“France has cut the knot,” wrote Minister Livingston to Secretary Madison. It is the word of Bonaparte himself, that his first diplomatic act with. Spain had for its object the recovery of Louisiana. His power enabled him easily to outstrip American negotiations, and on the 1st of October, 1800, the Spanish King entered privately into certain agreements by which, on the 21st of March, 1801, Louisiana, vast, but to Spain unremunerative and indefensible, passed secretly into the hands of the First Consul in exchange for the petty Italian “kingdom of Etruria.” When Minister Livingston wrote, in November, 1802, the secret was no longer unknown.
On the 20th of March, 1803, M. Laussat, as French Colonial Prefect, landed in New Orleans, specially commissioned to prepare for the expected arrival of General Victor with a large body of troops, destined for the occupation of the province, and to arrange for the establishment of a new form of government. The Creoles were filled with secret consternation. Their fields, and streets, and dwellings were full of slaves. They had heard the First Consul’s words to the St. Domingans Whatever be your color or your origin, you are free.” But their fears were soon quieted, when Laussat proclaimed the design of their great new ruler to “preserve the empire of the laws and amend them slowly in the light of experience only.” The planters replied that “ their long-cherished hope was gratified, and their souls filled with the delirium of extreme felicity;” and the townsmen responded “Happy are the colonists of Louisiana who have lived long enough to see their reunion to France, which they have never ceased to desire, and which now satisfies their utmost wish.”
Governor Gayoso had died of yellow fever in 1799 – it is said shortly after a night’s carousal with Wilkinson. He had been succeeded by the Marquis of Casa Calvo, and he, in 1801, by a weak, old man, Don Juan Manuel de Salcedo. The intendant Morales had continued to hate, dread, and hamper -American immigration and commerce, and in October, 1802, had once more shut them out of New Orleans until six months later again discountenanced by his king.
In Congress debate narrowed down to the question whether New Orleans and the Floridas should be bought or simply swept down upon and taken. But the executive department was already negotiating; and, about the time of Laussat’s landing in Louisiana, Messrs. Livingston and Monroe were commissioned to treat with France for a cession of New Orleans and the Floridas, “or as much thereof as the actual proprietor can be prevailed on to part with.”
Bonaparte easily saw the larger, but unconfessed wish of the United States. Louisiana, always light to get and heavy to hold, was skipping even from his grasp. He was about to rush into war with the English. “They have,” he exclaimed passionately to his ministers, “twenty ships of war in the Gulf of Mexico. . . . I have not a moment to lose in putting it [his new acquisition] out of their reach. They [the American commissioners] only ask: of me one town in Louisiana; but I already consider the colony as entirely lost.” And a little later, walking in the garden of St. Cloud, he added to Marbois – whom he trusted rather than Talleyrand- “Well! you have charge of the treasury; let them give you one hundred million francs, pay their own claims, and take the whole country.” When the minister said something about the rights of the colonists, “Send your maxims to the London market,” retorted the First Consul.
The price finally agreed upon was eighty million francs, out of which the twenty million francs of American citizens’ claims due by France were to be paid, and Louisiana was bought. Monsieur Marbois and Messrs. Livingston and Monroe signed the treaty on the 30th of April, 1803. As they finished, they rose and shook hands. “We have lived long,” said Livingston, “but this is the noblest work of our lives.”
About the last of duly, when Casa Calvo and Salcedo, Spanish commissioner and governor, had proclaimed the coming transfer to France, and Laussat, the French prefeet, was looking hourly for General Victor and his forces, there came to New Orleans a vessel from Bordeaux with the official announcement that Louisiana had been ceded to the United States.
On the 30th of November, with troops drawn up in line on the Place d’Armes, and with discharges of artillery, Salcedo, fitly typifying, in his infirm old age, the decaying kingdom which he represented, delivered to Laussat, in the hall of the cabildo, the keys of New Orleans; while Casa Calvo, splendid in accomplishments, titles, and appearance, declared the people of Louisiana absolved from their allegiance to the King of Spain. From the flag-staff in the square the Spanish colors descended, the French took their place, and the domination of Spain in Louisiana was at an end.
On Monday, December the 20th, 1803, with similar ceremonies, Laussat turned the province and the keys of its port over to Commissioners Claiborne and Wilkinson. The French tricolor, which lead floated over the Place d’Armes for but twenty days, gave place to the stars and stripes, and New Orleans was an American town.
Within a period of ninety-one years Louisiana had changed hands six times. From the direct authority of Louis XIV. it had been banded over, in 1712, to the commercial dominion of Anthony Crozat. From Crozat it had passed, in 1717, to the Compagnie de l’Occident; from the company, in 1731, to the undelegated authority of Louis XV.; from him, in 1762, to Spain; from Spain, in 1801, back to France; and at length, in 1803, from France to the United States, finally emancipated from the service and bargainings of European masters.