Louisiana Purchase

Overview

From The Louisiana Purchase

Like many other major events in world history, the Louisiana Purchase is a fascinating mix of destiny and individual energy and creativity. . . . Thomas Jefferson would have been less than human had he not claimed a major share of the credit. In a private letter . . . the president, reviving a favorite metaphor, said he "very early saw" Louisiana was a "speck" that could turn into a "tornado." He added that the public never knew how near "this ...

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The Louisiana Purchase

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Overview

From The Louisiana Purchase

Like many other major events in world history, the Louisiana Purchase is a fascinating mix of destiny and individual energy and creativity. . . . Thomas Jefferson would have been less than human had he not claimed a major share of the credit. In a private letter . . . the president, reviving a favorite metaphor, said he "very early saw" Louisiana was a "speck" that could turn into a "tornado." He added that the public never knew how near "this catastrophe was." But he decided to calm the hotheads of the west and "endure" Napoleon's aggression, betting that a war with England would force Bonaparte to sell. This policy "saved us from the storm." Omitted almost entirely from this account is the melodrama of the purchase, so crowded with "what ifs" that might have changed the outcome-and the history of the world.

The reports of the Lewis and Clark expedition . . . electrified the nation with their descriptions of a region of broad rivers and rich soil, of immense herds of buffalo and other game, of grassy prairies seemingly as illimitable as the ocean. . . . From the Louisiana Purchase would come, in future decades, the states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and large portions of what is now North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Colorado, and Louisiana. For the immediate future, the purchase, by doubling the size of the United States, transformed it from a minor to a major world power. The emboldened Americans soon absorbed West and East Florida and fought mighty England to a bloody stalemate in the War of 1812. Looking westward, the orators of the 1840s who preached the "Manifest Destiny" of the United States to preside from sea to shining sea based their oratorical logic on the Louisiana Purchase.

TURNING POINTS features preeminent writers offering fresh, personal perspectives on the defining events of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* "...competently written and sure footed..." (Times Literary Supplement, February 2004)

Most high school students ought to remember learning a little something about the Louisiana Purchase, but his pivotal event in American history has rarely received sustained attention until this year, the event's bicentennial. Noted historian Fleming's brief study, an entry in Wiley's Turning Points series, presents an overstuffed look at the machinations that prompted Napoleon, famous for his conquests and colonial aspirations, to sell this vast piece of land for $15 million. Fleming's account highlights the importance of two leaders, Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon, along with their closest advisers, but the most memorable figures are the handful of diplomatic negotiators working behind the scenes, life Robert Livingston, the ambassador to France who originated the idea of buying the Louisiana territory, therefore by easing the threat of war between the U. S. and France. The narrative weaves in several key events on both sides of the Atlantic, including the rampant yellow fever in Santo Domingo and substantially delayed and weakened Napoleon's troops, volatile conversations between Jefferson and his cabinet about whether the purchase required an amendment to the Constitution and Napoleon's near retraction of the sale. The story carries a surprising amount of drama, though Fleming (Liberty! The American Revolution) does little to play this up. His narrative is straightforward but cluttered with detail, showing more breadth than depth, and is intently focused on the "mix of destiny and individual energy and creativity" that supported one of the world's great diplomatic triumphs. (July 11)
Forecast: This could do well in a bicentennial display with John Kukla's A Wilderness So Immense and Charles Cerami's Jefferson's Great Gamble, which offer fuller accounts of the purchase (Publishers Weekly, May 26, 2003)

"...there should be more books like this: concise, tightly argued, clearly written..." (Sunday Times, 31 August 2003)

Publishers Weekly
Most high school students ought to remember learning a little something about the Louisiana Purchase, but this pivotal event in American history has rarely received sustained attention until this year, the event's bicentennial. Noted historian Fleming's brief study, an entry in Wiley's Turning Points series, presents an overstuffed look at the machinations that prompted Napoleon, famous for his conquests and colonial aspirations, to sell this vast piece of land for $15 million. Fleming's account highlights the importance of two leaders, Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon, along with their closest advisers, but the most memorable figures are the handful of diplomatic negotiators working behind the scenes, like Robert Livingston, the ambassador to France who originated the idea of buying the Louisiana territory, thereby easing the threat of war between the U.S. and France. The narrative weaves in several key events on both sides of the Atlantic, including the rampant yellow fever in Santo Domingo that substantially delayed and weakened Napoleon's troops, volatile conversations between Jefferson and his cabinet about whether the purchase required an amendment to the Constitution and Napoleon's near retraction of the sale. The story carries a surprising amount of drama, though Fleming (Liberty! The American Revolution) does little to play this up. His narrative is straightforward but cluttered with detail, showing more breadth than depth, and is intently focused on the "mix of destiny and individual energy and creativity" that supported one of the world's great diplomatic triumphs. (July 11) Forecast: This could do well in a bicentennial display with John Kukla's A Wilderness So Immense and Charles Cerami's Jefferson's Great Gamble, which offer fuller accounts of the purchase. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
The 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase comes at a time when Franco-American relations are even more rancorous than usual. But things are not quite as bad, Fleming makes clear, as they were in 1803. Then, the Louisiana Purchase was the unexpected outcome of a crisis in Franco-American relations that could easily have led to war. The conclusion of the Peace of Amiens with the United Kingdom gave Napoleon, already consul for life and soon to become emperor, an opportunity to look beyond Europe to expand French power. With the connivance of Talleyrand, Napoleon sought to rebuild France's lost empire in North America by forcing the feeble Spanish government to return the Louisiana territory it gained from France in 1763. Unexpected difficulties led Napoleon to abandon this dream and astonish American diplomats by suddenly agreeing to sell not just the city of New Orleans, for which they had been bargaining, but also the whole territory of over 830,000 square miles, despite the bitter opposition of his brothers and Talleyrand — and in violation of a pledge to Spain that France would never cede Louisiana to a third country. In this short but elegant and comprehensive account, Fleming succeeds in putting the transaction in the context of both American and international politics. Talleyrand is the only major character to whom Fleming renders less than full justice; the opposition to the purchase that makes Talleyrand the villain of the piece proceeded more from the bishop of Autun's sincere hopes for European peace than from a bigoted hatred of America.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471267386
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 6/20/2003
  • Series: Turning Points in History Series , #2
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 364,891
  • Product dimensions: 5.57 (w) x 8.15 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

THOMAS FLEMING is the author of more than forty works of history and historical fiction, including Liberty!: The American Revolution; Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America; and The New Dealers’ War: FDR and the War Within World War II. He contributes regularly to American Heritage and many other magazines and is a frequent guest and contributor on NPR, PBS, A&E, and History Channel programs. A Fellow of the Society of American Historians, he has served as chairman of the American Revolution Round Table and as president of the PEN American Center.
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Table of Contents

1. Idealist at Work.

2. Realist at Work.

3. The Game Begins.

4. Frustration All Around.

5. Aedes Aegypti to the Rescue.

6. The Dying General.

7. A War Hero to the Rescue.

8. Between Peace and War.

9. All Eyes on Paris.

10. The Big Bargain.

11. Hanging Fire.

12. Constitution Bending in Washington D.C.

13. Triumph—and New Perils.

14. Destiny Takes Charge.

15. The Final Challenge.

Further Reading.

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