My on-this-day-in-history cup runneth over: in 1790, the Slater Mill opened in Pawtucket, Rhode Island (been there!), one of the key events in the first industrial revolution; in 1860, South Carolina (what’s with these people?) became the first Southern state to secede, marching the nation another step toward civil war; and in 1803, France transferred the Louisiana Territory to the United States, completing the Purchase (here, here, and especially here).

Here’s the Louisiana Purchase:


And here’s the Louisiana Purchase Bluegrass Band:

Much ink has been spilled chronicling the Louisiana Purchase. But the great book on the subject has yet to be written. Instead we get ever more volumes on the Corps of Discovery. Some day an ambitious, polyglot graduate student will step up and win fame by connecting the Purchase to a variety of sub-disciplines: diplomatic, cultural, environmental, political, African-American, Native-American, and borderlands history, just to name a few.

In the meantime, it’s worth remembering that Jefferson purchased Louisiana because he understood the centrality of New Orleans to the nation’s economy. Long before he became president, he had witnessed the U.S.’s first secessoin crisis: when the states of the Mississippi Valley, preceding the negotiation of Pinckney’s Treaty, threatened to form their own Republic of the Western Rivers. Years later, in 1802, the West exploded again, after Spain closed the American deposit in New Orleans. Owning the city, Jefferson believed, would knit the interior of the country to the seaboard, creating from disparate regions a coherent whole.

So he dispatched his ministers to try to buy New Orleans. And when Spain retroceded Louisiana to France, late in 1802, Jefferson had his chance. Yellow fever and the Haitian Revolution had prostrated the French army, the imperial coffers were empty in Paris, and Napoleon was ready to deal. So ready, in fact, that for $15 million Robert Livingston and James Monroe, Jefferson’s men in France, acquired a vast territory of more than 500 million acres instead of a few city blocks.

Although Jefferson’s reputation suffered terribly because of the Purchase, he was thrilled that the American flag would finally fly over New Orleans. It’s sad, really, to recall that the city once meant so much to this country.