The Louisiana Purchase

Today, the Louisiana Purchase is still one of the largest acquisition deals in history. The Louisiana territory stretched nearly 828,000 acres, 15 current states from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains. The vast land on US soil was owned by France in the 1700s, following the French and Indian war, but much of the territory was claimed by Spain following the American Revolution. This was short lived however, because Spain saw the American land as unmanageable and in 1801, the rights to the land were sent back to the French government by means of a secret pact within the Treaty of San Ildefonso. The land was now back in French control of a major portion of the continental United States, which was met with great unrest. (Gale Virtual Resource)

As United State Minister to France, Robert Livingston was given the task to acquire this land by order of President Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson Livingston, along with James Monroe represented American interests in the Louisiana Territory beginning as early as 1801. Frenchman, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand and François Barbé-Marbois were the diplomatic team for France, under the stern rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Tensions would not have risen to the extent they did had the French government not outlawed US storage of goods within New Orleans in 1802. As a result, Thomas Jefferson made his intentions clear on April 18, 1802 when he wrote a letter to Livingston, proclaiming:

'The cession of Louisiana & the Floridas by Spain to France works most sorely on the US. 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 compleatly reverses all the political relations of the US. 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 & habitual enemy. 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. France placing herself in that door assumes to us the attitude of defiance.' (National Archives)

The stage was set, Thomas Jefferson was not going to allow for the French to have control over the significant port city of New Orleans as it would mark the end of the United States as a power. Robert Livingston with the assistance of Monroe was to get as much land including New Orleans and Florida as possible.

Robert Livingston’s diplomatic breakthrough occurred during April of 1803 during negotiations in Paris. It was at this point that the French were under immense pressure as they were on the brink of war with Great Britain, which left Napoleon absolutely shook. As a result, Talleyrand approached the two American’s to see what the price for the entire land mass would be. Robert Livingston and Monroe knew the pressure that France was under, and their ultimatum of war with Britain of cede land to the US. (Brecher)

In the end, the United States acquired the 828,000 acres for less than ¢3 per acre, which was a lucrative deal for the United States. This deal was certainly orchestrated by Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison however, it was the work of Robert Livingston and James Monroe that ultimately proved to push negotiations forward, and close one of the biggest land acquisitions in history. 

The Louisiana Purchase