In the year 1802, in a letter to Pierre Samuel du Pont, President Thomas Jefferson wrote: “This little event of France possessing herself of Louisiana, is the embryo of a tornado which will burst on the countries on both sides of the Atlantic and involve in its effects their highest destinies.” This was amid reports that Spain would retrocede to France the vast Territory of Louisiana.
The United States was expanding westward and navigation of the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans became critical to the American economy. This rumored transfer of authority was cause for concern.
Jefferson wrote to Robert Livingston, who was the U.S. Minister to France, that “every eye in the US is now fixed on this affair of Louisiana.” It was the most uneasy time for the young nation since the revolutionary war. Jefferson’s vision of securing the territory was altered by the concept of having France, and its leader Napoleon Bonaparte, as a neighbor.
In 1762 French territories including New Orleans, west of the Mississippi, and Canada were transferred to Spain. The same land areas were ceded to Britain the following year. But when Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in 1799, he seemed determined to bring France back to the continent.
In October 1802 the situation became a crisis as King Charles IV of Spain transferred the territory to France. Acting on orders from the Spanish court, American access was revoked to the New Orleans’ port warehouse.
Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison attempted diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue. The opposing Federalist Party called for war and sought secession by the western territories in order to gain control of the lower Mississippi and New Orleans. The threat of disunion caused Jefferson to recommend that James Monroe join Livingston in Paris in January 1803.
Jefferson also asked Congress to fund an expedition that would cross the Louisiana Territory no matter who controlled it. This concept later evolved into the Louis and Clark Expedition.
Jefferson wrote to Jim Garrard, Kentucky’s governor, to make him aware of Monroe’s appointment and that he had the power to enter into “arrangements that may effectually secure our rights and interests in the Mississippi and in the country eastward of that.” 10 million in funds were allocated for the purchase of New Orleans and all or at least a portion of the Floridas. If the bid failed, Monroe was to purchase New Orleans or, at the very least, secure US access to the Mississippi River and the port.
When Monroe reached Paris on April 12 of 1803, Livingston made him aware of a very different deal.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s plan to root back into the New World was fast dissipating. The French Army had been overcome by yellow fever during their attempt to suppress rebellion by slaves and free black people in the colony of Saint Domingue (present day Haiti). A new war with Britain seemed imminent. It was Francois de Barbe’-Marbois, France’s Minister of Finance, who counseled Bonaparte that Louisiana would lose value without Saint Domingue. He also suggested that in the circumstance of war, the territory would be taken by the British from Canada. Because France could not afford to occupy the entire Mississippi Valley, the Finance Minister suggested Bonaparte release his desire for a presence in the New World and sell the territory to the U.S. On April 11, 1803, Livingston was told that France was willing to sell all of Louisiana and Monroe was informed as such upon his arrival the next day. By April 30th they reached an agreement, although it exceeded their monetary authority. Rumors of the purchase proceeded notification to Washington. Washington made an official announcement on July 4, 1803. The U.S. would acquire around 827,000 square miles of land just west of the Mississippi for $15 million dollars.
The treaty for purchase had to be ratified before the end of October. Precise boundaries would not be determined for years afterward. Jefferson rationalized: “It is the case of a guardian, investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory and saying to him, when of age, I did this for your good.”
The treaty was ratified on October 20th by a vote of 24-7. Spain was angered by the sale, but did not have the military power to block it. Spain formally returned Louisiana to France On November 30th. On December 20th, the territory was transferred to America and ten days later, the U.S. took formal possession.
TIMELINE OF THE LOUISIANA TERRITORY
(Credit to http://www.Monticello.org)
1682 René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claims for France all territory drained by Mississippi River from Canada to Gulf of Mexico and names it Louisiana.
1718 New Orleans is founded.
1762 France cedes New Orleans and Louisiana west of the Mississippi to Spain.
1763 France cedes territories east of the Mississippi and north of New Orleans to Britain.
1783 Treaty of Paris gives newly independent United States free access to the Mississippi.
1784 Spain closes lower Mississippi and New Orleans to foreigners.
1789 French Revolution begins.
1790 Slaves revolt on Caribbean island of Saint Domingue, France’s richest colony.
1795 Spain reopens the Mississippi and New Orleans to Americans.
1799 Napoleon Bonaparte seizes power in France.
1800 Spain secretly agrees to return Louisiana to France in exchange for Eturia, a small kingdom in Italy.
1801 President Jefferson names Robert Livingston minister to France.
1802 Spain cedes Louisiana to France. New Orleans is closed to American shipping. French army sent to re-establish control in Saint Domingue is decimated.
Events of 1803
January Jefferson sends James Monroe to join Livingston in France.
February Napoleon decides against sending more troops to Saint Domingue and instead orders forces to sail to New Orleans.
March Napoleon cancels military expedition to Louisiana.
April 11 Foreign Minister Talleyrand tells Livingston that France is willing to sell all of Louisiana.
April 12 Monroe arrives in Paris and joins Livingston in negotiations with Finance Minister Barbé-Marbois.
April 30 Monroe, Livingston, and Barbé-Marbois agree on terms of sale: $15 million for approximately. 827,000 square miles of territory.
May 18 Britain declares war on France.
July 4 Purchase is officially announced in United States. October 20 U.S. Senate ratifies purchase treaty.
November 30 Spain formally transfers Louisiana to France.
December 20 France formally transfers Louisiana to United States.
December 30 United States takes formal possession of Louisiana.