Written by   

In these days of economic uncertainty and a depressed real estate market, it’s somewhat refreshing to reflect back on the amazing deal negotiated on behalf of the United States by James Monroe. The year was 1803 and Monroe


was sent to Paris in a second U.S. attempt to purchase New Orleans and adjacent land for up to $2 million.

Before proceeding into the actual negotiation let us look into what brought the United States and France to the table in the first place.

France, through it’s exploration and discovery founded and claimed the territory known as Louisiana in 1699.

They relinquished ownership to Spain in 1762 because they could no longer afford to maintain a “profitable venture” in North America. Spain took over Louisiana and managed a very successful government and land management program. However, a priority for Spain had always been the discovery of gold; and it wasn’t too long after 1762 that Spain realized the land within a few hundred miles of New Orleans held no promise of riches.

In 1800 Napoleon was in the midst of advancing his campaign of world dominance and France’s establishment of land ownership in North America. The Treaty of San Ildefonso brought about a solution to each country’s quest. France granted Spain valuable land owned in Italy in exchange for title to Spain’s holdings in North America.

Within a year, Napoleon had lost his campaign to conquer Santo Domingo. Over 40,000 of his soldiers were killed and his finances were depleted. Because of his failure there, he realized his ambitions in North America would not be possible; so he was amenable to divesting France of the now-useless Louisiana for additional funds with which to wage war against England in Europe.

Third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson was concerned over France’s ownership and control of the mouth of the Mississippi and important port of New Orleans. Although the United States had France’s permission to use the river, Jefferson was concerned that the volatile Napoleon could revoke that important access at any time and perhaps reestablish French colonization in Louisiana.

In 1801, Jefferson sent Robert Livingston on behalf of the United State, to France to propose a purchase of New Orleans. Livingston’s offer was refused and he returned to Washington with news of the failure.

As devastating events occurred in France’s military campaign in Santo Domingo, Jefferson felt another attempt to buy New Orleans might succeed. James Monroe, accompanied by Livingston, was sent to Paris with $2 million. France, represented by the Marquis de Barbe’ Marbois, amazingly countered Monroe’s offer by suggesting the United States could have the entire French-controlled Louisiana territory for $15 million.

Monroe was shocked at this offer, and although not authorized to accept such a proposal, he and Livingston, overstepped their orders and accepted the $15 million price because they felt France most certainly might withdraw the offer if he delayed a decision.

The purchase increased the area of the United States by over 820,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi; virtually doubling its size. When averaged, the price tag amounted to only 5 cents an acre! Imagine, the surprise on the part of the President and Congress when news of the agreement arrived. It certainly was the greatest real estate deal in history.

In March, 1804, a ceremony was held in what is now St. Louis, Missouri in which three flags were each raised and lowered. The Spanish governor of Louisiana raised the Spanish flag, then lowered it to represent Spain’s relinquishing title to France. The French flag was then raised and replaced by the American flag signifying final ownership of the entire Louisiana territory. The residents of that territory were now proclaimed American citizens.

If one attempted to relate the events as they actually occurred, critics would more than likely have accused them of fantasizing.

In the event that the map does not fully describe the immense amount of land included consider: Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico and parts of Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Colorado, east of the Rocky Mountains!