AP®︎/College US History
Course: AP®︎/College US History > Unit 4Lesson 1: The rise of political parties and the era of Jefferson
The Louisiana Purchase and its exploration
In 1803, Jefferson made a controversial decision that effectively doubled the territory of the United States while transgressing his own views of proper presidential authority.
- The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States, reshaping the environmental and economic makeup of the country.
- Jefferson confronted questions of presidential authority in deciding whether or not to acquire the territory, since the US Constitution does not explicitly give the president the power to purchase territory.
- Jefferson enlisted Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the new uncharted territory and secured Congressional funding for their expedition.
The Louisiana Purchase
Though the Louisiana territory had changed hands between France and Spain a number of times, in 1800 Spain ceded the territory to Napoleon’s France. Napoleon, whose attention was consumed by war in Europe, began to view the territory as a needless burden. In 1803, he volunteered to sell all 828,000 square miles to the United States for the bargain price of $15 million.
Jefferson adhered to a strict interpretation of the Constitution and believed that without a specific enumeration of his right as president to acquire the purchase, buying the Louisiana Territory could plausibly be unconstitutional. The Federalists opposed the purchase for several reasons, chief among them the likelihood that new slave states would enter the Union from the southern parts of the territory.
Despite Federalist opposition and the contested constitutionality of the purchase, Jefferson agreed to the deal, which almost doubled US territory. He said to his Cabinet regarding the Purchase: “"it is the case of a guardian, investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory; & saying to him when of age, I did this for your good.” Jefferson was correct to assume that the Louisiana Territory would be an important element to the United States’ future.
Lewis and Clark's expedition
In order to explore and map all of this new territory, Jefferson authorized a westward expedition led by US Army volunteers Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark. Their expedition lasted from 1803 to 1806 and was aided tremendously by the help of a Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, who served as their guide. Without Sacagawea’s immense knowledge of the land and the Indian tribes that inhabited it, Lewis and Clark’s expedition could easily have met with disaster.
The Louisiana Purchase proved popular with white Americans, who were hungry for more western lands to settle. The deal helped Jefferson win reelection in 1804 by a landslide. Of 176 electoral votes cast, all but 14 were in his favor.
The great expansion of the United States achieved by the Louisiana Purchase did receive criticism, though, especially from northerners who feared the addition of more slave states and a corresponding lack of representation of their interests in the North. For southern slaveholders, new western lands would be a boon; for enslaved people, the Louisiana Purchase threatened to entrench and expand their suffering to western territories.
Lewis and Clark made meticulous notes of any flora and fauna they encountered during their journey. Enormous clouds of gnats and mosquitos swarmed about their heads as they made their way up the Missouri River. They encountered (and killed) a variety of animals including elk, buffalo, and grizzly bears. One member of the expedition survived a rattlesnake bite. As the men collected minerals and specimens of plants and animals, the overly-curious Lewis sampled minerals by tasting them and became seriously ill at one point.
They sketched and documented over 260 plants in their journals, a majority of them new to scientific discovery. They also made the first scientific discoveries of many bird species, reptiles, and mammals. Yet as new settlers came to make their lives on the western frontier, preserving these newfound species was hardly their concern.
What do you think?
Why did many Federalists question the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase?
Make a list of the benefits and drawbacks of the Louisiana Purchase. If you were President Jefferson, would you have decided to acquire the territory?
How did the Louisiana Purchase align with Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian America?
Want to join the conversation?
- How did they pay the $15,000,000. Was it paid in gold coins?(21 votes)
- About $3 million of the purchase was paid for in gold. The US used bonds to pay for the rest of the money ($12 million.)(21 votes)
- what happened to Pomp Sacagawea's son(4 votes)
- Sacagawea's son, also known as Lil Pomp (This isn't a joke Clark called him Lil Pomp due to his tenacious nature), became a trapper and hunter as well as a scout in the Mexican American War.(24 votes)
- did the Louisiana purchase benefit any other states or country(6 votes)
- The USA got the land and France got the money.
The land purchased ended up doubling the size of the United States, so I guess you could say many states benefited - they wouldn't have existed otherwise!(11 votes)
- Why was the Louisiana Territory a "needless burden" for Napoleon?(6 votes)
- The potential of the land was not yet known, so when France "owned" it, it was only considered a large part of land to defend with little value. Napoleon's sights were set on more immediate areas within France's sphere of influence. Because of this, France needed money for additional conquests more than a large chunck of land that would need continual defense.(10 votes)
- Did Meriwether Lewis ever document or find out what kind of rock/mineral made him sick?(6 votes)
- I don't think he did because he ate many of them, therefore it would be hard to tell which one made him sick.(3 votes)
- Why was it called the Louisiana Purchase when barely any of the land bought was from Louisiana?(4 votes)
- The entire territory purchased was the Louisiana territory.(7 votes)
Do men be men?(3 votes)
- The answer is weakness and sin.(3 votes)
- How come no one else wondered or was known for wondering why this purchase was processed?(3 votes)
- Many questioned the constitutionality of Jefferson's decision, however, in the long run it proved to be a good decision on Jefferson's part.
Jefferson would have used the elastic clause as a possible explanation for the nature of this purchase. It is important to note that he told his contractors to keep the purchase information on the down low.(2 votes)
- How did they get Sacagawea to guide them?(2 votes)
- To answer this question, we need to know more about Sacagawea's early life before Lewis and Clark.
Sacagawea was born a member of the Lemhi band of the Native American Shoshone tribe. The Shoshone were enemies of the gun-possessing Hidatsa tribe, who kidnapped Sacagawea during a buffalo hunt in 1800. Her captors brought her to the Hidatsa-Mandan settlement, where she, through trade, gambling payoff or purchase, became the property and eventual wife of French-Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau.
On November 2nd, 1804, when Sacagawea was about six months pregnant, Lewis and Clark and their men reached the settlement.
They quickly recognized the potential value of Sacagawea and Charbonneau's combined language skills, which proved crucial for the expeditions' success.(4 votes)
- When did the westward expansion really come to an end, and was Hawaii a part of this?(2 votes)
- Westward expansion could be seen as including the Louisiana Purchase, the annexation of the Republic of Texas and the Mexican American war, in which the North American interests stole half of Mexico's territory. Westward expansion may even be seen in the Gadsten Purchase, to enable a railroad to avoid crossing a border, and the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The annexation of Hawaii, however, might be more a matter of imperial ambitions in the Pacific.(3 votes)