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Most of the studies devoted to the time of Napoleon focus on Europe. However, the conflicts which then opposed France to the other European powers went well beyond this framework. They are dominated by the rivalry between two colonial powers, France and England. In addition, France then had in its movement other colonial countries, Spain and Holland. It was therefore natural to expect that these conflicts would go beyond the European sphere and extend to other continents whose important territories were under the domination of these countries.
The loss of French Canada paves the way for the independence of the English colonies in America
In fact, although the term was first used only to describe the war of 1914-1918, the wars of the Empire were, in many ways, world conflicts. We know that Napoleon never gave up the idea of going to seek the English as far as the Indies and, in return, the latter endeavored to gradually strip France and its allies of their overseas possessions. It is this aspect of the conflict that this text attempts to shed light on, based on the American example.
Napoleon, a man of Antiquity, naturally turned towards the Mediterranean, around which the great civilizations at the origin of our own had developed. However, since the discovery of America, the Mediterranean had lost much of its importance. Henceforth, the old Latin Sea had been replaced by the Atlantic Ocean, a link between the old world and a new world which was populated thanks to its contribution. It was this ocean that largely became the theater of colonial expansion and consequently of the rivalry between the great European powers and, in the first place, England, France and Spain.
In the north of the American continent, the quarrel between France and England seemed settled since the loss of Canada. By ousting France, England, without realizing it, had nevertheless sown the seeds of the American revolution. Without the fall of French Canada, it is probable that the United States, threatened in the north, the west and the south, would have needed the support of England and would have been careful not to claim their independence. It should be remembered that Washington had shown itself to be a resolute opponent of the French presence in North America. He had then fought against our troops and he was not the only future soldiers of the insurrection to have cut his teeth in the English ranks against the French. Finally, at the time when Napoleon arrived on the world stage, France still possessed in this region significant vestiges of its colonial empire and it could hope to enlarge them by recovering some of those which had been taken from it. As for Spain, its ally, it dominated the south of the continent from the northern limits of Texas.
Young Napoleon Bonaparte and the American War of Independence
Napoleon never set foot in America. However, his interest in this continent never wavers. The origins of this interest go back to his earliest childhood. The American Revolution followed shortly after the struggle of the Corsicans for their independence, in which the Bonaparte family took part. We should therefore not be surprised at the admiration that the future emperor felt for George Washington, the hero of American independence. Here is what the young teenager said about it: "We share the work of Washington; we rejoice in its triumphs; we follow it from a distance. Its cause is that of humanity." This admiration was only the counterpart of the interest aroused among the American insurgents in the fate of the Corsican people. Napoleon was only about fifteen when the American Revolution was fighting against British power with the help first of a few young members of the French nobility, then with the help of the French army and navy. These events, distant in space but contemporary in time, could not leave indifferent a character as imaginative as his.
If the war of independence of the United States was perhaps not, as some think, the gunshot announcing the revolutions that were to agitate Europe, it nonetheless had a great impact on this side. this from the Atlantic. The British, whose ancestors had left the place of their birth, and had founded colonies on the other side of the ocean, to flee religious persecution, rose up, out of loyalty to their fathers, against the despotism of power. colonialism and, in doing so, they ceased to be English to become Americans.
Their cause attracted to them the ambiguous sympathy of a significant part of the noble youth of France. I said ambiguous because, if there were young nobles willing to join the insurgents in defending this freedom, popularized by philosophers, most also saw it, and undoubtedly above all, an opportunity to give a severe a lesson to the power which had stripped us of our possessions of Canada and, if successful, perhaps to obtain restitution. This hypothesis could obviously only leave the Americans doubtful, Washington in the lead, who were unwilling to fall under the thumb of France, after having freed themselves from the English yoke. Whatever their initial motives, our young nobles returned from their North American outfit profoundly transformed, if not into republicans, at least into supporters of the reforms which, without their realizing it, were going to bring down the monarchy. French, despite, or rather because of, its victory in the New World.
When Napoleon attended the military school in Paris, the director of studies, Louis Silvestre de Valfort, was a distinguished officer who had accompanied Lafayette to America. The young soldier, imbued with the heroic tales of Antiquity, took a keen interest in the accounts of this elder recounting the battles in the New World and it is probable that many vicissitudes marked his mind and imbued him with an animosity to the world. against England that the rest of history could only maintain. If the American War of Independence had lasted any longer, the young artillery officer might have participated in it. When he received his commission in the fall of 1785, memories of the glorious work of his brothers in arms were still at their peak. He certainly had the opportunity to meet on the Champ de Mars veterans returning from America proudly displaying the order of Cincinnatus won in battle. Therefore, how can we not understand the literary ambitions of this young man who entered the competition opened by the Académie de Lyon on the theme of the advantages and disadvantages for the world of discovery of America.
The events which then unfolded in France could only fuel this interest in a distant nation which served as an example to France and which was its natural ally against England. However, if there was any influence, we must beware of summary amalgamations. The French Revolution differs in many ways from the American Revolution. With us, it was a social revolution, part of the nation, the Third Estate, wanting to acquire the rights that the other orders contested. In America, it was a question of emancipating itself from the tutelage of a metropolis which endeavored to impose on distant populations a yoke in conformity with what it believed to be its commercial interests; it was more a struggle for national liberation than a social revolution opposing, as will be the case in France, two fractions of the same nation; in America, there was hardly any old nobility and social distinctions were far from being as marked as in Europe, it was not a question of establishing a freedom that already existed, but only of enforcing it.
The French Revolution and the United States: interest and disillusionment
The young American democracy came to the aid of revolutionary France in need. We remember that the naval combat in which The Avenger sank was fought to facilitate the passage of a convoy of one hundred and seventy American ships loaded with wheat intended to reduce the famine in our country. Many illustrious Americans, Paine, Jefferson, Gouverneur Morris ... closely followed the events that unfolded in France, each with their sensitivity and political orientations. Several even participated. Thomas Paine, who resided for a long time in France, considered Girondin, was imprisoned under the Terror and, later, in 1802, when Napoleon broke through under Bonaparte, he called the First Consul a charlatan. High-ranking soldiers, natives of the American continent (Miranda for example), distinguished themselves in our armies, before taking the lead in the emancipation of the colonies of Latin America. And the directorial constitution was awkwardly inspired by the American model. Awkwardly because France, steeped in history and surrounded by enemies, and young America, at that time still relatively removed from the dangers of the world, so different in mores, although sisters in their drive towards democracy, could obviously not evolve in the same way or equip themselves with the same institutions. So how can we be surprised that the upheavals of the French Revolution could have seemed incomprehensible to many Americans?
The death of the king, then the clumsiness of the envoy of the Convention to the United States, Genet, who plotted with the aim of withdrawing Louisiana from Spain, threw a chill in Franco-American relations and the French government. was forced to recall his ambassador. The United States moved closer to England, in violation of the treaties they had signed with France. From then on, American policy wavered according to the circumstances and political tendencies of those in power. Two camps, that of the Republicans and that of the Federalists, emerged and clashed. The republicans were rather favorable to the French alliance; they represented above all the opinion of the Southern States and attached great importance to the unity of the Federation and to solidarity between the States. Federalists were inclined to come to terms with Great Britain; they were recruited mainly in the northern states, in New England; they emphasized the autonomy of States to such an extent that some of them thought that a State had no reason to enter a war in which the other States would be involved until it itself would not be directly threatened. The cooling with revolutionary France led to a reaction. Steps were taken to prepare the country for war, but the tension never led to open conflict between our two countries; the French victories were obviously of a nature to calm the bellicose ardor of the Anglophile federalists.
During his years in garrisons, as an artillery second lieutenant, Napoleon, not very fortunate, lived relatively withdrawn, devoting a large part of his time to reading. He thus acquired an encyclopedic culture which, thanks to his prodigious memory, greatly astonished his contemporaries. The study of America was not absent from his research, as evidenced by his notes on this subject. In these notes are recorded some important events of Franco-American relations: reception of Franklin at Versailles, recognition by France of American independence, departure of Admiral d'Estaing's fleet from Toulon, Franco-British clashes in the Antilles and Saint-Pierre et Miquelon ... These brief notes, probably written in 1788, are accompanied by a judgment which sheds an interesting light on Napoleon's state of mind at that time. He thought, in fact, that the Americans did not esteem the French, still under the yoke of the double despotism of monarchy and religion, and he added that the first French who flew to the aid of the insurgents were people lost in debt. .
During the Peace of Basle (1795), the Directory tried to recover Louisiana with the secret hope of reconstituting our American colonial empire. He only received from Spain the eastern part of Santo Domingo. Throughout the Revolution, the population of Louisiana had demanded by several petitions his return to France and other projects of conquest than that of Genet had been developed. In 1797, plans were made to raise Canadian volunteers to defend Louisiana against an English invasion. Talleyrand saw in this colony a spillway intended to welcome the discontented of all stripes who would find there a space in which to deploy their energy, which would make it possible to restore civil peace in the metropolis. The French diplomat, who considered, not without reason, that the United States would always remain closer to England than to France, tried to get Spain to cede Louisiana and the Florides to France, under the pretext that our country was the only one capable of erecting a dam against American expansionism in the direction of the Spanish possessions. To properly measure the importance of Louisiana, one must know that this colony was not then limited to the limits of the current state but that it encompassed the entire Mississippi Valley as far as Canada. It was a huge territory with ill-defined borders that encircled the United States on the west side (see map).
The First Consul restores relations with the United States
The new master of France received Rochambeau with particular distinction at the Tuileries and one of his first acts was to decide to half-mast, for ten days, the French flags adorned with a mourning pancake, upon the death of George Washington. The First Consul took advantage of this opportunity to recall the links which united the French people and the American people.
During a meeting with Lafayette, at his brother Joseph's, he asked many questions about the United States to this general, who had been taken from Austrian jails. The removal from the proscription lists of emigres who fled during the Terror era brought many refugees back to France to America. With the prospect of France's return to the American continent, to the West Indies and Louisiana, Napoleon could not ignore the Canada that the English had taken from us and he naturally had to wonder about the role that the United States could play. in the conflict between France and England.
Immediately after the victory of Marengo, by the Treaty of Mortefontaine (1800), relations were reestablished with the United States more or less on the footing which had been theirs at the end of the Ancien Régime and the beginnings of the Revolution. . At the same time, the First Consul endorsed Talleyrand's imperial ideas and proposed to Spain the retrocession of Louisiana and the Florides. After many disputes, Louisiana (Treaty of San-Ildefonse - 1800) returned to France, but the Florida islands escaped it: their cession would have had serious diplomatic consequences for several European countries, including England and Russia, there. opponent and that the United States obviously does not view a country as powerful as France in its immediate neighborhood with a good eye. This is the reason why the terms of this treaty remained initially secret.
It should be noted that this discretion served the political interests of Jefferson, a Republican attached to good relations with France, who hated England. In 1801 he became President of the United States. This advent augured for a significant improvement in Franco-American relations.However, despite his conciliatory character, the new president of the United States did not hide from himself the danger posed to his country by the French presence in Louisiana, if only by closing his natural maritime outlet on the Gulf of Mexico, and he even thought that, if this threat were to materialize, an alliance with England would become inevitable. This is why he sent Monroe to Paris to offer France two million dollars to acquire Louisiana.
The attempt to reestablish the French colonial empire
After the Peace of Amiens (1802), the moment seemed favorable to the First Consul to re-establish French influence on the American continent. He was urged to do so by those around him, in particular by his wife Joséphine who, born in Martinique, had the ear of the colonists, who dreamed of re-establishing slavery and again subjecting colored men to the yoke of the whites. This factor played an important role in certain crucial decisions of the First Consul, as the deposed Emperor confirmed in Saint Helena. He had the necessary forces, a large army whose effectiveness no longer had to be demonstrated, and a navy still intact, before Trafalgar. The attempt to restore our colonial empire also offered him the opportunity to remove troops from France who had served under General Moreau, a senior officer who, for the time being, bore him umbrage.
Napoleon made the policy of the former colonists his own. Today, the reestablishment of slavery is seen by many as a crime against humanity. At the time, it was not. But it was a major political mistake. Toussaint Louverture who ruled Haiti, and had restored order and prosperity there, did not claim independence. He only wanted to be recognized by the French Republic as one of its generals, and he would certainly have defended the island with great energy against the English, if the latter had attempted to seize it. Napoleon, however, had excuses: among the colonies that peace had returned to France, some were no longer under the jurisdiction of our country when slavery was abolished and French laws had not been applied there. France was therefore faced with a dilemma: to homogenize the whole, it was necessary either to abolish slavery in the territories where it was still in force, with the social and political risks that this entailed, or to reestablish it everywhere; it is the second solution which was unfortunately adopted. Unfair combinations, such as the arrest and imprisonment in France of Toussaint-Louverture, as well as appalling massacres were the consequences.
The attempt at colonial restoration in Santo Domingo alarmed England but also the United States because, if successful, it would have provided a rear base for other companies, on the neighboring islands and also on the American continent. At the same time as the Haitian expedition, another army, destined for Louisiana, was being formed in Flushing; it was first entrusted to Bernadotte, whom Bonaparte wanted to keep away, then to Victor, Bernadotte having made exorbitant claims. We know what happened to this vast project: the French troops were decimated by the climate of Haiti, by yellow fever and by fierce resistance from the Haitians, while the war resumed in Europe where England reconnected the threads of 'a new coalition against France. From then on, Napoleon's American colonial dream became chimerical and, on the contrary, we had to think about removing what remained of our empire from the appetites of our main enemy: England.
At the beginning of May 1803, the order to renounce the Louisiana expedition reached the troops from Flushing, which were to be used on another ground. The First Consul affirmed at the same time that, in order to dispute with England its claim to the domination of the seas, it was necessary to ally itself with a power, still weak, but whose power would be strengthened soon: the United States of America. Under no circumstances should Louisiana be allowed to fall into English hands. This is why, after consulting Barbé-Marbois and Decrès, who knew America well, Bonaparte decided to favorably welcome the offer to purchase proposed by Jefferson: the United States would be responsible for defending Louisiana in our place. against British greed.
The sale of Louisiana to the United States
The cession of Louisiana, however, encountered opposition from two eminent members of the Bonaparte family, Joseph, negotiator of Mortefontaine, and Lucien, negotiator of San-Ildefonse. Louisiana was nonetheless sold to the United States for a sum of eighty millions and some advantages granted to French trade, despite last-minute difficulties in determining the borders of the new state, which remained unclear.
By selling Louisiana, the First Consul could hope to put the United States in his game and draw them into the rivalries between the European powers. Louisiana's contribution was of vital interest to the young federation which was being formed across the Atlantic; the territory was vast and above all it opened the way to the immense virgin territories of the west. However, the assimilation of such a contribution was not obvious and raised many difficulties; in particular, the integration of a population which had repeatedly expressed its wish to return to the control of its mother country seemed hardly compatible with the democratic ideals of the American Revolution and it must have appeared tainted with despotism to many observers of 'a time when the Head of State of France was in the process of exchanging the Consul's gown for the Emperor's crown. In 1804, Napoleon indeed re-established the monarchy in France for his own benefit. Among the audience who flocked to Notre-Dame-de-Paris, for the coronation ceremony, stood a young Venezuelan still unknown: Simon Bolivar!
The First Empire and the United States
Napoleon's accession to the imperial throne was to undermine the solidarity that had existed, with ups and downs, as we have seen, between the two republics. The situation was further complicated by the fact that Spain did not recognize the cession of Louisiana to the United States and also by the Americans' wish to also get their hands on the Florides, a project that Napoleon was inclined to encourage or to disavow according to the fluctuating interests of its policy. This muddled situation could only facilitate the never disinterested interventions of a spirit as enterprising and tortuous as that of Talleyrand.
The French foreign minister had not been in favor of the cession of Louisiana and, for the moment, he supported Spanish interests. Besides Florida, they would find themselves threatened by American expansionism westward, in a direction where the border between Louisiana and the Spanish possessions remained blurred. This was clearly seeing the future, and as a result any hint of moving the United States in that direction should be strongly discouraged.
The situation was getting worse. Jefferson was distancing himself from a France which no longer respected the republican ideal. The French minister in Washington, General Turreau, awkwardly intervened to invite the United States to coldly welcome General Moreau, exiled from France after his judgment, which was deemed offensive by the government in Washington. The continuation of American trade with the rebellious island of Santo Domingo displeased Napoleon; he was indignant and threatened in vain because he did not have the means to intimidate the United States. In addition, he badly accepted the brocades of the American libellists who daubait on him and on his ally the King of Spain.
England, however, was controlling international maritime trade to the detriment of American interests. British ships blockaded the port of New York and forcibly enlisted all English-speaking sailors encountered on ships they assumed the right to visit. Such behavior could only stir up a wave of disapproval across the United States. Monroe, who had come to plead the American cause at the court in Madrid, hoping that the war that London had just started against Spain would encourage this power to cede the Florides, like France to Louisiana, returned home without having obtained anything and recommended nothing less than the entry into war of the United States against the European powers: England, France and Spain together. But the United States was neither psychologically nor militarily prepared for such an adventure.
At the same time, a turnaround was taking place at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which informed the American government that the Emperor wished to arbitrate the differences which opposed them to Spain, in particular on the question of Florida. American public opinion was increasingly hostile to England because of the numerous ship captures which ruined trade and, as a consequence, its heart was inclined more and more towards France and the United Kingdom. Spain. Jefferson, in one of his speeches, showed the need for his country to defend itself against European incursions and, at the same time, he insisted on the insufficiency of the means at his disposal to do so. At the risk, he republican, of passing for a creature of Napoleon, he implied that it would be impolitic to run up against the only European leader capable of satisfying American projects: the Emperor of the French. Unfortunately, a new about-face on the part of Napoleon was suddenly to call into question the rapprochement that was emerging; his occupations in Europe no longer allowed him, he said, to play the role of arbiter between the United States and Spain; he therefore contented himself with inviting the two parties to show moderation and urged the French minister in Washington to act in this spirit. One could accuse the Emperor of fickleness if American hesitation were not the mirror and the justification for his attitude.
After having triumphed over Austria and Russia at Austerlitz (1805) and then over Prussia at Jena (1806), while in Trafalgar the death knell for the French and Spanish fleets sounded, Napoleon once again turned his gaze to the New World and urged General Turreau to support the French Canadians' desire for emancipation. But this was a losing battle.
The Continental Blockade: a bone of contention between France and the United States
More important in its repercussions was the establishment of the Continental Blockade. This blockade was a response to that which the English imposed on the French coasts. But, if he attacked England in what she held most dear: her commercial interests, he also seriously injured the interests of neutral countries, including the United States, since, to be effective, it was obviously necessary that it be applied by all countries. He was therefore to be at the origin of almost all the wars that followed. At about the same time, the United States and England had just settled part of their disputes. The London cabinet used the new situation created by the Blockade as a pretext to call into question the commitments it had just made. While the United States, unhappy with Napoleon's hesitation, turned towards England, the latter showed that his word was no better than that of France. Jefferson, furious, immediately drew the consequences: reconciliation with London was no longer in season. Unhappy with the lack of reaction from the Washington government to the Continental Blockade, the British decided to place the maritime trade of neutral countries under tight control materialized by the compulsory issuance of a license in an English port and the payment of duties for the benefit of the Treasury. British (1807). Such a requirement was obviously unacceptable; war was becoming likely and the United States government began to take weapons measures to deal with it; other neutral countries, including Russia, were no less dissatisfied.
However the quarrel between France and England became more and more radical and the neutrals did not know any more how to protect the cargoes of their ships. The United States government put foreign ships under embargo while pro-English and pro-French criticized each other for taking sides and Jefferson was wrongly accused of Bonapartism. France did not deny American ships the right to transport American products to France, but claimed that under the Continental Blockade she had the right to verify that the cargo did not contain English goods. This claim, which arose out of the situation created by the two blockades, was understandable, but it offended American susceptibility and, to mitigate its effects, Napoleon opportunely brought the Florida case back into the discussions, thus fueling American hopes.
Dynastic change in Spain and its repercussions in America
After Tilsitt, the Emperor, now quiet in the North of Europe, thanks to the Russian alliance, turned his eyes towards the Iberian Peninsula. It was indirectly casting its great shadow over all of Latin America. Pretending for a time to forget the call to arms fulminated by Spain, just as he was about to face the Prussian forces on the battlefield of Jena, he negotiated an agreement with the cabinet of Madrid, dismembering Portugal, for want of being able to force this country, for a long time in the English movement, to respect the Continental Blockade. A French army, led by Junot and aided by Spanish troops, invaded Portugal and, by forced, exhausting and murderous marches, reached Lisbon, forcing the court to take refuge in Brazil. In Milan (1808), Napoleon reinforced the Continental Blockade by assimilating to English ships the neutral vessels which would have agreed to submit to visits by the British navy.
Some time later, believing that a war between the United States and England had become inevitable, the French government strongly urged the American government to resolve it. Such insistence could only be met with a refusal from a nation jealous of its sovereignty. The message could not remain secret, the partisans of England seized it and an anti-French faction was formed under the leadership of Pickering. This faction, which maintained secret relations with James Craig, governor of Lower Canada, appealed to Great Britain to help it fight against Jefferson. It was participating in a plot of high treason! An Englishman, John Henry, residing in Boston, served as intermediary. The embargo was becoming more and more unpopular and a quasi-insurrectionary agitation, maintained by the English faction, threatened the stability of the United States. The embargo, which hampered both French and British commerce, was more detrimental to England, which had more colonies and whose commercial activities outclassed those of France. This embargo was decided to avoid the evils of an open war and its consequences proved disastrous for the economy of the United States, for its social and political balance, as well as for its moral values insofar as, like any a measure of this order, he encouraged fraud.
However, after having procrastinated for a long time, Napoleon had resolved to dethrone the Bourbons and to place his brother Joseph on the throne of Spain. This event, which undermined the power of a rival nation in America, could not but be greeted with favor in the United States. A new decree from Bayonne further hardening those of Berlin and Milan, against neutral ships, however cast an additional shadow on Franco-American relations.Still wishing to drag the United States into his alliance against England, Napoleon did not apply the Bayonne decree in all its rigor. Even better, he warned the Americans, that in the event that the British took it into their heads to attack the New World, he would find it quite natural for the United States to seize Florida militarily; it was skillfully stretching a pole that Jefferson refrained from grabbing. This refusal to receive was followed by a new turnaround by Napoleon who claimed that this opening up of France had been misinterpreted and that it had never been his intention to authorize the United States to strip its possessions. an allied nation while the Bayonne decree was applied in all its rigor.
In seizing Spain, the Emperor may have hoped that the King of Spain, imitating the Portuguese authorities, would flee to his colonies. This flight, once considered, had been prevented by the revolution of Aranjuez, which had overthrown Charles IV in favor of Ferdinand VII. Napoleon had thought of appointing the old monarch emperor of the Americas but he quickly gave up on this idea which could only cause him further embarrassment. Once Spain became part of the French movement, the Emperor knew that it would be difficult for him to keep colonies wrought by attempts at independence: he did not have the military means to submit them. The constitution of Bayonne also conveniently recognized their autonomy. At first, however, he tried to keep them under the authority of Madrid. But first he had to make sure of the metropolis and the task seemed more difficult than he had envisaged. In quick succession, during the summer of 1808, Baylen's defeat drove Joseph from his capital, and the landing of an English expeditionary force in Portugal triumphed over Junot in Vimeiro. The Iberian Peninsula could be reconquered but, already, two important ports, Lisbon and Cadiz, escaped the French Empire which lost there in addition part of the vestiges of its already largely damaged fleet in Trafalgar. The plan to keep Spanish America under the authority of King Joseph was becoming problematic.
The Argentinian example
Among the Spanish colonies in America, ruled by eleven viceroys and captains general, there was one which enjoyed a special position since it was led by a Frenchman, the Marquis Jacques Santiago de Liniers. It was the Rio de la Plata which then brought together several countries of present-day South America, notably Argentina and Uruguay. This colony had been the subject of an attempted British invasion which had been repulsed and the Marquis de Liniers had played an important role in this victory. After Austerlitz, England, removed from the European continent, had turned her eyes to what she thought was the weak link of France and her allies: Spanish America; she hoped that the local populations, overwhelmed with taxes, would welcome her troops with open arms; but that was not what happened. De Liniers was appointed viceroy under pressure from the streets more than by the will of the Spanish government, which only reluctantly recognized him. The English defeat had been obtained by the local alliance of the Spanish colonists and the Creoles; it bore the seeds of a movement heavy with threat to a metropolis which had been of no help to its colony at a time of danger.
Attached to the Ancien Régime, de Liniers nonetheless felt a great admiration for Napoleon to whom he had written twice to inform him of his successes, in 1806 and 1807. The Emperor could therefore hope that he would subscribe without difficulty to the change of dynasty in Spain. The difficulty lay in finding a suitable emissary. Decrès presented the candidacy of a sailor who had known de Liniers, Captain Jurien de la Gravière, whom the Emperor rejected because he preferred that this mission be accomplished without brilliance, for fear of failure.
Maret proposed a more obscure character, the Marquis de Sassenay, who had emigrated to the United States and who had also known de Liniers, during business trips to the Rio de la Plata. The Emperor retained this candidate who lived in his lands while striving to reconstitute his fortune chipped by the Revolution. This self-effacing man was greatly surprised to be called to the Emperor, whom he joined in Bayonne in all haste. Napoleon ordered him to leave the next day for the Rio de la Plata, after having drawn up his will, and without giving him time to come back home to arrange his affairs. Time was running out and the master's orders were not discussed!
The Marquis de Sassenay embarked on the brig Le Consolateur which set sail on May 30, 1808. This small ship belonged to a light flotilla that Napoleon had had the foresight to build to thwart the surveillance of English cruises and thus be able to communicate easily with the American colonies. The envoy was weighted down with official dispatches and a confidential letter containing secret instructions which he was only to open once on the high seas.
In Rio de la Plata, after the danger of a British invasion had been averted, dissension had not been long in breaking out between the allies of the day before. Imbued with their superiority, the Spanish colonists wanted to regain their preeminence of yesteryear. The Creoles obviously did not hear it that way. De Liniers was contested by the former and supported by the latter, despite his attachment to the Ancien Régime. He therefore found himself in a complicated situation which was to become even worse when the population, overheated by its victory over the English invader, learned of the change of dynasty in Spain. It is in this context that the mission of the Marquis de Sassenay was situated.
The trip lasted seventy days, not without The Comforter wiping off several grains. Once offshore, de Sassenay learned of the contents of his confidential cover. We do not know the content but we know that he was affected. He destroyed this document, so that it could not fall into the hands of the English, as he had been ordered to do. The official dispatches informed the colonial authorities of the change of dynasty which had occurred in Spain and urged them to pledge allegiance to the new king. De Sassenay was also responsible for inquiring into the state of mind of the populations of the Spanish colonies in South America. The emissary landed on August 9 in the small fortified port of Maldonado, from where he left on horseback for Montevideo, taking only his dispatches. His luggage remained on the ship he never saw again; this one could not go to the place envisaged having been forced to run aground to avoid the pursuit of two English vessels. The Comforter was plundered by the British sailors who seized everything he carried, not to mention the liquors, but excepting the weapons intended for the colony.
De Sassenay reached Montevideo just as the city was preparing to celebrate the accession to the throne of Ferdinand VII and to take the oath to this monarch. He was greeted there with cordiality but he quickly realized that the news he was carrying was not to the taste of his interlocutors. The authorities drew an argument from the state of mind of the population to refuse to postpone the planned ceremony and urged de Sassenay not to continue on his way to Buenos Aires. He was given to understand that the notice of the change of dynasty would lead to an uprising and that de Liniers did not have sufficient forces to guarantee his security. De Sassenay went beyond and left Montevideo on August 11 for Buenos Aires. He arrived near the city the next day in the evening. But he had been preceded by messengers who had announced the news to de Liniers who had dispatched the gunboat Le Belen to welcome him. The news of Joseph Napoleon's accession to the throne left the viceroy deeply perplexed and he did not immediately receive his old friend.
The events in Bayonne had seriously cooled his admiration for the French Emperor. Moreover, if he did not weep over the fall of a family which reigned so badly over Spain and only appointed him to his post reluctantly, and only on an interim basis, he did not hide from himself that the population as a whole would not welcome the change of dynasty. So he decided to receive Napoleon's envoy with great coldness and in the presence of the main authorities of the colony. De Sassenay was invited to hand over the dispatches he was bringing, which contained all the documents relating to the abdications of Bayonne, then he was given leave while waiting to be read. These hastily drafted documents skillfully mingled promises and threats to win those who received them to King Joseph's cause. Reading them immediately provoked an explosion of anger against Napoleon and his envoy. And the latter owed his salvation only to the intervention of the viceroy. De Sassenay was recalled. He was told that the colony would recognize no other sovereign than Ferdinand VII and that he was going to be escorted back to Montevideo, where an official response would be sent to him, then the means provided to return to Europe.
The weather had turned bad. He was taken to a fortress, after having dined at the viceroy's table. During the night, when he did not expect it, he was visited by de Liniers who apologized for his behavior, telling him that he personally thought that the change of dynasty was not a bad thing for Spain, but that he could not act otherwise because his position depended entirely on the support of the population and its representatives, who were fiercely opposed to the dethronement of the Bourbons. He added that with help, in men and money, it would no doubt be possible for him to turn the situation around. Probably, the viceroy, very attached to his second homeland, aimed only to maintain the colony durably under the Spanish scepter, whoever the bearer was.
Bad weather delayed the departure of the French emissary, who had to change boats several times. It did not arrive until the 19th in Montevideo. Meanwhile a corvette, sent by the insurrectionary Junta of Seville, had arrived. The news brought by General Manuel de Goyenèche inflamed the authorities and their hatred against Napoleon reached its peak, while de Liniers was suspected of treason. The envoy of the Junta declared that war was declared between France and Spain and that the order was given to intern all the French in Spanish America. So de Sassenay and the crew of the Consolateur were immediately arrested and considered as prisoners of war, who were even threatened with an imminent execution, for the sake of imitating the atrocities that were occurring in Spain. De Sassenay was for his part locked up in secret in the dungeon of a fortress and his papers were confiscated.
On August 15, de Liniers, already suspect as we said above, made the clumsiness of publishing a proclamation faithful to the system of temporization which he had adopted. This proclamation, which called on the population for calm and unity as well as for submission to a legitimate sovereign not designated, displeased and renewed the unity of the Creoles and the Spaniards against the viceroy. Both parties were already dreaming of independence, but the former were thinking of an American America while the latter wanted a new Spain where their privileges would be preserved. As the Creoles, the majority in Buenos Aires, continued to show attachment to the viceroy, there was no revolt for the moment. On the contrary, his supporters endeavored to demonstrate to de Liniers that he was on the wrong track and that he had to rally frankly to the cause of Ferdinand VII, which he ended up accepting.
In Montevideo, on the contrary, a city where the Spaniards were in the majority, the proclamation of August 15 led to an uprising and this colony openly opposed the viceroy, with Governor Elio in the lead. Instead of marching on Montevideo to reduce dissent, de Liniers contented himself with removing Elio and replacing him with Michelena. The latter went to his post but Elio refused to give way. The tone rose. Michelena threatened Elio with a pistol. The latter disarmed him, beat him and sent him back pitiful and bruised. This algarade attracted a great crowd of people who took up the cause for Elio and threatened Buenos Aires. Michelena, booed to death by the crowd, owed her salvation only to flight. The next day a Junta was created in Montevideo, under the leadership of Elio, while Goyenèche demanded the dismissal of Liniers, because of his nationality.
On October 3, de Sassenay undergoes a long interrogation from which the enthusiasts of Montevideo awaited elements to unmask the betrayal of Liniers. They were for their doing. However, de Liniers continued to procrastinate as his opponents pursued plans to depose him in the shadows. The conspiracy, led by Don Martin Alzaga, broke out on January 1, 1809, the day of the municipal elections. At the sound of the bell announcing the proclamation of the results, rioters, demanding the creation of a Junta, invaded the Plaza Mayor. De Liniers still had loyal troops; these were called in to disperse the rebels. The bishop, who supported the conspiracy, intervened to prevent the bloodshed, he claimed hypocritically. De Liniers yielded to his entreaties. An assembly of notables was assembled. She demanded the resignation of the viceroy. The latter was on the verge of signing the deed, when troops to his devotion made a move. De Liniers sent them the order to demote but the commander, who was Creole, refused, prepared his soldiers to receive the insurgents and rushed to the meeting place of the assembly, where his unexpected arrival saved the situation. He led de Liniers outside, under the eyes of the Creole population, which had meanwhile gathered, and made him acclaim by the people. We even saw a black take off his shirt to place it under the feet of the one who, on that day, had become the symbolic liberator of people of color. The Spaniards, struck by astonishment, broke up.
Now two powers faced each other: that of Montevideo and that of Buenos Aires. The first intervened with the Junta of Seville to obtain the dismissal of Liniers. He ended up obtaining it, not without hesitation because we feared the reaction of the Creoles. This dismissal is therefore accompanied by honorary favors. De Liniers was created Count of Buenos Aires and provided with an annuity of 25,000 francs. Cisneros was appointed to replace him. He arrived in Buenos Aires in June 1809. He had orders to dissolve the city junta, to free the imprisoned conspirators and to send Liniers to Spain. His supporters urged him to resist; he refused to take the lead in a movement which would necessarily lead to the separation of the colony from the mother country. Cisneros, who dreaded the first contact with his new subjects, invited de Liniers to join him before reaching Buenos Aires. De Liniers consented and, on June 30, the new viceroy entered the city to the acclamations of the Spaniards. But the Creoles were still there and they refused to surrender their weapons. Cisneros did not have the authority to force de Liniers to embark for Spain. To use coercion would have run the risk of raising the creoles. He therefore agreed that the former viceroy should retire to Cordoba.
However, de Sassenay, still in the dungeon in a fortress, fed on bread and raw onions, there suffered the implacable hatred of Elio. At the end of ten months, he tried to escape, was caught and put in irons. But, as relations had been reestablished between Montevideo and Buenos Aires, the prisoner was sent to the second city to be tried by a military tribunal. Thanks to Liniers' intervention, he escaped the death penalty.He was sent back to his dungeon in Montevideo, deep in the hold of a ship, in a cage and in the company of a beast that almost devoured him. He vegetated for several more months, shackles on his feet, deprived by Elio of the little money he had been able to obtain in Buenos Aires, before learning with relief that he was going to be transferred to Spain.
In this country, where he arrived at the beginning of 1810, he was placed on the pontoon of Old Castile, where he was treated as an officer. It was the time when Marshal Victor besieged Cadiz in the harbor of which the pontoon was located. By dint of approach, the wife of Sassenay, who had obtained the agreement of Napoleon, had gone to England where she had managed to interest people in high places in the fate of her husband. His release was requested from the Spaniards. But it was no longer time: on May 15, 1810 the prisoners of Old Castile had revolted, had cut the moorings that held the pontoon and it had drifted towards the coast held by the French, despite the bombardment of the fleets English and Spanish. Supported by the friends he had made, de Sassenay, who could not swim, reached the beach with, strapped to his head, the only possession he had left: the portrait of his wife.
Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Cisneros, unable to resolve the financial crisis that threatened the colony since the attempted British invasion, decided to liberalize trade. This measure, which opened up the territory to English products, benefited the Creoles who grew richer; but it encountered opposition from the Spaniards deprived of their last privileges. However, the latter were the only natural supporters of the new viceroy. The Creoles, supporters of independence, skillfully maneuvered to bring the viceroy to cut himself off from the Spaniards. On May 17, 1810, we learned from a British ship of the invasion of Andalusia by French troops. The cause of Spain seemed therefore definitively compromised and the colonists said to themselves that the moment had come to take in hand their own interests. A lively agitation seized Buenos Aires. On May 22 Cisneros was dismissed and on May 25 a governing junta of seven members was created. She began to rule in the name of Ferdinand VII, with the secret design of never obeying her. Cisneros was reduced to calling de Liniers for his help. He wrote her a letter in which he gave her his powers. He secretly sent it to him by a messenger who, knowing no one in Cordoba, awkwardly handed it over to a member of the Patriotic Party, Canon Funès.
De Liniers, knowing the weakness of the forces of the province, proposed to the notables whom he had gathered around him to go to Peru, from where he could bring back reinforcements. He ran up against the interested objections of Canon Funès, who ended up by obtaining a march directly on Buenos Aires. The reunification of forces took so long that the former viceroy had not yet left Cordoba on July 14. This delay is enough to win the troops to the patriotic cause. The Junta of Buenos Aires, which feared despite everything the influence of the victorious warrior of the English, reminded him how badly he had been rewarded by Spain by inviting him to observe at least neutrality, under the threat of attacking his family. But neither the threat, nor the pleas of his relatives, distracted him from what he thought was his duty.
The Junta therefore dispatched a small army against him. He went to meet her. But he had hardly left Cordoba when his troops abandoned him. There was no other course to take than flight. De Liniers urged his last faithful to take refuge in Peru. To reach this country through the mountains, guides were needed. The latter led them astray and brought down Liniers and six of his companions into the hands of their enemies, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Balcarce. The Junta of Buenos Aires, which feared a return in favor of Liniers, had ordered the prisoners to be taken up by arms after simple verification of their identity. They were executed in the middle of the desert, with the exception of two, the bishop of Cordoba and his chaplain, to whom grace was given, on the intervention of Canon Funès, seized with late remorse. It took two rounds to bring down the five men, the soldiers' hands were shaking so much. De Liniers, still alive, was finished with a coup de grace, fired by Colonel French, who had commanded the fire. In order to avoid awakening memories which might have led to a riot, the execution was not surrounded by any publicity and forgetting soon took its place. In the middle of the 19th century justice was rendered to de Liniers, both by Argentina and Spain. The latter claimed his remains, which now lie near Cadiz.
The Mexican example
We extensively discussed the events of Rio de la Plata. In the other Spanish colonies, an almost parallel path had been followed. In Mexico, the partisans of independence had at one time considered creating a kingdom at the head of which they would have placed Napoleon himself, which certainly aroused only very moderate enthusiasm in the United States. Since Spain entered the war against England, tax deductions had been increased, which upset the population. The uncertainty that reigned over the situation in Spain prompted the Creoles to demand an independence that the Spanish colonists refused.
As early as July 1808, in Mexico City, the Creoles, in agreement with the viceroy, Itturigaray, declared themselves in favor of the constitution of an autonomous provisional government which the Spanish colonists refused. The arrival of envoys from the Junta of Seville increased the confidence of the loyalists as the separatists called a congress. A civil war seemed about to break out. In September 1808, an armed uprising of the loyalists deposed the viceroy, who was sent back to Spain.
At about the same time, arrived in San Antonio, Texas, General Octaviano d'Alvimar, sent by Napoleon on a secret mission that was never fully elucidated. He had crossed the United States incognito and did not remain free for long. He was arrested in Nacodaches (Texas) on August 5, 1808, to be taken to Mexico City, where he was imprisoned, before being sent back to Europe, after having confiscated his luggage and his money. But he had had time to meet Miguel Hidalgo and Ignacio de Allende, which will be discussed later. However, an independentist, José Mariano Michelena hatched a conspiracy, having links in the army, in Valladolid, with a view to entrusting power to a Congress until the return of Ferdinand VII to the throne of Spain. To attract the sympathy of the peasants, he proposed to abolish the taxes borne by the Indians. The case failed but it had to be emulated elsewhere.
Napoleon resolves to independence on condition that the new states close to England
This situation could not leave Napoleon indifferent so he wrote: "Whether the peoples of Peru and Mexico want to remain united to the mother country or rise to the level of a noble independence, France will not oppose their wishes on condition that they do not establish any relation with England. " In December 1809, he added that the evolution towards independence was part of the sequence of events, that it was in accordance with justice and in the well understood interest of nations. This was clearly giving up the Spanish colonial empire in exchange for the new countries renouncing an English alliance. The United States could not but applaud such an eventuality. We will see that they did not hesitate to support the rebellion movements which served their interests.
The year 1810 saw patriotic juntas seize power in several Latin American countries. The movement towards independence was launched. He would not stop and it was the change of dynasty in Spain that had initiated him. In Mexico, Juan Aldama, Ignacio Allende and Father Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla held up the torch that fell from Michelena's hands. Hidalgo had been appointed priest in Dolores. As soon as he arrived, he was struck by the misery of the population. He had the idea of showing the peasants how to cultivate vines and olive trees, to improve their living conditions. But Spain prohibited those productions which would have competed with its own. In 1810, Hidalgo gave a speech which was to become famous under the name of Cri de Dolorès. The priest had traded the cross for the sword. Betrayed by a man in the secret of the conspiracy, Benedict Arnold, he was to die a martyr to the cause he served. But that didn't stop the movement. Independence ideas, on the contrary, would not cease to progress among the population. Anonymous revolutionary songs were already appearing on the walls of Mexico City and the people were rising up everywhere.
In Texas, a garrison of 2,000 loyalist troops guarded San Antonio. A rebel army of 1500 militiamen was formed with, at its head, Juan Bautista Casas. On January 22, 1811, this troop, accompanied by a delegation of citizens, marched towards the Place d'Armes and arrested Governor Salcedo. This first success emboldened the rebels. But there was to be no tomorrow. Hidalgo, in fact, had been beaten. The rebels were taken prisoner, except those who were able to escape to the United States and their leaders were executed, Casas and Hidalgo in the lead. This equipment was to leave deep traces; it was preparing, as we will see below, the future separation of Texas from Mexico and its reunification with the United States. This was what Talleyrand had expected, and dreaded.
In Erfurt, Napoleon had obtained from the powers of the north, in particular from Russia, carte blanche to resolve the Spanish problem. But he was aware that at the first setback much of Europe would rise up against him again. Madison succeeded Jefferson at the head of the United States in 1809. He put an end to the embargo and used it as an argument to demand the repeal of the Continental Blockade. Napoleon could obviously not accede to this request which would have ruined his strategy of struggle against England. In addition, the removal of the embargo was accompanied by a ban on American ships from going to French ports and it was therefore even less favorable to France than the maintenance of the embargo.
American public opinion, which aspired to a resumption of trade, had become frankly hostile to France. Napoleon could, however, still count on some sympathy in the Southern States when New England was frankly hostile to him. He could cherish the project of pitting these two very dissimilar factions of the United States against each other, an event which occurred some decades later. Meanwhile, England had also relaxed its control, but this had only had the effect of placing most of the neutral trade under its flag and the United States had gained little by the exchange.
In 1809 Austria had once again taken up arms against France. The United States again tried to intervene with the Emperor so that the Continental Blockade became a dead letter. Despite the embarrassments of the hour, Napoleon once again refused, believing that the seas should be free and that any flag of a merchant ship should be respected except that the warring nations take the measures they deem necessary. for this principle to be applied. Nevertheless, under pressure from Champigy, his new Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Emperor agreed to revoke the decrees of Milan and Bayonne and to stick to that of Berlin. But Wagram's victory cut once again any hint of accommodation, especially as England in turn showed ill will towards the United States. Napoleon could moreover hardly relax the provisions of the Continental Blockade, for the simple reason that it was contested by a growing number of European States, including within his own empire, and that this was soon to be the cause of the Russian war which, after the Iberian quagmire, dealt a fatal blow to the Empire in 1812.
The procrastination of France and the United States
In 1810, the United States Congress opened up a commercial space for English products, which led Napoleon to be less intransigent. After recalling the reasons for the various restrictions which had been imposed, blockade, embargo ... and the various situations which had resulted from it, he said he was determined to repeal the decrees of Berlin and Milan on condition that England renounce it. also to the measures which it had taken and, in the event of refusal of the cabinet of London, it urged the United States to make respect their rights by England. In the meantime, the Continental Blockade continued to be exercised with all its rigor, which encouraged the Americans to remain cautious.
At the end of 1811 Madison re-enacted restrictions on English trade. At the same time, the United States expressed its intention to seize West Florida. Napoleon welcomed the reactivation of the restrictions and, as far as Florida was concerned, he clarified his policy with regard to the Spanish colonies: he again declared himself in favor of their accession to independence, on condition that England did not 'not profit from it. It was the continuation of the policy which had presided over the cession of Louisiana: since France could not defend these overseas possessions, it was better to place them in hands which could better protect them, as well as had shown the Argentine example.
For Napoleon, the essential thing was to ensure that the Spanish colonies were withdrawn from British appetites, as Louisiana had been, even if it meant helping them to gain their independence. To carry out this policy, he could count on the benevolence of the United States which, as has already been said, had an objective interest in seeing England removed from the American continent. Napoleon was prepared to accept that the United States take England's place on the American continent, if that was the condition for the permanent weakening of England. It is this hypothesis which was realized later largely under the impulse of the doctrine of Monroe: America to the Americans! In spite, it should be remembered, of the abortive attempt of Napoleon III to create a Mexican empire friendly to France, to make room for the growing importance of the United States. It will be noted that Napoleon III was only resuming Talleyrand's policy of containment.
In the meantime, the severity of the Continental Blockade had loosened somewhat with regard to American ships, which led the United States to believe that the Emperor, at odds with Russia, still visibly hoped that their country would eventually enter. at war with England. Since 1809, an envoy of the United States, Adams, had acted in St. Petersburg to obtain redress for the seizure of American ships by Denmark under the Continental Blockade. He had hitherto met with a refusal when, on the direct intervention of the Tsar, he obtained satisfaction.
Under pressure from commercial interests, Russian policy was changing. Soon, American vessels were smuggled, in violation of the Blockade and of the treaties made between France and Russia. Vital exchanges for the Russian economy were thus re-established with England, through the intermediary of the American navy, and they continued in spite of the French steps to obtain that it is ended. The tone hardened and restrictions hit French products in Russia, while the Russian market opened wide to American products, that is to say British. From then on, the conditions for a new Franco-Russian conflict were met and the disastrous campaign of 1812 was about to begin.It is thus indirectly the United States which were, certainly without wanting it, at the origin of the event which was going to mortally wound the imperial eagle.
In the United States, Turreau had been replaced by Sérurier as representative of France, and Madison continued to hesitate between France and England. Secretary of State Robert Smith, an admirer of Napoleon, suggested that war could break out between his country and England if the latter persisted in the system of sea control. But his partiality in favor of France soon led to his being replaced by Monroe, who proved less easily treatable. Napoleon, who was preparing the invasion of Russia, continued to blow hot and cold. It lifted the sequestration on newly seized American ships and authorized the issuance of trade licenses but did not revoke the Continental Blockade decrees.
At the beginning of 1812, the Henry case arose. We remember that the latter had participated in a plot that aimed to break up the United States with the support of England. This dubious character, who had tried to be paid for his services by the English, had met with a refusal. On the boat that brought him back to the United States, he met a Frenchman. The latter presented himself as a descendant of the Dukes of Crillon who had to leave France as a result of disagreements with Napoleon. In fact, he was a secret agent of the Emperor. He succeeded in convincing Henry to offer to the American government, through the intermediary of the French embassy, the compromising papers which he possessed, since the English refused to recognize the debt which they had contracted with him. The said papers, if they did not provide formal proof of the compromise of the federalists in the secessionist conspiracy, nevertheless revealed the part taken by England in the plot. There was matter there for casus belli and this English attempt to gain a foothold on United States soil could only awaken the old nationalist reflexes against the former colonial power which seemed not to have completely given up all hope. of revenge.
In the spring of 1812, England reiterated its intention to maintain its policy concerning the control of the seas, which forced the United States to re-enforce the embargo. A war between the two English-speaking countries was looming on the horizon as France and Russia came to blows. But, if the latter powers were prepared, the same was not true of the United States, which had not yet taken any military measures. The American partisans of the war estimated that the delay would be quickly caught up, that the south and the west, and even Canada, would rise en masse, that the English would be permanently driven out of America and that the United States, increased. of Canada, would then become independent in fact, after having been so in law, and would assert itself as a finally major power.
The Russian campaign and the United States' entry into the war against England
However, the US Ambassador to France Barlow still failed to get France to repeal the decrees. He was only told that, since the fall of 1811, they no longer applied to American ships. All in all his Russian expedition, the Emperor, moreover, paid only relative attention to his relations with a country which, moreover, continued to trade with its new enemy. Napoleon therefore left Paris before having settled the American affair.
One wondered then in England on the perspectives of the conflicts which were going to open up: what would happen if the United States entered the war when Napoleon was perhaps going to triumph over Russia? The situation in the country was far from brilliant. The Prime Minister had just been assassinated. Wasn't it time to throw in some ballast? The decision was made to settle with the old colony. But it was too late and, on June 18, 1812, a few days before Napoleon entered Russia, war broke out between England and the United States. Barlow, still in pursuit of the repeal of the decrees, attempted to join the Emperor at Wilna, as the French army retreated from Moscow. He died in Poland as the debris of the Grande Armée crossed the Niemen in the other direction.
While the Emperor of the French sank into the immense Russian empire, in pursuit of his destiny, in America, a new war had therefore broken out. It was the diversion hoped for by Napoleon. Only she was too late. On the other hand, if the United States had now become the allies of France against England, it had also contributed to arouse the Russian adversary in northern Europe, a paradoxical situation which is perfectly explained if it is admitted that peoples are never guided except by the search for their own interests.
Despite their lack of preparation, the Americans prepared to invade Canada. They hoped, as has been said, for an uprising of the population. Despite some desertions, this did not happen. The English-speaking population was largely made up of Loyalists who fled to Canada to refuse separation from the British crown during the War of Independence. It was naive to expect them or their descendants to change their minds. As for the Francophones, they remembered the part taken by the Americans in the defeat of the French troops, at the time of the loss of Canada. So the majority of them served their new masters without fail. Moreover, the English army, better prepared and better commanded than the United States army, did better than defend itself and drove back the invader. At sea, the advantages were balanced, a situation rather favorable to the United States which found, in a renewed glory, the opportunity to close ranks and to appease for a moment the quarrel between federalists and republicans. England was humiliated by the good demeanor of the American navy, and peaceful voices were raised as the situation in Russia hinted at a new triumph for France. The turnaround that took place after the start of the retreat from Moscow silenced them, however, and the unanimity of opinion was restored to support the war effort.
The Texas Affair
In October 1812, José Bernardo Guttierez, a Texan rebel of 1811, who had taken refuge in the United States, raised in Louisiana a small army of 450 American volunteers to invade Texas. Guttierez won several victories, while his troops were increased by the contribution of Texan patriots. He seized Alamo, then San Antonio. Loyalist soldiers taken prisoner were then beheaded with machetes. Despite another victory over the loyalist troops, Guttierez, abandoned by his soldiers who disapproved of this massacre, was forced to give way to General Toledo, whom he called a hypocritical patriot. Despite the fine defense of the soldiers from the United States, Toledo was defeated at the Battle of Medina, by the number and skillful maneuvers of the loyalist General Arredondo. A terrible repression then fell on the population of San Antonio. The women themselves were not spared. It is said that the confession by a priest was used to extract information from the prisoners before going through the arms!
In 1813, Russia proposed its mediation between England and the United States. But, during the year, the German campaign showed, in Lützen then in Bautzen, that Napoleon still had resources and that he was far from being defeated. The cards were reshuffled and Russia had other concerns besides restoring peace in America, while England was reluctant to bring Russia into the American game.
The American war seemed destined to remain once again dependent on European conflicts. It was then that, as the Grand Army fell in Leipzig, the Americans won a victory on Lake Erie. These two events militated in favor of a negotiated solution to the conflict, both in England and in the United States, where federalism was awakening. Madison was in favor of a new embargo. It was enacted, but it had no chance of lasting long if the Continental Blockade were to disappear, as was to be expected. In addition to the political difficulties which began to oppose federalists and republicans again, there were those which opposed, economically speaking, supporters of free trade and those who saw protectionism as the only way to promote the development of American manufactures, while d others preached the maintenance of a pastoral America from which the noxious fumes of factories would be proscribed forever. These oppositions set North and South against each other in an anticipated foreshadowing of the Civil War.
Napoleon's representative, Sérurier, obviously followed these debates with attention. He did not fail to observe and comment on how much the prestige of France varied in American public opinion according to the successes and setbacks of the Grande Armée. Americans engaged in the war feared that an Allied victory in Europe would make England all-powerful and deal the final blow to their hopes.
In 1814, Napoleon's abdication and his departure for the island of Elba freed English soldiers. The London cabinet decided to send a reinforcement of 10,000 men to Canada, drawn from Wellington's best troops.
Napoleon's first abdication and the British offensive in America
The English troops, after a succession of setbacks and successes, were preparing to invade the United States from Lake Champlain, while General Sherbrooke, governor of Nova Scotia, seized Maine. The threatening invasion was stopped on Lake Champlain where Wellington's contingents, deprived of their general, were beaten by Americans whom their adversaries nevertheless described as being in rags! In retaliation for an American raid, an English expedition was mounted against Washington, which was almost defenseless. The capital of the United States was set on fire by the English soldiers who, beforehand, ate at the White House the meal prepared for the president. The ships anchored on the Potomac jumped up in the middle of the night in a gigantic improvised fireworks display. After the sack of Washington, the English headed for Baltimore but the city, which should have been attacked first, had time to put itself in a position and, after a few unsuccessful attempts, in which the English General Ross was killed, Admiral Cochrane felt that the capture of the city would not be worth the losses it would entail. So he preferred to give up.
Despite the advantages obtained at sea by the American navy, which had captured more than eight hundred English merchant vessels, the United States was threatened by a serious economic and financial crisis. The war was expensive. We negotiated with the English and the latter, despite their setbacks, were ruthless. They claimed part of the territory of the United States, although no decisive victory had been won by them. It was then that military operations moved to the Gulf of Mexico, where the British led an expeditionary force, expecting an uprising by the French, Indians and Spaniards. If the affair were successful, England would once again triumph over Napoleon since it was to avoid his possession by the English that the Emperor had ceded Louisiana to the United States.
The US military, under Jackson's command, was made up of militias. False arrangements had been made, but that in no way prevented the English invaders from being severely beaten on January 8, 1815, a date forever memorable in the history of the United States. The French had not risen, on the contrary, they had their part in the victory, in particular the gunners of the former French filibuster Jean Lafitte who, with the cannons stolen from the Spaniards, massacred the red coats without qualms. abhorred, in exchange for the forgiveness of the United States for their previous misdeeds. Shortly before Waterloo, the French in America had taken, in a way in advance, revenge for the defeat that the French of France would suffer in the infamous fields of Belgium. The British had lost more than 2000 men, killed or wounded, against 71 Americans. Ironically, this battle took place when peace had already been concluded for two weeks between the British and the Americans, but we did not yet know it on the ground!
The English defeat of New Orleans assumed capital importance, out of proportion to the forces which clashed there. It paved the way for an expansion of the United States to the detriment of the Spanish colonies and Indian territories. This federation, until then confined, would assert itself, during the following century, as a major power on the scale of the planet and nothing could stop its rise which largely shaped the world in which we live.
On the eve of his departure for Elba, Napoleon had once again found himself dreaming of America. Why wouldn't he go to Mexico, put himself at the head of the patriots to found a new empire? In his Lilliputian kingdom, he continued to be interested in the war that was going on across the Atlantic. Plans for assassinations and deportation to remove him from the European continent were debated by his enemies and he was not unaware of them. The funds to be paid to him by the French government were long overdue and he would soon run out of money.
The American victory, the return of the Island of Elba and Waterloo
Conversations with the English captain Usher informed him that 25,000 men of Wellington's army had been withdrawn from Europe to be sent to fight the United States. It is possible that this weakening of the forces of his main enemy strengthened the Emperor's desire to regain power in France. At that time, the news did not circulate as quickly as it does today and Napoleon could only learn very late of the signing of the peace in Ghent, at the end of 1814 (December 24). Moreover, the treaty which put an end to the war, was not ratified by Madison until February 17, 1815. But the most important thing is that the English troops had time to return to the European continent to participate in the war. Belgian countryside. The chains of history sometimes seem to be signs of fate: the Americans were indirectly responsible for the Russian campaign, they went to war, as Napoleon wished, too late to create a diversion to his advantage and signed peace too soon to prevent the English from playing the preponderant role they played at Waterloo. What is more, this peace was signed in Ghent, Belgium!
The fallen Emperor a second time initially had the idea of reaching the United States. But the English cruise was watching and she was determined not to let her prey escape her. We know the rest. Napoleon, refusing to flee hidden in a barrel, decided to surrender to the English who deported him to Saint Helena, in accordance with the project discussed in Vienna by the Holy Alliance, while he was still "emperor" of the island of 'Elbe.
In Europe, the ideals of the French Revolution were put under wraps for a time. Many French people compromised during the Hundred Days went into exile in the United States. It is even said that Marshal Ney, who escaped the firing squad, would rest today in an American cemetery. Joseph, the former King of Spain, resided near Philadelphia.He opened his purse to the exiles who gathered around him and dreamed of going to deliver the Emperor from the clutches of the perfidious Albion, while, on his rock, Napoleon continued to wonder what he could have done if he had managed to take refuge in Mexico, a country he compared to the center of gravity of the world. These outlaws numbered many soldiers. A few gathered around the Lallemand brothers and General Rigaud to create a colony, with the help of the former filibuster Jean Lafitte. This Asylum Field first settled in Alabama, then in Texas, before returning to Alabama. In Texas, he was on disputed land between Mexico, still a Spanish colony, and the United States. The game played by these strange laborers is poorly understood, but their presence led to difficulties between the two countries. We know how sensitive this place was. There was even a rumor that Mexicans were once again considering offering the crown of their country to King Joseph.
The French soldiers attracted the interested attention of the insurgents of South America fighting against Spain to gain their independence. Several officers let themselves be tempted by the adventure, with varying degrees of success. Some of them left lasting traces in Latin America, such as Colonel Georges Beauchef, who was appointed after independence as governor of a Chilean province. A commemorative plaque recalls these events in an old disused fort in Corral Bay. Here is what we can read on this plate: "The year 1820, Georges Beauchef, ex colonel of the Napoleonic armies and colonel of the liberation army, fought in the Bay of Corral for the independence and the glory of Chile before to be, during the years 1822 and 1823, governor of the province of Valdivia ". It is worth mentioning here one of those manifestations of humor whose history has the secret: Beauchef fought in South America alongside an enemy of the day before; English Admiral Cochrane was, in fact, the founder of the Chilean navy!
Napoleonic influence in America
America remained permanently marked by its turbulent relations with France. If Louisiana was sold to the United States in 1803, the legislation of this state remained based on the Napoleon Code. The Egyptian campaign inspired the shape of the obelisk that was erected in Washington. The architecture of the White House is clearly copied from the Empire style. The strategy of Napoleon I was taught at West Point and it was the bible of the armies of the Civil War. Finally, it was up to one of the Emperor's great-nephews, Charles-Joseph Bonaparte (1851-1921), a descendant of Jérôme, Attorney General of the United States, to found the F.B.I., in 1908.
In other American countries, the memory of the Emperor was no less vivid. The independence of Mexico was acquired the same year of the death of the Emperor and the new nation took the political form of an empire. The father of the Mexican nation, Augustine I, admired Napoleon and was inspired by his code. In the former Spanish colonies, the emancipatory role of the Emperor is still recognized today, even if he acts under the pressure of necessity rather than of his own will. Witness the Napoleon Museum in Havana, with its rich library, and the Napoleonic Institute in Mexico, among other New World institutions. Finally, the infatuation of so many Latin American peoples for the military providential can be rightly analyzed as a South American adaptation of Bonapartism. It is not as far as Spain where Napoleon is sometimes represented today in the guise ... of a Spaniard, despite the well-founded reproaches which are still addressed to him.
In conclusion, I will allow myself to evoke a personal memory. In 1995, I visited the Island of Robinson Crusoe, where lived, cut off from the world for several years, the Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk, whose adventure was to inspire Daniel Defoe. One evening, I was alone at the hotel. The plane coming from Santiago had neither passengers nor crates of lobsters to take for the return to the mainland, and the pilot, waiting for freight according to custom, was ordered to spend the night on the island. I was asked if I would agree to dine with him. I nodded willingly. The man was nice and we were quick to strike up a conversation. We found some common ground. We were both history buffs in general and the Napoleonic period in particular. His son had visited Paris, and the father had not omitted to ask him to go to the Invalides. The son had obeyed and sent the father a postcard, in memory of this memorable visit to the ashes of the great man.
About the Author
Poet, History buff and great traveler, Jean Dif has written historical books and travel accounts (see his website).