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The History of Purchase of Louisiana

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The year of 1803 the North Americans made the best business of all the History, when buying the Territory of Louisiana to Napoleon. They paid US $ 15,000,000 (about 220 million today) for a territory larger than Mexico, which has one of the world’s largest rivers, the Mississippi, which is fed by a basin of more than 3 million km2 and it is a practically flat terrain. If someone wanted a gigantic place with enormous potential for agriculture and livestock, that is the best place in the world, comparable in quality to the black lands of Ukraine, but about 5 times larger. When they were scared of that gigantic lottery that had been taken out, the Americans began to appreciate their fate and consider themselves an elected people, one that had been favored especially by God and had a different goal from that of the other nations; This purchase is one of the roots of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

The continental part of the US territory is approximately a rectangle, wider than tall, with a tail in the lower right corner, Florida. There are two mountain ranges that cross it from north to south: the Rockies on the left side, the Appalachian Mountains on the right side. In the middle of them is an immense extension, almost flat and with a lot of water, which is the Mississippi River basin, which is born almost on the border with Canada and flows into the Gulf of Mexico, near New Orleans. The Louisiana Territory was there, it’s right limit was the Mississippi, and the left was the Rocallosas. Perhaps you have traveled parts of Mexico where you see kilometers and more kilometers of cultivated land on the sides: for example the north of the Aguascalientes Valley, or the state of Sinaloa, and know the satisfaction that large areas of cultivated and producing land give. To achieve this, in our state the water that can be collected in the Calles Dam is used (which will never be among the largest in the world), but most of the crops are with well water. In Sinaloa, the rain that falls in the Sierra Madre Occidental has been used and a series of dams were built that have turned the region green. You can enter Google Earth and see from the air any area along the Mississippi, you will also find it green. The taste in Aguascalientes lasts about 40 km, the taste in Sinaloa lasts about 400 km, and the taste along the Mississippi lasts 3700 km. It is nothing more than the length of the river, but the water it carries on a day of low flow, that river throws 4502m3 / second into the sea, and on a good day it throws 86719m3 / second. To understand what that means, consider our Calles Dam, which has a capacity of 340 million m3 and has never been full to the limit. If we used the water that the Mississippi throws into the sea to fill the dam, it would be filled in 21 hours (on a bad day) and filled in 1 hour 10 minutes on a good day. With these parameters, it is no surprise that the US was considered a chosen country after buying Louisiana. Another factor, unknown to our experience in Mexico, is the near-zero slope of the Mississippi, since at 3700 km it falls just 450 meters: this means that water moves along a practically flat terrain, and therefore its Tour is slow and suitable for navigation.

The 13 Colonies that in 1776 joined to declare their independence as a country are along the Atlantic and cover the entire eastern coast of the United States except Florida. English, Dutch and German settlers who arrived there from the 17th century settled in a limited region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean but since the early days of the colony there were explorers who traveled west, crossed the Appalachians and reached the Mississippi River; After gaining independence from England, they were given the task of colonizing both the south (towards Florida) and the strip of land between the Mississippi and the Appalachians. This river became a natural border between the United States and ‘other countries’, to denote in this ambiguous way the western part of the Mississippi River, because neither the land was well known, nor could it be categorically identified to whom it belonged. For example, the Spaniards, who could have launched themselves to intensely colonize that area, found it more profitable to exploit the silver mines of New Spain and in this way it happened that the territories to the north, where all that could be done was to cultivate the land, they were unexplored or in any case, they were not exploited by them. They maintained a presence in Florida and New Orleans, but the upstream territories did not explore them. Instead, the French had taken over North America, what is now Canada, and founded several cities near the Great Lakes (Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa), and reached the West of Lake Superior which is where the Mississippi is born and From there they began to explore the river below the entire region, declaring it part of New France and reaching New Orleans, which still has a great French cultural heritage.

The Americans were indeed very lucky. It turns out that at the end of one of many European wars, in 1763 there is a new distribution of spoils and compensation payments, and France has to give England all the lands to the East side of the Mississippi and gives the West Bank of the Mississippi to Spain. With regard to the eastern margin, once Independence was consummated in 1783, everything that was English became part of the United States; as for the western shore, France gives it to Spain when it was already a country in decline and was not going to be able to control that area. In this way the area became a future gift for the United States, because they gained a few years of grace in which no European power could appropriate that territory, while the United States grew, advanced in its colonization and reached the Mississippi. About 40 years passed when French Louisiana was Spanish , although nothing more in name and law (if Europeans had the right to divide the world) but not in fact. This is how we arrived in 1800, when Napoleon, who was then First Consul, forces the Spaniards to return the Louisiana to France, to try to make the pieces begin to fit in their plan to create a World French Empire.

At that time the president of the United States was Thomas Jefferson, creator of the Declaration of Independence and one of the best presidents they have had; He had been an ambassador to France, had sympathies for that country and had made good friends with them, so he was well informed of what was happening in Europe. He learned of the treaty by which Spain ceded French Louisiana to France, and saw the matter with apprehension: while that immense territory was in the hands of an owner who could not take care of it, that was fine and they would wait for the opportune moment to colonize it or conquer it ; However, in the hands of a power like France, which had interests in Canada, the situation was totally different and he and his collaborators began to think what they could do.

Geography intervened once again in favor of the Americans. Napoleon could not launch directly to move people and troops to the Mississippi, because it was far away and that would cause the direct reaction of the United States, but could use as a military base an island in the West Indies that had been French and that had recently gained its independence through a slave revolt. It was about Haiti, and it was easy for Napoleon to send a force of 20,000 men to reconquer the island and make it its base of operations in America. Militarily, the black natives could not confront the French soldiers, and everything started going out as Napoleon planned until the yellow fever appeared and ended the French army. When the matter was over, France was already in a new war against England and there was no way to get distracted by America, so Napoleon forgot his world dreams and began to think about what to do with Louisiana, which was still a very valuable property but that I was far away and could not attend.

By 1800 the Mississippi was already a very important river in the commercial life of the United States, because the cities north of its channel used it to transport merchandise to New Orleans and from there, distribute it. This city was in Spanish hands and there was a treaty whereby merchants settled upstream had the right to use the port as a warehouse, but in 1801 the Spanish governor in turn banned the deposit of American goods, and it was this incident that unleashed the Louisiana crisis.

The solution that occurred to Jefferson was simple and brilliant, because he was able to make a geopolitical analysis and accurately estimate its possibilities: he proposed to buy or rent the port (or a place near the mouth of the river) to solve this problem, of the transit of merchandise. The purchase would have to be made to France, and he sent his agents to negotiate with Napoleon, who had already considered the matter and reached the following conclusions:

  1. France could not colonize and defend Louisiana
  2. Therefore, it was a useless property
  3. You had to get rid of it in the most convenient way possible
  4. It would be best to sell it to the United States, which was a friendly country, and not to England, with whom they were at war.

So, when Jefferson’s envoys presented to buy New Orleans, they found themselves with the French counterproposal of acquiring all of Louisiana for $ 18 million. The representatives were in a bind since they had no power to do that, but they reasoned that this opportunity would not come again and that if they did not take advantage of it, someone else would; they bargained and signed the purchase in 15 million.

When they returned to the United States with that news, the president faced an accomplished fact that totally exceeded his assignment, but he also preferred to take the opportunity and prepared to deal with his opposition, the Federalist Party. From any point of view it was an extraordinary bargain for the United States, but Jefferson’s opponents fell on him accusing him of violating the Constitution, since there was no law authorizing the president to buy territory from another nation, calling him hypocritical already that he had been a supporter of strict adherence to the Constitution, and the entire operation was about to get stuck in the last imaginable place, the Congress, where after all it was approved by a difference of 2 votes.

With this purchase, the United States doubled its surface, made it by peaceful means, and acquired an enormous amount of land with unimaginable potential for agriculture, livestock, industry and commerce. Psychologically it meant removing a plug that prevented them from moving westward and convinced the Americans that they had ceased to be a nation of European settlers and had become a continental power. Although there are an infinite number of factors apart, I think that this purchase is the biggest individual cause of the greatness of the United States. Napoleon, a genius who could see very far in the future, made the comment: ‘With this sale, I have created a nation that will sooner or later humiliate Great Britain.’ So far it has not been true because the United States and England work as allies, but in many other aspects, the mere comparison of powers is a humiliation for the smallest of the two.

Jurists have analyzed this purchase from several points of view and have concluded that it was illegal. In principle, Napoleon forced Spain to give them that territory, and there is a source of discord, since if it is accepted that the transfer was illegal, then Napoleon could not sell what was still of Spain. On the other hand, assuming that Louisiana was French, in 1803 Napoleon was nothing more First Consul and had no power to sell any part of France, nor was Jefferson authorized by his Constitution to buy it. But in the end, although many disagreements could be left with this operation, there was no country that could raise its voice, exhibit better rights and support it with the force of its weapons.

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