The Jefferson Administration Help
The Louisiana Purchase
Jefferson’s most important act as president was to double the size of the nation by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France. With no power base in the West Indies, Napoleon knew that he could never extend the French empire in the Western Hemisphere. He decided to sell his territory and use the funds to expand his power base in Europe. James Monroe, acting as Jefferson’s envoy, agreed to purchase the land for Napoleon’s price—$15 million, or about four cents per acre.
The Constitution made no provision for a president to spend government money to expand the size of the nation’s holdings. This shows that Jefferson acknowledged the justice of Hamilton’s position—that the Constitution was an elastic document that was subject to interpretation.
In May 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Louis with a party of guides and explorers, carrying written instructions from President Jefferson. First, they were to seek a water route across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Second, they were to establish friendly relations with the American Indians who lived in the territory. Third, they would catalogue examples of unfamiliar plants and animals. Fourth, they would map the territory. Last, they would keep detailed written records of everything they observed and experienced.
The explorers and their guides and companions traveled slowly, following the course of the rivers in a northwesterly direction almost all the way to the Canadian border, where they turned west. On November 7, 1805, the Pacific Ocean came into sight. Lewis and Clark had learned that it was not possible to cross the continent by river without going overland for a part of the way. This issue was highly important for trade, because water was by far the fastest and most efficient way to transport goods. Over land, goods could move only as fast as a team of horses could walk; boats and ships were much faster and less vulnerable to robbery.
While Lewis and Clark and their party followed the rivers westward, Zebulon Pike was exploring and mapping the Mississippi Valley. He traveled west as far as the Rockies, where Pike’s Peak was later named in his honor. When Pike ventured along the Rio Grande, the Spaniards who claimed that territory arrested him. They eventually released him, but they kept the written records of his discoveries. However, Pike recalled enough information to write a report that increased the United States’ knowledge of the Southwest.
The Embargo Act
British sailors, claiming to be searching for deserters from their own ship, had tried to board the USS Chesapeake; the Americans, wary of any contact with British ships because of their practice of impressment, refused permission. The British crew opened fire on the Chesapeake, killing three Americans and impressing four others.
Jefferson’s response was to sign the Embargo Act of 1807, halting many American exports. He reasoned that if there were no American ships on the high seas, piracy and British impressment would cease. Jefferson soon realized that his intentions had backfired; the Embargo Act deprived farmers and manufacturers of the market for their goods, and exports fell to one-fifth of previous levels. The Embargo Act was repealed in 1809. The Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 prohibited trade with Britain and France, but allowed it to continue with all other nations. Like the Embargo Act, it was ineffective.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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