1. France had just regained control of the Louisiana Territory.
French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle first claimed the Louisiana Territory, which he named after King Louis XIV, during a canoe expedition down the Mississippi River in 1682. France ceded the land to Spain 80 years later (and lost most of its other North American possessions to Great Britain) following its defeat in the French and Indian War.
In 1800, however, French leader Napoleon Bonaparte pressured Spain to sign the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso, under which he received the territory of Louisiana and six warships in exchange for placing the Spanish king’s son-in-law on the throne. of the newly created kingdom. from Etruria in northern Italy. When news of the secret agreement leaked, President Jefferson became very concerned. French-controlled Louisiana would become “a point of eternal friction to us,” he wrote in April 1802, and would force us to “marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.”
2. The United States almost went to war over Louisiana.
Under a 1795 treaty with Spain, American merchants and farmers could ship their goods down the Mississippi River and store them in New Orleans without paying export duties. For many Americans, this so-called right of deposit was important enough that rumors of war began to proliferate when it was repealed in October 1802. Former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, using the pseudonym Pericles, wrote that the United States should “immediately seize Florida and New Orleans and then negotiate.”
Meanwhile, the governor of the Mississippi Territory claimed that 600 militiamen would be enough to seize New Orleans, and Federalist Senator James Ross of Pennsylvania advocated taking possession of the city with 50,000 men. Even Jefferson’s own party, the Democratic-Republicans, supported a resolution that would keep 80,000 men ready to march at a moment’s notice. This bravado arose largely because Napoleon’s powerful army had not yet reached Louisiana. Instead, several thousand troops destined for the territory were being decimated by a slave rebellion and yellow fever in Saint Domingue (now Haiti), and additional troops were trapped in a Dutch port waiting for the winter ice to clear.
3. The United States never asked for all of Louisiana.
Following the advice of a French friend, Jefferson offered to buy land from Napoleon rather than threaten war over it. He instructed his two main negotiators, special envoy James Monroe and Minister Robert Livingston, to pay up to $9.375 million for New Orleans and Florida (the latter of which remained under Spanish control). If this failed, they had to try to recover the right of deposit.
Livingston also laid out a plan for the United States to seize the two-thirds of Louisiana located north of the Arkansas River, which he believed would serve as a crucial buffer between French Louisiana and British Canada. But although the Americans never asked for it, Napoleon laid the entire territory before them on April 11, 1803. A treaty was then drawn up, dated April 30 and signed on May 2, handing Louisiana over to the United States. United in exchange for $11.25. million, plus the forgiveness of 3.75 million dollars of French debt.
4. Even that low price was too high for the United States.
Napoleon wanted the money immediately to prepare for war with Britain. But despite landing in Louisiana for less than three cents an acre, the price was more than the United States could afford. As a result, he was forced to borrow from two European banks at 6 percent interest. He did not finish repaying the loan until 1823, by which time the total cost of the Louisiana Purchase had risen to more than $23 million.
5. The Louisiana negotiations helped put James Monroe in the proverbial poorhouse.
After spending three years as governor of Virginia, Monroe reportedly hoped to retire from politics and make some money by opening a law firm and developing his estates. However, barely a month passed before Jefferson nominated him as a special envoy to assist Livingston with the Louisiana Purchase negotiations. “If you refused to go, no other man could be found to do this,” Jefferson wrote to him in January 1803, adding that “all eyes, all hopes, are now fixed on you.”
To raise money for the trip to France, the cash-strapped Monroe sold his silver cutlery, china plates, and a gold and white porcelain tea set. The future president, who served from 1817 to 1825, remained in debt for the rest of his life, even after receiving a congressional appropriation of $30,000 for “public losses and sacrifices.”
6. Napoleon’s brothers tried to dissuade him.
Napoleon’s strategic genius
A few days before Monroe arrived in Paris, Napoleon’s brothers Joseph and Lucien learned of his plans to sell Louisiana. According to Lucien’s memoirs, the two visited Napoleon at the Tuileries Palace, where they found him bathing in rose-scented water.
When Joseph hinted that he would lead opposition to the agreement, Napoleon accused him of being “insolent.” He then deliberately soaked his brothers by falling backwards into the bathtub. The argument allegedly continued after Joseph went home to change. Lucien declared that “if he were not your brother, he would be your enemy,” and Napoleon responded by breaking a snuffbox on the ground.
7. Many Americans also opposed the Louisiana Purchase.
Members of the Federalist Party, already a significant minority in both houses of Congress, were concerned that the Louisiana Purchase would further reduce their influence. Summing up the sentiments of his minions, former Congressman Fisher Ames wrote: “We must give money of which we have too little for land of which we already have too much.”
Only one Federalist senator supported ratification of the Louisiana Purchase treaty, which was approved by a vote of 24 to 7. Jefferson himself had doubts about the legality of the Louisiana Purchase, saying that it had “stretched the Constitution until it cracked.”
8. The treaty did not establish specific borders.
When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Louis in May 1804 to explore the northern part of Louisiana, the exact boundaries of the newly acquired territory had not yet been defined. According to an analysis of old French maps, the United States claimed western Florida, an area along the Gulf Coast in what is now Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Spain disputed it until 1819, when the Adams-Onís Treaty gave the United States all of Florida in exchange for renouncing its claim to Texas. In the north, Great Britain and the United States agreed in 1818 to establish the 49th parallel as their border from Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains.