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What Was the Louisiana Purchase?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 17, 2024
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In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson signed a treaty with Napoleon Bonaparte that ceded a giant swath of land to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. This doubled the size of America, giving the country access to the very important trade route of the Mississippi River and the port city of New Orleans. The land included in the deal would eventually become 13 new states of the Union for just pennies an acre.

The land of the New World had been under dispute between America, France, Great Britain, and Spain for decades. At the start of the 19th century, France controlled New Orleans, but Spain had made a separate agreement to allow Americans to navigate the stretches of the Mississippi River. They claimed to control this passage to benefit both countries in trade. Napoleon's dream was to secure the entire area to use as a new economic center for France's conquest of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti) to trade in sugar, rum, and slaves. He was low on supplies, however, and concern about another war against Great Britain in Europe helped lead him to offer the land to Jefferson.

On 30 April 1803, the two leaders signed a Treaty of Cession, as well as papers regarding payment, to legally transfer the land. The property contained within the Louisiana Purchase stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the amorphous north border with Canada, and from the Mississippi River to somewhere near the Rocky Mountains. It was an unbelievable 800,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers) of valuable resources for merely 60,000 francs, or 15 million US Dollars (USD). Jefferson took a risk in engaging in this transfer, as it extended the power of the federal government over the states in testing the limits of the Constitution.

The largest single purchase of land in United States' history, the deal included all or part of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, with perhaps a tiny bit of Texas and New Mexico. Extending the borders of the Union fulfilled the compulsion of Manifest Destiny to occupy the continent previously occupied by Native Americans. In 2003, many of these states celebrated the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase with special exhibits, parades, and fairs.

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Discussion Comments

By discographer — On Feb 26, 2013
Did the French have any other benefit from this purchase aside from trade? It seems like a great deal for us and a bad deal for them.
By bear78 — On Feb 26, 2013
@anon247647-- I think it does matter. This event shows what a great President Thomas Jefferson was.

It doesn't seem as important now, but back then, the Mississippi river was extremely important. It was a major port of commerce and US couldn't have afforded to lose this port. US states would have had heavy economic losses if that had happened.

Thomas Jefferson showed his leadership by taking the opportunity to guarantee access to this port by making the Louisiana purchase and treaty. Of course, it was a great gain in terms of land (especially considering how much it cost us), but I also think about as a great economic gain.

By ysmina — On Feb 26, 2013
@anon32875-- I'm not sure why Britain accepted this, but Britain agreed for US to jointly occupy their land in the Treaty of 1818. I think both sides wanted new boundaries and entered into this temporary treaty. Oregon territory was definitely the most important piece of land at that time and more and more US settlers arrived on it eventually making it US territory.
By Carolyn25 — On Feb 26, 2013

I think that the fact that the Louisiana Purchase literally doubled the size of America often goes under-appreciated.

By anon247647 — On Feb 14, 2012

It does not matter. We are here today. End of story.

By anon68818 — On Mar 04, 2010

Very helpful.

By anon32875 — On May 28, 2009

How did they get the British cession??

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