Good Essay About Thomas Jefferson’s Dilemma And The Louisiana Purchase
In 1803, the United States had purchased the land known as Louisiana from France. The United States received over 800,000 square miles of land for approximately $15 million dollars. While the Louisiana Purchase was Thomas Jefferson’s greatest achievement during his presidency, it also posed a major problems for him. The dilemmas Thomas Jefferson faced was that purchase of the Louisiana territory went against his political beliefs, he knew that the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty would be called into question, and there would be an issue with how to deal with diverse societies that lie within the Louisiana territory. Jefferson decided it would be best to purchase the Louisiana territory and deal with the outcome later. The reason for the quick purchase of Louisiana lies with a secret agreement between Spain and France. (The Louisiana Purchase: A Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia 177)
In 1800, King Charles IV of Spain and the French Republic secretly signed the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, which retroceded the Louisiana territory from Spanish rule to the French government. At the time of the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, the United States, and France were fighting an unofficial war known as the Quasi-War. The reason the United States was wary of France owning the Louisiana territory was the possibility that the French would close the Port of New Orleans to Americans. The Port of New Orleans was a major trade location that connected the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. Any country controlling the Port of New Orleans could also control the flow of goods and services. Additionally, as the French sent soldiers to secure New Orleans, fear arisen among Americans of a French invasion. In addition, the southern farmers feared that the French would set their slaves free which would cause slave rebellions in other areas. While many Americans called for a military siege of New Orleans, Thomas Jefferson took a more diplomatic approach by expressing an interest in purchasing New Orleans from the French government. Jefferson had sent Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe to Paris, France with an offer to buy just the city of New Orleans and the surrounding area. However, Napoleon Bonaparte made the decision to not only sell New Orleans to the Americans but the entire Louisiana territory. While Spain did not complete the transfer of the Louisiana territory to France, Napoleon needed the money in order to fight an imminent war with Britain. The counter offer made by Napoleon for the purchase of the entire Louisiana territory took Jefferson by surprise and as a strict constructionist, the offer created a moral dilemma for him as well. (Kellogg 73-90)
Jefferson was a strict constructionist who believed in a rigorous interpretation of the Constitution. Additionally, part of Jefferson's Republican principles was that the federal government had no choice but to act according to the Constitutional boundaries. Jefferson also believed that it was crucial for the role of government to be limited, and he wanted to reduce the federal government’s control. For this reason, in order to purchase the Louisiana territory, Jefferson needed to find a provision in the Constitution of the United States that would allow him to perform such an action. However, by conducting the purchase of the Louisiana territory, Jefferson would be increasing the federal government’s control. Unable to find a provision in the constitution that would allow for the purchase of the Louisiana territory and on the advice of Attorney General Levi Lincoln, Jefferson thought it would be best to be vague about the purchase. The purchase of the Louisiana territory would go against everything Jefferson believed in and caused him to appear to be a hypocrite. He announced that the United States was expanding existing territory rather than adding new territory. However, fearing that Napoleon Bonaparte might back out of the offer to sell the entire Louisiana territory to the United States that would prevent the Americans from owning New Orleans and the surrounding area, Jefferson agreed to the purchase. On 30 April, 1803, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was sign, giving the Louisiana territory to the United States. After the signing of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, Jefferson went to work dealing legality of his action while arguing with the Republican and the Federalists over the purchase of Louisiana. (Balleck 679-96)
There was major fallout for Jefferson after he signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. Since it was Congress, which was a Republican majority, that signed the treaty; Jefferson decided not to mention the Louisiana Purchase with regards to the Constitution of the United States in his eighth Congressional speech. However, there was a lot of opposition to the treaty from the Federalist congressmen. They demand that the United States government address the constitutionality issue the treaty posed to Americans. Also, the Federalist demanded proof that the Louisiana territory was completely under French rule before the United States purchase the land from France. The Federalists feared that the Louisiana Purchase would damage the United States and ultimately damage Americans' economic and political power. The Republicans countered the Federalists' arguments with two of their arguments. The first argument the Republicans presented was the government's right to sign treaties. They pointed out that if it was unconstitutional for the government to enter into a treaty with another nation such as the Louisiana Purchase, then all other treaties that were signed in the past by Americans were illegal and unconstitutional. The Second argument was that the Constitution of the United States did not include a clause about America's expansion. This was due to the time in which the Constitution was written; the United States did not settle the South or Northwest. As a result, the Republicans argued that a narrow interpretation of the constitution could not be used to check the legality of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. Finally, the American government had to deal with the issue of the citizens living within the Louisiana territory.
Before the purchase of Louisiana, the majority of American society were Anglo-Saxons, Protestants who spoke English. The society that resided within the Louisiana territory were made up of Europeans, Creoles, Native Americans, African slaves, and free people of color. Many were Catholics, and few spoke English. The culture within the Louisiana territory was completely different from American culture. However, under the Constitution of the United States, those people who resided in the Louisiana territory at the time of its purchase were considered to be American citizens. Additionally, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty included an article that stated that the United States government was required to give every Louisiana citizen the same rights as Americans such as freedom religion. ("Avalon Project: Louisiana Purchase Treaty; April 30,1803") Due to such a diverse population and the Americans’ uncertainty that the citizens of Louisiana understood what democracy was, certain rights were withheld from the people of Louisiana. Jefferson eventually decided against ignoring the article within the treaty and allowed the citizens of Louisiana to elect twenty-five officials.
The purchase of the Louisiana territory was the largest land deal of its kind at the time. While the United States government only wanted to purchase New Orleans and the surround areas in order to gain access to the Mississippi River, Napoleon Bonaparte offered the entire Louisiana territory because he needed money for an unavoidable war with Britain. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty posed a dilemma for Thomas Jefferson since he believed in the strict interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. While he wanted to limit the federal government's involvement in state affairs, the purchase of the Louisiana territory only strengthen the federal government's authority. In addition, the constitutionality of the treaty was called into question. The Federalist believed the purchase of the Louisiana territory could devastate the United States. The Republican argued that if the treat were unconstitutional than every treated signed in the past by a United States President would be considered illegal as well. After the treaty had been signed, Jefferson hesitated to give the people of Louisiana the same rights as other Americans due to their diverse of their societies. In the end, Jefferson allowed the citizens of Louisiana to elect governing officials.
"The Avalon Project: Louisiana Purchase Treaty; April 30,1803." Avalon Project - Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2015. <http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/louis1.asp>.
Balleck, Barry J. "When the Ends Justify the Means: Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase." Presidential Studies Quarterly 22.4 (1992): 679-696. JSTOR. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/27551031>.
Kellogg, William O. American History the Easy Way. New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc, 1991. 73-90. Print.
The Louisiana Purchase: A Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia. Ed. Junius P Rodriguez. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2002. 177. Print.