Thomas Fleming: The Real Story Behind Napoleon's Sale of Louisiana

Roundup: Talking About History

From the American Revolution Roundtable (June 2004):

On Tuesday, March 30, Tom Fleming treated Round Tablers to a highly unorthodox version of how the United States persuaded Napoleon Bonaparte to sell the United States the vast territory of Louisiana. He began with President Thomas Jefferson's startling 1801 offer to the French government to help it regain the island of Santo Domingo, and incidentally eliminate its black revolutionary ruler, Toussaint L'Ouverture. From there we roller- coastered with Tom as Jefferson discovered that Napoleon had secretly pressured Spain into retroceding Louisiana to France and the even more dismaying discovery that the"Man of Destiny" was shipping 15,000 troops to dispose of Toussaint and his"gilded Africans" (Napoleon's phrase) with orders to then head for New Orleans and begin setting up a French satellite state in the Mississippi Valley. Secretary of State James Madison took charge of foreign policy and decreed that the United States would NOT help the French army in Santo Domingo no matter what his friend Jefferson had said. When Toussaint and his black legions chose war rather than surrender, another player entered the drama, aedes egypti, the female mosquito that carried the yellow fever virus. Soon whole French regiments melted away and the combination of aedes plus Madison's intransigent hostility soon had Napoleon's dream of a revived North American empire in history's dustbin. Only then did the Man of Destiny decide to sell Louisiana to the startled Jefferson. Tom closed by urging Round Tablers to drink a Fourth of July toast to that unrecognized heroine of the republic, aedes egypti.

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