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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

Could the others be regained by France


Nor

were these sentiments felt by him alone. In a paper which Talleyrand read to the Institute of France in July, 1797, that far-seeing statesman had dwelt upon the pacifying influences exerted by foreign commerce and colonial settlements on a too introspective nation. His words bear witness to the keenness of his insight into the maladies of his own people and the sources of social and political strength enjoyed by the United States, where he had recently sojourned. Referring to their speedy recovery from the tumults of their revolution, he said: "The true Lethe after passing through a revolution is to be found in the opening out to men of every avenue of hope.--Revolutions leave behind them a general restlessness of mind, a need of movement." That need was met in America by man's warfare against the forest, the flood, and the prairie. France must therefore possess colonies as intellectual and political safety-valves; and in his graceful, airy style he touched on the advantages offered by Egypt, Louisiana, and West Africa, both for their intrinsic value and as opening the door of work and of hope to a brain-sick generation.

Following up this clue, Bonaparte, at a somewhat later date, remarked the tendency of the French people, now that the revolutionary strifes were past, to settle down contentedly on their own little plots; and he emphasized the need of a colonial policy such as would widen the national life. The remark has been largely justified

by events; and doubtless he discerned in the agrarian reforms of the Revolution an influence unfavourable to that racial dispersion which, under wise guidance, builds up an oceanic empire. The grievances of the _ancien regime_ had helped to scatter on the shores of the St. Lawrence the seeds of a possible New France. Primogeniture was ever driving from England her younger sons to found New Englands and expand the commerce of the motherland. Let not France now rest at home, content with her perfect laws and with the conquest of her "natural frontiers." Let her rather strive to regain the first place in colonial activity which the follies of Louis XV. and the secular jealousy of Albion had filched from her. In the effort she would extend the bounds of civilization, lay the ghost of Jacobinism, satisfy military and naval adventures, and unconsciously revert to the ideas and governmental methods of the age of _le grand monarque_.

The French possessions beyond the seas had never shrunk to a smaller area than in the closing years of the late war with England. The fact was confessed by the First Consul in his letter of October 7th, 1801, to Decres, the Minister for the Navy and the Colonies: "Our possessions beyond the sea, which are now in our power, are limited to Saint Domingo, Guadeloupe, the Isle of France (Mauritius), the Isle of Bourbon, Senegal, and Guiana." After rendering this involuntary homage to the prowess of the British navy, Bonaparte proceeded to describe the first measures for the organization of these colonies: for not until March 25th, 1802, when the definitive treaty of peace was signed, could the others be regained by France.

* * * * *

First in importance came the re-establishment of French authority in the large and fertile island of Hayti, or St. Domingo. It needs an effort of the imagination for the modern reader to realize the immense importance of the West Indian islands at the beginning of the century, whose close found them depressed and half bankrupt. At the earlier date, when the name Australia was unknown, and the half-starved settlement in and around Sydney represented the sole wealth of that isle of continent; when the Cape of Good Hope was looked on only as a port of call; when the United States numbered less than five and a half million souls, and the waters of the Mississippi rolled in unsullied majesty past a few petty Spanish stations--the plantations of the West Indies seemed the unfailing mine of colonial industry and commerce. Under the _ancien regime_, the trade of the French portion of San Domingo is reported to have represented more than half of her oceanic commerce. But during the Revolution the prosperity of that colony reeled under a terrible blow.


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