200 years ago, US president Thomas Jefferson had envisioned that a purchase of land, for which they were ready to fight for, would not only alter the shape but also usher America onto an unprecedented course to become a powerhouse of the world. The purchase which was as cheap as 4 cents per acre for the area which wasn’t part of the deal became a revelation as it opened its riches to the inhabitants. On 30th April 1803 US purchased Louisiana territory from France as what would be acclaimed as “Louisiana Purchase”.
The history and events that lead to Louisiana Purchase are intriguing in nature, both politically and economically. Established in 1682 by a French explorer and named after Louis XIV of France, the territory housed scattered French, German and Spanish settlements along with Native Indians. Declaring that the colony was “not worth a straw at the present time.” Louis XV gave the territory to his cousin Charles III of Spain, only to be regained in 1800, by Napoleon Bonaparte in exchange for a kingdom in Northern Italy that Spaniards long desired.
Mississippi River was of paramount importance to US as entire economy of Western states depended on the storage of agriculture and commercial goods at New Orleans for shipment to East Coast and beyond, and fear of being shut out from now French-controlled New Orleans would deem incalculable loss to US. “… Thomas Jefferson saw the Mississippi River not as the western edge of the country, but as the great spine that would hold the continent together.” Douglas Brinkley, director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies in New Orleans. He at once mobilized Livingston and later former Congress member James Monroe as US envoy to persuade Napoleon to sell just New Orleans and parts of Floridas, or revoke the abrogation of their right to use warehouses and port in New Orleans.
Napoleon was being persuaded by his brothers not to sell the land to the Americans. As a surprise that came to US envoy in France, Napoleon agreed to sell off rights of the gargantuan total of 830,000 square miles to US to a bargained $15 million—4 cents per acre. “He probably concluded that, following American independence, France couldn’t hope to maintain a colony on the American continent,” says Jean Tulard, one of France’s foremost Napoléon scholars. Thierry Lentz, director of the Fondation Napoléon in Paris, stated, for Napoléon, “It was basically just a big real estate deal. He was in a hurry to get some money for the depleted French treasury, but he did manage to sell something that he didn’t really have any control over—there were few French settlers and no French administration over the territory—except on paper.”
Louisiana Purchase is considered as one of the most prominent of land transactions, as it almost doubled the size of US and exalted the country with riches of gold, coal and other ores and gave authority on the ports to block any colonial presence in the continent. News of the purchase evoked mixed criticism in Washington DC. Gen. Horatio Gates, an outstanding New York state legislator, told President Thomas Jefferson when details of the deal reached Washington D.C.; “Let the Land rejoice, for you have bought Louisiana for a song”. Others did not agree; The Boston Columbian Centinel claimed, “We are to give money of which we have too little for land of which we already have too much.”
Charles A. Cerami, author of Jefferson’s Great Gamble, agrees. “If we had not made this purchase, it would have pinched off the possibility of our becoming a continental power”.
by: Ahsan Anwar