Why did an imperialistic country like France (at that time) sell a territory so large for so cheap? Was it an important region at the time? I heard that the port of New Orleans was particularly valuable. Even if at that time maybe it wasn't so useful, look at it now!

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    Quick answer: Napoleon wanted money to fund his European conquest. I'll answer below with some research/sources later! Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 16:00
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    Second to that, Napoleon knew that there was no way he could defend it if America decided to take it by force. Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 16:03
  • Well considering that the French had just lost Haiti, couldn't get Florida officially and continual war with England they probably needed more money to keep fighting. I'd have to look at my various history books but I recall this one being a multi-pronged issues.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 16:39
  • I have heard he tried to trade Louisiana for Iceland.
    – user202
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 16:58
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    @hermann Where have you heard that? It doesn't sound plausible.
    – Karlth
    Commented Aug 7, 2013 at 7:33

2 Answers 2


The sale of Louisiana was a FIRE SALE for France, and specifically, its self-appointed ruler, Napoleon Bonaparte, for these reasons:

1) France had gotten "burned" with her earlier misadventures in North America. The French and Indian war cost her Canada and all of her other possessions on the east bank of the Mississippi. (She had managed to save "Louisiana" by "parking" it with Spain in 1763, then taking it back in 1803.) France was being "burned" again by a(n ultimately successful) slave revolt in Haiti that cost the life of Napoleon's brother in law.

2) Bonaparte was engaged in a war with Britain, and needed money for that war. If he didn't win it, there would be no "tomorrow," at least for him. (He spent is last days as a British prisoner on St. Helena island.)

3) New Orleans was far more valuable to the United States (which had settled half a continent) than to France, which had few settlements nearby. It also threatened to be a focal point of Franco-American hostilities, something Napoleon did not want. Instead, the sale generated "goodwill" that caused America to favor French interests over British interests, ultimately ending up with France and the United States fighting a common enemy beginning in 1812.

Here's what Jefferson wrote to Robert Livingston about the third point:

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 it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants. France placing herself in that door ...From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.

  • Exactly. IT was deemed a waste of time/effort to try to conquer the Americas as well (though they did heavily consider it.) It was just seen as impractical at that time. The idea was that if they could take Europe, then they could go and take the Americas. Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 17:19
  • @Tom Au The sad part of this deal is of course that Napoleon could go on devastating most of continental Europe for another decade. Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 0:26
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    the purchase price hardly covered his expenses for that entire period.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 18:24

An important factor was the health of Napoleon's troops. I forget the numbers but Napoleon sent around 50,000 troops out to Haiti and they were devastated by yellow fever. New Orleans was also a hot-bed of yellow fever at the time.

  • If I remember right, the troops sent to Haiti were supposed to continue on once they put down the Haitian revolt. Since the failed, they never made it to Louisiana.
    – user15620
    Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 1:16

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