Mar 10, 1804 CE: The Louisiana Purchase Is Completed

Mar 10, 1804 CE: The Louisiana Purchase Is Completed

On March 10, 1804, France officially transferred its claim to the Louisiana Territory to the United States.


9 - 12


Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...

On March 10, 1804, France officially transferred its claim to the Louisiana Territory to the United States. President Thomas Jefferson had acquiredpurchased—the Louisiana Territory almost a year earlier, for the price of about $15 million (about $342 million in 2020, adjusted for inflation). The ceremony took place in St. Louis, Missouri, earning the U.S. city its nickname “Gateway to the West.”

The Mississippi River, on which St. Louis sits, formed the eastern boundary of the Louisiana Territory—a vast region stretching from the Mississippi Delta to what is now the Canadian border of North Dakota and past the northern border of what is now Montana. That border dispute was settled with the signing of the U.S.-Great Britain Oregon Treaty. The 1846 treaty set the U.S.-Canadian border at the 49th parallel as the border in the Pacific Northwest.

Spain relinquished the territory to France’s new ruler, Napoléon Bonaparte, in 1802 under threat. Napoléon wanted to extend the French empire into North America. France originally claimed the Louisiana territory in 1682, despite the presence of Indigenous cultural-linguistic groups, including the Chitimacha, Atakapa, Caddo, Tunica, Choctaw, and Natchez, among others. But France gave up its North American claims after losing the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years’ War), giving up the Louisiana territory to Spain in 1762.

Napoléon saw Saint Domingue (now Haiti) as France’s most valuable territory in the New World. With the loss of the island after a successful rebellion by enslaved people of African descent, there was little use for the Louisiana territory, which had relatively few settlers and no real administration.

Jefferson was conflicted about France’s offer to purchase the Louisiana territory. The president is not granted the power to acquire foreign territory in the Constitution. He did not believe the president could go beyond the powers given in the Constitution, but, at least in this instance, he did so.

However, the U.S. was not making a real estate purchase. Instead, it was buying the exclusive right to purchase or forcibly take lands from various Indigenous governments who actually owned them. Eventually, the lands comprising the Louisiana Purchase became a part of the U.S. government, but the process was long, complex, and multifaceted.

In reality, the price of the territories taken cost much more in monetary value. There were 222 land relinquishments from Indian communities to the U.S. government between 1804 and 1970. The final purchase price for these lands was no less than $2.6 billion ($8.5 billion in 2020), much higher than the $15 million the U.S. paid to France. Not all of these interactions and treaties between the U.S. government and Native American governments were fair—many came from broken treaties, coercion, and threats of violence.

Just months later (in May 1804) Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their “Corps of Discovery” departed from St. Louis to explore this new American landscape.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources