Thomas Jefferson, Painting, Rembrandt Peale

President Thomas Jefferson authorized Robert R. Livingston and James Madison to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803

April 30, 1803

In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million and doubled the size of the nation.

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The Louisiana Purchase of 1803

The Louisiana Purchase was the extraordinary acquisition the United States made of roughly 530,000,000 acres of land from the French First Republic in 1803. The United States paid $15 million to take control of New Orleans and the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

Louisiana Purchase Quick Facts

  1. The Louisiana Purchase was roughly 827, 000 square miles and doubled the size of the United States.
  2. The United States agreed to pay $11,250,000, and forgive $3,750,000 of debt, for a total of around $15 million.
  3. After interest, the total payments made for the territory amounted to roughly $27 million.
  4. The Louisiana Purchase is considered to be one of the largest land deals ever made.
  5. President Thomas Jefferson was initially only interested in buying New Orleans in order to protect access to the Mississippi River.
  6. France, under the leadership of Napoleon, needed money to help pay for the Great French War, which is why they offered to sell the entire territory.
  7. Founding Fathers Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe negotiated the purchase on behalf of the United States.
  8. The American flag was raised in New Orleans on December 20, 1803.
  9. Jefferson chose Meriweather Lewis to lead an expedition to explore and map the new territory. Lewis asked William Clark to help with the “Corps of Discovery.”
  10. 15 states were eventually created out of the Louisiana Territory.

Louisiana Purchase Date

April 30, 1803 — The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed on April 30, 1803, by Robert R. Livingston, Minister Plenipotentiary, James Monroe, Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy, and French representative Francois Barbé-Marbois. The treaty was ratified by the United States Senate on October 20, 1803, by a vote of 24-7.

Lewis and Clark Expedition, Encounter Chinooks, Painting
This painting by Charles Marion Russel depicts the Corps of Discovery meeting Chinooks on the Lower Columbia in October 1805. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Louisiana Purchase Overview

Control of the Louisiana Territory

After the American Revolutionary War, the United States spread westward, over the Appalachian Mountains, toward the Mississippi River. The territory, known as the Louisiana Region, was claimed for France by the explorer LaSalle in 1731. In 1762, France ceded the territory to Spain in the Treaty of Fontainebleau. The following year, France surrendered New France to Great Britain in the 1763 Treaty of Paris

As the United States expanded, there were territorial disputes with Spain over the western and southern borders of the United States. Spain did not want to encourage the United States trade, so it closed the Mississippi River off to American shipping. 

The two nations also disagreed on who owned land that today makes up portions of Alabama and Mississippi. Spain had the advantage, because it had some forts in the territory, and also had alliances with Native American Indian tribes.

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Pinckney Treaty of 1795

However, Spain’s priorities started to change in 1793 when it joined other nations in the war against France. In 1794, Spain suffered military defeats, and the Spanish Prime Minister, Manuel de Godoy, worked to restore peace with France. While France and Spain negotiated, President George Washington sent John Jay to Great Britain to negotiate an alliance with the British. This concerned Spain, because an American-British alliance would threaten Spanish possessions in North America.

Godoy reached out to the United States and asked President Washington to send someone to negotiate a new treaty with Spain. Washington sent Thomas Pinckney, who was the Minister to Great Britain.

Pinckney traveled to Spain in June and quickly negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo, which is also known as Pinckney’s Treaty. The treaty did two things:

  1. Set the southern border of the United States at the 31st parallel.
  2. Gave Americans free access to navigate the Mississippi River.

The provisions of the treaty, which was signed on October 27, 1795, allowed Americans to have access to the port of New Orleans and encouraged westward expansion.

Napoleon’s Plan for the Lousiana Territory

When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France, he planned to capture St. Domingue — present-day Haiti — a sugar colony that had been taken over in a slave revolt and then use Louisiana for the benefit of the French Empire. He sent an army to St. Domingue and prepared to send another one to New Orleans.

In 1800, France negotiated the Treaty of San Ildefonso, which returned Louisiana to France. The following year, in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson learned France had regained control of the territory.

Americans were concerned about the potential for a strong French presence to the west, but also the possibility of losing access to the Mississippi River. Jefferson wrote to the United States Minister to France, Robert R. Livington, and told him, “every eye in the US. is now fixed on this affair of Louisiana. perhaps nothing since the revolutionary war has produced more uneasy sensations through the body of the nation.”

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Robert R Livingston, The Chancellor, Portrait
Thomas Jefferson directed Robert R. Livingston to negotiate with France to purchase New Orleans.

When the French took control in 1802, Spain announced it would not allow Americans to access warehouses in New Orleans. Jefferson wanted to resolve the situation diplomatically, however, some of his political opponents in the Federalist Party suggested more extreme measures, including going to war with France in order to regain access to New Orleans.

France Makes the United States an Offer

Jefferson started to make military preparations in the event there was a conflict with France in the Mississippi River Valley. However, he also made diplomatic overtures to France and sent James Monroe to help Livingston negotiate with the French government. He authorized them to offer to buy West Florida and New Orleans for as much as $10 million. 

By the time Monroe arrived in Paris on April 12, 1803, the French had made a stunning offer to Livingston. For various reasons, Napoleon had decided to abandon his plans for Lousiana and he had Prime Minister Talleyrand offer not just New Orleans, but the entire territory to the United States for $15 million. Monroe and Livingston agreed to the purchase and they signed a treaty with France on April 30, 1803.

Minister Talleyrand, Portrait
Napoleon Bonaparte directed Charles Talleyrand to offer the Louisiana Territory to the United States. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Louisiana Purchase is Ratified

When Jefferson was informed of the details, he was shocked. The treaty more than doubled the size of the United States, but it also put him in a bad political position. He was a staunch advocate for following the Constitution and it did not grant the President the power to purchase land. He was also concerned Napoleon would not be patient enough to wait for a Constitutional Amendment to be passed, granting the power to the President. However, there was strong public support for the treaty, so Jefferson went ahead and authorized the Louisiana Purchase and submitted the Treaty to the Senate. It was ratified on October 20, 1803.

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Significance of the Lousiana Purchase

The Lousiana Purchase was important because it significantly increased the size of the United States of America. It paved the way for Westward expansion and eventually led to the formation of 15 new states. It also strengthened the nation and supported the idea of implied powers enshrined in the Constitution.

Important Things to Know About the Lousiana Purchase

What was the purpose of the Louisiana Purchase?

The purpose of the Louisiana Purchase was to expand the United States and give it control of the Mississippi River and New Orleans. It also provided France with money it needed to fund its armies in Haiti and Europe, and allowed it to remove itself from obligations in North America.

Who explored the Louisiana Purchase?

Merriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Zebulon Pike explored the Lousiana Purchase. In 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition set out to explore the land west of the Mississippi River. In 1805, Zebulon Pike led an expedition to find the headwaters of the Mississippi. Both expeditions helped map the new territory and aided westward expansion.

What states were in the Louisiana Purchase?

The states in the Louisiana Purchase are all of the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Parts of Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming are also in the Louisiana Purchase. In all, there are 15 states with land in the Louisiana Purchase.

What was the outcome of John Jay’s trip to Great Britain?

The outcome of John Jay’s trip to Britain was the Jay Treaty of 1794. The treaty resolved issues between the United States and Britain that lingered after the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The treaty was unpopular in America, but maintained U. S. neutrality and reinforced George Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality.

Text of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty

TREATY BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE FRENCH REPUBLIC

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The President of the United States of America and the First Consul of the French Republic in the name of the French People desiring to remove all Source of misunderstanding relative to objects of discussion mentioned in the Second and fifth articles of the Convention of the 8th Vendémiaire an 9 (30 September 1800) relative to the rights claimed by the United States in virtue of the Treaty concluded at Madrid the 27 of October 1795, between His Catholic Majesty & the Said United States, & willing to Strengthen the union and friendship which at the time of the Said Convention was happily reestablished between the two nations have respectively named their Plenipotentiaries to wit The President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate of the Said States; Robert R. Livingston Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States and James Monroe Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy extraordinary of the Said States near the Government of the French Republic; And the First Consul in the name of the French people, Citizen Francis Barbé Marbois Minister of the public treasury who after having respectively exchanged their full powers have agreed to the following Articles.

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Article I

Whereas by the Article the third of the Treaty concluded at St Ildefonso the 9th Vendémiaire an 9 (1st October) 1800 between the First Consul of the French Republic and his Catholic Majesty it was agreed as follows.

“His Catholic Majesty promises and engages on his part to cede to the French Republic six months after the full and entire execution of the conditions and Stipulations herein relative to his Royal Highness the Duke of Parma, the Colony or Province of Louisiana with the Same extent that it now has in the hand of Spain, & that it had when France possessed it; and Such as it Should be after the Treaties subsequently entered into between Spain and other States.”

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And whereas in pursuance of the Treaty and particularly of the third article the French Republic has an incontestible title to the domain and to the possession of the said Territory–The First Consul of the French Republic desiring to give to the United States a strong proof of his friendship doth hereby cede to the United States in the name of the French Republic for ever and in full Sovereignty the said territory with all its rights and appurtenances as fully and in the Same manner as they have been acquired by the French Republic in virtue of the above mentioned Treaty concluded with his Catholic Majesty.

Art: II

In the cession made by the preceeding article are included the adjacent Islands belonging to Louisiana all public lots and Squares, vacant lands and all public buildings, fortifications, barracks and other edifices which are not private property.–The Archives, papers & documents relative to the domain and Sovereignty of Louisiana and its dependances will be left in the possession of the Commissaries of the United States, and copies will be afterwards given in due form to the Magistrates and Municipal officers of such of the said papers and documents as may be necessary to them.

Art: III

The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States and admitted as soon as possible according to the principles of the federal Constitution to the enjoyment of all these rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States, and in the mean time they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and the Religion which they profess.

Art: IV

There Shall be Sent by the Government of France a Commissary to Louisiana to the end that he do every act necessary as well to receive from the Officers of his Catholic Majesty the Said country and its dependances in the name of the French Republic if it has not been already done as to transmit it in the name of the French Republic to the Commissary or agent of the United States.

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Art: V

Immediately after the ratification of the present Treaty by the President of the United States and in case that of the first Consul’s shall have been previously obtained, the commissary of the French Republic shall remit all military posts of New Orleans and other parts of the ceded territory to the Commissary or Commissaries named by the President to take possession–the troops whether of France or Spain who may be there shall cease to occupy any military post from the time of taking possession and shall be embarked as soon as possible in the course of three months after the ratification of this treaty.

Art: VI

The United States promise to execute Such treaties and articles as may have been agreed between Spain and the tribes and nations of Indians until by mutual consent of the United States and the said tribes or nations other Suitable articles Shall have been agreed upon.

Art: VII

As it is reciprocally advantageous to the commerce of France and the United States to encourage the communication of both nations for a limited time in the country ceded by the present treaty until general arrangements relative to commerce of both nations may be agreed on; it has been agreed between the contracting parties that the French Ships coming directly from France or any of her colonies loaded only with the produce and manufactures of France or her Said Colonies; and the Ships of Spain coming directly from Spain or any of her colonies loaded only with the produce or manufactures of Spain or her Colonies shall be admitted during the Space of twelve years in the Port of New-Orleans and in all other legal ports-of-entry within the ceded territory in the Same manner as the Ships of the United States coming directly from France or Spain or any of their Colonies without being Subject to any other or greater duty on merchandize or other or greater tonnage than that paid by the citizens of the United States.

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During that Space of time above mentioned no other nation Shall have a right to the Same privileges in the Ports of the ceded territory–the twelve years Shall commence three months after the exchange of ratifications if it Shall take place in France or three months after it Shall have been notified at Paris to the French Government if it Shall take place in the United States; It is however well understood that the object of the above article is to favour the manufactures, Commerce, freight and navigation of France and of Spain So far as relates to the importations that the French and Spanish Shall make into the Said Ports of the United States without in any Sort affecting the regulations that the United States may make concerning the exportation of the produce and merchandize of the United States, or any right they may have to make Such regulations.

Art: VIII

In future and for ever after the expiration of the twelve years, the Ships of France shall be treated upon the footing of the most favoured nations in the ports above mentioned.

Art: IX

The particular Convention Signed this day by the respective Ministers, having for its object to provide for the payment of debts due to the Citizens of the United States by the French Republic prior to the 30th Sept. 1800 (8th Vendémiaire an 9) is approved and to have its execution in the Same manner as if it had been inserted in this present treaty, and it Shall be ratified in the same form and in the Same time So that the one Shall not be ratified distinct from the other.

Another particular Convention Signed at the Same date as the present treaty relative to a definitive rule between the contracting parties is in the like manner approved and will be ratified in the Same form, and in the Same time and jointly.

Art: X

The present treaty Shall be ratified in good and due form and the ratifications Shall be exchanged in the Space of Six months after the date of the Signature by the Ministers Plenipotentiary or Sooner if possible.

In faith whereof the respective Plenipotentiaries have Signed these articles in the French and English languages; declaring nevertheless that the present Treaty was originally agreed to in the French language; and have thereunto affixed their Seals.

Done at Paris the tenth day of Floreal in the eleventh year of the French Republic; and the 30th of April 1803.

Robt R Livingston [seal]

Jas. Monroe [seal]

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Barbé Marbois [seal]

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Louisiana Purchase of 1803
  • Coverage April 30, 1803
  • Author
  • Keywords Louisiana Purchase, Louisiana Territory, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, James Monroe, Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date October 1, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 18, 2022