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The Louisiana Purchase
The Louisiana Purchase
Thomas Fleming
Wiley, 2003
192 pp., $19.95

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Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase
Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase
Roger G. Kennedy
Oxford University Press, 2003
376 pp., $30.00

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The Nation's Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America
The Nation's Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America
Peter J. Kastor
Yale University Press, 2004
336 pp., $65.00

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By Kenneth M. Startup


Buyer Beware

La Cession de la Louisiane and the price of national greatness.

When Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard issued orders for the bombardment of Fort Sumter, he did so with a slight French accent. And why not? A Creole from the old Louisiana Territory, Beauregard's first language was French. Not long after Sumter, Beauregard helped orchestrate the Confederate victory at First Manassas in Virginia. His achievement at Manassas was abetted significantly by the Louisiana Tigers, destined to attain mythic status as Southern warriors. (It was a myth grounded in reality; their Hibernian-Gallic ferocity, their appetite and talent for fighting, made the Tigers, man for man, possibly the most feared and formidable of any Confederate soldiers.) Beauregard would serve credibly, if not always with unmixed distinction and success, in every major theater of the war. (He even recommended the pattern for the Confederate battle flag.) In 1864, he blunted a Federal thrust at Petersburg, and so prolonged, by several more murderous months, the agony involved in restoring the Union. According to the distinguished Civil War scholar T. Harry Williams, during the war years and for several decades following, Beauregard ranked among a very select group of gray-clad leaders who served as the symbolic embodiments of the Old South and the Lost Cause. 1

Williams was probably right. And it may be that Beauregard also serves as a useful symbol of La Cession de la Louisiane—its promise and its price. As soldier and engineer, Beauregard had employed his services ably on behalf of the United States before Sumter. After 1861, he-with thousands more from the former Territory-did all in his power to undo the nation and to reverse La Cession. Stated another way, while the Louisiana Purchase had doubled the nation's expanse in 1803, Beauregard endeavored to halve it again less than 60 years later.

Thomas Jefferson's admirers boasted in his own time, and across the years, that the Louisiana Purchase represented an unrivaled historic achievement. What other leader could celebrate ...

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