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The Louisiana Purchase

One of the decisive turning points in the history of the American continent took place in 1803, when President Thomas Jefferson, by the Louisiana Purchase, bought the whole central portion of North America--some 466 million acres (Barney 18), or about three quarters of a million square miles, for 15 million dollars (Cunningham 265). The territory of the United States was doubled at a stroke. At the same time, the prospects for future European colonial expansion in North America were effectively foreclosed. Until 1803, it appeared entirely possible that the independent United States might be confined to the Eastern seaboard, with the vast Mississippi Basin in the hands of either Britain or France. After 1803, the way was open for the United States to expand clear to the Pacific, free of effective opposition from Europe. In the following pages we will examine the Louisiana Purchase: its background, the political motivations of both the American and French negotiators, and the central role of President Jefferson.

The roots of the political and colonial situation which culminated in the Louisiana Purchase went back to the 16th century, and the North American colonial map began to take definite form in the 17th century. French privateers were active against the Spanish in the New World for a generation before they were joined by English counterparts such as John Hawkins and Francis Drake. Thus the French were no latecomers to the Americas. By the age of Louis XIV, in the late 17th century, both the French and the British had turned from struggling with Spain in the Caribbean to launch colonial enterprises in North America.

The British proved to be the better colonizers, in the sense that the colonies of British America, the future United States, grew more rapidly in population and sank deeper roots in the soil than did French colonies. However, the French were actually more able explorers; it was French voyagers and trapper...

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The Louisiana Purchase. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 11:43, May 29, 2020, from