1953 3¢ Louisiana Purchase
US #1020 depicts the signing of the purchase on April 30, 1803.

On December 20, 1803,  the Louisiana Purchase was finalized with a ceremony in New Orleans.

In the early 1800s, Napoleon Bonaparte sought to create a great French empire in the New World.  The center of the empire was to be the nation of Hispaniola.  Napoleon envisioned that the Mississippi Valley would be the trade center of the new empire, shipping food and supplies from America to Hispaniola.

2003 37¢ Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial
US #3782 Marks the 200th anniversary of the purchase.

At this time, Hispaniola was in the midst of a slave revolt.  This revolt had to be put down before French control could be restored.  In an attempt to end it, Napoleon sent a large army to Hispaniola.  Although there were considerable French victories on the battlefield, many soldiers died from disease.  Because of these heavy losses, Napoleon decided to abandon Hispaniola and, in turn, his dream of an empire in the New World.

With Hispaniola gone, Napoleon had little use for Louisiana.  Additionally, war was imminent in Europe and he couldn’t spare troops to defend the territory. This caused Napoleon to offer the land for sale to the United States, which had expressed interest in New Orleans.

Complete Set, 1904 Louisiana Purchase
US #323-27 picture people involved in the purchase, a map of the territory, and President McKinley who also aggressively sought out new lands.

Commerce in the US depended heavily on waterways during the early 1800s.  None was more important to US interests than the mighty Mississippi River and the port city of New Orleans.  Fearful that the US might lose navigational rights along the Mississippi, President Thomas Jefferson sent James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston to Paris to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans and its immediate surrounding area.  Jefferson also sent Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, a French nobleman living in the United States.  He had political connections in France, so Jefferson asked him to help with negotiations.

Monroe and Livingston were prepared to offer $10 million for the port city, but France offered the entire 530-million-acre area for $15 million.  Concerned Napoleon would withdraw the offer at any time, the representatives agreed without consulting the President, and the treaty was signed on April 30, 1803.

The purchase was the American government’s largest financial transaction to date, and it doubled the size of the United States at a cost of less than 3¢ per acre.  Control of the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans provided a convenient method of transportation necessary for the development of the new region.  The acquisition also distanced France from the young nation, removing the risk that the two like-minded countries would become enemies over conflicting interests.

1953 3¢ Louisiana Purchase Classic First Day Cover
US #1020 – Classic First Day Cover

In spite of the bargain price, the purchase caused controversy.  President Jefferson himself questioned whether he had the authority under the US Constitution to acquire land.  The issue was so divisive, a group of northerners considered forming a separate northern confederacy.

When Napoleon signed the Louisiana Purchase, he said, “This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States.”  America did grow into a world power, as he predicted.

2003 37¢ Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Fleetwood First Day Cover
US #3782 – Fleetwood First Day Cover

On December 20, 1803, representatives from the US and France convened in New Orleans to finalize the purchase.  They took down France’s flags and raised America’s in a ceremony, officially establishing the Louisiana land as part of the United States.

Discover what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. An interesting side-note (side-note if you’re not Native American), is that the inhabitants of the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains (the Native Americans) had no say in who had claim to the land that they thought they owned because they lived there. This land acquisition helped make the U.S. great nation, but it also set the stage for another century of conflict between Native Americans and American settlers.

    1. According to book by Ambrose, Jefferson considered the natives as a noble people and intended to teach the Indians our ways and incorporate them into our culture. That was opposite to his views on blacks. Wesee how that worked out.

  2. what was the connection with McKinley and the La purchase on the 5 cent 1904 stamp(besides being president at the time of issue)?

  3. I love your articles. Very informative and I like
    the photos in them as well. How much do the
    Coin covers sell for. I’ve never seen them before.
    I’m learning a lot from your articles. Keep up
    the good work. A Happy, Healthy New Year to
    Everyone at Mystic Stamp Company, Carol

  4. It was a good deal financially, better than fighting France or Spain for it. Seems both had some claims to the land. The Native Americans were going to get cheated no matter which country with a flag took over.

  5. I agree with Conrad. Many things in the history of our country are celebrated with great pomp and circumstance, but the “rest of the story,” which involves the great Indian (Native American) nations and their cultures, is swept under the rug and largely ignored, due to the nature of the crimes that were perpetrated against them, by our ancestors. There are other equally tragic and criminally related stories in our history, as well, right up to today, but they largely fall on deaf ears. The Louisiana Purchase was most fortunate for our country; but meant misfortune for many others; it is, unfortunately, the way of the world.

    1. It should be noted that the enslaved Africans in Haiti obtained their independence by BEATING the French, who had the greatest army at that time. Therefore, it was the Africans that were responsible for doubling the size of the United States.

      The French sold the land to the United States. When you consider that none of the indigenous peoples culture had any concept of buying and selling land, how is it possible for the Louisiana Purchase to exist. The U.S. never honored any of their agreements with the indigenous people

      American Indians is totally incorrect Columbus was on his was way to India. Americus Vespucci is what this area was named after.

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