The Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase was the purchase of the French province of Louisiana by the
United States in 1803. The province stretched from the Mississippi River westward to the
Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico northward to Canada, covering an area
equal to that of the United States, prior to the purchase. Except for the Mississippi River
on the east and Canada on the north, the boundaries were indefinite. The United States
also claimed West Florida between the Mississippi and Perdido rivers as part of the
purchase, but Spain denied the claim. As a result of the purchase, the port of New
Orleans and the entire Mississippi system were secured for American shippers, and the
country was free to expand toward the Pacific Ocean. The price wa $15,000,000 for an
area of 828,000 square miles (2,145,000 km) – less than 3 cents an acre.
In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte got Spain to return it by a secret treaty. Napoleon planned
a French empire in the New World, with its center at New Orleans. President Jefferson
was alert to the dangers of a powerful nation controlling the mouth of the Mississippi. He
instructed the American minister to France, Robert R. Livingston, to open negotiations to
buy New Orleans and some territory east of the city. A treaty would have to satisfy the
financial claims that some United States citizens had against the French government.
Finally the French continued to claim that the province still belonged to Spain. Jefferson
sent James Monroe to help with the negotiations, and authorized him to spend no more
than $10,000,000. Napoleon offered Livingston and Monroe the entire province of
Louisiana in a treaty dated April 30, 1803. The American negotiators agreed to pay
$11,250,000 to France and $3,750,000 for the French debts to United States citizens.
The purchase forced Jefferson to give a broad interpretation to the Constitution, which
did not specifically grant authority for acquiring new territory. This interpretation set the
precedent for later treaties that added to United States territory. The US Senator
promptly ratified the purchase treaty, despite political opposition by the Federalists. The
area officially became United States territory on December 20, 1803. However it was 16
years before the exact boundaries were established, by the Adams-Ons Treaty with
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