Old Man River:  History Along the MississippiApril 19-November 2, 2003

Early Exploration and Development

Control of the Mississippi

Bald eagle and alligator crossing sign
The Upper vs. The Lower Mississippi
Louisana purchase exhibit section
Double Barrel Flintlock Dueling Pistols, purchased by Monroe during his visits to France and Britain.
~ Ash Lawn-Highland, Home of James Monroe, Charlottesville VA
Portrait of James Monroe
~ The Presidents, White House Historical Association
Map of the Louisiana Purchase
~ Lewis and Clark by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns

"The future destinies of the Republic … all eyes, all hopes are fixed on you."
- President Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1803

After American colonists won their independence from Britain in 1781, lands east of the Mississippi River became states or territories in the new United States of America. However, control over Louisiana Territory west of the river seesawed back and forth between Spain and France, and whoever controlled New Orleans controlled commerce on the river. Periodically, this port city was closed to American traders, and frontiersmen west of the Appalachians threatened to secede from the United States!

A desperate President Jefferson sent James Monroe to France, secretly authorizing $9 million for the purchase of New Orleans. (Ambassador Robert Livingston had been given congressional approval to spend only $2 million.) When France offered to sell the entire territory for $15 million, the Americans swiftly agreed even though unauthorized to do so!

Congress reluctantly ratified the treaty on October 20, 1803, purchasing 828,000 square miles for roughly 4 cents an acre. America had just acquired land and natural resources far richer than anyone's wildest dreams.

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Did you know … ?
It was unclear whether France even owned Louisiana in 1803, because Napoleon had failed to honor his promises to Spain according to their earlier treaty of 1800!



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This section "Early Exploration and Development" has the following related pages:
Control of the Mississippi

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2 men in a canoe
Early Exploration and Development
steamboat
River Days
view of Bellview, Iowa
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Man vs. Man
Bald eagle and conservation officer
Man vs. Nature
jazz musician
The Arts Along the River
New Orleans graveyard
Legends and Spirits
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