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Posts Tagged ‘1803’

James Callender.  The name probably means little to you.  The name meant nothing to me until I started reading about this country’s Founding Fathers a few years back.  But you would certainly know the type of man he was if I gave you just a one-word description.  That word, first used by Theodore Roosevelt in the early 20th century (as I learned on Jeopardy a few days ago), is “muck-raker”.  Wait, is that two words?  One word?

Whatever, James Callender was a muck-raker.  In his biography of Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow describes him as a “hack writer“, an “ugly, misshapen little man who made a career of spewing venom.”   He spent most of his life doing it and, as we’ll soon see, his life ended in muck.  That’s the kind of guy he was.

He arrived in the United States, having left Scotland, in the early 1790s.  Well, “left” is something of a euphemism…”got out of town in a hurry” is more apt, fleeing the country to escape a sedition rap from the British government.  It didn’t take him long to anger folks on this side of the pond, either.

He got in with Republican interests early on, landing a job with Benjamin Franklin Bache’s newspaper, the Aurora.  Firing darts at Federalists like Washington, Adams, and Hamilton made him really good friends with Republicans like Jefferson.  In fact, our third President called Callender “a man of genius” and “a man of science fled from persecution.”

It was all tea and crumpets when James Callender released History of 1796, a pamphlet which exposed to the public a scandal involving “the prime mover of the federal party.”  He enticed his audience by writing that “we shall presently see this great master of morality, although himself the father of a family, confessing that he had an illicit correspondence with another man’s wife.”  He then went on to publish all the papers concerning Alexander Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds.  These were the accounts Hamilton had given to James Monroe, Frederick Muhlenberg, and Abraham Venable.

As we remember, these three men approached Hamilton because they believed the Treasury Secretary was involved in some sort of financial corruption with James Reynolds.  When he buried them with the details of the affair and the extortion, the men left knowing that Hamilton, while acting immorally, was not acting illegally.  Of course, Callender paid no attention to niceties like the truth, and published the corruption stuff anyways.

But Callender was an equal-opportunity muck-raker.  In 1802, he broke another story, this one about the relationship between President Jefferson and one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.  It was probably at this time that Jefferson’s opinion of James Callender changed from that of a man of science to “hypochondriac, drunken, penniless, and unprincipled.

And then there was the court case in 1803.  The People vs. Croswell involved Harry Croswell, a publisher charged with libel who claimed that Thomas Jefferson had paid Callender to defame President George Washington.  Of course, that meant that James Callender would likely be called to the witness stand.  He never made it.

On July 17, 1803, his body was found in the James River.  Apparently, he was in a drunken stupor and drowned in three feet of water…or did he?  History is unclear.

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Robert Livingston had worked hard to get an audience with Talleyrand.  He knew that James Monroe was on his way to pitch to the French the idea of purchasing New Orleans and maybe the Floridas.  And, quite likely, a bit of pride made him want to be the guy to get the deal brokered.  Well, now here he was, on April 11, 1803, in front of the man most able to make it happen.

But when Livingston pitched the sale to Talleyrand, he was rejected out of hand.  And that was that…until Livingston stood up to leave.  It was then that the French minister asked if the United States wish to own all of Louisiana.  Livingston was shocked, but repeated the Administration’s line.  “No.  Our wishes extend only to New Orleans and the Floridas.”  But Talleyrand persisted…make an offer, he said, any offer.  Livingston replied with 20 million francs, which Talleyrand rejected immediately.  Livingston left the office.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it was the start of a series of negotiations that ended with the acquisition of the most important piece of real estate the United States would buy.  One million square miles…at that time, the largest peaceful transfer of property in history.  French dictator Napolean Bonaparte had already decided in his mind that he would likely sell the territory.  It was tremendously expensive to guard and, frankly, he wanted the money to finance his European ambitions.  He would have preferred that one of his other (read: more trusted) ministers do the deal, but getting Louisiana off the books was the bottom line.

And it began here….with a simple meeting that really didn’t go as planned for either attendee.

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On April 10, 1803, James Monroe arrived in Paris, France.  His task, as given him by the Jefferson Administration, was to attempt to purchase New Orleans from the French.  But this statement probably needs a bit more context.

The Spanish-American treaty of 1795 had given America commercial access to the southern port.  Because the monster Mississippi River flowed out into the Gulf there, it was of immense importance to people living in what was then deemed “the West” (that area between the original Colonies and the Mississippi River).  In fact, when writing to Charles Pinckney (then the minister to Spain), Secretary of State James Madison penned, “The Mississippi is to them everything.  It is the Hudson, the Delaware, the Potomac and all the navigable rivers of the Atlantic States formed into one stream.”

But Monroe didn’t go to France because of the Spanish-American treaty.  He went, because in November of 1802, the Administration learned that the Spanish intendant in New Orleans had closed the port to American business.  And because the French had just purchased New Orleans from the Spanish, it was suspected that some shenanigans by Napolean was in the works.

The Spanish minister in Washington tried to quell the incident as a mistaken act by the over-zealous intendant, but protests against the Spanish and the French had already begun.  It quickly became clear that if American trade down the largest of America’s rivers was to be protected, it was simply in America’s best interest to own New Orleans.

And so James Monroe was sent to Paris.  Madison was quick to remind him that the Jefferson Administration was not interested in the land west of the Mississippi, just protecting its interests on the river itself, particularly at the port.  Furthermore, word had come to Washington that the French might have acquired the Floridas as well, so if they wanted to be rid of that territory, the States were more than interested in purchasing it as well.

So it’s not too hard to imagine everyone’s surprise when Robert Livingston (the American minister already in Paris) met with French minister Talleyrand the next day.  It was then…

…well, let’s look at that tomorrow.

Recommended Reading:  The Last Founding Father – I just received my copy this past week and anxiously await its turn on my bookstand.

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Hiking is great.  I should do a lot more of it.  The other day, my wife and I ventured out to a local state park that neither of us had visited.  We  drove through and looked around a bit.  Then, on a whim, we decided to walk one of the trails.  It wasn’t anything big (a little more than half a mile), but it sure was fun.  We’re venturing back out to Rocky Mountain National Park in three weeks, and though we’re going a little later than we did last year (and again staying at River Spruce…a really great set of cabins), I’m hoping the weather will be fair enough to get a couple hikes in.

I need to transistion into something historical.

Well, Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are both in Colorado, and the eastern half of Colorado was part of the Louisiana Purchase.  Well, that sort of works.

On August 31, 1803, the Corps of Discovery departed from Pittsburgh, PA.  This group of 33 men may not be familiar to some of you until their leaders are mentioned:  Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  Their mission was to travel down the Ohio River, then up the Mississippi River to the Missouri, then up the Missouri River to…whatever they found, hopefully the Pacific Ocean.

The expedition was the brainchild of the man behind the territory’s purchase.  Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd President, had pushed not only for the acquisition of Louisiana, but for its exploration.  Jefferson loved to study plants and trees and animals, and I’m guessing that he would have been with Lewis and Clark had he not been already occupied.

But the voyage was late in starting.  The Ohio River was the lowest it had been in anyone’s memory, making a boat trip tricky.  And the boat itself had to be built on-site, which meant the builder (hundreds of miles from his boat-building competitors) could pretty much do as he pleased.  And drinking was what he pleased most.  It drove Lewis crazy to watch the river depths decrease while he waited for the drunk guy to finish the keelboat, which was 55′ long and 8′ wide.  So a July 20th departure turned into August 1st and eventually became August 31st.

In Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose writes of Lewis, “How anxious he was to get going he demonstrated on the morning August 31.  The last nail went into the planking at 7:00 a.m.  By 10:00 a.m., Lewis had the boat loaded.”  They set off an hour later and ventured a few miles downstream.  They stopped to show off the Lewis’ pneumatic air gun, and nearly succeeded in killing a woman when it discharged accidentally after the demonstration.

Lewis’ first journal entry for what would become America’s most important journey was simple enough.  “Left Pittsburgh this day at 11 o’clock with a party of 11 hands 7 of which are soldiers, a pilot and three young men on trial they having proposed to go with me throughout the voyage.”

Lewis and Clark were off.

Recommended Reading: Undaunted Courage

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