“The First Consul of the French Republic desiring to give to the United States a strong proof of his friendship doth hereby cede to the United States in the name of the French Republic for ever and in full Sovereignty the said territory with all its rights and appurtenances as fully ad in the Same manner as they have been acquired by the French Republic…”
– from the text of the treaty between the United States and France ceding sovereignty of the Louisiana territory to the United States.
On today’s date, October 20, in 1803, the United States Senate formally ratified the above quoted treaty between the new American republic, and the French Republic signed on April 30 of that year. In the treaty, France ceded control of the vast Louisiana Territory to America.
Who Would Control Louisiana?
At the close of the 18th century, Louisiana techni- cally was in the control of Spain. But Spain realized she would be unable to control the region, and turned it over to France in 1801. By 1803, France’s leader Napoleon Bonaparte, who at that time held the title of “First Consul of the Republic” was facing war with Britain, and no longer could consider any possibility of sending troops to North America in any great numbers. The greater likelihood was that Britain, with troops right next door in Canada would take by force of arms and leave France empty-handed. But Britain was already fighting on other colonial fronts as well as in Europe. So there was Spain, too old and decrepit, France already fighting for control of Europe, and England, over-extended around the world. Whereas, the United States was young, vigorous, and.. here.
Would France Entertain an Offer?
Earlier that year, the American President, Thomas Jefferson, realizing the importance of the territory to America, especially the Mississippi River Delta, had sent James Monroe to see if Napoleon might be willing to sell potions of the land, such as New Orleans and West Florida to the United States. When the French Foreign Minister, Charles M. de Talleyrand made the offer to the American Minister in France, Robert Livingston, the American was clearly surprised:
“M. de Talleyrand asked me this day… whether we wished to have the whole of Louisiana. I told him no, that our wished only extended to New Orleans and the Floridas… he said that if they gave New Orleans, the rest would be of little value, and that he would wish to know ‘what we would give for the whole’. I told him it was a subject I had not thought of…”
But Livingston (pictured above) quickly recovered, and with the arrival of Monroe, an agreement to purchase the whole territory for the sum of 15 million dollars was arranged. The agreement was bitterly attacked by Jefferson’s critics as being unconstitutional and too expensive. But Napoleon was certain that he had made a made a shrewd deal, declaring: “The sale assures forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a rival who, sooner or later, will humble her pride.”
An Extremely Valuable Chunk of Real Estate
Historian Henry Adams rated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory to be of incalculable value:
“The annexation of Louisiana was an event so portentous as to defy measurement. it gave a new face to politics, and ranked in historical importance next to the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution — events of which it was the logical outcome; but as a matter of diplomacy, it was unparalleled, because it cost almost nothing.”
Below, the official transfer off New Orleans to American control.
“History of the United States During the Jefferson Administration” by Henry Adams, Penguin Books USA Ltd., New York, 1986.
“Undaunted Courage” by Stephan E. Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996