Jefferson's Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon and the Men Behind the Louisiana Purchase

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Jefferson's Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon and the Men Behind the Louisiana Purchase

Author: Charles A. Cerami
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 320
Cover Price: $ 19.99

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Jefferson's Great Gamble tells the incredible story of how four leaders of an upstart nation--Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Livingston--risked the future of their country and their own careers; outwitted Napoleon Bonaparte, the world's most powerful ruler; and secured a new future for the United States of America.

For two years before the Louisiana Purchase, the nine principal players in the deal watched France and the United States approach the brink of war over the most coveted spot on the planet: a bustling port known as New Orleans. And until the breakthrough moment when a deal was secured, the men who steered their countries through the tense and often beguiling negotiations knew only that the futures of both nations were being questioned, and that the answer was uncertain.

Jefferson's Great Gamble reveals the untold thrusts and parries of the Louisiana Purchase, an event that was not just a land sale, but thirty months of high drama, blandishment, posturing and secret maneuvers by some of the most powerful and crafty men of their time.

When Jefferson took office as president in 1801, Louisiana was on his mind. He knew that the future of the country hinged on its right to navigate the Mississippi River and have access to New Orleans. His hopes for maintaining this right were put in peril when it was discovered that Napoleon had secretly forced Spain to give the Louisiana Territory to France, and that he had troops on the way to take possession of New Orleans.

Jefferson's only hope to stop the takeover lay in a great gamble: convincing Napoleon that the United States was willing to go to war over the port city. Jefferson knew that war might fracture the new country, which at the time had roughly 1,000 men under arms. He was therefore faced with not only convincing Napoleon that the United States was ready to fight, but bluffing him into thinking that it could win that battle.

To execute his plan, Jefferson turned to his brilliant but troubled foreign-relations team. James Madison, the wily secretary of state, devised with Jefferson a disinformation strategy that was remarkable for its ingenuity and effectiveness. Robert Livingston, the American envoy to France, struggled to negotiate with French officials while being disdained and ignored by Jefferson and Madison, his political rivals. And as the final negotiations approached, James Monroe found himself sailing to Paris with the key to how the United States would execute the endgame.

Napoleon was bombarded by contradicting opinions from his two closest advisors. His impeccably honest finance minister pushed toward a sale to raise money for a war with England. Charles-Maurice de Tallyrand-Perigord, Napoleon's witty and corrupt chief advisor, pushed him to hold the colony, a position he believed had long-term benefits for France, if not for Napoleon.

This book brings to life one of the most important and exciting episodes in American history.

Background Information

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded the Democratic-Republican Party and was the third President. James Madison helped draft the Constitution, collaborated on the Federalist Papers and became Americ'as Fourth President. James Monroe of Virginia was one of the Founding Fathers and served as president during the War of 1812. With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the United States acquired from France all its territorial claims on the North American continent, from the Gulf of Mexico to present day Canada. New Orleans, near the mouth of the Mississippi, was the principal city in French America and became the capital of the state of Louisiana.