Soon after the American Revolution, President Thomas Jefferson was afforded the opportunity to buy most of the land west of the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains from the French emperor, Napoleon.
Unfortunately, he inherited a sizable debt owed to the Netherlands, Spain and France for helping finance the war effort — and an economy too small to pay down the debt. In what would be later called The Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson saw a way to change the course of American history through a real estate arbitrage play.
It was a simple if not genius plan: If the Unnited States government could buy from Napoleon on the cheap, he would then turn round and re-sell smaller parcels to its citizens at an affordable $1 per acre, earning the government a handsome profit with which to pay off war debts, populate the new land and eventually grow the country’s tax base.
It was a good idea on paper, but had a huge flaw. Native American tribes were not party to it, so they viewed settlers as invaders into their territories the way anyone might. Their resistance was fierce and soon the flow of Jefferson’s citizen-buyers dried up before the market got real momentum.
Needing to rebuild confidence in his buyer pool quickly, Jefferson sent the U.S. Army out to impose order and funded an expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark even further west to prove that the entirety of the rugged West could be safely traversed.
It worked. Feeling confident again, a new wave of Americans soon followed, buying land and ultimately overwhelming the resistance through force of numbers and the unintentional but devastating introduction of diseases for which people of European and African descent had immunities to but indigenous people did not. Eventually, those who remained either assimilated or were moved to reserved lands.
The Louisiana Purchase pulled the country out of near bankruptcy and kicked off one of the largest migrations in human history. Behind it was one of the greatest real estate deals ever, marking Jefferson in his place in history and changing the course of American history.
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