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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp




Iowa is part of a large territory that was bought from France by representatives of the United States.  This purchase of Louisiana was almost an accident.  The men who bought it for the United Stares had no authority to buy th eland and when they set out had no intention of buying it.  They bought it, as many things are bought today, because it was cheap.


By owning both banks of the lower Mississippi, Spain could control all the business on the river.  She used this control to get money by charging taxes on all boars on the river.  She also tried to turn the settlers and backwoodsmen that lived on American land against the United States Government.  She thought she could do this because our country was young and weak at that time.  But American citizens in the upper Mississippi Valley said they should have the right to send their goods down the river without being taxed.  They asked the United States Government to help them.  The backwoodsmen said they would take their rifles and capture New Orleans.  The Spanish governor was afraid of these men and it looked like war.

In 1795, Thomas Pickney, then American Minister to Spain, succeeded in getting that country to agree to a treaty.  Under the new agreement the citizens of the United States were given free use of the Mississippi River.  The treaty encouraged settlers to come to the "Northwest Territory."

Shortly after the treaty of 1795, Napoleon Bonaparte, a young French soldier, became ruler of France.  He wanted to establish a strong colony in America.  Because of his great power in Europe, Spain feared him and secretly gave Louisiana territory back to France in 1800.  The United States did not want France, under so powerful a ruler as Napolean, for a neighbor in North America.  The settlers were afraid that the French would not allow them the free use of the Mississippi River as the Spaniards had done.


Robert Livingston was United States Minister to France.  Jefferson wrote to him and said, "There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy.  It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility this area will ere long yield more than half of our produce and contain more than half of our inhabitants.  France, placing herself at that door, assumes to us the attitude of hostility.

President Jefferson sent James Monroe as a special representative to help Livingston buy from France the island of  New Orleans and the east bank of the Mississippi.  But Napoleon did not want to sell.  The American representatives worked with him for weeks without success.

Suddenly Napoleon changed his mind.  He was about to go to war with England and feared that because of her large navy England would be able to take Louisiana away from him.  Furthermore he needed money.  So one day he surprised the American representatives by offering to sell them all of Louisiana.  But Monroe and Livingston had not been given the right to buy so much land.  President Jefferson had told them to offer two million dollars for th eland he wanted.  When Napoleon offered to sell all of Louisiana they did not at first know what to do.  But they decided to accept Napoleon's proposition and buy it.  After Livingston had signed his name to the papers he said to Monroe, "We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our lives."


Much trouble was caused by the agreement that was made between Napoleon's agents and Livingston and Monroe.  France had agreed not to sell Louisiana without Spain's consent.  Now Spain objected to the sale but Napoleon was so strong that he paid no attention to what Spain said.  The French government was also supposed to vote on such a sale, and many leading Frenchmen were opposed to selling Louisiana.  Napoleon, however, sold it without their consent.

In this country Jefferson did not know whether he had the right to buy land.  He wanted the Constitution changed so as to give him that power.  His friends who wanted the land told him that it would take several years to make such a change and that Napoleon might not want to sell by that time.  So Jefferson signed the treaty.  Some people said the land was no good and that we paid too much.  Others were fearful that new states created in the future out of this territory would give the people of the Mississippi Valley more power in the nation than the people of the original states now had.  But Jefferson's party was in control of Congress at this time and favored the purchase.

Congress agreed to the treaty on October 19, 1803.  On December 20 of the same year Governor William C. Claiborne who had been appointed by President Jefferson, took over the government of New Orleans.  Since that time Iowa has always been a part of the United States.


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