Louisiana County Histories

When the United States won its independence from Great Britain in 1783, one of its major concerns was having a European power on its western boundary, and the need for unrestricted access to the Mississippi River. As American settlers pushed west, they found that the Appalachian Mountains provided a barrier to shipping goods eastward.

Flag of LouisianaThe easiest way to ship produce was to use a flatboat to float it down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the port of New Orleans, from whence goods could be put on ocean-going vessels. The problem with this route was that the Spanish owned both sides of the Mississippi below Natchez.

Thomas Jefferson authorized Robert R. Livingston, U.S. Minister to France, to negotiate for the purchase of the City of New Orleans, portions of the east bank of the Mississippi, and free navigation of the river for U.S. commerce. Livingston was authorized to pay up to $2 million.

When an initial deal fell through, President Jefferson ignored public pressure for war with France, and appointed James Monroe a special envoy to Napoleon, to assist in obtaining New Orleans for the United States. Jefferson also raised the authorized expenditure to $10 million.

However, on April 11, 1803, French Foreign Minister Talleyrand surprised Livingston by asking how much the United States was prepared to pay for the entirety of Louisiana, not just New Orleans and the surrounding area. Monroe agreed with Livingston that Napoleon might withdraw this offer at any time (leaving them with no ability to obtain the desired New Orleans area), and that approval from President Jefferson might take months, so Livingston and Monroe decided to open negotiations immediately.

Louisiana Purchase, 1804

Louisiana Purchase, 1804

By April 30, they closed a deal for the purchase of the entire Louisiana territory of 828,000 square miles for 60 million Francs (approximately $15 million). Part of this sum was used to forgive debts owed by France to the United States. The payment was made in United States bonds, which Napoleon sold at face value to the Dutch firm of Hope and Company, and the British banking house of Baring, at a discount of $87.50 for each $100 unit. As a result, France received only $8,831,250 in cash for Louisiana.

When news of the purchase reached the United States, Jefferson was surprised. He had authorized the expenditure of $10 million for a port city, and instead received treaties committing the government to spend $15 million on a land package which would double the size of the country.

Jefferson’s political opponents in the Federalist Party argued that the Louisiana purchase was a worthless desert, and that the Constitution did not provide for the acquisition of new land or negotiating treaties without the consent of the Senate. What really worried the opposition was the new states which would inevitably be carved from the Louisiana territory, strengthening Western and Southern interests in Congress, and further reducing the influence of New England Federalists in national affairs.

President Jefferson was an enthusiastic supporter of westward expansion, and held firm in his support for the treaty. Despite Federalist objections, the U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana treaty on October 20, 1803. In New Orleans on November 30, 1803, General James Wilkinson accepted possession of New Orleans for the United States.

Collection Details

  1. JOHN BELISLE, HISTORY OF SABINE PARISH, LOUISIANA: FROM THE FIRST EXPLORERS AND SETTLERS TO THE PRESENT

  2. ALCEE FORTIER, LIT. D., LOUISIANA – VOLUME I., CENTURY HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION, 1914

  3. ALCEE FORTIER, LIT. D., LOUISIANA – VOLUME II., CENTURY HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION, 1914

  4. ALCEE FORTIER, LIT. D., LOUISIANA – VOLUME III., CENTURY HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION, 1914

  5. WILLIAM HENRY PERRIN, SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA BIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL., THE GULF PUBLISHING COMPANY BIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL WORKS, 1891