Another week begins and so it’s time for History Monday once again. Like Mr. Peabody and Sherman let’s go back in time to an important event in history. Today’s event is a commemoration of a real estate purchase agreement after a relatively short negotiation process.
On this day, 215 years ago in 1803 representatives of the nations of France and the young United States of America signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. Of note, one of the main signatories and representatives on the American side was James Monroe who would become President a short time later.
The impetus for this sale was caused by a loss of shipping ability by American merchants thanks to shaky allegiances and hostilities by European superpowers. American merchants had been able to use the Mississippi River tentatively by Spanish for the first few decades of America’s existence beginning in the Constitutional period. Yet, in a surprising and abrupt move the Spanish ended the treaty that permitted Americans to use the Mississippi River and the Port of New Orleans a year prior to the Louisiana Purchase.
Americans had already seen trouble on the horizon after the Spanish had ceded the Louisiana Territory and its significant waterway the Mississippi River to the French a year prior. U.S. officials feared the French, led by Napoleon Bonaparte would constrain the Port of New Orleans and the river in an attempt to cause burden upon Great Britain and by consequence the United States.
Pres. Jefferson sent James Monroe and Robert Livingston to negotiate a purchase of the Port of New Orleans to guarantee access to the Gulf of Mexico for international trade. One day before Livingston’s arrival, the French official in charge of the negotiation sent word to Livingston that France was interested in selling not only New Orleans but the entire Louisiana Territory.
As this same message was communicated to Pres. Jefferson and other U.S. government officials, the negotiations to purchase the Louisiana Territory and New Orleans were expedited. In less than three weeks from the offer and the ink drying, the United States doubled its land area and expanded its borders from one end of the continent to the other.
The impact for us today is seen in the expansiveness of the boundaries of the United States of America. Pres. Jefferson announced the United States acquisition of the Louisiana Territory on Independence Day in the same year — 1803. Nearly a year later, Pres. Jefferson ordered explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to survey and report the features of the new territory.
Today, we see the monument to that expedition in St. Louis in the Gateway Arch. As more and more Americans experienced the idea of Manifest Destiny in the first few decades after the Louisiana Purchase, the Western half of the United States became more populated. No longer were the population centers in the U.S. named Manhattan, Philadelphia, Richmond, et. al. Now included, the names Los Angeles, New Orleans, Dallas, and Seattle are included as American population centers.
We also see the effects of the Louisiana Purchase whether we realize it or not based on the transport of products in the commodities market. Barges travel down the Upper and Lower sections of the Mississippi River carrying coal, corn, soybeans, and much more to various markets.
For others, we see the influence of the Mississippi River in our American culture thanks to a short-tenured steamboat Captain named Samuel Clemens who would later write novels and short stories under the name Mark Twain.
We see recognition of the first American explorers of this territory in various cities located in that territory on the names of buildings, schools, monuments, etc. Even in their hometowns, we see similar commemorations. Even as close as 25 miles from my current town, U.S. Route 31 is labeled the Lewis & Clark Parkway in Clarksville (named after William Clark’s Brother, George Rogers Clark).
I’d argue that as the United States started its initial expansion from the first 13 colonies into the Northwest Territory, this led to the Louisiana Purchase, which led to the Annexation of the Republic of Texas, and in turn the Gadsden Purchase, and eventually the purchases of Alaska & Hawaii. This ambition to expand our borders and our influence into new frontiers led even to our drive to land on the moon and eventually other planets. Americans, as a nation have an innate sense to push past the boundaries and establish themselves in new settings. Of course, extraplanetary expansion might be a much more unique acquisition for the U.S. since there’s not really a recognized owner of the Moon or other planets. I don’t know that will stop Americans from expanding to these locales.
Additionally, we see that many Americans travel to view much of the Louisiana Purchase that is still unspoiled by human influence each year on vacation. Travels to Yellowstone, Badlands, and Yosemite National Parks are common among Americans annually. Likewise, Americans have embraced a romanticized exploration of the Louisiana Territory by modern steamboats traveling the Upper & Lower sections of the Mississippi, Columbia, and Missouri Rivers. Admittedly, any of these particular cruises are appealing to this wayfaring soul. So, I’m glad there’s that much more of the United States to see thanks to the French officials selling the Louisiana Territory to our nation.