When President Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, he really had no idea what he had gotten for his money. He only knew it was big - about 828,000 square miles (more than 2 million square kilometers). The purchase went from a little above the present Canadian border south to New Orleans and from the Mississippi River in the East to Colorado in the West.
Jefferson wanted to find a water passage across the continent. Alexander McKenzie's trek across Canada in 1802 made him fearful that Britain would seize control of the western part of the continent if the U.S. government did not discover a water passage first. Lewis and Clark's expedition to find this passage would have been blocked without the Louisiana Purchase.
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