Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

CONGRESS

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES.

MAY 26, 1858.-Ordered to be printed.

Mr. BENJAMIN made the following

REPORT.

[To accompany Bill S. No. 410.] The Committee on Private Land Claims, to whom was referred the

memorial of the city of New Orleans, asking confirmation of title to one-half of certain lands devised by John McDonough to that city, as tenant, in common with the city of Baltimore, report :

The lands represented in the memorial are situate in that part of the State of Louisiana which lies east of the Mississippi and Iberville rivers, and the lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain, and are known as The Florida Parishes of Louisiana.

These parishes were not within the present State of Louisiana when it was admitted into the Union, but were cut off from the adjacent territory occupied by the United States," otherwise known as West Florida, and added to Louisiana by act of Congress passed 14th April, 1812.

The original title to 223,333 acres of the lands described in the memorial was derived from the King of Spain by purchase from and payment made to Don Juan Ventura Morales, governor general of Louisiana and West Florida, in the months of October and November, 1803.

The title to 2,100 acres was derived from a settlement right in favor of Philip Robinson, acknowledged by the Spanish authorities to be a valid claim in 1804.

The title to 1,420 acres was derived from grant made by the Span:ish authorities on the 5th March, 1806.

The titles thus set forth by the memorialists are unquestionably valid, if, at the date when they were acquired, it was within the

power of the Spanish government to make sales or grants of land within the territory in which the lands claimed are situated ; and this question, it is believed, is now, for the first time, presented for a decision by Congress since the treaty with Spain of the 22d February, 1819, by which the Floridas were acquired.

The examination of this question requires a reference to the history of the negotiations which accompanied not only that treaty, but the treaty of the 30th April, 1803, by which Louisiana was acquired from France. A thorough comprehension of the whole subject requires also a succinct statement of the condition of our relations with France and

Spain, so far as concerns our western and southwestern boundaries at the commencement of the present century.

At that period the American settlements had crossed the Alleghanies, and were rapidly spreading, not only upon the upper waters of the Mississippi, but upon those of the Mobile, the Chattahoochie, and other streams of west Florida. Spain possessed the outlets of these rivers, through which alone could the upper country communicate with the gulf, as well as the only eligible points at which the productions of this vast interior could be safely deposited for shipment. And Mr. Madison, then Secretary of State, wrote to Mr. Pinckney, our minister at Madrid, on the 30th of March, 1802, that the inhabitants complained that the treaty with Spain “bad omitted to provide for the use of the Mobile, Chattahoochie, and other rivers running froin our territory through that of Spain.”—(2 Ainerican State Papers, Foreign Relations, 515.)

With a frontier population coming, for the first time, in contact with a race whose language and institutions—civil, social, and religious—differed from their own, it was not surprising that the tendency to border disturbances was greatly increased, and that the enforcement of federal law over a distant and unsettled region became a delicate and difficult duty.

At this juncture the wanton suppression of the right of deposit upon the island of New Orleans, by the governor of Louisiana, without the assignment of any other place for that purpose, as guarantied to the American people by convention, occasioned the highest national excitement. By that act, “agricultural productions,” says the historian,* “suddenly lost half their value as well at New Orleans as at Natchez."

"Already the cry of alarm was heard, not only in the States of Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky, but even in all the old States.”

In addition to this source of irritation, the government had been for some years on the eve of a rupture with France and Spain by reason of spoliations on our commerce. These with other political considerations of great weight, rendered it incumbent on the administration to make an energetic attempt to settle all pending causes of difficulty, by the acquisition of rights of navigation in the waters of all the southwestern streams, and even, if possible, the purchase of the Floridas and of New Orleans. To this purpose were the original negotiations limited, and so important was it deemed that the most eminent of our statesmen were selected for its accomplishment. President Jefferson selected Mr. King for the embassy to London, Mr. Livingston to France, and Mr. Pinckney to Spain ; whilst at home the instructions were prepared under his auspices by Mr. Madison. To this accomplished corps, Mr. Jefferson added the experience of Mr. Monroe, soliciting him, by an autograph letter, to visit Paris as minister plenipotentiary, to aid in relieving the government from the embarrassments which complicated its foreign relations and threatened a disturbance of its peace.

That the original negotiations were limited to the acquisition of New

Marbois, page 215

Orleans, and the Floridas, particularly West Florida, will be apparent by reference to the instructions of Mr Madison, of 9th June and 28th September, 1801, (2 For. Rel., 510 ;) and it further appears, from the same and subsequent instructions, that the government of the United States was then ignorant of the secret cession by Spain to France, although rumors of such cession had already began to circulate in the public papers.

The negotiations were unsuccessful. Mr. Livingston despaired. On the 1st September, 1802, he wrote to the Secretary of State: “There never was a government in which less can be done by negotiation than here. There is no people, no legislature, no counsellors. One man is everything. He seldom asks advice, never hears it unasked. His ministers are mere clerks, and his legislature and counsellors parade officers.”

It was after the date of this letter that Mr. Monroe was sent to Paris, with instructions "to procure the cession of New Orleans and the Floridas to the United States, and consequently the establishment of the Mississippi as the boundary between the United States and Louisiana.”—Letter of 18th January, 1803.—(2 For. Rel., 529.)

On the 11th April, 1803, Mr. Livingston writes: “Mr. Talleyrand asked me this day, when pressing the subject, whether we wished to have the whole of Louisiana. I told him no; that our wishes extended only to New Orleans and the Floridas.”—(2 For. Rel., 552.) He also writes : "I bave used every endeavor with the Spanish ambassador and Lord Whiteworth to prevent the transfer (to France) of the Floridas.''

Napoleon, however, pressed upon the American minister the acquisition of the entire province of Louisiana with such rapidity that, notwithstanding the distrust which seems at first to have been entertained by the latter, a treaty was matured and signed within a few days, and the most splendid acquisition ever made by a nation was thus suddenly and unexpectedly added to our domain.

The motives and reasons for this abrupt change of policy on the part of the French government are thus stated by the historian Marbois, who was a party to the negotiations, and whose truthfulness and integrity are well established.

On Easter Sunday, the 10th April, 1803, after having attended to the solemnities and ceremonies of the day, Napoleon called two ministers, who had been acquainted with the countries under consideration. Addressing them with that vehemence and passion which he particularly manifested in political affairs, he said: "I know the full value of Louisiana, and I have been desirous of repairing the fault of the French negotiator who abandoned it in 1763. A few lines of a treaty have restored it to me, and I have scarce recovered it when I must expect to lose it. But if it escapes from me, it shall one day cost dearer to those who oblige me to strip myself of it, than to those to whom I wish to deliver it. The English have successively taken from France Canada, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the richest portions of Asia. . They are engaged in exciting troubles in St. Domingo. They shall not have the Mississippi, which they covet. Louisiana is nothing in comparison with their conquests in all parts of the globe ; and yet the jealousy which they feel at the restoration of this colony to the sovereignty of France acquaints me with their wish to take possession of it, and it is thus that they will begin the war. They have twenty ships-of-war in the Gulf of Mexico. They sail over those seas as sovereigns, whilst our affairs in St. Domingo have been growing worse and worse every day since the death of Leclexe. The conquest of Louisiana would be easy, if they only took the trouble to make a descent there. I have not a moment to lose in putting it out of their reach. I know not whether they are not already there. It is their usual course, and if I had been in their place I would not have waited. I wish, if there is still time, to take from them any idea that they may have of ever possessing that territory. I think of ceding it to the United States. I can scarcely say thut I cede it to them for it is not yet in our possession. If, however, I leave the least time to our enemies, I shall on'y transmit an empty title to those republicans whose friendship I seek. They only ask of me one town in Louisiana ; but I already consider the colony as entirely lost, and it appears to me that in the hands of this growing power it will be more useful to the policy, and even to the commerce of France, than if I should attempt to keep it.”—(Marbois, 263—'4.)

The ministers called into council then discussed the policy of selling Louisiana. The discussions were, says the historian, " prolonged into the night. The ministers remained at St. Cloud, and at day-break he summoned the one who had advised the cession of Louisiana, and made him read the despatches which had just arrived from London. His ambassador informed him that naval and military preparations of every kind were making with extraordinary rapidity."

Upon hearing this intelligence, Napoleon, after some remarks upon the commercial importance of certain military positions in the Levant, which England was supposed to desire, proceeded :

“ Irresolution and deliberation are no longer in season. I renounce Louisiana. It is not only New Orleans that I will cede—it is the whole colony, without any reservation. I know the price of what I abandon; and I have sufficiently proved the importance that I attach to the province, since my first diplomatic act with Spain for the recovery of it. I renounce it with the greatest regret. To attempt obstinately to retain it would be folly. I direct you to negotiate this affair with the envoys of the United States. Do not even await the arrival of Mr. Monroe; have an interview this very day with Mr. Livingston; but I require a great deal of money for this war, and I would not like to commence it with new contributions. For a hundred years France and Spain have been incurring expenses for improvements in Louisiana, for which its commerce has never indemnified them. Large sums which will never be returned to the treasury have been lent to companies and agriculturists. The price of all these things is justly due to us. If I should regulate my terms according to the value of these vast regions to the United States, the indemnity would have no

limits. I will be moderate, in consideration of the necessity in which I am of making a sale ; but keep this to yourself. I want fifty mil

lions, and for less than that sum I will not treat. I would rather

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »