December 21, 2014 06:52 UTC

The Making of a Nation

Jefferson Arranges Louisiana Purchase - Program No.33

Making of a Nation
Making of a Nation

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story

From VOA Learning English, welcome to The Making of a Nation, our weekly program of American history for people learning English.  I’m Steve Ember.
 
We’ve been discussing the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. He was America’s third president, elected in 1800.
 
In our last program, we talked about a dispute between Jefferson and the chief justice of the United States. Jefferson believed the Constitution gave Congress the right to decide the country’s laws. But Chief Justice John Marshall believed the Supreme Court had the final say.
 
The two men’s beliefs were tested in a case called Marbury versus Madison. John Marshall's arguments won. He wrote a decision saying the Supreme Court had the power to rule on the laws that Congress passed.
 
The Supreme Court did not act on that power during Jefferson’s administration. But John Marshall’s decision did help establish the role of the Supreme Court in the American government.
 
The Marbury versus Madison case is one of the important legacies of Jefferson’s presidency. But historian Joseph Ellis says it was not the only one.   

“The major achievement of Jefferson’s presidency is the Louisiana Purchase, which is a lot of luck as well as his willingness to take advantage of the luck.”

The story of the Louisiana Purchase begins with France and Spain. The two European countries wanted to limit the power of the United States. So, in 1800, Spain and France entered into a secret treaty. In the treaty, Spain gave France control of a large area in North America called the Louisiana Territory.
 
The Louisiana Territory stretched north-to-south from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. And, it stretched east-to-west from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. The area was important not only for its large size. It also included some valuable navigation features, including where the Mississippi River opened into the Gulf of Mexico.
 
Napoleon Bonaparte ruled France at that time.  Jefferson did not want Napoleon in North America.  He felt the French presence was a threat to the peace of the United States.  He decided to try to buy parts of the Louisiana Territory, especially around the mouth of the Mississippi River near the city of New Orleans.
 
Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris as a special negotiator.
But Monroe never had a chance to offer the American position. Napoleon had decided to sell everything to the Americans.  He told his finance minister to give up Louisiana -- all of it. Napoleon needed money for a war with Britain.
 
James Monroe was happy to negotiate the purchase of Louisiana. They agreed on a price of eighty million francs for all the land drained by the great Mississippi River and all its many streams.

The Louisiana Purchase nearly doubled the size of the United States at that time. It included the present-day states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. It stretched into parts of Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana.
 
The Louisiana Purchase also opened the Mississippi River to American commerce and travel. Historian Andrew O’Shaughnessy says that as a result of this access, the Louisiana Purchase fueled the country’s economic expansion in the nineteenth century. And, Mr. O’Shaughnessy says the Louisiana Purchase created more opportunities for Americans to own land.

“It was very important to Jefferson because he really wanted every free member of society to be able to own land. He regarded land ownership as in many ways essential to someone’s independence and their ability therefore to participate in a republican government.”

But both Mr. O’Shaughnessy and historian Joseph Ellis say the Louisiana Purchase went against Jefferson’s beliefs about central government. Joseph Ellis says that in many ways, Jefferson’s presidency aimed to make the federal government almost invisible and to limit the president’s power.
 
“And the Louisiana Purchase is the most authoritative executive action in American presidential history. One president decides to buy the Midwest. And he does it unilaterally.”
 
Historians say the Louisiana Purchase is one example of Jefferson’s contradictory character, in which he says one thing but does another.
Andrew O’Shaughnessy adds that Jefferson made trade-offs. When he bought Louisiana, Jefferson used presidential power in a way that was not specifically permitted by the Constitution. But, Mr. O’Shaughnessy says Jefferson was also looking to the higher good—in the case of the Louisiana Purchase, the good of improving the county’s political health.

Federalists in the early 1800s also questioned Jefferson’s decision to buy Louisiana. They feared it would weaken the power of the states of the Northeast.  Federalist leaders made a plan to form a new government of those states.  But to succeed, they needed the state of New York. Their plan for a new government led to another memorable episode in American history.
 
Aaron Burr was vice president during Thomas Jefferson’s first term. Burr became a candidate for New York governor.  The Federalists believed Burr would win the election, become governor, and support their plan.  But Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton did not trust Burr.  The two had been enemies for a long time.
 
Hamilton made some strong statements against Burr during the election campaign in New York.  The comments later appeared in several newspapers.  Burr lost the New York election.  The Federalist plan for a new government of Northeastern states died.

New York historian Valerie Paley says Burr heard about Hamilton’s strong comments. He was offended.

“He called him something like despicable. It hinged on a word, one word, and a word as simple as ‘despicable.’”
 
Burr asked Hamilton to admit or deny the comments.  Hamilton refused.  The two men exchanged more notes.  Burr was not satisfied with Hamilton's answers.  He believed Hamilton had attacked his honor.  Burr demanded a duel.
 
A duel is a fight, usually with guns.  Valerie Paley says in those days, gentlemen often used duels to settle rivalries and defend their honor.
 
 “So, it wasn’t so much these men dueled to kill. They would purposely miss their shots, and then the air would be cleared.”
 
Hamilton opposed duels.  Yet he agreed to fight Burr on July 11, 1804.
 
The two men met at Weehawken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City.  The duel would take place by the water's edge, at the bottom of a high rock wall.
 
The guns were loaded.  Burr and Hamilton took their places.  One of Hamilton's friends explained the rules.  "Are you ready, gentlemen?" he asked.  Both answered "yes."  There was a moment of silence.  He gave the signal.  Burr and Hamilton raised their guns.  Two shots split the air.
 
Hamilton raised up on his toes, then fell to the ground.  Burr remained standing.  He looked at Hamilton with regret, then left. Hamilton died the next day. He was not yet 50. Valerie Paley says Hamilton’s story is almost like a television or newspaper drama. 
 
He was extremely attractive, and he had such a romantic story. Here he is, the immigrant boy from the West Indies, made good, comes to New York, goes to King’s College, becomes a sort of self-taught lawyer, becomes aide-de camp to Washington, all sorts of extraordinary things, marries so well, and also has this vision of what modern America might become.  And in many ways was able to implement at least an early bit of that vision before his death.”
 
Hamilton had made a big impact on the United States. He had created a national bank and influenced many government policies. Newspapers throughout the nation reported his death. Most people accepted the news calmly.  To them, it was simply the sad end to an old, private dispute. 
 
In the months after Hamilton’s death, the nation prepared for the next presidential election.  Once again, the Republican Party chose Thomas Jefferson as its candidate for president.  But the Republicans refused to support Aaron Burr for vice president again.  Instead, they chose George Clinton.  Clinton had served as governor of New York seven times.
 
The Federalist Party chose Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina as its candidate for president.  It chose Rufus King of New York to be its vice presidential candidate.
 
The campaign was quiet.  In those days, candidates did not make many speeches.
 
Republican pamphlets told of the progress made during the past four years.  The former Federalist administration raised taxes, they said.  Jefferson ended many of the taxes.  The Federalists borrowed millions of dollars.  Jefferson borrowed none.  And Jefferson got the Louisiana Territory without going to war.
 
The Federalists could not dispute these facts.  They expected that Jefferson would be re-elected. But they were sure their candidate would get as many as 40 electoral votes.  The results shocked the Federalists.  Jefferson received 162 electoral votes.  Pinckney received just 14.
 
One man tried to explain the meaning of Jefferson's great victory. He was John Quincy Adams, son of former president John Adams. President Adams had been a firm Federalist. This is what his son said:
 
The power of Jefferson's administration rests on a strong majority of the American people. The president has great popular support. His re-election shows that the experiment of the Federalists has failed. It never can and never will be brought to life again. To try to bring it back would be foolish. It would be like trying to put life into a body that has been buried for years.
 
After the election of 1804, only seven Federalists remained in the United States Senate. Only 25 remained in the House of Representatives.


Thomas Jefferson would be president for another four years.
 
Jefferson’s second term will be our story next week.


I’m Steve Ember, inviting you to join us each week for The Making of a Nation – our program of American history from VOA Learning English.
___
 
This is program #33
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Edgar Guariguata
05/16/2013 1:13 AM
I always enjoy the relates of the American History very much, and the death of Alexander Hamilton in that way was a sad chapter. I believe that man was a extraordinary gentleman that made much for his country.

Learn with The News

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and U.S. President Obama participate in a welcome ceremony for President Obama at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    Audio Is China Starting to Live its Dream?

    Trust in the American dream may be disappearing. But halfway around the world, a new dream has been gaining strength -- the Chinese dream. To be exact: President Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream. But, what is the Chinese dream? And how has President Xi started to make his dream for the country a reality? More

  • Audio I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

    Music fills the air. Colorful lights shine brightly in windows. Children and adults open gifts from loved ones and friends. These are all Christmas traditions. Another tradition is snow. In many places, a blanket of clean white snow covers the ground on Christmas Day, making it a "White Christmas." More

  • FILE - A Muslim woman releases a dove as a symbol of peace during a rally against the Islamic State group in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 5, 2014.

    Audio Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

    Indonesia estimates that more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State militants. That would represent an increase of 50 since last month. Most of the Indonesian fighters do not come directly from their homeland, but from other countries where they may be working More

  • Audio Turkey Rejects Criticism of Raids on Opposition Media

    Turkish officials say recent arrests of more than 20 journalists were made in connection with a plot against the government. But the European Union says Turkey is increasingly becoming more authoritarian. It said the media raids were in conflict with European values. More

  • US Cuba

    Audio Obama Moves to Normalize Relations with Cuba

    President Barack Obama announced a major change in United States’ policy toward Cuba this week. He said he wants Congress to ease more than 50 years of U.S. sanctions against the island nation. And he said the two nations should once again formally recognize one another. More

Featured Stories

  • Video Music Shows in Private Homes Gain Popularity

    Attending a live musical performance, be it in a huge arena or a small cafe, is an exciting experience. But here in the U.S., a very different kind of performance is gaining popularity: house concerts. “There's just a totally unique experience as opposed to playing like a coffee shop or a bar." More

  • Lee Surrenders to Grant at Appomatox

    Audio Southern General Robert E. Lee Surrenders at Appomattox

    General Robert E. Lee’s military skill and intelligence helped extend the war between the states. But even his skill could not save the South from the industrial power of the North and its mighty armies -- armies that were better-fed and better-equipped. On Sunday, August 9, Lee surrendered. More

  • Uganda Playground for Disabled Children

    Audio Helping Uganda’s Disabled Children Play

    You may think that all children have freedom to play. But for children who look differently from others or have physical disabilities, the idea of play can seem far away. An organization in Uganda is seeking to change that. Read on to learn words needed to talk about this sometimes difficult topic. More

  • A microneedle used to inject glaucoma medications into the eye is shown next to a liquid drop from a conventional eye dropper. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek

    Audio Tiny Needles Treat Eye Disease

    Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness around the world. In the United States, more than two million people suffer from the disease. Now, researchers are developing very small needles that may offer a more effective and painless treatment for glaucoma and other eye diseases. More

  • The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement in Las Vegas

    Audio Mob Museum Tells About the Mafia in America

    The U.S. government has long used public money to fight organized crime. Now, public money is also paying for a museum in Las Vegas to tell about "The Mob,” and not everyone is happy about that. But some say it helps the local economy by bringing people to a part of Las Vegas that few visit. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs