Historian Robert Tucker described Jefferson’s life as being a paradox. He was a slave holder that was not necessarily in favor of this form of servitude. He also associated himself with the yeoman farmer, yet he traveled in company with a cosmopolitan flair. So it is to this President that we look to as he faced one of his greatest dilemmas.
Jefferson, the third President of the United States, remembered primarily for two great accomplishments: he authored the Declaration of Independence and made the greatest land acquisition in our nation’s history, the Louisiana Purchase Essay. Both subjects, have been written about extensively, yet one question persists: did Thomas Jefferson exceed his fiduciary duty to the Constitution of the United States when he started the proceedings that led to the Louisiana Purchase? Thomas Jefferson was a pragmatic, articulate, and, at times, capricious leader of a young nation that had recently gained its freedom from the monarchical Great Britain. Jefferson, a Democratic Republican, made his ascension to the presidency at a time when the Federalist Party was in decline. The Louisiana Purchase would bring a great deal of discomfort to the Party. The only opposition to the purchase would consequently be the Federalist Party which, ironically, had always been in favor of a broad construction of the Constitution. The broad constructionist believed that the Constitution held implied powers to the central government.
The people who interpreted the Constitution in this fashion backed the notion of strong centralization of power. The strict constructionist, like Jefferson, believed that if something in the Constitution was not described then it was unconstitutional. They also feared the abuse of power obtainable by the central government by a broad interpretation of the Constitution. Since 1493, France and Spain alternately held the Louisiana Territory. Towards the end of the 18th century the jurisdiction of the territory was under Spanish rule.
New troubles were brewing on the European continent and the Americans feared that the Louisiana Territory would fall into the hands of the British. This would place the British on three sides of the Americans and they were prepared to go to war to avoid this. The Spaniards, uncertain of their British ally and fearing an insurrection from within the Louisiana Territory, signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo or Pinckney’s Treaty with the Americans in 1795. Under terms of the treaty, Americans were allowed to deposit goods for overseas shipment at the port of New Orleans free of duty. The Spanish also ceded control of the Ohio River Valley to the Americans.
This pleased the majority of Americans who were in favor of westward expansion, many of who were by now settling illegally in the Louisiana Territory. Securing the Mississippi River for commercial purposes was of the greatest importance to most Americans at the time. The desired peace of the country to be protected from outside interference was also the goal of those in favor of expansion. In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the French government and assumed control of France and her colonies. Bonaparte was anxious to build a western empire, perhaps to make up for his previous losses in Egypt. Bonaparte saw the conquest of the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo as his first step in his western expansion efforts.
From Santo Domingo the French could support troops that they intended to post in New Orleans. By early 1801 American whites made up more than half of the population in upper Louisiana. In 1802 the first migration of Americans west of the Mississippi River begun and by now the Americans looked to wrest the Louisiana Territory away from the Spanish. To this dream of conquest of the Spaniards by Americans is to what Jefferson responded. He was not alone in his supposition of the need for expansion. Indeed, the one area that Jefferson and his .