Negotiations and Purchase
Jefferson instructed Livingston to attempt to purchase the "Isle of Orleans" (i.e., New Orleans) and West Florida from France. He appointed James Monroe minister extraordinary and plenipotentiary to serve with Livingston. Congress granted the envoys $2 million to secure their object.
The international situation favored the American diplomats. Louisiana was of diminishing importance to France. The costly revolt in Haiti forced the French emperor Napoleon I to reconsider his plan to make Hispaniola the keystone of his colonial empire, and impending war with Great Britain made him question the feasibility of holding Louisiana against that great naval power. He decided to sell Louisiana to the United States.
On Apr. 11, 1803, the French foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand opened negotiations by asking the surprised Livingston what the United States would give for all of Louisiana. Bargaining began in earnest the next day, on Monroe's arrival in Paris. On Apr. 29, the U.S. envoys agreed to pay a total of $15 million to France; about $3,750,000 of this sum covered claims of U.S. citizens against France, which the U.S. government agreed to discharge. The treaty, dated Apr. 30, 1803, was signed several days later. Jefferson's scruples about the constitutionality of the purchase were overcome by his fears that Napoleon might change his mind (as intimated in reports from Livingston) and by the overwhelming public approval of the Louisiana Purchase (although there was some objection from Federalists, especially in New England).
The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in October, and the U.S. flag was raised over New Orleans on Dec. 20. The Louisiana Purchase, extending from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mts. and from the Gulf of Mexico to British North America, doubled the national domain, increasing it c.828,000 sq mi (c.2,144,500 sq km). The final boundaries of the territory were not settled for many years (see West Florida Controversy), since the 1803 treaty did not set the limits of the region.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. History