How the Louisiana Purchase Worked
Thomas Jefferson would probably get a chuckle out of the United States' current border problems. At least we know where the borders are.
And the current president's issues with immigration and naturalization? Jefferson had him beat on that, too.
President Jefferson sent a couple of his representatives over to France in April 1803 to buy the city of New Orleans and maybe some extra land if France refused to sell just the city. What the third president got was the Louisiana Purchase, a patch of land that nearly doubled the size of the young nation. And while Jefferson got what he originally wanted, New Orleans, he got a lot more to deal with, too.
First of all, France had never bothered to figure out where the western border of this land was, so Jefferson didn't really know just how much land he had bought. Secondly, Jefferson didn't get an empty swath of land: It came with an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people, most of whom spoke only French.
By purchasing the land, did Jefferson buy thousands of new citizens? What if they didn't want to be Americans? And not all of those people were even able to be Americans at that point in history: There were an estimated 11,000 slaves and a Native American population, most of whom had no interest in becoming citizens.
Considering the population of the United States at the time was just over 5 million, if these people became citizens, they would have a lot of voting power (along with anyone who moved to these new territories). Did they have the right to decide the direction of the nation when they had only become citizens of it recently? And if they weren't citizens, then what were these new people?
These were all issues that Jefferson and the rest of the country had to deal with when they paid $15 million for the land. But for all the problems, the Louisiana Purchase is remembered as one of the great acts of Jefferson as president, as it expanded the nation and boosted the economy by giving commerce a vital port on the Mississippi River, on which many American goods were shipped.
So what was involved in the Louisiana Purchase, why is it important and why does it still matter today? Read on to find out more.