Louisiana Purchase

From Frank Bond, "Louisiana" and the Louisiana Purchase. Government Printing Office, 1912 Map No. 4.
From Frank Bond, "Louisiana" and the Louisiana Purchase.
Government Printing Office, 1912 Map No. 4.

Via the Louisiana Purchase the United States acquired more than 529,911,680 acres (2,144,476 km2) of territory from France in 1803 for $15 million (which, if adjusted for inflation, would equal approximately $193 million in 2005).

The French territory of Louisiana included far more land than just the current U.S. State of Louisiana; the lands purchased contained parts or all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota west of the Mississippi River, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, northern Texas, nearly all of Oklahoma, Kansas, the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Rocky Mountains, the portions of southern Manitoba, southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta that drain into the Missouri River, and Louisiana on both sides of the Mississippi River including the city of New Orleans. The land included in the Purchase comprises over one-quarter of the territory of the modern continental United States.



In 1802, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson wanted to purchase New Orleans. The city of New Orleans controlled the Mississippi River, which was already important for shipping goods to and from the parts of the USA west of the Appalachian Mountains. Through Pinckney's Treaty with Spain, American merchants had "right of deposit" in New Orleans, meaning they could use the port for their goods. Napolon Bonaparte returned Louisiana to French control from Spain in 1800, under the Treaty of San Ildefonso (Louisiana had been a colony of Spain since 1762). Americans were fearful that they would lose their rights of use to New Orleans. The Jefferson administration decided that the best way to assure long term access to the Mississippi would be to purchase the city of New Orleans and the nearby portions of Louisiana east of the Mississippi. Jefferson sent James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston to Paris to negotiate such a purchase.


Jefferson had laid the groundwork for the purchase by sending Livingston to Paris in 1801 after discovering France's transfer of Louisiana from Spain. Livingston was to pursue a purchase of New Orleans but was rebuffed.

In 1802 Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours was enlisted to help negotiate. Du Pont was living in the U.S. at the time and had close ties to Jefferson, as well as to the political powers in France. He engaged in back channel diplomacy with Napolon, on Jefferson's behalf, during a personal visit to France. He originated the idea of the much larger Louisiana Purchase as a way to defuse potential conflict between the U.S. and Napolon over North America.

Jefferson hated the idea; purchasing Louisiana from France would imply that France had a right to be in Louisiana. Jefferson also believed that Presidents didn't have the authority to engage in such a deal, and doing so would further erode state's rights. Talleyrand, likewise, was vehemently opposed to selling Louisiana, as it would mean an end to France's secret plans for North America.

Throughout this time Jefferson had up to date intelligence on Napolon's military activities and intentions in North America. Part of his evolving strategy involved giving du Pont information that was withheld from Livingston. He also gave the two intentionally conflicting instructions. The final stroke was sending Monroe to Paris in 1803. Monroe had been formerly expelled from France on his last diplomatic mission, and Jefferson's choice to send him was a pointed one, meant to convey a sense of deadly seriousness.

Jefferson's strategy had the desired effect, instilling a sense of fear and uncertainty in the negotiations. Just days before Monroe's arrival, in April, Napolon offered to sell all of Louisiana instead of just New Orleans.

A photo of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty
A photo of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty

With Monroe's arrival Napolon decided to offer the entire territory to the United States. The American negotiators were prepared to spend $2 million for New Orleans, but were dumbfounded when the entire region from the Gulf of Mexico to Rupert's Land and from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, which would double the size of the USA, was offered for less than 3 cents per acre ($7 per square kilometer). Although not authorized to make such a large purchase, Monroe and Livingston recognized the unique historic opportunity and accepted Napolon's offer. Final negotiations were carried out with the Marquis de Barb-Marbois, Napoleon's minister of the treasury.

While Napolon then had the most powerful army in Europe, he saw the sale of his American territory as a goodwill gesture and a strategic move against the British. A strong America would be a buffer against Britain when the inevitable showdown came (there is also the possibility that he wished to encourage the USA to assist with his embargo on strategic resources reaching the British, the Continental policy). The plan would, at the least, keep America out of the French conflict with Britain, and France out of North America.

The Louisiana Purchase Agreement called for two conventions to specify the financial aspects. The first (30 April 1803) was to call for the payment of 60 million francs ($11,250,000) and the second for claims that U.S. citizens had previously made against France for 20 million francs ($3,750,000).

Napolon added the money from the sale of the Louisiana territory to his massive war chest and began his plans to control the European continent. Between 1805 and 1807 he defeated Austria, Prussia and Russia and made himself master of most of Europe.

Domestic opposition

The American purchase of the Louisiana territory was not accomplished without domestic opposition. The Federalists strongly opposed the purchase, and favored close relations with Britain rather than Napolon. The Federalists argued that the purchase was unconstitutional, and that the U.S. had paid a large sum of money just to declare war on Spain. It was also feared that the political power of the Atlantic seaboard states would be threatened by the new citizens of the west, a clash of western farmers versus the merchants and bankers of New England. A group of Federalists led by Massachusetts senator Timothy Pickering went so far as to plan a separate northern confederacy and offered Vice-President Aaron Burr the presidency of the proposed break off if he would persuade New York to join. Alexander Hamilton helped stop the northern secession and showed hostility towards Burr, which grew in the 1801 election and ended with Hamilton's death in a duel with Burr in 1804.

Treaty signing

Missing image
The United States in 1810, following the Louisiana Purchase.

On April 30 the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed by Robert Livingston, James Monroe, and Barbé Marbois at Paris. Jefferson announced the treaty to the American people on July 4.

The United States Senate ratified the treaty on October 20, and on October 31 authorized President Jefferson to take possession of the territory and establish a temporary military government. Plans were also set forth for a mission to explore and chart the territory, which would become the Lewis and Clark expedition.

France then turned New Orleans over to the USA on December 20, 1803. On March 10, 1804 a formal ceremony was conducted in St. Louis, to transfer ownership of the territory from France to the United States. In legislation enacted October 31, 1803, Congress made temporary provisions for local civil government to continue as it had under French and Spanish rule and authorized the President to use military forces to maintain order. Effective on October 1, 1804, the purchased territory was organized into the Orleans Territory (most of which became the state of Louisiana) and the District of Louisiana, which was temporarily under the control of the Indiana Territory.

Conflict with Spain

The Louisiana Purchase led to a dispute between the United States and Spain over the boundaries of the area the United States had bought. According to the Spanish, Louisiana consisted roughly of the western half of what is now the states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri. The United States on the other hand claimed that it stretched all the way to the Rio Grande and the Rocky Mountains, a claim unacceptable for Spain, as it would mean all of Texas and half of New Mexico, both Spanish colonies, would fall under it. There was also disagreement about the ownership of West Florida, a strip of land between the Mississippi and Perdido Rivers (now the panhandles of Alabama and Mississippi). The United States claimed it was part of the purchase; Spain said that it was not, and east of the Mississippi only the city of New Orleans was part of the Louisiana purchase. Spain also held that the purchase was illegal; because the treaty handing Louisiana to the French had stipulated the French were not allowed to hand it over to a third power, and because Napoleon had not adhered to his part of the treaty (giving a kingdom in Italy to the brother-in-law of king Carlos IV).

The matter was not fully settled until the Adams-Ons Treaty in 1819, in which Spain ceded all of Florida to the U.S. and the boundary between the Louisiana territory and the Spanish colonies was set along the Sabine, Red and Arkansas Rivers and the 42nd parallel.


The boundaries of "Louisiana" were not defined, and the land itself generally unknown, which led to the Lewis and Clark expedition. In particular France refused to specify the southern and western boundaries, not wanting to step on Spain's toes.

The estimates of what lay where were based on the explorations of Robert LaSalle.

Northern boundary

The northern reaches extended to the equally ill-defined British possessions in the north, what is now Canada. The boundary was not worked out until the Anglo-American Convention of 1818 split the two countries at the 49th parallel.

Eastern boundary

The eastern boundary of the Louisiana purchase ran from the source of the Mississippi to the 31st parallel; the source of the Mississippi was then unknown, but is now known to be Lake Itasca in Minnesota. The eastern boundary below the 31st parallel was unclear, the U.S. claimed the land as far as the Perdido River. (Today, the 31st parallel is the northern boundary of the western half of the Florida Panhandle, and the Perdido is the boundary between Florida and Alabama.)

Western frontier

The drainage basin west of the Mississippi River west to the Rocky Mountains

Southern boundary

Unclear, Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 began to lay down official dividing lines

See also

External links

Template:Former French coloniesde:Louisiana Purchase es:Compra de Louisiana fa:خرید لوئیزیانا it:Accordo sulla Louisiana ko:루이지애나 매입 nl:Louisiana Purchase ja:ルイジアナ買収 sv:Louisianakpet


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