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1803: Louisiana Purchase concluded

The Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the American republic, included most of modern-day United States between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains, with the exceptions of Texas, parts of New Mexico, and other small pockets of land.

In 1801, Spain had signed a secret treaty with France to return Louisiana Territory to France. Reports caused considerable uneasiness in the United States. Since the late 1780s, Americans had been moving westward into the Ohio and Tennessee River valleys, and these settlers were highly dependent on free access to the Mississippi River and the strategic port of New Orleans. U.S. officials feared that France, resurgent under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, would soon seek to dominate the Mississippi River and access to the Gulf of Mexico. Robert Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, was ordered to negotiate with French minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand for the purchase of New Orleans.

In 1802 Spanish authorities, apparently acting under French orders, revoked a U.S.-Spanish treaty that granted Americans the right to store goods in New Orleans. In response, President Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris to aid Livingston in the New Orleans purchase talks. On April 11, 1803, the day before Monroe’s arrival, Talleyrand asked a surprised Livingston what the United States would give for all of Louisiana Territory. It is believed that the failure of France to put down a slave revolution in Haiti, the impending war with Great Britain and probable Royal Navy blockade of France, and financial difficulties may all have prompted Napoleon to offer Louisiana for sale to the United States.

Negotiations moved swiftly, and at the end of April the U.S. envoys agreed to pay $11,250,000 and assumed claims of its citizens against France in the amount of $3,750,000. In exchange, the United States acquired the vast land of Louisiana Territory, some 828,000 square miles. In October, Congress ratified the purchase, and in December 1803 France formally transferred authority over the region to the United States.

The acquisition of the Louisiana Territory was Thomas Jefferson’s most notable achievement as president. American expansion westward into the new lands began immediately.


Source: 1803: Louisiana Purchase concluded
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