Louisiana Purchase 1803

Thomas Jefferson thought of himself as a man of the frontier and was keenly interested in expanding and exploring the West. Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the size of the nation at the cost of $15 million, or about $0.04 per acre, $256 million in 2019 dollars, less than 42 cents per acre. Federalists opposed the expansion, but Jeffersonians hailed the opportunity to create millions of new farms to expand the domain of land-owning yeomen; the ownership would strengthen the ideal republican society, based on agriculture, governed lightly, and promoting self-reliance and virtue, as well as form the political base for Jeffersonian Democracy.

France was paid for its sovereignty over the territory in terms of international law. Between 1803 and the 1870s, the federal government purchased the actual land from the Indian tribes then in possession of it. 20th-century accountants and courts have calculated the value of the payments made to the Indians, which included future payments of cash, food, horses, cattle, supplies, buildings, schooling, and medical care. In cash terms, the total paid to the tribes in the area of the Louisiana Purchase amounted to about $2.6 billion, or nearly $9 billion in 2016 dollars. Additional sums were paid to the Indians living east of the Mississippi for their lands, as well as payments to Indians living in parts of the west outside the Louisiana Purchase.

Even before the purchase, Jefferson was planning expeditions to explore and map the lands. He charged Lewis and Clark to “explore the Missouri River, and such principal stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean; whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado, or any other river may offer the most direct and practicable communication across the continent for commerce”. Jefferson also instructed the expedition to study the region’s native tribes including their morals, language, and culture, weather, soil, rivers, commercial trading, and animal and plant life.

Entrepreneurs, most notably John Jacob Astor quickly seized the opportunity and expanded fur trading operations into the Pacific Northwest. Astor’s “Fort Astoria”, later Fort George, at the mouth of the Columbia River, became the first permanent white settlement in that area, although it was not profitable for Astor. He set up the American Fur Company in an attempt to break the hold that the Hudson’s Bay Company monopoly had over the region. By 1820, Astor had taken over independent traders to create a profitable monopoly; he left the business as a multi-millionaire in 1834.

Ben Davidson

Hello, I have been studying all aspects of history for about 25 years. I have a BA History from the University of Bedfordshire. My historical areas of interest are anything really, but I specialise in 19th - 20th century Britain, America and Ireland. I am also strongly aligned with most military history, really enjoying WW2 and the US Civil War. Chuck in the king or queen and Bob's your uncle.

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