The Story of The Exploring Expedition of Lewis and Clark in 1804/5/6
By Noah Brooks
First Across the Continent
A Great Transaction in Land
The people of the young Republic of the United States were greatly
astonished, in the summer of 1803, to learn that Napoleon Bonaparte,
then First Consul of France, had sold to us the vast tract
of land known as the country of Louisiana. The details of this
purchase were arranged in Paris (on the part of the United States)
by Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe. The French government
was represented by Barbe-Marbois, Minister of the Public Treasury.
The price to be paid for this vast domain was fifteen million dollars.
The area of the country ceded was reckoned to be more than one million
square miles, greater than the total area of the United States,
as the Republic then existed. Roughly described, the territory
comprised all that part of the continent west of the Mississippi River,
bounded on the north by the British possessions and on the west and south
by dominions of Spain. This included the region in which now lie the States
of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, parts of Colorado, Minnesota,
the States of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, a part
of Idaho, all of Montana and Territory of Oklahoma. At that time,
the entire population of the region, exclusive of the Indian
tribes that roamed over its trackless spaces, was barely ninety
thousand persons, of whom forty thousand were negro slaves.
The civilized inhabitants were principally French, or descendants
of French, with a few Spanish, Germans, English, and Americans.
The purchase of this tremendous slice of territory could
not be complete without an approval of the bargain by
the United States Senate. Great opposition to this was
immediately excited by people in various parts of the Union,
especially in New England, where there was a very bitter feeling
against the prime mover in this business, - Thomas Jefferson,
then President of the United States. The scheme was
ridiculed by persons who insisted that the region was not
only wild and unexplored, but uninhabitable and worthless.
They derided "The Jefferson Purchase," as they called it,
as a useless piece of extravagance and folly; and, in addition
to its being a foolish bargain, it was urged that President Jefferson
had no right, under the constitution of the United States,
to add any territory to the area of the Republic.
Nevertheless, a majority of the people were in favor of the purchase,
and the bargain was duly approved by the United States Senate; that body,
July 31, 1803, just three months after the execution of the treaty of cession,
formally ratified the important agreement between the two governments.
The dominion of the United States was now extended across the entire continent
of North America, reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Territory
of Oregon was already ours.
This momentous transfer took place one hundred years ago, when almost
nothing was known of the region so summarily handed from the government
of France to the government of the American Republic.
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