Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Day 168/365 Napoleon Holds A Bake Sale

In 1803, Napoleon, the Emperor of France, found himself short of pocket money. Some blame it on the love-of-his-life Empress Josephine, but in truth it was Napoleon's dream of establishing an empire in the New World and the threat of a war with Great Britain. Totally drained the coffers.

So, in a moment of clarity, Napoleon realized he'd never be King of Louisiana, and offered it to Tom Jefferson (then President of the upstart American colonies) for $15 million.

Two hundred and six years ago today, October 20,1803, the U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase for $15 million. It was a steal of a deal, since the emissaries to France had only been authorized by Jefferson to buy New Orleans and West Florida - for $10 million.

Confronted with Napoleon and his fire sale offer of $15 million for everything west of the Mississippi, they made a management decision, and went for it. Fortunately the U.S. Senate also knew a deal when they saw it, and didn't make them come up with the extra $5 mill out of their govt paychecks.

And that's how New Orleans came to be part of the great state of Louisiana, located in the United States of America. And why my grade school was bilingual in 1960, and why the city is one big melting pot of French-American culture (along with a few other influences).

Of course, since the Mississippi River was the dividing line, and the easternmost border of the Louisiana Purchase, it's only fair to mention the other end of the river.

St. Paul, Minnesota and Fort Snelling sat at the northern end, almost at the beginning of the great river itself (where it's still so tiny you can step across it). French folks abound there too, but as traders and guides, rather than fancy Creole society folks.

Shortly after the sale, Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark off to explore the newest American addition, from the Mississippi to the Pacific, and all the wide spots in the road in between.

All because an Emperor couldn't come up with pocket change for his dreams.

1 comment:

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