Who Made the Louisiana Purchase?

City park in New Orleans

One of the Biggest Land Sales of All Time

The Louisiana Purchase was made in 1803 but remains of immense historical importance today. That is, this land sale is one of the most significant land sales of all time, and thus, the history of the United States and the geographical sphere would have been vastly different if the purchase had never taken place.

Who made the Louisiana Purchase?

President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Robert Livingston and James Monroe to Paris to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with Napolean Bonaparte on behalf of the United States government. The purchase was completed for $15 million.

The following article will explore the details and relevance of the Louisiana Purchase to American history. 

Background

Colonialism 

The Louisiana Purchase happened in the specific context of colonialism. It concerned a particular area west of the Mississippi River of major strategic significance. 

Mississippi River
Mississippi River.

This area was also known as New France because France had a colonial claim to it since the 17th century. As a result, France controlled a large part of what is now considered North American territory.

The colonial claims shifted, however, in the aftermath of the French and Indian War of 1754-1763. This war took place between the French and the British. Great Britain emerged victorious, and as a result, the areas belonging to New France were divided between the British and the Spanish. 

One of the areas that were assigned to the Spanish was French Louisiana, which is the area that later became pertinent regarding the Louisiana Purchase.

The Spanish never were that invested in Louisiana, though, and mainly used it for military purposes. As a result, the United States did not particularly see Spain as a threat. 

French flag
The French regained control over Louisiana in 1801.

That all changed when the renowned emperor Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France. He wanted to regain Louisiana from the Spanish and compelled Spain to sign a treaty with France to achieve this through military force. So, Louisiana became French territory again in 1801.

How the Louisiana Purchase Came to Be

After the rights over Louisiana shifted from Spain to France following the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, the United States increasingly made its desire to have exclusive control over the area clear. 

United States motivations

The main reason the United States wanted to incorporate Louisiana into the American territory was due to the strategic and economic importance of the area. 

Old map of New Orleans
The French quarter of New Orleans

Louisiana was generally important, but the bustling city of New Orleans was particularly relevant to the United States president. More precisely, the Port of New Orleans gave access to the Mississippi River and thus was essential in terms of trade and economy. 

Therefore, President Thomas Jefferson sought to officially purchase New Orleans for optimal access to the Mississippi River and surrounding area to boost the United States’ economy. 

Additionally, President Jefferson was skeptical of Napoleon because the French emperor was known to be relentless militarily. Indeed, while he might not have seen Spain as a threat when they held the colonial power over Louisiana, he was certainly wary of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

The United States had negotiated with Spain to receive certain rights over the Mississippi area, but Jefferson was concerned that Napoleon would not abide by this treaty. 

French motivations

Napoleon’s reasons for wanting to complete the Louisiana Purchase were threefold. On the one hand, France had just gone through a war with the British, in which they had suffered defeat.

Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States to commemorate the alliance between both republics during the American Revolution.

In the aftermath of this war, France had to deal with huge financial losses, and thus, the Louisiana Purchase was a means of replenishing their coffers. 

On the other hand, Napoleon also saw benefits in the Louisiana Purchase regarding the relationship between France and the United States. He surmised that France and the United States could form a united front against the British through this land sale. 

Of course, Napoleon realized that the United States had just gained independence from the British following the American Revolution and wanted to use this to his advantage. 

American Revolution
Napolean sought to use the colonists’ victory over Great Britain in the American Revolution to his advantage.

Thirdly, Napoleon was concerned that another battle with the British and potential defeat would see France lose its claim on the Louisiana area.

Who Made the Louisiana Purchase? 

In what can be seen as a first attempt to gain control over the Louisiana territory, President Thomas Jefferson gave specific orders to Robert Livingston, his ambassador in France, and James Monroe, an envoy, to start negotiations with Napoleon.

To achieve their task, the duo had to travel to Paris in 1802. Yet, Napoleon refused to sell New Orleans.

Thomas Jefferson portrait
President Thomas Jefferson sent his emissaries Livingston and Monroe to Paris to negotiate the purchase.

Later, under the impulse of the Frenchman Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, Napoleon came up with the proposition to sell the entire Louisiana area to the United States. 

According to Napoleon, this would provide the French Republic with a much-needed financial injection and satisfy Jefferson’s trade-related aspirations. Additionally, he made it seem like this was the best way to control the British. 

At first, Jefferson was reluctant to take the deal because he did not know whether he was even authorized to make such an enormous purchase under the United States Constitution.

Ultimately though, he could not resist the idea of doubling United States territory and also thought it would give him an electoral advantage. Hence, the Louisiana Purchase became a reality in 1803. 

Financial Problems

The overall cost price of the Louisiana territory was around 15 million dollars. In modern times, this would roughly equal an astonishing 342 million dollars.

At the time, 15 million dollars was such a large sum that the United States did not possess the required liquid funds to immediately transfer the money to France. 

Part of the sum was paid with government bonds, but Napoleon was adamant about receiving hard currency also. To meet his wishes, France and the United States relied on the external help of two important banks, Baring Brothers & Co of London and Hope & Co of Amsterdam. 

Because it was challenging to complete such a large transaction, it took about a year after the deal until it was finalized. 

The Louisiana Territory That Was Sold

Through the Louisiana Purchase, the United States’ territory doubled at once. This was possible because the Louisiana territory did not only encompass Louisiana as the state that exists today.

Instead, the area encompasses 15 states and two Canadian provinces according to today’s terms. 

Map of United States
The United States as it stands today.

This includes Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. It also encompasses significant areas in North Dakota and South Dakota, parts of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide, and the area of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River.

Further included is the northeastern portion of New Mexico, northern parts of Texas, New Orleans in the Mississippi valley, and portions of modern-day Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, as well as small portions of land within Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Following the purchase, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were tasked with exploring the territory and establishing trade with and sovereignty over the Native American population in what became known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Significance to the History of the United States

Considering the size of the Louisiana Purchase, it should not be a surprise that its significance in American history is enormous. In its aftermath, the United States emerged as a world nation and embarked on even greater westward expansion. 

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