Thank You, Mr. Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

Thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte, and other historical notables, our birthplaces might be determined by when we were born.

The way I see it, Bonaparte started the confusion. This ruler of France, who had an Italian name, was not born in France but in Ajaccio, on the island of Corsica, which had been transferred from the Republic of Genoa to France in 1768. This was one year before Napoleon’s birth so he may, also, have been somewhat confused as to where he was born.

The American portion of all this started with the city of New Orleans, Louisiana when France owned it as well as several million acres going west from there. It was land the Americans, especially President Thomas Jefferson, wanted and Napoleon put up for sale.

Prior to 1762 France gave all this property to Spain. So if you had been born just about anywhere on the Great American Plains after that date you were born in New Spain or Louisiana Territory even if, like myself, you’d been born in Nebraska. Then in 1800 Napoleon made Spain give it all back. Now if you were born right after 1800, say in Kansas like my father, you would have been born in either Louisiana or New France.

Napoleon had big plans for this property but England sunk his ideas when she swamped France’s navy. Robert Livingston, the American minister to France, clued Bonaparte into the fact that he’d have a hard time holding territory in America while England controlled the seas. Livingston also hinted that America would be willing to relieve France of New Orleans. Then James Monroe showed up and offered the Emperor 10 million dollars for the deal, but Napoleon had a better idea.

For the paltry sum of 15 million dollars Bonaparte put up for sale the entire French-held American territory which included New Orleans and a big backyard that stretched all the way westward to the Rocky Mountains. So on April 30, 1803 America purchased from France some 885,000 square miles of mostly unexplored wilderness and called the deal the Louisiana Purchase. Now if you were born on the Great American Plains, Missouri all the way to the Rocky Mountains, after 1803 you were born in America. But where in America were you born?

If you’d asked my mother where she was born she would have said Missouri. Her brother would have claimed a Colorado homestead as his birthplace. But if their births had been right after 1803, which they weren’t, they’d be wrong. Both would have been born in American’s Louisiana Territory.

Missouri Territory, less the state of Louisiana, was organized in 1812. So after that date, if you were born in the “Show Me” state, you really were born in Missouri. However, if you were born in Arkansas before 1819 you may have been born in Missouri also since Arkansas Territory was taken from Missouri that year. When Missouri was admitted to the Union in 1821 the remainder of the territory became known as “Unorganized Territory.”

In 1854, when Senator Stephen Douglas got together with President Franklin Pierce, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was put into effect. This organized the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Now if you were born in Kansas, you were born in Kansas. And the same would be so for Nebraska. But this still wasn’t the case if you were born in Colorado.

The Territory of Colorado was established in 1861. So up until then even if you were born in Colorado, you weren’t. You were born in Kansas Territory from which Colorado was created. Now if you’re feeling blue about all this, consider how Pike’s Peak, Louisiana sounds. When Zebulon Pike discovered Pike’s Peak back in 1806 that tall sphere wasn’t in Colorado. It was in Louisiana Territory, then later it was in Kansas Territory. No, they didn’t move it around. Just like everything else in Colorado, Pike’s Peak wasn’t considered in Colorado until she became a territory.

What it all comes down to, thanks to Napoleon and a lot of other folks, I for one am thankful we can call the vast prairie the Great AMERICAN Plains.