Advisor: Scott E. Casper, Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Professor of History, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
National Humanities Center Fellow
©2015 National Humanities Center
Why did President Thomas Jefferson negotiate the Louisiana Purchase?
As a strict constructionist of the US Constitution, supporting only those powers specifically granted by the document, Thomas Jefferson questioned his executive authority to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France. However, the economic and national security benefits offered by the Louisiana Purchase to the fledgling nation outweighed the potential political risks of the land deal.
Map of Louisiana, 1805
From Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, 18 April 1802
Find more correspondence at Founders Online from the National Archives.
Grade 11-CCR complexity band.
For more information on text complexity see these resources from achievethecore.org.
In the Text Analysis section, Tier 2 vocabulary words are defined in pop-ups, and Tier 3 words are explained in brackets.
Click here for standards and skills for this lesson.
Common Core State Standards
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.1 (cite evidence to analyze specifically and by inference)
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.6 (determine author’s point of view)
Advanced Placement US History
- Key Concept 4.3 (IA) (Following the Louisiana Purchase, the United States government sought influence and control…)
In this lesson students will analyze a private letter that President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) sent to Robert Livingston (1746–1813), his minister plenipotentiary (ambassador) to France, regarding the negotiations for what would become the Louisiana Purchase. Livingston and James Monroe (1758–1831, 6th president of the US) negotiated the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. It is important to note that at the time this letter was written — April 18, 1802 — the area had not yet been offered for sale.
In this letter Jefferson, unaware of the possibility of outright purchase, focuses upon retaining commercial access to the Mississippi River and rights of deposit (economic access) in New Orleans. He also comments upon the danger of an aggressive France locating outposts just across the Mississippi River from the United States. While some historians characterize Jefferson as a Francophile, in this letter Jefferson sees France as a potential enemy to the United States.
This lesson allows students to contextualize what will become the Louisiana Purchase prior to its acquisition by viewing the Purchase through a lens of national economic and military defense rather than an act of territorial expansion. As Jefferson considers the possibility of an aggressive France led by Napoleon Bonaparte on America’s doorstep, he states, “…perhaps nothing since the revolutionary war has produced more uneasy sensations through the body of the nation.” Original spellings and punctuation are retained.
This lesson is divided into two parts, both accessible below. The text is accompanied by close reading questions, student interactives, and an optional follow-up assignment. The teacher’s guide includes a background note, the text analysis with responses to the close reading questions, access to the interactive exercises, and the follow-up assignment. The student’s version, an interactive PDF, contains all of the above except the responses to the close reading questions and the follow-up assignment.
|Teacher’s Guide(continues below)||Student Version(click to open)|
- What kind of text are we dealing with?
- When was it written?
- Who wrote it?
- For what audience was it intended?
- For what purpose was it written?
In 1801 the United States was rapidly expanding westward, well past the American boundary of the Mississippi River and into what was known as the Louisiana Territory. The Territory, approximately the middle third of what would become the continental US, saw the beginning of French settlements as early as 1682, but France lost the territory to Spain in 1763 after the French defeat in the French and Indian War. In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) forced Spain to sign the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso, giving the Louisiana Territory back to France.
When word of the Treaty of San Ildefonso leaked out, US President Thomas Jefferson became concerned, as you will see in this private letter written April 18, 1802, to Robert Livingston, his foreign minister in France. American farmers and merchants depended upon the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans to get their goods to market: remember, at this time there were very few roads and water travel was vital. Through the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo (also known as Pinckney’s Treaty) Spain had agreed to let the US use these areas without paying export taxes. But after 1800 Spain no longer owned these areas, and so the Treaty was no longer in effect. Anticipating that a French army might land at any time to take control, America prepared to defend itself and take New Orleans by force, even though the new nation was still weak and vulnerable, and a French landing force would force the US to ally with Britain for protection. Fortunately for the US, French troops were attempting to quash the Haitian Revolution and did not land as expected.
Rather than go to war, President Jefferson offered to buy New Orleans and West Florida for up to $10 million. He sent James Monroe to help Robert Livingston negotiate the sale, and if that was not possible, they were to negotiate rights to use the port of New Orleans (called “rights of deposit”). They were amazed when Napoleon offered the entire Territory for sale in exchange for $11.25 million and the forgiveness of $3.75 million in French debt. But there was a catch. Napoleon needed the money immediately to help fund a war with Great Britain.
Jefferson had serious doubts about whether he could move forward with an outright purchase — the Constitution did not grant the president the right to negotiate this kind of property deal. Federalists, the political party opposing Jefferson, objected to the purchase as well, since they had already become a minority in the Congress and more territory would mean spreading out political power and weakening them even further. In addition, provisions of the Purchase Treaty required that all those, excepting the Native Americans, living within the Louisiana Purchase become American citizens, implying that these areas would eventually become states. Did the President or Congress have the authority to bring into the country whole groups of people who were outside America’s boundaries? No one knew the answer.
But the idea of doubling the size of the US as well as making sure that a military power like France did not border the US across the Mississippi River won the argument. Jefferson called Congress back into session three weeks early in order to ratify the Purchase Treaty. The actual boundaries of the Louisiana Territory were not specified in the sale, as much of the territory had not been mapped accurately, but the Treaty sold to the US the Mississippi River and all its western tributaries, approximately 828,000 square miles.
Lewis and Clark map, with annotations in brown ink by Meriwether Lewis, tracing showing the Mississippi, the Missouri for a short distance above Kansas, Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Winnipeg, and the country onwards to the Pacific.
What happened to the Louisiana Purchase? President Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore and map the northern part of the Purchase in 1804. Their two-year mission resulted in more accurate maps, knowledge of previously unknown Native American tribes, and an extensive natural history survey of the continent. Their journey, known as the “Corps of Discovery,” would be used as a rationale for US Manifest Destiny in the years to come. Two future treaties, the Treaty of 1818 and the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, helped to confirm the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase, and the Purchase itself would eventually become all or part of 15 US states and two Canadian provinces.
Jefferson sent this private letter to Robert Livingston before he knew that Louisiana was for sale. As you analyze the text pay attention to reasons why Jefferson believes that the exchange of ownership of the Louisiana Territory from Spain to France poses such a threat to the US. Even though Jefferson had always been a supporter of France, note how he concludes that French control of New Orleans could mean that France would become America’s enemy. Look for Jefferson’s arguments supporting American control of Louisiana.
Close Reading Questions
1. Why does Jefferson believe that the fact that Spain ceding Louisiana and Florida to France “works most sorely on the US”?
Jefferson believes that this shift of power on the continent will significantly change US foreign policy. It “completely reverses all the political relations of the US.” (Note: For example, as stated in the background, Pinckney’s Treaty of 1785 had negotiated Spanish permission to use New Orleans as a port, and now those arrangements will no longer apply.)
2. According to Jefferson what has been the previous relationship between the United States and France?
Jefferson believes that of all the nations, the US and France have had the most “points of a communion of interests.” The two countries have been friends. (Note: Students might point out that the two nations fought together on the battlefields of the American Revolution, they shared democratic principles forged in revolution, and they shared economic ties. They have been allies.)
3. Which city on the North American continent does Jefferson believed is crucial to the United States? Cite evidence from the text.
New Orleans is the city, for “there is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural & habitual enemy.” This implies that it is critical that the US possess the city, for if anyone else possessed it they would be the enemy of the US.
4. Why is this city so important?
Jefferson states, “The produce of 3/8 of our territory must pass to market, and from it’s fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants.” The city is critical for getting US goods to market, growing crops, and providing areas for settlement.
5. Why did Jefferson not see the Spanish control of New Orleans as a threat?
Jefferson felt that Spain was not as powerful as France and “her [Spain’s] pacific dispositions, her feeble state” would allow the US to expand its use of New Orleans. In addition, Jefferson could foresee a time when the United States might purchase New Orleans from Spain. Spain is peaceful, while France is belligerent and expansionist. (Note: An additional reason students might cite could be Pinckney’s Treaty. In 1803 Charles IV was King of Spain, and he was considered by many to be a weak monarch.)
6. Why does Jefferson feel that France poses such a threat? Cite evidence from the text.
Jefferson felt that the United States and France approached issues differently. “The impetuosity of her [France’s] temper, the energy & restlessness of her character, placed in a point of eternal friction with us, and our character, which though quiet, & loving peace & the pursuit of wealth, is high minded, despising wealth in competition with insult or injury, enterprizing & energetic as any nation on earth, these circumstances render it impossible that France and the US can continue long friends when they meet in so irritable a position.” He felt that the American and French characters were different, and that the French were much more aggressive. (Note: At this time, Napoleon Bonaparte was the leader of France.)
7. Regarding US foreign policy, what does Jefferson see as the logical effect of France taking possession of New Orleans?
Because it will mean that France will be directly on a US border, Jefferson believes that it will require the United States to become more closely allied with Great Britain for its own protection against France — that the US must” marry ourselves to the British fleet & nation.” It will also mark the low point of France, “restraining her forever within her low water mark,” because she will become the enemy of both the US and Great Britain. )Note: At this time the US did not have the military might to effectively oppose France and would need Britain as an ally for defense.)
8. In sentence 16, how does Jefferson predict that French control of New Orleans would affect the United States?
He believes that the US must “turn all our attentions to a maritime force” and that “this is not a state of things we seek or desire.” It would limit American economic activity and require a military and naval presence on the Mississippi River to keep the French from crossing into the US. (Note: At the time of this letter the US did not have the financial means to fund a large navy, and Jefferson did not support a large standing national military force.)
9. Why does Jefferson not desire a war with France?
It is not “from a fear of France that we deprecate this measure proposed by her.” But he feels that the United States and France share interests and Jefferson has “a sincere love of peace.”
10. In sentences 22 through 24, Jefferson considers a reason why France might want the port of New Orleans. What is the reason, and why does Jefferson believe it is not a valid reason?
Jefferson says that France might feel that New Orleans would help in supplying French colonies in the West Indies, but this would not be practical in times of war and would not be needed in times of peace.
11. Even though he does not yet know the Louisiana Purchase is for sale, how does Jefferson propose to resolve this conflict?
If France must retain control of Louisiana, Jefferson ponders that perhaps France would be willing to give the port of New Orleans and Florida to the US. This would resolve the conflict, removing “the causes of jarring & irritation between us.”
12. In sentences 28 through 30 Jefferson addresses a diplomatic rumor that was circulating at the time stating that after French troops had put down the rebellion in St. Domingo (Haiti) they would be bound for Louisiana. How does Jefferson respond to this rumor?
Jefferson states that even if it is true, French forces will not arrive in Louisiana any time soon because it will take a good deal of time and manpower to subdue the Haitian revolt. He reminds his ambassadors that they have time to act. (Note: In fact, the French lost the Haitian Revolution in 1803 and the manpower and material spent in Haiti contributed to France’s loss of interest in reestablishing a base in the North America.)
13. Jefferson closes this excerpt by commenting on how important the issue of Louisiana is to the United States. Summarize Jefferson’s three reasons from this letter for considering this issue as critical. Why is “every eye in the US… now fixed on this affair of Louisiana?”
- The loss of the rights of deposit in New Orleans would cripple the American economy since there were so few roads and merchants and farmers relied on river traffic to get good to market.
- A French presence would stifle westward expansion.
- The presence of foreign troops so close to the United States would pose a constant threat of invasion.
(6) There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural & habitual enemy. (7) It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from it’s fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants. (8) France placing herself in that door assumes to us the attitude of defiance. (9) Spain might have retained it quietly for years. (10) Her pacific dispositions, her feeble state, would induce her to increase our facilities there, so that her possession of the place would be hardly felt by us, and it would not perhaps be very long before some circumstance might arise which might make the cession of it to us the price of something of more worth to her.
(11) Not so can it ever be in the hands of France. (12) The impetuosity of her temper, the energy & restlessness of her character, placed in a point of eternal friction with us, and our character, which though quiet, & loving peace & the pursuit of wealth, is high minded, despising wealth in competition with insult or injury, enterprizing & energetic as any nation on earth, these circumstances render it impossible that France and the US can continue long friends when they meet in so irritable a position. (13) They as well as we must be blind if they do not see this; and we must be very improvident if we do not begin to make arrangements on that hypothesis.
(14) The day that France takes possession of N. Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low water mark. (15) It seals the union of two nations who in conjunction can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. (16) From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet & nation. (17) We must turn all our attentions to a maritime force, for which our resources place us on very high ground: and having formed and cemented together a power which may render reinforcement of her settlements here impossible to France, make the first cannon which shall be fired in Europe the signal for tearing up any settlement she may have made, and for holding the two continents of America in sequestration for the common purposes of the United British & American nations. (18) This is not a state of things we seek or desire. (19) It is one which this measure, if adopted by France, forces on us, as necessarily as any other cause, by the laws of nature, brings on it’s necessary effect.
(20) It is not from a fear of France that we deprecate this measure proposed by her. (21) For however greater her force is than ours compared in the abstract, it is nothing in comparison of ours when to be exerted on our soil. (22) But it is from a sincere love of peace, and a firm persuasion that bound to France by the interests and the strong sympathies still existing in the minds of our citizens, and holding relative positions which ensure their continuance we are secure of a long course of peace. (23) Whereas the change of friends, which will be rendered necessary if France changes that position, embarks us necessarily as a belligerent power in the first war of Europe….
(24) And will a few years possession of N. Orleans add equally to the strength of France? (25) She may say she needs Louisiana for the supply of her West Indies. (26) She does not need it in time of peace, and in war she could not depend on them because they would be so easily intercepted….
(27) If France considers Louisiana however as indispensable for her views she might perhaps be willing to look about for arrangements which might reconcile it to our interests. (28) If any thing could do this it would be the ceding to us the island of New Orleans the Floridas. (29) This would certainly in a great degree remove the causes of jarring & irritation between us….
(30) The idea here is that the troops sent to St. Domingo, were to proceed to Louisiana after finishing their work in that island. (31) If this were the arrangement, it will give you time to return again & again to the charge. (32) For the conquest of St. Domingo will not be a short work. (33) It will take considerable time and wear down a great number of souldiers.
(34) Every eye in the US is now fixed on this affair of Louisiana. (35) Perhaps nothing since the revolutionary war has produced more uneasy sensations through the body of the nation. (36) Notwithstanding temporary bickerings have taken place with France, she has still a strong hold on the affections of our citizens generally.
Louisiana Purchase Treaty, April 30, 1803
Follow-up Assignment: The Letter of the Law versus the Spirit of the Law
The Louisiana Purchase was very controversial at the time. President Jefferson believed in a strict construction of the US Constitution — unless the Constitution specifically granted a power to the government, the power belonged to the people. The Constitution did not specifically grant the president the power to negotiate territorial purchases, but Jefferson acted in contrast to this principle in the case of the Louisiana Purchase. Why would he do this?
In September of 1810 after he had left the presidency, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John B. Colvin, a newspaper editor, responding to a question about the president strictly interpreting the Constitution. Note Jefferson’s distinction between “in principle” and “in practice.” Jefferson wrote:
Whether circumstances do not sometimes occur which make it a duty in officers of high trust to assume authorities beyond the law, is easy of solution in principle, but sometimes embarrasing in practice. A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen: but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property & all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means…. It is incumbent on those only who accept of great charges, to risk themselves on great occasions, when the safety of the nation, or some of it’s very high interests are at stake.
Consider this tension between the strict “letter of the law,” or what a law literally states, and the “spirit of the law,” or what a law means in practice. When Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase he was extending the power of the presidency beyond the letter of the law. According to Jefferson, what are the responsibilities of the president regarding this balance between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law? How might this explain his purchase of the Louisiana Territory?
Write a well-developed essay in which you defend, challenge or quality this statement: “Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana was justified.” Share your work with your classmates.
- cession: giving up
- epoch: historical period
- hitherto: until now
- misfortunes: bad luck
- habitual: usual
- fertility: ability to grow crops
- ere long: before long
- defiance: open contempt
- pacific: peaceful
- induce: cause
- impetuosity: thoughtlessness
- despising: regard with contempt
- improvident: not cautious
- hypothesis: assumption
- marry: connect closely
- maritime: naval
- render: cause
- sequestration: isolation
- deprecate: protest against
- abstract: in theory
- relative: comparative
- continuance: perseverance
- belligerent: war-like
- indispensable: absolutely necessary
- jarring: conflicting
- charge: task
- bickerings: petty arguments
- “From Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, 18 April 1802,” Founders Online, National Archives. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-37-02-0220, ver. 2014-05-09. Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 37, 4 March–30 June 1802, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, pp. 263–267.
- Louisiana, Map. Samuel Lewis, 1805?. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. http://lccn.loc.gov/2001620468, accessed January, 2015.
- Lewis and Clark map, with annotations in brown ink by Meriwether Lewis, tracing showing the Mississippi, the Missouri for a short distance above Kansas, Lakes Michigan, Superior, and Winnipeg, and the country onwards to the Pacific, Map. N. King, 1803. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. http://lccn.loc.gov/98687178, accessed January, 2015.
- Louisiana Purchase Treaty, April 30, 1803 (ARC ID 299807); General Records of the U.S. Government; Record Group 11; National Archives. http://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/document.html?doc=5&title.raw=Louisiana%20Purchase%20Treaty, accessed March, 2015.
America in Class
Jul 14, 2016
by Ruth Fleming on America in Class
thank you! Not sure when I will implement but lots to use.
Jun 7, 2016
by Timothy Cochran on America in Class
Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase
I love the resources and the information that challenges the students to read, think, and learn.
For other uses, see Louisiana Purchase (disambiguation).
The Louisiana Purchase (French: Vente de la Louisiane "Sale of Louisiana") was the acquisition of the Louisiana territory (828,000 square miles or 2.14 million km²) by the United States from France in 1803. The U.S. paid fifty million francs ($11,250,000) and a cancellation of debts worth eighteen million francs ($3,750,000) for a total of sixty-eight million francs ($15 million, equivalent to $300 million in 2016). The Louisiana territory included land from fifteen present U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The territory contained land that forms Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; the portion of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River; a large portion of North Dakota; a large portion of South Dakota; the northeastern section of New Mexico; the northern portion of Texas; the area of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; Louisiana west of the Mississippi River (plus New Orleans); and small portions of land within the present Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Its non-native population was around 60,000 inhabitants, of whom half were African slaves.
The Kingdom of France controlled the Louisiana territory from 1699 until it was ceded to Spain in 1762. In 1800, Napoleon, then the First Consul of the French Republic, hoping to re-establish an empire in North America, regained ownership of Louisiana. However, France's failure to put down the revolt in Saint-Domingue, coupled with the prospect of renewed warfare with the United Kingdom, prompted Napoleon to sell Louisiana to the United States to fund his military. The Americans originally sought to purchase only the port city of New Orleans and its adjacent coastal lands, but quickly accepted the bargain. The Louisiana Purchase occurred during the term of the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Before the purchase was finalized, the decision faced Federalist Party opposition; they argued that it was unconstitutional to acquire any territory. Jefferson agreed that the U.S. Constitution did not contain explicit provisions for acquiring territory, but he asserted that his constitutional power to negotiate treaties was sufficient.
Throughout the second half of the 18th century, Louisiana was a pawn on the chessboard of European politics. It was controlled by the French, who had a few small settlements along the Mississippi and other main rivers. France ceded the territory to Spain in the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau (1762). Following French defeat in the Seven Years' War, Spain gained control of the territory west of the Mississippi and the British the territory to the east of the river.
Following the establishment of the United States, the Americans controlled the area east of the Mississippi and north of New Orleans. The main issue for the Americans was free transit of the Mississippi to the sea. As the lands were being gradually settled by a few American migrants, many Americans, including Jefferson, assumed that the territory would be acquired "piece by piece." The risk of another power taking it from a weakened Spain made a "profound reconsideration" of this policy necessary. New Orleans was already important for shipping agricultural goods to and from the areas of the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains. Pinckney's Treaty, signed with Spain on October 27, 1795, gave American merchants "right of deposit" in New Orleans, granting them use of the port to store goods for export. Americans used this right to transport products such as flour, tobacco, pork, bacon, lard, feathers, cider, butter, and cheese. The treaty also recognized American rights to navigate the entire Mississippi, which had become vital to the growing trade of the western territories.
In 1798, Spain revoked the treaty allowing American use of New Orleans, greatly upsetting Americans. In 1801, Spanish Governor Don Juan Manuel de Salcedo took over from the Marquess of Casa Calvo, and restored the American right to deposit goods. However, in 1800 Spain had ceded the Louisiana territory back to France as part of Napoleon's secret Third Treaty of San Ildefonso. The territory nominally remained under Spanish control, until a transfer of power to France on 30 November 1803, just three weeks before the formal cession of the territory to the United States on 20 December 1803. A further ceremony was held in St. Louis, Upper Louisiana regarding the New Orleans formalities. The 9–10 March 1804 event is remembered as Three Flags Day.
James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston had traveled to Paris to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans in January 1803. Their instructions were to negotiate or purchase control of New Orleans and its environs; they did not anticipate the much larger acquisition which would follow.
The Louisiana Purchase was by far the largest territorial gain in U.S. history. Stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, the purchase doubled the size of the United States. Before 1803, Louisiana had been under Spanish control for forty years. Although Spain aided the rebels in the American Revolutionary War, the Spanish didn't want the Americans to settle in their territory.
Although the purchase was thought of by some as unjust and unconstitutional, Jefferson determined that his constitutional power to negotiate treaties allowed the purchase of what became fifteen states. In hindsight, the Louisiana Purchase could be considered one of his greatest contributions to the United States. On April 18, 1802, Jefferson penned a letter to United States Ambassador to France Robert Livingston. It was an intentional exhortation to make this supposedly mild diplomat strongly warn the French of their perilous course. The letter began:
The cession of Louisiana and the Floridas by Spain to France works most sorely on the U.S. On this subject the Secretary of State has written to you fully. Yet I cannot forbear recurring to it personally, so deep is the impression it makes in my mind. It completely reverses all the political relations of the U.S. and will form a new epoch in our political course. Of all nations of any consideration France is the one which hitherto has offered the fewest points on which we could have any conflict of right, and the most points of a communion of interests. From these causes we have ever looked to her as our natural friend, as one with which we never could have an occasion of difference. Her growth therefore we viewed as our own, her misfortunes ours. There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants. France placing herself in that door assumes to us the attitude of defiance. Spain might have retained it quietly for years. Her pacific dispositions, her feeble state, would induce her to increase our facilities there, so that her possession of the place would be hardly felt by us, and it would not perhaps be very long before some circumstance might arise which might make the cession of it to us the price of something of more worth to her. Not so can it ever be in the hands of France. The impetuosity of her temper, the energy and restlessness of her character, placed in a point of eternal friction with us...
Jefferson's letter went on with the same heat to a much quoted passage about "the day that France takes possession of New Orleans." Not only did he say that day would be a low point in France's history, for it would seal America's marriage with the British fleet and nation, but he added, astonishingly, that it would start a massive shipbuilding program.
While the transfer of the territory by Spain back to France in 1800 went largely unnoticed, fear of an eventual French invasion spread nationwide when, in 1801, Napoleon sent a military force to secure New Orleans. Southerners feared that Napoleon would free all the slaves in Louisiana, which could trigger slave uprisings elsewhere. Though Jefferson urged moderation, Federalists sought to use this against Jefferson and called for hostilities against France. Undercutting them, Jefferson took up the banner and threatened an alliance with the United Kingdom, although relations were uneasy in that direction. In 1801 Jefferson supported France in its plan to take back Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), which was then under control of Toussaint Louverture after a slave rebellion.
Jefferson sent Livingston to Paris in 1801 after discovering the transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France under the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso. Livingston was authorized to purchase New Orleans.
In January 1802, France sent General Charles Leclerc to Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) to re-establish slavery, which had been abolished by the constitution of the French Republic of 1795, as well as to reduce the rights of free people of color and take back control of the island from Toussaint Louverture. Louverture had fended off invasions of St. Domingue by the Spanish and British empires, but had also begun to consolidate power for himself on the island. Before the Revolution, France had derived enormous wealth from St. Domingue at the cost of the lives and freedom of the slaves. Napoleon wanted its revenues and productivity for France restored. Alarmed over the French actions and its intention to re-establish an empire in North America, Jefferson declared neutrality in relation to the Caribbean, refusing credit and other assistance to the French, but allowing war contraband to get through to the rebels to prevent France from regaining a foothold.
In November 1803, France withdrew its 7,000 surviving troops from Saint-Domingue (more than two-thirds of its troops died there) and gave up its ambitions in the Western Hemisphere. In 1804 Haiti declared its independence; but, fearing a slave revolt at home, Jefferson and Congress refused to recognize the new republic, the second in the Western Hemisphere, and imposed a trade embargo against it. This, together with later claims by France to reconquer Haiti, encouraged by the United Kingdom, made it more difficult for Haiti to recover after ten years of wars.
In 1803, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, a French nobleman, began to help negotiate with France at the request of Jefferson. Du Pont was living in the United States at the time and had close ties to Jefferson as well as the prominent politicians in France. He engaged in back-channel diplomacy with Napoleon on Jefferson's behalf during a visit to France and originated the idea of the much larger Louisiana Purchase as a way to defuse potential conflict between the United States and Napoleon over North America.
Jefferson disliked the idea of purchasing Louisiana from France, as that could imply that France had a right to be in Louisiana. Jefferson had concerns that a U.S. president did not have the constitutional authority to make such a deal. He also thought that to do so would erode states' rights by increasing federal executive power. On the other hand, he was aware of the potential threat that France could be in that region and was prepared to go to war to prevent a strong French presence there.
Throughout this time, Jefferson had up-to-date intelligence on Napoleon's military activities and intentions in North America. Part of his evolving strategy involved giving du Pont some information that was withheld from Livingston. He also gave intentionally conflicting instructions to the two. Desperate to avoid possible war with France, Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris in 1803 to negotiate a settlement, with instructions to go to London to negotiate an alliance if the talks in Paris failed. Spain procrastinated until late 1802 in executing the treaty to transfer Louisiana to France, which allowed American hostility to build. Also, Spain's refusal to cede Florida to France meant that Louisiana would be indefensible. Monroe had been formally expelled from France on his last diplomatic mission, and the choice to send him again conveyed a sense of seriousness.
Napoleon needed peace with the United Kingdom to implement the Treaty of San Ildefonso and take possession of Louisiana. Otherwise, Louisiana would be an easy prey for the UK or even for the United States. But in early 1803, continuing war between France and the UK seemed unavoidable. On March 11, 1803, Napoleon began preparing to invade the UK.
As Napoleon had failed to re-enslave the emancipated population of Haiti, he abandoned his plans to rebuild France's New World empire. Without sufficient revenues from sugar colonies in the Caribbean, Louisiana had little value to him. Spain had not yet completed the transfer of Louisiana to France, and war between France and the UK was imminent. Out of anger towards Spain and the unique opportunity to sell something that was useless and not truly his yet, Napoleon decided to sell the entire territory.
Although the foreign ministerTalleyrand opposed the plan, on April 10, 1803, Napoleon told the Treasury Minister François de Barbé-Marbois that he was considering selling the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States. On April 11, 1803, just days before Monroe's arrival, Barbé-Marbois offered Livingston all of Louisiana for $15 million, equivalent to about $300 million in 2016 dollars, which averages to less than three cents per acre.
The American representatives were prepared to pay up to $10 million for New Orleans and its environs, but were dumbfounded when the vastly larger territory was offered for $15 million. Jefferson had authorized Livingston only to purchase New Orleans. However, Livingston was certain that the United States would accept the offer.
The Americans thought that Napoleon might withdraw the offer at any time, preventing the United States from acquiring New Orleans, so they agreed and signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty on April 30, 1803. On July 4, 1803, the treaty reached Washington, D.C.. The Louisiana Territory was vast, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to Rupert's Land in the north, and from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. Acquiring the territory would double the size of the United States, at a sum of less than 3 cents per acre.
Domestic opposition and constitutionality
Henry Adams and other historians have argued that Jefferson acted hypocritically with the Louisiana Purchase, due to his position as a strict constructionist regarding the Constitution since he stretched the intent of that document to justify his purchase. This argument goes as follows:
The American purchase of the Louisiana territory was not accomplished without domestic opposition. Jefferson's philosophical consistency was in question because of his strict interpretation of the Constitution. Many people believed that he and others, including James Madison, were doing something they surely would have argued against with Alexander Hamilton. The Federalists strongly opposed the purchase, favoring close relations with Britain over closer ties to Napoleon, and were concerned that the United States had paid a large sum of money just to declare war on Spain.
Both Federalists and Jeffersonians were concerned over the purchase's constitutionality. Many members of the House of Representatives opposed the purchase. Majority Leader John Randolph led the opposition. The House called for a vote to deny the request for the purchase, but it failed by two votes, 59–57. The Federalists even tried to prove the land belonged to Spain, not France, but available records proved otherwise.
The Federalists also feared that the power of the Atlantic seaboard states would be threatened by the new citizens in the West, whose political and economic priorities were bound to conflict with those of the merchants and bankers of New England. There was also concern that an increase in the number of slave-holding states created out of the new territory would exacerbate divisions between North and South as well. A group of Northern Federalists led by Senator Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts went so far as to explore the idea of a separate northern confederacy.
Another concern was whether it was proper to grant citizenship to the French, Spanish, and free black people living in New Orleans, as the treaty would dictate. Critics in Congress worried whether these "foreigners", unacquainted with democracy, could or should become citizens.
Spain protested the transfer on two grounds: First, France had previously promised in a note not to alienate Louisiana to a third party and second, France had not fulfilled the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso by having the King of Etruria recognized by all European powers. The French government replied that these objections were baseless since the promise not to alienate Louisiana was not in the treaty of San Ildefonso itself and therefore had no legal force, and the Spanish government had ordered Louisiana to be transferred in October 1802 despite knowing for months that Britain had not recognized the King of Etruria in the Treaty of Amiens.
Henry Adams claimed "The sale of Louisiana to the United States was trebly invalid; if it were French property, Bonaparte could not constitutionally alienate it without the consent of the French Chambers; if it were Spanish property, he could not alienate it at all; if Spain had a right of reclamation, his sale was worthless." The sale of course was not "worthless"—the U.S. actually did take possession. Furthermore, the Spanish prime minister had authorized the U.S. to negotiate with the French government "the acquisition of territories which may suit their interests." Spain turned the territory over to France in a ceremony in New Orleans on November 30, a month before France turned it over to American officials.
Other historians counter the above arguments regarding Jefferson's alleged hypocrisy by asserting that countries change their borders in two ways: (1) conquest, or (2) an agreement between nations, otherwise known as a treaty. The Louisiana Purchase was the latter, a treaty. The Constitution specifically grants the president the power to negotiate treaties (Art. II, Sec. 2), which is just what Jefferson did.
Jefferson's Secretary of State, James Madison (the "Father of the Constitution"), assured Jefferson that the Louisiana Purchase was well within even the strictest interpretation of the Constitution. Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin added that since the power to negotiate treaties was specifically granted to the president, the only way extending the country's territory by treaty could not be a presidential power would be if it were specifically excluded by the Constitution (which it was not). Jefferson, as a strict constructionist, was right to be concerned about staying within the bounds of the Constitution, but felt the power of these arguments and was willing to "acquiesce with satisfaction" if the Congress approved the treaty.
The Senate quickly ratified the treaty, and the House, with equal alacrity, authorized the required funding, as the Constitution specifies.
The opposition of New England Federalists to the Louisiana Purchase was primarily economic self-interest, not any legitimate concern over constitutionality or whether France indeed owned Louisiana or was required to sell it back to Spain should it desire to dispose of the territory. The Northerners were not enthusiastic about Western farmers gaining another outlet for their crops that did not require the use of New England ports. Also, many Federalists were speculators in lands in upstate New York and New England and were hoping to sell these lands to farmers, who might go west instead, if the Louisiana Purchase went through. They also feared that this would lead to Western states being formed, which would likely be Republican, and dilute the political power of New England Federalists.
When Spain later objected to the United States purchasing Louisiana from France, Madison responded that America had first approached Spain about purchasing the property, but had been told by Spain itself that America would have to treat with France for the territory.
The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed on 30 April by Robert Livingston, James Monroe, and Barbé Marbois in Paris. Jefferson announced the treaty to the American people on July 4. After the signing of the Louisiana Purchase agreement in 1803, Livingston made this famous statement, "We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives... From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank."
The United States Senate advised and consented to ratification of the treaty with a vote of twenty-four to seven on October 20. The Senators who voted against the treaty were: Simeon Olcott and William Plumer of New Hampshire, William Wells and Samuel White of Delaware, James Hillhouse and Uriah Tracy of Connecticut, and Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts.
On the following day, October 21, 1803, the Senate authorized Jefferson to take possession of the territory and establish a temporary military government. In legislation enacted on October 31, Congress made temporary provisions for local civil government to continue as it had under French and Spanish rule and authorized the President to use military forces to maintain order. Plans were also set forth for several missions to explore and chart the territory, the most famous being the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
A timeline of legislation can be found at the Library of Congress: American Memory:The Louisiana Purchase Legislative Timeline--1803-1804.
Formal transfers and initial organization
France turned over New Orleans, the historic colonial capital, on December 20, 1803, at the Cabildo, with a flag-raising ceremony in the Plaza de Armas, now Jackson Square. Just three weeks earlier, on November 30, 1803, Spanish officials had formally conveyed the colonial lands and their administration to France.
On March 9 and 10, 1804, another ceremony, commemorated as Three Flags Day, was conducted in St. Louis, to transfer ownership of Upper Louisiana from Spain to the French First Republic, and then from France to the United States. From March 10 to September 30, 1804, Upper Louisiana was supervised as a military district, under CommandantAmos Stoddard.
Effective October 1, 1804, the purchased territory was organized into the Territory of Orleans (most of which would become the state of Louisiana) and the District of Louisiana, which was temporarily under control of the governor and judicial system of the Indiana Territory. The following year, the District of Louisiana was renamed the Territory of Louisiana, aka Louisiana Territory (1805–1812).
New Orleans was the administrative capital of the Orleans Territory, and St. Louis was the capital of the Louisiana Territory.
A dispute soon arose between Spain and the United States regarding the extent of Louisiana. The territory's boundaries had not been defined in the 1762 Treaty of Fontainebleau that ceded it from France to Spain, nor in the 1801 Third Treaty of San Ildefonso ceding it back to France, nor the 1803 Louisiana Purchase agreement ceding it to the United States.
The United States claimed Louisiana included the entire western portion of the Mississippi River drainage basin to the crest of the Rocky Mountains and land extending southeast to the Rio Grande and West Florida. Spain insisted that Louisiana comprised no more than the western bank of the Mississippi River and the cities of New Orleans and St. Louis. The dispute was ultimately resolved by the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, with the United States gaining most of what it had claimed in the west.
The relatively narrow Louisiana of New Spain had been a special province under the jurisdiction of the Captaincy General of Cuba while the vast region to the west was in 1803 still considered part of the Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas. Louisiana had never been considered one of New Spain's internal provinces.
If the territory included all the tributaries of the Mississippi on its western bank, the northern reaches of the Purchase extended into the equally ill-defined British possession—Rupert's Land of British North America, now part of Canada. The Purchase originally extended just beyond the 50th parallel. However, the territory north of the 49th parallel (including the Milk River and Poplar River watersheds) was ceded to the UK in exchange for parts of the Red River Basin south of 49th parallel in the Anglo-American Convention of 1818.
The eastern boundary of the Louisiana purchase was the Mississippi River, from its source to the 31st parallel, though the source of the Mississippi was, at the time, unknown. The eastern boundary below the 31st parallel was unclear. The U.S. claimed the land as far as the Perdido River, and Spain claimed that the border of its Florida Colony remained the Mississippi River. In early 1804, Congress passed the Mobile Act, which recognized West Florida as part of the United States. The Adams–Onís Treaty with Spain (1819) resolved the issue upon ratification in 1821. Today, the 31st parallel is the northern boundary of the western half of the Florida Panhandle, and the Perdido is the western boundary of Florida.
Because the western boundary was contested at the time of the Purchase, President Jefferson immediately began to organize three missions to explore and map the new territory. All three started from the Mississippi River. The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804) traveled up the Missouri River; the Red River Expedition (1806) explored the Red River basin; the Pike Expedition (1806) also started up the Missouri, but turned south to explore the Arkansas River watershed. The maps and journals of the explorers helped to define the boundaries during the negotiations leading to the Adams–Onís Treaty, which set the western boundary as follows: north up the Sabine River from the Gulf of Mexico to its intersection with the 32nd parallel, due north to the Red River, up the Red River to the 100th meridian, north to the Arkansas River, up the Arkansas River to its headwaters, due north to the 42nd parallel and due west to its previous boundary.
See also: History of slavery in Louisiana, History of slavery in Missouri, and Slavery in the United States
Governing the Louisiana Territory was more difficult than acquiring it. Its European peoples, of ethnic French, Spanish and Mexican descent, were largely Catholic; in addition, there was a large population of enslaved Africans made up of a high proportion of recent arrivals, as Spain had continued the international slave trade. This was particularly true in the area of the present-day state of Louisiana, which also contained a large number of free people of color. Both present-day Arkansas and Missouri already had some slaveholders in the early 19th century.
During this period, south Louisiana received an influx of French-speaking refugee planters, who were permitted to bring their slaves with them, and other refugees fleeing the large slave revolt in Saint-Domingue, today's Haiti. Many Southern slaveholders feared that acquisition of the new territory might inspire American-held slaves to follow the example of those in Saint-Domingue and revolt. They wanted the US government to establish laws allowing slavery in the newly acquired territory so they could be supported in taking their slaves there to undertake new agricultural enterprises, as well as to reduce the threat of future slave rebellions.
The Louisiana Territory was broken into smaller portions for administration, and the territories passed slavery laws similar to those in the southern states but incorporating provisions from the preceding French and Spanish rule (for instance, Spain had prohibited slavery of Native Americans in 1769, but some slaves of mixed African-Native American descent were still being held in St. Louis in Upper Louisiana when the U.S. took over). In a freedom suit that went from Missouri to the US Supreme Court, slavery of Native Americans was finally ended in 1836. The institutionalization of slavery under U.S. law in the Louisiana Territory contributed to the American Civil War a half century later. As states organized within the territory, the status of slavery in each state became a matter of contention in Congress, as southern states wanted slavery extended to the west, and northern states just as strongly opposed new states being admitted as "slave states."
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was a temporary solution.
Asserting U.S. possession
After the early explorations, the U.S. government sought to establish control of the region, since trade along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers was still dominated by British and French traders from Canada and allied Indians, especially the Sauk and Fox. The U.S. adapted the former Spanish facility at Fort Bellefontaine as a fur trading post near St. Louis in 1804 for business with the Sauk and Fox. In 1808 two military forts with trading factories were built, Fort Osage along the Missouri River in western present-day Missouri and Fort Madison along the Upper Mississippi River in eastern present-day Iowa. With tensions increasing with Great Britain, in 1809 Fort Bellefontaine was converted to a U.S. military fort, and was used for that purpose until 1826.
During the War of 1812, Great Britain and allied Indians defeated U.S. forces in the Upper Mississippi; the U.S. abandoned Forts Osage and Madison, as well as several other U.S. forts built during the war, including Fort Johnson and Fort Shelby. After U.S. ownership of the region was confirmed in the Treaty of Ghent (1814), the U.S. built or expanded forts along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, including adding to Fort Bellefontaine, and constructing Fort Armstrong (1816) and Fort Edwards (1816) in Illinois, Fort Crawford (1816) in Prairie du Chien Wisconsin, Fort Snelling (1819) in Minnesota, and Fort Atkinson (1819) in Nebraska.
The American government used $3 million in gold as a down payment, and issued bonds for the balance to pay France for the purchase. Earlier that year, Francis Baring and Company of London had become the U.S. government's official banking agent in London. Because of this favored position, the U.S. asked the Baring firm to handle the transaction. Francis Baring's son Alexander was in Paris at the time and helped in the negotiations. Another Baring advantage was a close relationship with Hope and Company of Amsterdam. The two banking houses worked together to facilitate and underwrite the Purchase.
Because Napoleon wanted to receive his money as quickly as possible, the two firms received the American bonds and shipped the gold to France. Napoleon used the money to finance his planned invasion of England, which never took place.
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