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Getting the French Out of North America

What does the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase remind us of in today's world?

April 12, 2003

What does the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase remind us of in today's world?

Pity the poor French. Saddam Hussein has been decidedly the biggest loser of the U.S.-led military action against Iraq. There can be no doubt about that. But the French come in a close second after Saddam in the gallery of losers in the Iraq war.

Although other American allies, trading partners and new friends — notably, Germany, China and Vladimir Putin's Russia — have been opposed to the Iraq war, it is the French at whom the greatest anger in the United States and the United Kingdom has been directed.

Aside from "frogs", the usual Anglo-Saxon nickname for the French, they have been called so many nicknames — mostly drawn from the animal kingdom — that both Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud would have been left scratching their heads.

The Americans have been particularly inventive, calling their trans-Atlantic allies anything from 'surrender monkeys' to 'weasels' and 'rats'.

Bad names usually don't hurt anyone, but there is some real damage, too, that the French are starting to sustain.

There is a full-fledged boycott of French products, launched by various patriotic organizations and promoted by, which styles itself as "America's News Page."

The website lists French products every patriotic American should shun. Of course, due to globalization the list includes such true-blue American products as Wild Turkey bourbon, Car and Driver magazine and Motown records — as well as Glenlivet scotch, which despite being a product of Great Britain, is owned by those sneaky French.

And the U.S. Congress — as part of President Bush's $80 billion emergency war spending bill — wants to make sure that French companies are completely locked out of any lucrative contracts to reconstruct Iraq once the war is over.

Well, this may be the worst crisis in the relations between the United States and France in over 225 years of U.S. history. But getting pushed out of North America is nothing new to the French.

In fact, April 30, 2003 marks the bicentennial of the loss by the French of their last significant colonial possession in North America. There has been a lot of talk over the years on how France sold the territory for just $15 million, which comes to less than five cents per acre.

However, it should be noted that the French had little interest in their North American possessions at the time. In fact, they ceded control over the Louisiana territory to the Spanish in the 18th century — and had only recently taken it back when the sale to the still-fledgling United States occurred in 1805.

In the early years of the 19th century, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson was worried about Napoleon Bonaparte's expansionist plans.

And that was why he dispatched Robert Livingston and James Monroe to Paris to negotiate the sale of New Orleans — essentially to protect navigation rights on the Mississippi river.

However, at the time, Napoleon was more concerned with his plans for Europe.

Always keen to strike an advantageous bargain, he unexpectedly offered to sell the entire kit and caboodle.

And $15 million in early 19th century was a princely sum, badly needed by the French to replenish their coffers depleted by the Revolution.

It could be safely said, therefore, that the subsequent Napoleonic wars and expansion to cover nearly all of Europe was financed by American cash.

It can also be safely said that the Louisiana Purchase made the United States the great superpower that it is today.

And not only because the United States nearly doubled the size of its original 13 states by purchasing that great swath of land. From that area, it eventually carved out all, or parts, of 13 additional states.

"L'appetit vient en mangeant," say the wise French, meaning that eating spurs the appetite. The Louisiana Purchase propelled the American doctrine of "Manifest Destiny" forward.

Having booted the French out of North America, Washington tried to do the same to the Brits.

Through less peaceful means, it attacked their possessions in Canada in 1812 — about the time when Great Britain had its hands full fighting Napoleon.

That war proved a bit of a disaster — but, undeterred, the Americans moved against a weaker power, Spain, with far greater success. Florida, Texas and, finally, California were won in due course.

This presents a dangerous analogy. What if the current boycott of French goods is just the opening act for getting other countries out of U.S. markets?

Indeed, globalization may have gone too far for the taste of many Americans.

The list of products to be boycotted as "French owned" includes many produced in other parts of Europe — and even Japan.

Immediately after the Louisiana Territory was acquired, Thomas Jefferson sent the map of the new lands to American explorers Louis and Clarke.

They set off to explore the land — and returned in 1806 bringing back some newly discovered animals with them. No doubt there were some French weasels and surrender monkeys among them.

The only problem is that Jefferson, who accomplished the great real estate deal known as the Louisiana Purchase, was once a U.S. ambassador to the court of Louis XVI — and a life-long Francophile. What would he have said if he had to go without his glass of French wine?

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