The Louisiana Purchase – is one of the most important events in the early history of the United States.
In 1762, Louisiana became a colony of Spain. New Orleans (now the largest city of the state), located on the territory of Louisiana had a very favorable geographical position. It was so that the country owning this town could control the entire Mississippi River. I think we should not talk about economic importance this river played; it is one of the most important waterways in North America. In October 27, 1795, under a contract with Spain, U.S. citizens received the right to export trade through New Orleans and “to deposit goods in New Orleans for transfer to oceangoing vessels”1, and the U.S. had the right to navigate the entire Mississippi River. Americans could also use the city for handling many important products between western and eastern states. But in 1798 the Spanish government terminated this agreement. This has become a very big problem for the United States. In 1801, in connection with the change of the Spanish governor, the contract was renewed and Americans received right to favorable use the Mississippi River.2
On November 30, 1803 Spain officially handed control over Louisiana to France. Americans, still mindful of those troubles that Spanish termination of the contract brought them, were worried. Thomas Jefferson (U.S. President from March 4, 1801 to March 4, 1809) became apprehensive that the country could lose its right to trade through New Orleans with the transition of this city under French jurisdiction.
In the end, the third president of the United States decided that the best solution would be to buy out the eastern part of Louisiana, at which territory coveted city was situated. James Monroe and Robert Livingston went to Paris to conduct preliminary negotiations. U.S. initially was willing to purchase only the territory of New Orleans and of the surrounding lands thereto. But no one could think what the proposal the French would put forward.3
Actually, at first, the French responded with a square refusal. But then, for luck of Americans, uprisings of slaves burst out against the French in Guadeloupe and Dominica. Europeans lost a very large number of soldiers because of disease and fierce opposition of rebels. Napoleon realized that not possessing strong fleet, France could not hold Louisiana; the United Kingdom or the United States could with no problems conquer it. Plans of the French emperor, regarding the New World, were disrupted. Troops stationed on American territory were thinning, the conflict with Britain began. Here is what French historian Jean Tulard says about Napoleon`s decision: “He probably concluded that, following American independence, France couldn’t hope to maintain a colony on the American continent”.4
All this led to the fact that Napoleon revised his plans on the French colony in the New World. On April 10, 1803, the French Minister of Finance was notified that the president gave green light to sell the entire Louisiana territory to the United States. Americans were totally unprepared for such a stunning proposal. It was assumed that the U.S. would pay for the territory of New Orleans $ 10 million. When the French were willing to sell the entire territory of Louisiana for $ 15 million. The U.S. government was literally shocked.5 Negotiations soon came to an end and the final agreement was reached – French monarchy will sell Louisiana to the US. On May 2, 1803 the contract was signed. Needless to say, Thomas Jefferson succeeded his plans. Today historians can say that he even exceeded his plan. It needs to be noted that the size of the purchased territory twice outmeasured the size of the United States in the beginning of the XIX century. Moreover, French diplomats assured American envoys when signing a treaty that “the French would pressure Spain to giving the Floridas to the United States”6 when Monroe (head of the American delegation) sent a clear verbal message to Talleyrand (head of the French delegation) asking for Spanish territories to be included into a deal. French politicians kept their word and in 1819, not without the help of France, Florida was sold to the US by Spain.
There is no need to compare modern state called Louisiana to Louisiana in the early XIX century. Then it was just a huge territory. At that time, Louisiana was extremely uninhabited area. Virtually all of its land was inhabited by Indian tribes. The US had to buy out the already purchased land again, this time from Indians. Incidentally, the amount paid to the various Indian tribes, exceeded the amount which France received from the US.
It should be mentioned that not all Americans reacted positively to this purchase. Some believed that the government simply could not cope with the government of such an unexpectedly sprawled territory of the country. Even Jefferson himself was not entirely sure that this purchase would be successful and expressed fears whether he not exceeded the powers of the president, allowing the purchase of Louisiana. But, fortunately, he overcame his doubts and transferred documents on purchase of Louisiana to the Senate.
Modern historians ironically name the Louisiana Purchase as the largest real estate deal in history. And this is true: Jefferson acquired 2.3 million square kilometers for such a small amount of money (price per acre was about 4 cents).7 It was a real success. It is possible that if the transaction did not take place, we would observe very different United States today.
In addition, the political power of the slave owning southern states increased along with territory enlargement, led to further increase of tensions between the North and South. As a result, Louisiana Purchase for sure fueled discrepancies between North and South states which resulted in the Civil War, during which thousands of people from both sides were killed.
1. “The Louisiana Purchase” (n.d.). Thomas Jeffersson`s Monticello. Accessed January 8, 2014. http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/louisiana-purchase
2. Joseph Harriss. (2003, April). How the Louisiana Purchase Changed the World. Smithsonian.com. Accessed January 6, 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/westward.html?c=y&page=4
3. “The Louisiana Purchase” (n.d.). Thomas Jeffersson`s Monticello. Accessed January 8, 2014. http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/louisiana-purchase
4. Joseph Harriss. (2003, April). How the Louisiana Purchase Changed the World. Smithsonian.com. Accessed January 6, 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/westward.html?c=y&page=4
5. “The Louisiana Purchase” (n.d.). Thomas Jeffersson`s Monticello. Accessed January 8, 2014. http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/louisiana-purchase
6. Elizabeth Dana Jaffe, The Louisiana Purchas (Mankato, Minnesota: Capstone Press, 2002), 33.
7. Joseph Harriss. (2003, April). How the Louisiana Purchase Changed the World. Smithsonian.com. Accessed January 6, 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/westward.html?c=y&page=4
Harriss, Joseph. How the Louisiana Purchase Changed the World. Smithsonian.com. Accessed January 6, 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/westward.html?c=y&page=4
Jaffe, Dana Elizabeth. The Louisiana Purchas. Mankato, Minnesota: Capstone Press, 2002.
“The Louisiana Purchase” (n.d.). Thomas Jeffersson`s Monticello. Accessed January 8, 2014. http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/louisiana-purchase