coalition, the United States’ relationship with Spanish America would come to the forefront. The bargain and the clash of federalists and republicans defined the 1805 election, confirmed the ascendancy of the republicans, and sent Hamilton packing for India. Questions of secession and conspiracy came to the fore in New England and the isolated west. And of course the military alliance with France changed the face of Europe and directly brought massive expansions of influence and power by the United States in Africa and India. In changing the immediate map of the United States, Jefferson had set the stage for an imminent change to the map of the entire world.

———– Author’s Notes ————

[1]: In our timeline Adams was not present at Jefferson’s inauguration. It was seen as disrespectful but at this point their falling out was complete and Adams had just lost his son Charles several months before. I don’t see any reason for the changes in this timeline to disrupt Charles Adams’ alcoholism but even if he dies in November 1801 like our timeline, that is still over a year before the altered election/inauguration date of this timeline, so Adams wouldn’t be in a big hurry to get back to Boston out of grief. Also the reality that Jefferson and Adams have to work together and see each other with relative frequency due to their inclusion in the Order of Freedom means that their relationship isn’t as icy as our timeline. Basically they work their nonsense out because they have to and it trickles into non-Order business.

[2]: This dates back to chapter 33 when John Adams works to bring the conquered French colonies into the United States as new states. In all the politics about the maneuver, Jefferson is noted as surprisingly quiet on the issue. Of course Jefferson being a member of the Order of Freedom would be in favor of annexation as a means of accomplishing the Order’s mission but his public political commentary would force him to be in opposition to the matter. Since he cannot oppose the issue he merely is quiet on it.

[3]: Aldus Weber is a fictional character from this timeline. In our timeline Jefferson placed Levi Lincoln as his attorney general but he opts to include a Caribbeaner in his cabinet while also working closely with Briggs. This reflects the wider scope of the US.

[4]: I haven’t really mentioned Hamilton much in this timeline (something I plan to fix sometime soon) but he is still a critical player and has a very interesting new personal history in this story than our own timeline. In our timeline, Hamilton was  enthusiastic about the potential war with France and saw an opportunity to grab military glory (something he always wanted from the American Revolution but only seized briefly at Yorktown since he spent most of his time as Washington’s chief-of-staff) during the Quasi-War. In our timeline, Adams avoided the war with France through diplomacy and Hamilton never really forgave him for it. Seeing Adams as weak, Hamilton refused to endorse Adams for the 1800 presidential election causing a Federalist split and Jefferson’s victory. This really hurt Hamilton politically amongst the Federalists and then he sealed his political and personal fate when he opposed Aaron Burr in the tied presidential elector votes allowing Jefferson to take the presidency and ensuring Burr’s end as Vice President in 1804. This led to a direct clash between Hamilton and Burr over the New York governorship leading to their fateful duel that killed Burr’s career and literally killed Hamilton. In this timeline, everything changes because the US and France actually do go to war, partly thanks to the Order’s meddling and partly due to changed politics due to the inclusion of the Caribbean in the US. This, combined with their mutual membership in the Order, ensures that Adams and Hamilton do not have such a monumental falling out and the Federalists remain united. Adams still loses the presidency because of his domestic legislation and the Haitian annexation which puts Jefferson in power. Hamilton and Jefferson still oppose each other ideologically but, again, Order membership helps to ensure their squabbles are mitigated due to their common goal and the reality that they have to interact with each other from time to time behind closed doors. This also means Hamilton sits at the top of a united Federalist Party. Also, Aaron Burr (floating around somewhere) is not scheming in this mix since Jefferson chose Peter Muhlenberg to be his vice president for the 1801 campaign. This was to shore up Pennsylvania voters since he didn’t need to tie himself to Burr’s New York machine (something he didn’t want to do in our timeline but had to to secure the electoral college). There is a lot more gaps to fill in for Hamilton, something I’ll try to do in an update soonish.

[5]: Britain’s naval strength is down about 30 ships of the line and 20 cruisers from our timeline due to budget cuts and losses at the Nile and Marmara while France’s numbers are up a tad since there is a greater focus on the Mediterranean and no massive losses at Cape St. Vincent, the Nile, or Trafalgar like our timeline. Obviously the US’ numbers are night and day since, in our timeline, the U.S. Navy was comprised of a handful of frigates that were somewhere between a cruiser and a ship-of-the-line (these are names you’ve heard of like the Constitution, Constellation, Philadelphia, and United States) and saw their service during the War of 1812.

Source Materials

Meachem, John. “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power”. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2012.

Rodger, N.A.M.. “The Command of the Ocean”. Allen Lane, 2004. Derived from data by Prof. J.Glete.

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