ERIC Identifier: ED479236 Publication Date: 2003-08-00
Author: Patrick, John J. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about the Louisiana Purchase. ERIC Digest.
The year 2003 marks the bicentennial of the 1803 Treaty of France, by which
the United States of America acquired the Louisiana Territory, an area of more
than 828,000 square miles. Upon this acquisition, known as the Louisiana
Purchase, the territory of the United States doubled. Historians consider the
Louisiana Purchase to be a landmark event or turning point in American history.
This Digest discusses (1) President Jefferson's decision to purchase the
Louisiana Territory, (2) the significant consequences of this decision in
American history, and (3) methods of teaching about the Louisiana Purchase.
THE DECISION TO PURCHASE LOUISIANA.
Jefferson faced an important decision during the summer of 1803. Napoleon, the
emperor of France, had offered to sell the territory of Louisiana to the United
States for $15 million. This vast territory extended westward from the
Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and southward from the Canadian border
to the Gulf of Mexico and the Spanish lands of what is now Texas and New Mexico.
Jefferson had offered to buy for $2 million only the region around the mouth
of the Mississippi River, which included the port and city of New Orleans. The
President wanted to protect the interests of farmers in the Ohio River Valley,
who depended on access to New Orleans. They sent their crops down the
Mississippi River to New Orleans, from which ships took the products to cities
along the Atlantic coast of the United States. Americans feared that the French
might interfere with their trade by imposing high taxes on products and ships
moving through New Orleans. Even worse, the French might close the port to
President Jefferson was astonished by Napoleon's offer to sell not only the
region around New Orleans, but also the entire Louisiana Territory. Although the
total purchase price seemed high, it was not beyond the means of the United
States to pay it.
Jefferson wanted to buy Louisiana, but he was reluctant to stretch too far
the constitutional powers of the federal government. Jefferson believed that the
powers of the federal government should be limited precisely to those explicitly
granted in the Constitution. According to his strict constructionist
interpretation of the Constitution, the President could not buy Louisiana
because no part of the supreme law, the Constitution, granted this power to the
government. Despite his reservations about the constitutionality of purchasing
Louisiana, Jefferson decided to do it, the Senate ratified the decision, and
Congress appropriated the money to carry out the decision. The President
justified his decision with these words, "Is it not better that the opposite
land of the Mississippi should be settled by our own brethren and children than
by strangers of another family" (Morris 1973, 57).
CONSEQUENCES OF JEFFERSON'S DECISION.
Purchase was a landmark event in American history. One consequence of the
purchase was that the United States nearly doubled its land mass and became one
of the world's largest countries. Eventually all or parts of 13 states of the
United States were formed from the Louisiana Territory: Arkansas, Colorado,
Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota,
Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Later on, Americans learned that the
territory included vast tracts of fertile soil and other natural resources.
Louisiana turned out to be a richer prize than anyone had imagined at the time
of its purchase.
In 1828, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of
Jefferson's decision to purchase Louisiana. In AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY V.
CANTER, the Court ruled that the federal government could acquire new territory
under the treaty-making clause of the Constitution (Morris 1973, 57).
The decision to purchase Louisiana was one of Thomas Jefferson's most
important decisions as President. He added greatly to the size and wealth of the
United States. And he contributed substantially, though reluctantly, to the
precedent that, when necessary to serve the public good, the Constitution may be
The topic of the Louisiana Purchase is
embedded solidly in curricular standards for the teaching and learning of U.S.
history. For example, the following indicators of student performance pertain to
the Louisiana Purchase (National Standards for History 1996, 92):
1. Compare the arguments advanced by Democratic-Republicans and Federalists
regarding the acquisition of Louisiana. [Compare and contrast differing sets of
2. Analyze how the Louisiana Purchase influenced politics, economic
development, and the concept of Manifest Destiny. [Evaluate the implementation
of a decision]
3. Assess how the Louisiana Purchase affected relations with Native Americans
and the lives of various inhabitants of the Louisiana Territory. [Explain
historical continuity and change]
Notice that these standards combine core content with skills of historical
thinking, such as comparative analysis, analysis and evaluation, and explanation
of continuity and change. A key characteristic of effective teaching methods is
the integration of content and cognitive processes. "Historical thinking skills
cannot be divorced from content" (National Standards for History 1996, 70).
Effective teaching of history includes the application of geography to the
interpretation of events in history (Patrick and Stoltman 1991, 1-4). For
example, in learning about the Louisiana Purchase, students should examine how
the geographic theme of location can be used to explain and evaluate President
Jefferson's interest in acquiring the port of New Orleans for the United States
(Patrick and Stoltman 1991, 15-18).
Effective teaching of events in history involves students analyzing primary
documents. For example, students can read and interpret a letter from President
Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, the U.S. Minister to France (April 18,
1802). In this letter, Jefferson tells Livingston his reasons for wanting to
acquire from France the port of New Orleans (Patrick and Stoltman 1991, 21-22).
USING INTERNET RESOURCES.
The Internet is a rich source of
primary documents in United States history. The following Web sites include
documents and related information about the Louisiana Purchase and its
consequences in United States history:
LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXHIBIT.
Portions of the Louisiana
Purchase Exhibit at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge are presented through
this Web site, which is maintained by the Louisiana Secretary of State: <www.sec.state.la.us/purchase/purchase-index.htm>.
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: COLLECTION CONNECTIONS.
section of the American Memory Collection contains documents from the earliest
periods in United States history, including documents pertaining to the
Louisiana Purchase: <lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/collections/revolt/index.html>.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION: DIGITAL
CLASSROOM, TEACHING WITH DOCUMENTS.
This site contains reproducible copies of
primary documents and teaching activities based on those documents pertaining to
periods of U.S. history from the American Revolution to the present. Documents
about the Louisiana Purchase are included at this site: <www.archives.gov/digital_classroom/teaching_with_documents.html>.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES.
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852; World
Wide Web <edrs.com>; telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800)
443-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX
TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), are not available through EDRS. However, they
can be located in the journal section of most larger libraries by using the
bibliographic information provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or
ordered from commercial reprint services.
Appleton, Sheldon. "Teaching about American Democracy through Historical
Cases." PS: POLITICAL SCIENCE AND POLITICS 28 (December 1995): 730-733. EJ 534
Brophy, Jere, And Others. FIFTH-GRADERS' IDEAS ABOUT THE WESTWARD EXPANSION
OF THE UNITED STATES PRIOR TO THE CIVIL WAR, EXPRESSED BEFORE AND AFTER STUDYING
THE TOPIC WITHIN A U.S. HISTORY COURSE. East Lansing, MI: Center for the
Learning and Teaching of Elementary Subjects, 1992. ED 355 159.
Please note that this site is privately owned and is in no way related
to any Federal agency or ERIC unit. Further, this site is using a
privately owned and located server. This is NOT a government sponsored
or government sanctioned site. ERIC is a Service Mark of the U.S. Government.
This site exists to provide the text of the public domain ERIC Documents
previously produced by ERIC. No new content will ever appear here
that would in any way challenge the ERIC Service Mark of the U.S. Government.