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Explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Lord of La Salle, claims a ginormous piece of land in North America for France. He names it Louisiana in honor of the king of France, Louis XIV.
Spain formally cedes the western third of Hispañiola to the French, who name their portion Saint-Domingue and make it the jewel of their Caribbean empire for the next 100 years. Sugar and coffee, what's not to love?
The Big Easy is founded and given the name La Nouvelle-Orléans, which is later Americanized to New Orleans. In 1722, it replaces Biloxi as Louisiana's capital, and people have been partying in the streets ever since. Those facts may or may not be related.
Also known as the Seven Years' War, this tense little period in history casts stars such as Great Britain, France, America, and Native Americans—namely, the Iroquois—in some deadly and dangerous roles. And even though the Brits, Americans, and American Indians fight on the same side this go-round, their mutual interests won't last for long. (Spoiler alert: American Revolution, comin' right up.)
A secret deal in which France gives Louisiana to Spain as a big TY for their assistance during that Seven Years' fiasco. Surprise: another secret deal would give the land back to France less than 40 years later.
To celebrate the official end of the French and Indian War, Great Britain gets everything east of the Mississippi River; France keeps everything west. Spain doesn't care because it knows it will still have control of the west (thanks, Fontainebleau), even though it cedes the Floridas to the Brits in exchange for Cuba.
Tensions between the Brits and the Americans have been rising for years, and they explode like Independence Day fireworks on a chilly Boston night in April 1775. Paul Revere, anyone? Yeah, this is his moment.
Robert R. Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Roger Sherman make up the Committee of Five, the group responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence. They meet in Philadelphia and write up that whole spiel about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness like it's their job. Which it is. So good job, guys.
The United States officially declares its independence from Britain—and the crowd goes wild.
France and the United States enter into a mutual-aid agreement known as the Treaty of Alliance. It doesn't last very long, and it kind of caused more problems than it solved, but, hey, an attempt is made.
This treaty marks the end of the American Revolutionary War against the British, but the Americans aren't the only ones to win sweet prizes. Spain gets Florida back, as well as a bunch of land along the Gulf of Mexico, and France gets…well, it gets some stuff. Senegal…Tobago…a bunch of debt…stuff like that.
Spain decides to close the port of New Orleans (and therefore the Mississippi River) to everyone except itself after getting suspicious that the United States is engaged in some shady shipping. This really torques the Americans.
Not only does this little legislative gem set up how people could settle and own undeveloped land, it also establishes the Public Land Survey System that is still in use today. Talk about staying power.
Ever wonder where the U.S. Constitution comes from? Now, you know—it comes from this convention. It takes a long time and some fierce debates, but when it is all said and done, the United States finds itself in possession of one of the coolest legislative documents the world has ever known.
This is another stab at regulating America's expansion, and it includes rules for self-government as well as guidelines for a territory's path to statehood. This is a big deal for the U.S. federal government, and for all of those pioneering folks who really, really want to go west.
Meanwhile, in France, King Louis XVI and his entourage get overthrown, signaling the end of France's monarchy (for now) and the beginning of the French Revolution.
Slaves in the French colony of what we now call Haiti have finally had enough and launch arguably the most successful slave rebellion ever. This revolt not only frees Haiti (then Saint-Domingue) from French colonial rule, but it messes up Napoleon's army so bad that it can't go on and take Louisiana back for France, as per the original plan.
Saint-Domingue kicks off its slave rebellion with a night of murder, mayhem, and arson. Some 50,000 slaves armed with machetes and other revolutionary accessories destroy every plantation on the Plaine du Nord, the northern region of the colony, and drive any surviving Frenchman to run away and seek shelter elsewhere on the island.
Or, as we like to call it, the French Revolutionary Wars, phase I. This fun little period of violence and slaughter not only marks France's transition away from a monarchical government, it also gives a little-known dude named Napoleon Bonaparte several opportunities to let his military instincts shine.
King Louis XVI of France is publicly beheaded right there in the streets of Paris. This era of the guillotine continues for a long time, ultimately claiming Louis' wife, Marie Antoinette, and many other accused monarchic sympathizers.
Wasting no time after beheading their former king, French revolutionary forces declare war on Great Britain and Holland. Many other countries are soon to meet the same fate; France has some serious high-energy anger going on.
An interesting man named Edmond-Charles Genêt is sent from France to be the U.S. ambassador. His goal: get Canada back from the English and Louisiana and the Floridas back from Spain…using American ships and soldiers. The U.S. government is not amused, nor are they supportive of Genêt's little plan.
The Republic of France abolishes slavery in all of its colonies and grants citizenship to all former slaves, which causes French colonial slave owners a lot of indigestion. This is especially true in Haiti.
Pinckney's Treaty, otherwise known as the Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation Between Spain and the United States and also as the Treaty of San Lorenzo, is a sweet deal between Spain and the United States whereby the United States regains the freedom to use the Mississippi River. This is a huge deal and probably keeps America and Spain from going to war with each other.
Nothing can come between friends quite like unpaid debts, and that's totally what happens between France and the United States in 1798. Though they never officially declare war on one another, these former friends engage in some serious shade-throwing and some even more serious bribes, naval hijackings, and all-around ill will. The not-conflict lasts until 1800 and the Treaty of Mortefontaine.
French war hero Napoleon Bonaparte overthrows France's latest government, a five-man band known as the Directory, and names himself First Consul of the French Republic.
This treaty formally ends the troubled 1778 alliance between the United States and France and also helps ease tensions from the Quasi-War. This treaty is largely pro-American and deals mainly with the mistreatment of U.S. ships, seamen, and cargo by the French.
Spain returns the Territory of Louisiana to France in a super secret deal that remains super secret for a super short period of time.
Napoleon names Louis-André Pichon as France's ambassador to the United States and sends him off to Washington. Pichon ends up being a great ambassador and is credited with helping France and America rekindle their shaky BFF-ness.
The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson takes office amid all kinds of tumult at home and abroad. Little does he know he'll soon be doubling his jurisdiction.
The American minister in London, Rufus King, sends a letter to Secretary of State James Madison saying there are some pretty credible rumors floating around that Spain has ceded Louisiana to France.
The American minister to France, Robert R. Livingston, warns James Madison that Napoleon is feeling a little itchy and is planning to send more troops to New Orleans. This is not welcome news.
France and Britain take a time-out from all of their bickering and bloodshed and stuff to enjoy a much-needed year of (mostly) peaceful recovery.
Jefferson writes to Livingston in Paris and tells him that New Orleans has to remain open to the United States—and not the French—or there's gonna be problems. Big, big problems.
The Republic of France decides that Napoleon is such a cool dude that he can hold on to that First Consul title for life. Looks like "for life" means different things to different people, though, because he most def doesn't stay in power that long.
Spain again closes the port of New Orleans to Americans, in violation of Pinckney's Treaty. King Charles IV of Spain had finally gotten around to signing that pesky document transferring control of Louisiana to France, and Spanish New Orleans administrator Juan Ventura Morales apparently decides he's had enough of the whole sitch and shuts the joint down.
Ice in the Netherlands prevents NOLA-bound French troops from setting sail, giving Napoleon time to change his mind about the wisdom of taking back Louisiana.
Congress officially agrees with Jefferson that the United States needs to maintain its rights to commerce and navigation on the Mississippi River…but they hold off on laying out exactly what that means.
Congress votes to allow James Monroe to head to Paris with the purpose of buying New Orleans, maybe some of the Mississippi River, and possibly a Florida or two. His budget: just over $9 million. The action only passes by three votes.
Senator Ross of Pennsylvania introduces legislation authorizing POTUS Jefferson to enlist 50,000 men and spend $5 mil to just go take New Orleans. The measure that actually passes is a little more chill, but over in Paris, Napoleon gets the point: the Americans are serious about this New Orleans thing.
Spain reopens the port of New Orleans to the Americans after a) they find out that the United States is considering taking the city by force, and b) they remember that they don't actually own that land anymore.
Napoleon tells his finance minister, Barbé-Marbois, that he considers the whole Louisiana Territory a lost cause and wants to cede the lot of it. Barbé-Marbois tracks down Livingston a couple days later to give him the 100 percent unexpected news. The next day, Livingston passes it on to James Monroe, who's just arrived from America.
Livingston, Monroe, and Barbé-Marbois agree on a purchase price (roughly $15 mil) for the whole Louisiana Territory, and they sign and initial the official treaty in French and English in Paris.
Napoleon approves and signs the Louisiana Purchase docs. His empire-in-the-Americas dreams may be dashed, but it takes another decade or so for his empire-in-Europe dreams to meet the same fate.
Great Britain decides this Peace of Amiens thing is for the birds and goes ahead and declares war on France. Turns out the Brits—and a lot of other European countries—don't really like Napoleon's habit of charging around all over the place and rearranging things. And just like that, war in Europe is back on the menu.
All of the treaty docs and accompanying letters and explanations reach Jefferson's desk on America's 27th birthday, and POTUS #3 couldn't be more pleased. Happy birthday, America; here's 828,000 square miles of awesomeness.
The Louisiana Purchase is officially ratified by the U.S. Congress. Jefferson uses this occasion to ask for some military support to go get New Orleans; his request is totally granted.
France officially takes possession of New Orleans…for the next 20 days.
In a lovely ceremony with all kinds of fanfare and clapping and stuff, France officially turns New Orleans—and thus, Louisiana—over to the United States.
Saint-Domingue finally becomes an independent state and changes its name to Haiti. Take that, Napoleon.
James Madison, Thomas Jefferson's former secretary of state and war, takes office as America's fourth president, easily defeating James Monroe, Charles Pinckney, and some others in the election. Madison is the third POTUS from what is known as the Virginia old boys' club, and for those keeping track, that's three out of four presidents. James Monroe will later make it four out of five.
POTUS Madison and an angry Congress declare war on Great Britain in response to their shady trade restrictions and super unethical impressment of Americans into British service.
On the eighth anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, Louisiana itself becomes a state. Of course, the new state is way smaller than the former territory was, but no one is really worried about that. The rest of the territory will soon become many other states.
For 10 harrowing days, the final major battle of the War of 1812 is fought in New Orleans. Though the Americans are OMG outnumbered, they—led by future POTUS "Old Hickory" Andrew Jackson—manage to defeat the invading British and drive them back into the sea. Or the Gulf of Mexico, as the case may be. Someone wrote a song about it. Wanna hear it?
The War of 1812 officially ends with the signing of this treaty, but not before some serious bloodshed and the burning of Washington, D.C. We're pretty sure everyone involved breathes a big sigh of relief when this war is over.
Napoleon and his squad get royally thumped by a couple of British and Prussian armies in the then-Belgian town of Waterloo, and the Napoleonic Wars—and two decades of nonstop European warfare—finally come to an end. This battle is such a big deal that ABBA wrote a song about it. And you know it's huge if ABBA gets into it.
James Monroe is the last of America's Founding Fathers to become POTUS, and he wins the election in a landslide. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he has the support of famous names like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison. It also doesn't hurt that he has a seriously impressive political record, one of the biggest accomplishments of which is, of course, negotiating the Louisiana Purchase.