Q90: What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?

a) Louisiana Territory
b) Texas
c) Ohio
d) The Rocky Mountains

Question Background Information


Even before the Constitution had been ratified, settlers continued to move west into the American territories east of the Mississippi River that had been ceded to the American government by the British. But the French retained the land to the west of the Mississippi River—as well as the crucial port of New Orleans at its mouth.  

As control of the Mississippi River offered massive advantages both in terms of trade and defense, President Thomas Jefferson sent envoys, including James Monroe to France to inquire about purchasing New Orleans. 

As the French government under Napoleon Bonaparte warred with its European neighbors and fought slave rebellions in the Caribbean in the early 1800s, the country became both financially troubled and unable to commit soldiers to defend its North American territory. As a result, Napoleon instructed his government to sell not just New Orleans, but the bulk of these massive holdings to the young American government. This offer resulted in the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, which covered more than current day Louisiana – it was a vast expanse between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, almost doubling the size of the new nation.

Additional Content

Offline Activity

We recommend teachers utilize the following instructor exercise, put together by the National Archives, that will help give students an appreciation for the geography of Lewis and Clark’s journey.

Access the exercise.

Discussion Prompts

The Louisiana Purchase was a pivotal moment in American history, ensuring the United States would not remain a largely Atlantic focused nation limited to what had been parts of British North America, that it could instead become a truly vast country eventually spanning the continent.

Prompt 1

Securing western growth was an important goal of the early nation. What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803? Why was acquiring it so important?

Prompt 2 

Think about Lewis and Clark’s expedition to map the Louisiana Purchase. Why was this important? How do you think the knowledge gained helped decisions made by the federal government regarding settling the West? Do you think that geography is still important today?  Why or why not?  Use current and past events to support your answer.