Long Tom Jefferson tweets: Highest destinies

How Napoleon sparked the Louisiana Purchase

This speck which now appears as an almost invisible point in the horizon, is the embryo of a tornado which will burst on the countries on both shores of the Atlantic and involve in it’s effects their highest destinies.”

This Thomas Jefferson quote is from a letter sent to Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Memours, concerning the Louisiana Purchase.  In his letter to Du Pont de Memours of April 25, 1802, Jefferson explained the need for the United States to purchase the 827,000 square mile swath of land encompassing much of the Mississippi River and territories west from New Orleans to the Canadian border. 

Jefferson’s fear was that Napoleon had designs to force Spain to transfer their Louisiana territories to France, thus isolating the crucial port of New Orleans and threatening American commerce and western expansion plans.  American access to navigate the Mississippi River and move goods in and out of New Orleans had been guaranteed in the Treaty of 1795 with Spain.  A Napoleon led France possessing these western lands would control the continent, and would spark in Jefferson’s mind, the ‘tornado’ of armed conflict for the control of North America.  This fear is what motivated Jefferson in 1802 to open diplomatic channels to Spain to purchase the Louisiana territories for the United States.  

Jefferson’s fears were well founded.  Spain transferred the Louisiana lands to France in October of 1802.  The “speck” on the horizon could now spin into the “tornado” of war triggered by the Louisiana territories changing ownership from Spain to France. 

“The Louisiana situation reached a crisis point in October 1802 when Spain's King Charles IV signed a decree transferring the territory to France and the Spanish agent in New Orleans, acting on orders from the Spanish court, revoked Americans' access to the port's warehouses. These moves prompted outrage in the United States.” 

Jefferson was under pressure from western citizens and opposition party Federalist to seize the Louisiana lands.  He sent off the Louis and Clark Expedition in 1803 to survey the western territories.  He authorized James Monroe as minister extraordinary to join the Livingston delegation in France to represent and secure American rights of movement and commerce in the western lands.  The president’s hope was that lands could be purchased to secure at minimum the navigation and commerce for New Orleans.  

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To Monroe’s surprise, he reached France to find out that Napoleon was willing to sell all of the Louisiana territories to the United States at a bargain price of $18 per square mile. As fate would have it, Napoleon was embroiled in putting down uprisings in Haiti. He had no appetite for conflict with the United States and by proxy Great Britain. He preferred selling France’s North American lands to the United States and sealing Great Britain to a Canada footprint.

That is how the we came into possession of the Louisiana Purchase that paved the way for the United States to grow from Atlantic to Pacific Oceans and at the same time avoid the “tornado” that Jefferson envisioned with the European powers during his presidency.