The Louisiana Purchase

In October of 1802, Charles IV, King of Spain, transferred the territory of Louisiana to France, but the territory remained in Spanish possession until March of 1803. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was struggling to keep his New World empire together.

By 1803, Napoleon was consumed with the potential loss of the rich French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and imminent war with Great Britain. Meanwhile, James Monroe and Robert Livingston, U.S. Ministers to France, were asked to secure American interests in the Mississippi River and surrounding territory. When they learned that Napoleon was willing to sell all of Louisiana in order to focus France’s resources in the Caribbean, they entered into negotiations to make the purchase even though it exceeded their realm of authority. The Americans purchased the entire Louisiana territory, including New Orleans, for approximately 15 million dollars, doubling the size of the young United States.

William Charles Cole Claiborne was appointed interim Governor of the Louisiana Purchase Territory. In 1804, the Louisiana territory was subdivided into two territories; the southern portion, called the Territory of Orleans, included most of the land that eventually became the state of Louisiana. Claiborne continued as the first Governor of the Territory of Orleans. He inherited a largely “foreign” population that some felt needed to be Americanized. The French-speaking Creole population of Louisiana and the English-speaking Anglo-Americans were often at odds culturally and politically in the early years of the transfer. Nevertheless, Claiborne was able to unite the French and English-speaking people of the area under a new democratic form of government.

Louisiana  Map 1805

This 1804 map shows the topography of the Louisiana Purchase Territory.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Louisiana: European Explorations and the Louisiana Purchase.