Exhibition: The Louisiana Purchase

3: Negotiations

Soon both houses found themselves at the centre of negotiations between the United States government and the Republic of France, appearing to act as advisers to both parties!

We all tremble at the magnitude of the American account

- Sir Francis Baring

Between them they exercised great influence, for example persuading the French government to scale down its asking price from FF100 million to FF80 million.

Barings and Hopes were well known to both the French and US governments and joined forces to determine a solution to financing the transfer. The sheer size of the financial operation caused them cold feet. ‘We all tremble at the magnitude of the American account,’ reckoned Barings’ senior partner, while the top man at Hopes thought it verged on the foolhardy. ‘It is an operation of the utmost magnitude and importance and might stagger us in ordinary times,’ wrote Henry Hope, ‘and in the present would hardly attract the serious attention of any.'

Everyone was jittery about secrecy. ‘I must request that no calculations may be made’, Francis Baring told Hopes, ‘and those sent to (the bankers’ representative at the negotiations) should be burnt... My nerves are equal to the operation but not to the imprudences which I see committed to paper.’ By the end of 1803 he was writing down even less ‘from a persuasion that our correspondence is being watched’.

The bankers’ representatives, Alexander Baring of Barings and Pierre Labouchère of Hopes, arrived in Paris in April 1803 to join America’s negotiators Robert Livingston and James Monroe and Napoleon’s minister, François de Barbé-Marbois. Because of the long journey time between London, Amsterdam and Paris and because of the prospect of letters being intercepted, they were granted full power to do a deal. ‘We must leave the decision to Alexander,' the bankers agreed, ‘who must be governed by circumstances, his own prudence and judgement’.

With negotiations under way, Sir Francis Baring wrote to PC Labouchère in April 1803 to discuss the pricing of the Louisiana bonds and the possibility of Alexander Baring travelling to America to undertake negotiations.

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