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        North Dakota | Activity 2.1: Louisiana Purchase Debate

        Students read information and excerpts from primary sources about the Louisiana Purchase and create arguments “for” or “against” the purchase. Students engage in a debate about the Louisiana Purchase.

        Lesson Summary

        Students read information and excerpts from primary sources about the Louisiana Purchase and create arguments “for” or “against” the purchase. Students engage in a debate about the Louisiana Purchase.

        This lesson is part of Great States | North Dakota Unit 2: Geography & Climate, an exploration of how physical geography impacts human life and how human life impacts physical geography.


        Time Allotment

        30 minutes

        Learning Objectives


        4.2: Students understand important historical events. 

        4.2.4: Use chronological order and sequence to describe the cause-and-effect relationships of historical events and periods in North Dakota (e.g., how the railroads led to settlements in the state)

        4.2.8: Explain the significance of the Lewis and Clark expeditions (e.g., Corps of Discovery, Sacagawea) in North Dakota history





        1. Discuss the Louisiana Purchase as a class. Explain that it was one of the biggest land deals in history. In 1803, the United States purchased 828,000 square miles of land (530 million acres) from France, including a majority of the land that is North Dakota today. Project the image Louisiana Purchase/Missouri Territory, so students can see the vast amounts of land acquired.

        2. Divide students into two groups. Assign one group to create arguments for the Louisiana Purchase and one to create arguments against the Louisiana Purchase. Ask each group to take notes on their positions as they read and learn about the Louisiana Purchase.

        3. Provide the handouts as source material for students: Excerpts from the Louisiana Purchase Treaty and Thomas Jefferson's Secret Letter to Congress. Read the excerpts aloud in class. Review the vocabulary lists with students and go over any words that are unfamiliar to them.

        4. Discuss additional points about the Louisiana Purchase. Mention that despite the fact that the US Constitution does not mention anything about purchasing land, Thomas Jefferson convinced Congress to commit to the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of our country at the time. This revolutionary land deal extended our borders and helped the United States expand westward to become the country we know today. Talk about the potential downfalls of such a large land acquisition: could be difficult to enforce laws, could lose existing settlers in the east as they moved out west. Drawbacks that were discussed at the time: the United States did not want to spend the money; many did not feel that it was worth going into debt for the land.

        5. Explain that the acquisition of this land included several important points geographically, including the western Mississippi River Valley and the port of New Orleans. Since ships and boats were one of the main modes of transportation and commerce, waterway access was hugely important. Some were worried about how a young, cash-poor country like the United States would be able to pay for such a purchase, but it was argued that the thousands and thousands of acres of natural resources, such as timber, farmland, and minerals, would make up for the cost. Besides, the deal was incredible: the United States paid France approximately $0.04 per acre, for a total of $15 million dollars.

        6. Several issues arose with this purchase, aside from the fact that it was possibly unconstitutional. Some of the land in question had possibly been claimed by Spain, but no official record of it existed. Therefore, the purchase could have potentially offended Spain. Plenty of American Indian tribes called this land home, but again these native people did not own the land in the sense that America, France, or other world powers considered land ownership. Lastly, the United States was a relatively new country and did not have the money to complete this deal, meaning the country would have to take out a loan.

        7. Tell each group to use the source materials and the information discussed in class to develop their arguments. Again, one group is to develop a list of reasons for the Louisiana Purchase and why it was a good idea at the time, and the other group is to develop a list of arguments against the purchase and why it was not a good idea. As students are meeting in their groups preparing their arguments, go around and track progress. If students are struggling, suggest clues for some of the prompts listed below.

          Arguments For the Louisiana Purchase

          • Westward expansion

          • Trade and control of the Port of New Orleans

          • Strong border

          • Doubled the size of the US

          • Avoid later conflicts with France

          • Natural resources

          • Includes American Indians as citizens in brand new country

          Arguments Against the Louisiana Purchase

          • Cash-poor newly formed country

          • Land purchases were possibly unconstitutional

          • Offend Spain

          • Distant settlers

          • Possible tensions with American Indians about their land

          • Could be difficult to enforce laws and government in such a large territory

        8. Allow students to present arguments to the rest of the class.

        9. Wrap up the lesson by discussing what effects the Louisiana Purchase had:

          1. Continued America’s expansion westward

          2. Unfortunately gave America the ability to better control the American Indian population

          3. Provided America with vast deposits of natural resources to use

          4. Prompted for the ability for Americans to inhabit places like North Dakota

        For source documents and more on them, go to:


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