Today’s post comes from James Zeender, Senior Registrar at the National Archives.
On October 25, “The Louisiana Purchase: Making St. Louis, Remaking America” opened in St. Louis. The Missouri History Museum and the National Archives partnered to organize the exhibition, which features the original Louisiana Purchase Treaty of 1803, on loan from the National Archives.
Other National Archives documents on display include Spain’s agreement with France to transfer the Territory to France, the act authorizing the President to take possession from France, the treaty between the United States and the Sauk and the Fox Indians signed at St. Louis in 1804, and six more related items.
The exhibition explores treaty negotiations, the debate in Congress, the territory’s mixed culture and multilingual society, settler conflict with Native Americans, and the extension of slavery into the West.
Did you know the original Louisiana Purchase Treaty consists of three different documents? Each required a separate set of signatures and the private red wax seals of American envoys Robert Livingston and James Monroe and the French finance minister François de Barbé-Marbois.
The Treaty of Cession transferred 828,000 acres of land west of the Mississippi from France to the United States. In the two financial conventions, the parties agreed the United States would pay 11.25 million dollars to France and forgive 3.75 million dollars of French debts to American citizens.
Just a year earlier in 1802, France’s sale of the entire Louisiana Territory was unthinkable. Spain had just withdrawn the right of deposit at New Orleans from American traders, a right Spain had guaranteed to the United States in the Pinckney Treaty of 1795.
The 1800 Treaty of Ildefonso between France and Spain transferred the Louisiana Territory from Spain to France. At the time, Napoleon Bonaparte hoped to create a colonial empire in North America. President Thomas Jefferson, the leader of the young and militarily weak republic, was troubled by what these actions might mean in the near term and the future. Although his minister to France, Robert Livingston, already had instructions to purchase New Orleans, Jefferson decided to send fellow Virginian and confidant James Monroe as a special envoy to the French court to reinforce Livingston’s actions.
When Monroe arrived in Paris on April 12, 1803, Livingston had learned only the day before that there was a chance to obtain the whole of the Louisiana territory. Bonaparte was short of funds due to almost continuous wars with Great Britain, and his plans for retaking Haiti (lost the previous decade in a slave revolt) had failed miserably. He asked his finance minister, Barbé-Marbois, to see what he could get from the Americans for all of Louisiana.
The three quickly reached a deal and the treaty documents were soon prepared. The text was written out in French first and then translated into English. Although all were dated April 30, 1803, they were not signed until a day or two later. The hard work done, the treaty documents (including Bonaparate’s instrument of ratification) were put on a ship bound for the United States. The ship arrived in New York by mid-June, but the documents did not reach President Jefferson in Washington until July 4.
In a letter dated May 12, Monroe and Livingston wrote to Madison:
An acquisition of so great an extent was, we well Know, not contemplated by our appointment; but we are persuaded that the Circumstances and Considerations which induced us to make it, will justify us, in the measure, to our Government and Country.
Jefferson was both surprised and delighted at his country’s good fortune when the news reached him in Washington in early July. Yet he had constitutional qualms about his authority to purchase and obtain foreign land. He consulted with his Secretary of State James Madison and others about whether to pursue a constitutional amendment before ratifying the treaty. An amendment would require a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and three-fourths of state legislatures. Although only 15 states existed at the time, getting the needed votes would still have been a dangerously time-consuming task.
Meanwhile, Livingston wrote from Paris that Napoleon was having second thoughts, giving Jefferson the push he needed to submit the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent, which came on October 20, 1803. Despite strong opposition from the Federalists, Congress quickly passed an act authorizing the President of the United States to take possession of the territory. Jefferson signed it on October 31, 1803. On December 20, a ceremony at the Cabildo in New Orleans formally transferred the territory from France to the United States.
In his second inaugural address on March 5, 1805, Jefferson was able to look back with more perspective and wrote:
I know that the acquisition of Louisiana has been disapproved by some, from a candid apprehension that the enlargement of our territory would endanger its union. But who can limit the extent to which the federative principle may operate effectively? The larger our association, the less will it be shaken by local passions; and in any view, is it not better that the opposite bank of the Mississippi should be settled by our own brethren and children, than by strangers of another family? With which shall we be most likely to live in harmony and friendly intercourse?
As you can imagine, the people of Louisiana living there at the time of the transfer were confused. Which laws were in effect; which would remain in effect; whose land claims would be honored?
In the new exhibition, curator Adam Kloppe wrote about “Esther,” whose life changed after the United States took over St. Louis:
Around 1784, an enslaved woman named Esther was brought to St. Louis by successful merchant Jacques Clamorgan. Eventually, Esther began a relationship with Clamorgan, becoming his confidant and business partner. By 1793, she was so involved with Clamorgan’s business that he gave Esther her freedom. For Esther, freedom meant she could work and acquire her own wealth. But for Clamorgan, it had been a business decision, and he intended to claim any property in Esther’s name. By 1797, Esther had caught onto his scheme and left him—taking her share of the property with her.
However, American rule changed everything. Clamorgan, taking advantage of new laws that hindered a woman’s ability to own property, challenged Esther’s claims and even forged documents to weaken her case. Soon, Esther was in court, fighting for the property that was rightfully hers. When she died in 1833, much of her property was still in limbo due to the changes wrought by the Louisiana Purchase (Courtesy of Missouri History Museum).
Native Americans would lose even more on a grand scale—sometimes their land and hunting grounds, sometimes their health and even their lives, and sometimes their cultural identity due to forced assimilation under the United States Government.
On April 30, 1903, the city of St. Louis hosted the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (or World’s Fair), 100 years after the treaty signing. According the Missouri History Museum, “The Fair boasted extravagant exhibits from fifty foreign countries and forty-three of the then forty-five states. Festival Hall, in the center of the Colonnade of States overlooking the Grand Basin, had a seating capacity of 3,500. Eight principal palaces surrounded Festival Hall.”
Cardinal James Gibbons gave the invocation on April 30, 1903, and was followed by President Theodore Roosevelt and former President Grover Cleveland.
The exposition was widely acclaimed, but it had one flaw in my estimation. As far as I can tell after examining State Department’s records here at the National Archives, the exposition did not have the original Louisiana Purchase Treaty.
Speeding ahead another 110 years, the city’s civic leaders organized a committee, named STL250, to celebrate the city’s 250th birthday. STL250’s plans were less grandiose than their 1903 predecessors, but the committee did aspire to represent the city in all its cultural and social diversity.
The National Archives was part of STL250 in the person of Bryan McGraw, the access coordinator of the National Personnel Records Center, located in St. Louis. A few years ago, Bryan reported there was interest in bringing the original Louisiana Purchase Treaty to St. Louis as part of the 250th celebration. At the time, nothing was concrete.
The Missouri History Museum soon volunteered to organize an exhibition around the treaty, and the project suddenly had wheels. We have made at least three important loans to the museum in the last decade, including over 30 documents for an exhibit on Lewis and Clark. These past partnerships had all proceeded smoothly, so we welcomed another opportunity to work with the museum.
We were soon in touch with Katie Van Allen and her colleagues. With their hard work for over a year and support from our National Archives team, the exhibition came together beautifully.
“The Louisiana Purchase: Making St. Louis, Remaking America” is open through April 19, 2015.
I want to thank all my colleagues at the National Archives and Missouri History Museum who made this exhibition possible.
From the National Archives: Chris Smith, Jim Gardner, Bryan McGraw, Jane Fitzgerald, Martha Grove, Natasha Currie, Terry Boone, Morgan Zinsmeister, Lisa Royse, Alexis Hill, Patrick Kepley, Karen Hibbitt, Michelle Farnsworth, Suzanne Isaacs, Maria Marable, Stephanie Greenhut, Miriam Kleiman, Laura Diachenko, Hilary Parkinson, Chris Isleib, Lee Johnson, and Bill Nenichka.
From the Missouri History Museum: Frances Levine, Katie Van Allen, Jody Sowell, Amanda Bailey, Matt Gurley, Katie Moon, and the rest of the Museum staff.
The National Archives and its Presidential Libraries loan items from their holdings to qualified institutions for exhibition purposes in order to make the nation’s records available to the public across the country and around the world. Loans include items of special interest to local and regional museums and their communities while also helping to foster civic literacy. Read more on the “National Archives on the Road” web page.