The Day Louisiana Was Sold To The U.S.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps
Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One story that isn’t well-known is that Napoleon planned to recapture Canada for France.  He made himself dictator of France in 1799, on the pretext of “saving the Revolution,” but then went on to conquer most of Europe.

Napoleon’s plan to recapture Canada was inspired by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who in 1793 became the first man to cross the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Mackenzie wrote a book about his trip which Napoleon had translated into French to help him plan his campaign.

His first step was to regain Louisiana.  France had owned the Mississippi Valley all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, but had handed over this territory to Spain before signing the Treaty of Paris in 1763 so that Britain would not acquire it.

In 1800, Napoleon regained Louisiana from Spain as part of the secret treaty of San Ildefonso.  He planned to move his troops up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico.  In order to do this, he sent a large navy and army to recapture the former French colony of Haiti, which had been lost in a rebellion led by a mighty black warrior, Toussaint L’Ouverture.

Français : Le général Toussaint Louverture.
Le général Toussaint Louverture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was to be the base for the attack up the Mississippi, led by Napoleon’s favourite general, Count Bernadotte. His campaign was defeated by the same elements that beat the Scotsmen who wanted to set up a colony in Panama and make it New Scotland.  The natives and the mosquitoes were too fierce.    They killed 60,000 French troops in two years!

In the meantime, the British fleet had moved powerful units to the West Indies, and Napoleon knew that it would be too risky to try to move an army to the mouth of the Mississippi.  He abandoned the plan to recapture Canada, and sold Louisiana on April 30, 1803, to the United States for $27 million between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. Spain still retained claims on the Pacific coast as far north as Oregon, which had an important bearing on the future development of British Columbia.

Want to read more about what became known as the Louisiana Purchase? I suggest National Archives & Records Administration for the transcripts, and a site I just found is that you just have to check out! Oh, and don’t forget Wikipedia


  1. Just read an article about Winfield Scott resigning his position as chief of the Union (USA) Army in 1861. He was 74 years old and left for Europe to tend to his health. Rumors spread that he was on a secret diplomatic mission to negotiate with France (under a different Nepolian, I believe) to exchange Canada for support for the Union in the Civil War. Guess politics, land grabs, and media speculation have not changed much in 150 years!


    • It just goes to show, i’m finding out more and more, that we are really taught some things in school, but necessarily both sides! Have a good one, P!


  2. Fascinating, your article has got me ruminating again–we tend to view our Canada as it exists today as an institution that has been and will be stable over the very long term. It’s so easy to ignore the considerable evidence to the contrary. So here we are at the 21st C with these: an increasing east/west cultural and economic divide, environmental destruction in the north, receding ice, looming battles over fresh water rights with the US and, to top it all off, triple-digit (over $100/barrel) oil which will no doubt keep economic growth slower than it has historically been. Oh, and there’s always the possibility of the influence of a black swan. Yep–interesting times ahead!


  3. Wow now this is something they never taught in Social Studies. Napoleon was resilient but he was also a wise strategist who knew when to not push forward huh?


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