Please explain the circumstances surrounding the Louisiana Purchase. What events occurred that led to the Louisiana Purchase?

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martinjmurphy eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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After the Revolutionary War, Americans began to settle in the Ohio River valley.  The Appalachian Mountains made it very expensive and difficult to transport goods to the east coast.  The cheapest way to ship goods to the coast was to float them down the Ohio River, then down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where they could be transferred to ocean going vessels for shipment to the east coast and Europe.  The problem was that the U.S. had no control over New Orleans and Thomas Jefferson, president at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, feared that the U.S. would lose its right of deposit at New Orleans.  At the time, Louisiana was controlled by Spain, but in a secret agreement, Spain was to cede Louisiana to France in exchange for a Spanish Kingdom in Italy.  With knowledge of this agreement, Jefferson sent Robert Livingston, and then James Monroe, to France to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans from Napoleon for $10 million. With the hopes of a Caribbean empire based on the sugar trade dashed with the loss of Santo Domingo, Napoleon lost interest in controlling Louisiana. In need of money to continue his European wars, Napoleon offered the U.S. the entire Louisiana territory, more than 800,000 square miles, for $15 million.  One problem confronted Jefferson.  He was a strict constructionist and did not see anything in the Constitution which would give him the power to purchase Louisiana.  What he did know was that he did have the power to negotiate treaties. Knowing that this deal was in the best interest of the United States, he put the purchase of Louisiana in a treaty which the Senate later ratified.  In 1830, the United States doubled in size with the purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon for $15 million.

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Louisiana Territory had been in the hands of Spain since the French and Indian Wars. However, the Spanish made no attempt to develop the area, and as a fading European power, they were in no position to maintain their presence there. So, the Spanish agreed to cede control of the Louisiana Territory to France.

This development caused considerable unease amongst Americans, even those such as Thomas Jefferson, who were traditionally sympathetic to French interests. Westward expansion had gathered steam by the early nineteenth century, with more and more American settlers taking advantage of the relative peace and stability, in the wake of the French and Indian Wars, to stake their claim in the new territories. Yet French control of the Louisiana Territory could jeopardize all that, potentially placing the United States on a collision course with a newly resurgent France under Napoleon.

But, as it turned out, the Americans needn't have worried. At that time, the French were preoccupied with a serious slave rebellion in Haiti, as well as preparing for war with Great Britain, so they agreed to sell what was becoming a growing financial and strategic burden to the United States. The United States eagerly accepted France's unexpected offer and agreed to buy the Louisiana Territory for the princely sum of $15 million (nearly $600 million in today's money).

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martinjmurphy eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I need to correct my last post. The last line of my post should read, "In 1803, the United States doubled in size with the purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon for $15 million." 

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htcevo | Student

Jefferson was interested in buying the Louisiana Purchase because he wanted to make the United States bigger, well-fit, and stronger. He also was interested in the buying the land because he was fearful that foreign countries would control the New Orleands port.

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