Study Guide

Louisiana Purchase Treaty Analysis

By Robert R. Livingston, James Monroe, and François de Barbé-Marbois

Advertisement - Guide continues below

  • Rhetoric


    If we had a dime for every time someone waxed poetic about how inspiring, uplifting, and emotional governmental treaty documents are, we would not have very many dimes.

    And that's by design.

    See, all of the persuading and inspiring and convincing takes place long before official documents are written, signed, and ratified. By the time the ink was put to paper on the Louisiana Purchase treaty and conventions, the hard part—hashing out the details and making sure both parties were satisfied—was already done. Negotiations were complete.

    Passionate arguments and their equally passionate counterarguments have no place in the actual text of governmental treaties.

    Sure, we see a "happily reestablished" (T.0) friendship here and a "most favoured nations" (T.8.1) there, but overall, the happy-sappy stuff was left to the conversations that happened before and after the treaty and conventions were written.

    Because the point of official documents is to be, well, official, and they can't get their officialdom on so well if they read like campaign speeches or love letters. Instead, they rely on the use of long titles, full names, Serious-Looking Capitalization, and a lot of "shalls" and "whereofs" to impress their officialness upon their audience.

    This impressing thing is called "ethos," and ethos is all about creating credibility.

    And it works: there really isn't any doubt that these three documents are the real deal, signed by important dudes doing important things on behalf of their important countries.

    That's worth more than a few dimes in our book.

  • Structure

    Legal Document

    It couldn't have been easy, writing a three-part legal document in two languages that applied to two countries that were both in all kinds of upheaval.

    But that's what the fearless Louisiana Purchase authors did, and they did it with style.

    Maybe not the kind of style we associate with Christian Louboutin's unicorn skin boots, but style nonetheless.

    In fact, we'd argue that the Louisiana Purchase documents represented the latest and greatest trends in a style we still see today: legalese style.

    That's right: from its long-winded, official (or is it "officious"?) opening paragraphs to its longhand dates to its repeated closing lines (complete with wax seals), this trio of texts is nothing if not the epitome of legal document fashion.

    All it lacks is a color-changing unicorn skin cover.

    How It Breaks Down

    Section 1: A Treat of a Treaty (Sentences T.0-T.10.3)

    What's going on? France is selling Louisiana to the Americans. How's it going to go down? This document, the first in a series of three, has 10 articles detailing just that—and boy, is it thorough.

    Section 2: Eight Sentences, 60 Million Francs (Sentences C1.0-C1.3.4)

    In just four short articles, this brief little convention outlines exactly how the United States is going to pay for Louisiana since they couldn't exactly just say, "Put it on my American Express card." As one might expect from a document written in part by a finance guy, the terms are awfully detailed and thorough.

    Section 3: Piracy Doesn't Pay (Sentences C2.0-C2.13.3)

    Or does it? The final Louisiana Purchase document is 13 articles long and talks all about how France is going to settle its debts with the Americans it essentially robbed during some seafaring escapades in the English Channel and along the Mississippi a few years before. Teaser: it's thorough. (Who's sensing a theme?)

  • Tone

    What'd you expect from a treaty? 

    Aside from a slight yes-we're-getting-the-best-deal-ever tone, this pretty much sounds like your basic treaty.

  • Writing Style

    Good news? This isn't some horribly long legislative document that you have to sift through to find the deets.

    Bad news? It's three separate documents. 

    But to be fair, the Louisiana Purchase was such a big deal, and really, it was just trying to get some organization up in here.

    • The first document is the actual treaty, and it contains every little detail about Louisiana's transition from the French to the Americans.
    • The second document is a cute 'lil thing that goes over how America will pay up. It's a convention, which means it's an agreement that's a little less binding than a treaty. But make no mistakes: America still had to pay up.
    • The third document is also a convention. It deals with how France is going to pay up for all their shenanigans.

    There's not much else to say here. As much as we appreciate the organization, it's still a treaty that's pretty much styled after a treaty.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    What's in a name?

    Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

    We don't know, but we're taking a stand right here and now that the Louisiana Purchase known by any other name would still be…the Louisiana Purchase.

    We know this because this isn't the only name out there for this epic real estate deal.

    Like, if you're in France, it's called the Vente de la Louisiane, or "Sale of Louisiana."

    Makes sense, right? France did sell Louisiana, after all.

    And if we want to be even more specific—and we're all about specific up in here—"Louisiana Purchase" is really just a blanket term that refers to three distinct and different documents. The titles of those documents all go a little something like this: "Treaty/Convention Between the United States of America and the French Republic."

    Boom. Nice and simple.

    We suppose it would be kind of fun if the whole deal had been named America's Bodacious Buy or something, but really, if we're looking for a short and sweet name that totally cuts to the chase, we can't ask for anything better than Louisiana Purchase.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    The President of the United States of America and the First Consul of the French Republic in the name of the French People desiring to remove all Source of misunderstanding relative to objects of discussion mentioned in the Second and fifth articles of the Convention of the 8th Vendémiaire an 9/30 September 1800 relative to the rights claimed by the United States in virtue of the Treaty concluded at Madrid the 27 of October 1795, between His Catholic Majesty & the Said United States, & willing to Strengthen the union and friendship which at the time of the Said Convention was happily reestablished between the two nations have respectively named their Plenipotentiaries to wit The President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate of the Said States; Robert R. Livingston Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States and James Monroe Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy extraordinary of the Said States near the Government of the French Republic; And the First Consul in the name of the French people, Citizen Francis Barbé Marbois Minister of the public treasury who after having respectively exchanged their full powers have agreed to the following Articles. (T.0)

    Did someone start handing out awards for "Longest Opening Sentence Ever" and we just didn't hear about it? Because this line is definitely a contender.

    In just 196 words, we learn this: Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte have granted Robert R. Livingston, James Monroe, and François de Barbé-Marbois the authority to put together the following document, which is not only a symbol of France and America's friendship but will also clear up any leftover misunderstandings resulting from Pinckney's Treaty and the Treaty of Mortefontaine.

    Know how many words it took us to say that? 51.

    But international treaties and conventions have never been known for being succinct, so we guess our negotiators were just keeping it real with the first sentence of the treaty document. Slight variations on that long and windy sentence appear at the beginning of each of the convention docs as well.

    (For the curious, the opening sentences of Conventions 1 and 2 clock in at 162 and 177 words, respectively.)

    Brevity may be the soul of wit, but these guys weren't trying to be witty. They were making history, and sometimes making history requires a lot of words. Especially when you have to write out everyone's full name and title, and write the dates using two different calendars.

    So while we do usually love nice, brief introductions, we'll give these guys a pass on their long-windedness. After all, they changed the course of history.

    Certainly that's worth at least 196 words.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    The present convention Shall be ratified in good and due form and the ratifications Shall be exchanged in Six months from the date of the Signature of the Ministers Plenipotentiary, or Sooner if possible.

    In faith of which, the respective Ministers Plenipotentiary have signed the above Articles both in the french and english languages, declaring nevertheless that the present treaty has been originally agreed on and written in the french language, to which they have hereunto affixed their Seals.

    Done at Paris, the tenth of Floreal, eleventh year of the French Republic/30th April 1803. (C2.13.1-C2.13.3).

    We're gonna let y'all in on a little secret: the closing lines of the treaty, first convention, and second convention are all pretty much the same.

    Sure, there's a few minor differences—one says "whereof" (T.10.2) where another says "of which," (C1.3.3) for example—but the gist is the same. And the gist is this:

    • All this stuff needs to be ratified within the next six months.
    • These docs are written in both English and French, but the original documents were in French.
    • Livingston, Monroe, and Barbé-Marbois are signing and affixing their seals on April 30th, 1803, otherwise known as Floréal 10th in the 11th year of the French Republic.

    Got it? Yeah, we thought so. It's not complicated stuff.

    But it does lend a lovely air of authority and solemnity to the whole thing, which is kind of nice. It was a pretty momentous occasion. Even in the moment, they knew it was a big deal. Once they were done signing and seal-affixing and stuff, Livingston said, "We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives" (source).

    Noble, indeed—in any language.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (8) Snow Line

    The Louisiana Purchase isn't the longest treaty ever created, but it's definitely one of the more difficult to read, and there are a few reasons for that:

    • First, we've got the rambling sentences and random capitalization and punctuation that legal documents just love to throw around. All in that 19th-century language.
    • Second, we've got complicated and detailed rules laid out for transferring Louisiana to the United States, paying France for their land, and compensating Americans who were owed money by France.
    • And third, all of the dates in the documents are written according to two different calendars: the Gregorian calendar that we all know and love and the French Revolutionary Calendar, which was super confusing and only lasted for 13 years.

    This pool of awesome is tough to wade into, but we're here to help you clear the weeds and enjoy this swim through the biggest real estate deal in history.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    References to Specific Places

    • Amsterdam (C1.2.1)
    • London (C1.2.1)
    • New Orleans (T.5.1; T.7.1)
    • Paris (T.10.3; C1.2.1; C1.3.4; C2.10.1; C2.13.3)

    Historical and Political References

    • American Indian tribes (T.6.1)
    • Eighth U.S. Congress (T.1; C1.1; C2.1)
    • England (C2.5.1)
    • Europe (C1.2.2)
    • Floréal (T.10.3; C1.3.4; C2.13.3)
    • France/French Republic (T.1; T.1.2; T.1.3; T.4.1; T.5.1; T.7.1; T.7.2; T.8.1; T.9.1; T.10.3; C1.1.1; C1.2.1; C1.2.2; C2.1; C2.1.1; C2.3.1; C2.4.1; C2.5.1; C2.6.1; C2.10.1; C2.10.2; C2.10.3; C2.12.1; C2.13.3)
    • French colonies (T.7.1)
    • Spain, government of (T.1.2; T.5.1; T.6.1; T.7.2)
    • Spanish colonies (T.7.1)
    • Treaty of Mortefontaine, 1800 (T.1; C2.1; C2.1.1; C2.4.1; C2.5.1; C2.6.1; C2.12.1)
    • Treaty of San Ildefonso, 1800 (T.1.1; T.1.3)
    • Treaty of San Lorenzo/Pinckney's Treaty (T.1)
    • United States (T.1; T.1.3; T.2.2; T.3.1; T.4.1; T.6.1; T.7.1; T.7.2; T.9.1; C1.1; C1.1.1; C1.2.1; C1.2.2; C1.3.1; C2.1; C2.1.1; C2.3.1; C2.4.1; C2.5.1; C2.6.1; C2.9.1; C2.10.1; C2.10.2; C2.10.3; C2.12.1)

    People References

    • François de Barbé-Marbois (T.1; C1.1; C2.1)
    • Napoleon Bonaparte (T.1; T.1.1; T.1.3; T.5.1; C1.1; C2.1)
    • King Charles IV of Spain, "his Catholic Majesty" (T.1; T.1.1; T.1.2; T.1.3; T.4.1)
    • Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma (T.1.2)
    • Thomas Jefferson (T.1; T.5.1; C1.1; C2.1)
    • Robert R. Livingston (T.1; C1.1; C2.1)
    • James Monroe (T.1; C1.1; C2.1)

    References to This Text

    Literary and Philosophical References

    Any book, essay, journal article, etc. that talks about westward expansion, Manifest Destiny, or 19th-century America is going to bring up the Louisiana Purchase at least once. We've picked three of our fave books on the subject for your perusal and enjoyment:

    • Jefferson's Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon, and the Men Behind the Louisiana Purchase, Charles A. Cerami
    • Manifest Destiny and the Expansion of America, Rodney P. Carlisle and J. Geoffrey Golson
    • Empires of the Imagination: Transatlantic Histories of the Louisiana Purchase, Peter J. Kastor and François Weil

    Historical and Political References

    We can't talk about the history of the United States in the 19th century without referencing the Louisiana Purchase in some capacity. That being said, here's a couple of historical and political docs we think you can really dig your knowledge-hungry teeth into:

    • Organic Act of 1804
    • Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819

    Pop Culture References

    • Louisiana Purchase (1941)
    • Louisiana Purchase Brewing Co., New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Trivia

    For the (inflation-adjusted) price of the Louisiana Purchase, you could buy more than 81 million beignets today. Tasty. (Source)

    Louis-André Pichon (French minister to the United States) was the guy responsible for securing passports for Lewis and Clark's 1804 expedition. They ended up being unnecessary, but still, it was a cool thing for him to do. (Source)

    The original Louisiana Territory survey marker has its own park in Arkansas. (Source)

    Robert R. Livingston's brother Edward ran away to New Orleans after being (falsely) accused of fraud, embezzlement, and other shady money stuff in New York. (Source)

    The land included in the Louisiana Purchase eventually comprised all or part of these U.S. states: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Oh, and Louisiana. (Source)

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...