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The Nation Expands

Louisiana Purchase, 1803

Stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border, the enormous Louisiana territory was originally settled by the French in the early 18th century.

In 1802, France stopped allowing U.S. merchants to use the city of New Orleans, an important commercial city located at the base of the Mississippi River, to ship their goods. President Thomas Jefferson was concerned about this situation and sent James Monroe to Paris to try to help Robert Livingston, the American minister to France, negotiate a deal. Jefferson, Monroe and Livingston hoped to be able to purchase a small amount of the territory — possibly a section as small as just the eastern half of New Orleans — so that American merchants could continue to use the city to transport their goods.

However, as Monroe arrived in Paris, France was on the brink of war with Britain. It was also fighting a losing battle against a slave uprising on the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) in the Caribbean Sea. Unable to send adequate troops to defend the territory from Britain, France decided to make the Americans a surprising offer. Monroe and Livingston were astonished when the French minister offered to sell America all 828,000 square miles of the Louisiana territory for the price of $15 million. The Americans jumped at the offer, and on April 30, 1803, the deal was finalized.

The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the country at a cost of approximately four cents an acre. It met with overwhelming approval by Americans eager to expand the borders of their new country. Thirteen states, among them Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska, later developed either entirely or partly from the land gained by the purchase.

Map of land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase
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