The Louisiana Purchase Of 1803

The Louisiana purchase of 1803 was purchased at a negotiated cost. This is a historical description of that negotiation and the sale/purchase of the Louisiana territory from France.

How was the price of the Louisiana Purchase agreed upon?

This moment in history reads like a comedy of errors. The newly formed nation of the United States really was not in the market to purchase the entire area that was to become know as the Louisiana Purchase. They simply wanted to purchase the port of New Orleans and the western portion of Florida.

By the early 19th century, New Orleans had already become an important trade center for the United States. Strategically, it guarded the mouth of the Mississippi River. Nearly one-third of the area's produce was shipped via flat bottom barges down the river to the port of New Orleans for shipment to overseas buyers.

Spain had entered into an agreement that allowed the regions settlers to use the port as a staging area for their wares. Although Spain was the undisputed "Owner" of this parcel of real estate, its ability to defend it was questionable. This massive territory was bordered on the west by the Rocky Mountains and in the north by Canada.



In 1800, word of a secret treaty (the Treaty of San Ildefonso) between Spain and Napoleon of France, was being negotiated. This caused great concern by the areas residents. The rumors were ignored by the United States as the then President, Thomas Jefferson, had visions of a quiet agrarian culture, which should be free of foreign entanglements. In 1802, a short two years after the treaty had been signed; Napoleon closed the Port of New Orleans to American traders.

Worried about civil unrest and an outright confrontation with the regions settlers President Jefferson was forced to negotiate with France. He sent Robert Livingston and James Monroe to Paris to purchase New Orleans and a section of western Florida. Congress had quickly appropriated $ 2 million for the purchase.

When Monroe and Livingston arrived in Paris, Talleyrand, who would negotiate for France, received them. The two Americans were completely stunned by the proposal that was put before them. France would not only sell the Port of New Orleans but it would also include the Mississippi Valley and all of its tributaries to the west and north. This was an area that covered over 800,000 square miles of territory. The opportunity to literally double the land area of the United States had presented itself in an instant.

Anxious to conclude the deal but wary of a hidden agenda, the Americans questioned Napoleon's motivation. Tallyrand responded openly and without hesitation. He explained that a number of reasons were responsible for the decision to sell their colony in North America. First and foremost, France was on the brink of war with England. Napoleon feared that the British navy would block his access to and occupation of Louisiana. It would divert too much of France's resources to protect the colony. Also, after Napoleon's embarrassment during a slave insurrection in Hispaniola, Napoleon had decided to focus his attention on Europe. Finally, France needed the money to finance its military build in anticipation of the coming conflict.

After hearing his reasons, the two American diplomats agreed to the purchase. There was some negotiation over the price of the land but they quickly closed the deal for fear that Napoleon would change his mind.

The Louisiana Purchase cost the United States $15 million but it doubled the size of the country overnight and brought with vast natural resources that had been as yet untapped. To quote Tallyrand, "You have made a noble bargain for yourselves and I suppose you will make the most of it." For the United States, it was only the beginning of an expansion that would stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

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