To the French Inhabitants of Louisiana

Philip Foner's introduction

The purchase of Louisiana was announced officially by President Thomas Jefferson on October 17, 1803. Several months later the French inhabitants of Louisiana sent a memorial to Congress demanding immediate admission to the Union and the right to continue the importation of Negro slaves. On September 22, 1804, Paine issued this address reminding the French inhabitants of Louisiana that a people who desired freedom for themselves had no right to deprive others-the Negro people-of their freedom. While the address reveals that Paine still clung to certain misconceptions regarding the French Revolution, it also showed what an advanced position he had with respect to Negro slavery. Needless to add, his document was not appreciated by many defenders of slavery in the South.


A PUBLICATION having the appearance of a memorial and remonstrance, to be presented to Congress at the ensuing session, has appeared in several papers. It is therefore open to examination, and I offer you my remarks upon it. The title and introductory paragraph are as follows:

"To the Congress of the United States, in the Senate and House of Representatives convened: We the subscribers, planters, merchants and other inhabitants of Louisiana, respectfully approach the Legislature of the United States with a memorial of our rights, a remonstrance against certain laws which contravene them, and a petition for that redress to which the laws of nature, sanctioned by positive stipulations, have entitled us."

It often happens that when one party, or one that thinks itself a party, talks much about its rights, it puts those of the other party upon examining into their own, and such is the effect produced by your memorial.

A single reading of that memorial will show it is the work of some person who is not of your people. His acquaintance with the cause, commencement, progress and termination of the American Revolution decides this point; and his making our merits in that Revolution the ground of your claims, as if our merits could become yours, show he does not understand your situation.

We obtained our rights by calmly understanding principles, and by the successful event of a long, obstinate and expensive war. But it is not incumbent on us to fight the battles of the world for the world's profit.

You are already participating, without any merit or expense in obtaining it, the blessings of freedom acquired by ourselves; and in proportion as you become initiated into the principles and practise of the representative system of government, of which you have yet had no experience, you will participate more and finally be partakers of the whole.

You see what mischief ensued in France by the possession of power before they understood principles. They earned liberty in words, but not in fact. The writer of this was in France through the whole of the Revolution, and knows the truth of what he speaks; for after endeavoring to give it principle, he had nearly fallen a victim to its rage.

There is a great want of judgment in the person who drew up your memorial. He has mistaken your case, and forgotten his own; and by trying to court your applause has injured your pretensions. He has written like a lawyer, straining every point that would please his client, without studying his advantage.

I find no fault with the composition of the memorial, for it is well written; nor with the principles of liberty it contains, considered in the abstract. The error lies in the misapplication of them, and in assuming a ground they have not a right to stand upon.

Instead of their serving you as a ground of reclamation against us, they change into a satire on yourselves. Why did you not speak thus when you ought to have spoken it? We fought for liberty when you stood quiet in slavery.

The author of the memorial, injudiciously confounding two distinct cases together, has spoken as if he was the memorialist of a body of Americans, who, after sharing equally with us in all the dangers and hardships of the Revolutionary War, had retired to a distance and made a settlement for themselves. If, in such a situation, Congress had established a temporary government over them, in which they were not personally consulted, they would have had a right to speak as the memorial speaks. But your situation is different from what the situation of such persons would be, and therefore their ground of reclamation cannot of right become yours.

You are arriving at freedom by the easiest means that any people ever enjoyed it; without contest, without expense, and even without any contrivance of your own. And you already so far mistake principles, that under the name of rights you ask for powers; power to import and enslave Africans; and to govern a territory that we have purchased.

To give color to your memorial, you refer to the treaty of cession (in which you were not one of the contracting parties), concluded at Paris between the Governments of the United States and France.

"The third article" you say "of the treaty lately concluded at Paris declares that the inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible, according to the principles of the Federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States; and in the meantime, they shall be protected in the enjoyment of their liberty, property and the exercise of the religion they profess."

As from your former condition, you cannot be much acquainted with diplomatic policy, and I am convinced that even the gentleman who drew up the memorial is not, I will explain to you the grounds of this article. It may prevent your running into further errors.

The territory of Louisiana had been so often ceded to different European powers that it became a necessary article on the part of France, and for the security of Spain, the ally of France, and which accorded perfectly with our own principles and intentions, that it should be ceded no more; and this article, stipulating for the incorporation of Louisiana into the Union of the United States, stands as a bar against all future cession, and at the same time, as Well as "in the meantime" secures to you a civil and political permanency, personal security and liberty which you never enjoyed before.

France and Spain might suspect (and the? suspicion would not have been ill-founded had the cession been treated for in the Administration of John Adams, or when Washington was President, and Alexander Hamilton President over him), that we bought Louisiana for the British Government, or with a view of selling it to her; and though such suspicion had no just ground to stand upon with respect to our present President, Thomas Jefferson, who is not only not a man of intrigue but who possesses that honest pride of principle that cannot be intrigued with, and which keeps intriguers at a distance, the article was nevertheless necessary as a precaution against future contingencies.

But you, from not knowing the political ground of the article, apply to yourselves personally and exclusively what had reference to the territory, to prevent its falling into the hands of any foreign power that might endanger the [establishment of] Spanish dominion in America, or those of the French in the West India islands.

You claim (you say) to be incorporated into the Union of the United States, and your remonstrances on this subject are unjust and without cause.

You are already incorporated into it as fully and effectually as the Americans themselves are, who are settled in Louisiana. You enjoy the same rights, privileges, advantages and immunities which they enjoy; and when Louisiana, or some part of it, shall be erected into a constitutional state, you also will be citizens equal with them.

You speak in your memorial, as if you were the only people who were to live in Louisiana, and as if the territory was purchased that you exclusively might govern it. In both these cases you are greatly mistaken. The emigrations from the United States into the purchased territory, and the population arising therefrom, will, in a few years, exceed you in numbers. It is but twenty-six years since Kentucky began to be settled, and it already contains more than double your population.

In a candid view of the case you ask for what would be injurious to yourselves to receive, and unjust in us to grant. Injurious, because the settlement of Louisiana will go on much faster under the government and guardianship of Congress, than if the government of it were committed to your hands; and consequently, the landed property you possessed as individuals when the treaty was concluded, or have purchased since, will increase so much faster in value.

Unjust to ourselves, because as the reimbursements of the purchase money must come out of the sale of the lands to new settlers, the government of it cannot suddenly go out of the hands of Congress. They are guardians of that property for all the people of the United States.

And besides this, as the new settlers will be chiefly from the United States it would be unjust and ill policy to put them and their property under the jurisdiction of a people whose freedom they had contributed to purchase.

You ought also to recollect that the French Revolution has not exhibited to the world that grand display of principles and rights that would induce settlers from other countries to put themselves under a French jurisdiction in Louisiana. Beware of intriguers who may push you on from private motives of their own.

You complain of two cases, one of which you have no right, no concern with; and the other is founded in direct injustice.

You complain that Congress has passed a law to divide the country into two territories. It is not improper to inform you, that after the Revolutionary War ended, Congress divided the territory acquired by that war into ten territories; each of which was to be erected into a constitutional State, when it arrived at a certain population mentioned in the Act; and, in the meantime, an officer appointed by the President, as the Governor of Louisiana now is, presided as Governor of the Western Territory over all such parts as have not arrived at the maturity of statehood.

Louisiana will require to be divided into twelve States or more; but this is a matter that belongs to the purchaser of the territory of Louisiana, and with which the inhabitants of the town of New Orleans have no right to interfere; and beside this, it is probable that the inhabitants of the other territory would choose to be independent of New Orleans. They might apprehend that on some speculating pretense their produce might be put in requisition, and a maximum price put on it-a thing not uncommon in a French Government.

As a general rule, without refining upon sentiment, one may put confidence in the justice of those who have no inducement to do us injustice; and this is the case Congress stands in with respect to both territories, and to all other divisions that may be laid out, and to all inhabitants and settlers, of whatever nation they may be.

There can be no such thing as what the memorial speaks of, that is of a governor appointed by the President who may have no interest in the welfare of Louisiana. He must, from the nature of the case, have more interest in it than any other person can have. He is entrusted with the care of an extensive tract of country, now the property of the United States by purchase.

The value of those lands will depend on the increasing prosperity of Louisiana, its agriculture, commerce and population.

You have only a local and partial interest in the town of New Orleans, or its vicinity; and if, in consequence of exploring the country, new seats of commerce should offer, his general interest would lead him to open them, and your partial interest to shut them up.

There is probably some justice in your remark as it applies to the governments under which you formerly lived. Such governments always look with jealousy, and an apprehension of revolt, on colonies increasing in prosperity and population and they send governors to keep them down.

But when you argue from the conduct of governments distant and despotic, to that of domestic and free government, it shows you do not understand the principles and interest of a republic, and to put you right is friendship. We have had experience, and you have not.

The other case to which I alluded as being founded in direct injustice is that in which you petition for power, under the name of rights, to import and enslave Africans!

Dare you put up a petition to heaven for such a power, without fearing to be struck from the earth by its justice?

Why, then, do you ask it of man against man?

Do you want to renew in Louisiana the horrors of Domingo?

COMMON SENSE.

September 22, 1804.