The Best Land Deal in American History

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12256

Your family may own land to live on, maybe a little plot or maybe a big ranch. Imagine buying enough land to double the size of the country! That's what President Jefferson did at an amazing bargain!


United States, United States

learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • What U.S. president is responsible for buying a big chunk of land to make the United States larger?

You may remember the United States started as only 13 colonies along the east coast of North America.

  • So, how did the United States go from being 13 small colonies to the third largest country in the entire world?

In this lesson, you will learn how the United States began to grow through the Louisiana Purchase.

map of the Louisiana Purchase Territory, 1903

Image by the Department of the Interior, General Land Office, Surveying Division from the National Archives Catalog (594889) has no known restrictions.

The Louisiana Territory belonged to France until they lost the French and Indian War in 1763. At that time, France was forced to give all their land west of the Mississippi River to one of their rivals, Spain.

In 1783, the United States won the Revolutionary War. At the time, they were only 13 small states, but they were eager to grow. The United States knew the Louisiana Territory would not only enable the United States to grow in size, but it would also give them access to the Mississippi River and the Port of New Orleans.

Having access to these two things would increase American trade because it would enable farmers to move their goods faster and easier by using the river. Increasing the speed at which goods could be shipped to major cities would also help grow the American economy, or financial wealth.

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States and made securing the Louisiana Territory a top priority.

Then, in 1802, Spain did something sneaky. They gave the Louisiana Territory back to France.

The United States saw this as an act of betrayal and feared France would destroy the American economy by denying them access to the Mississippi River and Port of New Orleans. Some Americans were so upset that they even encouraged Congress to go to war with France.

Thomas Jefferson did not want the country involved in another war. The Revolutionary War had ended just a few years prior, and the new nation was still growing. Instead, Jefferson worked with the French government to see if the United States could purchase a part of the Louisiana Territory along the Mississippi River.

Instead, the French government shocked Jefferson. It offered him the entire Louisiana Territory for only $15,000,000. This may seem like a lot of money, but the Louisiana Territory offered 828,000 square miles of land, making the cost only 4¢ per acre. In 2015, the average cost of an acre of land in the United States was $3,020.

Jefferson jumped at the opportunity to purchase the Louisiana Territory for such a low price. Today, the Louisiana Purchase is referred to as “the greatest real estate deal in all of American history.”

The Louisiana Purchase enabled farming and trade to continue to grow by providing the United States permanent access to the Mississippi River and the Port of New Orleans. It also doubled the size of the United States.

Thirteen states were eventually formed from parts of the land inherited through the Louisiana Purchase, including Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Colorado. The additional land also allowed for population growth by creating room for more people and enabling Americans to begin moving west.

To get an idea of how the United States grew with the Louisiana Purchase, use the Westward Expansion 1790-1850 interactive map from WGBH.

  1. Click on at least the "States & Territories," "show labels," and "Present-day States" choices on the right-hand side before going on.
  1. Click on the "1790," then the "1800," button on the top of the map to see what the United States looked like before the Louisiana Purchase.
  1. Then, click on the 1810 button to see what the United States looked like after the Louisiana Purchase.
  1. After you have worked with the interactive, answer the following questions on a separate piece of paper:
    • How did the United States change with the Louisiana Purchase?
    • What present-day states were a part of the Louisiana Territory?
    • How would your life be different if the Louisiana Purchase never occurred?

If you currently live in the mid-west region of the United States, you would not be living in the United States if the Louisiana Purchase had never occurred.

When you are ready, move on to the Got It? section to take a quiz and review what you have learned.

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