MILESTONE HISTORIC DOCUMENTS - THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE TREATY
The Treaty of the Louisiana Purchase
Jefferson Acts To Expand The Nation
Largest Single Land Purchase in U.S. History
In 1803 the United States negotiated the purchase of the Louisiana
Territory from France for $15 million. With a stroke of a pen America doubled
in size, making it one of the largest nations in the world.
The sale included over 600 million acres at a cost of less than 3 cents
an acre in what today is the better part of 13 states between the Mississippi
River and the Rocky Mountains.
For President Thomas Jefferson it was a diplomatic and political
triumph. In one fell swoop the purchase of Louisiana ended the threat of war
with France and opened up the land west of the Mississippi to settlement.
By any measure the purchase of Louisiana was the most important action
of Jefferson’s two terms as president. Jefferson knew that acquiring the very
heart of the American continent would prove to be the key to the future of the
Initially Jefferson through his minister to France Robert
Livingston offered Napoleon $2 million for a small tract of land on the lower
Mississippi. There Americans could build their own seaport. Impatient at the
lack of news, Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris to offer $10 million for
Orleans and West Florida. Almost at the same time, and unbeknownst to
Jefferson, France had offered all of Louisiana to Livingston for $15 million.
Though the transaction was quickly sealed, there were those who
to the purchase on the grounds that the Constitution did not provide for
purchasing territory. However, Jefferson temporarily set aside his
tell his supporters in Congress that "what is practicable must often control
what is pure theory." The majority agreed.
Jefferson later admitted that he had stretched his power "till it
cracked" in order to buy Louisiana, the largest single land purchase in
American history. As a result, generations of Americans for nearly 200 years
have been the beneficiaries of Jefferson’s noble vision of America and his
efforts at expanding the continent.