America's Greatest BargainFrom 1762 until 1800, all of the land from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi west to the Rocky Mountains belonged to Spain. This vast wilderness, known as the Louisiana Territory, contained only a few trading posts and countless Indians. But by 1800, when Napoleon Bonaparte concluded a treaty with Spain which would return Louisiana to France, a growing trade had developed along the Mississippi. As a result, New Orleans was rapidly becoming a vital commercial center, and President Thomas Jefferson knew that control of this strategic window to the Gulf of Mexico was now vital to the interests of his country. He also realized that the western settlers who were streaming into the area would hardly be free to trade along the Mississippi once a French army had occupied its western bank. Jefferson's alternative to war, which many Americans advocated, was to order his ambassador to France, Robert Livingston, to offer Napoleon up to $10 million for just New Orleans and the Floridas. Napoleon, meanwhile, was in desperate need of money for men and arms. He was about to declare war on England, and he had been wondering if he could convince the Americans to buy Louisiana. Moreover, his troops in far-off Haiti, which France coveted, had been swept away by yellow fever and guerrilla fighters. The stage was set for transacting one of history's greatest bargains. One day in April, 1803, the French foreign minister, Talleyrand, stunned Ambassador Livingston by asking, "What will you give for the whole of Louisiana?" By April 30, an agreement had been negotiated whereby the Uni ted States agreed to pay $11,250,000 outright and assumed claims of its citi zens against France in the amount of $3,750,000 (interest payments subsequently increased the total price to $27,267,622). Although the U.S. Constitution did not permit any President to increase the national boundaries by treaty, Jefferson pressured the Senate to ratify the Louisiana Purchase before Napoleon could change his mind. The new territory, which comprised 828,000 sq. miles (2,070,000 sq. km.) and doubled the size of the United States, had been acquired at a cost of less than three cents per acre. It included the states of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma (as well as large portions of Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Minnesota). No wonder the Louisiana Purchase is considered the "greatest bargain in American history." Illustration: French guards fire salute at transfer ceremony in New Orleans. Dec. 20.1803.
(C) 1979, Panarizon Publishing Corp, USA
Illust: Louisiana Historical Soc.
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