The United States did not always look the way it does. What started as a few loosely affiliated colonies primarily on the east coast blossomed into the bi-coastal behemoth we know it as today. But how did we get here? The answer? Land deals. I have graded and analyzed each significant US land deal since North America was first
genocided settled in the late 16th century all the way through Franklin Pierce’s presidency.
The ‘Purchase’ of Manhattan Island – 1626
Legend has it that Peter Minuit, a German/Dutch merchant with the Dutch West India Company, purchased the territory for what is now Manhattan from local native americans for approximately $24 in trinkets in 1626. This deal is mostly the stuff of legend and oral tradition, however a letter from a representative of the Dutch-States General does exist and memorialized that the trade was for ‘60 guilders worth of goods’. A guilder is essentially a colonial unit of measurement meant to signify the fruits of the work of one artisan or craftsman. Historians dispute the actual value of 60 guilders. Initial estimates peg a guilder at approximately $25, presumably where the legend begins. However other historians have valued it as high as $1,000. Minuit negotiated and ultimately sealed the deal with Seyseys, chief of the Canarsees people, who was happy to unload the territory that was at the time controlled by the Weckquaesgeeks, a rival native american tribe. The Canarsees also had a radically different perspective on the concept of “land ownership” than the enterprising Dutch, which probably led to the strange transaction. Minuit also purchased nearby Staten Island for ‘diverse other wares’ such as cloth, iron kettles, axe heads, hoes, and other building tools. Minuit was eventually relieved from his position as director of the DWIC New Netherlands, allegedly for aiding, abetting, and presumably profiting off the illegal fur trade that was thriving at the time. New Amsterdam passed intermittently between Dutch and English control between 1664-1684, before becoming a permanently American territory during the American Revolution.
Putting the undeniably problematic dichotomy of indigenous and colonial land ownership philosophy and ensuing genocidal implications aside, this deal was mostly considered a success for both sides. Seyseys essentially pulled off the first hustle in New York City history by selling Minuit some land that he not only didn’t own, but was controlled by his hostile main rival, AND he unloaded crappy old Staten Island on top of all that. He literally invented the ‘selling someone the Brooklyn Bridge’ scam. So many props for that. However to this day the deal is still receiving mixed reviews. On one hand, New York is the financial and cultural center of the USA and perhaps the world. On the other, New York is an overpriced cesspool reeking of hot garbage, filled to the brim with ‘New Yorkers’, the most insufferable and self-aggrandizing brand of asshole on the planet.
The Louisiana Purchase – 1803
In 1803, the US government purchased the Louisiana Territory from France for about $11 million USD, and the cancellation of about $4million in French debt. The territory covered 827,000 square miles, encompassing southern Louisiana as well as present day Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and the Dakotas. France, led by Napoleon, was beginning to see their grip on colonial North America slipping. Punctuated by a series of colonial revolts, most notably the revolution Haiti led by Toussaint L’Overture. Napoleon had sent military detachments to the French colonial holdings, including New Orleans, to try and preemptively quell a potential uprising in French North America. However many US politicians feared the French presence would trigger slave uprisings of their own in the South, and called for increased hostilities towards the French republic. Leading the US negotiations was Thomas Jefferson, who chose the diplomatic route by threatening to align the US with Frances bitter rival, Great Britain. International pressure and the inability to quell multiple rebellions led to the continued deterioration of French presence in the New World. In November of 1803 Napoleon withdrew the remaining 7,000 French troops still stationed in the Western Hemisphere, effectively putting an end to French colonial aspirations in North America. France was on a military collision course with the British, so in order to fund his military, Napoleon authorized the sale of the Louisiana Territory in late 1803.
The Louisiana Purchase is easily the most famous land deal the US government made. We effectively landed ourselves the midwestern US for pennies on the dollar and in the process pit our two biggest rivals, France and England, against each other. Had Britain not preoccupied itself with styming Napoleon’s conquests, we probably would have got waxed in the War of 1812 and we would all be speaking British right now. However caught up in all the historical romanticization and 19th century geopolitics is the simple fact that the midwest sucks balls big time. There is a reason they are called the ‘fly-over’ states. The midwest is basically all the morons who couldn’t hack it on the Oregon trail and decided to settle wherever their wagon broke down.
Adams-Onis Treaty (aka Florida Purchase) – 1819
The Adams-Onis Treaty, better known as the Florida Purchase, was the 1819 treaty that effectively ceded Florida to the US and established the new Spanish-US border in the west. The US agreed to pay Florida residents claims against the Spanish government, worth approximately $5million, and relinquished rights to Spanish Texas. Spain, by this time a colonial superpower on the decline, was in a precarious situation at home and abroad. They were weary and financially strapped from the Peninsula War in the late 18th century, and revolutionaries in their Central and South American territories were beginning to demand independence. Its North American territories were on the brink of full-scale revolt, under constant threat of Seminole raids on trading outposts from the panhandle. The US army, led by future president Andrew Jackson, was effectively acting as peacekeeper for this lawless region. His actions culminated in a series of military incursions into the Spanish territory to prevent further Seminole raids along the Florida-Georgia line. Many saw Jackson’s military actions as inappropriate, even demanding his dismissal for the purported invasion of sovereign Florida (not to mention the butchering of the Seminole). However ultimately the invasion proved successful and gave the US the upper hand in negotiations with the Spanish for the territory.
The US didn’t have to give up any liquid cash as part of the transaction, so definitely chalk that up as a win. However Florida is literally the armpit of America. It sometimes feels like everything bad in our nation started in Florida. Thanks to Florida we were blessed with the George W. Bush presidency, Pitbull, an antibiotic resistant strain of herpes, Jimmy Buffet, Marco Rubio, and Florida Man. Perhaps we all would have been better off if it stayed part of Spain.
Alaska from Russia – 1859
Russia had been trying to pawn the Alaska territory off to the US since 1859, however it wasn’t until the conclusion of the Civil War did the sale come to fruition. The $7.2 million sale in 1867 ended Russian presence in North America for good, unceremoniously ceding power in the Pacific Northwest to rival Great Britain and the burgeoning US. Alaska was essentially wild frontier territory until the discovery of gold reserves in the late 1800s.
This deal was probably the most forgotten and slept on of all of the US’s land deals. In terms of square mileage, the purchase of Alaska was the second largest of the bunch, measuring over 600,000 square miles of territory. Alaska might seems like a barren wasteland of tundra and moose, however the discovery of natural resources like gold, oil, and reality TV such as the hit Nat Geo show Life Below Zero makes the purchase worth it.
The Gadsen Purchase – 1863
In 1863 the US Ambassador to Mexico James Gadsen orchestrated the purchase of what is now southern New Mexico and Arizona, including Phoenix, the capital, for $10million. The land was acquired in order to construct a new southern route for the transcontinental railroad, which was completed in 1883. This was meant to facilitate trade in the burgeoning Southwestern US, including Southern California. The purchase also resolved the outstanding border issues stemming from the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which effectively ended the Mexican-American War in the 1840s.
This was probably the most inconsequential purchase of the bunch. The southwest is no prize and frankly I think they overpaid at $10 million. Furthermore, the land acquired for the southern route was not necessary to complete the southern route. They just as easily could have rerouted it through Albuquerque. For $10 million they could have signed Celtics free agent guard Marcus Smart to a respectable 2 year, $10 million dollar deal. If you gave me the choice between Marcus Smart and the entire city of Tucson, I’m taking Marcus Smart 9/10 times. Although his shot selection is mostly frustrating, his playmaking is vastly underrated (especially as P&R ball handler) and is one of the .league’s premier perimeter defenders