Your RDA of Irony

Real Estate Seminars, circa 1803

In 1803 Napoleon realized that even he needed more than charisma to wage war. Money was required. To raise it, Napoleon offered to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States.

American diplomats in Paris might have seen this embarrassing spectacle….

Napoleon: Everyone loves New Orleans. Imagine owning it for just ten million dollars!

Talleyrand: Just ten million! I knew that you were a megalomaniac but I didn’t think that you were crazy. What a bargain!

Napoleon: I’ll show you how crazy I am. What if I include the entire Louisiana Territory for an additional five million dollars? That’s right: 800,000 square miles for only $15,000,000!

Talleyrand: Just $15,000,000? I would have charged that much in bribes! What a bargain!

Napoleon: The entire Louisiana Territory for only $15,000,000. But only if you order now!

France could afford to be so generous. Of those 800,000 square miles, France actually controlled only ten percent of the territory: the area comprising modern Louisiana and Arkansas. The rest of that realm was based on tenuous claims: boundaries based on where French trappers had left fecal deposits.

In fact, Spain and Britain had claims to part of that territory and could have disputed the Purchase. However, Spain preferred not to offend Napoleon. For its part, England preferred to fight Napoleon in Europe rather than Thomas Jefferson in Minnesota. Of course, the native Americans also had claim to the territory; but no one was listening to them. So, in a transaction based on French pretension and American wishful thinking, the geographic dimensions of the United States doubled overnight.

The Purchase was made on April 30, 1803. As his many creditors could verify, Thomas Jefferson was an impulse buyer. The Senate actually had to approve the Purchase, and it finally did so on this day in 1803.

But it is unlikely that Napoleon waited to cash the check.

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