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Vente de la Louisiane enlarged the United States by 828,000 square miles

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When an English settlement was founded on the North American continent in 1607 and named “Virginia”, the country destined to become the United States was born. By 1620, the Massachusetts Bay Colony covered the portion of land from which the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine were created. Though an impressive area, this was small potatoes compared to what the future held for the growing nation.

England was not the only country to show an interest in the New World. Her European neighbors, France and Spain, also had an interest in expanding their horizons and chose to do so upon the same continent. Beginning in 1699, France laid claim to a goodly portion of North America’s mid-section, which in 1762, was given to Spain.

In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte took the territory back in an effort to establish a French empire in North America. Before he could see this dream materialize, Napoleon faced a slave revolt in Haiti and imminent war with England. In an effort to acquire the funds he needed to tackle these two situations, Napoleon offered President Thomas Jefferson the buy of a lifetime in the form of Vente de la Louisiane, better known as the “Louisiana Purchase.”

During the latter half of the 18th century, Louisiana had been treated like a chess board pawn by Europe’s politicians and was originally claimed by both Spain and France. Prior to the Seven Years War, US citizens began a westward migration and their actions gave President Thomas Jefferson cause to believe the outstretching territory would little by little be brought into the union. Following the war, Spain dominated the North American territory west of the Mississippi River. Though an ally of the United States during the American Revolution, Spain did not relish the idea of Americans settling within their territory.

Owing to its location, New Orleans held a lot of control over traffic on the Mississippi River. Numerous efforts were made to create other ports; however, these proved to be unsuccessful due to the fact New Orleans was already established and handling the vast percentage of agricultural goods for all parts of the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains.

On October 27, 1795, Pinckney’s Treaty was signed with Spain and offered American merchants the “right of deposit” in New Orleans so they could store a variety of products for export. The treaty also provided Americans the right to travel the entire length of the Mississippi River, thus making available a vital trade artery for the western territories.

In 1798, Spain incited the anger of Americans when it revoked Pinckney’s Treaty, thereby denying them access to New Orleans. Spanish Governor Don Juan Manuel de Salcedo then replaced the Marquess of Casa Calvo in 1801 and again restored the Americans’ right to deposit goods.

The Louisiana Purchase also faced opposition from New England Federalists. The argument they stated centered mainly on their economic self-interest rather than any legitimate concern over the constitutionality of the endeavor or who exactly held true ownership of the territory. The Northerners also lacked enthusiasm regarding the idea of Western farmers acquiring access to yet another outlet for their crops, which removed the farmers’ need to obtain service from the ports of New England.

Add to this the fact a number of northern land speculators harbored hopes of selling acreage in upstate New York and other New England locations as farmland. They feared a successful Louisiana Purchase would destroy these potential sales because the farmers would instead choose to settle in the new western territory.

A third concern involved the possibility of new states. New England Federalists felt if additional states were established in the west, they would likely be Republican in nature. If so, this could result in dilution of the powers the Federalists coveted.

Beginning in 1800, the Treaty of San Ildefonso gave Napoleon Bonaparte and France ownership of the Louisiana Territory, thereby granting France the right of sale. At the request of President Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe traveled to Paris in 1802 to meet with French officials regarding the purchase. Originally, the goal of Livingston and Monroe’s meeting was to gain control of New Orleans. In no way could they have imagined the purchase they traveled to Paris to discuss would become the largest territorial gain the United States would ever know, doubling the size of the young country by stretching its boundaries westward to the Rocky Mountains with the stroke of a pen. Acquisition of the territory would benefit the United States in three ways: 1) France’s presence in the region would be removed; 2) the US gained full trade access to the Port of New Orleans, in addition to 3) free passage on the Mississippi River. It was just too good a deal to pass up.

At first, Napoleon’s offer placed President Jefferson in a position where he faced fierce domestic opposition, with comments stating the territorial acquisition was unconstitutional. There are two methods by which a country can legitimately change its border(s): (1) by conquest, or (2) by use of a treaty. Discussion had taken place during the Constitution Convention regarding the treaty-making power, specifically in regard to adding territory to the country, in addition to the Senate’s ratification of such treaties. Given the fact the Louisiana Purchase was indeed a treaty; it met the test required by the Constitution which specifically grants the president the power to negotiate treaties (Art. II, Sec. 2). This was exactly what President Jefferson did.

Secretary of State James Madison assured Jefferson the Louisiana Purchase was well within even the strictest interpretation of the Constitution. In addition, Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, stated due to the fact power to discuss treaties was specifically granted to the president, the only way the extension of the country’s boundaries by treaty could not be accomplished by the Chief Executive would be if the Constitution specifically stated so. As a result, the Senate quickly ratified the treaty, and the House, with equal promptness, authorized the necessary funds, fulfilling constitutional requirements.

A dispute immediately broke out between the United States and Spain with respect to the full extent of the Louisiana acreage. The 1762 Treaty of Fontainbleau, which ceded the territory from France to Spain, did not defined the boundaries; nor did the 1800 Third Treaty of San Ildefonso which ceded it back to France, and likewise the 1803 Louisiana Purchase agreement ceding the territory to the United States. The US claimed Louisiana included the entire western portion of the Mississippi River drainage basin to the crest of the Rocky Mountains; in addition to the land extending southeast to the Rio Grande and West Florida. Spain, however, was adamant Louisiana comprised only the western bank of the Mississippi River, in addition to the cities of New Orleans and St. Louis. [The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 ultimately resolved the dispute and witnessed the United States’ acquisition of the majority of the western territory it originally claimed.]

On Saturday, April 30, 1803, Robert Livingston, Barbé Marbois and James Monroe signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty in Paris. Following the signing, Livingston stated, "We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives ... From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank." On July 4th, the announcement of the treaty was made by President Jefferson to the American people.

The United States Senate ratified the treaty on October 20th by a vote of 24-7. The following day, President Jefferson was authorized to take possession of the territory and establish a temporary military government. Temporary provisions were also made for a local civil government on October 31st, and Jefferson was authorized to use military force, if necessary, to maintain the peace. Plans were soon set in motion to send the Lewis and Clark Expedition westward in an effort to chart the acquisition. New Orleans was released to the United States by France on December 20, 1803 at The Cabildo and a formal ceremony took place in St. Louis on March 10, 1804, which completed the final transfer of the territory’s ownership from France to the United States and later birthed the Manifest Destiny.

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