Many interesting events took place under Jefferson’s rule. For instance, our country doubled its size in a very strange way. At the end of the French and Indian wars, France had given New Orleans and all her land west of the Mississippi to Spain. The Spaniards, after owning Louisiana, as this great colony was called, for thirty–seven years, made a secret treaty giving it back to France. As it was very important that the Americans should be able to sail as much as they pleased up and down the Mississippi, and sell their produce in New Orleans, Jefferson thought it might be well to buy that city. He therefore sent a man to France to see if it could be done.
Now, it happened just at this time that Napoleon needed money to make war against his enemies the British. Besides, he could not spare any of his troops to occupy Louisiana, and he feared that the British would secure it. He therefore suddenly proposed to sell all Louisiana for the sum of fifteen million dollars, or about two and a half cents an acre; and the offer was accepted.
Napoleon, on signing the papers, gleefully remarked that he had now given England a rival, which, he added, “will sooner or later humble her pride.” At first, Jefferson thought that under the Constitution our government had no right to acquire so much land; but, seeing what a fine bargain it was, he stretched his authority “until it cracked,” to secure all Louisiana. Congress agreed with him, and the fifteen millions were duly paid.
In those days, no one knew anything about most of the country on the west side of the Mississippi, where only a few hunters and trappers had gone. Indeed, people so little suspected how quickly it would be settled that, at the time of the purchase, in 1803, some Americans said we would probably not send a settler across the Mississippi for a hundred years!