How Arkansas became a part of the U.S.
The latest column is on the Louisiana Purchase and how Arkansas became part of the United States.
A young and still fragile United States had managed to stay out of the bloody wars stemming from the French Revolution in Europe, but events seemed to slowly entangle the nation in the conflict. The French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, seemed unstoppable and devoured one neighbor after another. By 1803, Napoleon appeared to have his sights set on America. What could have been a disaster for the United States instead became one of the nation's greatest achievements with the Louisiana Purchase, which included Arkansas.
Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in France in November 1799. He dreamed of conquering Europe and restoring French control of Louisiana, which included what is now Arkansas. By 1800, Spain, which had been at war with France for years, was all but defeated and at Napoleon's mercy. In a secret portion of the Treaty of San Ildefonso, France forced Spain to give up the Louisiana territory, a long stretch of land along the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico to Minnesota and back toward Montana.
By 1802, French officials were back in New Orleans, asserting control over the area. Fearful that the French could use the port city as a staging area for an attack, he sent the Ambassador to France, Robert R. Livingston, to offer to buy New Orleans in 1803.
Napoleon's attempt to rebuild the French Empire in North America became a dismal failure as his troops failed to retake Haiti, and Napoleon decided to concentrate on his wars in Europe instead. The wars, however, were very expensive and continued to be a drain on the French treasury as well as the expense of sending troops to try to occupy their colonies abroad. Livingston's offer to buy New Orleans came at an opportune time.
Napoleon's government decided not only to sell New Orleans to the United States but the entire territory for just $15 million. Livingston quickly agreed in a treaty signed on April 30, and President Thomas Jefferson consented. The Senate saw the clear advantages of the Louisiana Purchase to the United States, and in an overwhelming and bipartisan vote, approved the Louisiana Purchase treaty on October 20 by a vote of 26 to 6.
The Louisiana Purchase was the largest peaceful transfer of land in history. For a mere 3 cents per acre, the United States acquired 828,000 square miles of land replete with rich farmland, timber, waterways, and an untold wealth of minerals and other raw materials. All or parts of thirteen future states were included in the territory, including Arkansas. The United States doubled in size overnight.
The formal transfer of control took place in New Orleans on December 30. Then came the task of asserting American control over the different military garrisons and government facilities throughout area.
On March 23, 1804, a group of American troops commanded by Lieutenant James Many arrived at Arkansas Post, on the lower Arkansas River just upstream from the Mississippi River in modern Arkansas County. Arkansas Post was the administrative capital for the region and the only European settlement in Arkansas at the time, with a population of not quite 400 people. The garrison itself was commanded by Captain Caso y Luengo and defended by only three troops. The moment of the transfer had arrived.
The moment, however, was somewhat awkward. The Spanish garrison at Arkansas Post had never been informed that France had taken control of Louisiana from Spain. And they certainly never knew that France had, in turn, sold Louisiana to the United States. Through quick thinking and skilled diplomacy, Lieutenant Many and the delegation of American troops defused the situation and quietly assumed command of Arkansas Post.
With the transfer, Arkansas had become forever part of the United States.
Dr. Kenneth Bridges teaches history and geography at South Arkansas Community College. He is co- editor of the
“ South Arkansas Historical Journal” and author of numerous history articles and books.
“History Minute” By Dr.