American History: The Louisiana Purchase


On April 30, 1803 the United States of America and France signed one of the biggest land deals in history:  The Louisiana Purchase.  The United States paid France 15 million dollars to purchase almost 830,000 square miles of land.  The land purchased included what are now the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Oklahoma.  Lands including portions of present-day Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Louisiana were also part of the deal.

The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States, and secured the important port of New Orleans on the Mississippi River.  This signature accomplishment of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency set a precedent for national expansion, and paved the way for exploration of the American west.

This image depicts the Territorial acquisition...

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 New Orleans and the Mississippi River

The city and port of New Orleans controlled access to the Mississippi River.  In the 18th Century, the river was a primary means of shipping goods to and from the western territories of the United States.

France had given up its North American territory at the end of the French and Indian War in 1762.  France’s western territories were ceded, or given to, Spain.  The Spanish controlled New Orleans and the Mississippi River for the next forty years, but allowed the Americans access to the city and river.  Pinkney’s Treaty, signed in 1795, gave the Americans the right to store goods in New Orleans.

English: Souvenir card (one of many) from the ...

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France Regains Control of Louisiana

The Third Treaty of San Ildefonso returned ownership of Louisiana to France and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801.  This concerned President Thomas Jefferson.   A powerful France posed a potential threat to the United States and the change of ownership resulted in the Port of New Orleans being closed to Americans.  Napoleon had ambitions to expand his empire in North America and there was a fear that if the United States did not purchase New Orleans from France, it could lead to war.

English: Postage stamp, 1953 Issue, Louisiana ...

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The Louisiana Purchase

President Jefferson sent representatives to Paris in 1801 to begin negotiations for the purchase of New Orleans from France.  At the time, the Americans were interested in obtaining New Orleans and its port.

In 1803, James Monroe, who would later be elected the 5th President of The United States, and Robert Livingston travelled to Paris to meet with French officials.  Monroe and Livingston were authorized to offer France $10 million in exchange for the city and port of New Orleans. But France had something much larger in mind.

 A series of events, including a slave rebellion on the Caribbean island of Saint-Domingue forced Napoleon to abandon his North American ambitions. France offered to sell the entire vast Territory of Louisiana for $15 million.  The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed in Paris on April 30, 1803. The United States doubled in size for the cost of about $.04 an acre.

Engraved portrait of President of the United S...

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Thomas Jefferson’s Conflict

As an anti-federalist, with a strict interpretation of the Constitution; President Thomas Jefferson worried the purchase of the Territory of Louisiana was unconstitutional.  The constitution did not expressly grant the federal government power to purchase land, and Jefferson believed that powers not expressly granted to the federal government were reserved to the states.   But the concern over France or Spain controlling New Orleans convinced him to go against his beliefs and proceed with the Louisiana Purchase.  The people of the United States agreed.

In putting his anti-federalist principles aside, Thomas Jefferson  created what many historians consider the most enduring legacy and greatest achievement  of his presidency.

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One thought on “American History: The Louisiana Purchase

  1. Just a thing : in 1801, when the Treaty of San Ildefonso was signed between France and Spain, Napoleon was not Emperor yet . He was only First Consul ( he became Emperor in 1804 ) .
    A thing many Anglo-American always appear to ignore is that from 1792 to 1800, the young French Republic had to fight against all Europe and was victorious when Napoleon was only an unknown young officer . All European kings and Emperors allied against this dangerous ( for them ) French initiative, and the Napoleonian wars were just the continuation of revolutionary wars .
    In the same spirit, what you call the French and Indian wars never mattered in France . Only a few intelligent Frenchmen were smart enough to imagine America was important for the future . By this time, the French power only focused on Europe and wars against Prussia, Russian, Spain, Austria-Hungary and so and so . So the very dumb French never sent enough troops or forces in America to fight the perfidious English, who, as the eternal money makers they are, perfectly knew America would be important .
    That’s how, too bad for humanity, the most powerful country of the world has been inspired by money makers Puritans .

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