Meanwhile, the U.S. was also having problems. Their cargo ships were being prevented from unloading cargo at New Orleans, a major trading center for the U.S. Jefferson authorized the U.S. ambassador to France to negotiate a treaty that would either allow the U.S. access to New Orleans, or ownership of another port on the Mississippi river. Jefferson also had another plan. He sent James Monroe to France to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans from France for up to $2 million. Napoleon refused, so Jefferson raised the price to $10 million. Imagine the Americans’ shock when France not only agreed to sell New Orleans, but the whole Louisiana territory, totaling 828,000 acres, for a total of only $15 million! The United States rushed to accept the deal before Napoleon could change his mind.
Even before the U.S. bought the Louisiana territory from France, Jefferson instructed his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to prepare for a trip through the American West. Back in 1793, a Scottish explorer named Alexander Mackenzie had traveled across Canada, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The last thing Jefferson wanted was for a similar British expedition to take place through the Louisiana territory. Lewis and Jefferson were similar in a lot of ways. They both shared the same interests in science, nature, and medicine. For Lewis, Jefferson’s orders were the dream of a lifetime, a chance to explore and open the wild, mysterious West to civilization for the first time.