World History

Why did Napoleon sell the Louisiana Territory?
Answered by Discovery Channel and Curiosity
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  • Curiosity

    Curiosity

  1. Soon after Napoleon took the French throne, a slave revolt broke out in French-controlled Haiti, which cost the French 55,000 soldiers and drained their national coffers. Napoleon needed to recuperate funds to prepare for war in Europe. At the same time, U.S. president Thomas Jefferson saw French control over New Orleans as an obstacle to America's westward expansion. James Monroe was sent to France as an envoy with the authority to buy New Orleans for $3 million. Surprisingly, Napoleon offered the entire Louisiana Territory. On April 30, 1803, the Louisiana Territory was sold to the United States for $15 million. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States.

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  2. Actually, after Napoleon agreed to sell the Louisiana Territory, he did have second thoughts; as was his opinion, the U.S. was getting a much better deal. Robert Livingston urged Congress to quickly ratify the treaty before Napoleon would pull out. Napoleon agreed in the first place because he planned to use the money from the sale to fight a war with England, and he had little interest in sending his armies across the Atlantic to fight the British or Dutch for relatively empty land. France had originally wanted Louisiana in order to turn Saint Domingue, Haiti, into a profitable colony. When this plan didn't work out, Napoleon decided that the money from the Louisiana Territory would be more useful than keeping the land.

    French soldiers saluting the completion of the Louisiana Purchase
    Painting of French soldiers firing guns to salute raising of U.S. flag after official completion of Louisiana Purchase. (William C. Shrout//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

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