Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase

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Location of Louisiana Purchase

Though Thomas Jefferson was a primary author of the Declaration of Independence, he was certainly not, as a strong Anti-Federalist, a framer of the Constitution. Jefferson believed that all the powers of the national government were clearly enumerated in the Constitution and should be given strict adherence to. He in essence believed if a power was not explicitly stated in the Constitution for the federal government, then the power was automatically delegated to the states.

By completing the Louisiana Purchase Jefferson, despite his efforts to avoid violation, set aside his principles toward strict interpretation of powers as this transaction was not expressly listed as a right of the federal government in the Constitution. Jefferson violated his avowed constitutional principles by implying that the Constitution condoned the acquisition of new territories, the creating of newly claimed territories as official states, and the power of the President and the Senate to ratify this treaty together without the approval of Congress.

Jefferson’s Interpretation of the Constitution

Initially, Jefferson believed that through the strict interpretation of the Constitution it must be deduced that the Constitution did not allow for the acquisition of new territories. The Constitution had no express provision for the addition of territory to America. Article 4, Section 3 of the Constitution states that Congress has the power to “dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”

On this basis many Federalists argued that the acquisition of new territory is implied. However, Jefferson’s strict interpretation of the Constitution read into that clause as stating the power to dispose of or make rules for, but not to add new territory. This caused Jefferson to doubt whether this clause referred only to the territory previously existing in 1789. Jefferson violated his strict interpretation of the Constitution to use the implication that it was constitutional to add new territories of the Louisiana Purchase to America.

Constitutional Territory Aquisition

Jefferson also doubted whether the Constitution allowed for this acquired territory to become new states. The Constitution did include a clause allowing for new States to be formed but also in the clause was the prohibition of the formation of new states without the consent of existing states. Jefferson doubted whether this Constitution provision applied only to previously existing states.

This clause placed limitations on the creation of new states from existing states, but never expressly stated the restriction or right to create new states from any other source such as new territory. With the loose interpretation that the Admissions Clause declares that “new states may be admitted by the Congress into this Union” Jefferson sacrificed his strict interpretation of the Constitution but justified the Louisiana Purchase as a constitutional purchase.

Jefferson Sacrifices his Anit-Federalist Views

Jefferson was faced with a strict timeline that did not allow for the time to pass a Constitutional amendment with Congress. Jefferson’s actions sacrificed all his beliefs as an anti-federalist and in general aligned him with the same viewpoints as Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson implied with his purchase that the federal government had powers that were generally known as “the sovereign rights of nations” even though these rights were not set out in the Constitution.

He used a wide view of the executive branches powers by using the Senate to ratify the Louisiana Purchase without Congress’ approval. Jefferson used the implied constitutional power of acquisition of territory as part of the power to negotiate treaties to allow for Senate’s ratification.

By accepting the Louisiana Purchase Thomas Jefferson violated his constitutional principles to a large extent. The Constitution did not appear to give direct allowance to the acquisition of new territory, the acceptance into the Union as States, and the power of Senate to ratify the new territory as a treaty. However, Thomas Jefferson chose to sacrifice his own view in order to serve his country the way he deemed best.