Napoleon as First Consul

Leaving the American negotiations for a moment, it is worth while to go behind the scenes. First, Napoleon confided his purpose to Talleyrand, and later, on April 10, to Marbois and another of his ministers. The next day a few hours before Talleyrand met Livingston, Napoleon summoned Marbois. In his usual peremptory fashion he exclaimed: "Irresolution and deliberation are no longer in season; I renounce Louisiana. It is not only New Orleans that I cede; it is the whole colony, without reserve. I know the price of what I abandon. I have proved the importance I attach to this province, since my first diplomatic act with Spain had the object of recovering it. I renounce it with the greatest regret; to attempt obstinately to retain it would be folly. I direct you to negotiate the affair. Have an interview this very day with Mr. Livingston." 6

But it was Talleyrand, as we have seen, and not Marbois, who a few hours later startled Livingston with this unexpected change.

While the matter remained unsettled, there were not only the chances of discovery and opposition by Spain, and of irritation and change of plan on Napoleonís part, but there was also the pressure brought to bear by Napoleonís brothers, to prevent this sacrifice of French pride and possessions. His brothers Lucien and Joseph heard the news with astonishment and indignation. Summoning their courage they went to the Tuileries to protest, and were admitted to find the imperious ruler in his bath. Napoleon announced his purpose of selling Louisiana. "What do you think of it?" he asked Lucien. "I flatter myself," replied Lucien, "that the Chambers will not give their consent."

The First Consul retorted from his bath tub that he would do without their consent.

Joseph threatened to oppose him in the Chambers. He declared that they would all be punished by an indignant people. At this reply Napoleon lost his temper. "You are insolent!" he shouted, starting up, and then suddenly plunging back into his bath with a violence that sent the water flying into the faces of Lucien and Joseph. A servant who was present, frightened at the scene, fell fainting on the floor. Such was the stormy reception of Napoleonís decision in his own family. But he declared that his purpose was fixed in spite of the Constitution or the Chambers. And at the last Napoleon threatened Lucien, who lingered alone to maintain the argument, that if the latter undertook open opposition he would break him like the snuffbox which he hurled angrily upon the floor. And so the Napoleonic will prevailed.7

It has been said that the disregard of legal authority and of the wishes of the French people involved in this arbitrary decision marked a turning point in Napoleonís career. His act has been called a betrayal of his country. Yet after this he became the Emperor of France, and the most powerful single figure of his time.


6 For a full account of these negotiations see "History of the United States of America," by Henry Adams, Vol. II.
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7 This amusing and yet serious bath-room scene is described in full in "Lucien Bonaparte et ses Mémoires," and summarized by Henry Adams, and by Dr. J. K. Hosmer in the latterís "History of the Louisiana Purchase."
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Chapter 7


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© 2001, Lynn Waterman