The Louisiana Territory is a large former territory of the United States. Purchased from France in 1803 by President Thomas Jefferson, the area was nearly as large as the existing United States, and accordingly doubled the size of the young nation. The modern states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, as well as parts of Texas were formed from territory acquired via the purchase, and the area was explored from 1804-1806 by an expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
Louisiana was originally claimed by French explorer Robert de la Salle in 1666 and named for the French King Louis XIV in 1682, and established French control over the entire Mississippi River Basin. Despite the claim, the only major development outside of modern-day Louisiana was the city of St. Louis, which is almost certainly due to the growing atheism in France in the 17th and 18th centuries. Atheists in the French government opposed the missionary nature of France's colonization, and as such attempted (largely unsuccessfully) to limit French expeditions to North America as much as they could, and as a result the overwhelming majority of the territory remained unexplored by any government as late as 1803. The conclusion of the French and Indian War saw France surrender the territory to Spain to prevent its acquisition by Britain, but it came back under French control when Napoleon placed a proxy of his on the Spanish Throne.
Napoleon intended to use Louisiana as an agricultural center to support a renewed French empire in North America, but a slave revolt in Haiti that lasted from 1791 to 1804 denied the France a critical seaport and source of sugar and rendered holding Louisiana against the British unrealistic. As a result, Napoleon began seeking to sell the territory either to the Spanish or the United States, which would also give him additional capital to direct against the British.
Thomas Jefferson, unaware of Napoleon's desire to sell, had dispatched U.S. ambassadors to attempt to purchase trading rights in the city of New Orleans. The ambassadors were stunned by the offer to sell the entire territory outright, and Jefferson quickly accepted the offer unilaterally without consulting Congress, which raised serious Constitutional concerns.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition
With the U.S. now in possession of a massive swath of unexplored territory in addition to the major cities of St. Louis and New Orleans, President Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead the Corps of Discovery along the Missouri River in order to map the new American territory and, if possible, discover whether the river represented the long-sought Northwest Passage, the sea route to the Pacific Ocean. Guided by Sacagawea, a Shoshone woman and wife of a French fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, the pair at last discovered that the Northwest Passage did not exist, but did reach the Pacific in 1805 and wintered along the coast before returning to St. Louis the following year. Several new species, including prarie dogs, grizzly bears, and dozens of species of birds and fish, including the Chinook Salmon, were discovered by the expedition, and contact was made with hundreds of American Indian tribes, which would bear fruit in later years in the form of trade relationships, military intelligence and scouting, and assistance rendered to pioneers heading west along the Oregon Trail.
The Louisiana Purchase was initially designated the "Louisiana Territory" and was governed similarly to how Indian Territory would be overseen many years later, but was renamed the "Missouri Territory" in 1812 after Louisiana's admission as a state to avoid confusion. The territory slowly shrank as various parts were admitted as states or organized into other territories, finally disappearing in 1889 with the admission of North Dakota as the 39th state (a small section of present-day North Dakota was officially not part of the Dakota Territory and was considered "unorganized"). The statehood dates of the states with all or part of their territory in Louisiana are listed in order: Louisiana: April 30, 1812 Missouri: August 10, 1821 Arkansas: June 15, 1836 Texas: December 29, 1845 Iowa: December 28, 1846 Minnesota: May 11, 1858 Kansas: January 29, 1861 Nebraska: March 1, 1867 Colorado: August 1, 1876 North Dakota: November 2, 1889* South Dakota: November 2, 1889* Montana: November 8, 1889 Wyoming: July 10, 1890 New Mexico: January 6, 1912
- North and South Dakota's admission documents were shuffled, so it is unknown which is first. However, the U.S. Mint considers North Dakota first on the basis of the alphabet.
Impact on Modern U.S. Political Landscape
Nearly all the states in the former Louisiana Territory vote for Republican Presidential and Congressional candidates, with the exceptions of Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, and New Mexico, seven have not voted for a Democrat since 1976, and three more (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri) did so only in 1992 and 1996, and Colorado only three times during that period (in 1992, 2008, and 2012). As a result, the Louisiana Purchase represents a critical bloc of conservative voters, which makes it extremely important in the modern American politcal sphere.