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It was a time of war, strife and heated debate! Napoleon was leading the crusade of a French empire in the nations of the old world while modern-day America was being jostled between French, Spanish, English and Union interests. By 1803 the United States consisted of 17 states and 4 territories in the East with the formidable Appalachian Mountains running down the middle. The key communication port of New Orleans on the Mississippi River belonged at that moment to France, but Napoleon was under pressure. Having lost strongholds in the Caribbean and under financial strain to fund his war in Europe, he and made a bargain that would change the future forever. On April 30, 1803 he authorized the sale of the entire 828,000 square mile French Territory of Louisiana for 60 million Francs (~$15 million).
The purchase almost doubled the size of the United States overnight, but it had surprisingly heavy opposition. The bargain had been struck in a rush and without formal approval of the president. Opponents in the Federalist Party, worried about their balance of power, argued the purchase was “worthless desert” and unconstitutional, stricking back hot with comments like the quote above. But with historical foresight, Jefferson upheld the deal and the treaty was ratified.
The massive impact of this piece of history strikes me as I stand on the steps of the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. It’s a spring day, cherry blossoms are blooming, the sky is a brilliant blue and the dates carved in stone by my feet take me back in time. We’re here for a quick stop to visit family and I’m amazed at how green and peaceful the town is despite the busy working traffic of the Mississippi River and the bustle of LSU (Louisiana State University). We’re parked in a horse park just outside town bounded by large, green pasture and the river. Here we’ll hang out and regenerate for a few days, watch the horses, walk the levee and enjoy some good meals before we run off to boondock in Texas. After this point we’ll be West of the Mississippi and into another phase of history. In the meantime I’ll walk and marvel on the land that was purchased so long ago for only 5 cents an acre.
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