On the evening of the 3d inst. [July] we recieved a letter from … Livingston & Monroe [America’s ambassadors to France on the subject of purchasing New Orleans and maintaining open Mississippi River navigation] … that on the 30th. of April they signed a treaty with France, ceding to us the island of N. Orleans and all Louisiana as it had been held by Spain. the price is not mentioned. we are in hourly expectation of the treaty by a special messenger … it is something larger than the whole US. probably containing 500 millions of acres, the US. containing 434. millions. this removes from us the greatest source of danger to our peace.
To Thomas Mann Randolph, July 5, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Happy birthday, Mr. President!
Jefferson concealed his own birth date, so people couldn’t celebrate him. He believed July 4 was the only date worthy of national celebration. Just hours before America’s 27th birthday, he’d received word that his spirited diplomatic efforts had yielded an unimaginable result: France would sell not only New Orleans but ALL of Louisiana! That would more than double the size of the nation and make the Mississippi River a totally American waterway.
Jefferson’s tactical goal had been met, securing duty-free shipping on all goods produced for export west of the Appalachian mountains. His strategic goal was met, too, eliminating what otherwise was inevitable, war with France over control of the Mississippi.
The President didn’t know the price! (A “pig in a poke” refers to a purchase where the buyer doesn’t really know the extent of the purchase or the price paid.) He expected to find out soon. He had authorized $10M for New Orleans and West Florida. He would soon be delighted to learn that the whole deal was signed for just $15M. Settlement of old shipping claims against France would significantly lower the purchase price to $11.25M.
This purchase would completely change the complexion of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, from a small company exploring foreign land to a large military company laying further claim to American land.