Napoleon Bonaparte envisioned a great French empire in the New World. He hoped to use the Mississippi Valley as a food and trade center to supply the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The island was to be the heart of this empire. However, Haitian slaves seized power on the island and the French army lost thousands of soldiers, mainly to yellow fever. Napoleon abandoned Hispaniola and thus had little use f or Louisiana.
The Louisiana Purchase was 828,000 square miles, almost six times bigger than present-day Montana and nearly four times as big as France, the country that sold it to the United States.
President Thomas Jefferson and the U.S. Congress secured the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon in 1803 for $15 million (an average of 4 cents an acre). In comparison, the United States bought 591,000 square miles of Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million (about 2 cents an acre).
The new territory became all or part of 15 states: Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The Louisiana Purchase was as important as the Declaration of Independence from England and the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, according to Henry Adams, who taught at Harvard and was one of the most important U.S. historians and philosophers.
Uda une map by Také Great Falls Trib
Above, The United States’ purchase of Louisiana territory in 1803 put the United States in an enviable position in the struggle to control North America.
Land buy doubled need for expedition
By MARK DOWNEY Tribune Staff Writer
Two hundred years ago, the western frontier of the United States was t he Mississippi River. Beyond was a vas t wilderness territory of prairies, mountains and river s called Louisiana, which was owned by France. In 1803, the United States bought the land from French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. This was called the Louisiana Purchase. Suddenly, the United States doubled in size, adding an area almost 2,000 miles long and a 1,000 miles wide in parts. It was wild, unknown and parts were thick with grizzly bears, wolves and buffalo. Some people, including President Thomas Jefferson, thought woolly mammoths might still live there, though by then they had become extinct. Even before the land was bought, Jefferson told his aide, Capt. Meriwether Lewis, and Lewis ’ assistant commander William Clark, to prepare an expedition that would follow the Missouri River to its end and find out what was out there. Lewis and Clark were told to make peace with t he dozens of Indian tribes along the wa y and encourage cooperation. Jefferson told the explorers that when they reached the edge of the territory at the Continental Divide they were to continue on to the Pacific Ocean. This land too was home t o dozens of Indian tribes, but the Spanish, English and Russians also laid claim to it. At first the United States just wanted to buy the east bank of t he Mississippi River and the city of New Orleans, which the French owned. The river was important to western American farmers. They used it to ship their goods to market because they didn’t have highways or railroads. In 1800, they shipped flour, tobacco, pork, bacon, lard, feathers, cider, butter, cheese, hemp for rope, potatoes, apples, salt, whiskey, beeswax and bear and deer skins down the river. At New Orleans, where t he Mississippi runs into the ocean, those goods were stored before being loaded on ships bound for the East Coast and Europe. When Napoleon needed money to fight a war in Europe and his colonies in the New World faltered, Jefferson jumped at the chance. In a treaty in 1803, the United States paid France $15 million for the Louisiana territory. That moved the western boundary of the United States from the Mississippi River almost 1,000 miles westward to t he Continental Divide. Now, there was even more reason to send Lewis and Clark west. The 1804-06 expedition found a land, although already occupied by native peoples, that was rich in timber, farmland and furs. Others who followed would find other treasures of gold, silver, copper and coal. Those are the kinds of things the United States and its hardworking people used to eventually become a vast country spanning the continent from the Pacific to Atlantic oceans.
Trading the Milk
“The (Louisiana Purchase) assures forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a rival who, sooner or later, will humble her pride.” — French Emperor Napolean Bonaparte
Sources: World Book Encyclopedia, the Lewis and Clark National Trail Interpretive Center and “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose.
When you drive across the border of Canada at Sweet Grass, you are still in the original Louisiana Purchase. It included land drained by the Milk River. When the 49th Parallel was settled on as the border of Purchase lands between Canada and the United States in 1818, that sliver of land became part of Canada and the United States gained parts of what would become North Dakot a and Minnesota In Milk River, Alberta, look for the mural on the side of a building that shows all the flags of countries, including the United States, that have controlled that area.