April 30, 1803

In 1800, Spain secretly ceded the Louisiana Territory—the area stretching from Canada to the Gulf Coast and from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains—to France, which then closed the port of New Orleans to American farmers. Americans in the West, left without a port from which to export their goods, were incensed. President Thomas Jefferson feared that the establishment of a French colonial empire in North America would block American expansion. He sent negotiators to France, with instructions to purchase New Orleans and as much of the Gulf Coast as they could for $10 million.

Circumstances played into American hands when France failed to suppress a slave rebellion in Haiti. One hundred thousand slaves, inspired by the French Revolution, had revolted and destroyed coffee and sugar plantations. With the conflict in Haiti going badly and the likelihood of renewed hostilities with Britiain, Napoleon had little interest in keeping Louisiana and a need for money to pay for his wars. On April 11, 1803, France offered to sell not just New Orleans but its claim to the entire province of Louisiana. On April 30, the American negotiators agreed to a price of $15 million (or about four cents an acre) and signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. For just $5 million more than he planned to spend buying New Orleans, Jefferson doubled the size of the country.

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