Eyewitness Reports in History Louisiana Purchase Part 2

An eyewitness account of the Louisiana Purchase in United States history managed by Thomas Jefferson.


Louisiana Purchase

"This is the noblest work of our entire lives," Livingston exclaimed after he and Monroe signed the agreement.

But later they had questions. Would Congress approve their additional expenditure of funds? Had they ruined their careers by going beyond instructions as to price and territory?

When Jefferson received copies of the treaty, he too had questions. He worried about the national debt and about the constitutionality of adding such a large territory by treaty. He thought about proposing an amendment to the Constitution specifically empowering the federal government to acquire territory.

"Let the Senate decide," friends advised.

Meanwhile, Federalists sniped away at the unconstitutionality of the purchase, the expense, the fuzzy boundaries.

"We are to give money of which we have too little for land of which we have too much," wrote a Boston journalist.

But most Americans agreed with Jefferson that it would be better to have their "own brethren" on the opposite bank of the Mississippi than "strangers of another family."

On Oct. 21, 1803, the Senate ratified the agreements, thereby setting a precedent for use of implied powers of the federal government. Four days later the House authorized the biggest land deal in history. It gave room for expansion and strengthened the position of the U.S.

Eyewitness Report: To get action on the purchase of Louisiana, Jefferson called a special meeting of Congress on Oct. 17, 1803. From his address:

"Whilst the property and sovereignty of the Mississippi and its waters secure an independent outlet for the produce of the Western states and an uncontrolled navigation through their whole course, free from collision with other powers, and the dangers to our peace from that source, the fertility of the country, its climate and extent, promise in due season important aids to our Treasury, an ample provision for our posterity, and a wide spread for the blessings of freedom and equal laws."

In the debate on Jefferson's stand on Louisiana, Sen. Samuel White spoke against the annexation:

"But as to Louisiana, this new, immense, unbounded world, if it should be incorporated into this Union, which I have no idea can be done but by altering the Constitution, I believe it will be the greatest curse that at present could befall us ... our citizens will be removed to the immense distance of two or three thousand miles from the capital of the Union, where they will scarcely ever feel the rays of the General Government; their affections will become alienated; they will gradually begin to view us as strangers; they will form other commercial connexions, and our interest will become distinct."

The purchase led to half a century of diplomatic wrangling. Spain contended that the sale made to Napoleon did not include Texas and the West Floridas. In the final settlement, the U.S. got the Floridas and Texas went to Spain. Out of the domain finally settled upon emerged Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and most of Kansas, Colorado, Montana, Minnesota, and Wyoming.

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