When Thomas Jefferson became the third U.S. president in 1801, the United States stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Jefferson tried to buy the port of New Orleans from France, but French leader Napoleon Bonaparte didn’t want to sell it. Jefferson didn’t give up, though, and sent James Monroe in to try again. He didn’t expect Napoleon to offer all of the Louisiana Territory – 827,000 square miles – for $15 million! The Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the United States and may be Jefferson’s greatest achievement as president.
France Gives Up
Napoleon wanted a French Empire across North America. He planned to send soldiers and ships to New Orleans.
But it wasn’t meant to be. A slave revolt in the Caribbean and an outbreak of yellow fever defeated his plan. By the time Monroe went to buy New Orleans, Napoleon just wanted to leave and needed money for a war with England. He offered to sell all of Louisiana to the United States for $15 million!
When Monroe told him about Napoleon’s offer, Jefferson wasn’t sure what to do. He knew buying the land would make the country more secure, but he worried that the government didn’t have the power to buy so much land. The Constitution didn’t say he could make the purchase.
Jefferson worried that if he waited for a change to the Constitution, the deal would fall through and there would be war with France. With the support of the American people, Jefferson agreed to buy the land.
From Sea to Shining Sea
The Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the United States and led to the idea that the United States had a destiny to reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific.