Controversy in the Louisiana Purchase
Every school child learns at an early age of the Louisiana Purchase.
They learn simply of Thomas Jefferson great real estate deal that more than doubled the size of the young Elicited States. What they do not learn, however, is of the intense debate in congress, which nearly put the brakes on Jefferson plan; or of the underhanded financial deals the Jefferson made while congress bickered in order to come up with the funding for the purchase; or of the decisions Jefferson made that seemingly compromised some of his strongest beliefs.It is these details that tell the real story of the Louisiana Purchase. The events that led up to the Louisiana Purchase are themselves grounded in controversy. Late in the asses, Spain secretly ceded the Louisiana territory to the French, but seemingly continued to be governed by the Spanish crown. Late in 1802, the Spanish violated Pinkness Treaty by denying American shippers the right to deposit goods in New Orleans. Soon, after we learned of the cession to the French.
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On January 4, 1 803, congress debated over the legitimacy of the claims, asking for the documents that show it.On February 14, 1803, congress debated whether or not it was in Jefferson power to send n expedition to France to discuss our rights on the Mississippi, and whether or not he should use military force to enforce those rights. On February 25, congress authorized the President to organize 80,000 militia to protect American interests on the Mississippi. Congress was ready to go to war, if need be, but the president was not. The Louisiana Purchase was signed on April 20, 1 803, but it took congress nearly 6 months to approve it.That whole timer they continued to debate whether the President had the right to make such a purchase. After October of 1 803, congress began debating the details on governing the territory.
They could not decide whether or not it would be given the same rights as the states, and whether or not the citizens should be allowed to govern themselves. They also debated the exact boundaries of the purchase and whether the purchase was constitutional. Much of the time debating was spent on An Act erecting Louisiana into two Territories and providing for the Temporary Government thereof.The other bill that took a very long time to get through congress was An act giving effect to the laws of the United States within the Territories ceded to the United States by the treaty of the thirtieth f April, one thousand eight hundred and three, between the United States and the French Republic, and for other purposes. Also, Thomas Jefferson himself requested congress to discuss the fact that rich landowners were claiming and monopolizing all the land in the new territory.One act that actually helped with funding the purchase was passed on March 3, 1804, which said all revenues and taxes from the new territory would be put into the United States Treasury, rather than a separate treasury for the territory. While congress debated, Jefferson had to come up the money for the purchase.
The country was already in debt, so this was not going to be easy to do. Fortunately, Alexander Hamilton had done his job, and lenders foreign nations trusted America to repay our debts.This gave Jefferson the ability to borrow money under the guise that it was for other Federal projects and use it to buy Louisiana. Appropriation of the funds had begun before the purchase was even made. He basically snuck money out of other federal funds to pay the French. This was not much of a problem because eventually congress did approve the purchase. The other controversy with the Louisiana purchase occurred in Jefferson dead.
He had to compromise many of his personal beliefs in order to buy the land.Since the American Revolution, Jefferson knew our debt must be eliminated, and he knew it must not be in the hands of foreigners. How could he justify being indebted another $1 5 mil to France? This issue brought up several problems. One problem is one that is closely tied to the debates In congress is that Jefferson was a Democratic-republican, and they believe in a very strict construction of the constitution. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the constitution that gives the Federal government the right to purchase land. The only real justification for this was that this was an exceptionally good deal.Jefferson also believed the purchase would help our neutral position.
By eliminating the French from North America, we could also eliminate the threat of being forced into a conflict over our rights on the Mississippi, or the threat of appearing partial towards one European power. Another dispute in Jefferson head was the fact that he favored the French over the British, yet he said we must Marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation if necessary in order to control the Mississippi. This thought process was easily justified.Jefferson supported the French republic, but not Napoleon. He new we could not afford to have an evil, deceptive tyrant bent on being emperor of the world hanging out in our backyard. Jefferson also knew that the British and French were at war and that the British would eventually seize Frances North American territories again. He decided that the best way to protect and cushion our boarders was to purchase Louisiana.
In conclusion, the Louisiana Purchase was a complex event in American history. It brought about intense debate in congress, and in Jefferson head.