Lesson Plan - Get It!
If the United States started as 13 colonies along the eastern coast of North America, how did it become 50 states that cover more than half of North America?
When Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States in 1801, securing the territory of Louisiana became a top priority.
Americans desired the territory of Louisiana because of the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans. Farmers would ship their crops down the Mississippi River, that connected to the port of New Orleans. Once the shipments reached New Orleans, they were shipped east to large cities. This system became vital to trade, and thus economics within the United States. But conflict between European powers and the United States over control of the new world threatened the United States' use of the Mississippi River and New Orleans.
So, what does this have to do with the expansion of the United States? In this lesson, you will learn about the Louisiana Purchase, the first move made by the United States government to grow geographically and take the first steps in new directions.
Initially, the French controlled the Louisiana territory until they lost the French and Indian War in 1763. When the French lost the war, they were required to surrender all of their land holdings in North America, and land west of the Mississippi River had been transferred to Spain. In 1802, Spain quietly transferred the land back to France. Americans saw this as an act of betrayal and opposition tha threatened their livelihood. Some Americans even wanted to go to war with France for rights to the land. If you were an American in 1802, how would the actions of Spain and France have made you feel? Would you want to go to war?
Thomas Jefferson and his Secretary of State, James Madison, worked with the French government to keeppeace by purchasing a part of the land along the Mississippi River. But the French leader, Napoleon, shocked the Americans by offering them all the Louisiana territory for a mere $15 million. Napoleon was willing to give up the land because it had never been surveyed, and he viewed it as worthless. He also felt it was likely that France would lose a war against the colonists if a conflict were to occur.
Today, the Louisiana Purchase is considered the greatest real estate deal in all of American history. The purchase doubled the size of the United States and paved the way for westward expansion. Aside from the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase is considered one of the greatest moments in Thomas Jefferson's career. But would you believe Jefferson wrestled with whether or not to make the purchase? He found the deal with France to be a major conflict with his political ideology. Watch TEDEd's The historical audacity of the Louisiana Purchase - Judy Walton video (below) to learn more about Jefferson's personal struggle with the Louisiana Purchase:
Jefferson's personal struggle with the Louisiana Purchase is further illustrated, or rather not illustrated, on his gravestone.
Before his death, Jefferson selected three things for which he wished to be remembered, and asked for those things to be written on his tombstone. Remarkably, the Louisiana Purchase was not one of these items. Jefferson asked to be remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence, author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom (the document used to shape the first amendment of the Bill of Rights), and the founder of the University of Virginia.
To learn more about the Louisiana Purchase and Jefferson's role in the process, read Monticello.org's article entitled Louisiana Purchase.