In 1803, at a private meeting in Paris, France on this day the American Diplomat Robert R. Livingston (pictured) was informed by Treasury Minister François de Barbé-Marbois that 1.5 billion acres of land west of the Mississippi River had been sold to the Rocky Mountain Beaver Company for the sum of $15 million.
Louisiana Question 4Effective 30th November, 1803, Louisiana was transfered from Spanish to French under a secret protocol in the Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800. During the negotiation of that treaty, Napoleon had given his solumn word that the territory would not be sold on to a foreign government, and in a strictly legal sense he had honoured that pledge.
Because only three years before, L'Empereur had been dreaming of a grand continental empire with an economic hinterland that ran through Haiti to the port of New Orleans. But a slave rebellion on Haiti lead by Dessalines had turned those dreams into nightmares, and Napoleon decided to concentrate his energies on European hegemony.
American leaders had their own dreams of westward expansion which would diminish European powers from the continent. And provide the larger geography that would favour republican government. Jefferson had sent James Monroe to Paris to close the deal, but he was beaten to it by a consortia of European banks.
The existence of that consortia was ironically the fault of Thomas Jefferson himself. His imagination had been fired by the discovery of the mouth of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. And so he sent American sea captain Robert Gray of Boston back on a second mission, this time to map out the territory of Louisiana.
Gray discovered huge beaver populations thriving in the mountains. This information was of enormous interest to the European Fashion Industry which had been manufacturing products using the fine inner hairs of beaver fur for three centuries. So much so that the beaver population had been almost totally wiped out not only in Europe but on the Eastern Seaboard as well. It was this commercial interest that became aware of the sale of the territory which was then purchased for the atonishingly low price of 3 centres per acre, in pro rata terms, even cheaper than Manhattan Island.