Louisiana Purchase

views updated May 23 2018

Louisiana Purchase

Excerpt from "The Cession of Louisiana"

Signed on April 30, 1803
Published in
Documents of American History, edited by
Henry S. Commager, 1943

In January 1803, Congress authorized $2 million for an attempt to buy New Orleans from France. President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9) appointed former Virginia governor James Monroe (1758–1831) to join Robert R. Livingston (1746–1813), the U.S. minister to France, in negotiations with the French. Jefferson had secretly authorized them to pay more than $9 million for New Orleans and Florida. However, at the time Jefferson did not realize Spain had not ceded Florida to France.

In the early nineteenth century, news did not travel fast. It could take months for both news and people to travel across the Atlantic. While Monroe was sailing across the ocean to France, French dictator Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821) was planning his next aggressive action. By the end of 1802, he knew his troops had failed in their attempt to secure Santo Domingo, an important West Indies island. In fact, the surviving troops were so few that Napoléon had to abandon his original plan to send them on to New Orleans and the vast region known as Louisiana. He therefore gave up the idea of trying to establish a French empire in North America. Instead, he decided his next move would be to attack Britain.

Napoléon assumed that as soon as he attacked Britain, the British navy would seize Louisiana. He had acquired Louisiana when he forced Spain to cede it to him in October 1800. Although he had not been able to place French troops there, Louisiana was a legal possession of France, one that would be easy for the British to seize. Napoléon decided he would rather sell Louisiana to the United States than lose the vast resources of the territory to Britain. He was determined to deny the land to Britain by selling Louisiana to America, and he looked forward to pocketing the money, which he sorely needed for his European wars.

On April 10, 1803, just before Monroe arrived in France, Napoléon informed his finance minister, François de Barbé-Marbois (1745–1837), that he would consider selling all of Louisiana to the United States. Marbois informed Livingston, who could barely contain his shock—and glee. When Monroe arrived, he found Marbois and Livingston negotiating over a purchase of all of Louisiana, an area larger than the entire United States at that time. Monroe had been prepared to buy only New Orleans, a port city of seven thousand inhabitants. Nevertheless, Livingston and Monroe decided to pursue the purchase of the entire region. Although they had been authorized to spend only a little over $9 million, they agreed to a price of approximately $15 million. There was no quick way to consult with Jefferson, so they had to make this important decision on their own. They hoped Jefferson would agree with them that this was an astounding opportunity for the United States to double its size. The Cession of Louisiana Treaty was signed on April 30, 1803, and received in Washington, D.C., on July 14, 1803.

Things to remember while reading excerpts from "The Cession of Louisiana":

  • No one in the U.S. government—including President Jefferson and the two negotiators in France, Livingston and Monroe—had ever imagined Napoléon would offer them the entirety of Louisiana. They were only hoping to buy New Orleans and ensure U.S. access to the city's port.
  • Monroe and Livingston had the presence of mind to go ahead with the purchase of the entire territory even though they were authorized to buy only a small amount of land for a maximum amount of $9,375,000. Remember, communication was not immediate; it took at least several weeks to send messages across the Atlantic. Therefore, a quick check with their boss, the president, back in Washington, D.C., was impossible.
  • The treaty for the Cession of Louisiana is quite simple. Article 1 established the fact that Spain had ceded Louisiana to France in October 1800 with the Treaty of San Ildefonso and that France had every right to cede it to the United States. Article 2 stated that all lands, structures, and official papers concerning Louisiana would be turned over to the United States. Article 3 stated that all inhabitants of Louisiana would enjoy the rights and privileges of U.S. inhabitants. Article 4 made accommodations for Spanish and French ships to trade at New Orleans and on the Mississippi River for at least twelve years under the same rules as U.S. ships.

Excerpt from "The Cession of Louisiana"

ART. I. Whereas by the article the third of the Treaty concluded at St Idelfonso [misspelling of Ildefonso], the 1st October, 1800 between theFirst Consul of the French Republic andhis Catholic Majesty, it was agreed as follows:

"His Catholic Majesty promises and engages on his part, tocede to the French Republic, six months after the full and entire execution of the conditions and stipulations herein relative to his royal highness the duke of Parma, the colony or province of Louisiana, with the same extent that it now has in the hands of Spain, & that it had when France possessed it . ..." And whereas, inpursuance of the Treaty ... the French Republic has anincontestible [sic] title to thedomain and to the possession of the said territory—The First Consul of the French Republic desiring to give to the said United States a strong proof of his friendship, doth hereby cede to the United States in the name of the French Republic, forever and in fullsovereignty, the said territory with all its rights andappurtenances, as fully and in the same manner as they have been acquired by the French Republic, in virtue of the above-mentionedTreaty, concluded with his Catholic Majesty.

ART. II. In the cession made by the preceding article are included the adjacent islands belonging to Louisiana, all public lots and squares, vacant lands and all public buildings, fortifications, barracks, and otheredifices which are not private property.—The Archives, papers & documents relative to the domain and sovereignty of Louisiana, and its dependencies will be left in the possession of theCommissaries of the United States, and copies will be afterwards given in due form to theMagistrates and Municipal officers, of such of the said papers and documents as may be necessary to them.

ART III. The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible,according to the principles of the Federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages andimmunities of citizens of the United States; and in the mean time they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the Religion which they profess. ...

ART. VII. It has been agreed between the contracting parties, that the French ships coming directly from France or any of her colonies, loaded only with the produce and manufactures of France or her said Colonies; and the ships of Spain coming directly from Spain or any of her colonies, loaded only with the produce or manufactures of Spain or her Colonies, shall be admitted during the space of twelve years in the ports of New-Orleans, and in all other legal ports-of-entry within the ceded territory, in the same manner as the ships of the United States coming directly from France or Spain, or any of their colonies, without being subject to any other or greaterduty on merchandize, or other or greatertonnage than that paid by the citizens of the United States. ...

What happened next ...

When news of the agreement reached Jefferson in mid-May 1803, he was thrilled but conflicted. Congress had only authorized a little over $9 million to be spent, not $15 million. More important, he did not think the Constitution gave the U.S. government the power to buy a huge expanse of land. Throughout his public career, Jefferson had always insisted that the Constitution be strictly followed and not interpreted to say things it did not actually state. Jefferson debated with himself for several months. He then reasoned that the Constitution did give the president the power to make treaties. The practical and excited government official inside him took over, and he submitted the purchase to the Senate as a treaty. Meanwhile he was still quietly wondering if the whole purchase was unconstitutional.

The Senate did not bother to debate the constitutionality of the purchase. They knew a good deal was at hand, and they approved the purchase on October 20, 1803. The United States had just bought more than 800,000 square miles at three cents an acre. Land-hungry Americans were thrilled. On December 20, 1803, at a government building known as the Cabildo in New Orleans, the transfer of power from France to the United States took place, and the Territory of Louisiana now belonged to America.

With one incredible purchase, the United States had doubled its size and gained a rich supply of natural resources. Jefferson's vision of America as an agricultural nation seemed one step closer to reality; America now had a tremendous amount of land for new settlements and farms. Most important, the Cession of Louisiana put the United States in control of the port of New Orleans and the Mississippi River, a vital trade route.

By the end of 1802, when Jefferson realized Napoléonhad not achieved his goals in Santo Domingo or managed to move troops to New Orleans, he had felt confident he could settle the entire situation without dragging the United States into war. He had moved quickly in early 1803 to attempt to buy New Orleans and thereby derail the chance that angered Westerners would gather and attack New Orleans on their own. Jefferson's diplomatic skill also avoided a serious break with France and an alliance with a foreign nation, in this case Britain. This would have pleased George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97), America's first president, who had strongly warned the nation against making foreign alliances (see Chapter 3).

Thirteen present-day states, in part or in full, were eventually carved from the Louisiana Purchase. At the time of the purchase, the only inhabitants of the vast territory (except for the region that became the state of Louisiana) were Native Americans and a few Spaniards. American settlement of the huge expanse of land west of the Mississippi would not begin until 1815.

Did you know ...

  • In the late 1790s, the New Orleans area had prospered under Spanish rule. A method of processing sugar from sugarcane was developed in 1795, and cane was soon the major crop.
  • The region that became the state of Louisiana was first called the Orleans Territory. In 1804, the Orleans Territory had a population of about forty thousand, including seven thousand to ten thousand in New Orleans. The population was made up of Spanish and French settlers, a few British and American residents, and many slaves.
  • Settlers from the East began arriving in the Orleans Territory between 1803 and 1812. By 1810, the territory had a population of 76,556, including 34,660 slaves. The settlers grew cotton and sugarcane and raised large cattle herds.
  • Feeling that the U.S. government had ignored their interests, Westerners at various times had begun movements to withdraw their territories from the United States or to align themselves with Spain. After the purchase of Louisiana, they praised Jefferson and the national government. The government had looked after their interests by securing the Mississippi River and New Orleans. A new feeling of unity and pride in the United States spread across the West.
  • The territory making up the Louisiana Purchase was an area larger than Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain combined.

Consider the following ...

  • List at least five reasons why the Louisiana Purchase has been called the best real estate deal ever.
  • On a map locate and list the thirteen states that were either wholly or partially carved from the Louisiana Purchase.
  • Predict various scenarios that might have played out if Jefferson had decided that the purchase was unconstitutional and had canceled the deal.

First Consul: Napoléon Bonaparte, dictator of France.

His Catholic Majesty: The king of Spain.

Cede: Formally surrender.

Pursuance of: Carrying out.

Incontestible: Indisputable.

Domain: Region.

Sovereignty: Power.

Appurtenances: Improvements to the property.

Treaty: Treaty of San Ildefonso.

Edifices: Large structures.

Commissaries: Officials.

Magistrates: Judges.

Immunities: Legal protections.

Duty: Import tax.

Tonnage: Fee per ton of cargo.

For More Information


Ammon, Harry. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971. Reprint, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1990.

Cerami, Charles A. Jefferson's Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon, and the Men behind the Louisiana Purchase. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2003.

Commager, Henry S., ed. Documents of American History. New York: F. S. Crofts and Company, 1943.

Horsman, Reginald. The Frontier in the Formative Years, 1783–1815. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

Web Sites

"Louisiana History." Louisiana Department of Economic Development. http://www.crt.state.la.us/crt/profiles/history.htm (accessed on July 14, 2005).

Louisiana Purchase

views updated May 21 2018


In 1801 after a series of secret agreements, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (17691821) recovered the territory of Louisiana from Spain, which France had lost in 1763. When the land was handed over, U.S. goods were refused storage at the important international port of New Orleansa violation of the Pinckney Treaty. Since New Orleans was an integral port to U.S. international trade, unhappy U.S. farmers and merchants grumbled for war.

President Thomas Jefferson (18011809) realized that this French acquisition challenged U.S. trade and presented a stumbling block to the United States, should it ever choose to expand its current borders westward. Believing that his decision was in his country's best interests, Jefferson sent Secretary of State James Monroe (17581831) to Paris to discuss the possibility of purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France. At the same time, Jefferson authorized a gathering of militiamen at home as a show of force against France.

Napoleon, who was already on unfriendly terms with Britain, did not want to face a British-U.S. alliance. In 1803 he agreed to sell the Louisiana Territory (approximately 827,000 square miles) to the United States for a price of $15 million. The United States doubled its territorial size and extended public lands westward into the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains.

Although the Louisiana Purchase extended U.S. boundaries and ensured protection of U.S. trade at the port of New Orleans, it presented a dilemma to Jefferson. He had a dream of seeing the United States stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. He also believed the government was invested with only those powers explicitly stated in the Constitution, and the authority to purchase new territory was not among those powers.

In purchasing the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson used implied Constitutional powers, by which he strengthened the national government. His action, however, created a sense of uneasiness among those who feared a return to an authoritarian regime so soon after the American Revolution (17751783). A strong central government infringed on states' rights, which Jefferson also ardently supported. At the time he considered proposing a Constitutional amendment to allow explicitly the authority to purchase new territory. But, Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gelatin, advised Jefferson that the executive office had an inherent right to expand the nation, and Congress had the power to admit newly acquired land into the Union as a state or annex it as territory. Jefferson accepted this position and Congress ratified the land purchase. Regardless of the president's philosophical conflict, the public approved of the purchase. In 1804 Jefferson was reelected to a second term.

Reaching from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, the Louisiana Purchase ensured that the U.S. would have ample room for expansion for years to come. Later four whole states (Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska) and parts of nine others (Louisiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) were made from this vast area. It increased the reach of the agricultural class by securing large amounts of land and transportation networks. With uninhibited access to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, goods and services could now be transported over greater distances. The U.S. economy could not help but expand.

Whatever its constitutional implications, the Louisiana Purchase was one of the most important presidential decisions in the nation's history. Through this purchase, the United States became a continental power, controlled the continent's main navigation routes, and became owner of vast new resources. These combined assets promised the young nation greater economic independence from Europe and set a precedent for future territorial expansion.

In order to realize the full potential of this uncharted land, President Jefferson dispatched a 35-member expedition to explore it. Led by U.S. Army officers Meriweather Lewis and William Clark, the expedition was to determine the most direct practicable water communication across the continent for commerce purposes, map the land, gather plant and animal specimens, collect soil and weather data, and record the details of all they saw. It was a large task. Between May 1804 and September 1806, the expedition sighted the Pacific Ocean before returning to St. Louis. The explorers did not find the much sought-after Northwest Passage, but the information they did acquire spurred the nation towards further expansion and settlement.

See also: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark Expedition, Napoleonic Wars (Economic Impact of)


Anderson, Michael. "The Public Lands." Constitution, Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring Summer 1993.

Balleck, Barry. "When the Ends Justify the Means: Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase." Presidential Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 4, Fall 1992.

Brown, Everett S. Constitutional History of the Louisiana Purchase 18031812. Berkley, CA: First University of California Press, 1920.

Jefferson, Thomas. The Limits and Bounds of Louisiana in Documents Relating to the Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana. Boston: Houghton and Mifflin and American Philosophical Society, 1904.

McDonald, Forest. The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1976.

every eye in the united states is now focused on the affairs of louisiana.

thomas jefferson, in a letter to robert r. livingston, u.s. minister to paris, 1802

Louisiana Purchase

views updated May 17 2018

Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase was an 1803 agreement in which France transferred to the United States a vast territory within its North American empire known as Louisiana , about 530 million acres lying between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The United States paid France $15 million, or about 3 cents per acre. The lands transferred in the Louisiana Purchase comprise nearly one-quarter of the territory of the present-day United States.

French Louisiana

When Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9) became president in 1801, Louisiana was a vast and vaguely defined territory. Notable mainly because it included the important port city of New Orleans, Louisiana had originally been part of French North America. In 1763, France had ceded Louisiana to Spain. In the spring of 1801, Jefferson received word of a series of secret agreements between French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) and Spain, in which Spain had restored the Louisiana region to France. Jefferson viewed this transfer with alarm because a powerful French colony in control of the mouth of the Mississippi River threatened American shipping and trade as well as westward expansion .

When French officials took over Louisiana, they refused to allow U.S. goods to be stored at the port of New Orleans. To reach Atlantic markets, farmers and merchants in the Tennessee River and Ohio River valleys needed to ship their goods down the Mississippi. Some unhappy Americans supported war with France to gain this important port. Jefferson, hoping to avoid conflict, sent his minister to France, Robert Livingston (1746–1813), and later, James Monroe (1758–1831), to Paris. The president instructed them to seek France's guarantee that Americans could use the port at New Orleans and ship goods to the Atlantic from the Mississippi. Failing that, the ministers were instructed to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans and western Florida from France, limiting the amount they could spend to $9 million.

Napoleon had planned to create a large empire in North America, with its base on the French colonial island of Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti). Just as the American ministers were preparing to negotiate over Louisiana in 1801, however, an incident in the Caribbean changed the French emperor's mind. In the sugar colony of Santo Domingo, on Hispaniola, an army of black slaves led by Toussaint-Louverture (c. 1743–1803) seized power, successfully overwhelming the French. The revolution on Hispaniola made Napoleon realize it was too costly and difficult to maintain distant French colonies in the Americas. He quite suddenly decided to unload all of the vast territory called Louisiana.

The purchase is signed

Livingston and Monroe did not hesitate in agreeing to purchase the entire region, despite the fact that their instructions called only for acquiring New Orleans and western Florida. The two men knew that the United States and its citizens desperately wanted land to expand the new country; this was an opportunity not to be missed. On April 30, 1803, Livingston, Monroe, and a French negotiator initialed agreements transferring the entire Louisiana region to the United States in exchange for $11.25 million. In addition, the United States assumed $3.75 million in claims of U.S. citizens against France. Yet the deal did not clearly define Louisiana, only describing it as the land that France had possessed before 1763. The French ministers were evasive about the region's limits.

Signing the agreement was not as easy for Jefferson. He understood that the acquisition of Louisiana had enormous implications for the nation's development, setting the stage for future increased trade and westward expansion. If Jefferson accepted the offer, the United States would double in area, and both banks of the Mississippi River would be under American control. But he had no clear constitutional authority to make such a purchase. Besides, there was opposition. New England Federalists feared that adding the huge region would tilt the balance of political power in the direction of western and southern states and were ready to debate the acquisition at length. Jefferson pondered a constitutional amendment to authorize the purchase. But given the dim prospects of approval and the unlikelihood that Napoleon's offer would wait, Jefferson decided to go ahead with the deal. Despite the questionable constitutionality of purchasing the region, Congress approved it as well.

U.S. Louisiana

In January 1803, three months before the deal was made, Jefferson had requested congressional funding for a cross-continental survey of the Louisiana region and beyond. The Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1804 to 1806, led by Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1838), produced the first scientific and economic information about this land that had been purchased literally sight-unseen by the United States. The Lewis and Clark Expedition became the basis of a U.S. claim extending the limits of the Louisiana Territory as far west as the Columbia River region and as far south as western Florida and Texas . Spanish objections, first over the legality of France's sale of the territory and then over its boundaries, resulted in a dispute lasting until the signing of the Adams-Onis (or Transcontinental) Treaty in 1819, by which the United States gained all of Florida and a southern strip of Alabama and Mississippi , while Spain retained its claim to the Southwest, which was roughly the area of present-day Texas, New Mexico , Colorado , Utah , Arizona , Nevada , and California .

The acquisition of Louisiana in 1803 virtually doubled the territorial extent of the United States. Out of the Louisiana Territory eventually emerged the states of Louisiana, Arkansas , Iowa , Missouri , Nebraska , North Dakota , South Dakota , Oklahoma , and parts of Kansas , Minnesota , Colorado, Montana , and Wyoming . Through this purchase, the United States became a continental power, controlled the continent's main navigation routes, and became the owner of vast new resources. These combined assets promised the young nation greater economic independence from Europe and set a precedent for future territorial expansion all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

While the cost of the new territory amounted only to about 3 cents per acre, in the long run the United States paid a steep price. The question of whether or not to allow slavery in the new land was a major bone of contention between the North and South, necessitating the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and its eventual repeal in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. In this respect, the Louisiana Purchase can be understood to be one of the long-term causes of the American Civil War (1861–65).

Louisiana Purchase

views updated May 23 2018


LOUISIANA PURCHASE. A watershed event in American history, the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 nearly doubled the land mass of the young nation: for a purchase price of $15 million, the United States increased its size by some 828,000 square miles. The region included the Mississippi River and its tributaries westward to the Rocky Mountains, and extended from the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans up the Red River to the Canadian border.

Natural and Political History of the Territory before the Purchase

The central portion of North America was considered prime land for settlement in the early days of the republic. The Missouri and Red Rivers drained the region east of the Rocky Mountains into the massive Mississippi Valley, offering navigation and fertile farmlands, prairies, pastures and forests. The region also held large deposits of various minerals, which would come to be economic boons as well. Buffalo and other wild game were plentiful and offered an abundant food supply for the Native Americans who peopled the region as well as for later settlers.

From the mid-fifteenth century, France had claimed the Louisiana Territory. Its people constituted a strong French presence in the middle of North America. Always adamant in its desire for land, France engaged the British in the Seven Years' War (1754–1763; also known as the French and Indian War because of the alliance of these two groups against British troops) over property disputes in the Ohio Valley. As part of the settlement of the Seven Years' War, the 1763 Treaty of Paris called for France to turn over control of the Louisiana Territory (including New Orleans) to Spain as compensation for Spanish assistance to the French during the war.

By the early 1800s, Spain offered Americans free access to shipping on the Mississippi River and encouraged Americans to settle in the Louisiana Territory. President Thomas Jefferson officially frowned on this invitation, but privately hoped that many of his frontier-seeking citizens would indeed people the area owned by Spain. Like many Americans, Jefferson warily eyed the vast Louisiana Territory as a politically unstable place; he hoped that by increasing the American presence there, any potential war concerning the territory might be averted.

The Purchase

In 1802 it seemed that Jefferson's fears were well founded: the Spanish governor of New Orleans revoked Americans' privileges of shipping produce and other goods for export through his city. At the same time, American officials became aware of a secret treaty that had been negotiated and signed the previous year between Spain and France. This, the Treaty of San Ildefonso, provided a position of nobility for a minor Spanish royal in exchange for the return of the Louisiana Territory to the French.

Based on France's history of engaging in hostilities for land, Jefferson and other leaders were alarmed at this potential threat on the U.S. western border. While some Congressmen had begun to talk of taking New Orleans, Spain's control over the territory as a whole generally had been weak. Accordingly, in April 1802 Jefferson and other leaders instructed Robert R. Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, to attempt to purchase New Orleans for $2 million, a sum Congress quickly appropriated for the purpose.

In his initial approach to officials in Paris, Livingston was told that the French did not own New Orleans and thus could not sell it to the United States. However, Livingston quickly assured the negotiators that he had seen the Treaty of San Ildefonso and hinted that the United States might instead simply seize control of the city. With

the two sides at an impasse, President Jefferson quickly sent Secretary of State James Monroe to Paris to join the negotiations.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), who had come to power in France in 1799, planned in 1801 to use the fertile Mississippi Valley as a source of food and trade to supply a French empire in the New World. However, in 1801 Toussaint L'Ouverture led a slave revolt that eventually took control of Haiti and Hispaniola, the latter of which Napoleon had chosen as the seat of his Western empire. French armies under the leadership of Charles LeClerc attempted to regain control of Haiti in 1802; however, despite some successes, thousands of soldiers were lost in battle and to yellow fever. Realizing the futility of his plan, Napoleon abandoned his dreams for Hispaniola. As a result, he no longer had a need for the Louisiana Territory, and knew that his forces were insufficient to protect it from invasion. Furthermore, turning his attentions to European conquests, he recognized that his plans there would require an infusion of ready cash. Accordingly, Napoleon authorized his ministers to make a counteroffer to the Americans: instead of simply transferring the ownership of New Orleans, France would be willing to part with the entire Louisiana Territory.

Livingston and Monroe were stunned at his proposal. Congress quickly approved the purchase and authorized a bond issue to raise the necessary $15 million to complete the transaction. Documents effecting the transfer were signed on 30 April 1803, and the United States formally took possession of the region in ceremonies at St. Louis, Missouri on 20 December.

Consequences of the Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase has often been described as one of the greatest real estate deals in history. Despite this, there were some issues that concerned Americans of the day. First, many wondered how or if the United States could defend this massive addition to its land holdings. Many New Englanders worried about the effect the new addition might have on the balance of power in the nation. Further, Jefferson and Monroe struggled with the theoretical implications of the manner in which they carried out the purchase, particularly in light of Jefferson's previous heated battles with Alexander Hamilton concerning the interpretation of limits of constitutional and presidential powers. In the end, however, the desire to purchase the territory outweighed all of these practical and theoretical objections.

The increases in population, commerce, mining, and agriculture the Louisiana Purchase allowed worked to strengthen the nation as a whole. The opportunity for individuals and families to strike out into unsettled territory and create lives for themselves helped to foster the frontier spirit of independence, curiosity, and cooperation that have come to be associated with the American character.


Ellis, Joseph J. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Kastor, Peter J., ed. The Louisiana Purchase: Emergence of an American Nation. Washington, D.C: Congressional Quarterly Books, 2002.

Kennedy, Roger. Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Labbé, Dolores Egger, ed. The Louisiana Purchase and Its Aftermath, 1800–1830. Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1998.

Barbara SchwarzWachal

See alsoManifest Destiny ; Mississippi River ; Westward Migration .

Louisiana Purchase

views updated Jun 08 2018


On 30 April 1803, French and American negotiators completed work on the Louisiana Purchase. For a pricetag of close to $15 million, the United States acquired territory totaling 828,000 square miles. Eventually, fifteen states—Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming—joined the United States, either in whole or in part, through the Louisiana Purchase. It was, ironically, exactly the sort of deal that the United States had not sought in 1803, but which became an event that Americans eventually described as a godsend for reasons very different from the motivations that initially drove federal policymakers to pursue the Purchase.

diplomacy of the purchase

The French had established a vaguely defined colony called Louisiana before ceding that territory to Spain following the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). By the time the United States secured its own independence, however, the extent of European control remained limited to the Mississippi Valley itself, with Spanish officials governing a predominantly Francophone population. Meanwhile, Indians continued to wield power further west.

Foreign control of the Mississippi made policymakers in the United States worry about their own ability to secure trade down the river. This concern transcended region or party. Americans were therefore uniformly dismayed to learn that a secret agreement in 1800 had transferred Louisiana from Spain to France, followed soon after by news that the Spanish intendant in New Orleans had imposed restrictions on American trade and that Napoleon had dispatched a vast army to the Americas. In response to a situation that Americans began discussing as the Mississippi Crisis, the Jefferson administration and its allies in Congress sought to acquire New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Their goal remained simple: to consolidate federal sovereignty east of the Mississippi River, not to expand further west.

The Americans proved unsuccessful in negotiating a resolution of the crisis in Paris because the French regime had other concerns. When Napoleon was not attempting to secure dominance in Europe, he was focusing on efforts to reestablish white power in the Caribbean colony of Saint Domingue, the site of an increasingly successful revolt of slaves and free people of color. The army that American observers worried would go to Louisiana was in fact

bound for Saint Domingue. When the French military expedition collapsed through disease and military defeat, Napoleon abandoned his hopes for Saint Domingue (in 1804 leaders of the revolt declared independence for the Republic of Haiti). Louisiana, which Napoleon had acquired to provide supplies and security for Saint Domingue, immediately lost its value to France. Well aware of the Americans' eagerness for a resolution to the Mississippi Crisis, Napoleon ordered his own diplomats to negotiate the sale of Louisiana in its entirety. Although much of the wording of the subsequent treaty followed a template developed by President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison, the scope and timing of the treaty reflected Napoleon's decisions. The agreement itself required the United States to pay $11.5 million and to forgive $3.5 million in French debts.

results of the purchase

The reaction in the United States was one of relief, not because the new nation had acquired additional territory, but rather because the Purchase had achieved a peaceful settlement of the Mississippi Crisis. Nonetheless, Americans worried about what they should make of the treaty and its ramifications. The absence of clearly defined boundaries immediately created intense disputes between the United States and Spain. Some members of Congress expressed ongoing doubts that the president had the constitutional power to negotiate a treaty that redefined national boundaries. Although the treaty itself was quickly ratified by the Senate, debates over how best to govern the territory continued for months. Many in Congress questioned whether the United States possessed the resources to govern such a vast terrain, and those concerns crossed party lines.

Establishing federal sovereignty west of the Mississippi would be among the greatest challenges in both foreign and domestic policy during the decades that followed. The United States and Spain repeatedly came close to war over the boundaries of Louisiana. It was not until 1821 that the United States and Spain ratified the Transcontinental Treaty, which finally established boundaries acceptable to both nations. Meanwhile, the federal government devoted unprecedented resources to securing the loyalty of white residents and preserving racial supremacy over Indians, slaves, and free people of color.

Settling these foreign and domestic affairs was a prerequisite for creating states from the Louisiana Purchase. The first of those states, Louisiana, entered the Union in 1812 after a brief congressional debate. But less than a decade later the second state, Missouri, unleashed disagreements that brought the expansion of slavery to the center of national politics. And the Purchase guaranteed the issue would not go away, for as Purchase territories petitioned for statehood in the decades that followed, Americans were repeatedly forced to reargue the issue. Nonetheless, the successful integration of new states and territories also led Americans to conclude that territorial expansion was possible, and by the antebellum era those successes were contributing to the spirit of Manifest Destiny, which argued that expansion was not only viable but essential.

The new territories carved from the Purchase were uniformly Jeffersonian in their national politics, but each one became home to unique local political systems. With the collapse of the Jeffersonian coalition, the states and territories of the Louisiana Purchase became the site of bitter disputes between Whigs and Democrats. But the primary political division was sectional. Northern states and territories became both antislavery and, in 1861, strongly pro-Union. The southern states of Louisiana and Arkansas became strongly proslavery before joining the Confederacy. States and territories in the middle—most notably Missouri and Kansas—became the sites of their own internal civil wars.

Although creating states from the Louisiana Purchase fueled the disputes causing secession, the Civil War ironically helped complete the Purchase. Only the creation of a large modern army in the Civil War provided the means for the United States to complete its conquest of the Northern Plains. It was over a half a century after negotiators signed the Louisiana Purchase before the United States could claim that it truly controlled the territory.

See alsoHaitian Revolution; Jefferson, Thomas; Mississippi River; Missouri Compromise; Spanish Empire; Transcontinental Treaty .


Brugger, Robert J., et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series. Vols. 3–5. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995–2000.

DeConde, Alexander. This Affair of Louisiana. New York: Scribners, 1976.

Kastor, Peter J. The Nation's Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004.

Kukla, John. A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America. New York: Knopf, 2003.

Peter J. Kastor

Louisiana Purchase

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The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the size of the United States, gave the country complete control of the port of New Orleans, and provided territory for westward expansion. The 828,000 square miles purchased from France formed completely or in part thirteen states: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming. President thomas jefferson was unsure if the Constitution authorized the acquisition of land, but he found a way to justify the purchase.

France originally claimed the Louisiana Territory in the seventeenth century. In 1763 it ceded to Spain the province of Louisiana, which was about where the state of Louisiana is today. By the 1790s U.S. farmers who lived west of the Appalachian Mountains were shipping their surplus produce by boat down rivers that flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. In 1795 the United States negotiated a treaty with Spain that permitted U.S. merchants the right of deposit at New Orleans. This right allowed the merchants to store their goods in New Orleans without paying duty before they were exported.

In 1800 France, under the leadership of Napoléon, negotiated a secret treaty with Spain that ceded the province of Louisiana back to France. President Jefferson became concerned that France had control of the strategic port of New Orleans, and sought to purchase the port and West Florida. When France revoked the right of deposit for U.S. merchants in 1802, Jefferson sent james monroe to Paris to help robert r. livingston convince the French government to complete the sale. These statesmen warned that the United States would ally itself with England against France if a plan were not devised that settled this issue.

Monroe and Livingston were authorized by Congress to offer up to $2 million to purchase the east bank of the Mississippi; Jefferson secretly advised them to offer over $9 million for Florida and New Orleans.

Napoléon initially resisted U.S. offers, but changed his mind in 1803. He knew that war with England was imminent, and realized that if France were tied down with a European war, the United States might annex the Louisiana Territory. He also took seriously the threat of a U.S.-English alliance. Therefore, in April 1803 he instructed his foreign minister, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, to negotiate with Monroe and Livingston for the United States' purchase of the entire Louisiana Territory. Acting on their own, the U.S. negotiators agreed to the price of $15 million, with $12 million paid to France and $3 million paid to U.S. citizens who had outstanding claims against France. The purchase agreement, dated April 30, was signed May 2 and reached Washington, D.C., in July.

President Jefferson endorsed the purchase but believed that the Constitution did not provide the national government with the authority to make land acquisitions. He pondered whether a constitutional amendment might be needed to legalize the purchase. After consultations Jefferson concluded that the president's authority to make treaties could be used to justify the agreement. Therefore, the Louisiana Purchase was designated a treaty and submitted to the Senate for ratification. The Senate ratified the treaty October 20, 1803, and the United States took possession of the territory December 20, 1803.

The U.S. government borrowed money from English and Dutch banks to pay for the acquisition. Interest payments for the fifteen-year loans brought the total price to over $27 million. The vast expanse of land, running from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from

the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border, is the largest ever added to the United States at one time. The settling of the territory played a large part in the debate over slavery preceding the Civil War, as Congress grappled with the question of whether to allow slavery in new states, such as Missouri and Kansas.

further readings

Levasseur, Alain A., and Roger K. Ward. 1998. "300 Years and Counting: the French Influence on the Louisiana Legal System." Louisiana Bar Journal 46 (December): 300.

Ward, Roger K. 2003. "The Louisiana Purchase." Louisiana Bar Journal 50 (February): 330.


Kansas-Nebraska Act; Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Louisiana Purchase Exposition

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LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION was organized to commemorate the centenary of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Civic leaders in Saint Louis, led by the former mayor and Missouri governor David R. Francis, planned a world's fair. They chose the city's largest park as the site and May to December 1904 as the time. (The ceremony of the transfer of Upper Louisiana Territory had taken place in Saint Louis in 1804.) All major nations except war-torn Russia took part, as did all U.S. states and territories, including the newly annexed Philippine Islands. Native Americans including the Sioux, Apaches, and Osages participated.

While earlier fairs had stressed products, the fair in Saint Louis stressed methods of production. The participants compared techniques and exchanged experiences. Automobiles and trains shared attention. Fourteen palaces designed for such fields as education, agriculture, transportation, mining, and forestry provided 5 million square feet of exhibit space. Sunday closings typified the Victorian tone that dominated entertainment.

Scholars and scientists sponsored conferences in conjunction with the fair, and the International Olympic Committee chose Saint Louis for the first games held in America. Close to 20 million visitors attended, among them in late November the newly reelected president Theodore Roosevelt, who invited the Apache warrior Geronimo to ride in his inaugural parade.


Faherty, William Barnaby, and NiNi Harris. The St. Louis Portrait. Tulsa, Okla.: Continental Heritage Press, 1978.

Fox, Timothy J., and Duane R. Sneddeker. From the Palaces to the Pike: Visions of the 1904 World's Fair. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 1997.

William B.Faherty

See alsoLouisiana Purchase ; Saint Louis ; World's Fairs .

Louisiana Purchase Exposition

views updated Jun 11 2018

Louisiana Purchase Exposition

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also called the World's Fair, was held in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904 to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. From the April 30 opening day ceremonies to the final day on December 1, twenty million people attended the daily programs of events and viewed American icons, such as Geronimo, at the world's largest fair at that time. The fair emphasized American prowess in technology, industry, and military leadership. Electricity used to illuminate the Hall of Festivals, Colon-nade of States, Palaces of Electricity and Education, and Machinery Hall cost $2 million. Of the exhibits, the Great Floral Clock with a 74-foot minute hand was the centerpiece and other exhibits included Abraham Lincoln's private railway coach and a 265-foot-high Ferris wheel.

The grandness of the fair has had a lasting effect on America and the fair site has been used to stage other important events. The 1904 Olympics were held on the fair site. Years later, the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland, romantically depicted the fair. The 1904 World's Fair Society, established in 1986, published the monthly World's Fair Bulletin and proposed staging a 2004 World's Fair in St. Louis. The Missouri Historical Society displayed a World's Fair exhibit near the fairgrounds where people excavated collectibles from landfill rubble.

—Elizabeth D. Schafer

Further Reading:

Bennitt, Mark, ed. History of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. St.Louis, Universal Exposition Publishing, 1905.

Birk, Dorothy Daniels. The World Came to St. Louis: A Visit to the 1904 World's Fair. Foreword by August A. Busch, Jr. St. Louis, Chalice Press, 1979.

Breitbart, Eric. A World on Display: Photographs from the St. Louis World's Fair, 1904. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Louisiana Purchase

views updated May 29 2018

Louisiana Purchase (1803) Transaction between the USA and France, in which the USA bought, for 60 million francs (US$15 million), 2,144,500sq km (828,000sq mi) of land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. With national security and the control of the Mississippi in mind, President Thomas Jefferson sent James Monroe to France to join US minister Robert Livingston. The two men negotiated the purchase from Napoleon, who had lost interest in a colonial empire in the New World. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the area of the USA, and 13 states were admitted from the territory.

Louisiana Purchase

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Louisiana Purchase ★★½ 1941

Successful screen adaptation of the Broadway musical features several performers from the original cast, lavish costumes, and great musical numbers. As usual, Hope's comedy is extremely funny, especially his famous filibuster scene in Congress. Based on the stage musical by Morrie Ryskind and B. G. DeSylva. 95m/C VHS, DVD . Bob Hope, Vera Zorina, Victor Moore, Dona Drake, Irene Bordoni, Raymond Walburn, Maxie “Slapsie” Rosenbloom, Frank Albertson, Barbara Britton; D: Irving Cummings; W: Jerome Chodorov, Joseph Fields; C: Harry Hallenberger, Ray Rennahan.

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Louisiana Purchase