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The Art of Mort Künstler / The American Spirit / The Frontier

Here you will find a pictorial chronicle of the drama and excitement of American History. These paintings give the viewer an insight into the tumultuous life of this young nation that mere words cannot achieve.

Louisiana Purchase
New Orleans, December 20, 1803

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Historical Information

When, in his inaugural address of 1801, Thomas Jefferson boasted that Americans had "land enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation," he little dreamed that within two years he would double its territory. That vast area, stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, had long belonged to France. In 1763 France ceded it to Spain, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century the all-powerful Napoleon forced Spain to "retrocede" it back to France. A weak Spain could not threaten the bold new United States, but a powerful France, ruled by Napoleon, could.

With two vast warring empires - France and Great Britain - ensconced respectively in Louisiana and Canada, the United States seemed doomed to be situated between hammer and anvil, and possible destruction. The Mississippi River was also increasingly vital to American trade, while French control of Louisiana seemed likely at the very least to block any future prospects for American westward expansion.

Jefferson sent James Madison and James Monroe to Paris to negotiate a deal with the French to acquire the Louisiana Territory. Fortunately, they found Napoleon willing to talk. Preoccupied with his expensive campaigns in Europe, he had no desire for overseas distractions. For only $15 million, he agreed to turn over the huge Louisiana Territory - about 827,000 square miles - to the United States (in 2014 this would be equivalent to approximately $290 million, or $350 per square mile).

On December 20, 1803, three weeks after Spain formally ceded the Louisiana territory to France, it was sold by France to the United States. As the Stars and Stripes rose over the Place d'Armes (present-day Jackson Square) in New Orleans, the United States had doubled its territory and opened the road to continental power.


All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2020. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.