PARIS (WHTM) — Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had a bit of a problem. Once upon a time, specifically in the mid 1700s, France was the biggest European presence in what would eventually become the United States. Then in 1762, during the French and Indian War (A minor sideshow to the Seven Years War in Europe), France ceded the Louisiana Territory to Spain in the secret Treaty of Fontainbleau. Then in 1800, in the also-secret Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain ceded it back to France. Napoleon hoped to establish, or rather reestablish, a French Colonial Empire in North America.

In 1801 he sent French forces to secure New Orleans, and the secret treaty wasn’t so secret anymore. The United States, whose territory at this point extended to the eastern shore of the Mississippi River, were concerned they would loose access to the river and New Orleans, both vital for western farmers to ship their goods. With that in mind, President Thomas Jefferson sent Robert R. Livingston (One of the Founding Fathers, who helped draft the Declaration of Independence) to France in 1801 to try to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans.

Get daily news, weather, breaking news, and alerts straight to your inbox! Sign up for the abc27 newsletters here

Those negotiations with the French Treasury Minister François Barbé-Marbois dragged on, in part because of the slow pace of trans-oceanic communications. In early 1803 Jefferson dispatched James Monroe to help Livingston, with additional instructions to cross the English Channel and negotiate an alliance with Great Britain if the New Orleans sale went south.

By the beginning of 1803, though, hostilities between France and Great Britain were heating up. Napoleon realized that he didn’t have the resources to both fight the British and do the whole empire-building thing-especially after a French attempt to quash a slave rebellion on Saint-Domingue (Haiti) failed. And with a war on the horizon, swapping some barely explored land for a little extra ready cash was looking like a good idea.

Which is why on April 11, 1803 (A few days before Monroe arrived in France), Barbé-Marbois presented Livingston with an astonishing offer. Instead of purchasing New Orleans for ten million dollars, The United States could have the entire Louisiana Territory (Including New Orleans) for 15 million!  Roughly 530,000,000 acres of land, for about three cents per acre.

It was an offer the Americans couldn’t refuse-but which they weren’t sure they could accept. After all, their mission was only to purchase a city, not 828,000 square miles of “open” land. (“Open” in the sense that neither side was giving the slightest thought to all the people who were living in this “unexplored” territory-which would cause difficulties later on.) But if they hemmed and hawed about it, they risked the chance that Napoleon might change his mind. So the Louisiana Purchase treaty (dated April 30) was quickly drawn up and signed on May 2, 1803. Thus, with a few strokes of a pen, and after much sturm und drang in the halls of Congress (Long story, some other time) the United States of America doubled in size after some negotiations with Great Britain and Spain to set some exact boundaries.

Ironically, to complete the purchase, the United States had to borrow some money-from a Bank in England…


Wikipedia-Louisiana Purchase

Wikipedia-Robert R. Livingston

Wikipedia-Thomas Jefferson