The Louisiana Purchase



            No single act of government, military or diplomacy has ever done for the expansion of the United States what the Louisiana Purchase did in 1803.  The U.S. had two main concerns that prompted them to attempt to buy the land owned by the French (and partially by the Spanish).  The first reason was that the United States was concerned about shipping rights through the southern port of New Orleans.  Though the U.S. was granted some rights to store and ship goods at the port, these rights were revoked and returned more than once.  New Orleans was under Spanish control, having won it from the French in 1762, though they did lose it back to the French in 1803, just weeks before the purchase became final.  The second reason was that the U.S. was concerned about their western border being susceptible to attack by the Spanish, British and/or the French.

            Thomas Jefferson enlisted James Monroe and Robert Livingston to discuss terms for purchasing New Orleans from the French in 1801.  By 1802, Jefferson had met with great resistance to the purchase from within.  Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican and a strict constitutionalist and since the constitution does not provide the president power to purchase land, it was deemed unconstitutional for him to do so.  The Federalists opposed the issue of purchase since it would create a bond between the U.S. and France, where they would have preferred forging a new relationship with England.  There was also the issue of how slavery would be expanded and a plot to secede much of the north had to be quelled.  The outfall of the secession efforts eventually led to the dueling death of Alexander Hamilton (the former Secretary of State) by Aaron Burr’s (Jefferson’s Vice President and the person the separatists wanted to be president of the new seceded country) gun in 1804.  To help to strengthen the deal, Jefferson provided information to a close associate, Pierre du Pont, a Frenchman who lived in the U.S. and had connections in high places on both sides.

            By this time Napoleon was laying the plans for a North American empire to add to his European and African claims.  Word of Napoleon’s intentions reached the ear of Jefferson and he informed du Pont of what was intended.  Jefferson provided Livingston and du Pont slightly different orders and even sent Monroe, who had been expelled from France during his last trip, to emphasize the serious intent of the US to purchase the port city.  The year 1802 brought defeats for Napoleon’s armies in Haiti and by 1803 his armies were plagued with yellow fever.  The British refused to leave Malta as they had agreed, making war between France and Britain eminent.  Napoleon made the decision to abandon his world domination attempts.

            The French Treasury Minister, François de Barbé-Marb, was given orders to sell the United States almost all of its lands west of the Mississippi.  The Americans were prepared to offer ten million dollars for just New Orleans, however, the new deal provided eight hundred twenty-eight thousand acres of land, doubling the size of the country, for a mere three cents an acre.  The fifteen million dollars was a large amount for the still new country to come up with so Jefferson tried to come up with a payment arrangement.  Three million dollars in gold was used to secure the deal and the rest was paid in bonds.  Because of the now inevitable war with Britain, the French banks would not accept the American bonds.

Livingston and Monroe enlisted the services of the two most established banking firms in Europe, Baring and Company of London and the Amsterdam-based Hope and Company.  The bonds were taken by the French to the banks and sold at a discount to get Napoleon as much of his money as fast as possible.  The other stipulation of the agreement included the cancelling of all French debt owed to the United States.  France ended up receiving just under nine million dollars from the U.S.  Some of the land within the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase were still claimed by Spain and Britain; claims that were cleared up by treaties between 1818 and 1819.  The Bering and Company firm held the original sales receipt for the Louisiana Purchase until it closed in 1995.  Napoleon declared that the United States was now a world power capable of equaling that of any country in the world.

The land was explored from 1804 until 1806 by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, assisted by the Native American Sacagawea.  The land was found to be fertile and full of a variety of animals and plants.  The land from the Louisiana Purchase has become all of or part of fifteen states and two Canadian provinces.  Most of the land is now called the Heartland of America since it provides for much of the agriculture in our country as well as many other commercial exports like oil.  Unfortunately for the United States, the Natives in the land had not been part of the negotiations and were not entirely pleased with their new landlords and many skirmishes broke out over the years as the pioneers moved westward.  The Louisiana Territory accounts for almost one-quarter of the land of the entire United States; ironic considering it was only fifty percent more than what we were going to pay for just the city of New Orleans.


The Louisiana Purchase (shown here overlaying a current map) bought the United States what is now part of fifteen states and pieces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.