On This Day (October 20th)

On this day in 1803, the U.S. Senate approves a treaty with France providing for the purchase of the territory of Louisiana, which would double the size of the United States. What was known as Louisiana Territory stretched from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the Canadian border in the north. Part or all of 15 states were eventually created from the land deal, including “Bloody Kansas,” the state which would loom so largely in the run-up to the Civil War.

The following May, Louis & Clark would depart from St. Louis to explore and map the newly acquired territory, find a practical route across the western half of the continent, and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it. With significant help from Sacagawea and other native guides, theirs was the first recorded overland journey from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast and back, encountering over 70 Indian nations and tribes along the route.

Statistically, the purchase area’s non-native population was around 60,000 inhabitants, half of whom were African slaves. Notwithstanding these bitter seeds of injustice, the growth of the infant nation presaged the eventual, wrenching, ceaseless struggle for equality, freedom and justice, and is considered one of the most important achievements of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.

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