| Be it through territorial acquisition or through manmade environmental changes, the United States was affected in an exponentially different way by its geography over the course of the 19th century. The United States went through typical growing pains for a new country between 1800 and 1900 and one of the ways it grappled with these and grew were through the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the development Erie Canal. Both of these greatly affected the course of American history.
The fledgling nation of the United States of America was faced with an unprecedented opportunity in 1803. Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, sought to increase the size of the new nation. He was provided an opportunity to do so when France, in the midst of the French Revolution lost an important colony in Haiti. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had decided to abandon his potential North American empire in the face of war in Europe. Jefferson decided to proposition Napoleon to purchase the Louisiana Territory which stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. As he had no need for North American colonies any longer, Napoleon was happy to oblige for approximate 3 cents per acre (or $15,000,000 total) for the 530,000,000 acres of land. Jefferson debated internally whether or not the Louisiana Purchase as it came to be known, was Constitutional or not. On one hand, Jefferson knew that by purchasing the Louisiana Territory he would be more than doubling the size of the United States. On the other hand there was no Constitutional basis for doing such a thing, and as a Democratic-Republican, Jefferson felt the federal government should not have a large amount of power.
The importance of the Louisiana Purchase lies within the land itself. The United States had more than doubled its size in one swift motion and had a tremendous amount of new territory (with potential natural resources) to explore. In order to discover what was in this new territory, Jefferson sent two men to explore the new potential wealth: Merriweather Lewis and William Clark. They discovered a large amount of fertile land and goods that could be used to increase wealth such as animal pelts, gold, and other important crops. The journals from these two men created a fever within the nation to move westward into the Louisiana Territory, known as Manifest Destiny. The heart of Manifest Destiny lies within the idea that the United States was ‘destined’ for greatness; that they were given the land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by a higher power. Westward expansion is a key part of the growth of the United States because it led to the population spreading out between the shores and a discovery of a new wealth of American resources. For example, without the Louisiana Purchase, there is no gold rush in California, or acquisition of territory as a result of the Mexican-American War.
Long lasting effects on the Native Americans also affected the growth of America as a result of the Louisiana Purchase. Native Americans already had a poor relationship with the American pioneers, but as a result of the Louisiana Purchase, many of them were pushed off of their own land or even injured or killed by the American military. This is important to the growth of the United States because it leads to key events such as the Trail of Tears, perpetrated by Andrew Jackson. The transcontinental railroad also would not have been possible without the Louisiana Purchase. The railroad, which linked California to New York, allowed for the travel and transportation of many people and goods back and forth, linking American as one united nation. Without the Louisiana Purchase, America wouldn’t be half the nation it is today, as all of the areas west of the Mississippi River wouldn’t be included.