With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the United States acquired a large area of land from the French. It was the single largest purchase of land ever by the United States and doubled the size of the country.
Why did the United States want more land?
The United States had been growing rapidly. In search of new land to plant crops and raise livestock, people had been expanding to the west past the Appalachian Mountains and into the Northwest Territory. As these lands became crowded, people needed more land and the obvious place to expand was to the west.
How much did it cost?
Thomas Jefferson wanted to buy the settlement of New Orleans from the French. It was a major seaport that was fed from the Mississippi River, making it important to many American businesses. He sent Robert Livingston, the U.S. Minister to France, to try and buy the land from the French Emperor Napoleon.
At first Napoleon refused to sell. He had hopes of creating a massive empire that included the Americas. However, soon Napoleon began to have troubles in Europe and he needed money desperately. James Monroe traveled to France to work with Robert Livingston. In 1803, Napoleon offered to sell the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States for $15 million.
United States Expansion Map
from the National Atlas of the United States.
The Louisiana Purchase is shown in green
(Click picture to see larger view)
How big was it?
The Louisiana Purchase was huge. It totaled 828,000 square miles and all or part of what would later become 15 different states. It doubled the size of the United States and made it a major world nation.
The Louisiana Purchase stretched from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. Its southernmost tip was the port city of New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. To the North it included much of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana up to the border of Canada.
At the time, many leaders in the United States were against the Louisiana Purchase. They thought that Thomas Jefferson didn't have the right to make such a large purchase of land and that we would soon be at war with Spain over the land. The purchase was nearly cancelled by Congress and only passed by the vote of 59-57.
President Jefferson organized expeditions to explore the new land. The most famous expedition was that of Lewis and Clark. They traveled up the Missouri River and eventually went all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Another expedition was the Pike Expedition led by Zebulon Pike which explored the Great Plains and into Colorado where they discovered Pike's Peak. There was also the Red River Expedition which explored the Southwest.
Interesting Facts about the Louisiana Purchase
- The Louisiana Purchase would have cost $233 million in 2011 dollars. That's around 42 cents per acre.
- Some historians claim that Napoleon had no right to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States.
- The issue of slavery in the western lands of the Louisiana Purchase became a major issue in later years and part of the cause of the American Civil War.
- The land had been owned by Spain for a while before they sold it back to France in 1800.
- Napoleon didn't mind selling the land to the United States because he thought it would hurt his enemy England.
- The original price of $15 million worked out to around 3 cents an acre.
- Take a ten question quiz about this page.
- Listen to a recorded reading of this page:
History >> Westward Expansion