The Louisiana Purchase
In the words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “the only thing that is constant
is change.” This has been evident in the society since time immemorial and
sometimes, change may transform a people from an old world to a new world.
Historical changes in the society, especially, are credited with installing a new wave
of belief in the people that they affect. One such change that takes one back to the
development of the United States as a young nation is the purchase of the Louisiana
territory. The acquisition of Louisiana from the French by the U.S government started
a paradigm shift into the unlimited expansion of the nation and changed the social,
economic, and political beliefs of Americans. From this purchase and its aftermath,
the mentality that America was bound to expand unlimitedly from coast to coast and
that it was bound to be a superior power was instilled in the minds of the people.
An understanding of the Louisiana Purchase is required for one to appreciate how
it changed the world of many Americans and their beliefs. In 1803, the government
of President Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from France and this doubled the
size of the United States. The price of 828,000 square miles was around $15 million
(Pierce, 2016). This purchase doubled the size of the United States which must be
remembered, was in its early stage of development as a nation. Barely three decades
after the birth of an independent nation, the president led the nation in the purchase
of land that not only increased its power but also allowed the country to grow
further. The reasons for this deal should also be availed to guide an understanding of
how the purchase changed America and the continent at large.
At the time of the Louisiana Purchase, France was amid crisis regarding its
control in North America, a reason that probably explains why it sold the territory.
Initially, during the French and Indian Wars in 1762, France had seceded the
territory west of the Mississippi to Spain. However, Spain had little control in North
America and was reluctant to control the Mississippi and the port of New Orleans,
which were mostly used by Americans for transportation. In 1802, however, Spain
returned the territory to France, which was more aggressive. However, France had
lost control of most of its territories such as Haiti and was approaching war with
Britain. On the one hand, Americans were afraid that under the control of France, the
Mississippi and New Orleans would be hard for them to use. On the other, France
needed money for war and had land. When Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris to
aid in talks for buying New Orleans, he was met by a surprise offer for the whole of
Louisiana (Engstrom, 2013). This brief history of the events leading to the purchase
set the stage for a critical look at the factors that drove the purchase and how
American beliefs and life changed after that.
After the purchase of Louisiana, the confidence of American politicians and the
public was boosted, and the agenda of expanding was the main point of focus for
them. According to Pierce (2016), most Americans opposed the Louisiana Purchase
because they felt that the country did not have the capacity to develop such a huge
tract of land at the time. This mentality outlines the state of mind of many Americans
before the purchase. It shows that Americans were conservative regarding the issue of
land acquisition and the growth in the geographical size of the nation. Therefore,
before viewing the opportunity placed in the purchase, Americans were timid and
still held the socio-economic and political belief that expansion was bound to occur
slowly, and the consolidation of the union was the more urgent issue.
Additionally, the purchase itself might not have immediately changed Americans
but the realized benefits revolutionized how the nation thought about development
and growth. Pierce observes that it took a great effort for the president to convince
the Senate of the incorporation of the territory to the union. He explains that in his
third address to the Congress, Jefferson praised “'the fertility of the country, its
climate and extent.’ its cultivation would ‘promise in due season important aids to our
treasury,’ and its vast size would provide ‘an ample provision for our posterity, and a
wide-spread field for the blessings of freedom and equal laws’” (qtd. in Pierce 2016, p.
30). This powerful message was the beginning of the paradigm change into
acknowledging the advantages of expanding West. Overall, the transition from the
‘old world’ of conservative and young America focused on the development of its
democracy to the ‘new world’ of the rapidly-developing and unstoppable Manifest
Destiny was a bit slow but once it picked up the pace, the beliefs of Americans were
After the purchase of Louisiana, several expeditions aimed at analyzing the
territory were put in place. Almost immediately in 1804, Jefferson commissioned a
military expedition into the territory with the aim of understanding the utility of the
land. Owsley & Smith (1997) explain that this infamous expedition by Lewis and
Clark began the official deliberate moves of the nation to expand westward. This
expedition was followed by many others, and it opened the land past the Mississippi
for Americans. Primarily, due to the pressure of land in the East and the availability
of rich mineral ores, America was attracted to this land and the dream of occupying
the rest of the continent began. Overall, the expeditions opened the enthusiasm of the
people towards moving West and created a renewed obsession with the idea of
gaining more land there.
The exact change in the belief system of Americans can be seen in the transformation
from a people who were attempting to survive and develop as an independent young
nation into a community that had grown in power and was guided by the unmistaken
urge to dominate the continent. Paul Heike (2014) explains that the purchase,
although closely connected to the idea of expansionism, brought out a stronger force
of empire-building and thus placed the United States in the world map as one of the
strongest nations. This urge to dominate is further seen in the War of 1812 where the
country engaged the world’s largest naval power, Great Britain in a war that ended in
a stalemate. Therefore, primarily, the people of the state had changed from ones who
were building a nation to ones who were building an empire using the expansion
Elsewhere, the idea of Manifest Destiny best describes the mentality that
Americans adopted upon these energized efforts towards expansionism. Although the
Manifest Destiny was a philosophy that did not appear until the 1850s, it was evident
from the kicking off the westward expansion by President Jefferson. This ideology
can be seen as early as the time of the Louisiana Purchase and the following years. For
instance, three years after the purchase, Jefferson set his eyes on Spanish Florida,
setting in motion negotiations and a treaty, which was completed in 1919 under
James Monroe (Joy, 2003). Therefore, with the successful purchase of Louisiana, the
president and the people of the United States focused on the dedicated efforts to
continue expanding into the continent. This mentality was openly stated and refueled
later in the century, leading to conflicts in the West and the rise of the infamous Wild
By the time the term Manifest Destiny was coined in 1850, Texas had been
admitted to the Union and the idea of the United States inevitably expanding to the
West was deeply ingrained in most of Americans minds and widely accepted as well.
The idea of Manifest Destiny was more than a belief in the inevitable expansion of the
states and further an attitude of superiority towards the inhabitants of the land to the
west of the union (Owsley & Smith, 1997). Therefore, the mentality, which
developed over the first half of the century was that Americans were superior to their
neighbors and they were destined by God to occupy the land to the very West Coast.
This feeling of superiority and the apparent development of economic and political
power has not stopped until now.
The effects of the change in belief for Americans were, as expected, mixed but a
close analysis shows that they were more on the positive side. First, the nation grew
in size and culture through this belief. The expansion of the nation to the West meant
that it controlled more land and as a result, was gaining more power. Joy (2003)
asserts that if Jefferson had not purchased Louisiana, the United States would not
have dominated the continent and further, it would not be a superpower today.
Therefore, this change in mentality led to a more aggressive growth in the country’s
power. Furthermore, the Louisiana Purchase and the subsequent focus on
expansionism led to a sense of pride in the country and developed what is now the
American culture. Prestige and democracy are some of the key aspects of the nation’s
culture. Although the nation was working on democracy before the purchase,
acquisition developed its prestige more and this pride and the belief in superiority
have fashioned the modern American culture.
The Louisiana Purchase conducted in 1803 changed the social, economic, and
political belief system of Americans to focus more on building an empire through
superiority and territorial expansion. This purchase was just the beginning of a long
journey in the westward expansion, which was inspired by the mentality that the
Union would inevitably conquer the entire continent. Overall, Jefferson kickstarted a
belief that the nation was strong enough to surpass other powers and expand to the
west coast through land acquisition. This belief gave birth to the rise in the power of
the nation and the consequent mentality of social and cultural superiority. The
Louisiana Purchase, therefore, was a historical event that set a snowball in motion
and affects the nation to this day.
Engstrom, E. (2013). Districting and the Construction of Early American Democracy.
In Partisan Gerrymandering and the Construction of American Democracy (pp. 2142). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved from
Joy, M. S. (2003). American Expansionism, 1783-1860: a manifest destiny?.
Oxfordshire, England: New York, New York : Pearson Education Limited : Routledge,
2003. Retrieved from http://0-
Owsley, F. L., & Smith, G. A. (1997). Filibusters and Expansionists: Jeffersonian
Manifest Destiny, 1800-1821. Tuscaloosa, Alabama : The University Alabama Press,
1997 Retrieved from http://0search.ebscohost.com.library.svsu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05426a&AN=sts.
Paul, H. (2014). Agrarianism, Expansionism, and the Myth of the American West.
In The Myths That Made America: An Introduction to American Studies (pp. 311366). Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag. Retrieved from
Pierce, J. (2016). “FOR ITS INCORPORATION IN OUR UNION”: The Louisiana
Territory and the Conundrum of Western Expansion. In Making the White Man’s
West: Whiteness and the Creation of the American West (pp. 29-50). Boulder,
Colorado: University Press of Colorado. Retrieved from
Apocalypse Culture: ENGL 212 online
Tim Kenyon, Lecturer of English
Saginaw Valley State University
PEER WORKSHOP – ESSAY ONE: EVENTS THAT CHANGE BELIEF SYSTEMS
After reading your partner’s essay, type responses to the following questions. Be thoughtful and detailed.
Save this document to return to your partner when you’re finished.
In your own words and in a sentence or two, explain the writer’s argument:
Does the introduction set up the reader for understanding the topic and subject of the essay? (An introduction to the
essay’s broader topic? To a specific event? Does it include a clear and argumentative thesis?)
How could the writer begin the essay with more intensity or clarity? (How could the writer improve his or her “hook”?)
Which writing tools and strategies does the author use that are effective? Which need attention or are not as effective
as they could be?
Which specific areas or ideas within the body of the paper are confusing or do not clearly relate to the thesis? And,
what ideas could be added or elaborated upon to better support the thesis? (Be specific. Give examples.)
Comment on the organization of the essay. Are the essay’s body paragraphs arranged logically? Are there
paragraphs that shift focus and interrupt the flow of the essay? Where do you sense gaps in the logic of the argument
How does the author’s conclusion tie in to the thesis, or, if it doesn’t, how does it has strayed from its purpose?
Compare the introduction to the conclusion—Does the conclusion state more strongly the intention of the paper?
Does the writer use the outside source(s) effectively to support his/her argument, including specific references to the
sources? Are the sources used only to provide information or to enhance his or her argument? How could the writer
make better use of the sources?
What are the most interesting and/or convincing parts of the essay? (Be specific. Give examples.)
What could be eliminated from the paper, if anything, while maintaining the paper’s central focus? (In other words,
what portions of the paper are distracting or stray away from its main point?)
Is the paper properly cited and formatted using APA style? References page? Annotated Bibliography? Note areas
that appear to be incorrect.
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