Louisiana Purchase (1803) – Summary, Cost & Significance

In 1803, the United States of America and France went into an agreement that saw the former acquire about 827,000 square miles of the latter’s territory. The Louisiana Territory, as it was called then, effectively doubled the size of the United States. It was a feat that gave impetus to America’s westward expansion. What areas were involved in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803? How much did it cost the United States? Finally, under whose presidency did the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 occur?

The article below contains the summary, cost and significance of the Louisiana Purchase agreement of 1803:

Summary of the Louisiana Purchase (1803)

Louisiana Purchase 1803

In keeping with the westward expansion dreams of the United States, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 came as an unbelievable bargain for America. The monumental deal, arguably the best in the 19th century, involved the U.S. acquiring an area that was the equivalent of Western Europe combined. The sheer size of the area alone ended up doubling the territory of the United States.

The Treaty of Louisiana Purchase, which ended up giving the U.S. 15 present-day states, was signed on April 30, 1803 in Paris, France. Thus, America’s boundary stretched to: the Mississippi River in the east; the Rocky Mountains in the West; the Gulf of Mexico in the south; and the Canadian border in the north. All of that territory – about 827,000 square miles – came for a prize of $15 million. At that price, it means the U.S. acquired an acre of land for just a bit more than three cents.

It was an absolutely stunning purchase for the U.S. The land was found to be rich in several minerals such as gold and silver. The Louisiana Territory was also conducive for animal grazing and farming.

However, it was not all roses and honey for the United States. Historians believe that the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 went on to inflict irreconcilable differences between the Federalists and the Republicans; and between the North and the South. The problem, which ultimately resulted in the American Civil War, centered around slavery. Politicians at the time could not reconcile their differences over what status – Slave Holding or Free State – the incoming states into the Union should have.

Due to its immense impact, both socially and economically, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 ranks up there with colossal and historic events such as the Declaration of Independence, the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation. The significance of the purchase lies in the fact that it made America a titanic force in the New World. Buoyed on by the purchase, the country was able to spread its tentacles and ideas – ideas such as freedom and liberty – to a global audience.

Brief History of the Louisiana Territory

On April 9, 1682, French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur (Lord) de La Salle installed columns near the mouth of the Mississippi and went ahead to proclaim the area the territory of King Louis XIV of France. As a matter of fact, the name “Louisiana” comes from the French king. French made a number of settlements around the Mississippi River basin.

Then in 1718, another famous French settler and explorer Jean-Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville made a proclamation close to the site where La Salle made the first proclamation. This time around, the area was named Nouvelle Orléans – in honor of Philippe, Duke of Orléans and Regent of France.

After the Seven Years’ War with France ended in 1763, France went ahead to cede the Louisiana Territory to Spain. The French considered the area valueless, thereby prompting Louis XV to give the area to Charles III of Spain.

The French also gave majority of their territories in North America to Great Britain as part of the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

By the early 1800s, the population of New Orleans was around 8,000 and it was a mixture of French, Spanish, Acadian and German and Native American settlers.

In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte of France signed the Treaty of San Ildefonso with Charles IV of Spain. Under the treaty, Spain agreed to give the Louisiana Territory to France in exchange for the Kingdom of Etruria in northern Italy. The treaty also warned France of never letting another European power encroach on the Louisiana area.

Why was the Louisiana Territory so important to the U.S.?

Louisiana Purchase 1803 | An extract from the letter Jefferson wrote to U.S. Minister to France Robert Livingston

The moment Louisiana Territory appeared to be getting back into the hands of France, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson got worried. He believed that the French would try to prevent them from accessing the Gulf of Mexico. Plus, he foresaw the French closing the Mississippi to America. Under Spanish reign, Americans enjoyed some trade benefits (owing to the Treaty of San Lorenzo, 1795) in terms of duty-free and storage facilities in New Orleans. Once France started negotiating to take control of the area, such benefits were scrapped off by Spain in 1802. Obviously, the Spanish were under heavy French influence, causing them to take such actions. Western territories of America could not store goods in the warehouses in New Orleans. They were also denied free access to ports in New Orleans.

The survival of the western territories of America largely depended on keeping the port in New Orleans opened and free for American goods. Many infuriated and outraged politicians (particularly from the Federalist Party) called on Jefferson to take a bold action. Some of those politicians and pressmen wanted Jefferson to seize New Orleans by force. A Pennsylvania senator, Senator James Ross, suggested the U.S. assembled 50,000 men in order to take control of those vital areas in the Louisiana Territory.`

Louisiana Purchase 1803

Thomas Jefferson, a politician that had spent considerable number of years in Paris, sought to diffuse the tension by seeking to negotiate with the French. He believed that any forceful acquisition of New Orleans could spiral into an all-out war with France. Jefferson dispatched James Monroe (Extraordinary Minister to Paris) and Robert R. Livingston (U.S. ambassador to France) to Paris. The duo was tasked to negotiate with their French counterparts over the purchase of New Orleans.

What Negotiations Transpired in Paris?

The opposition Federalist Party was on Jefferson’s back, mounting pressure on him to take action. Many Federalist feared that Napoleon Bonaparte could use Louisiana as his base to launch attacks at the United States. A number of Southerners also feared that the French could release the slaves in their territory which would in turn create a domino effect of slave uprising across the United States. The French themselves were grappling with a slave uprising in Saint-Domingue (Haiti).

Amidst all that fear, Ambassador Livingston and James Monroe knew that it was absolutely crucial that New Orleans be purchased. Monroe had be sent to France as a Minister Extraordinary; he was given an amount of 9,375,000 to obtain New Orleans and some parts of the Floridas.

It has been stated that upon Livingston arrival in Paris to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans, Livingston met up with French Foreign Minister Talleyrand, a man known for seeking bribes in exchange for diplomatic favors. Talleyrand initially rejected all offers from Livingston and James Monroe. However, Treasury Minister Francois Barbe-Marbois favored the sale of Louisiana. By April 12, 1803, Napoleon had had a change of mind. Napoleon had informed Marbois that he was willing to sell the entire territory to the U.S.

Famous African American soldiers during the Civil War

How much did it cost the U.S. to acquire the Louisiana Territory?

The French proposed to sell the entire Louisiana Territory – 827,000 miles – for $15 million dollars. This translates into about three cents per acre. The American delegation was more than beyond ecstatic when they received the offer.

Compared to the 10 million that the U.S. was willing to pay for New Orleans alone, 15 million for the entire Louisiana sounded really good. It was an absolute bargain, the Americans reasoned. No sooner had the offer been than Livingston and Monroe jump to take it. They did not even wait for an approval from Jefferson, as communication back then would have taken at least a couple of weeks to arrive in Washington. Therefore, Livingston and Monroe went beyond what Jefferson had tasked them to do. They had no authorization buying the entire Louisiana Territory. However, the deal was too good to waste time over it.

When and where was the Louisiana Purchase Treaty signed?

Louisiana Purchase 1803 Signatories

Louisiana Purchase 1803 | Negotiators – L-R: French Treasury Minister Francois Barbe-Marbois; Robert Livingston, U.S. Minister to Paris; James Monroe, Minister Extraordinary to Paris

The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed on April 30, 1803. The diplomats that signed the treaty were Robert Livingston, James Monroe, and Francois Barbe-Marbois. The signing took place at the Hotel Tubeuf in Paris. The announcement of the deal was made to coincide with the July 4 celebrations in 1803.

Opposition and the Constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase 1803

Politicians on both side of the aisle argued as to what status French, Spanish and African Americans in New Orleans would hold. Were they going to be citizens of the United States? And how would they be brought seamlessly into the United States? And what laws would govern the newly acquired area? Questions of these sorts ran amok in the minds of politicians, especially Federalists.

The reason why the Federalist Party opposed the Jefferson’s acquisition of Louisiana was because they believed that the president did not have the power to do so. Besides, the Federalists favored closer ties with Great Britain. The acquisition of Louisiana went on to cement diplomatic ties with France, something that the Federalists weren’t too enthused about.

In countering such claims over the legality and constitutionality of the purchase, those in favor of the purchase stated that Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution granted the president of the United States to enter into such deals and treaties to extend the border of the country. Backing Jefferson was the “Father of the Constitution” himself, James Madison, then Secretary of State. According to the learned legal brain of Madison, Jefferson did not go beyond the powers allocated to him by the Constitution.

Finally, there were concerns that slave-holding states, primarily in the South, could exert great influence in the new territories, thereby spreading slavery across the United States. This concern marked the beginning of the rift between the North and the South.

When was the treaty ratified by the Senate?

After the treaty was signed, the U.S. Senate voted to ratify the treaty by 24 to 7 on October 20, 1803. Senators from New Hampshire, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts were the ones that voted against the treaty. The seven senators were Simeon Olcott, William Plumer, William Wells, Samuel White, James Hillhouse, Uriah Tracy, and Timothy Pickering.

Aftermath of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803

After the Treaty had been ratified by the Senate, a temporary military government was set up in the territory. This was followed by a local civilian government to maintain an orderly transfer of the territories administration. Also, the new territory was divided into the Territory of Orleans and the District of Louisiana, and their capitals were New Orleans and St. Louis respectively.

Congress also made available funds for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A few months before the signing took place, Jefferson had asked Congress to release fund for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the Louisiana Territory.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 did not go as smoothly as the negotiations and signing. As a matter of fact, the U.S. and Spain sparred over the exact boundaries of the territory. The Treaty of Fontainebleau between Spain and France in 1762 failed to specify the exact boundary of the territory. This problem was not resolved when Spain ceded the territory back to France in 1801. And when France sold the territory to the U.S. the treaty failed at specifying the exact boundaries. It was almost as if the negotiating countries kept sweeping the issue of boundary under the carpet. Luckily, the border dispute between Spain and the U.S. remained civil and did spill out of control. In the end the two countries resolved the boundary issue in 1819 under the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819.

Acquisition of the new territory also raised issues pertaining to governance and religion. Politicians debated over what laws would apply to the territory that was predominantly Catholic.

And with half of the population in the territory being slaves, Southerners feared that slaves in there could be a slave rebellion similar to the one that occurred in Saint-Domingue (Haiti).

Additionally, Southerners campaigned heavily for the government to put up laws legalizing slavery in the entire territory. This allowed them to bring slaves to the new territory. By institutionalizing slavery in these new territories a can of worms were opened, leading to the American civil war 3-4 decades later. Tensions flared up particularly in 1819 when Missouri and Maine applied to join the Union. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 temporary calmed down the tensions between the North and South; however, the rift was already out, there was nothing that American politicians in both the South and North could do to avert a civil war in the 1860s.

How did the U.S. pay for the Louisiana Territory?

The price for the territory was 15 million dollars. However, the U.S. ended up paying about 27 million for the area over a 6 year period. The U.S. government first made a $3 million down payment in gold. The remaining amount came from bonds that it issued to a number of banks in Britain. The largest of these banks was Francis Baring and Company, located in London. The Hope and Company of Amsterdam also played important roles in during the signing of the treaty, as well as financing part of the deal.

Once the money had been raised, Napoleon took receipt of it in cash. Bolstered with the money, the French leader then went ahead to execute his plans to attack Great Britain, an attack that never materialized.

Why did France sell the Louisiana Territory?

Napoleon Bonaparte - Louisiana Purchase 1803

Louisiana Purchase of 1803 | Napoleon Bonaparte of France

By early April, 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte had had a change of mind and decided to sell the entire Louisiana Territory. He was compelled to do so primarily because France urgently needed funds for an imminent war with Britain.

The French also had problems in Saint Domingue (now known as Haiti). The sugar-rich colony produced about 80% of the new world’s sugar. Other commodities such as cotton, cocoa, indigo, and coffee also came from St. Domingue. However, a slave rebellion had erupted in the colony, causing huge financial constraint on France.

Napoleon hoped to use the money from the Louisiana Purchase to squash the rebellion and bring back the cash cow. He considered Haiti the most important territory in the New World. Louisiana was useless waste land, according to François de Barbé-Marbois, France’s treasury minister.

The third and final reason why France sold the Louisiana Territory was to prevent the area from falling into Britain’s hands. In the event of war with Great Britain, France reasoned that it wont be able to properly man the entire Louisiana Territory. Napoleon and his ministers felt that it was better to cash in on the territory than to let it get taken by the arch rivals Britain.

Significance of the Louisiana Purchase (1803)

Due to its immense impact, both socially and economically, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 ranks up there with colossal and historic events such as the Declaration of Independence and the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The significance of the purchase lies in the fact that it made America a titanic force in the New World. From this, the country was able to spread its tentacles and ideas – ideas such as freedom and liberty – to a global audience.

Today, the Louisiana Purchase is seen by many as one of Thomas Jefferson’s stellar achievements as president of the United of States.


FACT CHECK: At worldhistoryedu.com, we strive for utmost accuracy and objectivity. But if you come across something that doesn’t look right, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. April 26, 2020

    […] The Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery, was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson a few months after the famed Louisiana Purchase in 1803. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *