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The Duel | Article

Jefferson makes the Louisiana Purchase

When President Thomas Jefferson closed on this $15 million real estate deal with French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, his stock began to rise, while the hopes of a return to office for Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists began to crumble. Later, the new lands would make a tempting target for the politician-turned-adventurer Aaron Burr. 

National Archives

The Louisiana Purchase, which more than doubled the size of the existing United States, provided Easterners with more than enough room to grow, and it quickly became a great source of national pride. But for Jefferson, the purchase represented a defensive strategy as well. 

Before the Duel the United States had secured for Spain the "right of deposit" -- to store goods temporarily in New Orleans for shipment elsewhere. But after secret negotiations, Spain agreed to give Louisiana to France. Spain also suspended the right of deposit. Alarmed that the bellicose Napoleon might use New Orleans as the beachhead for an invasion, Jefferson negotiated the purchase of the territory.

While many who had criticized Jefferson forgot their misgivings in the wake of the sale, New England Federalists grew even more worried. They feared that the deal would swing power even more toward Jefferson's dream of an agricultural nation and give even more power to the South, a region that the Virginian Jefferson seemed to favor. 

For Aaron Burr, however, Louisiana represented opportunity. Not long after its acquisition, he began to plot a way in which to separate it from the relatively weak U.S. — a job which might not be too difficult. 

In Louisiana, Burr could create a place where he would hold the power he believed he so richly deserved. And perhaps he could even use Louisiana as a launch pad to take Mexico, with all its gold and silver. 

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