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What They Didn't Tell You in High School. Again.
Written: Apr 24, 2012 (Updated Apr 24, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Interesting angles on topic not often seen, experts discuss things without polemic
Cons:Gave short shrift to the folks already there.
The Bottom Line: The Louisiana Purchase like they should have taught in school.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
If all one knows of the Louisiana Purchase is what is taught in high school, this History Channel program is full of surprises. It demonstrates that what is often seen as President Thomas Jefferson taking advantage of a financially strapped Napoleon Bonaparte for the benefit of the growing United States is actually something much muddier and merely one part of a wider chess game.
At the time of the Purchase in 1803, the U.S consisted of 17 states and the western territories. The purchase added land that would eventually become 6 additional states and portions of 9 more (in addition to small parcels of land that would become parts of the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta). Nevertheless, Jefferson himself considered the idea of keeping it as a preserve of sorts, a permanent Indian boundary.
Much of the produce in the western territories was shipped via barge down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where it was loaded on ocean-going vessels and shipped to the eastern United States. France ceded control of Louisiana Territory to Spain as a reward for its help during the French and Indian War (or Seven Years’ War) of the 1760’s. The Spanish weren’t overjoyed, but thought they could use it as a buffer zone against the British for their silver mines in Mexico.
After the American Revolution, though, there was a new kid on the block, expanding into Spanish territory. This made the Spanish nervous enough to close New Orleans down to foreigners. There were attempts to buy influence in the western territories. Finally, the Spanish king agreed to a secret swap: Louisiana Territory for a kingdom in northern Italy, which his daughter and son-in-law were to occupy, figuring that the French army, the most powerful in the world at the time, would keep the upstart Americans at bay. He agreed to this on the condition that Napoleon not give to a third party.
Napoleon’s interest in New Orleans was not to regulate American commerce, but as a staging area. There was a revolt by slaves who took that libertè, ègaitè fraternitè stuff to heart in the colony the French called Saint-Domingue on the Island of Hispaniola, which was to become Haiti. This, according to the program, produced a third of France’s overseas income, mostly in sugar cane, planted with brutal slave labor. The French troops fell to the bloody guerrilla war tactics of the slaves, and, when the rainy season came, they fell to yellow fever, spread by mosquito. Reinforcements were delayed by an ice storm.
So… strapped for cash, losing men to revolutionaries and mosquitoes, Napoleon decided to cut his losses. The Americans wanted New Orleans? Let them have the whole package. He knew war with Great Britain was coming and he needed money. The only remaining problem was that the Americans were already in debt. How were they going to raise the cash? Was it even constitutional to buy land like this?
All in all, this was an interesting and informative 50 minutes of TV from the History Channel, which has, of late, gone looking for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.
Two of the people interviewed are authors, J. Kukla (A Wilderness So Immense) and James Lewis (The Louisiana Purchase). (I know his is a common name, but I so wanted the second guy to have an ancestor named Meriwether.) Also interviewed are two guys from Johns Hopkins University, Daniel Bell and Frances Knight. Daniel P. Jordan, the president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation also adds his insights.
As is often the case with this sort of program, it is presented almost entirely--outside of expert interviews, and some re-creations--with stills and voice overs. There are also some nice shots of Monticello, as one might expect. One amusing re-creation shows the disappointed daughter of the king of Spain moving into her dump of a palace in northern Italy. Other interesting shots are of copied coded diplomatic messages, and those that are left purposefully unencoded.
For the most part, the music is muted, as much of the action is not dramatic but ironic.
Of course, there are many other ramifications that the program didn’t cover, but this is still an interesting and good overview that I can happily recommend for adults and junior high students on up.
Runtime: 50 Minutes
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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