Jonathan Salem Baskin

Destiny Manifest

Today, a destiny became manifest.

The Louisiana Purchase was formally completed today in 1803, doubling the size of the United States with almost 830,000 square miles that cost it all of about 18 bucks per acre (the land would eventually constitute 14 new states). Why the sweetheart deal? Napoleon had recently failed to reimpose slavery on the Haitians, which meant he’d lost his lucrative sugar income. He also worried about having to defend New Orleans against the British, whom he’d been fighting because, well, that’s what Europeans did. So he abandoned his dreams of a global empire, and cut a deal with President Thomas Jefferson’s agents.

What lay to the west of the Atlantic coast had always featured prominently in the dreams of people living on the eastern edge of the continent. Penn and other British aristocrats had visions of vast private domains larger than most countries. Washington and his fellows speculated in Ohio Valley properties, even though the land was less ready for development than it was untamed wilderness. The Spaniards had claimed portions of Louisiana and Florida during their searches for gold, and the Indians legitimately thought the land was theirs in the first place, but that was history.

The term Manifest Destiny — that American expansion not only was apparent but inexorable — didn’t come into use until the 1840s, but the Louisiana Purchase did much to enable it. So deeds before words, or visa versa?

Here’s the link to Today in the Histories of Social Media, and this is the latest edition of Histories of Social Media