Convention of Mortefontaine ñ September 30,1800
Starting point of 200 years of FRIENDSHIP
between the United States and France
By Baron C.F. De Méneval
During the "Directoire", the relationship between the United States and France deteriorated. From 1798 to 1800, a type of undeclared maritime war existed between the two countries, with harassment and capture of commercial vessels.
As soon as he came to power, Napoleon, who was a great admirer of the United States, stressed the necessity of restoring peace and friendship.
He asked President John Adams to send him some negotiators. Ellsworth, Davie and Vans Murray arrived in Paris on April 2, 1800. Napoleon appointed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, Fleurieu and Roederer to represent France.
When Napoleon had to leave Paris to go to Italy fight the battle of Marengo, the negotiations floundered. It was only after his return and under his enlightened guidance that an agreement was reached.
The "Convention of Mortefontaine" was signed on September 30, 1800.
In his memoirs, Baron C.F. de Méneval, who was Joseph Bonaparte's secretary during the negotiations, gives a detailed account of the deliberations and of the festivities that took place two days after the signing, to celebrate the renewed friendship between the two countries.
Here are some excerpts from Méneval's text : "The fête of Mortefontaine was very brilliant. The beauty of the site lent its aid to the taste and the magnificence that were displayed there. Napoleon Bonaparte was present with his family. General Lafayette and Mr. De la Rochefoucauld were kind enough to invite the Americans who happened to be in Paris, as well as acting as interpreters Ö There were a number of pretty women present, at the head of which were the two youngest sisters of the First Consul, Mesdames Leclerc (Pauline ñ 20 years old) and Murat (Caroline ñ 18 years old).
A concert was given on the first day, at which Garat and the most distinguished artists in Paris were heard. On the following day a great hunt was given. In the evening there was a display of fireworks on the lake, in front of the château. A flaming obelisk ñ the pedestal containing allegories consecrating the union on the French and American Republics ñ illuminated its approaches. At the moment when the bouquet exploded, a small flotilla appeared on the water, illuminated with coloured globes, carrying the interlaced flags of the United States and of France. The fête terminated with a magnificent ball, to which more than twelve hundred people had been invited. The First Consul and Madame Bonaparte withdrew at one o'clock.
It was at Mortefontaine that I saw Napoleon for the first time Ö Seeing him surrounded with that prestige of grandeur, which imposes respect on all those who approached him, I did not suspect that one day I should be his familiar. He was very affable to everybody. He conversed at length with M. de Lafayette, a general for whom he had a particular esteem."
French Louisiana was not the State that we know today. It consisted of all the western part of the Mississippi basin, an immense territory five times larger than France, from which thirteen States were carved : Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. This territory, which had been occupied since the beginning of the 17th century by colonists and French Jesuit missionaries, had been named "Louisiane" by Cavalier de la Salle in honour of Louis XIV, the Sun King.
In 1762, it was transferred to Spain.
On October 1, 1800, after the battle of Marengo, Napoleon obtained its return to France by the treaty of San Ildefonso. During the golden age that France experienced in 1803, Napoleon had mixed feelings as to the proper course to follow.
General Lafayette, spoke to him enthusiastically about the rising force of the United States. He knew all about the energy, the heart, the courage of the population and the value of its leaders, among whom George Washington, who had died in 1799.
With a global viewpoint, his kindness and his humanism, Napoleon hoped to aid this young Republic with its development. He was aware that free circulation on the Mississippi river was vital to the economy of riverside populations. Furthermore, his love for peace forbade him to do anything that could rekindle war.
Public opinion in France, however, favoured developing the richness of Louisiana and reluctantly, he allowed Decrès, the Minister of Marine, to organize an expedition from Holland. It was the "Flessingue operation", which he cancelled as soon as he heard that President Jefferson was sending James Monroe to discuss the subject.
On April 10, 1803, two days before Monroe's arrival, Napoleon confided to Decrès : "I know the value of Louisiana, nevertheless I will cede it to the United States."
Monroe offered two million dollars for the city of New Orleans, namely the outlet to the sea. He wanted nothing else. He had been authorized by Jefferson and the Congress to offer as much as ten million dollars to conclude this limited transaction.
When Napoleon answered him with his kind smile and soft voice : "I don't want to cede only New Orleans to you, but all of Louisiana, your price will be mine", James Monroe was baffled. He asked to withdraw for an hour with his partner Robert Livingston who was the U.S. Ambassador in Paris, to reflect on the fantastic offer.
They had no way of communicating with their President. It was on their own initiative that they felt they could offer fifteen million dollars without running the risk of being disavowed. After all, this was only five million more that the sum authorized to acquire the outlet to the sea. They returned to Napoleon and timidly offered fifteen million. By acre this is two hundred times less than the price paid by the king Louis XV, 35 years earlier, for the purchase of Corsica.
"Perfect ! let us close the deal", said Napoleon, and they moved on to the refreshments and petits fours.
Napoleon added the following to the terms of the agreement ; "Let them know that we separate ourselves from them with regret. Let them always remember that they have been French. May the common origin, language, and customs perpetuate friendship."
The war of 1812, the so-called Second War of Independence.
On June 18, 1812, the American Congress declared War on England who had prohibited free maritime traffic, and had already seized a large number of U.S. commercial vessels.
We are not about to recount here all the events of this war. Our only purpose is to show that the English, when they waged war against a Republic, behaved just as ruthlessly in America as they did in Europe, and were far from being "Gentleman".
On August 15, 1812, Fort Dearborn (Chicago) had surrendered and its garrison had been treacherously massacred by the English during the evacuation.
In October 1812, Major General Stephan Van Rensselaer, commanding the New York's militia and a small number of regular soldiers, sent a part of his forces across the Niagara River to attack Queenstown, only to see it cut to pieces, with the survivors massacred by the English.
On January 22, 1813, at Frenchtown (now called Monroe), Michigan, Colonel Adolphe Procter, commanding six hundred British and five hundred Indians, made a surprise attack on the Kentucky's volunteers under Brigadier General James Winchester. When General Winchester was captured with most of his men, he ordered the rest to surrender under Procter's solemn promise of adequate protection.
Young Americans, between the ages of sixteen and twenty, lay wounded on the ground. Each one thought of his mother, his fiancée, his home, while awaiting to be treated and evacuated. Sons of farmers, they had enrolled enthusiastically when called by Congress in order to save their country. Perfidious Colonel Adolphe Procter gave the order to kill them all.
Yes ! On January 22, 1813, one hundred thirty-four (134) American boys, without defence, were treacherously slaughtered and scalped on the bank of the Raisin River. History records this atrocious day as the "Infamous massacre of Raisin River" and "Remember Raisin River" became an American rallying cry for the remainder of the war.
In December 1813, the British crossed the Niagara River, captured Fort Niagara, which they held until the end of the war, burned Black Rock and Buffalo, and laid waste the Niagara frontier from lake Ontario to lake Erie.
In August 1814, the British army of General Ross had landed at Chesapeake Bay, crushed the slim forces of the United States at Bladensburg, occupied Washington, D.C., burned the Capitol, the White House and all the other government buildings.
Admiral George Cockburn, who as a midshipman had taken part in the battle of Toulon (1793) ñ where the young captain Bonaparte started his rising ñ and who later will lead Napoleon to Santa Helena on board the "Northumberland", set afire the library of Congress with his own hands.
It is obvious that the British would have won this war if they had been able to commit all of their forces. The United States, which had only seven million inhabitants, would have fallen once again under the yoke of perfidious Albion, exactly like Canada. They would have lost their independence and liberty.
Napoleon prevented it by forcing Britain to retain the major portion of its forces in Europe. Therefore, let us thank Napoleon, saviour of the United States of America.
Unified currency for Europe
At a time when Europeans are in awe regarding the treaty of Maastricht and the European single currency, it is also interesting to read Napoleon's words dictated to Las-Cases (Memorial of Sainte-Hélène) on August 24, 1816 : "For the prosperity, the interests, the happiness and the well being of the Europeans, I wanted to establish everywhere the same principles, the same system : a European Code, a European supreme court, a single currency with distinctive markings, the same metric system, the same laws. Europe would have been one entity and everyone ñ while traveling ñ would always have been in his common country."
Beggars and homeless
At the beginning of the Consulate, there were three hundred thousand beggars in France.
Napoleon said : "There is a difference between the poor deserving respect, support and friendship, and the beggar deserving anger.
There are many beggars passed on from father to son who are wealthier than honest workers. In this instance, the Church bears some responsibility. It has money-soliciting monks, promising high heavens to all those indulging in begging. In fact, they should deserve hell, because they take advantage of other people's efforts."
He established in each department, educational centres and all beggars, willingly or not, had to attend.
After selection, orientation and training, employment was proposed; particularly in the several construction sites that were growing rapidly in the country.
At the end of the Empire, France had less than ten thousand beggars. Many heads of state, who are presently aware of the problems created by beggars and homeless people, could well learn from Napoleon's example.
In the midst of misfortune, Napoleon remained gentle and charming, as was stated by Betsy Balcombe, an attractive fifteen year-old girl who met the Emperor when he arrived in St Helena in October 1815. (Napoleon stayed at the Balcombe's house during his first two months on the island).
Years later in London, Betsy wrote : "After the bright dreams and hopes of my early youth were withered and destroyed, how vividly I recollect my feeling of dread mingled with admiration, as I now first looked upon Napoleon whom I had learned to fear so much.
Boney ! the man I had once imagined as an ogre with one large flaming red eye in the middle of his forehead. When once he began to speak, his fascinating smile and kind manner removed every vestige of the fear with which I had hitherto regarded him.
The day he left for Longwood, Napoleon gave me a beautiful bonbonnière, which I had often admired. I burst into tears and ran out of the room. I stationed myself at a window from which I could see his departure, but my heart was too full to look on him as he left us, and throwing myself on the bed, I cried bitterly for a long time."
Feelings of admiration and worship towards Napoleon intensify with time. One shouldn't be surprised to see ever-growing crowds from all over the world express their veneration and respect around his magnificent tomb, beneath the dome of the Invalides.
So, Letizia's Prophecy : "It may take two or three centuries before my little boy's merits and kindness are fully acknowledged, but, believe me, this time will come", would become true.
Had Napoleon not been a man of worth, loved and respected as well as admired, King Louis-Philippe himself, supported by the entire French population, would not have given him a grand and solemn funeral on December 15, 1840, nineteen years after his death.
That day, the king, overcome with emotion, burst into tears when, at the very moment when the coffin was carried into the crypt, a veteran of the battle of Wagram broke the awesome silence and screamed at the top of his voice : "L'EMPEREUR ! ".
Neither would King Louis-Philippe have inaugurated in his memory some of the most beautiful monuments in Paris, such as : La Colonne de la Grande Armée (The Vendôme Column), on July 28 1832; the Arc de Triomphe, on July 29, 1836; the Luxor Obelisk, a present from the Egyptian government given to France in 1836, as a token of appreciation for his good deeds in the land of the Pharaohs.
Had Napoleon been able to fulfill his plans and free the European nations from the implacable yoke of their monarchs within the framework specified by the "Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen" (Bill of Rights), mankind would have been spared two world wars, fascism and communism.