Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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October 20th
The Louisiana Purchase
“There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. “It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market.” The port city lay at the southern edge of Louisiana, the vast region named for French king Louis XIV that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1801 President Jefferson instructed Robert Livingston, his envoy in Paris, to try to buy New Orleans from the French. Jefferson sent his good friend James Monroe to aid in the negotiations.

The Americans were in luck. Napoleon Bonaparte needed money to pay for expensive wars. And he didn’t have much use for Louisiana, which he believed might be seized by the British or Americans at any moment anyway. Livingston and Monroe were stunned when Napoleon offered to sell not just New Orleans but the entire Louisiana Territory for $15 million.

The offer was too good to pass up. The envoys inked the treaty, and on October 20, 1803, the Senate quickly ratified it before Napoleon might change his mind. In one stroke Jefferson had more than doubled the size of the country for pennies an acre. It was, no doubt, one of the best land bargains in history.

The fact that no one had asked for the consent of the region’s inhabitants, mainly Native Americans, went overlooked. Critics also insisted the Constitution gave the government no power to purchase territory. Yet the transaction set the United States on course to become a huge nation, with seemingly unlimited frontiers and possibilities. In the opinion of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, the Louisiana Purchase would prove “next in historical importance to the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution.”

American History Parade
1629
In England, John Winthrop is elected first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

1803
The U.S. Senate ratifies the Louisiana Purchase.

1818
The United States and Great Britain fix the U.S.-Canadian border at the 49th Parallel between the Lake of the Woods and continental divide.

1944
During World War II, General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte Island in the Philippines, fulfilling his promise of 1942: “I shall return.”

1947
The House Un-American Activities Committee begins hearings on alleged Communist influence in Hollywood.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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