On This Day in Napoleonic History – 12 May 1803

12President Thomas Jefferson signs the Louisiana Purchase

For 80 million francs, at the cost of less than 4 cents an acre, the United States doubled its size, acquiring from France 875,000 square miles of territory that today comprises all or some of 13 states from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. Napoleon wrote to Talleyrand, ‘I renounce Louisiana. I know the price of what I abandon. I renounce it to the greatest regret. To attempt obstinately to retain it would be folly.’

The First Consul knew that hanging on to Louisiana might later draw him into the conflict with the Unites states and it was something he wanted to avoid. By helping the United States to continental greatness and enriching French treasury in the process, Napoleon was able to achieve an objective that had always been important to him. ‘I’ve just given to England a maritime rival that sooner or later will humble her pride,’ he said. He was right – within a decade the war of 1812 between the United States and Britain was to draw off British forces that were still fighting in 1815 and which otherwise might have been present at Waterloo.

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