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Interpreting the Evidence

Map of the Louisiana Purchase, n.d.

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Expansion and Reform (1801 - 1861)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Map of the Louisiana Purchase, n.d. in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A map showing the territory gained by the Louisiana Purchase, n.d.
Historical Context
The Louisiana Purchase has been called the greatest real estate venture in history. On April 30, 1803, the United States acquired from France 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River. This land stretched north from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada and west from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. This new land nearly doubled the size of the United States!

France, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, was ready to sell the land. The French were on the brink of war with Britain and needed money for the war. The French were not willing to spare troops to guard the vast wilderness, and they did not see any use for this land. President Thomas Jefferson was thrilled at the Frenchmen’s willingness to sell the land, but suspected a trick so he sent two negotiators, Robert Livingston and James Monroe, to Paris to negotiate the deal. Although the Unites States initially offered $2 million for the land, the French asked for $15 million. Although this seems like an enormous amount of money, the United States jumped at the chance for this investment because it was a bargain. The United States paid $11,250,000 directly to France; the remainding $3,750,000 the French owed the United States anyway, so they agreed to cancel the debt.

Thomas Jefferson immediately asked Congress for money to fund an expedition of the new territory. Congress agreed, and in the fall of 1803, the Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark, departed on their journey to seek a water route to the Pacific Ocean. Although no such waterway existed, the Corps did discover many new plants, animals, and geographical characteristics of the United States. Perhaps most significant, however, were their interactions with many different groups of Native Americans. On September 23, 1806, the Corps of Discovery returned to Washington D.C. after two and a half years. They were greeted as national heroes.

Essential Question
How do individuals influence national and global events?
Check for Understanding
Identify three key characteristics of this map and explain the significance of the Louisiana Purchase in the development of American society.
Historical Challenges
What Native American groups originally inhabited this land? What were the effects of the Louisiana Purchase on Native Americans?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Investigate the current exchange rate between France and the United States. Convert the costs of popular items between the currencies.
Science: What new plants and animals did the Corps of Discovery find?
English Language Arts: Write a journal entry about exploring the Louisiana Purchase.