Sunday, April 11, 2010

Start the bidding at ...

On this day 207 years ago, the French foreign minister Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord offered American diplomats Robert Livingston and James Monroe all of the Louisiana territory, what became the Louisiana purchase. Woo-Hoo! Let the games (of American imperialism) begin! Ahem, I mean western "expansion."

Thomas Jefferson had sent Livingston and Monroe to Paris in an attempt to purchase New Orleans from the French, as Jefferson was fearful that Napoleon had designs on another North American empire. When Monroe and Livingston offered $2 million for the Crescent City, the French minister, much to the surprise of the American diplomats, countered with all of Louisiana for $10 million. Napoleon had grown weary of the New World ever since that pesky slave uprising in Haiti, er, I mean Saint-Domingue, had created the second independent republic in the western hemisphere and had signaled that European colonization might not be so cheap and easy as was once thought. So focusing his efforts on total European domination (think Moscow ... in winter ... nice one), he looked to dump the French claims to North America.

The irony here? Louisiana had only recently been Spanish territory. The Spanish, never very good at policing the far margins of their new world empire, were afraid that Americans might cross the Mississippi and begin squatting in Northern New Spain. So the Spanish had secretly transferred their rights to the French hoping that Louisiana would become a buffer zone, preventing Americans from encroaching on Spanish territory. So fearful were the Spanish that they had only agreed to the transfer on the explicit condition that the French never cede the territory to the Americans. Damn that Napoleon was sneaky.

Though Talleyrand offered the Americans all of Louisiana on this day, the negotiations weren't completed, however, for almost another two weeks. So (cliffhanger) ... stay tuned!

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