October 20

October 20, 1803: Louisiana Purchase is ratified. “On October 20, 1803, the Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty by a vote of twenty-four to seven. The agreement, which provided for the purchase of the western half of the Mississippi River basin from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents per acre, doubled the size of the country and paved the way for westward expansion beyond the Mississippi.

Spain had controlled Louisiana and the strategic port of New Orleans with a relatively free hand since 1762. However, Spain signed the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800 under pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte, a secret agreement retroceding [To cede or give back (a territory for example)] the territory of Louisiana to France.

News of the agreement eventually reached the U.S. government.  President Thomas Jefferson feared that if Louisiana came under French control, American settlers living in the Mississippi River Valley would lose free access to the port of New Orleans. On April 18, 1802, Jefferson wrote a letter to Robert Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, warning that, “There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy.  It is New Orleans…”

Napoleon, faced with a shortage of cash, a recent military defeat in Santo Domingo, and the threat of a war with Great Britain, decided to cut his losses and abandon his plans for an empire in the New World. In 1803, he offered to sell the entire territory of Louisiana to the United States for $15 million.

Robert Livingston and James Monroe, whom Jefferson had sent to Paris earlier that year, had only been authorized to spend up to $10 million to purchase New Orleans and West Florida.  Although the proposal for the entire territory exceeded their official instructions, they agreed to the deal. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was dated April 30 and formally signed on May 2, 1803.

The bounds of the territory, which were not clearly delineated in the treaty, were assumed to include all the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, at that time known as the Stony Mountains. Just twelve days after the signing of the treaty, frontiersmen Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on an expedition to explore the newly acquired territory.

The purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the Lewis and Clark expedition marked the beginning of a century of conquest. As explorers, speculators, adventurers, and settlers pushed the territorial boundaries of the United States westward toward the Pacific coast, the notion of America as a nation always pushing toward new frontiers took hold in art, literature, folklore, and the national psyche.” Commentary:  It is interesting that the boundaries of the land purchase were defined by river basins and not by latitude lines or surveyed limits. The addition of this vast swath of land to the young country brought with it some of the most important water resources that we currently possess. We can thank the vision of Thomas Jefferson for this amazing milestone in the history of water.

October 20, 1818: Treaty signed with Great Britain that ultimately resulted in U.S. acquisition of the Oregon Territory. “After the Revolutionary War, the U.S. inherited Spanish claims to the Oregon Territory that resulted in a number of boundary disputes with Great Britain. America and Great Britain agreed to form a joint commission to resolve boundary disputes. One of the results was the Treaty of Occupation of Oregon, signed on October 20,1818. As a result, British citizens and Americans in Oregon lived together peacefully. The joint occupancy treaty was renewed in 1827. Both British and American Commissioners had fixed the border between the United States and Canada at the 49th parallel from the Lake of the Woods (Minnesota Territory) west to the Rocky Mountains. The United States had proposed to extend the border along the same parallel to the Pacific Ocean, but Great Britain insisted that the northern border be drawn west to the Columbia River and then follow that river to the ocean.” (edited by MJM) Commentary: Through a coincidence of dates, today, we can celebrate the astonishing amalgamation of water resources that stretch across the western U.S. and made the 19th century dream of Manifest Destiny a reality. Many thanks to Evan E. Filby who brought this interesting happenstance of dates to my attention. You may be interested in his blog about Idaho history.

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