December 20, 2016
As the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was also a strict constitutionalist. Serving as the U.S. minister in France at the time of the Constitutional Convention, he was unable to sign the doment. Regardless, Jefferson supported it wholeheartedly and held to its authority.
Within days of taking office in 1801, Jefferson was faced with having to request funds for a national navy to fight the Barbary Pirates. He believed in small government and committing the nation to a federal military contradicted his principles. On the other hand, this action was the proud birth of our United States Marines. (See To The Shores of Tripoli)
On the home front, Jefferson was confronting relations with Spain and France. At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the French had surrendered almost all of their claim in the New World. All land west of the Mississippi as well as New Orleans was transferred to Spain. French land east of the Mississippi, including Canada, was signed over to the British.
As New Orleans and the Mississippi River were vital for the colonists, President George Washington worked out a treaty with Spain to allow the United States use of the river along with New Orleans for the transfer of goods. The agreement worked until Napoleon Bonaparte obtained power in 1799. He wanted France’s claim in the New World again, and he had a powerful enough country to do it.
Napoleon persuaded Spain’s King Charles IV to consider returning ownership back to France. Spain verbally agreed under the condition France would not hand it over to someone else. As France was a stronger nation than Spain, Jefferson faced the prospect of his young country loosing access to such a vital waterway and port.
Jefferson quickly penned a note to Robert Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, to work for a compromise. Fearing Napoleon’s intentions, Jefferson wrote, “The day that France takes possession of New Orleans…we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.”
Napoleon managed to convince King Charles IV to return Louisiana to France in 1800. Two years later, France officially took possession. Napoleon wasted no time sending troops to Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti) with plans for more to be sent to New Orleans. Jefferson knew he had to work fast to protect America. He was again faced with making a financial deal, growing the federal government, while burdening the states and potentially dismissing their rights. In weighing the options, he erred on the side of national security.
While making his own military plans, Jefferson sent Secretary of State James Monroe to France to help Livingston negotiate. Their goal was to purchase New Orleans and West Florida for no more than $10 million. If that objective failed, they were to form an alliance with England and prepare for military action.
To Monroe and Livingston’s surprise, Napoleon had a completely different deal on the table. The men he sent to Saint-Domingue to fight a slave rebellion were being wiped out by Yellow Fever. Tensions he fostered in the Old World threatened a war with England. Napoleon realized he did not have the resources to protect the Mississippi Valley territory. With these and other concerns looming, Napoleon abandoned his plans for Louisiana. He rejected America’s bid, instead offering the United States the complete Louisiana Territory. Monroe and Livingston quickly saw the benefit of this proposal and negotiated a deal for $15 million even though they did not have the authority for such a purchase.
An agreement was reached regarding 828,000 square miles on April 30, 1803. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States. America acquired land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains for only pennies an acre.
The official announcement to the American people was made July 4, 1803, but Congress had until October to ratify the purchase treaty. Jefferson and his Cabinet carefully reviewed the deal for constitutionality. Jefferson was concerned of the deal’s validity as he wasn’t even sure France had the authority to actually offer the land. He pushed for a constitutional amendment to authorize the purchase, but under the circumstances his Cabinet decided it was unnecessary. On October 20th, the Senate ratified the treaty.
Without the military power to stop it, Spain reluctantly returned the land to France on November 30th. Less than a month later, France transferred the territory to the United States on December 20th. However, America did not take official ownership until December 30th.
The United States eventually settled the conflict over Texas and West Florida in an 1819 purchase with Spain.
Liberty, when looking at the true history of this wonderful country, it is easy to see God’s hand in her formation. President’s George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln described events such as this as Divine Providence. (See God’s Divine Providence) Only requesting the vital area of New Orleans and West Florida, the United States was offered a vast area full of unknown rich, natural resources essential to the growth and expansion of the young country. This purchase was troublesome for Jefferson, but it became a defining moment in his presidency and the country’s future.
Unfortunately, some leaders misunderstood such events as manifest destiny (See Satan’s Manifest Destiny). President Andrew Jackson twisted this gift of land as permission to force thousands of Native Americans westward on the Trail of Tears.
We must always be vigilant with the freedoms and liberties God has granted us. Even today, slavery, sex trafficking and unspeakable injustices terrorize the world in forms we cannot begin to comprehend. America has made mistakes but she has also been a beacon of hope for so many across the globe. We are blessed to be her citizens and must refuse to take that for granted. Continue to share her story with others and work hard to keep her the “shining city on the hill.”
That’s my 2 cents.
DEAL OF A LIFETIME