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.
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Check for Understanding
Describe the individual in the portrait and explain the role of Thomas Jefferson in westward expansion.
Research Thomas Jefferson. How old was he and how long had he been President when he made the Louisiana Purchase? What else is Thomas Jefferson famous for?
Math: About how many dollars per square mile did the United States pay for the Louisiana Territory? If there are 640 acres in one square mile, about how much per acre did the United States pay? Does your number match the amount given by other sources?
Science: Choose five plants or animals that Lewis and Clark discovered on their expedition across Louisiana Territory. Make a booklet including one page for each discovery. For each discovery, draw a picture of the plant or animal, write its common and Latin names, describe the location and climate where it is found, and include any interesting facts about the species.
English Language Arts: Many of Thomas Jefferson’s opponents said that the Louisiana Territory was a worthless purchase and that Jefferson did not have the authority to purchase it without the approval of Congress. Chose a side and write a speech arguing for or against the United States’ purchase of the Louisiana Territory.