Three Flags Day

US #1020 depicts the signing of the purchase on April 30, 1803. Click image to order.

On March 10, 1804, the US flag was raised over St. Louis, marking the completion of the Louisiana Purchase.  This day, along with March 9, is known as Three Flags Day.

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.

US #3782 Marks the 200th anniversary of the purchase. Click image to order.

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.

US #323-27 picture people involved in the purchase, a map of the territory, and President McKinley who also aggressively sought out new lands. Click image to order.

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.

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.

US #1020 – Fleetwood First Day Cover. Click image to order.

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.

US #3782 – Fleetwood Plate Block First Day Cover. Click image to order.

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.

US #3782 – Silk Cachet Combination First Day Cover. Click image to order.

While the agreement had been reached, the US was unable to immediately take possession of the land.  Though Spain had ceded land to France in 1800, their treaty had been kept secret and Spain continued to administer the territory.  The land still needed to be formally turned over to France. It would be nearly a year before this was completed, following a series of formal ceremonies.

Item #59724A – French coin cover commemorating the purchase.  Click image to order.

The first came on November 30, 1803, when Spain transferred New Orleans to France.  Then on December 20, New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana were transferred to the US. Finally, on March 9, 1804, the transfer began in St. Louis.  The Spanish flag was lowered and the French flag hoisted.  It would fly for 24 hours before being removed and replaced by the American flag.  The event is often called Three Flags Day and it officially cleared the way for Lewis and Clark to begin their expedition westward.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. I see a lot of problems the PC crowd would have with this entire essay, so THANK YOU Mystic for sharing our history with us.

  2. What does the “PC crowd” have to do with this wonderful story of American history? Let’s just enjoy the contribution of Mystic in sharing history through our stamps.

  3. I either slept through the part about Spain, or I was never taught about it. I had no idea that Spain had to first officially transfer the territory to France before they could sell it to us.
    And praise God they seized the moment and agreed to the extra $5 million, assuming the President would have approved!
    Three cents per acre, huh? That wouldn’t get you a square centimeter these days.

  4. Bid on a city and buy a country all without the authority to do it. I say, “That’s a good deal”. This and Fulton’s Folly were two purchases where we laughed all the way to the bank. Go USA! GO Mystic!

  5. I started collecting stamps in about 1953 or 54 as a child.. I lived in St. Louis when this stamp was first issued and still have the first day of issues from it that I obtained that week. If you lived in that area of the nation this was really a big event on the 150 th anniversary of the exchange of the Purchase.

  6. Fulton’s Folly referred to his steamboat development in 1807.
    Seward’s Folly was the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. That was the other major purchase made by the U.S. I think that is what was referred to by STU HOYT.

  7. nice stamps still wondering why 40,000 starve daily and my baseball cards have value and how have my civil rights ben repeatedly violated and not a damn thing has ben done eviol wicked people

  8. Mystic Stamp does it again. Gives a fascinating account of an important slice of American History.
    Thank you for making me aware of things I have either forgotten or never knew.

  9. A couple of interesting footnotes or factoids. Of course, the U.S. didn’t have $15 million laying around, so the money had to be borrowed…from British banks of all places. Think about it, the British loaned money to the U.S. to pay France which was Britain’s enemy. By the way, the loan plus interest was fully paid off. A second point is that neither France nor the U.S. knew anything about the territory from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, and no-one asked the inhabitants of that territory (the Native Americans) what they thought about the sale.

  10. Thank you Mr Paul Fellows for correcting Mr Stu Hoyt. As I was reading Mr Hoyt’s article and I see the “Fulton Folly”, I am reminded of the steamship “Clearmont”. That is the ship attributed to Robert Fulton. “Seward’s Folly”, was as Mr Fellows indicates, the purchase of Alaska from Russia. And to Mr Eddie Bennett. What you mention I believe, has to do with the hypocrisy and racism that exists, and that has always existed since before 1619. I believe that the inflation that currently is affecting the economy, is due to a few in power that use any and all world events as an excuse to increase prices for their personal gain. I would not be surprised if Vladimir Putin is capitalizing on what is happening in Russia and Ukraine, for his own personal gain and those of the oligarchs. Remember, all in power are in it for themselves. During the First and Second World War, there was no increase in prices. I wonder if the Ancient Egyptian experienced a price increase after the Israelite left Egypt, as recorded in the Book Of Exodus of the Christian Bible? The Pyramids and the Sphinx were both built at a time when there was not the most basic economic principle.
    I may add that there was no arithmetic concepts , let alone engineering concepts that evolved over thousands of years, and come to be what they are today. I welcome your comments. Thank You

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