200th Anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase
This is Phoebe Zimmerman. And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about the French Emperor Napoleon's sale of a huge amount of land to American President Thomas Jefferson. We explain the famous sale and tell about some of the celebrations planned for the two-hundredth anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase.
Our story begins around eighteen-hundred in the southern city of New Orleans. New Orleans is a huge natural port. The great Mississippi River moves past New Orleans to the sea. Boats took wood, fur, wheat, corn, cattle and other goods and products from far up the Mississippi down the river for sale and transport. New Orleans was a busy place where businesses earned good profits.
Spain owned New Orleans and a huge area of land known as Louisiana. In eighteen-hundred, Spain gave the land to France in a secret treaty. But Spain continued to govern the area. Spain had given American businessmen permission to use the port of New Orleans and its storage buildings to store goods for export. However, in eighteen-oh-two, the Spanish government withdrew that permission.
The Spanish government soon restored permission for Americans to use the port. However, this event caused a great deal of concern to many Americans. One of the people most concerned was the President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. President Jefferson knew that whichever country controlled New Orleans could control the future of business on the Mississippi. The Mississippi River was extremely important to the young United States. The Mississippi meant jobs, business, and new settlements.
In France at this same time, the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was planning to extend his control in the Caribbean and in the Louisiana territory. President Jefferson did not want Napoleon ruling land in North America. He felt the French presence was a threat to peace in the United States. He quickly decided to send special diplomats to France. Their job was to ask Napoleon if he would be willing to sell the city of New Orleans and nearby French territory.
President Jefferson chose James Monroe as a special negotiator among the diplomats. Before sailing, Monroe met with the President and Secretary of State James Madison. They discussed several plans in an effort to make a deal with the French Emperor.
President Jefferson told James Monroe to ask for a treaty permitting American ships and business to freely use the port if Napoleon refused to sell New Orleans or any French territory.
Napoleon's plans for the Caribbean and Louisiana were changing. His troops had suffered a defeat on the French island colony now known as Haiti. The French troops were forced to sail home. Napoleon decided that it was no longer a good idea to invade the island again or place troops in his American territory. It would be too costly, and he needed his troops in Europe. Napoleon quickly lost interest in expanding French colonies in the Americas.
When James Monroe arrived in Paris, he never even had a chance to offer the American position. Napoleon had decided to sell everything to the Americans. He told his finance minister to give up Louisiana -- all of it. Napoleon needed money for a war with Britain. He offered to sell the Louisiana territory for fifteen-million dollars. The Americans agreed. Both sides agreed to the sale on April thirtieth, eighteen-oh-three.
An old story is told about Napoleon's decision to sell Louisiana. We do not know if the story is true but we will repeat it anyway.
Napoleon was sitting in his bathtub, talking with his brothers. They argued strongly against the sale. One brother said the land would make the United States too powerful. Another brother said France could use the land in the future. The men argued. Napoleon became angry and threw some of his bath water at his brothers. He said the question was settled. The land would be sold.
Napoleon's brothers may have been right. The price of fifteen-million dollars may seem like a lot of money. However, it is not a lot of money if you look at a map and see what French Louisiana was. It was much more than just the port city of New Orleans. It was more than two-million-one-hundred-thousand square kilometers of land. At fifteen-million dollars, the United States paid only a few cents for each hectare of land.
The Louisiana Purchase included all the land west of the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. The sale increased the size of the United States by two times. Today, this area includes all or part of fifteen American states.
They are Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.
At first, President Jefferson thought Congress might have to change the United States Constitution to make the Louisiana Purchase legal. However the sale was so popular that this idea was soon forgotten. The United States Congress met on October seventeenth, eighteen-oh-three. Only a few members opposed the sale. The Senate approved the sale treaty by a vote of twenty-four to seven.
American and French diplomats signed the first sale documents in the city of New Orleans in December, eighteen-oh-three. On this date the United States took control of what was called the lower part of the Louisiana Purchase. Diplomats signed the documents in a building called the Cabildo. They signed the documents in a room called the "Sala Capitular." It is still a popular place to visit today. History experts have made the room look much like it did the day the famous event took place.
Diplomats signed the documents giving the United States control of the upper Louisiana Purchase in March, eighteen-oh-four. That ceremony took place in the city of Saint Louis in what became the state of Missouri.
Louisiana and other states have begun celebrating the two-hundredth anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. Louisiana plans yearlong celebrations. They include special exhibits, events, theater performances, films, dancing and a musical event called "The Louisiana Purchase Opera." It will be performed in New Orleans in October.
Many other cities that were built on land that was part of the agreement are also celebrating the Louisiana Purchase. In the old Louisiana state capitol building in Baton Rouge is a special display of many of the documents that were signed as part of the Louisiana Purchase treaty. One is signed by James Monroe who led the American delegation to France. He later became America' s fifth president.
One of the largest celebrations will take place in the city of Saint Louis, Missouri. Saint Louis is also one of the many cities celebrating the two-hundredth anniversary of the famous Lewis and Clark exploration of the West.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their group began their exploration from Saint Louis. The documents of the Louisiana Purchase were signed only three months before their famous trip began. They traveled through much of the land that was part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Saint Louis will hold an event called the "Three Flags Ceremony" on March fourteenth, two-thousand-four. The ceremony honors the flags of the United States, France and Spain. The ceremony will celebrate the signing of the documents giving the United States control of the upper part of the Louisiana Purchase.
President George Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and King Juan Carlos of Spain will be invited to the ceremony. Military bands, exhibits, and Native American arts, music and dancers will be included in the celebration.
Experts say the Louisiana Purchase was one of the most important land sales in history. Experts also say it was one of the most important events to take place in the history of the young United States. That sale helped the small United States to grow into the large and powerful nation that it is today.
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. This is Phoebe Zimmerman. And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in Special English on the Voice of America.