Study Guide

Louisiana Purchase Treaty Main Idea

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  • Main Idea

    France Sells America Some Big-Boy Pants

    After an expensive revolution and the pricey wars that went with it, Emperor Napoleon of France was tired, frustrated, and just about ready to give up his dreams of a French empire in North America. All that land was too expensive and troublesome to defend, especially with the slaves in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) managing to rise up against their colonial masters.

    An ocean away, the young and restless United States was looking to take on some new land of its own, and the French territory of Louisiana seemed like just the place to start.

    In 1803, France's needs and the United States' needs came together in marvelous, magnificent harmony, and the result was the Louisiana Purchase. Negotiated by Americans Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe, and a Frenchman named François de Barbé-Marbois, this real estate deal—the biggest in the history of ever—totally changed the course of world events.

    And we're not even exaggerating.

    This purchase was such a big deal that it required not one, not two, but three documents to cover all of the deets. The first document is the actual treaty, and it contains all a person could ever want to know about how Louisiana was going to transition from the French to the Americans. The second doc is a cute little thing, barely a page long, and it's a convention (an agreement a little less binding than a treaty) that sets up the United States' payment terms for their sweet new property. The third doc, also a convention, deals with how France plans to pay Americans back for some shenanigans it had undertaken on the high seas a few years prior.

    Basically, the United States ended up paying about $15 million for a piece of land that stretched from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi River to the Rockies.

    Everyone, get out a map.

    Yup, just as we suspected: that is one…big…spread.

    And at $15 million, the whole enchilada ended up costing a little under 3 cents an acre. Four cents an acre, people. Considering the average price of one single house in the United States in early 2017 was nearly $400,000, that is a seriously smokin' deal.

    Especially when we take into account that that one $15 mil deal ended up shutting down France's empire plans, obliterating Great Britain's ideas of global dominance, putting another nail in the coffin of Spain's Golden Age, and setting the stage for the United States to not only expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean but to become a serious international high roller.

    Real estate investments always carry a little bit of risk (and come with a lot of detailed legalese), but this deal was just way too good for the United States to pass up.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. When the Louisiana Purchase negotiations were underway, no one knew how big the territory actually was. Why is this? When did the world really start to comprehend how much land was involved in this deal?
    2. Where did the purchase price of $15 million come from?
    3. Why did Napoleon decide to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States instead of to another country?
    4. How does the Louisiana Purchase play into the concept of manifest destiny? Do you agree that America's westward expansion was inevitable? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    If it wasn't for the Louisiana Purchase, the international world order would look completely different today than it does.

    As much as the purchase was a windfall for America, it probably marked the beginning of the end for Native American tribes as the nation expanded westward.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    The United States is about to double in size, thanks to a sweet real estate deal being offered up by the French Republic. All the land from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Rockies to the mighty Mississippi River could belong to the Americans, for the cool price of $15 mil. This heck of a deal is known as the Louisiana Purchase, and these documents lay out all the t's to be crossed and the i's to be dotted so that the property can change hands.

    The Text

    Ever read a super long and rambling book or essay and wondered about the author's ultimate point?

    Good news, folks: that won't happen with the Louisiana Purchase.

    The treaty is actually three separate documents, each with its own clearly laid-out purpose. And each of those documents is broken into distinct articles that address specific topics:

    • The first treaty document covers the transition of Louisiana from French to American control and how each part of it is going to go.
    • The second doc is all about how America is going to pay for its new backyard.
    • The third is all about how France is going to pay back American citizens, to whom it owes money.

    No stone is left unturned; no topic is left unaddressed.

    This thing is better organized than Sara Berman's closet.

    And as readers of said purchase documents, we certainly appreciate it.


    America scores a sweet, like-new French colony at a bargain basement price.

  • Questions

    1. What would the United States be like today if the Louisiana Purchase had never happened? Other than smaller, obvi.
    2. The only mention of the Native Americans living in the Louisiana Territory at the time is in Article VI of the treaty document. What did the Louisiana Purchase mean for them? What deals did the various tribes have going with Spain when this treaty was enacted?
    3. How did the huge territory of Louisiana come to be divided up into the various states we know and love today? What were the rules? Did people just make up boundaries and towns and stuff, or what?
    4. What did the Louisiana Purchase have to do with Lewis and Clark's 1804 expedition, if anything? Would their little backpacking trip have happened without the purchase? Why or why not?
    5. What is the deal with the intensely specific financial terms laid out in the first convention? Why couldn't the United States just give France a check for the whole $15 million and be done with it before France changed its mind?
    6. It took a little while for the signed purchase documents to make their way to President Jefferson's desk. How did he feel about it when he saw what Livingston and Monroe had done? How did Congress feel? How might the average American have felt?

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