After learning about the Louisiana Purchase, students read excerpts from Thomas Jefferson’s writings about it. They learn the key players and the history of the Purchase in Montana, and engage in a debate about it.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Montana | Unit 5: European Settlement" where students will evaluate the conditions that made Montana a destination for settlement.
4.1: Identify and use various sources of information (e.g., artifacts, diaries, photographs, charts, biographies, paintings, architecture, songs) to develop an understanding of the past.
3.5: Use appropriate geographic resources (e.g., atlases, databases, charts, grid systems, technology, graphs, maps) to gather information about local communities, reservations, Montana, the United States, and the world.
Helena District 4.1: Identify and use various sources to develop an understanding of the history of Montana (including the Montana Constitution).
Helena District 3.5: Use maps, atlases, graphs, and charts to gather and interpret information about Montana, including Montana Indian reservations.
- Image: Acquired Lands of the US [Source: Wikimedia Commons.]
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show images to the class
- Class set of Excerpts from a Letter to Congress from Thomas Jefferson handout
- Explain that the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the size of the United States. Thomas Jefferson made a treaty with the French to purchase land west of the Mississippi River. Project the image, Acquired Lands of the US.
- Point out to students that most of Montana was part of the Louisiana Purchase. Explain that this purchase was a major stride in the United States’ goal to expand the country’s borders. For a “cheap” $15 million dollars (which was not a lot of money for that amount of land), President Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the United States, as well as increased its natural resources, and placed the US on the map as one of the largest countries in the world. Since the purchase included part of present-day Louisiana, this meant control over the Port of New Orleans and its trade. However, the United States was a fairly new country, so it did not have the $15 million to pay for the purchase. Our government had to take out loans with investment banks in Europe.
- Explain to students that there was a question over whether purchasing this land was within the rights of the Constitution, since it didn’t state that the US government had the ability to purchase foreign lands. However, our government decided it was a good move to make; the land would be an asset for both farm and trade. Previously, the territory was seen as potentially politically unstable, so this purchase would help to avoid future conflict regarding ownership, and further define US borders. However, there were also concerns about how large the land was, as settlers would be far away from the original thirteen states, and policing the land would prove difficult since it covered such a great distance. Another issue in question: Would the new states be “slave” or “free” states?
- Distribute the Excerpts from a Letter to Congress from Thomas Jefferson handout to the students. Have students read the handout. Definitions are provided on the bottom of the handout for tougher words.
- Divide students into two groups. Assign one group to create arguments for the Louisiana Purchase, and one to create arguments against the Louisiana Purchase. Encourage students to consider how the purchase helps or hurts people in Montana.
- Allow students to present arguments to the rest of the class.
Arguments For the Louisiana Purchase
Doubled the size of the United States
The United States became one of the largest countries in the world
Trade and control of the Port of New Orleans
Land for farming and trade
Avoid later conflicts with France or other powers over the land
Arguments Against the Louisiana Purchase
Cash-poor, newly formed country
Unconstitutional land purchase
Negative effects on Native American nations
Extensive teams needed to enforce laws and government
Possibly allow for extension of slavery
Click here for the full transcript of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. [Source: Library of Congress.]
Click here to see the original of Jefferson's 1803 Secret Message to Congress Regarding the Lewis & Clark Expedition. [Source: Library of Congress.]