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Era Introduction - How and Why Did the United States Obtain the Louisiana Purchase?

Louisiana Purchase


After the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte became the leader of the battered country. Among other things, he envisioned the reestablishment of a new colonial presence in the New World, something that had been lost at the end of the French and Indian War (1754- 1763), one of four major colonial wars. When it became apparent that France was not in a position to afford such a grand undertaking, he opted to sell it to the most logical interested party: the United States. It must also be remembered that what comprised the Louisiana Territory was frequently under different nations' control over just the previous decade or two.

France, for instance, had first possessed Louisiana by exploratory claim, then lost it to the English. Spain later obtained control of it, but then ceded it to the French for considerations on the European mainland. When the United States contacted France about the purchase of New Orleans–essential if the trans-Appalachian states were to thrive–Napoleon’s representatives instead offered all of the Territory. Although controversial, Jefferson quickly agreed and more than doubled the size of the United States in the process. The purchase also solidified America’s place as a growing power and challenge to the British, something Napoleon was doubtless aware of and encouraged.

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