Treatise on Whether it Be Advantageous
For France To Take Possession of Louisiana
Presented to the French Government By Mr. Livingston, the American Minister at Paris
Translated by Mr. Nancrede
This question presents itself in two points of view : -- First, in the relation of commerce and manufactures : Secondly, in those of the positive or relative force of France.
Colonies do not excite interest for their own fate, but only as respects the influence they may have on a nation ; & and one man alone is more useful by remaining at home, than two by removing at a distance, a wise nation does not seek to colonize, until she has a superabundance of population, which they usefully can not employ in any other way.
Though very considerable, the population of France is very far from having reached the term which renders colonies necessary : Her solid, climate, and local situation give her, as a commercial, and especially as a manufacturing nation, great advantages over all the nations of Europe. The spirit of invention, the taste and industry of its inhabitants, place her in the first rank. But those advantages are wonderfully abridged by the want of capitals sufficient to make use of them. A rival nation, greatly inferior in every one of these particulars, has, by the effect alone of an immense capital, obtained the superiority, not only in commerce, but also in manufactures ; and these advantages, by increasing the national fortune, furnish it with the means of maintaining that very superiority.
Capitals increase the number of manufactures, by the introduction of machines, by the regular payment of workmen, by the reduction of the interest money, and especially by the possession of new markets.
None but rich individuals can undertake those slow and expensive speculations, which often give the superiority to a manufacture. A poor merchant cannot undertake long voyages, returns from which are slow ; They are reserved for the wealthy, who can give credits long enough to tempt foreign nations to give his articles the preference over those of other nations, which expect a quick return for theirs. The want of capitals in France, is such that no manufacturer has at his command a quantity of articles sufficient to answer demands ; And consequently no foreigner can be sure to obtain from his French correspondent wherewith to make his returns without retarding his vessel in port, or, at least, without being obliged to take a considerable quantity of articles of inferior quality, picked up in a number of different manufacturers ; so that he commits any fraud, no one can be charged with it. This renders the character of of manufacture of very little importance in the eyes of a French workman.
Hence when a foreign vessel, especially if owned at a great distance, sells her cargo in France, she is ordered to take nothing but wines or brandies, because they are the only articles which the owner is sure to procure in sufficient quantities, in the fixed time.
In England, on the contrary, he will find all sorts of goods, in one hour, from one manufacture, the reputation of which would suffer, if the whole supply were not of the same quality with the sample. This consideration will ever induce a foreigner to apply to an English, in preference to a French merchant, for a purchase of goods of the same kind. Hence cargoes are sold in France, and the proceeds carried to England, there to be sold for articles which France might supply, if her manufacturers were rich enough to answer every demand, in a short time, without compelling the purchaser to have recourse to a number of manufacturers.
This inconvenience can only be removed by increasing the capitals of manufacturers. It would be too great a deviation from my subject to point out that the means of obtaining those capitals ; but it is evident, that they must be considerably lessened by the forming of a Navy at the expense of a manufactures, or by using the capitals of the nation in distant countries. it is beyond doubt, that capitals open new channels ; for nothing is more natural for merchants whose capital is small, than to content themselves with acting the part of Broker or Commission Merchants, to those who can supply them with goods on no credit ; and for this very reason, England lost nothing by the independence of America. Her immense capitals have created a monied dependence, which in a commercial relation, replaced the supremacy she had lost in the government. The increase of capital in America frees it in some degree from that dependency, and by furnishing her with the means of extending her commerce, and even to offer capitals to other nations which know how to calculate the value of the markets which the offers to manufacturers and to the luxury of Europe.
It will be readily granted, that Colonies seas add nothing to the force of a nation, there are, on the contrary, weak points, which are guarded at a very great expense, both in men and money, especially if they be in hot and unhealthy climates.
The question, therefore, is reduced to this: Has France a superiority of men and money great enough to supply the settling of a new colony?
Those which France already possesses in the West Indies and at Cayenne and more than sufficient for her wants, and even the wants of all Europe, if they were cultivated so as to produce all they were capable of. But how are they to be cultivated? Experience has proved that the inhabitants of hot climates never work from want : Force alone can supply the two great spurs to labour in Northern climates, hunger and cold, which nature has placed in those severe climates. Hence, slavery alone can fertilize those colonies, and slaves can not be procured but at a great expense.
The Spanish port of Hispanolia was almost uncultivated for want of slaves. It is now possessed by France ; and to render it of advantage, it will be necessary to lay out immense capitals in slaves, in buildings, and in improvements of uncultivated lands. Others will be necessary to make up for the losses of the French part of that, not to mention the Islands. Where are those capitals to be found? Men who travel into distant and unhealthy climates are seldom wealthy. Those riches must therefore be found in France, or in some country that has a superfluity of capital. If they are found in France, it can only be, to a certain degree, at the expense of internal manufactures. It may, however, appear advantageous, in a national point of view, to encourage the use of the riches of France for that object ; considering the extreme fertility of the French West Indies, and their present situation of culture, those funds which soon yield a profit. But so long as money will command so high an interest ; so long as the interior of the Republic shall offer monied men a source of speculations, and property shall lie in so few hands, it will be difficult to induce the majority of them dispossess themselves of this capital to send it at a distance, and run the risk of the integrity of their agents, and all those whom recent examples have taught them to dread.
The United States possess considerable capitals to money., and productions necessary to the restoration of the Islands. No great credit, in money, will probably be given to the planters ; but with suitable encouragements, there is no doubt they will be able to obtain those productions which must, were it not for circumstance, be paid for in cash and the commercial speculations of the United States will extend to the French Islands, when the public and private credit of France shall have been restored, and when experience shall have convinced unwise it is to establish a revenue upon foreign trade, while it is in fact collected from their own citizens. At Hispanolia, a duty of 20 percent is paid upon articles introduced by strangers. This duty is in fact paid by strangers, and it happens that fraud, and the bad administration of Custom-Houses is, as usual, a force of vexation for foreign merchants. But it is the planter who furnishes the money, for this tax is always added to the price, and even an interest is advanced upon it as compensation for the vexations which the Captaius experience in their commerce. What then is the effect of that operation, if not to take from the planter one-fourth part of the money which he had so much difficulty to get from France? Or otherwise to stop, by that means, partly the re-establishment of the capitals which alone can render the Islands productive? I say finally, for it is folly to believe that they will yield to France, a compensation for her actual outlets, unless it be after a good many years. I will even say that unless the ports of Hispanolia are open to every vessel loaded with articles of necessity, unless the inhabitants have the right of buying cheap and selling dear, by encouraging the rivalry between the sellers and and the purchasers, unless every sort of vexation is removed, and strangers receive every possible security for their capitals in the Islands, ages will pass away before Hispanolia will cease draining France of its riches and strength without offering her any equivalent return.
It is, therefore, evident that if France had no other possession beyond the seas, except her islands, it might finally place all the capital of which she now can and probably hereafter will be able to dispose in a long series of years.
But if to all this, we add the immense possessions of Guyana, her productions, and the capitals necessary to carry the whole of it to its full value ; if we add the settlements necessary to be made in India, if the design be to bring into the ports of France, that variety of articles which invite exchanges, and give commerce its due activity, we shall find that one century at least will pass away before France may want possessions of that kind.
But as France has, like other countries, but a confined capital, the only question is where shall this capital be placed? Shall it be here? In the West Indies? At Cayenne? In India, or at Louisiana? For it is obvious that what will be placed in one of those settlements will be at the expense of another ; it is equally so, that the national expenditures will increase with her colonies ; and that, in case of war, the points of attack and defense will be multiplied in the same ratio.
Able statesmen have mentioned whether colonies are useful to a country situated like France but my design is not to examine this theory. France has colonies ; -- she has invited her citizens to go and carry those riches to them ; honor requires that she keep and protect them; but she is under no obligation to create new ones ; to multiply points of defense ; to squander away the capitals she wants at home and abroad. How could the possession of Louisiana be useful to her? In the first place, its cultivation is to be carried on, as in all warm countries, by slaves ; the capitals spent in buying them, or the slaves themselves, would have been carried to the islands, if this new channel had not been opened. This rivalry will rise the price of slaves for the planters, and thus much retard the settlement.
On their arrival at Louisiana, the slaves will be employed in the barren occupation of the felling of large forests with which this immense country is covered, a labour but little suited for slaves, for it requires being long accustomed to the ax ; and force and activity are seldom found in slaves. They must be clothed, fed and maintained during whole years before profit can be derived from them. What I am about to relate may serve to determine that period. In the Northern and Middle States in America, the usual term of a quit-rent lease in the new hands is ten years free from rent, and after this the lease pays 12 bushels of wheat for every 100 acres forever. It is therefore obvious that the first ten years are considered as a time of expense, during which term the owner requires no payment. But in the Southern States, new hands can not be given out on those terms, because the White planter sets a higher value on his labour, and the clearing of forests requires too great outsets for any one but the owner of the land.
Who then will cultivate Louisiana with slaves? When is the citizen willing to bestow large capitals upon so precarious a property with the prospect of distant return.
It may be asked, why does it not happen in Southern States? it is answered , first because none are southerly enough enough to be wholly free from the colds of winter, which renders savage life very difficult to man, born in hot climates ; and secondly, because the Southern States, are mostly surrounded by the sea, and by mountains the whole population of which is white, and which cut off the communications between the slaves and the vast forests of the interior parts.
But let us suppose that these difficulties overcome, what commercial advantages can France derive from the settlement of this colony? -- The productions of Louisiana being the same as the whole West Indies, no advantage is to be reaped, for the islands, being well cultivated, will suffice for the wants of France, and even all of Europe. The introduction of those from Louisiana, would only lessen the price without adding anything to the value, and France would be obliged, to prevent the ruin of those who had employed their funds in the colonies, to imitate the Dutch, who destroy their spices and teas, when the quantity of these commodities in Europe is large enough to cause a depreciation of their value.
The productions of Louisiana, which do not grown in the West Indies, are only lumber, and perhaps rice ; but it is certain that those productions, considering their difficulties procuring them in a hot climate, will not cover the outsets, or, at least, will not yield the same profits as would be procured raising them in the Islands, in procuring the same or other more valuable articles.
The proof of this is found in the United States. It is not from Georgia, nor South Carolina, that the West Indies are supplied with lumber, but chiefly from the Northern States, where forests are more scare and more valuable in the South. The cause of this is, that the supplying of lumber, the mills necessary to prepare them for sale, all these are the work of free hands, which are satisfied with a moderate price.
I shall presume to further lay down, however paradoxical it may seem, that it is not advantageous for France to supply itself with lumber, even if she could procure it from Louisiana. -- I have two reasons to offer -- What lumber the Northern States supply her colonies is paid for in molasses and some rum. The first article costs the planter nothing, for were it not for that, this would be an useless production of his sugar, and the second is but a very moderate expense for distillation. if it were consumed in America, molasses would be thrown away as useless, and this was the case when America was a British colony, because French commerce does not offer any other market for that commodity.
It may, therefore, be said that colonies have from the United States, lumber for nothing. Should, on the contrary, a settlement be formed in Louisiana for the supplying of that article, every expense and outset of this establishment, all the labour necessary to cut, saw, and transport to the place where it is to be sold, would be a real loss for the nation, even admitting that the cutters and other men employed, should take, as payment, molasses and rum ; because their labor would produce nothing for the nation.
But it is certain that Louisiana could not furnish a market for molasses or rum. It is only in New England (Northern States) that those articles are consumed. -- The inhabitants of the South prefer ardent spirits, distilled from grain, apples, and peaches, to those distilled from molasses.
On the supposition, therefore, that the planters supply themselves with lumber in a French colony, exclusively at Louisiana, they would be forced to pay for it in money or objects of real value. If the right of supply is not exclusive, it is null, because the labourer of a southern climate cannot work as cheap as the robust son of the North.
It might be thought that molasses would still find a market in New England, though it will still no longer the price of lumber. -- It would be an error. They have no other reason to take it, than its being offered to them in exchange for an article which they have few other markets. Let the colonies refuse lumber, from the North, spirits from grain, apples, &c. will immediately be substituted to those from sugar, because the price of rum would immediately be higher. Then it will be that every fort of commerce between them and the colonies will cease unless it be for provisions which will only be paid for in money, or in which pass in foreign markets, for money.
The second reason why France might not get her lumber from Louisiana, even though she might do it, is, that in case of war, supposing England should preserve her naval superiority, no sure calculations could be made upon receiving provisions ; and they could not be supplied from the United States, for that commerce, having being abandoned since the peace, those whom it then employed have sought other objects of industry ; and saw mills, erected to prepare that lumber, are out of use, and will not easily be set up again, at the renewal of hostilities,, so that the misfortunes which are the consequence of it would be doubly distressing to the colonies.
It is, therefore very evident the colonizing of Louisiana would, in a commercial point of view, be very injurious to France, because it would employ capitals which would be more usefully employed in the other colonies ; because those capitals would lie dormant for several years, and admitting they should become productive for individuals, they would add nothing to the national mass, and would have no other effect than to lower the price of colonial produce, and lessen the profits of their labor.
It might however be thought that the possession of Louisiana would afford one more market to French manufactures, and thus compensate the expense of the nation for its settlement. This question deserves a particular examination, and the provisioning or the consumption of French manufactures may relate either to the free or bond population.