Louisiana Purchase

Louisiana Purchase
   The 1803 purchase by the United States from France of the land west of the Mississippi River, consisting primarily of the Mississippi and Missouri River basins. The purchase makes up most of what is known as the Great Plains today. Until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the entire Mississippi River basin, along with the Great Lakes region, was controlled by France. With the defeat of France in that war, its North American empire was dismembered, with Great Britain taking the land east of the Mississippi, except for the port of New Orleans, and Spain receiving New Orleans and the land to the west. The United States gained control of the British share in 1783 with their victory in the American Revolution, and Napoleon Bonaparte forced Spain to return its share to France in 1800.
   President Thomas Jefferson approached Napoleon in 1803 in an effort to purchase New Orleans. Napoleon countered with an offer to sell the entire region. Napoleon had reclaimed Louisiana as part of a plan to restart France’s colonial empire, but the slave revolt in the Caribbean French colony of Haiti and the British control of the seas convinced Napoleon that the concept was more trouble than it was worth. Despite misgivings at the constitutionality of the purchase, Jefferson jumped at the offer. For $15 million the United States had bought a vast land that was largely unexplored by Europeans.
   For his money, Jefferson got the multicultural seaport of New Orleans, an outlet for American produce being floated down the Mississippi, and a rogues’ gallery of sophisticated Creole elites, shady traders, and outright pirates. He also got St. Louis, a nominally French town near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers that by 1803 was largely American. Finally, he got a vast land with perhaps hundreds of Native American tribes, many of whom had never even seen a white person. None of these people, European or Native American, had been consulted concerning the transfer. The borders of the purchase were only vaguely defined but were eventually resolved. The Adams-Onís Treaty between Spain and the United States in 1819 established the southern border as roughly that of current-day Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, extending into the Rocky Mountains. The Anglo-American Convention of 1819 established the border between British North America and the United States at the 49th parallel.
   Relations with the actual inhabitants of the Great Plains were not as easily resolved. American immigration into the region continually displaced the Native Americans, resulting in three generations of conflict and Native American dislocation. The major effect of the Louisiana Purchase was to ensure that the United States was transformed from a series of states along the Atlantic Seaboard to a continental power with room for extensive population growth, at the expense of the Native Americans whose land was transferred by the purchase.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Ambrose, Stephen. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996;
    Fleming, Thomas. The Louisiana Purchase. Hoboken: J. Wiley, 2003;
    Tucker, Robert W., and David C. Hendrickson. Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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