In 1803, the United States purchased an area of land from France called Louisiana. The land stretched from the Mississippi river to present-day Montana and covered some . France had originally explored the land, but ceded it to Spain in 1763. In 1801, with Napoleon’s France conquering much of Europe, Spain returned Louisiana to France. The United States felt threatened by the possibility of a Napoleonic colony in North America. President Jefferson sent diplomats to France to attempt to buy New Orleans and West Florida. In need of money to finance its other wars, France sold the whole of Louisiana to the U.S. for dollars.
The Louisiana Purchase doubled the land area of the United States, but not all Americans supported Jefferson’s decision. Read the following documents to learn why Jefferson’s Federalist rivals opposed the Louisiana Purchase.
Purchase of Louisiana – Alexander Hamilton
Source: “Purchase of Louisiana” an editorial written by Alexander Hamilton for the New York Evening Post, July 1803.
At length the business of New Orleans has terminated favorably to this country. Instead of being obliged to rely any longer on the force of treaties for a place of deposit, the jurisdiction of the territory is now transferred to our hands and in future the navigation of the Mississippi will be ours unmolested. This, it will be allowed, is an important acquisition, not, indeed, as territory, but as being essential to the peace and prosperity of our Western country, and as opening a free and valuable market to our commercial states. This purchase has been made during the period of Mr. Jefferson’s presidency and will, doubtless, give éclat to his administration. Every man, however, possessed of the least candor and reflection will readily acknowledge that the acquisition has been solely owing to a fortuitous concurrence of unforseen and unexpected circumstances and not to any wise or vigorous measures on the part of the American government....
As to the unbounded region west of the Mississippi, it is, with the exception of a very few settlements of Spaniards and Frenchmen bordering on the banks of the river, a wilderness through which wander numerous tribes of Indians. And when we consider the present extent of the United States, and that not one sixteenth part of its territory is yet under occupation, the advantage of the acquisition, as it relates to actual settlement, appears too distant and remote to strike the mind of a sober politician with much force. This, therefore, can only rest in speculation for many years, if not centuries to come, and consequently will not perhaps be allowed very great weight in the account by the majority of readers. But it may be added that should our own citizens, more enterprising than wise, become desirous of settling this country and emigrate thither, it must not only be attended with all the injuries of a too widely dispersed population, but by adding to the great weight of the western part of our territory, must hasten the dismemberment of a large portion of our country or a dissolution of the Government. On the whole, we think it may with candor be said that, whether the possession at this time of any territory west of the river Mississippi will be advantageous, is at best extremely problematical.
Close Reading: Based on this document, why did Federalists oppose the Louisiana Purchase?
Letters – Rufus King and Thomas Pickering
Source: The following two letters are written between two Federalists. Rufus King was a Senator from New York and Thomas Pickering was a Senator from Massachusetts.
Rufus King to Timothy Pickering, November 4, 1803
Congress may admit new States, but can the Executive by treaty admit them, or, what is equivalent, enter into engagements binding Congress to do so? As by the Louisiana Treaty, the ceded territory must be formed into States, & admitted into the Union, is it understood that Congress can annex any condition to their admission? if not, as Slavery is authorized & exists in Louisiana, and the treaty engages to protect the property of the inhabitants, will not the present inequality, arising from the Representation of Slaves, be increased?....
Timothy Pickering to Rufus King, March 4, 1804
I am disgusted with the men who now rule, and with their measures. At some manifestations of their malignancy I am shocked. The cowardly wretch at their head [Jefferson], while like a Parisian revolutionary monster prating about humanity, would feel an infernal pleasure in the utter destruction of his opponents. We have too long witnessed his general turpitude, his cruel removals of faithful officers, and the substitution of corruption and looseness for integrity and worth.
Close Reading: Based on these documents, why did Federalists oppose the Louisiana Purchase?
Corroboration: Where do the documents agree? Where do they conflict?
Corroboration: Based on all of the documents, what can you say about why the Federalists opposed the Louisiana Purchase?