Mr. Jeffersons Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase

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  1. Mr. Jefferson's lost cause: land, farmers, slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase. | Awards & Grants
  2. Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase
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We are told by Monroe's biographer, Dr.

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Henry Ammon, that the committee produced "a report adhering closely to his [Monroe's] views. Jefferson made no comment about the omission.


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Monroe never explained why he did not incorporate this provision, to which Jefferson attached so much importance. Slavery moved to the banks of the Mississippi, facing westward toward the empire purchased in Then Monroe presided over the final negotiations for that Purchase, in which was inserted the fatal language assuring, in the interpretation of the Jeffersonian Congress, the rights to hold and to import slaves into the vast dominion included in the Louisiana Purchase. Under the leadership of seven evangelical clergymen, Kentucky's constitutional conventions of the s had almost succeeded in repairing the damage done in , and bringing it into the Union as a free state.

Just before the Louisiana Purchase, even in Mississippi Territory, the lower house of the legislature passed anti-slavery resolutions. Plantation slavery was in decline in Louisiana when it was purchased. That was a great loss, in economic, environmental, and moral terms. And, of course, there were costs in money incurred in the purchase of a territory from Napoleon, who did not own it, at a time in which his failed Haitian expedition demonstrated that he had not the means to wrest it away from Spain and hold it against a determined American administration.

Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and Andrew Jackson all preferred either an inexpensive purchase from Spain or the acquisition of the territory by force of arms. Jefferson and Monroe did not. The planters in general were unlikely to rejoice in a military conquest of Louisiana headed by either Hamilton or Burr, both sworn enemies to the slave system.

And the planters got their way.

Mr. Jefferson's lost cause: land, farmers, slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase. | Awards & Grants

As for the peoples present in Louisiana when it was purchased, the costs were obvious. Slavery gathered strength. A new and muscular power came on the scene, bent upon driving Indians westward, out of the arable plains. With astonishing dexterity, Jefferson was able to get the Indians living east of the Mississippi to pay for the Purchase itself.

Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase

He explained to his old confidant John Dickinson that once "the lands held by the Indians on this side of the Mississippi" were obtained, "we may sell out our lands here and pay the whole debt contracted before it comes due. Buying cheap, working the spread, and selling a little more expensively, the government he headed managed to achieve a remarkable transaction.

The cost was low in cash, that is true, but high in other values.

Many Americans have since become the beneficiaries of Napoleon's sale to Jefferson of an empire that did, indeed, become an Empire of Freedom after The Indians who inhabited nearly all of the territory he purported to sell; the Spanish empire which had the superior claim to it among European powers; that Bonapartian empire that extorted it from Spain, held it for a twinkling, and sold it; the rising American empire that bought it, the white settlers who crowded into it; and the black slaves that worked much of it, all might make differing computations of its costs and benefits.

At two hundred years' distance, we may rejoice in the opportunity that sale and purchase has offered us. Until , however, the Louisiana Purchase did not create an Empire of Freedom for many who lived within it—though it might have.

The cost of "the deal" as it was made was very high. Indeed, the costs of the succession of "deals," of which it was one, struck by the planters and those who acquiesced in their triumphal progress across the South, accumulated into a final terrible cost in Civil War.

Between and , choices were made by those controlling the government of the United States, and the governments of its territories and states, determining whether or not slavery would be permitted within their boundaries. In , the Louisiana Purchase did indeed double the extent of the territory conceded by the European powers to lie within the United States.

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The Indians, of course, had other ideas. After arrangements were made as part of that acquisition, slavery was given fresh encouragement in Louisiana and permitted to expand up the Mississippi Valley. A momentum of events began, eventuating in an attempted division of the Union by slave owners, slave sellers, and those they could convince to follow their lead.

They so detested the prospect of restriction upon the continued spread of their system of forced labor that they sought to take the states they controlled out of the United States.

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They had been threatening to do so since the s. They had often raised the specter of disunion to convince a sufficient number of Northern senators and congressmen to permit them to have their way after the nation was placed under constitutional government in when the Southwest Territories were chartered in , when Kentucky adopted its constitution in , and when Mississippi Territory was organized in Yet all the while, from onward, as each new area was opened to slavery, eloquent men and women argued that keeping people in bondage was inconsistent with the nation's founding documents.

In the necessity to organize the Louisiana Purchase detonated a two-year debate as to how land use and labor use might determine civil society. He is critical of the plantation mentality Roger G. Thomas Jefferson advocated a republic of small farmers--free and independent yeomen. And yet as president he presided over a massive expansion of the slaveholding plantation system, particularly with the Louisiana Purchase, squeezing the yeomanry to the fringes and to less desirable farmland.

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Now Roger G. Kennedy conducts an eye-opening examination of the gap between Jefferson's stated aspirations and what actually happened. Anthony J. He has had a long and distinguished career in public service during which he has served six presidents. His books include Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson and as general editor and contributor the twelve-volume Smithsonian Guide to Historic America.