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

Domingo as a naval and military base


From

out this maze of sordid intrigues two or three facts challenge our attention. Both Bonaparte and Charles IV. regarded the most fertile waste lands then calling for the plough as fairly exchanged against half a million of Tuscans; but the former feared the resentment of the United States, and sought to postpone a rupture until he could coerce them by overwhelming force. It is equally clear that, had he succeeded in this enterprise, France might have gained a great colonial empire in North America protected from St. Domingo as a naval and military base, while that island would have doubly prospered from the vast supplies poured down the Mississippi; but this success he would have bought at the expense of a _rapprochement_ between the United States and their motherland, such as a bitter destiny was to postpone to the end of the century.

The prospect of an Anglo-American alliance might well give pause even to Napoleon. Nevertheless, he resolved to complete this vast enterprise, which, if successful, would have profoundly affected the New World and the relative importance of the French and English peoples. The Spanish officials at New Orleans, in pursuance of orders from Madrid, now closed the lower Mississippi to vessels of the United States (October, 1802). At once a furious outcry arose in the States against an act which not only violated their treaty rights, but foreshadowed the coming grip of the First Consul. For this outburst he was prepared:

General Victor was at Dunkirk, with five battalions and sixteen field-pieces, ready to cross the Atlantic, ostensibly for the relief of Leclerc, but really in order to take possession of New Orleans.[202] But his plan was foiled by the sure instincts of the American people, by the disasters of the St. Domingo expedition, and by the restlessness of England under his various provocations. Jefferson, despite his predilections for France, was compelled to forbid the occupation of Louisiana: he accordingly sent Monroe to Paris with instructions to effect a compromise, or even to buy outright the French claims on that land. Various circumstances favoured this mission. In the first week of the year 1803 Napoleon received the news of Leclerc's death and the miserable state of the French in St. Domingo; and as the tidings that he now received from Egypt, Syria, Corfu, and the East generally, were of the most alluring kind, he tacitly abandoned his Mississippi enterprise in favour of the oriental schemes which were closer to his heart. In that month of January he seems to have turned his gaze from the western hemisphere towards Turkey, Egypt, and India. True, he still seemed to be doing his utmost for the occupation of Louisiana, but only as a device for sustaining the selling price of the western prairies.

When the news of this change of policy reached the ears of Joseph and Lucien Bonaparte, it aroused their bitterest opposition. Lucien plumed himself on having struck the bargain with Spain which had secured that vast province at the expense of an Austrian archduke's crown; and Joseph knew only too well that Napoleon was freeing himself in the West in order to be free to strike hard in Europe and the East. The imminent rupture of the Peace of Amiens touched him keenly: for that peace was his proudest achievement. If colonial adventures must be sought, let them be sought in the New World, where Spain and the United States could offer only a feeble resistance, rather than in Europe and Asia, where unending war must be the result of an aggressive policy.


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