Tintin, the subject of 200 million comics sold, was likely based on a real 15-year-old …

 

In the overcrowded world of fictional characters, there are few faces as adorable as Tintin’s. Unlike Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman, Tintin, the young investigative reporter, is not a household name in America, but he is definitely one of the most beloved figures in Europe.

With no specific magic powers, he is the antithesis of a superhero, but that didn’t prevent him from being widely admired by both children and adults. Charles de Gaulle once declared that Tintin is his only international rival, saying that “nobody notices, because of my height. We are both little fellows who won’t be got at by big fellows.”

Tintin and his fox terrier, Snowy, appeared for the first time on January 10, 1929, in the children’s supplement of the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siecle. What started as the subject of a supplement went on to become a symbol of the 20th century, appearing in an inde­pen­dent comic book, on television, and even on the big screen in Steven Spiel­berg’s animated movie The Adven­tures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.

Tintin is one of the most beloved figures in the comic book world.Author: Joi/Flickr-CC By 2.0

Georges Prosper Remi, known by the pen name Hergé, is the man behind the creation of Tintin. With almost no formal training, Hergé began drawing the legendary comic-book character in 1929, but little did he know that by doing so he would give birth to an entire European comics publishing industry.

Tintin and his fox terrier Snowy appeared for the first time in 1929. Author: karrikas/Flickr CC By 2.0

Since 1929, Tintin comics have sold more than 200 million copies, and over the years, this beloved character served as an inspiration for many people and influenced the ways comic book readers perceive the world around them. But what actually inspired Hergé to create the iconic character?

Debate still exists on what exactly inspired Hergé to come up with the snub-nosed teenage reporter, but most people agree that it was a real life person known by the name Palle Huld. It is one of the most original of origin stories in the comic book world.

Less than a year before Tintin made his first appearance, in the children’s supplement of  Le Vingtième Siecle, a 15-year-old Danish Boy Scout named Palle Huld won a competition organized by a Danish newspaper to mark the centennial of Jules Verne.

 

Palle Huld, during his trip around the world in 1928, almost certainly influenced Hergé to create Tintin.

The winner of the competition would re-enact Phileas Fogg’s voyage from Verne’s famous novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Strangely enough, only teenage boys were allowed to take part in the competition, and the 15-year-old was the perfect match. There was another twist: The winner had to complete the journey within 46 days, without any company and without using planes.

Hundreds of Danish teenagers applied to participate in the competition, and Palle was lucky enough to be chosen. He started his journey on March 1, 1928, from Copenhagen and traveled by rail and steamship through England, Scotland, Canada, Japan, the Soviet Union, Poland, and Germany.

His journey made the headlines at the time and when he arrived in Denmark, he was already a celebrity. Over 20,000 admirers greeted their hero when he came back home.

The next thing he did was write a book about his journey, which was quite popular among his admirers, and published in several languages. That book also came into the hands of a Belgian cartoonist known by the name of Hergé and that same year, when Huld’s book was published, Tintin made his debut.

Huld himself suggested on several occasions that he was the inspiration for Tintin. However, others believe that the inspiration behind the character was actually the French travel photojournalist Robert Sexe, whose journeys were exactly in the same order as Tintin’s first three books.

With no specific superpowers, Tintin is the antithesis of a superhero. Author: Hicham Souilmi CC By 2.0

Nonetheless, true Tintin fans couldn’t care less. For them it is all about the character, a hero they all know and love, representing something that others don’t have: uncompromising vigilance and the need to succeed no matter what the cost.

Tintin proves that a hero doesn’t need to be big or strong, he or she just needs to be tenacious and stubborn enough to do what needs to be done.

By Goran Blazeski

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The sandwich was named after an 18th century earl who didn’t want to take a break from gambling to eat

Born on Nov. 13, 1718, John Montagu was a British diplomat who received his education at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge. Before that, in 1729, as a 10-year-old boy, he succeeded his grandfather, Edward Montagu, as the Earl of Sandwich.

The title was created in 1660 in recognition of the achievements of Admiral Sir Edward Montagu, who later became Baron Montagu. His great-grandson John served as First Lord of the Admiralty and as Secretary of State for the Northern Department throughout his life and came to be remembered as the man who sponsored Captain James Cook’s exploration voyages, who in exchange named the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in honor of him. Apparently, he is also the man the famously convenient food is named after.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.

“Sandwich” has referred to meat (or anything of personal preference really) arranged in between slices of bread since the 18th century in Europe.

The practice of placing bread below or around food, or simply using it for scooping something up, has been found in countless cultures predating the 18th century.

John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-1779) – Oil on canvas (from left: Dr. Daniel Solander, Sir Joseph Banks, Captain James Cook, Dr. John Hawkesworth, and John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich)

Digging deep, the first written usage of the English word can be found in Edward Gibbon’s journal, who referred to “bits of cold meat” as a “Sandwich,” yet using it to describe the sandwich we all love today is found in the satirical travel book A Tour to London; Or New Observations on England and its Inhabitants, penned by the French travel writer and observer Pierre-Jean Grosley.

Edward Gibbon was an English historian and writer celebrated for writing The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in six volumes.

In this satire, Grosley wrote about John Montagu’s bad gambling habits, among his many other vices, describing him as a relentless gambler. If Montagu was on a streak, he would not leave the table for hours, eating only food brought on request in order to stay alive.

Oftentimes when hungry, he would order his valet to bring slices of meat tucked between two pieces of bread to his table, allowing him to continue playing cards and fill his stomach at the same time, without the need to use a fork. By doing so, he was keeping the cards clean, and not greasy as they inevitably would be if he was to eat the meat with his bare hands.

This habit came to be well known among his gambling friends, so very soon others began to order “the same as Sandwich,” thus giving birth to the “sandwich” much appreciated today.

Salmon Cream Cheese Sandwiches. Author Katrin Morenz from Aachen, Deutschland – CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Eight men, evidently Government contractors, sit around a table smoking and drinking. Author Library of Congress

This story is a bit debatable, considering that Grosley was taking a satirical stance on things when writing his memoirs. There is another story, though, found in the writings of Nicholas A. M. Rodger, Sandwich’s biographer. He states that the commitments Sandwich had to the Navy as First Lord of the Admiralty, serving as the Secretary of State for the Northern Department in the government of George Grenville, meant that the most often than not, he had to eat at his working desk.

In his views, the first “sandwich” and countless after it were probably eaten by the Earl at his work desk due to his lack of time to eat proper aristocratic meals. This theory is a more praise-worthy approach to things.

By Stefan A

Simón Bolívar VENEZUELAN SOLDIER AND STATESMAN

Simón Bolívar
VENEZUELAN SOLDIER AND STATESMAN
Simon Bolivar

Simón Bolívarby name The Liberator or Spanish El Libertador (born July 24, 1783, Caracas, Venezuela, New Granada [now in Venezuela]—died December 17, 1830, near Santa Marta, Colombia), Venezuelan soldier and statesman who led the revolutions against Spanish rule in the Viceroyalty of New Granada. He was president of Gran Colombia(1819–30) and dictator of Peru (1823–26).

Early Life

The son of a Venezuelan aristocrat of Spanish descent, Bolívar was born to wealth and position. His father died when the boy was three years old, and his mother died six years later, after which his uncle administered his inheritance and provided him with tutors. One of those tutors, Simón Rodríguez, was to have a deep and lasting effect on him. Rodríguez, a disciple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, introduced Bolívar to the world of 18th-century liberal thought.

At the age of 16, Bolívar was sent to Europe to complete his education. For three years he lived in Spain, and in 1801 he married the daughter of a Spanish nobleman, with whom he returned to Caracas. The young bride died of yellow fever less than a year after their marriage. Bolívar believed that her tragic death was the reason that he took up a political career while still a young man.

In 1804, when Napoleon I was approaching the pinnacle of his career, Bolívar returned to Europe. In Paris, under the renewed guidance of his friend and tutor Rodríguez, he steeped himself in the writings of European rationalist thinkers such as John LockeThomas HobbesGeorges-Louis Leclerc, count de BuffonJean le Rond d’Alembert, and Claude-Adrien Helvétius, as well as VoltaireMontesquieu, and Rousseau. The latter two had the deepest influence on his political life, but Voltaire coloured his philosophy of life. In Paris he met the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who had just returned from his voyage through Hispanic America and told Bolívar that he believed the Spanish colonies were ripe for independence. That idea took root in Bolívar’s imagination, and, on a trip to Rome with Rodríguez, as they stood on the heights of Monte Sacro, he made a vow to liberate his country.

One other experience enriched his intellect at that time: he watched the extraordinary performance that culminated in Napoleon’s coronation in 1804 as emperor of the French. Bolívar’s reaction to the coronation wavered between admiration of the accomplishments of a single man and revulsion at Napoleon’s betrayal of the ideals of the French Revolution. The desire for glory was one of the permanent traits in Bolívar’s character, and there can be little doubt that it was stimulated by Napoleon. The example of Napoleon was, nevertheless, a warning that Bolívar heeded. In his later days he always insisted that the title of “liberator” was higher than any other and that he would not exchange it for that of king or emperor. In 1807 he returned to Venezuela by way of the United States, visiting the eastern cities.

Independence Movement 

The Latin American independence movement was launched a year after Bolívar’s return, as Napoleon’s invasion of Spain unsettled Spanish authority. Napoleon also failed completely in his attempt to gain the support of the Spanish colonies, which claimed the right to nominate their own officials. Following the example of the mother country, they wished to establish juntas to rule in the name of the deposed Spanish king. Many of the Spanish settlers, however, saw in those events an opportunity to sever their ties with Spain. Bolívar himself participated in various conspiratorial meetings, and on April 19, 1810, the Spanish governor was officially deprived of his powers and expelled from Venezuela. A junta took over. To obtain help, Bolívar was sent on a mission to London, where he arrived in July. His assignment was to explain to England the plight of the revolutionary colony, to gain recognition for it, and to obtain arms and support. Although he failed in his official negotiations, his English sojourn was in other respects a fruitful one. It gave him an opportunity to study the institutions of the United Kingdom, which remained for him models of political wisdom and stability. More important, he fostered the cause of the revolution by persuading the exiled Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda, who in 1806 had attempted to liberate his country single-handedly, to return to Caracas and assume command of the independence movement.

 Venezuela was in ferment. In March 1811 a national congress met in Caracas to draft a constitution. Bolívar, though not a delegate, threw himself into the debate that aroused the country. In the first public speech of his career, he declared, “Let us lay the cornerstone of American freedom without fear. To hesitate is to perish.” After long deliberation, the national assembly declared Venezuela’s independence on July 5, 1811. Bolívar now entered the army of the young republic, whose commander in chief was Miranda, and was placed in charge of Puerto Cabello, a port on the Caribbean Sea west of Caracas that was vital to Venezuela. In the short time since their London meeting, he and Miranda had drifted apart. Miranda called Bolívar a “dangerous youth,” and Bolívar had misgivings about the aging general’s abilities. Treasonable action by one of Bolívar’s officers opened the fortress to the Spanish forces, and Miranda, the commander in chief, entered into negotiations with the Spanish commander in chief. An armistice was signed (July 1812) that left the entire country at the mercy of Spain. Miranda was turned over to the Spaniards—after Bolívar and others prevented his escape from Venezuela—and spent the rest of his life in Spanish dungeons.

Determined to continue the struggle, Bolívar obtained a passport to leave the country and went to Cartagena in New Granada. There he published the first of his great political statements, El manifiesto de Cartagena (“The Cartagena Manifesto”), in which he attributed the fall of Venezuela’s First Republic to the lack of strong government and called for a united revolutionary effort to destroy the power of Spain in the Americas.

With backing from the patriots of New Granada, Bolívar led an expeditionary force to retake Venezuela. In a sweeping hard-fought campaign, he vanquished the royalists in six pitched battles and on August 6, 1813, entered Caracas. He was given the title of Liberator and assumed political dictatorship. The war of independence was just beginning, however. The majority of the people of Venezuela were hostile to the forces of independence and weary of the sacrifices imposed. A cruel civil war broke out, and Bolívar himself resorted to extreme measures, such as the shooting of prisoners. His severity failed in its object. In 1814 Bolívar was once more defeated by the Spanish, who had converted the llaneros (cowboys) led by José Tomás Boves into an undisciplined but savagely effective cavalry that Bolívar was unable to repulse. Boves subjected Creole patriots to terrible atrocities, and his capture of Caracas and other principal cities ended the second Venezuelan republic. Narrowly escaping Miranda’s fate, Bolívar fled to New Granada, where he was commissioned in Cartagena to oust a separatist faction from Bogotá (now in Colombia) and succeeded in doing so. He then laid siege to Cartagena but failed to unite the revolutionary forces and fled to Jamaica.

In exile, Bolívar turned his energies toward gaining support from Great Britain, and, in an effort to convince the British people of their stake in the freedom of the Spanish colonies, he wrote the greatest document of his career: La carta de Jamaica (“The Letter from Jamaica”), in which he outlined a grandiose panorama from Chile and Argentina to Mexico. “The bonds,” wrote Bolívar, “that united us to Spain have been severed.” He was not dismayed that the Spaniards had in certain instances won the upper hand. “A people that love freedom will in the end be free. We are,” he said proudly, “a microcosm of the human race. We are a world apart, confined within two oceans, young in arts and sciences, but old as a human society. We are neither Indians nor Europeans, yet we are a part of each.” He proposed constitutional republics throughout Hispanic America, and for the former Viceroyalty of New Granada he envisioned a government modeled on that of Great Britain, with a hereditary upper house, an elected lower house, and a president chosen for life. The last provision, to which Bolívar clung throughout his career, constituted the most dubious feature of his political thinking.

In “The Letter from Jamaica,” Bolívar showed himself as a great internationalist. He looked forward to the day when the representatives of all Hispanic American nations would gather in a central location such as Panama.

By 1815, Spain had sent to its seditious colonies the strongest expeditionary force that had ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Its commander was Pablo Morillo. Since neither Great Britain nor the United States would promise aid, Bolívar turned to Haiti, which had recently freed itself from French rule. There he was given a friendly reception as well as money and weapons.

Liberation Of New Granada

Three years of indecisive defeats and victories followed. In 1817 Bolívar decided to set up headquarters in the Orinoco River region, which had not been devastated by war and from which the Spaniards could not easily oust him. He engaged the services of several thousand foreign soldiers and officers, mostly British and Irish, established his capital at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar), began to publish a newspaper, and established a liaison with the revolutionary forces of the plains, including one group led by José Antonio Páez and another group led by Francisco de Paula Santander. In spring 1819 he conceived his master plan of attacking the Viceroyalty of New Granada.

  • Francisco de Paula Santander, statue in Medellín, Colombia.
    Francisco de Paula Santander, statue in Medellín, Colombia.
    Alejandro Sajor
  • General José Antonio Páez.
    General José Antonio Páez.   Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Bolívar’s attack on New Granada is considered one of the most daring in military history. The route of the small army (about 2,500 men, including the British legion) led through the plains, but it was the rainy season, and the rivers had become lakes. For seven days, according to one of Bolívar’s aides, they marched in water up to their waists. Ten navigable rivers were crossed, most of them in cowhide boats. The journey through the plains seemed child’s play, however, in comparison with their ascent of the Andes Mountains that stood between Bolívar and the city of Bogotá. Bolívar had chosen to cross the cordillera at the pass of Pisba, which the Spanish considered an inconceivable approach. An icy wind blew across the heights of the pass, and many of the scantily clad troops died of cold and exposure. The fatigue and loss, however, were more than outweighed by the advantage gained in descending unopposed into New Granada. The Spaniards were taken by surprise, and in the crucial Battle of Boyacá on August 7, 1819, the bulk of the royalist army surrendered to Bolívar. Three days later he entered Bogotá. That action was the turning point in the history of northern South America.

Indefatigably, Bolívar set out to complete his task. He appointed Santander vice president in charge of the administration and in December 1819 made his appearance before the congress that had assembled in Angostura. Bolívar was made president and military dictator. He urged the legislators to proclaim the creation of a new state; three days later the Republic of Colombia, usually called Gran Colombia, was established, comprising the three departments of New Granada (now the countries of Colombia and Panama), Venezuela, and Quito (Ecuador). Since most of that territory was still under royalist control, it was largely a paper achievement. Bolívar knew, however, that victory was finally within his grasp. Early in 1820 a revolution in Spain forced the Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, to recognize the ideals of liberalism on the home front, an action that discouraged the Spanish forces in South America. Bolívar persuaded Morillo to open armistice negotiations, and the two warriors met in a memorable encounter at Santa Ana, Venezuela, signing in November 1820 a treaty that ended hostilities for a six-month period.

When fighting was resumed, Bolívar found it easy, with his superior manpower, to defeat the Spanish forces in Venezuela. The Battle of Carabobo (June 1821) opened the gates of Caracas, and Bolívar’s Venezuelan homeland was at last free. In the autumn of the same year, a congress convened in Cúcuta to draft a constitution for Gran Colombia. Its provisions disappointed Bolívar. Although he had been elected president, he thought the constitution was too liberal in character to guarantee the survival of his creation. As long as more-urgent assignments claimed his attention, however, he was willing to put up with its weak structure. Putting the administration in Santander’s hands, he left to continue his military campaign.

The effort to liberate Ecuador lasted about a year. Bolívar was assisted by the most brilliant of his officers, Antonio José de Sucre. While Bolívar engaged the Spaniards in the mountains that defended the northern access to Quito, capital of Ecuador, Sucre marched from the Pacific Ocean coast to the interior. At Pichincha on May 24, 1822, he won a victory that freed Ecuador from the Spanish yoke. On the following day the capital fell, and Bolívar joined forces with Sucre on June 16.

It was in Quito that the Liberator met the great passion of his life, Manuela Sáenz. She was an ardent revolutionary who freely admitted her love for Bolívar and accompanied him first to Peru and ultimately to the presidential palace in Bogotá.

Liberation Of Peru

The territory of Gran Colombia had now been completely recovered from Spain, and its new government was recognized by the United States. Only Peru and Upper Peru remained in the hands of the Spaniards. It was the Peruvian problem that brought Bolívar and the Argentine revolutionary José de San Martín together. San Martín had done for the southern part of the continent what Bolívar had accomplished for the north. In addition, San Martín had already entered Lima and proclaimed Peru’s independence. But the Spanish forces had retreated into the highlands, and San Martín, unable to follow them, decided to consult with Bolívar. On July 26, 1822, the two men met in the port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador (the Guayaquil Conference). Details of their discussions are not known, but presumably they covered completion of the military struggle in Peru as well as the subsequent organization of liberated Hispanic America. San Martín must have understood that Bolívar alone combined the military, political, and psychological assets needed to gain final victory over the powerful Spanish army in the highlands. Given the situation in Lima, where he faced mounting opposition, San Martín’s presence there could only hinder the performance of that task. On his return from Guayaquil, San Martín resigned his office in Lima and went into exile, allowing Bolívar to assume sole direction of the war. Whether he took that action to give Bolívar a free hand or out of a sense of personal frustration is unknown.

The avenue that would lead to Bolívar’s ultimate ambition was now open. In September 1823 he arrived in Lima. The Spanish army occupied the mountains east of the city, and its position was considered unassailable. Bolívar, however, systematically assembled troops, horses, mules, and ammunition to form an army, and in 1824 he moved out of the temporary capital in Trujillo and ascended the high cordillera. The first major battle took place at Junín and was easily won by Bolívar, who then left the successful termination of the campaign to his able chief of staff, Sucre. On December 9, 1824, the Spanish viceroy lost the Battle of Ayacucho to Sucre and surrendered with his entire army.

Bolivia

Bolívar was now president of Gran Colombia and dictator of Peru. Only a small section of the continent—Upper Peru—was still defended by royalist forces. The liberation of that region fell to Sucre, and in April 1825 he reported that the task had been accomplished. The new country chose to be called Bolivia, a variation on the Liberator’s name. For that child of his genius, Bolívar drafted a constitution that showed once more his authoritarian inclinations: it created a lifetime president, a legislative body consisting of three chambers, and a highly restricted suffrage. Bolívar was devoted to his own creation, but, as the instrument of social reform that he had envisaged, the constitution was a failure.

Bolívar had now reached the high point of his career. His power extended from the Caribbean to the Argentine-Bolivian border. He had conquered severe illness, which during his sojourn in Peru had made him practically an invalid for months at a time. Another of his favourite projects, a league of Hispanic American states, came to fruition in 1826. He had long advocated treaties of alliance between the American republics, whose weakness he correctly apprehended. By 1824 such treaties had been signed and ratified by the republics of Colombia, Peru, Mexico, the United Provinces of Central America, and the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata. In 1826 a general American congress convened in Panama under Bolívar’s auspices. Compared with Bolívar’s original proposals, it was a fragmentary affair, with only Colombia, Peru, Central America, and Mexico sending representatives. The four countries that attended signed a treaty of alliance and invited all other American countries to adhere to it. A common army and navy were planned, and a biannual assembly representing the federated states was projected. All controversies among the states were to be solved by arbitration. Only Colombia ratified the treaty, yet the congress in Panama provided an important example for future hemispheric solidarity and understanding in South America.

Bolívar was aware that his plans for hemispheric organization had met with only limited acceptance. His contemporaries thought in terms of individual nation-states, Bolívar in terms of continents. In the field of domestic policy he continued to be an authoritarian republican. He thought of himself as a rallying point and anticipated civil war as soon as his words should no longer be heeded. Such a prophecy, made in 1824, was fulfilled in 1826.

Civil War

Venezuela and New Granada began to chafe at the bonds of their union in Gran Colombia. The protagonists in each country, Páez in Venezuela and Santander in New Granada, opposed each other, and at last civil war broke out. Bolívar left Lima in haste, and most authorities agree that Peru was glad to see the end of his three-year reign and its liberation from Colombian influence. In Bogotá, Bolívar found Santander upholding the constitution of Cúcuta and urging that Páez be punished as a rebel. Bolívar, however, was determined to preserve the unity of Gran Colombia and was therefore willing to appease Páez, with whom he became reconciled early in 1827. Páez bowed to the supreme authority of the Liberator, and in turn Bolívar promised a new constitution that would remedy Venezuelan grievances. He declared himself dictator of Gran Colombia and called for a national convention that met in April 1828. Bolívar refused to influence the elections, with the result that the liberals under the leadership of Santander gained the majority.

Bolívar had hoped that the constitution of Cúcuta would be revised and presidential authority strengthened, but the liberals blocked any such attempts. A stalemate developed. Arguing that the old constitution was no longer valid and that no new one had taken its place, Bolívar assumed dictatorial powers in Gran Colombia. A group of liberal conspirators invaded the presidential palace on the night of September 25, and Bolívar was saved from the daggers of the assassins only by the quick-wittedness of Manuela Sáenz. Although the attempt on his life failed, the storm signals increased. Bolívar’s precarious health began to fail. Peru invaded Ecuador with the intention of annexing Guayaquil. Once more Sucre saved Ecuador and defeated the Peruvians at Tarqui (1829). A few months later one of Bolívar’s most-honoured generals, José María Córdoba, staged a revolt. It was crushed, but Bolívar was disheartened by the continued ingratitude of his former adherents. In the fall of 1829 Venezuela seceded from Gran Colombia.

Reluctantly, Bolívar realized that his very existence presented a danger to the internal and external peace of the nations that owed their independence to him, and on May 8, 1830, he left Bogotá, planning to take refuge in Europe. Reaching the Atlantic coast, he learned that Sucre, whom he had trained as his successor, had been assassinated. Bolívar’s grief was boundless. The projected trip to Europe was canceled, and, at the invitation of a Spanish admirer, Bolívar journeyed to his estate near Santa Marta. Ironically, his life ended in the house of a Spaniard, where, toward the end of 1830, he died of tuberculosis.

Bolívar is regarded by many as the greatest genius the Latin Americanworld has produced. He was a man of international renown in his own day, and his reputation has steadily increased since his death. There are few figures in European history and none in the history of the United States who display the rare combination of strength and weakness, character and temperament, prophetic vision and poetic power that distinguish Simón Bolívar. As a consequence, his life and his work have grown to mythical dimensions among the people of his continent.

By Gerhard Straussmann Masur

The Louisiana Purchase: Napoleon, eager for money to wage war on Britain, sold the land to U.S.–and a British bank financed the sale

Some 214 years ago, the young United States made a business deal with France that helped the country double its size virtually overnight and without a single drop of blood. Using diplomatic skills, the U.S. managed to obtain an enormous piece of land known as the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon, who was in great need of money for an imminent war.

This territory, which stretches from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, became part of the 15 states that form today’s United States. For this development, the country has to thank the quick thinking of President Jefferson and the immediate actions of Robert Livingston, the United States ambassador to France at the time, as well as minister James Monroe, who was appointed by Jefferson to help Livingston in this matter.

The territory of Louisiana was initially discovered by the Spanish Empire and these colonizers claimed the area that would later become Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Then the French came, explored it, and started to bring settlers. The territory was ceded back to Spain in 1762. At the turn of the 19th century, Louisiana was to change ownership again.

1804 map of “Louisiana,” edged on the west by the Rocky Mountains

At the beginning of the 1800s, Louisiana had around 60,000 colonists, some of whom were Creoles of French descent who lived a peaceful life that was in some ways aristocratic. Their eastern neighbors were different. The proud citizens of the United States, around 300,000 of them, were eager to explore, trade, and produce. These people who lived on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River depended on the export of goods that went through the port town of New Orleans.

Flag raising in the Place d’Armes of New Orleans, marking the transfer of sovereignty over French Louisiana to the United States, December 20, 1803, as depicted by Thure de Thulstrup

They produced and exported goods such as tobacco, flour, whiskey, cheese, and butter. This important port town belonged to the Spanish Empire, and they had a trade deal with the United States government that allowed American ships to enter the port and take goods. Then came a development that was a huge blow to the fresh and frail economy of the United States.

Transfer of Louisiana by Ford P. Kaiser for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904)

Thomas Jefferson received some alarming information with the help of British spies. Napoleon, the war-hungry leader of Revolutionary France with ideas of expansion, managed to obtain the territory of Louisiana and with it, New Orleans, through a secret deal with the Spanish.

Jefferson, for the sake of his country, couldn’t allow New Orleans to be retaken by a foreign power. Soon, he authorized Robert Livingston, the U.S. ambassador to France, to begin negotiating a lease to the port of New Orleans. Napoleon and his foreign affairs minister, Talleyrand, then revealed the deal they had kept secret. Soon Napoleon announced his plan to make France a colonial power once again. Livingston was afraid of this. He sent a letter to Jefferson, explaining the situation and advising him to prepare the country for war. The angry American settlers, who were unable to send their goods for trade, were on edge, ready to fight, but Jefferson had a different idea, one in which his country would triumph.

The original treaty of the Louisiana Purchase

Although the President was aware that Napoleon’s deal with Spain strictly prohibited him from giving any parts of Louisiana to the U.S., he decided to try and buy New Orleans and the so-called “Floridas” in any way that he could. For this mission, he appointed minister James Monroe, who was immediately sent to Paris to help Livingston. At the same time, Napoleon had a plan of his own. He planned to sell Louisiana behind Spain’s back, without even informing his foreign affairs minister about the deal, or as he himself put it, “to commit Louisianicide.” The reason was his lack of money for his upcoming war with England. To make his decision even easier, he found out that the British had a huge fleet of ships waiting in the Gulf of Mexico to conquer Louisiana as soon as the war started. For Napoleon, Louisiana was a lost cause.

Issue of 1953, commemorating the 150th Anniversary of signing

Monroe arrived in France, and by that time both sides were aware of their plans. One night, Barbe-Marbois, the minister of the treasury of Revolutionary France, came to Livingston’s house to a dinner party. The same night, at midnight, Livingston went to Barbe-Marbois’ office, where he received the offer for the Territory of Louisiana. Livingston immediately sent a letter to the president. Without even asking, the U.S. received an offer, and not only for New Orleans and the Floridas but the whole of Louisiana!

Plan of Fort Madison, built in 1808 to establish U.S. control over the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase; drawn in 1810

The initial price was very high, a sum that the still weak United States couldn’t obtain. Time was ticking by. Also, Livingston and Monroe were aware that it would take around 45 days for the letter to reach the president. They needed to make a decision on their own and make it quickly. After a few meetings, they managed to lower the price down to a somewhat acceptable $15 million. Realizing that this was the best offer, Monroe and Livingston decided not to wait anymore and accept the deal, without the permission of Jefferson, believing that he and the people of the United States would agree with them. On May 2, 1803, they shook hands with Barbe-Marbois, and the deal was made. It became official on May 22, four days after the war between France and England started.

The Purchase was one of several territorial additions to the U.S.

When news about the bargain reached the United States, people were generally happy, but the biggest issue (even for Jefferson) was that the whole thing seemed unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the Senate agreed to endorse the purchase, and matters were set in motion. Because the country didn’t have the sufficient funds to buy this land alone, they needed to issue bonds and hope that somebody would accept them. The bonds were taken by a British investor, the banking house of Baring, and this here is where the irony comes in; the British financed Napoleon for the war against them.

This is how the United States doubled its size in a rare historical opportunity. On December 20, 1803, during a formal ceremony, the French flag in New Orleans was taken down, and in its place, the United States flag rose. Napoleon sold this rich, vast land for gunpowder and a pointless war.

 Boban Docevski