220 Years Since the World’s Greatest Real-estate Deal
“All eyes—all hopes—are now fixed on you.” This was the final admonition United States President Thomas Jefferson offered James Monroe, who was sent to France as a special envoy in 1803. The future of the Louisiana Territory was at stake. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had just regained control of the region from Spain and entertained ambitions to expand the French empire in the New World.
What happened next in 1803 was perhaps the most consequential moment in American history since the birth of the republic. When you study the history of the Louisiana Purchase, it is obvious that no single human individual or act of brilliance was responsible for what happened 220 years ago. A series of events beyond the control of mankind opened the door to America’s destiny as the greatest single nation ever.
A Tyrant’s Gift
Most people at the start of the 19th century would have picked France to be the dominant power for the next 100 years. Napoleon Bonaparte was conquering Europe with dazzling campaigns and controlled impressive dominions overseas. In 1801, Napoleon coerced King Charles iv of Spain to cede the Louisiana Territory back to France with the Treaty of San Ildefonso. Bonaparte had schemes of building an empire in the New World based in Haiti.
This turn of events was very disconcerting for President Jefferson. He was worried the French would block America’s access to the Mississippi River. The previous treaty with Spain guaranteed the free right of use for America and Britain. “There is on the globe one single spot the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy,” Jefferson wrote. “It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market.” But Jefferson’s perspective on the Mississippi River went beyond trade.
“He had a vision of America as an empire of liberty. And he saw the Mississippi River not as the western edge of the country, but as the great spine that would hold the continent together,” Douglas Brinkley, director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies in New Orleans, said.
Jefferson instructed the U.S. minister in Paris, Robert R. Livingston, to try and stop the deal from happening or, if that failed, negotiate the purchase of New Orleans. For nearly a year, Livingston was engaged in fruitless talks with Napoleon’s shrewd foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.
While Talleyrand was purposely stalling the American efforts, France’s military designs for the Louisiana Territory collapsed for reasons beyond human control. The jewel of Napoleon’s strategy was retaining control of Saint Domingue (modern-day Haiti). Yet the garrison on the island was suddenly decimated by yellow fever, and a revolt on the island compromised French control. Napoleon regarded the Louisiana Territory as an ancillary to Saint Domingue but planned to send a sizable military presence to New Orleans. However, before the expedition could leave in January 1803, the port was blocked with ice.
These setbacks changed Napoleon’s mind at the same time that he was trying to raise funds for his next war with Great Britain. Unaware of these setbacks, President Jefferson asked James Monroe to go to France as the minister plenipotentiary to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans for up to $9,375,000. However, by the time Monroe arrived in April 1803, Napoleon had decided to sell all of the Louisiana Territory to the United States. In a matter of weeks, the details of the sale were settled.
The negotiations were a curious event: Neither Monroe nor Livingston had the authority to enter into such an agreement with a foreign power, the treaty that resulted was so vague that it was unclear exactly what France was offering; and the United States didn’t have enough money for the agreed to price. Yet all of these details were resolved.
France initially requested $22.5 million. America counteroffered $8 million. Yet $15 million was the lowest France would accept. That ended up being the final price for the agreement. The treaty was signed on May 2. And the purchase was announced on July 3, a day before Independence Day.
President Jefferson was shocked by the turn of events and doubted the legality of the agreement due to constitutional constraints. However, the Senate approved the treaty. The U.S. Treasury could not afford to pay the $15 million. “But the resourceful Barbé-Marbois had an answer for that too,” wrote Joseph Harriss at Smithsonian Magazine. “He had contacts at Britain’s Baring & Co. Bank, which agreed, along with several other banks, to make the actual purchase and pay Napoleon cash. The bank then turned over ownership of the Louisiana Territory to the United States in return for bonds, which were repaid over 15 years at 6 percent interest, making the final purchase price around $27 million.”
Although the initial deal had been struck fast, approval from Congress and financial negotiations took over a year to complete. What resulted was the greatest real estate deal in history.
“We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives,” Livingston wrote. “From this day, the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank.”
What exactly did the United States acquire with the Louisiana Purchase?
The land area was 828,000 square miles, or 53 million acres—doubling America’s size. Included in the massive territory was the mighty Mississippi River, which connects 31 states. Over time, this would become key to America’s industrial power. It also contained some of the best farmland in the entire world and was rich in minerals.
So how good of a deal was it? David Howden at the Mises Institute analyzed the Louisiana Purchase in the context of today’s money value as of 2014: The $15 million of 1803 is comparable to $729 million. Today an acre of land in Nebraska costs $7,000. “The United States government bought roughly 53 million acres in 1803 for the same price as 100,000 acres of Nebraska farmland would cost today,” wrote Howden. The region of the Louisiana Purchase contribute around $1.7 trillion to the nation’s gross domestic product each year.
However, much of the value cannot be quantified with numbers. The strategic value of the Mississippi River makes it priceless to the United States, and the timing of the purchase was perfect to spur the westward expansion of the young republic.
The Louisiana Purchase was a momentous event in the history of the world. “With the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, this is one of the three things that created the modern United States,” wrote Douglas Brinkley.
Author Charles A. Cerami said: “If we had not made this purchase, it would have pinched off the possibility of our becoming a continental power. That, in turn, would have meant our ideas on freedom and democracy would have carried less weight with the rest of the world. This was the key to our international influence.”
Yet even statistics and history cannot capture the magnitude of the event. The Louisiana Purchase was actually the fulfillment of a stunning Bible prophecy.
The real origins of the Louisiana Purchase go back far beyond Napoleon and Jefferson, beyond the age of exploration, back into the ancient world when a man named Abraham was dwelling in tents in the land of Canaan. The God of the Bible made a promise to this man that His descendants would have great national prosperity (Genesis 12:1-4; 22:15-18). In Genesis 48:19, God gave this birthright promise of national blessings to Abraham’s great-great grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh.
God warned ancient Israel in Leviticus 26:18 that if they failed to obey His laws, He would withhold this blessing until a later time. That is exactly what happened. God withheld these blessings for 2,520 years. (This is all explained in detail in Chapter 10 of Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.)
This period of withholding began in 721 b.c., when Ephraim, Manasseh and other tribes that descended from Abraham were conquered by the Assyrian Empire. They became lost in the pages of history. But what happened 2,520 years later? Mr. Armstrong wrote:
So—beginning a.d. 1800–1803, after 2,520 years, God did cause the birthright nations—and them only—to become suddenly the recipients of such national wealth, greatness and power as no nation or empire ever before had acquired! … By 1804 London had become the financial hub of the world. The United States had exploded out of its swaddling clothes of the 13 original states and had acquired the expansive Louisiana Purchase. It was fast sprouting up to become the mightiest nation of all time. But Britain burst forth to greatness first, and until the world wars had become the greatest empire, or commonwealth of nations, in all history.
These were the national blessings promised to Ephraim and Manasseh.
All of the forces out of man’s control that led to Napoleon selling this region were not chance or luck. Rather, this is real, tangible proof of God and the authority of the Bible.
Yet America is not being blessed today. Curses are pummeling it from every direction. Such a magnificent rise and fall can only be explained by the Bible. The Louisiana Purchase happened exactly on the Bible’s schedule, and so is America’s decline. All of these Bible prophecies are clearly explained in The United States and Britain in Prophecy.