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story of the way in which the United States acquired Louisiana is
complicated, involving power, politics, intrigue, and suspicion.
It also reveals the foresight of Thomas Jefferson, who considered
the purchase as one of his greatest achievements.
end of the French and Indian Wars in 1763, France lost all of its
possessions in North America, dashing hopes of a colonial empire.
This empire was centered on the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo
and its lucrative cash crop of sugar. The French territory called
Louisiana, extending from New Orleans up the Missouri River to modern-day
Montana, was intended as a granary for this empire and produced
flour, salt, lumber, and food for the sugar islands. By the terms
of the 1763 Treaty of Fontainbleau, however, Louisiana west of the
Mississippi was ceded to Spain, while the victorious British received
the eastern portion of the huge colony.
the United States won its independence from Great Britain in 1783,
one of its major concerns was having a European power on its western
boundary, and the need for unrestricted access to the Mississippi
River. As American settlers pushed west, they found that the Appalachian
Mountains provided a barrier to shipping goods eastward. The easiest
way to ship produce was to build a flatboat and float down the Ohio
and Mississippi Rivers to the port of New Orleans, from which goods
could be put on ocean-going vessels. The problem with this route
was that the Spanish owned both sides of the Mississippi below Natchez.
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1795 the United States negotiated the Pinckney Treaty with Spain,
which provided the right of navigation on the river and the right
of deposit of U.S. goods at the port of New Orleans. The treaty
was to remain in effect for three years, with the possibility of
renewal. By 1802, U.S. farmers, businessmen, trappers and lumbermen
were bringing over $1 million worth of produce through New Orleans
each year. Spanish officials were becoming concerned, as U.S. settlement
moved closer to their territory. Spain was eager to divest itself
of Louisiana, which was a drain on its financial resources. On October
1, 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France, concluded the
Treaty of San Ildefonso with Spain, which returned Louisiana to
French ownership in exchange for a Spanish kingdom in Italy.
ambitions in Louisiana involved the creation of a new empire centered
on the Caribbean sugar trade. By terms of the Treaty of Ameins of
1800, Great Britain returned ownership of the islands of Martinique
and Guadaloupe to the French. Napoleon looked upon Louisiana as
a depot for these sugar islands, and as a buffer to U.S. settlement.
In October of 1801 he sent a large military force to retake the
important island of Santo Domingo, lost in a slave revolt in the
Jefferson, third President of the United States, was disturbed by
Napoleon's plans to re-establish French colonies in America. With
the possession of New Orleans, Napoleon could close the Mississippi
to U.S. commerce at any time. Jefferson authorized Robert R. Livingston,
U.S. Minister to France, to negotiate for the purchase for up to
$2 million of the City of New Orleans, portions of the east bank
of the Mississippi, and free navigation of the river for U.S. commerce.
transfer of Louisiana to French ownership had not yet taken place,
and Napoleon's deal with the Spanish was a poorly kept secret on
the frontier. On October 18, 1802, however, a strange thing happened.
Juan Ventura Moralis, Acting Intendant of Louisiana, made public
the intention of Spain to revoke the right of deposit at New Orleans
for all cargo from the United States. The closure of this vital
port to the United States caused anger and consternation, and commerce
in the west was virtually blockaded. Historians believe that the
revocation of the right of deposit was prompted by abuses of the
Americans, particularly smuggling, and not by French intrigues as
was believed at the time. President Jefferson ignored public pressure
for war with France, and appointed James Monroe special envoy to
Napoleon, to assist in obtaining New Orleans for the United States.
Jefferson boosted the authorized expenditure of funds to $10 million.
Napoleon's plans in the Caribbean were being frustrated by Toussaint
L'Ouverture, his army of former slaves, and yellow fever. During
ten months of fierce fighting on Santo Domingo, France lost over
40,000 soldiers. Without Santo Domingo Napoleon's colonial ambitions
for a French empire were foiled in North America. Louisiana would
be useless as a granary without sugar islanders to feed. Napoleon
also considered the temper of the United States, where sentiment
was growing against France and stronger ties with Great Britain
were being considered. Spain's refusal to sell Florida was the last
straw, and Napoleon turned his attention once more to Europe; the
sale of the now-useless Louisiana would supply needed funds to wage
war there. Napoleon directed his ministers, Talleyrand and Barbe-Marbois,
to offer the entire Louisiana territory to the United States - and
11, 1803, Talleyrand asked Robert Livingston how much the United
States was prepared to pay for Louisiana. Livingston was confused,
as his instructions only covered the purchase of New Orleans and
the immediate area, not the entire Louisiana territory. James Monroe
agreed with Livingston that Napoleon might withdraw this offer at
any time. To wait for approval from President Jefferson might take
months, so Livingston and Monroe decided to open negotiations immediately.
By April 30, they closed a deal for the purchase of the entire 828,000
square mile Louisiana territory for 60 million Francs (approximately
$15 million). Part of this sum was used to forgive debts owed by
France to the United States. The payment was made in United States
bonds, which Napoleon sold at face value to the Dutch firm of Hope
and Company, and the British banking house of Baring, at a discount
of 87 1/2 per each $100 unit. As a result, Napoleon received only
$8,831,250 in cash for Louisiana. Dutiful banker Alexander Baring
conferred with Marbois in Paris, shuttled to the United States to
pick up the bonds, took them to Britain, and returned to France
with the money - and Napoleon used these funds to wage war against
Baring's own country!
news of the purchase reached the United States, President Jefferson
was surprised. He had authorized the expenditure of $10 million
for a port city, and instead received treaties committing the government
to spend $15 million on a land package which would double the size
of the country. Jefferson's political opponents in the Federalist
Party argued that the Louisiana purchase was a worthless desert,
and that the Constitution did not provide for the acquisition of
new land or negotiating treaties without the consent of the Senate.
What really worried the opposition was the new states which would
inevitably be carved from the Louisiana territory, strengthening
Western and Southern interests in Congress, and further reducing
the influence of New England Federalists in national affairs. President
Jefferson was an enthusiastic supporter of westward expansion, and
held firm in his support for the treaty. Despite Federalist objections,
the U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana treaty in the autumn of 1803.
ceremony was held in New Orleans on November 29, 1803. Since the
Louisiana territory had never officially been turned over to the
French, the Spanish took down their flag, and the French raised
theirs. The following day, General James Wilkinson accepted possession
of New Orleans for the United States. A similar ceremony was held
in St. Louis on March 9, 1804, when a French tricolor was raised
near the river, replacing the Spanish national flag. The following
day, Captain Amos Stoddard of the First U.S. Artillery marched his
troops into town and ran the stars and stripes up the fort's flagpole.
The Louisiana territory was officially transferred to the United
States government, represented by Meriwether Lewis.
Louisiana Territory, purchased for less than 5 cents an acre, was
one of Thomas Jefferson's greatest contributions to his country.
Louisiana doubled the size of the United States literally overnight,
without a war or the loss of a single American life, and set a precedent
for the purchase of territory. It opened the way for the eventual
expansion of the United States across the continent to the Pacific,
and its consequent rise to the status of world power. International
affairs in the Caribbean and Napoleon's hunger for cash to support
his war efforts were the background for a glorious achievement of
Thomas Jefferson's presidency, new lands and new opportunities for