It was on this date in 1803 that the Louisiana Purchase was ratified. Of course, the fun thing about history is that it doesn’t occur in a vacuum . It’s not like Napoleon just woke up one morning and said (in French) “What the hell? Why don’t I just give the damn thing away?” The background to the Purchase is in fact fairly fascinating.
Napoleon’s ambitions in Louisiana involved the creation of a new empire centered on the Caribbean sugar trade. By terms of the Treaty of Ameins of 1800, Great Britain returned ownership of the islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe to the French. Napoleon looked upon Louisiana as a depot for these sugar islands, and as a buffer to U.S. settlement. In October of 1801 he sent a large military force to retake the important island of Santo Domingo, lost in a slave revolt in the 1790s…Meanwhile, Napoeleon’s plans in the Caribbean were being frustrated by Toussaint L’Ouverture, his army of former slaves, and yellow fever. During ten months of fierce fighting on Santo Domingo, France lost over 40,000 soldiers. Without Santo Domingo Napoleon’s colonial ambitions for a French empire were foiled in North America. Louisiana would be useless as a granary without sugar islanders to feed. Napoleon also considered the temper of the United States, where sentiment was growing against France and stronger ties with Great Britain were being considered. Spain’s refusal to sell Florida was the last straw, and Napoleon turned his attention once more to Europe; the sale of the now-useless Louisiana would supply needed funds to wage war there. Napoleon directed his ministers, Talleyrand and Barbe-Marbois, to offer the entire Louisiana territory to the United States – and quickly.