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Draft Changes to the Constitution
Digital History ID 1092

Author:   Thomas Jefferson

Annotation: In 1795 Spain granted western farmers the right to ship their produce down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where their cargoes of corn, whiskey, and pork were loaded aboard ships bound for the east coast and foreign ports. In 1800 Spain secretly ceded the Louisiana territory to France and closed the port of New Orleans to American farmers. Westerners, left without a port from which to export their goods, exploded with anger. Many demanded war. The prospect of French control of the Mississippi alarmed Jefferson. Spain had held only a weak and tenuous grip on the Mississippi, but France was a much stronger power. Jefferson feared the establishment of a French colonial empire in North America blocking American expansion. The United States appeared to have only two options: diplomacy or war.

The president sent James Monroe to join Robert Livingston, the American minister to France, with instructions to purchase New Orleans and as much of the Gulf Coast as they could for $2 million. Circumstances played into American hands when France failed to suppress a slave rebellion in Haiti. One hundred thousand slaves, inspired by the French Revolution, had revolted, destroying 1200 coffee and 200 sugar plantations. In 1800 France sent troops to crush the insurrection and reconquer Haiti, but they met a determined resistance led by a former slave named Toussaint Louverture. Then, they were wiped out by mosquitoes carrying yellow fever. “Damn sugar, damn coffee, damn colonies,” Napoleon exclaimed. Without Haiti, which he regarded as the centerpiece of an American empire, Napoleon had little interest in keeping Louisiana.

Two days after Monroe’s arrival, the French finance minister unexpectedly announced that France was willing to sell not just New Orleans but all of Louisiana Province, a territory extending from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and westward as far as the Rocky Mountains. The American negotiators agreed on a price of $15 million, or about 4 cents an acre.

Since the Constitution did not give the president specific authorization to purchase land, Jefferson considered asking for a constitutional amendment empowering the government to acquire territory.

Document: The province of Louisiana is incorporated with the U. S. and made part thereof. The rights of occupancy in the soil, and of self-government, are confirmed to the Indian inhabitants, as they now exist. Pre-emption only of the portions rightfully occupied by them, and a succession to the occupancy of such as they may abandon, with the full rights of possession as well as of property and sovereignty in whatever is not or shall cease to be so rightfully occupied by them shall belong to the U. S.

The legislature of the Union shall have authority to exchange the right of occupancy in portions where the U. S. have full right for lands possessed by Indians within the U. S. on the East side of the Missisipi, to exchange lands on the East side of the river for those on the West side thereof and above the latitude of 31 degrees; to maintain in any part of the province such military posts as may be requisite for peace or safety; to exercise police over all persons therein, not being Indian inhabitants; to work salt springs, or mines of coal, metals and other minerals within the possession of the U. S. or in any others with the consent of the possessors; to regulate trade and intercourse between the Indian inhabitants and all other persons; to explore and ascertain the geography of the province, its productions and other interesting circumstances; to open roads and navigation therein where necessary for beneficial communication and to establish agencies and factories therein for the cultivation of commerce, peace and good understanding with the Indians residing there.

The legislature shall have no authority to dispose of the lands of the province otherwise than is hereinbefore permitted, until a new Amendment of the constitution shall give that authority. Except as to that portion thereof which lies south of the latitude of 31 degrees; which whenever they deem expedient, they may erect into a territorial Government, either separate or as making part with one on the eastern side of the river, vesting the inhabitants thereof with all the rights possessed by other territorial citizens of the U.S.

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