Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 54 Pell-Mell

THE formal cession, however, left some matters of the highest importance undetermined. What, for example, were the exact boundaries of the territory thus delivered to the United States? This was a matter of the greatest interest to the South. The West was well taken care of by the accession of New Orleans and the uninterrupted navigation of the Mississippi along its whole length to the open sea. New England looked sourly on the whole business and feared that the collapse of her early predominance would now become permanent. But New England was largely Federalist and the Republicans were not concerned over her misgivings. The South was another matter. All the rivers that flowed southward into the Gulf were useless unless the Floridas--and particularly West Florida, comprising the littoral of what are now the states of Mississippi and Alabama --belonged to the United States.

In Europe, Livingston and Monroe insisted that West Florida was a part of the bargain and advised sudden seizure, on the theory that possession made good title. Jefferson and Madison toyed with the idea, but preferred first to see if Spain could not be induced to yield. Unfortunately, they ran into an unexpected snag.

Livingston had originally believed that France would support American pretensions to the Floridas; but the strong reaction from Madrid caused Napoleon to think twice. The envoy was now told by Talleyrand that he was willing to aid in negotiations to purchase East Florida; but he kept a discreet silence about West Florida. However, Livingston confidentially insisted to Madison that "the moment is so favorable for taking possession of that country, that I hope it has not been neglected, even though a little force should be necessary to effect it. Your minister must find the means to justify it."1

Livingston's advocacy of violent measures stemmed from a complex of causes. But the hidden motive lay in his resentment over the way in which Monroe had taken the lion's share of the glory, and his belief that, should his advice be followed in this particular, he could recapture what had been rightfully his from the beginning.

Several significant items militated against his position. For one thing Laussat, in formally turning over Louisiana, had "confidentially signified that it did not comprehend any part of West Florida"; though he did admit that it extended westward to the Rio Bravo, sometimes called the Rio Norte.2 For a second, Talleyrand positively assured the Spaniards that he

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