Louisiana Purchase Treaty Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The inhabitants of the ceded territory [Louisiana] shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States and admitted . . . to the enjoyment of all these rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States. . . .

Summary Overview

By a vote of twenty-four to seven, the United States Senate doubled the size of the country on October 20, 1803, with the ratification of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France did away with one threat of foreign intervention in US affairs. Domestically, despite a variety of objections, President Thomas Jefferson expanded the constitutional powers of the federal government by acquiring new territory through the Louisiana Purchase and granting automatic citizenship to its inhabitants. Jefferson had run for the presidency on a platform of limiting the size of government and reducing the national debt. However, the opportunity to acquire the entire region overcame his political inclinations, and the purchase of the Louisiana Territory rapidly accelerated the growth of the United States. Although it would be decades before the idea of Manifest Destiny would be vocalized, the Louisiana Purchase was a major step in the process of expanding the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

Defining Moment

During the early years of the United States, Great Britain, Spain, and France were still imperial rivals for territorial claims and political influence in North America, particularly in Florida and the Louisiana Territory. At the same time, the growth of the population of the United States led to an increasing number of settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains. As a result, the river that formed the western boundary of the young nation, the Mississippi, had become a vital route for the transportation of commodities produced by the western states; however, the United States had little control over this waterway. In 1798, the Spanish governor of Louisiana prohibited the transport of US goods through New Orleans, crippling the US economy. In 1800, France quietly regained control of Louisiana, which had been given to Spain after the Seven Years’ War. The French subsequently reopened New Orleans to US trade. However, there was still great uneasiness in the western states as to the reliability of this trade route.

At about the same time France regained the Louisiana Territory from Spain, the French colony of Saint-Domingue, now the nation of Haiti, declared its full independence from France after a decade of fighting. Saint-Domingue had been the economic linchpin of French Caribbean interests, and without it there was no reason to expend resources in the region. Unable to permanently subdue the Haitian revolt and tied down by war in Europe, French leader Napoleon Bonaparte found Louisiana to be of no great value. In 1802, President Jefferson sent diplomats Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe to France to purchase New Orleans and the immediate vicinity. In March 1803, Napoleon instructed his finance minster, François Barbé-Marbois, to sell Louisiana to the United States in order to fund a series of military campaigns across Europe that would come to be known as the Napoleonic Wars. In April 1803, Barbé-Marbois offered the entire territory of Louisiana to the United States for fifteen million dollars. Although not authorized to spend that much, Livingston and Monroe recognized a good bargain. On April 30, 1803, they signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, a copy of which arrived in the United States ten weeks later.

Jefferson readily accepted the expanded purchase and pushed for ratification. With the purchase, the economic growth of the western states was assured, and one possible base for foreign interference was removed. The issues raised by the opponents of the treaty were real, in that the Louisiana Territory had ill-defined boundaries, the purchase raised new issues related to slavery, and the automatic citizenship granted to the inhabitants of the territory disrupted the east-west political balance of power in the United States and created anxiety regarding how well the population of the region would integrate into US society. However, the advantages of the purchase outweighed the potential problems. With ratification, three million dollars in gold were sent to France, with the rest of the purchase being financed through British and Dutch banks.

Author Biography

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was born on April 13, 1743, in Shadewell, Virginia. The elder son of Peter and Jane Randolph Jefferson, he was born into a wealthy family. Having studied with tutors as a young child, Jefferson began his formal education at a local school at the age of nine. At age sixteen, Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary and graduated within two years. From 1762 until 1767, he read law for five years as a clerk under George Wythe, a prominent judge, while also studying political philosophy. He married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772 and they had six children, although only two daughters survived childhood. Both Jefferson and his wife inherited extensive landholdings from their fathers. Martha died in 1782.

Jefferson’s political career began in Virginia’s House of Burgesses in 1769. In 1775, he was elected to the Second Continental Congress. John Adams, also a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, convinced Jefferson to write a draft of a document declaring American independence. After minor revisions by a committee and other modifications by the full Congress, Jefferson’s creation, the Declaration of Independence, was ratified.

Jefferson returned to the Virginia legislature in 1776, authoring a significant number of bills to revise the state’s laws. He served two years as governor of Virginia beginning in 1779. Following the American Revolution, he served in the Congress of the Confederation before he was appointed minister to France in 1785. He returned to the United States in 1789 and accepted the appointment as secretary of state during President George Washington’s first term. During this time, he began to have major disagreements with the Federalists, the political party supporting a strong, centralized federal government. When Washington retired, Jefferson ran for president as a Democratic-Republican, losing to John Adams, a Federalist. However, Jefferson, as runner-up, became the vice president, serving from 1797 to 1801. Jefferson became president in 1801, defeating Adams and then being chosen by the House of Representatives to be president over his running mate, Aaron Burr. These two elections caused Congress to put forward what became the Twelfth Amendment, establishing separate ballots for president and vice-president.

Jefferson began his presidency by cutting government expenditures; however, external challenges quickly forced him in the other direction. He increased the military, created the United States Military Academy at West Point, and used naval operations to confront the Barbary states of North Africa, where a number of US ships had been captured and held for ransom. The Louisiana Purchase also greatly expanded the country and the national government’s role. After his second term as president, Jefferson retired to Monticello, working to found the University of Virginia, a nonsectarian university. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Document Analysis

For twenty years, the boundaries of the United States had been set by the Treaty of Paris, the document that officially ended the Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the United States. Even though the United States had sought to stay neutral regarding conflicts in Europe, those conflicts nevertheless had a major impact upon the US economy and security. Surrounded by European colonies, the United States had to be wary not only of North American events, but of what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Thus, any step that could decrease European influence in the United States was seen as a positive development. In addition, Jefferson was one of the earliest leaders to understand the possibilities of what lay west of the Appalachians. Jefferson understood that retaining the original boundary at the Mississippi River was not in the best interests of the United States. The temporary closure of the port of New Orleans to US goods in the late 1790s caused many settlers in the west to advocate war against Spain. Already, Jefferson had shown resolve in standing up to foreign interests by refusing the demands of the Barbary states and sending military forces to protect US shipping interests in the Mediterranean. As one of the weakest European nations, Spain’s control of New Orleans and Louisiana did not cause major concern. However, once it became known that France had reacquired Louisiana, Jefferson sought to acquire New Orleans and the southern tip of the territory in order to assure vital US economic interests. While historically, France and the United States had had good relations, Napoleon’s rise to power created greater uncertainty. To have France begin to build a strong North American colony or to have Great Britain capture New Orleans from France would be devastating for the United States. Thus, Jefferson instructed his representatives to begin the process of trying to acquire New Orleans.

The agreement was drawn up in the names of the leaders of the two countries, President Thomas Jefferson of the United States of America and First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte of France. The preamble of the treaty lists the credentials of the individuals representing the two countries. As leaders of their respective governments, these individuals had the power to enter into agreements with other nations, even though the United States required an additional ratification process for these agreements to be completely binding. The representatives of the United States, Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe, were political allies of Jefferson. Livingston came to know Jefferson during the Second Continental Congress. Livingston was appointed minister to France by Jefferson in 1801 and, as such, was given instructions to negotiate for the purchase of New Orleans, with an initial budget of two million dollars. James Monroe had been minister to France for two years during Washington’s presidency. In 1803, on his way to serve as minister to Great Britain, Monroe was directed to France specifically to negotiate a treaty allowing the United States to obtain New Orleans, with the budget increased to ten million dollars and with a fallback option to negotiate an agreement with Great Britain allowing the United States a free hand in the southern part of the Louisiana Territory. Representing France was François Barbé-Marbois, the French treasury minister, who was well acquainted with the United States. He had served as a diplomat to the United States from 1779 to 1785, and had communicated with Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, at that time. Thus, those involved in the final negotiations all knew Jefferson well and were known to each other. Jefferson used this to his advantage, sending different information to various individuals to help his goal of obtaining New Orleans.

The Treaty

In the preamble, the treaty also mentions agreements that the United States had previously made with France and Spain. The Convention of the 8th Vendémiaire an 9 was an agreement made between France and the United States in 1800 that sought to solve issues related to an unofficial conflict between France and the United States. In the late 1790s, French privateers were allowed by their government to attack United States shipping. This resulted in US naval vessels being dispatched. By 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to end this conflict, as he had other, more pressing military concerns. The 1800 convention ended the unofficial conflict and made provisions for the repayment of damages, although the agreement’s “second and fifth articles,” referred to in the preamble of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, clearly stated that, while the debts owed to US citizens for goods confiscated by French privateers would be paid, the negotiators were “not being able to agree at present” on the payments that should be made. This was to be taken care of within the framework of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. In addition, the 1795 Treaty of Madrid between the United States and Spain had set the boundary between the United States and the Spanish colonies. However, when Spain gave Louisiana back to France, there had been an understanding that part of West Florida would go with the territory. Thus, this boundary was also subject to debate, and was to be addressed within the context of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty and related conventions.

Article 1 of the treaty clarifies the right of France to the territory. In 1763, at the end of the Seven Years’ War, known in America as the French and Indian War, France had given up its colonies in North America. Quebec went to the British and Louisiana went to Spain. However, by the end of the century, with Spain feeling increasingly pressured militarily by France, it agreed to return the territory to France in the Treaty of St. Ildefonso of 1800. In the quote from that treaty contained in the text of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, the reference to “his Royal Highness the Duke of Parma” indicates that, in exchange for Louisiana, France would give the Duke of Parma (a grandson of the king of Spain) a portion of what is now northern Italy. The uncertainty regarding the border between Louisiana and Florida appears in the following passage about other agreements “subsequently entered into between Spain and other States.” However, as far as the negotiators were concerned, the important point in this article is that there had been an agreement between Spain and France giving clear title to the territory to France, even if the boundaries were unclear.

Article 2 clarifies these boundaries somewhat, while establishing the rights of property owners in Louisiana. This purchase “included the adjacent Islands belonging to Louisiana.” Thus, at least the southern boundary was clarified as the Gulf of Mexico. The United States gained title to “all public lots and Squares, vacant lands and all public buildings, fortifications, barracks and other edifices which are not private property.” Although the emphasis seems to be upon what was now owned by the government of the United States, it is important to note that property owned by individuals was not affected. This was in line with American belief in the private ownership of property. The various papers needed to document ownership also became the property of the United States. This would help to ensure the property that had been given to various individuals in the territory would be documented and their rights upheld.

The most important article for those living in the colony was article 3. This article granted the free inhabitants of the Louisiana Territory citizenship in the United States. Going beyond that, they were promised admission into full statehood “as soon as possible according to the principles of the federal Constitution.” Four new states had been admitted into the union prior to the ratification of this treaty, so the terms and procedures for statehood were well understood. While a territory, the inhabitants of Louisiana were guaranteed “free enjoyment of their liberty, property and the Religion which they profess.” As all of these rights were guaranteed to any citizen in the United States, it was not difficult for the American negotiators to include these provisions in the treaty.

Article 4 reflects upon the fact that France’s reacquisition of Louisiana had not been publicized, and was even kept secret from some government officials. Thus, France’s promise to send a special envoy to Louisiana to assist in the transfer of power from France to the United States includes mention of the “Officers of his Catholic Majesty.” Some Spanish troops and officials had remained in Louisiana, many without knowledge of the transfer from Spain to France because Spain had been slow in turning over the territory. Also, from the two governments’ point of view, the Spanish officials remained in order not to alert others to the transfer of power. The special “Commissary” sent by France would assist in making certain everything was in order as the transfer of the territory to the United States progressed. This process is outlined further in article 5. Once the treaty had been ratified by both countries, the special envoy sent by Napoleon would turn over everything “to the Commissary or Commissaries named by the President.” The armed forces in the territory would leave within “three months after the ratification of this treaty.”

Article 6 gives the American Indians in the territory the same rights they had had under Spanish rule. In reality, because most of the territory had not been settled, most of the tribes there did not have formal agreements with the Spanish. Thus, in journeys such as the Lewis and Clark expedition, American settlers had to devise their own agreements with the indigenous population. Although it was not uniformly enforced, in 1769 Spain had outlawed holding American Indians in slavery. In later years, this Spanish law and article 6 of the treaty were used by some slaves of mixed African and American Indian ancestry to try to gain their freedom, a few successfully. As with previous provisions in the treaty, article 6 was essentially a statement maintaining the status quo.

Articles 7 and 8 deal with similar topics, but within a longer time frame. Just as trade concerns were the major reason most Americans were interested in obtaining the Louisiana Territory, France and Spain had similar concerns. Thus in article7, French and Spanish ships carrying French or Spanish cargo are assured that the port of New Orleans would remain open to them for a transitional twelve-year period. This would ensure a continuity of economic interests, because the French and Spanish merchants in New Orleans, St. Louis, and other cities would have been dealing with manufacturers from their home countries or getting raw materials from other colonies. Thus, the merchants would not be cut off from their normal source of supply. The twelve-year period was an arbitrary time frame, but long enough that new sources of supplies could be established if necessary. The only way the supply chain could be ended prior to that period would be if the US government stopped trade between the people in the Louisiana Territory and the rest of the United States, but this, of course, was not foreseeable. Article 8 guarantees that after the twelve-year period, French ships would not be treated any differently than any other foreign ships. Thus, if the United States allowed any foreign ships to dock in New Orleans, it had to allow French ships, as well. Spain, however, is not mentioned in this article.

Article 9 deals with the two conventions that were “Signed this day by the respective Ministers.” Because this treaty was seen as one that sought to “Strengthen the union and friendship . . . between the two nations,” the details of what was being given to France in exchange for Louisiana were not included in the main treaty. As stated in the treaty, the conventions and the treaty “shall be ratified in the same form and in the Same time So that the one Shall not be ratified distinct from the other.” Thus, if all three documents were not ratified at the same time, the agreement would no longer be valid. The first convention noted in the treaty is the one that fulfilled the previous convention, the Convention of the 8th Vendémiaire an 9, which had been signed on September 30, 1800. That convention ended hostilities between French privateers and the United States. While an agreement had been reached that restitution should be paid, as previously mentioned, the amount and how this was to be done had not been settled. In this convention, the United States said that it would take care of repaying its own citizens for their losses, which was stated to be the equivalent of about $3.75 million. The second convention mentioned in article 9 of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty specifically states that a payment of $11.25 million would be paid directly to France. This amount was to be paid over time, with the total being guaranteed by interests in London, Amsterdam, or Paris. France would have the right to hold any American bonds to cover the amount due, at 6 percent interest, or to sell the bonds to any individual or entity. Thus the financial arrangements for the purchase were covered in the two conventions signed at the same time as the treaty. The total of the two conventions was $15 million, in excess of what Livingston and Monroe had been authorized to spend. However, they were no longer purchasing just New Orleans and the southern part of the Louisiana Territory, but the entire territory. Thus, in line with their powers as plenipotentiaries, Livingston and Monroe signed the treaty and conventions and Jefferson accepted what they had accomplished.

As with all formal treaties, the final article deals with the process of ratification and which copy was the official one. In this case, it was “the present Treaty . . . originally agreed to in the French language.” Thus, if there were disputes between the English and French versions, the French was the one that would be enforced. While the time period of six months for the exchange of ratified treaties might seem long, given the speed of transportation of the early 1800s, this was necessary.

When the treaty and conventions were presented to the Senate for ratification, there were major disputes. During the debate, opponents raised the issues regarding the ill-defined boundaries of the purchase (which included an understanding that Spain had a claim on part of the territory), the extension of slavery into the western territories, the disruption to the established east-west political balance of power, and the integration of the population of the region into American society. Many members of the House of Representatives were upset with the purchase proposal and voted against its implementation. However, by two votes, the House sided with Jefferson and the treaty. In the Senate, most senators saw the advantages of the purchase, and the treaty easily garnered the two-thirds vote needed to pass.

Essential Themes

In the history of the United States, the Louisiana Purchase was a pivotal step toward the country’s development into a world power. In 1803, the majority of North America was colonized by European powers and, except for the Atlantic Ocean on its eastern border, the United States was surrounded by Spanish, French, and British colonies. The easiest trade route from the western states to any market was controlled by the Spanish-French alliance. With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, the entire Mississippi River system and the port of New Orleans came under the control of the United States. In addition, the growing population east of the Mississippi River was now shielded from possible foreign incursions from the west. The dream of American dominance in North America was beginning to be fulfilled.

Politically, the fact that the federal government exercised powers beyond those specifically enumerated in the Constitution had been accepted as a result of this purchase by all major political groups in the United States. While the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had previously established a pattern for the ownership and administration of United States territory that was not a part of a state, the Louisiana Purchase set the precedent for the expansion of the United States beyond its original boundaries. Never again was the constitutionality of American expansion seriously questioned. In retrospect, some note that the various American Indian claims to this territory should have been considered more seriously than they were. However, many leaders, including Jefferson, believed that these claims could only be taken seriously if the American Indians fully adopted the European way of life. Thus, ignoring Indian claims in the Louisiana Territory was no different from the way other tribes were being treated in the existing US states and territories. Nevertheless, the Louisiana Purchase was a major accomplishment, opening up new venues for economic and scientific pursuits.

  • Cerami, Charles A. Jefferson’s Great Gamble. Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2003. Print.
  • Malone, Dumas. Jefferson, the President: First Term 1801–1805.Vol. 4. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970. Print.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2012. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.
Additional Reading
  • Beschloss, Michael, and Hugh Sidey. “Thomas Jefferson.” The Presidents of the United States of America. WhiteHouse.gov, 2009. Web. 20 Sept. 2012.
  • DeConde, Alexander. This Affair of Louisiana. New York: Scribner’s, 1976. Print.
  • Fleming, Thomas. The Louisiana Purchase.Hoboken: Wiley, 2003. Print.
  • Kastor, Peter J., ed. The Louisiana Purchase: Emergence of an American Nation.Washington, DC: CQ, 2002. Print.

Categories: History Content