“Great primary source activity!”
The Louisiana Purchase was one of the most defining moments in our nation’s development as a global power. For a relative pittance, the country doubled in size overnight. Yet this landmark purchase wasn’t even a consideration for Jefferson as he dispatched Robert Livingston to Paris to negotiate with Emperor Napoleon to purchase only New Orleans and negotiate use of the Mississippi River for American farmers. Napoleon’s offer to sell the entire territory took Livingston and fellow American negotiator James Monroe by complete surprise, and they acted with alacrity and a fair amount of political courage to far exceed their charge and agree to purchase all of Louisiana.
This activity engages students in deciphering the letters which outlined the thinking behind Jefferson and Napoleon’s secret negotiating strategies, as well as in examining Livingston and Monroe’s private justification for their actions as they sent the treaty back to the United States for approval. The documents include: excerpts of the actual instructions sent by Jefferson to Livingston, explaining the urgency behind Jefferson’s burning desire to acquire New Orleans; excerpts of the secret instructions given by Napoleon to his negotiator, Maurice de Tallyrand, explaining all of the reasons why he now desired to unload the entirety of Louisiana onto the Americans; and excerpts from Livingston and Monroe’s letter home to Secretary of State James Madison, explaining their reasons for agreeing to the purchase.
*excerpts from letters by Jefferson, Napoleon, and Livingston and Monroe
*a worksheet with guiding questions directing students to translate the letters into modern English and analyze their contents
Materials are provided in one zip file.
This activity is part of a complete and comprehensive unit
on the Westward continental expansion of the United States from 1783 to 1848.
I’ve used this activity with my 8th grade class for years, and it never fails to engage and interest students.
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