When Thomas Jefferson became president of the United States in 1801, he dreamed of sending an expedition to explore the little-known territory west of the Mississippi river.
Between 1783 and 1792 Jefferson has encouraged plans for three expeditions. All three expeditions failed. In January, 1803, he asked Congress for $2,500 to pay for an expedition that might journey as far as the Pacific Ocean. The request was approval and kept secret because most of the region to be explored still belonged to France.
This vast area, lying between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, was called Louisiana in honor of Louis XIV of France.
When President Jefferson learned of the Treaty of San Ildefonso, between Napoleon and Spanish rulers, which gave Louisiana back to the French, he was very worried. On October 15, 1802, the King of Spain finally gave the order transferring Louisiana to France, but the Spanish governor in New Orleans didnt know of this order. The following day he suddenly withdrew the right of deposit. This was the right given to American shippers that allowed them to leave their goods at New Orleans while awaiting transfer onto ocean going vessels. Many people felt threatened over this and thought that we should go in and take Louisiana by force.
Jefferson Ordered Robert R. Livingston, the American minister to France, to explore the possibility of purchasing New Orleans and a section of West Florida near the mouth of the Mississippi. In March, 1803, James Monroe went to Paris as a special envoy. Congress had given him the power to offer Napoleon up to $10,000,000 for New Orleans and a tract of land on the Gulf of Mexico.
Monroe did not arrive in Paris until April 12. By then Napoleon had decided to give up his plans for a New World empire.
He needed all of his ships for his planned invasion of England. His treasury was nearly emptyand he wanted to prevent the United States for joining Britain against him. He decided to sell all of Louisiana, because he thought when he got money for it he can build up his army and take it back by force.
A treaty dated April 30, 1803, and signed May 2, gave Louisiana to the United States for about 80,000,000 francs, or $15,000,000. Of the amount $11,250,00 was for the territory itself. The rest covered debts owed by France to American citizens, which the United States agreed to pay.
At first Jefferson didnt know exactly how to take the surprising news. The Constitution didnt say anything about acquiring foreign territory. But popular enthusiasm for the purchase swept his doubts aside.
By the Louisiana Purchase Essay of 1803 the United States bought from France a vast area of some 828,000 square miles. This was on the biggest land purchases in history. The area involved stretches for the Mississippi river in the east to the rocky mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the United States-Canada border in the north.