Study Guide

Thomas Jefferson in Louisiana Purchase Treaty

By Robert R. Livingston, James Monroe, and François de Barbé-Marbois

Thomas Jefferson

In 1801, the third president of the United States was elected. In the eight years he served in office, he launched the greatest expedition ever, created the most neutral and independent nation ever, and oversaw the greatest land acquisition ever.

His name was Thomas Jefferson. Maybe you've heard of him. Shmoop sure has; check it out for everything you've always wanted to know about T.J. but didn't have time to ask.

He was a Founding Father, writer of the Declaration of Independence, prez, guardian of liberty, architect, university founder, you name it. He sold his library (6,487 books) to the Library of Congress to restock it after the British burned it down in 1814. The guy was interested in everything. In 1962, honoring a group of Nobel Prize winners, President John F. Kennedy commented, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

Anyway, when it comes to the Louisiana Purchase, the greatest land acquisition ever, there are two key things we need to understand about No. 3: he had a serious hankering to know what was going on over in the western part of North America, and he was not a huge fan of tyranny.

Let us explain.

The Greatest Expedition Ever Happened Thanks to the Louisiana Purchase

Thomas Jefferson loved the great outdoors. He grew up exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, and with a mapmaker and land surveyor for a dad, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the unexplored west totally piqued his interest.

Even before he got into politics, Jefferson would spend hours reading the reports of explorers who'd traversed beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains and pontificating about what it all could mean…not only for young America, but also for would-be empire builders like France, Spain, and Great Britain.

In 1793, Jefferson asked French botanist and semi-expat André Michaux to go on a little walkabout around the American west as a follow-up to Michaux's earlier voyage through the nation's forests. That trip didn't end up happening, but it totally laid the groundwork for Jefferson's next big exploratory request.

Ever heard of the Lewis and Clark Expedition? That was Jefferson's next big exploratory request. Shmoop has got all kinds of great info about that expedition (and a video with light sabers in it) here, but we'd like to hone in on a super important fact right here and now:

Lewis and Clark didn't get their expedition on until July 1803, one day after Jefferson announced to the nation the purchase of Louisiana.

Coincidence? Not really since Jefferson et al. had been planning this little excursion for a long time.

What's nice is that they didn't need French passports to get it done.

What's also nice is that the land they explored beyond Louisiana eventually became American land, too, largely thanks to their efforts.

Couldn't have done it without you, President Jefferson.

The Most Neutral and Independent Nation Ever Was Made Possible by the Louisiana Purchase

So T.J. wasn't a fan of tyranny. Who is? (Other than tyrants, that is.)

But while some people just like to stand around and say they don't like tyranny and tyranny is lame, President Jefferson took it upon himself to help make sure the new United States would not fall victim to any would-be despot's tyrannical ways.

How? By pushing Congress to ratify the Louisiana Purchase, thus securing an extra 828,000 acres of American land and pushing France, Spain, and Great Britain further away from American interests.

Even better: the land to the west of the Louisiana Territory was also pretty much there for the taking, so when the United States eventually did stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific, it further cemented America's geographic isolation.

And that isolation allowed the nation to grow, prosper, and stay (sorta kinda mostly usually) neutral in its international dealings. For a while.

The Louisiana Purchase: definitely no buyer's remorse here.

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