[Marxism] The Louisiana Purchase - not a real estate deal, but 222 land transfers that served as a down payment on a continental empire

Dennis Brasky dmozart1756 at gmail.com
Tue Mar 7 08:19:34 MST 2017

The trouble with the textbook version of the Louisiana Purchase lies with
its easy reduction to a real estate transaction. Europeans had only
colonized a tiny fraction of the territory by 1803. Over those areas where
they had established control, France sold the United States the right to
tax and govern. Over the rest, it sold the right to expand political
authority into Indian country without the interference of other would-be
colonizers (overlapping British and Spanish claims were settled in *1818*
<http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/conv1818.asp> and *1819*
<http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/sp1819.asp>). In these sections of
the purchase, the U.S. acquired the exclusive right to invade or negotiate
with indigenous inhabitants for control of their land: to take it by force
or buy it by contract.

But the traditional narrative of the purchase glosses over a key fact. What
Thomas Jefferson purchased wasn’t actually a tract of land. It was the
imperial rights to that land, almost all of which was still owned,
occupied, and ruled by Native Americans. The U.S. paid France $15 million
for those rights. It would take more than 150 years and hundreds of
lopsided treaties to extinguish Indian title to the same land.

The interactive below, designed using a geodatabase built for an article in
the March issue of the *Journal of American History* <http://jah.oah.org/>,
maps the long history of the Louisiana Purchase for the first time. It
tracks 222 Indian cessions within the Louisiana Territory. Made by
treaties, agreements, and statutes between 1804 and 1970, these cessions
covered 576 million acres, ranging from a Quapaw tract the size of North
Carolina sold in 1818 to a parcel smaller than Central Park seized from the
Santee Sioux to build a dam in 1958.

The acquisition of France’s pre-emption rights in 1803 was a down payment
on a continental empire that ran through Indian country. The land came
cheap because of how little the United States paid the people who lived
here long before the French laid claim to Mississippi’s western watershed.


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