The land area of the United States was effectively doubled 209 years ago, today. Napoleon Bonaparte’s representative François Barbé-Marbois along with Americans Robert Livingston and James Monroe, representing President Thomas Jefferson, signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty.
Because the U.S. Senate must ratify all foreign treaties, October 30, 1803 became the date the treaty actually went into effect. On Halloween day President Jefferson took legal control of the land and established the temporary military government. At that time, plans were made to assess the new territory. History notes this as the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
I find the twists and turns of intrigue surrounding the signing of the treaty most interesting. In 1801, the U.S. discovered that Louisiana had been transfered from Spanish rule to French Control. This had been accomplished by Napoleon Bonaparte, the year before, via the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso.
Knowledge of the treaty aroused concern that the U.S. might lose their rights to use New Orleans as a sea port. The Jefferson administration determined that outright purchase of the city of New Orleans and land to the east of the Mississippi River was called for.
Livingston and Monroe were sent to Paris to negotiate the purchase with representatives of Napoleon’s regime for only that portion of territory for ten million dollars. However, due to the huge cost of governing the entire, massive territory, the grand mass of land was included by the French if Jefferson would agree to an additional five million dollars.
Napoleon’s forces were crippled by the long running antipathy with Great Britain. They also were battling a slave rebellion in the profitable colony of Saint Domingue, later Haiti. Napoleon’s brother in law, Charles Leclerc, needed resources to assert authority over the rebellion. Napoleon’s more urgent plan to invade Great Britain was initiated with the building of a barge fleet for the invasion. He needed ready cash, so the sale of Louisiana became attractive. Hence, Napoleon all told, gave up his idea of empire in North America.
The French interests included all land from the Gulf of Mexico, all the way up to Rupert’s Land in and around Canada, it included all of this from the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.
Ironically enough, the treaty stipulated that the United States purchase was not with France, but from Barings Bank of England. The purchase was negotiated in U.S. Bonds, which in turn were sold to Baring Brothers and Hope and Company. The Napoleon regime only received just less than nine million dollars cash for the territorial sale. In effect, the major British bank helped finance the war effort of Britain’s enemy at the time.
Following the sale, a border dispute with Spain arose over the Rocky Mountain boundaries and the strip of land known as West Florida. Furthermore, Spain disputed the sale because the San Ildefonso treaty explicitly forbad the transfer of the territory to a third party. There was a further dispute over a royal claim between the Spanish and the French about an Italian kingdom.
The disagreements with Spain finally ended in 1819 as a result of the Adams-Onis Treaty. In it, the U.S. gained control over all of Florida and formal control of Louisiana along the Arkansas, Red, and Sabine rivers plus the boundary of the 42nd Parallel.
It’s amazing to sit at my desk, approximately in the middle of the old Louisiana Territory, contemplating this important aspect of American history.
The Blue Jay of Happiness thanks Creative Commons for maps and background information.