Describe the events leading to the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803. Discuss the terms of the treaty and how Jefferson reconciled his strict interpretation of the Constitution with the acquisition of the territory.
Before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the entire Louisiana territory covered what is today known as the Midwest. The purchase of the land was a monumental step in the expansion of the United States. Thomas Jefferson became the 2nd president of the United States in 1800 and assumed control in 1801. He envisioned a society of independent farmers that were free from the restraints of industrial towns and the mobs of European cities (Brinkley p. 181).
In 1763, France lost control of the Louisiana Territory to Great Britain. Under the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800, France regained control of Louisiana in an acquisition that Napoleon Bonaparte hoped would become the heart of the great French empire in America (Brinkley p. 200). Napoleon envision a French empire that would control much of the trade and establish French dominance in the New World. All was not well within the French empire though; African slaves in San Domingo would revolt under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture in the West Indies. Napoleon would have to send an army to restore order in the Indies. This revolt was but the start of the problems of Napoleon realizing his ambitions in America (Brinkley p. 200).
Thomas Jefferson had begun to reconsider his association with France after he learned of the secret treaty in which France regained Louisiana. Jefferson had become even more alarmed in the fall of 1802 when he learned that the Spanish intendant who controlled the Louisiana Territory had announced a new regulation (Brinkley p. 200). American vessels had long used the Mississippi River as a supply route to get cargo to New Orleans in order to load ocean bound ships for export. The new regulation revealed by the Spanish forbade the use of the route effectively shutting down the lower Mississippi. Upon learning of the new regulation, Jefferson sent his French ambassador to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans (Brinkley p. 200). His ambassador, Robert Livingston, took it upon himself to try and purchase the majority of western Louisiana as well. While Livingston was trying to acquire Louisiana, Jefferson had persuaded Congress to appropriate funds to expand the army and the construction of a river fleet (Brinkley p. 200). Jefferson wanted to give the illusion that the US had partnered with the British if the problems with France were not resolved soon. Shortly afterward, Napoleon decided to accept the United States offer to purchase Louisiana.
On April 30, 1803, James Monroe and Richard Livingston signed the agreement with France for the purchase. The United States purchased Louisiana from the French for $80,000,000 francs ($15mil US.). The US also had to promise certain exclusive commercial privileges to France and to incorporate its residents into the Union (Brinkley p. 201). The agreement stated that Louisiana would occupy the “same extent” as it had when France and Spain had controlled it (Brinkley p. 202).
Thomas Jefferson was pleased with the acquisition of Louisiana but was unsure if he possessed the authority to accept the agreement terms. He was convinced by his advisors that with this treaty making power under the Constitution, that his acceptance of the agreement was justified. In 1803, the French assumed control of Louisiana from Spain and immediately transferred the rights to the territory to the United States. Louisiana was admitted into the Union as a recognized state in 1812. (Brinkley p.202)
The purchase of Louisiana was a major step in the development of the Midwestern United States. Gaining control of the territory from France helped the United States regain the power to transport goods down the Mississippi River to get to the port of New Orleans. This was a big deal to the United States as New Orleans was the focal point of moving goods across the ocean for export.
Brinkley, A. (2007). American History: A Survey. Boston: McGraw Hill.