Britain and America

Why did Britain welcome the 1803 Louisiana Purchase?

In 1803 the United States negotiated the biggest real estate deal in its history when it more than doubled in size with the Louisiana Purchase from France for $15m. One can understand this momentous event only within the long-standing Anglo-French rivalry over North America.

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Britain welcomed the transfer of the Louisiana Territory to the United States because it prevented the French from occupying this huge area and seizing control over both New Orleans and the Mississippi river. Far better from the British perspective that the deal replaced the powerful French with a much weaker United States. The irony was that each power – Britain and France – considered the American acquisition of Louisiana to be a barrier to the other’s expansion in North America, when it now is clear that the territorial transfer facilitated US control over this vast area.

Although Napoleon counted on the purchase money to finance his renewal of war with Britain later that same year, the British government was so anxious to keep the French out of North America that the treasury department permitted the banking firm of Baring Brothers and Company of London (with a nice profit) to work with Amsterdam bankers in converting American bonds into the cash needed to complete the purchase.

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Answered by: Howard Jones, university research professor of history, University of Alabama