In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory from the French for $15,000,000. The purchase made President Jefferson's dream of extending the U.S. west of the Mississippi River come true.
Now the much larger United States had difficult questions to answer: How would Louisiana be governed? How would it be divided into states? Would those states be free states or slave states? What would happen to the Native Americans? It would take over one hundred years, a war over slavery, and the creation of thirteen new states before these questions could be answered.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Peter Roop, Connie Roop
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Peter and Connie Roop
All rights reserved.
NAPOLÉON TAKES A BATH
April 7, 1803. Napoléon, the ruler of France, settled into his hot bath. Napoléon enjoyed soaking in his steaming tub as he planned to conquer other countries. Already he had conquered parts of Europe. Now Napoléon set his eyes on the next prize: the island kingdom of Great Britain, less than twenty miles away from the French coast.
Scratch, scratch, scratch.
Napoléon had forbidden anyone to knock on his Paris palace doors. Everyone had to scratch like a cat in order to see Napoléon, the "Man of Destiny." Napoléon frowned at the interruption, but nodded to his servant to open the door.
Lucien, Napoléon's younger brother, marched in.
In a book about his life, Lucien Bonaparte described the following historic events, highlighting the conversations as he remembered them.
As Napoléon and Lucien talked about their childhood in Corsica, they heard, scratch, scratch, scratch. Another interruption!
"Let him come in," Napoléon said. "I will stay in the water a quarter hour longer."
This time Joseph, Napoléon's older brother, entered the bathing room.
Lucien bragged about the secret treaty he had just negotiated with Spain. Spain, which had owned Louisiana since 1763, had recently given Louisiana back to France.
Joseph and Lucien broke into a heated argument about what to do with this vast Louisiana territory, far away in North America.
Joseph turned to Napoléon and asked, "Well, you still say nothing of your great plan?"
Napoléon answered from the comfort of his perfumed bath.
"Oh! Yes," Napoléon stated. "Know merely, that I have decided to sell Louisiana to the Americans."
Lucien squeaked, "Ah! Ah!"
Joseph snapped at Napoléon, saying the French government would not support selling such a valuable French asset.
Napoléon stood, then remembered he was naked and plopped down in his bathtub. Water showered Joseph. The servant, overcome by the scene, fainted.
Napoléon abruptly ended the discussion.
"And then, gentlemen, think what you please about it, but give up this affair as lost to both of you. I shall get along without the consent of anyone whomsoever, do you understand?" he exclaimed.
Napoléon, the most powerful man in France, had made up his mind. He didn't want the tremendous expense of governing the Louisiana Territory. He urgently needed money for his European wars. He especially wanted to invade Britain. (Ironically, British banks also loaned money to Napoléon, money which he planned to use to conquer Britain.)
Selling Louisiana would solve both problems.
But only if the Americans would purchase Louisiana.CHAPTER 2
WHAT WAS THE BIG DEAL ABOUT LOUISIANA, ANYWAY?
Three thousand miles away in Washington, D.C. (most of which was still being built), President Thomas Jefferson was trying to buy just New Orleans, not all of Louisiana.
In 1803 the young United States extended from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River. President Jefferson dreamed of the energetic United States spreading west across the Mississippi River, stretching "from sea to shining sea." However, Jefferson's vision of pioneers settling the heartland of North America west of the Mississippi seemed almost impossible. Louisiana was so vast, and now it was owned by the French.
That spring, however, Jefferson desperately wanted New Orleans. This vibrant city, one hundred miles from the mouth of the Mississippi, controlled shipping on the mighty river. Three out of every eight bushels of corn grown in America passed through New Orleans. Three out of every eight American hogs sailed through New Orleans. Three out of every eight bundles of American furs were transported through New Orleans. The products bought, sold, and delivered were worth millions of dollars to Americans.
If New Orleans became an American port, the farmers in the current states and future states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, and Mississippi would shout for joy. And vote for Jefferson again.
If Jefferson couldn't buy New Orleans, the western settlers threatened to declare independence, leave the United States, and create their own nation. Who could understand this threat better than President Jefferson, who had written the Declaration of Independence?
If the United States owned New Orleans, however, no country could ever block the valuable river trade.
Jefferson wrote, "There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans through which three-eighths of our territory must pass to market."
Jefferson continued, "The day that France takes possession of New Orleans ... we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation."
This was a complete about-face for America. French aid in the Revolutionary War had enabled the United States to defeat Great Britain and gain its independence. Now the relationship between France and the United States was in trouble. France, in a state of revolution herself, had been harassing American ships and sailors. The two countries were so close to war that George Washington came out of retirement to organize an army.
Things had settled down by 1800 as Napoléon gained power and focused his energies against European countries and not America.
But Napoléon certainly didn't want the United States to ally itself with his archenemy, Great Britain. Together, the two nations might thwart his dreams of conquest.
With Spain on his side, however, Napoléon could accomplish his visions of empire.
Since 1763 Spain had been the proud owner of the Louisiana Territory.
Nobody knew the exact borders of Louisiana. On most maps it stretched from Canada to Texas, from the muddy Mississippi to the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. These boundaries, however, were sketchy.
In 1800, in a secret treaty, Spain traded Louisiana to France. In return Spain received Tuscany, a prosperous region of Italy.
Spain was glad to let France have Louisiana. The territory cost too much to govern. Spain also didn't want the United States to possess Louisiana. This would put the grasping Americans too close to Spain's rich Mexican gold and silver mines. A French Louisiana would keep the eager Americans at bay. Or at least, east of the Mississippi.
The Spanish felt they had bested Napoléon. Beautiful, wealthy Tuscany for a worthless, deserted wilderness.
The wilderness, however, was not worthless. Nor was it deserted.
Louisiana was home to thousands of Native Americans. The Sioux, Iowa, Blackfeet, Cree, Shoshoni, Kansas, and dozens of other tribes lived in Louisiana. Here they laughed and cried, lived and died. They hunted, they traded, and they fought one another.
Millions of buffalo, elk, deer, and antelope roamed the vast plains and mountains. Grizzly bears scavenged. Prairie dogs dug underground dens. Ducks, pelicans, geese, and cranes flocked. Hawks, falcons, and eagles soared. Lakes, rivers, and streams teemed with beaver, muskrats, and fat fish. Thriving prairie grasses waved in the winds. Birch, pines, aspens, and cottonwoods grew tall.
Far away on another continent, a dripping Napoléon made the decision that would change the people and environment of Louisiana forever.CHAPTER 3
THE DEAL IS SEALED
Would the United States really buy Louisiana? Napoléon wondered.
President Jefferson and Congress had already told Robert Livingston, the United States minister to France, to buy New Orleans. Congress approved two million dollars to purchase the valuable "Crescent City." Jefferson secretly told Livingston to go as high as ten million dollars.
By 1803 Livingston's negotiations were beginning to bear fruit. The French were indeed interested in selling New Orleans.
Imagine Livingston's surprise when on April 7, 1803, four days after Napoléon's interrupted bath, France offered not just New Orleans to the United States, but all of Louisiana, too!
Livingston said the United States was only interested in New Orleans.
But he was curious. What would all of Louisiana cost? Livingston offered France twenty million francs, or five million dollars, for New Orleans and Louisiana together.
Much too low, laughed Talleyrand, Napoléon's Foreign Affairs Minister.
Two days later, President Jefferson's trusted friend, James Monroe, arrived in France to aid in the negotiations. Monroe's arrival upset Livingston because he was so close to picking the plum of New Orleans by himself.
With Monroe by his side, however, Livingston now had more power to negotiate.
France and the United States argued over the price. Finally, they settled on sixty million francs (about fifteen million dollars).
What a bargain!
Less than four cents an acre for each of Louisiana's 375 million acres! Louisiana was 828,000 square miles (2,144,486 square kilometers) and doubled the size of the United States!
Monroe and Livingston now had a complicated problem on their hands. President Jefferson and Congress had told them to buy New Orleans. The president had said nothing about all of Louisiana.
Monroe and Livingston knew it would take months to send word by ship to President Jefferson and receive his reply.
They couldn't pass up such an incredible deal. No problem, they told Talleyrand. The United States would pay the fifteen million dollars.
Monroe and Livingston had no idea how they would get the money. Ultimately, it was borrowed from Dutch banks.
Regardless, on May 2, 1803, Monroe and Livingston signed the historic treaty to purchase Louisiana. After signing, they shook hands with Napoléon. Livingston said, "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."
Napoléon was extremely pleased. With fifteen million dollars, he could pursue his plan to completely conquer Europe, then Great Britain.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, President Jefferson was hatching a plan of his own. He had persuaded a reluctant Congress to give him twenty-five hundred dollars to fund an expedition to secretly explore Louisiana.
Two years earlier, Jefferson had already put part of his plan into operation. In 1801, after his election as president, he handpicked Meriwether Lewis to be his personal secretary. Lewis, a family friend, experienced soldier, and avid woodsman, was to lead a "Corps of Discovery." Now, Lewis and his corps would explore Louisiana—without permission from the French. This was illegal and dangerous.
President Jefferson had no idea that, as Lewis prepared to leave for Louisiana, Louisiana actually belonged to the United States!
They both soon learned the historic news.
On July 4, 1803, the United States celebrated her twenty-eighth birthday. President Jefferson had another reason to celebrate this holiday. The night before, he learned that the United States had purchased Louisiana! Jefferson realized that the nation he helped create in 1776 was now twice as big as it had been on its first birthday.
Jefferson was relieved. With New Orleans and Louisiana as part of the United States, no foreign power could stop traffic on the Mississippi. Jefferson wrote, "This removes us from the greatest source of danger to our peace."
Jefferson had a third reason to especially enjoy this Fourth of July. The next day Meriwether Lewis, at Jefferson's command, was to leave Washington and start preparing for his exploration of Louisiana to the Pacific Ocean. Now Lewis's expedition into Louisiana would be legal because the United States owned the territory.
Horatio Gates, a friend of Jefferson's, told him that the purchase of Louisiana "must strike every true friend to freedom in the United States as the greatest and most beneficial event that has taken place since the Declaration of Independence."
At first, President Jefferson thought the United States Constitution might not allow him to buy new land. The Constitution stated that the president could negotiate treaties with foreign nations. The Constitution did not state whether a president could buy land. After careful consideration, President Jefferson reasoned that, because the Louisiana Purchase was a treaty between the United States and France, he did indeed have the constitutional power to purchase Louisiana. Jefferson, however, said he "stretched the Constitution until it cracked."
Congress agreed with President Jefferson and ratified the treaty to purchase the Louisiana Territory.
On October 21, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson signed his name next to Napoléon's on the treaty. The deal was sealed.
A major milestone in the history of the United States had been reached.CHAPTER 4
WHAT EXACTLY DID JEFFERSON PURCHASE?
Had President Jefferson really gotten a bargain? Or had Napoléon tricked the Americans into buying a worthless wilderness with no boundaries?
After purchasing Louisiana, the American minister Robert Livingston asked the French minister Talleyrand exactly where the borders were.
"I can give you no direction," he smirked. "You have made a noble bargain for yourselves, and I suppose you will make the best of it."
In 1803 no one knew the exact boundaries of the vast Louisiana Territory. There was one boundary, however, everyone agreed upon. The Mississippi River was the eastern border of Louisiana. However, there was a small problem. No one knew where the Mississippi River began. So even this border was unknown.
Just what was this Louisiana which so many countries were trying to outwit one another to keep, steal, sell, or buy?
For the Native Americans, Louisiana was home. There were no borders in their Louisiana. The Iowa, Wichita, Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, Kansas, Osage, Missouri, Pawnee, Sioux, Mandan, Hidatsa, Crow, Gros Ventre, Ojibwa, Cheyenne, and dozens of other tribes roamed the vast territory. They built villages. If a tribe was strong, it might push a weaker tribe to another place. But there was room for all.
The Native Americans didn't know that Spain, France, and eventually the young United States claimed their lands.
How could these countries claim Louisiana?
European claims began in 1492 when Christopher Columbus reached the Americas. Columbus claimed the lands he encountered for Spain. It didn't matter to Columbus that Native Americans were already living here.
Word of Columbus's voyages quickly spread throughout Europe. Other countries wanted to claim land here, too. England, France, Holland, and Portugal sent expeditions to this so-called New World. Some of these explorers came for adventure. Some came to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. Some came to find a new life. Almost everyone came to get rich. Fast.
Tales were told of mountains of gold and silver. Plus, there were Indians that could be enslaved to do the hard work of digging, hauling, and melting the gold and silver to ship home to the Old World.
The country which claimed the most territory would become the most wealthy. And powerful.
No one thought to ask the Native Americans how they felt about this invasion of their homelands.
For a few years after Columbus, the Spanish claimed the most land. First, they took islands in the Caribbean. Then they claimed Mexico. Next came Florida. In their greedy eyes, Florida meant all of North America!
The Spanish sent more explorers to find out just what they had.
In 1519 Alonso de Pineda sailed along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Pineda's expedition was the first from Europe to see the mouth of the mighty Mississippi. Pineda wrote home telling of the glories he had seen (and many he had imagined).
Such glorious news inspired Panfilo de Narvaez to set sail in 1528. Three hundred eager soldiers joined him. His treasurer, Alvar Cabeza de Vaca, came along to keep track of the riches they hoped to discover.
The expedition landed in Florida with high hopes. They enthusiastically marched west, but swarming bugs devoured them. Slimy mud gripped their feet. Rain showers soaked them.
Hungry alligators snapped at them. Stifling heat steamed them.
And all the while they wore heavy metal armor in case of attack by the Native Americans.
Excerpted from Louisiana Purchase by Peter Roop, Connie Roop. Copyright © 2004 Peter and Connie Roop. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsCast of Major Characters,
1. Napoléon Takes a Bath,
2. What Was the Big Deal About Louisiana, Anyway?,
3. The Deal Is Sealed,
4. What Exactly Did Jefferson Purchase?,
5. The French Claim and Name Louisiana,
6. France Gets Kicked Out and Britain Gets the Boot,
7. Napoléon's Dream Becomes a Nightmare,
8. The Stars and Stripes Finally Fly Over Louisiana,
9. Lewis and Clark Explore Louisiana,
10. Under My Wings Every Thing Prospers,
States Formed from the Louisiana Purchase,
About the Authors,