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How did Jefferson and friends find out that Spain had ceded Louisiana back to France in 1800?
Well, there were rumors, but when Secretary of State James Madison received this letter from Rufus King, the American minister to Great Britain, on November 20th, 1801, those rumors were confirmed. It's not a long letter—more along the lines of "dropping a line"—but it imparts two crucial pieces of information.
First, it did indeed appear to be true that France was once again the rightful owner of the Louisiana Territory.
And two, even as King was scribbling down these words to Madison, Napoleon's crew was planning to head out to Saint-Domingue and proceed directly from there to New Orleans.
This was big news. Good on King for wasting no time getting the facts to the movers and shakers back in America.
Anyone wondering how POTUS Jefferson felt about France's ownership of the Louisiana Territory really need look no further than this letter to Robert R. Livingston from April 18th, 1802.
Hint: he wasn't stoked.
Part instructional guide, part diary entry, and part introductory lesson to secret codes, this letter is chock-full of the eloquence and insight that POTUS No. 3 was known for. In it, we see that Jefferson originally had his eye on buying New Orleans and the Floridas, and wasn't really thinking the United States could get its hands on all of Louisiana.
He also had plenty to say about America's friendship with France, Spain's desirability as a neighboring landlord, and the difficulty he felt France would face in its butting of heads with the slaves of Saint-Domingue.
It's a good read, and it almost—but not quite—makes us wish letter writing was still a thing.
It wasn't a given that Congress would ratify the Louisiana Purchase documents once they arrived on Thomas Jefferson's desk.
In fact, there were some people who were super concerned about the whole deal: what would all this new land do to the United States? Would it bring the country closer together or rip it apart? Would France stick to the terms, or would they eventually decide they wanted Louisiana back and come after it in a violent and bloody way? And what about Spain—how did they feel about their former territory now belonging to the Americans?
Ponder these questions and more with Senator Samuel White in a speech he gave supporting a postponement of the treaty's ratification on November 3rd, 1803.
His request was denied; the treaty and conventions were 100 percent ratified. But we totally admire the guy for standing up and speaking his mind.
When Robert R. Livingston, James Monroe, and François de Barbé-Marbois put together the whole Louisiana Purchase packet, they stressed that the treaty and conventions needed to be ratified within six months of the April 30th signing date.
For the calendar-challenged out there, that means everything needed to be ratified by October 30th.
This was problematic for President Jefferson since Congress wasn't scheduled to convene until well after that date.
But no matter; he just convened them all a little early and, after apologizing for any inconvenience it may have caused, he passed along this rousing little message on October 17th, 1803, urging them to hurry up and get their lawmaking on.
The purchase passed three times by more than a three-to-one margin, so it looks like T.J.'s message was definitely effective.
Ever asked someone the same question over and over and not gotten a satisfactory answer? Irritating, isn't it?
But that's what Robert R. Livingston was dealing with while on assignment in Paris. Even though things in France, the United States, Saint-Domingue, and beyond were heating up like oil in a skillet, Secretary of State James Madison was frustratingly unforthcoming with instructions for his French minister.
This letter from July 3rd, 1802, isn't the first (or last) that Livingston wrote to Madison in hopes of getting some clue as to what he was supposed to be doing to advance the American agenda in France, but it's definitely chock-full of informational tidbits and updates on goings-on in Paris (and some typos and run-on sentences, too).
Livingston may not have written as eloquently as Thomas Jefferson or as clearly as James Madison, but his passion for his job (and his country) is super evident nonetheless.
And, even though many people were eventually involved in turning the Louisiana Purchase dream into a reality, we feel pretty confident in saying that none of it would have been possible without the dedication of Robert R. Livingston.
By the mid-19th century, the United States had expansionist fever, fueled by a concept called Manifest Destiny, which was the idea that it was the destiny of the United States to own and occupy the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Forget Native Americans, Mexicans, or anyone else who happened to be living there and had lived there since forever. Americans were special and had a moral right to settle all that land to fulfill the promise of liberty and self-government. Some people even believed that this destiny was ordained by Providence, a.k.a. God.
Many areas to the west were acquired by a combination of battles, revolts, and treaties. (Think Florida, California, the Oregon Territory, and Texas.) Others were bought. In 1853, James Gadsden, the ambassador to Mexico, arranged a deal to buy 30,000 square miles in present-day southern Arizona and New Mexico for $10 million.
Like Napoleon at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, Mexican president Santa Anna (hero or villain of the Battle of the Alamo, depending on whose side you're on) needed the cash. The United States needed the land because it had big plans for a southern route for a transcontinental railroad to fuel its westward expansion. The deal didn't end tensions between Mexico and the United States, but it freed up the route for the railroad and set the present-day southern border of the United States.
The sale didn't go over too well in Mexico, and Santa Anna's political career was over.
Fun fact: Santa Anna was a huge fan of Napoleon and liked to imagine himself as "the Napoleon of the West." He emulated his battle strategies and read everything he could get his hands on about the French leader. Unfortunately, the similarities extended to several exiles, including the last one in—wait for it—Staten Island, New York (source).
Getting an even sweeter deal than the Louisiana Territory, the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for a fire sale price of 2 cents per acre. Similar political dynamics motivated this sale. Russia was trying to become a player in the Pacific, but Great Britain was all up in their business. By selling Alaska to the Americans, Russia hoped to counter Britain's power. From America's perspective, buying Alaska gave the United States important access to the Pacific.
Two cents an acre might not seem like such a great deal for what was at the time a lot of unexplored frozen wilderness and polar bears. In fact, lots of people called the purchase "Seward's Folly," after Secretary of State William Seward, the guy who arranged the deal.
Everyone thought Seward had more or less bought the Brooklyn Bridge until 1896, when gold was discovered in them thar Klondike hills. And guess what—you could sail up to Alaska from Seattle and San Francisco. With gold discovered in the Alaskan territory, Seward's Folly wasn't looking so foolish after all.