The Louisiana Purchase

France controlled all the territory beyond the Mississippi River, land known as the Louisiana Territory. At first the emperor of France, Napoleon, planned to build a huge North American empire based in Haiti, but a slave rebellion on the island ended this plan. Embroiled in a war in Europe, Napoleon accepted defeat in Haiti and decided to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803 to help finance his war. Jefferson knew that nothing in the Constitution mentioned the federal acquisition of new land, but he realized that the territory was for sale for a bargain--only $15 million. And he really wanted the land. Although he wanted to go before Congress and create an amendment to allow for the purchase of the land, he understood how long that would take and it was possible that Napoleon might change his mind. Throwing caution to the wind, Jefferson went forward with the land purchase after the proposal passed both houses of Congress. The purchase of the Louisiana Territory doubled the size of the United States, gave Americans total control of the Mississippi River waterways, and ended French presence on the continent. Ironically, the Republicans used money generated by Hamilton’s Federalists policies to pay for the land.


Jefferson’s Legacy

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

Web Field Trip

Learn more about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and other expeditions sent out to unknown parts of North America at “Discovering Lewis and Clark” and the “Journey of the Corps of Discovery.”

Jefferson’s greatest legacy after two presidential terms proved to be the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. As an amateur scientist, the president was keenly interested to know what was out there in all that vast unexplored land. In 1803 he asked Congress for $2,500 to send an expedition to the Far Northwest “for the purpose of extending the foreign commerce of the United States.” He also wanted to map the wilderness, collect scripta information, and promote fur trapping and trading with the Natives. Congress approved his plan, and he assigned two men to lead the expedition: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The “Corps of Discovery,” numbering nearly fifty set out in 1804 from St. Louis and traveled to the Pacific and back in two and a half years.