Louisiana Purchase was the largest land area ever purchased by the United States from a foreign country. The purchase basically doubled the size of the U.S. And there is no doubt that by paying about 3 cents or slightly less an acre, it was the most economical land purchase in American history. This paper reviews that purchase and the ramifications of it.
Prior to delving into exactly how the purchase from France came about, some facts that basically lay out the advantages and gains of the purchase are worthy of mentioning. The purchase was of 828,000 square miles that had been held by France up until 1803. The purchase encompassed what today includes 15 states in the United States and 2 Canadian provinces. Those states include (all of) Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and portions of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Louisiana. The Canadian provinces included parts of what is today Alberta and Saskatchewan (Surfnetkids.com) (SNK).
The Louisiana Purchase represents 23% of today's total land area in the continental United States. The French had been involved in a number of wars and France needed the money that they could derive from the sale of the Louisiana Territory. Napoleon Bonaparte, the French dictator, understood that his chances of retaining huge land areas outside of Europe was not very feasible, so he was willing to sell to the U.S. (SNK).
How the deal actually came about between France, Spain, and the United States
The United States, meanwhile, fully realized the strategic importance of having control of the port of New Orleans, and representatives from the U.S. government had sailed to France to negotiate a deal involving the Louisiana Territory, but nothing resulted from the first attempt to cut a deal. President Thomas Jefferson was facing strong opposition to purchasing the territory and the U.S. Constitution did not have any specific provisions regarding the purchasing of territory, so in effect Jefferson was launching a new policy for the United States. Jefferson was smart enough to know that he did not want either France or Spain to have the option of blocking American trade in the New Orleans area, so he proceeded in the negotiations to buy the territory (SNK).
For Napoleon, he hated to get rid of a territory his country had fought for, but he also was in a brutal rivalry with England, and he realized that selling that huge piece of land to the U.S. was an opportunity to thwart England's power because he believed the young American nation would eventually be strong enough to prevent England from seizing that area of North America. James Monroe and Robert Livingston handled the negotiating for the U.S. In 1803, and they were prepared to offer $10 million just for the port of New Orleans. However, as the talks continued it became clear that the U.S. could actually gain a lot more territory than just the port of New Orleans (SNK).
The negotiators were surprised when they learned could make a deal for far more land than just the port; indeed, the entire French held territory (Louisiana Purchase) was offered for just $15 million. So the treaty was signed by the American and French negotiators on April 30, 1803, and Jefferson announced the deal to the American public on July 4, 1803. The U.S. paid $3 million down, and made up the rest of the funds in bonds through some of Europe's biggest most influential banks (SNK).
Meanwhile, having control over the Mississippi River was important for France during the Seven Years' War. France had "…ceded Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to Spain in 1763" (History.com). In fact France had also ceded "virtually all of its remaining possessions in North America to Great Britain" albeit that was only temporary, because after Napoleon came into power as a military leader, and built up the French military power, Napoleon coaxed "a reluctant King Charles IV of Spain" into giving the Louisiana Territory back to France. There were conditions for this deal, however; the King didn't want Napoleon to "…alienate the territory to a third power" (give it or sell it to another country) (history.com).
The arrangement between France and Spain was called the "Treaty of San Lldefonso -- termed a treaty of "retrocession" -- and when the Americans heard about this deal they had "deep misgivings" about it, according to History.com.
In fact the French and Spanish wished to build a kind of "wall of brass" west of the Mississippi that would be "forever impenetrable to the combined efforts of England and America" (The Napoleon Series). Provision #6 of the actual treaty reads:
"As the provisions of the present treaty have no prejudicial object and leave intact the rights of all, it is not to be supposed that they will give offense to any power. However, if the contrary shall happen and if the two states, because of the execution thereof, shall be attacked or threatened, the two powers agree to make common cause not only to repel the aggression but also to take conciliatory measures prosper for the maintenance of peace with all their neighbors" (The Napoleon Series).
Looking back on that treaty, it is interesting to note that while France and Spain had a long history of attacking each other and being on opposite sides of a number of wars, here they were agreeing that basically if the U.S. should try to take the Louisiana Territory by force, both Spain and France would go to war against that aggression. It wasn't to happen, of course, and in fact Napoleon went against the treaty that nullified its validity.
Having the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River -- and the outlet for produce and other goods from the western states -- "…in the hands of the active and powerful France of Napoleon posed a potential threat to the United States" (The Napoleon Series). Events that followed including having the Mississippi off-limits to American ships, and having basically a blockade in New Orleans, was totally unacceptable to President Jefferson, hence he sent Livingston and Monroe to France to try and work a deal.
Napoleon had agreed in his treaty with Spain to hold onto the Louisiana Territory, but history shows that treaties didn't really mean that much to Napoleon. As mentioned earlier in this paper, the U.S. negotiators did in fact seal a deal with Napoleon and notwithstanding Spain's protest, the King of Spain was not in a position to undue the deal the French made with the Americans and so Jefferson could make his announcement to the public on July 4, 1803.
Interestingly, what the U.S. had actually purchased -- in terms of the actual boundaries of the land they bought -- was not clear, according to the History.com information. The wording on the treaty was "vague," and there were no assurances that West Florida was to be considered part of the Louisiana Purchase; moreover, the southwest boundary of the huge real estate purchase was unclear, and the negotiators for Jefferson were fully aware of this and allowed the deal to go through without nailing down those precise boundaries (History.com).
In time, the U.S. settled it's "…exasperating dispute with Spain over the ownership of West Florida and Texas," and the U.S. ended up purchasing the "Floridas" from Spain in 1819; at that time, exact boundaries were established. The line actually followed the Sabine River from the Gulf of Mexico to the parallel of 32( N; and from there it ran north to the Red River, and followed the Red River to the meridian 100( where it traversed north to the Arkansas River. The western boundary of the purchase was the Rocky Mountains, and the eastern boundary was the Mississippi River, the History.com information confirms.
In that huge territory, Americans were gifted with "…rich mineral recourses, productive soil, valuable grazing land, forests, and wildlife resources of inestimable value" (History.com).
An article in the peer-reviewed Presidential Studies Quarterly (Balleck, 1992) points out how delicate the decision was for Jefferson in terms of the politics of his day. Jefferson was well-known as a "strong supporter of states' rights" -- and he always insisted that the American government could do nothing that was not specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Deeply inbred in Jefferson's political consciousness was the idea that "strict constructionism" was the only right way for a president to proceed in any action he deemed vital. That is, if it is not specifically laid out in the Constitution, it was out of bounds.
Hence, John Quincy Adams -- fully aware of Jefferson's political beliefs -- wrote that the purchase of Louisiana entailed "…an assumption of implied power greater in itself and more comprehensive in its consequence, than all the assumptions of implied power in the twelve years of the Washington and Adams Administrations put together" (Balleck, 680). And so the purchase of the Louisiana Territory was, for Jefferson, "a case of the ends justifying the means"; Jefferson had to…