The Price of the Louisiana Purchase
August 15, 2003
The Louisiana Purchase doubled the American territory and cost only $15 million, but was Thomas Jefferson within constitutional limits when he made the purchase? Three new books say no, and their authors argue that the Purchase may have led to unintended problems for the American republic.
According to Jon Kukla and Thomas Fleming, Jefferson knew that he was stretching constitutional authority by unilaterally making the decision to buy, and their new books detail voices of dissent against the Purchase:
- Five years before the Purchase was finalized in 1803, Jefferson's party had advocated states' rights and strict construction of the Constitution.
- Opposition was centered in New England, but even some of Jefferson's supporters in the South questioned whether the Purchase would mean a "larger and less responsive central government."
- Jefferson doomed the South by acquiring Louisiana and refusing to insist on slavery prohibition in the new territory.
- The new land was offered first to planters who wanted to grow tobacco, cotton and other cash crops and expand slavery in the process.
- Consequently, Jefferson was not the architect of an Empire of Liberty but an "empire of servitude."
All three authors conclude that the Louisiana Purchase made America bigger but not necessarily better by bringing into question how the new land would be used and governed. America doubled in size but lost "strict construction and the small republic."
Source: Bill Kaufman, "Bigger Isn't Always Better," Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2003.
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