Louisiana Purchase: The Land Deal of the Millennium

Louisiana Purchase: The Land Deal of the Millennium

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For a mere $15 million, Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the United States, buying 800,000 square miles from the French that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains.

The Messed Up Truth About The Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase is usually presented as an incredible, inspiring moment in American history in which President Thomas Jefferson, wise, benevolent eyes twinkling under his powdery white wig, made an incredibly shrewd real estate deal with notorious, disgraced French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and, with one stroke of his giant quill pen, doubled the size of the United States of America for the bargain price of $15 million, or just three cents an acre. What we don't usually learn about is the negative domino effect this treaty had in terms of inspiring the concept of manifest destiny or the belief that white colonists had a God-given duty to expand across North America and redeem and remake the land in their own image.

The Louisiana Purchase not only doubled the size of the United States, but it rapidly expanded and weaponized the government's persecution of Native Americans over their right to keep the land they'd lived on for centuries. With the expansion of the country came the expansion of slavery, further inflicting more pain and loss in the name of American growth. Like much of American history, the story is much darker and more complicated than the typical heartwarming fables many of us were made to memorize and recite back on our Social Studies tests.

Louisiana Purchase

In 1803, the United States government purchased over 800,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River from France in what would become the largest land acquisition in American history, also known as the Louisiana Purchase. Named “Louisiana” after the French “sun king,” Louis XIV, the territory comprised most of the present-day western United States, including Arkansas. The Louisiana Purchase allowed the U.S. government to open up lands in the west for settlement, secured its borders against foreign threat, and gave the right to deposit goods duty-free at port cities (mainly New Orleans). In Arkansas, the Louisiana Purchase signaled an end to French and Spanish dominance as Americans filtered into the area.

Between 1686 and the 1790s, the French and Spanish colonized and governed the lower Mississippi River Valley (including present-day Arkansas). By the late eighteenth century, it was apparent to both that the Americans wanted to cross into their territory to obtain navigation rights on the Mississippi River, to trade in the port city of New Orleans, and to cultivate the economic, political, and social possibilities in the Louisiana colony. Ever since the French defeat during the French-Indian War in 1763, the Spanish had controlled Louisiana, but after feeling threatened by the growing power of the United States in North America, the Spanish returned Louisiana back to the French with the “secret” Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800.

Learning of the treaty, President Thomas Jefferson felt a threat toward American interests and security east of the Mississippi River by the French. Jefferson sent his ambassadors, Robert Livingston and James Monroe, to purchase New Orleans and parts of the “Floridas” for the United States in 1802. While in France, the negotiations between Livingston and Monroe appeared to fail until the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, shocked his guests by offering the U.S. government the entire Louisiana colony or nothing. Although Monroe and Livingston were not given the authority to purchase the entire colony, they agreed to the sale. In exchange for $15 million, President Jefferson was able to annex Louisiana as a territory to the U.S. This land acquisition made the U.S. the largest republic in the world. However, Jefferson worried about this large land acquisition, since he was not clearly given the authority to act on his own accord in the U.S. Constitution. Despite fears that the land deal would be rejected by Congress, the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in the fall of 1803.

As a result of the Louisiana Purchase, Arkansas became part of the District of Louisiana and the Territory of Orleans, with territorial status given to its white citizens. Europeans living in Arkansas had to acclimate themselves to the American systems of law, politics, and culture when they took hold of the area in 1804. The French habitants of Louisiana either stayed and accepted these new ways of life or moved to other areas of the former colony by the 1830s, for example, the only French influence at Arkansas Post (Arkansas County) was its architecture—the families were gone. The American legal system, based on English Common law, was enforced legal rights were denied to persons of mixed races (of which there were many) slavery, which had existed in French and Spanish Arkansas, was expanded into areas conducive to farming cash crops over time, and rules guiding slave behavior were tightened under Americans exploration of Arkansas began in order to make way for new settlements and the U.S. Army established itself in western Arkansas at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to protect Americans from perceived American Indian threats as tribal members faced the impending removal from their traditional homelands in Arkansas. Resistance by French, Spanish, and American Indians was almost non-existent, as families either embraced the new system voluntarily or were forcefully moved through treaties to other parts of Arkansas or further westward. In short, the Louisiana Purchase signaled the end of European rule in the west and the Americanization of Arkansas.

For additional information:
Arnold. Morris. Colonial Arkansas, 1686–1804: A Social and Cultural History. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.

———. Rumble of a Distant Drum: The Quapaw and Old World Newcomers, 1673–1804.Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

Baker, William D. “The Louisiana Purchase National Historic Landmark.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. 1993. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Bolton, S. Charles. Remote and Restless: Arkansas, 1800–1860. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998.

———.Territorial Ambition: Land and Society in Arkansas, 1800–1840. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1993.

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

Ellis, Joseph. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

Fleming, Thomas. The Louisiana Purchase. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003.

“The Louisiana Purchase: Empires, Nations, Communities.” Special issue. Arkansas Historical Quarterly 62 (Winter 2003).

Lea Flowers Baker
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Let’s Make A Deal — To Stab Each Other In The Back

This began one of the strangest negotiations of all time. Napoleon was selling territory he technically didn’t possess or have the troops to defend, while breaking a treaty with Spain at the same time. According to Docevski, the French also discovered the British had a fleet sitting in the Gulf of Mexico likely to attack New Orleans. Suddenly selling the territory appeared to be a great idea.

Meanwhile on the American side, Jefferson attempted to undermine his own envoy Livingston by sending Monroe to “help” with the negations. Furthermore, Jefferson wasn’t even sure if the purchase was completely constitutional to begin with but gave his envoys authority to spend up to $10 million anyway.

If the whole deal wasn’t strange enough, the British entered into the equation. Cerami found a likely but undocumented case of a representative of two British banks, Hope and Baring, contacting Monroe. The rep indicated he knew of the secret negotiations and the banks were more than willing to fund the purchase of the territory. The British also understood the money would likely be used by Napoleon against them.

“The British knew, of course, that Napoleon would then use these proceeds to make war on them. But they preferred, at least, to benefit from the interest earnings…otherwise, the Americans would get what they needed from Dutch bankers…”

Eventually Livingston and Monroe talked the French down from their initial price to $15 million, obviously above what they were authorized to spend. Consulting with Jefferson would take over 40 days and the envoys didn’t want to risk losing the deal.

So, they accepted without Jefferson’s approval and the British banks funded the deal. The final deal was inked a few days after war broke out between France and England.

Which States Were Part Of The Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase was by far one of the most prosperous deals America managed in its history. After independence, France got back parts of western Louisiana from Spain. In return, Spain was promised regions in Italy. The presence of French troops in the borders worried America.

In addition, the area was of immense use in terms of its strategic positioning in the region. Numerous goods to and from America could be easily shipped through the port of New Orleans. France was not very comfortable with a booming American population in the region. It was also not interested in controlling areas so far away from its homeland. In fact, it wanted to concentrate on regions in Europe.

France not only accepted President Jefferson&rsquos bid to buy parts of the Western territories, the French authorities were willing to sell the entire region of Louisiana for just $15 million dollars. This automatically meant that America would get a land of 828,000 square miles by signing a single agreement. The deal was considered the best ever during Jefferson&rsquos regime. An acre of land was bought for a meager three cents.

The entire regions of Louisiana were extremely rich and fertile. The amount of land space in America nearly doubled with the acquisition of Louisiana. This piece of land stretched all the way from Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. A total of fourteen states were acquired in the process. These included:

  • Missouri
  • Arkansas
  • Iowa
  • Minnesota
  • Texas
  • Colorado
  • Montana
  • Oklahoma
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Wyoming

France, Spain and Great Britain controlled different parts of Louisiana. After the French Indian Wars, France lost its hold in America and had to give away its land in the region. The western parts of Louisiana were controlled by Spain while the eastern regions were under the British rule. When America got independence from Britain, the eastern regions automatically became a part of American territory. The western regions however, were still under the Spain control. More..

Primary Documents in American History

Project of a Treaty Proposed to Mr. de Marbois, Minister of the Treasury, by the undersigned, Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States, Paris, April 29 and 30, 1803.
Autograph draft document, 9 pp.
The James Monroe Papers.
Manuscript Division.

The Louisiana Purchase is considered the greatest real estate deal in history. The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents an acre. The ratification of the Louisiana Purchase treaty by the Senate on October 20, 1803, doubled the size of the United States and opened up the continent to its westward expansion.

  • The Louisiana Purchase: Legislative Timeline 1802-1807 - This timeline explores the role of Congress in the Louisiana Purchase from 1802 to 1807, including ratification of the treaty, establishment of a territorial government, confrontation with Spain over boundary issues, and its limited role in the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
  • James Madison to Robert Livingston, July 29, 1803, "The purchase of Louisiana in its full extent, tho' not contemplated is received with warm, & in a manner universal approbation. The uses to which it may be turned, render it a truly noble acquisition. Under prudent management it may be made to do much good as well as to prevent much evil." [Transcription] .
  • Letter, April 19, 1803, appointing James Monroe as United States Minister Plenipotentiary to France, signed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
  • Journal, April 27 - May 2, 1803, kept by Monroe in Paris during the Louisiana Purchase negotiations. [Transcription] , April 30, 1803.
    . This map of Louisiana was published in the 1804 edition of the Arrowsmith & Lewis New and Elegant General Atlas.
  • A faithful picture of the political situation of New Orleans, at the close of the last and the beginning of the present year, 1807. Boston: Re-printed from the New-Orleans edition, 1808. Providence: Printed by Heaton & Williams, [1803]
    . Jefferson's Annual Message to Congress discussed in great detail the recent purchase of Louisiana from the French. [Transcription] .

This exhibition contains maps, images and documents on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Before Lewis & Clark section of this exhibition includes documents and maps related to the Louisiana Purchase.

This exhibition focuses on the legacy of Thomas Jefferson--founding father, farmer, architect, inventor, slaveholder, book collector, scholar, diplomat, and the third president of the United States. A section on the West examines Jefferson’s role in the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

August 18, 1774

Explorer Meriwether Lewis was born on August 18, 1774 near Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase treaty on October 20, 1803.

Cerami, Charles. Jefferson's Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon and the Men Behind the Louisiana Purchase . Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Fleming, Thomas J. The Louisiana Purchase . Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Kastor, Peter J., ed. The Louisiana Purchase: Emergence of an American Nation . Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Kennedy, Roger G. Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase . New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Kukla, Jon. A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America . New York: A.A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. The Louisiana Purchase: A Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia . Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Blumberg, Rhoda. What's the Deal? Jefferson, Napoleon and the Louisiana Purchase . Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1998. [Catalog Record]

Burgan, Michael. The Louisiana Purchase . Minneapolis, Minn.: Compass Point Books, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Corrick, James A. The Louisiana Purchase . San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001. [Catalog Record]


All of these were prominent names were figures in WHICH social movement?

All of these are MOST associated with which era of U.S. History?

Which statement BEST explains the point of this passage by President Monroe?

Which of these would Monroe MOST LIKELY be referring to with the phrase "our southern brethren?"

This painting BEST relates what social philosophy?

Which president was speaking about Indian removal in this inaugural address?

Calhoun's opinions regarding the Tariff of 1828 reflect the political philosophy behind the ___ movement.

O'Sullivan argued that American expansion and imperialism was justified because?

In what region were these factors prevalent in the years leading up to the Civil War?

In what region were these factors prevalent in the years leading up to the Civil War?

1803 Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase was the largest real estate deal in history and one of the most important achievements of the Jefferson administration. In 1803 the US government bought 828,000 square miles (2’140,000 square km) of land from France for $15 million or about 4 cents per acre. It doubled the size of the American territory.

The newly purchased territory covered land encompassed between the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the Canadian border in the north. Today all or parts of the following 15 states were formed from the Louisiana territories: Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Louisiana. It also covered part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The territory acquired from France known as the Louisiana Purchase, in brown, doubled the size of the United States in 1803. Click on the map to enlarge.

By mid 18 th century France controlled the territory from New Orleans to the Great Lakes in the north. After the French Indian War, France ceded French Louisiana to Spain. In 1801 Spain, no longer a world power, found itself short of cash and signed a secret agreement with France returning all the French Louisiana territory back to France. France under Napoleon had been trying to put down a revolution in Haiti and preparing to fight Britain and found itself in financial difficulty. Unable to provide resources to defend faraway lands decided to sell the entire territory to the United States. Future president, then Secretary of State, James Madison led the negotiations. The treaty was dated April 30 and signed on May 2. In October Congress approved the deal by 24 votes against 7. In December the US assumed possession of the land.

Consequences of the Louisiana Purchase

The government sponsored many groups to explore the land west of the Mississippi River, the most popular being the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Migration was led by missionaries with the objective to spread Christianity and by economic interest such as fur trading and mining.

The acquisition of the Louisiana lands brought administration and political debates as to the spread of slavery to those lands. As the territory was organized in states, the issue of slavery became a matter of contention and heated debate in Congress. North and south had diverging views . Southern states wanted to continue the institution of slavery while the north was strongly opposed to it.

As Missouri requested admission into the Union it sparked a sectional battle as its admission would break the balance of 11 free and 11 slave states in the Union. In 1820 the Missouri Compromise provided a temporary solution to the conflict.

Fulfillment of an Ancient Promise

The Louisiana Purchase territory includes some of the most valuable agricultural land on the planet. It encompasses the very heartland of the North American continent. Control of this valuable territory set the stage for what Americans in the coming decades began to call "Manifest Destiny."

Was this rapid expansion just a matter of time and chance, or was it really the nation's pre-ordained destiny? If it was a matter of destiny, then why? Why were the English-speaking peoples destined to control the American heartland, rather than the nations that had tried and failed before?

To understand the answer to that question, we must look to the far distant past. The Creator of the universe told a man named Abram, living on the lower Euphrates River in a city called Ur of the Chaldees, to leave his family and homeland to go to a land that he would afterward be given. At age 75, Abram left Mesopotamia behind, and began his journey to the land of Canaan.

Initially, God simply told Abram that he would become "a great nation" and that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:2–3). Twenty-four years later, when Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him and entered into a solemn covenant. God changed Abram's name to Abraham, and expanded His promise to include Abraham's becoming the "father of many nations" (Genesis 17:4). Many years later, the Almighty appeared to Abraham's grandson Jacob, and further expanded the promise by declaring that Jacob's descendants would spread abroad in every direction from the promised land in the Middle East (Genesis 28:13–14). Still later, after another encounter with God, Jacob's name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28), and his descendants were thenceforth known as Israelites.

Genesis 48 describes a ceremony that took place near the end of Israel's long life. Very few have ever understood the real significance of what occurred that day in ancient Egypt. Israel's sons had sold their younger brother Joseph into slavery many years earlier. Joseph, however, had prospered, rising to become second-in-command to Pharaoh in Egypt. The family was reunited during a time of famine, when Israel and his family had come to Egypt to live in the Nile delta region (the "Land of Goshen"). Learning that his elderly father was ill, Joseph came to visit, bringing his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.

Sitting up in bed to receive his son and grandsons, elderly Israel called Ephraim and Manasseh near to bless them. Knowing that his father was nearly blind, Joseph had purposely placed the boys so that his father's right hand would be on the older son, Manasseh, and his left hand would be on the younger, Ephraim. When the time came, Israel crossed his arms, laying his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Manasseh. Initially, Joseph was disturbed, for he thought his father had become confused. Israel corrected him, explaining that he was doing this on purpose. In this ceremony, Israel placed his name on the young men, declaring that Ephraim's descendants were to grow into a great company of nations while Manasseh's were to become a single great nation.

One reason that so few have understood the significance of Israel's declaration is that most people erroneously assume that all Israelites are Jews. Yet Judah—the Jews' ancestor—was just one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel). After the death of King Solomon, more than seven centuries after Jacob's declaration, Israel's descendants split into two kingdoms—northern and southern. The citizens of the northern kingdom, with its capital at Samaria, were known as Israelites, and were taken into Assyrian captivity after Samaria fell in 721bc.

The southern kingdom of Judah, however—with its citizens known as Jews—continued on for a century after Israel's fall, before falling to Babylonian invaders. From the time of Solomon onward, the histories of Israel and Judah have been quite distinct. While the promise of the kingly dynasty, and ultimately of the Messiah, came through the line of Judah, the birthright promises went to the descendants of Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:2).

With this bit of background in mind, we can understand the events that immediately preceded Jacob's death. After blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, he called all of his sons together and told them what would befall their descendants in the last days (Genesis 49:1). Jacob described Joseph's descendants as a colonizing people, and likened them to a fruitful vine whose branches would grow and spread out. They, as a result of God's blessing, would be militarily strong and have great blessings of agricultural and mineral wealth (Genesis 49:22–26). This birthright blessing, which Israel conveyed to the descendants of Joseph, had been described as the "fatness of the earth" (Genesis 27:28) and included a future inheritance of lands that would produce an abundance of corn and wine.

Why was the timing of this future inheritance delayed for so long? A recurring theme of Scripture is that God has a time plan and does things right on schedule. Jesus told His disciples that the Father retains control of the times and seasons of human history (Acts 1:7). The Apostle Paul declared that God had determined in advance both the times and bounds of habitation for the nations (Acts 17:26). This prophetic time framework shows God's sovereignty in history. Just as God declared that "seven times" would pass over Babylon, so that men would know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He will (Daniel 4:16–17), so also does history prove that seven prophetic "times" elapsed in the fulfillment of the end-time promises that Jacob made to his sons.

What is a prophetic "time"? Revelation 12 and 13 use the expressions "1,260 days" and "time, times, and half a time" and "42 months" interchangeably. Forty-two months of 30 days each are equal to 1,260 days—or three-and-a-half years. Clearly, then, 2,520 days—1,260 doubled—are the equivalent of "seven times." Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6 establish the principle that a day is equal to a year in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. History shows us that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took Jerusalem and brought Judah under his control in 604bc. This was in the third year of King Jehoiakim and the time at which Daniel and a number of other young men of prominent families were taken away captive to Babylon.

Interestingly, it was exactly 2,520 years later—seven prophetic "times"—that the stage was set for an end-time Jewish nation in its ancient homeland. It was in November 1917 that the British government issued the famous Balfour Declaration, announcing that it would "look with favour" upon a Jewish homeland in Palestine. A few weeks later, British forces under Viscount Allenby entered Jerusalem and freed it from the Turks.

When looking at the history of the northern kingdom (the House of Israel), we find a similar phenomenon. From the time of Israel's being taken into Assyrian captivity in 721bc, the passing of 2,520 years brings us to the year 1800. This was the time when the British and American nations began their rapid rise to world dominance, which would endure for the entire 19th and 20th centuries.

The Alaskan Purchase

The U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 is considered to be one of the largest land deals in history. Fearing another war with Britain after the Crimean War, Russia rushed to sell Alaska to the United States for just $7.2 million, or about two cents per acre, to prevent nearby British Columbia from taking over the territory, and to bolster its struggling finances.  

Today, Alaska is, of course, worth much more than that. The state encompasses 586,412 square miles or more than 375 million acres.   Even at a cost of just $100 per acre, that would equate to more than $37 billion. Plus, the state churns out hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil each year.


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