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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
The Bonapartes in America

Clarence Edward Macartney and Gordon Dorrance

published by
Dorrance and Company,
Philadelphia, 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 1

[p9] Foreword

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First Consul Bonaparte

Napoleon, salesman to the United States of an inland empire known as the Louisiana Purchase, 1803. The "empire," far greater in many respects than his own, brought him less than three cents an acre. It was five times the size of France itself.

(Courtesy Library of Congress)

Of the making of many books about Napoleon there is no end. After the Prince of Peace Himself, more books have been written about this Prince of War than of any man in the history of the world. Odious and detestable in many respects, great and lofty in others, marvelous combination of military genius and administrator, the coming generations, as Cicero said of Julius Caesar, will dispute over him.

The first important contact of the Bonapartes with America was in 1803, when Napoleon, disappointed in his dream of a colonial empire, and doubting that he could hold French territory in North America against British aggression, sold Louisiana to the United States for the paltry sum of fifteen million dollars. Thus Napoleon, unwittingly, played a great part in the expansion and growth of the United States, for out of that vast territory acquired from France there were carved thirteen of the States of the Union.

As the United States was the chief practical example and exponent of the liberal idea in government, it was only natural that the Bonapartes should have looked upon America as a place of refuge and an asylum of safety when their Empire fell to pieces. Napoleon himself was at first fully minded to go to the United States. Passports to the United States, although not delivered to him, had been promised him, and two frigates had been placed at his disposal. But after days had been lost in vacillation and indecision, Napoleon, likening himself to Themistocles, boarded the Bellerophon and sealed his fate for the South Atlantic rock.

[p10] Napoleon's youngest brother, Jerome, married a Baltimore girl when in this country. Joseph, his oldest brother, the King of Spain, lived for nineteen years in New Jersey. Another brother, Lucien, then out of favor with Napoleon, started for the United States in 1811, but his ship was captured by a British cruiser and he was taken to England. Reconciled to Napoleon during the Hundred Days, Lucien tried to follow Joseph to the United States after Waterloo, but was too closely watched by his enemies.

Napoleon III was in exile in New York in 1837 after his ill‑fated attempt at Strasbourg. Two of Napoleon's nieces and several of his nephews came to America. After Waterloo many of Napoleon's old officers, proscribed by the Bourbons, made America their refuge, their Champ d'Asile, where they warmed themselves at the fires of memory and nursed their hopes for the future. Among these were Marshal Grouchy, the Lallemand brothers, Clausel, Raoul, Rigaud, and Lefebvre-Desnouettes. It was in the United States, too, that the principal plots were devised for the release of Napoleon from St. Helena.

From Napoleon and the Louisiana Purchase to Charles Joseph Bonaparte of Maryland, a period of well over one hundred years, the Bonapartes have played a singular part in the annals of America. Thus it is that the story of this family in the United States is an important, fascinating and, hitherto, never completely told chapter in the history of that Corsican clan which genius, revolution and war hurled up to the high places of the earth.

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Page updated: 26 Feb 13