What events led to the Louisiana Purchase?

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The Mississippi River can be considered one of the key highways tying the United States together during the time of the Early Republic. For many farmers residing west of the Appalachian Mountains, the river represented the optimal path for transporting their goods east and maintained a line of communications with the other half of the country. However, with that being said, control of the port city of New Orleans ultimately dictated control of the Mississippi River.

However, in answering this question, it would also be useful to discuss the French half of this equation and to be aware of the turmoil surrounding the French Revolution, which saw the rise of Napoleon (and the expansion of French power on the continent). In addition, it it also important to be aware of the Haitian Revolution, which also played a critical role in shaping this history.

The French colony of Saint-Domingue (later Haiti) was the most profitable of France's territorial possessions and the key to Napoleon's own American ambitions. Therefore, Napoleon put considerable effort into reimposing French control on the island and reinstating slavery (an effort that would end in failure for the French forces). Meanwhile, you should also consider the political picture in Europe itself (and continued tensions between France and Great Britain). Given these various difficulties, Napoleon ultimately offered to sell the entire Louisiana territory to the United States, and this offer was was accepted.

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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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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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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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Please explain the circumstances around the Louisiana Purchase.

France had claimed the Louisiana Territory in the 1600's. However, in 1763, they ceded their right to most of the territory to Spain. The U.S. had a treaty with Spain that allowed the U.S.to use New Orleans without paying a duty on their goods. In 1800, Napoleon arranged a treaty with Spain to retake the territory. This alarmed many Americans, including President Jefferson, because they were afraid of French control of such an important area to the the United States. Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris to try to buy the area from France. At first, Napoleon was reluctant but eventually he realized he needed money because he was about to fight a war with England. He realized his troops would not be able to defend Louisiana so the Americans might simply annex the territory. So, he agreed to sell the territory to the U.S. for $15 million. The only problem was that Jefferson did not believe he had the constitutional authority to make such a purchase. Eventually, after consulting with his advisors, Jefferson agreed that the powers given to the President to negotiate treaties were sufficient to allow him to make the purchase. The U.S. Government borrowed the money from English and Dutch banks and eventually paid $27 million in loans and interest for this huge amount of land which doubled the size of the United States.

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What are the circumstances of the Louisiana Purchase?

The United States needed to be able to use the port of New Orleans. Not only did we depend on using the port to ship our products, we also needed to store our goods there until they could be shipped. There was concern that our ability to use the port and to store our goods there would be impacted when France took control of this region.

President Jefferson instructed our minister to France, Robert Livingston, to try to buy New Orleans and West Florida for $10 million. The French responded that they were willing to sell us the entire Louisiana Territory for $15 million. If we made this purchase, it would double the size of the United States.

President Jefferson hesitated to make the purchase because he was a person who believed in a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Since the Constitution didn’t say anything about the President buying land, President Jefferson wasn’t sure he could make the deal. However, President Jefferson was persuaded to make the deal, allowing the United States to double the size of the country.

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What were the circumstances surrounding the Louisiana Purchase?

The Louisiana Purchase stemmed from a long-standing desire on the part of the United States to gain control of the Mississippi River, or at least the city of New Orleans. Without unlimited access to New Orleans, American expansion was compromised, since farmers west of the Appalachians had no way to ship their crops to market (because trans-Appalachian rivers flowed toward the Mississippi, and there was as yet no canal linking the Great Lakes to the Hudson River). The port city had been in Spanish hands, but it, along with the vast territory of Louisiana, came under French control in 1802. Alarmed by this development, which President Thomas Jefferson thought might arouse the ambitions of Napoleon, James Monroe went to France with a mandate to secure New Orleans and West Florida for the United States. In the meantime, however, the Haitian Revolution led to that island nation's independence from France. This meant that the port city of New Orleans was no longer all that useful to the French. They also feared war with Great Britain, and believed that Louisiana would fall into the hands of that nation.

These developments changed France's outlook. They offered Monroe and ambassador Robert Livingston an astonishing bargain--the whole of the Louisiana Territory, encompassing most of the modern United States from the Mississippi to the Rockies--for $15 million. Monroe agreed to the Purchase, but Jefferson was conflicted, since he doubted its constitutionality. He had, after all, long advocated a philosophy of strict constructionism in matters involving the Constitution. Eventually, however, the Purchase was approved by Jefferson and the Senate. Jefferson, having already ordered the exploration of the American Northwest (including much of the territory in question) by the Lewis and Clark expedition, had through a series of fortuitous events, vastly increased the size of the United States, setting in motion a half-century of extraordinary territorial growth that saw the nation expand its borders to the Pacific.

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