The workings of the mind of Thomas Jefferson during the summer of 1803, as he anticipated the formal acquisition of Louisiana, are among the wonders of the modern world. His continental strategic vision and his neatly calibrated tactical sense were in combination almost superhuman. Within a single plan he solved an interactive puzzle requiring the manipulation of the avarice of the Southern fur traders, such as the partners of The Firm, as he had in the previous year brought around the Eastern sea traders, such as the Livingston family (see Part Four). He made use of the land-hunger of the planters and the desperate necessities of the leaders of the Indian nations. He channeled to his own ends the personal ambitions of the “Bonaparte of the Backwoods,” Andrew Jackson, as he had those of Bonaparte himself. At the same time, he provided satisfaction of the avarice and ambition of Jackson's arch foe, General James Wilkinson, whom Jefferson chose to be commander of the nation's armed forces in the West. The President drew upon the patriotic instincts of the Eastern Federalists who might oppose, for reasons of conscience, his expansion of the slave-and-plantation system, and assembled a de facto coalition in the West of planters, upriver farmers, slave sellers, slave buyers, and tens of thousands of anonymous frontiersmen. He even found a means to have the Indians pay for the Louisiana Purchase.
Jefferson's design was grounded in the cotton lands of the West still held by the Indians, though said by the Europeans to be governed by Spain. We will in subsequent pages observe the transaction between Jefferson and Napoleon by which title to these lands—as Europeans understood title— was conveyed first to France and then in a twinkling to the United States. The price was, in round numbers, eleven and a quarter million dollars plus interest. As we shall see, he and Napoleon agreed that a sufficient portion should go to the merchants of the eastern seaboard of the United States to assure their enthusiasm for a transaction otherwise of primary interest to patriots, planters, and the upstream farmers of the West.