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

Clung tenaciously to Louisiana


The

assertion has been repeatedly made that the First Consul told off for this service the troops of the Army of the Rhine, with the aim of exposing to the risks of tropical life the most republican part of the French forces. That these furnished a large part of the expeditionary force cannot be denied; but if his design was to rid himself of political foes, it is difficult to see why he should not have selected Moreau, Massena, or Augereau, rather than Leclerc. The fact that his brother-in-law was accompanied by his wife, Pauline Bonaparte, for whom venomous tongues asserted that Napoleon cherished a more than brotherly affection, will suffice to refute the slander. Finally, it may be remarked that Bonaparte had not hesitated to subject the choicest part of his Army of Italy and his own special friends to similiar risks in Egypt and Syria. He never hesitated to sacrifice thousands of lives when a great object was at stake; and the restoration of the French West Indian Colonies might well seem worth an army, especially as St. Domingo was not only of immense instrinsic value to France in days when beetroot sugar was unknown, but was of strategic importance as a base of operations for the vast colonial empire which the First Consul proposed to rebuild in the basin of the Mississippi.

* * * * *

The history of the French possessions on the North American continent could scarcely be recalled

by ardent patriots without pangs of remorse. The name Louisiana, applied to a vast territory stretching up the banks of the Mississippi and the Missouri, recalled the glorious days of Louis XIV., when the French flag was borne by stout _voyageurs_ up the foaming rivers of Canada and the placid reaches of the father of rivers. It had been the ambition of Montcalm to connect the French stations on Lake Erie with the forts of Louisiana; but that warrior-statesman in the West, as his kindred spirit, Dupleix, in the East, had fallen on the evil days of Louis XV., when valour and merit in the French colonies were sacrificed to the pleasures and parasites of Versailles. The natural result followed. Louisiana was yielded up to Spain in 1763, in order to reconcile the Court of Madrid to cessions required by that same Peace of Paris. Twenty years later Spain recovered from England the provinces of eastern and western Florida; and thus, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, the red and yellow flag waved over all the lands between California, New Orleans, and the southern tip of Florida.[198]

Many efforts were made by France to regain her old Mississippi province; and in 1795, at the break up of the First Coalition, the victorious Republic pressed Spain to yield up this territory, where the settlers were still French at heart. Doubtless the weak King of Spain would have yielded; but his chief Minister, Godoy, clung tenaciously to Louisiana, and consented to cede only the Spanish part of St. Domingo--a diplomatic success which helped to earn him the title of the Prince of the Peace. So matters remained until Talleyrand, as Foreign Minister, sought to gain Louisiana from Spain before it slipped into the horny fists of the Anglo-Saxons.

That there was every prospect of this last event was the conviction not only of the politicians at Washington, but also of every iron-worker on the Ohio and of every planter on the Tennessee. Those young but growing settlements chafed against the restraints imposed by Spain on the river trade of the lower Mississippi--the sole means available for their exports in times when the Alleghanies were crossed by only two tracks worthy the name of roads. In 1795 they gained free egress to the Gulf of Mexico and the right of bonding their merchandise in a special warehouse at New Orleans. Thereafter the United States calmly awaited the time when racial vigour and the exigencies of commerce should yield to them the possession of the western prairies and the little townships of Arkansas and New Orleans. They reckoned without taking count of the eager longing of the French for their former colony and the determination of Napoleon to give effect to this honourable sentiment.


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